Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hallowe'en drum roll please...

Our youngest daughter has developed herself a reputation for coming up with creative Hallowe'en costumes. In the last four years, she has been a laundry basket, a traffic light, a radio, and a Canada Post mailbox. So this year, she came up with an idea early in September, begged her sister to take her to get a morphsuit, got her dad to drill holes in the glow in the dark star set from her bedroom ceiling so that they could become buttons, sewed them onto a morph bodysuit that covers her completely, and voila: she's the night sky, of course, or at least one or two constellations. She'll glow in the dark at her Hallowe'en dance this afternoon, but I'm not sure how she is going to wear her costume for what will be snowy, chilly, trick-or-treating. Our other girls are going as literary characters, Arya Stark and Elisbeth Salander. Suzanna's Game of Thrones costume is quite pleasing to the eye, a sort of female swashbuckler style, but I'm very glad Christina doesn't always look like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

And here are this year's pumpkin masterpieces, Nature, Death and Laughter, 
all born and raised in our backyard. Tomorrow they'll become Soup.
Have happy All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' and All Soul's Days.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I just realized that somehow I forgot to moodle about a workshop I'll be giving next week!

Do the stresses and excesses of the holiday season get you down?
Are you tired of running on the Christmas Consumerism treadmill?


Join us for
The How-To’s of Stress-free & Sustainable Celebration

7 - 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, November 6th
Strathcona County Public Library
401 Festival Lane, Sherwood Park
 To register, call (780)410-8600

Please bring: A friend or two and stories of your own meaningful Christmas Traditions.

I led this workshop on October 15th for an enthusiastic group of 35 women at Sherwood Park United Church, and I think it's safe to say we all had a great time. So if you're in the neighbourhood, and interested in sharing ways to have a merrier Christmas than the crazy consumer festival it often turns into, come join us! It's free, and all are welcome. 
Call (780) 410-8600 to register. I'd love to meet you!

A weekend in Jasper

It's been a tough slog for Lee the last while. He didn't get much of a summer vacation, and the fall has been crazy busy. So when I suggested that we all head for the hills the last weekend of October, he jumped on that bandwagon in a hurry.

Jasper, Alberta, is a favourite getaway spot for our family. We like to camp there, and when it's too cold for camping, we have a favourite hotel (with kitchenette) and loft bedroom with three single beds for our girls. These days, it's the shoulder season in Jasper -- that time between summer tourism and skiing -- so the town was probably the quietest I've ever seen it. Perfect for a lazy weekend away in the mountains. The five of us packed as little as possible and piled into our tiny putt-putt car for the four hour trip.

I love these pictures with mountains both below and above the clouds...

Lots of wapiti with big racks near the highway 
(photographed from the safety of a slow moving vehicle).
They grow new antlers in the spring.

I had never thought about the difficulties of backyard composting in Bear Country,
but I'm happy to see that the town of Jasper came up with a solution...

Saturday morning's view from our room.

Lee and I decided to take the Wilderness trail around the edge of Jasper.

The only wildlife we met were a few hawks and our girls, 
who took a long detour on their way to a downtown coffee shoppe.
"Fancy meeting you here," they said, and so did we.

A huge tree along our path...

older than the town of Jasper, by the looks of those rings.

The temperature was just above freezing, 
according to this little stream...

For a lot of the trail, we were looking across town roof tops,
but there was a lovely, quiet walk back into the hills, too.

Another creek, with really cool icicles on some of the deadfall...

Our girls headed to the coffee shoppe and left us to finish the trail on our own.

This abandoned (filled in) Grand Trunk railway tunnel 
is almost a hundred years old. The tracks below cross over it.

After all that fresh air, everyone went to bed and 
left me alone that evening to tend the fire.
I didn't mind too much.

The roads on the way home were pretty treacherous for the last hour,
but other than that, it was a great, relaxing weekend. We're so
blessed to have Jasper four hours from our doorstep!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Old Black Rosary

It's been a while since I've posted any of my more serious efforts at writing... and since it's the month of October, traditionally the month of the Rosary, I thought I'd post the story that really started me off. It was actually published in November 2000 in a defunct Catholic Family magazine known as Our Family. And though my grandparents died before I could ask them about their devotion to praying the rosary, I witnessed it myself, and so I think this story is true, or as true as I could make it. The old black rosary is on my night table these days, within easy reach.

