Thursday, March 31, 2011

The river down our street

So it's not the best Spring Break ever for riding our bikes, but I haven't seen a better one for floating our boats!

My girls and I went out this gorgeous sunny afternoon (8 degrees, so a sweater was enough for a change!) and dug a river through the snow on the edge of our street.

By the time we were finished, we had a steady flow from our house (furthest on the right) all the way around the corner to the next avenue (past about nine homes).

We were having a great time, until the girls discovered that their boats seemed to float faster without their sails... but without sails, they disappeared under the edge of the ice and that was that. Oh well, we had a good hour of fun in the sun, and developed an appreciation for river engineering. Trying to build rapids that don't sink your boat is a challenge!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring Break?

It's been an unusual winter. In fact, I can barely remember another winter with this much snow. When my family lived in small town Saskatchewan, there was a blizzard when I was in grade two, and it heaped snow over our lilac hedge and closed the highways for a week. My mom worked as a nurse in the hospital in the next town and had to be brought the nine miles home in a Bombardier, I think.

More to the point, I can't remember ever having this much snow this late in March. Ever. This week is Spring Break (it always seems to fall around April 1st -- maybe the teachers want to avoid April Foolery?) and here are two pictures: last year, which is what the end of March usually looks like, then this year:

Same yard, slightly different angle... It's almost depressing how much snow is still left. Edmontonians are resigned to the fact that spring is late this year, and we may have tulips into June. Sunny Alberta, as our province used to be known, hasn't been terribly sunny for the past several months, and the temperatures this year have been far below normal so perhaps we'll have a reprieve from the pine beetles that have been threatening our forests.

Really, we have very little to complain about. Our friends in Winnipeg are preparing for the second flood of the century in less than 15 years. Global climate change is definitely affecting their flood plains. Kind of puts into perspective the fact that I can't ride my bike this Spring Break, like I did last year...  but look at the difference between today's picture, and last March 30th!

Soon, soon I'll be able to get back to the bike... the sun is shining today!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Simple pleasures... and letters

On Friday, I received a bona fide letter from my auntie Kay. I can't begin to tell you how happy it made me. Not that she was sending me amazing anecdotes, incredible insights or wondrous wisdom -- she was just connecting with me using one of my favourite methods of all time. I also liked the little newspaper joke clippings she tucked into her card. One of them made me laugh out loud. I'll post it at the bottom, I promise.

When my children were small, I was a stay-home-mom who hovered in the living room watching for the letter carrier, exulting when George brought me a letter (we were on a first name basis). Email was in its infancy, so when babes were napping, I often pulled out some stationery and wrote a card or letter to friends who weren't yet internet savvy, and then I watched George for responses. In those days, he didn't often disappoint, as I had quite a few penpals, and even though my dearest penpal/friend lived in the same city at the time, we still wrote quite a few letters beyond our weekly Wednesday coffee visits. Now she's 1, 296 km away, but we still use pen and paper occasionally even though we also use email, Facebook and Skype.

Of course, we are the odd women out, as are my aunties, who still use snail mail. Though I'm well aware that hardly anyone writes letters anymore, I was a little bit shocked last week when my youngest daughter asked me to teach her how to write. She had brief lessons in grade three, and has forgotten every bit of them because "no one writes anymore, Mom. We type, or we print." I quizzed my older girls about their handwriting habits and learned that Fourteen-year-old never writes, and can't remember how to form capital letters, while Seventeen-year-old writes more often than printing because "it's faster." Of course, that handwriting is only when she isn't typing. My husband, being a computer guy, has never used handwriting much at all, other than in the love letters I have stashed in a special place.

In my books, there's nothing as satisfying as sitting down with a few blank sheets of paper and a good pen, the kind that flows perfectly with just the right amount of pressure on the page, and filling an envelope with an ink moodling dialogue about daily life for a far away friend who may reply on a similarly lazy afternoon. Letters have a unique way of capturing a moment in time through the expressive loops and lines of cursive writing. They seem to be more thoughtful and considered than rapidly typed emails and text messages, because rarely does a sentence end the way it was begun in a person's mind. I edit as I write, choosing just the right words, adjusting phrases before they become permanent on paper, adding words with a ^ here and there, underlining for emphasis. It's a pleasure I don't allow myself often enough.

