Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Visit to Saskatchewan

Playing with Owen's sticker book

Earlier this month I travelled to Saskatchewan to visit my sister, brother-in-law and their young family. It was delightful to spend time with my three year-old nephew Owen and one year-old niece Julianna. Owen was excited to open the gifts I brought him, including an alligator egg that would hatch and grow larger over a 48 hour span when placed in a glass of water. Julianna was less interested in the stuffed bunny I gave her. But she did warm up to me the first day I was there, perhaps because of how closely I resemble her mother. Karen and I went to a huge Craft Sale in Saskatoon. There was so much we would have liked to have purchased, but we confined ourselves to a few items. I bought a scrumptious fruit cake and some fudge, as well as a few stocking stuffers and some lunch. Karen and I also had a girl's night out that included shopping and a delectable chocolate dessert at Boston Pizza. It was nice to converse with Clint and to watch a few shows with him in the evenings and to be initiated into the world of Modern Warfare. He was quite busy taking care of young turkeys and cleaning out chicken barns. The weather turned very cold so we were happy to stay indoors. The Sunday I was there, Karen and Clint were admitted to membership at their church, and they had taped their testimonies to be played during the service. Other highlights include watching the last part of A&E's Pride and Prejudice with Karen after the kids were in bed, playing outside with Owen before the weather turned frigid, starting a sewing project, baking sugar cookies, and babysitting Owen and Julianna. I got to stay an extra day after my flight was cancelled. I have to say that my nephew and niece are even more adorable in person.

Karen & I

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Condition

"But there is only one condition. If you desire intimate union with God you must be willing to pay the price for it. The price is small enough. In fact, it is not even a price at all: it only seems to be so with us. We find it difficult to give up our desire for things that can never satisfy us in order to purchase the One Good in Whom is all our joy—and in Whom, moreover we get back everything else that we have renounced besides!

The fact remains that contemplation will not be given to those who wilfully remain at a distance from God, who confine their interior life to a few routine exercises of piety and a few external acts of worship and service performed as a matter of duty. Such people are careful to avoid sin. They respect God as a Master. But their heart does not belong to Him. They are not really interested in Him, except in order to insure themselves against losing heaven and going to hell. In actual practice, their minds and hearts are taken up with their own ambitions and troubles and comforts and pleasures and all their worldly interests and anxieties and fears. God is only invited to enter this charmed circle to smooth out difficulties and dispense rewards."

~Thomas Merton

This passage shakes me out of my complacent spiritual life. Am I willing to pay the price for intimacy with God? I utter a few perfunctuary prayers and quickly read a Bible passage before sleep. I grumble about having to go out of my way to help someone. I follow my list of rules, but don't seek a living relationship. I am wrapped up in myself: my problems, my needs, my goals, my desires. I live with worry and doubt and I am afraid of many things. I will only grow and thrive if I let go of things that can't satisfy and reach out for the wellspring of all joy, if I start to live in close communion with God and to live in true community with others who are my brothers and sisters.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I'm Accepted....

...into the Practical Nursing Program at Mohawk College for January 2010! I checked online today and noticed my acceptance status was Final Offer and confirmation deadline was listed as September 25, 2009. I was pretty sure this meant I was accepted, so I signed into Ontario Colleges, after figuring out my user name and password again, and found that I had one offer for admission for my one and only program choice. Somehow I had thought I would get a piece of mail telling me this, but that's not how it works. Without wasting anymore time, I confirmed the offer of admission. I am feeling relieved and happy that I'm accepted into my program. When I told my mom she suggested we celebrate somehow, so we went out to dinner this evening to East Side Mario's. Today I had taken a rare sick day, as I was feeling quite sick this morning. I felt quite a bit better by afternoon, and even better when I found out this exciting news.
I will have about two months left at Connon Nurseries, and I may be able to do Second Career when I start school in January. Before I start all my immunizations have to be up-to-date, and I need to get training in First Aid and CPR again. Now that I know I am accepted, I can think about moving out to a new place with one or more room-mates. So if any one in my rather limited readership knows of any possible places or room-mates for me to live with, I would appreciate hearing from you. I feel it would be good for me to be more independent, even if it is cheaper to live at home. That's one thing accomplished on my list so far. Only twenty-nine to go.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Spiritual Junk Food

