Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A simple prayer for the New Year

As we stand on the edge
of a New Year,
we thank you for the old one
with all its hopes and dreams,
its joys and struggles,
its loves,
and its losses that made our loves clear.
Bless us as we step over the threshold
of a year yet to be lived.
Help us
to see you
in those who will cross our paths,
to welcome those
who need a place to be,
to reach out to those
who are hurting,
and to forgive ourselves
when we fail.
Give us the courage to follow you,
Compassionate God,
wherever you lead us in 2014.

+Amen.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Venite exultemus Domino

Being stuck at home with the flu, I've had a little more time on my hands than expected. So here's a gorgeous Taizé chant for the feast of the Holy Family, which invites us to come and exult over God's presence in our lives. Merry Christmas, all!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas!

This busy time of year became busier when my Aunt Sis (not of the record-breaking family) passed away yesterday. She was a beautiful person with a wonderful sense of humour, and what I will always remember is how she hated to say goodbye. Teared up every time! She's having her merriest Christmas yet in heaven with the husband she's missed for twenty years. Friends and family will be gathering to remember and celebrate her over the next few days, and I'm thinking that it might just be a good thing to take a wee Christmas break from these moodlings so that I can be fully present to all those around me.

I'll leave you with this lovely image drawn by L'Arche Edmonton's old friend, Michel Bouchard, and his friends Madeleine Ellis and Annie Charbonneau from Atelier L'Alize of L'Arche Montreal. I love the birds, and the holy family's friendly, smiling greeting! You can see L'Arche Canada's lovely Christmas card (from which I borrowed this image) by clicking here.

I wonder if this picture was partly inspired by a letter from Jean Vanier dated January 2012...
This year Christmas will be associated for me to the joy of birds rejoicing before a new birth in Bethlehem: birds who sing around the manger, along beside the ox and donkey, small lambs and probably a goat...
Jean's writings are beautiful... here's a little more from that same letter....
One day we will hear, over the noise of fears, bells ringing and Christmas carols singing, “Peace, peace, peace on earth”. Christmas happens each day that out of darkness comes a small light. Yes, peace is in our hands, is in my hands. I can do small acts of tenderness and love to reveal to the different ‘others’ their beauty. At L’Arche, as with Faith and Light, we are not militants for a cause but rather witnesses of hope. We know the smiling and beautiful eyes, of Estelle; people say she has Down’s syndrome. Some would have liked to have killed her before she was born. Others would have liked to have healed her Down’s syndrome. But there she is, with her luminous eyes, revealing the presence of God. The world is turned upside-down. God of peace, so gentle, so humble and so merciful, is not hidden in the stars above us or in beautiful ideas of intelligent speeches but rather in the face of Estelle, the face of a child. It is not a matter of healing or eliminating these children but of creating places where all people, whatever fragilities or difficulties they might have, can find their place in society. It is not so much a question of ‘healing’ Estelle as it is a question of healing attitudes of fear and rejection that exist in our societies. It is a question of creating communities of welcome where all people can grow, develop, find confidence in themselves and discover the deep meaning of their lives....
May this holy season be a time of peace, gentleness, humility and compassion for you and yours, and may you witness the birds' rejoicing with a quiet joy of your own...

Merry Christmas, and see you early in the New Year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Three Kings

I love Christmas pageants. Our L'Arche Edmonton pageant this week was a delight, with music, joy, and the excitement of the community surrounding a beautiful holy family embracing baby Jesus, whose pacifier saved the day.

In keeping with my theme this week of "giving with the original Christmas spirit," here's a lovely video made by the Cape Breton (Nova Scotia, Canada) L'Arche community, who performed an adapted version of Three Kings by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I love the size differential between the three kings; the dance of the star; and King Herod's theme music, wa wa waaa. The performance of the carol, We Three Kings, is not to be missed... and the words of the final song brought tears to my eyes. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Christmas (Epiphany) short story for you

In the spirit of the beloved Christmas special rerun, I'm reposting this Christmas (Epiphany) short story. May it inspire its readers to simple and true Christmas giving.

