Saturday, February 26, 2011

Simple pleasures... and laundry

I'll never forget the laundry room of a family I lived with in Belgium. It was a small, dark space with a washing machine... and no dryer. Instead, there were wooden racks near the furnace, on which clothing and bedding and everything was hung to dry. I thought it strange at the time, but now I see how smart it is.

We have both washer and dryer at our house, but in the past two years, haven't used our dryer much at all. In the summer, everything goes out on the clothesline, and in the winter, we use our laundry room space to the max.

It started a few summers ago, when I hung all our laundry outside each week. When our electricity bills arrived, we noticed a 15% decrease in our electricity use. Clothes dryers are incredibly inefficient, and clothes don't seem to last as well when they're thrown around in the heat of a dryer drum on a regular basis. So my husband and I talked about it, and determined that it wouldn't be difficult to turn our laundry room into a place for drying clothes during the 7 or 8 months of the year when the weather outside is uncooperative. Lee found four wonderful retractable clotheslines to string across the room, and now our dryer sits idle most of the time. Our electricity bills are also easier on our finances.

True, it takes a little more time and effort to do the laundry this way, but we don't really mind. I love to see things hung up in order on the line, and feel some sort of spiritual connection with my grandmothers, who hung their clothes to dry before the advent of labour-saving devices. As I spread a tea towel over the line and fasten it with a clothespin, I often think of Amy from one of my Simplicity Study Circles, who talked about "Zenning" her laundry: handling each piece with an appreciation for its texture and colour, and being grateful for the fact that she could own such things at all. Being mindful of our clothing, giving thought to where it comes from and who might have made it, its weight and warmth, is not something that a lot of us have time to do. But perhaps if we did, our garments would become more precious and less disposable. Maybe we would care for them more and wear them longer, rather than spending our lives shopping for new things.

Or maybe I'm all wet, and should be hung out to dry!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Courage, sacrifice, humility, and hard work

Do you watch TV? I've pretty much given it up, as I don't find present-day TV shows to be terribly inspiring. My one hour of television per week lately is a show I don't really like, but watch in order to know what my daughters are into. Having embraced Voluntary Simplicity makes it really hard for me to watch television because so much of it is about excess, and it makes me sad to see people so focused on stuff. If I really did watch TV, it would probably be mostly nature shows and concerts.

Of course, if somebody came up with a channel that shows programs about courage, sacrifice, humility and hard work, that might be worth watching. I want to be inspired and encouraged in my efforts to make the world a better place. That's why I subscribe to Its subtitle is "Be the Change." I'll add it to my links today, in case you want to check it out. It sends out a video link each week that encourages us to immerse ourselves in being the change we want to see in the world, as Ghandi said so many years ago.

If you have the time, here's today's KarmaTube video. Jacquelin Novogratz has met a lot of people who inspire courage, sacrifice, humility and hard work, all things the world needs more of. And if anyone knows of a TV channel that plays more of her kind of stuff, I'd be interested... except that watching TV takes time away from being the change I want to see in the world...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Patience and love

At work at the L'Arche offices this morning, Sandy, one of our members with a disability, came into my office. Sometimes she comes in while I'm in the middle of something important and starts fiddling with the books on the shelf or the boxes of brochures. She likes to help, so when I don't have shredding for her to do, she often "makes" her own work. Unfortunately, she doesn't know the kind of assistance that's helpful. Today, by the time I freed my brain from the document I was typing, Sandy had a handful of fundraising envelopes that she was spreading across a table. "How you?" she asked, when she realized that I was watching her.

It's easy to get impatient when work is interrupted, but at L'Arche we do our best to see the interruptions as part of the job. "I'm fine," I said, as I got up from my desk, gently took the envelopes from Sandy and put them back on the shelf where she had found them. Instead of shooing Sandy back downstairs as I often do, I took her hand and said, "Would you like to help me go find something in the community room?"

" 'Kay," she said. As we walked down the stairs holding hands, she counted the steps from one to nine, and echoed me as I counted the remainder. We soon reached the door of the Day Program where Sandy and the other core members engage in all sorts of activities. The sounds of drumming and singing emanated from the room, and Sandy suddenly remembered where she was supposed to be. "Bye," she said, and left me standing in the hallway. She loves music; I had to finish my errand alone.

About an hour later, I was engrossed in my work on the computer screen again, and didn't really notice Sandy slip into my office until she put an arm around me, kissed me on the top of the head, and said in her soft, squeaky voice, "I love you."

