"life lessons"

Angels Among Us

"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. 
An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.
- G. K. Chesterton

Last Sunday night, I grafted the toe on the first of a pair of socks destined to grace Jabin's footies, wove in the end, and immediately after I clipped the yarn I noticed that when I had turned the heel, I had managed to skip about 8 stitches, leaving about an inch of yarn running straight across the bottom of the heel in a most inconvenient manner. Non-knitters may wonder how I managed to do that, but the technical explanation will leave you glassy-eyed, so just trust me that it can be done. This was actually the second sock in a row I had managed to do this magic trick on, but the first time, I caught the mistake after only a few rows. This time, I was finished the sock. Deep down, I knew that the only way to really fix this problem was going to be to frog ("rippit, rippit") it back to the offending row and re-do the last few hours of work. Grumpily, I tossed it aside.

I thought of that sock a lot yesterday. I wished I had it with me to ease the tension, or (more like) the boredom, I was experiencing on my current "adventure".

You see, the day before as I left the house for a day of shopping and errands in Grande Prairie, I looked at my long, long list and the thought crossed my mind to bring my knitting. What would be the point in that? I wondered. I never have time to knit on an "errands day" anyway, especially one in G.P. So I left it at home.

By that night, as I was trying to wind down in the holiday trailer belonging to the couple we had bought our new home from at their farm near Teepee Creek (about forty-five minutes from G.P.), I was wondering what normal people did when they had nothing to do. And by "normal", of course, I mean "those who aren't obsessive-compulsive knitters". I wondered about it even more yesterday, as I twiddled my thumbs around the town of Sexsmith, waiting for my van to be repaired so we could finally go home. Had I only thought to bring my knitting, I could have finished those socks today, with no guilt for the amount of hours taken away from renovating to do it! I lamented.

As it was, the kids and I got well acquainted with the one-horse town of Sexsmith before the van was repaired and we were on our way at 4:30. Also, I texted to Jason a lot! :-D

See, I had been going to check on the addition (which is still at the previous owners' old farmyard) and to get the pantry shelves for my kitchen which I knew were leaning against the wall of the storage room there. On the way back toward the highway, I was squinting into the sun, low in the west, when I hit a huge mound of gravel on the road which had been squished up by the large trucks that often travelled there. A mile later, my van completely overheated, binging at me wildly. Sure enough, that gravel had blasted my fan belt in two, and it was now firmly wrapped around my water pump and alternator and was visible hanging from the bottom of my van from twenty feet away.

Fortunately, I knew that the folks we had bought our trailer from lived in a family farmhouse they had just inherited, and it was only a few miles away. In fact, I had seen their pickup truck in the hay field next to the addition when I had stopped there, so I knew they were around. God allowed my phone call to get through, despite the spotty cell phone service where I was parked, and Karen was soon on her way with Barry to rescue me.

Did they ever  (rescue me, I mean)--for a couple we barely know, who owe us no favours, they went beyond the extra mile. Karen took my kids back to their house while Barry and I did a "farmer-tow" of the van back to the yard where the addition is. Then we headed over to their house so I could update Jason and decide what to do. By then, B&K had offered to let us sleep in the holiday trailer, and were already brainstorming about the closest tow truck and mechanic.

In the morning, to save us the nearly $300 it would have cost to get a tow truck out of G.P. to haul us to Sexsmith, they borrowed a car-hauler trailer from their neighbour, and Karen took us to town herself, to the mechanic that Barry had arranged for first thing. This was after a full, farm breakfast, and on a day with plenty of haying still to be done (the rain has pushed the whole season quite late, this year).

Honestly, I wasn't really stressed out about the whole thing at any point. As I told Karen on the way into town, "This isn't the most exciting adventure I've ever had..." Maybe it is because of the fact that I have been in far worse pickles, and things have always ended up okay, that this seemed more like a little unplanned adventure than anything else.

So what did I learn from this particular adventure? I mean, besides the fact that there are still really kind and generous people in the world?

Never leave home without my knitting again, of course!

(The next "Suddenly Busy" update will be coming "soon"--I promise! *heh, heh*)

Back to the Future

Last night, I started a book that has been sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently for me for several months, now. Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel. (My bushels of potatoes and carrots and beets and onions are all doing very well in the garden at the moment, so I really need to start figuring out how I am going to keep them fresh this winter.)

