November 15, 2013


Scots love their thistles! Well -- perhaps they don't, I never actually asked, but tourists certainly do. Thistles practically cover the Royal Mile in the form of keychains and t-shirts and magnets and shot glasses, and they really do cover the Scotland landscape in plant form as well -- they're everywhere, and come in a vast amount of flavours (don't actually eat them please). 

Legend has it that while a Norse Army was creeping up on a Scottish encampment long ago, a Norseman stepped out on a nasty thistle, causing him to burst into loud anguished tears of pain, thus alerting the Scottish camp of an impending attack. Okay, maybe not the anguished tears, but you get the picture. Don't know if this is true but it's cute. Cute and painful.

Couldn't live in Scotland for a few months without drawing their national flower! 

{Drawn in June 2013}

November 10, 2013

week four.

We did something brave and daring in week four. We rented a car and whilst driving out of the car rental parking lot on the wrong side of the road came to the realization that our GPS wasn't going to work and we didn't have a map of Scotland and there was a four-lane roundabout coming up and we had said we were going to be at our Bed & Breakfast at six o'clock PM and had no idea how to get to Aberdeenshire. 

After Wayne narrowly missed driving against the curb (or kerb, as they spell it here) several times and after I had very unhelpfully squealed in fright every time he almost hit the curb we crept our British Honda Civic into a petrol station and bought a great big map that helped us escape the Edinburgh traffic. Two overpriced Costa coffees later, we had successfully made it onto the highway and were headed to the great green northern Highlands of Scotland for four glorious days of exploration... 

Wayne is now a UK driving pro. We had hit the east coast and were winding our way along the ocean headed to Aberdeen...
 Our first stop: Dunnottar Castle. Old. Crazy old. A ruinous castle perched on cliffs next to the sea. Beautiful. Lots of sea birds. Inspiration for the castle in Disney's Brave
 Wayne is fishing in tidal pools! Had to get our dinner somehow. 
 Classic Loch Ness surrounded by yellow gorse. Huge. So huge. No monsters, only tourists. 

After getting a good look at Loch Ness, we headed west and crossed a big bridge onto the Isle of Skye. This is the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life. Ever. Ever ever ever. It's like Lord of the Rings amazing. And obviously photos won't do it justice. 

Everything here is just so blazingly green and untouched and... sheep. Sheep everywhere. 

If you are not careful you will hit a sheep and get a dent in your rental car, and even worse, be pursued by an angry Scottish sheep farmer which would probably be a situation you would want to avoid. 
Eilean Donan, Scotland's most photographed castle. Had a starring role in a James Bond film. 
Low tide at Loch Harport in Carbost. There are some funky crustaceans happening on these beaches... 

 Up near Dun Flodigarry near the most northern tip of the Isle of Skye. Windy, dramatic, stunning.  
 We happened to be up north right around summer solstice which meant the sun didn't really fully set. The clock is creeping towards eleven PM and still no sign of darkness...

Couldn't keep this week's photos at only three, no surprise there!

November 05, 2013

gutted, chuffed, skived & scuppered.

The Scottish accent is really really hard to pick up. I consider myself to be fairly proficient when it comes to imitating an English accent (at least better than Drew Barrymore's attempt in Ever After... though I do love that movie), but with Scottish? It's an odd breed. If you're not careful you can quickly turn it into some weird British accent with an Eliza Dolittle kick, or suddenly you've become Irish or gone all Aussie, or, when things really go off course, you're sounding Punjabi. Not sure how that happens, but it does.

Wayne and I have worked fairly hard at trying to master the Scottish accent. Being surrounded by it helps greatly, but there's certain things that we just haven't been able to grasp -- like that tiny roll of the r in words like "sorry". So far I just sound like I have a weird speech impediment when I attempt that level of accent mastery.

{Eating Scottish shortbread helps improve your accent, really truly!}

Besides the accent, there's a whole extra category of Scottish vocabulary that we didn't really anticipate. We've had conversations with people where the whole thing is really one-sided -- they seem to understand us but we're just nodding and smiling because we can't understand a word they're saying. You know how sometimes while watching BBC flicks you need to turn on the closed captioning to see what on earth that angry old British lady is saying? Well... with this, it's ten times worse, and sadly there's no closed captioning in real life -- just two nodding Canadians with confused smiles plastered on their faces.

{Hullo! Jolly red phone boxes on the Royal Mile. They have accents, too.}

Words and phrases that Scottish people use all the time:

Aye & Nae: Yes and no. I think this is great. One time a this little kid at church was asked if he was hungry and ready for lunch and he responded with a giant, "AYE!" Made my day.

Being cheeky: This is also used all the time and can be used for varying degrees of cheekiness -- ranging from being generally saucy to nastily sarcastic to disrespectfully mouthy to dumping all your food on the floor in a toddler-esque rage. Don' bae cheeky!

Wee: Probably the most flexible word in all of Scotland's vocabulary. It's used repetitively as a fill-in adjective, even if the thing being discussed isn't "wee" at all. Example: "Yesterday mornin I took a wee hike up that wee mountain and when I got home had a wee bath and a wee cuppa afterwards." They can't all be wee!!! But they are. Scottish magic. 

Fortnight: This means two weeks, but you probably knew that. It's not really the uniqueness of the word as being Scottish... I just think it's brilliant that they actually use it in common vernacular!

