There were a number of years where I didn’t look forward to Valentine’s Day.  It came hot on the heals of my wedding anniversary, another day that wasn’t too much fun remembering alone.   I longed for Jesus, the lover of my soul, to do something special for me on February 14th during those years.  I wanted to look out my window and see “I heart Yvonne” sculpted in the snow or to go for a walk and see the most spectacular rainbow set in the sky especially for me.  I longed to open my mailbox and find something special that said He knew the secret longings of my heart.  On that day in particular I wanted to FEEL loved, not just know that I was.

For a number of years Valentine’s Day was a very ordinary day for me.  I homeschooled just like I always did.  I made breakfast, lunch and dinner the same as I would any other day.  I parented and cleaned and at some point asked the boys to give me the Valentine’s Day cards I had forced them to make for me.  They always said, “I love you Mom” inside because my noncrafty boys couldn’t be bothered to put any more time than absolutely necessary into them.  It just didn’t seem to enter their heads that maybe they could try to make them special for me.

I cried out to God a lot on Valentine’s Day.  I knew my friends would be getting flowers and meals out and special cards and that I wouldn’t be.  One time when I was pouring out my complaint once again in prayer, God spoke to me.  He said that I should do all that I was wanting for someone else.  My heart knew the pain of loneliness and unfulfilled dreams and He wanted to use that understanding along with my hands and my feet to meet the needs of others.  It turned the tide for me.  I began to open my eyes to other women who likely wouldn’t get anything for Valentine’s Day either.  Mostly, they were the divorced and the women in their forties and fifties still waiting for Mr. Right to come along.  A lot of these women had very sad stories and were bravely continuing on in spite of tragedy.

I can’t tell you how much fun I had putting together special little somethings for these dear ladies.  I prayed over them, shopped for them, made cards, laboured over what to write to them and spent a lot of time wrapping them ever so prettily.  I felt like a secret agent trying to get these gifts to them without being detected.  These weren’t gifts from me.  They were gifts from a loving God who was willing to use me, Miss Pity Party, to put them together and deliver them.

I’m married now and look forward to Valentine’s Day but I still remember the feeling of loneliness and disappointment.  I don’t want anyone to feel it because it hurts.  So I’m continuing Operation Feel Loved.  This year I got my friend, LJ, to partner with me.  She’s been widowed just over a year and a half and loved the idea of it.  She’s lived here longer than I have and had a couple of women in mind.  We had a great time working together to make these gifts personal for our targets.

My surprise for LJ was to shower her with gifts a week early.

Here’s the card I quickly made for her.

And here’s D coveting the big heart shaped box of chocolates I got for her to share (with me!).

Flowers were definitely in order.

And here are the gifts we put together for our lonely heart friends.

Both gals are long distance runners so we got them products to pamper their feet.  Even though they have the same passion, their personalities are quite different so one gift is packaged to look a little quirky and the other one is pretty and feminine.

It was fun doing Operation Feel Loved on my own but it was even more enjoyable to have a co-conspirator.  Now to find a way to sneak over to her house and sculpt “I heart L___J__” in the snow.

Every month, someone who loves the village of Washago puts out a free publication called “The Soulvine”.  In it, this individual tells of the goings on in our little neck of the woods and accepts submissions from anyone who calls Washago home.  You can find everything from poetry to recipes to funny stories to sermons to advice in “The Soulvine”.  DA and I look forward to finding it in our mailbox.  I picture the principle writer as a middle aged man who got C’s in grammar.  The monthly publication is quite poorly written with its run on sentences and dangling participles but somehow that makes it all the more entertaining to read.

This month a story was recounted in “The Soulvine” that I really liked.  It tells of a musician who set up in Washington Metro Station in January of 2009.  The fellow played six Bach pieces on his violin for about an hour while roughly 2000 people rushed by to go to work.  A few souls paused for a couple of minutes to listen and about twenty threw coins into his violin case.  Most people were in a hurry and no one noticed or applauded when he finished and packed up his things.

