Monday, June 29, 2009

Beauty Tips and Tricks

I've been a bit obsessed with my appearance lately. As I get older I become more conscious of the fact that I won't look young forever, and I want to enjoy my good features while they're still relatively fresh. Once was, I couldn't be bothered with contact lenses, tooth whitening, hair colour, and makeup. Now I indulge in all of the above.

I finally bit the bullet around a month ago. I had been using the same moisturizer, $12 a bottle from the health food store, for over ten years. Nothing wrong with it, but my skin needed more help. I have a mild form of rosacea, and oily skin. By the end of each day I looked red and shiny, which is great if you're an apple. I'm no apple.

I shopped around at those fancy little kiosks that sell high-end lotions and potions: Clinique, Lancome, etc. I finally settled on Shiseido, and let the girl behind the counter sell me The Works. I even bought the silly sounding things, like the Balancing Softener (which looks like a bottle of water) and the special cotton puffs that cost $8 per bag. I thought I may as well go all the way. I dropped almost $400 at that little stall.

I fully expected it to be a complete waste. Then I could go back to my $12 moisturizer without any doubts in my mind.

Amazingly, the stuff actually works. Not all of it. I find that the expensive blotting papers are no better than using paper towels, and the special cotton puffs are iffy. But the rest is having a very visible effect on my complexion. I'm not nearly as red-cheeked as I was, and my skin is smoother. The SPF50 sun lotion doubles as an oil control measure (I believe the technical term is "mattifying"), so I don't shine by the end of the day. I'm a convert.

Here's my other good trick. I've been accumulating spider veins since the 9th grade, so at this point I'm not willing to show my bare legs in public. For a long time I only wore pants, because even a modest skirt showed off those ugly veins. I tried going for injection treatments at a cosmetic clinic, but my needle phobia got the better of me and I found it too stressful to continue. However, I have found a solution. There is a dancer's supply store near my home. They stock the completely opaque tights worn by dancers and figure skaters. I bought a few pairs in the generic "tan" colour. Now I can wear short skirts without grossing out the general public. Yahoo!

I'll try not to take it too far. I don't want to be one of those women who apply makeup with a trowel. But for now I'm having fun looking my best.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Family Gossip

Generally speaking I don't like to use my blog as a soapbox to gossip about people who aren't present to defend themselves. Except for sometimes, when I'm really, really peeved. Like now.

I figure that venting my spleen anonymously is better than blowing up at family members or having a nervous breakdown.

There is always tension in the air when my mom's side of my family gets together. We are a sensitive lot, and moody. At any given time there's usually at least one person feeling upset about something or other. That's why it's hard to know where it all began, exactly. But let's begin with my wedding.

Ken and I only invited siblings and parents to our wedding. That's all Ken has for family anyway. On my side, it meant that quite a lot of people were excluded. My maternal grandparents very graciously gave me a card and a gift cheque, with their best wishes. My younger aunt didn't give me any Things, but did call the night before the ceremony to wish us well. My older aunt and her husband didn't call or give a gift, which was what I expected, and felt to be perfectly reasonable.

My mother, who has had lifelong conflicts with my older aunt and her husband, felt this was selfish of them. She thought that they should have at least given me a card. She communicated this sentiment to my step-dad (yes, the very one she's currently divorcing). He works with my uncle in a family business, so he did us the big favour of passing this tidbit along to my uncle. Unfortunately, a broken telephone effect occurred, and my uncle ended up with the impression that I was that one who had taken offense. Which he, of course, found offensive.

When this all came back to me, again courtesy of my well-meaning but meddling step-dad, I thought I'd better set things to rights, so I called my aunt and uncle's home straightaway. I spoke to my uncle. We worked out that they weren't offended by either my conversion to Christianity or the lack of wedding invitations, so that was all good. But he did still have a bone to pick with me.

I moved into my current condo three years ago. It's not big enough to hold my entire family for a sit-down meal at one time, so once I was settled in, I invited them over in two batches. The first group to get invited was my mom, my grandparents, and my mom's single younger sister. That made six of us around the table.

It was a very busy time for me, not incidentally because I was working a lot of stressful overtime for my uncle's business that year. I was very devoted to that job because of my strong value for family connections. In any case, it took me a few weeks after the first dinner to find another clear date in my planner, at which time I invited my aunt, uncle, and my cousins for dinner.