Skived: Avoiding/shirking duties etc.

Scuppered: Mixed up, wrecked, sunk. Example: "My schedule's been scuppered due to the overwhelmingly massive amounts of The Great British Bake Off that I've been watching." Btdubs, TGBBO is a huge deal here. Like... huge. 

Chuffed: Pleased. Example: "I'm chuffed that my apple pie turned out so well!" or "I'm chuffed that I have avoided eating haggis so far!" Which is entirely and amazingly true and I intend to keep it this way and I will not regret it at all. 

Gutted: Opposite of chuffed, meaning very very disappointed. It's like you're so disappointed that all of your insides have been torn out which is rather revolting but there you have it. Example: "Gutted when I think about going back to eating American yogurt after enjoying Scottish yogurt all summer."

We've got a small obsession with yogurt quality. We're yogurt snobs. If there was a yogurt connoisseur reality show, we'd be on it. If you're interested, the best yogurt in the world is located in Austria. We follow the yogurt. 

Pants: Underwear. Completely embarrassed two wee girls by using this word incorrectly, but that's another story for another day...

There are so, so many more, but we'll keep it at this short list. Pull these out on your friends! You'll be British-cool! Or they'll just think you've gone a bit nuts. Either way is good. 

 {This has nothing to do with accents. Wayne is perhaps contemplating accents. Or he's just annoyed that the fire alarm went off and has forced us to sit outside... which isn't all that bad}

{This post written in June 2013}

October 03, 2013

week three.

By our third week we were feeling pretty swell. We knew our way around the city by this point and decided to check a few things off our touristy to-do list.

First stop: Edinburgh Castle. Easily the most recognizable feature of the city, mostly because it was built upon Castle Rock, a giant volcanic heap of... well, rock. There has been a royal fortress here since the 12th century -- it's home to the Honours of Scotland (Scotland's crown jewels) and has hosted many members of royalty (and many fierce battles... though not recently). Always a bit weird to stand by a giant fireplace and realize there's a good chance that Mary, Queen of Scots stood in that exact same spot warming her rebellious little fingers over the fire... 

Here's a fun view from up inside the castle -- the bleachers were being prepared for The Military Tattoo which runs six nights a week for the whole month of August. It's basically a giant outdoor show with all types of music and dancing and fireworks and such -- we were too late to get tickets! It sells out in a flash every year. We did, however, go down to see the fireworks a couple times per week... we could set our clock by them. 

Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags sat smack dab in the middle of the city -- giant peaks of volcanic rock with man-made paths ribboning all over their surfaces. When we arrived the yellow gorse was just blooming (as seen in the photo), making the whole area smell like coconut... weirdly pleasant. During this week we took our first of many hikes up and around the crags -- it only takes about 45 minutes of decent walking to get to the top of Arthur's Seat. The area as a whole is known as Holyrood Park, taking its name from the Queen's royal residence located just at the base of the crags -- the palace of Holyroodhouse. If you look just above the centre of the photo, and a wee bit to the left, you'll see a boxy square building with a cathedral chunk sticking off the end -- the Queen's hangout when she's in town. I think she was there once or twice over the summer, and I know that Prince Charles was certainly in residence for awhile as well. I used to run past the palace on one of my running routes and had this weird scenario play out in my head where I'd happen to run into the Queen and she'd invite me in for tea and I'd say "Sorry Lizzie, I'm a bit of a sweaty mess and I wouldn't want to ruin your nice furniture but if you'd like I'll take your corgis for a wee jog."

Your mind goes to strange places when you run. On that note... I'd better stop writing before I reveal any more weirdness about the inner workings of my mind.

September 30, 2013

gingers unite!

One always assumes that the Irish and Scottish populations contain a great deal of redheads (ahem... gingers). But to see it in real life -- to see head after head of blazing red hair strolling past you down the streets of Edinburgh -- well. Makes one have faith in the power of the recessive red allele. All you nasty rumours telling me that redheads will eventually fade out of the human race? I don't believe a word of it.

As such, Wayne fits in really well here. We have a very irrational fear of appearing too "touristy", but as long as we keep our mouths shut so as not to give away our very North American accents and let Wayne's reddish hair do the talking, we'll be in business. Maybe we'll have convincing accents by the end of our time here... we'll make a thorough effort of it anyway. Right now it's pretty rough...

{This post written in June 2013}

September 26, 2013

week two.

{On Castle Terrace posing with the back of Edinburgh Castle}

Our second week was again awash in exploration! We walked and walked and walked and discovered what a joy it is to be constantly surprised by that little street we didn't know existed or that second-hand bookshop or the wee coffee shop around the corner where the chairs are actually comfortable and WHOA the cars come from the opposite direction in this land. 

As a side note, I can totally understand why pedestrian tourists get hit by cars when they visit the UK/Australia. We were obsessively careful while crossing streets but even though I'd look both ways on an average of 17 times I would still get these mysterious feelings of dread that a car was going to come shooting up from the opposite direction -- the correct North American direction -- and I never quite shook that feeling, which was good, I guess. Kept me on my toes.

