Friday, February 27, 2015

The long walk

When Helena was admitted to hospital on February 7th, it soon became clear that she was not in good shape. Her heart wasn't doing well, she had pneumonia, and her kidneys had begun to fail. Her guardians, who have known her for years, set her End of Life plan in motion -- no invasive procedures, and only palliative comfort measures for a woman who hates hospitals. We're convinced she can hear us, though she hasn't opened her eyes for most of the past two weeks. She has been pampered by those who love her and who are able to visit.

On Monday, two of us decided to wash Helena's hair. She has always been a woman who is quite self-contained, who doesn't want a lot of contact, and as I gently shampooed her head, I realized that, before her hospital stay, the most I had ever touched her was perhaps a brief pat on the shoulder. It was a beautiful and humbling realization.

On Wednesday evening, at our L'Arche board meeting, the reality hit me -- in the last two weeks, all barriers have dropped, and we've all been able to touch and kiss and hold the hands of this woman... and now I'm suspecting that she's lingered longer than we expected because she's enjoying the contact she rarely allowed herself in the past.  The emotion I felt in the middle of the meeting brought a lump to my throat and made tears spill down my cheeks.

Tomorrow marks three full weeks that we have been walking with Helena in the hospital, and it has been a deeply graced journey. When it began, the sorrow, stress and second-guessing that came from hospitalizing their friend deeply affected the assistants who live with Helena on a daily basis, but in the weeks since, acceptance has taken the place of fear, anger and denial. They are starting to understand that they probably couldn't have saved her by going to emergency sooner. They have begun to realize that the guardians made the best decision for Helena. And they have slowly come to accept that it is her time to die. If our experience with Helena is not a clear example of how palliative care gives people and their loved ones time to heal some of the pain and sorrow caused by the abruptness and separation of death, there isn't one. Physician-assisted suicide robs everyone connected to the dying, and the dying themselves. Helena is teaching us all.

As I have more scheduled shifts at her bedside, playing my guitar, singing her favourite songs, holding her hand, and soon, being with the community during funeral preparation time after she dies, I might not be moodling much in the next while. Just so you know.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is God calling you to a simpler life this Lent?

The following is a little reflection I offered at church on Sunday for a small group of people. Perhaps it carries some suggestions that my readers might find helpful for a more meaningful Lent. There's nothing new here -- it's just a different way of thinking about some of these things, in a Lenten context. And if you're looking for more ways to simplify your life, not only for Lent, but all the time, click here.

***

I’d like to begin by having us listen to Jesus’ invitation to us to try and live simply, more like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, but I’m going to read a different translation than we’re used to hearing, to get us thinking about scripture in a different way. This reading is a slight paraphrase taken from Matthew Chapter 6, verses 25-33 in The Message (which puts the bible in contemporary wording):


Don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.  Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description or any possessions, careless in God’s care. And you count far more to God than birds.
27-29 “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the lilies. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the world look shabby alongside them.
30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think God will care for you and take pride in you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting things, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know the way God works fuss over these things, but you know God. Steep your life in God’s reality, initiative, and providence. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
Jesus is inviting us all to look at our lives, and to think about how we are living them.  And Lent in particular is the perfect time to do just that, to focus on the kind of simple life that Jesus is talking about, to consider how to go about simplifying our lives so we can live in a less hectic and more meaningful way. 

The fact is that our life in North America has become a lot more complex than it needs to be, for a lot of reasons that seem to be out of our control. Jesus’ words about the birds and the wildflowers apply to us even more than they did to the people of his time, and the interesting thing is that, like Jesus’ followers, we have the power to live more happily in many different ways if we choose a path other than the one our society sets out for us.

