Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Simple Suggestion #109... Speak your mind

Today, I'm doing a little happy dance. Why?

Over the past six months, I've written numerous letters to our School Board, Superintendant, and City Councillors about the need to keep our girls' school open. They wanted to close it and build a new school in a distant suburb for a lot of reasons that just didn't make sense.

For a lot of the last six months, I felt like I was hitting my head against school brick, but I just kept reiterating the facts in my letters... that our school is a valuable place because it is the only Kindergarten to Grade 12 single-track Catholic French Immersion school this side of Winnipeg, it is centrally located, close to the French community in Edmonton, well established, easy to reach by transit... and the list went on. I had interesting discussions with a couple of City Councillors via email, and I supported a more organized parent group even though I wasn't able to attend their meetings.

Last night, it all paid off. With 50 parents in attendance at the meeting, our school trustees voted unanimously to keep the old school open, with a view to some serious renovations. When I saw the headline, I whooped out loud, and my family came running! My youngest daughter just came up to me this morning and said, "I'm so glad our school is staying open. I don't care if I have to wear my coat in my class because it's cold sometimes. I get to graduate from my school!" And complete her French education!

I am thrilled for her, and for all the parents who, like me, did more than complain about the changes the Catholic School Board had planned for French Immersion. It's really easy to complain... what's more challenging is to complain to the right people. Human beings love to speak our minds and give our opinions to each other when we encounter things that seem unjust or poorly thought out, but speaking to the people with the power to make a difference isn't something that we think to do often enough. It's too easy to think that no one is listening... but clearly, our elected officials need to be in touch with their constituents!

So... your mission for today, if you choose to accept it, is to think about where your voice needs to be heard. If none of the parents at our school had bothered to organize and write letters and attend meetings, you can bet the vote would have gone the other way last night. Where can you speak your mind for something important today?

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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Tai Chi and me

Four Januaries ago, I had to make a stop at Value Village on Whyte Avenue, and noticed the Taoist Tai Chi Society across the street. I'd always thought those far eastern movement practices so beautiful, so I went over to see if I could watch what was happening.

And wouldn't you know... it was "Demonstration Day." A fellow named Tom made me most welcome, offering me a cup of green tea and a place to sit. A few minutes later, he and four or five others did a Tai Chi demonstration for a dozen of us who had gathered... and I was hooked on the simple but beautiful movement.

I signed up and joined a Tuesday/Thursday beginners' class for four months, and learned the 108 movements in the Taoist Tai Chi set. They had wonderful names, like white stork spreads wings, carry tiger to mountain, parting wild horse's mane, and golden cock stands on one leg. What I really liked was moving in sync with my classmates. It felt like magic, and it didn't require extra equipment, or getting wet, or endangering the future of my joints (like my aerobics class-inclined friends with knee troubles).

Penny, my teacher/volunteer, was wonderful and encouraging. We had a lot of laughs as we learned, and when we "graduated," I was very sorry to see the end of Beginners, so I bought a year's membership. I was the youngest person in my Continuing class (led by an amazing eighty-nine-year-young lady who had at one time been sidelined by arthritis), and the Monday/Wednesday slots didn't work very well for me. I tried evenings, too, but that was no better because of family involvements. A part-time job ended my participation with the larger Taoist Tai Chi community, though I continued to do the set alone in my living room, just often enough that I wouldn't forget it.

A few weeks ago, after two and a half months of this dizziness, I realized that I've been turning to mush, physically. Feeling spinny just walking around means exercise is pretty difficult, though I have managed to go for evening walks on the arm of my husband, or to the coffee shop with my neighbour. But that's not nearly enough to keep anyone in shape... so I decided to at least try my old Tai Chi moves, and guess what? The slow, meditative movements were okay. When I was stiff in the ribcage and the thighs on the second day, I realized just how out of shape I was, so I've been doing the set every day for the past couple of weeks, and I suspect the endorphins from Tai Chi have lifted my spirits.

When I watched the Demonstration Day people doing Tai Chi, I never guessed how physically demanding it can be. My husband didn't believe that such slow movements would make much difference in my fitness levels when I started... but I showed him! When it came time for digging the garden in April of 2008, it wasn't me who was suffering after a day of shovelling dirt. Lee learned his lesson -- he doesn't call it "old people exercise" any more!