Have a happy Sunday!
The Old Black Rosary
He stood at the edge of the field, shading his eyes against the hot sun, trying to determine how much soil had drifted the day before.  He could still taste yesterday’s dirt in his mouth – the wind had blown so fiercely that by noon, he and his wife had packed up the children in the wagon and gone to his brother’s place, where the soil wasn’t blowing over the yard.  He scanned the windblown prairie, but it was clear that none of the second seeding, if it had even sprouted, had survived yesterday’s gale.  The first seeding hadn’t even come up.  What folks were starting to call the “dirty thirties” could hardly get any dirtier.  There hadn’t been any rain, and there was bound to be more wind, though there wasn’t a breath of air today.
He trudged across the field, his rifle over his shoulder in case a rabbit should make an appearance.  Rabbits had been plentiful last spring, but had been mostly hunted out through the fall and winter.  In spite of that the farm families were doing all right – they could get together and slaughter an animal now and then to have something to go on.  It was the town folk who were really suffering, without money to buy farm folks’ meat, eggs, butter, anything.  Even if some miracle should happen and a late rain brought on the crops, the economy was too depressed just now to improve much and there was no market for grain or cattle.  Some of the farmers around him were packing up their families and possessions and heading to Alberta in hopes that they could work as hired hands for a few seasons where conditions were a bit better, and eventually settle their own homesteads.  One of them had invited him to go along.
He knew he wouldn’t find anything growing out here.  He just wanted to take a walk by himself and think.  As he left the farmhouse, he noticed the worry lines around his wife’s eyes and wondered to himself if maybe he should follow his neighbour to Alberta.  Maybe it would be better there.  But give up here?  Saskatchewan’s soil had been good to them up until things got so dry – just the last few years had been tough.  It had to get better – the gamble called farming wouldn’t break him and his family.  Or would it?  How long was he supposed to hang on?
With the back of his hand, he wiped the sweat from his forehead, and considered his dilemma once more.  There were many blessings: his resourceful wife, five healthy children and one on the way, a cozy home, relief – $8.75 a month – at least it was something.  There was also the support of extended family nearby, and livestock and preserves (if the garden survived).  Not a bad list. 
The list of difficulties facing him was almost the same length: no rain, no crops, little money for family needs, no money for farm payments, no seed for next year, not much feed for livestock.  Not good.  For the moment, it seemed that the blessings might outweigh the problems, but would that still be the case at harvest time?  Who knew?  He firmly believed in Divine Providence, but had no clue as to whether Divine Providence meant for his family to stay here, or to go to Alberta with the others.
He reached into his pocket and found the rosary his wife received from a visiting priest and gave to him.  It was a new black wooden-beaded one held together with silver links, and it had carved beads between the decades.  He turned the cross over in his hand and looked at the silver corpus.  What would You have me do? he silently asked the figure of Christ.
Crossing himself, he began: “I believe in God…” He often prayed the rosary as he walked through the fields.  It was a comfort, the rhythm of the prayer fitting the rhythm of his solitary steps, or, in seeding, the rhythm of the oxen’s hooves as he walked behind the plow.
He raised his eyes from their focus on the uneven, dust-crumbling dirt clods and looked across a dry slough at his brother’s field.  Surprised mid-prayer, he changed direction and walked across the cracked slough bed.  There, on the hill, the second seeding had come up, somehow.  The slender green stalks were a small sign of hope for his troubled heart.  Perhaps there would be enough for seed, and a bit extra.  “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name…”
*          *          *