The path that society puts before us is also known as consumerism, or consumer culture. Here’s a quick look at eight messages consumer culture gives us through advertising and media, the internet, TV shows, movies, magazines, bill boards, etc. They’re messages that come at us all the time, maybe 3,000 times a day, and because we’re so bombarded by them, we tend to ignore them and don’t realize how much they really affect our thinking:

1 -- Economic growth is the bottom line – but we live in a finite world. Growth gone wild in the human body becomes cancerous, and if we look around we can see all sorts of cancerous things taking root in our world right now because of the idea that the economy has to grow -- everything from environmental degradation to outright war. But economic growth can’t be limitless no matter what consumer culture says, because of our planet's limits.

2 -- I am what I own – Am I really? I am God’s child, and beloved by God. That’s my truest identity. What I own is just possessions, not me.

3 -- More is better – But we only have so much room in our homes and lives. Too many possessions to keep track of and too many activities only stress us out.

4 -- Convenience is extremely important – but when convenience trumps care for our world and each other, disaster often strikes. There are thousands of examples, but remember the garment factory in Bangladesh that collapsed in April 2013? That disaster can be linked to greed and the North American desire for inexpensive clothing made offshore where we usually don't see the impacts of poor labour conditions.

5 -- I’ve gotta be on the cutting edge – Do I really? Will I die if I don’t have the latest gimmick or gadget?

6-- Every person is an island – Consumer culture wants us to think this way so we all have our very own snowblower. But cooperation, sharing and interdependence cut consumerism out of the way we go about meeting our needs.

7 -- The earth is for my use – It says so in the first chapter of the bible, doesn’t it? Genesis 1: 26 "Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
How different our world might be if the person who wrote Genesis used different words: Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air....”

8 -- I deserve the best – This sense of entitlement is huge. "I deserve a Mexican vacation." But if God loves everyone as much as God loves me, then we're all entitled to equal shares of God's love. I don't think Mexico has room for all of the nearly 7.3 people on the planet to go for a tropical vacation...

Consumer culture wants us to focus on possessing as much as possible and living an easy life, but that’s definitely not Jesus’ focus, is it? Can you imagine what he would say about consumer culture? I suspect it would be something like what he told the money changers in the temple when he turned over their tables! Another paraphrase:  "My world shall be a world of goodness, but you are turning it into a den of thieves!"

And Jesus isn’t the only one who wasn’t about consumerism. Most religions in world history have understood the importance of simplicity, and lived it with varying degrees of success. Probably one of the most effective leaders of the last 100 years who lived a life of simplicity was Mahatma Ghandi, and one of his followers, a fellow named Richard Gregg, came up with a definition of the kind of life Ghandi lived. I’d like to share it here because I think the founders of other faiths lived that kind of life too. Gregg’s definition contains the essence of the kind of life to which people of faith are called. He called it Voluntary Simplicity, and here's a summary of the concept:



Richard Gregg says that it’s up to each person to determine his or her life’s purpose, and to simplify accordingly so that the purpose can be achieved. As Catholics and Christians, we’ve heard many times that our purpose is to know, love and serve God, especially in each other and in the poor. The accumulation of possessions and the unbridled use of creation to satisfy our wants aren’t even mentioned!

So, with that long introduction behind us, how can we go about applying simplicity to our lives this Lent? How is God calling us to a simpler life? How can we know and love and serve God, each other and the poor in a simple way?

Living simply isn’t always easy, but it is very satisfying to know that in living a simple life, we are doing our best to leave our planet in better shape for our children and the generations to follow. We are also living in closer solidarity with those who have less, we are cutting down on the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate change, and we are creating community through interdependence with friends and neighbours. Basically, we are respecting God’s many gifts to us by not taking them for granted, but rather, by using them as wisely as we can. It requires effort instead of taking the convenient way out, as consumer culture has conditioned us to do.

One of the first things my husband and I did in putting voluntary simplicity to work in our lives was to take inventory of our life as a family and how we are treating God’s creation. There are many ways to do it, but if you’ve never taken a detailed look at your life, click here for one you might consider checking out... it’s a tool designed to help us calculate our ecological footprint. The link leads to a map of the world and lets you plug in information, as much or as little as you choose, about your life. There’s lots to learn on the website by changing the values, trying different possibilities. It helps us to see whether we are using our fair share of the earth’s resources – or not. If you have time, it’s a most interesting exercise, and it carries all sorts of suggestions for simplifying our lives and reducing the impact we have on God’s creation.

Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty of finding God’s will for us in a simpler life.

There are hundreds of possibilities. Most of the one's I've chosen to list here have to do with ways that God might be calling me to declutter my interior and exterior life so that I can see and hear what I’m called to do as God’s beloved.

Could God be calling me this Lent to recognize my true riches – to be more aware of the relationships that are important to me? It’s easy to take them for granted, to assume they’ll always be there and engage in those things that entertain us for hours on end. In our “plugged-in” society, Lent might be a good time to unplug from the TV, computer, or smart phone and actually engage in face-to-face time. Or in silence, with God.

Could God be calling me this Lent to be more mindful of the many gifts I’ve been given through God’s goodness? We take so much of life for granted. One example is food. How often do we really sit down and savour what we are eating?

And how often do we think about where our food is coming from? I’d like to suggest, as a Lenten practice, to start a little pot of herbs that can grow on a windowsill. By planting a little basil or oregano, we can observe and appreciate God’s work of making things grow, and we can participate in the production of a little bit of food, from soil to table. I like to grow sandwich sprouts all winter. And maybe it would be a good time to try a few more vegetarian meals, because animal products cost our planet much more than vegetables.

Could God be calling me this Lent to consider my brothers and sisters who aren’t as fortunate as I am, and to share my good fortune and well-being with them somehow? Lent is a good time to learn about the programs offered by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (see www.devp.org) and to support their efforts to assist the small family farms that feed 70% of the world’s population.

Could God be calling me this Lent to engage in more just and equitable consumption when I do have to buy and use things? Could this be a time when I learn about where the things I buy come from, and whether the labour practices involved in their production are fair? Lent is a good time to choose only Fair Trade coffees, teas, sugars, etc. To shop in stores that engage in fair treatment of their employees both here and abroad. To support small businesses and buy local. To remember that cheaper is not better if it’s doing local business people out of their livelihoods.

Could God be calling me this Lent to give serious thought to the way I use the earth’s resources, especially water, electricity, and fossil fuels? Do I waste more than I should? Lent could be a good time to install devices that help me save resources, to look into green energy, and to use public transportation, walk, or carpool instead of driving an SOV (single occupant vehicle). I could also pay closer attention to what I throw away, because there is no “away” – everything the garbage guys pick up has to go somewhere. And everything I waste is a bit of God's creation that hasn't been properly appreciated, forcing the earth to have to work harder to produce more. As a Master Composter/Recycler volunteer, I often say that waste is the forgotten social justice issue.

***

These are just a few possibilities, twenty minutes worth, really, that I shared with a small group at church. I'll bet you can think of hundreds more. The bottom line is that we only need "enough" to live a happy life, and that really, simplifying our lives is what makes room for the love that satisfies our deepest needs. 

As St. Teresa of Avila liked to say, God alone fills us.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A song for Helena

On Sunday afternoon, our L'Arche community leader started to sing a little song to Helena, and it has stayed with me ever since. I made a simple video version so you can hear it too.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqR3ddqLeBQ

Beautiful, beautiful, Jesus is beautiful
and Jesus makes beautiful things of my life.
Carefully touching me, causing my eyes to see
that Jesus makes beautiful things of my life.

It really is a perfect song for Helena's situation -- God has taken very good care of her. We don't know much about her life before she came to L'Arche 40 years ago, but we can guess that she didn't have the happiest childhood. A friend of mine took Helena to visit her brother 18 years ago, and it seemed he didn't know how to interact with her even then. Going back 84 years, it's too easy to imagine farmer parents not knowing what to do with a child who doesn't develop in the same way as their other children -- and how people who didn't understand would tease and make fun of her. She has a temper, and a stubborn streak a mile long, but in L'Arche she is spoken to fondly even now, and is definitely loved.