{View of Edinburgh, Salisbury Crags, and Arthur's Seat from Blackford Hill}

On our first Sunday we bussed ourselves down to Niddrie Community Church, home of a small church community in one of Edinburgh's schemes. Wayne had read about the church through Together for the Gospel and thought we'd check things out -- we're so thankful we did! The Niddrie community became a foundational part of our Edinburgh experience, and they were a major blessing to us. That second week a lovely couple offered to take us on a driving tour of the city which we gladly agreed to -- the photo above is taken from that tour and gives a good sense of how quickly the urban centre of Edinburgh turns into rolling green plains.

We couldn't, of course, spend three months wandering around outside in the city streets -- we had come to Edinburgh to get some serious work done. This is what a typical evening looked like in our flat -- Wayne set up at the table doing his reading, and I'd make a huge artsy mess at the desk. Oh, the comforts of a messy desk! 

And yes, that's our flat. Small? Absolutely. It made our student apartment back in Grand Rapids feel like a mansion... but the view was worth it.

September 23, 2013

how to move to scotland.

This post isn't actually going to be a helpful guide on how to move to Scotland. Mostly I'm just going to write about my feelings like any other culture-shocked twenty-something who is still slowly realizing what kind of a fix she's put herself in. 

Wayne and I moved to Michigan almost two years ago. Western Michigan isn't all that different from southern Ontario, and so we didn't recognize any symptoms of culture shock at first. Suddenly though, about six months in, we realized how absolutely irritated we were with a number of things that were slightly different from our Ontario ways. Certain ways of talking, of doing daily activities, of cultural expectations... all of it was so slight, so incomprehensibly and minutely different... but it was different. And that made all the difference. 

We've adjusted by now. We've mastered the west Michigan culture and can blend right in when we need to. I even remember to pronounce the zed in my name as a zee so as to avoid further chaos (seriously -- it freaks people out). 

But now -- all that adjusting is for naught. Scotland is a substantially different place. The language is English, yes, but oi! What a heavy accent! Sometimes trying to understand is like wading through a bowl of black pudding (Which is rather impossible as black pudding is more of a sausage-type thing that I shall never consent to eat). 

We've been here for just under one week, and although we've already developed a bit of a crush on the city, we realize that the culture shock is coming. We had a taste of it during the first day here -- whilst trying to stay calm dragging all of our belongings up the Steep Hill of Death that is also known as Cockburn Street hunting for our flat, inside my brain was screaming, "What on earth do you think you're doing here!? This is complete madness! How could this possibly turn out well?!" Add a Scottish accent to that and you're shaking in your wellies. Stop scaring me, brain!

Then, the grocery store. Yes, produce generally keeps the same name from place to place (unless you're a zucchini -- in the UK they're called courgettes), but all those other wonky names and brands and prices and currencies... one can get so muddied up and intimidated that food becomes too much of a hassle. Who needs food? We don't need food. Plus I feel like everyone in the Lidl is wondering why I'm spending 15 minutes staring at the shelf of bread, so I should probably just leave and eat the stale tortilla chips that are still at the bottom of my backpack. That's part of a food group, right? Right.

The good news is that I know things go up from here -- or there -- or whenever we hit rock bottom. Having done the living abroad thing once before, I feel like I'll be more prepared for the ups and downs. It's like being my own life counsellor -- completely effective and super cost-efficient. 

As of yet, we're still honeymooning it. The city is full of charm and bagpipes and we'll stretch this phase out as long as we can. We'll be annoyed with Edinburgh quirks soon enough. But that will just give us more reason to drink more tea. And everyone knows that tea makes everything better.

{This post written in May 2013}

September 19, 2013

week one.

I had hoped to do a "photo of the week" deal to briefly summarize each of our 14 weeks in Edinburgh... the problem is there are far too many photos to pick from every week. But self-discipline will prevail! I shall do three photos of the week.

I shall try, anyway.

This is Wayne and a map the day after we flew into the city. Wayne had just slept for 16 hours and was feeling brave and exploratory. We used this map a lot. But Edinburgh is a silly place full of tunnels and closes and steps and different levels and hills and as such, a map is basically useless. Well, not useless. Just... well, you're going to be confused anyway so shove the map in your backpack and figure it out on your own. 

These are what the streets look like in Old Town (which is where our flat was located). This particular photo is looking up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle. I'm also surprised when I look back at this photo because I had forgotten how few tourists were there in May! The numbers went up dramatically -- seriously, by hundreds of thousands -- once August hit. You literally had to queue up to cross the street. 

Do you like my UK lingo? I do.

Oh, the glory that is springtime! Like much of North America this year, west Michigan was cursed with a lousy spring. It was cold. It was wet and snowy. I wore mittens in May. Some miserable rodent ate all my tulips moments before they bloomed. 

I almost cried that day. 

Then we flew into Edinburgh, and I remember sitting on the bus on the way downtown from the airport, and I was this big smelly jet-lagged mess and was kinda sorta freaking out about what we had just done and then outside, a giant orange rhododendron bush flashed by. And then another one. And then we were passing these gardens and parks that were overflowing with spring flowers and these trees that were weighed down so heavily with blossoms that they were touching the ground and I realized something I hadn't realized before -- I was going to get two springs this year. And then I almost cried on that day, too. But that was because of happiness with a side of jet lag. Well, probably mostly jet lag. 

Anyway. This photo is taken in The Meadows, a great big green space in the middle of the city right next to the university. Check out those flowering trees! We spent a lot of time here -- it was a good place to play catch. We did get some weird looks, though. Scottish people play cricket and golf, not catch. Baseball is a strange phenomenon to them -- they think it's a "sissy" game. Baseball, cricket, golf -- you're whacking a ball with a stick in every single one of them, and each game requires the participant to wear goofy pants, so... yeah. More photos next week!