My aunt and uncle claimed to be too busy to commit to a dinner date. I told them to let me know when they were free to come over, as they were welcome anytime that I was available. They never called me back to set a date. I was mildly put off by this apparent lack of interest in my hospitality, but I frankly find hosting dinners, especially family dinners, to be a source of anxiety, so I didn't chase after them.

Last night I found out from my uncle that he and my aunt have been holding a grudge against me for three years because of those events. Here is my crime in their eyes: I didn't call them when I invited my mom, grandparents and other aunt to dinner, to explain to them why they weren't invited at the same time. I "went behind their backs" (my uncle's words) to invite the other family members first, which made them feel that they were "on the B list" and this was highly offensive. So offensive that they deliberately refused to come over for dinner.

I tried to explain that I meant no offense. But that wasn't good enough. My uncle accused me of being insensitive. Later I received an e-mail from my aunt echoing his sentiments. Neither of them were interested in accepting my apologies for unintentionally hurting their feelings. They would rather hold a grudge. Not only that, but each of them also managed to get in a few choice judgements on how I live my life and how they feel I've been a failure to my family.

In fact, my uncle was so enthused about telling me all my wrong-doings that he repeatedly interrupted me during our phone conversation, only allowing me to finish around half of my sentences. Eventually I just gave up.

I have some judgements about their lives that I could have thrown back in their faces. But once I started down that road it would be like lighting the fuse on a bomb that would blow up the whole family for months to come. These things always affect my mother much more than they affect me, so out of respect for her feelings and out of a desire to protect her from unnecessary pain, I zipped up my lips and said only positive, soothing things.

Of course I was hurt, and furious.

Since then I've been wrestling with the pressure of things left unsaid seething around inside my psyche. But time does pass, and this is only a tempest in a teapot that will seem sillier with each passing day. I hope. I did write an e-mail back to my aunt that was an attempt at being conciliatory. I said that I hoped we could just try to focus on each other's good points, and enjoy each other's company, so that we could have friendly family gatherings in the future. Knowing my aunt, she may find something to take offense at in my message. She's an expert in taking offense.

Finally, I should add that both my aunt and uncle did say that they love me, and that no matter what we'll always be family. I got the feeling their version of love consists of them feeling that they need to work to tolerate my difficult and ignorant behaviour, but they are such good people that they will try to be brave and put up with me. I didn't say it, but the feeling is mutual.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June, the Fastest Month

Where is time going lately? This weekend flew past.

On Saturday morning I had an early practice with the church band, and on Sunday we performed. The music was far from perfect, but we were about 100,000 times better than last time. We now have a drummer, so that pretty much resolves the problem of everyone playing at their own tempo.

I am officially part of "The Rhythm Section". When we're playing a fast piece with a complex drum rhythm, we need a little extra help sticking to the beat. I get to be the metronome, with the help of a pair of claves. Dude, did you know how cool I am? I'm like, in a BAND now, and I play lead clave*!

(That's pronounced CLA-vay, by the way. It's a Latin thing.)

On Sunday afternoon I attended a memorial celebration for Zaidy. It was a good one: well-attended, and rich with meaningful moments. For me the biggest treat was getting to see my relatives who live on the West coast: an uncle, and aunt, and two cousins. My older cousin is in his early 20's. He's also in a BAND, dude, but his is actually legit. He gave me a copy of his latest CD. He's one of the nicest young guys you could hope to meet, and handsome to boot. I'm sure he has to be the girls off with a stick.

My younger cousin is only 8. She's a little sweetie-pie, and cute as a button. After the official memorial was over and the obligation to remain subdued had passed, she put on her tap shoes and performed a fantastic tap-dance routine to the Beach Boys' "Surfing USA". Bravo! Encore!

Overall the weekend was pretty great. Summer is here. The weather is superb. It's all good.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Would you like a glass of Kvas?

Ken enjoys the foods of the world. When he's not eating sashimi, or feasting on blazing hot Indian curry, you might find him searching for other wild gustatory pleasures.

