Friday, December 31, 2010

A good Christmas message

My uncle sent me the link to this video. If all politicians were like Brad Wall, giving thought to peace on earth, single-minded trust, perfect love, hope, gratitude, and doing our part to share our blessings with the less fortunate, this world would be a much different place. Well done, Premier Wall. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, too.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Birth-days and birthdays

On my daughters' birthdays, my sisters never fail to wish me a Happy Birth-day. The first time they did it, sixteen years ago, it took me a few minutes to understand that they were referring to the fact that it was the first anniversary of the day I had given birth.

Seventeen years ago today, I became a mother, and my husband became a father. Together, we went through eight hours of rather intense labour (I had another eight hours of contractions before that but tried to sleep through them because I didn't think they were the real thing). In late afternoon, we received a small bundle of joy who was whisked away from us rather quickly because there were some concerns about her breathing. Thankfully, it was nothing serious, mostly ironed out before the euphoria of giving birth had worn off.

While I had nine months to get used to the idea of being a parent, being constantly reminded of my forthcoming status by the pokes and prods within me, parenthood was thrust upon my husband quite suddenly. I must say he's handled it very well. He's a good dad, even though the illogical thinking of our girls has driven him a little bit crazy at times.

In the last seventeen years, we have seen our eldest grow beyond the inevitable milestones of many human lives: first "solid" food, first teeth, toilet training, first day of school, first missing tooth, first solo bike ride, first time getting lost, first sleepover, first sweetheart, and most recently, first solo drive to a friend's house.

It's been a real blessing to watch her (and her sisters) growing up. It's been a challenge at times to remember that she's her own person and needs freedom to unfold in her own particular fashion (there have been more than a few "fashion" disputes). She's a generous girl who never wants to say no to anyone or any opportunity, but she's slowly learning her limits. And though we have our times when mother and daughter seem to be engaged in internal eye-rolling contests over each others' weird behaviour, our relationship is a good one.

On New Year's Eve, seventeen years ago, the radio played the Judd's Love Can Build a Bridge as I sat in a hospital room nursing a newborn. I looked into that tiny face, overwhelmed with love and amazement, and prayed that the bridge between her heart and mine would be a good one. Today I thank God for hearing and answering that prayer. The road has its ups and downs, to be sure, but with God's grace, the bridge will hold. I suspect that, tonight at a birthday sing-song party at her grandparents' house, we'll sing the Judd's song, and I'll continue the prayer...

Happy Birthday, Christina!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fun with Christmas carols

Continuing with yesterday's theme of keeping the Christmas carols coming, here's another neat carolling video from an Indiana a cappella group called Straight No Chaser. If you haven't seen them before, you've never heard The Twelve Days of Christmas quite like this!

Here's a more recent one called The Christmas Can-can. I love how it makes fun of "shopping, shopping, shopping"... and the way the intricacy of all these carols being sung at once boggles the mind.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Carry on, carollers!

I'm always bothered by the fact that, once we reach Boxing Day, so many people consider Christmas to be over, when the season is just beginning! Yesterday, the only thing resembling a Christmas Carol on TV was a disposable diaper commercial that had the audacity to steal a line from Silent Night! We drove the five hours home from my in-laws' today, and couldn't find a carol on the radio anywhere. I guess people who frequent the malls and spend time in front of the TV are ready for Christmas to be over, but I'm not! I won't put Christmas to bed until Jesus is baptized on January 9th.

So, carry on, carollers! Here's a gorgeous Christmas song that's not so familiar in North America, sung by the Gloucester Cathedral Choir. Music by Gustav Holst, lyrics by Christina Rosetti. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I can't resist sharing this one! From St. Paul's Arts and Kids in New Zealand...

And here's my favourite Christmas hymn. The words are fantastic; thank you, Marty Haugen! You are a musician and poet extraordinaire. Our family music group sang it at Christ-mass last night:

Awake! Awake and greet the new morn,
For angels herald its dawning,
Sing out your joy, for now he is born,
Behold! The child of our longing.
Come as a baby weak and poor,
To bring all hearts together,
He opens wide the heavenly door
And lives now inside us forever.

