Ruth Ann Adams

5 X Mama: Travel Tales, Faith Stories and Children's Literature

Bells at Harrods

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I took a small, Christmas bell ornament off the rack. My husband, two youngest daughters and I were at Harrods, a famous and expensive department store, in London, England. It was August, too early for Christmas, but the colourful decoration was actually affordable and I wanted a souvenir to take home. Besides, when Christmas arrived, we would enjoy the cheerful ornament.

Bells have been ringing for hundreds of years and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, as in John Donne’s famous lines, “…send not to know/ For whom the bell tolls,/ It tolls for thee” (“No Man is an Island”), bells signify death. At other times, bells are rung for joyful occasions, such as weddings or coronations. In churches, bells are used as a call to worship or as part of a mass. On July 27th, bells were heard all over the United Kingdom to announce the beginning of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Big Ben – the name of the bell, rather than the clock- is admired by millions of tourists.

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At Christmas, bells represent joy. Luke 2:13-14 describes the Bethlehem scene: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praisingGod and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests’” (NIV). The angels announced the coming of the Christ Child with great rejoicing. Even though bells are not specifically mentioned, it isn’t hard to imagine an angelic chorus ringing bells from on high!

This December, I have been asked to be the bell ringer for our church play, and somehow this seems appropriate. 2012 has been a “bell ringing” year for our family. We have celebrated our oldest daughter’s wedding, a university convocation, our youngest daughter’s Grade 12 graduation and 18th birthday, several children entering college and a dream trip to Iceland and the UK. These have all been milestone events and reasons for great happiness.

We have also experienced more subtle forms of joy: colourful flowers blooming on sunny mornings, stacks of good books on our desks and shelves, walks on sandy beaches, acquiring a car after years of doing without, getting much needed dental work completed and enjoying wonderful conversations with the incredibly awesome people in our world. Happiness is very often a choice and gratitude and recognition of our blessings plays a large part in how we view our lives.

Sometimes, though, we have to purposely and steadfastly ring our bells, through times of darkness. This year, the tragic death of a friend, the loss of a job I have loved and the ongoing illness of my niece have brought with them a sense of grief and loss. The birth of Jesus reminds us that light and joy are always present, even during those times when our circumstances don’t reflect them.

The Christmas season has arrived. The bell ornament I purchased in August from Harrods is hung in a place all its own. It is a symbol that the joy of God is ever present. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” As 2012 draws to a close, ring your bells and anticipate with joy the blessings God has in store for your future!

Merry Christmas!

Fran by the Sea

Written by Ruth Ann Adams

November 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Iceland

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“Do you use processed meat?” my daughter asked the dark haired lady behind the counter at the Loki Cafe. We were jet lagged, hungry and in need of something that Susanna could eat that didn’t contain the soy products so often found in processed foods.

“What is processed meat?” the lady replied. “All my meat is hanging up back there,” she explained, with a gesture towards the back of the cafe. We were reassured. There would be no soy in the food. We sat down at one of the little tables and enjoyed a delicious meal of Icelandic meat soup, rye bread and chocolate cake with whipped cream.

My husband, two daughters and I were in Reykjavik, en route to a tour of England, Scotland and Wales. This was my dream trip, given to me by my loving family, who knew how I had always longed to see England. Spending several days in Reykjavik was an added and exciting bonus.

After  our meal and a good night’s sleep, we set out to see the sights of the city. “There is no charge, today,” the bus driver said to my husband, when he tried to give him a ticket. We had unexpectedly stumbled upon Reykjavik’s Culture Day, which included special events, free museums and buses, shop displays and fireworks. Thousands of Icelanders walked the streets, delighting us with their unique and  lilting accents. Blonde children ran everywhere. Babies, in tight fitting bonnets, rode in what looked to me like old fashioned carriages. Susanna was horrified to find a baby parked unattended in a pram, outside a store. However, there is very little crime in Iceland and the thought of someone snatching a baby is a foreign one. Placing an infant outside to enjoy the sunshine is common and safe.

The shops beckoned to us and my husband, who seldom purchases anything beyond necessities, bought a book called The Little Book of The Icelanders by Alda Sigmundsdottir. This book is divided into topics explaining many quirks and customs of the Icelandic people. We had already noted the habit of the drivers to ignore hapless pedestrians trying to cross the roads!!

