Category Archives: Reflections

Turbulent Times

Nearly 900 wildfires are burning in Canada right now.

It’s easy to let panic get the upper hand when we consider what is going on in the world. Rapidly transmitted variants of COVID-19 are continuing to spread and cause illness and death. It is scary to think about how many people won’t believe scientific evidence and refuse to get a miraculous vaccine that could save their lives. Wildfires and heatwaves are stark reminders of an impending environmental catastrophe that climatologists have been warning us about for decades. A whole string of events has provided proof that racism is still alive and well in North America. What turbulent times we live in.

President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963

I am working on a new novel set in the 1960s. Those were my childhood and teen years. Possible topics I might cover are the Cuban missile crisis that easily could have ended in an all-out nuclear war. Americans witnessed the assassinations of President John F.Kennedy, his Attorney General brother Robert Kennedy and civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Then there were the events that would lead up to the FLQ crisis in Canada, the escalation of the war in Vietnam, and the construction of the Berlin Wall in Germany. Violent race riots occurred regularly in the United States and the sixties scoop was going on here in Canada. Thousands of Indigenous children were being taken from their homes by welfare workers and placed with mostly non-Indigenous families.  What a turbulent time!

My parents survived the turbulent years of the great depression and World War II.

My grandparents survived the turbulence of the Russian Revolution and famine and World War I.

We are almost always living in turbulent times. Perhaps our current times seem more turbulent than in the past because of the way we have such comprehensive coverage of them in the media now.

It is important to keep our perspective and remember that turbulent as our times may seem those who came before us have survived turbulent times and we will too.

Other posts…………

They Wore Masks Too

The Berlin Wall in Toronto

A Where Were You Moment

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Life is Messy

With my Advanced Composition class in Hong Kong

Before I first started teaching high school English I was in regular e-mail communication with one of my future colleagues. He was trying to help me understand what teaching high school English was like. He concluded one of his letters with the phrase “Teaching English is messy!”

And he was right! Juggling as many as a hundred students a semester all at different places in the creative process, all with different writing skills and different reading levels and different literary tastes, all with unique personal challenges and different attitudes towards learning, made for an extremely messy classroom hubris that I grew to love over a six-year period.

Life is a lot like English class too. Relationships are usually messy. They rarely run the course described in fairy tales.  While the people we love often make us feel whole and cherished…… sometimes as they negotiate their way through joy or pain they can tax our resources of support and care and we can easily wear their affection thin with our overt enthusiasm or droning complaints.

Farewell party for us thrown by friends when we left Hong Kong. We have managed to keep in touch with some of these people whose friendship meant so much to us during our six years in the city.

Friendships don’t just begin and end, they taper off, can change because of distance and time, go through rough patches, be rejuvenated but most often, bless us richly.  

Goals and plans are messy. We seldom reach milestones or walk through a charted journey in the manner we’d anticipated but how great a feeling when we arrive! The path of our work life is almost certain to be winding and messy and full of detours yet our careers can be incredibly rewarding.  

Daily life is messy too- full of grungy toilets to be cleaned, sweet children to hug, dreaded appointments to keep, lovely gifts to open, cracked toenails to cut, inspiring books to read, necessary shopping trips to endure, exciting new skills to learn and sometimes the need to spend a day in your nightgown.

Becoming a parent opens us up to lots of messiness- much of it joyous but lots of it also exhausting and full of anxiety

The beginning of different stages of life open up so many messy possibilities and we delight in the exciting maze of them. The end of life leaves a myriad of messy loose ends that need tending and tidying.

The messiness of life is challenging and rewarding and interesting and at this point at least for me definitely worth waking up for each day.

Other posts……..

Three Actions for a Good Life

The Beatles As A Soundtrack for Life

Life Symbols

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To Pay Attention

In her beautiful and important poem Yes! No! Mary Oliver asks us to remember……..

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly, looking at everything

She tells us that ………..

To pay attention. This is our endless and proper work.

Mary’s words remind me that whatever I am doing if I pay attention I will find things.……

to surprise me,

to make me think

to humble me

to make me laugh

to engage me

to connect me

to awe me

to delight me

to challenge me

to restore me

to interest me

and inspire me

Mary Oliver has another poem Summer Day in which she says

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is

I do know how to pay attention.

To pay attention. This is our endless and proper work.”

Other posts………….