At the beginning of the Preface, they had a quote that really spoke to me:
Slowly we are carving a new lifestyle. To some it might seem to be one that is looking backward, for it cherishes the homely, the rude, the unpackaged, the unmechanized, the careful. We do not think of it as a blind shutting out of any visions of the future, but rather, for us, the right way to face the future. The carving is not easy. It is often painful. But in it are the seeds of sanity, of joy.

-Mara Cary, Basic Baskets
That is what I feel like I am doing almost every day: re-learning old ways of doing things, so that the future is not a big, scary Place. If/when the oil runs out, if/when electricity becomes a much more precious commodity, if/when food is not trucked into my little Northern town every day, will our family survive? Will we be able to eat in February? And even in the meantime, how do I save money in the current economy, live frugally, be responsible?

The more I look, the more I see that the answer is actually found in renewing many economical traditions of our forefathers (and foremothers, too!) So I am learning to garden, although I still feel like I am forgetting something most of the time. I am learning to raise chickens, even though my heart breaks every time a predator or sickness takes one, and I really wonder how I will have the heart to butcher them in a few months. I am learning to preserve food without electricity. I am learning that the best peace of mind is in knowing that the One who made me has a plan, and He is still in control, even in what I think of as "uncertain times."

I am learning. And I am teaching my children.

That is the best insurance I can think of.

It's a Tea With Cardamom Sort of Day

I learned to like tea in India. Before that, I really didn't care for any caffeinated beverages, with the possible exception of an extremely occasional Sprite or 7-Up. My dad drank coffee, not tea, and my mom drank, well, um, she drank water. Lots of water.

In India, tea is such an integral part of the culture, it would almost have been impossible to avoid developing a taste for it. There is "tea time" twice a day at the school where we worked, as well as in every home that I visited there. If you were to visit someone, the first thing they would do would be to offer you some "chai", even if they were so poor that it meant using up the last of their milk to do so.

Here is where we in North America have made an error. (My Indian readers, please correct me if I'm wrong.) To us, "chai" has come to mean "tea with milk and sugar and a whole variety of spices." In reality, "chai" is the word for "tea." I was going to say "Hindi word for tea," but it's actually the word for tea in every Indian language that I know of, and I believe it is also the word for tea in some African languages. Which language it originated from, I have no idea. Especially since chai with lots of milk and sugar was a drinking custom introduced by the British during the colonial days, since that is how they like their tea.

"Tea with spices" is known as "masala (spiced) chai," and the type of spices used range in variety and quantity, depending on what area--and what household--you are in.

Most of the time while I was there, we simply had chai, which is loose tea in a base of about half milk and half water and a fair amount of sugar, all heated until just barely boiling, then strained into your mug for a cup of creamy goodness. It is a safe way to drink milk of questionable origin, water of questionable origin, and a social custom that bonds families, friends, and strangers. (I remember my shock the first time I saw my friend Chingluan pouring tea back and forth between two mugs to cool it off for her daughter--who was two at the time!)

I'm not sure the reason why, but it was somewhere around 2000 that "chai" became extremely popular in North America. Thus Jason and I began our search for "the perfect chai," the one that would bring back all the flavour and memories we had come to love while in India--our hearts' other home country.

It was a long and disappointing search. We found a few that were close, but still seemed like someone had just gone a little crazy with throwing in anything from the spice shelf. I couldn't figure out why. Finally, when George and Ruth Peters visited us in 2005, I asked Ruth.

"How do you make chai? And what is the spice that you put in it?" She answered that while she usually just made basic chai, occasionally, she would add a sprinkle of cardamom to it (thus elevating it to "masala chai.") This was the answer we had been looking for!

I just about choked when I saw the price of the stuff. I don't know how it compares overseas, but here, cardamom is twice as expensive as every other spice (with the exception of saffron, which is just expensive everywhere.) Fortunately, I really only had one use for it. Each cup required only the tiniest sprinkle for flavour, so in six years, I think I might still be on my first jar. Partly because I soon discovered that I like the tea without cardamom as much as with it, and it became a "luxury" that I rarely partake in--and Jason feels the same. Tea drinkers that we are, our day is usually masala-less--at least as far as tea is concerned!

