I ‘John Wayne’ Through Life

Straight out of high school, I worked at a small meat packing facility. My job was to grind three or four hundred pounds of beef every morning and bulk-pack it for shipping. The tubs of beef weighed eighty to a hundred pounds each, too much for the average eighteen-year-old girl to lift. But I figured out a way to shuffle them off the cutting table onto my shoulder. Then all I had to do was stand up under them, stagger to the grinder, and heave them into the grinding pan.

There would have been five or ten strong men at the ready to help, but I didn’t want to ask. I was too shy, or too proud to admit that I couldn’t do it myself. So instead I permanently damaged my shoulder.

This fall I’ve had to grit my teeth and tighten my belt financially.  Last winter I had nice clothes but I’ve since shrunk out of them. No shopping spree could be justified.  So though my coat was shabby to the point of embarrassment, I decided to keep wearing it and wait for the right opportunity.

Well, last week my church hosted their Thanksgiving Food and Clothing Drive.  Free food and clothes for anyone who needed them.  I had an extended argument with myself, going “you ARE poor” and “no I’m NOT” back and forth and back and forth. Whether I fit the criteria wasn’t the true issue. The real issue was shopping among the tables, and then being seen up in the choir in my new threads.  If I walked through those doors, I would admit that I couldn’t provide for myself just then.

I sensed God saying ‘let me provide for you, here.” Still I hemmed and hawed.  Finally, I was running nearby so I wrestled myself into the building, looking like a schlep with my windblown hair and my sweaty gear. Even when I had my bag in hand and was looking through the stacks of gently used jeans, I had a hard time admitting to my friendly church family that I wasn’t there to volunteer.  I was there to ‘shop’.

I found some clothes, but in the end I wonder if it was more a lesson in humility than in provision.

“God gives grace to the humble,” the Apostle Peter said.  I remind myself that independence is good, but when I ‘John Wayne’ my way through life, a lone gunmen against my battles, I miss out on the greatest sources of strength I have: my family, and my God.

Why bust my shoulder, when a stronger arm can help me lift?

What if We Asked These Questions?

Does anyone ask you the questions you desperately want to answer?

People ask me all kinds of things, but rarely am I asked about what really matters to me.  These are the things I want to talk about, and truly be listened to.  In the presence of my friends and family I talk about them, unasked.  But I feel that they don’t want to hear about it.

Do you feel this way too?

I want to be asked.

I want to be asked “What have you been doing at work lately?”

Silly, right?  People ask “how is work?” all the time.  But that’s the sort of question you’re required to answer ‘fine’ to, or ‘busy’.  Maybe they’d accept a long answer, but I get the distinct feeling that if I went on a five minute rant about the product I was coating that week, and what went wrong, and about how I nailed that one coat to the exact percentage, their eyes would glaze over.

I want to be asked “How were your runs this week?”

I’d love you forever if you’d listen to me talk about running Abe’s Hill for the first time, and my 5k on the weekend–and then ask “then what happened?” like you mean it.

I want to be asked “What are you reading these days?”

Plato–The Republic, and Lord of the Rings.  Ask me about Plato, and why I’d even pick it up.  Ask me about what I’m learning from those books.  Gosh, look at the size of the three-in-one volume of Lord of the Rings.  Doesn’t it just beg to start a conversation?

Ask me about my writing projects and don’t look too shocked when my eyes light up and I expound on clones, and the archetypal city, and the righteous poor, and the adventures of some ‘made up’ character.

The problem is…

The problem is that I don’t ask the right questions either.  If I were observant, and not all wrapped up in myself like I tend to be, I might know the right questions to ask YOU.  The questions that make your face light up like a Christmas tree.  The ones you can deliver a spontaneous fifteen minute lecture on.

I stumbled across one of these questions by accident, this summer.  I’d had difficulty connecting with a coworker, a gentleman from Bangladesh, until one day I asked him “Are you following the FIFA World Cup?”

