Category Archives: family

Life in the slow lane. Getting nowhere fast.

I started the day with a clear calendar.  Nothing scheduled.  I planned to get caught up on my summer genealogy course, some writing I need to do for our parish website, and my quilting, that has been languishing in bags in my dining room, all cut out and waiting to be stitched.  I pushed a friends proposed visit off to next week so that I could get to all this stuff.

But life happens.

After having the car in two repair shops for the past 36 hours and finally getting it back last night, the tire pressure light wouldn’t stay off, so I was tasked with getting it to one of the two shops for yet another look-see.  That’s two and a half hours of my life that I’ll never get back.  Two quick errands, and then home to pick up Michael to drive him to his trombone teacher’s studio to pick up the mouthpiece he left behind at his lesson earlier this week.  Another hour and a half.  

Finally check my email, book a table for lunch with friends tomorrow at Frank, book Wilson for boarding while we’re in Montreal this weekend, and suddenly it’s 2:30 and I haven’t done anything on my original list.

And now Michael is practicing the trombone, which means I can’t concentrate enough to get to at least two of my items.  Don’t get me wrong:  I love the fact that he practices so diligently. He’s got band camp in a couple of weeks, and then he’s auditioning for the Jazz 91.1 Youth Big Band and the Hannaford Community Band in mid-September, so he’s very motivated to spend lots of time with his horn.  But we’re in a small-ish house and the sound is everywhere.

On the plus side, the wait at the garage meant that I finished Nicholas Ruddock’s fabulous novel The Parabolist.  A review will be posted soon….when I get half an hour of peace to think.  

For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.

As these words were read from the Gospel of Luke this morning at mass, I could not help but meditate on my mother-in-law Josephine's treasures:  her faith, and her family. With her death only two days past, it was difficult to focus on some of the celebration, but these words rang out.

Her faith permeated her entire life.  She enjoyed beautiful things, but It was very difficult to give her gifts.  There was always someone else who needed things more than she did, and so she would send monetary gifts to the St Joseph orphanage in Lebanon for which she raised money, or would buy gifts for those she perceived to be in more need than she. The things she cherished most were religious articles:  rosaries, holy cards, statues, candles, relics.  She would obtain these when she visited holy places, and then give many of them away to people who needed the comfort. When she came to Toronto last Christmas, she brought a gorgeous statue of Padre Pio which she gave to us.  She was a big fan of his.  I also have rosaries and holy cards that she gave me, that I will always treasure. 

But these items were not her faith.  They were like photographs of dear family members, reminders of saints and prayers and devotions.  She prayed every morning with a candle, saying rosaries for the intentions of her loved ones as well as her own.  She rose very early, starting her day with prayers and then watched the mass on her satellite television feed from Lebanon. When she was here last year, I took her to mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day that was very important to her.  It was perhaps the second and definitely last time we went to mass together, just the two of us. It was a horrid night, weather-wise, with high winds and heavy snow.  She wanted to get there early so that she could pray before the celebration began.  Although the mass was in English and she didn't understand most of it, the last hymn was Salve Regina which she had sung in procession at Lourdes, and I could tell that she was very happy. Her faith brought her through very difficult times in her life. She was an example to me of a holy, devoted life.

Her family was her other treasure.  She had six children who lived, all of whom have become successful (in the worldly sense, at least), in great part because of her sacrifice of time and what little money they had.  The children went to private Catholic schools in Beirut, and she scrimped and saved the money each Fall for tuition.  She, with a grade six education (forced to leave school by edict of her uncle), supervised homework and made sure that the children were well-fed and dressed on the very small salary of her husband, a clerk at a bank.  She welcomed all comers to their apartment, serving meals and offering a place to sleep to traveler and especially to priests who found themselves without family on feast (or other) days.  A year after the war broke out, against the counsel of her husband, she arranged for passports and travel to take the family to Europe and away from the risks of living on the Green Line.  They started over in Paris, on furniture donated by a Catholic relief society.  She was the first up in the morning, and the last to sleep. Her family was truly her vocation, and she slaved for their benefit.  The result?  Two medical doctors, two doctorates, and two successful business people. I remember being exasperated with my two small boys and then realizing that she was able to manage with four boys, two girls, and very little in the way of financial resources. 