"I love you, too," I said, as she disappeared again. I guess tolerance of Sandy's little interruptions reap small rewards. She never told me she loved me until today, when I was extra patient with her.

P.S. Happy Birthday, Debbie!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spring will come

For anyone and everyone who is as tired of winter as I am! Here's a spring/birthday poem I wrote for my friend Cathy, coupled with a song I once learned for her birthday. The music is Anne's Theme, composed by Hagood Hardy and played by me, and the pictures are from the beautiful Buchart Gardens near Victoria, BC, last April 16th.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Not-so-soft soap?

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. Hydrolized Silk.

Seems almost like another language, doesn't it? But it's actually the ingredients that make up the liquid 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?

The reason I'm thinking about this again today is that my eldest daughter came home from her winter retreat weekend with the worst rashy red case of eczema on her hands that I've seen in a while. I'll blame the -52 degree cold, plus the liquid hand soap -- toxic neon-pink stuff -- in the dispensers out at the camp where the retreat was held.

Two years ago, my youngest daughter had almost the same kind of eczema, with really rough, sore hands and brown rings of dry skin 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 found a bar of soap and put it out for Julia -- and my aunt wasn't kidding about the dramatic improvement. Julia's brown rings disappeared within the week, and the skin on her hands has been much healthier ever since. As the liquid soap doesn't seem to bother the rest of us, we're still using it... but at Christmas, my sisters gave us some bar soaps made by the Goat Mountain Soap company in the tiny hamlet of Alix, Alberta. The bars smell really good and don't have any DEAs or parfums, and their goofy names make us smile.

Now I'm looking forward to running out of that chemical-laced liquid so I can use my sweetpea-scented soap. If you want to know its silly name, check out Click on Wilderness Soaps -- mine is furthest right on the top row.  While you're at it, read some of the other labels for a chuckle or two! My sisters bought a glow-in-the-dark Skinny Dipper Delight bar, which is excellent if you don't want to turn on the bathroom light in the middle of the night! It smells like citrus and pomegranate. Nice!

For those of you who might want to know more about the toxic ingredients in our bath products and cosmetics, the David Suzuki Foundation has compiled a list of the "dirty dozen":

And if you missed my earlier moodlings on make up and hair dye, they're still posted if you use the search feature.

I suspect that small companies like Goat Mountain Soap are less likely to use the kinds of chemicals that the big beauty corporations do, but I still need to look into Goat Mountain's ingredients more carefully. All I know for sure right now is that none of the "dirty dozen" appear on my Goat Mountain Soap label... but there is plenty of wacky humour to be found!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Creating trust

The worst thing for a child is to avoid raising certain subjects with him, saying, He won’t understand. His parents might, for example, avoid talking with him about the death of his grandmother, or about some traumatic accident, a painful event, about sexuality, and so on. The child then lives in a kind of confusion and fear; his world becomes chaotic and nothing makes any sense. But if his parents get him to talk about some of these questions and share about them with him, he will discover that the world and his life are not chaotic; they have a meaning. There is hope.
- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p.85
I am one of those fortunate people who didn't really have to deal with death until I was a teenager. My parents had, of course, lost various uncles, aunts and cousins before then, but my experience of death, funerals and cemeteries were at arms length for a good portion of my life.
My memory of my first trip to a grave yard, however, stands out in my mind clearer than crystal. We were visiting relatives in Saskatoon one summer, and my uncle decided that it was a fine day to visit his mother's grave, so he piled my sisters, cousins and I into the car, and we had an outing. If I had to guess, I was maybe eight years old, and had never been to a cemetery before.
I was the oldest of the bunch. Faced with a big beautiful green lawn, marble monuments and scattered trees, what do you think a bunch of little kids would do? We lit out across the lawn, laughing and chattering, only to be shushed by my uncle, who announced that we were in a place where we had to show respect for the DEAD. Scary! So we simmered down and walked quietly behind him until we reached his mother's grave. He stood at the foot of the grave, not speaking, but never having seen a gravestone before, I walked past him to have a closer look.
Wrong move. "You're standing on the grave!" he said, speaking loudly, as he always did. In a panic, I jumped backward and cowered behind him for a while, worried that his dead mother would be angry and make something bad happen, anxiously looking back toward the car, wishing we could leave. My sisters and cousins didn't look like they were having any more fun than I was.
That night we slept in my uncle's basement, and I had terrible nightmares about that grave -- hands coming up through the sod and grabbing my ankles, making me scream. For a long time after, I dreaded cemeteries and looked the other way, and lived in fear of my first funeral.
Fortunately, my parents were wise people. Perhaps they were aware that funerals and death are intimidating when you've never experienced them, so when I reached my early teens, they took their children to the funeral of a family member that we had never known so that we would be familiar with the process when someone close to us died. With a few more years of maturity under my belt, I found it to be a calming experience. Death was a part of life, not as scary as my uncle had inadvertently made it seem when I was little. My years of cemetery nightmares abated, and I have since found funerals, while very sad, to be moments of gratitude and peace -- gratitude for having known the individual who died, and peace in knowing that they've gone somewhere better than here.