As are we all, by the Beautiful One who fashions wondrous things out of imperfections, if only we let it be so.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Walking with Helena

Image result for palliative careMuch of my moodling these days is taking place at Helena's bedside. As much as we all want her to recover from her pneumonia, her 84-year-old kidneys are failing, and without constant oxygen, her blood oxygen level drops rapidly. It seems that she's on her final journey.

I've spent ten hours with her over the last five days, singing and playing my guitar, chatting with others who visit, telling and hearing stories about her. She is resting comfortably in palliative care, still hearing all that goes on around her, I suspect, and gently engaging in the mysterious work of dying.

What has touched me most deeply is how everyone who comes interacts with her. Helena is alone in the world as far as having blood relatives goes, but she is definitely not alone thanks to L'Arche. On Sunday afternoon, I watched as three young women and one young man fussed over her, applying lotion and powder, smoothing her hair, moistening her lips, kissing her forehead and speaking so tenderly that she must know that she is beloved. We prayed over her, sang her favourite songs, and laughed about things she has said and done in the past, celebrating our friend as best we could, while she is still with us.

She is on a journey, and we are walking with her as far as we can. It's just the last few steps that are only hers to take.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A happy tune for a Sunday

My dear friend Charleen still forwards me the best emails. Here's a video that she sent me last week (made by a man named Isaac, who is the nephew of her sister's friend, I think?? An aspiring musician with considerable talent, for sure). I've watched it several times, just because people are so interesting and the tune is catchy and uplifting. Enjoy!

Friday, February 13, 2015

What a little yarn can do...


Shadow has found himself a sunbeam, and I'm doing laundry this morning, and finishing a project. For Christmas, I got my honey some 10 lb (4.5 kg) weights, second hand. They were a bit rusty and rough, so I found some yarn left over from a toque making project and covered the lumpy and bumpy ends of the barbells. They look a little like flowers or something now. I asked my man if perhaps he wanted me to find a different colour, but his comment was, "These will wake me up in the mornings!" so nothing extra was spent to renovate the weights. They won't be scratching any surfaces, at least. Now we'll see if he actually uses them...









I get a charge out of the amazing projects some people come up with using a little wool. In downtown Edmonton last winter (or was it the winter before?) Robertson Wesley United Church had a whimsical display around their building, with a few trees covered in knitting and crocheting, and a woolen sign on the fence saying, "Communknitty."


In a similar style, the tree above is crocheted, a definite double-take maker, part of a fundraiser for victims of domestic violence in Indiana, in which artists designed sweaters for 23 trees, and people voted for their favourites by donation to the fundraiser. Isn't this wild?!

Of course, trees and nature don't need embellishment, so I think I'll stick with practical projects. Have a good weekend, all!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The healing power of community

Helena*, the oldest member of our L'Arche community, suddenly took sick last week. Unfortunately, her common cold became pneumonia in a hurry, and on Saturday morning, she was taken to the hospital because she wasn't doing well. Over the following days, her oxygen levels dropped, her heart seemed to be affected, and yesterday the doctor told the community leader that she might not recover.

Emails went out in the afternoon to let everyone in L'Arche know that Helena wasn't doing well, and to invite them to pay her a visit, though she wasn't conscious. Last night, every home sent a little group of visitors to her semi-private room, and though our gatherings were rather subdued because we didn't want to bother the other two ladies sharing the space, people spoke and sang quietly to Helena.

Later in the evening, after most of the others had gone home, I was able to visit and remind her of a few stories from her life that I've heard from others too far away to visit. Before leaving, I kissed my thumb and made the sign of the cross on her forehead. My arm was in the way and I didn't see her reaction, but the two other friends in the room said, "Did you see that? Her eyebrows went up." I laughed and said, "We need to get all the men in the community to come and give her a kiss, and she'll be just fine!"

