Thursday, July 31, 2014

50 years ago...

...these beautiful people got married.


I really wish I was there to toast them today. 
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!
Unfortunately, our video wishes didn't work out, 
but we're sure you know that we love you.
The best we can do is send your song...
Happy Anniversary!



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbL8VsbqKHk

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Falling in love with London

The allure of London was lost on me the first time I was there. We took a quickie tour on an open topped tour bus, and the traffic fumes left me wilted and nauseous. We were hurried through Poet's Corner at Westminster Abby and rushed past all sorts of landmarks and historical sites... and it was hard to grasp anything of the city's beauty or charm.

But this summer, we had six days. The weather was fine, and we took our time exploring...


... Trafalgar Square preparing for the World Cup game between Brazil and the Netherlands...


... the gory stories of the Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London...


... a stroll across Tower Bridge and along the Thames...


... to St. Paul's Cathedral.


We got to hear Big Ben strike twelve...


... walk the cloisters (and everywhere else) in Westminster Abbey...


... see museums...


... and ancient artifacts...


... check out the markets...


... a parade near the Palace...


... and some theatre!
We even rode London's double decker buses -- 
way more fun than the Tube!
But we loved the parks best of all...


... these characters, who started playing pelican lacrosse with a chestnut...


... pretty ponds...


and the lovely Diana, Princess of Wales memorial
(a flat, streamlike oval fountain)
where children and parents (including us)
enjoyed a refreshing break from the heat.
Much nicer than a silly statue.

I didn't expect it, but London impressed me.

Just proves that it takes time to get to know and fall in love with the unknown.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday reflection: Unconditional love


It's a love story that's gone on for 26 years. And it continues. And I have done absolutely nothing to deserve any of it!

Back in 1988, I travelled with Cast C of Up With People, a group of young performers which spent over a month in Belgium and stayed with many host families in different parts of the country.

During that time, I was welcomed into the home of a couple in Flanders who asked specifically for a Canadian student. From them I learned of the great love some Belgians have for Canadians because of how hard Canadians fought in Belgium during the World Wars. Gaby and Yvonne Spoiled me -- with a capital S! Because one of their sons was far from home in Canada, they made me at home in Belgium, showing so much affection, driving me to important Canadian war memorials in their area, and planning a day's activities that included a walk on the beach at the North Sea and a special tour of Brugges that almost made us late to catch the bus that was taking the cast to its next stop.

We stayed in touch... and four years later, when my husband and I decided to visit Europe, I wrote to my Belgian friends and asked if we could visit. They were disappointed that they couldn't offer us their North Sea apartment because it had already been rented for the summer, but asked that we stay with them for four days in July, and again, they spoiled us!

Over the years since, there have been baby gifts for our children and Belgian chocolate bars for us at Christmas. The arrival of a package or letter from Yvonne and Gaby melted our hearts many times. And last summer when our eldest daughter backpacked around Europe, Gaby drove all the way to Brussels to pick her up and Spoil her, too. With a capital S.



This past Christmas, a letter arrived in which Gaby recounted our friendship from the first days, and insisted that we come for another visit, saying, "We are growing old, and it is time that you come." So determined was he that he offered us one of two weeks in the month of July to stay in the North Sea apartment. How could we refuse?

And so, we were Spoiled again. Gaby and his son-in-law, Luc, picked us up in Arras, France, and drove us home for a beautiful lunch and un verre de l'amitie (a glass of friendship) that consisted of several glasses -- two champagnes and I don't remember what else we drank because I'm not used to drinking so much!!! Then they took us to their gorgeous North Sea apartment, where the fridge was stocked with all that we needed, plus Belgian chocolate, the world's best beer, and two very excellent wines. We lacked for nothing.

The family also took us on an incredibly beautiful Sunday hike along the beaches of Northern France, where we ate magnificent sea food and shared many stories and jokes. Gaby also made sure that we were able to find our way to Brugges for a day, and at the end of the week, he and Luc took us to Ieper so that we could visit the excellent In Flanders Fields Museum, walk the city's ramparts, and hear the Last Post played at the Meningate.

In all of this, I marvelled at my friends and the time and effort they put into a week's holiday for 5 Canadians. Their generosity and kindness knew no bounds, and I often found myself wondering what I had ever done to deserve such love. When I voiced the thought to Gaby, his response was, "What have you done to deserve our love? You are simply Maria and Lee."

It's stunning, really, to be loved like this. It makes tears flow down my cheeks. Gaby's love is like a taste of God's love, God who gives us everything -- abundant to the point of overflowing, for no reason other than love.


Ik hou van jou, ook!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What I learned in Paris

It's quite a climb to get to la Basilique du Sacre Coeur...


Parisians have a gorgeous Academie Nationale de Musique...


Napoleon married Josephine, his one true love, here...


Parts of les Jardins des Tuileries are nice and cool on a hot day,
but the Paris Eye is puny compared to London's...


There are lineups everywhere in July, unless you get a speed pass...


It's hard to get close to the Mona Lisa...


