Thanksgiving – a choice, not just a holiday

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Today, I am tired: But I am so very thankful for the long, late-night talks with my Dad that kept me up too late, and my beautiful daughter who woke me up too early this morning by turning on the light without warning.  I am also thankful for coffee – the elixir of life.

Today, I am cold: But I am so very thankful for this beautiful sunny California day, and the sparkly frost on the cars and roofs, and the changing seasons.  I am also thankful for fuzzy socks and our home’s furnace – the cozy-makers.

Today, I have a sore throat: But I am so very thankful for the voice God has given me to sing, and to speak love and kindness to the world.  I am also thankful for throat lozenges and licorice tea – the restorers of my raw throat tissue.

Today, my rugs and couch are covered in dog fur: But I am so very thankful for the sweet huskies that God prompted me to adopt.  Despite the many challenges we’ve had with them so far, my love for these canine babies has grown, and they brighten my day and give the best hugs. I am also thankful for vacuum cleaners and sticky rollers – the defenders of my home from fur invasion.

Today, I have a lot to do: But I am so very thankful for the house I live in that needs cleaning, and the family God has given me that needs care.  I get to pick my Mom up from the airport today – that alone is plenty to be thankful for.  I am also thankful for pre-made pie crusts – the savior of my sanity when attempting to host Thanksgiving dinner while fighting the remains of a cold virus.

Today, I feel sad and concerned about the US federal election: But I am so very thankful that we still have a constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion without fear of being jailed by the government for our beliefs. I am also thankful for my loud and boisterous activist friends – the campaigners who fight complacency and fill my Facebook feed with witty truisms and thought-provoking arguments.

Today, I recognize that many people are at odds with their families over really big social issues and that family gatherings will be difficult or impossible for some:  But I am so very thankful that, while we don’t always agree on everything, my family chooses love over being right.  We have learned how to discuss controversial topics without attacking each other personally.  We are kind even when we are passionate.  I am also thankful for great food – the one thing we can all rally around and enjoy together no matter what else is going on.

Today, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. Plenty of people in the US and the rest of the world have a lot to complain about.  There are really bad things happening everywhere, and some of them hit close to home.  But I want to encourage you to be thankful for what you have.  It is cliche to remind people that there are always people suffering so much more than they.  It invalidates their experience and their pain.  That is not what I am doing here.  What I am suggesting is that, by taking a break from activism, family feuds, mourning, complaining, anger, fear, and distrust, and focusing on what is good and right and positive, we open our minds to a better world, a better life, a better day than we would experience otherwise.  It is not easy – it is a choice; a decision; perhaps a calling.  That doesn’t mean we stop fighting for what is right.  But it might mean that we are able to do so with a better attitude and a lighter heart.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, even if you don’t live in the United States.  I know it’s a historical holiday here, but we can choose to be thankful every day, no matter where we live or who we are and no matter what our circumstances.  I recognize that I am saying this from a place of privilege and comfort.  My complaints and challenges are small and very first-world.  But I have seen how those who have little can be the happiest people because they choose to be grateful.  So this post is as much a reminder to me as it is an encouragement for you.

Love to you in this holiday season.

Beth

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A Day to Honour Mothers

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Meeting the Bean for the first time.

Meeting the Bean for the first time.

Today is the day we celebrate mothers.  Mothers come in all shapes, sizes and varieties.  They are young and old, energetic and tired, busy and relaxed, creative and analytical, serious and silly, biological and otherwise.

In my work as a Music Together teacher, and as the mother of a little girl, I meet a lot of mothers.  Some are married, some are not.  Some are co-parenting with their exes, or totally on on their own.  Some get help from their family members, many are attempting to raise their children without a built-in village to help.

Some long to be mothers, but have not been given that blessing.  Others have been given a child for a short time, only to have their little one taken from them way too soon.  Still others were not planning to become mothers, but have risen to the occasion when it presented itself.  Others have made the difficult decision to give up their children to another person to raise, giving other women the opportunity to become mothers.

Pic of Bean showing off

Look what I can do!

I have the privilege of being Mother to a special little girl.  She has Partial Trisomy 22, and so has been significantly delayed in her development.  Our Bean is 6 years old, but the size of a 3 year old, and with abilities ranging from the 18 month to 4 year levels.  She is, at the same time, the most wonderful and the most challenging part of my life.

With Bean, only a few days old in the NICU.