Helena may have appeared to be sleeping, but all the visitors who came and everything that happened in her little curtained cubicle last night were clearly very important to her. This morning our community leader sent an update saying that when she visited Helena this morning, she was responding to voices, mumbling and opening her eyes, and humming along to "You Are My Sunshine." Her heart's rhythm is stronger and more regular, and antibiotic treatment will continue. I don't think we're saying good bye yet!

It's just another example of the fact that the most potent drug of all is community, also known as human connection. We've seen a similar situation recently in our L'Arche community where Harry*, who suffers from the onset of dementia, had the worst of his symptoms alleviated with the help of a better drug regime and the love of his friends, who never gave up on him even when the situation wasn't looking hopeful.

And this morning, it seemed my thoughts were aligning with the universe yet again when I bumped into an article by Johann Hari. He sees the necessity of community, too, and talks about it in a book he's written about drug addiction and the importance of human connection for recovery. He wrote an excellent summary which you can access by clicking here. It hits upon the truth, a truth that the L'Arche community discovers over and over again -- every day, really:

There is incredible power in community.

*I use pseudonyms online in place of the names of my L'Arche friends.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Six wrongs don't make a right

"When we listen to stories of terrible pain and we know we can't do anything about it, we touch our own vulnerability. We have heard the scream of pain, but we don't know what to do with it. None of us knows what to do with the deep brokenness of our world. Maybe that realization can bring us back to community. We can do nothing on our own. We need somewhere to be together."
--Jean Vanier, "Living Gently in a Violent World," p. 67

It seems Canada's Supreme Court has been listening to many stories of pain, but has somehow missed the point. Vulnerability scares people into trying to end the world's deep brokenness, the quicker the better, rather than find a way through it together. So while I'm all for compassion when it comes to people facing terminal illness, I struggle with the wrongness of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in favour of physician-assisted suicide because of six bits of wrong-headed reasoning, and there are possibly a few more I haven't thought of yet.

Wrong #1: Every death is horrible and painful. Not true. Excellent palliative care is the best alternative to physician-assisted dying. If you've ever visited a hospice, you know what I mean. The doctors, nurses and counsellors there are committed to making death's transition easier for both patients and their families. They have many means at their disposal to bring comfort to everyone involved, and they generally excel at pain and symptom management. Dying provides many opportunities for people to say what needs to be said and feel what needs to be felt, though I am well aware that many people don't want to talk or feel when it comes to death. But why short ourselves of the awareness of the depth of our love and life? They are beautiful things.

Wrong #2: It’s better to die quickly. Really? It may seem that way when a person is faced with a frightening diagnosis, and unfortunately, the passion of the moment can lead to poor choices. Fear of a painful death, whether through terminal illness or serious psychological suffering, can create the conditions for a person to choose death over life. But by choosing death, they may be robbing themselves and others of a whole spectrum of life's joys.
Had numerous friends of mine chosen death when they heard the word cancer, they would have missed knowing the joy of seeing their grandchildren. Their families wouldn't have the many cherished memories and stories shared in the dying process. But physical and psychological pain were managed with medication, conversation, grace, good humour, and deep love... all things made more available through good palliative care. 
Another very dear friend of mine talked about ending her life when she became physically disabled, but thank God she changed her mind! She is an absolute joy to so many of us who know her, and though she doesn't get around the way she used to, she realizes now that she is still a very important and valued presence in our lives. I don’t want others like her to choose the wrong option and impoverish their loved ones... which leads right into...

Wrong #3: Assisted suicide is a personal choice. The decision to die is never strictly an individual thing. It may involve one person's body, but what about the well-being of their immediate community of family and friends? When one person chooses to die, we all die a little. Every family that has been touched by suicide knows about this. There are just too many "if onlies" and "what ifs..."

Wrong #4: No one would choose to live like thatInfirmity and disability can be frightening to a society that is used to being in control, but heaven knows that really, we control nothing! In and of themselves, illness and disability are NOT reasons to hasten death. If they were, I would be short dozens of wonderful friends. Our physical ailments and impairments allow us to care for each other, to be more human and fallible, to support and to be supported by the wisdom that not every life needs to be productive or efficient according to society's rather skewed social norms. Life is not only for the clean, quick and competent, or we're all in big trouble at the first sign of personal weakness.

