Archives

Over-the-top

“Your Mother’s Day gift is over-the-top,” said my youngest daughter, Susanna, as we prepared for our small charges to arrive for Sunday School. My children are normally thoughtful and generous but I had no idea what this gift might be.

After church we enjoyed lunch together. There was a special aura of excitement about my gift and the family urged me to open it.  A pretty spray painted box sat on the coffee table. Inside was this:

 

20248304_10159088014280156_25602449842744537_oMy daughter, Andrea, with her creative flair,  had  made up a piece of cardboard  to look like an airline boarding pass.  It included a picture of my sister, Brenda, and I. Although my family and I had left Ontario to move to Nova Scotia 17 years ago,  there were times when I greatly missed being “home.” I called Brenda and put my cell on speaker phone so everyone could hear her reaction. We were both very excited that I would soon be flying to Ontario.

The  timing was perfect. Perhaps my children sensed that I needed time away to process all that had happened over the past few years. There had been too many deaths, too many losses, too many changes, and with them questions I couldn’t adequately answer.  I needed my sister. I needed to go home.

Right from the start, my trip began filling me with a sense of peace. My close high school friend, Marie, met me at the Toronto airport. We talked about her adjustment to retirement and mine to my swiftly emptying nest. I had been asking myself, “If I am not a full time mother, who am I?” I am extremely blessed with my five adult children and their life partners but sometimes miss the little ones who sat on my knee. Marie is using her artistic talents to help with her life changes and over the week, I gained a new motivation to put a pen to paper (translate keyboard and computer). After having a delicious lunch together, Marie drove me to my sister’s home in Brantford.

I  hugged and hugged Brenda and was thrilled to see my brother-in-law, Mark, and nephew, Ben. The next days were filled to the brim with activity. I met some of Brenda’s friends, people who were bravely coping with difficulties in their own lives. Several friends from university days made trips to visit me. In both cases, I had not seen these dear friends for more years than I care to admit. We had reconnected on Facebook but to actually see them, hug them, catch up on their lives and meet one friend’s husband was an indescribable experience. We were older (well that happens) but essentially the same people. I asked them how they had coped with their children leaving home. When we were in university we likely talked a lot about boys and future husbands but this time we talked about our kids and past or present careers.  I was touched and reminded, as I had been the summer before when visitors arrived,   that no matter how much time goes by, those who are truly your friends will remain so. Karen and Beatrice, we will not let so many years go by again!! My family and I also had a wonderful visit with my husband’s sister and brother and his sister’s husband.  I felt very impressed with an important  project my sister-in-law is undertaking. She has the same drive my mother-in-law had.

On the weekend, we drove to Owen Sound,  the city where Brenda, Mark and I grew up, the place I think of as “home.” We stayed with Mark’s mother, Donna, a  lady who is quite an inspiration with all her  interests and activities. On Saturday  morning she drove me to Inglis Falls, Weaver’s Creek Falls and Harrison Park. I was struck by the sheer beauty surrounding Owen Sound. Even though, I had been back to Ontario  on a number of occasions, this time I felt more than ever that I was home. In the afternoon, we sat  in Donna’s backyard, which includes an immense flower garden, a pool  and waterfall, and visited with my cousin, Cindy, her husband, and a close friend of mine from elementary school who I love to see when I am in Owen Sound.   Cindy’s brother, Doug, had died the year before, too young and  very unexpectedly. It is  not easy to accept that one of the five “cousins” is no longer with us. Brenda, Cindy and I needed this chance to be together. 20294041_10159081441570156_6279791281752930520_n

The next day was the hardest but also brought a sense of closeness. Mark’s brother and his wife drove to Owen Sound and we went out to the cemetery to visit Sarah’s grave. Mark and Brenda’s daughter, Sarah, had died nearly three years ago. This had  marked the beginning of the things I was struggling with. She was only 31, just months older than my first child. Sarah’s grave stone had just been put in. We took solace  in being together again as a family, all feeling the same emotions in our love for Sarah Jane. I kept my arms tightly wrapped around Brenda, as Mark did a beautiful service, emphasizing the resurrection of the dead. Yes, some of us cried, but we gained a greater sense of closure.

