Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another year a-comin'

So here we are, on the verge of 2012, when only a minute ago, we were on the verge of 2011. Time speeds up as I age -- or maybe it's just taking me longer to do as many things as I used to, so it seems I have less time. Time flies when we're having fun, and when we're slowing down!

For me, 2011 has been a time of realizing that, while I'm not old, I'm definitely not as young as I used to be!  Two things have brought me to a more serious awareness of my middle age -- having an eighteen year old child as of yesterday (which today I'm realizing has a bonus feature... there's someone to share a bottle of wine with now and then!) and the fact that my recent dizziness issues have meant that there are a lot of things I suddenly can't do with the speed and grace I used to possess.

So I am feeling a sense of solidarity with Jean Vanier, who has reached into his eighties and has come to a sense of peace about life when he is no longer as young and strong as he once was. One of his new year's comments this year resonated with me, as I've had to rely so much on others over the past two months:

As I grow older I am discovering more the gift of my own poverty and weakness. When we are strong we can often do it alone. When we feel weaker, when we live loss and anguish, we are more aware of our need for God, for others, for community. I realize more and more that the only thing that is really important is the new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” May each one of us, and each one of our communities, grow in this love.
- Jean Vanier, Our Life Together, p. 517 
Poverty and weakness as a gift? How is that possible?? If you've ever been forced, for whatever reason, to rely on the goodness of others rather than on your own strength and abilities, you know how humble, grateful, and loved that can make a person feel. The fact that we all need God, each other and community is too easy to ignore when we are well and strong... but it is always true.

I have come to the end of 2011 with a deep love and appreciation for a husband who uncomplainingly does the grocery shopping and laundry because those jobs make my head too spinny, for family and friends who have driven me around because I can't drive myself, for my girls who have (mostly) taken over the kitchen duties, and for people who have called or dropped by just to lift my spirits.

Then today, some words of Henri Nouwen drop into my inbox:

Imagine all that effort [to defend ourselves against each other, to maintain or increase our power, and to safeguard our own privileged position] being put in the service of peace and reconciliation!  Would there be any poverty?  Would there be crimes and wars?  Just imagine that there was no longer fear among people, no longer any rivalry, hostility, bitterness, or revenge.  Just imagine all the people on this planet holding hands and forming one large circle of love.   We say, "I can't imagine."  But God says,  "That's what I imagine, a whole world not only created but also living in my image."

As 2011 comes to a close, I give thanks for you, my friends and family, and the way I see you living in God's image, and I pray that living simply, in peace and reconciliation, can be our greatest gift to the world in this new year a-comin'. May we, and our communities, continue to grow in love!


Friday, December 30, 2011

Coming of age

My eldest daughter is an adult today, according to provincial definition. Eighteen is old enough to vote, to drink, to buy lottery tickets, and to get a tattoo. In and of themselves, none of those activities are signs of any sort of maturity. As her mother, though I know that she still has some growing up to do, I'm pleased to say that in her race to adulthood, she's turned out to be pretty level-headed. And what more can anyone ask for their child?

What really floors me is that I'm the parent of an adult. My little sweetheart is now a big sweetheart. Where did those eighteen years go?

Chances are, I won't have the opportunity to sing our evening blessing over her tonight, as she and some friends are heading to a pub on Whyte Ave. But I mean the words of that blessing as strongly as ever, perhaps more strongly as she embarks into the unknowns of being an adult:

May the Lord bless you and watch over you, 
May the Lord make his/her face shine upon you and be gracious to you, 
May the Lord look kindly on you, and give you peace. 
Shalom, shalom, shalom,  
shalom, shalom, shalom.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday happiness is...

...sleeping in.
...singing my favourite psalm, in harmony with my daughter, at church on Christmas eve.
...giggling at "Telestrations" at 1 a.m. Dracula's teeth couldn't have been drawn any longer, I don't think!
...sleeping in again.
...watching White Christmas and/or reading books with family on a quiet Christmas afternoon.
...Christmas dinner (and that yummy jello confection I told you about a while back)!


...taking a long drive to see our far away family in Southern Alberta.
...having good conversations, catching up on the news, and watching The King's Speech and My Big Fat Greek Wedding with them.
...sleeping in yet again.
...driving out to Dad's land to pick up one seriously heavy memento that is now waiting at our back door, to be situated in our garden in the spring (solid white granite).


...finding a pair of new pajamas at a boxing week sale.
...reading Anne Patchett's lovely and heartbreaking book, Bel Canto, a Christmas present from my dearest friend.
...watching my girls out in the playground, playing.
...listening to Cold Play and Christmas carols as we drive home.
...enjoying a cup of coffee -- in a new Sam Uhlick mug! -- with a bit of Mary Anne's homemade Baileys, and doing a HUMUNGOUS crossword puzzle.


I hope you're enjoying your Christmas week, too! Here's a little something just for your enjoyment, that my sister sent my way. Amazing!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A simple Christmas prayer

What is Christmas? For some, it's an opportunity to get out of the cold and darkness for a midwinter vacation. For others, it's an excuse to buy presents and have parties. And for those who don't get so caught up in the hoopla, or the over-analysis of "God-with-us," it's a time to reflect on life's blessings, and to help those who are not so blessed.

Whether you believe in the Christ of Christmas or not, this season is often the time of miracles, of people digging deep, and the impossible coming true.  As Jean Vanier says,
What is the "impossible"? It is liberation. To liberate people from the demons of fear, of loneliness, of hatred and of egoism that shackle them. To liberate people so that they can love, heal, and also liberate others. But in order to do that, you must go in poverty and experience the life of God flowing within your own flesh.
 -- From Brokenness to Community, p 30.
 

My Christmas prayer is simply that you may feel God's life in you, a life that quietly and humbly frees others to be truly and joyfully human:

Jesus,
You came to free us
from apathy, isolation, ignorance and selfishness.
Your life calls us
to recognize God's life flowing in us,
and in each person we meet.
Thank you for our blessings,
and for our challenges.
Show us,
in the year ahead,
the places
where our love
can make a difference.
+Amen

From our house to yours, a very Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Frohe Weihnachten, Buon Natale, Wesołych Świąt, Feliz Navidad, Maligayang Pasko, Prettige Kerstfeest, Nollaig Shona... and I wish I knew how to type in all the other languages, too... God bless you!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gifts from the heart

This is a really beautiful little video, perhaps my favourite of 2011, well worth the ten minutes. It doesn't take much to give gifts from the heart, and we're all capable of being at least a little bit of the change we want to see in the world, if we just try...



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Who spiked the eggnog?

These days, I'm still walking around dizzy enough that I don't need any eggnog... I thought it was time to visit Straight, No Chaser to see if they had any new Christmas medleys this year. No such luck, but here's a fun little video from 2009. Enjoy, but with a little less rum!



Monday, December 19, 2011

Trying to bake like Grandma

Eight autumns ago, I was fortunate enough to go to Saskatoon to visit my godmother, my dad's oldest sister. While I was there, I asked for some of my grandma's cookie recipes, and came home with recipes for German Buns and Jam Jams -- and a plan to make some Jam Jams for my dad for Christmas.

The only problem is that I don't bake like Grandma. She visited us many times as we were growing up, and baked all sorts of wonderful things for us. She taught me to make robbeshtivel -- I don't really know how to spell that, but it's my best guess at Grandma's Russian-German word for "rubber boots," amazing little pasta-like mouthfuls of yumminess, the dough of which we stretched out until it was translucent and as big as our kitchen table before we rolled and cut it into bite-sized pieces. I think I wrote the recipe down somewhere (I'll have to check if it's still in my mom's recipe box) -- but somehow, I doubt I'd be able to recreate that recipe, for several reasons.

The first reason is that I'm not Grandma.

The second reason is that I'm pretty sure her cup measures weren't the same as my cup measures. I like to cook by guesswork to a certain extent, but I also like to know that things will turn out roughly the same whenever I use a recipe. Grandma was the kind to measure things by feel, so what are the chances that my teaspoon measure will agree with the one she poured into her hand?

Even so, I have tried Grandma's Jam Jam recipe three times now. The first time, I followed it using my usual measures, and must have done something wrong when it came to the "two small teaspoons of baking soda mixed with a little bit of water." Exactly how big is a small teaspoon, Grandma? The cookies came out of the oven big and puffy, not at all like jam jams should look. I can't remember if we ate them or not, but I was too embarassed to give them to my dad!

The second time, I cut down on the soda and the flour (because the first cookies were much dryer than I remembered Grandma's cookies being), and they looked right. I even cooked some dates and made date filling, but there was still something wrong. They were denser than Grandma's cookies, not soft and delicious like hers, but it was already Christmas, and I had run out of time, so Dad received them as a Christmas gift. He did agree with me when I said something wasn't right.

So I forgot about Jam Jams for a while... and then the other day, as he drove me to work, somehow, we got to talking about Christmas cookies, and he said something about Jam Jams with peach jam filling. Aha! I thought. Peach jam! Maybe that's the secret ingredient! And I even had a jar of homemade peach jam from the boys next door!

So on Saturday morning, I found Grandma's recipe once again, used a china tea cup to measure the flour, used a demi-tasse spoon to measure the baking soda, and had to guess again at how long to bake the cookies because I had forgotten to note what "until done" was in minutes. Once the cookies had cooled, I spread homemade peach jam between them. I was excited. I figured these would be the perfect Jam Jams once the jam seeped into the cookies and softened them a little.

But no. They didn't soften to the consistency of Grandma's cookies. This morning, I gave the Jam Jams to my dad (I figured he might as well enjoy them fresh)... and discovered that the secret ingredient was right in front of my nose all along, right there on the recipe card. Here's the recipe:

1 cup lard
1cup brown sugar
2 eggs
6 tbsp Roger's Golden Syrup
2 small teaspoons soda (more like 1 tsp dissolved in a bit of water)
1 pinch salt
5 cups flour (small china tea cup -- somewhere between 3 and four regular cups of flour!)
2 tsp vanilla

Roll dough out (might want to chill it a bit first) and cut circles. Put on greased pans and bake at 350F until done (10-12 minutes). Put together with jam or date filling.

Can you guess the thing that messed me up? The first ingredient. Oh, our twenty-first century sensibilities! When I read LARD, something in my dietary upbringing resisted. I thought I should be able to substitute butter or margarine. I tried both. Butter didn't work, and I had forgotten that margarine is a latecomer in our world of food. When my dad was growing up, food was fried or baked with lard or butter, and Jam Jams just don't work without lard! As for the peach jam filling, it was more likely to be strawberry or raspberry because peaches only came to Saskatchewan in August.

So, now I know. And you do too. And Jam Jams really are wonderful, when they're made right, the way Grandma did. You can be sure I'll try again sometime, and post a picture of my success. And maybe I'll get brave enough to try German Buns, too, eventually!

Click here for Trying to bake like Grandma Part II.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Being Santa

Poor old Santa. He's one of the most misunderstood characters on the face of the planet. He started out as Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, Greece, a kind man who helped people in dire straits by giving them anonymous gifts. Over time, he became the favourite saint of sailors, merchants, thieves, archers, students, and children. Eventually, his name morphed from St. Nicholas to Sinterklaas in Holland, where his feast on December 6th is celebrated with gift giving. In 1823, Clement Moore turned him into the chubby character that climbs down chimneys in "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and the rest is history. We see Santa everywhere these days, in every shopping mall, in all sorts of advertisements, and in blow up form on peoples' front lawns.

But here's a cheery little tune that kind of goes back to the heart of the actual man himself. If you read "historical" mythologies about the Saint of the sort you find on Wikipedia, he was a "random acts of kindness" sort of guy. An anonymous do-gooder. The kind of person we're all called to be. The happy little tune and message of this video make me smile. I hope they do the same for you!



Thursday, December 15, 2011

What you may or may not have missed

I hope you were there, but if you weren't, the L'Arche Christmas Pageant this year was as beautiful as ever. Joseph and Mary arrived with the donkey attached to the back of Joseph's wheelchair. He was a very proud father, and gratefully thanked participants who came to the manger to leave gifts (food bank donations) for baby Jesus. Mary was delighted with her little baby, played by the twin six-month old sons of one of our assistants. Mary held on to Jesus, made faces at him, talked quietly to him, and completely enjoyed him as we sang carols and watched the shepherds, angels and magi play their roles in the ancient story. And Jesus watched Mary, yawned, closed his eyes for a few minutes' snooze, and fed from a bottle Mary offered him. The music was wonderful, and the gentle gifts of presence, acceptance and love offered by our people with disabilities filled the room with the incredible spirit of Christmas.

Today, my inbox received the following reflection:

Many people in L'Arche are close to God, and yet they are so little and poor. They have known rejection and have suffered a great deal. I am always moved as I hear them speak of God. When somebody asked one of our men, Peter, if he liked to pray, he said that he did. So the person continued and asked him what he did when he prayed. He replied: “I listen.” Then the person asked what God says to him. Peter, a man with Down`s Syndrome, looked up and said: “He just says, 'You are my beloved son.'
-- Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p. 23.

This pretty much sums up why I love L'Arche so much. It's a community that understands, from deep within, that, no matter our abilities or disabilities, we are all beloved by God.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We know we're in trouble when...

... our government leaders have their heads so far in the sand that they tell 14-billion-dollar lies at the Durban Climate Change Conference. When they blame China, India and Brazil for not doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (when China has actually done more per capita than Canada!) And when they take their marbles and go home before positive things have a chance to happen. Talk about childish!

I'm not saying that the Kyoto Protocol was the be all and end all of Global Climate Change action. Its flaws are many, and touted well enough by the press. But it was a place to start. And if the Canadian government under the Conservatives had stuck to the original agreement put in place by the former government, Canada would be within 20% of achieving its original goals in cutting carbon emissions. Instead, our country has gone backwards, and Peter Kent has pulled Canada out of the agreement entirely, without the approval of the Canadian public. No wonder Canada has Colossal Fossil status in the world when it comes to environmental sensitivity!

What Kent and Prime Minister Harper seem to be ignoring is that we have to begin somewhere to turn things around. So the Kyoto conversation didn't take a direction of which they approved. That doesn't give them the right to walk away. We need climate action now. We're already well past the 350 parts per million of greenhouse gases that are considered borderline "safe" for our atmosphere. Putting the economy's woes above our environment's degradation might win Peter Kent a few political points in the minds of his Big Oil supporters for the moment, but it's not going to prevent microburst storms from knocking the glass out of Calgary's skyscrapers, or end the drought in the Horn of Africa. If we don't do something now, we have less than a 66% chance of keeping climate issues to a dull roar... and how many of us would get on a plane if we had less than 2/3 of a chance of landing? (That brilliant point was made on a radio commentary I heard this morning.)

I've already written to Peter Kent and Prime Minister Harper about the importance of participating fully in the climate talks in Durban. I told them that they need to do something for the sake of their children, grandchildren, and future generations. Of course, they didn't want to hear me, so now I'll just have to write them again.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who objects to their refusal to talk about climate change in a constructive fashion. So, my friends... wherever you are, please, today, write a respectful letter to your elected officials. Tell them that Global Climate Change is real, it's our planet's most pressing issue (we'll get through economic meltdowns somehow, but not planetary ones!) and it's time to do something about it. Time to find alternatives to burning fossil fuels. Time to build sustainable economies using alternate energies (entire towns in Germany are already off the grid!) Time to wake up! And do what's necessary, even if it means we have to make some sacrifices.

Here's Prime Minister Harper's email address: pm@pm.gc.ca

Here's Peter Kent's email address: kentp@parl.gc.ca

Here's where you can find an email address for your elected Member of Parliament: http://www.parl.gc.ca/MembersOfParliament/MainMPsCompleteList.aspx?TimePeriod=Current&Language=E

If you're from outside of Canada, I'm sorry I can't guess at who your elected officials might be, but please, google them and send them a note. We really don't want more climate trouble than we already have. And we know we'll have even more trouble if we throw up our hands in dismay and do nothing! Maybe, if enough people speak truth to power, things will get done in time. We live in hope, right?

***

December 16, 2011

Here's my letter to Prime Minister Harper. Feel free to use it if you need some sort of template for your own letter.


Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I am saddened, disappointed, and ashamed of the fact that you allowed Peter Kent to pull Canada out of participation in the Climate Change Conference in Durban without having the decency to come up with and present concerned Canadians with a serious plan to reduce the effects of global climate change. Future generations deserve better from your government! Your kids deserve better!

I expect to see some serious initiatives to reduce Canada's dependency upon carbon based fuels and technologies, and to make wise transitions to a more sustainable future. Our economy must move away from the Oil Sands and toward sustainable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal. We need to work with other countries to protect our planet from further climate catastrophes, and walking away from opportunities to reduce our share of carbon emissions will not prevent Calgary skyscrapers from being buffeted by microburst storms, or stop the flooding of Manitoba, or ease the need for monies sent by Canadians to help with drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. What will it take for you and the rest of our government to wake up to the environmental crisis that we still have time to avert? A tornado in the House of Commons?

I am ready to make sacrifices if I have to. Are you?

What is your plan to reduce Canada's emissions and encourage other international leaders to do the same? Canada should be taking a leadership role here, rather than lagging behind everyone else as a colossal fossil. As our Prime Minister, you have the opportunity to come up with a really good plan. Please use it.


Friday, December 9, 2011

A little Christmassy silliness for a Friday

It's been a long hard week. I don't know about you, but I'm in the mood for something light. Last week we actually went and enjoyed the latest Muppet Movie, and it was just about right for a Friday night. So this Friday, here are Beaker and friends, who never fail to make me laugh. Beaker is just so intensely Beaker, and the other two.... well, enjoy!



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's nice to be missed

My dizziness just isn't quitting, so last week, when a doctor suggested I that I should rest, I took him seriously.

For four days.

I rested.

Well, sort of.

Resting can get pretty boring, believe you me. I read an entire book. I listened to the radio. I lay on my bed and snoozed a few times. I wrote a few emails and a few moodlings. I took a walk to a coffee shop with a neighbour (I still need exercise!), and she let me hold onto her for dear life. Finally, I got fed up with resting, because it didn't seem to be helping my dizziness.

So on Monday, I called my boss and asked if I could come to work on Tuesday. I suggested that I do like before, working in the morning and resting in the afternoon, and she said that if I listen to my body, she'd be okay with that. She had a few things for me to do, so I caught a ride with my dad, who was on his way to the curling rink anyway. (He's in much better shape than I am these days.)

I walked into the L'Arche Community Centre, saying hello to a few surprised colleagues, happy to see them again, and I settled at my desk. It wasn't long before Thomas made his rounds, checking, as he always does, on every one's status: who is present, who is absent, and when the absent ones can be expected. That's his favourite activity -- keeping tabs on his community, and keeping us all in the loop on every one's comings and goings.

I think he was actually surprised to see me. I was delighted to see him!

"You here today," he said.
"I am," I agreed.
"You sick?" he asked.
"Just dizzy," I told him. "Did you miss me?"
Usually when I ask that question, Thomas says, "No." But this time he actually smiled and said, "Yes."

Made my week, if not my year!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Simple Suggestion #104 ... Give the kids chores

Here's one that seems to have fallen out of vogue because of the busy and often over-programmed lives that a lot of kids lead: assign them household chores on a regular basis. Ah, but they don't have time? Well, something is definitely wrong with that picture.


Children need to take responsibility for their environment every bit as much as adults do. By helping to keep the house clean and by participating in the maintenance work that goes into daily life, they learn that life is what they make of it. I get the sense that many parents these days run themselves ragged taking their kids to extracurricular activities, working, and keeping house... and what those parents forget is that kids need the opportunity to do for themselves, and for others.
  
As a stay-home-mom for most of my girls' lives, I was in danger of over-functioning when it came to cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other household chores. After all, I could accomplish those things in half the time and with half the tomfoolery! I gave each of my girls their own set of household duties on weekends, mostly to do with vacuuming, and they helped with supper clean up most nights. But when I started working part-time, the girls suddenly had to start picking up the slack in all categories. Sometimes I had to ask them to do specific things, and some they just did on their own. Sometimes I would leave lists of suggested chores on the kitchen table during summer holidays, and they would have them finished by lunchtime. Invariably, I noticed that on days when I set them a few tasks to be completed, they were in much better moods when I got home than if they had lazed the day away at their own pursuits.

It boils down to this: all human beings need a sense of accomplishment. Giving our kids chores helps them to accomplish basic things and learn basic skills that they'll need later in life. And I suspect, in many cases, that's more important than any extracurricular activity they would choose for themselves.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Something from the North for a Sunday

My mom-in-law sent me the video below yesterday... thanks, Mom! It was put together by a bunch of kids, and their teacher, I'm guessing, from Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat School in Quinhagak, Alaska. They're the same age as my youngest daughter, having fun with the Hallelujah chorus. It was probably filmed in early October, I'm guessing, because this time of year, there's not that much daylight, or so my husband's cousin tells us (he's been up in Cambridge Bay for almost a year). Leo has all sorts of interesting stories about life and work without sunlight of any sort. I keep wishing he would start his own blog, because the stories he tells are fascinating to us southerners (and he's a good writer, with a wonderful sense of humour). Or maybe the kids of Quinhagak could blog about life in their part of Alaska. We southerners need you northerners to dispel the stereotypical images that fill our heads when it comes to the far north.

Anyway, there's so much to love about this piece of music, and I like how the kids involved a lot of people from their community. Enjoy!



Friday, December 2, 2011

Belonging



Did you know that December 3rd is the 30th United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities?

In its honour, I've decided to moodle about my L'Arche friend, Lizzie (a pseudonym for internet purposes). Lizzie has been part of the L'Arche community for as long as I've known it. She has striking auburn hair and a huge smile, and she loves people. She's one of our community's meeters and greeters. If you come to one of our events, you can't miss her for her level of enthusiasm and excitement.

Just over a month ago, something special happened for Lizzie, as she was celebrated as a confirmed member of L'Arche Edmonton. She went through a special process to determine whether she felt a sense of belonging to the community, to discern whether she felt called to live in L'Arche as a long-term vocation, and to discover how she planned to help her community to grow. She was confirmed in her calling as a member, and we celebrated her membership at our General Body Meeting in October.

What a celebration it was! As it happened, we had quite a few visitors and guests from the L'Arche Western Region present, and Lizzie's sister came, too. What really stood out for me was Lizzie's excitement, even before the meeting began. Though she had lived in the community for many years, this was a special step, and she knew it! She was more than ready and willing to become a confirmed member. When it came time for the membership ceremony, Lizzie was invited to stand in the middle of the room, and before she was asked if she really wanted to be a member, even before the question was on the lips of the person who was to ask it, Lizzie announced loudly, "Yes! Yes I do. I wanna be a member." Everyone present had to smile, and Lizzie's great joy filled the room and all of us as we sang a blessing over her a few moments later.

Belonging to a community or a family is never easy. It requires commitment and determination to get through the rough spots, tireless communication, and a perpetual willingness to forgive and ask forgiveness. Belonging can be especially difficult for people with disabilities. Jean Vanier, L'Arche's founder, has given much thought to and speaks many words about belonging. These are just a few words from his 1998 Massey Lecture:
Belonging is the place where we grow to maturity and discover what it means to be human and to act in a human way. It is a place we need in order to live and to act in society in justice, in truth, without seeking power, privileges, and honours for our own self-glory. It is the place where we learn to be humble but also audacious and to take initiatives in working with others. It is the place where our deepest self rises up into our consciousness and so we become more fully ourselves, more fully human.
- Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 59
iBelong!It can be difficult for people with developmental disabilities to make friends and feel that sense of belonging where our deepest selves can grow into fullness of life. So the L'Arche Association has come up with a neat little website, called iBelong (click on the graphic if you'd like to check it out), a place where people with developmental disabilities and those who support them can find information, and share stories and experiences. I haven't explored it fully, but it seems like an excellent resource, in both of Canada's official languages.

At Lizzie's membership celebration, it was clear that Lizzie has found her place of belonging in L'Arche. Would that everyone was so fortunate! L'Arche is a place of welcome and belonging for many people, including me, and I feel so blest to be part of it! If you're interested in becoming involved, check out that tab on the new website...

Happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities! And have a good weekend.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Simple Suggestion #103... Avoid disposables

Four years ago during my Master Composter/Recycler course, you could say I got up close and personal with garbage, to the point where the already avid recycler within became almost manic. (I've since toned down some, you'll be happy to know.) Visiting Edmonton's World Class Waste Management Branch facilities woke me up to the humungous masses of garbage our city's population produces and all the effort it takes to deal with our waste. If you've never given it much thought, you might like to see this:


And most cities don't have this kind of stuff!


Today's suggestion comes out of the awareness that we can waste less. Our society has become far too reliant on disposable items, forgetting that single-use stuff, no matter how small, has to go somewhere. I remember being totally disgusted when Swiffer (the floor sweeper people) came out with single-use wet towelettes for the bottom of its little mops. What ever happened to the good old washable rag and a pail of hot, soapy water?





If you look around life these days, you'll see hundreds, if not thousands of disposable items that the big corporations want us to depend on (read: use without thinking), everything from cameras to make-up applicators to single serving restaurant jams and salad dressings, to LCD TV wipes (again, where's the rag?) Unfortunately, a lot of them have already become so ingrained in our lives that we never give them a second thought. Consider: plastic cutlery, paper cups and plates, soda cans and water bottles, paper-towels, etc. If all these things weren't so darned convenient, and if human beings weren't quite so -- dare I say it? -- lazy, these things would be outlawed because they use up the earth's resources, and send them directly to the dump.

There are many ways to avoid single-use items, but they all require a bit more effort on our parts most of the time. There can also be simple solutions... if we use our heads. 

Christmas wrap and gift wrap are often single use... not only that, but they're not easy on recycling programs, as they can jam up machines, or may have tinfoil in them that's impossible to extricate from the paper portion. Our family's solution? Using colourful newspaper comics saved through the year (which our girls tend to reread as they wrap gifts, enjoying the humour the second time around) or reusing gift bags from years gone by.


These are just waiting for use in 24 days or so.


One of my sisters-in-law sewed a few fabric bags that have made the rounds a few times, which is really great. Wrapping a gift in something useful, like a tea towel, is another way of ensuring less wasted paper.

What's the craziest single use item you've ever seen? And how do you avoid creating excess stuff for our landfills at Christmas time, or any time of the year? Leave me a comment if you like. I love to hear original (and not so original) ideas, because they give me hope, something we can all use during these dark days of the year!


"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don't give up."
- Anne Lamott  from Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life



P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Special Invitation

I'd like to invite you to the place where Christmas begins for me. I know, carols have been playing on some radio stations for weeks already, Halloween decorations were replaced with Christmas stuff on November 1st, and the stores have been ready for ages...

But for me, the Christmas begins with the L'Arche Edmonton Annual Christmas Pageant, an evening like no other. Come join us on December 12, 7 p.m. at St Thomas D'Aquin Church, 8410, 89 Street. An international group composed of many of the L'Arche community's musicians lead a carol service as the Christmas story is enacted by people with and without disabilities, in colourful costumes and with great joy and excitement that sometimes erupts in dancing. I think even Ebeneezer Scrooge would find it impossible to walk away saying, "Bah, humbug." The evening usually includes an international version of Silent Night, sung in the original German, and all the languages represented by the L'Arche community -- I think they may number 14 this year -- and will conclude with refreshments and our annual Craft Sale. If you would like to bring donations for the Edmonton Food Bank, we'll be happy to receive them.

What I really love about the L'Arche Pageant is that, to me, it is the clearest example of what Jesus came to do. He was all about love and inclusion, forgiveness and friendship, celebration and gratitude. Christian churches mean well with their solemn Christmas services, but somehow, the way the L'Arche community celebrates seems more in line with the kind of joy and togetherness that Jesus wanted for all of us. Watching how our people with and without disabilities interact and care for one another in the midst of all the fun and celebration reminds me that Christmas is all about being one big human family, a family of people who love each other just as we are.

Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, speaks of his community in these words:
I come here to tell you how much life these people have given me, that they have an incredible gift to bring to our world, that they are a source of hope, peace and perhaps salvation for our wounded world.
     
- Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.9
I invite you to come and meet the L'Arche community, and to celebrate with us. You won't be sorry that you did, I promise!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Expectation(s)

Last night at our church potluck, Betty arrived with eleven-day-old Jean Michel, and I was so excited to see them. You see, almost two weeks ago, a very pregnant Betty came to our neighbourhood Taize prayer service, and when it ended, I went to talk with her. I knew, from seeing her a month earlier, that the baby was overdue. She told me, that evening two weeks ago, that she was having strong contractions as long as the music played. It made her happy because she wanted a natural birth, and the doctor was planning to induce the baby in two days. So I told her I had some Taize music cds to keep the contractions going, and she could take them with her to the hospital. My daughter and I delivered them to Betty and her husband at 9 p.m. ... and Jean Michel arrived at 5:41 the next morning. I received an email announcing his arrival, and couldn't stop smiling the rest of the day!

He's so little, and so beautiful. He slept through the potluck last night, so we never got to see his pretty eyes, or those adorable, newborn expressions... but I know where he lives, so I think I'll try to still my dizzy head and walk over there for a baby fix sometime this week.

Jean Michel's arrival, and seeing him for the first time right at the beginning of Advent has me thinking about expectation... and expectations, two very different words, but linked. For those of us who celebrate Christmas in its religious sense, Advent is a time to wait in expectation for the coming of Christ... but too often, societal expectations that have developed over the years put a damper on the joy of the season. Consumer culture starts preparing and celebrating so far ahead of time, that we're pooped when the day actually arrives. That kind of expectation would never work when it comes to childbirth!

I learned a lot about Canadian Christmas expectations in preparing for my Rethinking Christmas workshops over the last few years. Looking through December 20th Globe and Mail archives starting in 1860, I discovered that, for most Canadians, Christmas was simply a one or two day break from the daily grind. It was about family gatherings, going to church if you were a believer, food, drink, music, and celebration. It was about light and joy in the darkest days of the year. Gift-wise, a man might get a new pocket knife for Christmas, a woman, a new housecoat. Children received oranges from an exotic place called Florida, or perhaps peppermint candy. I found a few ads for luxury Christmas gifts like diamonds, whisky and cigarettes (no kidding!) in the 1940s, but it wasn't really until after the war that consumer expectations really took off. Suddenly, we began to buy, buy, buy, decorate, decorate, decorate, and party, party, party!




Oh, Santa! Really??

The thing about expectations, though, that we often forget, is that we have a choice in whether we listen to and live up to them--or not. We have the power to decide whether they are realistic expectations, part of authentic Christmas celebration--or not.

So, just for fun, I've made a list of Christmas expectations that our family does not consider realistic.

1. We don't think it's realistic to spend $1,113 per person in big box retail stores for Christmas gifts. That's what Stats Can tells me Albertans spent (on average) in 2006. How can that kind of giving/receiving even be meaningful? We draw names, and each person in the clan gets one or two useful/well-considered gifts under $50. We also give gifts to Hope Mission and participate in our church's inner city Emmanuel gift sack program.

2. We don't think it's essential to have new Christmas clothing every year (though our kids are still growing, so it might look that way).

3. We don't think it's necessary to attend every Christmas concert and event going. We pick and choose a few that mean something to us, and tend to celebrate more on or after Christmas day than before.

4. We don't think every home should look like Martha Stewart's. What a waste of world resources that would be! Instead, we decorate a tree, and hang up the Christmas cards we receive, and the kids' craft projects from years gone by.

5. We don't think Christmas dinner has to be a twenty lb. bird. But whatever we do eat (homemade chicken noodle soup!) we always include a special, candycane-shaped, layered lime and fruit coctail/lemony cream cheese/strawberry jello confection. It's more a tradition for us than turkey!

6. We don't think Christmas music should start playing the minute after Remembrance Day, and end on December 25th. We enjoy it through December and the beginning of January. I've been avoiding radio stations that start too early!

7. We don't think that each Christmas has to be "better" than the one before. That's just silly, especially when they're all good in their own way.

So I guess you could say we tend to thumb our noses at a lot of societal expectations for Christmas, simply because they cause stress on us or our planet, or mess with our joyous expectation of the season. That's our choice. And we're expecting this Christmas to be a celebration unlike any other (as they all are), a time to pause and remember the Someone who came and changed our world--and us--for the better, with his wisdom and love.

Have a joyful Advent!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Editing never ends

Being out of commission over the last four weeks because of "extreme motion sensitivity," I've been spending a fair bit of time on a special project... editing the novel that took me almost five years to write. I'm almost embarrassed to say that I've been editing for nearly that long... this book will soon be my "decade project." It began in November of 2002, and I'm hoping it will be published by November of 2012!

I really enjoyed the process of writing the story in fits and starts when my girls were young. Editing has happened in fits and starts, too. It took six months for me to get brave enough to even print my novel and share it around, asking for feedback. Then it took a while to gather the feedback and do rewrites. At that point, I gave the manuscript to a friend who was trained as an editor, and she suggested I get rid of the passive voices that I had worked so hard to cultivate (so that they could become active at a critical moment in the story). Her suggestion meant that every page needed major adjustments, and that took several months... but my friend's suggestion was bang on. Passive voice? What was I thinking?

From there, the story improved so much that I offered it to a special inner-city foundation, the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation... and an impromptu "book club" associated with CEASE read it and invited me to receive their feedback. That led to more edits, and by then I was convinced that I had a worthwhile project on my hands, so I mailed it to a publisher. I waited... with excitement... for eight months... for a rejection letter.

But I haven't given up. I've gone through the story many times, cutting out a bit more excess with every pass, sometimes entire paragraphs or pages -- a couple of minor characters have vanished entirely. My novel started at 210,000, and now it's down to 175,000 words. This present round of editing has shown me that there isn't much left to cut, so it's probably as ready as it will ever be for publication, short of hiring a professional editor with money that I don't have. Now the plan is to read it aloud to make sure that it flows, find some funding (wish me luck!) and publish it, all proceeds to CEASE. But first, CEASE's Executive Director, my friend Kate, needs to write an Introduction.

What's been interesting in this process is that I've discovered that editing can be almost as much fun as writing... and that I've developed a bit of an impatience with excess words wherever I find them (including the new translation of the Roman Missal, but that may be another moodling). Advertizing is particularly bad for poor wording; half the time it isn't even good English! News articles in the paper or on the internet have never contained so many glaring errors, and Facebook? Forget about it! I've become something of a stickler for good grammar, and can spot a misplaced modifier in a jiffy (I hope I've fixed all of mine). I know all about the passive voice and how it can slow down a story, and I've discovered that I'm a plain story teller, not a poet. 

For a while there, it looked like the editing process would never end. I suppose it doesn't for people who love to write. There will always be some project that needs work (I could edit my moodlings, right?)... but I've come to the end of my patience for this novel. It's been a real gift to create it. Though it's far from perfect, it's a pretty amazing story that I'm guessing is much improved, and the whole process has been exciting and worth a mint to my development as a writer. Hopefully, it will be valuable to CEASE, too. Watch this space for updates.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Something to think about... Buy Nothing Day, November 25th/26th

No matter what you believe, here's something worth considering:



Good question, no?

From Hallowe'en onward, 'tis the season when the malls do everything in their power to invite us in, suck us in, and try to part us from our money by convincing us that we CAN buy happiness for our loved ones. But they can't fool us. We know that, in most cases,

STUFF ≠ HAPPINESS.

And we realize that running to the stores and grabbing something off the shelves isn't as deeply appreciated as the time, attention, and creativity that we can gift our loved ones with instead of stuff. We also know that if we find creative ways to show that we love and value the special people in our lives -- whether it be by giving experiential or edible gifts, offering our talents and abilities, supporting a charity in someone's name, or recycling old things into new presents -- we're being kinder to everyone who depends upon the earth's resources for life... basically, all living beings.