As a young teenager, I could devour three books in one week, and I often was the first to take a new book out of the church library, especially if the title in question was in my favourite genre, the Christian Historical Romance. I was known to walk around the house with the book, reading while brushing my teeth or while making crackers and peanut-butter. At times I could be so lost in the world of the book, I would be completely oblivious to someone speaking to me from three feet away. My lap was a favourite of our cat's because I would sit so still for so long. I especially liked books with pictures of a beautiful young woman in period dress with a handsome young man in the background, the love interest who, if not already a Christian, would be drawn to God by the sheer beauty and sweetness of the woman who would resist his advances, but would inevitably share a passionate kiss with him half way through the book. The greater the attractiveness of the cover art, the more I liked the book. The books varied from poorly written with stock characters to fairly well-written with characters of some depth, but most were not of literary quality. I read them all as escapist literature, deriving added enjoyment from learning about the period they were set in.

an example of the type of cover I liked; not a book I have read

In high school, my English teacher introduced me to books like The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, which I wrote a small piece on without much insight, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker, which I stopped reading after being morally offended by Celie's and Shug's relationship. As a teenager, I read some Jane Austen as well, but not for her novel's literary value, rather, for their elements of romance.
When I became an English major in university, in the early stages of my program, before acquiring discerning literary taste, I wondered why we could not study a book from a Christian contemporary author; something in the historical romance vein could be a welcome change from the standard literary classics or the less morally upstanding contemporary fiction. At the same time as I was gaining a sense of literary snobbery, I was also attending a church without a library, so I stopped reading the latest offerings in the Christian romance genre. I still bought every book that my favourite author Francine Rivers wrote, but I didn't even read a Karen Kingsbury book until one was given to me as a gift. My time for leisure reading was curtailed by all the short stories, plays, and novels I was required to read for my classes. Once in awhile I would browse through books in the Christian bookstore and see what was out there, remembering how fun reading books like that had once been for me.
I recently read some descriptions of Christian novels in a book club catalogue. Many of them were set in Amish country and were about young Amish widows getting a second chance at love, or beautiful, yet plainly attired, young Amish girls falling in love with outsiders and weighing the possibility of being shunned against their conflicted love. At the time, I wondered if I could immerse myself again in this type of fiction or if I had grown too far away from it. Now I wonder if the kind of books I used to enjoy were harmless escapism or were they the equivalent of spiritual junk food, fluffy bits of superficial spirituality that kept me from seeing the complexities of real life faith and relationships? Or was the problem more my way of reading them, as an escape from life? I realize all Christian novels are not mere superficial drivel or candy-coated spirituality, but often spiritual depth is missing and the fictional world lacks the moral ambiguities encountered in real life. Just because few objectionable moral things happen in a novel, does that make it a better book than a book like The Color Purple? Can you recommend any books by contemporary Christian authors that have depth and insight? The Shack comes to mind as a book that does not shy away from the pain of real life.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thirty Things To Do Before I'm Thirty

Yesterday I entered my thirtieth year, and I celebrated my champagne birthday (I turned 29 on the twenty-ninth). After a day in St. Jacobs with my sister and her housemate, and before I turned in for the night, I spent some time pondering what I could write on my blog about my birthday or about the dreaded event to follow next year, when I will officially enter my thirties. Is turning thirty so bad? My theory is it doesn't have to be, provided you feel you have done everything in your twenties that you wanted to do. Some one who turns thirty, married with one kid and another on the way, established in a career, proud owner of their second home, may feel less panicked about this milestone than someone who is single, thinking about going back to school in order to get a career, and planning to move out of their parent's house. So I came up with the idea of writing a list of things I want to do in the next three hundred and sixty-four days, like a bucket list, except I am not planning on dying anytime soon. I don't foresee having two kids and a husband in that span of time, but there are some things that would be nice to do before I'm thirty.