Shortly after the service we returned to  Brantford and the next morning Mark drove me to the airport. I didn’t want to leave my sister, didn’t want to leave Ontario. For that brief week, I had felt so strongly that I was home again. I still didn’t have all the answers, but something  deep in my heart was starting to heal. Brenda’s courageous and accepting attitude towards life had touched me. My friends had reminded me that true friendship never fails. We had come another step forward in our grief over Sarah’s death.  I don’t know what the future holds but God impressed upon me the verse, “…Be still and know that I am God…”(Psalm 46:10, NIV). He knows all the answers, what is ahead, and shows His love for us every day.

And when I saw my daughter, Hannah, at the airport in Halifax, I  knew I was home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpected Favour

 

When our children were young, my  husband and I, along with helpers from the congregation, often ran Vacation Bible Schools for the first four days of the March Break. These were fun and lively affairs. I got out my guitar and led the children in plenty of action songs. My husband did most of the teaching and taught the children how to make papier mache puppets. He also wrote skits and recorded the children’s voices as they read their parts. Parents and other guests formed an audience for the children’s plays during the final day.

On the Fridays, we took our children for a family outing. Often we drove into Ottawa and visited the National Museum of Science and Technology. The children loved the Crazy Kitchen and other entertaining sights and activities.

Then we would go out for supper, which was always a  treat. One year, we went to Swiss Chalet. At the time we had four children, the youngest  still a baby in a high chair. When we were shown to our seats, a man with his wife and small daughter were sitting across from us. There was something very special about this family. The man immediately made sure we had sufficient room to put our coats. Later, when baby Hannah began to fuss, he showed concern and asked if there was any way he could help. The family finished their meal and we continued with ours. A little later the waitress came over to us, since we were ready to pay our bill.  However, she said:  “There is no charge. The man sitting across from you paid your bill. He said that he and his wife were very busy with just one child and you looked extremely busy with four. He wanted to do this for you.”

We were astonished by this man’s generosity. A complete stranger, whom we had never met before, blessed us with totally unexpected favour. We didn’t know his name and were never able to thank him but I believe that simply passing on  this gift of kindness was all the thanks he wanted.

At Easter, we celebrate another man who extended completely unmerited grace. Jesus, the Son of God, died for the sins of mankind. He paid the price of our sins on the cross, so that by merely acknowledging his name and accepting his grace, we could become his children and be guaranteed a heavenly home when we die. This was not a gift that we earned in any way. As Romans 10:13 explains it: “…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (NIV). Our only responsibility is to respond to God’s gift of love.

The generosity of the man in the Swiss Chalet  years ago was a reminder to our family of how gracious God is. He gives us his gifts in many ways,  through people, circumstances, nature,  the blessings of each day and eventually of eternity. It is all ours for the taking, if we choose to put our faith in Christ.

God bless you this Easter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting go

During the past months, I have been struggling with a sense of sadness and impending loss, not wanting life to change, not wanting to let go. Why? Two weeks ago my youngest child was married. This was my second experience being the mother-of-the-bride. When my oldest child, Ruthmarie, was married, there were some cliffhanger moments, such as the caterer cancelling a week before the wedding, but the emotional impact was minimal. Ruthmarie had been living on her own for eight years and I was excited to have my first son-in-law. We wondered which of our four younger children would be next. The marriage bug flitted by the middle three and settled on Susanna, the baby of the family. We were very pleased with the young man she chose but I was unprepared to let her go.I couldn’t imagine not having her in the bedroom right next to ours, not having her rummage through my dresser for socks or coming home and filling our house with her sunny presence. At twenty she seemed too young, or so I told myself. I also struggled with issues of identity. If I wasn’t a mother in an active state of parenting, who was I? So much of my life had been poured into my children, making sure they were safe, educated, loved and provided for. Letting go of Susanna felt like letting go of a big part of myself. After months of planning, the wedding day arrived. Susanna was a radiant bride marrying a young man who will always protect and love her. I kept my emotions in check until Susanna danced with her father, to a sentimental tune. Then people started handing me tissues.