It's actually quite a workout when it's done slowly... like a series of "static holds" or isometric exercises, but with a bit more movement. It flows gracefully and it makes me happy. I love parting the wild horse's mane, being the fair lady working shuttles, and moving my hands like clouds. I just learned that the Taoist Society has meetings at my nearest United Church on Mondays and Wednesdays, so maybe once my dizziness is gone, I'll see if I can't join them just so I don't completely forget what it's like to move with a group.

There are lots of other forms of Tai chi besides the Taoist (which seems to appeal more to geriatric patients than some of the ones that are more closely related to the martial arts). If you ever get a chance to learn Tai Chi of any kind, I'd recommend it!

And now, off to do my 108 moves...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gratitude again

Gratitude is a theme of which I never tire. I heard an interesting story this week about an atheist who was chatting with his brother, a priest. The atheist said, "I have a wonderful life -- a beautiful wife and family, a job I like, a comfortable home, good friends and neighbours. I just wish I knew who to thank for it all." Guess what the priest was thinking!

I've been really struggling with my church over the past months and years, to the point where at times I have wished I could be an atheist -- but I can't. God is just a part of my life, nothing I can do about it, really. And God and I are good... my problem is that the people in charge of my church have made a lot of decisions lately that I vehemently disagree with -- to the point where I have actually cried through Sunday Mass a couple of times. It's really painful to go to church at all right now; in fact, I've missed the past two weeks due to illness, and staying home was a relief in many ways. But today I will go, because I know "who to thank for it all," and because there's just something about giving thanks with my community... many of whom feel the way I do about recent changes. We can cheer each other on in our struggles, at least, and be grateful together.

Following this theme, my friend Charleen has done it again... sent me a wonderful Sunday video. It's worth viewing just for the time lapsed photography... but the gratitude part of it is perfect for a Sunday, too. Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sharing our gifts

These last two weeks, I've been reading In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1983, ISBN 015-144525-7), an old book of collected works by Alice Walker. She also wrote The Color Purple, one of the few books I had to buy for myself after seeing the movie, and I loved the book even more. In this collection of her older works, she writes about everything from the women writers who inspired her, to her involvement with the Civil Rights movement in the States, to what it means to be an artist. She's also given me the names of a few other books I've put on hold at the library; authors I've never heard of, but now want to read.

The part of the book that has given me the most food for thought is the essay from which the book gets its title. In it, Alice writes about the connection between spirituality and creativity, and reflects upon the generations of black women whose creativity died within them during years of slavery and serfdom... but whose sacrifices have led her to her own creative spirit. It's a beautiful piece of writing, and it has me thinking about the creative impulse that lives in each of us.

It dawns on me that I live a pretty privileged life... to have the ability and the time to exercise my creativity for my own happiness' sake has not been something that women have always enjoyed. I would guess there are many women in my own city that don't have time or place to be creative. And yet, most of us, no matter how busy, find some way to flex our creative muscles... we cook, we quilt, we decorate our homes, we sing, we do something that helps the spirit within us to express itself.

I've always been a somewhat artsy person, thanks to parents who encouraged creativity. As a child, I dreamed of being an artist one day. In grade six, I learned to make sunsets with pencil crayons, and figured I'd go far. Then I ended up in a school play... and dreamed of being an actor, singing on stage and wowing the crowds. But all too soon, those dreams faded as I came up against the reality of making a living and being a self-supporting adult. The bonus was that I could take my guitar to school and teach my students through music... so my spirit wasn't completely stifled. Underlying all of these efforts at self-expression, though, was a creative outlet that I didn't even recognize.

I was writing. All the time. Letters, journals, poetry, stories, my own historical records. I have two boxes of scribblers, stuffed duotangs, photo diaries and journals, boxes crammed to the limit on a shelf in my basement. So is it any wonder that I'm moodling now? It's just what I do.

Alice Walker's essay underlined for me the fact that we all have something to say, and we find many, many different ways to say whatever it is, whether with quilts or photos or curry dishes or moodlings. These things are our gift to the world, whether anyone notices or not. It's easy to tell ourselves that what we have to say isn't important, that it doesn't matter, that it's not necessary, but that's the oldest cop out in the book. It is necessary to our mental health, and besides, gifts are meant to be shared, maybe not on a large scale, but with those who care for us at the very least.

Alice Walker expresses this beautifully when she writes about her mother:
"Because of her creativity with flowers, even my memories of poverty are seen through a screen of blooms.... And I remember people coming to my mother's yard to be given cuttings from her flowers; I hear again the praise showered on her because whatever rocky soil she landed on, she turned into a garden.... I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible -- except as Creator: hand and eye. She is involved in the work her soul must have. Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty." (p. 241)
We all do this ordering of the universe in various ways, because the creative spirit exists in each of us. If we don't find ways to express it, something within us, and in the world, is that much less healthy.