We live only a few miles from a neighbourhood populated primarily by Russian immigrants. Of course they import their favourite foods from the motherland. Family-owned stores like "Yummy Market" stock smoked salmon; deep brown rye breads; and chocolate-covered marshmallows. Also, they offer Kvas.

Kvas, spelled Kbac in the Cyrillic alphabet, is a fizzy beverage. According to one website it's as popular in Russia as Coca-cola is in America. The ingredients: Dark rye bread crumbs, filtered water, yeast, sugar, and raisins. Actually that's only one possible variation on Kvas, but you get the picture. It's a lot more different from Coke than Pepsi is, lemme tell you. Blind taste test? You'd have no trouble telling the difference. At all.

Because Kvas is fermented, the bubbles don't have the familiar carbonated look and mouth-feel that we're used to in a soda. It's more like the head on a mug of beer.

And the taste... What can I say about the taste?

The first time Ken brought home Kvas, it looked legit. The 2-litre bottle was the same shape as a normal pop bottle, and the label was nice: glossy, 2-colour, well-designed. That Kvas went down pretty smoothly with a twist of lemon and a couple of ice cubes. I like the taste of malt. I rarely get to enjoy it anymore since it's usually offered in a milky base (Ovaltine, malted milkshakes, etc) so I enjoyed this refreshing, malt beverage.

Yesterday Ken brought home more Kvas. This time Yummy Market was sold out of the brand with the pretty blue label. Ken was advised by a gruff Russian man who was minding the store: "You like Kvas? You take this one. This the BEST Kvas. All Russians like this Kvas."

He gave Ken a bottle that looked like it had been filled in someone's unfinished basement from a rusty vat. The label was slapped on crookedly. Ken, being game to try almost anything foodwise, bought it, and brought it home.

He poured some into a glass for a taste test. We sniffed it. It had a definite "potting soil" aroma, with a whiff of "sewage treatment plant". We checked the expiry date. "It's good until July," said Ken. "Unless they meant July 2008." We decided that we would trust the Russian proprietor, which was pretty bold of us, I think. Only last month I read a book about all the different methods used by Russian special services agents to assassinate politically inconvenient people. They are expert in poisons.

However, I didn't think Yummy Market would want to lose a customer. I took a sip, and tried to decide if I liked it or not. It was right on the line between "interestingly good" and "disgusting". I took a closer look at the bottle and became alarmed.

"What are those chunks floating in there?" I asked Ken.

"Those are the raisins," he said.

Oh right, the raisins.

In the end, I drank most of my Kvas with dinner, although I was somewhat frightened by it. It's been almost 24 hours now with no ill effects, I'm happy to report. But I think next time we'll go back to the Kvas with the pretty, blue label, the one that the gruff Russian turned his nose up at. If that's Kvas for wimps, then I'll be a wimp. I don't need any hair on my chest, thanks.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Passing

When my father called to tell me of my Zaidy's passing, I was in the middle of scrubbing the toilet.

My Buby had fallen asleep by his bed, worn out from sleepless nights of worry. When she woke up, his chest wasn't moving anymore. She couldn't rouse him. A nurse confirmed it: Zaidy was gone.

Not five minutes later, my uncle and his wife arrived for a drop-in visit. I suppose they had one of the great shocks of their lives when they walked in and found my Buby, distraught, saying "He's gone! He's gone!"

My uncle called my father, who called me. "We're going to the hospital," he told me "to wait with Buby for the funeral director to come and pick up Zaidy's body. They're not sure how long it will take. Do you want to come?"

"I don't know," I said.

I sat on the couch with Ken and absorbed the news. And then, of course, I went. How could I not go?

I had never seen a dead body before. I was very nervous, going up to the room. And it was certainly a shock to see his body, unmistakably lifeless, for the first time. His eyes were open a little. Looking into eyes with no soul behind them, now that's a singular experience. Intense. It was all incredibly intense.

In all, seven living family members gathered around the bed. We put on pale yellow cotton surgical gowns and latex gloves because Zaidy had a C. Difficile infection when he passed away. In the dim room, with all of us looming against the walls in these shapeless gowns, we looked like a family of ghosts. The living haunting the dead.

It's a Jewish tradition not to leave the deceased alone until after the burial. There are men whose job it is to stay with the bodies in the funeral home and pray over them unceasingly until it's time for the interment. Until the professionals arrived to take over, it was up to us to sit watch over Zaidy's body.