The house is very quiet now. My middle daughter and her friend, who live with us, are away on a road trip and my husband is busy with work. There are some tears but that’s okay, and the solitude is not all bad. God reminds me that my roles are not confined to being a wife and mother, that I am his, and as I keep on with the responsibilities he has given me, he will guide me into my future. I also realize that I am very blessed. Susanna and Chris are settling into married life beautifully and making sure to stay connected with their families. My husband and I have five thoughtful children, caring sons-in-law, a lovely young lady who is like a fifth daughter to us, siblings and other family members, good friends, a faith-filled church, and a lovely home in a beautiful city. God is our strength and Saviour and his plans for us are good. And some day in the future, we hope our house will be ringing with the laughter of grandchildren!

Photograph by Karen “Ren” Strong

Book Review: Secrets and Lies by Janet Sketchley

 

Secrets-and-Lies-web-258x400Once again, Janet has written a compelling novel, full of suspense, imagery and fast paced action. In her first novel, Heaven’s Prey, a psychopath, Harry, kidnaps and threatens the life of a woman named Ruth. Through her strong, uncompromising faith, and God’s love and guidance, Ruth survives, and Harry, against all odds, finds a relationship with God. In Secre ts and Lies, Harry’s sister, Carol, is hunted down by evil men who believe Harry has stashed away money. Janet’s second book is not as intense, for those who are squeamish about crime details, but there are plenty of dangerous and riveting moments. Themes of trust, relationships on several levels, pursuit of happiness and dreams, and ultimately forgiveness are interwoven throughout the novel. Carol enjoys peppermint tea, cookies, brownies and the songs of Billy Joel. Janet plays these notes like a leitmotif, drawing our attention to Carol’s humanity and wish to simply provide a normal, happy life for herself and her son. However, before Carol can provide such a life, she has to get in touch with the Provider of life itself.

Secrets and Lies is the second novel in the Redemption’s Edge series.

Janet SketchlyThe books can be read either individually or as a set. A  mystery is hinted at, which will provide the material for the third novel. I can hardly wait for the characters to tell their story through Janet’s pen.  

Janet Sketchley  is a  Canadian author from Nova  Scotia. Check out  http://janetsketchley.ca/books/secrets-and-lies/ for information on where to buy her books. She has a number of writing credits, including her two Redemption’s Edge novels and a story called “The Road Trip That Wasn’t,” included in A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider, edited by N.J. Lindquist and Wendy Elaine Nelles. 

With Christmas coming up, Janet’s Redemption’s Edge novels would make an excellent gift for those who enjoy Christian literature which delves into the darker side of humanity, those on the edge or redemption, but whom God extends his grace to in the end.

Note: A review copy was provided by the author and I do not receive any type of monetary gain for my review.

Snow Day

When I was a child, growing up in Owen Sound, Ontario, it was inevitable that winter would bring a bountiful offering of snow. Since Owen Sound is situated in a snow belt, eventually the piles of snow would be stacked high along the roads. Even though I was warned not to climb these  snow mountains, the temptation was irresistible.

My relationship with snow was in those days uncomplicated. Snow was fun! Somehow, I could stay outside for hours, making snow tunnels and forts, tasting the snow on my tongue, and lying down on the ground to wave my arms and feet back and forth to make snow angels. My friends and I slid down the hill at Ryerson School  on sleds and landed in heaps at the bottom. We didn’t seem to worry about how cold or wet we were, just the good time we were having.

Once I was an adult and had children of my own, snow became more challenging. We tussled with snow pants, jackets, hats, mitts and scarves. Since I was concerned about cold, little hands, I had strings put on the mittens, so the children were less likely to lose them. Still, my youngest daughter managed to misplace her winter jacket on the way home from school one day, and I have never figured out how! To provide winter entertainment, my husband built skating rinks in the backyard. We gathered up skates and helmets and later hockey sticks.The kids and I made paper snowflakes and other wintertime crafts and wiled away the hours with good books.

