Sunday, June 30, 2013

Friendship Sunday

The parking lot of our country church was full. I had to squeeze into a space on its far edges between a red van and a pick up truck, close to the end of the asphalt. 

On my way to the church I balanced a travel mug of coffee; the two cherry pies I baked yesterday; my camera (in case I need it) and my heavy purse that felt as though it contained everything that might be needed for an extended camping trip rather than church.

I could hear my friend Frances's voice through the window, leading the worship team. I was a few minutes late, and the service was already happening. Inside the rows were filled with church members, and many of them had brought friends along as it was Friendship Sunday.

Our first ever Friendship Sunday service was refreshingly different to the usual church service in that the topic of friendship came alive  through the interviews with various members of the church family that Rick, one of our pastors, had done. It was an interesting cross section of interviews: male, female, young, old, different personality types.  He asked:

1. What is a friend?

2. How important is honesty in a friendship?

3. How important is communication in a friendship?

4. How much do you value your friends?

The answers people gave were thoughtful, funny, serious and wise and I felt that I got to know even people I know well, better.

Pastor Rick spoke about these points, and about friendship with Jesus. At the end, several people indicated that they wanted to know more about how to have a friendship with Jesus. It was a great morning.

Downstairs an abundant feast of hamburgers, hot dogs and salads waited for us, and enough desserts to feed a famished army! 

I heard people saying what a friendly church this was. Nice. We're doing it again in July. Such a great idea.

I am home alone this weekend apart from several pets. As my friend Irene put it, "It's you and the zoo!" :) Everyone I normally live with is either on a mission trip to Mishkeegogamang First Nation (Tippy, Tori and Paul) or away at the cottage (Kevin and Brenda.) So Frances, Susan and I decided to seize the afternoon to watch one of my favourite movies together.

Irene had videotaped the movie for me years ago, because she knew I loved the movie, and this past Christmas Susan gave me the DVD of it, with the intent that one day the three of us--Frances, Susan and I, would watch it together. This was the day!

The movie is The Grass Harp, based on a novel by American author, Truman Capote that was inspired by memories of his Alabama childhood.

The movie is one of Susan's favourites too, but Frances had never seen it. It was the perfect way to spend the afternoon of Friendship Sunday; we three friends and a movie that is about a bunch of misfits, and friendships, in a family and a town.

I cried at the end, as I always do! Susan said that we could easily spend an hour discussing the different relationships in the movie. Frances declared it very good.

It was made in 1995 and while it received good reviews, it did poorly at the box office. I still remember discovering it for the first time at the video store but seeing that there weren't multiple copies and it wasn't there for long. A hidden treasure.

The movie resonates with our Friendship Sunday at church today. In The Grass Harp, the "church people" of the town are not portrayed in a great light. They are stereo-typically judgmental and hypocritical. The misfits in the story seem to be the ones that Jesus would more likely spend his time associating with, and they reflect most closely the kindness, generosity, compassion and love of his character.

Today I think our church was a welcome place; a place that reached out a hand of friendship to the community; with kindness, generosity, compassion and love.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Dead Black Guy

Susan emailed me a memory two nights ago and I asked her if I could share it here. It's here, so you know she said yes! :)

I so enjoyed this glimpse into Susan's childhood. I love who she is now and I love who she was then, even though I would have been the girl named Colleen at the end of the story that she was laughing so hard at.

Susan grew up in Windsor, Ontario and she and her husband Ron happened across this news article with the attached photo. That brought back the memory in this story. Now, over to Susan:

A public meeting to discuss Ojibway Shores is scheduled for July 3 between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. at
 Mackenzie Hall in Old Sandwich Towne.
Ron asked me if I knew where along the river that was and I know EXACTLY where it is.  The house where I lived until I was 11 would be located near the top of this photo if it hadn't been torn down a few years ago.  (To make room for the new bridge to Detroit.)

This exact section of the shore of the Detroit River is where I used to play as a kid.  Oh, my goodness, I think about it now and I just shudder.  God's hand of protection must have been on me and my brother.  We weren't allowed to go that far from our house, but we did anyway - from the time we were about nine years old.  We would play all in that woods and along the riverfront.  It was always littered with dead fish and slimy debris.  But we waded in it anyway.  (If we'd gone out very far the current could easily have carried us away.  It's very dangerous to swim in that river.)  

See where that lake freighter is "parked".  We knew that as the "Morton Terminal".  It was much smaller when I was a kid - maybe 1/3 the size.  We would ride our bikes up there and swim between the lake freighters and the dock.  Usually with most of our clothes on because we never bothered with bathing suits.  Yikes...  The pollution alone should have killed us.

