Smoky City


Every day

time stands still

stupefied by heat and smog–

this strange oppressive greyness 

that crouches over the city 

obscuring the view.

Every morning the sun sends ruddy orange beams

through my glass porch door

like a joke played by someone

with a giant coloured flashlight

pretending we’ve woken up on Mars.

The mountains have disappeared in smoke,

the interior forest fires making 

an imaginary conquest of the coast.

Even the rooftops three blocks away

have been engulfed by this grey Nothing.

My kids don’t care.

They play outside oblivious to all change

except the burning orb of the sun in the evening–

a giant fireball glowing red

a perfect sphere glaring at us

like the eye of Mordor.

“Take a picture, take a picture!” they cry,

but for once my iPad mini camera doesn’t do it justice 

and we are forced to just stare long enough

to imprint the image in our memories 

next to distant recollections of clear blue sky.

Selfishness, Responsibilty and a Blue Couch 


Selfishness is so easy. It’s so easy to focus on yourself and blame all your troubles on others. Doing so allows us to stay in a state of inaction: there is “nothing” we can do about our problems because they are “not our fault.” Someone else is to blame. But this attitude dooms us to shadow-boxing all our lives–flailing out our arms uselessly to hit the imaginary causers of our own difficulties. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we discover that the source of our brokenness is within. Even if we were isolated from all others in a tiny hermitage, we would still struggle. This is a sobering thought. It means we have to rise from our stupor and take responsibility for our lives. Only we can change them for the better. 

But while we can take positive steps towards small changes for the better, healing our brokenness is not something we can do alone. We can’t make ourselves never grumpy, annoyed, snappy, imprudent, lazy or selfish etc by our willpower alone. We are like broken light bulbs whose wires are not connected, so the electricity can’t flow through them. We need to reconnect those wires by joining our hands in prayer, so the grace of God can flow through us and help us to shine. 

In the bustle of daily life, it can be easy to forget this. We get wrapped up in our troubles and forget to ask for help. We forget to pray for our needs, and for the grace to bear hardships cheerfully. But God is just waiting to show us signs of His affection, if we open our hearts to receive it. Sometimes His generosity is very concrete. Recently my Dad and I went on a wild goose chase search for a second-hand dresser for my eldest daughter. We drove all over, even out of town, and checked three stores with no luck.  We saw a couch I liked which could replace our old beat-up red one, but I couldn’t get a-hold of my husband at work to ask his opinion. It was a hot, tiring day and nothing seemed to be quite working. 

But the next day, the reason for our fruitless search was made clear: there was something  better waiting for us. A block from our house, my Dad spotted an estate sale with gorgeous furniture. There was a beautiful maple dressed in perfect condition for $45. And even more lovely, an antique Coombs couch and matching armchair, with wooden finish and lovely blue upholstery for $250 together. I don’t know what their original price would have been, but the reupholstering alone would have cost $2000 in the ’80’s! Talk about score. Furthermore, they were willing to deliver the furniture to our house, which was another godsend, because some things are just too darn big for my double stroller (we don’t have a car). 


So this is just a little reminder, to myself as much as to anyone else, to take time to join my hands in prayer, reconnect with God and let His love flow through me. If we could all shine our little lights, instead of staying in the darkness of anger and blame, how gorgeous the world would be. Like a glowing Christmas tree, every little light sharing its warmth with the others. In a time of uncertainty and violence, I think the peacefulness of this image is one worth focusing on, hoping and praying for. God bless you all. 

Dairy-Free Lemon Blueberry Muffins

Recently we discovered that one of my daughters is lactose-intolerant, and have been modifying our cooking and baking to accommodate her. Avoiding the stomach aches, headaches, and general bad moods that follow her consuming dairy make the extra effort worth it. This morning we turned a classic lemon loaf recipe by Jean Paré (author of the Company’s Coming series) into moist dairy-free muffins that were great for breakfast. 


Ingredients:

Wet:

1/2 cup Vegan Becel margarine

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup original almond milk

2 tbsp lemon juice 

Dry:

1 cup sprouted whole wheat flour 

1/2 cup white flour

1 tsp baking soda

 1/2 tsp salt

Grated rind of one lemon

Optional: a handful of blueberries. 



Instructions: Mix wet, mix dry, mix together gently until flour just blended in. Spray muffins tins with oil and scoop in the 12 muffins. Since half my kids like blueberries, and half not, I just stuck about 5-7 blueberries in the top of half the muffins, and left the others just lemon. 

Bake at 350 C for 18 minutes or until golden brown. 

Mix juice of one lemon with 2tbsp white sugar until dissolved. Slowly pour a little lemon glaze on each muffin and let sit a few minutes.

The muffins were nice and tender, and had a bit the texture of cornmeal muffins, likely due to the sprouted whole wheat flour. Enjoy for breakfast or afternoon snack with coffee, tea or juice! 

Every “No” is also a “Yes”

Many people struggle with saying “no.” It is so hard to disappoint people, to imagine letting them down. It feels easier to take on added stress than to refuse someone and upset them. But this attitude can lead to burnout and resentment, and endanger the peace and well-being of the person giving. Boundaries are necessary to protect these things, and having healthy boundaries means being able to say “no” without excessive guilt or worry. 

Perhaps reframing things would be helpful to those who struggle with saying “no.” Within each situation where something is refused, another positive thing is chosen. Saying “no” to taking on an extra work project over the weekend means saying “yes” to quality time with your family. Saying “no” to joining an extra committee means saying “yes” to being able to take care of your own work and family, without getting so frazzled and stressed. Saying “no” to that late night movie means saying “yes” to gettting the rest you need. Every decision involves discerning and affirming your priorities. Decisions are a way to say “yes” to the life you wish to live…and that life requires the boundary of various “no’s” to maintain it. 

I think the key, which I am trying to learn myself, is to allow yourself to say “no” calmly, without the guilt or worry that can lead to harshness or sarcasm in order to protect the fragile boundaries around yourself. It is ok, and even necessary and good to take care of yourself and make sure that whatever you do give is given freely, with a cheerful and generous heart. We need to give this good example to our children and those around us. Love can only be given freely, and that means also having the freedom to say “no.”


Many of these helpful ideas are found in the book Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to say No, to take Control of your Life by psychologists Dr.’s Cloud and Townsend. I believe I have written about this book before because I found it so eye-opening and transformative. After discussing boundaries with various people– family, spouses, children, co-workers, etc– the book ends with various tips and questions to see how you are growing in your ability to maintain your boundaries. The best quick check for responding to a request was this: if you hesitate to say “yes,” the answer is “no.” You shouldn’t have to force yourself into things because of fear of disappointing others or appearing badly. 

Remember, every “no” is also a “yes”…a “yes” to what you are able to do, what you desire to do, what makes your life better, what helps you feel free. Of course we should practice generosity and strive to live affectionately with those around us, but in the security of knowing that their love for us doesn’t depend on our unconditional “yes” to every request. And hopefully by learning to say “no” with confidence, we will also greatly respect the “no’s” of others, and never receive them with bitterness or resentment.