September 16, 2013

adventure guilt!

Well, we've done it. We've gone and moved ourselves to Scotland.

I've probably never questioned my sanity as much as I have in the last week. Do normal people do this? Do smart people do this? Do wise people do this? Does a couple, where one individual is busting it through seminary and the other is busting it in the workplace to help pay for seminary, typically give up a steady job to cross the Atlantic and do the complete opposite of what a sensible and bank account-saavy couple would do?

No, I say without a doubt that this is not typical. But I do say that this is an adventure. And I do say that I won't regret this, even though I've experienced multiple heart-into-stomach moments and late-night tossing and early-morning brain scrambles.

What are brain scrambles, you ask? Well, plan a move to Scotland with five weeks notice, then you'll know what brain scrambles are.

As a brief explanation: Wayne loves the English Puritans and loves to do research and loves to write, so much so that he wrote a research proposal and sent it off to a purveyor of Puritan knowledge at a university and that kindly professor said, Wayne, do come over and continue your research and writing here!

So we said, Tally ho! Hurrah!

Well, not really. I came home from work one day in April and Wayne took me by the shoulders and said, Suzanne, we're moving to Scotland! in a sort of awed-mixed-with-panic-mixed-with-delight voice. I said yeah right. He said, no really. I said yikes, we should probably find somewhere to live.

Panic ensued! Well, not quite panic. I suppose it was more like quiet desperation. Fortunately an incredible sublet opportunity came up, along with affordable flight tickets after some late-night week-long searching. Clearly we were excited about this opportunity! Who wouldn't be?

As always, though, there are things that dull the excitement. My own guilt, for one thing. People acceptable to the American work-yourself-to-the-bone culture don't go off gallivanting to the UK to spend money rather than earn it -- at least not without reasonable cause. Yes, Wayne is doing research and writing, but Suzanne -- what are you doing?

Ah yes, therein lies the rub. This question was asked of me more times than I can count. The majority of the time it was asked with sincere interest and kindly intention. I'm not so blind to the character of people, however, that I cannot gauge in which sense a question is asked. There were times when I was asked this question and there was a weird sort of tone to it -- a pushiness that demanded a firm, conclusive and acceptable-to-society answer -- which wasn't the answer I was ever able to give.

My answer? I'm going to do art. I'm going to write. I'm going to explore and be outside and make sure Wayne eats dinner and have as beautiful a time as I can with the slim budget that we've set. I'm going to do the things I love to do that I never have much time to do otherwise. We won't be here for very long -- and after this, let's be honest -- the life of a couple in ministry isn't all tea cakes and pink lemonade.

But there's still that nasty soul-eating guilt. That disapproving smirk that lasts for a shadow of a nanosecond on the face of a person who asks for an explanation. That moment of panic when I remember how completely and fully unemployed I am, and therefore useless to society.

So yes, I hope to work on my art. I hope to draw into reality those images that have been incubating in the creative chunk of my brain for the last several months. I hope to write hundreds of words -- whether anyone actually reads them all is beside the point. But more than any of this, I hope to gain some much-needed practice in not caring. We've all got a touch of fear of man issues, and I've certainly got my fair share. So -- no more caring about who thinks what about our insanity. Our time here is a beautiful gift, not a guilt trip. I'll make it. I've just got to put my galoshes on and get going.

{This post written in May 2013}

September 14, 2013

the travel (superiority) bug.

You know those people who go travelling across the globe and then come home sun-tanned and bright-eyed and adopting a funny accent when they talk and think they've grown four inches taller than you culturally -- and you couldn't care less?

I'm that person. Not the person who couldn't care less. The other person. The person who drives you crazy saying things like, "Well, in Vienna, blah blah blah" and you're totally zoning out thinking about things like your grocery list and how you're going to get to that meeting on time tonight when there's this person talking to you who won't shut up about Wiener schnitzel.

I had the wonderful opportunity as a 21-year-old college kid to go and spend a semester on exchange in Vienna, Austria. For a girl raised in the middle of the black muck of a carrot field (not literally guys, come on), this was the pinnacle of cultural exposure. I went to operas and ballets. I did my daily business with the banker and the grocer auf Deutsch. I memorized all five lines of the ubahn (short for untergrundbahn -- or the subway) and rode the strassenbahn daily. I explored every corner of the downtown, eating up the gloriousness of a city still draped in the beauty of Baroque architecture and endless green parks. 

I went to school, too. Really. 

Heading back to my final year of university the next fall took some adjustment. It was a challenge to walk through a campus in the shadows of 1970s Brutalist architecture when only a few months ago I had been attending an ecology class in a building that was over 100 years old marked with echoing hallways and shining wooden staircases and gleaming chandeliers. I missed Vienna terribly. Fortunately several classmates from my program at home had been in Austria with me so we could commiserate -- we'd gather around a drafting table in our studio with the lights of the Graben still shining in our eyes and talk about how much we missed Stephansdom and Eissalon Tuchlauben and the sparkling Danube

I know that I drove people insane. Anytime something came up in conversation that could be remotely related to my experience abroad, I'd feel this horribly strong urge to say it -- to say the dreaded words -- "Well, in Vienna..." It was a freaky sort of impulse that I had to learn to control. Wayne got the full brunt of it -- being the long-suffering boyfriend of a girl who left part of her heart in Austria while he missed seeing her for five months, I'm surprised he doesn't completely hate the city. Instead, he let me let it all out, and now over five years later I think the urge to word-vomit Vienna all over the place has subsided. Bad news, though. Scotland has taken its place, and this time, Wayne was there with me. 