To us, to all in sorrow and fear,
Emmanuel comes a-singing,
His humble song is quiet and near,
Yet fills the earth with its ringing;
Music to heal the broken soul
And hymns of loving kindness,
The thunder of his anthems roll
To shatter all hatred and blindness.

In darkest night his coming shall be,
When all the world is despairing,
As morning light so quiet and free,
So warm and gentle and caring.
Then shall the mute break forth in song,
The lame shall leap in wonder,
The week be raised above the strong,
And weapons be broken asunder.

Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night,
Though dark the winter and cheerless,
The rising sun shall crown you with light,
Be strong and loving and fearless:
Love be our song and love our prayer,
And love, our endless story;
May God fill ev'ry day we share,
And bring us at last into glory.

(CBW #303, Awake! Awake and Greet the New Morn, (1983) Text and Tune by Marty Haugen) 

He came to bring us peace and joy, not the kind you see on greeting cards,
but a deeper awareness of ordinary, daily, simple peace and joy
 in the little things of life.
May that peace and joy be with you this holy season and always!

 With love, Maria

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas compassion all year round

This morning at work, I got a glimpse of the ugly side of humanity.

To make the long story short, one of my co-workers has had his mom here with him from Kenya for the past six months. She has been looking after her little grandson while both of his parents work. She was to return to Kenya at the beginning of this month, but became so sick that she was unable to fly home. Her travel insurance expired... and she was diagnosed with colon cancer. On Monday, The Edmonton Journal ran a story about the situation and mentioned some trust funds being established to pay for my friend's mom's surgery. Here's the link:

The ugly side of humanity mentioned earlier arrived in the mail in the form of a letter to The Edmonton Journal, copied to our community leader, in which the sender railed against The Journal and our L'Arche community for bringing attention to a family in dire need. It was a letter full of rancor, sarcasm and vitriol. It's hard to understand why anyone would write such a thing. When I looked at it, all I could see was that the writer is something of a Scrooge who has yet to be converted by the Spirit of Christmas. He obviously doesn't know that people are happier when they live out of compassion rather than judgment and negativity.

Neither the community leader nor I could imagine that any response we made to the letter-writer would satisfy him. He's picking a fight with non-violent people. We shredded the letter. The plan now, more like a New Year's Resolution, is to pray conversion for the man who wrote it, to ask God to lead him to compassion and happiness, and to think compassionate thoughts and "do compassion" myself, all year round.

It's the gentlest way I can think of to counter the ugly side of humanity.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

God speaks...

Today is the longest, darkest day of the year in the northern part of the world, winter at its height. Where I live, we receive only 7 hours and 28 minutes of daylight. The good news is that from this afternoon on, our daylight begins to lengthen again.
What's really interesting to me is that today the Christian lectionary (the scripture readings chosen for each day of the year) has the following as the Old Testament Reading:

The voice of my beloved!
   Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
   bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle
   or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
   behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
   looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me:
'Arise, my love, my fair one,
   and come away: for now the winter is past,
   The rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth;
   the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
   is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs,
   and the vines are in blossom;
   they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
   and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
   in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
   let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
   and your face is lovely.'

                -- Song of Songs 2. 8-14 (NRSV)
These are probably my favourite verses in the entire bible. The first time I came across them, I felt like I was living in the deepest darkness. But here was God speaking to me like a lover; telling me things were going to improve; that light was returning; that spring was coming again. God called me "my love." That really blew me away!

These days, Christianity has a lot of detractors (many of them making pretty good points about how a lot of Christians have lost Jesus' vision to bring good news to the poor, free captives, heal the sick, reach out to the marginalized, etc.) Personally, I think that if more people understood themselves and everyone else to be loved by the God represented in the passage above rather than by a judgmental God, we would make more efforts to care for the forgotten members of society and make Jesus' vision a reality. Acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with God would not be an issue!

