Hypergraphia is a condition that causes people to transcribe their thoughts uncontrollably. I don't suffer from it in the clinical sense, but I may be borderline. My blog is the cyber-wall where I spray paint my thoughts for all to see. By the way, if you came here directly through blogger --if your page has no yellow frames and no pretty pic of me in the top left corner -- you may want to visit my main site at www.hypergraffiti.com, where you can read this blog and much much more.


I'm Trudy Morgan-Cole, a writer from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. My books include "The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson," "Esther: A Story of Courage," and "Deborah and Barak." I'm also a married mom of two, a teacher in an adult-ed program, and a Christian of the Seventh-day Adventist kind. I blog about writing, reading, parenting, teaching, spirituality, and shiny things that catch my eye.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nothing to see here...

That's it; I'm gone. Picked up and moved to the all-new Hypergraffiti.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dear Blogger,

Dear Blogger,

It hardly seems possible that we've been together less than a year. What wonderful times we've had -- going right back to those shy early blogs when you helped me build my confidence to today, nine months later, when I feel confident calling myself a "blogger" (just like you! I've even taken your name!)

You've always been good to me. I have no real complaints, and I've treasured our time together. Sure, we never became a "hot item" with dozens of comments piling up under each post, but you've given me the freedom to express myself, and I think my friends and family have enjoyed spending time with us.

But now ... I have to go.

No, no, it's not you -- it's me. I've -- well, I'd better just be honest -- I've met someone else.

It was just a fling at first ... just checking out another site, seeing what it had to offer. I didn't think it would be any harm to register. Just an innocent little flirtation.

But I have to admit, my new love can offer me things you can't. No, it's not your fault -- it's more that my needs have changed. I've learned to appreciate a lot of qualities I didn't even know I needed. For the last couple of weeks I've been spending all my time with this new love of mine. You must have noticed I haven't been around as much. Did you suspect something was wrong?

I could stay with you and pretend to be content, but we'd both know I was living a lie. It's better if I leave so we can both start over. I'm excited about this new relationship and I can't keep it a secret any longer. It's time to go public, let everyone know where my heart is -- and that means saying goodbye to you, dear Blogger.

Thanks for the wonderful times. I hope you'll be very happy. You're a special, special piece of software and I know others will appreciate you just as I have.

Meanwhile, if anyone's got their bookmarks for my page set to www.hypergraffiti.com , you're already seeing the new site. If your bookmark is set to http://hypergraffiti.blogspot.com , you'll need to change it to www.hypergraffiti.com or http://trudymorgancole.wordpress.com --either one will take you to my new and beautiful WordPress site, where I'll be blogging from now on! Can't wait to see everyone there!!


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Newfoundland Spring

Snow and blowing snow.

That's what we had last night, after two or three weeks with no snow, some milder temperatures, and snowbanks melting all around us.

The landscape outside my window this morning looks as white and wintry as January.

Given that this is my 42nd year of life and I lived away from home for eight years, this is my thirty-fourth experience of Newfoundland "spring." I'm quite used to it -- the false hope, the ugliness of the melting dirty snowbanks and everything that's revealed beneath them, the storm that hits just as you've unzipped the inner lining from your winter jacket. I know that what passes for spring here is really the long, slow, painful death of winter, struggling back to life long after we'd thought it gone for good. I enjoy springlike days in March and April, but I don't get my hopes up.

In my last blog post I reviewed the movie Reign Over Me and commented that I liked the realistic way it dealt with recovery from grief. We have such an expectation (fed by media and fiction more than by real life, I think) that recovery from terrible experiences, or any kind of change in life, is a spring-like process. People get better gradually but certainly, moving from a dark cold winter of pain and loss into an inevitable and radiant summer, becoming a little stronger and happier every day.

I teach young people who are trying to finish their high school program after dropping out -- sometimes because of physical or mental illness, or addiction, or abuse, or the aftermath of grief and loss. Watching my students last year as we slogged through "spring" semester towards their June exams, it struck me that making changes in life is less like our ideal picture of spring, and more like a Newfoundland spring. We make two steps forward and one step back -- if we're lucky. Good days and bad days. Whole weeks when you think the worst is over, you begin to hope, you shed your protective layers and walk around enjoying the sunshine. Then the bad things (whatever your personal "bad things" are) hit like a storm, snow and blowing snow whipping around in front of you, and you try to move forward through zero visability and wonder if it will ever end.

Even the good days have their share of ugliness -- the melting snow piles reveal layers of dirt and garbage and dog poop underneath. When the frozen layers that protect us start to melt, there's a lot of stuff beneath them we'd rather not look at. Sometimes it's easier just to retreat inside while another load of snow gets dumped on top.

Recovering from grief or loss, abuse or addiction, or just finding your way in life when you've been lost, is not like spring in the movies. It's not like spring in America, or some idealized picture-book spring with crocuses blooming and robins hopping about on the grass. Change, healing, recovery is more like March in Newfoundland, a hard dirty slog, days of hope punctuated by setbacks.