Gifts are meant to be shared. How are you sharing yours?


Even before I got into moodling online, I found the work of this Southern Alberta watercolour artist to be quite inspiring. Gena LaCoste's sharing of her art, especially the landscapes and horses, makes me so happy... check out http://genalacoste.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Simple Suggestion #108... Naturalize your wardrobe

Working at the Clothing Room at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's distribution centre, we see a lot of clothing donations... some of which we put out for clients to access, some of which we send to other agencies, and some that goes into the round filing cabinet because it's no longer fit to wear (why people donate their paint shirts or torn jeans is beyond me. Do they really think we'll have time to clean/fix their stuff if they don't?) And we perpetually ask: what should we do with these outdated, out of style, often polyester outfits that may never come back into fashion? Does polyester ever break down?

I haven't actually been to the Clothing Room since my dizziness began three months ago, and I'm really missing it, my volunteer friends and the folks who come in to get clothes and kibbitz with us. It's been on my mind more than usual lately, because I have a few clothing items that my girls have outgrown that I could take for the sometimes empty racks there. And I'm thinking about it today because of the many bags of clothes I've unpacked there over the last few years that have given me a definite bias about my own wardrobe.

After sorting through bags and bags of some blessed deceased old lady or gentleman's clothing, and reflecting on what they left behind and how their offspring couldn't bear to send it to the dump, I've decided that I want, as much as possible, to live in natural fibres. For one thing, they breathe better, and for another, when they get to the end of their lives (or mine), if they end up in a landfill, they will biodegrade in a way that polyester and other artificial fibres don't. As for leather... it's not a great choice because of the toxins required to process it into something wearable. Of course, these days, almost everything we wear is processed in one way or another, so it takes a bit of extra effort to find wool, cotton, hemp, and other natural fibres that aren't chemically treated in ways that wreck our environment at their beginnings, or aren't made by people in poor working conditions. But if we can find it, clothing manufactured using sustainable, people-friendly methods is often of such good quality that it lasts longer than the unsustainably made equivalents, if you can even call them equivalents.

I've spent part of my afternoon today looking at clothing on sustainable clothing websites like www.globalgirlfriend.com and www.commonthreadz.com... and realize that 1) there aren't a lot of Canadian retailers for sustainable clothing, and 2) the so-called eco-boutiques are way out of my price range! But there are other options... like buying natural fibre clothing second hand instead of creating consumer demand for new items, or going to the big Fashion Clothing Swap that will be part of the Metropolis Winter Festival in Sir Winston Churchill Square on February 17th from 7 to 10 pm. There's also a "Handmade Mafia Market" happening that evening, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on February 18th. If it's a way to refresh my wardrobe in a sustainable way, it's worth the trip in my books!

Or... maybe my wardrobe is just fine the way it is, and I don't NEED to go shopping at all. Yup. I think that's probably true.

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

A pleasant winter weekend

Know what this is?

It's pink play dough. 
Yup, that's right, pink, homemade, cook on the stove play dough.
I'll put the recipe at the bottom of this moodling in case you want some of your own.

On Friday night, we were all in rather funny, cabin-feverish moods after a week of temperatures with windchills in the minus 30s and 40s (Celsius). Even though it had warmed up to -26, none of us wanted to go for a walk, so my two younger daughters raided the games cupboard and came up with Cranium Cadoo -- with no play dough. So I volunteered to make some... and we kinda forgot about Cranium altogether and had a play dough party instead. The recipe at the end of this moodling makes a gorgeous, soft, smooth play dough, not like the straight salt, flour and water stuff we made when I was growing up. The secret is in the cooking on the stove... it comes out of the pot smooth and warm and feels fantastic in your hands!

My girls decided to dig out the cookie cutters.

Here's what you get when you cross 
a teddy bear shape and an angel imprint.

And here's our family. Mama, 
Papa (with budgie on his head).
and three baby bears, I guess. 
Youngest daughter's creation.

You could say that our second daughter's play dough skills have evolved.

This guy looks like someone from out of The Hobbit.

We woke to a lovely fresh snowfall on Saturday morning. The sky was still dropping tiny flakes, so my love and I decided to go for a walk to our favourite viewpoint:

Edmonton in the snow...

One of the things I love about this city is that there are so many places in it where you hardly even know you're in a city. Kudos to the city planners who made the River Valley into a wonderful park space. We turned 180 degrees from the picture above and took the picture below.

