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Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

In Ordinary Time

On the TarmacFirst of all, I don’t know the man in the photo.  This was taken on January 16, 2009, as I sat in a waiting area of Terminal 3 in Pearson International Airport.  Not that I didn’t care to know his name, you understand.  It was fairly impossible to do that, given that this very thick glass that served to keep us inside the building and several hundred feet separated us.

I think it would have been great to know his name, though — to simply thank him for doing his job and being out there in the cold while I sat waiting for my flight to board.  Standing there in the middle of the tarmac, in his bright, yellow jacket, with two orange pylons and those orange things he was waving around to direct the pilots who were landing — he was nameless to most (if not all) travellers passing through the airport that day.  I was grateful to have him there doing what he had been trained to do in order to help people in their travels, most of whom he too did not know at all.

Do you ever feel nameless and inconsequential — almost like the fly on the wall the other flies don’t really mind?  Most of our world is all about “extreme” this or that, “larger than life!”, more, more, more — supersize that for me with a side order of overly-large fries.  Those who have a lot want more and those who do not have much are tempted by envy of the conspicuous consumption of those around them.  And in the frenzy of grabbing those “Today only 50% off!” whatchamacallits before that other lady with the feverish look in her eyes gets it all, we can very easily forget that we are human.  We are people who need others:  to love, to care for, to talk to, to be with.  The more we focus on ourselves, the lonelier we are.  The more we look inward, the more alone we become.  We, unwittingly through our own efforts, close others off.

But this man who stood in his yellow jacket in the middle of the tarmac was there at his job doing a service to others.  Sure he was getting paid for it.  Who says it’s a bad thing to get paid for work done?  A person has to earn a living and this is just as good a job as any.  What is striking is the fact that there really is no recognition for those who, like our guy on the tarmac, are doing a service that passed unnoticed by most people who benefit from it.  We do not need to be in the limelight to feel important.  You and I matter.  You and I make a difference in the world through the work we do, even if we sometime or most time feel that we are not thanked enough or given enough compensation.  The work that goes unnoticed by most does is usually that which helps to sustain everyday ordinary life. And most of the time, we live in this ordinary time in our own ordinary set of circumstances, one day at a time.  It is as it should be.  Feasts and thrilling events happen every now and then, but the “meat” of our lives lie, not in never-ending excitement but in the moments that pass by one at a time, to the rhythm of a heartbeat.

So what about those diapers you need to change again?  And those dishes that need washing again?  And the vacuuming that needs to get done again?  And the laundry that waits in a silent pile — again?  They will always be there and it is for you and for me to be grateful that they are.  They remind us of those around us whom we love.  That’s worth every bit of the work we do “behind the scenes”.

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Our home smells amazingly good right now. I finished baking these potato pies called pirojki, the recipe of which I got from the blog of Farida, a very personable young mother from Azerbaijan. I had my children kind of roaming around earlier, hoping for some of the pies. I let them each have a half since I did not want them to spoil their appetite for dinner.

The pastry dough came together quite easily and baked beautifully. Before putting them in the oven, I brushed each pie top with beaten eggyolk, according to the recipe. The finished product looks golden brown and smells oh-so-good!

I have to kick myself mentally, though. I was so thrilled to see the pirojki that I immediately made up my mind to take photos and post these on this blog. I got the camera out and turned it on…….only to discover that the battery was dead. Aaaarrrrggghh! Anyway, you will have to trust me on this for now: they are beautiful savoury pastries that have a light slightly bready crust and a flavourful potato filling. I would not mind having one or two for a snack.

If you haven’t baked anything lately, consider doing so for the sake of having extremely happy children milling around the kitchen, hoping against hope they can be allowed to taste the result of your culinary efforts. It does not have to be complicated. It doesn’t matter if it is a cake mix from a box. Just bake. Open the windows and let the lovely smells of home baking spill out into the neighborhood. Bring a smile to your children’s faces and help put a sparkle in your husband’s eye when he sees something sweet for dessert.

It’s amazing what a little home baking can do!

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There Snow Place Like Home

There are piles and mounds of the white stuff all over the place: in front of houses, in backyards, on the sidewalks, parking lots and on the sides of the roads. I spent about two hours in total yesterday shoveling the stuff off the ground into ever-growing mounds of old snow which is now more like crunchy, hard ice. I also spent a good deal of time on a step stool beside our full size tan van brushing the snow off the roof with a broom. It is a blue broom that stands taller than me and is quite a neat tool for getting the snow off the our van. I have to confess: I was kind of embarrassed to use it at first. After all, who uses a broom to clear snow of a vehicle? Well, I realized, I guess we do, especially when the vehicle happens to be a 12-seater van!