She looked out the living room window towards the darkness and saw her reflection looking back at her.  Moving closer to the window, she saw that the street was empty.  No surprise this cold winter evening.  She wondered if anyone had ventured to the Seniors’ Drop-In Centre for a game of canasta tonight.  Not that she felt like playing canasta.  She was finding it difficult to shake her deep sadness.  Someone had given her a book on grieving, and one of the psalms in it kept drifting through her mind, something about, “my tears have become my bread night and day.”  Which psalm was it?  She turned to the bookshelf, picked up the book, and sat in her favourite chair.  She flipped through the pages to Psalm 42, verse three: “My tears have been my food day and night…”  How was it that the psalmist expressed her feelings so accurately?
It had been two months since the accident.  It seemed like yesterday; it seemed like years since she had opened the front door to find her son and his wife standing on the step on that frosty December day with the news.  While on the way to the weekly auction in the next town, her husband’s car had hit a patch of black ice and skidded across the highway, head on into the path of an oncoming truck…
Of course, she still had her family.  Most of her children came home that very evening; all were present within forty-eight hours.  In the following days, all the grandchildren made it home except one who couldn’t be reached overseas.  The house was filled with friends and relatives bringing food and condolences.  Memories of those days came back in blurred bits and pieces.  Her children had helped her make decisions about the funeral.  They took up residence in the kitchen, and welcomed those who came to the house.  Family from out of town made beds on couches and floors in the homes of family members nearby.  How everything got done, she still wasn’t sure, but the whole experience of being helped through it all made her certain that God was present. 
Taking the book on grieving with her, she closed the curtains.  She paused in front of the television, but decided to forgo the news for tonight.  It had been their ritual to watch the news together every night, but without his commentary, she seldom found much in it to keep her attention.  Extinguishing the living room lights, she went to the kitchen for a glass of water, remembering the time he had spent with his sons, building and installing the kitchen cabinets in the house after they moved from the farm to town.  Those valuable skills went with the boys, who, these days, were building all sorts of different things for their families, from tree houses to hope chests to rocking chairs.   
Sleep didn’t come easily, but she kept to her usual routine, hoping that soon the routine itself would bring back some sense of normalcy.  Climbing into her side of the bed, she found her prayer book on the night table and followed that routine, too.  As she finished, she looked at Psalm 42 once more.  She almost startled herself when she spoke the last lines out loud: “Why are you cast down, my soul?  Why groan within me?  Hope in God; I shall praise You still, my Saviour and my God.”  She found herself vaguely comforted by the psalmist’s promise.
Closing the book, she removed her glasses, and turned out the lamp.  She reached under his pillow and found the old black rosary she had given him some 50 years ago.  He had always carried it with him, and she remembered how she watched over her mending one evening as he painstakingly repaired it when the crucifix had somehow broken off.  He had been buried with a newer one in his hands – this one was hers, now, the one that had lived in his pocket, the one that they had used to teach their children to pray.  The black color had faded from a few of the wooden beads over the years.  They had prayed those beads together almost every day since she had given them to him.
And they still prayed the rosary together.  It was a comfort for her to think about the communion of saints and about how those loved ones who had gone ahead still prayed with those left behind.  She kissed the worn crucifix and began, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

*          *          *

The retreat chapel was silent.  The sun streamed in through the high windows and touched the top of the west wall as she sat down in a comfortable chair facing the altar.  She reached into her pocket and found her grandmother’s rosary, crossed herself and began:  “I believe in God…”
The day of Grandma’s funeral, eighteen months earlier, started with a rosy sunrise as she, her husband and their two-month-old daughter began the three-hour journey to the small Saskatchewan town that seemed like home, even though she had never actually lived there.  It was a peaceful journey, and they arrived at the Church just before the coffin was closed.  Grandma looked so tiny and frail without the life that had filled her body for 86 years.  Her spirit had never been a small thing, and her return to God was about to be celebrated in the packed church.  
All of the family was there; seventy-four of seventy-seven grandchildren had made it – the other three were overseas.  And how many great-grandchildren did Grandma have?  Forty-five?  Fifty?  Grandma had known them all by name. She cared about and kept track of everybody in the family – she knew who had switched jobs, who had moved, and who was expecting or engaged.  Without Grandma, such news wouldn’t be communicated to concerned family members as easily.  She was the hub of the wheel.
Grandma’s priest brother was celebrant, and seven other priests were present – a clear reminder that a priest rarely set foot in town without experiencing Grandma’s gracious hospitality.  As the granddaughter entered the church, she heard the closing prayers of the rosary, and remembered the times, during summer holidays, that she had slipped into Grandma and Grandpa’s pew in the middle of the rosary.  Grandma always found an extra rosary in her pocket for her visitor, even if the visitor was a bit late in coming.
The funeral was a celebration of Grandma’s life.  The granddaughter couldn’t help but notice the handmade doily and baby quilt tucked in among the flower arrangements, things that represented Grandma to all who knew her well.  Grandma had made every one of her grandchildren a quilt as a graduation gift, and most of the grandchildren had a few of her doilies in their homes.  How Great Thou Art had been the closing hymn at Grandpa’s funeral almost twelve years earlier, and it brought a few tears when everyone sang it again as the pallbearers bore Grandma from the church. 
Riding with her sisters and parents out to the town cemetery, she heard her mom tell some of the stories of small graces around Grandma’s peaceful death.  In his homily, Father had talked about Enoch and how he walked with God (Gen. 5.24).  Father had commented that he imagined how when Grandma slipped into a coma, she found herself taking a walk with God and Grandpa.  After a time, they all realized they were closer to God’s house than to hers so God invited Grandma to come stay at his house.  Mom said that what Father couldn’t have known was that one of Mom’s sisters had in fact found a note in Grandma’s handwriting on the desk in her kitchen: “Just gone for a little walk.”
There were too many people to fit into the church hall for the funeral luncheon, so some spilled over into Grandma’s house next door.  Looking for a quiet place to feed the baby, the granddaughter discovered in the house an atmosphere more like Grand Central Station, as cousins stopped in to pay a visit to Grandma’s house before travelling home, to say hello and goodbye to other cousins, uncles and aunts. Someone had found a box of Corn Pops cereal, a treat Grandma always had on hand for her grandchildren’s breakfasts, and a large bowl of it was gradually disappearing.  She asked, but other grandchildren had already enjoyed the few remaining lemon drops in Grandma’s stash. 
The granddaughter found that there was no one in Grandma’s bedroom and was nursing her little one when an aunt who had been staying in the room returned. They chatted a little about the celebration and how it had been a summary of Grandma’s life and faith.  Then Auntie asked her if there was anything in the house that she would like to have as a remembrance of Grandma.  Nothing came to mind.  It was hard to imagine Grandma’s possessions being given away.
Auntie went to Grandma’s dresser and returned with the old black rosary in her outstretched hand.  Grandma would have wanted you to have this, she said simply.  The granddaughter’s eyes had filled with tears.   She put it gently into her pocket and said a silent thank you to God and Grandma, and gave her aunt a hug.
When she got home late that evening, she put the rosary into her dresser’s top drawer in the cotton of a small jeweler’s box.  Though she took it out occasionally, she rarely had time to pray the rosary – two small children seemed to fill her day.  Grandma had once mentioned that she prayed the rosary every day, to keep the life of Jesus at the forefront of her mind.  Grandma had twelve children, and few of the labour saving devices found in modern homes.  How did she find the time?
The rosary had rested in the granddaughter’s dresser drawer until this weekend retreat.  It was a treasure, an heirloom too special to carry around every day.  Instead, she usually carried a cheaply strung wooden one in her pocket as a comforting reminder of God.  Something had made her bring Grandma’s old rosary along on this retreat, and for the first time, as she sat in the silent, sun-filled chapel, she examined it carefully.  The links between the faded black beads were tarnished, and the cross had been re-attached with wire that had been carefully twisted into a tight knot.  Some of the wooden beads had tiny cracks and gouges, but the cross was well preserved.  It was a man’s rosary, not like the dainty extra rosaries that Grandma had carried to church for a visitor who might need one.  Perhaps it had belonged to her Grandpa.
In all likelihood, now that she thought of it, this rosary had belonged to Grandpa first.  Grandma had kept it.  Both of her grandparents had prayed with it.  A warm and comforting thought, that.  Perhaps they were both smiling on her as she rediscovered their rosary, and perhaps they were praying with her.  She realized that she had been daydreaming for some time, and smiled to herself.  Gratitude filled her as she closed her eyes and thanked God again for the gift of the beads in her hands, and for the faith of her Grandma and Grandpa.  “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Time for Art From The Unknown

