March 31, 2013

Easter is All Around Me

It is Sunday morning, and I am headed to church for the first time in three weeks. I have opened my Bible once in the same timeframe.

This is not how I want things to be, but it is how things are, and I do not feel guilty. There is no condemnation for those in Jesus, and for once, I feel that freedom. But I am not unaware of Easter, and its central importance in my life. It is all around me.

I understand joy as we pass around the downy-headed, chubby-cheeked baby, each of us prouder than the last.

I believe in hope because I see my brother kiss his wife, see the kids climb all over them, hear laughter.

I see faith in the way my parents still choose to turn towards each other, thirty-seven years after making their vows.

I experience grace, over and over,  from the brother who refrains from beating me up each time I call him the baby, from these hearts that know my ugly, selfish ways better than anyone.

This is love. This is life.

This is Easter morning, the kingdom of heaven making its way into our family.

March 28, 2013

Drafted: So Logical, So Funny

from October 2010. I don't miss nannying, but maybe I kind of do... I definitely miss kids. Kids are so funny and weird and irritating and adorable.



C asked me today, "How are people made?"

He also asked (while in the bath) if he could wash my hair. I said no, because my clothes would get wet and water would get out of the tub. He said, "Then can you take off your clothes and get in the bath with me?"

The desire to wash my hair started earlier, when he was sitting on my lap after dinner. He was drinking large mouthfuls of water, and asked if he could wash my hair with it. Distracted by a conversation with his brother, I didn't answer fast enough - and he fountained a mouthful of water down my shirt.

March 25, 2013

Roadtrip Tips

1. Pick a good travel buddy.

2. Do not forget your directions.

3. Pack your passports.

4. Bring snacks that are homemade and healthy, like hummus and veggies and fresh fruit.

5. An iPod is essential, or CDs if your car is old-school.

6. Car-aoke will happen. People should see you driving and wonder why they are not having as much fun as you are.

7. When in Sarnia, eat at Cosmo's Tavern. 

8. If you can, stop at your Grandma's.

sunset in Sarnia
9. Do not be fooled. Even attractive border guards will ask repetitive questions that leave you wondering about their IQ.

10. The border is not a magical bridge to a foreign and exotic world, but the asphalt is bumpier in the States, and the military does like to recruit via billboard.

11. There should be silly conversations, there should be seriousness, and sometimes there should be silence.

12. There are roughly 4 litres to a gallon, and $30 is the cost of half a tank of gas for a Chevy Cruze.

13. The destination should be somewhere with other friends, food, and happiness. Like a wedding.

14. Sometimes your directions will be slightly off, but if you are smart and alert, you can find a golf course in the middle of the countryside.

15. The return trip always feels longer. Except when it feels shorter.

16. Canadian border guards smile. Maybe someone just told them a funny joke, or maybe it's because you're a couple of cute girls. Either way, go with it.

17. If you realize, an hour from the border, that you may find yourself in a complicated situation at the border, do your best to avoid it by playing dumb. Do not mention anything to your travel buddy until after you are safely back into your country.

18. If you can, stop at your Grandma's again. When she packs you "a couple of scones," what she actually has packed is 8 scones, two large slices of cake, whipped cream and some crackers.

19. When your travel buddy says, "Are you still good to keep driving?" and you say, "Yep!" it is important to know that she is about to fall asleep. Five minutes later, you will also want to sleep. Do not sleep while driving.

20. Car-aoke helps keep one awake while driving. Soft car-aoke allows your travel buddy to keep resting (hopefully).

21. Clean your apartment before you leave, because it is so lovely to come home to a clean house.

March 22, 2013

Reading in 2013: The Dolphins at Sainte-Marie

I seem to be on a short-story kick! At the library again, and on the Recommended Reads shelf, I spotted an author whose name I recognized, not for her fame, but for her hometown, her place of employment, and her three degrees of separation from my life (maybe only two, actually). Although I never took a course with her, she teaches at my alma mater. Though I've never met her, she is friends with one of my mother's closest friends.