Love those trees!

Walking down 84th Street on our way home, we ran into some of my favourite local drunks -- Bohemian waxwings, enjoying some fermented mountain ash berries... (the shot at the top of my moodlings at the moment is a cloud of them landing in the treetops)

A couple of them got a little too deep in their "cups"
and decided to take the easy route, enjoying the berries 
that fell from the tree. They made me nervous, 
flopping around on the edge of a busy road!
Move it, boys, don't you see the car coming?!

Not long after we arrived home, my sisters showed up 
and made some snow angels in our back yard.

The only unpleasant thing about this weekend was both my hubby and me coming down with head colds. So on Sunday, we took an afternoon nap while my lovely sisters took our girls to see the ice sculptures at the Legislature because Ice on Whyte was so busy...

It was a pleasant winter weekend, from dough sculpture to ice sculpture. 

Here's that wonderful play dough recipe I promised:

Mix together:

2 cups (500 mL) flour
2 cups (500 mL) water
2 tbsp (30 mL) cream of tartar
1 cup (25 mL) salt
2 tbsp (30 mL) oil

Decide how many colours of play dough you want, and divide batter accordingly -- this much will make four colours easily (I only made a half recipe on Friday, all pink, and it made two satisfying balls of dough). Put enough batter for one colour into small pot, add colouring, and stir over low heat until mixture forms a ball and is cooked through. Let cool. Wash saucepan and repeat for other colours.

Have fun!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Beauty for a Sunday

Another gorgeous Sunday song, forwarded by my friend Charleen... who sends me Sunday songs on a pretty regular basis because she has a knack for sending the best emails. Charleen is one of my favourite people on the planet, and has been since I met her... one of those rare kindred spirit people in my life. She had a horse accident (as opposed to car accident) in June of 2010 and has been in a wheelchair since then, so she relies on voice recognition software to use her computer to forward things that she thinks worthwhile to those of us lucky enough to be her friends. This one is especially good... kudos to the person(s) who put it together. The images come from BBC's Planet Earth series, and the song is by Brian Doerksen, a wonderful musician from British Columbia who writes worship songs. It reminds me why I choose to live simply... for the sake of so much created goodness!

Thanks, Charleen, for leading me to Brian's website. I think I'll go back and listen to Peter Mayer singing Holy Now, too.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I wasn't going to moodle today, but...

...this fellow has charmed me with his message of simplicity, sustainability, and connecting with ourselves and others. Now I'm wondering how it might translate to this crazy cold country in which I live. I guess not following fashion (because we'll never catch up to it!) might be a start...

If you want to know more about Jon Jandai's work, check out http://www.punpunthailand.org/.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Simple Suggestion #107... Visit a cemetery

The funeral of a woman I've known for a long time took place last Friday. I went to school with June's youngest son, and we sat behind her and her husband at church for years. She loved to look around the church on a Sunday and make comments about anyone and anything, reminding me of a little kid who didn't know you weren't supposed to be so honest out loud! She was interested in everything, she was entertaining in her own right, and she was the kind of woman that I imagined would go on forever. It's hard to believe that her heart gave out, because her spirit was indomitable.

Seems like every year at about this time, someone that I know dies, and it shocks me. You'd think it wouldn't surprise me anymore, but it always does. I guess, with all that Christmas celebration out of the way and ordinary life back on my plate, it's easy to forget that life stops. I suspect that there's a "death denial gene" built into human collective consciousness that fools us into thinking that we'll all go on forever; that life will always be the way it is.

So it's really easy to get complacent, to forget that our lives are a gift, and that it's silly to try to store up a lot of stuff here, because WE CAN'T TAKE ANYTHING WITH US. That's why I like this Simple Suggestion. I'm not saying that we should get all morbid and dwell on our deaths or anything. I'm just saying that visiting a cemetery is a helpful reminder that we and our lives are not permanent, so it's a good idea to live as simply as we can, and to bless others while we're here. The people we leave behind honestly don't want to have to deal with a lot of stuff when we're gone. A cemetery is a quiet, peaceful place where we can think about the blessings we DO want to leave behind, and how we can leave the planet a better place than we found it.

Of course, I wouldn't visit a cemetery in this cold weather. I'd wait until it warms up a bit, take a mug of cocoa along, and walk among the gravestones. I'd read a few, because they all tell stories, and I love stories. Or I might wait for summer and go have a picnic at the grave of someone I knew. I'd like to go visit Bob or Mary, my old gardening buddies and neighbours, and maybe take a few of their flowers that now bloom in my yard, the legacies with which they blessed me. It's a nice way to befriend my mortality, to acknowledge the fact that life is temporary, and to remember that she who dies with the most toys still dies, so why bother with so many toys?