That was yesterday. Today, the weather forecast for the next few days looks like this:

weather-forecast.png Sigh. Great, more of the same, I thought, imagining the great fun (sarcasm is creeping in at this point…) I would have trying to reach up and across the roof of the van to push the snow off. And where else could I possiby put the snow that would be shoveled off the ground? The mounds of snow were getting so high, it was getting more difficult to add onto it.

But —

The snow is here because it snows in winter in this part of Canada. Our family has been in this country for eight years and eight months. Four of the children were born here. We came as immigrants and are now citizens of this great country that we live in. I think of the many friends we’ve made over the years and I realize how blessed we are to be where we are right now. I’ll take the snow and be happy about it.

And —

The full size, 12-seater tan van that sits in our driveway came into our lives on September 14, 2005, the day my husband brought it home from the dealer. It replaced the minivan that only seated eight (we were up to 7 kids by then…..) and which conked out on us during our family camping trip that summer. I had vehemently resisted the very idea of driving what I considered then to be a “monstrous” van. I sputtered in annoyance at the thought of having to drive such a big “thing” all over the place. And then I test drove it with the kids…….and never ever looked back again. Every child now had a proper place in the van; everyone belonged somewhere. My children could now sit comfortably and safely without feeling like sardines all the time.

I appreciate that van so much because it reminds me of every single child in our family. When I get asked if we’ll still have more kids, I often point out the fact that the van seats twelve, and now there are only 10 seats filled. I am grateful to have this van to drive around because it is there for my family and our needs. So I will happily clear the van of snow any time — but will not say no if my husband offers to do so for me. dscn0770.jpg

It is funny how something one considers a burden can be another’s blessing. In yesterday’s National Post, this news item appeared regarding cleaning and how more women were doing housework than men. Not really much news there — except for when it is mentioned that the luckiest group of people in the Canada are the ones who do not have to do any housework. If I believed that to be true, I would then have to say that I must be one of the most unfortunate Canadians. Imagine: a husband who is out of the house 10 to twelve hours a day plus eight children to take care of. That must be a “lucky” Canadian’s idea of a nightmare!

In truth, I consider myself to be extremely lucky and blessed to have the family I have. There are clothes to be laundered, meals to be cooked, beds to be fixed and a home to be cleaned because there are people who live in this home. They need caring for and help. My husband works hard at his job, and I do the same at mine — which happens to be keeping house and mothering our children. I dare say it is quite a privilege to be able to care for our children. They are not perfect, of course, but they are our children. We welcomed each one happily and are grateful for every single one of them.

I do not feel like a slave for doing housework because it is a conscious choice and commitment I have made as a wife and mother. Besides, when you do things for love, how can something like housework even be considered a burden? There are days, of course, when it will feel burdensome and tiring and a pain — but life is not just about feelings. At the end of the day, knowing the truth helps me to see what everything is all about. And that is something I am always grateful for.

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Two hours ago, my feet were icy cold. As I compose this blog entry, I am in our basement trying to stay warm in an old, grey sweater (my kids say it looks like a bathrobe….I think it looks chic…..) and someone’s thick, beige socks (definitely NOT chic). I say “someone” because no one had ever laid claim to these particular pair of socks — until I finally did when I couldn’t find a pair I recognized as my own. These warm, fuzzy socks that had once been relegated to the bag of abandoned socks (yes, one actually exists in our home) are now keeping my toes nice and comfortable. Now, I am quite grateful for these socks. They provide me with the warmth that my more fashionable yet sadly thinner socks couldn’t.

That gets me thinking about other things that aren’t fashionable or chic or trendy, yet prove their worth so many times over in the real world. The aforementioned grey sweater I wear at this very minute may not make anyone else’s top ten list of must-haves in their wardrobe, but it is a prized item in mine. It is big and long enough to cover me up on chilly and downright cold days (like today) regardless of my body size. By that I mean whether I am pregnant, not pregnant but sporting post-natal fat or just plain not pregnant. It’s definitely not trendy, but I don’t mind. It’s a definite keeper.

