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:

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.

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:

Here's Peter Kent's email address:

Here's where you can find an email address for your elected Member of Parliament:

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


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.