Friday, December 30, 2005

There's no place like home

The Hotel Fort Garry in Winnipeg has been our home for the past couple of nights. It was a part of our Christams giving to our children this year...some time at a fancy-schmancy hotel, and taking in a matinee performance of the Nutcracker by the Royal Winnipeg ballet. Sounds dreamy.

I wish I could say the whole time was dreamy and all part of a beautiful fairytale. My wife's version of the tale goes like this:
"Our Christmas idea had story book quality to it this year... a night at the Fort Garry and tickets to the Nutcracker ballet. The reality of it bit, somewhat. Through a series of unfortunate events (car battery dying, Joyce getting mad at Brian because Brian was getting mad about situation gone awry, Micah acting like a normal 7 year old boy at a ballet; Jane feeling mildly nauseous at the sight of men in white tights ,etc, etc) I landed up crying into my hotel wine glass, Brian looking at me like he wished I were on something significantly more potent than prozac..... It is over now, we are home again, thank God. I know this will seem funny in a day or two but right now I want everyone to go away so that I can feel sorry for myself in peace."

I'm looking forward to the bit about the laughing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Touché: the essential skill of conceding a point

I've been a blogger since September of this year, and during this time, I have grown as much as a person from writing my thoughts as I have from reading others. This is an arena of acceptance and understanding like none other...for good reasons.

My sister-in-law, who happens to be married to a lawyer, told me that she has heard of marriage counsellors suggesting to their clients that, for a given period of time, that most communication occur via email between the partners. This is suggested in order to leave out non-verbal communication, which is often a killer when two people are face-to-face. Thoughts are given a chance to fully form, feelings are crystalized, and shouting is left up to how many angry Smileys you add to your email.

Communication, and sharing ideas, in blogger world follows the same theory. The person communicating via their personally designed blog, invariably takes great care in forming and editing their content before it is finally posted. The reader, who is most likely a repeat visitor, reads expecting to be open and accepting of the content...although not necessarily agreeing. When disagreements arrise, care is usually taken to not to object too loudly when leaving a comment. When a valid point is made, the writer usually graciously concedes the point, and it is taken to heart...a point to ponder.

Brad Jersak, a contributer to The Clarion Journal has written a short entry titled: "Touche": the essential skill of conceding a point. I smiled when I read it as I recently conceded a point to a commenter of a post I wrote in November. I had nowhere to go, so I simply said "Touché". I could rather have said "en garde" to be a smartass and belabour the point, but it just felt better to concede. I crave this for all my relationships.

I'll post this now and, after my wife reads this, she'll say, "Yeah, but what about when..."

You're right dear... "Touché".

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

appeasing the horn

Have you ever ascribed feelings and emotions to inanimate objects? I do it all the time.

Yesterday we drove to Winkler for the Hildebrand Christmas festive making. The outdoor temperature was a balmy 1 degree and the highways were clear and dry. The sun was glaring in my vision and so I set the visor occasionally as our direction changed.

Long stretches of grid lined prairie pathways lay between here and there. I chose the path less travelled in order to break the land speed laws unnoticed. Flying along with the wind pressing hard from the South, we focussed on the straight path ahead. A certain trance overcomes me as there are no distractions, except for the one farmer putting along checking the least they were there in September.

The quietness calls out and says, "Break me if you can." The silence is broken by the car horn calling out. I discover that my hand has liberated the horn from it's's lack of fulfilled purpose. "I have a responsibility you know," it calls out to my imagination. No one else in the car hears it. There is plenty of time before we arrive. I reach out and again I appease it's frustration. "Let me be heard...let me sing."

I look over at loved one and she already knows from days past that I hear voices. "The gods must be crazy." Crazy like Carol who eats all the green gummy bears first because they always get left out. Crazy like Carol who takes birthday cakes and thinks it will absorb into birthday boy's scalp. Crazy like the men of Athens who have an altar with the inscription: To An Unknown God.

We arrived just in time to be called to the table. Hello everyone...Merry Christmas. We prayed to a well-known God and gave thanks.

Later, when our bodies are screaming out to be nourished once more, and the food has been second set, Mom says, "Pray if you want to..." My brain smiles and says, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em." I imagine the face of our God not being appeased at my unwillingness to stop and give thanks.