So I picked up The Dolphins at Sainte-Marie by Sandra Sabatini. And I loved it. Such a wide range of stories - some about the same characters, but not all - that touched on life's heartache and injuries and injustices and wrongs, particularly through the eyes of the young. As an added bonus, references to Liverpool St and the Woodlawn Cemetery reminded me that several of the stories took place right in my hometown. All were in the familiar landscape of southern Ontario.

Definitely a recommended read. Poignant, sad, moving stories.

I think Sam and his grandma are my favourite of the characters. I want to be a fair bit like his grandma when I grow up.

March 21, 2013

Drafted: An Almost Explicable Dream

From sometime in 2010. No edits.



Last week, I got asked out.

In Dreamland, this boy* and I had the sort of relationship where lots of people wonder if we're dating, or when we'll date, etc etc. (I think it's because Nadine told me that I am "the queen of the non-date date." Which reminded me of this conversation and made me laugh.)

As part of his I-like-you speech, he told me that a friend of his said to him, "Get gay, get out, or get balls." Meaning: if he were gay, then our friendship would make sense. If he had no plans to ever date me, he needed to not pseudo-date me. Or he needed to man up and ask me out.

Clearly he picked option #3.

Then he asked if he could borrow my car. Since it wasn't actually my car, but a car I had borrowed from a woman who goes to the church I grew up at (gotta love the random dream connections), I said I'd drive him. So we went to his "apartment," which was also on loan from someone else. It was a cross between a dorm room, a hospital bed, and this tiny Seattle apartment that I saw online the day before (It's a brilliant idea, but I can't imagine sharing a 182 sq ft apartment).

Then I woke up to this song.

(Again, I blame Nadine and her break-up-and-love-songs post. And my ipod, which played this yesterday.)



*I feel self-conscious these days about how I refer to the male gender. A few of my friends have pointed out that I call most men "boys," and they find it odd. But it is hard to completely rewire your brain. And part of me is still uncomfortable calling them all men, so it's doubly strange and I'm left self-conscious and unchanged.

March 13, 2013

52 Drafts & 1 Photo Blog

There are precisely fifty-two unfinished blog entries sitting behind the scenes. And that doesn't include the ones I have started in my head, in word docs, on my phone, or a piece of paper somewhere.

If I finish and post one a week, it will take me a year to catch up. Maybe this is a good idea.

There are two entries I have been composing in my head and putting off for weeks yet. One because I'm waiting for a concrete finish to the story, and the other because I haven't given myself the time to let the thoughts settle in a clear way.

Maybe I will get on that soon.

Until then, y'all might like to know that I'm starting to curate some of my favourite photos in one place:

bethannef.tumblr.com

I haven't yet figured out if/how I can embed the images right on this page, but you can click over from the header on my blog homepage, or just straight-up subscribe for a frequent dose of photography.

March 11, 2013

The Best Kind of Dare

“Look at this!” I turn my arm to show her a bruise from yet another random mishap.
“Woah! You’re getting pipes!”
I’m confused by the genuine excitement in her voice. “What? Really?”
“Yeah! Look at those!”
I turn to the mirror, flex, and laugh. Maybe not pipes but certainly less pipe cleaner than usual.
“Ooh, do you think maybe now I can do a push-up!? I’m going to try.”
I cannot do push-ups. Not even one. Not even a girly push-up. It’s an ongoing joke in my life.
But I kick off my slippers and put my face against the carpet – and lift. I groan, Gnnnnnnnnnn. And I do it. I DO A PUSH-UP. It is measly and it is girly, but it is a push-up. And then I do another. And then, just for good measure, ¾ of one more.
How did this happen? I have not been working my arms on purpose. Ultimate Frisbee? Maybe. Probably. What else?

“Great game, Beth,” he says, and I look up from the stuck zipper on my coat.
“Thanks!”
“You’re definitely getting better. You’re faster and your cuts are sharper. Are you feeling more confident?”
“Yeah…kinda. I definitely feel like I’ve improved since the summer… But I still feel like there’s a lot left to work on. Trying to just figure out one thing at a time, you know?”
“Sure. And it doesn’t help when we all bunch up like tonight.”
“Thank you. This is good to hear. Thanks.”  I am grinning as I walk away.

I am looking down in the shower, water running over me and my brain slowly waking up. This is not a morning stomach. This is an evening stomach. You should look like this after three meals, not before I’ve eaten anything. You should stick out less, I tell my belly.
When did this happen? How long have I been eating and eating and when was the last time my stomach rumbled for more than 5 minutes before I fed it? And whatever happened to taking a break from baked goods?Ugh. This is an unfortunate start to the day. 

I am still thinking about this. I am thinking about the little paunch, and the faster stride, and the sit-up, and wonder why the latter two don’t outweigh the first. How is it that my brain fixates on this one specific thing, when other evidence indicates growing health and fitness?

I remember reading this dare to love your body, and how the line “I will define what it means to be a woman for myself and for my one thousand daughters,” reminds me that we inherit and pass along our identities and insecurities – not just within our family, but within this bigger family of women. And I want to be one who praises instead of criticizes others and ought I not do the same for myself?

A 4-day-old angel baby named Sebastian.

I think about how amazing it is that my sister’s body has grown a little boy and now her body is nourishing him and that deserves celebration and yet so many mothers I know struggle to love their changed bodies. Their beautiful life-creating, life-nourishing, life-sustaining bodies. These beautiful women I respect and admire. And yet a little voice says to me, Maybe it’s for the best that childbirth isn't in your current forecast. Could you handle the changes? Would you be able to love yourself with more marks and rolls, when your body is quite literally at another’s service?

And I think about The Nu Project: portraits of women undressed and unashamed (NSFW). I have pored over the images, studied the forms, loved these strangers. These brave souls with bodies both beautiful and normal, with curves and scars and wrinkles. Their eyes are bright and their smiles woo me. I want to befriend them. I want their approval, because if they can love themselves so much, maybe they can show me how to do the same?

The idea of loving my body is not an unfamiliar one. Women talk about it, write about it, it’s a thing. But I’m only just getting to the point where it feels like a possibility. Like maybe it could happen to me, and not just the girls who are smaller, cuter, better at their make-up, have a personal sense of style, are chased by boys.

I want to cultivate a perspective that sees my body and knows my body and loves my body for all the things it is and does. I want my sense of self to include this actual body with all its flaws and strengths and unpredictable ways. I want to look in the mirror and think, YEAH! Before I think AAH! I want to walk past a mirror or a window without feeling compelled to look in it.

I think I’m on the right road. When I look back a dozen years, I see a scared and shame-filled teenager. I wish I could show her how to hold her chin up, pull her shoulders back and listen for the soft voice of truth that is in there with all the lies.

When I look forward a dozen years, I have hope that I will measure my beauty not by the softness of my belly or size of my pipes but by the increase in my laugh lines and the scars that will tell stories of giving and receiving love, of sacrifice and patience. I hope the fondness I have for my blue eyes and freckles and wild crazy hair will be without qualification, and that I will love parts of myself below the chin.
(photo taken by my 5 year-old nephew)

I usually turn down dares; the more pressure I feel, the more I dig in these stubborn heels of mine. But this time, it’s a dare I know I won’t regret.

March 8, 2013

Reading in 2013: Building Better Blueprints & Losing Everything

A couple weeks ago, I stopped in the library just to pass ten minutes time before an appointment nearby...and I walked out with three books. Of course. I've already told you about Ru (read it - short, concise, lovely) and now on to the two other books.

Blueprints for Building Better Girls - a collection of short stories by Elissa Schappell, I was intrigued by the title.Very intrigued. And the framework - interconnected short stories - is one of my favourites. So I picked it up. And it was good. Realistic, gritty, sometimes awkward stories of a variety of relationships, mostly romantic, over several decades. I wanted more stories about multiple characters, which is a definite positive. Nothing wow-ed me in a profound way, but it was decent literature. Something a bit darker than your average vacation read, but not much work to get through.

