happy things to hold on to

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Turning Monday night dinner into a breakfast picnic in our living room. Sure, our laundry is drying in the background and those flowers are clearly dead, but linen napkins and caramelized apples go far.

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A little plant we like to call Basil. (Yes, Peter and I name our plants. It may have been a mistake in the case of this one since we then ate a good portion of him.)

This. I heart Kevin Bacon.

Kind doctors who have no problem answering questions by text message.

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A cup of tea, our photos from Europe, a few ticket stubs, and memories being preserved.

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

There is a fragility and a terror that surrounds all childhood. Yet, at the same time, there is a security in the naivety of children. When you’re a child, the only life you know is the one you live and so it can take years to realize the dangers you’ve been through. As trite as it may sound, in her first novel, Heather O’Neill captures the innocence of childhood. Not a stylized, whitewashed version but the real, dirty details that can make up a child’s life. Lullabies for Little Criminals (Harper Perennial, 2006) doesn’t shy away from the grit of real life – the grit that too often accompanies children but O’Neill does beautifully capture the magic of childhood, the magic of everyday objects and the significance they can carry for children.

Our narrator and main character is Baby (her real name). Baby and her dad, Jules, live in a rough part of inner-city Montreal. Of course, Baby never describes it this way. Montreal is her city and this is her neighbourhood, the only home she knows. She loves it. She knows the people on the street and the way things work. She knows her father does heroin and she knows Jules isn’t quite like other dads, mostly because he’s only fifteen years older than her, but they adore each other and Baby seems to love her life.

We follow her through most of her twelfth year and as she turns thirteen. When Jules goes into the hospital with a form of TB, Baby goes into foster care and the bond between them begins to weaken. In many ways, the book is equally about Jules’ childhood- one lost when he became a father and Baby’s mother died. It’s obvious to the reader that Jules is woefully unequipped to be a father. Of course, Baby neither knows that or cares. He is her father. This is her life and she is not unhappy.

The descriptions of the novel are absolutely spot-on. Baby describes the world she sees around her and, while a more cynical reader knows she’s describing skid row, O’Neill also enables us to see the beauty that Baby sees. We’re reminded how a rock or a doll can become so hugely important to a young girl. We’re reminded of the delightful weirdness of children and the random judgements they make.

Baby skates on that line between childhood and womanhood. In so many ways she is still a little girl, carrying her dolls in a suitcase, oblivious to the effect of her changing body on the men around her. She is tempted by adulthood too though. The chance of something else, of greater affection as Jules begins to pull away from her and she searches for attention from the neighbourhood pimp. By the time she realises that childhood, once gone, is gone forever, it might be too late.

This is much of the tension that drives the novel. The danger the reader can see all around Baby and that she may recognize but still insists on ignoring. She knows who the neighbourhood pimp is and yet she can’t seem to shake free of him. She desires a normal relationship with the boy she likes at school but she knows how different her family is from his. She struggles with wondering what she deserves out of life, already having learnt the harsh lesson that not all are created equal.

You can’t help but worry about Baby but you don’t pity her. She’s tough and she’s strong and she’s smart and, in the end, she has always known what she really wanted. The saddest part though is that real life is full of children like her, many with much sadder endings.

a poem by e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling

i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

happy things to hold on to

A spontaneous, Thursday afternoon outing of, “Hey, let’s go to Madeira Park!”

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Followed by a truly delicious burger and fries. All in all, a pretty fantastic way to celebrate the first day of spring.

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Kind words in a church bathroom.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18

Homemade fish and chips with the in-laws on a Friday night, accompanied by a selection of Victoria beers.

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My lovely little home that is just the right size so that I only have to plug my vacuum in once to vacuum the whole place.

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Book Review – Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Little Brown & Co, 2012) is a fun book. But don’t let that fool you. There’s a lot to this novel. Maria Semple, who has been a writer for some TV shows that you’ve probably heard of *cough Arrested Development cough*, proves that she can delve into deep topics. Family, infidelity, mental illness, Seattle traffic, private schools.

