Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I've just spent three hours on the phone with a most amazing woman. You could say that I have a slight case of telephone ear, and a full heart.

The woman with whom I spoke is a key person in the history of our L'Arche Community here in Edmonton. I've been phoning her every Wednesday this summer, hoping to talk with her about what happened during her time as community leader. Four weeks in a row, there was no answer, or an answering machine with a full memory, which was worrying, as she's battling cancer.

But today, finally, we talked like we've never talked before. She told me so many wonderful stories that after my fingers stopped racing over the keyboard (because my laptop battery gave up) and I said thank you and goodbye, all the emotion of the events I had typed caught up with me, and tears streamed down my cheeks.

Susan is a woman who understands what it is to live as a person with a disability, and who has gone out of her way to involve people with disabilities in decisions that are often made about their lives without their input. She's one embodiment of the L'Arche spirit, and the person who first used the words "core member" to indicate that the people with disabilities in L'Arche are the heart of the community. She understood, like Jean Vanier, that those who are vulnerable make the strong more human, and thus should be at the heart of everything.

Being unable to reach Susan for the past few weeks, I lost a lot of momentum when it came to the writing of our community's 40-year history because in waiting to connect with her, there have been too many other things to do. But now she has put the wind back in my sails. There are so many, many stories to share that I'm wondering how to write them all in a reasonable period of time... but I'm determined to get them down as soon as possible! They're just too good to lose. I only wish everyone in L'Arche could have heard all that I did in the last three hours.

Thank you, Susan! And God keep you well...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ever been to a Jurassic Forest?

I have. Just this past weekend. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon on Saturday, so the five of us decided to head out past Gibbons, Alberta, to said forest. On the way there, we were wondering if it was just a tourist trap on some farmer's back forty... but as we drove up to the gates, we realized quickly that someone had put some serious time and effort into creating the place, and the experience it provides to visitors...

The woman who took our entrance fees was most informative, and we set off on our adventure feeling confident that this would be an interesting place. We were not disappointed. Our three teenagers had fun in the Jurassic sandbox, taking pictures of each other hatching out of eggs or caught in dinosaur's mouths, but the sun was hot, so we headed for the treed boardwalks into the bush. Didn't go far before we ran into...

a rather cranky sounding brontosaurus, waving his tail and swinging his head back and forth. Pretty cool!

Every bend in the path was peopled -- I mean, dinosaured -- with apatosaurs, triceratops, stegosauri, and the like. 

Edmontosauruses (how the heck should that be pluralized??) actually appeared in the background of a family picture that will likely appear with our Christmas letter this year. 

We also got to see a few mammals like the sabre-toothed tiger early in its evolution... and all along the boardwalks were all sorts of interesting info boards about local flora and fauna, from black spruce trees and mosses to moose, tiger swallowtail butterflies, and downy woodpeckers. One of our girls took a picture of a sign that explained the physics equation used to determine a dinosaur's speed based on its height, weight and body build. Can't wait to see her use it!

It turned out to be a really interesting and fun outing for our family. I took tons of pictures, but am posting just a few so that I don't spoil all the surprises. If you're in our part of Alberta and looking for a nice afternoon out in nature -- with a bunch of dinosaurs thrown in for fun -- I'd highly recommend it. Click here for the website that gives you its location and other info... and watch out for the T-rex!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Guest Moodler: Sermon on Vulnerability

My dearest friend is giving the sermon at her church again today, and it's one I definitely appreciate. Of late, my beautiful young daughters have made me more aware of my limitations and the fact that I no longer fit with young society... and my body just isn't as strong as it used to be. I'm vulnerable, and yes, aren't we all aging! But it's all okay if we can be ourselves...

Enjoy some words of wisdom!

Thanks again, Cathy, for letting me share them here!