I think that perhaps I really don't know Him all that well. Perhaps if I ascribe a greater portfolio of feelings and emotions to Him other than just disapproval and wrath, the whole Ram might be appeased...not just the horn.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

global thinking, global giving

This year, as part of our giving at Christmas, we decided to give gifts to those in need through the Mennonite Central Committee, and World Vision in honour of the intended gift recipient.

In honour of both sets of parents, we gave 2 hens and a rooster, which can produce a large supply of eggs a year and thrive anywhere.

In honour of our children's three school teachers we purchased hoes for women in Rwanda as part of a farming project. The project is called Women in Dialogue, a group that helps ease hunger and promotes healing by bringing together people from different sides of the Rwandan conflict.

I am probably close to the furthest thing from a politically thinking person, much to my occassional embarrassment, but when I do find the time to become involved, I feel all the more convinced of the power of a unified voice.

Most everyone has seen the television ads for One: The Campaign to Make Poverty History.
Christmastime, seemingly more than other times of the year, is especially a good time for us all as blessed people to think beyond our walls. Let's all look within and find our voices, and remember to speak when the opportunity is there.

Our next opportunity is January 23, 2006. I have no idea whom to vote for. I'm more confused and undecided than I have ever been, but here are some things that you might like to consider when making your decision. Some people tell you to vote locally and think locally, others tell you to vote locally and think nationally. I suggest, perhaps, that we vote first of all and as we do, think about everything, including what is happening globally.

All this to say Merry Christmas everyone.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Away in a Manger

I've done it. I convinced Joyce to join me in singing and playing a jazzed up version of Away in a Manger tonight at the candle light service at church.

I played guitar and sang last year, so when I was asked to play again this year, I wanted our friends to see and hear things a little differently. Joyce hasn't played clarinet for over 15 years...perhaps much longer. Her confidence was not that high, but we have been practicing for most of the day and she sounds great...even with the occasional squack. Our voices blend really well, and she looks hot with her new haircut. It makes me feel like I need to get some sort of a new cut just to fit in with her funky style.

After the service tonight we will come straight staying long afterwards today as most people will have plans for their own intimate get togethers as families. We will put some music on, have a bedtime snack, and talk with the kids about how excited they are about tomorrow morning. Then off to dreamland filled with hope.

Imagination and magic are never lost with a sleeping child.

Reflections at the mall

One of the things that my wife dislikes about going to a mall is the times when you walk past shop windows and you are able to see your own reflection. If you're a good looking person, it can be a great opportunity to admire your perfect form. If you have a body image problem, it is an excellent opportunity for self criticism.

Today I took the girls to the city for a time away from home and to spend some time together while finishing up the Christmastime consumer trend. We left home early and were in the mall before most of the shops were opened. We wandered around for about 20 minutes to get a feel for what we wanted to accomplish first. We noticed the theatre and saw that Chronicles of Narnia was showing at noon.

The girls wanted to stop and spend some of their own money at some girlly shops. I had prepared myself well in advance for this. Normally, Joyce would be the one who would go into these stores with them while I took the boys to Radio Shack or some other fun electronics place. This time, it was I who needed to be the one enthusiastic about frilly pink fuzzy stuff, cheap jewelry as far as the eye could see, and purses, purses, purses. I patted myself on the back after it was all done, for I had succeeded in making my girls proud that I was their dad.

It was when we started wandering around Chapters when the reflections started. I love book stores and there isn't much that could go on in such a store to make my experience bad. This trip was no exception.As I was wandering through the New York Times best sellers to find a couple of paperbacks for my brother-in-law, I glanced over at this well dressed man about the same age as me...perhaps a few years older. He was holding a large stack of books, mostly hardcovers, while he casually perused the best sellers display. He had a good haircut, 3/4 length brown leather jacket, and fantastic shoes. I would like to say that his scarf was cashmere but as far as I know it could have been 100% polyester. I imagined myself in his life as he leisurely moved about the store.