I'm not sure what possessed me this morning. Most days, I make a "cheater chai" that does not require the mess of loose tea and straining. It is not as strong as the real stuff, but nearly as good. I steep my tea bag (Lipton Red Rose Orange Pekoe is the best we've found) extra-long, throw it out, add a good-sized glob of honey from a teaspoon, then fill the mug up with cream until the colour is pale and delicious-looking. Then I take that first, satisfying sip.

This morning, though, I looked at the concoction in my mug and said "it's a cardamom sort of day."

Some days, the routine of dressing and feeding a family, getting Jude to school on time, making dinner ahead of time, teaching piano lessons all evening, doing dishes, working on my e-Bay business, being wife, mother, nursemaid, teacher, babysitter, friend, daughter, and all my many other hats can just seem overwhelming--like there is no way to live up to it all. Those are the days when my loving husband lets me have a little time to myself to create something beautiful, or go on a walk, or when a well-timed hug from my babies can turn a really stressful day around.

The cardamom was just the perfect touch on what would otherwise have been an ordinary, everyday-sort of cup of tea. Once in a while, all we need is a little masala to put things in perspective.

Today, I Learned...

  • Shredding paper is fun. (I got a new office paper shredder yesterday.)
  • Using essential oils really can help improve my mood. After applying Young Living's Release blend after lunch, my mood went from I-just-can't-seem-to-snap-out-of-it-BLAH to much-more-at-peace-with-myself-and-the-world-Stable. (The paper-shredding might be helping, too.)
  • That in a four-year-old's mind, the shortest distance between the muddy back yard and the muddy front yard is through the house. With your boots still on, of course.
  • That in a three-year-old's mind, when you realize that pooping in your pants lands you in a not-so-pleasant shower, the alternative is not to poop in the potty, but rather to try and change your own diaper.
  • That the Canadian Cancer Society is actually more concerned with the fulfillment of it's intended purpose than I thought. They have just announced a national program to use vitamin D supplementation to actually prevent cancer! Amazing, eh?
  • That when you hit "Control-P" by accident when typing a blog post, Blogger thinks you actually want to publish it already. Good to know the new keyboard shortcut, but I wasn't actually ready yet!
  • That even a little bit of bumper-car action can leave you stiff and sore.
  • That no matter how much paperwork I get done, there is always more to do.
  • That most things in life are made better by a hug from someone who loves you.
What have you learned today, friends?

Embarrassed by Blessings

There are a few things with this whole "house-building" thing that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around.

I think the biggest and weirdest thing is that I feel embarrassed. Let me try to explain that.

The first year of our marriage, Jason and I lived in my dad's basement. Jason was going to college, and I was working ten-hour days as a courier in Red Deer. We were broker than broke. Every month we got a little farther behind, meaning we had to put a little more on the student line of credit just to survive. I don't know how we would have survived without Dad's help.

After that year, Jason got a job working in the computer department of a company in Calgary. He worked down there for a month before we were able to move into a little 900-square-feet-including-the-two-flights-of-stairs-and-the-teeny-
tiny-veranda condo, during which time he lived with my uncle and aunt--what a blessing they are to us. We made the official move the day before our first anniversary. Our rent was almost $1 per square foot, over-and-above utilities, etc. (We thought prices in Calgary were stupid then! HA! I bet that condo would rent for at least $1500 a month, now!)

One month later, Jason was let go from that job, due to what his ex-boss later admitted was simply a conflict of personalities.

Suddenly, we were in the situation of being saddled with a huge amount of debt (student-loan, plus some credit card debt I had accumulated through poor financial habits while single), and no income to speak of. My part-time job as a day-time supervisor at Roger's Video brought in barely enough money to pay for our groceries every month, let alone rent. As the months passed, and no job offers came in sight, we slid farther into the hole.

In Calgary, as in so many places, it's all who you know. And with the exception of my uncle and aunt, we knew very few people there--especially those that might have connections in the field Jason is trained in.

Well, that's not quite true. We knew a couple that Jason had become friends with during his years as the director's assistant at Sunnyside Camp in Sylvan Lake. As it so happens, they lived in the same neck of the woods as us, and happened to come into the video store one day and "let it slip" that the then-current director was planning on giving up his position soon, and we should maybe "get on that." While we were confident that Jason knew that camp inside out and backwards, he was also only 28 years old at the time--meaning that, if he got the job, he would be the youngest director that camp had ever had in its over-fifty years of existence.