Sermon on Vulnerability
August 25, 2013
Cathy Coulter

How many of you know a teenager that has said, “I don’t know anything”? Isn’t it much more likely to come across a teen who thinks and acts like they know it all? Here are a couple of lines you can use them in such times: the first one is  “Oh, sorry. I keep forgetting that I’m not young enough to know it all.” Or maybe you can gently advise them that “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
 Our reading today from Jeremiah tells us of a young man, Jeremiah, who wasn’t like our typical teen. Jeremiah says to God, “Hold it God. I don’t know anything. I’m only a boy.” God tells Jeremiah, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll be right there looking after you.”
In contrast, our reading from Luke tells of a woman “so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up”, who’d been suffering like this for eighteen years. I imagine her as an older woman.  Jesus heals her and sets her free.
          These readings made me think about the journey from youth (Jeremiah) to old age (the bent over woman). I’m fascinated by the journey into old age. I’m on that journey, of course, like everyone else -- and like everyone else, I have my regrets and complaints but I’m also curious and yes, fascinated. When I discovered my first grey hair, I remember being amazed. That thing was growing out of my head, just like an old person! What a disconnect between feeling as young as we always have and the reality of our bodies wearing down.
          I like grey hair by the way. I’m trying to learn to love wrinkles, achy joints, and rolls around the middle as well. Or at least accept them.
          I’m also fascinated by how aging is perceived in our society. I could have become a social researcher and studied it but instead, I’m a nurse and I witness it. We don’t value aging. And we don’t prepare people for it. Many people are taken by surprise by aging. We still think we have the capabilities of the much younger selves we imagine ourselves to be. Sometimes I want to say to people, what did you expect? That it wasn’t going to happen to you?
          We keep the discussion of aging in the closet. We don’t talk about dying either. As a Hospice nurse I want to talk about it, to normalize it, so we can get on with the business of doing it well – doing aging and dying in a way that is rich in gifts and blessings for ourselves and others. I’ve witnessed this way and have been gifted by it.
          So I was all prepared to stand on my soap box once again and deliver another variation on how we should age but ….and here comes my pun…it was feeling kind of tired. I think my theme is getting old!
So now it’s Friday night and I still don’t know what I’m going to talk about on Sunday morning. And then I remembered a speaker we heard at the Global Leadership Summit.
          The Global Leadership Summit is a two day event of amazing speakers that is video cast all over the world to develop leadership in churches and I would like to use this moment to thank the Visioning Committee for funding ten members of this church to attend this summer. Several of us have gone for two or three years and I believe it has provided some amazing vision and commitment to this church and its mission in our community.
          Brene Brown is a social researcher who wanted to study connectedness and ended up studying shame and vulnerability. Shame is a subject like aging. It’s pervasive and nobody wants to talk about it. Brene Brown says shame is the gremlin that tells you that you’re not good enough. We need to feel connected to others and if we don’t connect or feel like we don’t fit in, we feel shame – we feel we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or attractive enough, or successful enough or whatever enough. And that feeling of shame leaves us feeling vulnerable.
          But paradoxically, Brown discovered that vulnerability is the birthplace of love and belonging. This is the message of Jesus, and the beauty of the Gospel. God turns the way the world works on its head and takes what looks like weakness and powerlessness and turns it into the power of love, abundant life, grace and joy. It is the way to God. Think about relationships. The most intimate, life giving relationships are the ones in which we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to let our authentic selves be seen, the good and the not so pretty sides of ourselves. Our best, most loving relationships are just a taste of the life-giving goodness of God when we let ourselves be open to it.
          We believe that to be vulnerable is to be weak. But in reality, it is a place of great courage.  People who risk vulnerability have the courage to be imperfect and to be kind to themselves for not being perfect. They have authentic connections with others because they are willing to let go of who they should be to be who they really are. They are willing to say “I love you” first. They are willing to admit they made a mistake. They are willing to do something with no guarantees of a certain outcome. They are able to breathe through the waiting for the results of a medical test and say, “I’m scared.”
          Learning to be vulnerable gives us great strength, a power that cannot be taken away. This is a paradox that is hard to understand. It’s the power of a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. It’s the power of love that death cannot destroy.  It’s the power of knowing we are loved as we are, and no one can diminish us or make us feel unworthy.