If you have a few minutes today, let God call you "my love." See if it doesn't make the depths of winter darkness seem a little less harsh. Here's a link to a little website called Pray As You Go, and if you click on December 21, it will give you today's 12 minute reflection on the reading above.

Happy Winter Solstice! 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Making space for Christmas

Recently, my youngest daughter came to me saying, "Mom, you know what I'd like for Christmas? I'd like you to help me clean up my room."

Julia "cleans up" her room on a semi-regular basis, but it often takes her an entire day because she gets caught up in the stuff on her desk and ends up doing art projects or reading forgotten books or playing with little toys she hasn't seen in a while. I was the same way when I was young... but my room wasn't as big, and I don't think I had quite so much stuff.

Usually I leave Julia to fend for herself when it comes to tidying her space. But today is the day WE are going to dejunk, clutter-bust, and clean Julia's room. Here's what we'll need to do it:

1. a garbage bag
2. a bag for recyclable materials
3. a charity box (Julia doesn't mind giving stuff to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul because she knows other children might like the things she's outgrown)
4. a box for items Julia is unwilling to part with, and
5. a box for items which she isn't sure how to categorize.

It then becomes a fairly simple matter to decide where items belong. The only trick is to get the work done rather than playing, reading, or doing arts and crafts for someone's Christmas gift! When the room is clean, we toss the garbage, put the recycling out in our blue bag, take the charity box to SSVP, put away the items Julia is keeping, and the stuff that is in the last box gets put on a shelf in the basement for a year. If Julia "needs" anything from that box, she can retrieve it, and in a year's time, we'll give whatever is in it away.

Since reading Mark A. Burch's little book, De-Junking: A Tool for Clutter-Busting (2007, Simplicity Practice and Resource Centre, ISBN 978-0-9784528-3-4) -- see the sidebar -- this is how I go about cleaning house when I'm in serious dejunking mode. It's a simple plan, and it increases everyone's free time and space. Julia is happier when her desk is clear and she has space to work, and I'm happier when I don't have to nag her about her mess. Part of Christmas preparation is making sure there's "room at the inn," and now's the time to do it!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A stuffless Christmas?

Here's a little musical medley/commercial about how to have a counter-cultural, stuffless Christmas. It carries a few really good ideas that have worked for us. Hubby and daughters helped me to put it together at our kitchen table a couple of years ago.

If you're reading this, you probably already know how to be kind to the planet AND have a holly, jolly, stuffless Christmas! But you might consider spreading some of these ideas to people who have yet to realize that Christmas consumerism is helping to mess up the earth beyond its ability to repair itself. The best Christmas gift we can give future generations is a healthy place to live, and the knowledge that it's relationship, not stuff, that makes us truly happy.  

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Simple Christmas ideas... like bread

Today I am making Christmas presents for my children's teachers and busdriver. They get the same thing every year, and they like it... a loaf of homemade oatmeal bread. I'll post a picture when the loaves are done, so you can imagine how delicious they are. My family is slightly miffed that there won't be any left over for them, but I've promised them some next week.

Being a former teacher myself and having a teacher for a sister, I know well how often teachers get useless teacher gifts like plug-in-potpourri, candles, mugs, and Christmas ornaments, so I hesitate to load those on any thinking person. Knick knacks need dusting, only so many mugs fit into the cupboard, and too many cookies/chocolates aren't good for anyone. But who can refuse a loaf of homemade bread? (People with gluten allergies, I suppose, but so far I haven't run into that. I suppose they could always give it as gift to someone who can eat it.) Personally, I love the idea of a gift that is edible and delicious, not overly caloric, good for you, and made with love. I've received several thank you notes for my Christmas bread -- not that that's the reason I do it.

The whole idea of giving gifts to people we barely know is an odd thing. I don't have time to get into the whole history of gift-giving while my dough is rising, but I will say that it's only in the past hundred years (in Canada) that the pressure to buy, Buy, BUY has been created. It used to be that Christmas was about eating, drinking, and being merry within community while celebrating One who welcomes everyone to His banquet. We've lost that somehow, but it's time we abandon the shopping malls and find it again.