She died on the Feast of the Transfiguration.  Rt. Rev. Msgr. Rudolph G. Bandas writes: 

In the Transfiguration Christ enjoyed for a short while that glorified state which was to be permanently His after His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The splendor of His inward Divinity and of the Beatific Vision of His soul overflowed on His body, and permeated His garments so that Christ stood before Peter, James, and John in a snow-white brightness. The purpose of the Transfiguration was to encourage and strengthen the Apostles who were depressed by their Master's prediction of His own Passion and Death. The Apostles were made to understand that His redeeming work has two phases: The Cross, and glory—that we shall be glorified with Him only if we first suffer with Him. (quoted at

By her death on this feast day, we are reminded that her suffering is over and she is heading to her glorification with Our Lord, His Mother, and the saints that she relied on for intercession.   

(Art:  Transfiguration by Raphael (1520)

The Communion of Saints.

My mother-in-law Josephine passed away yesterday morning.  While we knew that she didn’t have a long time to live, having been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, it still came as a shock, a sudden loss, the realization that she is no longer with us physically.  

The telephone woke us up.  She had been staying with her daughter Gemma in Paris while undergoing chemotherapy.  Zou’s brother Tony called…he had been with her when she died.  Despite the exchange in Arabic, I could tell what the call was.  Zouheir sitting on the side of the bed, speaking in low tones, unusual for phone calls with his family.  He lay back down and we talked for a while.

It’s been a crazy summer.  When we learned of his mother’s diagnosis, we went to Paris to spend some time with her as soon as both boys were out of school.  Just before we left, Zou found out that he had kidney stones and so an appointment for an ultrasound was booked when he got back, two weeks later.  He had stones when he was a child, and has a large scar on his flank from the surgery back in Beirut.  As it turns out, the stones are very large and must be removed by surgery, which is booked in September.  Zou has been expending a lot of mental and emotional energy flipping between his mother’s failing health and his own discomfort and upcoming intervention.

Yesterday morning was his first meeting with the surgeon, and so, still struggling with the news and all that he had to do to get to Paris, he headed off for his early morning appointment.  He sent notes to various people at the office, reassigning work for the next week and cancelling the travel to the US that he had on his calendar.  While he was gone, I was very emotional and spent most of my time thinking about her and praying.

We spent the day booking travel, making calls, sending emails, laundry, packing, just sitting.  He got on a flight last night and arrived this morning to see his mom before her body was prepared for travel to Stockholm, where the funeral will be held.  I had a brief email from him saying that he had spent some time with her, that she was surrounded by candles, a rosary, and a photo of Fr. Stephan Nehme, a Maronite Lebanese monk who was recently beatified.

This morning I took Wilson for his early walk, something that Zou usually does.  As we rounded the second corner, the sun, just rising and still low in the sky, hit me full force, shining almost parallel to the ground. I couldn’t really see anything in front of me, such was the intensity of the light in my eyes. I turned off my audiobook and Wilson pulled me to stop.  It was a cool morning, unusual for recent weeks, and the sun warmed me.  I had this strong sense of the presence of Josephine and of being told (her telling me?) that she is fine and that she loves me very much.  I had a sense of peace, and of the power of the communion of saints, the mystical union of the Church Militant (on earth), the Church Penitent (undergoing purification), and the Church Triumphant (in heaven).  No longer an advisor and helper here on earth, she takes on a new role in the Church Triumphant, where I know she will continue to intercede for her children and all those she loves.