I saw myself paying for the books and not batting an eye at the $475.00 purchase. Travelling home in my nice car would be serene and quiet. As I walked into my studio appartment, I would not need to remove my shoes. A little wipe at the door would be fine. Walking, with my shoes on, from the door over the gleaming hardwood floors would produce that solid, clean sound. The sound of quality and quiet.I would set the books down and nicely stack them on the coffee table. They would be left there until I had read every one of them. Only once they had been read would they find their place in the full wall unit. I would enjoy the first one today after I got home from the gym, had a shower, and poured myself a heavenly portion of a recommended single malt. I would sit on my plush but firm leather couch and make the hardest descision of the day...which book to read first.The house would be quiet, except for the computer which I could hear whirring at the desk. The only other sound I would be able to discern is the ice in my drink clinking against the sides of the glass whenever I put it to my lips.

It was only unnoticable moments before I returned from my "being unincumbered" fantacy.As it was, I looked down at MY shoes and noticed that they were still caked with slush stains from playing with the kids on the community ice rink. My winter jacket has a few expanding foam stains from last winter when I needed to wind proof a basement window...and it needs a new zipper. I'm wearing a hooded sweatshirt that has a few tears around the neckline...but it's comfortable; and I didn't shave today because I couldn't be bothered. I think giving the skin on my face the occasional break is a good thing.

If I were to continually compare myself to all the interesting people around me, I would never, ever, be content. As it is, my two girls were happy to be with their dad for a solid 7 hours of shopping, lunch, and movie watching. Jane, who hasn't lately been so warm, was holding my hand as we walked the crowded hallways. Arianna, who is entering womanhood and not always the most ecumenical, was filled with gratitude.

If I were to stop at a shop window and consider well the reflection, I may not be completely content, but if I use my children as the mirror, I seem to find a reflection I'm a little happier with.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Joyce coloured glasses

Joyce gave me permission to copy and paste an email she sent to a good old friend of hers. I love the way she uses words. I think it's quite sexy...even though she is not talking sexy talk at all. Here goes:

"I am not type A enough to send off Christmas cards, much less a newsletter, but I loved reading yours. Here's our lives in a nutshell. Living in Niverville, in an oldish house (nothing like our ancient Brandon one, but still, we love it and its home). We love our community, have met such lovely, funny, authentic people here. Brian is teaching grade 2 in Kleefeld, a small farming town about 20 minutes from here. I am running an at home daycare. Wildly fun. Except maybe this week when one of my little people thought it was " bring your pet day" and introduced us to the colony of head lice living on herself. but thats another story, which I will also forward to you.
The kids are attending the local school which is 2.5 blocks from our house. They are in an awesome school. Arianna is completing her time there, and is off to Junior high next year. (yes, really). She is the sporty variety, plays soccer and football with the guys, enjoys baseball, skating, takes jazz dance, has her mother's good looks and total befuddlement with mathematics, and has her dad's long legs and coordination.
Jane is in grade 4. She has the most endearing laugh and has a great big heart of gold. She sings like an angel, takes musical theatre and tap dance. Jane cries and gets angry just as easily as she laughs. She can draw beautifully, and loves to make people cards and gifts. We have been given the huge blessing of a community skating rink in the empty lot right behind our yard, so both girls have been strapping on the skates a lot lately. What they lack in form they make up for in enthusiasm.
Micah is a funny, red haired boy with a deft sense of humour. Grade two has been good to him. On Fridays he comes home, spelling paper in hand: "More bad news mom" ;and hands me the results of his weeks spelling. Another 10/10. This guy is a perfectionist, which helps to explain why he was the world's most ridiculous toddler. He does "big brother" really well. Sometimes the boys have "sleepovers" on the floor of their bedroom and Micah will read Sammy stories. Micah loves computer and Nintendo games more than real things like skates with blades or "Boo at the zoo".
Sammy is the apple of all our eyes. A beautiful blonde, happy boy. If the world were chocolate milk and mashed potatoes, he would rule supreme. Sam just celebrated his third birthday, and you can read all about it in the next e-mail that I will forward to you.
Isn't life fun?"

I think she's hot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ordinary people

I got to school early today. I wanted some extra time to get my day prepared before I had to start supervision duty which begins at 8:30. I had dropped off my coat and boots and set the coffee to brewing and then left the staffroom to head towards my classroom. I waved at Donny as he was heading down another hallway. He had already been in the school for at least half an hour.

