Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Simple Suggestion #260... Have a chat with nature

Walking with Shadow-pup is always an adventure. These days, when it's chilly in the mornings, it usually takes a bit of wildlife to get him to stop dragging his feet (I guess he'd rather be curled up on the foot of someone's bed than hiking around the river valley with me). So yesterday, he didn't really get moving until he spotted the mother of all ravens. I swear, the bird was bigger than he was, sitting five feet up on a fence, and the silly dog ran at it as though he could take the bird down.

He can usually scare off crows, magpies, jack rabbits and squirrels. They fly or run away, and Shadow feels like he's the big dog on the block. But the raven just looked down its beak at the Shadow, as if to say, "That all you got? Really?"


It was a magnificent bird, and I told it so -- shiny black feathers, intelligent eyes, long, strong beak. I also told it how much I appreciate its presence in the neighbourhood, especially its sense of humour and play. I love to watch it ride the air currents way above the trees, and it left me lots of presents in the birdbath over the summer -- a few shiny trinkets, candy wrappers, and the odd half mouse, yuck. Anyway, I spoke to it, and it listened intently for a few moments, unafraid, and then Shadow and I moved on, the dog frustrated that he couldn't budge the bird, the bird looking like it wondered what that was all about.

Having wildlife around is always a good thing because it reminds us human beings that we aren't the only pebbles on the beach -- that this planet isn't just for our use, but to be shared with all the other creatures around us. If we could all see the intrinsic beauty and value in a raven, a rabbit, or a rosebush, you can bet we'd be more likely to treat everyone and everything with deeper respect.

So I dare you. Go outside. Find a tree, or a chickadee, or some other living thing and tell it that it's a valuable part of your existence. Perhaps the best way to change the world is to increase our own appreciation and gratitude for its myriad forms of life.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent Hope

There's something about the little clip below that brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it. The music, the colours, the joy of the people, the beauty of creation all around them, and the hope in their eyes... it all adds up to an incredible celebration of life. I don't generally promote movies in my moodlings, but I just have to share this joyful piece.

Yesterday our family went to see Moana, the latest animated Disney movie, a gorgeous story of a young woman with a special connection to the ocean who reaches beyond her limits for the sake of her people. It's a perfect story for our time, because if there's anything our world needs now, it's people who look past our world's present difficulties to imagine and create better conditions for all living beings on Mother Earth. Pope Francis would agree, I'm sure!

Unfortunately, over the last several weeks, as our part of the world has been moving into winter darkness, it seems our news cycles have, too. There hasn't been much positivity anywhere, and I know that all the negative news and our sunless days have been dragging me and many others down. Sometimes it seems we forget that our human race has the power to flip things around.

Thank heavens for Advent! As it begins this weekend, let's put on a mantle of hope, a more positive outlook, and recall that about 2000 years ago, the people of Israel were living in the darkness of Roman occupation when a poor young refugee family found room in a stable to birth hope, love, joy and peace for the world. And let's look for every opportunity to bring those same gifts to our lives and the lives of those around us. Let's reach beyond our limits and follow The Way that God showed us through a wondrous child.

Happy Advent! We know The Way!

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Black Friday prayer

How much did we pay
to see a new day?
It's a gift.

A breath of air? Free.
But we often don't see
that it's a gift.

A life lived in peace,
the warmth of our beds,
the food on our table.
the roof over our heads.
all gift.

But through no fault of their own
many children have grown
to adulthood with
less than they need...
Still, we can go out in haste
to add to the waste
of our earth
through excessive greed.

Too often we are told
that with the first one sold
the second is half price.
O God, help us to see
that your best gifts are free
and to settle for our given slice.

Remind us, O God,
that it's not for sale,
your beautiful creation.
It's already ours,
to be protected and loved
and kept the next generation.

Our sense of possession
was not your intention
because Everything is gift!

Teach us how
to remember that now...

+Amen

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Celebrate "Buy Nothing Day" with a little ditty

Most people know by now that the Friday after American Thanksgiving (November 25th this year) is the consumer craze known as Black Friday, the day when stores are supposed to make so much money that their ledgers go from red to black ink. But the craziness that goes with those sales turns me off -- I've always much preferred to celebrate Buy Nothing Day, a day to remember that the season we call Christmas was never intended to be an all-out shopping frenzy.