John Nava
The Communion of Saints (Tapestry), John Nava

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, California 

Copyright 2009 Magnolia Editions


Seven Quick Takes Friday



Have I mentioned how much I love my Kindle?  I have?  I’ve now carried it with me about town, on the subway, into cafes, and have totally loved the freedom to have a bunch of books with me wherever I go.  I like that I can increase the font size when I want to lay it on a table while eating, and that I have a choice of books for every mood.  One of my friends asked me to bring it with me on our outing yesterday so she could see it, and I may have a couple of converts.  I’ll never totally give up paper-based books (Toronto has one of the best library systems in the world), but it’s making reading very pleasurable nonetheless.


Am reading (on my Kindle) The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I’m currently enjoying the section on neuroplasticity, the idea that our brain can change depending on the experiences/tasks/trauma it undergoes. Carr and I have had a similar history with computers and the internet, and similar feelings of loss of the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. A snippet:

At first I’d figured that the problem was a symptom of middle-age mind rot.  But my brain, I realized, wasn’t just drifting.  It was hungry.  It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it — and the more it was fed, the hungrier it became.  When when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check e-mail, click links, do some Googling.  I wanted to be connected.  Just as Microsoft Word had turned me into a flesh and blood word processor, the Internet, I sensed, was turning me into something like a high-speed data-processing machine, a human HAL.
I missed my old brain. 


I am working on my third course through the Institute of Genealogical Studies, the second Methodology course called Organizing and Skill-Building.  I’ve been creating numbering systems and binders for each of the families associated with my four grandparents.  It feels great to get my stacks of paperwork and documents organized, and my next step is to try to make some headway with a Rubbermaid bin of photographs.  I’m also hoping to do more genalogical blogging, and possibly set up a separate site for those posts.


My summer choir program is coming together nicely.  We have a concert scheduled for August 15th at a Marian Shrine in west Toronto. The music is lovely, is a workout for the brain and the voice, and I leave rehearsals feeling calm and happy.  Almost meditative.  I’ve met some very nice people and have enjoyed it very much.  I may decide to stay on in the fall if I can get the okay to skip the last Monday of each month for the Toronto Branch (OGS) meetings.


Michael has been working on both his tuba and bass trombone this summer.  He’s taking lessons on both from two excellent (and very different) teachers.  He’s getting ready for music camp at the end of the summer (jazz camp on trombone) and the three music courses he’ll be taking in the fall.  He’s hoping to be in the Junior Concert Band, Junior Orchestra, and Junior Stage Band this year as well as a vocal ensemble, so he’ll be a busy boy.  He’s also planning to audition for a couple of community bands with the hope of getting some more playing.  I’m just thrilled that he’s enjoying music so much as I know how much pleasure it’s brought me over the years.


Made a very tasty quinoa salad this week.  Will definitely make it again, possibly adding more parsley and/or cilantro to green it up a bit.  Keeps quite well in the fridge for a couple of days.


We said goodbye to our niece, Magali, on Wednesday.  She came to Canada from France 2-1/2 years ago to work for Danone in Montreal and is returning to work for their Evian division.  She frequently came to Toronto on business, so we saw her every couple of months.  It was great getting to know her better, and having her relatively close to us here in Canada.  She leaves Montreal on Sunday, will have a few days in Paris to relax, and then will start apartment hunting in Evian. We wish her the best!
Here’s a little memory of Canada for her…the visit to Niagara Falls on an incredibly cold day two winters ago! 


Visit our host Jennifer at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Because I just need to get this out there….

JBuds Hi-Fi Noise Reducing Ear Buds (Pink)I have had the same pair of (bright pink) earbuds for my iPhone for months and they have disappeared.  One of my sons has the annoying habit of borrowing them without asking.  (I bought bright pink specifically so the men in my life would NOT feel so inclined.)   Said son went away for the weekend, about the same time as they disappeared.  

He claims (via SMS) to not have them.  


It will take all my self-control to not search his bags as he walks in the door tonight.  

I wouldn’t be making a big deal out of this, but there are no other earbuds in this house that have a freezie’s chance in Hades to stay put for more than 2 seconds. I must have weird ears or something. 

Thanks for listening.