I'm finding it by baking bread. A simple, loving gesture that my kids can share with the teachers who feed their hunger to learn. Merry Christmas, teachers!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Of Christmas pageants and good, good news

On Monday evening, most of my family and a few friends enjoyed the L'Arche Edmonton Annual Christmas Pageant. For those who were unable to join us, here's the run-down: it was a wonderful celebration featuring many amazing musicians; a fantastic choir who had everyone in the church singing too; a gentle Mary and a cowboy-hatted Joseph who were extremely attentive to a serene six-month-old baby Jesus as he watched everything with shining eyes; radiant angels in bright white Christmas lights; a rag-tag band of shepherds who danced with excitement; and majestic magi -- one on wheels. I think it's safe to say that the Spirit of Christmas took hold of everyone in the building.

As I watched the holy family cuddle together under the star, I couldn't help but feel that everyone present was seeing a more realistic portrayal of Christmas than any you see on Christmas cards or in movies. Jesus came in a simple, humble way to spend his life with simple, humble people, and to call us all to simplicity and humility in our relationships with each other and with God.

Jean Vanier, in a children's book called I Meet Jesus: He tells me "I Love You" (1981, Anne Sigier ISBN 2-89-129-011-9) puts it this way:

The Father sends Jesus
because he loves
all the men and women
of the earth

he sends him to announce the good, good news:
     God loves us
     just as we are
we are no longer left alone with our difficulties,
     anguish, handicaps,
everything does not end with death
we are made to live forever
     together with Jesus
and that life begins right now.
In L’Arche, God’s love and acceptance of everyone -- with and without disabilities -- makes Jesus’ presence real, and not just at Christmas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

If it was your last Christmas...

What would you do differently if you knew that this was to be your last Christmas on this side of the grass? What would be most important in your comings, goings and doings? What would you leave by the wayside?

I just paid a visit to two of my favourite people, the neighbours we had before we moved to our present home. They are getting up there in age, and have had various health issues over the last few years, so when I pop in on them for a visit, I'm never quite sure what I'll find. Today, I received some sad news. While both of them are quite accepting of how things are, they told me that he has colon cancer, and is choosing not to continue treatment.

"I'm eighty-nine, and I've never been sick until now. I think I've had a pretty good run," he said, philosophical as ever. He's not as strong as he used to be. Radiation was hard work, and he has no way of knowing that chemo will make any difference to the length or quality of his days left. I think he is wise to try to live what's left as fully as possible without spending hours and days at appointments.

It makes me really sad (here I stop and cry for a few minutes because I love him) but it is also a gift, in a way, to know that he views his life as being rich and full. I am also gifted by the awareness he gives me of the wonder and beauty of special friends that touch our lives. And by the way he presents the fact of the matter: not one of us knows for certain that this isn't our last Christmas on earth. Something could happen to take me from this life I love before my friend leaves it. It's not something anyone wants to think about, but it is true.

So the gift my friend gives me today is this pause to consider... If this was to be my last Christmas, what should be most important? Certainly not presents. Decorations? Bah. Making perfect Christmas cookies? Hardly. More certainly, it's PRESENCE with the people I love, how I connect with them, and the legacy of memories that will be created.

What's most important to you this Christmas?

Monday, December 13, 2010

If you like shopping...

...don't watch this video. There, you've been warned. People who have seen it like to curse me in a cheerful sort of way when they do go shopping. Some of them report that the song has helped them to cut down on mindless consumption. You know... seeing something, and buying it without really thinking. My sisters especially don't like this video because it has a tendency to be an earworm...

You can blame the whole thing on the Master Composter/Recycler course I took from the City of Edmonton in 2007. I had to go for an interview to prove I was worthy Master Composter/Recycler material, and sometime after that, this little ditty started playing in my head. For the course's final assignment, my sister helped me make my little earworm into a simple video. This final version was posted on YouTube two months later, and since then it has been really interesting hearing from people from all over the world who find the song interesting and helpful (in spite of my warbly voice and amateur guitar abilities).