  • Successfully run for two kilometres without stopping. Take up running on a regular basis.
  • Travel to a foreign country.
  • Try downhill skiing for the first time.
  • Take a pottery class.
  • Be accepted into a program of study and/or start said program of study.
  • Find a volunteer job.
  • Become involved at the Meeting House.
  • Intentionally develop a more active social life.
  • Join a book club.
  • Find a new place with a room-mate.
  • Practice the spiritual disciplines and develop the fruit of the Spirit.
  • Befriend a friendless person.
  • Be able to write "in a relationship" on Facebook, truthfully.
  • Go down the escarpment stairs and up again more than once.
  • Develop a daily prayer life, and foster a close relationship with Christ.
  • Become a full-fledged optimist.
  • Go on a road trip.
  • Lose the belly.
  • Learn how to bake lemon meringue pie and cook a whole chicken.
  • Write in a journal every week.
  • Master basic sewing tasks.
  • Learn how to barbecue.
  • Go on an overnight canoe trip.
  • Successfully perform ten consecutive push-ups.
  • Eat a lobster.
  • Play a tennis game.
  • Take up roller-blading.
  • Write my one-hundredth blog post.
  • Buy a digital camera and learn to use it.
  • Make a valiant attempt to keep a clean and tidy living space at all times.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Musings on Friendships

Friendships seem to ebb and flow, reshaping the shoreline of your relationships. Some friends fade out of the picture altogether, while others are in contact only briefly in the virtual world of Facebook or through a quick phone call. At this stage of my life I don't see any of my friends on a weekly basis. And I find I am at a much different place than most of my friends, which leaves us with less in common. I recently found out one of my married friends is pregnant and another friend is newly engaged. I am excited for them, but at the same time I realize our friendship will inevitably change as they enter a new stage of life, one from which I am excluded. And I admit I feel a slight pang of jealousy as I make comparisons between our different lives.
Sometimes I find myself brooding about one of my friendships. What is our friendship based on? Are we friends because years ago we had something in common and now we are just in some friendship holding pattern? Should we try to revitalize our relationship or is it time to let the friendship die a natural death?
I have always found the end of a friendship painful, no matter how it ends, whether a gradual fading out or an abrupt stop. I suppose I should just be grateful for the friendship that we had and remember our good times, but I usually focus on the regret that it is over and wonder how I could have preserved the friendship.
Facebook is good for getting in touch with people, but being a Facebook friend is a far cry from a genuine face-to-face friendship. I might know details about someone's life but that is different from sharing our lives.
I definitely could benefit from forming some new friendships and being more active socially. I suppose I could join a club or take up a new activity where I will meet other people. In September I plan to try joining a small group again at my church.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

At least I have Great Hair!

This past week I heard the news that I didn't get into the accelerated nursing program at McMaster. Though not surprised at the result, I was still disappointed. I could take some comfort in the sentiment expressed in the old tired cliche "When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window." With over three hundred and fifty applicants and only about thirty-five spots in the program, my chances of getting in were never that great. Now I have to decide whether to finish my second Chemistry course or not. To complete it I have to enrol in a $500 intensive two day laboratory course at McMaster next month. I am halfway through the Chemistry course, and the additional expense and effort no longer seem worth it. I for sure will complete my other Human Anatomy and Physiology course and the other Chemistry course and Psychology course I already completed are not a total waste of time since the first Chemistry course's excellent mark will help me towards getting into the Practical Nursing program at Mohawk and the Child and Adolescent Psychology course is likely similar to a required course in that program. I have applied to start that program in January, and am not sure when I will hear if I got in or not. In the meantime I can keep working at Connon Nurseries into the late fall. *Sigh*

But moving on to better news. My sister Rachel who recently completed her first year at McGill was one of fifty selected students to take the neuroscience program! Another step towards her future PhD :) My Mom is having a book launch for her recently published book Blooming: This Pilgrim's Progress. If you have not had the opportunity to read this excellent book of family life stories with an underlying spiritual theme tracking my mother's journey of faith, I encourage you to check out her blog by following the link Marian den Boer. Also tomorrow my sister Christina is getting baptized as a believer. Congratulations Christina on this important step in your spiritual journey!

And, as someone once comforted me, after I complained about the circumstances in my life, at least I have great hair! Yes just today I got my hair highlighted and cut, and I will now post a picture. As for my weight loss goals, so far I have only lost five pounds, but I have been walking two to four times a week. Unfortunately, I have also been snacking too much.
My beautiful hair

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eight Summers and Counting

If you told me as a student just finished her first year of university and starting a seasonal job at Connon Nurseries that nearly a decade later I would be beginning my eighth summer there, I wouldn't have believed you. If I did believe you could see this in my future, I would have probably have done some serious vocational planning and rethought my liberal arts degree in Honours English and Religion. In my second summer at Connons, I could not fathom why one older girl who had a business degree under her belt from Redeemer University College would be back working a general labour job.