The Lord saw fit to bless us with that job, obviously. THAT was a huge blessing. We got to move into a beautiful home, right on the camp property, that came as a "perk" of the job, meaning no rent, utilities, or upkeep out of our own pocket. The house was only 4 years old, as the previous director had finally replaced the original director's dwelling with a manufactured home while he was there. There was more room on one floor of that house than our entire condo in Calgary had sported!

And I was even a little embarrassed by that. What had we done to deserve this blessing? We didn't squander the opportunity, though. We used those years at the camp to pay off huge, gi-normous chunks of our accumulated debt, as well as to give as generously as we were able to causes and charities we felt led to support. But I felt bad, in some ways, that we seemed to have done so little to "earn" this financial boost, while friends of ours were struggling along on extremely limited incomes, or had huge mortgages to go with their houses.

While at the camp, our family expanded from two to five. So when it came time to move to Peace River, we knew we had to find a house with room for our rambunctious boys, and to house a home office for our various home-based businesses. We had never purchased a home before, and because our focus had been mainly on paying off as much debt as possible to free us up to go overseas (a long story that still has not materialized), we had nothing to speak of in savings. The government has a program that will help first-time home buyers without the requisite 25% down, but the problem was we didn't even have the amount of money they wanted!

Our original plan was to rent, then buy later when we had a better idea of what the town was like. We spent one whirlwind December weekend in Peace River, just Jason and 2-week-old Jabin and I, looking at rental properties here and in nearby Grimshaw. There was really nothing that appealed to us--everything was either too old, too dumpy, or too small (700 sq. feet!) Last-minute, we decided to look at a house for sale. From the asking price, we did not think it would be in our budget, but we thought It never hurts to ask.

The house was huge--it was originally 2000 square feet over two floors, but ten years after the original building was put up, a 1000 sq. ft. addition was put on the back. The basement needed to be almost completely re-done. There were various renovation projects throughout the house that were only half-finished, or extremely poorly done. The last person to paint had been anything but careful. And the movers had come only the day before, leaving muddy footprints all over the carpet.

We took it. In three weeks, we negotiated the sale of the house to something within our budget, took possession on December 21, and moved on the 22nd. Even that would not have been possible without financial help from family, and I am sure some divine pushes in the process.

Funny how you can expand to fill up whatever container you are in. Your habitually-traced steps just find new paths to create. Your junk finds new corners to fill. You actually buy more to fill up the space. (This is a materialistic habit which I abhor, but recognize it in myself, none-the-less.)

Little did we know that the dinosaur would be so hard to feed. Our first full month of utilities bills was January--the coldest month in our year. When I opened the envelope, it felt like I had been kicked in the gut by a horseshoe made of liquid nitrogen. I thought, at first, that it was because prices had simply gone up so much since the last time we had had to pay utilities. But upon comparing the bill to friends with similar properties, I realized that no, we had simply purchased Peace River's most energy-inefficient building.

We quickly realized that we would either have to make more money to live here, learn the fine art of living without eating, or move. Then, a miracle happened. Jason got a job offering 50% more than what he was making. The pressure was off. I began teaching piano a few months later. We could actually afford to do "fun" things again, once in a while.

And then winter came again. Despite not feeling the icy fingers of More Debt scratching out my eyes last year, we both recognized that there may never be a better time to move than now.

My mother's husband Mike, with his keen "spidey sense" for good deals on land, had us go check on the property we are now moving to sometime just before the new year. With his experience as a general contractor, and his willingness to take a summer and do so, he is going to be the major driving force behind our house being built. Because of that, we will be able to build a literal "dream house", for us, at least. No, it's not one of those bazillion-dollar homes that you see in magazines. But for the same or lesser mortgage, in a market where real estate prices have sky-rocketed in the last year, we will be able to get a nicer, much more efficient house on a sizable acreage that we would not have been able to afford for many more years to come without this help.