I won't be having a Buy Nothing Christmas, because I like to bake goodies, pass along good books, and there's our family's Christmas pajamas tradition to uphold (because last year's pjs have been outgrown or worn out)... but I will buy as little as possible, and I will definitely participate in Buy Nothing Day this Friday -- November 25th in the United States, and November 26th everywhere else. Actually, I'll probably make it a Buy Nothing Weekend. It's not hard to do. Just don't go shopping! Kind of like the Occupy Movement, except we're showing the big retailers and ad companies that we're smarter than they think we are, and that we as consumers have the power to resist their sales campaigns by not buying into all their empty promises.

This year is the 20th anniversary of Buy Nothing Day, which began as a counter cultural reaction to Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States. Retailers there have successfully linked Thanksgiving with heading to the malls to start the annual Christmas consumerism spree. Black Friday got its name not because people have died in rush stampedes at American big box stores on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but because for many retail outlets, it's the first day in the year that their financial bottom lines turn from red to black ink in store ledgers.

Our family does its best to support the "buy nothing" movement most of the year because we know that with seven billion people on the planet, we all need to curb our appetites and live with just enough. Our planet is finite in its abilities to provide for us and other living things, and extinctions, climate instabilities, pollution and decimation of certain ecosystems caused by human consumption are already doing more damage than we realize to the quality of our existence on earth. So it's high time that we stop using Jesus' birthday as an excuse to make things worse. Maybe we should do more of this:



For more information, posters, and great ideas to de-consumerize Christmas, check out www.buynothingchristmas.org. For more on Buy Nothing Day, see www.adbusters.org/bnd.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A different sort of Sunday song

I haven't commented on the Occupy Movement to this point, and it's long past time to say something. I just watched a powerful little music video sent to me by my friend, Mark, who sends me a lot of good things. My daughter asked what the song was about, and when I told her it was about how power and wealth have ended up in the pockets of a small, wealthy group of people, she said, "but there's nothing we can do about it, right?"

The point is that we've been saying that forever. "There's nothing I can do about it." And a long while ago, Edmund Burke said something like, "the only thing necessary for evil to prevail is that good people do nothing." So now, finally, people are trying to do something. They're gathering. They're talking. They're trying to come up with solutions, like Robin Hood taxes. The many are letting the few know that things must change for the sake of ALL. But unfortunately, tonight, here in Edmonton, the occupiers will be evicted from their peaceful camp, where they were willing to tough it out through winter cold to keep the discussion going. I would like to go down there and be with them as the police come to lead them away at eleven p.m. Especially after hearing this song.




My occupying brothers and sisters, whatever happens, keep the discussion going. You are on the right track, and our world needs more people to participate in the changes that can occur through dialogue. What I don't understand is why so few of the few have waded into this discussion when the world can only gain from finding wise solutions to inequality, solutions where people, and our planet's health, not wealth, are the bottom line. As the song says, we the many have nothing to lose, so I would think the few might like to negotiate... and to have everyone realize that to have two camps, the many and the few, still divides us. We need to come together for once and for all to end the division of humanity into "us" and "them," to remember that there's only ever been us, one human family, all of whom deserve respect, rights, freedoms, food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and justice in all its forms.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Art From the Unknown... part II

Almost a month ago, I moodled about "Art from the Unknown 2011", a local show featuring artists who don't otherwise get to show their works in a gallery. I went to the exhibit and thoroughly enjoyed it. Today, I unveil my purchased piece of art from that show, painted by none other than Harry, my purple palmed L'Arche friend from the earlier moodling. It's called A Walk in the Woods, and while it may not be your idea of a masterpiece, to me it symbolizes a pretty special guy who never fails to say hello or regale me with a story. His painting hangs near my desk at work, and it makes me happy. And that's what art is supposed to do, I think.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Simple Suggestion #101 ... Reduce your junk mail


Dear Little Brothers of St. Anthony,
         I might be a good Catholic, but honestly, I'm getting really tired of your unsolicited snail mail appeals for charitable donations. This is the second one I've received from you this month!
         And do you really think that putting "St. Anthony loves you" on the outside of your appeal is that convincing? Of course St. Anthony loves me. Saint Anthony loves everybody; that's why he's a saint!
         Moreover, mailing out a whack of information and a little metal "charm" that I can mail back to you with a donation (in your postage paid envelope) so you can ensure that it is put on St. Anthony's tomb and that prayers are said for me seems like a pretty silly occupation for busy guys like you -- not to mention a colossal waste of resources! Why don't you just pray for yourselves and the people who have actually asked you to pray for them? That way you could save a heap of postage, and all the paper, envelopes, metal work, employee hours, effort and fossil fuel this silliness requires, and call yourselves good stewards of the earth.
         I don't know where you got my home address -- though I have my suspicions, and may cancel my involvement with that group because they promised not to share my information with anyone else -- and I certainly don't remember asking for your prayerful patronage in the past. Just for the record, I share my charity dollars with lots of other nice people and groups that I've known personally or locally, and have supported for many years already. You don't even know me! And you send me a gift that I'm supposed to send back? This is surpassing strange.
         Since you seem like kind (but sadly mistaken) gentlemen, I am using this postage paid envelope to ask that you please remove my address from your data base. And I'm sorry, but if you send any more appeals like this one, I may consider doing as the fellow in the video below suggests for Wall Street. I wish you well with your honourable work, and God bless you, too.

Sincerely,
Maria K.

P.S. Banks and credit card agencies, I'm sorry, but I won't be as nice to you the first time around! At least the Little Brothers are trying to do some good -- your appeals are only for your bottom lines! You'll get the wood shims right off the bat!



P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just call me dizzy... and an AMAZING video

For the past three weeks, I've been a dizzy dame, and not in a "fun" sense. I have been diagnosed with what's known as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, or BPPV. Basically, it means that my head spins with sudden movement, whether I'm laying down or standing, picking something up from the floor, or reaching for the top shelf. Driving is an impossibility because shoulder checks just don't work. Simple tasks like unpacking groceries or making the bed take a long time. This morning I took a walk around the neighbourhood with two friends who let me hold onto them as if I was a ninety-year-old woman who is unsteady on her pins, which is true, except I'm only half of ninety.

This same thing happened to me five years ago after a day surgery. At the time, I blamed it on the anaesthetic, but this time, I'm suspecting it came out of the blue then, as it has now. I haven't bonked my head on anything recently; I haven't had an ear infection or even a common cold. There's no excuse for my dizziness, which means it's idiopathic, occurring for no known reason.

So, what to do? Well, the last time around, I waited it out, mostly. It took three months before my body got rid of whatever was causing the problem and I went back to life as usual. I visited doctors and saw a physiotherapist who gave me some exercises that included walking up and down my hallway, focusing on a picture to my right until I'd passed it, then one to my left until it was behind me, turning my head this way and that, over and over. The physio also did something called the Epley manoeuvre, a turning of my head in different directions in an effort to move the crystals that might be causing the imbalance in the semi-circular canal in my ear, and perhaps that helped. I hope it helps again when I see him this week.

Having vertigo again after being so healthy for the five years since the last bout has brought home to me once again the marvel of nature, of the human body. Everything works so well most of the time... but get a few little ear crystals in the wrong place, and they set off chaos that stops me in my tracks. My neighbour down the street broke her arm somewhere close to her elbow last week, and now she has a full arm cast that means she can't drive either (and dressing herself is a trick too, I imagine). Nature's balance is a delicate thing, and it's so easy to lose sight of that fact until something unbalances.