Yes, dear blog friends, we spent the summer in Edinburgh. We left Michigan in May and came back two weeks ago, jet-lagged and confused as to whether we had actually just done what we had done. I'll write more on why we went later -- I didn't post about our adventure while we were gone because it's usually good practice not to announce to the world that your house will be empty and unmonitored for three months, and we have got a fine microwave that I'm not ready to part with just yet.

In the upcoming weeks I'll try to be posting the bits and pieces that I wrote during our summer so you can get a wee taste of our experience. Hopefully this will serve to dampen our irritating travel superiority problem as well... just tell us to be quiet if we get annoying. We'll appreciate it as much as you. 

August 14, 2013

reshaped for royalty.

When God wants to drill a man
And thrill a man
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him
And with mighty blows converts him

Into shapes and forms of clay
Which only God can understand;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes
How He uses whom He chooses
And with mighty power infuses him
With every act induces him
To try His splendor out -- 
God knows what He's about.

- Anonymous

July 30, 2013

better late than never.

I'm usually about one month behind when it comes to celebratory holidays. This isn't completely true when it comes to Christmas -- I usually find myself tangled up in a frenzied Christmas haze until the world comes screeching to a halt on Christmas Eve, everything finished just in time.

Ugh. I so wish that wasn't the case.

The other holidays aren't so lucky -- and by other holidays, I mean Mother's Day. I was fiercely determined to make a Mom's Day card for both my mom and my mom-in-law this year... I started in April. That's right, one month before the big day.

I finished them at the end of June.

But... better late than never! I don't know who coined that phrase, but whoever it is -- your phrase has helped generations of unorganized peoples apologize for their procrastination. Thank you, kind stranger.

Without further ado, the cards.

July 22, 2013

two and counting.

In the fall of 2002, a classroom seating arrangement was responsible for placing me next to a 5'5" tall basketball and baseball-obsessed Star Wars-loving teenage boy with shaggy red hair. I had no idea who he was. 

Dear reader, I married him. 

Two years ago today, to be exact. Alas, he didn't greet me this morning with memorized phrases from over-quoted 19th century English literature. Instead he said, "You know what I be, girl."

It's my fault. I've encouraged the gangster tendencies. 

There was a time when I was sure I wouldn't ever get married. It wasn't that I didn't want to get married -- I just figured that 6'2" girls who belted out Rodgers and Hammerstein ballads while mowing the lawn didn't find husbands that easily (very loud and sporadic singing is a hard characteristic to adjust to; Wayne can confirm this... as well as our neighbours). I had convinced myself of the fact that I was going to be one of those single girls who gets a career and a golden retriever puppy and lives in an apartment in a city somewhere, spending weekends reading classic literature while drinking tea out of an old teapot with a vase of wildflowers at her elbow. 

Over eight years later, I can now confirm that prophecy is not one of my spiritual gifts. 

While I was thinking these single girl thoughts, Wayne was busy growing as tall as he could as fast as he could. His goal in this, however, was not for me to notice him -- it was more so his intention to improve his baller skillz. Very romantic. But, in the words of Lucy Maud Montgomery,

"Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music; perhaps... perhaps.... love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath."
             - Anne of Avonlea

Happy anniversary, dear. 

July 07, 2013

a wee bit o' thanks

Have you ever tried drawing tartan? HAVE YOU?

Pure torture, my friends. Pure Scottish torture. Drawing it is hard enough -- I can't even imagine trying to figure out how to actually weave a blasted kilt. All personal illustration impairments aside, on display today are my new Scottish friends. I think they're cute. 

Tapadh leibh means 'thank you' in Scottish Gaelic. Don't ask me how to pronounce it, I haven't a clue. What I do know is that my thank-you cards are getting all international up in hur! Holla!

Perhaps I shall draw a kimono next. 

July 05, 2013

the other side.

This past Monday marked a really huge milestone in my life -- a milestone I'd never really anticipated. It wasn't even on my radar.

Wayne was gone to Men's Bible Study. I was home alone, my hands held half a green pepper stuffed with leftover couscous (dinner of champions!), and my eyes were reflecting the soft glow of the computer screen. We don't own a television, so we depend on the internet for all our entertainment needs. Tonight? The Toronto Blue Jays were playing ball.

At first I thought, "Oh, I'll just have it on while I'm eating my dinner." Then a few innings went by. Couscous devoured, I made myself some toast. Watched some more innings. Did a little happy dance when DeRosa hit a three-run homer. Watched the whole game. Kept the website tuned into the FAN590 so I could laugh into the dish soap as Mike Wilner sliced up moronic callers on the Jays Talk post-game show. Suddenly, I realized something serious had happened.

I had turned into a baseball fan.