But a snowstorm in late March is not like a snowstorm in February -- the roads have been cleared, the huge mounds of snow melted, so that even though the visability is poor you have more space to maneuver; you can see where you're going. It's hard to remember in the middle of a March snowstorm that summer is coming -- it seems to remote and unreal. But we're closer to it than we were a month ago. Two steps forward and one step back still puts you ahead of where you were. Change is slow, dirty and frustrating. But it happens. Summer comes, every year.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Another Good Movie

Jason and I got out for a "date night" last night (thanks to Jennifer babysitting!). We had dinner at the Magic Wok and then went to check out what movies were playing. There was nothing we had heard of or cared to see, so we decided to take a chance on a movie we knew nothing about -- something we very rarely do.

The movie was Reign Over Me starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. I know ... Adam Sandler. Normally his presence in a movie is a deal-breaker for me -- I just can't watch his asinine pratfall comedies. Although after Spanglish I did have to concede that he actually can act, so I was willing to pry my mind open a crack. And I do like Don Cheadle, ever since Crash.

So this movie was ... a lot better than I'd thought it would be. Reviews have been mixed, and I can understand what some critics disliked -- the plot rambles a little; it certainly could have been tighter and I'm not sure the filmmakers really knew what they wanted to do with the ending.
But ... that said, Jason and I both thoroughly enjoyed it and found it moving and absorbing. I thought Adam Sandler did an amazing job of portraying a man completely lost in grief as a result of a horrible tragedy. The film did a better job than any movie I've ever seen of exploring how a person recovers (or doesn't recover) from a terrible loss; best of all, it avoided the movie cliche of assuming that once a person opens up and talks about the tragedy, things will start to get better. Because as most of us know, that's when your carefully constructed coping mechanisms fall apart and things really get messy. Both the lead actors are fabulous in this film (as are many fine actors in smaller roles, especially Donald Sutherland in a memorable cameo) but it's Adam Sandler who steals the show by brilliantly showing Charlie Fineman falling apart.
In other news ... I have some new book reviews up at Compulsive Overreader, and I am working on a Grand Plan for a website upgrade which I will unveil sometime over the next few weeks ... watch this space for further developments!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tragic ... but Stupid

I heard a story on the news yesterday morning that absolutely gutted me -- but made me angry too.

I hate to criticize someone who has suffered the worst tragedy a person can suffer - the loss of a young child -- but I don't understand why the police are calling this a terrible accident no-one could have foreseen, and I don't know why the outcry is all around the dangers of power windows and how car manufacturers should install more safety features.

This parent left a six-year-old and a two-year-old alone in a car with the engine on. Not for a couple of minutes while she ran into the store to get milk either -- although even that would be ridiculous to do with the engine on -- but long enough to go into an office building (where she presumably couldn't see the car) and run an errand. Long enough for the six-year-old to unbuckle the restless two-year-old from her carseat and then, apparently, long enough for the six-year-old to fall asleep in the front seat.

Seriously, this woman has suffered a terrible loss, and it's awful that a moment's carelessness can result in the ending of a young life and such tragedy for the family. But let's call it what it is -- carelessness. Not an unforeseeable accident, not a design flaw in the power windows. You just don't leave two small children alone in a car with the engine turned on. Why would anyone even think that was OK?

Supposedly we live in a society where parents have become hyper-vigilant and everyone is making parents feel guilty about everything they do. And yet every so often something like this comes up in the news and you wonder if anyone is paying any attention to child safety at all??

OK parents out there, in case it didn't occur to you before ... kids don't belong alone in cars with the engine running!!!!! Power windows are only one danger ... there's also the possibility they could put the car in gear and drive into another car, or a building or ... it doesn't bear thinking about. Before we rush to blame the car manufacturer, let's exercise some basic common sense.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Getting Up In Front

Having angsted a little bit in my last post about some of the guilt and worry that goes along with raising your children in church, I want to write about one of the (IMHO) absolute and unadulterated good things that goes along with involving your children in a church community. This is the fact that, as a rule, churchgoing children get more opportunities than non-churchgoing children to develop that marvellous skill known as Getting Up In Front.

Unless a child has a fear of public speaking so morbid and intense that they simply cannot be dragged to the front of a group of people -- or unless you attend a church which is absolutely opposed to the participation of small children, in which case I would have to ask you Why? -- it's almost certain that by the time your churchgoing child has reached the ripe old age of, say, nine or ten, he or she has had the chance to Get Up In Front in numerous Christmas pageants, Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day programs, and similar Sabbath School or Sunday School experiences. He or she has probably had the opportunity to recite a poem, read a Scripture verse, probably even sing or play an instrument in front of an audience of loving and indulgent people who are thrilled just to see the child standing up there. As a teacher I truly believe that children who get these opportunities (in addition to what they do at school) have an edge.