For two hours we held the vigil together. At times the conversation veered to other topics, and at other times the room became silent and emotional. We stayed until the official men arrived with a gurney. Then we said our difficult, tearful last goodbyes, de-gowned, and walked out of Zaidy's hospital room for the last time.

We went for dinner together at a local restaurant called Steve's. Someone hadn't closed the top of an "a" on the daily specials board, so I ordered "Meat Louf". At one point as we were eating, I looked up through the plate-glass window at the front of the restaurant, and saw a beautiful rainbow stretched across the sky. It was truly a blessing.

I thought I would get up and go to work the next day, Monday. I wasn't consciously devastated by Zaidy's passing because at the age of 96, death is an inevitability, not a tragedy. I'm glad he won't be suffering anymore. But I guess there's more to this experience than the dictates of logic. Grief pushed me down and sat on my chest. I couldn't face work. My body craved sleep. I called in sad and stayed home.

Today was Zaidy's burial. The weather was supremely gorgeous. His plot is in a lovely cemetary, green and well-kept with mature trees providing some shade.

The rabbi spoke well, but watching the casket being lowered into the earth was what really twisted my heart. I watched it go down, down, down, disappearing out of sight into that deep hole. I had an urge to say "Stop! That's far enough!" Six feet is a long, long way. But eventually the box was settled at the bottom.

The next part was the hardest for me, today. It's Jewish custom to provide shovels at the graveside, and to let each mourner take part in covering the casket with the first layer of earth. The rabbi explained what it all meant. I wasn't listening 100% but as I understand it it's a way that we can let go of Zaidy and give him permission to rest.

It's one thing to stand by the graveside and watch, quite another to grab the shovel with my own two hands and drop shovelfuls of dirt onto my grandfather's casket. The impact that had goes beyond any words. I was pretty shakey when I went up for my turn, but after I was done I felt more peace.

I think that when most people use the phrase "I buried so-and-so" they mean it figuratively. But I can say "Today I buried my grandfather", and I mean it literally.

I thought I would be going back to work tomorrow, but... not so much. I need one more day. Actually I'd love to take a couple of weeks off, but I'm too responsible to do that. So I'm going to give myself one more day to unwind, and hope that my brain unscrambles itself enough to be useful. I'll rest my body, which is wearing my grief like a lead suit. The world can wait for one more day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


My grandfather, my father's father, passed away this afternoon.

He will be sorely missed.

If you are the praying type, please say a prayer for my grandmother. She has a lot of courage. I am praying for her to have peace in her heart, and joy in her life.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sparking Controversy: WIGSF Back Atcha

Whatigotsofar has an opinion about my last post. Honestly it was something I threw out there knowing that it was going to be controversial because I made a lot of generalizations about a subject that always gets people riled up. The title was "How To Get A Girl and Keep Her" but really I'm only be speaking for one girl, and that's me. There are lots of other female humans out there on planet Earth. Some of the points might apply to some other women, but I make no guarantees.

I published the post without making any elaborate disclaimers because, well, it's a blog post. The amount of small print that could have gone into footnotes for that post is measurable in miles.

So, I understand if not everyone agrees with all of my points, as applicable to their own lives. Some women might prefer their men to choose flattery over honesty. Some women might write off men that get stuck in the Friend Zone. Those points are totally valid.

But WIGSF went one step further and accused me of being dishonest about how the points apply to my own life. If I read his rebuttal correctly, he thinks that Ken is only the Good Husband that he is because I engaged in such sneaky and successful brainwashing practices throughout our courtship and beyond.

Here's a direct quote from WIGSF:
Ultimately, the fundamental flaw in her thesis is that women want to be loved. I respectfully disagree. Women are humans. The history of humanity is the history of control. Women want control. Only, they like to be sly about it.

I've got to hand it to him. It's the truth. OK, it's one facet of the truth. But I will strenuously assert that it is not the whole truth.

Now, WIGSF, I'm about to get personal. I'm not aiming to hurt your feelings. But you went there first, so get ready to take what you dished out.