We would wander all through the areas on this photo all day long..  from sunup until hunger drove us back home at suppertime.  (We usually packed a sandwich for lunch to eat on our adventures but very often we would go without eating all day.)  I can tell you the names of those streets, and show you where my friends lived.  And where we found "the dead guy" once.  He was a tall skinny black man, who had big white teeth that looked to us white kids like big marshmallows in his mouth...  Those were the days.

"Was the dead black guy really dead?" I wanted to know.

No he wasn't really dead, only sleeping.  But we (me, my brother, Bernard Knoll, and Owen Corrigan - my childhood BEST friend - pretended he was dead and talked about him, sitting there in his car, head lolling back and mouth gaping open - as though he were "really" dead.  We were really just pretending, though, and we knew it.

And then when Colleen Kenney came riding by on her bicycle, we couldn't help teasing her shamelessly by saying, "There's a dead guy in a car down by the river!"  So she went tearing down there (we were on foot) and then came tearing back.  I can still see her standing on that dusty gravel road, straddling her chrome fendered bike with one foot on either side of the navy blue frame. 

"You're right! He IS dead!" she shrieked.  And then she took off towards home. 

We laughed our heads off at her gullibility and went on playing, wending, and wandering our way towards home.  It didn't seem so funny, though, when we were playing in a ditch along Chappus Street and a police cruiser pulled up next to us.  There sat Colleen Kenney in the back seat and she was pointing at US!  We stood up and faced the cops.  

He asked in a booming voice.  "Did you kids see a dead guy down by the river?"

We nodded wordlessly, not able to think of a single thing to say.  We knew we were in BIG trouble.  We didn't want to lie, but we didn't want to tell the truth either.

"Get in the car," said the police officer.  

We all piled into the backseat.  There must have been five of us with Colleen Kenney in there too.  We were stunned.  WE were in a police car!  But we were so afraid of getting into trouble that we couldn't enjoy it.  And we started to wonder, with all this kerfluffle, if the guy we saw sleeping really WAS dead after all!

The cop drove us down to the river and there sat the brown and beige two-tone car with the monstrous fenders that the "dead guy" had been sleeping in.  

"Is that the car?" boomed the officer.  We nodded.

Just then the black man who had been asleep all along came walking up, bait pail and fishing pole in hand.  He was laughing sooo hard.  "I ain't dead! I sho ain't dead!" I can remember him saying.

Apparently a second police car had gone down there, found him fishing and must have helped him to piece together what had happened.

We were so scared. The cop drove us home after that, and I was expecting the belt from my dad.  I got it all right, as I probably should have, wandering away that far from home.  I thought back then that the licking I got had something to do with the dead guy, and being wrong about his deadness, but I think now that it must only have been that I was down there at all.  But I'm pretty sure also that we were probably right back there the very next weekend!

And that's the story of finding the dead guy in an old Chevy, down by the river.  :)

(Thank you Susan for taking us back to a summer's day in Windsor, 50 years ago or so.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Friendship Sunday at Hillside

This coming Sunday is Friendship Sunday at Hillside Community Church and one of our pastors, Rick Grundy, exercised his creative talents in making these video clips in which he asked some members of our congregation for their thoughts on friendship.

I thought you might enjoy the clips--and Susan gave her permission, since she is in both of them. :) I was at Hannah's baptism the day Rick made the clips, but I would likely have run from the camera had I been there, or not have done as great a job as my church family did! :)

Oh, and if you live in the neighbourhood of Tottenham, come out and join us this Sunday morning. Dress is casual--and there is a BBQ afterwards, with all kinds of delicious salads and desserts provided by the Hillsiders who are gifted in that area. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Keep the Trail Fresh

It was almost 6 years ago, July 1, 2007 that I wrote a blog post entitled Daughters of Eve about the hospitality of the Fox family and two little girls who held a Sunday afternoon concert on violin and piano; for me, their special guest that day.

Yesterday Paul and I were witnesses to Hannah's baptism, one of those daughters. She is 15 now; still playing the violin!

It was a hot and sultry Sunday morning as we drove down dusty side roads, looking for the Konrad farm, where the baptisms were taking place. 

We parked, and unloaded our picnic cooler holding salads, and wrestled it and two lawn chairs up the grassy hill towards the barn where we could see a crowd gathering. Children were running around or jumping on a trampoline, undaunted by the steamy heat.

The pungent smell of manure stung our nostrils as we climbed the ramp into the barn. We parked our cooler and lawn chairs and found a seat near the front of many rows of folding chairs, waved there by Hannah's mom, my dear friend, Ellen.

A band of musicians and singers was getting ready to lead in worship. I spotted Hannah, dark blond braid over her shoulder, and violin beneath her chin.