I made a small purchase of my own and was startled when the saleslady said, “That will be 1,000.”

“1,000?” I squealed.

“”1,000,” she repeated calmly, no doubt wondering if all Canadians were as dense as I was. She meant 1,000 ISK, about eight  dollars, but hearing 1,000 in any currency gives me a fright!

We wandered into a fabulous bookstore called Mal og Menning and discovered a cafe, Sufistinn, on the second floor. Now this was something I could understand: an Icelandic Chapters/ Starbucks!! Well, not exactly, but the concept seemed the same, good books and food in combination. Some of the titles were in Icelandic but many were in English. We had croissants, Earl Grey tea, coffee and other snacks  and perused  the stacks of literature.

Some of the restaurants offered  delicacies such as puffin and whale. A group of eager youth, intent on saving the whales, asked us to sign a petition promising that we would never eat whale meat. We signed immediately and have had no occasion to be tempted otherwise!

Later in the afternoon, we headed for the museums. Here we learned about the strength and resilience of the Icelandic people. We learned about Ingolfur Arnarson, an early settler in the Reykjavik area and Leif  Ericson, a voyager  who helped spread Christianity to Iceland and other parts of the world. In The Settlement Exhibition or Landnamssyningin, we pondered an excavated Viking longhouse, originating from about 930 AD. A diagram explained what the various parts of the longhouse were used for. We all recognize the horned helmets reportedly worn by Viking warriors, but here was a real house, once inhabited by real people, so different from us and yet perhaps with hopes and fears not that dissimilar.

The greatest discovery for me was that this little country, which I had barely thought about before our trip, has a long and rich literary history. At the Culture House, we discovered The Medieval Manuscripts: the Eddas and Sagas. My husband was fascinated to hear from a museum guide that Icelanders can read Old English much easier than we can, because of its strong resemblance to their own language. In a corner of the Culture House, we found a tribute to JRR Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and the famous The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien studied Old Icelandic at university and undoubtedly the stories he read influenced his own fanciful tales.

On our bus trip from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik and back, we were struck by the piles  of lava rock, scarcity of trees and looming volcanoes. A shop lady told us that we were fortunate that the weather was so warm. It was 20 degrees, a temperature that  is reached only once or twice during the summer months. Iceland, like many countries, has a history of control by foreign peoples. Large areas of land are not fit for human habitation. A man on a bus told me that there are more sheep in Iceland than people. The threat of volcanic eruption is ever present. Yet, out of all this has come a people who are independent, colourful, intelligent and rich in tales and legends. If you have the opportunity, this country is not to be missed!

Fran By the Sea

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Written by Ruth Ann Adams

September 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Pulling Strings for Grandma

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Hansel and Gretel dwell in our house, along with a colourful array of companions, just waiting for someone to pull their strings. For years, these fairy tale characters delighted children in libraries and schools throughout southern Ontario, brought to life by the Adams Marionettes. In the 1950’s, my mother-in-law, Maureen Adams, took a puppetry course at  Queen’s University, and was permanently hooked. She began with hand puppets, but as her family grew older, she and her husband, John,  formed the Adams Marionettes, consisting of themselves, their four children and a school friend, named Dan. The puppets captivated not only  young audiences, but the performers themselves, as the marionettes opened the door to a wide array of creative expression.

My mother-in-law loved puppetry because it involved many forms of art: drama, costumes, scene design, music and story. The performances, enchanting as they were, were only part of the process. First, the Adams chose a folk tale, devised a script, added in sound effects and put the finished product on  tape. The marionettes were made out of wood, with the heads devised from a plasticine mould. Next, the family sewed the costumes, painted the scenery and spent a great deal of time in the backyard puppetry workshop, rehearsing the play. It was a family act, complete with Adams Marionette tee shirts and a special van to transport the stage, performers and puppets.

My husband’s speciality was Rumpelstiltskin. As the little trickster danced his way across the stage, to the tune of  Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours,”  Andrew danced behind the stage, copying his every move. Finally, when Rumpel realized he had been outsmarted by the miller’s daughter, he disappeared in a puff of smoke (baby powder), clang of a cymbal and flash of a camera, never to be heard of again.

