31 May 2009


Dear NLSC Readers

The merry but busy month of May has ended well and June’s blank page awaits.

Happy Birthday
to all June babes—too many to name, although I must mention my newest niece’s imminent arrival this coming week: I’ll share the latest Leach news as soon as I hear from eager parents, Wallace and Chantal. {Godspeed, little Tyla.} I also feel compelled to highlight my Aunt Nel’s birthday on the 5th (my great aunt is the sole remaining sibling of my Ouma’s baker’s dozen); my Dad’s on the 6th; and my sister Mari’s on the 24th.

Remind me if your birthday is in June—please and thank you.

Now for the reason for this letter’s title:

This past week has been a trifle trying. On top of feeling low physically since our recent “heat wave” (27ºC on Friday)—my body no longer remembers how to cope with extended sunshine!—I’ve experienced a couple of wearisome people-encounters this week. I’ll spare you the details but to use a favourite student’s expression, it’s time for me to “pull up my huggies,” and get on with my life. I realise I’m not as thick-skinned as I claim to be (or as I once was, out of necessity).

To counterbalance my current loony/lunar cycle, several notes of grace and cheer have come my way during the past week (see postscript for one gem in particular that deserves a minute and 14 seconds of your time).

After my (fifth!) annual evaluation with our academic dean to check on my progress as an adjunct instructor, I gratefully accompanied my gardening neighbour to a nursery/greenhouse in town, and on the way home Irma and I stopped at Angel’s in Bowness for a swirl of soft serve ice cream. The next day I went for a long riverside walk in lieu of gym, and that afternoon I attended the piano recital of my family-friend’s twins (I practise being a “proud auntie” whenever I can). Ethan and Spencer are the sweetest six-year-old violin and piano players I know! I look forward to a twin-recital-filled future….

This weekend we also hosted a missions conference at our church. The speaker, Daniel Zapoula, gave the audience a priceless gift, one I pray I’ll treasure as long as I live … perspective. I’ve tried and failed to find adequate words to describe his moving message, and so I’ve taken the liberty of stealing a paragraph from a friend’s letter, hot off the cyber press. {I’ll write and ask for permission soon, LA!}

In her weekly Amstutz Journal, Lori wrote:

“We had the opportunity to listen to the experiences of [Daniel Zapoula] a bushman from Burkina Faso … He shared his story of what it was like … from being in a family of 35 children in Africa, to having the opportunity to receive an education here in Canada. What he shared with us helped put so much in perspective. What we consider big issues in our lives were dwarfed by his stories of simply trying to survive … He now runs a ministry called Bridges of Hope, where he helps those who are in the situations he faced as a young boy. Listening to him share was like a reverse missions trip. We didn’t have to go visit those who do not enjoy the comforts that we take for granted here in Canada and the U.S. We just listened to his stories first hand.” {Thanks, Lori.}

Daniel reminded us all to rise above earthly concerns—money, materialism, matters of no eternal consequence—and try and view life from a heavenly perspective; I’ve done so for only one day and already I find myself letting go of unimportant slights and hurts and perceived offences and losses, and focusing on what really matters: relationships.

After today’s rather intense sermon (punctuated by a chorus of Amens and Hallelujahs truly rare for Mennonites), the missions team enjoyed a leisurely lunch with our animated African guest until we dispatched him to the airport. On time.

My much-needed Sunday afternoon nap (although not uninterrupted) was a relief. Three neighbours rang the doorbell on separate occasions, but although I opened the door (they were rather insistent with their bell-ringing since they knew I was home), I resisted all their kind invitations to pop over and visit, celebrate a birthday, watch a movie or enjoy a hot tub. I seldom get headaches and this one’s lingering—I suspect from the symptoms that it’s a migraine—so I stood my (shaky) ground and continued my nap. I think I’ll start posting a “do not disturb” sign on my door for reasons of health and sanity. :)

Starting on July 1, I’ve decided to take the last/first day of the month off as a day of silence and solitude, unless I’m teaching. Within weeks I feel the effects of spending too little time on my own. I’m finally learning that, much as I love people, I need to honour the boundaries of my soul. I have more to give, more to write, more to say—heaven forbid!—when I’ve been alone for a day or two. I even speak more s-l-o-w-l-y, at least for a few days.

I can feel when I’ve been running too fast, and others can sense it too. I get more cranky than usual (!) and when labels I consider incorrect—such as “ADD” and “hyper” and “manic”—are unfairly applied to me, I really lose my cool. “Please don’t confuse enthusiasm for life with mania,” I somewhat snippily told a colleague at Tim Horton’s on Saturday.

(Even on calm, quiet days I am angered by labels, but a wise friend gently suggested on the weekend I look for the kernel of truth in how others see me. So: how do you see me? :) Risky question, eh?)

After my soothing slumber I called a dear friend for her birthday and was blessed by her gentle voice and kind encouragement. I am humbled by the mentors and fellow pilgrims God has placed on my journey. I learn so much from these wise counsellors and companions along the way.

Now for my nightly hour of writing and end-of-month bath … and then back to bed; tomorrow’s another beautiful day.