We joined in the singing, hair clinging damply to our heads in spite of the meager breeze provided by our bulletin fans.

From the floor below a goat bleated, visible through an opening in the barn wall.

There were five people being baptised that morning, most of them by Pastor Randy Jolliffe of Faith Community Church, but Hannah's dad, Jason, was baptising her, just as our son, Peter, had baptised his own daughter when she was old enough to choose to make this public declaration of faith.

On Jason's seat lay his Bible, carefully prepared notes on top. Hannah has his features and many of his personality traits and his tender love for his daughter was in every word.

Ellen had invited me to share a scripture with Hannah during the service. Although I wrote a scripture on her card from Psalm 139, during the service a passage came to mind, and this was the one I wanted to share with this young woman looking for a word of wisdom from her Auntie of the Heart. Although I read from a different version, I love this paraphrase from The Message:

Hebrews 12:1-3

The Message (MSG)

Discipline in a Long-Distance Race

12 1-3 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

I told Hannah that although there were many mentors to look up to who have gone before, all are human and fallible. Only Jesus never fails.

Jason also spoke of following in the footprints of those who have gone before, remembering that we, too, are leaving footprints for others to follow in. Something he said to Hannah, challenges me: "Keep the trail fresh." 

Dear Hannah, there could be no better word than that, "Keep the trail fresh."

Thank you for inviting us to share this special day with you.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Realization of a Dream

Far from a lazy summer month, this June promised to rock with the vibrancy of a Caribbean carnival packed with exciting events. My only challenge has been keeping up with everything.

It was while brushing my teeth on Saturday morning, listening to the radio, that I was shocked out of my brief sense of weekend relaxation by the realization that it was June 22nd and the Toronto Jazz Festival was  in full swing; ten days of music featuring 1,500 artists, including (please imagine a drum roll) Mavis Staples.

Back in May, I wrote here about discovering Mavis through a CD given to me by a friend, and about adding a live Mavis Staples concert to my bucket list. I imagined myself, sometime  in the future, tracking her down in the United States to realize that dream. But my friend Susan discovered online that she was coming to Toronto in June for the Toronto Jazz Festival and bought me tickets for my birthday.

Fortunately Susan hadn't forgotten the date, so, for the second time in one week, we headed for the city together--early, so that we would be sure to get a good seat. I could barely contain my excitement at the thought of actually hearing Mavis sing live.

 Susan and I did find great seats, and balancing cardboard boxes of blatantly non-health-food poutine, we sat down to anticipate the show.

Not long after sitting down, Wendy, the friend who gave me the CD that introduced me to Mavis Staples back in May, came over to say hello. She had traveled all the way from Muskoka for the concert.

The hot air hung heavy with the scent of approaching rain mixed with exhaust, beer and fast foods as we ate our gravy and cheese curd loaded, french fries. 

At 8 o'clock the emcee announced Mavis and her band. The crowd stood to welcome this queen of gospel blues, who once marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. in the Civil Rights Movement. 

She had difficulty mounting the stage due to a painful knee that is soon to be replaced, but she was not about to let that keep her from giving her fans everything they hoped for and her deep laughter drew us to her, warmer even than the summer night. 

We tried to guess how old Mavis Staples is, but I would not have believed that she is 73. The energy she put into the performance was incredible; her voice a powerful mix of gravel and honey.

We noticed the obvious affection her band has for her and how they watched over her; intuitively knowing when the pain in her knee meant she had to rest; covering for her with music that was electrifying.

Living the dream of seeing Mavis Staples "live," exceeded my expectations.  

Sitting in Nathan Phillips Square  in the heart of Toronto, hearing faith proclaimed in song; with no compromise, yet not a shred of judgment; felt like being where Jesus would be if he was here in person now--with ordinary people, out in the crowds, making them long for what he has to offer.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

In Honour of Dave

I traveled a gray concrete arm clad in green sleeves, from the hamlet of Bond Head, down to the city of Toronto on Thursday afternoon.

Along the way I parked my car and met Susan, who drove us the rest of the way down to Church Street, where we were meeting friends at the Cafe California.

Driving as a passenger, I tried to absorb as much as I could of the increasingly concentrated life of the city. We flowed like corpuscles down an artery; blood pooling into nerve endings. Sensory stimulation overwhelmed with every glance and inhalation of air.

A tall black woman in casual clothing walked the hot pavement with the grace of a gazelle--a Masai princess in t-shirt and denim; around her every tribe and colour in the world seemed represented on the crowded streets.