I used to be one of those people who got upset when my husband gave me a "practical present" instead of something frivolous or pretty. I remember feeling really let down one Christmas when he bought me a coffee maker (even though it was a very good one). Likewise, I hated buying him things that he really needed (he's forever wearing out his wallet) -- I wanted to give him something more exciting and interesting. But he's not someone who needs or wants anything unusual or extravagant -- it was my ego that insisted upon the brightly coloured sweater and Star Trek tie that he only wore once (even though he was a Trekkie at the time)! Since we've embraced Voluntary Simplicity, we see that meeting each other's needs is more valid than buying wants that aren't essential and only take up space in our lives. 

The thing about shopping -- not just at Christmas, but anytime -- is that it's too easy for people to get caught up in the consumer mentality of wanting everything we see rather than purchasing what we really NEED. Stores and advertizing are designed in such a way that they don't encourage us to think in terms of what is necessary or what is sustainable. The markets are built on the idea of continuously increasing sales... but our homes can only hold so much, and our earth's resources (not to mention our landfills) aren't infinite either.

So next time you go shopping, do like my friend Suzanne and sing this refrain when you run into something attractive but unnecessary:
Do I need it? Or just want it?
Who convinced me that I need it, and why do I want it?
Will it make my world a better place, or will it end up taking up landfill space?
Do I need it? Or just want it?
And if you want to curse me in a cheerful sort of way, I can take it!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My St. Barbara bouquet...

It's not working. The pear tree branches that I picked for a St. Barbara bouquet (see December 3rd's mooding on Christmas decorations) are not even thinking about budding, leafing out, or blossoming. My kids tell me that I tried this once years ago with branches from a crabapple tree, and nothing happened then, either, but that episode doesn't register in my brain at all.

So I went online to see if the German friend who told me about spring blossoms for Christmas was stringing me a line. I found the following:
Branches from a fruit tree or flowering shrub cut on St. Barbara's Day (December 4) and kept in water in a warm room will flower by Christmas. This is known as a St. Barbara's bouquet in Germany (p. 126).    
In Saints: A Visual Guide by Edward and Lorna Mornin (2006, Francis Lincoln, ISBN 139780711226067. Found under Google Books.)
Maybe our Canadian fruit trees work differently than German ones. Maybe my room isn't warm enough for the branches to bud out. Maybe a St. Barbara bouquet only blooms in Santa Barbara where there can be blossoms all year round. In a culture that has pretty much forsaken Saints for celebrities, I doubt there's anyone who does this regularly anymore. St. Barbara herself was taken off the Catholic liturgical calendar in 1969, and I suspect the generations who made her bouquets are fading away. But if you've kept the tradition alive, or you know people who make St. Barbara bouquets regularly with success, please let me know.

The failure of my St. Barbara bouquet doesn't really matter, though I would have loved to have those pear blossoms at Christmas. At the moment, our house is decorated with a simple Christmas tree and a pretty happy family. What more do we need?

Friday, December 10, 2010

More on Kiva

This little video (18 minutes or so) arrived in my inbox this morning. Jessica Jackley, founder of Kiva, explains relationship and giving in a VERY inspiring way.

In another one of those God-incidences, just as I posted this moodling, the following quotation from Jean Vanier arrived in my inbox:
We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process, crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them. (No source quoted.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gifts from a blind man

James came to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul clothing room today. Every time he comes in, he's wearing a huge smile, and he tells me, "It's just another day in paradise." Today he tacked on, "except a little colder." I commented on his wonderful furry earflap cap, and he smiled even bigger, saying, "You guys gave it to me."

When he was in two weeks ago, James got a thermal undershirt that was too small. He told me he gave it to someone else because it didn't reach his belly button, and he asked for a size bigger this time. He also wanted a warm long-sleeved button down shirt, and a pair of gloves because some idiot at the bus stop stole his when he "wasn't looking."