After each year of school, I returned to Connon Nurseries for four months of repetitive, mindless manual labour, and after I graduated in 2005 and failed to find a job, I spent a fifth summer there, and worked into the fall before getting a receptionist job. What made the job were the people you worked with, other students mostly. Some summers were so much fun, and we had crew outings and filled the cutting room with laughter. Others were more dramatic with personality clashes or theological arguments that turned into personal conflicts. In the early spring we "pulled plugs", poking out the young plants with our sticks and trimming the roots with our pruning shears, with four of us going on the potting machine. We got to work with two Spanish ladies, Gloria, from Columbia, and the first year with Lilianna, also from Columbia, and every year after that with the diminutive Alma from El Salvador. They were a great team on the potting machine, and sat together in the cutting room in the summer months, filling their shared flat with expertly cut plants while conversing together in Spanish. They also taught us Spanish phrases and songs, and generally added colour and liveliness to the work environment. Another full-timer was Cheri who had worked there since 1990, knew much about plants and seemed to know everybody in the Dutch community, and was the designated waterer of flats. The first five summers our supervisor was Paul, or Paulito as Gloria called him, a short man of few words. Arie was the main supervisor, and other than my grandfather whose greenhouse I worked in during Spring Break growing up, he is the favourite of all the bosses I have had. He had a Dutch accent and a good humour, though he expected you to work hard and never place your elbows on the cutting room table.

I was a receptionist all winter into the spring and summer before leaving that position just as I was about to start living on my own. I soon found another job as an order desk clerk, a contract job that was flexible enough to allow me to pursue some Greek courses with the goal of going to graduate school the following year. These plans ended after I became ill and spent some weeks in the hospital. Arie phoned to see if my sister would be working in the summer, and when I answered the phone and he learned my job and health situation, offered me a job back at Connon Nurseries. I accepted and following another health set-back returned for a sixth summer, telling myself it was temporary until I regained my footing and found something else, and worked into the fall before beginning another receptionist job. But I was back for a seventh summer and third fall season, and now an eighth summer. While I am now taking correspondence courses with the goal of getting into a nursing program, I cannot rule out the possibility of a fourth fall or even a ninth summer should I be accepted into the practical nursing program and not the accelerated nursing program at McMaster, which is extremely competitive.

While I sometimes am embarrassed to admit I still work at Connon Nurseries after obtaining a bachelors degree, I will readily attest that Connon Nurseries has been good to me, and most of the countless hours I have spent there have been relatively happy ones. There is something about repetitive, mindless labour that is soothing and the camaraderie with coworkers has usually enlivened the monotony of endless pulling of plugs or cutting of plants. And while I hope that in nine years, I will be busy with a career in nursing and taking care of a family, I think I will always be slightly sentimental about the nurturing of young plants and the smell of potting soil.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Weighty Issues

My weight has fluctuated over the years. Being on medication that causes weight gain for over ten years, I have a ready excuse for my ballooning size. Not only is my appetite artificially enhanced, my body "wants" to be heavier. The times when I have lost weight it is because I switched to a medication that causes less weight gain than the one I was previously on. In the summer of 2000 I was making a medication change as well as working in a hellishly hot environment, and these factors combined to curb my appetite and the pounds dropped off with very little effort on my part. Every time I got fitted for my bridesmaid dress for my sister's wedding it had to be taken in. I was a trim 130 pounds, my weight in grade nine. When I started university, I gained ten pounds and then lost it the following summer. My new medication also caused weight gain, and I gradually put on weight as I completed university and entered the work-force. In 2007, when I was again in the hospital dealing with my illness, I switched medications again to one that still caused weight gain but to a lesser degree, and also made it hard to eat due to the side-effects. I also was fasting from chocolate for Lent and generally avoiding sweets, eating healthy, and exercising. Over the summer I continued to lose weight until I weighed 125 pounds, and didn't want to lose anymore. Unfortunately the new medication elevated my prolactin levels, so I had to go back to my old more expensive medication, and since then I have put on thirty pounds, so that I now weigh more than I ever have before.