Yes!  Yes he was.  He was following Argentina.  He’d followed Messi since the soccer star was a much younger man.  He (my coworker) had actually played soccer in college.  And off we went–because college led to discussions about our families, and once you start talking about your families you have lots to go on.

I began checking the World Cup stats every morning so I’d have something to say to him when we passed in the hall.

Doubtless, asking a good question won’t always have the same success.  But I’ll warrant that if I’d regularly pose purposeful questions, I’d often stumble on good answers, perhaps even on a new friend.  But this won’t happen if I’m not looking, using Sherlock Holmes powers of observation to discover what makes people tick.

I’m not good at that, I admit.  But I realize now that I can’t make people take a genuine interest in me.  All I can do is provide that loving courtesy to others, because I truly believe that to listen is to grant deep respect and honour to another.  We need to be listened to.  It is psychological oxygen, to borrow from Dale Carnegie.

What to ask?

So tell me.  What do you want to be asked?  What is that thing, buried deep in your chest, that you NEED to talk about?

I WANT to ask.  Forgive me if I forget to look.




10 Things I’m Thankful For

In a few hours it will be my birthday.

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere this week, due to the pendulum swing of my schedule.  While on day shifts, I try to make up for the lack of social life while I’m working evenings.  My brain has been packed, and much of what I’ve come up with to write is so snarky I don’t dare infect you with it.

So, in hopes of soothing my soul and inspiring you, I’d like to share ten things I’m thankful for–at the dawn of my 24th year.

In no particular order…

1. Strawberry the Car

20140305-205529.jpgThis week I’ve logged a lot of miles in my magic carpet.  I picked up the print edition of We are the Living from the courier (an hour and fifteen minutes away), I went to dinner with two college friends, and before the week is out, Strawberry’s little wheels will take me to my second 5K race.  Since I got my own car (after 5 years of waiting) I’ve been granted a whole new level of freedom.  I’m grateful for that.

2. A job that challenges me.

I’ve worked at the pharmaceutical plant for a year and a half now, and the job has yet to get easy.  That’s perfect, even if it is frustrating at times (like today).  As long as it keeps me learning I won’t get bored or stagnate.

3. I work in pyjamas all day!

Scrubs, actually, but they’re just as comfortable.  Some people don’t like wearing a uniform, but I wouldn’t change it.  They’re loose, modest, and save on laundry.


4. Coffee

Mmm… coffee.

5. Autumn is coming

Now, this also means that winter is coming, which in Manitoba is a six-month affair… but let’s not think that far.  I look forward to the crisp air, the falling leaves, and pumpkin everything–except those fake pumpkin syrup things every coffee shop hawks at us.  Ew!  Pumpkin cheesecake (sugar free, low carb) is on the birthday menu tomorrow.

6. Stevia

The secret to healthy living, as far as I’m concerned.

7. Coworkers who are also friends.

I’ve had some excellent coworkers over the last three years, and I’m pleased to still call many of them friends.  Work is so much better with them!

8. WiFi at home

Wow, what a relief to not have to drive, walk or bike to find WiFi!  As a blogger, it was getting a bit ridiculous.  I was single-handedly supporting every coffee shop in town, I think.

9. The Electric Donkey

Also known as my next 5K race, and what has been motivating me for the last month.  I’m so excited!

10. My family

We’ve had some wonderful visits lately.  Our bonfire pit has added another six inches of ash to its layers, I think.  They’re the best people to hang out and drink coffee with on a Saturday evening, and I look forward to celebrating my birthday with them tomorrow.  I’ll bring the cheesecake!

So tell me?  What are you thankful for?  Feel free to comment with your own lists.



Her Morning Elegance (She Fights for Her Life)

“And she fights for her life as she puts on her coat, and she fights for her life on the train. She looks at the rain as it pours. And she fights for her life as she goes to the store, where the people are pleasantly strange. Counting her change as she goes. Nobody knows” (“Her Morning Elegance” by Oren Lavie).