You know what else is unfashionable? Staying at home with the kids on a Sunday afternoon — which is what I am doing right now as I continue typing this up while wearing my favourite sweater and extremely useful thick socks. My eldest daughter is at a birthday party. My husband had to run some errands and has the three oldest boys. Which leaves me with the four youngest children. Right now, the next oldest person after me in this house is my eight-year old son. dscn0804.jpgHe’s trying to construct a “tent” on the futon with his comforter. My 6-year old daughter is wearing a skirt fashioned out of a bathrobe (they’re very creative this way), playing pretend with the 6-month old baby boy who’s unaware of his role as a “pretend baby”. The three-year old girl is trying to figure out a way to fashion a tent out of 1 pillow and a toddler-size comforter — to no avail. But she will not stop trying and I have to give her points for perseverance, really. Right now, this part of our basement looks like a mini construction site of condo-tents for little people.

What is the purpose served by staying home with the kids on a Sunday afternoon, you might ask? Why aren’t we skiing or ice-skating or sipping mugs of hot cocoa while happily counting marshmallows around the dining table? Well, we don’t ski (don’t know how to and it’s too expensive). I don’t skate (would love to but have a bad knee — long story). And the hot cocoa scenario with four children, ages 8 and under, only works if you have 8 arms, non-staining cocoa and can move around like Flash. None of that applies to me, and so we find ourselves all together in the basement making do with what we have: an over-abundance of imagination (all of us), an enormous amount of energy (them), an opportunity to blog (that’s me), and a chunk of time to just be with each other.

See, I don’t think I appreciate these moments enough because they don’t involve activities that make my heart beat faster or my adrenaline rushing. We’re not doing anything new or amazing. In fact, it’s downright ordinary — and that is precisely the beauty of it all. After a week of rushing around from one thing to another, keeping to a tight schedule, trying to get this and that done, it is an absolute pleasure to be able to spend time with the family on a quiet Sunday afternoon. This time serves to give us the chance to re-connect with each other at a slower pace. This moment allows us to rest from work and enjoy each other’s company. It is an opportunity afforded to us by a day on which we, as Christians, keep the Lord’s day holy.

dscn0809.jpgThere is always that temptation to try and do something new and exciting, especially on the weekend. After all, we mostly live our lives in ordinary time, doing mostly ordinary things. But even on a Sunday, when there aren’t too many thrills to go around, these same ordinary things take on extraordinary meaning because they are done for and with those whom we love and care.

As I end this entry, a drama involving an odd assortment of stuffed animals — including three bears, a walrus and Baby Bop — and the made-up voices of my 8-year old son is unfolding behind me. The tents have been abandoned by the girls — for now — in favour of playing the role of audience to their brother’s soap operatic attempts. The baby has fallen asleep in my arms. (Another reason for me to end this entry…..) Altogether, it has been a pretty good Sunday afternoon — a definite keeper.

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MercatorNet.com’s latest newsletter features an article by Mr. Oskari Juurikkala, a gentleman trained in economics and law, and currently working in mining and finance. It talks mostly about the current global financial situation, so maybe you already know a lot about it from having read the newspaper or Internet news updates on the same. What is different in this article is what the author recommends as necessary. To quote:

We need people in finance, in banking, and in business generally, who work for nobler motives and out of a desire to serve their fellowmen. The truest purpose of any kind of honest business is not profit, but service.

The author talks about a need for a “conversion of the heart”. It is such a timely message — in fact, timeless, if you think about it. It’s very easy to forget that more important than just making a profit, those involved in business are involved in service. Please make the time to read the article yourself.  We need more of this message out there in the world.

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Love is Deeds

We have a girls’ cooking club we run from our home once a month. My friend and I started it in December of 2003 with five girls.club.jpg Tomorrow, we have about 13 girls coming over, between the ages of 8 to 13, and we will be making chocolates. Before we do that, we will give the girls a talk, which is always on a Christian virtue. The club, after all, is not just a drop-off for girls who have nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon. We have the goal of teaching these girls, not only how to cook and bake, but to develop a spirit of service. What for? Well, these girls are our future professionals, teachers, business women, leaders and — hopefully for a lot of them — mothers. We need women who will care about others, not for what they can get in return, but because it is for the good.

So tomorrow, our talk will be on love and service. We will talk to the girls about how loving someone does not necessarily depend on feelings. Love is an act of the will, a choice we make for the good of others. Not a “relative good” but a true good, taking into consideration a person’s innate dignity as a human being. The really cool part is we get to work with the girls on this while making chocolates! Yes, I said work, because we do work. We will be making these yummy chocolates (and if you want the recipes, I will post them later on…..) while teaching the girls about sharing and working well, doing our best and thinking of others. They will get a taste of the chocolates, but they will be challenged to think of someone they will give their chocolates too. It is so important for our children to to be reminded that there is so much good they can do for others, and not just those they know or are fond of. This is a life lesson that will serve them well, since taking it to heart means they will learn how to serve others well without counting the cost.