Obviously there are other, non-church organizations that will allow your child this kind of exposure, but you do have to go hunting for them. Whereas if you happen to be going to church anyway, opportunities of this kind just fall into your lap.

I was raised to believe in the virtue of Getting Up In Front; I literally cannot remember the first time I stood up and spoke in front of an audience because it was probably before my conscious memory kicked in. Our children have had the same opportunities, and for the most part (except for a brief burst of stage fright on Chris's part when he was 4 or 5) they have lapped it right up.

Getting Up In Front was a major feature of the fundraising night we just had for our kids' Adventurer Club at church this Saturday night. The evening consisted of desserts and entertainment for the grand sum of $5 entry fee. Sprinkled in between the grown-up entertainers were most of the Adventurer kids, who eagerly volunteered to show off their talents. Emma was one of three children who played little piano pieces, while Christopher played his fiddle. But what made me proudest of all was the fact that Christopher and his friend Kurtis volunteered to MC the event, and actually did a great job of it. They told little jokes each time they got up there, taking turns being each other's straight man, and then announced the performers clearly and concisely -- basically they won the hearts of the audience. It was great.

As was the whole event, its best feature being that it is now Over And Done With, so one of the things that's been keeping me busy and hurried over the past couple of weeks is now finished. Another long-term project is getting wrapped up this weekend, and I'm looking forward to more relaxing days ahead.

Of course, when I'm not Getting Up Front, I like being in the audience ...

I've attended three public performances in the last five days, which is a lot more than I usually get out. You know (if you've ever ordered books from amazon.com) how Amazon tracks what books you buy and uses them to make suggestions for books you might like? They figure they can establish patterns and tell what you're interested in by seeing what you've already bought.

Thank goodness nobody's trying to do that by tracking the performances I've attended recently. I can't imagine what conclusions they would draw.

On Thursday night, I went to a thoroughly enjoyable performance of The Vagina Monologues along with a group of women friends (including Tina, who wrote such a good and thorough review on her blog that I won't even attempt one here).

On Saturday night, I went to the aforementioned fundraiser, which was as close to an old-fashioned church social/talent night as you will find anywhere in the 21st century -- cute little kids and nice talented church people up in front playing their guitars and singing for a good cause.

On Sunday afternoon, I went with Jason, the kids, and some friends to the final regular season game of the St. John's Fog Devils. I would not call myself a big sports fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I can enjoy watching the occasional hockey game, since I at least understand the rules. Our seats were good, and I do like the lively atmosphere of a hockey game -- although "lively" would be an understandment for the high-pitched enthusiasm of the three teenage girls sitting behind us.

So, what conclusions should the invisible spies draw from my tastes in public entertainment? I like frank and honest feminist discussion of the female body; I like local talent; I like hockey? Basically, I just like to get out and see stuff happening; I find it very hard to think of a live event I wouldn't go to, although there are some I wouldn't pay for -- but I'd go to a monster truck rally or a Chinese opera (once, each) if someone bought me a ticket and I had nothing better to do. You couldn't pay me enough to watch strippers (either gender) or "professional" wrestlers, but other than that, I don't have a lot of boundaries in this area. When other people are Getting Up Front, I'm a good audience. I love the energy of almost any live performance.

I'm pretty sure I'm the only person in St. John's who was at all three of these events this weekend. One friend was at the Monologues and also at the fundraiser with me; some of the friends who came with us to the hockey game had been at the fundraiser the night before, but I doubt anyone else hit all three of these diverse events. I wonder if there were any other crossovers between The Vagina Monologues and the crowd at the hockey game? Possibly ... one thing I can say for sure is that during the part of the VM where you have to yell a certain word for the female organ out LOUDLY with the whole audience, those girls behind me at the hockey game would have had a lot to offer. They apparently have no problem Getting Up In Front ... maybe they were taken to church as children.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Giving or Stealing??

My good friend Jamie recently posted in his blog about playing baseball in his youth (something that those of us who know him as an adult find difficult to reconcile with his lack of love for sports, but I'll accept the story at face value). He talks about not being able to join a Little League team because they played on Saturdays. Like me, Jamie grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist, and while Adventist interpretations of how to keep the Sabbath vary wildly from one culture to another, and one family to another, most North American Adventists consider team sports one of those things you Don't Do On Sabbath, and lots of SDA kids miss out on joining a sports team (or a drama class, or other fun extracurricular activity) because it meets during Sabbath hours.

Jamie's reflection on this experience (and yes, I have his permission to quote him and use his thoughts as a springboard for my own), continues: "So no team ball for me. It wouldn't be the last, or the worst, thing my religion robbed me of."