But there are plenty of other more amazing portraits in le Louvre...


and Dan Brown was right -- parquet flooring all over the place!



To my girls' chagrin, there were no steps in front of Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris
where Quasimodo's mother supposedly died, but at least there were gargoyles...


Our girls were suitably impressed with the big church's flying buttresses,
and saw for themselves why Paris' bridges are stressed
by the weight of "lovers' locks"...


Leapfrog is still fun in Paris, as it was when I was her age...


The tower is most romantic at night...


My youngest daughter wasn't as impressed with the Eiffel 


as with the wildlife nearby (she took more pics of ducks and muskrats than the tower)...


but I'll admit that she has an eye for lining up interesting pictures...


Now it costs money to see l'arc de Triomphe close up, 
so this was as close as we got...


Shopping at the food markets was more fun than any grocery store...


and if you're not drinking wine near Champs de Mars,
you're selling it...


La Musee D'Orsay is better than le Louvre in our books...


It wouldn't take much for a sparrow to turn a somersault 
(Julia's pic again)...


And I wouldn't mind a glimpse of la tour Eiffel, l'arc de Triomphe 
and l'hotel des Invalides every day... if there wasn't an emergency 
department directly below me. As lovely as Paris is, there's no place like home!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The most heartfelt flash mob

L'Arche is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It began in August of 1964 when its founder, Jean Vanier, decided to live in community with Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, two men with intellectual disabilities. From a very small, humble decision has arisen a world-wide community where people with and without disabilities live together in family settings, developing mutual relationships and sharing daily life.

If you follow these moodlings you already know that I work for L'Arche, and have a deep love for the community. I was delighted to see Arche France's video of its recent flashmob in the Marseilles Train Station, and can't resist sharing it here. The song is great, Jean Vanier's message is moving, and the choreography so simple that I suspect some of the travellers in the station joined in! Having been through several train stations in France in the past weeks, it was a delight to see L'Arche flashed up on the departures board and hear the SNCF jingle with the familiar female announcer speaking about L'Arche. It would be fun to join the crowd at Place de la Republique in Paris for the celebration on September 27th. If it's anything like this video, it will be a marvelous party!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday reflection: My heart's spiritual home

The view through the centre of Taize at the community's edge...
We're home from an amazing vacation... and I spent a good part of yesterday going through over a thousand picture and video files from our digital camera, reliving our trip of a lifetime. The trip centered on a visit with some very dear friends in Belgium, and was book-ended with time in Taizé and Paris in France, and in London, England.

For me, the highlight of our trip was the time spent with Gaby and Yvonne and their family in Flanders, which you've already heard a bit about. The next best thing was the very beginning of the trip -- what turned out to be the best 3-day retreat of my life in Taizé, France. 

Taizé is a tiny village in the beautiful rolling hills of France's Bourgogne (Burgundy, as in wine) region that is home to an ecumenical religious community. In August 2015, the community of brothers of different denominations who welcome young pilgrims year round will celebrate its 75th anniversary with meetings on every continent where youth will gather "to mobilize their energies, [and] to gather together their longings, intuitions and experiences" as part of Taizé's "pilgrimage of trust on earth."

Brother Ghislain starts our session with a chant...
And trust was exactly where my focus needed to be for the first three days of our holiday. Being something of a worry-wart, I am a rather anxious traveller, but that soon changed as I was quietly welcomed among the adults over 35 who were staying for the week, sharing a room of bunks with women from Poland, China, France and Italy. The first day was like a silent retreat as I observed the goings-on and found my way around (most people begin their week-long stay on a Sunday so everyone was well into the swing of things by the time my daughters and I arrived on Thursday afternoon). On Friday, I connected with a “scripture discussion group” made up of Swedes and Norwegians, a lady from England, and a fellow from Germany, who shared thoughts about Brother Ghislain’s morning Bible reflections in our common language, English. Language was rarely an issue -- people from many different places found ways to communicate, and because four of my five roommates spoke only their mother tongues and French, I got a real workout in my second language! My sharing group members were from many different churches with many different practices, but we delighted in our shared Christianity.

A very different Nativity scene. I understand the giraffe now, but what is the elephant's meaning?
Big ears for listening?
I really enjoyed Brother Ghislain's spiritual input. He had much wisdom to share when breaking open the scripture of the day, but perhaps my favourite pearl was when he encouraged us to be like giraffes, animals who possess the largest heart in proportion to their body, and the widest view. I suspect that's why the giraffe appears in the nativity scene mounted outside the brothers' enclosure. See her?