I think this is about personal belief systems. It's about, and this is sadly a common view in our cynical, alienated society, a belief that true love between men and women is impossible. Those who say they have it are either lying, deluded, or both. And it's a thesis that's impossible to disprove, just like the psychiatrist who is never wrong: it's always the patient who's in denial.

At one point in my life, I lost faith in the idea of love. I took a 2-year, part-time psychology course, with the intention of becoming a psychotherapist. What I learned about human nature in that course shattered a lot of my naive illusions. I became finely attuned to the ulterior motives behind peoples' behaviours. I began to mistrust everyone.

Here are some of the thoughts I had during those days:
My mother says she's proud of me, but it's not about me at all. She just wants to show off to her friends and she's using me to do it. That's not love.
My friend says we're BFF's, but she's just using me as a dumping ground for all her worries. Now that I'm professionally trained as a therapist, she wants to get my skills for free. That's not love.
My relatives say they want me to attend family gatherings because they care about me, but really they have this idea in their head of what should happen at these gatherings, and they don't like it when reality doesn't comply. It's just about meeting their expectations so that they can feel comfortable with themselves. That's not love.
Men just want sex and someone to clean the toilet for them. That's not love.

By the end, I was able to discredit any and all claims of anyone that they loved me. As far as I could see, they all just wanted a piece of me for their own selfish reasons. I mean, what's love, anyway? Being "in love" is infatuation; there's sexual attraction; there's family obligation; and what's left?

If I only make dinner because I know you'll do the dishes, have I done you a service out of the goodness of my heart, or are we simply roommates negotiating a fair division of labour? Did you give me a Valentine's Day card because you're thoughtful, or did I just become the cheapest prostitute in the city?

IMHO, the truth is that the urge of love and the urge for power/control co-exist in all of us. Often, the urge to control wins. One sign of real love is that it surrenders. Some might say that if you surrender, you've lost. That's not love, it's defeat. But it's not, if you willingly choose to surrender because you care about the relationship more than you care about your ego.

Western culture has declared that each person's ego should be their first priority. We all gotta look out for #1, y'know? New Age thinking contains a big dose of this philosophy. Self-sacrifice is not cool in this day and age. And then we wonder why our relationships are so often superficial and unsatisfying.

I don't advocate that everyone should become a martyr. I'm not one. I don't sacrifice everything to Ken, and he doesn't sacrifice everything to me. I guess our relationship works because we have a tacit agreement on how much each of us will sacrifice, and we try to keep it balanced. Yes, there is still a calculating element in this. Yes, I will be willing to give Ken control of the TV remote, but that's because I know he'll probably give it over to me tomorrow night. Is that love? Or is that just more tactical strategizing?

I say it's love, and that's because I get a good feeling when something I give up allows Ken to get something that puts a smile on his face. I'm not so selfless that I'd do it infinitely without reciprocity, but there's something beyond just the tally of favours on a balance sheet that brings happiness to my heart. Seeing him happy brings me happiness, even if it means I had to give something up that I wanted. And vice versa.

That's love.

Let the debate continue!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How to get a girl and keep her

Some of the men on my blogroll regularly despair of ever getting a good woman to pay attention to them, let alone get into a relationship. I thought I'd try to help out by giving some pointers on how Ken got me, and how he's kept me happy.

1) Be Approachable
I met Ken in a climbing gym. I was climbing with an odd-numbered group, and I was the one left without a partner. Since it's unsafe to climb alone I had to choose a stranger to approach to be my partner. Ken was warming up by himself. He looked friendly, and when I came up to him his first reaction was to give me a big, open smile. It was a great first impression.

2) Be A Friend
This one is controversial, but I have never had a long-term relationship with a guy I haven't been friends with first. Ken was friends with my husband and I while we were still married, as part of our general friend-group, for a year and a half. We got to know each other pretty well.

3) Be A Good Listener
After my separation, Ken was a good listener. He let me complain as much as I wanted to. He commiserated. He was supportive. We were still just friends. But he liked me, so he was already taking notes. When I raged that in my next relationship I expected the guy to do 50% of the housework or take a hike, he put that in his memory bank for later. There were a few other points that I was feeling pretty strongly about at the time. He soaked it all in.

4) Speak Wisely
Ken gave me lots of compliments back then, to raise my self-esteem. But he didn't stop there. He gives me verbal reassurances constantly, and tells me he loves me many times a day. I never get tired of hearing it, and I never will.

5) Be Honest
If you tell the truth about even the worst things, your partner will learn to trust you. Ken's almost compulsive honesty has brought some painful things to the surface, but I've learned that if he says something, he means it. Of course he knows how to be tactful. It's just that he can't hide anything important from me for long. This makes me feel very comfortable in that I know exactly where I stand with him.

6) Share Responsibility
In a relationship both people need to be responsible for 50%. Do a little more than your half if you want your partner to really feel loved. Take responsibility for your share of the housework, the finances, the conflicts, and the arrangements for quality time together. Meet each other in the middle, or resentments build up over time.

7) Turn Towards
When all else fails and you're going through hard times together, turn towards each other for support, instead of away from each other. If you end up fighting, don't lose sight of your faith that you'll get through it and find agreement. Don't lose sight of your love for each other. Don't make your partner wrong 100% of the time, nor should you accept all the blame. It takes two to tango. In the middle of a fight, be the one who stops, takes a deep breath, and says "I love you." Don't sulk. Reach out to the other person and offer a hand to hold. (If you're still feeling miffed you can take comfort in the fact that this lets you claim a gold star for being the somewhat more mature one. But keep that to yourself. Don't rub it in your partner's face. You can tell a friend later if you want.)

See, it's pretty simple. Just seven points to keep in mind. (Though much easier said than done.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Non-mom needs help

The smooshy infant was back in Babyland this morning.  Matthew is his name.  In fact, at 6 weeks of age, he is noticeably less smooshy.

This time he woke up crying shortly after his mom dropped him off.   I'm no expert on babies but when he sucked on his soother aggressively for a few seconds and then spit it out in frustration, I figured out that he was hungry.  

I took a look around the room.  The experienced mom had her own son sleeping in her arms.  The other volunteer was a dad who, though sweet as can be, has told me many times that he's not a natural with kids either.  So, it was up to me.  
"I can do this," I told myself.  "I can give this baby a bottle.  How hard can  it be?  I just need to think it through step by step."  First: get the bottle out and take off the cap.  Place bottle within reach of rocking chair.  Now, remove baby from carseat.  

This proved to be more challenging than I anticipated.

I unsnapped his little safety belt, got one hand behind his head and one under his butt, and tried to get him out of the seat.  But he wouldn't keep still and his arms kept catching against the carry-handle.  I tried a few times to wiggle him out of there, but it didn't seem possible.  Finally the experienced mom let me in on a secret - if you press the magic "release" button you can flip the handle back out of the way.  I felt a bit stupid, but at least I was able to easily lift him out of the seat.

OK.  Support his head.  Don't trip on anything.  Get to the rocker.  Insert bottle in mouth.  And, Ta-Dah!  The baby eats.  Success!

He watched me from huge, dark eyes while he downed his milk.  He sucked that stuff back like nobody's business.  Eventually he was done.  I put down the bottle and we looked at each other.  

"Now what?" I asked him.  He stared at me, goggle-eyed.  "I guess I have to burp you," I said.  "How do I do that?"  I picked him up and looked around for a cloth to throw over my shoulder, but the nursery only provides paper towels.  We went to the experienced mom.  "Non-mom needs help!"  I told her.

"He probably has burp rags in his bag," said the experienced mom.  Of course!  His diaper bag.  Why didn't I think of that?  So obvious.  I am ignorant.  I went to the bag and found a burp rag.  Experienced Mom showed me some burping techniques, and I thought we were off to the races.  

But this whole burping business?  Not as easy as it sounds.  I thought I'd just tap Matthew on the back a few times, he'd let out a belch like Barney on The Simpsons, and we'd be all good.  But I had to try to get him against my shoulder while supporting his head and patting his back... Wait: one hand to hold baby's rear end.  One hand to support his head.  And one hand to pat his back.  That's three hands, and I only have two.

He wasn't making it any easier on me.  He wouldn't stay steady against my shoulder.  It was as if someone had built a baby from balloons filled with pudding.  He kept flopping to one side.  Or if he was centred his head would sink down into his neck so that his face was pressed into my shoulder, which made me nervous that he would suffocate.  Non-mom needs help!