I started up the computer as I sat down and shuffled the previously shuffled papers. I had started humming a little tune when Donny walked in. He had a CD in hand and began to present his approval of the contents. "I really like song number 1. Number 2, 4 and 8 are also good...but number 1 is my favourite." He handed me the disc with a note attached outlining the very same words which he had just spoken. We talked briefly about music and the singer of the mentioned Christmas CD. Amy Grant has been around the music scene for quite some time..."It's too bad about the bad rap she received from the Christian world when she got divorced", I said.

Donny left and immediately I put the disc into the player. I let it run its full course, sporadically during the couse of the day. I loved it also. Number 2 was my favourite. I didn't feel bad that I didn't like number 1 as much as Donny did.

Much later, after the last of the students had cleared the hallways, I was in my classroom when Donny returned with his trusty mop in hand- doing his job of cleaning up after the students. He asked what I thought of the CD. I told him I loved it. With a smile on my face I said that number 2 was my favourite... "It's more funky." He didn't seem to mind. I thanked him for sharing.

This was Donny's first full week back to work as the caretaker of the school. He's been doing this job for a very long time. I asked him once but I forget how long it was. He was off for a week or so because his mom passed away. She had been sick for some time. Her funeral was last week. While he was gone, there were others who did his duties. His absence in the halls was very evident.

I wouldn't be surprised if Donny would be whistling all day if it weren't for the fact that he never stops smiling. It's hard to whistle while you're smiling. I've never heard a negative word come out of his mouth. He always has things to share, like Amy Grant's CD, Diana Krall live in Paris DVD, and books that I'm planning to read like Shake Hands With The Devil. "But have you considered Philip Gourevitch's We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families ? I've read both and the latter is written with a lot better detail." He likes to stand and chat about golf, anytime...anywhere. Where in the world are you going to find a caretaker, an ordinary janitor, who IS all that?

When his mother died, he wanted to find a poem that would capture the spirit of what he was thinking about his mother. "It's surprising the amount of poetry one can go through when your looking for something specific." After looking long and sincerely, he came to Robert Frost and his Reluctance:

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended

He had just this first stanza printed in the program presented at the funeral. I didn't go, but there was a staff present who represented us all. "It was a very nice service", he said. I think there was a small lunch served afterwards. I imagine that's the way Donny's mom would have liked it. If she was anything like Donny, she would have wanted people to stay afterwards and share stuff...anything to keep life beautiful and ordinary, and yet extraordinary.

I think everyone should be able to hear their eulogy before they die.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Other people's view

Sometimes, when you take the time to look around and be completely outside of your own selfcentredness, you can discover a beautiful world through the eyes of other people.

As I cruise the blog world, I often randomly scour about briefly scratching the surface of another person's world. When I take the time to dealve a little deeper and hang on for a truly treasured moment, I am not often disappointed. I recently discovered this photo, this one , and this one after digging a little deeper. I went so far as opening the comment section of this person's blog but I couldn't think of anything to say... but I want others to see it. Perhaps you might find the words to say.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


When Joyce and I were fresh in our dating relationship, there were some occasional doubts that arose whether we were a good match. O.K., Joyce was afraid that I was a freak and she needed to be reassured that I was alright. The person she trusted the most in the entire world was her sister Carol. Joyce says that Carol helped her to see what was really important and that I was the first of all her boyfriends that was actually fun to be with..."and look how cute he is."

Today Carol is over for the day. She arrived after church and stayed to blend in the with the lazy Sunday activities. She walked in when I was waking up from a power nap. She walked over to where I was on the couch and gave me the funky 1970's Birthday card you see here.

The inside of the card reads:

Happy Birthday Brian

you are the sunshine that brightens my^life.

Love, Carol
It's good to still be accepted after 15 years.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

My view

This is what I have the privilege of seeing every time I look out of my classoom window. A big open field with a dairy farm in the background. One of my 27 students lives there.

Kleefeld is said to be the land of milk and honey as there is a large number of nearby dairy farms and honey bee keepers. Kleefeld claims fame to being the first Mennonite settlement in Manitoba. Many Mennonite families came from Russia to escape military participation in the 1870s. A small village was carved out of the prairie in 1874.

My work in Kleefeld is nearly finished, however. My term position ends on the last day of February. I am already dreading not being a part of what goes on there. I will miss everything, including the view.