Doing supper dishes...
Having been an organizer of Taizé Prayer services in Edmonton for over 20 years, I finally got to experience, first hand, what our little music group has been trying to emulate. In the Church of Reconciliation, there were many moments of joy so overwhelming that it was all I could do not to burst into tears of happiness. I had finally reached my heart’s spiritual home. The simplicity of the day’s schedule involving work, sharing, and prayer in a rustic setting filled me with the deepest gratitude
A good bench for silent reflection...
I’ve ever known. Walking in the woods, enjoying nature, doing chores, and answering the call of the bells for prayer with the brothers and well over a thousand other pilgrims (most aged 16-35) in the Church of the Reconciliation was an experience I will never forget. A few times, the prayer melodies carried late into the night, but I couldn’t tear myself away. Something in me had been thirsting for what was being given, and when Sunday came, I was overflowing with a deep peace and joy. My two eldest daughters also enjoyed their experience with youth from around the world.


If you’ve been following my moodlings for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling with what feels like excessive complexity in my own church. At Taizé, I couldn’t help but feel that Christ would feel more at home there because everyone is welcome to come to the table, and the underlying structure is just enough to keep things going without becoming top-heavy and overly focused on the incidentals. Although the grandeur of amazing architecture and high ritual used to impress me, now my soul craves simplicity. I was much more at home in the Church of the Reconciliation than at mass in Westminster Cathedral two weeks later!


I’ll admit it – since it is unlikely that I will ever return to Taizé -- I cheated and made a few quiet little videos to bring home so that I can revisit my experience from time to time, and I share my favourite one here. I like its fuzzy focus and the lovely, cascading sound of echoing chant (it was past eleven p.m. and there was just a small group of us left to sing and pray). "Let all who are thirsty come" describes perfectly what happened for me during my three-day visit: “Let all who are thirsty, come. Let all who wish receive the water of life freely. Amen, come Lord Jesus. Amen, come Lord Jesus.”


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Coming home...


It has been a most wonderful 24 days overseas. Yesterday, our last full day away, we probably walked 20 km. So today's moodling will be occurring as I'm dozing and dreaming on an Air Canada flight home. I'll make up for the lack of thought here with stories and pictures next week, I promise. Back soon!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Simple Suggestion #211... Talk to strangers

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking the dog and came upon an elderly man sitting on his bike at a bus stop. Curious, I couldn't help but ask if he was planning to put his bike on the racks many of our buses have now and ride around another part of the city. "No, no," he said. "I'm just waiting here for the 307. I've locked my bike to the sign here, and the bus will take me to the mall for breakfast with my friends. And when I get back, my bike will be waiting." He then proceeded to tell me about his friends, and the 307's route, and his plan to check out the Dollarama for deals. Then the bus appeared and he boarded it, wishing me a nice walk. We had chatted for perhaps five minutes, and his cheerful outlook on life as the "old guy on a bike" (as he called himself) had made my day.

As I walked away, I couldn't help but think how glad I was that I had taken a risk and talked to a stranger. And I wondered how many other interesting strangers I had missed along the path of my life. Hopefully, not too many. I've always had an intense interest in people, and though I'm an introvert, my curiosity often gets the best of me, and I ask people about themselves. I've learned that it's unusual to have a stranger refuse to answer an honest question -- and that quite often, they're happy to talk about themselves, revealing very interesting things that I would never have learned if I had kept my mouth shut. Last week I learned that we experienced exceptional weather on the North Sea coast, and that in the summer, there are always crowds of people present when the last post is played at the Meningate in Ypres, Belgium.

I've never been one to tell my kids not to talk to strangers. I've told them to be polite to strangers, and of course, to back away or find help if a stranger makes them feel uncomfortable or frightened. And when my girls have been out in public with me, I've been known to strike up friendly conversations with people I don't know in the grocery store or at the playground. Stranger danger can be real, but bad strangers generally don't lurk around every corner the way they do on crime shows and the TV news. I often think we North Americans are just too afraid of each other, and that we need to reclaim the ancient peoples' exhortation to "welcome the stranger," not to mention "care for the widow and orphan" in our daily lives.

That's why I was delighted to find this video. Good on Robbie Stokes for starting his own movement to get more people talking to strangers once again. Our trip to Europe has provided many opportunities to talk with strangers in France, Belgium, and now, England, and from what I've seen, it seems many people are jumping on the bandwagon and talking with us, too. Maybe all of us strangers who talk to each other and make connections will make the world a better place.


Video from KarmaTube

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Friendship

After a week in Belgium because of the generosity of two dear friends, this seems a perfect quotation to share today:
Friendship is one of the greatest gifts a human being can receive. It is a bond beyond common goals, common interests, or common histories. It is a bond stronger than sexual union can create, deeper than a shared fate can solidify, and even more intimate than the bonds of marriage or community. Friendship is being with the other in joy and sorrow, even when we cannot increase the joy or decrease the sorrow. It is a unity of souls that gives nobility and sincerity to love. Friendship makes all of life shine brightly. Blessed are those who lay down their lives for their friends...
Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, January 7th.
Thank you, dear Gaby and Yvonne (and Luc, Brigitte, and Dmitri). Being with you was a taste of heaven, of being loved for no reason other than who we are, your friends from Canada. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with you... Most especially the beach walk and singing in the kitchen. Without your friendship and love, our family's trip to three countries in Europe this summer never would have happened. Belgische zoentjes to you all!