With Bean, only a few days old in the NICU.

When I imagined being a mother, it didn’t look like changing diapers on a 6 year old, navigating numerous therapies and medical diagnoses, and providing constant supervision because my kindergartener doesn’t understand the concept of personal safety.  It didn’t look like having a C-section and spending weeks in the NICU.  It didn’t look like moving away from my family and doing motherhood without my own mother at my beck and call.

I had no idea, when I imagined my future life as a mother, how much I would need to grow and learn in order to fill that role.  I had no clue how little sleep I’d be getting, or how hard it would be to get out of the house some days.  I was totally in the dark about the life of a Special Needs mother – it hardly occurred to me that my child might not be an A student, that I might not be able to understand what she said a lot of the time, that I would need to advocate for her in order to make sure she has all the help she needs to thrive – or even to survive in society.

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Tantrums tend to be loud and long.

Excited about a cookie Grandma made

Excited about a cookie Grandma made

Also unknown to me prior to motherhood were the depths of maternal love and protection I would experience; the fierce pride I feel in every accomplishment she achieves; the pain when she is not included, and the joy when she fits in; the desperation of numerous night-wakings and the peace of watching her sleep; the darkness of her tantrums and the brightness of her smile; the laughter that often overtakes us because she has done something cute, funny or unexpected.

She had so much fun playing peek a boo in this tree.

She had so much fun playing peek a boo in this tree.

I expected mothering of a 6 year old to include a lot more baking of cookies, dance or piano or swimming lessons, the beginnings of meaningful conversations, non-stop playdates, sleepovers, reading my favourite children’s chapter books together.  And yet, while I mourn some of that, some of the time, I also get to have the best snuggles in the world for years to come.  I get to really notice the new skills she learns because they don’t come rapid-fire.  I get to rediscover the world, slowly and thoughtfully, as my Bean starts to pay attention to more and more of her surroundings.  I get to see the kindness of the world, as both strangers and loved ones respond to Bean’s total innocence and loving heart.

We met a family while we were on vacation, and Bean wanted to sit with the grandparents.  They were totally smitten by her immediately.

We met a family while we were on vacation, and Bean wanted to sit with the grandparents. They were totally smitten by her immediately.

Most days, I think I’m doing a pretty good job.  Some days, I don’t feel like I’m anywhere close to my self-expectations.  On those days, my own mother is there to support me, even though she’s so far away.  If it’s not her actual voice over video chat, it’s the memory of her voice in my head, that tells me that I am a wonderful mother.  And coming from my own wonderful mother, that’s great encouragement.

I know that I will fail as a mother often.  I will make mistakes that hurt my Bean and then I will apologize.  I will cry, I will yell, I will slam a door or two.  I will wonder if I can do this anymore, and sob on my Sweetie’s shoulder.  But those moments will be the exception, not the rule.

Praying before a meal - quite possibly the cutest thing ever.

Praying before a meal – quite possibly the cutest thing ever.

I will also nurture new growth, comfort her after she’s been hurt, challenge her to be her best and do her best, give her a safe place to explore and experiment, and provide boundaries so she knows how the world works.  I will laugh with her, cheer her on, be silly with her, get creative with her, and get dirty with her.  These are the things a mother does.  These are the things I learned from MY mother.  Special Needs or not, all mothers have their own challenges and successes.  All mothers have their sorrows and joys.  All mothers deserve to be celebrated every day.

Mothering is the most difficult and the most rewarding thing I’ve done.  I expect that this will continue to be the case as the Bean grows.  We don’t know what life will look like for the three of us when she becomes an adult.  I don’t know what level of care she will need.  I don’t know if she will fall in love and get married.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be a Grandmother.  But no one truly knows those things.  What I DO know, is that I am blessed beyond measure; that my faith and my loved ones get me through the rough spots; that I wouldn’t trade being a mother for anything in the world.

Cherished Cat

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Today I buried our cat, Mario.  I dug a deep hole under a maple tree beside some cyclamen in a pretty corner of our yard, working my way around roots, rocks and clay to make a final resting place for my buddy.  It was hard, and heartbreaking and strangely wonderful to be able to use my own arms and legs and back to dig that hole.  It was a final act of love for a cat who has been my shadow for 16 years.