SnowyDayKeats

One of these was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, a picture book  chosen in 1963 for the Caldecott Medal, because of its lively illustrations. The story begins: “One winter morning Peter woke up and looked out the window. Snow had fallen during the night. It covered everything as far as he could see.” Peter spends a magical day outside, engaging in all the activities that  children enjoy.  A complication arises when Peter tries to continue the fun by stuffing his pockets with snowballs before he comes inside. However, all is well the next morning, and he is ready for another day of adventure.

Today, as a Nor’easter blows through Nova Scotia, bringing blizzard conditions, closing schools and making roads treacherous, my relationship with snow is again uncomplicated. It is the perfect opportunity to stay inside, sit at my computer, and write about snow. I am content to watch the flakes spinning past my window, and reflect on snowy days gone by.

Apple Pigs

September is almost over. The trees are turning brilliant colours of gold and red, and the first signs of winter are already in the cooler air. Students are back in school, including my own college age daughters. They are well into first semester and  busy with assignments and upcoming practicum plans. I have been back at school substitute teaching. One activity we have yet to do this fall, though, is go on a family apple picking trip.

When the kids were little, we attached red paper apples to the September calendar, on our kitchen wall. As a Mom, I liked to construct each month around a theme, and apples was the theme for September. We created apple trees, with paper, glue and crayons, made apple sauce (easy for kids), apple cake and other apple treats. We cut apples open to look at the seeds. Our biggest fall adventure, though, was our annual trip to an apple orchard. There was something magical about walking through the quiet orchards, feeling the sun stream down through the trees, and hand picking the best apples to put in our bags. We would go home laden with treasure and  the children munching on an apple or two, as we drove.

No monthly theme was complete without a book. Our favourite, for  apple month, was an engaging story called  Apple Pigs by Ruth Orbach. An old apple tree appears to have outlived its usefulness. It is sad and unproductive, with no sign of apples. The general consensus is to “chop it down.” However, a young heroine decides that she cares enough about the tree to give it one last chance. She carts away the debris, plants flowers and generally gives the tree the love and encouragement it needs. In return, the tree blossoms once more and provides a superabundance of apples! Now there is a new problem. What will the heroine and her family do with so many apples? There are delightfully coloured pictures showing the apples stacked up in every conceivable place, including the beds and bathtub. Finally, a solution is found, which pleases all, and paves the way for the tree to bloom again the next year. At the end of the book, are directions showing howAppl to make “apple pigs,” one of the projects to use up the apples.

Unfortunately, this book is out of print but if you can ever lay your hands on a copy, it will be well worth the effort. Children will enjoy it for years and want to recite it to their own children in turn.

Enjoy the rest of September, with its lingering echo of summer days. What are some of your favourite September or fall experiences?

Happy Munching!

Ruth Ann Adams

 

Summer Reading: Nurses and Nannies

There were times, when my children were small, when I used to gaze at  the homes of my friends sans infants with wonder. Order and harmony prevailed. At no time was this more evident than in the summer. While my home was strewn with wet bathing suits, dirt on the floors, toys in every possible location, dishes in the sink and laundry piled in the basement, their homes exuded a sense of peace and quiet. I could actually hear the silence. However, now as an older Mom, I miss the crazy days and am longing for grandchildren. Life has its stages and each one is to be treasured.

Summers required a special kind of strategy, as we tended to be out of routine and the sun shown late into the evening hours. Before the last day of school arrived, I had my arsenal devised. Swimming lessons were a must, a survival activity, and now, even in their twenties, several of my offspring can hardly be persuaded to get out of the water.

Crafts also filled up many happy hours. One summer, the kids did a messy outdoor craft , which drew  young neighbours to join in.  On another occasion, we took the kids to a Picasso exhibit in Ottawa and then drew pictures “Picasso style.” The children found their own amusements, of course, and not always to my liking. An assortment of snakes and frogs, recruited by my son, found their way to our home. One day, while I was absentmindedly dusting our long coffee table, I found a toad at one end of it.

Summer was also a particularly good time to read chapter books. When our children ranged in age from one to twelve,  we gathered in the evenings to read Nurse Matilda (1964) by  Christianna Brand . This hilarious story of the antics of seven  unruly  children was turned into a movie in 2005, called Nanny McPhee. However, we first knew her as Nurse Matilda, an iron willed lady who with the aid of her handy and extraordinary staff, subdues  the children, wins their affection, and assists in averting several  disasters. In the way of all magical caretakers,  Nurse Matilda disappears at the end of the story, but not before the family is settled in a happily ever after fashion.