Grateful for a renewed sense of perspective tonight,
Elaine Mary

P.S. Just when I most needed cheering up last week, this inspiring snippet arrived in my Inbox, sent by my friend in Vancouver—whom I’ve known this year longer than I haven’t. “It’s all about attitude,” my friend reminded me. {Thanks, CW.} In the 1-min. 14-sec. video, Fran and Marlo Cowan (married 62 years) play an impromptu recital together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. Mr. Cowan turned 90 in February. Hope it makes your day:


24 May 2009

Part V: CPO in Cochrane, conducted by Maestro Pierre Simard

Yesterday (May 23) I attended a sumptuous spring brunch at our church.

Last night I dressed up and took myself out on a cultural date (“She wore blue velvet”) and sat beside retired colleagues and unretired friends Barbara and David. The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra played at our local Alliance Church and it was a performance too beautiful for words, so I’ll say nothing further. For now. (There is plenty to say about their magnificent music.)

The sunset photo (see above) was taken on my walk home after the show.

(Top right: that’s me with the CPO conductor, M. Pierre Simard, who spoke briefly to me in French—my skills are rusty, so the conversation did not last long—telling me what a plaisir it was to make my acquaintance. I’ll be sure to try and see him on Vancouver Island when I’m there visiting friends in the next few years. I had the privilege of attending a CPO concert last year in Calgary at the luxurious Jack Singer hall, conducted by Monsieur Simard. I admit I’m a tiny bit smitten.)

Today was a restful day, as Sundays always are in the Phillips household, our afternoon nap being mandatory. Now I’m catching up on mail before retiring with a good book. Work awaits in the morn!

Part IV: Eat s’more

On Friday night (May 22), in part payment for RP’s accounting and tax services (!) our Twelve Mile Coulee hosts cooked up a smorgasbord of savoury delights (curry ’n’ rice; butter chicken; samosas; veg ’n’ fresh fruit)—a culinary cornucopia, followed by s’mores around the fire pit! I was the only one with room remaining for the roasted marshmallows.

{Thank you, H&L. Same time next month?}

Part III: Sun ’n’ snow ’n’ rain

Next day:
Yes, it snowed—again—last Monday (May 18). It invariably does on the May long weekend. Amazing.

I took two pics of our garden and deck in the early morn just before the snow melted. “Spring has sprung, the grass is ris ...” I can hear it growing at night.

This past week has sped by. I’ve been feeling a tiny bit under the weather for a few days ... an odd occurrence almost each year when the warmer temps finally arrive. Too strange for words. (Just as well I live in a climate where it snows for nine months, eh?)

So, a glum few days followed after last weekend’s spring sun ’n’ snow. I was even told once that I’m allergic to sun! (Is there such an allergy?!) Nothing a bit of gardening in the rain couldn’t cure. I limit myself to no more than three hours at a time ... otherwise I awake the next day feeling old and rickety. After making and consuming a pot of homemade veggie soup I’m—well, right as rain once more.

{Thanks for your mid-week input, Paul J and Jef T, and for hand-delivering Mayfair’s sweet little twin, Piccadilly, to Glenbrook Pond Hippo Sanctuary.}

Part II: Shado ’n’ sunshine—and all things equestrian

The next day (May 17) after church, Roy harnessed his beautiful black half-Arabian horse to a buggy and took me for a 23ºC spin. (I even held Shado’s royal reins!) The weather was sunburn-warm and breezy, and I could hardly believe the farmer’s snow forecast for the next day. I’ve always admired horses from afar, even though I’ve had (too) little to do with them up close and personal. I hope that will change this year! A client of R’s has offered to take me out riding at Griffin Ranch soon. The countryside here is perfect for horse rides.

The last time I rode was in Banff with my brother, Wallace, in July 2002. How well I remember the bird-sized mosquitoes, sweet-blooded soul that I seem to be. We also went tubing on the Bow that summer, and speeding across Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver, discussing items on our life to-do lists.

{Great memories, Wal.}

Part I: Picnic in the park

What’s a picnic without watermelon?

Last Sunday (May 16)—after meeting our Fairman family at Java {thanks for Mayfair, the sweet little hippo!}—I spent part of the day picnicking with friends Evie and Roy at Big Hill Springs Park, north of Cochrane.

(I’ll post a few of Evie’s sweet pics if I figure out how to do so: DONE!)

We feasted on fellowship, hot chicken and cold salad, mouthwatering raspberry/peach cobbler and my favourite fruit. Any guesses? :)

Hubble-the-young-hippo—who belongs to (retired) Hroshi—joined us for a bite of watermelon, a walk in the woods and a swim in the creek. Hubble is the newest writer to join our gregarious herd of Glenbrook Pond hippos, entertaining us with her tales of Africa.

[Watch this space.]

09 May 2009

First week of May

Dear NLSC Reader

My writing accountability partner asked me to share a few interesting things I’ve been up to this past week; here are fourteen, more or less, plus a few special dates (I see they’re mostly people-related, which possibly explains my desire today for complete solitude).