I’m quite astonished by how hard I’m taking this.  I think that when our other cat, Mimic, died, I was comforted to still have Mario around so it wasn’t as devastating.  Don’t get me wrong, I grieved for Mimic too.  But he died while we were away on vacation, and my wonderful parents took care of all the details, so it was kind of surreal.  This feels very real and final.  I was with Mario when they put him to sleep, and I stroked his head and gazed into his eyes as he breathed his last breath.  It was my decision to release him from the pain of illness and injury, and while I know it was absolutely the right decision, it hurts.

For the sake of my own comfort, I choose to believe that pet heaven exists and Mario and Mimic are frolicking together chasing dragonflies.

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If I was sitting or lying down anywhere, Mario could usually be found on my lap. He also loved to sleep curled around my head on my pillow, or laying across my belly at night.

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One day, Mario decided to play with Jenna’s cabbage patch kid. He undressed her completely and then just hung out beside her. I think it was the soft sweater she was wearing.

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Jenna loved to hug and pet Mario, and he was very gentle and patient with her.

Father’s Day – A Tribute to My Father and My Daughter’s Father (aka my husband)

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The relationship between daddies and daughters is so incredibly important.  It can raise a girl up to become an amazing and well-balanced woman, or it can crush a woman’s soul.  A girl’s daddy is her first love, whether he treats her well or not, and that has a huge impact on the rest of her life.

My Daddy is also a wonderful Grandpa

I am lucky to have an incredible Dad.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I was a total daddy’s girl growing up.  He played with me, nurtured my love of music and learning, read with me, and inspired my area of study in college.  I am like my father in so many ways; some that I’m thrilled about, like our love for social interaction and our tenderness for other people, and others that I could maybe do without, such as our mutual difficulty with memory and our struggle with budgeting both time and money. I have no experience with absentee or abusive fathering.  I have been nurtured and supported and protected by my father for my whole life.  Even when I didn’t like how he was protecting me (cue arrival of my Sweetie), I knew that’s what he was doing. I feel so incredibly fortunate.

In choosing a husband, I knew it was important to find someone who would be a good father.  My Sweetie denied vehemently, back when we first started dating, that he would be any sort of father, much less a good one.  But I knew better.  I couldn’t have described the exact traits he possessed that were going to make a great father out of him, but I trusted that they were there.  And I was right!

Surprise, you’re an awesome Dad!

It took some time for parenthood to become a priority in our life plan.  We both wanted to finish school, get started in a career, and be stable enough financially to know we’d have a roof over our heads before we brought another life into this world.  We had been together for 13 years (married for 7) before we started trying to conceive, and when the Bean showed up, we were completing our 15th year together.  Needless to say, having another person in the house who needed me more than he did was a shock to my Sweetie’s system.  Practicing parenthood on two cats and a dog had helped, but it’s totally different.  He rallied well and it took him no time at all to fall totally in love with our little alien (she really did look odd when she was born at 3 lbs, 13 oz – an adorable alien).

This is the Bean’s favourite way to fall asleep

Even before the Bean joined our family, my Sweetie was a conscientious provider and a devoted husband. The arrival of a baby girl only intensified that for him.  But the other thing it has done is soften him up…a lot!  I knew, when I decided to marry my Sweetie, that a baby girl would be the best option for our family, because there is no way he’d be able to resist being wrapped around her little finger.  Of course, that’s not something we could control, but God knew what he was doing by giving us a girl.

Picnic at the park – one of my Sweetie’s favourite things to do with family time.

I believe God also knew what He was doing giving us a child with Special Needs.  One of our greatest fears going into parenthood was the possibility of having a child with Special Needs.  Two couples we knew had recently become parents to children with Down’s Syndrome, and it especially terrified my Sweetie because he didn’t think he’d be able to handle the extra work and pressure.  But once again, he has exceeded his own expectations of himself, and is great at remembering to challenge the Bean at her level.  He rarely spends time with other children (he’s not really a kid guy), so he doesn’t have much to compare to.  He can just enjoy the Bean and her accomplishments without activating his competitive streak.

And my Sweetie sure does love his Bean.  He frequently tells me how much he misses her (and me of course) when he’s at work.  It’s hard for him to leave for so many hours every day, but he also loves his job and feels torn constantly.  I love him for that (among other things), and one of my favourite things to do is to watch my Sweetie and our Bean playing, laughing, and cuddling.  Bean brings out the SILLY in her father, and it’s so much fun.  He also rescues me from her when I’m feeling overwhelmed.  He provides a calm, positive presence when I feel like my sleep deprived, malnourished soul is about to implode.