We also have a club newsletter we give out to parents. What follows is the text of this month’s newsletter message:

screenshot2.pngIt is one of those words whose meaning supposedly changes, depending on the speaker and the circumstances. It is many different things to many different people, but for a lot of people it is a powerful emotion that sweeps you off your feet, makes your heart pound faster and changes your life forever. I’m talking about love.

But this feeling of “being in love” -– the passion that sets hearts afire — is so different from what most of us know to be true in real life. Love is not simply a feeling. Love is an act of the will that goes beyond simply emotion and drama. Your own life provides a beautiful panorama of examples of love -– real, honest-to-goodness love.

Do you know that the little things you do for your family are proof positive of your love for them? You might vaguely nod your head, dismissing the thought with a, “So what?”, but do pause for a moment and consider it well. Perhaps there have been days you wished you could do more. Maybe you’ve had moments you’ve felt wistful at the thought of all the exciting things other women you know are doing. Ever feel like your life is just one whole routine on replay?

I find it ironic that those of the feminist movement who fought tooth and nail to have women recognized as absolutely equal to men in every single thing managed to discount the epitome of true femininity: motherhood. While there may be exceptions, to be certain — a mother loves with everything she has and is, regardless of how she feels. There are a hundred little things she does everyday, almost without having to think about it, for her family. She does her grocery-shopping based on what the family likes to eat, what’s on sale, what’s nutritious and what she can do. Mothers aren’t superwomen; they’re even better that that!

Mothers love without truly counting the cost. Just think about the nine months that a woman bears her child in her womb, the labour and childbirth that follow, and the next years that are a myriad of scraped knees, bumps on the head and fevers at night. There is no price tag that you can possibly put on that kind of care. It is the kind that comes from loving someone.

If you are a mother reading this, know that you are immersed in the best possible work of any human life. You are caring for another; for many others. You are the heart of your home because your family’s lifeblood pulsates with the many acts of service you perform for them. Perhaps you are thinking that this is a message that should appear for Mother’s Day? Well, we are mothers for life and not just a day. After all, what better example can I give for service rendered with love than a mother?

We need to teach our children to serve others with love, regardless of feeling. True human love looks out for the good of the other, whether one feels like it or not. We must impart to our girls the reality of true femininity. It exists in the ability of each woman to care for others in a manner uniquely her own. You are blessed with this great vocation as mother and the opportunity to teach your own daughter/s about that which women do so well.

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Dough Therapy

This afternoon, I engaged in some dough therapy. There is something very comforting and relaxing about handling dough. Yes! The very act of cutting in the cold bits of butter into the flour and salt is an exercise in stress release. Then you slowly sprinkle in the cold water and bring everything together into a ball….and voila! You’ve got dough to build on for a dish that can fill your family up. Beautiful!

I have this great passion for cooking, you see. For a lot of people, it is a chore and nothing more. For others, it is something that approaches an obsession that can only take place with everything perfectly in place — a bit of a snooty attitude, if you want. I belong to neither group. Cooking is not something I resent having to do. But it isn’t something I need to be extremely finicky with. If I do not have the specified ingredients or tools, I will improvise. Creativity is the catch-word here! Ultimately, cooking is a means for me to provide my family (and others, on occasion) with sustenance that not only tastes good but also looks good. If you’re going to spend any amount of time doing something, it is worth doing well.tourtiere.jpg

The work and art of cooking has afforded my family to come together and share in the repast prepared in our home kitchen. The smells invite interest; the sights tempt the palate. The shared meal becomes an experience that nourishes the body and — many times — the heart and soul.

Back to my dough therapy this afternoon. I tried out this recipe for tourtiere, a shallow meat pie and French Canadian specialty. I got the recipe from one of Bonnie Stern’s recent columns in the National Post’s weekend edition. The warmth from the oven has started to fill the kitchen and spill out into the living room area, where the children are busily playing a game of Monopoly. In a while, one or two (or more) of them will come by to ask what it is I am baking. The inevitable smells that go with the baking or cooking of anything will slowly infuse the air. It is a small delight that makes me happy.monopoly-game.jpg

When you love what you’re doing, it is said to be a passion. But what about when you are doing something you are passionate about for those whom you love? You do your best. You apply yourself totally. After all, you are doing what you do for those who have a place in your heart. Your actions are transformed. They become acts of love.

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