Life is About Losing Everything by Lynn Crosbie. Again, the title drew me in. As did the cover design. And the back cover, which described this as part memoir and part fantastical fiction. Oh reeeeeeeeeeeally. The excerpt on the back was lovely and poignant and I wanted more. But I was underwhelmed by the first seventy-five pages. The life vignettes were certainly raw and at times fantastical, and I liked the non-linear structure. However, I didn't feel much of a draw towards the narrator, and the vignette format made it difficult to dive into a plot. Basically, there is a depressed woman, and a lot of men, and some drugs. I wanted to persevere, and I wanted things to get better for her, but the book was due back at the library, and I decided renewing it would be too much effort. I'm a big disappointed, mostly because it looks like quality Can Lit. And maybe it is.

March 7, 2013

On March Snow Flurries & Being Canadian

On mornings like this, when there are three flakes in the air as I leave the apartment, and three thousand falling when I reach work, and my hood is up, but I didn’t wear leggings so my thighs are starting to sting – on mornings like this, I think I am done. Good and done. I am not meant for this season.

And I promise myself that someday soon I am moving to a country where there is no winter, where the temperature never goes below freezing. Maybe not even into the single (Celsius) digits. I could be happy there, I tell myself. Happier than I am here.

But I know it won’t happen (yet). October will find me in Toronto, pulling on tights before I step into my jeans and buying a new pair of cotton-wool blend knee highs.

And then I think about how I have walked to work all winter, except for just a couple days (I could count the number on two hands), and I am proud of that. And I drove in the snow several times, with the slipping and sliding and slow inching forward, and I was safe. And I went places, even after dark, when it felt like I should be sleeping, and I had fun. I am proud of that. And I remember how I've been playing soccer and ultimate all winter long, and I'm making new friends and staying healthy. And I'm proud of that too.

I haven't merely survived this winter. I have enjoyed my life this winter. I have gone out in the cold and in the snow and I have had adventures. I have taken photos and stamped my name in the snow and slipped on ice, and maybe I am a little bit Canadian after all.

Mostly, I think of the plans and dreams I have for the future and how they’re almost in motion and I wouldn’t trade these hopes for a winter-long beach visit, although you may need to remind me of that in November.
Is this dog happy or grouchy? I can't tell.

But please, tell me Spring is right around the corner.

March 1, 2013

Reading in 2013: Away & Ru

I forgot that I am blogging through this year's reads (unofficially, although I guess this makes it official) and have finished TWO books in the past week.

Away by Jane Urquhart was one of the CBC's Canada Reads finalists. While it didn't win, it is the only one of the 5 books I've read (and am likely to read). I quite enjoyed the way she weaves a generational family story with the history of both Ireland and Canada, and then sprinkles in some poetry and magic. I love the lyricism of Urquhart's writing, and found myself easily drawn into the world she portrays. And this is the most magic realism I've seen from a Canadian author (anyone know of other magic realist Canadian lit?). I have to admit, though, that I was disappointed on two counts.

First, I was bothered by the lack of explanation for why the main character is leaving her lakefront home (it is a distinct possibility that she mentions this and I managed to miss it). But without that piece of information, I kept coming up slightly confused. And secondly, it felt to me that she just got tired of storytelling by the end, and the third generation/narrator's life was summed up far too simply. I wanted the same level of story that I got for her grandmother & great-grandmother. I enjoyed it very much. I just wanted there to be a bit more...


Ru by Kim Thuy (translated by Sheila Fischmann) is a simple vignette-style story of a woman who started her life in Vietnam, left as a refugee, and grew up in Quebec. It is elegant and short and rich. I wanted there to be more, but the bareness of the story was also a strength. As I read, I kept thinking about the structure (in a good way) - why she chose this brief style, and whether the stories excluded (or merely hinted at) "matter." Altogether, I loved this book.

Both novels were compelling in their representation of historic national tragedy, the struggle of displacement and immigration, and family dynamics. I am reminded that I am blessed and privileged to live where and when I do - and that this does not entitle me to naivety about the historic or present struggles of many women around the world. In fact, I'd say my access to stories like these reminds me of my obligation to steward that freedom well.