I feel better now. 

Thinking about Josephine.

My mother-in-law has not been well, and we’re heading to Paris to see her as soon as Michael finishes his exams mid-June.  Alex has to return after a week to start his summer job, so I’ll fly back with him. Z will stay on for another week with Michael and do some travelling.

When she was here over Christmas, I posted about her and her special relationship with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.    Here’s a repost of something I wrote a number of months ago in her honour.


Things I learned from my Mother-in-Law


In no particular order:

  1. Tabbouleh should have a high parsley to bulgur ratio with NO parsley stems.
  2. Dishwashing soap is the best pre-wash treatment for clothing stains.
  3. It is entirely possible to spend your life raising (and praying for) your children and make a HUGE difference in the world.
  4. It’s always better to have too much food on the table than too little.
  5. Always welcome visitors for a meal or a night, even if it means Ikea mattresses in the living room.
  6. Leftovers are a **good** thing.
  7. Morning prayers are better if you light a candle.
  8. Make your way in the world with confidence, even if you don’t have much education or speak the local language.
  9. Be patient and forbearing with those who annoy you, but speak your mind in matters of faith and morals.
  10. Your freezer is your friend.  Use it to store herbs, tomato paste, leftover lemon juice, old bananas, nuts that you buy in bulk, bulgur.  [It’s REALLY your friend when your MIL visits you and fills it with home cooking.]
  11. Partake of the sacraments as often as you can. It doesn’t matter if the mass is in your language.  You know what’s going on.
  12. There’s always room for a statue of the BVM in your suitcase. And gifts for every friend and relative that you will see on your trip.
  13. If you love something, buy one for (or recommend one to) everyone you meet. Think enamel roasting pans, Swedish lemon pepper seasoning, over-the-sink colanders, Cuisinart food processors.

All this from Josephine, my “mama”.  We communicate in our second language (French), and live an ocean apart, but she has taught me so much over the 26 years I have been married to her son.  And I love her very much.

Friday Five

  1. My allergies are killing me.  The week started with me getting over a cold, and then wondering why it was taking so long to feel better, then realizing that there was a big ol’ oak tree shooting pollen over my back door and deck.  I have most of my energy back, but the itchy eyes, stuffy nose, and scratchy throat, despite prescription allergy meds, is very annoying.
  2. Alex is coming home for three days to study for his final exams.  I can’t believe that he’s finishing his first year of university.  He broke a bone in his foot (long-boarding) while we were in Rome, and so we’re going to drive to Kingston to pick him up tomorrow morning as he can’t manage public transit with his crutches and bags. I”ll drive him back to Kingston on Tuesday so he has a day to prep for an exam on Thursday.
  3. I’ve been remiss on blogging about our trip.  I had hoped to more-or-less liveblog while we were there, but difficulties with network access through my iPhone were extremely annoying.  Despite a long call with our service provider here in Canada, we were unable to get my phone to do any data transfer, and I didn’t feel like paying the exorbitant rates for the hotel access.  So I want to try to post at least some of the highlights over the next week.
  4. Keep Toronto Reading is a wonderful festival happening this month in my beautiful city.  I haven’t managed to attend any events yet due to sickness, but I’ve been participating via Twitter (#ktr2010 and #keeptorontoreading).  Next week there are some author events that I’m planning to attend, including Michael Crumney (Galore) and Linden MacIntyre (The Bishop’s Man).  TPL Foundation
  5. Today’s to-do list:
    • Make bread
    • Organize Alex’s room
    • Pick up prescriptions
    • Go to Service Canada to get CPP info
    • Return library books
    • Pick up a video or two for tonight
    • Tackle some of the ironing pile
    • Tidy main floor
    • Clean Michael’s bathroom


Seven Quick Takes Friday


I had our second meeting with a financial planner today to do the data dump.  I came armed with all our financial statements and info, wills, Powers of Attorney, and they got it all down.  I have a few action items to get back to her with, but it feels great just to get started.  We'll meet again in four weeks to see what we need to do to prepare for retirement.  Someday.