Because of my experience as an eight-year-old, I vowed that I would never put my kids through the same thing. They have attended funerals with us from infancy, and we talk about life and death and illness and heaven often enough that I think they're at ease with those ideas. This week we said goodbye to our ninety-year-old neighbour, and the girls insisted on coming along. When Bob's wife passed away in 2006, we spent an hour walking through the cemetery by the funeral home on a beautiful, warm summer day so that cemeteries wouldn't be a frightening experience for them.

There are a lot of things in life that we can't control. Jean Vanier mentions a number of them in the quote above. But he's absolutely right -- talking about death, accidents, pain or sexuality can demystify them for our kids, and that's definitely worth doing. The less fear we have to live with and the more we can trust that life is good in spite of its difficulties, the more whole we can be, and the more joyful our lives.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Living simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the poor

The above phrase jumped out at me a while back from something Jean Vanier wrote, and today it's back in my mind, as my husband sent me an article from the Globe and Mail entitled "Wikileaks reveals imminent Saudi Oil Peak."

Good old Wikileaks! (That with my tongue firmly in my cheek. Honestly, who ever heard of it before last April?) Actually, I am sickened by the way Wikileaks put information out there without considering the safety of anyone connected to the countries involved in its reports. Even rogue media outlets need to care about peoples' lives! At the same time, I can't help feeling that we need some alternative media that will put out the stories that our mainstream media avoid discussing in depth. A lot of big news outlets have to appease big advertizers that don't have humanity's best interests at heart, so they gloss over the serious issues that our world is facing when they should be challenging the world to deeper thinking.

Peak oil is one of those issues. If, as Wikileaks suggests, we are already well past the point where we are starting to run out of oil, humanity is soon going to have to make a huge shift in its thinking, a shift that we probably should have made fifty years ago (but everyone was so in love with our rising standard of living after World War II that to suggest something like voluntary simplicity was akin to being a communist).

So here we are, having reached peak oil, and instead of jumping deeper into consumerism and taking last minute trips to the Caribbean before we can't afford it, we need to hit reverse and do as Jean Vanier suggests in the reading that stuck in my mind (I've since found the same phrase in several social justice documents that Jean probably read, too). It's well past time to live justly. North Americans make up a large portion of the wealthy 12 percent of the world population who are using up 80% of the world's resources. If everyone lived like we do, the planet would never recover.

So what if we 12% stopped stuffing our lives with that 80% and started living simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the other 88% who are living with 20% of the earth's resources? What if we reduced our consumption to our 12% or maybe even a bit less? What would that look like? And could we be happy with less than 12%?

Of course we could, but like shifting our thinking around the Peak Oil issue, shifting our thinking around choosing to live more simply is a huge challenge for many of us. First of all, we would have to get our brains around the idea that markets and economies cannot grow endlessly because things that grow endlessly are often carcinogenic. We would need to learn the meaning of the word "sufficient" and practice living it, aware that too much of anything good is still too much. We would have to eradicate the "Joneses" from our thinking entirely, and be satisfied with what we have, rather than continue clearing out our closets, tossing our technologies and renovating our homes in order to "keep up." Maybe we would turn off the TV or the internet and find better uses for our time, get more exercise, grow more of our own food, cook more from scratch, have more conversations, make more music, meet more neighbours and have more face time with family and friends.

I've gotten carried away... but I'm just thinking about a book I once found at the library, the name of which escapes me. It was a book of pictures of people from all over the world, and what they owned. There was a picture of a large family from a developing country in Africa, sitting in front of a mud hut on a blanket with dishes and pots, bags of rice and beans, a small pile of clothing, and huge smiles all around. There was also a picture of a small family from North America with a large home and tons of belongings spilled along their driveway, but they didn't look as happy as the family from Africa. And then there was a picture of a family from Saudi Arabia that had to be taken from such a great distance to fit in their mansion and limousines and stuff that you couldn't see their faces at all. I wish I could remember the name of that book. It was a good one. I'll find it again.

