Sunday, March 31, 2013

“My son who was dead is alive...”

Here's a true Easter story, a resurrection (of sorts) that I learned of while working on the history of our L'Arche Edmonton community... or perhaps it's more the story of The Prodigal, with a most unlikely wayward son...

Gerard was the youngest son born to a monolingual family in a rural Francophone area north of Edmonton in the mid-to-late 1920s. He had Down Syndrome and never learned to talk. His feet were misshapen and gave him trouble all his life, so he wasn't very good at walking either. But he had the world's best smile, and he was loved by his family.

When Gerard reached the age of 14, they took him for a long drive to Michener Centre in Red Deer, where he could be with other people like him, as was recommended in those days. After that, Gerard’s oldest brother watched out for him, and organized family excursions to visit Gerard twice a year. During the Depression, they borrowed a car from their neighbours because they didn't have one, and they made the trip over a weekend.

Gerard continued to receive visits from his family at regular intervals, until Gerard’s two oldest brothers went to war. They fought in the same company, and when the eldest was injured, and dying of wounds he received, he made his younger brother promise to continue caring for Gerard. Unfortunately, family excursions to see Gerard didn't happen for quite some time after the war, because the younger brother was a broken man when he returned from overseas.

It was while he was still recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that Michener Centre's administrator decided it would be a good idea to determine what to do with the personal effects and estates of its clients should they pass away unexpectedly. An official-looking letter in this regard was sent to Gerard's mother... who mistook it for a death notice. In those days, death was a private thing, and with the second son still incapable of sorting things out, the language barrier, and the family’s understanding that Gerard was dead and likely already buried in what was probably an unmarked grave, what could they do but grieve and carry on?

Meanwhile, life at Michener Centre wasn't anything like life at home for Gerard. When he tried to bite one of the nurses, his teeth were pulled – hard to imagine now, but that was standard procedure in many institutions for people with disabilities in those days. Gerard soon spent all his time in a wheelchair because the staff found that he walked too slowly. He became something of a night owl, which was his way of adapting to the fact that staff members were too busy during the day to spend any time with non-verbal people who didn’t call attention to themselves.

The few staff who may have wondered why Gerard's family stopped visiting moved on to other workplaces. Since he couldn't tell newer staff members that he had a mother, brothers and sisters, or where they lived, it was eventually assumed that he had no family at all. Records of family contact were somehow lost as well.

In the late 1970s, after the Shalom Community (L'Arche Edmonton) was fairly well-established, someone from the community visited Michener Centre to see if any long-term residents with no family might like to come and live in a L’Arche family. Something about Gerard caught the visitor’s attention, perhaps the funny little ‘thumbs-up’ signal he gave, the twinkle in his eye, or his dazzling but toothless smile that lit the entire room. At any rate, an invitation was made to Gerard, and the Michener staff followed through and brought him to Edmonton, though they couldn't imagine why anyone would want him to come and live with them.

Gerard loved car rides. He enjoyed the drive, and surprised the Michener staff member when he patted a dog that lived at the L’Arche home he visited. It had never occurred to staff at Michener that he would even knew what a dog was! After all, as far as they knew, he had lived his whole life in the Centre.

Gerard seemed to like visiting Shalom, and the people at L'Arche liked him. After a couple of visits, it was agreed that he would join the community. He arrived with no records other than his name, and his garbage bag of possessions included a pair of slippers, three ancient pairs of pin-striped overalls, and no outerwear of any kind -- in short, no clothing that could be considered presentable, because Michener staff didn’t expect that he would be going out -- simply because people like Gerard didn’t have anywhere to go. He hadn't been out in public since he left home.

To say that Gerard blossomed in L'Arche wouldn't be an exaggeration. Though he never did learn to talk, and he moved only at Gerard-speed, he began to walk again, went on outings and vacations, and enjoyed his interactions with other community members and friends. A woman who volunteered with the community loved to have tea with Gerard every week because, as she explained to the community leader, “His heart is an ocean of peace.” Just being in his quiet presence was an immense gift to her.

Gerard's sense of humour also began to shine. The first time it snowed after he arrived in the community, he refused to wear his boots. Instead, he took them to his bedroom. His house leader fetched the boots and explained to Gerard that he couldn't attend his sheltered workshop unless he wore his boots. He then hid them under his bed. The house leader found the boots again, explained the situation once more, and the phone rang. While she took the call, Gerard hid his boots in a more difficult hiding place. Eventually the house leader found the boots and explained that without his boots, Gerard’s feet would freeze. No matter – he hid the boots for a fourth time. By this time, his ride to the workshop had come and gone. It took a few more games of boot hide-and-seek before he slowly put on his boots and his house leader drove him to work. As she wryly noted when she was telling me this story, she had to give Gerard credit – his boot-hiding spots got progressively more difficult!

When the Shalom Community celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1982, it began looking into its past, contacting family and friends from its first decade. One assistant decided, on a whim, to see if he could track down someone related to Gerard. By cold-calling people in the phone book with the same last name, he eventually reached Gerard’s brother, who had recovered from his war injuries. At first, the man thought the assistant was a crank caller, but finally, he was convinced that the person on the other end of the line had Gerard beside him, and he was alive!

The assistant took Gerard shopping for some special clothing to wear to the anniversary celebration. From all reports, he was the prince of the party, looking very dapper in a tuxedo and soft Italian leather shoes – especially with his smile! No one was prouder or happier than the brother who was finally able to keep the promise he had made to look out for Gerard.

As it turned out, Gerard's mother was still alive, so a special homecoming was planned for her long-lost son, who wore his tux and special shoes for his first visit with his entire family in over 30 years. It was a jubilant, and very French, celebration. Did they kill the fatted calf? We don't know, but Gerard's mother was every bit as happy as the prodigal father, overjoyed to see the offspring she had thought dead. She showed to Gerard’s assistant the letter she had mistaken for a death notice, and thanked him many times for bringing her son home. 

As Jean Vanier wrote in his book I Live With Jesus, 
God is the one who runs out to meet you and to say:
"My child, you were lost, now you are found again, you were suffering and you have found a new taste for life. You always have a place with me." (p.104)
It's not hard to imagine that Gerard smiled his beautiful, room-brightening, heart-melting smile, and gave his special thumbs-up sign all around. Maybe he even danced.


An Easter story if I ever heard one!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Triduum at our house

It's been a lovely Triduum (Easter weekend) thus far, though a bit unusual because of Shadow, the new puppy, who is settling in quite nicely, though I think it will take us a while to get the house training down and done...

Thursday evening, Lee and I went to Holy Thursday mass in our parish, and I really enjoyed the music. Michael, the man who played the guitar, is one talented guy, and the people singing with him sang very well.
Hundreds of people participated in the 33rd annual Good Friday outdoor Way of the Cross walk in downtown Edmonton on March 29, 2013.
Friday morning, Lee, Christina and I helped to sing at the Outdoor Way of the Cross, which is always a most moving celebration in the inner city. It links the sufferings of Jesus to those faced by refugees, immigrants, the homeless, and others who are pushed to the margins of our society, and it reminds us to reach out because they are not strangers, but our brothers and sisters. I love this photo, taken by The Edmonton Journal's Larry Wong.

Friday evening, we held our annual Taize Prayer Around the Cross at Providence Renewal Centre... and it was so beautiful, the tears came to my eyes on more than one occasion, making it a little tough to see guitar chords! Where I was sitting, the sound was so rich and beautiful (6 guitars, two flutes, and four, five, or six part vocal harmony) that I frequently had goosebumps. As one of our flutists commented, it was like we were singing to God, and God was singing back.

This afternoon is egg-dyeing and general happiness because the long season of Lent is over, and all that's left is to celebrate new life!

This evening, we will attend the Easter Vigil celebrated at our sister parish (Christina is singing with the music group there) and hear the seven stories of salvation history, the epistle, and the Good News gospel that Jesus is still alive and among us, especially when we love one another.

And tomorrow, R&R, family Easter supper, and hopefully some chocolate...

As my little Happy Easter to you, click here for the only Easter story I've ever written, still one of my favourite things that came to me from out of the blue (from that creative and Holy Spirit, I'm guessing). I like to reread it at least once a year, to remind me that the Christ we are celebrating can be found anywhere, anytime!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Stay with me...

On my bucket list is an Easter weekend at Taize. This is what we'd be singing tonight, I'm sure... only in the original German, Bleibet hier, und wachet mit mir, wachet und betet...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Meet Zorro... oops, I mean, Shadow...

We brought our newest family member home today, a little black Havanese puppy that Julia had dubbed Zorro, for the man in black... but after he came out of his shell and started following her around this afternoon, he was renamed Shadow at about 4:30 p.m., and it seems that name is sticking. He's pretty darn cute, has no house manners whatsoever, and makes us all laugh. So if my moodling is intermittent over the next weeks, it's probably because I'm trying to house train a puppy! Wish us luck!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Simple Suggestion #157... Drink wasteless coffee

'Tis the season (Lent) when Tim Horton's (Canada's franchised version of the donut/coffee shop) has its annual Roll Up The Rim To Win promotion. Any time you buy a cup of coffee at Tim's, whether in a porcelain mug or 'to go,' you are given a paper cup with a special rim under which is the opportunity to win a prize -- or not -- from a new vehicle to a donut. One of our youngest daughter's friends gave her the rim for a donut he won, and she's chomping at the bit to go get it. The big problem with the whole thing is the waste of paper cups, which you see blowing around the city this time of year (I'll never understand how people can litter)! Waste is a huge problem in our world, but it's one we like to ignore, especially if we can win a prize of some sort for doing so.

A lot of Canadians love their Tim's, or Second Cup, or Starbuck's, and those fancy-schmancy Tassimo single serving coffee makers can be found in many homes and businesses (they're a particular pet peeve of mine -- every time you make a single cup of coffee, you have a tiny little plastic container that can't really be recycled because it's too small, so it ends up in the landfill -- one of those single-use wastes of resources). The good thing is that some people are realizing how silly paper cups really are, so at least they carry travel mugs.

I've found a way to enjoy coffee that is as close to waste-less as I can get... and it's my simple suggestion for today, because one of the important things about embracing Voluntary Simplicity is that we use as few resources as we can manage in order to keep the world in better shape for future generations.

My preferred method of coffee brewing involves fair trade coffee, which I've already written about at length, and a bodum, or French press, which is basically a beaker with a screened plunger that pushes the coffee grounds to the bottom. My girlfriend made me a little bodum cozy to keep the coffee hot.

The whole process makes me think about the cowboys who used to put their coffee grounds into an old sock and float it in a pot of boiling water... except there's no old sock flavour in my coffee. It's plain old deeee-licious.

Step one -- grind your fair trade coffee, and put into beaker.

Step two -- add boiling water and stir.

Step three -- cover with plunger unit and let steep for 4 minutes.

Step four -- press down plunger.

Step five -- pour coffee into a favourite, reusable mug, and fix to your liking. The tastiest coffee of all! The only trick is to watch out when you get to the bottom of the cup, as it gets a little bit thick...

Step six -- add water to the leftover coffee grounds and pour over your compost pile, or feed it to tomato plants (mine are just sprouting in the greenroom -- eventually, they'll appreciate slightly acidic soil additives). There's no little tassimo container or coffee filter or paper cups involved -- the only waste in the entire process is the bag the coffee comes in, and I'm still looking for ways to get around that... perhaps I can buy bulk beans at Earth's General Store. They seem to carry almost everything else sans packaging!

Of course, there are plenty of beverages out there that don't require the fossil fuel transportation costs from halfway around the world that coffee beans do -- like water, milk, and backyard mint tea. So really, this suggestion is mainly a reminder to look at the waste we create and to minimize it in whatever way we are able. I could, and probably should, drink my backyard mint tea more often...

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

A little Swan Lake for a Sunday

This gorgeous piece of music has been following me around lately, and I'm not sure why. I've run into Tchaikovsky's theme from the final act of Swan Lake several times in the past three weeks, most recently at this week's Broadway Across Canada production of Billy Elliot. It's an amazing piece of music, and the dancing/flying ballet in the musical was so beautiful, I almost cried.

I've never actually seen the full Swan Lake, but I know the story, a bizarre and tragic fairy tale about a prince who falls in love with a princess who has been transformed into a swan by his mentor, who is actually an evil magician. Tchaikovsky's incredible music manages to evoke feelings of deep longing, and after seeing Billy Elliot the other night, and thinking about the effort and training it takes to dance, I marvel at how effortless these dancers make their movements look... the years of practice and conditioning, not to mention the innate talent required just to be one of the dancers on the periphery boggles my mind.

So here's another beautiful little piece of amazement for your Sunday... enjoy!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Don't forget...

Earth Hour takes place in ten hours or so, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. wherever you live. At our house, we light a few candles and hang out together, usually, or go for a walk to see how much the city lights are powered down. Tonight is a celebration of all things unplugged. An hour is nice... but I think it's time to reduce our energy use for an Earth Century in whatever way we can. How do you plan to celebrate?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Happy Spring????!

Ummm...


are you sure...


Spring has sprung...


?????


This would be more like it... but it's still two months away...

Even though our first so-called Spring snowstorm is here with a vengeance today,
I'm reminding myself that Spring Will Come
with my best spring poem, pictures, and piano piece.


video

Happy Spring!
(Eventually...)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Simple Suggestion #156... Eat mindfully, part II

After re-reading Simple Suggestion #113... Eat mindfully, I've decided I need to take another kick at it. The first time around, last Lent, I only briefly, at the very end, mentioned eating as an exercise in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who don't have enough to eat. But after a weekend at a THINKfast, during which we didn't eat for 25 hours, in solidarity with people in the global south, you could say I've rethought the afterthought status I gave that reason to eat mindfully.

On Saturday afternoon, as our stomachs began to notice the fact that we didn't eat lunch, we watched "A New Leaf" -- a documentary about the food crisis in Niger in 2012, and about how the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace partner Caritas Niger worked to alleviate hunger in the Sahel region when the crops failed due to climate change. Other factors like locusts and military unrest also can cause food shortages for the people, who become desperate and sometimes sell necessary possessions, homes, or land to buy the food they once produced -- at jacked-up prices. Organizations like CFB and CCODP work to help the farmers receive fair treatment in times of food crises, and have also been instrumental in helping them to learn farming practices that are more drought tolerant. There is much hope!

Ever since watching the documentary, I have an image in my head of families lined up, waiting for a 50lb bag of millet, a jug of oil, and a small bag of beans for feeding their family through the hungry times, along with the memory of the young women playing clapping games as they grind their millet... here's a short clip that at one point shows their grinding pestils bouncing as they work and play at the same time. (If you ever have the opportunity to see "A New Leaf," I'd recommend it. I'm hoping the full version will be available online sometime soon, because it's worth watching.)


By late afternoon on Saturday, we were all chilled and feeling a serious lack of energy. Of course, we had a variety of clear juices to drink if we wanted, but I stuck with tea, cut my insulin levels down to almost nothing, and managed just fine. When we came home late that evening and I walked into my kitchen, I was struck by how much food we have in our house -- crackers and bread in the breadbox, a stocked fridge and pantry -- while Nana, the beautiful and smiling young woman wearing green, eats from the same sacks of millet and beans for months on end, as do many subsistence farmers in the global south.

On the other hand, in North America, we've come to think that it's important, even necessary, to have a huge variety of food cooked in a huge variety of ways using a huge variety of techniques and seasonings. But is it really? How much we take for granted! How blessed, how fortunate, how spoiled are we! And how important it is to realize that... and, perhaps, to simplify, and to share our blessings and good fortune with others.

Suddenly, in my books, my brothers and sisters in need are the main reason to be mindful of the food I consume, as well as the value of the land that produces the goodness that sustains me. Solidarity is a powerful thing, because it means that we can't take our meals for granted. If we are living in Voluntary Simplicity, taking things for granted isn't an option.

On the weekend, our THINKfast raised $2000 for projects like the one in the documentary, and now I want to do more... in gratitude for every mouthful that sustains me.

So, today's challenge, should you choose to accept it, is  to think about what you eat, consider what other people in the world may (or may not) be eating, be grateful, and find a concrete way to show that gratitude.

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A simple song for a Sunday

I think I've moodled a fair bit about St. Francis already, and have already recommended Franco Zeffirelli's Brother Sun, Sister Moon as a beautiful film about my favourite saint, who is, as it turns out, the one who inspired the new Pope's name. I hope and pray that he lives up to the name and brings the church back to a deeper understanding of the beauty and value of creation and of all of our sisters and brothers...

Here's a beautiful moment from the movie, after Francesco and Clara and their friends celebrate in thanksgiving after they have rebuilt the abandoned church that becomes known as the Portiuncula. It carries a line that I absolutely love... "Do few things but do them well; heartfelt joys are holy." Enjoy!


P.S. Happy St. Patrick's Day -- with the ThinkFast this weekend, it wasn't much on my radar... but we'll all enjoy our potatoes for supper!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Simple Suggestion #155... Support human dignity

Lent is the time of year when the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace invites us to live in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the global south -- or the developing world, if you prefer. As someone who does her best to practice Voluntary Simplicity, I see this as an objective that is right in line with simple living. Life in the developed world has become so materially consumptive that we could learn a lot from the simplicity with which people in the developing world live.

That's not to say that life in the global south is an ideal we want to emulate in all respects. There is so much hardship, disease, and difficulty in some places that I'm sure I wouldn't know how to cope. But in many of those places, there is also a stronger sense of community than we experience in most North American cities. We tend to think of our wealthy lifestyles as having much to offer the poor, but I suspect the poor have more things of value to teach us than we have to teach them when it comes to looking after each other.

So this weekend, our family is taking part in a Development and Peace ThinkFast, a 25 hour period of fasting (no food) that is packed with activities and education about life in the developing world. We will fast in support of D&P's partnerships with programs that promote human dignity in countries in the global south, we will raise funds for those programs, and we will learn about the needs of different communities in different places across the globe.

I really love D&P's emphasis on Human Dignity this year. I had never thought about it before, but for as long as I remember, I don't recall seeing a forlorn or impoverished-looking person in their advertising, posters, and brochures. Unlike some agencies that try to guilt people into giving by presenting pitiful pictures of the needy, D&P prefers to promote their cause with the joyful faces of people whose human dignity has been served by partnerships between people in the developed world and people in the global south who are working to lift themselves, their families and their communities out of poverty. Look at the gorgeous girls above, and you'll see what I mean. They are an example of what happens when a development organization provides assistance by working with a community rather than parachuting in to do 'for,' and flying out again without being sure that their assistance has made a lasting difference.

Even if Lent has no meaning in your life, perhaps now is a good time to give some thought to supporting an organization that works for positive change from the grassroots, or to learn about a community in the developing world and what you can do to strengthen it. Even contributing to an agency that helps local homeless people would be an excellent choice, simply because an important part of Voluntary Simplicity is showing solidarity with those who have less than we do, and offering our friendship in whatever way we can. Most of us in North America have more than enough to share during Lent... and the rest of the year, too.

What's your favourite way to support human dignity in the global south -- or nearby?

For more information about Development and Peace and its initiatives, click here.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A half hour's excitement

A dear friend of mine has often commented that what the Church and the world need is a new St. Francis of Assisi, someone who is simple and holy and sees the essential.

Having been a lifelong fan of that particular Francis, I was quite excited when the new pope's name was announced, thinking that anyone who would take the name of Francis of Assisi would be the reformer the Church and the world need in this era. Yess!!

But then the shoe dropped -- the pope-elect chose the name, OF COURSE, of one of the founders of his Jesuit community, St. Francis Xavier...

We don't know much about Pope Francis yet, but it seems that he's a man who favours simplicity, and he has some pastoral sense if he's telling his priest to baptize infants even if their parents haven't been married. I mean, it's not the child's fault that his parents didn't see the necessity.

So I'm going to reserve judgment, and just say, God bless Pope Francis.

And, come, Holy Spirit!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Happy Birthday to a creative kid

When I came home from some errands on Saturday, I looked out my bedroom window and saw this. Can you see what it says? "I had to look really hard for the E," I was told.


Our youngest daughter being creative again. Being a fair bit younger and more childlike than her mid- and late-teen sisters, she's grown up playing alone more than they did, and because of it, she seems to come up with these little inventive creative projects that often amaze me. See the sea serpent below? I can't figure out how she did that without making any deep tracks in Saturday afternoon's soft snow.


While her older sisters have high school and post-secondary stuff on their minds, the youngest is still enjoying Lego (soooo excited about the Lego Store coming to Southgate!), loves paper cut outs, and prefers to be read to at bedtime (we just finished a collection of three stories by E. L. Konigsburg, our favourite one being The View from Saturday -- a wonderful story of developing friendships).

Our girl is a marvel, to be sure, and today is her last day as a twelve-year-old. She's independent enough that she doesn't seem to feel pressured to 'fit in' with the girlie girl tweens at school -- as she puts it, "Mom, everyone is an oddball in grade seven whether they think so or not."

I hope and pray that her teen years treat her well, and that she never loses her creative spirit and energy!


Happy Birthday, Julia.
(She had to prove she fit in the kennel that is awaiting her birthday present...)


I love you, too.
Mom

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sister Joan Chittister for Pope!

So now you see plainly -- I've really gone off the deep end -- or perhaps I have gained some sanity. But with so much news coverage these days pointing to this...


I'm feeling rather put off by all the hype. Especially since I suspect the cardinals will ensure that the Church continues along in its present narrow ways of thinking rather than engaging with the world and all its people (including the female 50%). I just hope the Holy Spirit proves that suspicion wrong!!

Instead of pope hype, I find I'm much more interested in this kind of thinking...



My girlfriend and I have been reading In Search of Belief, a book in which Joan Chittister looks at the Creed and delves into its meaning. Sister Joan is an intelligent, practical person, one who is strong in her faith and wise about its deepest meaning being more than definitions created by an all-male hierarchy. She speaks to my heart more than Pope Benedict ever could. 

In the tradition of the Church, the pope-elect is not required to be a cardinal (though he probably will be.) Popes can be chosen from among people outside the Sistine Chapel, too. If I could choose the next pope, I'd pick someone with Joan's inclusive outlook on life. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a pope who hasn't lived in an ivory tower for ages and ages???

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Simple Suggestion #154... Go fragrance-free

Anyone out there remember Avon's Sweet Honesty perfume? It was my first foray into the world of scents. My mom's friend was the town Avon Lady, and she gave my sisters and me some perfume samples in little tiny vials. I didn't really 'wear' them, but I loved to smell them... until the day Sweet Honesty spilled... I can't remember where -- on a rug? In the corner of a dresser? No matter. I just remember how the lingering, overpowering fragrance made my stomach turn ever after. I outgrew Sweet Honesty in a hurry! But it didn't last...

I grew up to love fragrances of all kinds, and used to wear perfumes frequently. I had my favourites, and stocked up on them when there were sales, enjoying a stroll through the cosmetic department to test new fragrances just for fun.

And then I fell in love with a man for whom perfume is something like torture. My poor hubby reacts to fragrance the way some people react to paying taxes, except he also gets itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and headaches (yes, I know, paying taxes gives a lot of people headaches!). For most of the years of marriage, my perfume has been hidden away in a dresser drawer, and our household has gone fragrance-free (except for our teen daughters' bedrooms).

What's really interesting is that since I've stopped wearing scent, I've developed something of a sensitivity to it myself, and can't stay near perfumed people very long. Last week I was waiting in a doctor's office when a woman sat beside me. She was wearing a lovely fragrance -- gentle, not overpowering at all -- but all of a sudden, I had a tickle in my throat and started to cough. By the time she left the area, I had a headache. And it was, as I said, a pleasant fragrance. Since then I've been doing little experiments with my own neglected cache of perfumes... just putting a tiny bit on  my wrist in the mornings (so it's gone by the time my man comes home from work)... and I've discovered that my own favourite fragrances also give me headaches. What gives?

In snooping around on the internet, it seems that, in the past, perfumes were made mainly of plant extracts. Unfortunately, as technology has advanced, chemical compounds that are not naturally occurring have been added into the mix. And fragrances have been added to everything! Even as air fresheners and scented candles have cornered a huge market, fragrance-free products are slowly claiming their own shelf space, but perhaps not enough of it. Our human love affair with parfumeries from Armani to Yves seems to have created more sensitivities and allergies (some even say perfume related asthmas) in the general population. Have you noticed an increase in the number of shops and public places that bear signs saying 'Be "scent"-sitive' or 'This is a fragrance free workplace'?

Two years ago, the David Suzuki Foundation listed parfum as one of the dirty dozen toxic ingredients in personal care products -- the problem with it being that 'parfum' is a blanket term that can be used to cover all sorts of chemical cocktails that are now added to fragrances. Somewhere online I read that up to a third of the population is affected by those cocktails that often end up going down our drains, and that the related allergies can be very debilitating.

I also can't help but wonder about the effect that all those perfumes are having on our environment. I mean, when we wash our bodies, our clothes, our dishes, and our homes, the fragrances in the cleaning products we use get mixed into our water systems. In our developed world, we've got water treatment plants to filter them out, but I feel for people in the developing world where water often isn't treated. If you've ever tried to drink from a container that was once used for something fragrant, you know that water tastes better with no odors of any kind. So wouldn't it make sense to refrain from polluting water in the first place?



When you really think about it, perfumes are another one of those non-essential things that consumer culture has conditioned us to believe essential. A hundred years ago, fragrance wasn't such a big deal -- as it usually only occurred naturally (except for great grandma's rose water). Now, when I think about those people for whom fragrance causes health problems, I really feel for them. It must be terrible to have to limit your time in public just because someone is wearing perfume.

These days, it's pretty much impossible to go places without running into someone who smells terrific -- or terrible to a person with allergies. My husband and I enjoyed our last play at the Citadel Theatre, except for the fragrant lady sitting in front of him whose perfume gave him a headache. Fortunately, the effects he experiences are mild, but some people can hardly breathe...

So today's simple suggestion is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who can't handle perfumes, and cut down on the use of products that carry fragrance. We've been refilling our laundry detergent containers at Earth's General Store, which carries all sorts of unscented products for personal care and cleaning. It's worth making the effort, and not just because of my hubby's sensitivities. Why not try it? It's not likely that anyone will notice or thank you if you go fragrance-free, but there's probably someone you'll meet today who will unknowingly appreciate your efforts toward air they can breathe without concern. Think of it as a random act of kindness!

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

So much for a simple life...

Our youngest daughter has always wanted a dog. As long as I can remember. Or maybe she wanted a cat at some point, but when she realized that you can't get hypo-allergenic cats, she switched to wanting a dog because it was an option she was more likely to succeed at attaining.

We had many reasons NOT to get a dog. An allergic auntie, our efforts to raise our own food (without a dog digging it up), a budgie who ran the house, a desire to keep things simple, and Julia's own tendencies towards allergy symptoms. But now that she's older, her old symptoms seem to be dissipating, her sisters are playing with her less, and she's been pushing for a puppy more. She's proved that she's willing to pick up after a dog (she's pooper-scooped for our friends' dog on a walk), she's been doing a lot of research into different breeds, and she's even gone through allergy tests, though she was terrified of that whole thing. When our friends' dog came for a visit and totally ignored Pebbles the Budgie, Julia decided that our argument against having a dog because we have a budgie no longer holds. She's determined.

For the last few months, dogs have been discussed daily. When the school put on a production of The Wiz in December, and the vice principal's dog played Toto, Julia took care of him one evening between his appearances on stage, and fell head over heels in love. "I want a dog just like him," she decided on the spot. She got the details about the breeder from Mme Vice Principal, and sent emails to find out about puppy availability.

Julia has been reading Dog Training for Dummies and taking copious notes, and has finally convinced her family (for the most part) that a dog would be a good addition to the family. We've paid two visits to the breeder, and on Saturday, Julia picked her little animal. We also bought her some puppy paraphernalia for her lucky birthday next week. Little nameless pooch (Julia figures we have to bring him home and see his personality before she'll know what to call him) is just four weeks old, so we won't actually collect him until Spring Break. Then she'll have to put her 'dog training for dummies' into practice... as will we all.

Life is going to change. Besides figuring out how to house train a tiny pooch, we'll have to doggie-proof the house, find a vet, figure out grooming, get up at hours to which we're unaccustomed, and learn to understand a non-verbal family member's cues. It seems almost as overwhelming as having a baby, but without the worries of labour.

So much for living simply... at least until we get into a routine. If my moodling becomes intermittent in the next few months, the dog may be to blame. If you like images of small black dogs, watch this space -- I'm sure our puppy will be making a few appearances now and again. And if you have any tips on how to welcome a new pet, I'm all ears!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Yearning, longing, nostalgia, and HOPE on a Sunday

I'm in the mood for some great music this Sunday afternoon, and I've always loved this piece. I learned it when I was travelling with a performing group in Europe -- we sang it in Italy and always received a very warm response from our audiences. At the time, I thought it beautiful, but didn't really think about why it was so well-loved by the Italian people.


25 years later, I understand the essence of the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" (as it's called in English) much better. It was written by Giuseppi Verdi for an opera called Nabucco, and it's based on Psalm 137, a psalm of yearning for a lost country, longing to return from exile, and remembering the beauty of home.

Lately, I've been feeling those kinds of nostalgic feelings about the Church that has been home to me for my whole life, a life which has been lived against the backdrop of the Church's struggle to implement the changes recommended by the Second Vatican Council. Having grown up working in my parents' church supplies store, I was exposed to all the new thoughts and hopes and dreams that came from the Council, ideas like inclusive language, ecumenism, more contemporary liturgical music, a new understanding of original blessing rather than original sin, and the empowerment of the laity in the life of the Church. Since then, it seems, the Church has had a change of heart -- or perhaps it's afraid of further change because it can be so unpredictable -- and now its leadership seems to be taking the Church back to 'safe' old ways, retreating to what it once knew, even though that old knowledge is far out of step with our present times.

As the Church retreats away from the world and into itself, though, it leaves me feeling like the Hebrew slaves in exile, longingly singing for what has recently been lost. O membranza, si cara e fatal -- my heart breaks when I remember some of the positive changes that were made because of Vatican II -- that have now been unmade -- and the many improvements the Council suggested, that have died on the books. Arpa d'ora dei fatidici vati, perche muta dal salice pendi? The harp of the prophets hangs mute upon the willows... and why?? Even as I mourn, I know that if the Church doesn't change soon, it will collapse in upon itself -- and something new will have to rise up from the grassroots.

As part of those grassroots, today I sing along with the Hebrew slaves, but not with their desolate spirit. The melody of their sadness is being transformed into a melody of hope in my heart. Over the weeks since Pope Benedict announced his retirement, hope has risen and many voices have begun to converge, calling once again for positive change -- for deeper inclusivity, openness, transparency, and faithfulness to the Gospels rather than a blind clinging to the tired old doctrines, dogmas, and ways that no longer work -- and I join those voices to sing a melody of hope. Va pensiero sull'ali dorate, fly, golden thoughts, on the wings of the Holy Spirit, and help change to happen...