1. Last Friday (May 1) my students’ grades were due; I submitted them to my registrar and sighed with relief.
2. After finalising my grades, I tried my weary best to complete both my already-overdue Baptist Horizon articles for May. I had begun compiling a Seminary Day piece (or rather, patching together the samples sent in by students to form a quilt of quotes), and input was rather s-l-o-w because of final exams. Our gracious editor granted us a welcome extension. May she be blessed and may the Shelton tribe prosper!
3. Late on Friday afternoon I popped next door for my monthly B12 shot; Nurse Irma is an angel—and has become a friend over the past 4½ years that we’ve shared a fence (and watched each other pull up weeds in our respective gardens). We also share the same birth date (Feb 2) and the left-handed gene; we currently have a (growing) list of at least a dozen bizarre common interests: e.g. same build, heritage, sport and cultural entertainment preferences, clothing style, (original) hair colour, favourite music and hobbies, etc. Too funny!

4. That night I attended a grad dessert during which the graduands shared humorous and moving anecdotes about their seminary experiences. I realised how much I had come to love them. This year was the first time two of the students I’d taught were graduating (next year there will be more, and two years from now I’ll have taught the entire graduating class of college students). Since all four courses I’ll be teaching in the coming year(s) are compulsory, I get to know all the undergrads. A perennial pleasure!
5. Saturday’s graduation ceremony was simply beautiful. The speaker, Pastor Rick Lamb, was splendid (I’ll request a transcript of his message so as to add a quote to the short grad piece I’ll write for the next edition of the Horizon).
6. On Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Dalhousie Community Church. My text was Ephesians 2:10; my topic “God’s Masterpiece.”
7. A tasty barbecue lunch (baby potatoes, grilled chicken, spinach salad, ice cream and fresh berries), prepared by Calgary friends Eleanor and Peter, refreshed our spirits and refuelled our bodies.
8. Our Sunday afternoon nap was definitely the most relaxing part of our weekend!
9. On Sunday night it was my joy to babysit for dear neighbours so that they could go on a date. Mahalia (4), Tobias (2) and baby Selah (6 months) were their usual sweet selves. Mom Andrea drove me home and we chatted for a further half-hour in the car. (Note: this is a rare exception to my no-babysitting policy.)
10. Monday? While out ’n’ about, moments after chatting to my friend in her garden, I bumped into my neighbour-colleague Susan taking her dog for a walk (or being taken for a walk); I came home feeling community-connected.
11. Tuesday: lunch at Norma’s on Railway Ave. with Brigitte R; prayer in the sunshine after coming home.
12. “Tuesdays with Tammy” is what I call my weekly coffee dates with my non-writing accountability partner; she remains a faithful friend after more than a decade of regular get togethers. We ordered art-lattes at Java and left only when the baristas kicked us out! Tammy, one of a tiny minority, truly does not think I talk too much. Believe me, I know my own faults (and if I didn’t I’d quickly be reminded by kith and kin), so it’s not hard being with someone who considers me a “scintillating conversationalist” when others wonder what language I’m speaking. :) I also love not having to decrease my rapid rate of speech in her company, as I do when I teach and preach (and interact with Southerners). Enough said.
13. Wednesday, May 6, was our 14th wedding anniversary. Suffice it to say: Robin is a saint. He’s a good man, a gentleman, and the only man on earth who tells me I talk too little! I admit, I am rather quiet at home, believe it or not. Even our landlords say they never hear me. My secret? I save my pearls for queenly friends who value my (many) words. :)

14. After gym on Wednesday with Wilmien and a new gym partner (Debbie R), Robin and I went to Norma’s for brunch (an annual tradition). Delicious!

Special dates:

Thursday, May 7, was my big brother’s birthday, and a much-needed
day of rest for me (other than checking the final pdf page layouts before the Horizon went to print); to celebrate the end of the semester, I started a new (unputdownable) book by Alan Bradley: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. On Friday, May 8, my parents (Ian and Lynnette Leach) celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary!

CONGRATULATIONS, and Happy Birthday to all May babes (remind me who you are, please).

Today I’m catching up on some long-neglected domestic engineering, and tomorrow
(Sunday) I’ll spend Mother’s Day with our usual Little/Mung family (in celebration of Tammy’s mom). HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all moms! Thank you for your sacrificial love.

Monday is my monthly writing day, hooray! I’m finally learning to carve our cyber-silent time simply to write each week, and once a month I meet with someone whose writing goals match my own. I’ll join my friend in her peaceful sanctuary and we’ll check on each other’s progress, offering the mutual encouragement necessary for the somewhat solitary process of putting pen to paper.

Do write and tell me what interesting things you’ve been up to, dear Reader! Hearing from loved ones across the continent and around the corner still makes my day, after all these years as a global correspondent ...


06 May 2009

Emph Attic: 14th Phillips anniversary

Today, 6 May 2009 ...

... Robin and I celebrate fourteen years of having and holding, from that day (6 May 1995) forward, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and cherish ’til death us do part.”

(Hmmn, I recall saying “to honour and obey”!)

Celebrate with us!

Robin and Elaine Mary forever-Phillips