In the spirit of simple living and saving the planet for future generations, I offer you a little jingle to encourage wiser consumption over the next several weeks (well, really, forever). There's absolutely no shame in buying useful items as Christmas gifts. Or in giving an experience, like a concert ticket. Or a favourite food item. Or something homemade. In fact, the world would be a much healthier place if we purchased fewer resource-gobbling big ticket items and used less stuff every Christmas. Instead of presents, why not give your presence to those you love? If you're looking for gift possibilities and other suggestions that don't ask so much of our earth's resources, that's what this Simple Christmas Ideas page is all about.

Below is the promised jingle, also known as "Do I Need It?". A remix with a marvelous Master Composter/Recycler chorus and new images is on its way, being created by  my daughter Christina and her boyfriend, Landon, as part of a Christmas gift they promised me last year (see, they came up with a very creative gift idea that cost them some time and effort rather than money or earthly resources -- good kids!). The new Do I Need It? video will be coming soon to a moodling near you... that's a promise. In the meantime, sing along with the old one (which has reached 24,500 YouTube views) -- I dare you!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Simple Suggestion #259... Stick with soap bars

There's good old-fashioned bar soap, made from coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, shea butter, lye, water, and maybe a bit of essential oil (aroma compounds from plants).

Then there's aqua, sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate, lauramide DEA, glycol stearate, sodium chloride, cocamidopropyl betaine, citric acid, parfum, DMDM hydantoin, polyquaternium-7, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, tetrasodium EDTA, glycerine and hydrolized silk.

Seems almost like another language, doesn't it? But it's actually the ingredients that make up the liquid "soft" soap in my bathroom. I know that Aloe Barbadensis is an aloe plant, and who hasn't heard of glycerine? Aqua is water in Italian, right? And citric acid can be found in any citrus fruit. Sodium chloride is NaCl if I remember chem class -- salt? But the rest? How can something with that many chemically-unintelligible names be good for me? If I'm living simply, can't my soap be simpler?

Actually, our soap has been simpler for a few years already. Back in 2009, my youngest child had very dry hands and brown rings around her wrists. I mentioned it to my mom, who happened to mention it to my aunt, who said, "tell Maria to get rid of liquid hand soap. It's full of chemicals that have given my grandchildren the same symptoms, but when they started using bar soap, they improved dramatically."

So I brought out the old soap dish and got Julia to use bar soap. As my aunt said, the brown wrist rings and dry hands improved dramatically. But the rest of my family liked the convenience of soft soap, especially in the shower, so I left it there, and kept using it myself.

What's interesting is that this fall we also installed a soap dish in the shower, and since I've started using bar soap instead of the soft soap there, the winter eczema I've always had on my lower legs hasn't appeared as it usually does when the weather gets cold. It's the first time in years that the skin on on my calves hasn't erupted into itchy welts that last until spring. So even just washing my upper body with that liquid soap and having the suds rinse down my legs was having an impact I didn't realize.

What can I think except that all those fancy soft-soap chemicals listed above are a poor substitute for solid soap with fewer ingredients, the kind that comes in many colours and essential oil fragrances at a farmer's market, or in a little box at your grocery store. And a little box or ribbon around a soap bar is much less packaging for the earth to reabsorb than what you get from plastic soft soap dispensers and bottles. (I've noticed that kids' toothpastes are also using pump bottles now, even though our landfills already groan with all the plastic they hold.)

So, today's suggestion: Let's do the earth and our bodies a favour. Use bar soap, preferrably locally made. It costs the earth a lot less in packaging and transportation, and it's probably a lot better for our skin.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The wisdom of non-discrimination on a Sunday

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk and religious leader who ranks right up there with truly good and holy people like Pope Francis and Jean Vanier, in my books. Fondly known as Thay, which means teacher, he tells the beautiful story below in his new book, At Home in the World:


Lately I've been thinking a lot about human beings and our left-or-right, black-and-white ways of thinking. We like to divide things into opposing categories rather than try to see everything as one part of a much greater whole. Unfortunately this is where so much of our world's suffering arises.

But if the human race is to survive the challenges it is facing on so many different fronts -- ecological, social, financial, intellectual, spiritual, political, etc., we need to look beyond our own prejudices and our tendency to exclude those whose outlooks and opinions are different than ours. When we have the wisdom of non-discrimination, according to Thay, we don't suffer. Whether we tend towards the right or the left, we need to remember that the suffering or happiness we feel or cause isn't ours alone. Both sides are affected, and both sides can help the other to heal.

