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I am kind of fascinated by the words that come and go in the popular writing and speaking and Facebook status updating that we do. It’s fun, the following of current language. I’m usually a step behind the kewl kids, lol-ing at the words the rest of the world has already relegated to the garbage pile of last month’s language phase.

Every once in a while, though, a language trend pops up that gets under my skin and makes me itch just a bit.

The normalize trend is one of those. Scratch, scratch.

Everyone seems to want to normalize everything, from political positions to cultural positions to sexual positions.

And what we mean when we talk about normalizing, really, is that I want you to think the same as me about whatever the position is.

While I get the passion behind some of the current normalizing campaigns, I wonder at the loss of wonder such in-your-face promotion, well, promotes. I’ve never been one to fall in love with something because I was beat over the head with it.

There are things I care about. Deeply care about. I live my life and am with my family in certain ways, and in the being and living is included a bunch of stuff like education choices and discipline choices and housing choices and spiritual choices  and even personal satisfaction choices. Some of these ways of being and living have evolved over the years; some of these ways of being and living are the result of my own upbringing; some of these ways of being and living have been influenced by self-education or relationships.

But I don’t feel the need to normalize any of them. I don’t feel the need to normalize homeschooling (or whatever word you want to call it), or rural life, or so-called simple living. I’ll talk about and write about what I think and believe or am wondering about, but I don’t expect everyone to think the same or accept the same choices as I think or accept.

Here’s what I think we should normalize. Let’s normalize unconditional love and generosity and being sweet to each other.

I’m going to try that today. Join me?

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Life is funny like that. Maybe you’ve noticed it, too. I can keep it all together through the busy days, one foot in front of the other, and I can say it’s mostly fun and all and that’s the truth. Busy isn’t bad.

But busy doesn’t save much space for thoughts or processing or emotions. Busy carries on and gets stuff done and looks forward to the resting to come. Later.

When later arrives, the thoughts and the processing and the emotions can hit like a wave, and the washing over of them can knock me around a bit. I can get dunked in the pushing and pulling of the surf.

So the busy few weeks ended and I woke to a wide open day (if I ignore the laundry piles) and this morning, still in bed, I watched one of those acts of kindness Facebook videos showing folks stopping cars and helping old ladies and ducks and even turtles cross busy roads and the like, and the tears rose and spilled and all the stuff of the world news – the Ebola and the wars and the airplane tragedies – hit as well and I’ve been tossing around in the waves ever since.

Life is funny like that. Busy is okay, but the space of resting and the chance to feel the feels, that’s where the cleansing happens.

 

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It’s the most common thing people say to me about foster parenting. That it would be hard to give them back. That saying goodbye, letting them go, would be too hard.

I don’t know about too hard, but I know it’s not easy. If that makes sense.

I also know that if we didn’t do things because they might be hard, we’d never get married or be parents or let our kids get driver’s licenses.

I don’t know if there’s a good way to say goodbye. But I know there are bad ways.

I know that when a kid has lived in your home for almost a year, you shouldn’t have to say goodbye in a parking lot.

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I’ve been teaching this Women and Story workshop for the past couple of years. Me and a couple of super talented friends have travelled to be with a bunch of different women’s groups, and we’ve talked about our stories and how important it is to share them. The workshop has changed over the years, and we don’t do this introduction exercise any more. But I kind of loved it when we did.

We’d ask each woman to stand and introduce herself by sharing her name and then the names of her grandmothers. It always touched my heart when it was my turn to offer my introduction, and it was interesting to see the reactions of the workshop women as they did the same.

I usually got a little choked up. Bad workshop leader.

The women had a variety of responses. Some couldn’t remember the names of grandmothers. Some were conflicted in who to name as mother, depending on their circumstances. Some offered mini histories with the names they spoke.

It’s important, I think, to stop from time to time and remember who we come from. To remember the women we come from.

My mom was the oldest girl in a large farming family in southern Saskatchewan, which translated into lots of work and very little money. I’ve seen the house she grew up in. Very small, very crowded, very few luxuries, but extended family coming out her ears. Aunties and uncles and cousins galore, and a little Lutheran church in which to gather for Sunday sermons and summer weddings and funerals. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Norwegian in those parts. Uff da.

I knew her mom, Gladys, as Grandma, and by the time I was aware of her, her face was lined with her years. She was widowed young, and moved off the farm when I was a baby. Her tiny house was the gathering place for family dinners of KFC and goulash, and lefse-making each winter. She was a constant in my young life. When I moved back to my home town, when my own boys were babies, Grandma and I spent many hours in her little nursing home room, looking through photo albums and talking about the good old days.

My dad’s mom, Pearl, was something else. I remember marvelling at her long, white hair and her little flirtations with my grandpa. They were old, it seemed, but they still had fun together and I knew there was something special there even when I was a little girl. She gave me a white bible with a zippered case when I turned eight, and she taught me how to tat, and I thought she was amazing. I grew up surrounded by Norwegians, and her American background and accent made her seem exotic.