In the depths of a parking garage we tried to talk sense to a stoically impervious ticket machine. I resisted the urge to kick it as our generous margin of time was squandered on its adherence to strict rules that we could not understand but eventually deciphered, watched by a "helpful" man, who cheerfully told us that because we didn't want to wait three more minutes until 4.00 p.m., our high priced ticket would need to be renewed at 6.00 p.m.. We paid anyway, not wanting to disappoint our waiting friends by being late. The triumph of finally wrestling a ticket from the machine made us ridiculously happy! :)

As we emerged into light and life from the concrete stairway, our senses were overwhelmed and called to by the street vendors' wares--the tang of mustard and hot dogs and the alluring fragrance of french fries.

We found our friends Dave and Joe, who were treating Susan, myself, and two other friends; Rose and Dunja; to appetizers and tea, before a ceremony in a beautiful building that used to house the National Ballet School. Dave was to be one of three recipients that night of the Surrey Place Centre, June Callwood Award, for 2013.

The other two winners of the award that night were Robert Pio Hajjar, a motivational speaker and self advocate with Down syndrome, and Mary Pat Armstrong, who won the award for volunteerism and philanthropy. 

Dave won the prestigious award for his lifetime of education and advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities. 

The new CEO of Surrey Place Centre, Steven A. Finlay, honoured Dave's work, and said that his was "one of the early voices advocating for rights for people with disabilities, including the right to sexuality."

In his acceptance speech; which had to be three minutes or less; Dave spoke of his memories of having lived in a building that overlooked the old National Ballet School; the venue for these awards; and how he and Joe had looked down one night on the young dancers that burst out onto the roof and danced beneath the open sky, with passion, purpose and joy!

To those of us in the audience he said, "Let's dance the rest of our careers with passion, purpose and joy."
Star struck and not ashamed to admit it! :)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Finding My Tribe

One of the gifts of Write! Canada is making new friends. Let me introduce you to one I met this year: Jenny Svetec; who wrote a blog post entitled Finding my Tribe about her experience at Write! Canada.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Stepping onto the Road

Song of Songs 2:4

New International Version (NIV)
Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
    and let his banner over me be love.

I am full of gratitude for the sense of belonging at Write! Canada, and for the intensive instruction, inspiration and fellowship packed into the two and a half days. 

Back in April, I had a mental image as one of my colleagues prayed. It was an image of a person I knew was Jesus, with his back to me and towards a person who was surrounded by balls lying on the floor. My colleague had been praying for help juggling the balls we all try so hard to keep up in the air.

The figure in the foreground picked up a blue ball from the ground and placed it so gently and lovingly in her hands; cupping her hands with both of his. The ball he gave her was the one to hold in that moment--it was the opposite of the stress of juggling balls, trying to keep them all in the air.

The image impacted me then and guides me daily, to submit my agenda to God moment by moment, but it wasn't until I was leaving Write! Canada on Saturday, that the message went even deeper.

The conference was at an end. Rooms had been emptied and cases loaded into cars as we prepared to scatter like seeds packed with promise, to all corners of Canada.

Ramona, a member of the prayer team, with short golden hair, tanned face and smiling tawny eyes, was giving out Word Guild, "stress reduction balls," to the departing writers. She headed in my direction, hand outstretched with one for me. As she pressed the ball into my hand, eyes smiling into mine, my eyes filled with tears, and I laughed and cried at its significance to me; for this, I knew, was the ball I was meant to carry. Its message: Changing the world with Words.

The next morning; Sunday; I knew that if I was seriously to follow this call, I had to step down from the worship team. Whenever I have thought about it before, it has felt like a difficult decision, but not now.  

My friend Frances, who leads our team, apologized for forgetting to tell me about last Tuesday's practice. "It was a ball I dropped," she said; I smiled inwardly.

As I told each person that needed to know, there were nothing but blessings on my decision when people heard the reason. 

Frances held my hand tightly and said, "Nothing will change--except that you will become a better writer."

“He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. 'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Few More Snippets from Write! Canada Today

Write! Canada finished with more energy than a fireworks display in July. And this in spite of conversations in the lounge until the wee hours of the morning; and Night Owl and Early Bird reading sessions.

Photo by Susan C. Stewart
The final keynote speaker this afternoon, was Toronto scriptwriter, Dennis Hassell. He launched us like rockets for our journeys home, with fire in our bellies and flaming fingers ready to hit our keyboards.

Dennis spoke of the power of story. He likened stories to swallows. Stories go over and under defenses, like a swallow flies over the highest gates of a fortified city. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis was one wonderful example he gave.

We bring people to "life," not through polemics but through parables. "Parables," said Dennis, "are not explicit, they are implicit. You have to puzzle it out."

About our excuses not to write, Dennis quoted Gandalf, the wizard of The Lord of the Rings, who said, "All you have to do is to decide what to do with the time given to you."