Bernadette, as soon in the title of the book, is a former genius architect, now semi-crazy mother to Bee. She spends her days communicating with her Internet assistant in India, and not helping out at Bee’s private school, Galer Street. She’s anti-social to a hilarious extreme. Bernadette erects a giant sign facing her neighbour (and archenemy)’s house. And yet her insane antics are balanced by the close and loving relationship she clearly has with her daughter. The reader loves Bernadette because Bee loves Bernadette.

It is Bee who tells us her mother’s story. Interrupted by her narration, we read a collection of e-mails, hospital bills, and court documents, and come to realize that we are following Bee as she pieces her mother’s life together following Bernadette’s disappearance. Searching for Bernadette takes other characters to South America and Antarctica and forces Bee and her father, Elgin, to reexamine their lives and relationships.

Where the mother-daughter relationship between Bee and Bernadette is fairly straightforward, it’s the marriage of Elgin and Bernadette that creates the greatest tension and unease in the novel. We are told a story of what happens in a marriage as people change. What happens when a couple moves across country, when dreams fade, and suddenly they find themselves different people than they were when they started out. Do you give up and start over or do you track your wife to Antarctica and demand an explanation?

To complement Bernadette’s own brand of peculiarity, we have Audrey, the aforesaid neighbour who is also a parent at Galer Street and seems to be Bernadette’s opposite in every way. Audrey starts out as a fairly one-dimensional character – the classic over-achieving mom who hosts events and desires to control everyone around her. She’s so easy to dislike that we’re all the more willing to love Bernadette’s ridiculous eccentricities. Yet Audrey has a lovely transformation (if perhaps somewhat unexplained) partway through the novel that ends up being crucial to Bee’s family.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? would be a great weekend or beach read. You won’t struggle to get through it but it will still give you pause to think.

Spring Break 2014

Halfway through Spring Break and feeling thankful. I love lazy days at home with my best guy.

I also love adventuring with him.

For the first half of Spring Break, we took off to Vancouver Island to visit with friends and wander down memory lane. We made a road trip of it (complete with sound track) – two ferries, a drive down the island, and we were knocking on our friends’ door mid-afternoon on Saturday.

I lived in Victoria from 2003 to 2011. Peter moved there in 2007. It was the first place I ever lived on my own. It was the city where I made amazing friends, grew in my spiritual walk, met my husband. We spent our first year of married life there. So many good memories.

We struck a great balance of seeing friends, visiting our former church, and wandering through our favourite spots. We had a late night and a lazy Sunday with two of our favourite people (three, including their super cute baby boy!) and then fancied it up in a hotel downtown.

View from our hotel.

View from our hotel.

We ate at our favourite spots, and some new ones, and did a bunch of those things that you jsut don’t do when you live in a city.

Market Square

Market Square

Gates of Chinatown

Gates of Chinatown

Spring is a little closer in Victoria. Their blooms are out while ours are just beginning to bud on the Sunshine Coast.

Dragons and cherry blossoms

Dragons and cherry blossoms

There were a lot of “remember whens”. Our first apartment, the house I used to share with five other girls, the coffee shop I once worked at, the park Peter took kids to when he worked for a summer camp. The restaurant we went to on our first date. The spot where we first held hands. The beach near my old house where we made ‘smores and I first thought, “I might be in love with this guy.”

The Inner Harbour

The Inner Harbour

The Ledge

The Ledge

 

The Legislative Buildings and Queen Victoria

The Legislative Buildings and Queen Victoria

Views from Mount Doug

Views from Mount Doug

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I spent a lot of time up here over the years.

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Mount Doug Park

Mount Doug Park

Downtown Victoria and the Johnson Street Bridge

Downtown Victoria and the Johnson Street Bridge

We took a twilight walk along the waterfront to Ogden Point.