Monica’s Epiphany

Christmas was a week away, and Monica was in miserable martyr mode. Hurrying along the mall concourse, she chanted a litany of the things she still needed to find: new Christmas candles, some slivered almonds, two new pillows, and—oh dear, she had forgotten something. What was it? What was it?
Sighing deeply, Monica paused at the food court, racking her brain for the missing item. Seeing an empty table for two, she found her way through a crowd of shoppers having late afternoon snacks. She sat down and slid her bags and parcels onto the table top. There was already more than an armload; how was she going to lug all this and two pillows home on the bus? Frowning, she picked up her purse, and rifled through it for her shopping list.
The search was fruitless, and her mood worsened -- she would never get everything done without that list! Looking at her Christmas purchases, she thought hard about each store she had visited and where the list might be, but there was no way of knowing whether she’d find it if she back-tracked. Besides, she didn’t have time. Her bus home was less than an hour away.
This business of Christmas was highly overrated as far as Monica was concerned. Holding a commercial festival that had nothing to do with anything was ridiculous, really. Not being religious in any sense of the word, Monica couldn’t for the life of her understand why thinking adults would put themselves through the yearly chaos surrounding the birth of a mythological biblical character who was supposed to be God, but she grudgingly went along with it. Her husband and kids seemed to sort of believe in something about it all, and she couldn’t refuse them anything. For her own part, Monica was ready to call it quits entirely.
Furious with herself and the missing Christmas list, Monica scanned the noisy crowd around her until her eyes halted on a group of three elderly men sitting in the midst of the hubbub, grinning at her. Unnerved, she turned and looked behind her, thinking they might be amused by something going on at the Chinese food counter. When she turned back, their eyes were on the playing cards they each held in their hands. The old Asian fellow was laughing at something the white-haired man of African descent was saying. The small, grey-goateed Middle Eastern-looking gent threw his cards on the table with glee, and Monica actually heard a roar of disapproval from the other two over the noise of the crowd. They were clearly having a good time, while she was having everything but.
Monica shook her head. It wouldn’t surprise her if the old roosters’ wives were running themselves ragged doing Christmas errands while the men didn’t lift a finger. Husbands were all the same. Wasn’t Al home reading the paper or watching TV? He complained that he hated mall mayhem this time of year. Well, so did she, but someone had to prepare for Christmas.
An hour later, Monica sat on the bus, her parcels taking up the seat beside her, causing frowns among the passengers who were stuck standing in the aisle during rush hour. Avoiding their eyes, she checked her bags one more time. A sweater for Al, gift cards for the grandkids, pine potpourri and the new pillows (suggested in that Homemaker's magazine article), boxes of chocolates (for the boy who shoveled her sidewalk and any extra friends who might show up with a gift that had to be reciprocated), new Christmas towels for the bathroom, slivered almonds for cookies, three extra Christmas cards (for the friends she had crossed off her mailing list because they didn’t send cards last year), and earrings for her friend Teresa.
 Not bad a bad haul, though she hadn’t come up with a gift for her daughter Janie. As Monica closed the last bag, she spotted her Christmas shopping list slipping to its bottom, crossly snatched it out, and didn’t have to read further than the first item. Silver polish! She had forgotten the silver polish! Her head dropped as angry tears filled her eyes, but she blinked them back and looked up, right into the face of one of the men she had seen playing cards at the food court.
His dark brown eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled at her, and he removed his hat to reveal thin, curly white hair that contrasted with his dark skin. “If I held the biggest bag on my lap,” he said in a deep voice with a faint but unmistakable accent, “would you mind if I sat beside you?”
Surprised, Monica shuffled the smaller bags aside as the man lifted her bag of pillows and slid his lanky legs beneath them. His hands were black against the downy whiteness of the pillows peeking out, and the tender pinkness of his palms and fingernails embarrassed Monica somehow.
“I forgot the silver polish,” she confessed quickly, then wondered why she had said it.
“Silver polish?” the stranger repeated. “Is it important?”
“Well, yes,” Monica replied. “I polish the silver every year for Christmas.”
The man considered that for a moment, then said, “Why?”