There is never enough time to write; but Dennis reminded us that we are not called to "successfulness" but faithfulness. He challenged us to, "Write faithfully and gave us 5 Commandments:

  1. Thou shalt "Get over it." Get over your hurts and disappointments. "Suck it up, soldier."
  2. You are interesting and what interests  you, interests others.
  3. Thou shalt commit.
  4. You shall remember your purpose and keep it holy.
  5. Your first purpose is to grow up and be complete in Christ.
"A thousand years from now our earthly success will mean nothing, but our faithfulness will continue to pay royalties."
“I will take the Ring", he said, "though I do not know the way.” Frodo― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring

( If you would like to order copies of the workshops, continuing classes, or keynote sessions, you can get them in part or full through Swordfish Digital AudioI can let you know how to order them if you are interested--just send me a note with contact information.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

More News from Write! Canada

Tonight's keynote speaker was author and professor of literature, Carolyn Weber, who spoke about the spiritual journey chronicled in her book: Surprised by Oxford; a reference to C.S. Lewis's book, Surprised by Joy.

She read from her book; a beautifully written memoir; and she spoke about the impact it had on her family; as broken and dysfunctional as any of our own.

Marilyn Yocum wrote recently about Every Writer's Dilemma: To Write Privately or Publicly, and I wrote too, in my post entitled, Can't Do It, of my decision to draw a line in writing of some personal family history.

Carolyn spoke of that very thing tonight and I thought that I would share a little of what she said.

She quoted Samuel Coleridge--and I wrote it down quickly so it is just an approximation: "The process of selection is the hardest part of creation." How true that is!

Here are my rough notes on four of Carolyn's "5 Golden Rules for Writing Memoir:" I'm sorry that it is only four--but I only just realized that I missed writing down the last one. This is one keynote that I will probably order the audio CD for:

  1. Pay attention to your life; be intentional about journaling.
  2. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
  3. Never write from anger or unresolved issues; writing through my anger or sadness brings me to the other side. No one has to see that draft.
  4. Get several points of view on your final draft: Carolyn says she gets two people who can look at her theology professionally and two or three people who can look at her draft on a personal basis: a friend or believing spouse; and a non believing friend.
Signing off from Guelph. One more glorious day to go. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Where to Begin?

I can't tell every wonderful thing that has happened today; I hear the voice of one of my writing mentors, Marilyn Yocum whose beginner's class I took in two different years at Write! Canada because I loved it and her so much. She is telling me, "No home movies."  So just two fun snippets!

The conference has workshops and a selection of continuing classes over two and a half days. The continuing class I am taking is: Finding Your Way Deeper into Writing; taught by Bill Fledderus, Adjunct Lecturer in English at Redeemer University College. I am loving it.

This bit of writing comes from a writing exercise in his class this afternoon when he was teaching us about creative non-fiction:

My 41 year old daughter Brenda, has been packing up to move into a new house and came upstairs from her apartment, holding a small doll, saying, “Look what I found Mom." 
The doll came without movable joints, and it squeaked when she squeezed it. I remember looking for a baby doll about 35 years ago and this one was the best I could find at the time. 
But it wasn't the doll that was so important to her, it was the clothes, made by my Dutch Oma for a doll of mine when I was a child; a crocheted lilac jacket closed with the tiniest mother-of-pearl buttons, and a white dress, also crocheted, the yarn of the garments matted through much washing. 
And she held a two piece cotton outfit made out of fabric cut from a childhood dress of mine. The short sleeved top closed with a snap of silver domes, hanging loosely from thread now, the neck trimmed with a band of deep pink. The skirt had box pleats, all stitched lovingly by those hands I remember being always busy with some task.  
The fabric, crisp cotton with bright pink roses, and green leaves on a white background, brought back more memories. The dress it was from, I treasured. I was about ten years old when I got it. In a world of plain school uniforms and hand-me-downs; a rare new garment, so pretty at that, made me feel like a princess! Shortly after I got mine, the girl next door got one almost the same; my first ever experience of imitation being the most sincere form of flattery.
It was just a fun memory to capture in a few minutes writing!

The other joy to share from this day, was during the celebration time at the end of the evening, when all the writers who had published something they were proud of this year, got to line up and go up on stage to share with the crowd.

The first wave of enthusiastic writers shared their accomplishments and then Denise, the managing director of The Word Guild said, "There have to be more!" and that prompted a second wave of the more introverted writers to line up. 

I waited a few moments, struggling with the urge to share, but held back by innate shyness. Then I thought that not to share would dishonour not just God's blessing on my writing, but also my co-author Dave, so I joined the line and shared my privilege of having written with Dave Hingsburger, and published in The Direct Support Professional's Newsletter; the article, "Faith, Fealty and Freedom.