I tried to change his position but manipulating his body  quickly became terrifying.  I was standing up, and it's a long way to the floor.  Mr. Bag of Pudding kept throwing his weight around unpredictably.  Then my ring caught on the back of his onsie, effectively trapping my hand.  I was all "OMG this kid is going to either flop onto the floor, or I won't support his head well enough and he'll break his flimsy little neck."  Note to self: my spiral ring has no place in Babyland.

In the end the experienced mom, whose son had finally woken up and gone to terrorize his older brother, took Matthew from me.  At her confident touch he settled right down and snoozed in her arms.  The volunteer Dad and I exchanged a look.  I think we both felt like incompetent dolts.  But anyway, the important thing is: the kid got fed, and was delivered safely back to his mom by noon.

I gave myself a B- in Basic Baby Wrangling.

I'd best improve my skills and my confidence, because there will be more babies there in the near future.  There was an 11-day-old infant in the nursery also.  He made Matthew look enormous by comparison.  His mom stayed with him this time, while the dad went to the service, but I'm sure she'll be leaving him with us pretty soon.  Or maybe not, after watching me handle Matthew.  

There is at least one pregnant woman in the congregation, and with two marriages this summer (besides mine) the infants will keep rolling in.  Before you know it I'll have to learn to change diapers.  Now that'll be something to blog about.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Seismic Activity

I've been praying almost every day. When I don't have anything in particular I want to speak to God about, I pray this prayer. (Authorship has traditionally been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, although recent research shows that this is probably not true.) No matter who wrote it, it puts into words what I need to work.

"Let me not seek so much seek to be consoled as to console."

In other words, help me pick my chin up off the floor, give me a kindly whack upside the head when I'm feeling sorry for myself, and fill my heart to overflowing with grace, so that I have enough to spare for others.

Historically, I have been attached to the role of "victim". Given my childhood, it was somewhat justified. But I'm 36 now. It's really time to get over all that old crap. I have struggled for years with an inability to truly, at all levels, let those old pains go. But since I've been praying to God, in Jesus' name, for help, I've been doing a lot better. It was something I couldn't do alone, but with spiritual assistance I'm taking baby steps.

I'm genuinely feeling more inclined to be forgiving and helpful, rather than resentful and protective of my time. It feels good. It feels adult, mature. When I can be in the headspace of caring for others instead of dwelling on perceived injustices, I feel much happier. It's a contented, calm happiness, not like the Happy you crash from when that Fun Thing you were doing is finished. It's peaceful. It's great.

Lord, make me an instrument of your love and peace. Amen.

The flip side of this experience is even more difficult to articulate, because I'm accustomed to believing that people who think like this are crazy. Except now I'm thinking crazy. Get to the point, Spark. OK, so what I really believe is that I am getting to know the personality of that entity referred to as Satan.

I don't necessarily picture a red dude with pointy ears and a tail, and a beard made of steel wool. It's more a sense of a negative force that exists, with all the characteristics traditionally attributed to The Enemy. It's sneaky. It's deceptive. It can disguise itself as goodness or pleasure. It comes in the night, or whenever you're overstressed and tired, to undermine your confidence. It tells you your negative feelings are justified, and that you should hold onto them for dear life, because to let them go would be to compromise your integrity.

One of my new Christian friends recently gave me a book, and signed the front cover with something like "Look out for Satan! He wants to steal everything good from us." 49% of my brain said "She's nuts! What's all this Satan nonsense?" 51% of my brain (and growing) said "Yes! It's true! I feel his cold, pointy claws hooking into me when I'm weak, and once he's got a hold on me he'll drag me down as far as I'll let him."

I don't have a clear, logical thesis on any of these matters. These are fuzzy thought-feelings that percolate through my brain as the days go by, shaping me, changing me. How much sense does it make to you?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Fundraiser

On March 19th, this home for orphaned children with HIV and AIDS in Kingston, Jamaica, burned down. The children, who had so little to begin with, were left with nothing. They and their caregivers have been shoe-horned into the nooks and crannies of other facilities for the moment, but a fundraising effort is being made to rebuild the home.