Reading these words yesterday really stopped me cold. I am raising my children in the Adventist church -- we are perhaps more liberal than a lot of SDA families, but one of the things we're pretty conservative about is Sabbathkeeping. Last night my kids missed out on attending a Fog Devils (local junior hockey) game which was a big fundraiser for their school. Their school competed with another school to see who could sell the most tickets to the game, and at the game there were going to be lots of fun activities for the schoolchildren, including the principal of the losing school getting a pie thrown in his face. It was just the sort of fun community event we would have supported 100% had it not been held on a Friday evening.

I realize there's a lot of room for debate even among Sabbathkeeepers about what constitutes proper Sabbath observance, and some Adventists might be quite happy with attending a hockey game on Friday night. That's sort of a particular in-group argument, and not really the point I want to pursue here. Let's just take it as read that this hockey game, while a fun and positive event, is also the sort of secular and commercial event that would be out of tune with how we, as a family, observe the Sabbath -- and explore the question that's really bothering me. By raising my children in this particular religious paradigm, am I robbing them of something? Will they someday resent us for the hockey games and other events that were "stolen" from them because of our religious choices, imposed upon them?

We've had some lively discussions over at
Ship of Fools on whether parents have a right to "indoctrinate" their children in their religion, and the general consensus (not that there's ever anything much like "consensus" on the Ship) is that everyone, even atheists, passes on their worldview to their kids whether they want to or not. But if you observe religious practices, particularly ones that are rigid in some ways (and Sabbathkeeping can certainly fall into this category), then you're leaving yourself particularly open for the charge that you've forced your children to miss experiences they would have liked, and to live through experiences they didn't like (my son has an opinion on 45-minute sermons!), in the name of your religious beliefs.

The thing is, there's no way to know how they will view this without knowing what their own spiritual journeys will be like as adults, and that's the one thing I cannot know. I look back on my own upbringing in the church and I am so grateful for it. I think growing up with solid and unquestionable spiritual practices lays a foundation for those practices in adult life. I can think of two things -- taking a day of Sabbath rest every week is one, and tithing 10% of your income is another -- about which I often hear people say, "Oh, that's a wonderful idea, I'd love to do that, but I just couldn't fit it into my lifestyle, even though I'd like to try."

For me, there's no question of "try" -- these things have been a part of my life since I before I was aware of them, and so I don't have to make any effort to fit them into my life: my life has been shaped around them. (I will point out that my husband did not grow up with these practices and is arguably more observant about both Sabbathkeeping and tithe-paying than I am, so it is obviously possible to adopt such practices as an adult, but I do think it's more difficult). Despite the odd few interesting classes or concerts I've missed because of Friday night or Saturday scheduling, I am deeply grateful for a non-negotiable day each week which is completely dedicated to rest, worship and renewal. It's the reason why I can sit here blogging, guilt-free -- or, earlier this afternoon, lying by the fire reading -- when I have the hugest pile of dirty dishes you have ever seen in the kitchen sink downstairs. (We had family over for dinner last night, and the
water buffalo is not doing his job!) Sabbath rest is simply a part of how I live, and so I view the fact that I was raised with it as a gift, rather than something that was stolen from me.

But I can see how I could so easily have turned out with the opposite view. I know far too many people who have been scarred by a fundamentalist or conservative religious upbringing, people who were made to carry a huge burden of guilt for trivial "sins"; people who have struggled to emerge from a worldview that simply didn't fit them; people who are angry about having been baptized as infants into a faith they have never accepted as their own. And people who are angry about having been raised with no faith at all, and left to figure it out all on their own.

It's a big question mark for parents -- what isn't??! -- and all we can do, I think, is to teach kids the things we think are important, try to do it with love and not harshness, and give them the critical thinking skills and the permission to seek and find their own truth as adults.

I don't know what my children will come to believe. I would be happy if they both grew up to be active but fairly liberal Seventh-day Adventists, exactly like me and their father, but honestly I know the chances of them adopting our exact same views are slim (and who knows if that position will even be a valid choice in 20 years?). I want them to be interested in spiritual things and pursue a relationship with God in a way that's meaningful to them. I am prepared for the possibility that they will be angry with their parents for some of the religious observances we imposed upon them. I hope they will be grateful for some, too. I even hope they will be mature enough to be able to say, "I haven't chosen to follow exactly the same path as my parents, but I am grateful for the foundation they laid down for me; they taught me what they thought was right."

They weren't too cut up, in the moment, about missing last night's hockey game. They seem to have already accepted "things we don't do on Sabbath" as part of who we are as a family. Last night we had various relatives over for dinner and they had a good time and didn't brood about what they were missing. My dad taped last night's hockey game off the local cable channel for them and we're going to watch it later to see if the pie-throwing and other hijinks made it to air. And tomorrow we're going to a Fog Devils game with some friends from church, which I hope will help make it up to them.