Dave, if you are reading this, we were well applauded, and I felt proud and grateful for both of us!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


This morning I prepared to leave for Write! Canada, the writers conference in Guelph, which I have attended every year since 2000, with the exception of 2009 (due to a sudden illness that sabotaged my plans.)

Susan hadn't planned on going this year, but on Tuesday evening, was wishing to God that she might be there, serving all the writers there in some way. At the very time she was expressing her heart wish to God, the managing director of The Word Guild, Denise Rumble, connected with me by email to say that their photographer was unable to make it at the last minute--and  she asked me, was Susan Stewart a photographer?

In a whirlwind of phone calls and arrangements made at the speed of sound, the rest is history. Susan is going to the conference too, this year. We are all shouting, "Hurray!"

I go with an expectation of learning; hearing from God and renewing my call and commitment to write. I look forward to the old and new connections that always happen at this conference.

What's new? Well, for the first time ever, I am going with business cards that introduce me as a writer. At the very least this will save me the trouble of hurriedly searching for pen and paper in order to write out my contact information.

But I have a feeling there is is my card imprint:

Belinda Burston
Writer: Blogger; speechwriter; personal experience articles; humour

Whatever He Says
Bearing witness in my small corner of the world


We must wait for the greatest, most profound, most gentle things in life; nothing happens in a rush, but only according to the divine laws of germinating, growing, and becoming.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer 
Guelph Bible Conference Grounds

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Maplewood Lodge

Brenda posted this aerial photo Maplewood Lodge in the mid 1970's, on Facebook. That is my yellow Lada; a Russian car; parked behind the house.

Paul bought the car for me, and Rob painstakingly taught me to drive standard, which I needed to learn, to drive it. 

The house was not a mansion by any means; the old farmhouse is the building at the front, with a newer part at the back, surrounded by two acres.  There was an oil furnace and no air conditioning and the walls had little insulation. On cold nights the walls would bang loudly as they expanded and contracted with temperature changes. The pipes froze in winter and the septic system regularly gave us problems. Yet we loved living there.

We moved there in 1974, intending to stay two years, but lived there for almost ten, leaving at the end of 1983. It was the place that shaped us into who we are today.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Fog Story

One foggy January morning, 35 years ago, three years after we moved to Maplewood Lodge, I walked down the long driveway to the road, to wait with our children; Brenda (5,) and Peter (7;) for the school bus.
The bus emerged from the fog and they climbed on board. I turned to walk back to the house. 

One minute the children's voices rang out--"Quick Brenda, get a kiss from Mommy," and, "Mommy, will you look after my snowball?" Then the whining hum of the bus driving off into the distance. Suddenly silence, hanging in the air. Palpable stillness.

There had been a light fall of snow the night before; enough to cover the trees and bushes with a magical new coat, but it was quite mild, and a mist hung all around the edges of the fields.

The hills that rose on the other side of the fields, were hidden, and in the quiet I was in a world at once timeless and peaceful.

From high in the misty treetops came the sound of birds chirping; the drip of snow melting from the rooftop; and occasionally a car whizzing by; intruders from the present, breaking the fragile spell.

I thought of my English childhood and my favourite foggy mornings there in the village, and how I felt securely blanketed in a world of cotton wool. It felt as though anything could happen; almost as if two worlds existed side by side. 

You could catch glimpses of the real world as you passed lighted shop windows or recognized friends or villagers on their way to school or work, but it all had a strange aura of unreality with sounds muffled so that they seemed to come from far away.

That was how it felt that long ago January morning. I looked across the fields, into the mist, at the beautiful land and the old farm house, and wondered about the family that had lived there for almost 200 years after carving a farm out of the wilderness.

What kind of people were Shadrach, Elizabeth and Lydia Stephens, and all the other Stephens's whose names I didn't know, but whose bones rested in the pioneer burial ground beneath the orchard?

I didn't know the answer and would never know. The house looked on enigmatically. It would keep its secrets, as it had for generations.

It was a morning of mist...and mystery.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Tables Turn

Still looking through the archives for one particular post. Still haven't found it, but I found this one that made me smile again and thought it might make you smile too...

My kids would probably say they ate plainly as children. Not exactly a deprived childhood, but the cereal in the cupboard was stuff like Cornflakes; Weetabix: Oatmeal--oh, and Puffed Wheat (basically air, I know!) I was a Meanie Mom who refused to buy sugared cereal. They loved my friend Irene, who would buy them Coco Pops!

Except for festive occasions, we ate lots of casseroles and home made food.