          Vulnerability, like aging, doesn’t get good press in our society. It’s not a comfortable place to be. So we avoid it. We avoid it by numbing our uncomfortable feelings, not realizing that feelings are all or nothing and when we numb the uncomfortable ones, like embarrassment, guilt, shame, we also numb the ones we seek like joy, love, gratitude. We avoid vulnerability by making the uncertain certain. We tell ourselves we have all the right answers so they must be wrong. Or, I won’t try anything new because I don’t know how it will turn out so I’ll stick with what I know, even if it’s not working so well for me.
          We avoid vulnerability by being perfect at all costs. Looking perfect, doing things perfectly. And if we can’t be perfect, we don’t even try. Would I ever give a sermon without having every word prepared in front of me? Not on your life. I would become tongue-tied, embarrassed, and utterly incomprehensible. I would be too vulnerable.
I have problems with vulnerability too. I might pretend otherwise, being in a warm and fuzzy, caring profession. But scratch the surface and you’ll find strong walls.
I see the advantage of letting those walls down. Letting myself be deeply seen, sharing intimacy and deep connection, loving with my whole heart, practicing gratitude and joy in the face of discomfort. Believing I am enough. I see the gifts of vulnerability but I don’t know how to get there.
Brene Brown, in her research in discovering the importance of vulnerability, promptly had a breakdown or as she prefers to call it, a spiritual awakening. She was a researcher with a measuring stick, who liked control, predictability and answers. She went to a therapist and said she wanted to learn how to be vulnerable but it was hard for her. She said to the therapist, “I want a strategy.”
          We can’t learn to be vulnerable with a strategy. That is just more control, predictability, certainty. We can only risk, with a courageous heart.
          Jeremiah was feeling pretty vulnerable. God was asking him to be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah wanted to avoid vulnerability by throwing up the excuse of more vulnerability…. “I don’t know anything!” Little did Jeremiah know that vulnerability is exactly God’s way. “You don’t know anything? Perfect! You’re the one for me.” If Jeremiah had been an expert politician or motivational speaker, his own ideas of the right thing to say would likely not have been God’s ideas.
          In the Global Leadership Summit, there was a comedian telling jokes between speakers. His name was Michael Junior and he was very funny. During one set he told a bit of his story, how the pressure of stand-up comedy became more bearable when someone told him he wasn’t out to make people laugh but to give people the opportunity to laugh. Michael Junior told the story of when he agreed to do some stand-up comedy in a maximum security prison. As he walked into the prison he didn’t know what jokes he would tell to this audience. He was a blank. He was a mess. He kept walking and nothing was coming to him. He kept walking hoping against hope that when he got to the front of the audience he would have a joke. He reached the front of the stage and looked down at all the men staring back at him, not with any degree of sympathy. He had three more steps to go until he reached the centre of the stage and he still didn’t know what he was going to say. He reached the centre of the stage and looked down at a man right in front of him, a man with a long white beard  and believe it or not, a name tag that said “Moses”. Michael Junior thanked God silently, pointed to the man and said, “Hey Moses. You should go to the warden and say, let my people go.” That brought the house down and then he was away. He gave those men an opportunity to laugh. After he told that story, Michael Junior said, “I didn’t know what I was going to do or what I was going to say until I got my feet in the right place.”
          When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, God tells us where to go and what to say and is right there looking after us, just like God said to Jeremiah.
          The woman of the story in Luke was vulnerable: a woman, bent over, likely old. She was in the synagogue where Jesus was teaching. It doesn’t say what the woman was doing there but maybe she came to hear him. She didn’t stay home and hide. She came out in all her vulnerability and that was where Jesus saw her and set her free. Perhaps it took great courage for that woman to come to the synagogue. Or perhaps the synagogue is a place where vulnerability was welcome.
          Is our church a place where we can be vulnerable, where anyone can be themselves, just as they are? The number one barrier to belonging is feeling like we don’t fit in. When we don’t fit in, we feel shame. Is that why aging is so hard for us because we no longer fit in to our young society? I want this church to be a place where we can say, “Be here, be loved. Be here, be respected. Be here, belong…whoever you are.” If we bring our authentic, vulnerable selves here, or anywhere, God will be with us and will set us free.
Let us pray.
Oh humble and vulnerable God,
Show us the way to be humble and vulnerable ourselves, so that we can find our way to your loving heart and in so doing learn to love ourselves.
In the name Jesus who shows us the way,