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Okay, so ambitionlessness isn't a word. But contentment definitely is. After reading the comments on my last post, I was reminded of this story. There are several versions of it on Youtube, but this is my favourite, just because I like the music, and the narrator doesn't have an annoying voice.

I suppose we all define success in different ways... but I get the feeling that too many of us let the lifestyles of the Rich and Famous dictate to us what success looks like. And that false ideal makes us unhappy because we'll never look like those celebrities on the Golden Globe catwalk. We won't have their fabulous possessions and piles of money. We won't receive the applause and adulation that they do... 

But really, who is happier? The folks who run from the papparazzi, or the ones who read their magazines? The mom who kisses her kids goodnight, or the actor on a film set in Paris, far away from family? My husband with his reliable commuter car, or the sports celebrity with so many vehicles that he can't count them all? The musician who sings on a different stage every night, or the teenager bopping down the street, sharing her iPod earbuds with her best friend? I guess it all depends on how you define happiness and success.

For a while there, after I started my moodlings, I thought it would be great if I could have a huge crowd of followers from all over the world to indicate that I was a successful blogger. I read accounts of how other people became famous in the blogworld, and I looked at popular blogsites to see if I could pick up any tricks or tips. There were plenty of people offering all sorts of advice about everything to do with increasing readership... most of which suggested following other people's blogs and commenting on them, so that they would look up my moodlings and comment in return, all of which seemed silly and meant spending way more time in front of my computer. 

Which is the last thing I want to do, because it's totally counter to living simply and happily according to my definition, and the fisherman's definition. Why catch more fish than you can eat and share with your neighbours? Why try to attract readers I don't know, when the ones I do know visit me now and then?

I wrote most of this moodling yesterday... then this morning, Henri Nouwen's daily reflection arrives in my inbox, another one of those God-incidences:

Often we want to be somewhere other than where we are, or even to be someone other than who we are. We tend to compare ourselves constantly with others and wonder why we are not as rich, as intelligent, as simple, as generous, or as saintly as they are. Such comparisons make us feel guilty, ashamed, or jealous. It is very important to realize that our vocation is hidden in where we are and who we are. We are unique human beings, each with a call to realize in life what nobody else can, and to realize it in the concrete context of the here and now.

We will never find our vocations by trying to figure out whether we are better or worse than others. We are good enough to do what we are called to do. Be yourself!

Just being myself and living in contentment is very freeing. I think I'll go and read some more Don Quixote now. It's actually quite entertaining.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ambitionlessness sets me free

Is there such a word as non-ambition? Unambition? Ambitionlessness? I have been looking for the right word, but I can't seem to find it, not even in my handy dandy Roget's Thesaurus. So I'm going to tell you a story about it, and maybe you can give me the word I'm seeking.

As you may or may not have read in a previous post, I have written a novel that I hope will be published soon. I finished it almost five years ago, and have been tinkering with it ever since. I think it's actually a really good story (and a few others agree), so why leave it in my computer if it can do somebody some good?

So, in an effort to get my story published, a friend and I went to meet with a bona fide writer on Friday. Richard has written a number of books and done all sorts of amazing things in the last twenty years. I went to see him because I wanted information about publishing a book. It wasn't long into our time together that I wondered if there was anything he could say to help me, because we are so different.

Richard is a man who lives by his writing. For him, success is very important, and he's had considerable success. So when I asked about self-publishing to get my story out there, he started talking about speaking engagements and self-promotion. When I explained that I want my novel to bring some donations to the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation, he made a comment about Canadians being the hobbits of the universe for all our good works. He strongly urged me to get an agent (in fact, offered to bring my project to his agent) and gave me plenty of encouragement to get out there, sell lots of books, and be a success.

But what I tried to tell him is that I already feel like a success. If my book can be published and make some money for CEASE, that's a big bonus for what has already been an amazing experience. I've written a 177,000 word manuscript for my friends to enjoy, they've enjoyed it, and I'm happy. I have no more ambition than to share an amazing story that came to me through a dream, and that I had the pleasure to put on paper. Speaking engagements and self-promotion are not what this is all about. It's about telling a story that can perhaps bring donations to a very worthy cause: that of helping our sisters and brothers caught up in human trafficking situations to be free, and well, and whole.