Wrong #5: Turning our healers into killers is no big deal. Whoa! Now that really goes against the grain, and the Hippocratic Oath. The words of the Supreme Court ruling that allow assisted suicide in cases of "a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability)" are so subjective that almost anything can be argued to fit the category. I worry about my GP and how many times she will be asked to help depressed patients end their lives. I love my doctor, and wouldn't want to see her put through that, or any other possible ethical issues.

Wrong #6: Waiting for death is a waste of time. But wait a second -- death is a teacher, too. One whom, it seems, we fear. But there are many gifts in its hands, if we can steel ourselves to reach for them. Humility. The ability to let go of ego. To let go, period. A deeper belief in unending love. A greater appreciation for life. An experience of grief that can be transformed into a peace or joy we've never known before. A foretaste of what's beyond. An assurance that all can be well because Someone Bigger Than Us is in charge. Of course, that's just my faith coming through.

All these things said, I don't know how I would fare when faced with a terminal diagnosis. But I suspect I would want a place of comfort and consolation where I could be surrounded by people I love and have my pain eased. Somewhere, as Jean Vanier says above, to be together. Maybe it's time to write a few letters asking for more government funding to be directed into hospices and palliative care. 

The decision has come down, but I have a hard time trusting that the laws made to govern euthanasia in our country will go far enough to protect the vulnerable, especially since our government seems so fixed on its bottom line when it comes to healthcare. And I'm not sure we can get this cat back into the bag any more.

What do you think?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Praying with song and silence

Taizé Prayer will be held at Hope Lutheran Church (5104 106 Avenue) tonight at 7 p.m. We really enjoyed our prayer there last year because of the community’s warm hospitality on a cold evening, and Reinhart’s amazing piano skills! Not sure if he’ll be playing with us tonight, but it’s a possibility! All are welcome!

For those who are unable to join us this evening, here’s a little video made in Taizé last May featuring Frère Ghislain, who led scripture study for the adults when I was there in June. A gentle, humble man, as you can see, whose passion for unity, communion and reconciliation is visible when you hear him. After a few days attending his sessions, that passion rubbed off on me, too, which is why I hope to be part of an ecumenical Taizé prayer group for as long as I live.

The music in the video is an Italian chant called Tu sei sorgente viva, which you can hear more clearly in the second video -- You are the living source, you are fire, you are love... Come Holy Spirit!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Simple Suggestion #226... Craft wisely

These little handmade cotton dishcloths are my favourite ones, better than any storebought ones I've found. They were crafted by my cousin, Dallas, as a little surprise that came in the mail one day. My girlfriend Cathy sent me some knitted ones, too, and I've been known to make my own on occasion.

I wouldn't call myself a particularly crafty person, but I admire people who are -- if what they craft is useful. The thing is, our world is already too full of useless stuff, so I'm afraid it's not easy for me to appreciate pom pom leprechauns or yarn wrapped antlers or other cute, crafty things -- unless they serve a purpose. Otherwise, it's all contributing to the state of "stuffocation" in my previous Simple Suggestion.

Of course, there are thousands of websites that suggest crafting possibilities, even "cool new items" you can make by reusing recycled items, but I always have to ask:

1. Is the item being made really practical and helpful in daily life?
2. If I'm making something for someone else, is it actually something I would use myself? or
3. Is it cute clutter that's likely to end up in a landfill when its owner gets tired of it?

Better to make a usable quilt, like my cousin Cyla.


Or something like my friend Nicola's cute clock (she of of Geekware.ca fame)
 that hangs over my hubby's desk.


 My sister made this gorgeous christening gown for my babies, and I consider it an heirloom -- 

I'll pass it on to somebody special for their baby someday...  

and if I walk around my house, I'm sure to find a few dozen other examples of useful things made by people I love.

