Tag Archives: Family

A first time for everything

On Sunday, Luke and I drove Madeline three hours north-west of us to Covenant Heights Bible Camp. It’s on Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park.

Here she is at her cabin:

Madeline's First Summer Camp

That was a bit of an emotional experience for me. I’m just leaving her there to fend for herself with (mostly) strangers for five days. She’s growing up.

Rather than drive the three hours back on the same day, Luke and I decided to pitch at tent for the night in the national park. We roasted some hot-dogs, played some badminton, played on the beach, and slept through a storm (or, in my case, laid awake). In the morning we went fishing. He caught his first fish!

This is him holding the fish (a Northern Pike/Jack) at a distance. He was a little nervous. It’s at Deep Bay on Clear Lake:

Luke's First Fish

I also caught two fish (not much for two hours of fishing). One of them broke the leader as I was trying to unhook it (I’m a bit skittish with the flipping and flopping and took a little long) and it swam off with the lure still in its mouth. That can’t be good, can it?

Anyway. Memories.

Eulogy (half of it, anyway)

After I posted this, Dixie pointed out that I hadn’t mentioned my dad’s death in this space. I suppose I assumed most people that read this are also Facebook friends, but that’s probably not the case. Dad died on Monday at age 76 after a long struggle with dementia. The funeral was today.

My brother Andrew and I both spoke as part of the eulogy. Andrew spoke first and gave a bit more of dad’s life story and was a bit more reflective than I was. How do you write a eulogy? What do you say? Mine ended up as a series of memories that painted a general picture of what dad was like.

Andrew and I decided to write our eulogies separately and compare notes later. When we did, we discovered that we had essentially written identical eulogies—we’d even independently thought it fit to compare dad to the cactus: prickly on the outside, soft on the inside, with beauty sprouting. So please forgive a little repetition.

It feels like I was, unfortunately, too young to really recount much of dad’s life when he was in the thick of his church-planting ministry, and my memory is poor at the best of times, containing only short, vague vignettes, moments frozen in time. These stream-of-consciousness memories and anecdotes are meant to paint a picture of who dad was.

I remember our church in the school in Holland, with bulletins and song lyrics always in green ink (his favourite) printed with dad’s stencil machine. I remember dad preaching and sounding he was angry. He was probably just excited about the message, but it made me nervous. I remember dad baptizing people who came to Christ through his ministry and being fascinated not so much by the act of baptism, but by the fact that dad walked into that little pool fully clothed in slacks and a button-up shirt. He seemed to carry a lot of authority in everything he did in the church.

I remember wrestling with him on the floor before bed.

Forgive me for saying this, but dad was the loudest nose-blower I’ve ever known. It sounded a bit like a trombone. It was our morning wake-up call.

I remember his obsession with pens and stationery, an obsession I inherited. I remember his love of Johnny Cash—the only “cool” music he listened to. We would listen to Johnny Cash’ greatest hits on roads trips. Dad wasn’t much of a singer, but he would always mimic Johnny’s train-whistle sounds at the appropriate moments during “Orange Blossom Special”. My brother and I both love Johnny Cash thanks to dad.

I remember that dad was always up out of bed before anyone else, and no matter what time I woke up, I could find him in his office studying or writing. No matter what he was doing, dad worked hard and did his best. In the 1990s when he couldn’t find work as a pastor, which was where his heart was, he worked odd jobs doing maintenance, pumping gas, and janitorial work. He was even diligent and hard working when he cleaned toilets. I never heard him complain.

I remember dad in his garden, turning the soil, pruning trees, caring for all green and colourful things. He seemed equally as strong and authoritative in the garden as he was at the pulpit.

I remember him bent over his cactuses with his camera, taking pictures of the beautiful flowers that would grow on them. Cactuses seemed to be his favourite plant. He would have two dozen or more little cactuses in individual pots, each growing its own unique flower.

The cactus: an appropriate symbol of dad, as Andrew noted. The beauty that flowered out of him included his commitment to truth and justice, as Andrew also said. His ministry reached out even to the spouse-abusing alcoholic, the drug addict and the suicidal student.

I remember one winter when I was visiting mom and dad. Mom woke me up in the middle of the night because dad had gone out to help a student friend of his, who was threatening himself with a box-cutter in front of his girlfriend’s dorm room. Dad must have been in his 60s at the time. They called dad because he was the only one who could calm this guy down. I followed dad at a distance and watched as he wrestled this student to the ground and took the box-cutter from him.