So, though I'm frustrated by my present unbalance, I'm also trying to appreciate the places where balance exists. I'm grateful for the fact that this vertigo has nothing to do with brain tumours or Meniere's Disease. A few weeks of dizziness is but a speck in time when I really think about it, so rather than complain any more than I have, I'll save my breath for prayers for the people who live with frequent attacks of dizziness. I'm appreciating the friends and family who have supported me these last three weeks by helping me do things and go places, and I'm looking forward to getting back to life as usual.

This morning my friend Mark sent me this completely amazing, two minute video of an incredible and balanced murmuration of starlings that blew my mind. Kudos to the girls who got such wonderful footage! It made me think about the fact that, even though so much in our world is imbalanced and out of kilter, nature does these inexplicably amazing and wonderfully balanced things. If we can stop life's dizzying pace and make ourselves aware of our connectedness with every living thing and our need to live in harmony within life's web, nature's balance will be enhanced in our world... and our bodies.

Have a balanced day!

Monday, November 14, 2011

All tucked in... gardening like God does, part II

Last week our meteorologist reported that we were in for an evening of "wintery mix" weather, so I roused myself and one of my daughters from early hibernation, and we went out to put the front yard to bed. The back yard and vegetable plots have been settled in for their long winter's nap for a while, but the front yard, like the child who never wants to go to sleep, needed a little more attention. It was just a matter of raking the last of the leaves and tucking them in around the perennials so that no earth showed. A little tricky with my vertigo-spinny head... I had to be careful not to rake myself into the leaf piles!


I've learned a lot about gardening in the eight years we've lived here, mostly through what other people would call laziness, or maybe even mistaken thinking. But the practice of letting the leaves fall as they may -- like God does -- and leaving them in the border beds in my back yard -- because I had too much yard work to do everywhere else -- showed me that the beds with ordinary leaf mulch did much better than the beds without. I used to be one of those people who liked to see the dirt around my plants... but now I see that there certainly aren't as many weeds in the leaf-mulched beds as in the ones I kept raked, and the plants grow better because they don't dry out so quickly and have a bit of natural compost -- also known as fertilizer -- with them at all times.


So when you walk past my front yard, you may think that I'm a lazy gardener... but the fact of the matter is that it took more effort to put the garden to bed with leaf mulch than it does to rake it all out. I raked those leaves together more often this year than I ever have... put that front yard to bed three times, and then the wind -- petulant child! -- came and undid everything! But this weekend, we got a bit of that wintery mix to stick those leaves to the soil, and hopefully, they'll stay put as part of the lasagna gardening technique I hope to employ out there on a more permanent basis. Next spring, those leaves will keep moisture in the earth and enrich it as they break down over a shorter time period than wood chips or commercial mulch. And guess what? Next fall, God and the trees will give me another layer of free, natural mulch!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A new hallelujah for a Sunday

Last weekend I posted that wonderful hug video, but this weekend, I'm in the mood for a hallelujah that hasn't been played as much as Leonard Cohen's. Here's Michael W. Smith, an American musician... but what I really love are the children he's singing with. The African Children's Choir takes children from desperate situations and helps them to sing their way to a better life. If you ever get a chance to hear them, I'd recommend it! Enjoy!



Friday, November 11, 2011

11/11/11... Remembering... for the sake of peace

The year after university, I travelled with a performing group, and we spent a fair bit of time in Belgium, where many Canadians lost their lives in WWI to the insanity known as mustard gas. One of my host families took me on a war tour around their area, and across the French border to Vimy Ridge, and it was probably one of the most profound days of that year of my life. Seeing all those gravestones standing row on row in Flanders fields, and then standing on the Ridge and looking up at the sorrowing women of the towering white granite monument on the only Canadian soil in Europe -- 91 hectares where 11, 285 Canadian trees and shrubs live to honour the young men who fought and died there -- I suddenly saw the real importance of Remembrance Day.

Use this as your Facebook or Twitter profile picture.It's not about glorifying the fallen, or cheering on our veterans, though we do thank them for the sacrifices they have made. It's about remembering those who have died, and about the true yearning we all have that no more people will die because of senseless war. It is our deep longing for the best alternative to war... peace.

Today, I pray that humanity will find non-violent ways to solve our disagreements, and that those who are in uniform will soon be able to come home. I'll admit I'm something of an idealist, but I think that, given human history, it's better than being a militarist.

If you are remembering for the sake of peace, too, you might like to check this out:

www.ceasefire.ca

Dona nobis pacem...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Simple Suggestion #100... Count your blessings


I saved the best for last... except, guess what? This isn't actually the last simple suggestion (except on the poster, which you can access on the "About Moodlings" tab above). As I've moodled during the last 6 months or so about these 100 Simple Suggestions, other suggestions have come to me, so I think I'll keep on going with one a week until I run out entirely. Maybe there will be a second poster! I'm starting to think that there's no end to the simple things we can do to laugh, love and live more lightly on our beautiful planet.

Today's suggestion is the underpining for all simple suggestions, period. If we count our blessings and become more mindful of the abundance with which we already live, we don't need to accumulate more to keep up with the Joneses. And maybe, just maybe, the Joneses will start to wonder why we're not keeping up with them, and they'll ask questions that will lead to discussions about true happiness... and all the ways we can choose to live more simply.

And all of those ways are the blessings we can count... like our neighbours, our ability to appreciate beauty, plant seeds, bake, walk, bike, buy fair trade, make music, use a clothesline, recycle, garden... Those are just the first ten suggestions, and I'm not going to retype them all again because you can click on Simple Suggestions on the sidebar and they'll all pop up. As the old song goes...
There's bread and jam upon the shelf, mm hmm...
If you want some more, just help yourself!
From here on, I'll spend my time moodling about other things, and adding a few more Simple Suggestions as I go, maybe once a week. But first, I think I'll take a little break for a few days.

Thanks for coming with me this far. I count you among my blessings!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Simple Suggestion #99... Teach a child a game from your childhood

Do kids these days know how to play Monopoly without a computer? Hopscotch? Scrub? Do they know any of those skipping rhymes we used to use as kids? Checkers? Chinese Checkers? Snakes and Ladders? Rummy? War? Kick the can or Anti-I-Over? Red Rover?

I'm showing my age, I know... but I remember how much fun it was to play games as a kid, in a house, in a box, in a tree, in the park, in the dark, and anywhere else games could possibly be played. My girls have mostly reached the age where they're not that anxious to play any more... but that doesn't mean it's too late to share a game or two from my childhood. They seem to like some card games, and the odd times that I've talked them into putting aside their books or computers, we've had fun with different things, like Aggravation or our mini pool table (2x3 feet). I hope that technology never gets to the point where people forget how to play together.

Now where did that Monopoly game go? Julia and I are determined to find it.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sending you free hugs

My sister sent me this lovely video this week. It's made the rounds before, but it's still worth a look, and not just for Alexandra Burke's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. Hugs to you all this weekend!



Friday, November 4, 2011

#98... Give experiential or edible gifts

It was my wonderful husband's birthday this week, and it's hard to buy gifts for him. Asked what he wants for his birthday, he usually doesn't have much to say, because he's quite content with life. This year, though, I gave him a new pair of slippers because his old ones were getting pretty thin, and I made him a nice meal -- herbed breaded chicken, wild rice and steamed vegetables, and homemade, birthday apple pie, complete with candles. He was pleased.