Yesterday was Michael's 15th birthday.  We'll have a family party next weekend, and a dinner for him with just Z and I tomorrow.  He wanted to go to karate last night as he hadn't been much this week, so we just gave him his gifts and a big hug, and we''ll go out for Dim Sum (his choice) tomorrow.  We gave him a clock radio that docks his ipod and a memory foam pillow…he was pretty happy about both things!


He has a girlfriend.  His first one.  I can't really say more, but it's just sweet.


Tonight, Z and I are going to see David Clayton-Thomas (of Blood, Sweat and Tears fame) with the TSO at Massey Hall.  Should be a great show! 


Tomorrow evening, after the 4:30 mass, our parish's Catholic Women's League is hosting a wine and cheese reception for married couples in the parish.  I suggested this idea, as our former parish in Atlanta did it every year, and we've had some great feedback from people in their RSVPs.  Right after mass, the priests will bless each couple individually, and then everyone who wants to can head downstairs to our parish hall for a chance to mingle.  I'm looking forward to meeting some new people!


Monday is Family Day here in Ontario and school kids, provincial employees, and some others have the day off.  Z still has to work since he works for a private company, but I'm having two friends from university days over for lunch and some catching up.  If Z is free for dinner, the four of us will go out somewhere, as he knows them as well.  Should be a nice afternoon for some girl talk!


I broke down and had Wilson's teeth cleaned by the vet yesterday.  I vow to give him one raw bone each weekend to try to keep his teeth clean for more than a year.  Even with the National Pet Dental Health Month, I don't really want to spend hundreds of dollars each year on his teeth.  If we can extend the cleaning by a year, that effectively cuts his dental bill in half, so I'm hoping this plan will work.

Seth’s Blog: When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it

Too many people, when asked for their opinion, dissemble. Instead of giving an opinion, they push back. They ask,

  • What do you think?
  • Did you do any research?
  • Can we do a focus group?
  • What did Will say?
  • There’s a typo on page three
  • How long do we have to study this?
  • Can we form a committee?

This is the work of the resistance. This is your lizard brain, hiding. It feels safe. It’s not.

You’re an expert. If nothing else, you’re an expert on life, on your opinion, on being a consumer. When I ask you for your opinion I’m not asking you for the right answer. I’m asking you for your opinion.

This is so apt for the workplace. The funny thing is, I’d like a little more dissembling at home. I get more opinions than I really want a lot of the time!

But maybe that’s a good sign, a sign that all voices in the family are at least being heard. I’d just like to be able to agree on a restaurant without a big discussion for once …

Weekend Report

Alex was home for the weekend from Queen’s and it was great to see him.  Z arrived home on the red-eye early Friday morning from Santa Clara, bearing gifts…Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate Upgrade, LOL!  I received Windows 7 Home Premium for Christmas, so I passed that on to Alex and kept the new one.

On Saturday evening we had tickets for the TSO, and innovative program called Beyond the Score, developed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  It mixes multimedia and live narration with the orchestra and soloist to deliver an entertaining and educational experience around a piece of music.  Saturday night we heard Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 with pianist/conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn (who was fabulous), narrator Peter Oundjian (the TSO’s Music Director and Principal Conductor) and actor Paul Gross who voiced the various roles.  The first half of the program was the multimedia program (you can download the Chicago Symphony program here) and then after intermission, we heard the Concerto straight through.  It was a wonderful performance, and a great learning experience.

Le Saint TropezBefore the concert we checked out a French restaurant down the street called Le Saint Tropez. It was quite nice, with very good service.  We shared fish cakes and mussels to start and then Z had lamb shanks and I had tiger shrimp in Pernod.  It wasn’t mind-blowing, but a pleasant meal out nonetheless.

Today, was nice and slow.  Choir and mass this morning,  Japanese food at Seoul House with the boys, and then home to push Michael through a science project, which he is still working on.  Alex is gone, and everything has quieted down.