Personally, I think living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters all over the world is the only way to go, and it's probably more fun, if you really think about it. If we've reached peak oil, perhaps we'll all rediscover the joys of living simply sooner than later. At least, I hope it can work out that way.

(P.S. That book is called Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Mendel (1994, Sierra Club Books, ISBN 9780871564375)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Simple pleasures... and bedtime stories

Youngest daughter is home with a cold this week, and I'm grateful for the perks of being a mostly-stay-home-mom with a very flexible part-time boss. I worked yesterday morning while my mom stayed with Julia. After Grandma went home and we had lunch, we went to the bookshelf and sorted through old favourite children's books, and Julia spent the afternoon in bed surrounded with book characters she grew up with -- woolly wombats and happy hippopotami, Skippyjon Jones and Diary of a Worm, Sesame Street monsters and fairy tale princesses (not of the Disney variety). When she got tired of reading to herself, we read a couple of chapters of The Borrowers together, and it wouldn't surprise me if she was lounging in bed at the moment reading on by herself.

I have always loved to read to children. When I was teaching, the last 20 minutes of every school day were Miss P.'s reading time, and my students would relax, doodle at their desks, or sit rapt as we shared stories by E. B. White or Ursula K. Le Guin or Farley Mowat. We traversed African savannahs, American prairies, and the Land of Oz. When I left teaching to start my own family, I looked forward to reading to my own little ones, and have fond memories even of the books we knew backwards and forwards -- those repetitive, participatory stories like the Berenstains' "Big Brown Bear, Blue Bull, Beautiful Baboon, blowing bubbles, bicycling backwards..." and Sandra Boynton's hilarious little board book that had us all shouting, "But NOT the hippopotamus!" until we reached, "but NOT the armadillo!" at the end. And Hop on Pop... and Goodnight Moon... and how many chunks of stories can you still recite?

For years we lugged large bags of books back and forth from the local library, and discovered many favourites that sometimes still make their way back to us if my girls happen to spot them as they walk through the children's section. This week, in keeping with Valentine's Day, it's Slugs in Love by Susan Pearson, illustrated by Kevin O' Malley, in which Marylou, a very shy slug, keeps leaving little slime-trail love letters for Herbie, her chosen slug, but Herbie keeps getting conflicting reports about which of the garden slugs is Marylou. "I think she's the brownish one." "I think she's the pinkish one." It tells you something when even an avid gardener like me has a soft spot for these funny little slugs, but the humour of Herbie's ball cap (worn between his eyes), and Marylou's eye-ribbons and love poems completely won me over (though I still can't stand having slugs in my lettuce, and cover the patch with eggshells to keep them out).

Unfortunately, the bedtime story ritual has almost run its course with Julia only 18 months away from Junior High School (I try not to think about how fast she's growing up). These days, the only time I get to read with her is when she's not feeling great and it's a comfort to lean her head against Mom's shoulder and listen. Our other two girls are into thick young adult novels that it would take anyone half a day to read aloud, and they're such speed readers, they'd never be patient enough to listen since they could finish the book themselves in less than half the time. My husband and I read The Da Vinci Code together the spring that I had vertigo. I wasn't good for doing much else, so I read a couple of chapters every night until one Saturday afternoon when I sat in a lawnchair and read to him while he was painting our garage doors. Seems to me we ended up finishing the book at 1 a.m., and I was rather hoarse. It was fun, but not likely to be repeated.

I wonder, with all the changes coming via the e-book publishing industry, what will happen to future bedtime story rituals? Will children's libraries continue to exist? Will the powers that be come up with a larger Kindle (or whatever brand name you know) for the big glossy illustrations that little kids and parents love? How will they replace the chewable board book? Will we have to shop garage sales for the satisfaction of turning a page to find Waldo in a different situation?

Whatever happens, I hope to have more opportunities to share beloved stories with little ones, and that our children will be able to do the same. The bedtime story is a sacred thing, a sign that big people care about little people and want to share the best things with them, along with a cuddle. I'm so grateful to have had that opportunity for almost half my life.

Julia's up. Maybe we'll go read a few more chapters of The Borrowers together.

Monday, February 14, 2011

It was the knickers that did it

I visited neighbours in my old neighbourhood on Friday afternoon, and heard some wonderful stories from two dear friends who met in England in 1942. He was with the Royal Canadian Air Force, and she was a local girl. He was staying with her mother's friend in another part of town, feeling lonely-homesick, and wishing for a girlfriend. His landlady told him that her friend had a lovely daughter who might be game to take on the role.