With this in mind in the week ahead, let's practice inclusiveness rather than discrimination. Talk to a stranger and learn about his or her challenges. Look at opinions different than our own. Smile at someone who needs a smile of their own. Hold open a door. Offer a helping hand. Show genuine concern for someone different than us by trying to understand their point of view. There are so many ways to reach across the chasms that divide people.

It's just a matter of reaching.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Celebrating "stay-home-mom-ness"

A screensaver someone made on my computer one day...
It makes me a little crazy how stay-home-moms are belittled or ignored by society so much of the time. I've heard more talk shows and read more magazine articles about women finding themselves only through having a meaningful role in the work force rather than the alternative of full-time parenting. I've stood on the edges of conversations with women and men who delight in one-upping each other when it comes to stories about juggling home life, kids and work life. And I've watched many eyes glaze over when I've responded to the inevitable question about my career with the words, "I'm a mom." In my experience, people know how to engage in conversation around occupational activities -- that is, jobs -- but aren't very interested in stay-home-mom-ness. It's like they're afraid I'll fill them in on distasteful events involving toilet training or the latest school field trip if they show any interest in my daily existence.

But being a stay-home-mom is one of the most interesting and challenging vocations there is. Hats off to the women who work full-time and raise a family, too -- I don't know how they do it, though there have been times I might have liked to trade them places for a few minutes just for the sake of having an adult conversation or an unusual opportunity to express my intelligence and creativity with colleagues from my own demographic. Other than that, though, being a mom is enough of a vocation for me, though I almost gave it all up for the almighty buck.

Eleven years ago, when our youngest child started grade one, I was feeling some invisible, intangible pressure to get back into the work force, to develop a real CV, get a real job and make real money. Somehow, I had bought into the idea that staying home, cooking meals, running a household and looking after my children was like being a "kept woman," and I didn't like it. I overlooked the importance of making breakfast, helping with school lunches, walking kids to the bus, doing the laundry or other menial tasks, planning supper, driving to swimming lessons, helping with homework, getting food on the table by the time my husband got home, supervising the doing of dishes, making sure baths happened, reading bedtime stories, and saying night prayers. That stuff was all just routine.

That's when I met a new friend, Mark. When we had the inevitable conversation about my career and I admitted to being "just a stay-home-mom," Mark said, "Just? I'm sure you're so much more than you realize." When I told him I was thinking about getting back into the workforce because my youngest was in grade one and the kids didn't need me so much, he smiled and said, "Why would you want to do that?" He proceeded to lay out for me the hidden costs of working outside the home. The wardrobe. The meals. The after school care costs, and the fact that strangers would have a hand in raising my children. The transportation required. Less time with my family, and more of my time with them used for keeping the household running.

Somehow, I wasn't quite convinced. I didn't want to putter around a child-empty house for 6 hours a day doing the repetitive maintenance required to keep a family going. Working outside the home looked a lot more glamourous, and definitely paid a lot better! Maybe we could afford to take the kids to Disneyland if I brought in a salary! But I didn't go job-hunting right away because my resumé-writing skills were rusty...

A few weeks later I mentioned my lack of a resumé to Mark in an email, and he helped me out in that department, too, by sending me the following description of my "occupation" since my first child had been born 12 years prior:
- Family Life Coordinator, consulting in the areas of Childhood and Adolescent Development, with on-the-job training as Conflict Resolution Specialist. 
- Experienced Nutrition, Activity and Special Events Planner. 
- Active Household Sustainability Technician and Marriage Enrichment Technologist.
- Futurist and Community Development Expert employing Integrated Maternal Holistic Healing Skills, with continual on-site professional development. 
- Progressively more organic, planetary conscious, Spirit-channeling, omni-practitional, hyper-evolved and carbon neutral.
I laughed with delight. I was all that? I was all that! And some of those six hours a day without kids became a creative time for me, a time for writing and volunteering (especially with school field trips). None of it was glamourous, but my presence to my family was more important than an impressive CV.

And so what if I didn't get paid in cash? I was paid in hugs, and fortunately, my husband's salary was enough for us to live on. We didn't need me to work for the sake of trips to Disneyland if I could be with our kids and make our house a home with an attentive adult when they were in it. I suspect Mark wrote my "job description" to make that point.