I used to sing this song to myself at work a lot, and here, listening to it while on break, I am reminded why. “She fights for her life” resonated with me. Not because I was dealing with illness or mortal danger, but because I saw my everyday existence as a battle–a romantic battle of good and evil.  It’s a romantic notion, but then I am a romantic!

That meat-packing facility, where I worked at the time, was hardly a happy place. Negativity was the norm. “F” was the favourite consonant. Toughness was what it took to make it, day to day–thick skin, humour, and fighting to protect my attitude.

She fights for her life.

I suspect there are many who ‘fight for their life’ day to day, and present such a cheerful exterior that ‘nobody knows.’  I hardly qualify as an example, so I will tell you of one of the best examples I know–my grandmother, whom we affectionately call “Ma.” Ma lives with chronic pain and limited mobility, yet she remains generous and good-natured. She’s learned the secret of enjoying the little things–a scenic drive, a good cup of coffee, the love of her dogs. She does what she can in spite of her limitations. She knits prolifically–toques, mitts and blankets for those who need them.  She is quick to say “I love you” and then, “I love you more.”

She fights for her life.

She is one of those who, in spite of pain, loss, loneliness, and the unfairness of life, are cheerful, productive, generous and loving.  It takes tremendous effort to put on their “morning elegance” and come down the stairs in the morning, but they do it. We cannot discount a good attitude as a natural disposition.  Optimism is rarely an accident.  Happiness is a choice.

“She fights for their life as she goes in the store, with a thought she has caught by a thread. She pays for the bread and she goes. Nobody knows.”

Watch the whimsical stop-motion music video for “Her Morning Elegance” and enjoy the relaxing vibe of the music.

The Trouble With Romantic Comedies… Or This One, Anyway.

I watched a horrible movie this weekend. It was a romantic comedy.

Formulaic as they are, I enjoy a good rom-com. Last weekend I watched Hitch, starring Will Smith. It was good enough to watch twice—witty, well made, even if predictable.

Not so this movie.

It started out alright. Nerdy but cute Rachel is in law school. Her study partner is the handsome nice guy, Discount Tom Cruise, or Dex as they call him. She falls for him, but doesn’t have the guts to say anything, so he up and dates her best friend, Darcy who is an over-the-top extravert and treats them both like garbage. Nevertheless, Discount Tom Cruise and Loudmouth get engaged.

Rachel is crestfallen. See, she still is crushing on Dex. So, one night, with a healthy shot of liquid courage, she blurts out that she had a crush on him in college and Dex wonders why she never said so. More drinks, and things get steamy. Seems Discount Tom Cruise kinda had a thing for her too, and now combined with pre-wedding cold feet, he’s beginning to rethink things.

You don’t have to be a literature major figure out what happens.

The story perpetuates the idea that somewhere out there is ‘the one’, and you must do anything to be with them. Anything.

On the surface there is some nobility to this: sacrificial love, which braves all danger for the beloved. Jesus Christ is a model of sacrificial love, and he is my example for life. Sacrificial love is, in my opinion, the highest of loves—putting aside yourself for the one you love.

But the movie I’ve mentioned twists this noble idea. Dex and Rachel think they just might be meant for each other so they decide to go behind Darcy’s back and ‘figure what this thing is’—read, have an affair. Rachel knows this is wrong, but her friend assures her that sometimes “Good people do bad things”. In the eyes of the writers, betraying Darcy is justifiable because she’s an awful person, and Dex’s and Rachel’s love is ‘true love’.

And we, the viewers, are manipulated into rooting for them as they display flagrant disregard for Darcy’s feelings and their own integrity. All is fair in love and war, the movie seems to say, and when we find out that Darcy, too, has been cheating, it seems we are supposed to conclude that everything is now fair.

It is this lack of integrity that bothers me the most. I will suspend disbelief and say that Dex and Rachel really do love each other. Fine. Now, say ten years down the road things aren’t going so hot. Say Rachel meets some really nice, good looking guy, and things just feel right, and she wants to figure out ‘what this thing is’. Exactly why wouldn’t she cheat on Dex? Why does Rachel think she can trust Dex when he is cheating on his fiancé to be with her?

And Dex, though he’s in love with Rachel, doesn’t have the spine to break it off with Darcy. Neither of them have the guts to come clean until they’re caught. If they display such cowardice now, will they have the courage to deal with the heavy issues of life together?

Character, more than looks, more than personality, more than how they ‘make you feel’ is what counts. Love conquers much, but not all. Whatever crappy self you bring to the relationship won’t disappear with ‘true love’s first kiss’.

Which leads me to:

You know the scene.

“Oh Jack, I love you.”
“I can’t live without you, Frieda”.
Kiss, kiss. More kissing. Rain begins to fall. People walk around them. Kissing. Kissing. Still kissing. That’s how Hitch ended, and I liked that movie.

Rom-coms would have us believe that love is expressed with your lips, or in bed. And it is—but only to a point.

Love is commitment. You commit, and you stand by your commitment. Show me the happy couple two years later, when one spouse has just come home from working a twelve hour shift, cold, exhausted, and the other greets them at the door with a kiss. I like that kiss better. Show me one of the two lying in bed, a bowl beside them, while the other scrubs the vomit off the bathroom floor. Show me them listening to each other and trying to work out a conflict without vindictiveness. Show me one, heart broken by the other, and still standing by them. Show me the couple, married twenty-five years, going for a walk holding hands. Show me them surrounded by a few healthy, happy kids. Show me them, eighty years old, still side by side.

Why don’t they show those parts?

In the end, I’m not bashing romantic comedies. By all means, watch them. I will. But remember that they don’t show the whole story. That when the couple is kissing and the credits are rolling, it is just the beginning. How the couple falls in love is fun to watch, but how they stay in love is more important.

If a movie was made of their last days together, would we still want to watch?

An excellent article on a similar subject is Terri Brady’s “Finding a Character to Marry”.  Also check out parts, 2, 3 and 0.

Did You Like Being Homeschooled?

When people find out I’m homeschooled they generally ask the same thing: did you like it?

That’s like asking a fish if it likes water.

But I’m going to try to give this a good answer. I polled a few of my homeschooled and homeschooling friends to see if their experiences were similar. We all liked homeschooling, and here are a few reasons why.

Flexible Schedule.
In my family Mom and Dad set a time by which we had be fed, dressed, and ready to start schoolwork. But no one set when we had to do which course. And if we had an appointment that day, or planned to go on a week’s holidays, no one said we couldn’t.

Jon says he enjoyed “hunting before or after school…. And taking days off to go ice-fishing.” Also, “If you work your butt off you can be done quicker.” That is true. There is no class holding you back or forcing you to keep up. You work at your own pace.

Lessened Peer Pressure.
This is an educated guess, actually, but I’ve noticed that homeschooled kids are less likely to feel the need to be stylish. They’re less likely to feel the need for the latest gadgets. They don’t know the latest slang. They know far less about what’s on TV. That’s awesome! It gives them more time to just be kids.

The love of learning is less likely to be ‘peer-pressured out’. Who’s there to say they’re a ‘nerd’ if they’re smart? Who’s saying that school is boring? Even among my college classmates, who were paying big money to be there, there was an adversarial relationship with the professors and class was something they were being ‘forced’ to do. Where did they get that? I’d say at school.

Time with Family
Yup, your classmates are your siblings, Mom is the teacher and Dad is the principal. Some might think this would drive you nuts (and they’d be right sometimes). But we’re also forced to put up with each other and learn how to get along.

My siblings are some of my best friends, and I have a great relationship with my Mom and Dad. I give credit to spending so much time with them.

Kyla agrees, and says “My strong relationship [with my family] has helped me immensely in building relationships with others.” I agree. The firm foundation of family gives the confidence to build relationships with others.

Having said that, I know other families whose children have gone to public school, yet are close. The point is to be intentional about spending time together and building memories. That’s what bonds you together.

Tailor-made Education
Not everyone learns the same way. There is no universal method. The homeschooling parents know their kids better than anyone, thus they can choose the teaching style that works best for their kids.

They can add courses or focus on subjects they deem important, or suited to their child.

They can also choose curricula that are in line with their worldview. This is the reason my parents chose to teach us at home. They wanted to educate us in their beliefs, not the beliefs that the government deems correct. This is also the reason that, if I have kids, I will homeschool them also.

I think I’ve established the why we loved being homeschooled. But, to be fair, there are a few cons. This is what we came up with.

Sheltered/Out of touch.
On one level this is a really good thing. Kids deserve to be kids. They don’t need to know about sex when they’re eight. They don’t need the pressure to conform, or look a certain way.

But, there was plenty of embarrassment in my teen years because I didn’t know the correct slang. After all, these days anything can be spun dirty. But worse, in my small community most of the kids went to the same school, knew the same people, bashed the same teachers, etcetera. I didn’t, and that made me feel like I didn’t belong.

The need to prove one’s self.
Kyla said “One of the downsides for me was the way that some homeschoolers seemed to think they were above people that went to public school but still felt a strong need to prove themselves to them. That worked to lower my confidence level when interacting with others.” I had a similar experience. I had this need to prove I wasn’t out of touch.

It may complicate post-secondary education.
Bethany’s high school diploma was not recognized by her college, and she was required to obtain her diploma through adult education. At my school I was accepted on academic probation until I could prove that I could maintain a ‘C’ average or higher. I was insulted. But after I finished my semester on the dean’s honor roll, the probation was dropped.

Homeschoolers in Canada have advocates such as the Homeschool Legal Defense, which in some cases can aid homeschoolers if post-secondary institutions are giving them a hard time.

So, there you have it. The main points of why homeschooling is awesome, and a few cautionary notes. Did I like being homeschooled? Yup. If I have kids, they’ll be homeschooled too.

For additional info (and entertainment), here is YouTuber Jordan Taylor on Seven Lies about homeschooling.  Enjoy.

I’d like to say thanks to my Mom and Dad who ‘retired’ from teaching this summer after my youngest brother graduated. Congratulations on successfully homeschooling four kids, and thanks. I love you.

The Cabin: An Icon of my Childhood

We call it The Cabin, and so it is. Just a hip-roofed cottage in a stand of spruce and birch trees, yet it is one of my oldest memories.

It smells like history: some combination of wood varnish, old furniture and bacon grease. It lingers on my bedding after I unpack, and links my city apartment with my happy past. We’ve been going there since before I was born.

It sounds like the rustle of the birch-leaves in the wind that is always blowing, and the creak of the wooden staircase up to the second floor. That creak that made sneaking down to the bathroom (outhouse, longer ago) so hard. They fixed the creak with carpet this year, and it seems wrong. The inane sounds of everyday life are gone—the alarm clock, the ringing phone, the traffic, the siren. The silent demands of the dirty dishes and the laundry—all gone in this peaceful place.

It looks like comfy, mismatched furniture. Everything is old-fashioned but functional—plates, cups, and certain forks and knives that are year after year. Who remembers the butter knives? I do.

It looks like silver water stretching to the blue horizon, broken by white caps at irregular intervals. The wind is strong. We smile, because that means big waves and more fun.

It feels like the rough wood of the handrail, and the pine-board walls, and the carven coffee table. Its the sag in an old mattress. My back protests until it sinks into the softness and forgets that it’s the wrong shape. It feels like sand in the swimsuit and tangled hair after spending happy hours at the beach, collecting shells, jumping in the waves, playing Frisbee.


It tastes like pancakes, and bacon, and Kraft Dinner—not most people’s idea of fine dining, but for us KD was always a treat reserved for the Cabin. We come together around the table—to eat, to laugh, and play cards. We make coffee in the afternoon and visit, because we can. Maybe a little later we’ll bike to the park and play basketball until we’re tired and sweaty. Then we’ll taste sunflower seeds and peach kool-aid from a plastic water jug, passed from hand to hand.

And then there is the sixth sense, the intuition, the essence. What does the cabin mean? The cabin means being together.