I hope they won't feel I've robbed them; I hope I haven't. But it basically boils down to the perennial parental hope that we're not messing up our kids too badly, and as we all know, only time will tell.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hangin' With Jonathan Swift

Tonight I got to spent an hour listening to Jonathan Swift: a heady experience for someone who has written a book that is at least peripherally about Swift. It's one thing to read a writer's words on paper, quite another to have an actor bring him to life before your very eyes.
The actor in question was Irish actor and playwright Michael Harding, who performed his play Jonathan Swift: Talking Through His Hat here as part of Irish Newfoundland Week. I wouldn't have known about the play at all if Helen Porter, bless her, hadn't called me the night before to tell me about it. (My mother also called today, when she heard about it, by which time I'd already made plans to go).
If I'd heard about this after the fact, I would have kicked myself black and blue, because it was an amazing performance. I can't say I actually like Swift, as a person or as a writer, but I do feel like I know him after spending so many years researching his relationship with Esther Johnson. He was an irascible, unpleasant, intense and melancholy man -- but also a brilliant and fascinating one. This play, based entirely on Swift's own words and set in his later years, as dementia began to take over that brilliant mind, is funny in places, disturbing throughout, and heartbreaking to anyone who has any feeling for Swift at all.
Thanks to Helen paving the way for me, I was brave enough to "make meself known" to Michael Harding and give him a signed copy of my book -- a bit of shameless self-promotion I probably wouldn't have had the nerve for otherwise. It was a wonderful evening and I'm so glad I didn't miss it.
In other news, two new book reviews up at Compulsive Overreader -- go check 'em out. I need comments, both here and there! Please feed the ego!!!

Sunday, March 11, 2007


As I've done so much whining and complaining about winter here, it's only fair and balanced that I should portray the other side of the picture. Yesterday afternoon we took the kids sliding in the playground up behind my parents' place. It was still very cold, but the sun was shining brilliantly, glimmering and sparkling on the snow and in the icicles. It was truly beautiful and we all had a good time -- even me! (Although I am not actually pictured here having a good time in the snow, as I am the photographer. You will just have to take my word for it that I wasn't whinging and moaning the whole time).

We had a very action-packed weekend, or at least an action-packed Saturday. Went to church in the morning, where I had to tell children's story and got to tell one of my very favourite true stories, about the homeless man who found $900 in the trash and gave it back. Had lunch with my parents, played and frolicked in the snow, went home to our gradually-warming-up house just long enough to change and then went down to Torbay to have supper with our friends Darryl, Cynthia, and Brianna. After a nice supper of haystacks, a game of Blockus and a game of Junior Pictionary, we headed home again.

Then I abandoned my husband and children -- temporarily -- to pick up Lori and Natalie and head out to Mount Pearl, where Christine was hosting a women-only dessert party in honour of International Women's Day. My determination to give up chocolate for Lent was severely tested by the delicious goodies on Christine's table, but she had thoughtfully provided all sorts of choices so that even someone not indulging in chocolate could truly celebrate the accomplishments of women -- in particular, of one woman who spent the entire day in the kitchen with fabulous results!!

The whole family slept in the living room again last night -- not because it was still cold, but because it was fun. We had a very lazy morning this morning; Jason and I lay around drowsily while the kids watched Pirates of the Caribbean and made breakfast for us. Yes, they really did, and it wasn't too bad either, although they didn't have to use any appliances more complex than the toaster.

Today was generally laid-back, to balance out all the running around from yesterday, but we did go to the Aquarena where Christopher demonstrated his new-found skill in the deep end. He has been taking lessons with his class at school and been quite distraught about the fact that he was expected to swim in the deep end and didn't feel ready. This week he finally broke through that barrier and today he was not just swimming around there but also jumping off the diving board. I am so proud of him! The only drawback is that now he doesn't want to go on the waterslide as often as he used to, because he has the diving board to amuse him. And I kind of feel silly going on the waterslide without a child along....

Of course, all I'm telling you about here are the external events of our weekend. On the level of our rich inner lives, where most of the activity happens here, the two big activities of the weekend were 1)Piracy and 2) Chemistry. The Piracy started even before we watched Pirates this morning -- all weekend, both kids have been dressing up in pirate costumes, building pirate ships, and generally buckling all the swashes in sight. Christopher talks in his "pirate accent," which sounds like -- well, like a nine-year-old Newfoundland boy imitating Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Chemistry also featured prominently as the children amused themselves by filling empty water bottles with coloured water in various combinations and setting up "science labs" with them. When I went out for groceries this afternoon I was strictly informed that I must bring home more food colouring. With this renewed resource they busied themselves in the basement setting up labs, then invited us to come down and see them.

Christopher was explaining things in his lab -- using, oddly, the exact same accent as his "pirate" accent. At one point, as he wrote out a formula for how you could combine the different chemicals represented by the bottles, he added under his breath, "By the way, this is all fiction -- you can't really do this!"

Meanwhile, in the next room, Emma invited me into "Emma's Lab, Museum and Grocery Store, where we have almost everything you need to get through the day. May I help you?"

