Saturday, February 21, 2015

David and Xiaoqian's Wedding

It was the week in which Canadians celebrated the 50th anniversary of our flag and David Stewart and his bride Xiaoqian Liu, celebrated their love by getting married on Valentine's Day. It almost felt as though a Divine event planner had been at work in bringing all these things together.

From different cultural backgrounds, their wedding bore testimony to the power of love to overcome obstacles, and the importance of young couples being surrounded by family, community and prayer.

David and Xiaoqian's wedding was both cross cultural, blending Chinese and Canadian traditions; and counter cultural in that the focus was on getting married, not "the wedding," although that was lovely. 

The reception hall in the church basement was decorated with Chinese lanterns, fans, lovely floral table centrepieces and origami birds.


The bride wore red; the traditional bridal colour in China; symbolizing good luck, happiness, vitality, joy and long life. Xiaoqian had ordered her red lace wedding dress and veil on-line; but the Chinese dress with stand up collar; in white delicate floral patterned satin; that she wore to the reception, was made to measure in a tailor's shop in Shanghai that has existed for 1000 years! Xiaoqian had four fittings for the exquisite dress, and at each one adjustments were made to create the perfect fit.

During the ceremony, the bride and groom looked into each other's eyes and seemed to see no one else as they vowed to love and value one another. Later they showed honour to their parents by kneeling and serving tea to them.

In China a daughter leaves the family upon marriage and becomes part of her bridegroom's family, and it is sons who care for their parents in old age. Lily and Xiaoqian have a close emotional bond and Lily's joy in her daughter's wedding was tinged with sorrow at letting her go. But David, in his speech, assured her that he had now become her son, she was not losing her daughter but gaining him. As his words were translated to her, Lily raised her hand in the air with a cry of joy, and then went to the podium and spontaneously made a speech in Chinese, translated by Xiaoqian, in which she expressed her gratitude and happiness. Their small family of two, had been enfolded by the large Stewart clan of 9 siblings, with spouses and many nieces and nephews.

We had the honour of hosting Pastor Daniel Fong and his wife Judy, who traveled from Montreal to officiate at the wedding. We did not know them before they arrived on Friday afternoon, but there were not enough hours during their stay to hear all that we wanted to of the story of their life to this point, in which Pastor Daniel left a career as an engineer in the aerospace industry, to become a pastor. We are now looking forward to another visit in May and to hearing the rest of their story.

After David and Xiaoqian left for  a few days at Niagara Falls, Lily stayed with David's parents, Susan and Ron, until Thursday, when she was leaving for China. On Wednesday, Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve, Lily went shopping with Susan for the ingredients for a New Year's feast of all sorts of special delicacies, which she prepared for the family. David and Xiaoqian came back for the celebration and so that they could take her to the airport the next day. They literally rang in the New Year by ringing a bell high on the roof of the Stewart house.

Friday came and the many celebrations were over at last. But our memories remain, along with new friendships, to be cherished.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Our Maple Leaf A Symbol of Unity

We left for the city at 6.30 a.m. with a crescent moon still bright in the morning  sky. By the time we were on the Gardiner Expressway, the sun was up and washing the city of Toronto in a rosy glow as though trying its best to counteract the arctic chill of the coldest morning of the winter.

I told Paul that I felt like Forrest Gump, the movie character who was accidentally present at many historic moments. We were on our way to an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the flag of Canada, the distinctive Maple Leaf. Paul had been invited weeks earlier to be in a commemorative photo; a living recreation of the flag; but a few days before the event had received an email saying that there was still space and a significant other could accompany him if he wished! It felt surreal, and an exciting honour that we would both be in a photograph that would be included in the public record of this celebration. 

We made our way to the Mattamy Athletic Centre; the site of the old Maple Leaf Gardens, and soon joined a throng of other guests dressed in red, gathering for coffee and refreshments to start the day.

Paul was wearing a burgundy shirt, so he was offered a 
tomato red one from a box of sweat shirts, and was helped to find his size by a friendly man who introduced himself as Joe and told Paul he surely didn't need XXL, he thought he could fit into an XL. He came over and stood beside us as we looked down from the top of the stadium, to the red maple leaf and red panels down below on the floor and the preparations underway for the photo later on. He folded his arms and leaned in to chat and I noticed a pin on his lapel. I asked about it and he told us that it was his Order of Canada pin, and that he was made an Officer of the Order in 2013, for his contribution to the arts. "Joe" introduced himself as Joseph Macerollo, and it soon was evident that he was a world renowned master musician and accordianist. 