Today's moodling is a quick one... this weekend, at the Cosmopolitan Music Society (8426 Gateway Boulevard), Rachel Notley is hosting the fourth annual Art From The Unknown event. Rachel, who is a local Member of the Legislative Assembly, offers free gallery space to people who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to show their work. Some of our L'Arche members have been busy preparing for this show, and will be on hand to meet art connoisseurs.

Some of my family attended last year, and I picked up this lovely abstract titled A Walk in the Woods, painted by one of my L'Arche friends, which makes it extra special. If abstract isn't your style, the art at the show covers the gamut, and prices are reasonable. If you're looking for a gift or something to grace your walls, check it out! And say hello to the artists. They have a lot of interesting stories to tell about their work... it's definitely worth the trip, if only to encourage others in their passion for creating art!

Art From The Unknown
Friday October 26, 2012 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM
- Opening Night Reception with live music, everyone is welcome
Saturday October 27, 2012 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM - General Gallery
Sunday October 28, 2012 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM - General Gallery

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Simple Suggestion #142... Gather ye carbons while ye may

I think the wet spring and late fall this year has made for more autumn leaves than usual -- I've never seen a pile as big as the one we raked on Friday. All three of my girls could jump into it at once, and they're not little girls anymore!

Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year for many reasons, but here's a reason you might not expect: it's a great time to gather materials for composting! Leaves can be found in abundance in many neighbourhoods, and are essential to a well-functioning compost pile. If the rule-of-thumb ratio between carbon sources (browns like autumn leaves) and nitrogen sources (green plant matter from the garden or organic kitchen scraps) is 20:1, now’s the time to collect enough leaves to last until next fall. I think I went through about 40 big bags this year.

If you have a treeless yard and don’t have access to leaves in abundance, why not ask around? People who bag them for removal are often delighted to share, and it's always a good thing if garbage trucks don't have to create even more fossil fuel emissions because of all the leaves going to the dump. I can count on neighbours and extended family members to keep my composter supplied for the year! Leaves also make great moisture-retaining and weed-reducing mulch for perennial beds if they're wet down and packed so they don't blow around -- given a year or three, they turn into compost on their own, and they cost nothing, unlike bags of wood chips. Giving some thought to how you can put your carbons to use instead of trucking them away makes for a much happier environment all around, and I don't know about you, but I'm all for it!