"I'd like a bottle of that blue stuff," I said, picking the thing that looked most likely to get me through the day.

"Um...none of these bottles are actually for sale right now," she said. "But you can look at them."

"OK ... I'd like to look at a bottle something blue."

Amidst all the swimming, piracy and chemistry, I forgot to report that the best thing about today was the weather -- the temperature actually climbed above freezing for the first time in weeks. It was sunny and about 5 degrees today -- that's in the low 40s for the metrically-challenged. You could hear the snow melting. I was not too pleased about Daylight Savings Time coming in a few weeks early this year, and when I put the clocks ahead last night I was still grumbling about how DST in March only means a few more hours of daylight to see the mounds of snow everywhere. I'd rather have the clocks go ahead when there's at least some glimmer of hope that spring is coming.

But today felt almost like the whisper of a promise of spring. Yes, I know it's a false promise -- we're not even halfway through March and we still have Paddy's Brush and Sheila's Brush and who knows what else to look forward to. But on a day like this, it's possible to pretend that spring is around the corner, and why not enjoy that feeling for a few moments?

From huddling around our fire on Friday night, to frolicking in the snow Saturday afternoon, to dreaming of spring today -- with all the friends and family we've seen and all the fun we've enjoyed -- this has been one of those weekends that just makes me sit back and go, "Aaahh, yes ... this is Life As It Should Be Lived."

Hope your weekend was As It Should Be too, and if not, I hope you had at least a glimmer of brighter days ahead.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Camping In

Sometimes in winter, we "camp-in" -- we all sleep downstairs, Jason and me on the sofa-bed, the kids on air mattresses.

There are two reasons for doing this: for fun, or because on certain nights in winter the combination of cold, wind direction, and older home means our house will not get warm no matter how high we turn up the heat. So a couple of times every winter we end up sleeping by the fire.

Last weekend, we had a "camp-in" for fun. Last night, we had one out of necessity.

When we do it for fun, Jason rigs up a makeshift tent in the dining room and the kids put their air mattresses and sleeping bags in there. When we do it because of the cold, everyone squeezes into the living room and we close all the doors to trap the heat.

Either kind of camp-in may involve some or all of the following: roasting marshmallows over the fireplace; drinking hot chocolate in front of the fire; watching videos; reading stories; playing board games; having family worship in front of the fire; telling the kids to be quiet and go to sleep 1,000 times before they finally do.

Last night they bedded down while watching the final scenes of Prince of Egypt. Jason and I retired to bed at the same time, both with books to read. Emma was out like a light immediately, but Christopher took a little longer to settle down. I ventured into the cold upstairs for awhile to check my email and a few other things online. When I came back down everyone was asleep.

It's been so cold here lately that when I got home yesterday and found I couldn't heat the house up to a comfortable level, I almost cried: all I want is to be warm. Just warm.

Last night at 10:30 I went to sleep in a smallish living room with the embers of the fire still glowing in the grate (our fire is excellent for putting out the heat). Next to me was my Big Warm Husband, and a few feet away, also giving off body heat, were the Small Warm Children, at least one of whom was fated to crawl into the bed with us before morning. I was wearing two pairs of socks, a pair of sweat pants, a T-shirt and a nightshirt, most of which were made of, or lined with, fleece. I was warm.

I woke up at about 3:00 and I was hot. I actually had to take off my fleece-lined sweatpants. I lay there gratefully soaking up the feeling of being not just warm, but too warm. It was wonderful.

Now it's 7:00 a.m., the house is still cold and so is the outside. Who knows -- we may be camping in tonight as well!!

Friday, March 09, 2007


Following hard on the heels of my post about self-denial the other day, I read Andrea's post entitled "Want/on," which made me rethink the whole question in a different light. Not enough to make me go out to Tim's and buy that chocolate danish I've been craving, but enough to make me revisit the question of what we want and what we're willing to give up -- and why.

I pointed out in my other post that people who were raised in very guilt-ridden, negative religious backgrounds probably won't get a lot of spiritual benefit out of self-denial, because they will tend to interpret "giving up" through those lenses. After reading Andrea's experience of growing out of just that kind of background, I think more needs to be said on that question, to balance what I said earlier about the blessings of self-denial.

I honestly forget sometimes, or forget to focus on, the fact that some people have not been taught to name what they want and go after it. Some people have been taught that desire is bad, that they shouldn't want anything, that their own wants are to be stuffed down inside and subjugated to everyone else's concerns. Needs, OK -- you might possibly be allowed to have some of your needs met, if we can fit it into the schedule. But wants? Forget about those.

It's a concern for people from some fundamentalist backgrounds, as Andrea's post points out. It's also a concern from a feminist perspective, because many women have been taught (implicitly rather than explicitly, usually) that it's un-feminine to want too much, to be too ambitious, too desirous, too wanton. Women are often taught to ignore their own wants and needs in favour of serving husbands, children, bosses, parents, society's expectations.