“Well, it gets tarnished. It’s a wedding gift, and we’ve always used it for Christmas dinner.”
“What would happen if you didn’t use it?” her seatmate asked, looking her in the eye.
“I don’t know. I suppose that as long as everyone has knives and forks, that’s all that really matters.”
“So who are you polishing the silver for?” he asked, smiling.
Monica’s mouth dropped open. She was about to protest, but surprised herself by saying, “I’ve always hated polishing the silver.”
“So why not make a change?” the stranger said gently. “Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine,” he grinned, wiggling his white bushy eyebrows.
Monica almost rolled her eyes like a teenager faced with Mom’s advice, but smiled instead. “I guess you’re right,” she said.
“Here’s my stop,” said her seatmate. “Thanks for the seat.” Leaving her pillows beside her, he shuffled past others to the front of the bus and disembarked. As the bus pulled away, Monica watched his figure recede in the darkness.
Someone touched her shoulder. “I sit?” said the small Asian man she had also seen at the food court.
“Of—of course,” Monica said, and looked past him to see the third card player, the one with the goatee, holding onto a handrail. The Asian man took her pillows and held them on his lap as he settled beside her. He beamed, nodded, and pulled a folded newspaper from under his arm. “I going to Christmas concert tonight,” he said, pointing to a notice in the paper. Handel’s Messiah. “You go to Christmas concerts?” he asked.
“I used to, when my family was younger,” Monica replied. “But now that they’ve left home I have too much to do to get everything ready for Christmas. Tomorrow, I need to put up the tree and get going on my Christmas cleaning, and after that I have to decorate. Oh, and bake almond cookies.”
“Ah. Why you do so much things? Husband, children no help, or you not like help?” he asked. “Why they don’t help so you can enjoy Christmas, go to concerts?”
Monica was speechless. She had never really asked for help. But now that she thought about it, Al probably wouldn’t mind setting up the tree, and Janie would likely be willing to come over and wash some walls and clean the china cabinet for her. Monica's daughter had always loved that cabinet and its porcelain statues. Come to think of it, Janie should choose one or two of those dust-collecting treasures as her Christmas gift this year. And her twelve-year-old daughter, Sara, would probably love to make Almond snow drops for her Girl Guide badge, since she swore they were her favourite cookie. 
“I suppose I could ask for help,” Monica murmured.
“Confucius say, “They must often change who would be constant in happiness and wisdom.” Yes, ask for help. Go to concerts,” her seatmate said, pointing again to his newspaper as he tucked it in with her pillows and stood up. “My stop, good bye.”
“Oh. Goodbye,” Monica murmured, too late, as the little man hustled forward and stepped gingerly off the bus. He waved at her as the bus pulled away. When she turned back from the window, the third card player was sitting beside her.
“What is it with you guys?” she said.
The grey-goateed man smiled and shrugged, saying with a thick accent, “We have been friends for many years. But we noticed you didn’t seem to be enjoying yourself this afternoon.”
“No, I wasn’t,” Monica admitted. “I misplaced my Christmas shopping list, and couldn’t remember the things I intended to buy. So I forgot the silver polish… and -- oh no! Spicehill Farms gift boxes for my neighbours.” She cursed internally.
The man shrugged again. “Do you like your neighbours?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t buy them presents if I didn’t.”
His eyes twinkled. “So who needs sausages and cheeses? Do something different instead. Our only true security is our ability to change. Why not invite your neighbours over for some Christmas cheer?”
Monica laughed. Years ago, when Christmas was simpler, didn’t she and Al host a neighbourhood Christmas party? And invite the Magnussens, Wongs, Chomiks and Leighs? How had that tradition been forgotten when it was such a good one? Oh yes, Al had pneumonia that one year, she had the flu the next…
“Good idea,” Monica said, smiling. “Why are you and your friends so wise?”
The man smiled, shrugged, and put his finger to his lips. “You’ll have to excuse me. This is my stop.” He stood and handed Monica her pillows. “Have a Merry Christmas,” he said.
“Thank you,” Monica smiled. “And thank your friends, too. You each gave me a good idea.”
When Monica reached home, she was surprised to find Al in the process of putting up a Christmas tree. “TV got boring,” he said, as she gave him a kiss. “I thought you might like some help. And I’m warming last night’s casserole leftovers in the oven. I hope that meets your approval.”
Monica felt like applauding, but settled for giving him an extra kiss. “How would you feel about taking in Handel’s Messiah tonight?” she asked.