Thursday, August 22, 2013


This morning reminds me very much of the morning, seventeen years ago, when we headed to the hospital for Suzanna to be born. She amazed me when she arrived twelve hours later -- so tiny and sweet, and with so much hair! The sixteen-year-old picture below is one I've always liked, though she's come so far since then in her beauty, sensitivity, humour, talent, and depth.

In the seventeen years since her arrival, she's turned out so beautifully that my eyes fill and I just don't have words. Happy birthday, my girl, and may your 18th year of life be full of joy!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Simple Suggestion # 176... Just be

Here's Shadow, riding along happily in the backseat of the car.
We've reached that point in August where I'm feeling singularly unmotivated to do much of anything, and I'm wishing I was our dog. Oh, to be content to lie around and just be... but no, guilt assails me if I'm not weeding or picking or writing or... something. It's hard to just be, even in these languorous summer days that seem to demand that we don't do much. The problem is guilt.

But as my friend Mark always says, "Guilt is good for about thirty seconds. Then what do you do with it?"

Do I let it motivate me to do something positive? (I just cleaned the bathroom, stem to stern.) Or do I excuse myself from all those "shoulds" and go on enjoying my day without guilt? (That's the plan for the rest of the day.)

In a society that is obsessed with productivity and efficacy, it's good to buck the trend and be subversively countercultural now and then.

What are you doing with these dog days of summer?

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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A lovely chant for a Sunday

I’m feeling quite low these days faith-wise, but music from Taizé never fails to speak to me and bring me into a place of prayer. Music has always been my best way to pray. These days, this chant praises God endlessly -- especially when I listen to it endlessly... and then it runs through the background of my life like a mantra even when I'm not listening. Enjoy...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Our new greenhouse

My wonderful husband is back to work today after the hardest-working vacation we've had in a long while. Yesterday afternoon, we reattached the eavestroughs to our new greenhouse, and the major renovation work to its exterior shell is complete. Now we can work on the interior at a decent pace without worrying about thunderstorms or getting eaten by mosquitoes. It's a pretty impressive accomplishment when I think that it was just a dark little hobby shed on August 1st.

Here's the exterior BEFORE (August 3rd) and AFTER (August 15th), followed by interior shots.

I love all the light. My neighbour says I should just clean it up and put in a table and chair for a winter studio on sunny days, or a tea room. But I'm looking forward to all the seedlings I'll be able to start... they won't be growing so long and stringy any more, with their necks crooked toward the window.

Because greenhouses lose a lot of heat in winter from their north sides, Lee opted to make the south side the place where the light comes through, and we plan on dividing the interior with a wall that will absorb solar energy during the day and radiate warmth for our plants at night. We'll have storage on the other side of the insulated solar wall, and hopefully our greenhouse won't require much heating. There's a fan installed in the end wall to keep the temperature from getting too high on really sunny days, and we can always open the windows.

I guess you could say we had a very productive vacation this year... even if I didn't get to relax and read a book from start to finish. As Lee says, it was something completely different... a mind break if not a body break, and I'm looking forward to learning how to run a greenhouse starting next January when I plant my own peppers. Oooh, and I'll be able to start my own annuals, too... and maybe I will take to having my morning coffee out among the green growing things on sunny winter days...

Thank you, Lee, for an amazing vacation, and the incredible amount of research, time and energy you put into making this dream of ours come true. You're the best!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Simple Suggestion #175... Make a simple gift

This one came from my friend, Darcy. She used a black pen and crayons and designed a border for a simple quotation that she knew I would appreciate, put it into an envelope and mailed it. It's hanging in front of me as I moodle.

My home is decorated with many simple gifts like this. No frame required, so there's minimal use of the earth's resources... plus each one reminds me of someone special.

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Beauty from holidays on a Sunday

Looking up at a clear, blue, Friday morning sky as I sipped my coffee in our campsite, I thanked God for this amazing world, that I could take a four-day camping vacation this summer in the mountains that I love, and that my family and friends are mostly well and happy (though there are some for whom I pray daily...)

Two hours later, we drove through a valley that had been devastated by a wildfire ten years ago, amazed at the slopes covered in purple fireweed, and the regrowth of new forest. In the midst of burnt out trees, life was taking hold again. We marveled at it even more when we toured a beautiful canyon where a rushing blue glacial river roared down a narrow gorge. Nature is amazing, and so is the life we've all been given, if only we can see its outrageous beauty. It's easy to notice beauty in the wilderness, but it can be a bit trickier to find in the people around me every day. Still, it is there, if I look with my heart in the right place...