If you don't know what you want, if you've never learned to say, "This is what I want and here is how I am going to get it," then there's not much spiritual value in denying yourself pleasures. You don't believe you deserve those pleasures anyway; you're giving up something you don't think you're entitled to. Whereas to me, the whole point of giving up pleasures is that they are pleasures. I know I desire these things; I know that I need to, as Christians sometimes put it, "order my desires" (disordered desire can be selfish and self-destructive) -- but it would never occur to me not to listen to the voice of my own desire, not to be aware of what I want.

Like so many other things, I have my parents to thank for this, and the more I read about other people's upbringings the more I think I should be sending my parents weekly roses, or cheques, or something. Not that they are, or were, perfect -- but there are so many ways in which they managed not to screw me up, that I am eternally grateful.

This area of desire is certainly one of them. I was always taught to know what I want and go for it, assuming it was not harmful to myself or others. Our family religion, while conservative, was very much not fundamentalist. I suppose when I think of the issue of desire in the context of my faith, I have been mostly influenced by Bible texts like, "Trust in the Lord, and He will grant you the desires of your heart," or "At His right hand are pleasures forevermore." Or, in the New Testament, "I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly," and "My God will supply all your needs according to the riches of His grace," and "He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think."

Whether by accident or design, I grew up with a mentality of abundance rather than lack: the world was a good place created by a good God, and it was good for me to have and to want things (always keeping in mind that ordering of desires: things that wouldn't hurt me or hurt others).

I still want things. A lot of things. I know what I desire, what gives me pleasure. I have been fortunate enough to have gotten a lot of the things I desire, and to believe that most of the other things I desire will come to me.

I want a chocolate danish at Tim Horton's when Lent is over.
I want to read the three new novels by favourite authors that I've got stashed away for Easter break.
I want a lengthy spa vacation in a hot southern climate -- which I'm not likely to get this winter. But I also want a weekend away in New York with my husband, and a weekend in Eastport with my Strident Girlfriends -- and both those look do-able in the next couple of months!
I want things for the rest of my life that I haven't had yet -- a year living outside North America; a Honda Goldwing (you didn't read that, Mom. Scroll back up to the part about what a great parenting job you did and reread that instead); a renovated bathroom with a corner whirlpool tub.

I know I won't get everything I want, but I know what I want and I know it's good for me to want. And it's good for me sometimes to say "No" to things I want. But when I talk about Lenten disciplines, about fasting, about the benefits of self-denial, I would hate anyone to think I was laying a burden of negativity on anyone who hasn't yet learned to say "YES!" to life and all its good gifts.

That's all I wanted to say. There's a flip side to this self-denial coin, as there is to everything. I want everyone to know that I plan to spend the entire week of Easter vacation in bed reading novels and eating chocolate, and that that is A Good Thing.

Well, that's what I want to do on Easter break -- I guess my kids will have some say in what actually happens!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Self Denial