James is mostly blind. He has one glass eye, and 2% vision in his other eye, peripheral vision. He looked at me by not looking at me. After I helped him find what he needed, he stood and chatted for a while. Eventually, he pulled out a small, well-used paperback New Testament, flipped to a passage inked in yellow highlighter, and said, "read that."
I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.    (Philippians 4. 11b-14)
If that wasn't enough, he "read" me the beginning of the 9th chapter of John's Gospel in his scratchy, husky voice. Of course, he has it memorized:
As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him."     (John 9. 1-3)
"And that's me," James said.

Amen, brother. God shines in James' cheerful dispostion. I wonder if he saw the tears in my eyes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The gift of experience...

My girlfriend and I were commiserating yesterday about how much we hate shopping, especially when it comes to certain people for whom it is hard to find the right gift. She was stumped by her mother-in-law, who isn't one for "stuff" (and Cathy's not into giving "stuff" either). So I suggested an "experience." You know... a ticket to something, an activity or a show, something that her mother-in-law might enjoy but wouldn't necessarily think to do for herself. Cathy found a great gift online -- tickets to a dinner theatre. What made it even better was that she didn't have to leave her home in BC to get a wonderful Calgary present.

My favourite gifts for the past two years came from my parents. Two years ago, they gave us tickets to see Aga Boom, a troupe of clowns (once members of Cirque du Soleil) who played at the community theatre in Sherwood Park. We still talk about that evening and how hard we all laughed at the chaotic, messy and totally participatory ending of the show. And last year, we received the gift of a canoe trip from Devon (west of Edmonton) to Edmonton. We went in August, and what a wonderful day it was!

There are multitudes of experiences that can be given as gifts. Think massages, foot rubs, a trip to an art gallery or museum, a nice dinner... use your imagination. Some experiences don't even have to cost a penny. My husband gave our girls the gift of teaching them to play his old "Risk" game one Christmas. Experiences, especially good ones, can stay with us longer than almost any single "thing" because things tend to wear out faster than great memories...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The beauty of solitude

Today is going to be a busy day... I have lots of running around to do. A walking workout with my neighbour, a bus ride to City Hall, where I'll answer questions about the ReUse Tree (all of its very cool ornaments are recycled rather than purchased items) and listen to school choirs sing. Then I'll have lunch with my hubby, and do a bit of RULES shopping (yesterday's moodling), perhaps, before I hurry home to put supper in the oven.

One of the things about the time leading up to Christmas is that, in all its busyness, we sometimes forget to allow ourselves time for peace and quiet, time to be alone. Though we may avoid it sometimes, solitude is good for us, and needs to be cultivated so that we can hear our own souls.

Tanya Davis and Andrea Dorfman have made a beautiful little video about How to Be Alone. In the midst of pre-Christmas planning and preparation, take a minute to appreciate Andrea and Tanya's excellent reminder to take care of ourselves, too -- maybe more than once. Enjoy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas gift considerations

These days, we're doing our little bit of Christmas shopping in preparation for our family gatherings at Christmas time. I find shopping to be hard work because of the overwhelming choices out there. Walking through a mall on Friday, I wondered if there isn't more clothing in the world than human beings can actually make use of, and why we continually have to buy new clothes if we're not really wearing holes in most of them. When I think about these kinds of things as I shop, malls get tiresome rather quickly! And those sorts of thoughts are unavoidable if you care about the earth at all.

But I do like it when I find the right item for the right person. And these are some questions I use to determine what is right:
 1. Will the recipient really use/enjoy this gift?
 2. Is it beautiful and long lasting, or will it break down and be forgotten over time?
 3. What impact has the making of this gift had on the planet and its resources?
 4. How does this gift reflect my care for its recipient?
 5. Would Jesus give a gift like this one?
 6. Does the purchase/creation of this gift empower people or corporations? How and why?