All of this may make dad seem like a terribly serious person, but he also had a great sense of humour—another beautiful flower in him. My wife always noted—and she’s right—that his laughter would light up an entire room. And if it was YOU who made him laugh, you’d feel like a million bucks. Sometimes when he got going, he couldn’t stop laughing.

There were certain stories he would always return to, like the time mom, dad, and I were camping and they both went to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Well, mom went and what she didn’t know was that dad had followed her to protect her, since the campground was dark and right along the highway. Mom thought he was still asleep in the tent. She got back to the tent just before dad did, and as she was zipping the tent door shut, dad was trying to zip the tent door up. Mom thought he was an intruder and started shouting at him and hit him so hard through the tent wall that he fell over. I remember that dad took a long time to get back to sleep that night, because he was laughing uncontrollably. That story would bring tears of laughter to his eyes every time he told it.

Dad was 35 when he married mom. He was 37 when Andrew was born and 42 when I was born. Years ago—maybe just around the time Andrew got married—I heard him tell mom that he didn’t think he’d ever see his grandchildren. I’m not sure what his health was like at the time, but perhaps for a diabetic that wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. He was 65 when his first grandchild was born. 5 more grandchildren followed. Contrary to his expectations, he met every single one of his grandchildren and loved them all dearly.

I feel like I could go on for quite some time with these little vignettes, but any other images I could share would likely be images deeply personal to me, but would seem ordinary to you.

The impression I get was that dad’s life was sometimes difficult, but he was faithful and made the most of his circumstances—another subject I remember him preaching on. Circumstances.

In a way, we said goodbye a long time ago, as the effects of his dementia became more pronounced, but today we say a final goodbye.

A Dutch childhood friend of mine, whose own father died of cancer two years ago, remarked that our dads are now enjoying a cup of coffee together in heaven, chatting in Dutch. I don’t know what happens between now and the resurrection, but I like that image. He was in much pain in the last couple of months, but he is no longer in pain now. Dad used to say, “Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” He’s getting closer now.

I love you, Dad. Enjoy your coffee.

As I finished the eulogy this morning, I wasn’t sure I could make it through. When the moment came, I thought I would make it through, but I broke down at the bit about his grandchildren.

It was a good funeral service, including a great message that managed to tie the elements of dad’s life, character as well as the gospel together.

More thoughts later.

What happens when Sunday is a snow day?

It’s May 1 and we couldn’t make it into the city for church because of a snow storm. IT’S MAY 1 AND WE COULDN’T MAKE IT INTO THE CITY FOR CHURCH BECAUSE OF A SNOW STORM!

It turned out to be a good day, in spite of the blustery weather. We decided to have a little church service of our own. I resisted Dixie’s suggestion that we sing some songs with the kids.

“Go get your guitar,” she said.

“What? What are we going to sing?”

“You have all those song sheets. Play some songs the kids will know from church.”

“No, that’s not gonna work. They’re not going to sing those songs.”

Instead, Dixie and our friend Amanda, who was also not able to get to her church, sang some kids songs with the kids. ‘Father Abraham,’ ‘This Little Light of Mine’, ‘Tutsy-Wutsy.’ I’m not sure that this was much better than trying to get the kids to sing the church songs. What’s the deal with these kids songs? Almost zero content. But the kids enjoyed doing the actions.

Madeline chose a couple of passages from Mark where Jesus heals blind people. She read them and then we asked a few questions. Then I read about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, including Thomas, the doubter. More discussion followed. Resurrection. New bodies.

The kids have all kinds of questions about death and heaven these days.

“When will Bestamore and Great Grandpa be alive again?” asked Olivia during the discussion.

“Will we still be a family in heaven?” wondered Luke later in the day.

Then a lunch of nachos, beef and cheese. Then the kids went off and played, while Dixie and I sat in the living room and read. We listened through all three of the Lord of the Rings film soundtracks. The kids got rowdy and fighty, so we separated them for individual quiet time. Blessed silence. Days should always be compartmentalized like this. More reading.

Then snack time and a game of Uno with the kiddos. Dishes.

High calorie day, folks: nachos, cheese and beef for lunch; crackers, cheese, and handfuls of Cadbury Mini Eggs for snack; and for supper, potatoes, pork & beans, and wieners washed down with a beer.