Used to be that people crafted items all the time because that was the only way they could have what they needed. Knowing how to make things from scratch, in a sustainable manner, is a useful skill. It could be argued that old-fashioned activities like sewing, knitting, canning and woodwork have been essential to the survival of the human race, but these days we have the market economy to provide things we can't make ourselves. I'm thinking now, with markets failing all over the place, that it would be really good to start brushing up on basic skills to do with clothing, feeding and furnishing our own homes...

The twin baby daughters of a friend at work recently moved me into action. I've enjoyed the process of relearning to crochet, and the thought of the little ones falling asleep holding onto these super-soft, fleece-like, non-identical snuggle blankets makes me happy. But I'm not about to go wild with my projects. I'm meeting a need, and that's enough until somebody else has a baby, maybe.


There are other things to be done... like crocheting feet for my kitchen chairs, and making a cover for Lee's weights so they don't scratch the floor when he sets them down. And I have a sewing machine downstairs that should be repairing clothing items -- though I tend to think of that more as a chore than as a craft...

Creating/crafting can be fun, but it's always better when it serves a need rather than a want... Of course, needs and wants are best when they're one and the same.

What's your favourite wise and crafty creative thing to do?

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A midwinter summer's day

What to do when it's -20, there's a biting wind, and it's a day off school? Find somewhere warm to hang out, of course.

So Julia and I took a twenty-five minute trek into the cold wind, and ended up at the Muttart Conservatory for a lovely lunch and tour of the four botanical pavilions -- arid, temperate, show and tropical. It was a lovely way to spend a chilly afternoon, as you'll see by the pictures below...


Love the stained glass salamander in the arid pavilion...


and the cacti of all sizes...


and shapes...


The temperate zone had orchids galore...


and camellias and budding rhododendrons...


and a glimpse of daffs and tulips just coming up!


But the show pavilion, as usual, was the real stunner!
Celebrating the Lunar (Chinese) New Year, it was a treat for the senses,
bright and fragrant. Did you know the year of the goat starts February 19th?


The little gong made wonderful sounds...


Something smells really good here...


Gorgeous lanterns...


and prayers and wishes for a new year full of peace and prosperity...


A happy Buddha...


and even a terracotta soldier and horse!

The warmest place was the jungle... 
the humidity was a wonderful feeling in our dry Alberta winter!




We certainly didn't want to leave our garden retreat,
but the wind was behind us on the way home,
so the walk was almost pleasant.

It was a wonderful, summery way to spend a wintry afternoon.
I highly recommend it, or a visit to a greenhouse,
especially if you're feeling the winter blahs.

Thanks to Julia for all the lovely pictures shared here!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Operaaaahhhhhhhh

Last night, my eldest daughter and I went to see The Magic Flute, a beautiful production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's famous work mounted by Edmonton Opera. It was a delight in so many ways... but mainly for the amazement it offers as incredible music written by a composer that pushed the boundaries of music in his day. He was probably the Elvis of his era, the guy who revolutionized the European music scene of the time.

I love opera, though I'll admit to having my moments in every show where I just wish they'd stop singing the same words over and over. The trick then is to stop listening to the words at that point, and pay attention to the music. What are those violins doing? Listen to how that flute underlines the heroine's sadness. Pay attention to how the clarinets' and oboes' melodies intertwine. But don't close your eyes too long, or you might just drift away...

The Magic Flute was my Christmas present from Christina, and a perfect gift it was, holding many moments of amazement and amusement. Sure, the story is silly in spots, but that's Mozart's lightheartedness coming through -- and the God of life certainly didn't create all doom and gloom, so why should Mozart?

Here's a lovely bit -- the duet of birdcatcher Papageno and his little wife Papagena at the end of the opera. I love their little "papping" bit at the beginning, the silliness of them singing about their soon-to-be family of "kinderlein" all named Papageno and Papagena after themselves -- and the expressions on these faces are just wonderful. Enjoy!