As it happens, the two were never introduced by the girl's mother and the landlady, but met by accident one Sunday afternoon when they were both out for a walk. The young woman came to a stile, and not realizing that the young airman was in the vicinity, vaulted over it in her skirt, unwittingly exposing turquoise knickers with red roses, which she had sewn from scraps of an old housedress that had belonged to her mother. The young airman caught a glimpse of those homemade knickers, and to this day remembers thinking, "This practical girl would make a good wife!"

The two continued their walk together... and have been walking together in a marriage that has lasted nearly 60 years... partly thanks to those practical, homemade knickers!

I love true love stories like this one. If you have one you can share, I'd like to hear it! Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Budgie update #3

It's official. Pebbles is a male, and he's Suzanna's bird. He's only learning to say the words she teaches him (hello, heyyy birdie, pretty bird, I love you), and if she's in the room, the rest of us don't exist. She's been trying to teach him to play fetch with his cat toys, but so far, he doesn't get it. He's a funny character who loves to pester and be pestered, and not a day goes by without someone telling him he's sooo cute.

With a little time and patience, maybe we could teach Pebs to play basketball or soccer... though soccer woudn't be fair because he can grab the ball with his toes and fling it. At the moment he's in Suzanna's room, keeping her company.

What's a pet for but to show us the way to love and laughter?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday foolishness from Christina (and me)

It's been another busy day, and I'm a bit fried from running errands and doing laundry. Christina suggests that I moodle some silly jokey riddles, and that seems about right for today. So here goes:

Q: When ducks fly in a V, why is one side of the V longer than the other?
A: Because it has more ducks.

Q: What has four legs, is big, green, fuzzy, and if it fell out of a tree it would kill you?
A: A pool table.

Q: What do you call a fish with no eyes?
A: A fsh.

Q: What do you call a video of pedestrians?
A: Footage.

Q: Why did the cupcake crash his car?
A: Because he was baked.

Q: What did one cupcake say to to the other cupcake?
A: Nothing, silly. Cupcakes can't talk.

Q: Why do ducks have flat feet?
A: To stamp out forest fires.

Q: Why do elephants have flat feet?
A: To stamp out flaming ducks.

Q: What's black and white and goes round and round?
A: A dizzy panda caught in a revolving door.

Q: How many elephants can you fit in a Volkswagen?
A: Four. Two in the front and two in the back.

Q: How many dizzy pandas can you fit in a Volkswagen?
A: None. It's full of elephants.

Q: How can you tell there's an elephant in your refrigerator?
A: By the footprints in the butter.

Q: How can you tell there are two elephants in your refrigerator?
A: You can hear them giggle when the light goes out.

Q: How can you tell there are three elephants in your refrigerator?
A: It's hard to close its door.

Q: How can you tell there are four elephants in your refrigerator?
A: There's a Volkswagen full of dizzy pandas parked outside.

Okay, so they're not all Christina's jokes, but the majority are. It wasn't so long ago that our girls would sit at the kitchen table, swinging feet not reaching the floor, and tell little people riddles with punchlines that pleased them, but didn't actually work. For example:

Q: What did the cucumber say to the tomato?
A: Hello, how are you?

Q: What did the picture say to the wall?
A: You have nice wall paper.

I miss those days. Everybody grew up too fast, and I rarely hear riddles any more, so this moodling is in appreciation of that childlike sense of humour, even (or perhaps especially) when it doesn't make sense.

Ask a little person for his or her favourite riddle, and have a good weekend!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Family reunion at the clothing room

This morning, Patrick arrived at the clothing room staggering drunk, with a swollen black eye. I didn't recognize him at first. He stood and looked at me for a while, seemingly trying to focus his eyes and form words. Thinking he might need some assistance, I went to him and touched his arm, asking if there was anything I could help him with.

Wrong move. "Back off," he said. So I went back around my work desk and continued to sort donated clothes, afraid that he might teeter over and bang his other eye on the corner of the desk.

A woman who had brought her two daughters to get clothing for their kids was sitting in the chair across from where I was working. Patrick's swollen eye didn't prevent her from knowing who he was. "Patrick, Bro, what happened to your face?" she asked gently.

"Ah, Sis," he said, "three guys beat me up. I just want to go back to camp and go to sleep. It's been a rough day at the office."

The next thing I knew, the woman was introducing her daughters to Patrick as he stood swaying on his feet, and the girls seemed to know him. That's when I realized that they might be related, but then again, maybe not. The older daughter offered Patrick a cigarette, and the younger one gave him a hug that brought tears to his eyes (and mine).