Okay, I get it, this doesn't sound like that big a deal, and in the grand scheme of things, it isn't, really. Weirder stuff is going on out there in blogland. But if you knew what sort of environment I was raised in... think hockey-hockey-hockey, hockey all the time. We didn't have an option. Saturday night was Hockey Night in Canada with Don Cherry and Ron McLean. Don't even THINK about watching a Disney movie, kids. We were taught to skate as soon as we could walk, and though none of us ever played in an official hockey league, we thought we were pros when it came to pond hockey (which presents its own challenges -- uneven ice and pressure cracks can really blow your breakaway, as can getting a frozen tree branch in the eye). Somewhere around the age of 12, I morphed from a compulsory Maple Leafs fan into a full-fledged all-consumed hockey devotee. 

I lived and breathed the Leafs. Those were the days when you could tell how Pat Quinn was feeling based on the way he chewed his gum and when Mats Sundin still had a full head of blonde hair. I spent the weeks during the playoffs on edge, nails chewed, both dreading and anticipating that 7 o'clock puck drop. Goals scored against us were taken personally, even more so when it resulted in playoff elimination.  We would furiously proclaim our undying abhorrence to teams that got in our way -- I still feel a little grudge against New Jersey thanks to the 2000 and 2001 playoff seasons. 

But baseball? First of all, I was (and still am) terrible at playing baseball. And the Jays? Who are they? Why would anyone pay attention to them? Bunch of old guys who stand around in a field chewing tobacco and swinging at balls -- and losing. Boring. 

University arrived. Now consumed with endless schoolwork and projects, Bob Cole and the Leafs had to take a backseat. I'd occasionally watch a weekend game, but when at Wayne's house -- it was the Blue Jays. Wayne loved baseball. Yes, I'd found myself a man from the other side. 

I didn't mind much. If you were going to fall asleep on the couch on a Sunday afternoon, you might as well fall asleep to a Jays game, right? Right. It was kind of nice, actually. Alan Ashby had a pretty soothing voice. 

Throughout our dating years and into marriage, Wayne has devoted himself to teaching me every single possible thing there is to know about baseball. I listened politely at first, then with slight interest, now with unabashed fascination. I really, really, really like baseball. I like its rich history and its calculated, silent strategy. I like its etiquette and its unwritten rules and player codes. I like its lingo -- backdoor slider, moonshot, uncle Charlie, snow cone catch. I like watching the interaction between opponents, whether it's a head nod acknowledging a good (i.e. filthy) pitch, or a solid plunking to let the batter know what everyone thinks of him. 

And now I don't even know the name of the Leafs' head coach. I'm so incredibly fickle. 

Wayne came home from his Bible Study and asked if I knew how the game went.

S: They won! I watched the whole game!
W: You watched the whole game??! Alone?!?!! 
S: ...Yes.

He was pretty proud of me. Then when I told him I'd listened to Jays Talk alone as well, he just started laughing. Disbelief, I think. 

Anyway, the game is starting soon. Jerry Howarth, how I've missed your voice!

June 28, 2013

a spring-themed thank you.

I was commissioned to draw this little fella for the lovely donors who contributed to a high school fundraiser -- a.k.a. the Spring Rummage Sale! You can see the fall version here

Certain events have transpired which have made it impossible to open Photoshop on my laptop. This means that the image you're seeing is completely unedited, untouched by filters and cursors of every kind. I tried using some sketchy online copycat version but by the time I was halfway done the internet ate all my work and I had a wee little temper tantrum then gave up and decided that the fates would have their way and I'd have to expose myself as an artist who often colours outside of the lines. 

I remember reading somewhere that Beatrix Potter often had to redraw her illustrations because she'd mess up so often. I can't tell you how much relief this gives me, though it does make me feel a little bit like a cheater. Photoshop makes life so much easier -- I'm sorry you missed out, Beatrix. 

June 27, 2013

lifestyle evangelism.

I want evangelism to be a lot easier. I want to go all "preach the gospel and when necessary use words" style and forget about bringing Jesus into the conversation and just hope that Jesus-love will emanate from my face when I'm helping out at a soup kitchen. I think probably many Christians want that. Lauren Winner does. She writes,

"I take comfort in the church's current affection for what is politely called 'lifestyle evangelism'. Being a lifestyle evangelist doesn't require handing out tracts; it just requires living a good, God-fearing, Gospel-exuding life. I like to assume that most people know I am a Christian and when they see that I am sometimes joyful and sometimes peaceful when they are not, they will want to know my secret."
            - Girl Meets God, Pg. 120

But then what? What if on a rare occasion someone does notice your joy and peace and says, "Hey, why are you so happy all the time? Can you fill me in on your secret?" Then what do you say?

Well, in my case, you give an awkward mysterious smile and shrug and then kick yourself for years afterward because you had this perfect, gleaming pearl of opportunity in your hands and then you dropped it and sadly watched it roll away and didn't even try to chase it down.

Therein lies the issue with "lifestyle evangelism". Let us be perfectly honest and admit that people aren't going to ask why us Christians are so happy all the time. First of all, it's a weird question to ask. Second, we're not happy all the time. Christians are sinners and we still have some really bad days where people will be thinking, I wonder why she's so miserable all the time, what a Debbie Downer.

And then, that one time where someone catches you on a good day and asks what your secret is -- well -- it's your shining moment. And guess what? You have absolutely no idea what to say. Why would you? You haven't had any practice with this evangelism thing. All you know how to do is collect canned goods and volunteer with troubled youth and the Holy Spirit was going to do the rest, right?