Another book which has its place of fame in our family is The Old Nurse’s Stocking Basket (1931) by Eleanor Farjeon. My youngest daughter, Susanna (in her late teens now), and I still read the stories out loud to each other. “‘Children,’ said the Old Nurse, ‘stop quarreling, or you know what.’” This gentle threat was sufficient because “you know what” meant there would be no bedtime story. The Old Nurse’s method of story telling is unique. While she narrates her poignant and fanciful tales, she mends the children’s stockings. A little hole means a short story and a big whole means a long one. It isn’t hard to guess which type the children like best. Susanna and I especially love the very last tale, The Sea-Baby, a haunting story of childhood and the realization that  growing up may involve letting  something precious pursue its own destiny.

Keep cool and safe and enjoy these hectic but memorable summer months. Tell me about some of your favourite children’s books!

 29292_10150191836140156_8283733_n

5 X Mama, Happy Mother’s Day!

Head Shot   I looked at my young daughter, her stomach artistically decorated with bright markers. There was no doubt in my mind as to what had inspired her. The night before, we had read Purple, Green and Yellow by Robert Munsch, a children’s story  in which the heroine, Brigid, “…colored her belly-button blue. And that was so pretty, she colored herself all sorts of colors almost entirely all over.” The artwork faded from my daughter’s skin, but  her passion for books continued.  Now, as an adult in her twenties, Andrea  devours books, even if she refrains from plastering her belly-button with markers!

As a 5 X Mama, with four daughters and one son, I am convinced that one of the most important things you can do for your children is to read to them. Books have always played a huge role in my own life. My mother said, that as a child, I carried a book with me on outings, instead of a doll. Libraries were like treasures mines, complete with enticing covers, intriguing titles and dramatic tales. By the time I was eleven, I managed to talk the children’s librarian of our local library into hiring me as a page, to put books away and do other small duties. Finally, I entered the classroom as an   English teacher, sharing novels, poems and drama with teenagers, before embarking on another exciting career, as a 5 X Mama. Naturally, books were right, left and centre in our home.

My husband shared  my passion. When our babies were born, he read and re-read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, while he rocked fussy infants to sleep, and generously gave me some rest. Then when they were older – but not much older – he read the trilogy to them. When our youngest daughter turned 18 last November, her older sister, who once coloured her tummy-button, did much of the work planning a surprise Lord of the Rings theme party for her, complete with costumes, decorations and special food such as “orc pudding.”  My husband, dressed up as Gandalph, read to his now adult children, from one of Tolkien’s books.

All of our lives we tell ourselves stories, and we share those stories with others. Words have the unique ability to create, to empower, and ultimately to determine the course of our days. When children hear a wide variety of stories, the possibilities for creative and imaginative excursions are endless. Through stories, children learn how to respond intelligently and sensitively to the many influences and circumstances of their lives. They learn to look beyond themselves to the needs of others and to relate compassionately to people different from themselves.

In  5 X Mama, one of my goals is to share some of the wonderful stories I enjoyed with my own children, as well as to explore newer books. The possibilities are endless and in this age of digital distractions, it is perhaps more important than ever, that books make an immediate and emphatic presence in children’s lives. Besides all of this, reading books with children is just plain fun and gives parents, grandparents and educators opportunities to connect and converse, that would perhaps otherwise be lost.

the mothers day mice

An enchanting Mother’s Day book to share with your little ones is The Mother’s Day Mice by Eve Bunting. Three mice, Biggest, Middle and Little, go on a private adventure to find just the right gift for their mother. In spite of courting near disaster with a cat, each finds something special. Little discovers the best gift within himself  and in a spirit of generosity says that his present is from them all! Jan Brett’s detailed and colourful illustrations perfectly complement the text.

Do you have books you treasured as a child or enjoy reading to your children? I would love to hear about them! Have a memorable and blessed Mother’s Day!

Disclaimer: Copies of books discussed are my own or from the library, unlessotherwise stated.