With those kindnesses, Patrick's defenses crumpled. He turned to me and was able to ask for blankets, socks and a pair of gloves. I managed to find them for him and put them into a bag he could carry. "Thanks, Sis," he said, having long since forgotten his initial annoyance with me.

It has struck me more than once that in the clothing room we're all brothers and sisters -- like we should be everywhere in life.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A gentle soul

Once in a while we meet a gentle person. Gentleness is a virtue hard to find in a society that admires toughness and roughness. We are encouraged to get things done and to get them done fast, even when people get hurt in the process. Success, accomplishment, and productivity count. But the cost is high. There is no place for gentleness in such a milieu.

Gentle is the one who does "not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick" (Matthew 12:20). Gentle is the one who is attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of the other and enjoys being together more than accomplishing something. A gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly, and touches with reverence. A gentle person knows that true growth requires nurture, not force. Let's dress ourselves with gentleness. In our tough and often unbending world our gentleness can be a vivid reminder of the presence of God among us.                                  
-  Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, February 7
On Sunday night, I was unhappily surprised by the news that our 90-year-old neighbour was in hospital. The last time I had seen Bob seems like only a few days ago, when he brought me misdelivered mail. It was bitterly cold, and there he was in a cardigan at my frosty front door. If I hadn't been in the middle of cooking supper, I might have thought to invite him in for a few minutes, as I don't see him too often in the winter. I did manage to ask how he was. "I'm doing better," he said, and I asked if he had the cold that's been going around. "Something like that," he said, as he headed back down the steps and hustled home. "Stay warm," was his parting shot.

We never know the last time we'll speak with someone, but when I visited Bob in the hospital on Monday, it became apparent that the exchange at my front door was the last time Bob would speak with me. He passed away last night, and we miss him.

Bob was the gentle person Henri Nouwen speaks about in the passage above. Bob knew how to tread lightly when offering constructive criticism of my gardening and tree pruning techniques. Though he was hard of hearing, he listened carefully to questions about his garden and offered all sorts of advice, asparagus, apples, garlic, flower seeds, rhubarb, and compliments when my own garden prospered. He looked after his wife Mabelle very tenderly for many years, even when her Alzheimers sometimes made her less than tender with him. And I suspect he touched everyone who ever met him with his reverence and respect for them. A gardener all his life, a father, a grandfather and great-grandfather and a good neighbour all around, he was a person who knew that true growth requires nurture, not force, and he nurtured us all with his kindness and his gentle chuckle.

If I'm not mistaken, Bob lived his entire life in this neighbourhood. It was his father's farmland at one point, and Bob and his dad fought City Hall for the right to turn their cow pasture into the small park across the street rather than build a rectangular grid neighbourhood. I contacted the city to see if the park could be named for Bob's family, but the naming department people tell me it's not actually a park -- it's a "road right of way" and as such, can't be named. But anyone who knew and loved Bob knows it's Bob's park. It will always remind us of him.

Thanks for everything, Bob. You were definitely God's presence among us. Rest in peace, and say hello to Mabelle for us.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Saskatoon Moon

After weeks of waiting for my voice to get back to full throttle after a cold (it still cracks, as you'll see at the end), Christina and I said "the heck with it, let's do it," and made this video for Cathy (who is also down with some sort of bug at the moment), and Uncle Fred, and anyone with a fondness for Saskatoon, a lovely little river city in Saskatchewan. If you want to hear the orginal by Connie Kaldor and Roy Forbes, it's on Connie's Wood River album, which is altogether wonderful and one of my favourites!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Do a little dance

Yesterday afternoon, in a bit of goofiness, youngest daughter and I started dancing to a tune that was playing in the living room. It was a happy moment. This morning at work, I was reminded of this:

Lift your spirits today, and do a little dance!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fun on the roof

Our youngest daughter and I went out to play for about an hour today. I couldn't keep up to her because she can run across the top of the crusty snow while I fall through... The snow is high enough that she realized she could probably climb up on our garden shed. So while I tried to chip away the two inches of ice that is keeping me out of my greenroom in the shed, she had some fun... and didn't want to come down. Who can blame her?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Friend as a verb

When our eldest daughter joined Facebook, I did, too. I figured it was something I should do just for internet safety's sake. Little did I know that I would be plunged into the world of friend as a verb. I can't say that I really like being on Facebook, probably because I'm not cool enough to get a lot of it, and because I don't care to spend a lot of time on it because it feels like an artificial world where you have to try to be cool, which I'm not.