At the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto doctoral candidates study the physiology of making music under him. They learn how to use the machine of their body with an instrument; the accordion; to put sound out into space. As Joe explained this, he gestured with his hand as if throwing something into the air out in front of him like the sound he was describing. He said, "People usually pull from the left, but that creates a nasal sound from an accordion," and he demonstrated his technique called "the snake" where the musician moves strategically to create sound. In any orchestra in the world now, there are musicians who have studied under Joseph Macerollo, a man who had to get his degree in piano, because the accordion was not taken seriously enough.

He played the accordion with the Toronto Symphony with the great opera singer, the late Luciano Pavarotti, who was known for firing accordionists; usually within the first 10 minutes. But Pavorotti turned around to Joe, when he was playing, and gave him two thumbs up. 

In 2003 during the SARS outbreak in Canada, a group of students from the Netherlands came over for classes with Joe. Joe was well known in the Netherlands, as he had been there in person. But the University of Toronto was in lock down due to the crisis. One of the students called Joe and asked if five of them might instead come to his house. Joe took pity on them and agreed, and since his son was home, he and his wife planned to feed the six young people. But to his surprise a yellow school bus rolled up to his home, with a flag in the window with an accordion on it. And there were thirty seven students on the bus, not five. Word had got around that they were going to his home and the others had begged to come along! Joe ordered pizza and Crispy Cream donuts for all of them and taught a master class; a kind and generous act that didn't surprise us after talking to Joe for a few minutes.

When Paul mentioned that he had seen some members of the Royal Canadian Air Farce; the long running CBC comedy series: in the crowd, Joe's warm brown eyes lit up. He had played for the show and said that he and Scott Irvine, a tuba player were the only two musicians that survived the cuts at CBC. He laughed at a memory of female comedian Luba Goy, who quipped as she attempted to play the accordion, "My boobs get in the way of the bellows!"

"Where did you see them?" he asked, looking around, and Paul pointed him in the direction where he had last seen them.  

After he left, Paul said, "I guess it's ordinary people that do extraordinary things and don't even think about it." 

Our interchange seemed symbolic of the event we were participating in; the creation of a "living flag" made of people representing many nations of the world; many abilities and disabilities; from all walks of life; young and old. It would show those who bring themselves, their art and their cultures to enrich this country; all part of a large scale unique photograph by renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky. 100 brand new citizens of Canada were being sworn in during the ceremony and in the crowd mingled both new and old citizens, along with icons such as Joseph Macerollo and members of the Royal Canadian Air Farce. 

Oh, Canada! Our Canada.
 Paul and I are in the middle of the top right hand quarter of the right red band.

If you are interested in more information on Joe, here is a link to a video Interview of Joe Macerollo by Chris Fonseca

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Constant Friend

You were with me in a garden long ago; with  green shadow dappled lawnsedged with terracotta bricks; and trees filled with blackbird song. When I, a child of three or four, came in from play one day to say that I had talked with you.

You were with me too, in fields where I heard your voice above the distant lowing of cattle; on the wind that sighed, and riffled rolling waves of silver green grass. To this shy girl when eight, you were a confidante.

You were with me, stirring my heart when nine, to give the only gift I had; my life; to you, a fervent offering. Praying alone in the one room we lived in then, I said impulsively, "I will be a missionary." 

You were with me in the dark, helping me endure my many fears, night terrors, and deep insecurities.

You were with me in the songs I sang in school assemblies, through which I learned of your childhood; your life; and sacrificial death. Hot tears filled my eyes each year through Holy Week as we sang sad hymns about your crucifixion. 

You were with me at two Billy Graham movies in my teens, where your Spirit called to mine, and I responded with a whispered, "Yes;" not knowing really what that meant.

You were with me in the church; in joy and disillusionment; community and disunity; a broken body in so many ways; you have been my hope and Rock.

You were with me in many signs of love so real and clear, just when needed.

You were with me in my mother's grey blue eyes of blazing love, and the deep peace that was in them at the end.

But what if I had never known you?  What if I had never heard or recognized your voice? What if I had said, "No?" 

Different choices; I would be less; unshaped by the One who has the Master plan for my life. How much I would have missed, and never known it.

But I do know you!  