Showers for the oldest two kids. Bedtime. Opera selections on the stereo, writing this, reading…maybe a movie. Shadowlands.

A good day.

Marriage Advice 2

I realized today that on that monumental date in a young-ish marriage–our 10th anniversary–I made no mention of our marriage or anniversary or anything of the kind. I forgive myself because at the time (in Canada) I was probably asleep and at the time (locally–that is, in England) I was on an adventure with my wife in Bath.

I also recalled writing, on our 8th anniversary, a post with 8 points of marital advice. I still stand by that advice. However, I want to highlight one point and add another very important one that I hadn’t mentioned there.

First, forgiveness. I can’t stress this enough. Forgive your spouse daily, because, quite frankly, you will probably need to be forgiven more often than your spouse. But also because without forgiveness bitterness takes route, and bitterness won’t take your marriage to good places.  I say it again: I can’t stress forgiveness enough.

Secondly, I neglected to mention one thing in my original marriage advice post: humility. Swallow that pride. Your pride is not worth your marriage. What am I talking about? I am not talking about swallowing your pride in terms of your basic worth as a human being created in the image of God. That is, I am not suggesting you swallow your pride and, for example, just accept spousal abuse.  I am suggesting, rather, that you swallow your pride in terms of disagreements and tensions with your spouse.

  • when you are angry about something don’t hang onto it no matter how right you are (“righteous pride”, perhaps?). This doesn’t mean that you have to say, “You’re right,” but that you have to be willing to communicate in a healthy way in spite of what you see as your clear “rightness”. Plus, even if you are right, your actions (verbal or otherwise) may not be.
  • When are angry about something and realize that you are wrong, admit it. Don’t stay angry or continue on a pretense of correctness simply because admitting that you are wrong is embarrassing. Same thing goes for when you’re angry and you realize that it’s a silly thing to be angry about.

Conversely, don’t get angry and defensive when your spouse critiques your character or criticizes you. They may be wrong and their comments may be unjustified. Then again, they may be right–or at the very least, they might be partially right. Whatever the case may be, anger and defensiveness closes the ears and shuts down your capacity to reason. When emotion takes the wheel in this context, it doesn’t take you down any better roads than bitterness will. If you get angry and/or defensive, you will not hear what you may well need to hear, even if it is only a grain of truth.

Two Sundays ago there was some tension in our home in the morning (not uncommon on Sundays), because my scheduled departure time in order to get to church more or less on time (“on time” is not an exact measurement at our church) was once again way overshot. Once we were in the van, Dixie made the comment, “I think you’re the angriest person in the family.”

I was incredulous. “What do you mean I’m the angriest!? On what basis do you make this assertion?!” But, for once, I managed to swallow my pride (perhaps after a period of time) and reflect on what she said, instead of rationalizing and arguing to restore my character in her mind (having written that, it seems even sillier). She had touched a nerve. I pride myself on my “even keel”–I take most things as they come and it generally takes quite a lot to make me angry.

Whether or not she is right about my anger ranking within the family, she was at least right in the sense that my “even-keeledness” seems be weaker at home. (I’ve mentioned before that having children, as much as it is a joy, delight and blessing, has also brought out a dark side in me that I had not previously been aware of.) And the truth is, I do lack patience at home, and of late I have been raising my voice more often. Dixie’s words, as much as they hurt my pride, brought me to reality.

So, swallow your pride, folks. Your spouse in many ways knows you better than you know yourself. At least, your spouse will see things in you that you are unable or unwilling to see. Insofar as marriage is a relationship for each other, one way your spouse is for you is by being honest about the things that he or she sees in you such that you can become a better person (and, I suggest, even vindictive criticism can be turned into something positive).

(I’d better write something more directly theological–though marriage is theological–lest this blog become Dear Abby.)

Giving thanks for Thanksgiving weekend

Dixie and I were not sure what to do for Thanksgiving this year.  It’s kind of a big deal for Dixie, but driving 10 hours one way for a couple of nights and a delicious turkey dinner at her parents’ house would have been too exhausting.  Everything everywhere was booked, or so it seemed, even in the Grand Forks, North Dakota.