This is the way I remember it

Joyce and I drove in near silence for the entire 25 minutes. Nearly missed our turn off of highway 12 because of drifting snow. We weren't sure where the curling club was..simply going on brief directions given during lunch hour. "Turn when you come to the clinic."

We circled the seven car parking lot twice before we decided to park in the emplyees only spot. "There is no towing sign, so I guess we'll be alright, won't we? They have to have it posted don't they?"

Once inside we were met almost immediately by Alice. She had been looking forward to meeting Joyce for some time. "I want to rub her head." She sent us upstairs where things were being set up for the evening. Tables everywhere, half set, being set. "Can we help with anything?"

I think we needed a drink so I belly up to the bar and order a gin and tonic for Joyce and a Kokanee for myself. No lemon wedges for the gin and a mistakenly opened Labbatt Lite. No matter... I didn't notice anyway until someone pointed it out later. Alice was watching to see what I was drinking so that she could get me a birthday drink after my first one was dry. "The labels are quite similar," I excused.

Some of the unfamiliar boys were down on the sheets trying their hands at chucking rocks. Something about being in a quiet place watching people participate makes me want to yell, "Hurry...Hard!" I held it in. I didn't want to start entertaining yet. Wait 'till they play YMCA. Joyce and I sat down and started to feel the evening begin.

Gradually people arrived with their smiles. These are a happy bunch...warm and friendly and familiar. Coats off...say hello..."this is Joyce"...find a drink...more smiles. I'm proud to be sitting beside my beauty. Finally they get to see who I am through her. The music teacher says, "I like her"...sharing stories and laughs, unexpected and welcomed tears. "I'm really emotional" she says. "Oh I'm not" Joyce sarcasticly replies. "I never cry." My mind is immediately filled with memories...real situations of loss, hurt, pain, and love.

The food started at 7:06. Good thing. A few of us had already been talking about our hunger. It pays to sit with the one who says the grace...this table gets to go first...let's go. Everything was homemade catered goodness. Before long everyone was satisfied...oh, there's dessert...O.K., I've a little room left.

It wouldn't be a staff Christmas party without a few reindeer games. No one was left out. "We need four volunteers." There was no option. We all had our hands in the fun. Shreaded paper everywhere, wrapped and unwrapped gifts, and something about an orange between all the male staff. "Hey, I think I should get an extra candy cane for the leg raise." Joyce later said she wanted to yell out, "I want to see that guy naked." She held it in. Wait till they play YMCA.

After a few hours and an equal number of drinks, I begin to yawn uncontrollably. I so desperately want to be fully engaged in the conversations I was presented with. I feel guilty as I listen and yawn and wonder if they regret starting in with me. I'll appologize on Monday.

Time to start the car. It's so cold out. Thank God for command start. "Yeah I have command start. She commands, and I start." Someone always repeats that one. I smile at how funny people lovely life I want to be in my warm bed.

"Did you have fun honey?...thats good...I'm glad you came." Another 25 minutes of near silence...comfortable silence...familiar. Directions to get back home are not necessary. We know the way. Turn when you come to the familiar.

I like knowing what I know.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

38 and holding

I was just passed in the hallway by my grade two teaching partner who smilingly said while rubbing her hands together, "38 and holding."

I have one more day to be young. When people ask you how old you are when you are 39, there is this questioning "uh huh" in reply... even if you really are 39. So now, today, while I am still 38, I can say my age and have no one question me on whether I am willing to admit the truth of my age.

What does it matter really. Personally, I fully agree with the over-used statement that you are only as old as you feel. I've been feeling younger these past five years than I have ever felt. It has a lot to do with how you take care of yourself. For me it has been regular exercise, challenging myself spiritually and socially, and diving into the life I committed to when I chose to be a husband and father.

I'm excited about this coming year. Like wine...better with age. Where did I put that opener. Hey Alice... may I borrow yours?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Freezer Jam

Looking for the frozen perogies, I came across a very red and very sticky mess making its way across most of the frozen packages. I very helpfully bellowed to whomever might be listening, "What the hell is all this red stuff in the freezer?"(sorry Al, there's that repetition again) To which my wife, just as matter-of-factly, replied, "Freezer jam." I couldn't contain myself. The way she so easily pronounced her explanation of the foreign goo was too much for my sarcastic heart to bear. I couldn't stop laughing. I immediately had visions of this naturally occuring community of strawberry and raspberry toppings, flourishing in my feezer with a language all their own. "We are jam...freezer jam. We live in your freezer." As if this red treat is as natural as tree bark, a ground squirrel, or hoar frost.