Who or what has made you catch your breath in wonder, delight and gratitude this summer?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mary's poppies

I've always loved poppies, especially since I got to see whole fields of them in Flanders. So, ten years ago, just before we took possession of our present house, I was creeping around its edges, dying to get into the backyard. Luckily for me, there was a woman doing a final clean of the house, and I asked her if she would mind if I pulled out the thistles that were blooming in some of the flower beds. And that's when I first ran into these lovely pink peony poppies.

Then I discovered that the lady across the back alley had some stunning red ones. She was a friendly sort, and not long after we moved into the house, Mary gave me a little film container (remember those?) full of her red peony poppy seeds. I was delighted, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. For a number of years, I had fluffy red poppies in various corners of my yard.

Unfortunately, dear back-alley-Mary died of cancer four years ago... and that was the first year that her poppies didn't reseed themselves in my yard. I saw a few of them peeking under her fence before the house sold, and was always going to pick a seed pod or two, but somehow, it never happened. Mary had died, and her poppies disappeared from the neighbourhood, too.

This spring, I was digging in my seed cupboard and came upon Mary's film container of poppy seed, and lo and behold! there were a few grains left in the bottom, so I carefully took them out into my front yard, found a special place for them where I thought the soil would be good, and planted them. Nothing happened; nothing grew. Maybe the seed was too old ten years later. Drat!

But I'm suspecting that Mary, my friend from the communion of saints, is smiling upon me. At the back fence of our vegetable plot, there's something of a wild patch where I allow anything but weeds to grow... and this year, a bunch of poppies have volunteered... both pink AND Mary's red peony poppies, as well as daisies... and a newcomer -- a coral peony poppy that I've never seen before. The poppies that were lost came back in full bloom, and brought a friend.

All I can say is, Thanks, Mary!

Monday, August 5, 2013

What's a long weekend for?

Well, it's not usually for working outdoors for twelve to fifteen hours a day... most years we try to relax on the August long weekend. But this year,

we went from this...

to this...

in less than 72 hours!

After long and careful consideration, my most amazing hubby decided that it was time to turn our hobby shack into a greenhouse. He researched materials, got neighbour Jim and his truck to help transport the Lexan polycarbonate sheeting, spent several hours at different hardware stores on Thursday and Friday, and on Saturday, he was ready to go. 

We went from a closed in room...

to a wide windowed roof...

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a daylight shot through the new window materials... but you get the idea. Here are some pictures of the process (mostly for Lee's dad to see, but if you're interested, scroll down.)

Day 1: Uncle Don lends a hand with removing the old shingles...

on just the greenhouse section of the building.

First cut through the roof... thirsty work!

I was amazed at what these two did in the three hours Uncle Don was with us.
I was just cleaning up around the edges, mostly, pulling nails out of boards, 
tossing dead shingles onto the rubbish heap, and moving lumber around.

After my uncle left we laid the tar paper bed for the polycarbonate.

Oops, can't install it yet. Needs to be taped with aluminum foil first
(a lengthy process).

Getting dark, and ugh, those mosquitoes!

Tarped it down for the night before calling it quits on Day 1.

Day 2: I started removing shingles and Lee caulked the new windows.
Of course, he's a much better (and faster) shingle remover than I am!

We spent a good part of the day building up the roof so it would be level 
with the polycarbonate sheets before shingling.

Then we laid very sticky ice dam.

Lee put steel valley liners on top, and we were ready to start shingling,
but first we wanted a good night's rest.

We were very grateful to our girls for setting up a wiener roast for supper.
A lovely pink sunset closed Day 2.

Day 3: shingling valleys -- not for the faint of heart.
My arms are aching tonight from cutting shingles all day.

We did pretty well for beginning roofers.
Lee figures we tackled the toughest challenge first.
I figure he's right.

Storm clouds threatened, so our neighbour Jim helped out.

Just a little refreshing rainstorm, didn't last 5 minutes as the guys tried 
to nail the old metal cover back over the ridge pole.

Lee trimmed off the edges...

and we both cleaned up.

I can't believe how far we got in just three days. We'll shingle the back side after a good break, and we can finish the inside at our leisure.

Thanks to Jim and Uncle Don for their helping hands, but thanks most of all to my amazing Lee! It was a weekend of the kind of work that makes a person feel tired in a good way.

What did you do with your long weekend??