P.S. For more Simple Suggestions, look here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

May God bless you...

My friend, Eleanor, buried her mother this week. Elsie was 93, and she was an amazing lady from all accounts. So it was only fitting that her funeral involved several touching eulogies with stories from her life. It also ended with a wonderful, thought-provoking Four-fold Benedictine Blessing that I just learned was written by Sr. Ruth Fox. I share it today, and pray that we all find enough foolishness in our lives to attempt the impossible. As last week's scripture said, "with God, all things are possible," and as St. Teresa of Avila was fond of pointing out, Christ has no hands or feet but ours... Happy Sunday!

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide,
be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Family Day that lasts for weeks

My inbox at work lately has been inundated with greetings from L'Arche communities around the world: Belgium, Cleveland OH, Brazil, Saint John NB and Wolfville NS, New Zealand, Tacoma WA, France, and the Philippines (who sent us the adjacent Ark picture). The reason? October 1st each year, L'Arche communities celebrate Family Day. And by the fact that emails are still arriving, our Family Day lasts more than 24 hours. In fact, we're actually celebrating this week.

L'Arche (French for "The Ark) was founded in 1964 in Trosly-Breuil, France, by Jean Vanier, so that people with disabilities could live in a family setting rather than institutions. It didn't take long for his ideas to spread, and within two years, similar homes began in India, England and Canada, homes where it is understood that people who are often rejected and despised by the world have much to teach us about life and love.

Today, there are 137 L'Arche communities all over the globe, and we celebrate Family Day each October because, as our Charter says,
Home life is at the heart of a L'Arche Community. The different members of a community are called to be one body. They live, work, pray and celebrate together, sharing their joys and their suffering and forgiving each other, as in a family. They have a simple life-style, which gives priority to relationships. 
The same sense of communion unites the various communities throughout the world. Bound together by solidarity and mutual commitment, they form a world-wide family.
On Friday evening, our L'Arche family in Edmonton is gathering to celebrate our world-wide family by holding a Solidarity Fundraiser for our sister communities in Central and South America. The evening features a cornucopia of international dishes prepared by our assistants, who come from all over. There will be entertainment (I'm hearing rumours of a Psy ("dress classy, dance cheesy") performance from our Koreans, which will undoubtedly be a big hit as our community loves to dance!) and the food can't be beat. So if you would like to meet our L'Arche family, join us at St. Thomas D'Aquin Church (8410 89 St) at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 19th. Tickets are $10, with all proceeds going to L'Arche in Central and South America.

I wish I could post all the beautiful pictures and cards from my inbox, but it's a tricky process. A few of them can be found here. I love the quote attributed to Jean Vanier on one of the cards we received from overseas (translated from French): "To advance peace in the world, we must break the walls that we have built around our hearts."

Family Day celebrations are one of my favourite ways to do that -- please join us if you're in the neighbourhood!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Simple Suggestion #141... Join a Simplicity Study Circle

PLEASE NOTE -- Activist Agenda may have incorrect dates. The correct ones are below.

Today I'm writing about one of my favourite hobbies, which is deeply connected to my philosophy of life. For the past few years, I've been facilitator for a number of Voluntary Simplicity Study Circles in Edmonton, and it's been a lot of fun. Basically, I've gathered anyone interested, and we've studied the crazy complexities of our consumption-oriented society, and come up with ways to live more satisfying, peaceful and sustainable lives. What's really great is that rather than feeling hopeless about the state of our planet, we are connecting with like minded-people who empower each other to walk more lightly on the earth so that future generations can enjoy its beauty and abundance.

Voluntary Simplicity is about less obsession with making a living and more leisure; less debt and more freedom; less pollution and noise leading to more harmony with nature; and less hurry, clutter, and stress coupled with a more mindful, self-reliant and appreciative approach to life. If you're in the Edmonton area, and if you're interested in sharing ideas about and strategies for living more simply and sustainably, please bring your community league membership and

Join us for Simplicity Study Circles!
Come and see what they’re all about!

First session “Exploring Simplicity” on
Tuesday, November 27th, 2012, 7-9 p.m.

Newton Community League Hall, 5520-121 Ave
 (10 sessions for $35, workbook included)

To register, email Maria (under profile on sidebar).