Eleven years later, my family still hasn't gone to Disneyland, but we've managed pretty well on Lee's salary. Our home has been a place of sanctuary, sanity and stability (most days, anyway) because I've been around to nurse sick kids, welcome school chums, keep appointments, bake bread and cookies, grow vegetables, have repairs done, and run the household instead of trying to fit all those things around work outside the home. And I learned that it really doesn't matter what people think when I tell them I'm a stay-home-mom, as long as our family is happy.

My kids are pretty well grown up now, and I love and am proud of the young people they've turned out to be. Even more, I love that I chose to be with them over the money I could have made or the career ladder I could have climbed. I like to remember how we tended a brood of baby chicks together, our visits to the playground after school, teaching them how to make grilled cheese sandwiches, soothing fevered brows, singing and dancing to their music, driving them to piano lessons, having art sessions at the kitchen table, reading a zillion library books together, play dough parties, and the thousands of conversations about everything and anything when they got home from school. I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

So today, I'm celebrating stay-home-mom-ness! And I cheer for all women (and men) who have made the choice to be with their kids rather than chase the glamour of an occupational title, especially if it has required the sacrifice of some of the less-important things that money can buy. You have given your kids a gift that will mean a lot to them in the future, even if they don't see it right now.

Plus you've got all those million-dollar memories to prove it!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Let's pray for peace

Every week in Taizé, the brothers of the community begin with a prayer for peace on Sunday evening. For the half hour before supper, pilgrims fill the Church of Reconciliation for silent prayer, Imagine a thousand people praying together in silence.

Silence is something that is definitely lacking in our world. It often seems that we are uncomfortable with it, because it feels like an emptiness, a void that needs to be filled somehow. In silence, our own thoughts and anxieties can seem too loud, and rather than pay attention to what's really going on in our souls, we turn on music, or the TV, anything for "background noise" or distraction. We put a wall of sound between ourselves and our hidden depths.

Unfortunately, that wall of sound also gets between us and the voice of God in our lives. We forget the story of Elijah on the mountain, waiting for God:

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before God, but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire, a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. 
--1 Kings 19:11-13 

And then God and Elijah had some time to chat. In the silence.

The brothers of Taizé's silent prayer for peace is an opportunity for pilgrims to sit with their own souls for a while, to confront their own internal struggles and reach for the peace that God alone can give. They know that in a time of silence, our monkey-minds whirl around for a while, but if we give the silence a chance, we can come to a peaceful stillness where God converses with us without using words. Then our anxieties can lift and we can reach a place of true peace, the kind of peace our world really needs these days. At the end of thirty minutes of silence in Taizé, the brothers sang the beautiful chant below, and I found myself moved to tears of happiness.

Tomorrow evening, we will be praying (with a bit more silence than usual) for peace at Holyrood Mennonite Church. Please join us for our ecumenical prayer of silence and songs from Taizé at 7 p.m., followed by friendship and community.

And if you're too far afield to enjoy praying with us, please enjoy Da pacem Domine below and offer your own prayers for peace in our hearts, homes, communities and nations -- our world can always use them.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

#As I am #6... If I Were a Color

When you have a disability, people with small hearts can be cruel. That's why it's wonderful when people with disabilities are cared for in a loving community like L'Arche. Nagat's story from before L'Arche and her smile now say it all. I especially like the last line of this video. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

We'll be fine

Call me an optimist. I won't argue. It's much better than all the doom and gloom I'm finding on the internet today. Sure, things didn't turn out the way a lot of people (including me) expected or hoped. So now it seems there's a lot of depression, fear or anger taking the wheel because it's too easy to imagine worst case scenarios. The building of walls. The decimation of our climate. The proliferation of nuclear arms. In other words, the end of our world as we know it.

But who is really in charge? The spirit of the world's people. And no matter how decisive an election victory, it's the will of the people that leaders must obey, or they find themselves thrown over in a hurry. The non-violent power of the people is incredibly strong. Remember...

- the suffragettes who got women the vote?
- The Resistance in World War II?
- Ghandi's work for the independence of India?
- Rosa Parks and the March on Washington?
- The nuclear disarmament movements of the 80s?
- "People Power" in the Philippines taking down Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship?
- The Polish Solidarity movement?
- Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid?
- The dismantling of the Berlin Wall?
- The Occupy Movement?
- Idle no more?
- The Paris Climate agreements?
- Click here to see where I found most of these great events and even more.