The Inner Harbour

The Inner Harbour

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Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf

Ogden Point

Ogden Point

It’s good to be reminded of so many lovely places and the wonderful moments they hold. And it’s good to return to our lovely little home and to remember that both good and bad have followed us everywhere. But mostly the good.

The Ledge at night

The Ledge at night

Our Road Trip 2014 Playlist

1. Hot Tonight – Tokyo Police Club

2. Hopeless Wanderer – Mumford & Sons

3. Stars (Hold On) – Youngblood Hawke

4. Step – Vampire Weekend

5. Madness – Muse

6. Get Lucky – Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell)

7. Lover of the Light – Mumford & Sons

8. Stay – Rihanna

9. Ends of the Earth – Lord Huron

10. Unbelievers – Vampire Weekend

*Bonus – This list will get you from Nanaimo to Mill Bay

 

 

Book Review – The Dinner by Herman Koch

It’s summer. Our narrator is at a nice restaurant in Amsterdam – small portions, high prices, you know the kind – with his wife and his brother and his sister-in-law. It’s one of those restaurants and his brother is one of those guys. The type of guy who can get a reservation at a moment’s notice by saying his name. A politician with his career on the rise. Our narrator, Paul, is a regular guy. He loves his wife – we witness the way they can communicate easily and silently – and his son. He would do anything for them.

With a few disparaging stories – his brother’s second home in France, the way he orders wine -we are eager to agree with Paul’s opinion of his brother, Serge. The novel is seeped in tension from the beginning. Paul and his wife, Claire, don’t want to be at this restaurant, they don’t want to spend time with Serge and Babette. There is a topic that this family needs to be discussed, that they are each skirting around. The choice of this public place, a fancy restaurant where Serge is easily recognized, speaks to the distance between these brothers.

Slowly, the story unwraps. We are deep in Paul’s thoughts and perspective and, at first, we accept what he tells us. Why wouldn’t we? Can’t you always trust the narrator?

Koch forces us to challenge all of our notions about truth in narration and trust as the truth of who Paul Lohman truly is and what he believes in. He does a masterful job of slowly revealing glimpses of Paul’s personality. While we know almost from the beginning that there is something Paul and Serge must discuss about their children, the actual conversation doesn’t occur until very close to the end of the novel. Waiting for this confrontation propels the novel and adds to the tension. As their meal is interrupted by Serge’s fans, Paul sneaking out to speak with his son, and secret conversations between Paul and Claire, we eagerly anticipate the revelation of this family secret. Meanwhile, Paul recalls his son’s childhood, how he lost his job, and his version of the incident that has brought them together. Somewhere along the way, you will find yourself open-mouthed in horror.

The major downside of the novel for me was that I had trouble believing these characters would gather to have this conversation in such a public place. They are aware of the need for privacy, that no one can know what’s going on, and they are also aware that everyone in the restaurant knows who Serge is. At various times, characters cry, yell, and get up from the table for extended periods. It seems hard to believe that no one would be paying attention to them.

In the end though, I was extremely impressed with Koch’s ability to challenge so many of my preconceived notions as a reader. He creates a delightfully creepy situation and characters, while still offering us a story that is entirely believable in the real world. Unfortunately.

*Since reading Dutch is not one of my secret talents, I read the English translation of The Dinner by Sam Garrett.

 

Hold On, The Stars are Bound to Change

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Psalm 23:4

What’s made me smile lately:

This song. So I heard it first in a commercial. I enjoy it and right now I’m about letting myself enjoy things.

Brand new sheets on our bed.

Colouring a map of Babylon with my three-year-old niece when she turns to me and asks, “Where’s your house?” Then trying to explain Babylon to a three-year-old.

The bouquet of flowers that my eight-year-old niece left in our room this weekend.

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Plasticine cakes made by the sweetest six-year-old boy I know.

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Doctors who copy out medical terms for you with a knowing, “You probably want to Google that later.”