I'm happy with my life as is. I have a job that brings me joy, a wonderful family, my old dream home to live in, gardens to grow good things, and outlets for my creative energies. I have no real ambitions beyond these, and honestly, that's a wonderful thing, very freeing. I feel no pressure to have a best-selling novel on my hands, but I would love to see it published for CEASE's sake, to raise awareness.

So now that you know the story, what's the word that I'm seeking?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Simple Suggestion #106... Rethink the plastic in your life

Even though Edmonton has state of the art waste management and recycling facilities that ensure that almost everything even remotely useful from our city's waste stream gets reduced, reused, recycled, recovered, repurposed and almost every other R word you can think of, I still hesitate when it comes to buying anything plastic or otherwise petrochemically-related. Plastic is becoming a problem in many places in the world, and honestly, it's not a great solution to much of anything. When something made of plastic breaks, it's pretty much unfixable (without subjecting yourself to fumes or other toxins), and let's face it... most plastic, when it reaches a certain age, tends to break.


And often.

And then what do we do with it? In Edmonton, we can recycle most plastics, but there are many places that don't.

Besides that, the making and recycling of plastic (and other petrochemical products) requires a lot of energy (which is linked to emissions that have to do with global climate change)... If we have to live with emissions to create our dishes, storage containers, furnishings, toys, clothing, etc., why not choose more environmentally friendly and biodegradable solutions when we can, and avoid plastic altogether? Why not support our potters, carpenters, artisans, delicatessen owners, etc., who can provide us what we need without plastic getting in the way? We can also use cloth rather than plastic bags to do some of our shopping at garage sales and thrift stores, instead of supporting the consumer markets that push plastics on us whether we need/want them or not. Especially single use plastic, as you'll see in the eight minute video below.

Richard and Judith Lang are a couple of artists who do a lot of beachcombing on Kehoe beach at Point Reyes National Seashore, just north of San Francisco. They have created art that demonstrates some of the more compelling reasons to rethink the role of plastic in our lives. Check it out, and check out of plastic living.

One Plastic Beach from Tess Thackara on Vimeo.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'm a radical. How about you?

The Honourable Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, called me a radical on Monday in an open letter he had printed in the Toronto Globe and Mail. If you missed it, you can find it here. Here's the part where he refers to folks like me who oppose the building of the Gateway Pipeline to carry Oilsands bitumen through the forests of British Columbia to a port located on a pristine coast where our First Nations brothers and sisters fish for their food:

Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. 
No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams. 
These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.

Minister Oliver, I'm very disappointed in you. As the Minister of Natural Resources, you, of all people, should be able to see the forest for the trees. I would think you would know that ordinary Canadians are concerned with more than just the building of a pipeline for the sake of Canada's wealth. I would think you would know that the word radical can also refer to roots, as in grassroots... and that there are a lot of ordinary, grassroots Canadians who can see that calling people names and accusing them of ulterior motives is just another reason for them to protest against the unsustainable choices your government is making.
Minister Oliver, you're letting me down. Honestly, I could care less about the name calling, but I expect you to think about ALL our natural resources, not just the ones that stimulate our economy. I would hope you would give first consideration to the environment on which we all depend for clean air, water, food and housing. I would like you to ensure that the appropriate development of the Oilsands (including dealing with increasing carbon emissions and those nasty tailings ponds) take place before any further thought be given to building pipelines. I would appreciate knowing that if Canadians allow the Oilsands to continue to develop, we won't be paying for them with the very atmosphere our children and grandchildren will inherit. 

Minister Oliver, I am not against forestry, or mining, or oil, or gas, or hydroelectric dams. I rely on all those things (except the dams -- we buy windpower) to live in a chilly northern Canadian city. What I am against is the exploitation of those resources by politicians and businessmen who are more concerned with an unsustainable economy's bottom line than with the environment that we all depend upon in order to live. I don't want to live in a world whose climate change becomes a constant threat to our very existence. I don't want my First Nations brothers and sisters' fishing grounds to become any more polluted than they already are, or to be endangered by the possibility of oil spills. 
I don't want forestry to decimate old growth rain forests that help to balance ecosystems that are tied to other ecosystems in ways that we will only discover when those ecosystems are dying. I don't want mining to lead to the erosion or pollution of important watersheds. If I have to use less oil, gas or electricity, I will find ways to adapt, because I am willing to make personal sacrifices for a healthier future. 

In other words, I just want the planet Earth and all its life forms to continue, whole and well, for many generations. I'm not convinced that you or your government cronies really understand how a pipeline will change things for the worse. So for the sake of your children and grandchildren, I write my own open letter to you. 

