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.