After an incredible evening of letting Handel’s glorious music wash over her, Monica had the most vivid dream of her life.
She dreamed she was walking a rugged path in a cool, dark valley, the sky above her sparkling with more stars than she had ever seen, though the edge of the horizon held the palest glow of coming dawn. There was just enough light that Monica could see the path ahead of her for a short distance. Somewhere behind her, there was a gentle jangling of bells.
Suddenly, the bells became louder, and Monica turned to see a large beast come over a rise in the path. A tall man in a turban was silhouetted against the sky where it had begun to lighten. He limped along, leading another man on a camel. A second camel and rider came behind them. Instinctively, Monica stepped off the path into some shrubs to let them pass, but the procession came to a halt.
The elderly black man in the lead looked familiar to Monica, but she couldn’t place him. He began to speak to her, but she didn’t understand a word. He paused, and tried again, a different sounding language, and again, another language she couldn’t begin to recognize. He turned to his friends on the camels, and they each tried to speak with her, but nothing they said resembled English in any way. So the leader reverted to sign language, pointing toward a small village ahead, and to the camel, indicating that he wanted Monica to ride.
“Oh, no, no,” she replied, and then remembered that he probably didn’t understand her. “You’re limping, she said, pointing to his foot and doing an imitation, then gesturing from him to the camel. “You should ride.”
But the goateed man on the camel the dark one was leading had already dismounted, and the two of them pushed Monica toward it, making clucking noises against her protests, helping her into the saddle. The two men linked arms and hobbled slowly down the path toward a sleeping village, the beast below Monica tossing from side to side in an ancient rhythm unfamiliar to her. She turned to the Asian man mounted on the camel behind her, and he shrugged and smiled encouragement. Why did they all look so familiar?
The tiny caravan stopped as it reached the outskirts of the little town, and the men in the lead walked back to the one still seated on his camel so all three could confer in a soft-sounding language. The goateed man drew some instruments out of a sack that was fastened to his belt, and seemed to take a reading from the fading stars. After a short discussion, a point in the direction of the far end of town, and quiet murmurs of assent, the three men resumed their positions.
Somewhere a rooster crowed as the light increased, and a few more joined in chorus. The camel procession passed through the shadows of the dusty town, only the sounds of harness bells and the camels’ footfalls echoing from stone walls. The group was almost at the last home in the village when they stopped. The man behind Monica dismounted, and the other two came to help her down before all three went to the first camel and unpacked some beautifully ornate jars and boxes.
Monica stood alone, not knowing what to do next, but the three men beckoned that she should come with them to the door of a tiny house with a dim light in one of the windows. Curious, she followed them, standing to the side as the goateed man rapped on the door. The light in the window increased, and a moment later, a tousled-haired girl bearing a lamp peeked through the door. Surprise registered on her face as her eyes travelled from face to face. Nodding to Monica, she murmured a moment in the soft-sounding language Monica had heard the men speaking, and disappeared for a few moments. The goateed man made a comment, and all three chuckled as the girl returned to the door, pulling a robe around her slim body.
The girl opened the door and held the lamp aloft, gesturing that the visitors should enter. Monica found herself swept into the tiny home with the rustle of the three strangers’ robes. She was standing in the middle of a single room. A man on a mat in the corner raised himself onto an elbow, and a tiny child peeked out from under the blanket that covered the two. The girl set the lamp on the room’s only table, turned to a shelf on the wall and brought down a pitcher and bowl. She was reaching for a towel when the man with the goatee said something that made her stop mid-reach. He gestured toward the two on the bed. The child had sat up, his dark curly hair standing on end, his eyes reflecting the lamplight, and the man put an arm around him and spoke what seemed a soft challenge to the visitors.
The child looked intently at Monica as the man with the goatee took a step back, waving one hand in dismay, speaking softly. Monica scrunched her eyes at the little one the way she had with her own grandbabies, and he grinned, put a finger in his mouth, and scrunched his whole face as his father and the stranger spoke to one another. The girl put one hand to her mouth and sank to the table’s bench, following the conversation with her eyes. Monica wondered what was being said, but continued to exchange blinks and winks with the little tyke.
Suddenly, he wiggled out from under his protector’s arm and stood up, taking three steps toward the girl. Almost as suddenly, the three men standing in the doorway dropped to their knees, smiling, reaching toward the little one. The child toddled to the girl’s knee, and she lifted him to her lap, smoothing his hair, but he wiggled and slid to the ground again. Then he went to Monica, who had crouched to his level.
Silence filled the room, and the lamplight seemed a little brighter, Monica thought. The child looked into her eyes questioningly, and smiled. “Ah, you’re a charmer,” she murmured, reaching out to tousle his curly hair. She let herself down onto the floor, and he plunked down in front of her, legs akimbo.
“I don’t suppose you know Patty-cake, do you?” she said, and he wrinkled his nose in a quizzical fashion. “Here,” she said, taking his hands and smacking his palms in gentle rhythm, “Patty-cake, patty cake, baker’s man…”
The next thing she knew, the girl was sitting behind the little one, pulling him into her lap, listening intently to the rhyme. Once the cake had been put “in the oven for baby and me,” the child clapped as if to say, “again,” and Monica repeated it. When she finished, the girl smiled shyly, and began to clap her son’s hands in a different rhythm and sing a little melody, pausing for the child to fill in syllables now and then. Monica looked over at the other visitors, and they too were sitting on the floor, eyes shining, watching the clapping game, smiling and nodding at Monica.