And receiving a letter, a written record, a moment from someone else's lifetime, is like receiving a treasure. The paper bears the imprint of someone special at a particular moment -- a moment they chose to spend sharing thoughts across the miles. I've kept a few treasured letters from my grandmothers, and two boxes of "growing up letters" exchanged with the above mentioned dearest penpal/friend. I suppose it can be argued that email does the same thing as letters do, but most of the emails I receive are forwarded jokes, inspirational anecdotes and prayers that don't hold the same sort of thoughtful care that handwritten letters like my auntie's do. I do appreciate personal email messages, but their computer fonts just don't warm the heart the way handwriting does, no matter how messy it can get. It's rare for me to get a handwritten letter and not have the immediate urge to respond. I temper that, though, because I don't want to be like a golden retriever puppy, all paws and tongue, bowling people over with my enthusiastic response and expectation for another letter treat.

So, Auntie Kay, I've checked my "immediate reply" impulse, but I want you to know that your letter was a joy to receive, and I promise I'll give it a couple of weeks and then reply. Thanks for your news, and for the jokes. As promised, here's the one that made me chuckle:
There was a very self-sufficient blind man, who did a lot of traveling alone. He was making his first trip to Texas and happened to be seated next to a Texan on the flight. The Texan spent a lot of time telling him how everything is bigger and better in Texas. By the time the blind man had reached his destination, a large resort hotel, he was very excited about being in Texas. The long trip had worn him out a little so he decided to stop at the bar for a small soda and a light snack before going up to his room to unpack his clothes. When the waitress set down his drink, it was in a huge mug. "Wow, I had heard everything in Texas is bigger," he told her. "That's right," she replied. The blind man ate his snack and finished his drink. After drinking such a large amount, it was only natural his next stop was going to have to be the restroom. He asked the waitress for directions. She told him to turn left at the register and it would be the second door on the right. He reached the first door and continued down the hall. A few steps later he stumbled slightly and missed the second door altogether and ended up going through the third door instead. Not realising he had entered the swimming area, he walked forward and immediately fell into the swimming pool. Remembering everything he had heard about things being bigger in Texas, as soon as he had his head above water he started shouting, "Don't flush! Don't flush!"

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another great Sunday song

Thanks to Charleen for sending this one to me. I love its simplicity, and the message. I'll be listening to more Peter Mayer this week...

Friday, March 25, 2011

You don't know what you've got til it's gone

Tomorrow evening between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. is Earth Hour, a time when many people make an effort to live without electricity, to give some consideration to our dependence on energy and come up with ways we can conserve it. Spending an hour in the dark is an interesting exercise in simple living. Not only does it foster a deeper appreciation for the electrical devices we take for granted, but conversation and relationship become more important than our gadgets and gizmos, as they should be.

If you watch Earth Hour coverage or commercials, you'll see that many places and people have turned it into another reason to party, but with a slightly higher consciousness of their energy use. Earth Hour has a high energy, feel good tone, saying, If you can do this, imagine what else we can achieve! That's great, but just IMAGINING isn't enough.

So what can we DO, to not only use less energy, but to save the earth's resources for future generations? Here's a basic list, in no particular order:

1. Shop at thrift stores rather than buying new. If everyone does this, all fashions will be in style, and no one will feel pressured to buy the newest line of clothing.

2. Use recycled products. If everyone does this, we will save a lot of trees in particular, but also a lot of other resources.

3. Avoid highly advertized products and seek simpler solutions. If everyone does this, we will cut down on chemical and resource use, not to mention advertizing energy and materials.

4. Reduce, reuse, recycle, recover: compost organic kitchen scraps, repair the broken, give away the good, share, and lend. If everyone does these things, we can stop extracting important elements from Earth's fragile ecosphere.

5. Dry clothes in sun and wind, or on a clothes rack/line. If everyone does this, we can get by with fewer nuclear facilities, hydro installations and coal burning power plants.

6. Grow food wherever possible, and buy local. If everyone does this, we'll be eating healthier foods and ingesting fewer chemical preservatives.

7. Eat lower on the foodchain. If everyone does this, we'll save the huge environmental costs of raising so much livestock.

8. Use rainbarrels, water-saving fixtures, and don't let clean water flow down the drain. If everyone does this, we also save energy because our water treatment plants aren't working needlessly.

9. Walk, bike, use public transit. If everyone does this, air quality will improve, as will our overall cardiovascular health.

10. Remember that every choice made matters, and that there are always earth-friendlier possibilities that might require a little sacrifice or inconvenience. And yes, imagine what else we can achieve! If everyone makes positive choices for the earth, that haunting line from Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi won't apply to the planet's limited resources -- or our existence as human beings.

Here's young Joni herself in 1970. Have a good Earth Hour!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I think I'm getting old

I know, I know, we're all aging, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day... you get the drift. But I've had a couple of funny experiences recently that have me thinking about being "older." I've been made aware, lately, that people around me don't see me as being as young as I think I am.

The first "event" was about two weeks ago. When I stepped onto the 8:15 a.m. bus on my way to work, there was a crowd of people standing in the aisle because the seats were all taken. It makes me a little crazy when they're all blocking the front of the bus, so I pushed through and moved to the back. When I got there, a teenager jumped up from her seat and said, "You can have my seat if you like!"

I was tempted to reply, "I'm not an old woman!" but the girl wore a genuine smile, and she did mean well. How could I discourage such consideration and generosity? I smiled, told her she was sweet, and sat down, wondering how old the girl thought I was.

Then yesterday, I had a lovely afternoon at the curling rink, watching my dad on his way to becoming the Champion of the Senior's Bonspiel. It was wonderful to be there and to have lunch with Dad... except that everyone was mistaking me for his wife!

I suppose if I dyed my hair like most women these days do, I might look young enough to be taken for Merv's daughter, but I can't bear the thought of putting carcinogenic coal tar derivatives on my head. And besides, it really doesn't matter how old people think I am. True, most Olympic athletes are young enough to hang out with my kids, and most people my age have retired from professional sports. Many women of my demographic are giving up hard core exercise for yoga or, heaven forbid, Zoomba classes, and actors younger than I am are having tummy tucks and botox treatments.

As for me, I feel no pressure to be something I'm not or to do things to prolong my youth. I had my first grey hair when I was twenty three, and a lot more of them have followed it. My body is starting to sag a bit here and there, but it feels strong and vibrant ninety-five percent of the time, and I can still wear clothes I like. Youth was good, but maturity is better, because the pressure's off. When I was younger, I put a lot of effort into how I looked because I wanted to be noticed. Now, I'm just happy to be me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Simple pleasures... and walking

I've been going to work almost daily for the past week and a half. While I've been missing my quiet thinking time at home, and seeing my friend, Charleen, on Tuesdays, and going to the SSVP clothing room on Thursdays, I have enjoyed the work I've been doing and my time with my L'Arche friends. I've also really appreciated walking home.

I'm not a morning person, so getting my kids out the door to school and hustling the twenty-one blocks to work isn't really an option -- especially on the icy morning sidewalks. After the girls leave the house, I have just enough time to make myself a lunch and head down the alley to catch the 8:15 bus. I'm starting to know the faces of the passengers, and seem to have regular conversations about our Novemberish weather with a woman from Finland as we get off the bus at the mall. Then I walk the last four blocks to work, arriving at 8:30 on the button most mornings.

After a day in front of a computer screen in a stuffy office, the walk home is really wonderful. I keep a fairly good pace so that I can feel my muscles complaining just a little by the time I'm within a block of home. I love to take careful steps where there's ice and then to stride along where the sidewalks are clear, to breathe deeply, to feel the weight of my backpack and the slight perspiration between it and my back. I revel in the endorphins and the healthy feeling of a good walk, where I can moodle about things as I go, say hello to the people I pass, and appreciate that I'm not contributing to climate change though I am contributing to my cardiovascular stamina. When I see an elderly woman gingerly walking her dog, I am suddenly reminded that I will not always be able to swing along like this, unconcerned about the threat of slick ice beneath a skiff of snow, and I am grateful for present solidity of bone and strength of sinew. I appreciate it even moreso when I think of a friend my age who is awaiting a hip replacement because she was born with hip dysplasia. Cristina, I'm walking for you, too. I hope that surgery comes soon!

Walking has become such a marvelous simple pleasure, it's getting so that I hate to drive. Unsurprisingly, I don't hear the planet complaining...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

International Water Day

How much water do you use in a day? That question has been on my mind ever since I posted that little National Geo video about the typical human being (Sunday, I think it was). When I woke up this morning, the radio host announced that it's International Water Day... so perhaps now is a good time to moodle about water issues.

Ever since Lee and I attended a workshop on Water and Sustainability at an Ideas Symposium a few years back, I've been trying to cut back on my personal water usage. I used to shower every day, but now it's every other day (or longer, and my skin has never been healthier, go figure). As a family, we've adopted the "If it's yellow, let it mellow..." rule in the bathroom (except when guests are present). Our dishwasher never operates unless it's full, we've got low-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads, and a front load washer that uses so little water (in comparison with the old top-load kind) it amazes me. Our kids know better than to leave the water running while brushing their teeth, and we've seen a general decrease in our water usage bills over time. Outdoors, we use rain barrel water most of the time and our lawn doesn't get watered (we're in the process of getting rid of it altogether), but our vegetables do.

Even with all these water conservation strategies, I'm still thinking about those women of Ethiopia in the National Geo video who use 2.5 litres of water per day, and spend 8 hours gathering it. I suspect some of us use that much to wash our faces in the morning, without considering the fact that water shortages in various places around the globe mean a lot of our brothers and sisters have to struggle to survive. In some cases, those brothers and sisters live where there is plenty of water... but big beverage companies have bought water "rights" out from under them so that we in the developed world can drink exotic bottled water.

A few years ago, Development and Peace (see Favourite Links on the sidebar) made water rights one of its main causes. During Lent, there was a big campaign to try to bring awareness of water issues to the public, and to discourage the drinking of bottled water. They gave out these lovely little "Bottled Water Free Zone" window stickers to people who committed themselves to not using those too-handy convenience store items. If you really think about it, it's silly to pay more for a litre of water than we do for a litre of gas... And do you remember the scandal when it was discovered that the Dasani brand of bottled actually came from taps in Calgary?

Unfortunately, a lot of people are willing to pay for the convenience of water at your fingertips (or in a flat in the trunk of your car), but I'm not. My youngest daughter learned a while back that either she goes thirsty or she packs her own water bottle when we go out, because Mom will not break down and buy one no matter how much whining occurs. I just can't, especially when I think about what it would feel like to have to walk long distances to get water for cooking, cleaning and washing because some bottled water baron won't let you have access to your local stream, and when I consider the mountains of plastic bottles that people buy and toss. True, in many places there are wonderful recycling facilities, but wouldn't it make more sense to fill a reusable water bottle at home or elsewhere instead of using more energy turning plastic bottles into plastic lumber, staticky polar fleece clothing, and whatever other usages they've invented? (The overuse of plastic polymers in a world that is running out of fossil fuels is another moodling topic for another day.)

I could go on and on, but the point is that many of the world's water resources have been polluted or overused, they're not turning out to be as renewable as we imagined, and with almost seven billion of us on the planet, it wouldn't hurt to use a lot less (not just water -- a lot less of everything). With our glaciers melting at an alarming rate, not to mention the steady disappearance of our polar icecaps and the weather changes that is causing, we need to reexamine our relationship with water. This morning, the radio station I wake up to aired a story about a woman who is taking a challenge to live on a very little water...  30 litres, if I was actually awake when I heard that story. If I can find a podcast link, I'll post it. In the meantime, I think I'll shorten my showers and look for other ways to conserve. I haven't given much thought to grey water usage yet...

(10: 30 p.m. Didn't find the podcast, but here's a link to another fellow who just completed the 25 litre challenge. James Hutt is a member of the Sierra Club in Ontario who can tell you a lot about water issues and the need to conserve a pretty precious natural resource from an environmental perspective. For me, it's also an issue of using less to be in solidarity with those who have less.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Budgie update #4

Yesterday we had a lot of fun with Pebbles, who now says, "Kiss, kiss, kiss," we realized. He has a number of cat toys that he loves to chase around the floor, so Budgie soccer has become the game of choice. Here's a two minute video of his antics. I set the camera on the floor, and somehow we didn't see his "dribbling" of the pink ball until we were putting this video together. He's a crazy little bird!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On being a typical human

Last week, my friend, Charleen, sent me the video below, and it's got me thinking about the word "typical." At first I was confused -- how can there be a typical human being? So I looked up the word typical in the Oxford English, and this is what it said:
typical (adj.) 1 having the distinctive qualities of a particular type of person or thing: a typical example of a small American town. 2 behaving or happening in the expected or usual way: a typical day began with breakfast at 7:30 a.m.
With Oxford's words in mind, I'm far from the typical human being in the video. Yes, I'm right handed, and my salary less than half of that $12,000 a year (by choice -- were I working full-time, it would be hard to grow vegetables, volunteer in the clothing room, and be present to my kids). I don't personally have a cellphone (my oldest daughter seems to have commandeered the one that belongs to the family), but I am one of 25% of the world's population that has a bank account. I am quite relieved that I am not a typical Afghani woman...

If typical is relative, then I'm hoping that concern for our planet soon becomes the norm in the typical human... to the point that the typical human's choices take into consideration the next seven generations of human beings that will follow, as the Sioux sages did. They considered their choices carefully, imagining the faces of the children who would live seven generations after them. They wanted to be sure that they could tell those children "we did the best we could with what we had." With almost 7 billion of us inhabiting the earth, we need to start paying more attention to the choices we make on a day to day basis, especially when it comes to non-renewable resources. We need to start choosing simpler things, local things, natural things, and things that bring us together instead of dividing us. Let's start today.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Needing Ghandi

On Thursday when I caught the bus to work, I found myself sitting beside a grandmotherly type with little crocheted flowers with pearl centres sewn on her knitted hat. I smiled at her and commented politely about the weather, and away we went with a lovely little conversation about her grandson, who was just getting off the bus to go to school, until an elderly fellow nearby started asking about the boy's camouflage winter jacket, and whether he liked the army.

The next thing I knew, the two were engaged in a conversation about the importance of the military and how everyone everywhere should be taught to fight, to "knock a few heads together," as the old fellow put it. Then they moved on to discuss incidents of violence on the bus and the playground and how fighting back saved the day, much to the satisfaction of the two storytellers. I listened, but didn't say anything until I got off the bus and wished them both a good day, to which they responded in kind. I walked the four blocks to work, moodling about how two sweet-seeming people could believe that violence should be handled with violence, revel in telling stories of  brutality, and then tell me to "Have a nice day, dear."

I think the whole thing struck a chord because of Ghandi. I keep running across his teachings and sayings about non-violence of late, and not long ago, saw a clip from the 1982 Ben Kingsley movie about the great man. Today we're faced with Libya, a country led by a man who says that he would never shoot bullets at his people (I guess he doesn't consider the folks rebelling against his tyranny to be actual Libyans), a man who places little value on the lives that "get in his way." A UN sanctioned No-Fly zone has finally been established, and for better or worse, conflict has led to more conflict. The "allies" have begun firing cruise missiles and sending fighter jets to "save" Libya, and I suspect my busmates are nodding their heads in approval. As someone who dreams of world peace--and yes, I know it's a dream--I keep wondering how Ghandi would have handled this situation. Libya is clearly not Egypt, as Muammar has a lot more fire power and is using it.

How can the non-violent overcome so much violence, especially when Gadhafi's leading the charge?

Dona la pace, Signore...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wait a minute... somebody's missing!

Our L'Arche office administrator and jill-of-all-trades has returned to Ireland for two weeks for her brother’s funeral. I’ve been filling in for her this week, and already I've lost count of the times that core members have come to ask me where Carmel has gone and when she will be back. Several of them patrol the building on a regular basis to greet all the office staff, and every time they came to the door of Carmel's office on Monday, they did a double take because someone special was missing. I had to remind them again where she was and when she would return.

To me, the community’s love and concern for one missing person is always a very touching sign of their deep affection. I hope Carmel knows how much she is missed. I know that when she returns, there will be cards and signs to welcome her back, because L'Arche is founded on love, whether a community member is present or not.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An interesting development

About a month ago, I received an interesting message on my YouTube account:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Re: a video"Do I need it?"
Please let us introduce ourselves. The Far East Book Co., established in 1950, is one of the oldest, most reputable and best-known publishers of English textbooks and dictionaries in Taiwan.

We are writing to ask for your permission to use the above video in the CD-ROMs for our Far East English Reader for Senior/Vocational High Schools. The Far East English Reader for Senior/Vocational High Schools is one of the textbooks officially approved by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China to be used at high schools in Taiwan. The CD-ROMs are provided to schools free of charge.

Please confirm with us if you hold the copyright permission for the above video, if yes, please let us know the procedure for obtaining this permission or tell us the contact details for the copyright permission. If you do not hold the copyright, thank you for your time and patience for this matter. Your response will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you very much and best regards.

Sincerely yours,

Andy Ku
Electronic Publishing Division
Far East Book Company

After doing a little bit of research and determining that Mr. Ku was a real human being who did indeed work at the Far East Book Company and was making an honest request, I replied:

Dear Mr. Ku,

I am the author and creator of the video, "Do I need it?" and I hold the copyright. I am delighted that you are interested in using my video for educational purposes. You have my permission to use the video for the sole purpose you have described as long as it is not altered from the format/lyrics found on YouTube. This permission in no way limits my right to bestow similar copyright permission to others who may ask. Would it be possible to see the finished product? I am curious about the context in which you will use "Do I need it?"

Thank you for your inquiry, and for asking permission.

Maria K

Last week, Mr. Ku got back to me, and made me very happy, because he is using my work as I intended it be used.

Dear Maria K.,
Thank you so much for your prompt reply and for granting us the permission to use the video free of charge. It is very much appreciated.
We will use the video in accordance with your conditions as stated in your email. Once the final product is ready, we will send you a link for downloading it.
We would like to download your video and use it for some English learning materials in a lesson called "Senseless Consumption". Thanks again.

Best regards,
Andy Ku

I made "Do I need it?" almost 4 years ago, and it has been steadily garnering viewers. That encourages me because it means that there are people out there willing to think more deeply about materialism and how senseless it can become. I like to think about the High School students of Taiwan learning a little English ditty that will hopefully remind them that less is more. You just never know how a little stone dropped into a pond will ripple out...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Signs of spring

After a long winter that looked like this last week,

it's been hard to get motivated to think about the garden. But I did place my seed catalog order a while back, and it finally arrived yesterday, to my delight. So last night, I did this:

Soon to emerge from the soil are sixty tomato plants (hopefully) -- Romas, Oxhearts, Little Rubes, Golden Heirloom and Sweet Millions cherries, Bush Beefsteak and Golden Russian. And on the windowsill? Lemon Basil, Red Rubin Basil, Parsley, Summer Savory, and six jalapeno peppers. I can't tell you how happy these two little planters make me now, and especially when it comes to salsa time! And I have a box of flower seed packets for the front yard to dream about,  to be planted alongside last fall's 70 tulip bulbs that are waiting for the snow to melt.

At the moment, though, someone else is waiting in the front yard...

Hopefully he won't stay too much longer. Today's almost-spring sunshine ensured that I was wading through puddles on my way home from work this afternoon!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The world has gotten smaller

For the past few days, I've been glued to the radio at news time, listening for reports about Japan. I have a cousin over there. He went to teach English, met a lovely woman, and now has two adorable children. They are safe, as are the family members of our L'Arche assistants from Japan. The L'Arche community in Japan is fine, too... but my heart goes out to all those who are dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear powerplant disasters.

As small as the world is getting through our interconnectedness, we are still powerless when it comes to the force of nature. God, please be with our brothers and sisters in Japan. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Sunday giggle

This little video came to our attention thanks to cousin Dawn. It had us all giggling. Enjoy.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's not Thanksgiving Day today, but...

This morning, I'm thankful for sunny skies and the diamond light glittering on the snow outside, and my ability to see them.
I'm thankful for a warm home (it's -23).
For the sound of birds (both outside my window, and in the living room -- Pebbles the budgie talking to himself) and my ability to hear.
For the sound of my washing machine working in the basement, and the fact that I am able to wash my family's clothes and hang them to dry.
For the hum of this laptop, and my ability to use it to communicate through reading, writing and speaking.
For the tulips that I know are waiting under the snow, and the thought of the tomato seeds that I will soon plant and watch grow.
For my body and its strength and health.
For my family in all its strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows.
For the safety of my cousins in Japan (and with prayers for everyone affected by the earthquake, everyone in Libya, everyone who needs a prayer).
For everyone whose lives touch mine.

This week I read a story about a man who, when he woke up every morning, laid still in bed until he came up with ten things for which he was thankful. That's a pretty great way to start the day! When we think about all the blessings for which we can be grateful, life is beauty and wonder.

For what are you thankful?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
   to break the chains of injustice,
   get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
   free the oppressed,
   cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
   sharing your food with the hungry,
   inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
   putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
   being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
   and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
   Then I, the God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, I will answer.
   You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'  

-- Isaiah 58. 6-9 from The Message
Yesterday, my youngest daughter asked me what we were giving up for Lent this year. I almost laughed that she thinks I'm the one who sets the Lenten rules... but it made me realize that maybe I've been going about Lent all wrong if that's what she thinks. She was fishing about for whether "we are giving up chocolate this year." Well, personally, I am because I like to have some sort of special discipline leading up to Easter, but I think I need to sit down with my family and read the little passage above, and decide what this Lent business is really all about.

I don't think Lent is supposed to be about giving things up as much as it's about changing our hearts... and our thinking, turning our lives around. So tonight at supper, we'll discuss how we might go about reducing injustice, exploitation and oppression this Lent. And maybe we'll talk about a little reflection someone gave me on fasting and feasting several years ago:

Fast from judgement, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from Hatred, Feast on love.

I suspect this, too, is what God wants.

And if you're looking for a little Lenten inspiration, there's always the Pray As You Go link on the sidebar....

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On being accompanied

I accompany a number of assistants who have been with L’Arche for varying amounts of time. My role is to listen to them so as to discover with them the cause and meaning of their difficulties both as human beings and within the community. It is important to meet them where they are and not to judge them on the basis of an ideal or of what I think they ought to become. Sometimes what I say helps them, but on the whole it is my listening more than anything else that enables them to put hopes, difficulties and needs into words. Generally, accompaniment is something very gentle. I am discovering how essential accompaniment is for human growth.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 156
Who accompanies you on your life journey? There are the obvious people -- family, and friends, mostly, and then there are the people who really listen. If you're extremely fortunate, you have family and friends who really listen. But sometimes it takes an outsider to help us to "discover the cause and meaning" of the things that set us back on our heels. Do you have someone like that?

I'm really fortunate in that I have several wonderful accompaniers who listen to me sort myself out on a regular basis. The reason having someone listen is important is that sometimes, if no one is listening, a thought that leads to a personal breakthrough is never completed. So I appreciate the fact that my family (parents, sisters and husband) are good listeners. Then there are the perceptive friends who are able to hear the things behind what's being said and ask the right questions to help me figure things out for myself. I'm also blessed to have a sharp spiritual director who is such a good listener that it's frightening. I drive home from sessions with him just shaking my head a lot of the time because he hits so many nails on the head!

And even as I am accompanied by all these wonderful people, I am accompanying some of them... and my own children. It's hard, sometimes, "to meet them where they are and not to judge them on the basis of an ideal or of what I think they ought to become," but I am doing my best to be a good listener and turn off the judgmental voices in my head so that they can put their hopes, difficulties and needs into words. Jean Vanier is right -- it is critical to be able to voice those things in a safe place, to be heard and loved so that we can grow.

Who accompanies you on your life journey? And whom do you accompany?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Something lovely for a Sunday

Thanks to cousin Claire for bringing this version of John Rutter's "For the Beauty of the Earth" to my attention! The link she sent had the music, but this one has pretty pictures (and the voices of the choir from Paya Lebar Methodist girls' school in Hougang, Singapore) that I can't resist. Makes me want to sing in a choir again.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, March 4, 2011


We need space, our own private space, the place of solitude where we can really be in touch with our deepest being. If we do not have this, if our space is taken away or violated, if we are under too much pressure, or overwhelmed with things to do, then we risk falling into confusion. We can no longer really welcome people to come close to us. We are unable to understand and love them. We are forced to defend and protect ourselves, because the pressure is too great. If the waters of our hearts are to run freely, and if we are to remain fully open to life, we must have that inner and outer space where we can find peace and rest.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 155
Once again, Jean Vanier's words in my inbox are running parallel to my moodlings for the day. Today's scripture reading is the story of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple. It's easy to imagine him angry at the sellers' exploitation of the buyers on their way to offer sacrifices... but today, I am imagining him upset because of the temple's noise, pressure, confusion and lack of space for thought, prayer and meditation. It's not my customary way of attending to this reading.

Jean and Jesus are both pointing the way to something essential. We need to make space in our lives so we can hear our own hearts and souls above the advertising, noise, activity, and confusion with which our consumer culture and workaday world surround us. We need the peace and rest of personal space wherever we find it. These days, my husband, who has never been as much of a churchgoer as I have, depends upon our Sunday routine more than I do. Church is his "space," where he can be, and think, and sort himself out at the end of the work week; his place of escape from the moneychangers.

And there are other "spaces," too. My girls have no school today, so I'm hoping that we can go to our local conservatory and enjoy the lush quietness of a place where it's always warm and things are growing, a space away from winter. I'll post pictures when we get back. In the meantime, see if you can find a little space for your heart and soul today.

I really should get an annual pass to this place!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A home for Thomas

I've been telling Thomas stories here for a while, but on Monday at work, I was invited to write Thomas' story to explain what L'Arche has meant in the life of one of our community members. I've asked permission to share what I wrote here because we need true tales to warm our hearts in these cold winter days. Thomas and friends warm my heart every week; I'm so lucky!

A Home for Thomas
Thomas doesn’t talk about his childhood at all, but from what we can gather, it was not a happy time in his life. One of seven brothers, all of whom were born with varying degrees of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Thomas bounced from one foster home to the next until he was 15. He spent the next 31 years of his life in institutional settings, changing residences many times. His anger issues and violence made it nearly impossible for anyone to care for him very long, as he grew to be over six feet tall, and at one point reached a weight of over 300 lbs.
The instability of Thomas' existence brought out the worst in him, and he was very heavily medicated when an amazing older couple met him and recognized his potential. They felt that he could have a happier life in a more stable and loving environment, so they took him in for a time and lavished him with affection and attention, helping him to wean off his medication and become more active.
The couple knew that they wouldn’t always be able to look after Thomas, so they entered into dialogue with L’Arche Edmonton in the hopes that Thomas would be willing to join the community and the community would be able to welcome him. He was still very rough around the edges when he arrived at L’Arche, and was accompanied by reports from various sources in his past that said  “Thomas will never be able to function in a group.” But the couple who had looked after Thomas were insistent that he had much to contribute to L’Arche, and in the end, Thomas joined the community.
Thomas’ first few years with L’Arche were very difficult for everyone involved. His violent outbursts and anger issues made it hard for the other community members to connect with Thomas, and he with them. Over time, however, Thomas developed a friendship with a rather outspoken core member whom he respected, and whose opinion he valued. Jenny could say anything to Thomas, and he would listen. With her encouragement, his outbursts became more infrequent, and he developed many relationships. It was hard for him when someone would leave the community, but he gradually realized that even though people came and went from his life, there was a core of people who loved him and were committed to living in relationship with him.
Now that Thomas has found his home in L’Arche, he is a core member in every sense of the word. He lends the community the stability he once lacked in his life by connecting with everyone. He attends the L’Arche day program, where he proves past caregivers wrong on a daily basis by working well within the group. His hearty laugh can be heard throughout the building, and he knows the whereabouts of all the staff and core members: who is sick at home, and who is on a day off, whose car needs a wash, and whether someone will arrive later than usual.
In the past decade of his life, Thomas has progressed from a painful past to a joyful present and a promising future. Not only has he learned the value of real relationships with other people, but our L’Arche community has grown through Thomas’ call for us to be in relationship with him. Now that he has found a stable home in L’Arche, he has been able to connect with his family of origin in a meaningful way as well, spending time with his brothers now and then. Thomas’ journey, though difficult, has been one that has given life and joy to all of us in L’Arche who know him today.