The sunshine! the sunshine! the sunshine!

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I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:9-10

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Book Review – Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

“I am trying to remain open to new realities, not blaming God when my expectations go unmet but trusting Him to lead me through failures toward renewal and growth.”

What I appreciate most when it comes to Philip Yancey’s writing is his honesty. I think he’s a wise man but he never pretends to have answers that he doesn’t. He puts his own doubts, his own uncertainties, front and centre and, by doing so, allows the reader to freely express their own. I have no time for Christian writers who pretend Christianity to be only mountain-tops and walks on the beach with Jesus. I have walked this road long enough to know that isn’t true. Yet neither do I wish to wallow in the valleys, in the shadows. The mountain-tops are real, but they’re hard to get to some times.

As Yancey writes:

“The only thing more difficult than having a relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship.”

In Reaching for the Invisible God (Zondervan, 2000), Yancey delves into those times in the Christian faith when God feels far away from us. He delves into the reality – both harsh and beautiful – that we worship and believe in a God we cannot see or touch.

“Life with God advances like any relationship: unsteadily, with misunderstandings and long periods of silence, with victories and failures, testings and triumphs. To achieve the perfection that drew us on the quest, we must wait until the race has ended, until death, and the waiting itself is an act of extraordinary faith and courage.”

Depending on my mood on any given day, that statement alternates between encouraging and horrifying. This is a journey that will not end while I live. The glimpses of perfection that which “drew us on the quest” – the highs we might experience, particular at the beginning of our Christian life – draw us forward. Those “Ezekial moments”, sustain us, encourage us. And yet, the promise of those moments will never be entirely fulfilled while we live these human lives.

Yancey offers encouragement here though.

“The journey itself is the goal. The very quest for our God, our determined pursuit, changes us in the ways that matter most. The silence and darkness we encounter, the temptations, and even the sufferings can all contribute to God’s stated goal of shaping us into persons more like He intended – more like His Son.”

One thing that I’ve come to learn in my Christian walk is that some times the act of doing something is very important. While I don’t follow a faith that says my actions gain me salvation, I do believe that they can help me along. I don’t feel like reading my Bible every day. Maybe you do and, in all honesty, I’m envious of that. I read my Bible because I believe that in doing so, I benefit myself and those around me. I believe that the more I read, the more I might desire to read. And I believe that even this pitiful effort pleases God. I truly believe that He can take my weak, sinful effort to read the Bible and He can use to change me. C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“We act from duty in the hope that someday we shall do the same acts freely and delightfully.”

It isn’t our actions that save us, but a loving God who searches for the heart behind the action.Yancey puts it this way:

“Transformation comes, in the end, not from an act of will, but an act of grace. We can only ask for it and keep asking.”

It is that beautiful moment in Mark, when the father of a demon-possessed boy, cries out to Jesus,

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24

What I found most encouraging in Yancey’s book was the reminder that doubt, uncertainty, and frustration are all normal passages in the Christian. Not ones where we should dwell, but paths we all walk through. Yancey offers encouragement, not answers, but most importantly, he reminds us, he reminds himself, that we are not alone.

“Hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”

Hosea 12:6

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

O Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being; We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our daily life that we may never forget thee, but remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Remembrance of God’s Presence, from The Book of Common Prayer, Canada

I’m not giving up anything for Lent this year. I’ve had enough of giving up. Instead, I’m holding on.

I’m holding on to my loved ones, to the myriad of blessings in my life. I’m holding on to the tiny happinesses that surround me each day. The sound of rain on my bedroom window. The seagulls who line up in rows on driftwood logs in the bay. A bouquet of tulips in my kitchen. The way it feels when my husband takes my hand while he’s driving.

I’m holding on to promise. I’m holding on to my God.

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54:10

That’s where I stand. On the mountain of my Lord, from which His strength prevails and I will not be moved. He is the Lord, who has compassion on me.

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