After the adult children went their separate ways, John and Maureen continued to attend many puppetry conferences in Canada and the U.S. and hold workshops in Brampton and Toronto.  Several times, they helped my husband and I with Vacation Bible Schools in the churches we served, assisting with puppet making and performances. John died in 2005 and in 2006, Maureen received “The Arts Person of the Year” award for her outstanding contribution to the arts in her  Brampton community.

In early 2011, Maureen’s health declined and we flew from Nova Scotia to see her. I gave her a puppet from Mexico, a gift from my daughter, Andrea. She held the puppet in her worn hands, and stroked and stroked the tiny dress it was wearing. She asked my son, Christopher, to put it up on the bulletin board in her room, where she could see it from her bed. The gift brought her comfort, a reminder of all the stories her puppets had told.

About 9 months after my mother-in-law’s death, I came home one day to find my youngest daughter, Susanna, rehearsing a marionette dance with two high school friends. A short time later, Hansel and Gretel danced upon the stage of Prince Andrew High School, during “The Lonely Goatherd” scene in the school’s production of The Sound of Music. Strings were being pulled for Grandma once again!

Happy Mother’s Day and many joyful memories!

Fran by the Sea

Written by Ruth Ann Adams

May 10, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Mother's Day

England

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In my last post, I made a reference to my deep desire to visit England. As well as being fascinated by royalty, my studies in English literature and history in university triggered a life long dream to see the places where the authors and heroes I so admire lived and plied their craft. Perhaps because visiting England was such a wistful dream for the future, I failed to see the plot that was thickening in my own home.

About a week ago, during a family gathering, my daughter, Hannah, handed me a brown envelope. Inside were pictures of first an airplane and then, various scenes from England! When it dawned on me what was happening, I cried and could hardly convince myself that it wasn’t a dream that I would soon wake up from! Hannah and my husband had been planning this trip since September. The whole family knew about it, including my sister, and I never, ever caught on. Hannah told me that we would be taking an historical tour of England, Wales and Scotland. I poured over the itinerary, studied a map of the British Isles and walked around with my head clearly in the clouds.  About August 19th,  Hannah, Susanna, my husband and I will be boarding a plane and flying to a land that has captivated my heart for many years.

Psalm 126:3 says: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy (N.I.V).” I am so grateful to God for taking what is purely a desire of my heart and turning it into a joyous reality.

More to come on England….

Fran by the sea

Written by Ruth Ann Adams

March 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tales of Royalty

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     there is something intensely magical about tales of royalty. Stories  of kings and queens, princes and princesses, are the stuff of fantasy. Some of the first books we read as children are fairy tales. These often  contain a royal palace, whose inhabitants dwell in worlds that  feed our imaginations and encourage us to create stories of our own.

My own fascination with royalty began on the shoulders of my grandfather. When I was five, Queen Elizabeth 11 and Prince Philip conducted a Canadian tour which included London, Ontario, our city of residence.  My parents, grandparents and baby sister and I joined the crowds of eager spectators lining the streets. As the story goes, just before the Queen and her entourage were to ride by, a lady stepped in front of me, blocking my view. My grandfather lifted me high on his shoulders, from which vantage point I waved and waved as the Queen passed our way. To this day, I am certain that she smiled at me!

Several years later, I discovered a biography of Queen Elizabeth 11 on my grandparents’ bookshelves. I read it repeatedly, devouring the details of the Queen’s childhood, so different from my own. Perhaps it was this book which first awakened my deep desire to visit England, something I still dream of doing.

Time went by and the biography was left behind. I went to university, married and read tales of royalty to my own little children. Then it happened again, an opportunity to see Queen Elizabeth, this time in Ottawa. My two oldest children and I waited by a fence on the grounds  of the Parliament Buildings for hours to catch a glimpse of her Majesty. Finally, she passed by, a quick look at a pink hat and royal presence. It was well worth the wait.

On Feb. 6th, Queen Elizabeth 11 celebrated her Diamond Anniversary, 60 years on the throne.
In less than four years, if she continues to rule, Queen Elizabeth’s reign will surpass Queen Victoria’s. Some people feel the Queen is an unnecessary figurehead, a person of no real significance, and that the monarchy is obsolete. I disagree. Not only is she a person of integrity and faith but  represents a world in which just perhaps dreams come true. Besides, she smiled at me, and the young child that I was will never forget!

God bless the Queen!

Until next time,

Fran by the Sea

Written by Ruth Ann Adams

February 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized