Friday, October 31, 2014

Hallowe'en, sigh...

It's gotten a lot easier... but a bit sadder, too, now that my kids are older. No more costume chaos... and its resulting flurry of creativity. Less anxiety about school parties... and trick-or-treating partners. Pumpkin carving? Barely. Decoration? Not this year, unless I do it.

In the thick of hectic Hallowe'ens of the past, I'll admit that I was looking forward to this hassle-free day. But now that I'm here, honestly, I miss the fun of it all. Not that all of it was fun, but I enjoyed watching our girls in their excitement and creativity. It's always been interesting, at the least.

Costumes this year? Wayne from Wayne's World (oldest daughter), and an all-in-black assassin (youngest daughter). Middle daughter doesn't seem to be interested at all. Oh well. I guess artists, brides, gypsies, little bo peeps, mailboxes, masquerade ladies, owl princesses, papparazza, pirates, punk rockers, scarecrows, traffic lights, unicorns, witches and many others are all in the past, where our little girls live in my memory. 

Just a part of growing up.

Have a happy Hallowe'en, and if you're around little ones caught up in the excitement, enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Simple Suggestion #217... Support

or other charitable organizations that help small-scale farmers
If you crunch the numbers, women like the one above (and men) feed 3 billion people world wide, mostly in the global South. (Women do most of the planting, weeding and selling of the crops in the South's rural areas, but their efforts toward producing so much food is often overlooked.) Most of the food on our planet exists in its present form because of thousands of years of innovations and plant breeding that occurred on small family-run farms. Small landholders selected seeds from their best, most successful plants year after year to replant the following year, and over time, their practices created and bred plant varieties that worked in many different climates, and were affordable and nutritionally superior to the originals.

Unfortunately one of the biggest threats to small farmers is the fact that large corporations are doing their best to privatize and patent seeds. Companies like Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Dow, Bayer and BASF are genetically modifying seeds so that they produce bumper crops the first year (with the help of company-made agrochemicals), but cannot be replanted the next year because their genes are modified so that their offspring don't produce. Growers are then forced to buy more of the corporations' genetically modified single-year seeds and chemicals. In these cases, biodiversity is vanishing, and in some countries, fair trade agreements have made seed saving an illegal act. And the blanket distribution of one type of genetically modified seed for one type of climate can't be successful in every microclimate across every country!

Farmers in countries like Haiti, Brazil, Columbia and Zambia have realized these dangers and have been fighting for their seed saving rights through nationwide farmers strikes, setting up their own ecological seed production cooperatives, and refusing to allow corporations entry into their work. But the pressure continues, and, unlike most human beings, corporations are more interested in their fiscal bottom lines than the world's common good. The companies named above lack any sort of conscience and have more than enough money to fight dirty.

But we can help our farming brothers and sisters in their struggles against heartless agri-business here and around the world by buying local and organic products when possible. When it comes to items we import, fair trade and organic products are generally produced by people who subscribe to non GM, organic seed choices and farming practices. If enough consumers demand non-genetically modified choices at our grocery stores, and ask our legislators to enact laws to label GMO foods so that we can avoid the products sold in Canada containing genetically modified corn, canola, soy and sugar beet, it won't be long before agribusiness is forced to rethink its ways. By eating locally and sustainably, we can have a global impact before it's too late.

Click here for more information about the Sow Much Love campaign, and support farmers and their right to save seeds whenever the opportunity arises!

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The seeds of L'Arche

Sister Sue Mosteller is a long time member of the L'Arche community. In the video below, she tells some really beautiful stories about trust, relationship, and the value of each person. I am very grateful to L'Arche Daybreak in Toronto for recording this and adding the extra images, as I've heard Rosie stories over the years. 30 minutes worth spending, if you have the time.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Words that stopped me on a Sunday

This morning at mass we sang Marty Haugen's hymn, God of Day and God of Darkness, and the words of the second verse put a lump in my throat:
Still the nations curse the darkness,
Still the rich oppress the poor;
Still the earth is bruised and broken
By the ones who still want more.
Come and wake us from our sleeping,
So our hearts cannot ignore
All your people lost and broken,
All your children at our door. 
All I can say is -- Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Laughter is good for the soul

After all the heaviness we've been feeling in Canada of late, I was delighted to see this video, and felt like sharing. Maybe I need to go join the Red Nose Alliance -- it looks like so much fun!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A prayer for today

When Prime Minister Harper announced that Canada would send fighter jets to the Middle East to help combat ISIS/ISIL, it meant that the injustices that have caused a rise in radicalism became the concern of Canadians once again. And this morning, at the tomb of the unknown soldier, an as-yet unknown solder lost his life to what appears to be some sort of radicalism in our national capital. Another soldier died the day before yesterday, hit by a "radicalized" man in a car.

But it's not time for panic and paranoia, or mistrust. It's time for people to come together and to work to end the injustices that cause young men and women to want to become martyrs for organizations that promote violence against their brothers and sisters. It's time to work for the health of those suffering from addictions or mental illness. Now more than ever, it's not us and them, it's WE. We all need to pray and to work so that no one feels the need to take up arms for any reason, anywhere.

Here's my prayer, in case you feel like praying with me.

God of all people,
be our light.

Bless all those affected by violence,
and its resulting fear, uncertainty and sorrow.

Show us where our lifestyles create injustice,
where we are to blame,
and help us to change.

Transform the hearts
of those who,
in anger and hopelessness,
have come to believe
that violence is the only answer.

Bless those whose mental health
or lifestyle choices endanger them
and those around them,
and bring them the help they need.

Lead us all
to walk together
on the difficult path
to dialogue
justice, wholeness,
and peace.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Simple Suggestion # 216... Try a broader perspective

These last few weeks of autumn, during the season when "every leaf is a flower," as noted by Camus, my walks with Shadow pup have been just glorious. The many tree-canopied streets we stroll fill my eyes with sun-flecked greens and golds that are too much to take in from the sidewalks. So I decided to abandon the sidewalks and walk down the middle of the residential roads (moving out of the way if cars come, of course). And I've discovered that my canopied perspective from the middle of the street is better. See what I mean?

As Shadow and I walked under the trees, I started thinking about how important it is to broaden our perspectives whenever possible. Human beings are not meant to be static. When we always do things and see things in the same way, we miss out on a lot of living.

A few weeks ago, my cousin reminded me of this again. She invited me to go with her to our local mosque's open house on "Islam and Non-violence." With all the stories about the extremist Islamic State in the news, the event was timely! Unfortunately, I had a prior commitment and missed out, but she and her parents went and really enjoyed learning about our Muslim brothers and sisters and their beliefs. She commented that it was "very informative and refreshing to hear that Islam is also peaceful" (its name is actually derived from the Arabic word for peace) -- it's mainly the ISIS/ISIL extremists who have twisted the meaning of the Quran's teachings. I hope the local mosque will have another open house soon, as I plan to attend the next one with my cousin.

That's just one example. Sometimes widening our perspective can be as simple as rearranging a routine or doing something differently. I could try brushing my teeth with my left hand rather than my right, or make a different choice for breakfast. Take a different route to work, or listen to another radio station/read an alternative news feed. Try on a new point of view. Imagine walking a mile in the moccasins of someone whose life is completely different. The possibilities are endless! The idea is that by changing things up, we widen our appreciation of the life we've been given and gain insight into the perspectives of others not like us -- and teach our "old dog" a "new trick" or two in the process.

How will you expand your horizons today?

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Gifts from the compost heap

Besides giving me lots of great additive for our heavy clay-based soil, our compost pile gave me four other wonderful gifts this fall...

There were probably a dozen tomato seedlings growing on the top of my half-finished compost bin, so I dug four up and brought them into the greenhouse at the beginning of September (just before that first frosty snowfall on September 8th). Here's what they look like today...

A bit sparse and spindly, but there's fruit on those vines. As the sun is getting weaker by the day, this experiment might only give us a few tomatoes, as there will come a point when heating the greenhouse might seem a bit silly, and I'm not sure bringing these plants into the house will help much as our triple-paned energy efficient windows block out valuable rays. I think most of these are heirloom cherry tomatoes, so it's not like we'll get a big feed regardless, but it's fun to try. 

In the meantime, I'm plugging the benefits of composting to anyone who will listen, and borrowing leaves from family, friends and neighbours for next year's composting (we go through at least 20 big bags of leaves per year, if not more -- I always forget to count!) This year's compost is pretty much used up -- I dug a lot into the garden boxes on Tuesday, and yesterday and today I planted compost with my 113 tulip bulbs. It's nice to know that they have a good start in their compost/soil mix. I can't explain how good it feels to remediate my soil with the good black stuff I worked on making most of the summer. Way better than any chemical fertilizer money can buy!

If you like the idea of composting, but aren't sure how, there are likely books at your public library, or courses in your community. Failing that, feel free to leave a message below and I'll get back to you!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Simple Suggestion #215... Use those bread crusts

If your house is anything like my house, for some reason, the crusts of the bread are often left in the bag after the loaves are gone. Sometimes I eat them for lunch, but often they're not big enough to make a sandwich. It's tempting to throw them out, but if you're living a simple and sustainable life, wasting things is not an option. After all, waste is a justice issue -- it's simply unjust to leave our planet in worse shape than we found it, or to throw things away when they're still usable, especially when they can be reduced, reused, or recycled.

So we don't toss our bread crusts out because they can be a valuable resource. Instead, we dry them out and store them for future use. They can be easily turned into croutons or crushed into breadcrumbs, and made part of different dishes that our family likes to eat.

To me, this suggestion seems too obvious, but I guess that's a sign that it's just plain simple.

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Giving Thanks in Canada

It's Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. I like that it falls early in October, when the harvest of gardens and fields is almost done, and we are most aware of God's abundance. This early in the season, we also don't get sucked into the immediate Christmas shopping frenzy of our friends who celebrate at the end of November. That makes it easier to see that we have so much for which to be thankful!

Today I'm thankful for one last bouquet of summer flowers, and time with family. How about you?

Monday, October 13, 9 p.m.

When my girls were little, sometimes we would stop in at the church a few blocks from home and whisper thank you prayers. Today mine would go something like this:

Thank you, God, for all the sunshine this weekend.
Thank you for the stars we saw at Elk Island on Friday night, and for the quiet, and for the way the moon came up through the trees.
Thank you, God, for the yellow leaves that are falling everywhere, and that made a huge and perfect pile for my newly-met neighbours Isabelle (3) and Zoe (2) to jump in this afternoon.
Thank you for fresh-out-of-the-garden carrots. Gallons and gallons of them. Sweet, crisp and juicy.
Thank you, God, for Lee, and all his work at helping to put the garden to bed.
Thank you for our neighbours, and their back yard firepit as a neighbourhood meeting place.
Thank you, God, for music. And tulip bulbs to plant so there will be delight in springtime.
Thank you for the fun we had taking family pictures yesterday!
Thank you, God, for the excellent thanksgiving supper last night (which featured melt-in-your mouth Alberta beef instead of turkey, and backyard vegetables and herbs. Oh, and pumpkin and apple pies)!
Thank you for this much-needed weekend and the rest it afforded us.

You are too kind and generous to us. Help us to pay it forward, always.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The dog and budgie show

Clik clik clik clik clik.
The other night I was doing the dishes, and heard the sound of Shadow-pup walking toward me across the living room hardwood. I turned around to talk to him -- and he wasn't there.

Puzzled, I asked, "Who's got the dog?" and Julia called out from her room, "He's here, sleeping on my bed."

That's when it dawned on me that Pebbles, the family budgie, has learned to imitate the sound of the dog's toenails on hardwood.

Now I'm waiting to hear the bird bark!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The song that's stuck in my head

Meghan Trainor's little ditty won't leave me alone. It was in my head already as I climbed out of bed this morning! I love its message, "every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top," no matter your body shape. I hope everyone in the world has heard this little musical lesson by now, but I'm posting it here in case my regular readers haven't yet.

I haven't always loved my body, and as a result, I'm afraid I've been one of those moms who has tried to steer her girls in certain directions because I know the guilt feelings that come with carrying too much weight as a teen. And so my own anxiety about weight has been passed along to my daughters, who fortunately have named the issue as one "belonging to Mom" and are dealing with self image on their own terms -- in a better way than I ever did -- with the help of positive body image messages like the one below. (For the record, it's not about what boys like, or what anyone else thinks -- it's about feeling good about yourself from the bottom to the top, period.)

Fat shaming happens too much in our culture -- and in our own lives and heads. But here's a start to stopping the cycle... and it's a bit of an ear worm, too. I get a charge out of how it makes fun of Barbie images and colours. Dance around the room if you like, and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Simple Suggestion #214... Be childlike

We've been having a lovely autumn, mostly, perfect weather for walking with Shadow puppy. Yesterday there was a good wind, and we found ourselves at the foot of a big yellow-leafed balsam poplar at the far end of the high school football field, the kind of tree that drops big, crispy, potato chip leaves. A lady pushing a child in a stroller passed us as I was running around crazily, trying to catch one as it fell. I felt a little foolish, but I kept on trying.

The reason? Somewhere along the way, my kids came up with the idea that if you catch a falling leaf before it hits the ground, it's good luck. So I stood there, under that gorgeous yellow tree, waiting for wind gusts to pull the leaves from their moorings and bring one to me, not that I really need good luck. Shadow stood nearby, looking at me quizzically, chasing the odd leaf that bounced along the ground. The wind made the leaves' flight patterns completely unpredictable, and many near-catches were foiled by an extra gust. After 15 minutes, the lady with the stroller came back the other way, and I was still trying. I really felt foolish, but I didn't give up. Surely one of those leaves had my name on it.

The sun was warm, I was feeling a little sweaty from running so erratically, and after another five minutes I remembered the pails of produce at home waiting to be turned into salsa. So I told the tree, "Maybe tomorrow," and turned to go. As I walked home down gorgeous tree-canopied streets, I noticed a golden blur at the edge of my vision -- and, wouldn't you know it, there was a balsam poplar leaf caught in the hood of my coat!

Today's suggestion is like a few others I've made along the way (in particular #2, #32, #50, #81, and the list goes on...) -- to take the time to engage in childlike pleasures. Do something that's free fun, but not exactly necessary, just for the health of your soul!

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A creed to give me goosebumps

We had another lovely Taize Prayer tonight, and it brought back some wonderful memories... including hearing this Creed for the first time in the Church of Reconciliation during the Sunday morning mass. I loved how the voices increased from one to three, and the harmony in the last verse gave me goosebumps! Thanks to Maureen Ward for posting it. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What's happened in the last 75 years?

We've had 13 Prime Ministers of Canada, sent soldiers to seven wars, and seen seven popes. There have been thousands of inventions, like helicopters, computers, frisbees, bikinis, microwave ovens, rock 'n' roll, cellphones, and artifical human body parts, just to name a few. I was going to make a long list of what's gone on in the last 75 years, but summarizing life since 1939 is just too daunting!

The world has changed in a million ways, but there's been a warm and loving constant in this corner of the world -- a man celebrating his 75th birthday today who has survived and thrived through it all. Here's a picture of him making his little ones laugh, not quite 50 years ago.

We love you!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Singing in the washroom

Not in the shower, but in the side-by-side stalls in the women's room. I've done it perhaps three times in my life (in the last two years) with my friend, Lark*.

Lark is a lovely core member in our L'Arche community with a high squeaky voice, eyes that are always winking, a curved spine, and a cheerful disposition. Being with her never fails to make me smile.

The first time we sang together from our separate partitions in the washroom, it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. I was at work, and nature had called, so I entered a stall, settled in, and soon realized that Lark was in the one right beside mine.

"Boing-gy boing-gy boing-gy boing," she sang, and then giggled like a little kid, though I think she's older than I am by several years.

"Lark, is that you?"

"Boing-gy boing-gy boing-gy boing," she sang again -- her way of saying, "yes" at that moment, I suspect. And she giggled again.

Her little song was infectious, so I sang it back to her. And there we sat, boing-gy-ing away for a few minutes. One, then the other, then both together. After finishing up by washing our hands at the sinks, Lark took my hands and did a little impromptu dance as she sang some more. The sound of her thin little voice amplified by the tiled walls filled the room, and her delight in her music delighted me.

Not long after that, I heard her singing something like "Camptown Races" at the door with one of our Day Program volunteers, no lyrics, just "nana-nana-nana-na," and I wondered where she got her boing-gy song. It wasn't until a music therapist visited the Day Program several weeks ago that I found out... I heard the boing-gy song through my office wall, sung by the therapist -- a "call and response" tune with interesting intervals between notes. I realized then that Lark was singing the "call" and I had automatically sung the "response" without knowing that was how it actually worked!

Then last weekend, at our L'Arche 50th Anniversary gala, I found myself in a washroom partition beside Lark's in the banquet hall ladies' room. "Boing-gy, boing-gy, boing-gy, boingg," she sang again, like she knew it was me next door, just waiting to sing with her.

"Oh Lark, how did you know it was me?" I laughed, and she giggled and sang her song again. She didn't know it was me, of course not! Or did she?

Even though I didn't know who else might be in the bathroom with us, I sang back, and we both giggled together, and sang some more.

After all, when you're singing with Lark, it's never the audience that matters.

(*I use online pseudonyms for all my L'Arche friends with disabilities.)