We human beings are a work in progress, we are more than our elected leaders, and we are the ones who call them to be better than they even know they can be. And, bottom line, every single one of us, leaders included, are brothers and sisters, beloved children of God, so dissing one another is never helpful. Instead, we need to love one another, to stand up for each other, and to remember that it's not "us against them."

It's only ever us.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Love those tamaracks

We're so lucky here in Edmonton to have a river valley with parks full of trees... and I have my favourites. These days, it's the tamarack, a golden-needled beauty that's keeping the fall colour going a few weeks longer.

Tamaracks are deciduous conifers, meaning that they reproduce through seed cones and drop their needles every autumn. I didn't know that one tree could fit both categories! But tamaracks start out with fresh green which becomes a blue green, then gold, and finally you find golden needles all over the ground. The really lovely thing is that the needles are soft, not prickly like many of our pines and spruces, so Shadow-pup can run around under the trees and not end up limping. He also enjoys the chickadees that feed on the seed cones during the winter.

We have several gorgeous tamaracks in one of our favourite river valley parks, and I've been watching their colour come and go over the last weeks. It won't be with us much longer, so I'm enjoying while I can... until the pale green returns next spring. It's nice to see a bit of gold on an overcast day, don't you think?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Love for creation on a Sunday

After watching the video in the previous moodling (still available, at least until tomorrow) I feel the need to show a little love for creation. This morning we had the most amazing sunrise, and there is glory all around us all the time -- if we just open our eyes.

Andie's Isle is a pretty great little website with a number of gorgeous creation videos. I don't know Andie, but I've seen several of her videos over the years, and she has a really great recent one, The Nature of God, which isn't available on YouTube, but you can click here to see it (thanks again to Charleen for sharing it with me!) It reminded me of Brian Doerksen's Creation Calls, below, so I had to post it a second (or is it third?) time. Not sure who came up with the images, but they did an incredible job of putting it all together, and I think it's worth posting many times.

So here's a little love for creation, and for God this Sunday. Enjoy...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

If you could design a new world...

What if you were given a superpower that would allow you to design a new society? What would your blueprint look like? What would you keep from our present way of life? What would be unnecessary? What would you add?

There's so much dysfunction in our present existence (especially the US election news these days!) that it sometimes looks like the dystopian novels my young adults read. From the disintegration of families to the breakdown of the environment, the polarization in politics to the rampant over-consumption of our earth's resources -- the hectic and harried pace of society as we know it has dragged us further and further from being soulful people who value life in all its forms. You'd think we could come up with a better plan, no?

Lucky for us, Mark A. Burch has written his own alternate society in his new novel, Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia, which is being released this week. It's a fascinating story of the beginning of something better than life as we presently know it, a renovated existence where people pull together, where everyone has enough, where humans cooperate with nature, and where beauty is appreciated and cultivated daily. I was fortunate to read early drafts of the story, and my initial response to Mark was, "Where is this place? I'll be there in a heartbeat!"

Of course, Mark's view of a simpler world is one that has resonated with me ever since I attended a workshop he gave on Voluntary Simplicity and Personal Wellness, ten years ago this month. He was kind enough to stay in touch because his workshop filled me with many questions, and thanks to the emails that flew back and forth between us, a deep friendship formed. Mark's desire for a world less focused on the material and more in tune with the values of simplicity and sufficiency will always ring true for people who give serious consideration to life's true purpose.

Besides being a wise man in the areas of simplicity and sustainability, Mark is also an excellent writer, having been published many times. It's not easy to pen a good novel that teaches without being overly preachy, but there's an abundance of fresh ideas and suspense in Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia to carry the reader through to the story's end. Chapters begin with wisdom sayings that seem to come from sages beyond our time. The establishment of Euterra is juxtaposed with its later existence and the arrival of an "outsider" whose appearance threatens the community's existence, making for a real page turner. And the bonus is that there's another book in the works, if readers want more!

I would love to see this book become a best-seller, simply because it carries the seeds for many long-overdue conversations about the kind of world we really want to inhabit. We're used to the status quo, to feeling like we have no choice but to go with the flow, but it's past time that we begin to envision and build a better future than the one that's coming down the pipe whether we want it or not. Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia is available via Kindle or in hard copy, with the possibility that Euterra book clubs could be the launch pad for a better world (book club resources are available on Mark's website).

For more information, see http://markaburch.ca/, or visit Euterra on Facebook and meet Nota Dorne, one of the book's characters.

Better yet, pick up the book for yourself, share it with friends, and start imagining and creating the world you really want to inhabit...