Each of these women had a harder life than I have had. They had fewer opportunities, less education, tougher financial situations. They struggled in ways I’ve not had to. I hope I’ve learned the important things from them. That God loves me. That family matters. That even when life is hard there is joy.

I’m grateful to be the daughter of Shirley, and the granddaughter of Gladys and Pearl.

Yesterday I sat on my tiny front deck, in my yellow chair, and watched the goats. I sat there for a good hour in the heat of the summer afternoon while a bee buzzed in the geranium blooms beside me and the cat rubbed his head on my toes.

It was a sweet and peaceful and simple hour.

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Then I resumed my day, with its meeting of needs and the laundry and the what’s-for-supper questions, and checking Facebook every five minutes to see if there were any updates from my travelling boy, and that was simple, too.

And in the evening, when the dog started barking his fool head off and the kids ran to the window to see if someone had driven into the yard and saw that fox chasing those chickens and the husband jumped out of his end-of-a-long-day bath and grabbed the gun and shot that varmint from the upstairs bathroom window, well, that was simple, too.

Simple isn’t where I live or what I do or don’t do. Simple isn’t the farm eggs or the turkey-butchering in the fall or the bread-baking on Monday afternoons. A life isn’t simple just because you choose to live on an acreage or you make your spaghetti sauce from scratch. There isn’t a simple life formula that fits everyone.

Simple is how you think about your life, not what you do with your life. And you can think simple anywhere.

I’m not advocating for an irresponsible life, mind. Not an it’s-all-about-me-and-what-makes-me-happy life. I’m not talking about selfishness or thoughtlessness. Thinking simple, according to Janelle’s dictionary, means evaluating choices and letting go of the ones that only increase the burden, while joyfully embracing the ones that enrich and give your life meaning and purpose.

There are so many places in the world where people’s choices are limited and the whole idea of simple living is totally and completely non-existent.

If you are actually part of the world’s population with choices, please don’t squander them. Decide what matters and make that the focus of your life, and your life will simplify itself.

There’s something about turning fifty-one that makes a girl want to unobtrusively slip through the day. Fifty was kind of like sitting on the fence, not really committing to one half-century or the other. But fifty-one, well, that’s like risking a broken hip by jumping off the fence into the downhill side of the pasture.

Tuck and roll, that’s about all you can do.

I had my fifty-first birthday yesterday. Although when I asked my foster son how old he thought I was he said thirty-nine, so I love him the most right now.

Honestly, it was a bit of a snore as far as birthdays go. The husband and children were all away, working or travelling overseas(!) or whatever, and I was home with the fostered ones. And we ran out of milk so there was a grocery trip to town for that, plus my prescription for high cholesterol to refill, so that was glamorous and didn’t make me feel old at all.

And on the day went. Some lovely Facebook messages, a couple of homemade cards from the sweeties here, a few minutes in my yellow chair on the deck (until the sweeties here found me there) and leftovers pulled out of the fridge for supper. A tired man and two tired sons home from their hard-working days, and bless his heart, my husband wants to take me out for my birthday. Except our town is really small and there’s nothing to do if you aren’t into the local bar thing, and even the Snack Shack was closed so we settled for ice cream from the cooler at the gas station and a drive down the back roads.

I love country drives.

Smoke from forest fires way up north made for a hazy day.

Smoke from forest fires way up north made for a hazy day.

Our smokey farm.

Our smokey farm.

Until my fifty-one year old bladder couldn’t take it anymore and we had to come home so I could pee, which also didn’t make me feel old.

And then my sweet baby comes over with this made-with-his-own-hands treasure, and my heart does that little hop skip jump thing, and I think maybe fifty-one won’t be so bad after all. Because Janelle is loved.

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The problem is, he’s the most like me. The one who forgets things and gets lost in books and is easily sidetracked.

He’s the boy who loses stuff. Every time he participates in something, say camp or a youth rally or whatever, I place a little check in the box on the registration form that says, would you like to order a t-shirt for your child. And every time he comes home without said shirt. I’ve bought at least a dozen shirts which I assume are now in other boys’ closets.

He’s the boy who, when he changed bedrooms this spring, found a total of four hundred dollars squirreled away in drawers and forgotten coat pockets. Four hundred dollars he didn’t know he had!

He’s the boy who’ll eat an entire jumbo box of frozen waffles when he’s left alone for the weekend because it’s easier than cooking eggs or making a sandwich.

He’s the boy who goes upstairs to collect his laundry and comes down two hours later with a comment about the book he found under his dirty socks.

He’s the boy who shows up for work three hours early because he couldn’t remember what time he was supposed to start.

He’s the boy who, when he found his weeks-lost wallet, found inside it a crumpled months-old pay cheque.

This is my boy who, tomorrow, will be flying thousands of kilometres to a place I’ve never been. There are things to keep track of when a person travels. Luggage, tickets, passport, money. And because he’s so much like me, his questionable organizational abilities frighten me just a little.

So if you are reading this in Toronto or Amsterdam or Estonia sometime in the next couple of weeks and you see a tall, blonde, sweet-looking boy wandering the streets looking lost, please stop and offer some assistance.

His absent-minded mother will be forever thankful.

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