Joyce didn't share my sentiment but that was alright by me. Everyone needs their own happy place.

Waiting for my car pool

I should be organizing my classroom but I don't want to.

I have about an hour and a half before my ride arrives. I look around and see the desks all higgledy piggledy and should be getting up right now and straightening them out, but I can't seem to get my butt off of this chair. Two computers are still on and need to be logged out and three library books will get swept away with rest of the learning debris on the floor if I don't come to their rescue.

All I feel like doing is spinning around in my chair, reading some of my favourite blogs which I've already read five times today, and possibly picking up my guitar and playing a few funky tunes loud...loud enough to make people pop their head in the classroom and stay for a chat...more distractions from doing what is needed. I could get up and make a pot of coffee but that would be a big waste. All I really want is the smell of it and perhaps a sip or two.

I really hate car pooling. I like it in the sense that most people do...the environment, conservation, minimalizing, etc., but I find it a real pain to wait. I'm not a patient man by nature. I want to get straight home and dive into the evening. Like I dive in the swimming pool three mornings a week. Like I dive into most things...not always with the right information, but with my Speedos on...or is that too much information. You get the picture, but you may not want that image.

Here I go...I'm almost up, ready to dive into what needs doing.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Fragrance of Christmas

I'm excited to be going to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet The Nutcracker this Christmas. The last time I went, Joyce and I were dating and not far along in our relationship. I remember sitting on the main floor about halfway back near the left side. The lights were turned down. There were a couple of young college girls sitting together next to me on my right side. The one next to me was wearing this divine fragrance, she smelled like a date, so I asked her what fragrance she was wearing. Giorgio. I had to have it for Joyce. I included it in the giving that year.

When we go this year, I want her to wear the same fragrance. Whenever we go anywhere I want her to wear it. It is cheap therapy for the soul. A smell can do wonders to create a desired mood, bring back a memory, and cast a spell of enchantment. I want our time together to be enchanted, like the last couple of years of our marriage. We have been through some tough times. Our communication and attitudes are much further along than they ever have been. Honestly, I think it's because I'm the one doing the changing. I'm the one that needed to do most of the changing. Validation, respect, and simply pitching in have been the keys for me.

There is not much I wouldn't do to gain some of those years back where I was an unenchanted ass. But enough about regret. Onward I willingly cast myself into the spell I now savour.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Ice on the sidewalk.

I'm giving my students an assignment. I'm having them attempt to recall their earliest learning memory. As with most assignments I give, I will give them a personal example. Here's mine.

My dad taught me to love.

When I was four or five, my father came home for lunch from work every day. I would wait for him to come home in his '62 Chevy. As I watched from the livingroom window, he would pull up into the driveway and step out of the car and make his way into the house.

He looked the same every day. He had five or six uniforms which he changed into. All of them had a name tag which read "Peter"; all except one. That one read "Pete". I thought maybe a friend picked that one out for him. I never did ask.

He would come inside and I would immediately smell his work. Oil. gas, and grease filled the air. It was a comforting smell. Dad would always head straight for the bathroom where he would always wash his hands using Tide laundry soap. "It takes the stains and the smell away the best", he would say. I tried it once. He was right.

We would sit down for lunch as a family every day. Lunch wasn't always that exciting or filled with all sorts of meaningful conversation, but we were together; and dad was home.

I never wanted him to go back to work when lunch was through, but he had to. That is what he did. That is what all dads do. They all go to work and they all smell like oil, gas, and grease and then go home for lunch.

One hot day I wanted him to take me with him to work after lunch. I was very upset when he said that I couldn't go. Seeing his son so troubled, he said, "Wait here a minute", and went inside, quickly emerging with an ice cube. He put it on the hot sidewalk and said, "I would like you to see if you can watch the ice cube melt until it is all gone." So I did. Meanwhile my dad left for work without me thinking about it.This was obviously a trick to distract me from my pleading to go with him to work, but it was something more. My dad loved me. He wanted me to be happy, and he wanted me to know that he loved me. I felt secure in my father's love.