The youth group at my church had been there on mission trips a few times in the last few years, so they jumped at the chance to help. An announcement was made that there would be a dinner and entertainment on Saturday May 30th. Ken and I bought tickets, $15 per head for a 3-course meal and live music. A pretty good bargain, I thought! We had no idea what we were in for.

Initially my concern was that the evening would be poorly organized. I pictured us eating hot dogs off cheap paper plates. I imagined badly rehearsed skits and out-of-tune singing. Worst-case scenario, I was a little worried that the dinner might give us food poisoning. I mean really, these teenagers from the youth group- what do they know about food safety?

Fortunately there were adult volunteers to help with the food prep. One of them asked Ken and I if we would help serve the dinner. I pictured myself striding gracefully between tables, serving plates with a flourish, smiling, stopping to chat with the dinners. I dressed nicely for the occasion.

The evening turned out to be both better and worse than I'd imagined.

When we arrived at six o'clock, I was amazed by the transformation which had turned the church's basement gymnasium into an intimate, high-end restaurant. White fairy lights were strung from the ceiling, and tea-light candles flickered invitingly. Each table was set with a dark green tablecloth and a centrepiece of sand, seashells, and dried reeds, representing Jamaica. A well-stocked crafts table was doing a brisk business, and the snack bar beckoned with trays of home-baked brownes, cookies, muffins, and gingerbread.

Ken and I took our seats just in time for the MC's, two teenagers, to announce the beginning of the evening's entertainment. The opening acts were fabulous. A trio of boys sang Stand By Me in three part harmony. Two girls played four-handed piano duets. One teenager played Pachelbel's cannon beautifully while his friend beat-boxed overtop - and it sounded fantastic, not terrible like you might be thinking. We were just settling in and getting ready to enjoy ourselves, when we were called upon to help in the kitchen.

The salad course was easy. One plate per person, and make sure the water jugs are filled. No problem. The main course: that's when things got complicated. Each person had a slip of paper with several options on it. They were to tick off the items they wanted, and then return the paper to their server. The kitchen would then plate customized meals according to each ticket.

Bad idea! If I'm ever involved in planning a fundraising dinner, the rule will be this: everyone eats the same thing, with exceptions made only for food allergies. Doing a customized dinner for each person in the room was pretty much beyond the capabilities of our completely disorganized and amateur kitchen staff.

The food trays were not laid out in the same order as the choices appeared on the tickets. Therefore it was very easy for a server to forget an item. It also meant that instead of proceeding along the serving area in orderly lines, all of us chefs were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, bumping into each other.

The evening was also too successful for its own good. The organizers had expected around 80 people. They got 160. On top of that, certain food choices were much more popular than others, so we started running out of things before even one third of the tables had been fed. Announcements were made. We're out of rice and peas; you're getting plain rice. We're out of plain rice; you're getting pasta. We're out of almost everything; you're getting what we put on the plate in front of you and don't even think about complaining. At one point Ken ran out in the middle of a downpour of rain, without an umbrella, to buy 10 lbs of cooked rice from a nearby restaurant. Our hero! Our very wet hero.

Eventually everyone had a plate in front of them filled with food, although by the end the plates bore no resemblance whatsoever to the order tickets. Then, before the kitchen staff even had a chance to finish our own dinners (which, by the way, were well-cooked and tasty), the dirty plates started coming back.

There is a commercial dishwasher in the church kitchen, but it's small. There was no way we could do all the dishes in the dishwasher, so the volunteers rolled up their sleeves and started washing by hand. 160 salad plates. 160 dinner plates. Knives, forks, and cups. And eventually dessert plates, covered in gloppy cake and icing that the dishwasher couldn't dissolve. We worked, oh how we worked. We sweated puddles. My nice serving outfit was in a shambles. We scrubbed and dried and stacked and scraped until past 10:30 at night.

My feet ached. My back hurt. My arms and hands were dead tired. And yet, I had no regrets. Anytime I wanted to throw down my dishtowel and go home, I remembered that we were doing this for the AIDS orphans, and which point I laughed at the idea that I was "suffering", and stepped up my efforts with renewed enthusiasm.

We got to know the other kitchen helpers better than we'd known them before. We became a tightly knit team in that hot, pressure-cooker.

That night I woke at 3:30 am, dreaming of washing dishes. But I'd do it all over again. The final fundraising total was $ 2094.80.