I didn't have a lot of luck at the shopping malls with regards to these questions, so I'm hoping to pay a visit to a different sort of store later this week, and perhaps I'll post some moodlings about it. Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, here's another set of shopping criteria that I think is quite brilliant if you like acronyms (paraphrased from Lynn A. Miller, author of a book I'm trying to get my hands on called The Power of Enough: Finding Contentment by Putting Stuff in its Place, and whose RULES were quoted in “Whose Birthday is it, Anyway? 2008”):

R = recyclable – will this gift and its packaging ever return to natural elements?
U = used – why buy new when something used can be just as good, and often nicely “broken in”?
L = local – can a local variety of gift strengthen the local economy and save fossil fuels?
E = enough – how much of this gift will be used, and how much is too much?
S = sustainable – does this item add to or subtract from our planet’s sustainability?

Of course, it's not always easy to find gifts that meet all these criteria, but the closer I get, the better the gift, and the happier I am to give it!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Budgie update #2

Today's moodling has nothing to do with Christmas or simplicity. It's being written because there's a budgie sitting on my shoulder (and because my sisters like budgie updates). This morning I realized that all but about fifteen years of my life have had a budgie in them. Budgies are the class clowns of bird school. We have funny stories about every one of the little birds who have graced our lives, and our latest tiny chum is no exception.

Pebbles is turning out to be quite the character. He chatters incessantly when there are people around, plays both with us and without us (on the floor, usually, so we have to watch that we don't step on him), and is learning new tricks. He flies in a kamikaze style and has bumped into the windows once or twice (part of the learning process), but for the most part is pretty adept at using his wings now that his flight feathers have grown in. We think he's figured out how to open his cage (that, or we keep forgetting to shut the cage door even when we haven't opened it!) We're still not 100% sure he's a he, but the colour of his cere hasn't changed. I suspect if he was a she we'd know by now.

In the past two weeks, Suzanna has managed to convince him to fly from his cage to land on her finger. He does it over and over again, seeming gratified whenever she says, "Good bird!" We think he says "I love you" and "pretty bird," but he hasn't yet got the knack of "hello, my friend," which I've been repeating since day one. He makes us laugh with his antics, as he chases his ball around, or nibbles someone's earring.

See for yourself -- here's a two minute video. He drops his ball, then waits for me to pick it up, just like a kid in a high chair. And can you hear what he says? Maybe you'll hear something I don't because of familiarity. If so, let me know...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas decorations...

Yesterday was an enjoyable day at the clothing room. Two of my favourites came in -- Dave, a homeless guy who is always losing his backpack (and once took a Spiderman backpack because it was all we had to offer), and Fatuma, a tiny Kenyan woman who once told me, "Canada, good for children. Good education. No good for adults. I sad, sad. Miss home, no good work here." But Fatuma was in good spirits yesterday, and looking for some Christmas decorations. We managed to find two little twinkle light strings in the bottom of a box to satisfy her.

I couldn't help but think of the Amazing Grace YouTube video that went around a few years ago. Maybe you saw it, but if not, punch "Amazing Grace Christmas Lights" into the YouTube search box, and I'm sure it will come up. I won't post it here because, frankly, it makes me shudder to think that people would invest that kind of time and money into a totally ostentatious Christmas display when there are people like Fatuma in our world. Some Christmas decoration is fine, but that? I certainly wouldn't want to live across the street from so much technopop and so many flashing lights. My neighbours and I would vote the guy off the island!

The thing about Christmas decoration is that so much of it is needless use of our planet's limited resources, and a lot of it will just end up in the landfill over time. Tinsel, broken baubles and shorting strings of lights aren't easily recyclable (though our reuse/recycling facilities here in Edmonton are second to none), so it's better to avoid an excess of shiny, once-a-year trinkets to start with. What will the family of the guy who did up the Amazing Grace display do with all that stuff when he dies? The cost of his electricity alone must be astronomical... and unless his kids follow in his footsteps, I doubt they'll want to deal with the thousands of lights left to them in his will.