We are officially two weeks into Lent. So far I have kept up my Lenten disciplines; giving up chocolate (except for Sabbath, when I believe you shouldn't fast, but that's another story) and giving up fiction in favour of reading through my Lenten non-fiction book list (surf over to my book blog and check out the latest offerings).
Apart from the theological question of why someone who's not Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox should observe Lent, I sometimes field questions from people who wonder about the value of self-denial itself. "Isn't it like trying to earn your salvation?" I've heard people ask. Or, "What's the point of denying ourselves the good things God gave us to enjoy?"
On Monday I was at Tim Horton's for the first time since Lent began. I was relieved to note the tray of chocolate danish -- my favourite guilty pleasure -- was empty. Otherwise, I might have been seriously tempted.
Also on Monday, Christopher set himself the challenge of staying away from computer games all day. He likes to play on a site called "Addicting Games," and his questions about the site name led to some interesting conversations about addiction. He decided to quit computer games for the day to prove he wasn't addicted. He asked me if I could give up the computer for a day, and I agreed to try it yesterday. I made it through most of the day but cracked in the evening. I excused myself to Chris by saying I'd stayed off it till his bedtime, which was just as long as he'd done!
All this has got me thinking about the value of self-denial, why I believe it's intrinsically valuable to sometimes say "No" to the things we want. It should be pointed out here that I don't use Lent to give up things I think are bad for me anyway, although I know some people do that and it works for them. My practice is about giving up things I think are good but unnecessary -- those little luxuries and indulgences, like chocolate or fiction or the internet, that make life easier and more pleasant. Things I believe are good in themselves but also things that might get out of hand, might become too central, if not used wisely. Why take a self-imposed break from life's little luxuries?
I've come up with a list of reasons why people might deny themselves simple pleasures:
1. To earn brownie points with God. This kind of thinking is pretty low on the level of moral reasoning, and I don't know many adults, no matter what their theology, who consciously think this way. "If I give up chocolate for Lent, God will let me into heaven," or "If I keep the Sabbath and refrain from eating meat, I'll be a good Adventist and get into heaven." Put like that it looks silly, but maybe vestiges of that kind of thinking linger. Rituals of self-denial, like fasting or Lenten disciplines, are probably a bad idea for people who were raised with a very guilt-oriented, works-based view of religion, because it might be easier for them to slip into this kind of thinking.
2. To look good. Jesus, as you'll remember, told us not to make a big deal of the fact that we were fasting or giving to the poor (which makes blogging about Lent a bit inappropriate, I guess), yet it's hard to resist that temptation to say, "Look how good, pious and self-disciplined I am.
3. To prove that I can. The first time I ever tried giving up something for Lent, many years ago before I had any particular theology connected with it, it was definitely to prove a point to myself. It was chocolate then too, but there was no spiritual goal in sight: I just wanted to know if I could go without it for six weeks, and also (I was 23 at the time) if my skin would clear up, if I did. (I could, and it didn't). I am the sort of person for whom there is a certain pleasure in saying, "Lord, give me strength to meet this self-imposed and totally unnecessary challenge" (kudos to Ashleigh Brilliant for that famous line). So I do have to resist the temptation to take pride in my ability to "give things up."
4. To bring balance to the Force. OK, not to the Force -- I got carried away. But to bring balance to my use of these "simple pleasures." I think this is a good reason. Like Christopher with computer games or me with chocolate, we all have good things that we are tempted to overuse, and giving them up for awhile may help us to gain mastery over them so we can use them wisely rather than unwisely.
5. To practice saying "No." There will be times -- and this applies to every moral, ethical
person, not just Christians -- when doing the right thing will require saying "No" to my own desires and impulses. To do what's right for others, for the world, for the environment, means that I can't always get what I want in this particular moment. Gandhi allegedly said that no-one could practice non-violence if he or she hadn't practiced fasting. Learning to control my own desires, saying No to myself on occcasion, builds spiritual muscle, and reminds me that I don't always have to gratify my every desire.

6. To be mindful.
I've blogged a little on Compulsive Overreader about reading a book on Buddhism and reflecting on the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, which I think is useful for Christians too. Giving up something as simple as chocolate means I have to stop and think about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, which anchors me in the present moment and makes me live more purposefully, more mindfully.
7. To increase dependence on God. I cannot tell you how much I miss the tiny comfort of a hot chocolate on a cold evening, or the pleasure of relaxing with a good novel (I love reading my non-fiction books too, but it is a different kind of pleasure; not the falling-into-a-feather-bed enjoyment of immersing myself in good fiction). When I am tired, or stressed, or just cranky, these are the pleasures I reach for. To say, "No, I can't have this right now" forces me to look for some other comfort, some other source of strength -- which I hope, at least some of the time, will make me more consciously aware of God as the root of all my strength and comfort.
So there you have it. Seven reasons for giving things up. The first three I consider (for me) to be poor reasons, ones I try to avoid; the last four are the reasons that lead me to forego the pleasure of a Tim's chocolate danish on a bitter, bleak winter day.
But only for four more weeks. Just four weeks. I can make it ... I think.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What's Inside a Snowbank?

This post is intended as educational material for those who, sadly, live in places where they don't get a lot of snow. You may have wondered what you would see if a large piece of machinery came along and sliced a nine-foot, two-month-old snowbank in half. Wonder no more!

Given the popularity of those "cross-section" books that show what goes on inside a medieval castle, or a battleship, I think there's quite a market for my "What's Inside a Snowbank?" pictures. Observe how, like geologists reading the story of earth's history from the layers of rock, we can read the Story of Winter in St. John's in this single cross-section of snow. The layers that indicate different snowfalls, the darker, more compacted layers showing snow that was pushed up by the plough as opposed to the lighter snow that fell from the sky, the upper layer indicating the most recent snowfall. Enjoy this view while you can folks, because apparently this weekend it's going to get covered up with a whole new pile of snow! Yes indeedy!! Another weekend snowstorm!!!! I can hardly wait!!!!!

Some people know how to have fun in winter. Here are my kids on top of the snowpile that matches this one (on the other side of the driveway) last weekend:

And here is what their grandfather made while shovelling snow off his back deck. He didn't even have the excuse of the kids being up there while he did it -- he just did it for a laugh. See what a good attitude he has? I am not likely to be making anything entertaining out of snow anytime soon, unless it is a blanket under which to bury myself till it all goes away.

In non-snow-related news, Jason and the kids and I went out to supper tonight using the gift certificate I got for winning the Coast Conundrum the other day (remember that? That's what I won!) That was a nice little break in the routine.

Also, I am continuing to get through my Lenten reading list. Please drop over to my book review blog, Compulsive Overreader, if you haven't already, to see what I'm reading and maybe even comment on it!