Well -- technically -- yes. The Holy Spirit is the only One who's going to be doing any converting around here. As Christians, our job is to offer ourselves as tools that can be used to spread the Gospel. We move the Gospel. The Spirit moves hearts. But where does that leave us? Do we just assume that we can parade around with Luke 12:12 slung over our shoulder, trusting that we'll be given the words to say when the time comes?

I guess you could. And I don't doubt that the Holy Spirit could do marvellous things in any situation. But I would also say that it's important to remember that Jesus spent much of his ministry teaching and training his disciples to prepare them for their work after his departure; that in Acts Paul is described several times as spending time in the synagogue, reasoning and persuading his listeners about the Kingdom of God (e.g. Acts 28:23). The importance of being able to talk about what you believe in is further stressed in 1 Peter 3:15 --

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

...And in Colossians 4:5-6 --

"Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."

Yes, we must trust that the Spirit will give us words of wisdom when required. Yes, God is ultimately in control of every outcome of every conversation. Yes, our attempts at spreading the Gospel are futile aside from the life-changing power of God. These facts, however, do not negate the call of the Great Commission. These facts do not allow us to clutch desperately onto the excuse that is always (but wrongly) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi -- to only use words when necessary, thus saving ourselves from the humiliation of possible rejection. We must use words, otherwise,

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Romans 10:14)

This is really hard. I don't like doing things that make me uncomfortable. I don't like doing things that I don't feel very good at. I don't like doing things that make me feel stupid and chip away at my pride. It's much easier to hand out sandwiches to the homeless than confront someone with their sin and show them the way to salvation.

But sandwiches, pleasant smiles and volunteer hours won't count for anything after someone's heart stops beating. Together we must encourage and help each other in evangelism, celebrate victories and milestones through the goodness of Christ, pray through our defeats, and trust that God will be glorified despite our weaknesses!

{This entry is a continuation of thought stemming from this earlier post.}

June 16, 2013

kid lit and dads who listen.

"She... thought of how when her sister had played her flute, whatever her father was doing, however busy he was, he would listen, gently opening all the doors between the place where he was working, and wherever Clem was practising."
          - Binny for Short by Hilary McKay, pg. 14

I'm a part of that strange family of people that prefers children's literature over adult literature. It's not that I don't like solid adult fiction or a good biography -- it's just that I find the humour and kindness and gentleness and unique perspective of children's literature to often be more enjoyable than the sometimes exhaustive emotional roller coaster plots of adult fiction. Whether this is an indicator of my maturity level... well, we won't go there today.

Anyway, I've been busy reading some kid lit over the last week and the quote up at the top is from a book I just finished. The 12-year-old protagonist is calling to mind memories of her father who died a few years before -- and when I read this my breath caught in my throat a little bit because I had this moment where a fictional phrase is so real and mirrors a past moment so acutely that you have to read it again just to make sure you're not imagining things.

It's just a sentence, just a subtle phrase that most readers skim over to get to the next paragraph. But in my own life, for my family -- this exact thing happened countless times. One of us would close the doors to the living room after pulling a violin out of its case or snapping the piano light on, not wanting to disturb the peace of the rest of the house with messy scales and unsuccessful attempts at sight-reading. And sure enough, a few minutes later, one door would swing open, then another, and sometimes he would come through one of them and stand with his ear to the music and his hand on the bannister and just look out the window, and other times there would be nobody there, just silently opened doors and a dad sitting back down at the kitchen table, preferring the full-volume effect of jolty quasi-musical phrases and cries of artistic frustration to accompany his paperwork.

For a little while after he was gone, playing music felt lonely. The doors remained shut. I'd look up, half-expecting to see him standing at the bannister, even though I knew he wouldn't be there. And then I'd feel a little bit annoyed, because he should be there and it's weird that he's not because he was just there, just a few weeks ago, and he was just laughing, and he was just eating dinner across the table from me and it seemed so terribly stupid that someone who was so completely alive is -- just -- not.

I came across 1 Corinthians 15:21 last week. It read, "For as by man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

Some people find the resurrection of the dead simply unbelievable, too far-fetched, too sci-fi. For me, the reality of the resurrection is inescapable. Experiencing the death of a loved one is strange and bizarre. But I can recall looking at the shell lying in the casket and thinking that there was something missing, something so glaringly huge. And I thought, his soul is not here. If someone who was so alive, so full of laughter, just recently mashing up shepherd's pie on his dinner plate could be so quickly lying here in this shiny casket, how swiftly can his soul be filled with life, real eternal life.

I am not an exegetical genius, but I do know that we are quick to think that by man came death, evil, sin; I know that we are quick to limit the power of the Almighty God and think that that is the end. But that is not the end. That is never the end. In Christ shall all be made alive, and no, not in these lousy bodies that get the flu and get sunburned and get choked up with cancer and darkness. Our souls, our new bodies, these will be made alive in Christ. We were created in His image, and as Christ lives and will live and reign eternally, as co-heirs and sons and daughters of the Lord, so shall we.

 Thank God for fathers, here and already there.

June 06, 2013

the wedding pt. 8: flowers.