Considering the fact that the times I have lost weight it has been primarily because I got off a medication that is notorious for causing weight gain, I wonder if I can even exercise enough and eat healthily enough that I can lose the added pounds. I can't rely on hunger signals as my appetite is not a reliable guide. I have to stop eating while I am still hungry. I need to avoid emotional eating or eating when I am bored or happen to be alone in the kitchen. I am writing this post to keep myself accountable to this new regimen. NO snacking between meals, other than fruits and vegetables. NO decadent desserts, other than for special occasions. Tea instead of hot chocolate. Smaller portions at supper. Going for a walk of at least twenty minutes at least four times a week, even if I have no one to walk with. My goal is to lose twenty pounds by the end of the summer, five pounds every month. Although my coworkers kindly tell me I look better at this weight, I don't like the added paunch and padding. I hope to write a celebratory post when I reach my goal. I think I'll take an unattractive picture of myself soon so I can have a before and after photo.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why I (still) love romantic comedies

I can pinpoint the moment when the romantic comedy era officially ended in our household. It had been a bimonthly ritual, usually on a Friday night, that a sister and I would head to the local video store and pick up the latest offering of what is disparagingly referred to as a chick flick. "Runaway Bride" or "The Wedding Planner" or "Save the Last Dance". I always knew I was the more enthusiastic one about this type of movie, but my sister was willing to walk to the store and watch the movie with me, if I was paying. The moment that spelled doom for the companionable watching of this admittedly predictable genre of the movie, was the day we picked out "Little Black Book." The movie itself was forgettable, and I can't recall much of a plot, though it involved Brittany Murphy being angry about her boyfriend's black book of women's phone numbers, but one thing that sticks with me is its incredible suckiness. That and the fact that after watching that movie, my sister would no longer agree to watch any romantic comedies I selected and developed a taste for foreign films. Watching movies alone is not much fun, so I usually went with her counter selections. Since then I have fallen out of the habit of regularly renting movies, though I still do occasionally. I haven't seen "The Holiday" or "Made of Honour", though I did still manage to watch "27 dresses" and "The Devil Wears Prada" with my other sister who also swore off romantic comedies for a time.

So why do I still love romantic comedies?

1. They may be predictable, but you can always count on a happy ending.

2. While some have claimed romantic comedies create unrealistic expectations about real-life relationships, the lack of realism is part of their charm. Who wants escapism to be true to life?

3. The male lead is, with a few exceptions, good-looking, whatever the calibre of his acting.

4. The classic story-line: boy meets girl, boy is marrying other girl, boy and girl fall in love but can't admit it, other girl jilts boy at the altar, boy realizes who he really loves and chases after girl who is leaving town, boy and girl share passionate kiss, roll credits. Whatever the variation on the formula, you have to love the melodrama.

5. The belief in the power of love to overcome all the misunderstandings a two hour plot will allow warms the heart.

6. No matter how many times you have watched the same basic storyline, you still thrill when the two characters who are meant for each other finally ride off into the sunset.

7. The fantasy of love at first sight. For a moment you can believe anything is possible.

8. Romantic comedies usually make you laugh aloud at least once, and might even make you cry.

9. When you watch a romantic comedy, you know what you can expect. You may not be surprised by the film, but you won't be disappointed either (unless it is an exceptionally poorly done film).

10. A romantic comedy transports you to another dimension, where dreams really do come true and every woman has her perfect soul-mate.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Jealousy and Me

Recently it occurred to me that I have deep-seated jealousy issues. Right now I could list five people I have been intensely envious of in that their circumstances, their situation in life, their very personalities stir in me a deep sense of jealousy, and could enumerate still more individuals whose circumstances I envy. These feelings have arisen as I stared at blog or Facebook page and contemplated the gap between where those pictured are and where I am. They have filled me with a noxious poison as I find out about engagements, pregnancies, weddings and babies of people I know. Sometimes I will visit blogs of acquaintances, randomly following blog links from blogs I track regularly or less randomly visiting a blog I have visited before during previous excursions into the blogosphere. There are some I can't view without feeling that these people with their meaningful lives, beautiful little family units, and attractive personalities seem to have it all. Does this jealousy stem from my discontentment with my own life and circumstances and a sense of inadequacy and inferiority? Far from serene in my situation in life, I tend to focus on what I lack. I am busy with school and hope it will lead to a meaningful career eventually, but I don't face the future with breathless expectation but rather a subdued fearfulness. Sometimes I look at the person I am becoming and I don't even like myself. What happened to trusting that God has a plan for my life and considering the lilies? I guess I am too busy considering the gap between where I would like to be and where I am. When I started this post I thought blogging on this subject might lead to some helpful insight or resolution. Writing about it has made me realize that my issues go deeper than a problem with jealousy, but I haven't come to any solution. Maybe it is because I don't want to change badly enough.