We human beings have a natural compulsion to want to do special things for our loved ones to mark special occasions. Unfortunately, that compulsion has been corrupted by market forces that brainwash us to believe that we must buy special things... often things that our loved ones don't really need, and that perhaps our earth's limited resources can no longer afford. Most of us have too much "stuff" in our homes, too many clothes in our closets, too many books on our shelves, etc.

That's why tickets to a play or concert, or special food and drink are such excellent gift suggestions. We all love to eat certain things, and most of us enjoy live entertainment. Among our family's favourite gifts have been tickets to a local theatre that featured some former Cirque de Soleil stars, and a full day canoe trip down the North Saskatchewan River. In my books, fair trade chocolate is a great present for any occasion (it's usually grown by organic farmers, too, so it's not depleting the earth so much, and it's often tastier than non-fair trade).

I'd like to suggest that the best gifts are the ones that don't collect dust or break down with age, but delight our tastebuds, or live in our memories for a lifetime. If you have time to leave a note, I'd love to hear about your favourite experiential or edible gift...

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

#97... Rethink your support for professional sports

Okay, here I go again, making enemies -- with sports fans this time. But wait -- I'm a sports fan of sorts, and I still think that today's suggestion is one worth considering if you love our planet.

Really.

I was a huge Edmonton Oilers fan in the '80s. I even went to a few playoff finals back in the era of Gretzky, Anderson, Kurri, Messier, Lowe, Coffey, and all those amazing guys. (Unfortunately, those were the 1983 nailbiters they lost to the NY Islanders). I've cheered for them ever since, especially in 2006 when the team went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. Where football is concerned, I cheer for the Saskatchewan Roughriders because my Rider Nation roots run deep, and have enjoyed a few winning Grey Cup games, especially the one in 1989, when I was the only one at the houseparty who was cheering for the Riders.

But...

When I think about grown men making outrageous amounts of money for playing games while my homeless brothers and sisters have nowhere to sleep, I can't help but question the wisdom of supporting professional sports. There's a millionaire in my city who seems to think his team is entitled to a new hockey arena to play in, but he wants the city to pay for it, and there's definitely something wrong with that kind of thinking! The city has enough other things and people to take care of with its tax monies!

I also wonder about the much-discussed obesity epidemic that isn't improving at all as couch potatoes channel surf between sports stations rather than getting out and doing sports ourselves...

And when I consider our planet, which is slowly but surely running out of resources because we're spending them foolishly, I have my doubts about the wisdom that insists that our athletes and teams fly all over the place, burning fossil fuels as if petroleum and fresh air will last forever. I wonder at the carbon spent to heat and light huge stadiums and arenas whose ticket prices are far beyond the purchasing power of middle- and lower-income families. And there's a lot more thinking and speculating I do on this topic, but I doubt anyone really wants to read any more, and I don't want to write any more. I really don't like being a killjoy.

But I guess all these thoughts are the reason I'm not the really enthusiastic sports fan I used to be. These days I'm all in favour of local community sports, informal sports, and family sports in the area park across the street!



P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Simple Suggestion #96... Take a nap



Irritability.
Cognitive lapses.
Memory lapse or loss.
Decreased reaction time.
Yawning episodes.

Sound familiar? If so, sleep deficit might be an issue, and even if not, well, "unapologetic napping" (a phrase I like from author Terry Hershey) is good for body and soul. Places that incorporate a siesta time in their day seem to be healthier than our driven North American way.

It doesn't have to be a long nap. Sometimes just laying down as long as it takes to drift off is enough. When I allow myself the pleasure of a nap, I usually set my clock for fifteen minutes or so, and wake up refreshed and ready to go, without spoiling my night time sleep. I'm suffering with benign (read: pain in the neck) vertigo these days, so I'm napping a bit more than usual.

If you can't take a nap today, save it for your next day off. If you can, happy napping!

(Image borrowed from The Napping House, a wonderful children's book by Audrey Wood. Highly recommended, if you haven't seen it yet.)

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Simple Suggestion #95... Write letters to loved ones

Here's a suggestion I sort of made once before, and the comments on that moodling, Simple Pleasures... and Letters, told me that just the idea of letters makes people happy. So I'll run the risk of repeating myself, because I love letters, too!

In the late eighties, I participated in a travelling show for a year, and one of the tunes that was performed was basically a letter carrier's commentary on his work (before email and internet!), tinged with a bit of sadness:
Where are the love letters
that always mean so much
and the friendly little notes
they send to keep in touch?
They're not in my bag anymore...
I think a lot of us can relate as we open our mail day after day. The postal system used to be the way to keep in touch with loved ones, but now it's almost strictly business. Credit card applications, bills, charity fundraising letters, cable company offers... but wait, what's this? Could it be a real letter from a real person I know??! Be still, my beating heart! There's just something wonderful about receiving a handwritten snippet of someone else's life... knowing that they cared enough to sit with pen and paper and send a message with stamp. Or an email that isn't just a forwarded joke with hardly a personal word.

Writing a letter to a dear friend can be an exercise in storytelling, self-discovery, or sheer enjoyment. In my closet, on the top shelf with the extra bedsheets, sit two precious boxes of letters. My boxes hold something of a summary of my favourite friend's life. She has an identical set of boxes at her house that hold something of a summary of my life. Once, we got our boxes together, spread letters all over the floor, drank wine, and giggled at the girls we used to be. We've been writing to each other since we were nine years old, sometimes when we were in the same city, always with plenty of affection. Often, in my letters to her, I have been able to name a deep longing or a difficult emotion... or tell an embarrassing story on myself as an exercise in honesty and humility. Letters can be a form of confession and healing -- or they can be just plain silly fun. (I also have a little packet of love letters from my husband, but as I've said before, he's a private kind of guy, so that's as much as I'll say about that.)

The last letter I wrote happened in a rainy cafe when I had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. What a pleasure it was to sit and write just to share some time with a friend. And what a pleasure it was to receive a letter in return not two weeks later. A gift, in the form of a heartfelt letter!! Woo hoo!

Do you remember the last letter you wrote with pen, on paper? The last one you received? Somehow, those missives are more deeply considered, the words made to fit the moment more tightly than something composed on the fly at a keyboard. But keyboards are good, too, when the message is just right. So, today's suggestion is simply to write a letter, with pen, or keyboard, or whatever works for you. Then, put it into an envelope, stick on a stamp, and S.W.A.K. (seal with a kiss)! Or, hit send!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Something truly scary... and this year's Halloween costume

On Saturday morning, I woke up to radio reports about the flooding in Bangkok, and decided it was time to moodle about climate change again. I hate moodling about climate change, because it scares the heebie jeebies out of me. It's too easy to imagine that my own addiction to fossil fuels has no impact on anyone else... until Bill McKibben writes this op/ed piece about it, and Stephen W. Thomson makes it visual (see below). I am frightened, because who's to say the same sorts of things can't happen here? And I worry about my brothers and sisters in Thailand. How will they manage?

Here are more reasons to be a hummingbird, to live simply,
and to try to get by using as few fossil fuels as possible.



****

On a lighter note, after her successes as laundry basket, traffic light, and radio over the last few years, here's my youngest hobgoblin at school in the Hallowe'en costume she made this year!


Here's my girls' pumpkin art.
Happy All Hallow's Eve!