There was, however, a last minute cabin cancellation at Falcon Trails Resort in Whiteshell Provincial Park in eastern Manitoba. The only problem was that they required us to stay three nights and they aren’t cheap.  We didn’t think we could justify the cost. Some emails were sent back and forth between Dixie and the admin there, seeing if they would let us book just two nights. I think Dixie may have even played the “poor seminary students” card, though I’m not sure that worked. However, as the weekend approached, the owners got more desperate to book the cabin for the weekend, so they offered us the third night at a fraction of the regular cost, so we jumped on it.  Now that we’ve been there, I may well be willing to pay the full cost for three nights.

Sunset on the first night:

Sunset on Falcon Lake

The cabin overlooked Falcon Lake. It had a bedroom with a queen-sized bed on the main floor and two sections in the loft, one with a queen-sized bed and one with a single. Cabins also come with TV and vcr/dvd player, wood stove, and a hot tub. We also had free access to canoes.

All of us in the canoe (I, of course, am taking the picture):

Morning in the Canoe

Our weekend consisted of the following: sleeping, eating, watching movies, reading, canoeing, throwing sticks into the water from our dock, and sitting in the hot tub (Luke puts the accent on “tub”), and one short hike. Not much else happened. The weather was beautiful the whole time we were there: sunny, light breeze. Pretty much a perfect weekend.

I wouldn’t dare post another sunset picture, except that this one, from the second night, is just different enough to be allowed:

Falcon Lake sunset

Of course, as much as I hope and dream otherwise, families remain families, even on weekends in a cabin on a lake, so there was still fighting and screaming and yelling and discipline, but somehow the whole experience overpowered the darker moments.

The kids on Picnic Island:

The kids

And playing in the hot tub:

Kids playing in the hot tub

There are more pictures of the weekend at our Flickr “Falcon Lake 2010” set, including some pictures of the cabin’s interior. I also have a couple of videos I’d like to post, but with our finicky/slow internet connection, it doesn’t seem to want to work.

Stretching out for Thanksgiving

A couple of great quotes from the quality bunch posted on internetmonk.com today:

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad, but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom … The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and to make it finite. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything is a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It it the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. — G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

If you surrender to the fear of uncertainty, life can become a set of insurance policies. Your short time on this earth becomes small and self-protective, a kind of circling of the wagons around what you can be sure of and what you think you can control–even God. It provides you with the illusion that you are in the driver’s seat, navigating on safe, small roads, and usually in a single, predetermined direction that can take you only where you have already been. For far too many people, no life journey is necessary because we think we already have all our answers at the beginning. — Richard Rohr, The Naked Now.

Tomorrow we’re off on a little journey into a world in which to stretch ourselves out: the woods of eastern Manitoba. There we will spend three glorious nights in a cabin on a lake, sucking the marrow out of life and all that. We’re bringing some games, some movies, some books, some wine. We will walk and talk and be present to our children.

My European family never celebrated Thanksgiving, so Thanksgiving was for me often a lonely weekend. All my Canadian friends were busy with family and turkey and football games. I just kicked stones. The first or second year we were married, Dixie’s parents, grandparents and brother’s family stayed in a cabin on Christopher Lake for the weekend. It was perfect in every way and to this day it remains one of my favourite memories of my married life and of Thanksgiving.  Hopefully this weekend will create similar memories for our young family.

I have a sudden urge to say, “He is risen!”  But it’s the wrong weekend for that, true as it may be.

I hope you, dear readers, have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

Miscellaneous 2 (LPs; John Irving; O.K. Vandersluys)

So I got myself a record player.  Actually, my mother-in-law was kind enough to give me one of hers. Yes, the thing on which you place a scratchy black vinyl disc which rotates while a needle-tip drags along grooves in the vinyl.

I’m more or less from the post-LP generation (my early music collection was all cassettes), although my first experience of a full “secular” album was U2’s The Joshua Tree on LP.  I still remember it fondly.  My brother had left his record player and a number of his records at home after he moved out.  He had some U2 singles as well. One of them–“Hallelujah, Here She Comes”–had a scratch in it and would start skipping at exactly the same spot every time. I could sing along with the song as if the skipping part was normal.

Vinyl is a bit of a trend for music enthusiasts these days. Some people buy LPs simply because it’s trendy, others because of a reputed better sound quality than CDs.  I didn’t get the record player for either.

I wanted it simply to go back to something that is less about instant gratification, shuffling, skipping, and songs instead of albums.  I’ve been a member of emusic.com for a year or two now and every month I’m presented with the need to download 40 songs (there is no rollover).  I get a lot of recommendations from my brother, but, quite frankly, I can’t keep up with all the new material and the need for find new stuff every month.  My hope is that with records, I’ll go back to choosing carefully–buying only after giving it a good listen.

I won’t stop buying CDs, I don’t think.  In my estimation, some albums are not an improvement on LP (I might be proven wrong).  There are others which might be worth getting on vinyl–I’m thinking of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska or perhaps local favourite Del Barber’s latest album.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped at the MCC Thrift Store in Niverville and had a look at their records.  I found a couple gems in there: The Band’s second album; a children’s record (side A: Peter and the Wolf; side B: Pooh Songs); and a jazz album: “Benny in Brussels”– Benny Goodman (“Ambassador with a Clarinet” and his orchestra.  Combined cost for 3 perfectly good records?  Less than $1!

* * *

I’m reading John Irving latest book, Last Night in Twisted River.  I bought it at Heathrow Airport in London before we flew home (for some reason I’ve always wanted to buy a book in an airport).  It’s more than 600 pages long and I think I’m just over halfway now.

Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favourite books.  I’ve also read The World According to Garp, which was pretty good.  I got halfway through The Cider House Rules before watching the movie, which spoiled the book (Irving wrote the screenplay).  Since then I’ve been meaning to read more of Irving’s works, but it’s difficult to get into an author’s other work when you’ve read what is possibly their greatest and most endearing book.

Anyway, I charged into Last Night in Twisted River and it has turned into both a frustrating and intriguing read.  On the one hand, Irving seems to ramble about minor, unnecessary details and, in my estimation, repeats too many details, which he often does in annoying parenthetical remarks.  On the other hand, I do get the feeling as I read that this is all building to something and each time I nearly throw the book down in disgust never to read it again, something happens which pulls me back in.

I’ve read some reviews of the book, according to which I could be in for a real disappointment at the end or for one of his greatest achievements in more than a decade.  So it’s a bit of a conundrum.  I’m 340 pages in–well past the tentative commitment stage–but I’m a day away from the start of a heavy-reading semester.  I suppose I could just read it for 20 minutes before bed every night.

* * *

A week ago Sunday night, Olivia fell out of bed quite loudly.  She complained of a sore shoulder, but I poked and prodded her and she did not show signs of pain, so I didn’t worry about it.  The next day she would have occasionally fits of pain, so Dixie took her to the walk-in clinic on the following Monday.  The doctor there poked and prodded her and couldn’t find anything.  He said to come back in two days if her complaints persist.  They did persist, so on the Wednesday, they took an x-ray and discovered that Olivia had broken her collar-bone clean through.

What a trooper!  She barely complained about it.  Dixie was reminded that Olivia’s initials are O.K., which seems uncannily appropriate.

“I severely burned my arm on the firepit, but I’m O.K.”

“I just broke my collar-bone falling out of bed, but I’m O.K.”

O.K. Vandersluys.

This is where I used to live 3

So Google Street View has reached Heerlen, The Netherlands, the place of my birth and the first seven years of my life.  I can “walk” around my old neighbourhood.  How cool! Technology! So here’s the third installment of a series of posts which will only be interesting to me and possibly some members of my family. Posts 1 and 2 and here and here.

I’ll post some highlights. Valeriusstraat 9, my home for seven years. Bathroom to the right of the front door (with the five-on-a-die window), livingroom to the left of the door. Above the living room is a bedroom–originally shared by my brother and I, then it became my parents’ room. The two windows above the door and the bathroom is a very small room that my brother had as a bedroom in later years. The door was green in our day:

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

There used to be a hazelnut tree on this corner. I think you can see its stump in the grass. We would pick the hazelnuts and then stomp on them on the sidewalk across the street in front of Maik’s house (the picture after next–basically just turning slightly to the right where you’re standing):

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

My (sometime) friend Maik’s house. If you look down the street along the same row, our house was the one at the elbow:

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

The entrance to the back pathway which ran between the houses for what be about two city blocks. Unfortunately, the Google Street View Car didn’t/couldn’t go in there, we won’t be able to peek in to my back yard:

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

Now turn 180 degrees and you would have seen a parking lot, beyond which there was a field where I used to kick the soccer ball around and pick wildflowers for my mom. Madeliefjes, I think (I’m not sure what that would be in English.) There is now a row of houses where there used to be parking lot. But on the left in the picture below the field beyond.

Straight ahead where the office building is located used to be a much larger field where I wasn’t allowed to play on my own. They used to have some sort of carnival there. It is where I first smelled a certain combination of beer and smoke (beer tents) and laid eyes on those pulpy beer coasters emblazoned with the Heineken logo. Scent and nostalgia are closely linked for me. I’ll always think fondly of this place whenever I smell a certain combination of beer and cigarette smoke.

To the right in this field were bushes which for some reason terrified us. We thought “hashkickers” (hashish frogs?) lived there. Maybe someone found some needles there, in which case the fear may have been our parents’ doing.

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

A couple of blocks away from here is my kindergarten. Turn 90 degrees left from this point, walk down the street until the large intersection, hang a 90 degree right down the street that runs along the row of apartments and here it is:

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

That’s a rotating sign on top of that tall building in the picture below. I could see it from my bedroom window at night, glowing blue and red. For some reason even the thought of it is comforting.

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

At the opposite end of our street and around the corner, somewhere along this row of buildings was Arie de Friteman, where we would buy “patat”–french fries with mayonnaise and other deep-fried goodies.

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

I’m going completely on memory of the streets, but I think this is where my best friend from the first day of kindergarten (we are still in touch to this day) lived. I remember sleepovers at his place, playing with his cool pirates Playmobil set, his piles of Suske en Wiske comic books, drawing pictures of cars with their hoods up, and the one time I crapped my pants in my pajamas. (My mom has now confirmed the location. I’m amazed how well my memory of the streets are. I was 7 years old when we moved. It has been 25 years since I was on these streets, but I can still find my way around.)

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

For some reason I think my brother’s scouts meetings were in this church, which is just across the way from my childhood friend’s house. But my memory might just be making things up now. It sure look familiar, though.

View Valeriusstraat in a larger map

This is the hospital I was born in and where I had at least two operations to put tubes in my ears. I still have the little stuffed toys I received as gifts from my parents after my surgery.

View Larger Map

In this next picture you will see a church steeple in the background. On the street in front of that church was an outdoor market that we would go to every now and then. I can smell the fish and hear the church’s bells. I also distinctly remember there being a calliope. Through one of these doors and down the stairs there used to be (or perhaps still is) a toy store where my mom would sometimes drop me off while she went to the market.

View Larger Map

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to locate my elementary school, even after a phone call to Mom. I’m picturing the concrete tiled school grounds. At recess we would dig holes in the dirt around the perimeter and play marbles. Only I rarely played because I liked my marbles too much and didn’t want to lose any. I’ve never been much of a risk taker. I also wasn’t able to find the library or the building where the church my dad planted met. Apparently that building has been torn down and the whole neighbourhood, including streets, redone.

One thing I can’t fail to notice as I wander the streets of this old Dutch city is that Dutch people are not big on large lawns. Good for them. I could do without a large lawn and I think the kids could, too. In fact, I would go so far as to say that front lawns are a completely useless feature in a property and only create unnecessary work.

I think I’d happily live in Heerlen.

The small south Saskatchewan town of Caronport, where I spent the next 12 years of my life also has street view on Google Maps. Perhaps I’ll do a post about that sometime, too.

Barbecues and Training Wheels

I spent most of yesterday afternoon outside.  First, I removed the training wheels from Madeline’s bike.  Second, I assembled our new barbecue.

It feels like it might be a little too much barbecue for us: it has a side element, which is something I never used on our old barbecue; it has a “back burner” and I’m not sure what it is for; it also has an electric rotisserie thingie, which we may use, but still–possibly too much barbecue.

You may recall that last August/September I was looking for a barbecue (I can’t find the post), and I complained that at what seemed like prime barbecue end-of-season time, there were no barbecues to be had, other than high-end way-beyond-our-budget models and cheap low-end ones–nothing that fit what I was looking for.

So when at Costco in early January I saw almost the exact barbecue I wanted at pretty much the exact price I wanted, I just up and bought it without much thought (I didn’t notice the unnecessary side-element until I got home with it).  I was pleased as punch (except I didn’t really like spending the money).  But wouldn’t you know it, a month or so later Wal-Mart had switched their “Seasonal” section from winter supplies like tobaggans and snow shovels to summer stuff like barbecues.  And they had quite the selection of barbecues which fit my specifications, didn’t have some of the unnecessary extras, and were cheaper!

The barbecue we purchased is just fine, but we could have saved a few bucks. Alas.  Many of our possessions are a monument to impulse buying.  Lesson learned. Again.

So back to the training wheels thing.  One of Madeline’s friends told her that training wheels are usually removed around age 4. And it seems that our neighbours are planning on removing the training wheels on their four-year-old boy’s bike this year. Madeline is 7 years old (as of last December). Until Madeline told me what her friend said, I didn’t think she was too old for training wheels.

We bought Madeline’s bike two years ago, after realizing that it just wasn’t going to work for her and Luke to share/fight over the Dora the Explorer tricycle.  We automatically put training wheels on because she had only ridden a tricycle, but we left them on for two years.  And she was nervous and uncertain, and she did rely on one or the other training wheel for balance, but  that may have simply been because that crutch was available to her.

At any rate, I had been planning on removing them this year.

Today was that day. And, boy, let me tell you, it was such an anticlimactic event. I had envisioned that glorious moment when I would release my hand from the seat of her bike after running her to a start, Madeline tentatively venturing off on her own two wheels, each second passing in slow-motion to the tune of “Chariots of Fire”, Dixie and I jumping up for joy whilst angels sang and trumpets rang from the heavens.  And so on.

As it was, I released my hand and off she went without a hitch.  I was still very proud of her and it did fill my heart with gladness, but the fact is, we could have taken those training wheels off last year or the year before.  Maybe she only needed them for a week or two.

Here’s the footage (in terms of sound, it’s mostly wind in the microphone, and there’s a big lull in the middle):

Now that I’ve watched it again, there may have been some angels singing.  Seeing the smile on her face on the return ride–full of pride and excitement–fills my heart with such joy.  The background picture on our desktop is Madeline on the skating rink, smiling proudly, just like she did on her bike today.  These are the highlights of parenting.

Also: I walk funny. I have never noticed this before. After watched the video, I asked Dixie, “Do I walk funny?”

Without batting an eye, she said, “Yes, you do.”

She married me anyway.

Notes from the Mobile Home 1: Slow Cooker

Dixie and I have made a switch for the week.  She’ll be in class all day every day (“Psychopathology”) and I’ll be at home all day every day.  A change of pace for both of us.

I’m not sure I can figure out how to compartmentalize my time in an efficient way.  This is something at which Dixie is exceptionally skilled and it can sometimes be frustrating.  I’ll be agonizing over a paper due in a couple of days while she’s completed a draft for a paper not due for several weeks.  In fact, she may even have completed most of another paper due in April.  For undisciplined, a poor time manager, and constant progress comparer (such as yours truly) this is frustrating.

Nevertheless, I march on.  I shall overcome.

Dixie has tried to help me by preparing a menu for the week (my Inner Cynic tells me that she’s doing this to show me how much she accomplishes in a day, but I mustn’t listen to my Inner Cynic).  If a menu was not prepared, supper decisions would be made approximately 30 minutes before mealtime and would consist of daily variations on pasta or eggs.

Last night, after Dixie had already gone to bed, I had a look at today’s supper item, per the menu.  Corn chowder.  In the slow cooker.  The instructions alarmed me.  I marched to the bedroom.

“Dix,” I said, “are you serious about this corn chowder?  It’s for the slow cooker and it says it takes 8-10 hours to cook! This means I’ll have to start supper first thing in the morning.”

“Yes,” she replied.  “Then it’ll be done!”

By the time I got everything together this morning–figuring out in what manner one chops and “cooks” (a rather generic term, if you ask me) celery and onions in preparation for the slow cooker (which, it seems to me, would cook both ingredients anyway); locating the bay leaves; not burning the bacon; cleaning and cutting the potatoes, etc.–it was 10:40.  And by my calculations, that would mean supper would be ready at 6:30 at the earliest, which, of course, is unacceptable.

In the middle of this, Dixie’s mom called.  After I explained my dilemma, she told me that she makes corn chowder on the stove in about 30 minutes!  Alas, by this time most of the ingredients were already simmering in the slow cooker. So I had a day of preparing two supper meals to look forward to.

Things turned up when Dixie came home for lunch.  She explained that the slow cooker cooks hot, so it would probably be ready for an on-time supper.  She was right.

It was delicious.