If my attitude makes me a radical, I wear the t-shirt proudly. And I'll mail my commentary/rant to you, and invite all the other radicals I know to write you their own letters

Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, can be reached at Joe.Oliver@parl.gc.ca. Even better, send a snail mail (no stamp required): 

Hon. Joe Oliver,
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

(t-shirt picture from Surropa.com).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Noodlers

In a cold, northern city, a small tribe of Noodlers gathers on a dusky afternoon to encourage one another in a difficult and time consuming task. They bring the necessaries: bags of white flour, 15 dozen eggs, amazing muscular strength in hand, arm and shoulder, and a determination to create the ultimate in slow food... homemade egg noodles...

This one needs a lot more kneading to make it smooth and pretty...

The Noodlers make enough batches of smooth, hard yellow noodle dough to fill five or six icecream pails. They disperse to nurse their aching hands through the night, vowing that this is the last time they'll fulfill this crazy task.

The following day, the intrepid band regathers to complete their mission: the rolling and cutting of the noodles.

The large lumps of dough are formed into small, flat pieces 
that go through rollers to make larger flat pieces.

The larger pieces are then cranked through again to make long sheets
that go through several hands, sometimes flying through the air... 
to drying places throughout the house...

All of which is done in shifts... as some sheet noodles dry, 
some dough is just being cut and flattened for rolling, and
other sheets are cut into thin, chicken noodle soup noodles...

...put into pans... and run upstairs to a
highly specialized drying platform.

The same process occurs for the thick, comfort food noodles...

The Noodlers are an extremely shy people... 
I had to hide to catch this runner/spreader in action...

To prevent them from sticking together in clumps,
the Noodler below is airing the drying noodles...

which will rest on their drying beds for a day or two,
before being packed into containers and stored in cupboards.

After about nine hours (not including the drying and getting the noodles into ice cream pails), the Noodlers are pleased with their work. The noodles will be enjoyed in soups and cooked in the traditional Russian-German style (with potatoes and butter fried croutons) until they're all gone... Perhaps by then the Noodlers will have forgotten their sore hands and only remember the fun, camaraderie, and flying noodles that brought them together for two days in January, 2012.

P.S. If you want to make your own slow food egg noodles, take a dozen eggs and work in about one kilo of white flour (4-5 cups; depending on the size of your eggs, it might take more or less). We used 15 kilos of flour for 15 dozen eggs. Make a really firm (read knuckle-busting) dough, and roll out thin before cutting (Grandma did it by hand, but there are pasta machines like ours still available for about $60 if you want to do it that way). Cook noodles in salted water or soup broth. Yummmmy!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Epiphany Sunday

Today, in most Christian churches, is the Feast of the Epiphany, a day to remember the Magi, or wise ones, who followed a star in their attempt to find God. I just finished reading James Rollins' book, Map of Bones, an action thriller based on the idea that the Magi were ancient alchemists who learned secret wisdom and hid it for modern civilizations to find. It was a romp of a story, with lots of twists and turns, gunfire and explosions, hi-tech spyware and high-speed travel. I think I'll look for more of Rollins' writing.

The thing that caught my attention once again in thinking about the Magi was that they're rather vague characters. We have no idea how many there were, where they came from, their age, sex, or race. Yes, the Bible  (Matthew 2) says "wise men," but remember, the Bible scribes used the word "men" for everyone all the time, whether male or female (that's one of those things that drives me crazy about the Bible -- its non-inclusive language -- as a woman, I hate being generically lumped in with "all men", but that's another moodling for another day).

So there may have been a dozen magi (though we think there are three because three gifts are mentioned: gold, frankincense (not frankenstein, as the poor reader at church misread yesterday, giving us a case of "church giggles," where you soundlessly shake while laughing so hard you cry) and myrrh. They may have been from many different places. They could have been male or female. The Magi represent all those who seek wisdom, and I don't know about you, but I'd like to be wiser. And I'd like to share, once again, my story of modern-day Monica and the wisdom she finds when she meets the Magi... which you can access by clicking here. Maybe next year I'll remember to share this before Christmas!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The word of the year is...

My most faithful friend (the one who has been with me since grade one) and I have a ritual that we follow sometime around the beginning of each year. No, not making New Year's Resolutions -- I've never been very good at them -- but picking a word that we hope will shape the year ahead. Sometimes the words are a wish for the year, other times, they reflect something of the struggles we've been facing and how we intend to overcome them.