What no one knew was that this wasn’t just any musician.  This was Joshua Bell, a very famous violinist, who normally played to sold out theatres where seats went for a hundred dollars or more.  That day he played some of the most intricate music ever written on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.  His incognito performance at the station was part of a social experiment organized by the Washington Post.  The questions being studied were:  in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?  Do we stop to appreciate it?  Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

It seems the majority of the people missed the beauty of that music.  It was there but they didn’t hear it.  It makes you wonder how many other beautiful things we miss as we hurry through our days.

My days are filled with the most ordinary things imaginable and yet I’m convinced that in every day there is something beautiful.  Today I saw it while delivering newspapers.  A man came out of his home carrying a bucket of corn.  About a hundred mallard ducks came waddling out to meet him in expectation of a meal.  I don’t normally see ducks in February and it was strangely beautiful to see this caring man scattering feed to his expectant duck friends.  They went wild, quacking and walking clumsily through the snow, to get to that corn.  I couldn’t help but smile.

Was it an award winning violinist playing for free on an expensive instrument?  No.  Was it beauty?  I think so.

I love it when I have a “That’s It!” moment.  It happens once in a blue moon for me.  Very often I know exactly what I want and go looking for it only to be frustrated that I can’t find it.  This time around it was a mirror for the entrance way bathroom that I just painted.  I wanted something a little more upscale than the large unframed mirror the bathroom came with when I moved in.  I’m happy to say that the “That’s It!” moment happened pretty quickly on this one.  I decided to take a peek at The Home Depot not really expecting to have much luck when there it was and gloriously within my price range.

Hanging things is definitely not my forte in life.  The mirror may need to be lowered a bit (when I have help) but it looks as good in the bathroom as I thought it would.  My photo really doesn’t do it justice.

The frame is really quite detailed and beautiful (in my opinion).  That little bathroom has gone from drab to fab.  Love it!

It’s a bitter -27 degrees out before you factor in windchill.  I can honestly say that, despite its beauty, I’m ready to bid Winter good-bye.  Each morning I find myself hoping that February will zip by so that we can get to signs of Spring.  Fortunately, I have a little bit of Spring in full bloom in my living room.

There’s something about fresh flowers that cheers the soul even if the body has to go outside and freeze to deliver papers.

A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say, “Look, he was thinking of me,” or “She remembered me.”  You must be thinking of someone to give him a gift. The gift itself is a symbol of that thought.  It doesn’t matter whether it costs money.  What is important is that you thought of him.  And it is not the thought implanted only in the mind that counts, but the thought expressed in actually securing the gift and giving it as the expression of love.

from “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman

I found this on the dining room table this morning:

I love surprises with my name on them!

They look a little like gold covered chocolates but if you look closer you’ll see that they’re actually pretty little candles.

My mother-in-law knows that I like to dress up my table so she picked these up for me.  She’s so sweet and so good at speaking my language.

Since I walk so much delivering papers, I don’t often go for leisure walks anymore.  It’s been so mild lately that I ventured out a bit Sunday afternoon with my camera.  I’m glad I did because it’s raining today and the winter I saw yesterday won’t be around much longer if it keeps up.  These are “just because” pics.

These cattails lured me out to walk on the lake.

This bike has been here a while.

Orillia often has pretty clouds.

I like it when ice sticks to things.

There isn’t a lot of colour in winter, so these tiny red berries stood out to me.

There’s a quote by Mary Engelbreit that I really like.  It goes like this:  If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. There are things in my home that I don’t like so I’m working towards changing them.