I love watching my Sweetie grow as a father.  I love that he doesn’t feel like he’s doing a good enough job, because it means he’ll always try to be better.  But I need to tell you all a secret: he’s a fantastic father!  Just don’t tell him I told you.  I want him to keep striving for more. 😉

What came first: the arsenic or the egg?

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(courtesy healthfreedoms.org)

Yesterday I did some reading, and one article was of particular interest to me: What’s REALLY in Your Eggs?  Read the article – it’s fascinating.

I kinda figured that eggs laid by hens that have been living out in a pasture where they have access to sunlight, exercise, and their natural food would be healthier than eggs laid by hens who have been living in cramped quarters.  But I didn’t imagine that the difference would be so great – even to the point of needing to eat less pastured eggs to feel satisfied.  Quick summary: pastured eggs have twice as much of most vitamins found in eggs, and a lot less fat and cholesterol.  The biggest discrepancy is Vitamin D, because hens who live indoors don’t get access to the Vitamin D in sunshine.

The other disconcerting thought was the presence of arsenic in commercial chickens and eggs.  There is an (apparently benign) arsenic-based additive that is included in chicken feed in the US (I’m not sure about Canada), which gets concentrated and turned into a lethal form of arsenic in the chicken meat and their eggs.  It’s not enough to kill you outright, but they are saying that the accumulation of these low levels of arsenic causes all sorts of health problems over time.  Did YOU know that there was arsenic in your chicken and your eggs?

Pastured eggs are a lot more expensive than commercial eggs, which makes sense;  it costs a lot more to raise the chickens.  At times it seems ridiculous to pay $8 per dozen when you can get eggs for less than half that price.  But the more I educate myself, the more I think that my health, and that of my daughter, is worth it.  If we need less of the food to nourish our bodies, perhaps it won’t be that much more expensive to feed our family on pastured meats and eggs.  The trick is to adjust our habit of eating a large quantity of those items.  As a chronic over-eater, that might be a challenge…but perhaps it’s one I’m willing to take on. It can only benefit me.

For about six months now, we’ve been members at a local farm, called Tara Firma Farms, that raises all of their animals in pastures, feeds them the food they were meant to eat, and grows their vegetables and fruits using sustainable, organic processes.  We don’t purchase ALL of our meat, fruits and veggies from them, but it’s a start.  One day, maybe we’ll be able to afford to switch totally, but for now, I’ll do what I can to help my family be healthy.

Harder Than I Thought… and some clever ideas that someone else came up with

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I knew the discipline of posting every day would be a challenge for me.  But I didn’t count on being sick for two weeks (and counting).  I’m behind on pretty much everything: errands, Christmas planning, crafty presents, and housework.  It’s not really that I haven’t had time – the Bean and I have spent quite a lot of time sitting on the couch watching TV because we don’t have the energy to do much else.  The mental energy that it takes to think of something to write hasn’t really been around either.  Last night, I sat down to write and ended up getting distracted by a Skype call from my folks and Christmas present research.  Suddenly it was an hour later and I desperately needed to get to bed.

But I’m going to keep plugging on, and do as many days this month as I can manage. Today, I want to share a great link posted on Facebook by my friend Debbie yesterday.  It’s a list of 25 clever ideas to make life easier on Fabulously 40 and Beyond – a blogging community for women.

Some of my favourites:


Via: marthastewart.com

Overhaul your linen cupboard – store bedlinen sets inside one of their own pillowcases and there will be no more hunting through piles for a match.


Via: iheartnaptime.net

Add this item to your beach bag. Baby powder gets sand off your skin easily – who knew?!


Via: realsimple.com

Attach a velcro strip to the wall to store soft toys.


Via: kiboomu.com

Bake cupcakes directly in ice-cream cones – so much more fun and easier for kids to eat. Definitely doing this!

To see the whole list, read the article here.

Short But Sweet…

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(courtesy thehappyhousewife.com)

I’ve decided to put my crafter’s hat back on.  I was inspired by one of my favourite bloggers, Mommypotamus, who recently posted a bunch of great ideas for homemade gifts.  This evening I was baking up a batch of cute felt cookies like these ones.  So far, I’ve just got some circles cut out, but I’ll post pics when they’re done.   I can’t wait to see what the Bean and her friends think of them.

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