For example, at the end of 2009 we were both feeling helpless and hopeless over the lack of progress against Climate Change at Copenhagen, and our government's lack of care for our environment. I was getting really depressed about the fact that, though I do my darndest to live lightly on our earth, our politicians are still fixed on monetary issues and give handouts to big business so the stock markets go up, rather than invest in really important things -- like the health of the planet that sustains us all.

After some moaning and complaining about the state of the earth, Cathy and I picked the word Hope for 2010, a bold and daring word at a time when having Hope for our planet felt next to impossible in a lot of ways. Hope became our challenge. We started pointing out to each other the positives that we noticed... the number of people we met who were starting to wake up to the climate crisis... the hockey player who payed for his carbon emissions... the media outlets who gave climate change issues a lot of coverage...  groups like Sierra Club and the David Suzuki Foundation and all their followers and all the good things they were doing... organizations like Kiva, helping the poorest of the poor... local food initiatives... recycling projects... cooperative living groups... and so many more. Over time, Hope bloomed in both of us. I think it's safe to say we ended 2010 with more Hope than when we started.

Once we had Hope, we decided to keep it going by rejoicing in the good and enjoying Joy in 2011, wherever we found it. We didn't talk about Joy as much as we did about Hope, because we didn't need to, I think. (I've been trying to remember other words of the year... one was Freedom (from rumination about frustration), but my middle aged brain isn't forthcoming with any others -- Cathy, can you help?)

So what's this year's word? Well, now that we have Hope and Joy under our belts, we're shifting gears again. Cathy, a palliative care nurse, has just finished a much-needed and highly-prized 3-month sabbatical break from work and is starting back at part-time hospice home-care, and part-time parish nursing. As for me, I've been struggling with dizziness for two months, working only half of my part-time position at L'Arche, and trying to keep up with my responsibilities at home.

So what better word than (drum roll please....) Balance.

It would be wonderful to regain my sense of Balance in the physical, literal sense... and it would be fantastic to live 2012 in a balanced way... working enough to give a sense of purpose, and resting enough to feel healthy, eating wisely (Cathy's inspiring me more and more toward vegetarianism), getting exercise, connecting with nature through our gardens, spending time with loved ones, and doing those extra things that fill life with meaning and Hope and Joy and all those words from years gone by.

Balance. Yes. We like it. It's our word of the year!

What's your word of the year for 2012?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Simple Suggestion #105... Think about safety

My friend Charleen sends me the best emails, and she recently shared the video below. It's a seatbelt advocacy campaign from Sussex in the UK, and I think it's so much better than the graphic and gory ones we have in Alberta for our safe driving campaigns.

I know I've kind of fallen off the Simple Suggestions wagon lately, but today's is simply this: be as safe as you can. If you can't walk or bike or bus, wear your seatbelt when you drive, and do whatever else you can to be safe in all areas of your life. Your loved ones will be grateful.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's fun

How many engineers does it take to open a champagne bottle?

Well, last night, it was both the ones I had on hand. We spent the evening with my husband's brother's family, and toasted in the New Year with a little bottle of champagne that didn't want to open very easily. A couple of minutes after we counted down to the New Year, Churchill Square's fireworks display appeared through the trees, so we turned out all our lights and stood in the living room to watch and listen to the reverberations. It was a lovely way to welcome 2012.

Today's fun was a beautiful walk around Fort Edmonton Park on the River Loop trail. We parked at Fort Ed and headed for the river, and the 3.5 km loop took us perhaps an hour... with a little side trip to my favourite footbridge.

Our long winter shadows... and our girls on the trail.

The Fort Edmonton Bridge

It was a perfect afternoon for a stroll, and I have to say that I loved getting some fresh air and exercise after all the food and indoor activity we've indulged in lately!

As I sit here moodling, I'm hearing a strange, buzzy little sound, like my daughter's tiny, wind-up penguin toy puttering around the living room floor... but it's our two Christmas Break guests, digging under their paper shavings. My youngest daughter brought them to stay for two weeks because her teacher has gone to tropical climes to get married, and someone needed to look after the critters. We can't remember their actual, class-voted names, so we call them French Fry and Chocolate. I'm not too crazy about them, so this is a good way to let my girls enjoy gerbils without having to keep them forever. Being nocturnal creatures, they tend to get noisier at night, so we've been doing our best to keep them awake during the day. At the moment, they're making more noise than my darling husband, who is gently snoring on the couch.

I love these lazy holiday afternoons. I hope you're enjoying a few, too. Happy New Year!