And I'm embarrassed. I catch myself trying to explain the situation, say too much, when people ask about our land, or the house we are building. Justifying what seems to me, in some ways, to be extravagant. The house is big, but not huge. Ironically, the cost of living there will be much less than here. We are hoping to have more money to invest in causes again--perhaps even save up for a real family vacation. And most definitely get our own cow! No more chlorinated water. (The well was drilled on Tuesday, and the water is fine.) I can grow my own vegetables. There are twenty-two acres of trees for me--uh, I mean "my boys"--to run around in. And with all this, I think I am afraid that people will think we are either living beyond our means, or that our means are a lot more than they really are.

Why do I care so much about what people think? Is it my sense of fairness? It's not fair that we have these blessings, and have been blessed so much, when other people struggle and have to go through years of toil and tribulation to receive the same payback. It's not fair that we can conceive a child almost by merely thinking of it, while other people have to go through expensive and costly medical procedures, or never even be parents at all.

And then it occurs to me. I remember all the times (these and many more) that we have been blessed by other people in our lives. I remember all the times that we have given to help others, even if it meant going without a little ourselves. And I realize that soon it will be our turn to "pay it forward." We have been blessed, so that we can be a blessing. Almost daily, I pray that I and my family would be a blessing to someone today.

The easiest way to be a blessing is to have something to give away. God, through our family and friends, has blessed us in a huge way--not so we can horde and hold on to what we are given. No, in His economy, the more you give your blessings and your talents to others, the more you receive yourself. And He only ever gives you what your abilities can handle.

Funny how that works.

Funny how easy it was for me to forget that. Time for me to stop being embarrassed, and to start pouring these blessings right back out again.

(I'm so glad we had this little talk.)

A Mom's Job Description

"To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes, and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute." - G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World

Attitude Check

There are two mornings in our household that are high-stress for me: Tuesdays, when I am supposed to be in Grimshaw by 10:00 a.m. for the weekly "Mom's Time Out" Bible Study there (a twenty-minute drive), and Sundays, when our goal is to make it to church on time for 11:00.

Today was no exception. By 11:00, the breakfast dishes were just being cleared from the table, the kids were being packed into outside gear, I was finally getting to run a brush through my hair, and Jason was trying to pack kids out to the van. My nerves started to fray a little.

We got to church, and the service was already in full swing. Trying to corral Noah in that big, open foyer is like trying to catch a plastic grocery bag on a windy day--just when you think you've got him, you close your hand on thin air, and he is off on another lap. Words don't help either--he will just pretend he didn't hear you. (Or maybe he really didn't hear you, in the fashion of a one-track-mind, three-year-old-male.) Anyway, by the time we finally got all the outside gear off, my nerves were even more frayed. We caught all three wild colts (Jabin being the easiest!) and herded them into a pew.

After the service, the chaos continued. It was "Name Tag Sunday," the idea being that the congregation can congregate around snacks in the foyer (and try to restrain themselves from being guilty of the sin of gluttony) and get to know each other better.

One little Noah is much more agile and nimble in a crowded church foyer than his poor mom. By the time we were finally ready to leave, I had chased Noah out of the sanctuary at least four times, and after getting his coat on and turning my attention to his brother for five seconds, I had to go find him again. (I may or may not have been muttering something about having the attention span and self-control of a gnat.)

Everyone was finally back in their outside gear (except their boots) and in one location, so we headed to the back stairs landing, where we had left our footwear upon arrival.

"That's on the wrong foot, Jude," I said. He ignored me. Jason came through, quickly shod Jabin and headed out to start the van.

"That's on the wrong foot, Jude," I said again. He took his boot off his right foot, then got distracted by Noah who, with his usual uncanny luck, got his boots on the correct feet, as he does 98% of the time. Jude put the boot back on his right foot.

"That's on the wrong foot, Jude," I repeated. I'm not sure why I was so insistent on making sure he corrected his error, except perhaps I was feeling like I should try to make at least one thing from this crazy morning go right. Noah headed out the door to follow Jason.

In frustration, I raised my voice a little.

"Jude! That's on the wrong foot!"

He looked at me at last.

"Why you keep saying that, Mom?"

I was taken aback. "Because you are putting your boot on the wrong foot, and I thought you would be more comfortable if you put it on right."

"It's okay, Mom. It's okay if it's on that foot!"

Of course it was okay. What was my problem, anyway?

"You're right, Jude. You can put your boot on that foot if you want."

He actually did switch them around before he headed out the door. And I, chastened through the mouth of my four-year-old, followed sheepishly behind.

And the rest of the day? Went much better.