Topics include:

Simplicity and Personal Growth (Dec. 11th)
·        The Best Things in Life (Jan. 8th)
·        Simplicity: The First “R” (Jan. 22nd)
·        Simplicity and Diet (Feb. 12th )
·        Time Check-up: “Ideal Day” (Feb. 26th)
·        Simplicity and Community (Mar. 12th)
·        Money Check-up and Exploring Definitions of Enough (Mar. 26th)
·        De-junking Your Life (Apr. 9th)
·        De-junking Mind and Heart (Apr. 23rd)

Open to ALL City Community League Members

Facilitated by Maria, Master Composter/Recycler & Practitioner of Voluntary Simplicity,
& Sonia, Chairperson of Newton Community Revitalization Initiative & Voluntary Simplicity Advocate

If you're reading this blog from far away, you might have to do a little research to find your nearest Simplicity Study Circle, or start your own using resources from your public library. If you're really keen on this idea and keep running up against walls, send me an email, and I'll do what I can to help, because spreading the message of Voluntary Simplicity is my passion.

Even if you aren't the kind of person who wants to lead a circle, just reading through books about Simple Living is a great way to get ideas about how to live more simply and sustainably. Why not give it a try?

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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

In God alone my soul can find rest and peace...

in God, my peace and joy. Only in God my soul can find its rest, find its rest and peace.

This is one of the chants we'll be singing at a Taste of Taize prayer at Assumption Catholic Church (9040 95 Avenue) at 7 p.m. on Sunday evening, October 14th. Everyone is welcome. Feel free to bring a friend!

I always end up singing it in French because that's how I learned it, but the English words work, too. Kudos to the video maker -- neat pictures...

Have a happy Sunday!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Blessing one another

To bless means to say good things.  We have to bless one another constantly.  Parents need to bless their children, children their parents, husbands their wives, wives their husbands, friends their friends.  In our society, so full of curses, we must fill each place we enter with our blessings.  We forget so quickly that we are God's beloved children and allow the many curses of our world to darken our hearts.  Therefore we have to be reminded of our belovedness and remind others of theirs.  Whether the blessing is given in words or with gestures, in a solemn or an informal way, our lives need to be blessed lives.
Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, September 7th

Have you been blessed lately? Are you reminded often enough of your belovedness? Do you remind others of theirs?

I've been extremely dizzy and quite nauseous these last days because the physio I'm doing for my imbalance seems to be making everything worse. Even so, I'm thinking about how blessed I am as I look at my still leaf picture and wear my prayer shawl, both gifts from people who are praying for me. My health issues are small in comparison to many, so I'm praying, too, for friends with different illnesses, particularly cancer, sending blessings their way.

Blessings come in so many different forms. A prayer, a phonecall, a hug, a letter, a kind word, a good deed. Those blessings that we give one another have been on my mind since I ran across this video about Woody Davis. I get the impression that he was pretty much the strong, silent type in his town, quietly blessing people before they even had a chance to notice. But when he was diagnosed with ALS, the shoe suddenly changed feet, and Woody was blessed in return. 

In a show I once saw, there was a song that told the story of a woman attending a funeral and being amazed at the floral arrangements. The chorus went something like, "Give me my flowers before I die." We're all called to bless, to show our love and appreciation before the special people in our lives aren't able to enjoy them. I'm happy to report that Woody Davis received the blessings of his community well before he died on August 5th.

This is a lovely little piece. Enjoy, and don't forget to spread some blessings! "Even angels like to know they've made a difference..."

Video from KarmaTube

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Simple Suggestion #140... Look to the skies

Just before school started again in September, three of us went out to our local "dark sky preserve" to see the stars. In the city, there's too much light pollution to be able to get a good view, so we headed to Elk Island National Park, about 45 minutes from here. I remembered to bring along my stargazing books, we had fun trying to name constellations and stars, and we kept an eye out for northern lights, but the aurora borealis were nowhere to be seen. It was a pleasant night, quiet except for the distant yipping of coyotes, and if I could have, I would have thrown a sleeping bag on the ground and stayed there. After midnight, with cricks in our necks, we headed home.

There's nothing like looking to the heavens to give a person a sense of perspective. Even the Psalmist had moments of wonder and awe under the skies:

I think about the heavens.  
  I think about what your fingers have created.
I think about the moon and stars that you have set in place. 
  What are human beings that you think of us? 
    Who am I that you care for me? (Psalm 8, my paraphrase)

Somehow, stargazing fills me with the strongest sense that there is a God, and that I am not just the byproduct of an impassive universe unfolding as it will. The night sky's enormous beauty seems to be God's gift to us puny creatures, a love letter of sorts. And looking out into the vastness of space, our little human problems don't seem quite so big. At the same time, I am filled with a strong desire that we solve our problems and protect our world from the multitude of disasters that may befall it if we don't walk more lightly than we have been. Not that I'm under any illusion that there are any quick fixes, or that we have the ability to really alter nature's great schema, but I want future generations to be able to look up at Cygnus, my favourite new constellation, or marvel at the Northern Lights like we did last night in our own back yard, and whisper the Psalmist's words for themselves.

According to Aurorawatch, there's a high probability for views of the northern lights these days. So today's suggestion, to look to the skies, might net us some spectacular sightings of God writing straight to us with crooked lines.

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

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sing out Thanksgiving

This past week as I've been doing my physio in the mornings, I've been going through old CDs in my collection, and came across this Marty Haugen song (kudos to the photographer/video maker, though I wish he or she had left on the wonderful musical intro, because it's so joyful and lively). Even as is, it seems very appropriate this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend... we can all sing out our praise and thanks. Have a good one!

Friday, October 5, 2012

25 years ago today...

... about 50 of us were lucky to be alive. I was fortunate enough to be travelling in one of two buses with Cast C '87 of Up With People, an "international, educational and cultural program for young people" (still remember some of the shpiel) that was performing in Eastern Canada. I'll let my journal from 25 years ago today tell the story...

Oct 5/87

How is it to be in a bus accident? Well, mon Dieu, je n'aime pas ca! God has one heckuva sense of humour. And does look after us!

One moment, I was sleeping (well, dozing while listening to The Nylons on West's walkman) and the next, tumbling around the bus like laundry in a dryer drum, trying not to hurt anyone or get hurt myself.

After a moment that was an eternity, the bus stopped rolling. People were whimpering and crying and someone was shouting, "Stay calm, everybody." Vibeke was underneath me, and West on top. Sarah was crying hard... everyone was asking everyone, "are you okay?"

"People on top, stand up. We're getting out." The layers of people shifted and we slowly started moving to exits and windows. Vibeke sat down and closed her eyes. I had no shoes, having kicked them off before my intended nap. Concerned about Vibeke, I got her to go to the rear exit ahead of me -- and realized I was bleeding from the palm of my hand.

Ignoring the blood, I followed Vibeke's lead, climbing up on armrests and grabbing hands of people on top of the bus to be hoisted through the roof hatch. The other bus had seen the whole thing, and came to our rescue. Coming down from the top of our bus was a challenge because I was barefooted and there was glass all around. I stood on Bruce's shoulders and Gregoire caught me as I came down. Later I discovered that Gregoire was in worse shape than I was and had to be taken to hospital on a stretcher with a neck brace. Adrenaline, or perhaps shock, makes people do funny things.

I climbed up the side of the ditch in my bare feet, very aware that my glasses were nowhere useful... in the mess on the bus. But lucky! We were so lucky! The bus had hit a soft spot on a gravelled construction area and tipped down the embankment. There was a concrete ledge jutting out of the side of the ditch -- fortunately, the roof of the bus went over that or glass would have injured us all. The ditch was just deep enough that we rolled twice and landed right side up. The Laurentides are full of deeper ravines than the one our bus rolled into... Thank God we hit a shallow one!

I stood around on the top of the bank trying to help people calm down until people from the other bus who had first aid training took over... and I wandered around rather blindly, wondering what to do and where my glasses had ended up. It got to be too much for me -- people crying and the "gawkers" who had stopped to see what happened -- I had to get away. I was starting to cry and wandering off when Allie found me, sat me in a van and brought me two shoes that didn't match at all. One belonged to Alain, and one to Rejean, I think. Jen Flan fixed my hand and I wandered around some more. So many of us were zombies, in shock... 

They started to pull luggage from the bus -- my carry on was nearby, so I found my camera and took a picture or two. Someone found my shoes -- and my glasses, too. I am having fun looking through the scratch lines right now.

The ambulances were being loaded when a tour bus with enough room for cast members from the rolled bus pulled up. We threw all the luggage we could onto that bus, but not enough...

Lots of tears on arrival in Chicoutimi. Host families who were to billet us had no idea what was going on, and neither did we.

Host family briefing on the accident happened while we had a short info meeting -- who was in hospital, who would stay where... etc. I met host-sister Chantal and host Dad -- and couldn't find my luggage, though I found one of my roomie Cathrin's suitcases. We came home and had supper, and I phoned home and told Lynnell what had happened. Then we went and collected Cathrin from the hospital.

We are so lucky. Praying for our busdriver, who likely got the worst of it, but other than him, it seems we're okay -- a few broken bones, lots of bruises, and a bus in the ravine. It could have been much, much worse. Thank you, God, for keeping us all (mostly) safe.

* * * * * * *

To this day (October 5, 2012), I'm amazed at our good fortune -- there have been several other bus accidents in the Laurentians since 1987, some with many fatalities, each reminding me how lucky I am to still be here. In the end, we lost our castmate, Sandy, from Winnipeg, who couldn't continue with us because of migraines from a fractured skull. My room mate in Chicoutimi, Cathrin, had a cracked sternum, and complained good-naturedly every time our host family or I made her laugh.

The most interesting thing to me as I read through my journal is that, up until that point, we hadn't really gelled as a group. But the accident brought us all new perspective about what was really important, and we became a more caring and cohesive clan, many of us life-long friends. 25 years later, I'm thinking of my cast buddies today... one more reason for me to be thankful this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Hugs to you all!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Simple Suggestion #139... Count your squares

Today is the feast day of one of my favourite guys, the saint of ecology, Francis of Assisi. He's the Passionate Troubadour about whom I've posted several moodlings already, one of my favourites being the conversation between God and Francis about the Urbanite tribes. Somehow, I imagine Francis chuckling along with me as I go about explaining this week's simple suggestion. It seems a little bit silly, and he was fond of jokes.

 A few weeks ago, on my Master Composter/Recycler Facebook page, I found the following survey:

I've been thinking about this post: toilet paper = waste ( Poll Question: What do you do with toilet paper?
  • I count six squares or less
  • I fold
  • I use a wadding technique
  • Add an answer
My initial reaction was "Whaaat the...? Now this is carrying things a little far!" In all honesty, I was slightly annoyed that anyone would question my use of toilet paper! But since I quite like Rodney, the fellow who posted the poll, I almost cheerfully checked off the first option under his possibly rhetorical question and went on my merry way. Except...

Except that darn, not-so-rhetorical question made me think. Here I am, a proud user of recycled paper products of all kinds, a practitioner of voluntary simplicity, and I had never given my use of toilet paper a first thought, never mind a second. Clearly it's one of those things that I take for granted. But anything that goes into the sewer or trash can deserves some thought, because it is WASTE, and wasting anything, even by necessity, isn't the best plan if I truly love my planet and every creature on it and seriously strive to lessen my ecological footprint.

Of course, in the need-it or want-it scheme of life, toilet paper is a definite need. As you may already know, I'm a strong advocate for avoiding disposables and using rags, so our family has the paper towel thing under control, but we do seem to go through an awful lot of toilet paper. However, Rodney's little MC/R Facebook survey led to some family conversations about conserving toilet paper (and other things), and that was really good... because I've noticed recently that our toilet paper isn't disappearing quite so quickly. Awareness is an excellent thing!

So if you're feeling slightly annoyed by today's Simple Suggestion to count your squares, think of it as a metaphor for conserving just about anything. The word REDUCE is the most important of the three environmentally friendly Rs. Giving some serious thought to what we use and how we can use less makes a huge difference to the health of the earth now that there are seven billion of us who can conserve many, many forests and other resources if we're just mindful of our practices.

So thanks, Rodney, for making me think. And honestly, I don't really expect an answer to this question, but what do you do with toilet paper?

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

Monday, October 1, 2012

A mini-van mom no more

I have to give my hubby credit. When he decides to do something, no grass grows under his feet. Yesterday, he decided that it was time to put our minivan up for sale on Kijiji. He enlisted the girls' help to clean it up, took pictures, decided on a fair price, and posted it. The phone rang all evening last night, and Lee agreed to meet with one of several prospective buyers early this evening. The buyer brought cash, and the sale is final.

I was a little emotional, watching Clyde (as we called it -- our remaining vehicle, a little Hyundai Accent, is known as Bonnie) drive away with a new owner. It's the end of an era. Clyde took my little ones (now big ones) and me many, many miles. But I'm not too emotional, because at the same time, I'm seeing the realization of a dream I've had since embracing Voluntary Simplicity: we are now a single vehicle family. Our girls are of an age where they can handle taking city buses most of the places they need to go, and I am committed to doing the same, and, hopefully, walking to work once these dizzies are under control. When we run up against needing to be two or three places at a time, we'll just have to get creative -- busing, riding bikes, or catching cabs. You can take taxis quite a few times for what we paid yearly in insurance, gas, and maintenance on Clyde. (Though Lee was really ticked tonight when he called to cancel the insurance, and instead of giving us a refund, the company actually charged us an additional $73/annum for insurance on Bonnie, being that it's our only vehicle and now at "higher risk." We're looking for a new insurance provider...)

To be honest, I never really considered myself to be your typical mini-van mom because we aren't the types of parents who have our girls in too many extra-curricular activities. It's not like we lived in our vehicle. Our "passionate cranberry" Dodge caravan was helpful for those years that I was an after-school care provider, but beyond that, I wasn't driving soccer teams around or anything. I haven't been a mini-van mom in the last year for sure, simply because I haven't been able to drive. At L'Arche, Thomas doesn't even ask about the van anymore. "You catch the bus?" he enquires.

I feel a little lighter already, knowing that our family's carbon emissions have come down another big notch! Bye, Clyde. Thanks for many years of good service. I hope the new owner appreciates you as much as I did.