They had parents who balanced out the scales in opposite directions: Paul, who until recently kept the salt industry afloat single handedly, and who would happily live on hamburgers and fries, peanut butter on toast (white bread of course,) or large bowls of Cornflakes and Weetabix crunched together and sprinkled liberally with sugar; and me who loved nuts; seeds; yogurt; brown bread or Ryvita, and vegetables. I admit, I had my unhealthy addictions, but I naturally love healthy food.

Brenda discovered a few years ago that she was gluten intolerant and radically changed what she ate. But still, her natural preferences ran to fast food, until recently when she ramped up her focus on fitness and began training hard and getting some great advice on a healthy diet, adapted to her needs. I admire her for her efforts. She's a great role model for her girls and they are totally into fitness and learning about healthy eating.

Yesterday, as we were dividing the spoils after our turkey dinner, Brenda, with a gleam in her eye, scooped up some turkey and vegetables for lunches this week. She loves food, but not cooking!

A few minutes later she came upstairs with two small containers to offer me. "Would you be interested in these bean salads?" she said, "They're packed in lunch sized portions, but you need to know, Mom, they contain..." and she lowered her voice.

"What?" I said, wondering what terrible ingredient could be in bean salad.

"Saturated fat," she said grimly, "and I can't eat them."

"Sure Brenda, lay it on me," I thought, but I took them, and I laughed at how the tables have turned.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Love Life

Aha, I thought that title would get your attention. 

We're in our 44th year of married life, so I thought I would share a glimpse of what it is like at our age. 

A warning: You may be disappointed; but not if you are looking for humour.

Last night Paul was looking for sympathy from the friends in our living room because I, "move things around all the time." 

Just for clarification--he's not talking about the furniture; moving the jam in the fridge, counts. :) 

So this morning we had a quick breakfast together. We were running a little late. He commented on the coffee particularly; how nice it was; nice and strong, just how he likes it. 

We finished breakfast and got ready to leave. "Do you want me to pour your second cup into a travel mug?" I asked.

"That would be wonderful," he said.

I filled a silver mug and called out, "It's on the hall table!"

His last words were a grateful, "Thanks love," as I gathered my own travel mug full of steaming coffee, my lunch bag containing my thermos, which I stood up beside the travel mug; my purse; my agenda; and headed out of the house. 

I was grateful that I hadn't driven too far before getting the feeling I'd forgotten my reading glasses. I pulled over and checked inside my purse. They were indeed missing. I turned around and went back for them. I usually carry two pairs in case I lose one somewhere as I can't read without them any more.

I quickly scanned the kitchen for them, found them, and left the house again. Paul was still in his office getting ready to leave.

A short drive later, I was in my office and organizing my desk for the morning's work. I got my travel mug out of the lunch bag and put it on the desk and noticed another mug already there. I touched the top of it and noticed it was hot. My brain tried to make sense of a cup on the desk that I had thought was left from yesterday, but was hot. The sad truth dawned. I had picked up Paul's coffee as well as my own, and, because I am used to carrying masses of "stuff" into work with me, hadn't noticed until now.

And he had so been enjoying that particular pot of coffee.

I called home to apologize, but there was no reply. He had left for the day. And I hoped that he had forgotten all about the coffee. 

No such luck; it was about half an hour later that an email came in that started this exchange:
Hello Belinda, you did it again, you are trying to push me over the edge++++ how? glad you asked, you hid my coffee mug and I could not find it and I know you put it on the hall table for me to take to the office BUT it vanished and I had to buy coffee at Mac Donald's making me a poor disillusioned guy. I hope you feel guilty. 
Dear Poor Disillusioned Guy, 
I am pushing myself over the edge! I arrived at work with TWO coffees. I did feel guilty. I couldn't believe that I had two hot cups of coffee on my desk. I called you at home to say sorry, but you must have left. I am a bit high maintenance--today at least! I  hope my rhubarb pie and the fact that I didn't give away the last piece last night but saved it FOR YOU, will make up for it. Now if only you can find it.
"Disillusioned," but motivated!" :)
He just came in to say goodnight.

"I love you," he said.

"I love you too."

"Coffee stealer."

Some people just can't let things go. :)

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Guilty Parties

By Belinda

Oh my, I am still looking for that foggy story from the past. I haven't found it yet, and if I don't tomorrow, I will rewrite it from my journal, but I found this funny story from last year to share. It was called "Guilty Parties," and you will soon find out why. :)

I was loading the dishwasher when Brenda wandered into the kitchen with a perplexed expression on her face and furrowed brow. She had just lost something precious, her last piece of salmon. In fact she had posted her status to the world on Facebook  as this:
"Ok it's official ... I have lost my mind and my salmon! Made my lunch for tomorrow and could have sworn I put the leftovers in the fridge but the allusive salmon is still MIA! If I ever find it I'll let I you know where I put it!"