The child’s eyes moved to the three strange men, and he clambered off his mother’s lap toward the one who was closest to him. He touched the Asian man’s wrinkled cheek, and the old man touched the child’s cheek and murmured what only could have been appreciation. The little one then moved to the one with the goatee and touched the tip of his rather bulbous nose with one finger. He laughed, and the goateed one laughed, and flattened his nose with his own fingertip, crossing his eyes, making the toddler giggle. Finally, the boy reached the darkest one. The old man closed his eyes, smiling as little fingers traced his bushy white eyebrows. Then he opened his eyes, took the child’s hand, and kissed it gently.
The young man on the mat had tied his thin blanket around his waist and moved to the table. He unwrapped a few crusts of bread in a towel, offering them to the three visitors. They shook their heads, the goateed one responded at length, and then turned to the others in conferral. The three then removed from the folds of their robes the ornate boxes and jars that Monica saw earlier, and held them out to the young couple. The girl shook her head, but the old one with the goatee slowly got to his feet and went to her, pressing his boxes set with stones into her hands before returning to help his fellow travelers to their feet so they could do the same with their jars. The goateed one spoke with some urgency to the young man, and a look of alarm crossed his smooth face. He swallowed hard, making eye contact with the girl. The two nodded almost imperceptibly, and the girl scooped up the child and gave him to Monica.
Confused, Monica and the child watched from their place on the floor as the young couple moved uncertainly about the room, seemingly in a panic. The black stranger grasped the blanket the young man was wearing, and Monica averted her eyes and began playing Pattycake with the little boy while the young man dressed and the old one folded up the bedding. The Asian man picked up the bread that had just been offered him and handed it to the girl as the goateed man took a rough cloth sack from a hook on the wall and gave it to her. The young man brought a hammer and chisel, and a small shirt that he passed to Monica so she could dress the child while the rest hurriedly but carefully packed the few things from the room into the sack, including the gifts the strangers had brought. When the child’s head and arms emerged from his little shirt, he clapped his hands and made grunting noises to the Pattycake rhythm, and Monica repeated it again, smiling in spite of the anxiety she was feeling.
The girl interrupted the game by wrapping a blanket around her son’s shoulders. She spoke softly to him for a few moments, and he raised his arms to her. She picked him up, and he snuggled into her neck as she rummaged in the top of the sack for the bread. She broke off a crust and gave it to him, and he offered it to Monica.
“Ah, no, little one,” she smiled. “It’s your breakfast.” The young woman smiled an anxious smile, and before Monica knew what she was doing, she held both mother and child in a wordless embrace.
The young man appeared at the girl’s elbow, speaking rapidly as he hefted the bag and gestured toward the door. But the tall black man held up a hand for a moment, opened the door a crack, and looked out. Cautiously pushing the door open, he led the young couple and child out into the slanting early morning light. Monica and the others followed.
The young man made a deep bow toward the three, put his arm around his wife and child, and was about to walk along a path that led into the hills when the Asian man became quite agitated, pointing toward the horizon, where a cloud of dust could be seen advancing toward the village. Waving his hands, he spoke quickly to his companions and grabbed the young man’s sack of belongings. The other two men had hurried to the nearest camel, unloading bedrolls and satchels before tying the young man’s sack and their own canteens to the camel’s saddle and handing the young man the beast’s lead.
The Asian man took the child from his mother and gave him to Monica as the other two visitors helped the girl mount the saddle. Monica kissed the child's curly crown and lifted the little one up to the girl, whose eyes were misty as she spoke words of what seemed to be gratitude to the three visitors and Monica. The men smiled and bowed, and Monica followed their lead, then crinkled her eyes at the child, who responded in kind. The goateed man spoke seriously with the young man for a moment, pointing first one direction, then another. The young man nodded, gripped the older man’s arm, and hugged him tightly for a moment. Then he nodded to the other two, who coaxed the camel to its feet and began shouting and slapping its backside. The young man led the lumbering beast up the path without looking back. The girl and her child, their eyes dark, their smiles bright, turned and waved to the strangers who had come to visit. Then the girl wrapped herself and her child in her cloak, and the two turned to face their seemingly uncertain future.
Monica stood watching until the little family disappeared over a rise. When she turned around, the three old men were standing with their only camel and the things they had unloaded from the beast they had given away. The goateed man threw up his hands in disgust and spoke to the Asian fellow in a rather irritated tone. The black one laughed aloud, said something himself, and a moment later, all three were laughing. Their laughter rang like bells, peal after peal, and Monica suddenly found that she was laughing too, even though the joke was beyond her. As she turned toward the horizon, her laughter caught in her throat and her smile faded. Her companions’ eyes followed hers, and Monica became aware of the sound of marching echoing through the streets.
“You—you saved them, didn’t you?” she said, pointing toward the hill where the young couple had vanished. “You knew they were in danger, and you warned them. Your camel was probably the most important gift you gave them. How will you travel now?”
The goateed one reached for Monica’s arm, lowered it to her side, shrugged, and put his finger to his lips. Then he whispered, in a thick accent, “God grant me the serenity to accept the situations I cannot change, the courage to change the ones I can, and the wisdom to do what must be done.” 
Monica woke... and wondered.


Though she never saw her three wise men again, Monica took their words to heart. Her silver was donated to a charity sale, she now involves her family in pre-Christmas preparation (and has discovered that they actually enjoy helping out), and she has stopped worrying about buying her neighbours gifts and has started inviting them over more often.
Since then, every year during the Christmas season, Monica approaches an inner city charity and asks for the name of a needy young refugee couple with a small child. She buys blankets, food, and a Pattycake book, and leaves them on the family’s doorstep on Christmas Eve.


Monica is a changed woman.


© 2010 Maria K.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

N'kosi Sikelel'iAfrika

This Sunday, I'm praying for South Africa. Like everyone else, I've been watching the coverage of Nelson Mandela's passing, and I've been thinking about his life and the love he had for his country and its people. Years ago, I read his book, Long Walk to Freedom, and learned that he was a man who had every reason to want revenge and to be resentful. Instead, he absorbed the anger and division of his country and chose to live the meaning of reconciliation and renewal. I don't know his faith background at all, but I expect he was a man that would have walked very comfortably with someone like Jesus.

I was travelling North America and Europe with an international group of students that performed a musical show about peace and friendship during Mandela's last few years in prison... and this song in the Zulu language was always my favourite moment of our performance -- the harmonies and togetherness always filled me with happiness, and gave me goosebumps on occasion. I still know the words.

Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika (God bless Africa) and God bless Nelson Mandela!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A record-breaking family

How many people do you know who have a family that belongs in The Guiness Book of World Records? One, maybe, if you know me! (Dozens, if you know my family...)

A while back, some of my relatives on my mom's side were chatting about the possibility that her family might be the -- hmm, I don't know the category name, much less how to explain it. So let me just say --  my mom's parents had twelve children and they're all still living, a few of the eldest in their eighties, and the youngest just a few months shy of his first pension cheque. (Really, Uncle Len? So hard to believe! None of you are over 60 in my mind!) If I've figured it correctly, their collective age (as of this moodling) equals 887 years (belated Happy Birthday, Aunt Kay! And Happy Birthday today, Aunt Lucy! And Happy Birthday early, Uncle Rudy!) 887 years is only 82 less than Methuselah, the oldest guy in the bible, ha!


On my wedding day, this photo was taken of Grandma and her 7 daughters and five sons... and more than twenty years later, though we lost Grandma (centre) in 1996, the rest are still going strong. They're a mostly healthy bunch (with good genes) that grew up on a Saskatchewan farm before the age of technology, chemical food additives and other things that threaten the health of our species today. Even so, what are the odds that they've all survived to the present? (Especially when I hear the stories my farm boy hubby tells about the dangerous things he and his brothers got into out on the farm as kids!) It strikes me how fortunate we are as a family, living in the developed world with a good healthcare system (that a few of this bunch have relied upon for different serious health issues over the years) -- Canada has a much lower overall mortality rate than most other countries where this family could have been born.

Of course, we have no way of knowing that there isn't another, larger family somewhere in the world who are older and all still living. But it really doesn't matter because my relatives are a humble group, and aren't interested in making -- or breaking -- any world records. I hear that a few of my generation looked into what it would take to get them into The Guiness Book, but it seems they're not all that interested.

Regardless, this is a world record family in my books, and not just because of their collective age or the fact that they and their spouses had 77 children among them (yes, I have lots of cousins). My uncles and aunts are all warm and wonderful people, strong in their faith in God in spite of life's challenges, wise beyond their years, full of humour and kindness, and each one has given my generation and me many special memories. Their husbands and wives, children, children-in-law, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren know that they're the world's best oldest all-living family members from one set of parents, and while that might be close to the actual category name, we know them more simply as some of our very favourite people!

For the record, I love each one of my uncles and aunts. Merry Christmas to them, may they collectively live to be older than Methuselah, and God bless them, every one!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Simple Suggestion #189 ... Give a gift that makes a difference

What do you want for Christmas this year? Is it something you really need? I could use some new oven mitts -- but if I'm totally honest, the ones I have still work just fine (though they're a bit worn and kind of ugly from past baking "accidents"). And the rest of the stuff on my Christmas wish list isn't really essential to my well-being, either -- or anyone else's, for that matter.

So I'm thinking I should be more like my mom. For our family Christmas exchange, she put "men's briefs" on her Christmas wish list. Not because she's odd that way, but because she knows that there's always a shortage of underwear for homeless guys who visit the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Clothing Room where she volunteers.

What if everybody on the planet gave/asked for gifts that made the world a better place for others, not just for themselves? Here's a funny little video in that vein to make us all think!



There are many organizations that provide necessary items to those who need them -- in our own back yard or in the developing world. Even better are those organizations that help people to help themselves, like microloan groups.

If Kid President (who is pointing his viewers to Unicef's inspired gifts.org website) has you thinking, here are a few more websites worth a visit:

Donate toward housing a family (Habitat for Humanity)

Give a microloan to help someone make a living (Kiva.org)

Donate toward justice issues in the developing world (Development and Peace)

Give an education (Mennonite Central Committee)

Donate food producing livestock (Food for the Hungry)

Give the gift of food (Canadian Foodgrains Bank)

Donate water  (Plan Canada)

So here's a note to the person who has my name in our family gift exchange: Ignore everything I may have told you that I want for Christmas. I'd be happy to receive a donation to any of the above organizations! Or, some men's underwear...

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Within our darkest night You kindle a fire that never dies away

It's already the second Sunday of Advent, and tonight we'll be having our Advent Taize Prayer at 7 p.m. in Holyrood Mennonite Church (9505 79 Street). All are welcome. Here's one of the chants we'll be singing this evening for those unable to attend. Thanks to Charles Pope for posting it with some lovely images of God's light...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What -30 C (-22 F) with a ten degree windchill (-40 C or -40 F) looks like

For my readers from warmer climes -- 
this is what my computer is telling me 
about outside conditions this morning:


And here's the view from my front step.


This is warm compared to a few other places in Alberta, 
but even so, it's the kind of cold that stings your nose
when you breathe it, and makes you wish for warmth.
Everything feels cold and blue today; 
it's actually warmer in Cambridge Bay!
(Which is in Nunavut, latitude 69 or so. 
There it's only -23 with a -39 windchill -- 
but they're in their perpetually dark season 
with the sun living in Antarctica at the moment.)

Anyway, I think I'll stay home and bake cookies... 
except the dog needs a short walk, 
and a daughter needs a ride to a band rehearsal,
and another one needs a lift home from work,
and Lee might need some help with his greenhouse construction...
better put on my long underwear!!!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Simple Suggestion #141 (revisited)... Join a Simplicity Study Circle

Yippee! Here we go again! My Master Composter/Recycler friend, Super Su, also known as @redworm_mama on Twitter, has invited me to facilitate another set of Simplicity Study Circles starting in January. I love facilitating, because there's no better way to stay on the path of Voluntary Simplicity than sharing the journey with others.

A group of us will be meeting every two weeks in the new year to discuss different topics about how to live more with less, and I'm excited to meet new people and share information and learn new tricks for leaving a smaller footprint on our beautiful planet. I've been through the program five or six times now, but there's always something new to discover.

Interested in joining us for ten thought-provoking evenings of fun? Here are the details:


2014 simplicity study circles
come & see what it’s all about
first session: “exploring simplicity”
MONDAY   13JAN2014   7-9 pm
    abby road co-op 
10950 - 82 (whyte) avenue
(10 sessions for $35*, workbook included)
For more information, contact Maria K. 
(under view my complete profile 
on the side bar)
topics include:
·        simplicity & personal growth (27JAN14)
·        the best things in life (10FEB14)
·        simplicity: the first “R” (24FEB14)
·        simplicity & diet (10MAR14 )
·        time check-up: “ideal day” (24MAR14)
·        simplicity & community (14APR14)
·        money check-up & exploring definitions of "enough" (28APR14)
·        de-junking your life (12MAY14)
·        de-junking mind and heart (26MAY14)
open to ALL
facilitated by maria: master composter/recycler & practitioner of voluntary simplicity

*limited subsidies available - please inquire if you are interested

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

2014 Taizé Prayer in Edmonton


Taizé Prayer is, quite simply, a wonderful thing. Christians from different denominations gather to sing beautiful, multi-layered music, hear scripture, meditate in silence, pray the prayers of their hearts, and enjoy a special, ecumenical sense of community in each other’s churches. I’ve been part of it, on and off, for the past 25 years, and have come to really appreciate its simplicity and beauty, as well as my many friendships with Christians from my neighbourhood and the greater Edmonton area with whom I would be unlikely to meet otherwise.

If you’ve never experienced Taizé Prayer, we invite you to come and pray with us any time. No matter what your past church experience may have been, Taizé Prayer is a welcoming place for peaceful reverence. Many thanks to all the participating churches. Please join us.

Taizé Prayer 2014
Ecumenical, musical, meditative prayer 
in the Taizé style from 7 - 8 p.m.

January 12   St. Thomas D’Aquin Catholic Church   8410 89 Street
February 9   Hope Lutheran Church   5104 106 Avenue
March 9   Lenten Prayer St. Luke’s Anglican Church   8424 95 Avenue
April 18   Good Friday Prayer Around the Cross
Providence Renewal Centre   3005 119 Street
May 4   Easter Prayer   St. David’s Anglican Church   7751 85 Street
September 14   Assumption Catholic Church   9040 95 Avenue
October 5   Holyrood Mennonite Church   9505 79 Street
November 9    Peace Prayer    Strathearn United Church   8510 95 Avenue
December 14   Advent Prayer    First Church of God   9224 82 Street

Everyone is welcome!

For more information and/or a printable poster, contact Maria K. 
(under view my complete profile on the side bar); 
see also www.taize.fr
Taizé Prayer is sponsored by these church communities, 
and the Edmonton Taizé musicians/organizing group.
Music copyright permissions are obtained 
through the kindness of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton,
and candles are donated by Universal Church Supplies.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A special day for Persons with Disabilities

Today is a day I love to celebrate -- the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. If you know people with intellectual disabilities, chances are you've experienced first hand the way that they freely offer their affection and friendship, and unwittingly teach able-bodied people to respond to them with compassion and humility. You'll understand exactly why the Olivet Eagles helped Keith make his special play in the video below.

I also have a very special friend who has had a physical disability for a relatively short time -- and who has an amazing ability to draw people together, see the best in them, and find the positives in almost any situation. Charleen is a huge blessing in my life. She's the one who shared this video with me -- her email sharings are my favourites!

To all my friends and relatives with disabilities, thank you for the way you warm my heart with your hugs, smiles and friendship. My life would be less without you! Happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities... I celebrate you!

Monday, December 2, 2013

You're invited to the best little Christmas pageant...

Once again, L'Arche Edmonton will be performing its Annual Christmas Pageant, and everyone is invited to come and participate. Of all the Christmas activities out there, this is my favourite!

Our community of people with and without disabilities acts out the Christmas story from Luke's gospel, we sing many carols with an excellent group of musicians, and you just never know how the Spirit will move... We also collect food for Edmonton's Food Bank, and offer a lovely little Christmas Craft Sale as we serve delicious hot apple cider and Christmassy treats.

It's always a joyful and uplifting evening, and a wonderful part of Advent. If you're in the neighbourhood on December 16th (two weeks from today), please join us!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

More gratitude on a Sunday

This is absolutely beautiful... sharing "the gift to realize that everything is a gift." Be sure to watch right to the end... Happy Thanksgiving weekend to my American friends and Happy First Sunday of Advent (my favourite season!) to all!