Here’s the before picture of our entrance way bathroom.  I had originally painted the walls brown and hung up a lot of silver plates on the wall.  I hadn’t done that great a paint job and those silver plates had a nasty way of crashing down at the most inconvenient times.  The long and the short of it was that I wasn’t liking this bathroom.  Since I already had brown paint leftover from P’s bedroom makeover, I decided to give this room a bit of a makeunder.  First the walls needed some repair and secondly the toilet tank had to come off this time around so that I could paint behind it.  (That’s a pretty easy job, if you’re wondering.)  I wanted this bathroom to be a little more simply decorated than it had been.  Here’s what it looks like after some sweat and thought:

I used my paper route money to buy a Group of Seven print that I really liked and used what I had from other rooms in our house to put together the floral arrangement.  It didn’t cost me that much and now this room that was driving me nuts is making me smile.  That’s so worth the effort!

My mantel also got a bit of a makeunder.  It had a lot of stuff piled on there for Christmas.  Now it’s looking much more tailored.

My hubby is reading “The Five Love Languages” and is getting good at speaking mine.  The tulips he had bought me expired and while I was at work, he went out and got me these gorgeous red ones.  What a lovely surprise!  Don’t they just sing in this room?  I feel so loved!

I couldn’t resist taking a lot of pictures of that gorgeous red.

The couch got an extra pillow and the console table behind it got some stuff that used to be in other rooms in our home.

The window sill got a couple of new balls added to it.

Useless but oh so pretty.  They make me happy to look at so I think they were worth the little bit of money I spent on them.

I’m so happy I read that quote.  It’s true.  There’s a lot we can do to change what we don’t like.  It requires effort and sometimes it means some expense but it’s wonderful to be surrounded on every side by things you actually like.  I think so anyways.

I’ve been wanting to do a photo shoot with the boys for a while but setting has been a major issue.  It’s hard to do a good shoot outside in the winter and it’s also hard to do a good shoot indoors without a studio.  I tried hard to clear out one corner of the spare bedroom to create a neutral backdrop.  I wasn’t as successful as I was hoping to be.  Looking at the shots I got, I can also tell that I need to fiddle with lighting somehow if I try to use that corner again.  The one thing I can’t complain about is D and P.  They were most cooperative, going so far as getting geared up in their new Air Cadet uniforms for me.  Here are Orillia’s newest recruits:

There’s a period of my life that I can only describe as painful and difficult.  I’m grateful for the people who endeavored to walk by my side during those years, who tried to buoy my spirits and give me hope and perspective, but at the same time I know it was some of those same people who drove me crazy.  They’d say things, thinking they understood what it was like to be a widow and single parent and it was obvious to me that though their intentions were good, they had no idea what I was going through.  I have often wondered how best to communicate the experience of grieving and getting over loss.  I’m not wondering anymore.  My friend, LJ, who is walking the road I once trod, wrote an article that sums it up perfectly.  It so hit home that I thought I’d share it.  I hope that it will help people who haven’t experienced first-hand a significant loss to comprehend how much of a struggle it is to “get over it” and to know what to say to those who have.  Here’s what LJ wrote:

When do you “Get  Over It”?
Before Jeff died, on occasion I would ponder about loss and grief.  I did not think about death for long but I would wonder when I would experience a significant loss and what that would be like.  If you haven’t lost someone you care about, how can you begin to understand grief?  As the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn slowly into years I am learning that grief looks very different for each person that experiences it.  Your personality, your age and your relationship to the person who died all have an impact on your journey.  So how do you relate to someone who just suffered the major blow of a death of a loved one? What is grief like?
If I was to explain my journey to you I would compare my experience to the amputation of your arm.  An arm is understandable and is a good starting point to consider if you are aiming to be empathetic.    Let’s pretend that one day while driving down the highway you lose control over your car on an icy patch on the road.  Your car hits a bridge, trapping you by your arm in your car.  In order to save you from bleeding to death the emergency response team is forced to amputate your arm.   It was a perfectly normal day and suddenly you find yourself in a hospital covered in bandages.   As you recover consciousness you are able to recall  your car accident.  First you really can’t feel anything in your body.  You’re just numb.  The world goes on around you, and you find yourself simply watching.  Slowly but surely, the feeling returns and eventually you start to feel the pain.  You have just lost your arm!
No matter how much you may or may not anticipate a loss you can never really be emotionally prepared for grief.  Knowing days or months ahead that someone is going to die does not minimize the pain you experience although it may lessen the shock.    After someone dies it is pretty normal to walk around in a daze.  It is easy to be strong at the beginning.  The full loss of your loved one’s death hasn’t sunken in yet.  You talked to them or held them only a few hours earlier or a day or 2 ago.  Absorbing the full impact of your loss cannot happen in a day or even in a week.
Losing an arm is painful but eventually with time the pain does decrease.  How long does it take for the pain to ease and the raw wound to heal over?  It would depend on things like how healthy you are,  how many complications occurred, your response to treatment and so forth.  But once you are released from the hospital does that mean you have now “gotten over it”? Not at all!  Your journey has just begun.  Now you need to start to adjust to all the secondary losses.  Think about all the adjustments you would need to make if you lost your arm.  The list goes on and on.  Immediately you think of things like tying your shoes, eating, toileting and driving your car.  But as you continue to be pulled forward in life by time, you start to discover that it isn’t easy holding down your old job with one arm.  And what about playing baseball in the summer like you always used to do?  Your day to day routines,  your employment, your friendships, and your recreational pursuits are affected by the loss of your arm.  There is not one area of your life that does not go untouched by the loss of your arm.  Now you have to start making some very difficult choices.  How are you going to react to these challenges?  How are you going to “get over it”?  Are you going to choose to live in the land of self pity? On some days you will spend time there.  Are you going to be able to play baseball like you always did with your old team?  Probably not.  Are you going to give up baseball all together?  Maybe, but hopefully you will find a new team to be part of or possibly a new role on your old team.  Will you like these adjustments?  Of course not!  You’ll have a good cry after every game the first summer.  Maybe the 2nd summer too.
Losing someone very close to you is painful and the amount of time it takes to heal over the raw wound of death does vary from person to person.   The time you need to heal this wound will be affected by a variety of factors such as what you believe about life & death, the support you get from friends & family, the number of new challenges you must over come and the choices you make about how fast you will face many of the issues that are now a reality of your life.  But as you move forward in life in your grief journey, many times you will find that the impact of your loss is overwhelming.  It affects every relationship and every aspect of your life.  You have to make difficult choices over and over and over.  You can’t pretend your life is the same.  Well, you can try to pretend but it’s like pretending you still have an arm when you don’t.   I think people around you can be tempted to pretend everything  is fine too.  It’s a comforting pretense because it’s the easiest way.   Pretending everything is normal and fine after someone loses a loved one is like pretending to shake someone’s missing hand after their arm is amputated.   You are both left feeling very uncomfortable with your interaction and will likely avoid each other in the future.   Better to say something like “I feel awkward because I want to shake your hand.  It must be hard getting used to life with one hand”.   When someone has died saying “I miss seeing Jeff, you must miss him more than I do” is hard to say.  But doing this allows you to open the door to the reality of where a grieving person is at and it allows you to be a part of the “new” life a person is adjusting to. Acknowledging loss rather than pretending everything is fine is a difficult first step.  It is the first and most difficult hurdle to overcome in rebuilding meaningful relationships after loss.
Will you ever “get over” losing your arm?  No, you never will.  And you will never “get over” the loss of someone you love.  The pain will decrease,  you will adjust to someone’s absence and you will live and laugh again, but the scar of loss will always be on your heart.  There is some strange comfort in carrying this scar and knowing you will never forget.   If you are grieving or want to support someone experiencing loss you both will be challenged to make potentially difficult, painful and uncomfortable choices over and over and over.  So step up to the plate and then live, laugh and love again.

Let’s Pretend
Let’s pretend
That everything is fine
When it isn’t

Let’s pretend
The water is calm and
The skies are clear
When they aren’t

Does it help
In the end
When the ship is destroyed
And the cargo is lost?
Let’s pretend

Conflict.  It’s probably inevitable when people live together under the same roof.  Even those who are kith and kin have different personalities and ideas and that makes for clashes.