I have 17 Facebook friends, most of them related to me, and rarely have an idea to post as a status. I've learned recently that my eldest daughter has moved on to Twitter and Tumblr, so monitoring her safety via her Facebook wall is but a dream. I think we parents are kidding ourselves if we think we can protect our kids from bullying or overexposure or other dangers by monitoring their internet habits. If we really wanted to do that, we'd have to be with them 24/7. They're way more internet savvy than we are because they have more time to play around on computers at home and school, as well as their iPods, iPhones, etc. What choice do we have but to talk with them about their internet habits, encourage them to play it safe and trust that they'll take their parents' concerns seriously?

Back to Facebook. Yesterday, I somehow ended up on the "find more friends" page, and discovered that if I friend all my friends' friends and they friend me back, I could have 2811 faithful friends, give or take a friend or two who have already friended my friends, or friended my friends' friends. But I am nowhere near serious about friending so many friends, as I'd much rather moodle and read and work and volunteer and plan my garden and go for walks and actually talk to my kids than spend my life on Facebook.

Especially since Facebook seems to be robbing us of the word "befriend."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Being a single-vehicle family

Last night, on his way home from work, my husband rolled his car window down to swipe his security card so that he could leave the building's parkade, and found that he couldn't roll the window up again. This is a very serious development in a 1988 Hyundai Excel. It could very well be the tolling of the car's death knell, not because we're expecting everything else to fail on a whim, but because it's almost impossible to find parts for the rusty little red compact I call Liliput. It's a solid little vehicle and has relatively low mileage, but when a fairly rare import reaches 23 years of age, dealerships and auto wreckers alike are at a loss when it comes to finding replacement parts.

Up until the fall of 2002, we were a single vehicle family, but then my husband started a new job that required a vehicle for city driving. At the time, I was using our minivan a lot to run errands and drive our girls around, so Lee bought the Excel from his dad. Those were the days before peak oil or global climate change were in the news, and if ignorance/denial was bliss, that's where I lived. It wasn't until our Voluntary Simplicity course in November of 2005 that our family woke up and realized that carbon emissions, species extinction and rampant consumerism were creating huge planetary problems. Ever since then, we've done a lot to simplify our lives, but haven't quite taken the leap when it comes to simplifying our transportation. Even so, I do dream of us becoming a single-vehicle family once again, or even a no-vehicle family.

As both our vehicles have aged and our minivan in particular has needed more and more repairs over the past few years, the desire to leave one vehicle behind has grown stronger and less likely at the same time. Piano lessons, basketball, school musicals and other evening activities that have us running in opposite directions make two vehicles far too convenient. On top of that, our eldest daughter passed her driver's test in November, and being an extrovert, wants to be out with her friends more. Lee's work frequently takes him around the city during the day, and I often have donations from neighbours to take to the Clothing Room when I volunteer, and groceries to pick up on my way home. My boss has me run errands, too, when I drive to work. It's just so convenient to have two vehicles, especially when we're all going different directions.

But there are more people in our world without any vehicles at all than there are two car families. Just because our society is wealthy enough to drive wherever we want whenever we want doesn't mean that we should. Just because we have Liliput and the minivan doesn't mean it should always be that way.

Over the past month or so, I have been trying to go without driving, catching public transit or walking to work, and walking home. Lee has been taking the bus more frequently, too. Sure, it would be inconvenient to lose a vehicle if we can't find another window mechanism for the Hyundai, but is convenience the most important thing in life? We could manage. Not having to pay for the Excel's maintenance, gas and insurance fees would give us more than enough money for bus tickets or even taxis if necessary. We'd be contributing that much less to the planet's carbon emission issues. And we'd be closer to living in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who don't have access to a ride at a moment's notice.

While it would be a shame to have to donate Liliput to the Kidney Foundation because of a window that can't be fixed, it would probably be better for the planet (I suspect the emissions of a 1988 car aren't as "clean" as the emissions of later models), and it would be better for us... So if I can convince Lee to give up his car (not likely) if we do find that window mechanism and make repairs, would anybody want to buy a used Hyundai Excel?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Live right now

The national public radio station I wake up to every morning is on a health kick this year. It and its affiliated TV station have a "Live Right Now" program running, with webspace broadcasting healthy ideas for Canadians (this week's is "Stretch it out") and a reality TV show called "Village on a Diet," in which the villagers of Taylor, British Columbia have pledged to collectively lose a ton of weight in an effort to be fitter.