My dad taught me to love.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Don't go daddy.

We celebrated my son Sammy's third birthday yesterday. Nothing lavish. In fact, there wasn't anything out of the ordinary at all. We discussed it and came to the conclusion that his life was already full and needed no hoopla to make the day special. There were already a bunch of kids over. The mid day snack was simply made birthdayish by adding candles on the cupcakes.

The plans for dinner were to have Walter over, as we do every Wednesday. He called to cancel. "Waiting for a truck" or something like that. We were planning all of Sammy's favourites. Pickles, mashed potatoes, and chocolate milk. There were a few other grown up things thrown in, but the essentials were covered. We were all itching to dive into the feast. Crunchy pickles and smooth mashed earth apples. Smacking and crunching noises came from around the table. Delightful.

Some time for play and then it's off to bed. "Me have to go pee daddy." "O.K. Sammy lets go." I set him down on the throne and take a step towards the door. "Don't go daddy." "O.K. Sammy. Daddy will stay right here." He finishes in no seconds flat and I help him off. Pull up the gitch and away he goes, off to bed. A hug and a kiss is always in order. I pray with him every night. I try to pray the most sincere and heartfelt prayer I can muster. I feel that if we would only be honest with God, more would be communicated...both ways.

Before I take any steps toward the door, I turn off the lamp and I say I love you. Even though I walk through his door, I want my son to know that daddy will always be right here.

Have a lick anyone?

This is the shirt I was wearing to work today. My wife bought it for me a bit ago and said that it could be my Christmas shirt. I'd never had a Christmas shirt before, and I typically don't wear anything that she buys for me, so to support her thoughtfulness, I said O.K.

The day was running as smoothly as it usually does, not without its, "Hey Fred, if you do that again, I'm going to have to crush your bones" and "If you don't settle down right now, Harry,I'll pick up my guitar and sing such an embarrassing song about you, it'll curdle your lunch milk." The coffee was good and hot and brewed to perfection. I'm the coffee committee of one.

Just as the last break was ending, in walks the gym teacher. As he is standing beside the water cooler he says to me, just as there is one of those infrequent lulls in the conversation, "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I feel like licking you." Well guess what happened (besides me getting a boner)... the entire staffroom errupts into an "I can't believe you said that" laughter. He said I looked like a candy cane. Much was said by way of cover up and saving face, but the hillarity was unstoppable. We all left the staffroom to receive the students back from the minus 23 degree recess with smiles on our faces. I'm sure the students thought we were really happy to see them.

When we have our staff Christmas party on the 16th, my birthday, I think I'll wrap up the once worn shirt and give it to Dave and say, "I hope you don't take this the wrong way but, here...lick yourself."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Tomorrow's Art Lesson

A very simple drawing using charcoal and chalk on painted cardboard.
I prepared the cardboard earlier today to allow for proper drying. The tempra paint dries to a slightly rough surface which takes the chalk nicely. Just before dismissal today I showed the students my two test pieces. They think I am brilliant.
I'll let them continue thinking that way.

Sitting on the couch and getting drunk

It's a matter of trust.

We send our kids out to play with other people's kids all the time. It is a good thing. One of the reasons we moved to this community was so that we could feel better about the kids and families in our neighbourhood. People send their kids to our home as well, and I feel that we are trusted implicitly.

My son has a friend who's parents receive respite for him because of a minor handicap which includes, among other things, poor muscle tone. His parents will sometimes have him come to our house to play with my son, and my wife will be paid for the the visit because there is funding available for the break that the parents receive.

The mom called last night and asked for Joyce. She wasn't in so I took the call. "I have a Christmas party to go to next week, can Joyce look after my son while he comes over for a play with your son?" "Joyce won't be in I'm afraid. She also has a Christmas party to go to the same evening." "But I'll be here. Why don't I look after him while he plays with my son. I'll just be sitting on the couch getting drunk anyways." She laughed loud and long and continued to make arrangements for the visit. I never did say that I was kidding about the getting drunk part.
She trusted me that I was kidding.

