“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!









Mother’s Day – Celebrating the Little Things

blogToday, I received a letter from a friend in Alberta. On the envelope was a  butterfly sticker with the words: “Delight in the little things.” I was reminded of something my mother  once said: “Life has its mountain top moments but most of it is day-to-day living.” Of course, she was right. Not every morning brings a mountain top view. However, every day can bring a sense of joy and appreciation of the little things.

My mother taught us this principle by the way she lived. It was a great deal of fun to surprise her with cards and small gifts, because she was delighted with the simplest of offerings that my sister, Brenda, and I gave her. I remember walking home in the late afternoon, from the downtown section of my hometown of Owen Sound,Ont., clutching a 35 cent card in my hands. Although I can’t remember the exact occasion – perhaps it was Mother’s  Day – the feeling of happy anticipation has stayed with me all these years.

My family was not wealthy but Mom knew how important small things were in our lives as well. When Brenda was in Grade 6, she had an afternoon birthday party to attend. Mom went out at noon and bought  Brenda her  first pair of pantyhose. She was thrilled not to have to wear leotards anymore! On one of my weekend visits home from university, Mom surprised me with a lovely, orange and green afghan she had made for me. It is worn and needs repairs now, but I still have it on my bed.

Sometimes, life throws us curve balls. Mom died, way too young, in 1997. I especially regret that my youngest daughter, Susanna, was not old enough to remember her. However, my mother  has passed on her heritage, her love and her lessons. When we are in a valley, and can’t see  our way up the mountain, focusing with gratitude on our daily blessings helps us gain perspective and the strength to keep climbing.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the awesome and caring women who make such a difference in the lives of others, in big ways and in small ones!


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.

Pulling Strings for Grandma

Hansel and Gretel dwell in our house, along with a colourful array of companions, just waiting for someone to pull their strings. For years, these fairy tale characters delighted children in libraries and schools throughout southern Ontario, brought to life by the Adams Marionettes. In the 1950’s, my mother-in-law, Maureen Adams, took a puppetry course at  Queen’s University, and was permanently hooked. She began with hand puppets, but as her family grew older, she and her husband, John,  formed the Adams Marionettes, consisting of themselves, their four children and a school friend, named Dan. The puppets captivated not only  young audiences, but the performers themselves, as the marionettes opened the door to a wide array of creative expression.

My mother-in-law loved puppetry because it involved many forms of art: drama, costumes, scene design, music and story. The performances, enchanting as they were, were only part of the process. First, the Adams chose a folk tale, devised a script, added in sound effects and put the finished product on  tape. The marionettes were made out of wood, with the heads devised from a plasticine mould. Next, the family sewed the costumes, painted the scenery and spent a great deal of time in the backyard puppetry workshop, rehearsing the play. It was a family act, complete with Adams Marionette tee shirts and a special van to transport the stage, performers and puppets.

My husband’s speciality was Rumpelstiltskin. As the little trickster danced his way across the stage, to the tune of  Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours,”  Andrew danced behind the stage, copying his every move. Finally, when Rumpel realized he had been outsmarted by the miller’s daughter, he disappeared in a puff of smoke (baby powder), clang of a cymbal and flash of a camera, never to be heard of again.

After the adult children went their separate ways, John and Maureen continued to attend many puppetry conferences in Canada and the U.S. and hold workshops in Brampton and Toronto.  Several times, they helped my husband and I with Vacation Bible Schools in the churches we served, assisting with puppet making and performances. John died in 2005 and in 2006, Maureen received “The Arts Person of the Year” award for her outstanding contribution to the arts in her  Brampton community.

In early 2011, Maureen’s health declined and we flew from Nova Scotia to see her. I gave her a puppet from Mexico, a gift from my daughter, Andrea. She held the puppet in her worn hands, and stroked and stroked the tiny dress it was wearing. She asked my son, Christopher, to put it up on the bulletin board in her room, where she could see it from her bed. The gift brought her comfort, a reminder of all the stories her puppets had told.

About 9 months after my mother-in-law’s death, I came home one day to find my youngest daughter, Susanna, rehearsing a marionette dance with two high school friends. A short time later, Hansel and Gretel danced upon the stage of Prince Andrew High School, during “The Lonely Goatherd” scene in the school’s production of The Sound of Music. Strings were being pulled for Grandma once again!

Happy Mother’s Day and many joyful memories!

Fran by the Sea