At our house, decoration is kept to a definite dull roar. We have a white silhouette window display of the Holy Family and a string of LED lights as our visible outside decoration. Indoors, I hang Christmas cards that arrive in the mail around our dining room doorways, and our Advent wreath (with small branches cut from the cedar outside our front door) is our table centrepiece. We buy one tree (carbon neutral -- it has produced oxygen for the planet up until it was cut, and the city grinds it up for mulch in January) -- artificial trees use up a lot of carbon in their manufacturing process and they take forever to biodegrade (but if you have one, don't switch now!) We decorate with the same ornaments year after year, special things that the kids have made at school or friends have given to us. Our tree isn't trendy teal streamers with gilded golden glamour a la Martha Stewart or Debbie Travis, but it is pretty enough.

Enough. That word again. How much is enough decoration? Is it necessary to buy new Christmas stuff every year? Where will it all end up? If we really need to decorate, can we do more with the natural, organic items around us?

I'll end this moodling with an idea I'm trying this year for the first time: a German friend of mine once told me that on St. Barbara's feast day, December 4th, it was tradition for peasants to cut a few branches from any fruit trees in their area. They would bring them into their homes and put them in water, and by December 25th, the blossoms would fill their homes with beauty and fragrance to mark Jesus' birth.

I'll bet Fatuma from Kenya would approve.

Have a happy feast day tomorrow, Auntie Barbara!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas giving... all year round

Today is my day to work at the clothing room of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It's actually a 500 sq foot foyer in a tiny former chapel next to St. Joseph's High School here in Edmonton (the nave is where we store donated furniture and household items that we can deliver to those in need). The clothing room offers free clothing items to newcomers, people living below the poverty line, the homeless... anyone, really, but we exist mainly to help those who can't afford to shop for the basics (see here.)

Often when we get to these dark December days, we find ourselves struggling to keep up with the demand for almost everything winter-wear related, but especially men's and boys' clothing, specifically long underwear and socks. And I'm sure there are many other charitable agencies who are lacking specific necessities on any date you care to choose.

So here's the challenge: if you have a life of "enough" (or perhaps a bit too much), choose a charity in your neighbourhood and give them a call. Find out what they need, and do a little Christmas shopping for them. And consider doing it in January and February, too, when the Christmas giving campaigns are no longer in the news, or maybe even July and August. Again, better than investing in an ugly tie or a box of chocolates!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A simple Christmas pageant

In addition to finding ways to simplify our Christmas giving, our family also tries to take a few opportunities to remember "the reason for the season." One of my favourite events in this regard is the annual L'Arche Christmas pageant. Now that I work for L'Arche, I have all the dope on what's happening this year because I spent a good part of Monday spreading the word to various media outlets.

For those who have never attended a L'Arche pageant, it's an experience like no other. The story in the gospel of Luke is re-enacted by our community, with the starring roles of Mary and Joseph often played by our people with disabilities, assisted by people without disabilities. Last year, "Mary" had a "nursemaid" (our board chair) to help her with "baby Jesus" (our board chair's infant daughter). Naturally, the baby was more taken with her "nursemaid" than with being Mary's "son," so Mary gave up and wandered off stage for a time and had to be coaxed back to finish the play. Shepherds, angels and wise men all played their parts as expected, some from wheel chairs. The evening included a very special tradition -- the singing of Silent Night in all the languages represented in our community. Last year, there were verses sung in 22 languages; I'm not sure how many there will be this year.

So if you're in the neighbourhood, and want to enjoy hearing a simple and beautiful retelling of the ancient story that is soon to be celebrated by Christians the world over, you're invited. This year's Christmas pageant will be held at St. Thomas D'Aquin Church, 8410 89th Street, Edmonton, at 7 p.m. on Monday, December 13th. As the L'Arche Edmonton Mandate says, "We want to tell people about L'Arche. We want to have more friends." So feel free to bring your friends, and perhaps a donation for the Food Bank, if you like. We look forward to seeing you!