Familiarity goes a long way when it comes to trust. If she didn't know me at all, she would have had serious doubt about sending her son. As it is, she will bring her son next week and probably jokingly ask if I'm well on my way to meeting my consumtion goal.

What about the times when we are not so familiar... sending our offspring out to homes where we have not had the opportunity to judge? We are more cautious but we still do it, even if our communities are not so safe. And what is a safe community anyway? Many good places have been surprised by great wrongdoing.

I suppose there is a bigger trust involved. An understanding that we cannot control the things that we cannot control. It goes much further than the lyrics "Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see, que sera, sera, what will be, will be." It is letting go and hoping in a divine protection at the same time.

I trust that this matters.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Saint Nicholas

Today my students have been talking about Santa Claus.

Living in a very conservative community, the students have well-formed opinions about what is true regarding our well-fed saint. However there are those who are yet able to dwell in the mystery of some of the growing legends regarding St. Nicholas. "Mr. Hildebrand, is Santa real?" I needed to remind them of the book I read to them this morning and how sometimes it will be my job not to give them answers, but to offer questions instead.
"Have you ever seen Santa? What do your parents think? Wouldn't it be nice if he was real? Do you believe in Santa?"
Here is a short history of Saint Nicholas and the origin of Santa Claus.

I've been reading a series by Etan Boritzer written for children. It is a series titled "What is...?" Today I read What is Right? It poses many good questions and very few answers, which is it's intent. The discussions on the carpet afterward are fantastic. The look on the student's faces are a good indication of higher brain functioning.

It makes me a little uneasy not giving students the answers which they crave. I can remember being given the answers to everything and life being quite simple. When I look at my student's faces I can tell that their present would be less stressful if I simply gave them my opinion. Their future however would contain more of a challenge. The more children are fed other people's opinions as fact, the more they will have to process as personal truth later on in life. I don't think there should be any particular reason to rush children's personal development. If we can guide them in the right direction, using personal experience and insight as examples, children will have a better chance to come to some excellent conclusions on their own. All this is said not negating the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the child's life. God calls us to commune with him through the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, I do feel that there are particular truths that need to be imparted. Michele Borba, author of Parents Do Make a Difference, has written a book titled Building Moral Intelligence where she outlines the seven essential virtues that teach kids to do the right thing. The seven virtues are Empathy, Conscience, Self-Control, Respect, Kindness, Tolerance, and Fairness.

As Aristotle taught, people do not naturally become morally excellent or practically wise. They become so, if at all, only as the result of life-long personal and community effort. - Jon Moline

It takes a village to raise a child.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Fed, But Not Nourished

I've been doing a lot of reading lately that has been challenging many of the things that I have assumed to be true for over 30 years. I wouldn't say that I have dropped what I've been holding on to, but I think the chaff is being slowly separated from the wheat.

We just returned from having a visit with family a couple of hours drive from here. The kids were able to run around the farm, climb up into the hayloft and swing on the Tarzan rope. Two young calves, three grunting pigs, and seven barn cats...two of which were twins that looked like mocha almond fudge icecream, so Joyce says. "Did you want to take them home or do you want to lick them". The kids were all given a ride around the area in the big new John Deer tractor. Lunch consisted of everything homemade. Delicious. Everyone had wide eyes and consumed until we were satisfied. Ginger snaps and good coffee for dessert.

Later in the day we made gingerbread houses at the dining room table. "Let's take off the tablecloth. We don't want it to get covered in icing". Candy was sorted and divided. Little Sammy was content to watch dad "help" while he consumed the tempting colourful treats. A real masterpiece by young standards. "Dad, you're good at that." "Thank you." More treats were consumed and then out come the peanuts in the shell...more coffee.

Home now and Joyce walked past a moment ago and said that she hates that feeling of being fed but not nourished. The feeling that you get from eating things that taste good but don't satisfy. It's a comparing thing. The difference between todays lunch and what was consumed the rest of the day. Homemade goodness to tempting sugar treats. Wheat and the chaff.

The more I eat from the wheat, the less I want of the chaff. In fact, lately I can't seem to get enough wheat. I'm even discovering that there are different varieties of wheat which are also nourishing. I hope that this is not just the onset of some kind of eating disorder. I would hate to get fat.