Flowers at weddings are odd things. When else in your life do you ever hold a bunch of flowers in an awkward-yet-queenly sort of way for an entire day? At any other time in your life this would be considered abnormal behaviour. But no -- today, on this momentous day of days, you are allowed to hold a bunch of flowers for hours on end. All your friends get to hold them, too. And the boys! The boys get to wear them! Not at any other time (at least in this century) will they consent to pin pink gerberas to their shirts, but today -- oh yes. Today this sort of accessorizing is the pinnacle of masculinity. 

I wasn't very good at the whole flower thing. I was not nearly as prepared as I should have been. Smart girls have Pinterest boards packed with bouquet ideas from the age of 13. The go to flower shows. They do serious research. I googled "pretty wedding flowers for July", pasted some images into a document, and never referred to them again. This is rather too bad, especially in the wake of how my wedding flowers actually turned out. There was nothing wrong with them -- they looked beautiful and smelled nice. They just didn't really... match. 

This is all my fault. My florists were brilliant. They did exactly what I asked them to do -- and that's why it's my fault. I can even recall them asking if that was exactly what I wanted, and offering other brief suggestions, but I declined and popped out of there as soon as I could because we were late for a family wedding (where the flowers matched beautifully, I might add). Also, it had been pouring rain outside and being doused in mid-June showers resulted in all my creative sense washing away. No, this has not been scientifically proven. Yes, I'm still going to use it as an excuse. 

You may recall that our girls were dressed in various shades of blue, and the boys in black and white. To stay safe (and inexpensive) I decided to go for crisp and clean with a white and green bouquet. This was to be my theme throughout -- for the guys, girls, moms, etc. Keep it simple and pretty. Princess Kate's bouquet from earlier in the year may or may not have played a role in helping me make this decision. 

The day of the wedding -- surprise! My bouquet was a pinky cream with purple here and there. Not white. Not green. My mouth got a little dry when I had a flashback to that day in the back room at the flower shop -- yes -- I distinctly remember saying cream would look nice. And purple, too. What?! Why?!?!  I still have no idea what possessed me to think that this would look all matched and proper. I wish I could say that the purple was for some sort of sentimental reason... that it had some sort of secret meaning. Alas, all it means is that Suzanne doesn't always pay very good attention to things. 

Not that it really matters. We rocked our bouquets, and those flowers have now gone back to where they came from... composted and rotted back into the earth, helping other plants grow! Makes one consider their mortality and all that serious stuff. Matrimony. Mismatched flowers. Mortality. I don't think I have blog categories for all of these important things. 

June 01, 2013

a boring-ish update.

Annnnnd.... she's back!

Not that I was ever gone. I'd log into this website thinger and sadly look at the last date posted and hope that some magic blog fairy would have posted something witty and charming to appease the blog-reading mobs. I suppose I should just get on with it and stop imagining earth-shattering entries into existence. I'd be content with something that was at least a touch comprehensible. 

Congrats to all you long-suffering readers out there, though... my blogging dashboard tells me that people are still regularly checking this insignificant page with hope in their hearts. Well -- I can't confirm the hope in hearts, I just imagine that. 

Life update, since you all care so very much: May was nice. Daffodils bloomed, then the nasty bunnies ate all my poor little tulips before they had a chance to burst open -- made me rather vindictive towards bunnies for awhile. We have very friendly neighbours whose little children can now spend time outside in the pleasant weather... they come and press their faces up against our sliding door, providing much entertainment and leaving some oddly shaped slobber marks on the glass. Work-wise, I surpassed even my own expectations in defeating the insurance billing monster conundrum. Our office lost its insurance biller. Guess who took on the job? Yes. Turns out people actually go to school for this for a reason. BUT -- as I said -- it was defeated (through much trial and error, but we don't need to talk about that). 

My ever-present friend of almost six years took a turn for the worse and had to be admitted to a rehab centre -- fare thee well, 2007 macbook. Her light went out and using a flashlight to see the screen isn't the most effective way to check one's email. Being without a functioning computer may have also aided in my absence from the blogosphere -- I used Wayne's old and limping laptop for awhile but trying to blog on a computer whose functionality depends solely on its mood isn't the best for creativity's flow. Oh, you'd like to turn off now? Alright. Go ahead and do that. We'll try again tomorrow. Fortunately I  know some people with connections. Thank you, people, for letting me know you and lending me a tool that will aid in my trades. Have you tried digitally editing illustrations without photoshop OR a computer? It's quite impossible. 

The Grand Rapids weather has been ever-constant -- and by this I mean completely all over the place. Cold and rainy and miserable to steamy and unbearably humid all within a few hours. I didn't think any weather could be more moody and unpredictable than southern Ontario, but west Michigan takes the cake, I think. Merci beaucoup, Lake Michigan and surrounding bodies of water. 

Before I bore you all with more lengthy weather descriptions, I think I'll put a stop to this entry. Now. I'll be back with more substance later. Also, the below photo is amazing. 

May 01, 2013

it's here.

"It always amazes me to look at the little wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in 'em."
           - Anne's House of Dreams

I would like to take this moment to say how ridiculously delighted I am by this time of year. 

In general I'm not very good at dealing with change, but when it comes to the changing of the seasons, particularly the transition from winter to spring, I am perfectly fine with change. It's not that I hate winter -- I'm just annually struck by the wonder of spring and by how quickly the waves of green take over the brown and grey.

I go outside every morning to check on the status of the garden. It's like a weird twitch... but a happy twitch.

Welcome, spring.