Your is the constant that has held me and holds me still, after all these years.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

A Little Adventure

It was in mid January that I got a text from my third eldest granddaughter Tori about picking up some rats from Owen Sound. I had promised to help, happy for any reason to spend some time with her.

"Hey Omie," she said in her text, "looks like it's looking good for getting the rats in Owen Sound. I will have enough money on the 30th. Are you still able to drive me?"

She doesn't know this, but I would go to the ends of the earth for any of my grandchildren. On second thought, maybe she does know it.

I knew that Tori's mom probably knew nothing of these arrangements and I was right, but Brenda was not surprised--Tori is independent by nature and goes about her life capably, just getting things done.

Following the recent death through a respiratory infection, of one of her two beloved pet rats; Tori did her own research. She said she did not want to buy one from a pet store, as they would have likely come from a "rat mill." She wanted a healthy rat, and this is how we came to be going to Owen Sound.

If I were her parent, I am sure I would have said, "Owen Sound? Surely you can find a rat somewhere closer than Owen Sound!" But I am her Omie, so I told her that it would be a treat to spend this time with her, and sent her several dates that I was available to make the trip. Instead of speaking common sense into her life as a parent would feel compelled to do, I wanted to support her in a plan that she had made all by herself, without second guessing it. 

Tori informed me that she was still in discussions with the breeder. She promised to text me again soon.

Her next text said, "Hey Omie, do you think you would be available to drive me to Owen Sound next week on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday or Friday?" 

Before I could actually answer, another text arrived, "Or I guess just Sunday or Friday actually. I forgot about school."

We settled on Friday, January 30th, which was a P.A. day for Tori, and met in Newmarket in the late afternoon, setting off in a north westerly direction for Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. The Owen Sound address was safely entered into my GPS; the empty rat cage and a large towel lay on the back seat. The weather was crisp and clear, and light snow drifted in the air.

As we approached the town of Alliston we decided to stop at McDonalds for supper to go. With a delicious sense of adventure we ate our food in a car full of the fragrance of fries. Tori told me that she had met Melissa, the woman she was buying the rats from in a rat forum on the internet. Who knew there were such things? Not me. Lily and Rue, one year old rats, she said, were rescued from a breeder that got tired of breeding rats and was instead selling them off as snake food. What a fate they had narrowly escaped.

I learned a lot on our drive as Tori shared the process of introducing the new rats to the environment of her remaining rat, Dante. I was impressed by the trouble she had gone to in learning how to go about it properly. It wasn't as simple as opening a cage door and saying, "Welcome home." There was sanitizing of cages to remove scents and introductions for short periods of time until they gradually accepted one another. All very carefully done!

The road wound on and on, it seemed, but we chatted about this and that, and we got stuck right behind a road sander for several miles, which I was too nervous to risk overtaking on the bendy road. Tori didn't seem to mind. I kept her informed of the countdown of kilometers as we neared our destination, and she grew more excited with every update.

Owen Sound, for most of it's history was a major port city, once known as "the Chicago of the north." It has a magnificent harbour and bay according the city's website; and two winding rivers, tree lined streets and four conservation areas. Unfortunately all of this was lost on us as we arrived in the dark, while concentrating on following the instructions of the GPS. 

Soon we were at our destination, a parking lot surrounded by quiet streets and snowbanks so high we couldn't see over them. The town clock was chiming 7 o'clock as we exited the car and crossed the street, headed towards a long row of Edwardian houses.

Tori's confidence momentarily forsook her when we stood before the door, and she stepped slightly behind me so that I would knock. But it was opened by a short, softly rounded woman with a kind and friendly face, brown eyes and a mane of long, dark, curly hair. "Hi, I'm Melissa," she said, "come on in." Tori stepped ahead, brave once more, and excited to meet her rats. I stayed by the door until a young man came down. "Hi, I'm Andrew," he said, smiling, "take off your boots and come into the living room."

The house had high ceilings and was old, but painted tastefully, spotlessly clean, and neat as a pin. Andrew, after chatting for a few moments went back upstairs, and we could hear him laughing with someone.

Melissa and Tori were talking "rat talk" and Tori was handling Rue, the silver grey, who promptly climbed behind her kneck,went down the back of her coat, and had to be carefully retrieved. Tori was calmer than I would have been! Lily was a lovely champagne colour with pink eyes. Tori loved them both.

After a little time for them to get used to Tori, I went to get the car so that they would have less time exposed to the cold outside. Tori climbed into the back seat for the drive home, so that she could be beside her rats, blissfully happy, although she acknowledged, "I had no idea that Owen Sound was so far away."

All of the evening had been wonderful and the return journey, as always seems to happen with return journeys, went faster. Because Tori was focused on her rats, I turned on the radio on and found The New Classical 102.9 FM . All the way back to Alliston, where we had stopped at McDonalds earlier, I enjoyed beautiful music. We stopped at Tim Hortons this time, for tea and an apple fritter for me and hot chocolate and a Boston cream donut for Tori.

As we set off for the last hour of our journey home, we were back in range of CBC radio, and I tuned into Ideas, one of the many CBC programs I enjoy listening to. It was on social justice and forgiveness, and an interview with a woman who had worked with the widows of men murdered by Eugene de Kock, a former South African police colonel and assasin under the Apartheid regime. He had been known as Prime Evil. Unbelievably, both the widows and this woman had found it in their hearts to forgive this man for the atrocities that had affected them so directly.

I heard a sound from the back seat, Tori talking to the rats, so I turned the radio off, to engage her in conversation, as I had thought she was asleep. That was when she said, "Would you mind turning the radio back on Omie? It was interesting."

Suddenly my 16 year old granddaughter, a kindred spirit on many levels had given me an insight into who she is becoming; a young woman who is interested in matters of social justice and in thinking through complex issues of good and evil. She has been on two trips to the far north as a volunteer, seeing for herself the reality of life on a First Nations reservation but teenagers don't reveal much of what is going on in their heads. I wait for moments of spontaneous conversation and connection, which is why I was happy to drive to Owen Sound on a quest to find two pet rats.

We spent the last half hour of our drive listening together to a program that held us in its thrall. 

At 10.00 on the dot, we were back at Tori's home and her older sister Tippy, the only one still up, was anxious to meet Lily and Rue.

I hugged them both, whispered, "Goodnight," and hopped back in my warm car to started for home, grateful for the all the gifts of the evening. It was so much more than a trip to pick up rats. It was about supporting someone I love in the execution of a large plan and in doing so, helping them grow in confidence. And I had a glimpse of the interests forming in a girl growing fast towards womanhood;; a glimpse that showed me that we will have even more to share with every year that passes. All God's gifts are precious and sometimes he throws in an extra special one.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

God Uses PayPal

Because Paul and I retire this year we have been preparing in many ways, one of which has been figuring out our finances, which involved meeting with a financial manager and drafting a budget. We have also been looking at our current spending with a critical eye, looking for ways to economize as in retirement we will have a more modest income.

One of my weaknesses is buying gifts and as we looked at our future budget, I agreed with Paul that I really have to be more careful in that area. So as I was planning an appreciation event for a committee I work with, I held back from buying the small "thank you" gifts until I could truly afford them. I knew that God knew my heart to give but also to be more careful with our money.

I considered my subscription to Feedblitz, the company through which readers can get my blog posts by email. I have used them for many years; originally the free service. Then I switched to the ad free version for what was a small fee, so that readers wouldn't have the distraction of advertisements. I found the monthly cost was higher than originally planned, but I found a way to rationalize it, knowing that it is convenient for readers to have posts come by email, especially since one of them is Paul's dear mum and I know how much she enjoys getting them. 

Last month I noticed an increase in the cost and knowing our future budget, it was the impetus to contact Feedblitz, and ask about a lower cost alternative. I received an email back right away from a Feedblitz customer service agent, explaining  that there had been a mix up in the billing and that I would be refunded the difference between what I had been paying and the very manageable amount that it should have been.

I had no idea what this would mean in terms of a refund. I hoped that at least it would allow me to purchase the thank you gifts I wanted to buy without compromising my budget.

A few days after my original query to Feedblitz I received an email from Phil Hollows, the founder and CEO of the company, saying that they thought I would like to know that Feedblitz was sending me $751.92 and that he was so sorry their billing was incorrect. 

There was a button saying "Claim your money now," which took me to PayPal, where the $751.92, turned out to be $928.22 when transferred from U.S. to Canadian funds! A big thank you to Phil Hollows and Feedblitz for acting quickly to correct an error once it was discovered!

This all taught me that it pays to look more closely at the money you're spending--if I hadn't, the error might have gone unnoticed.

And I also learned that God uses PayPal!