And now she was coming to commiserate with me. I obliged. After all, I am used to the fact that I can put something down and it vanishes from view in that very split second! How does that happen?? I am used to hunting the kitchen and my office in dismay for items that leave my hand and vanish into thin air. But it was funny to see my daughter standing in my kitchen in her pajamas telling me that she had actually looked inside her washing machine, dryer, oven and microwave for her salmon.

I went downstairs to help look. 

We had decided on the weekend to split some of the grocery items we buy in bulk, to save money, and space in our fridges. One thing we bought was a salmon steak, which I had baked and then put into two large take-out chicken containers from Swiss Chalet--one for her and one for me. These containers aren't small, so how hard could it be to find one in her apartment downstairs? I was sure I would spot it in no time.

We recruited Tippy to help, and laughingly proposed a prize for the one to find the salmon. Tori was in the shower and when she emerged, Brenda asked her if she had seen the salmon. She said, "No, but feel free to interrogate the shampoo!" She turned thirteen in March, which should explain everything.

The three of us looked in all the cupboards, the garbages, the appliances. Nothing.

My mind turned to the one member of the downstairs household not present: Kevin. He was upstairs working in his office.

"Brenda, I bet Kevin has the salmon." I said, "He must be playing a joke on you!" It seemed like the only possible explanation left.

Molson was circling the group, nuzzling my hands, but if he had anything to do with this,  where was the evidence? The container would have to be left behind and it was nowhere to be seen.

Just when Brenda was about to buy into my Kevin theory, there was a crack in the case. Tori caved under the pressure of knowing that poor Kevin was about to be interrogated and admitted her part in the crime.

It seems that she took the Swiss Chalet container from the fridge into the t.v. room thinking it indeed contained chicken; a logical assumption. When she found it was salmon, not chicken, she left it on the table. Enter Molson; "Only Too Glad to Help" Molson. 

"Tori," I said, "I can't believe it. You actually watched us searching high and low, and you knew all along where the salmon was?" 

Tori had the grace to look slightly uncomfortable and guilty. She hadn't known what to do. She hadn't banked on her mother going into such a tizzy over the salmon, or the "the big guns" being called in; which was what I hear she called me after I went back upstairs! :)

She went and retrieved the missing container from her room and held it out to us.

"What were you going to do with it?" I said, looking at the empty container with vestiges of salmon left around the edges.

"I was going to wait until tomorrow and then dispose of it!" sounding as though she was referring to a body inconveniently lying around.

I thought that she seemed far too casually at ease with surreptitious disposal and wondered what else might be going the way of the salmon.

As for Molson, her partner in crime; we decided he might as well finish off the vestiges that were left. 

And he was happy to oblige!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Foggy Morning

By Belinda

Just yesterday I was telling a friend who was visiting, about a certain misty morning at Maplewood Lodge. I'd written about it, and said that I would post that story again. I haven't been able to find it quickly; there are an amazing 2,335 posts on this blog now! However, I did find another post about a foggy morning right here in Bond Head, written in 2009. I loved reliving that morning and while I will continue my search for the original story, here is the one I did find, which brought back a lovely memory:

Saturday morning. Pancakes with blueberries, the house redolent with fragrant fresh coffee, and outside--fog!

Tippy said, "It looks like there's a white backdrop outside of the window. If you got all dressed up in white, no one would be able to see you." We laughed at the thought of her fog camouflage suit.

I told of my childhood in England, when the fog descended on our village and we groped our way around the old streets. Light came faintly from lampposts and windows and mystery hung tangibly in the air.

The fog muffled all sound, adding to the sense of insulation. Time seemed to stand still--or perhaps it magically turned back several centuries, just like it did in the stories I loved reading as a child. Fog was my favourite weather.

Tippy and Victoria listened, wide eyed, fully relating to the deliciousness of imagination.

The windows were open to let in the cool morning air, and on it floated the rhythmic cricket song; the fields alive with the sound.

Then, so faint that we scattered, trying to track down the source, we heard the soft, plaintive wail of a lone bagpipe. We realized that it was coming from outside, though the mist, from the direction of a neighbour's house.

We stood at the window and listened to the haunting sound. We wondered if the piper was a nostalgic Scot.

When the music stopped, we applauded through the window.

"Encore," we cried, "Encore!"

But there was no response, and the throbbing of the cricket's song was all that was left behind...

One misty, moisty, morning,When cloudy was the weather,There I met an old manAll clothed in leather
All clothed in leather,With a cap under his chin.How do you do? And how do you do? And how do you do again

English nursery rhyme