I’d like to write that our home is the exception to this but honestly it’s not.  I’d also like to blog that I’ve figured out conflict resolution and can explain it to you in three easy steps.  It’s not like that.  As the boys grow and change, the nature of our conflict changes.

I have a lot of time to think about things while I deliver newspapers.  Normally, I choose to think happy thoughts because I know that what I think about determines how I feel.  If I think about how little we’ve been sick this winter, how blessed we are to own a home, the amazing meals we enjoy, the freedom I have to read the Bible and go to church, my friends and family, etc., I can’t help but feel grateful and rejoice.  Though I like to think happy thoughts, lately I’ve been challenged to think through some of the difficulties in our home.  Things rarely change for the better or get resolved by ignoring them.  Sometimes problems need to be addressed and solutions need to be implemented so that we can move past what’s driving us nuts and forward to a more peaceful coexistence.

Lately I’ve been realizing that roughly 90% of our current spats can be traced back to one general misdemeanor.  It’s one I bring up often and it’s the boys’ number one wish that I would let up on it already.  I’ve decided not to because as long as I allow this one problem to continue it escalates into a host of other problems.  This one problem is the tiny rock that sets the avalanche going.  What is the one problem?  In a nutshell, someone hasn’t cleaned up something.

Here’s a common scenario.  Person A goes to the junk drawer to get the scissors and glue stick.  He uses them to work on his project.  He doesn’t finish his project so he leaves it, the scissors and the glue stick laying around.  Person B comes needing a pair of scissors.  He goes to the junk drawer, rifles through it but can’t find them.  He begins to waste time looking for them growing more and more disgruntled.  He then turns to accusation.  He’s pretty sure he knows who it is that hasn’t returned them to their rightful home.  An exchange of words takes place.  Generally, they aren’t loving, kind, understanding words.  More often than not, a tired mom is called upon to step in and intervene.  Having to listen to Person A and then Person B and then render a decision makes her even more tired and definitely not more loving.  Usually what follows is a lecture about thinking about other people, putting things back where they belong, working together, etc., etc., which I’m sure sounds a lot like blah, blah, blah, to Person A and Person B who both want to be right and have things their way.  It doesn’t matter if mom buys ten glue sticks and ten pairs of scissors.  Somehow they all get lost or broken and we’re down to duking it out for the ones that remain.

Enter Person C.  He’s unaware of the conflict and of the project.  He trips over the scissors or the glue stick or whatever Person A was working on and didn’t finish and stubs his toe or bangs his knee.  He’s unhappy.  Why are these things laying around?  Why aren’t they where they’re supposed to be?  Person A then becomes unhappy because Person C has just damaged his project or broken the one remaining pair of scissors.  Another less than pleasant exchange of words takes place.

The common element to so many of our disagreements is that some item is not where it should be.  Because of that, we waste precious time.  Because of that, we spend more money.  (Things really do break when they get stepped on or sat on.  They really do get ruined when they’re left out in the rain.)  Because of that, injuries happen.  Because of that, we argue, accuse, point fingers, lose our tempers and say things we shouldn’t.

The solution to me is simple in theory but far harder in practice.  Everything in our home needs an assigned place and every single item must be returned to its assigned place before any of us can go to bed every single day.  It must become habit to always, always, always put things away.  Even things that are temporary or in process need to have a home where they can safely rest until they are finished with.  Everyone must know everything’s place and be committed to returning it there.  It can’t just be mom who does this because experience tells me that way doesn’t make for less conflict, it makes for more of it.

Now the question is how to get this going and how to keep it going.  I can see no other way than by being a drill sergeant, the kind that follows Person A and Person B around, getting on their case day in and day out, being in their face about it for everyone’s own good.  Person A and Person B won’t like this and it will be very draining and difficult for mom but I’m pretty sure Person C will be cheering wildly from the sidelines supporting mom all the way and suffering far fewer injuries as a result.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time.