Good for them, I say. Nothing like getting our bodies in good physical shape. But what about our lives?

Today was my day at St. Vincent de Paul's clothing room. As I unpacked bag after bag of donated items, I was thinking about what it would take for society to be in excellent spiritual health. And when I got home and started looking through my email, I came across a column written by my friend/cousin Ron. It really resonates with my moodlings about spiritual fitness:

If we really want to live right now, and not just physically, it would seem that we need to put aside preoccupation with wealth, competition and things that do violence to our relationships with each other and the planet, and focus on caring for widows, orphans and strangers, work for "the survival of the weakest," and spend our lives being "justice with love."

Physical fitness without spiritual health is pointless, as our bodies aren't the eternal part of us. And like Cardinal Sin says, justice without love is baloney, after all.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A snow day?

This Groundhog Day morning, I woke up to a news report on CBC radio that said the schools in the city of Toronto were having a snow day. Apparently, a huge storm was building, and someone at Environment Canada's weather office panicked and convinced other people in key positions that it would be a bad idea to send kids to school, open government offices, or conduct any sort of business as usual. To be sure, some snow fell, but the weather fooled Toronto again, and when I checked the news on the internet this afternoon, there was a lot of guffawing going on when it came to the snowstorm to end all snowstorms. Montreal got it worse than Toronto, and the grade eight kids from my girls' school might be stuck there for a couple of days until air travel gets itself sorted out.

Weather has got to be one of the worst things to try to predict. I remember reading a book a while back on "The Butterfly Effect," which said that there are just too many variables affecting too many things for anything to be truly predictable. Even the flick of a butterfly's wing can change a weather pattern somewhere along the line. But we still watch the Weather Network to see what's coming, even if it never shows up.

I get quite a charge out of the Weather Network people and their cheerful commentary on what's going on across the nation, and I really enjoyed Rick Mercer's visit with them. He's such a crazy Newfie!

"We love watching somebody else suffer through bad weather while we're not, or we love suffering through bad weather and showing it off to everybody," says Chris St. Clair. Personally, I just like watching Rick goof off with his "invisibility cloak." Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Another man and his flute, and a budgie with a guitar

You're going to think I have a thing for guys with flutes if you remember my November moodling Maybe I do. Or maybe I just have a thing for people who are un-self-conscious enough that they're able to share their music in public places.

I ran into another one of those people this morning when I went to get groceries. I had to stop at the bank to get some money from the ATM, and as I waited for a woman to finish at the machine, I noticed a guy I'd seen in the mall rotunda before. He had put a speaker up on a stand, and had one of those roll-out extension cords, the end of which he handed to the lady behind the counter at the health food store. He plugged in his speaker and a small programmable keyboard machine, and was still setting up when I walked past him on my way to the grocery store after my ATM stop. A small sign bore his name and the title "Andean Panflute Player." He had CDs available for twenty dollars.

After twenty minutes of getting groceries, I returned to the open area near the bank machine and sat on a bench for two minutes to listen to the Andean Panflute Player, who was in full swing, playing a slightly off-key but mostly lovely rendition of Abba's Fernando for a number of pedestrians who kept on moving, and one elderly gent who was listening intently until his wife came and they left together. I sent a smile in the flute player's direction as he began to play "I Have a Dream" on a recorder that seemed to be about a quarter pitch too flat for his programmable key board. Up to that moment, I had been tempted to buy one of his CDs, but I have enough of an ear for music that I'm not sure I could stomach too many tunes on that recorder.

Music and the ability to share it in a public way has been on my mind a lot lately. I've taken to listening to CKUA radio ("Original radio, across Alberta and around the world" is one of its slogans) because it plays music that you'd never hear on a top 100 station. I think one of the reasons I enjoy it as much as I do is because a lot of the artists strike me as being about as talented as I am, just gutsier with their desire to share their music. I admire gutsiness, which is one reason I appreciate buskers and Andean Panflute Players, even if they're off key. There's something wonderful about being that uninhibited when it comes to offering what talent you possess to the world.

If you admire gutsiness, too, have a listen to And today I'll be a bit gutsier than usual and post my "online busking" of a song by a folksinger of the sort who gets played on CKUA. Buddy the budgie was the more entertaining of the two of us when we made this video last January, and his part was one of those totally unplanned but excellent surrprises.

The best thing about this kind of busking is you don't have to feel obliged to throw money, or buy a CD. Watch this space for more tunes, coming eventually, no doubt...