Wild Grasses- A Love Story

And That Led Me

When They Look Back

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The Trees of Rideau Hall

When Prince William and his wife Kate visited Canada in 2011 they planted a hemlock tree on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s Governor-General in Ottawa. It is a tradition that when someone famous visits Rideau Hall they plant a tree.  On our visit to Ottawa, we took a tour of Rideau Hall and the park surrounding it and I made some notes about the trees I saw.

There are 150 trees planted by famous visitors on the Rideau Hall grounds.  Many of the trees have grown large and their boughs stretch wide and high.

One thing I noticed was many of the people who planted the trees at Rideau Hall had made a positive difference in our world. 

There is a brass marker at the base of each tree telling you who planted it, when it was planted, as well as what kind of tree it is.

I saw a sugar maple planted by Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president. The anti-apartheid activist spent twenty- seven years in prison and became a worldwide symbol of hope to those fighting for freedom and equality.

Diana, Princess of Wales has a tree in Rideau Hall Park. This popular British royal used her notoriety to draw the attention of the world to the needs of people with AIDS and the victims of land mines.

In July of 2011, when William her son and his wife Kate visited Rideau Hall, they stopped for a few moments of silence beside the tree Diana had planted, just after planting their own tree.  Following in the footsteps of Diana’s dedication to public service the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have established a foundation that promotes mental health and wellness.  

John F. Kennedy planted a flourishing red oak tree. Kennedy inspired the establishment of the United States Peace Corps. The organization has sent 200,000 volunteers to 140 countries to help those in need.

When Kofi Annan visited Canada Adrienne Clarkson was the Governor-General living at Rideau Hall.

There’s a tree planted by  Kofi Annan of Ghana, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations.  He won the Nobel Prize for his efforts to bring peace to conflicts in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Nigeria, Libya, East Timor and the Middle East.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko greet Governor General Michaelle Jean at Rideau Hall before planting their tree

Japan’s Emperor Akihito has a tree at Rideau Hall. In 2011 after a tsunami devastated his country he did something no Japanese royal has ever done before. He made a live television appearance to talk to his people to reassure them and give them hope and then he and his wife visited shelters for storm refugees. 

Many of the famous people who have planted trees at Rideau Hall have used their lives to serve others, and make a difference in the world. 

 Other posts……..

The Beginning And End of Life

I Sat in The Speaker’s Chair

Canada A Country For All Seasons

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Are You A Grown Up?

Author and poet Judith Viorst has just released her latest book called Nearing Ninety. It is another collection of poems marking a decade milestone in her life and follows her other poetry collections about turning 49,59,60,70 and 80. 

I have long been an admirer of Ms. Viorst’s children’s books like…….Alexander and the Horrible Terrible No Good Very Bad Day  and The Tenth Good Thing About Barney.  

More than thirty years ago I heard her speak at the Pantages Theatre in Winnipeg. That night Ms. Viorst used a series of highly entertaining anecdotes to illustrate the signs we should look for if we wanted to determine whether we were truly a grown up.

According to Viorst being a grown up means………..

1. Realizing you aren’t necessarily everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. Some people will like you and some won’t. That’s natural and you accept it. 

2. Understanding you cannot be responsible for making sure all the people you love are always happy. Your friends and family need to bear some of the responsibility for their own happiness. 

3. Accepting the ‘dark’ side of your personality. Knowing you have faults but not being too judgemental of yourself. Admitting that despite your negative qualities you are still basically a good person. 

4.  Being firmly optimistic even when things go wrong in life. Always remembering that even when things appear catastrophic eventually healing will come and pain will diminish. 

5. Having the ability to comfort yourself and the grace to receive comfort from others. 

6. Committing yourself in some way to making the world a better place to live in before you die. 

Judith Viorst ended her talk by encouraging us not to worry if we hadn’t achieved her six marks of a grownup. She told us when we quit the ‘growing up process’ we may as well quit the living process as well. 

Other posts………..

A Role Model

Supporting Each Other

A Realistic Look At Aging?

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My Favorite Necklace

Having coffee on the deck of my niece Hannah’s house on the shores of Lake Erie in September 2014

About a year ago one of my favourite necklaces broke. I hadn’t realized till then how it had become my ‘go to’ necklace.

Breakfast before a guided tour in Split Croatia in October 2019

Getting ready to enjoy a deep-dish pizza at the home of our friends Kelly and Aaron in Chicago in November of 2011

With my daughter-in-law Alisa on the boardwalk in Point Pelee National Park in Ontario in August 2017

A farewell luncheon arranged by some of our students before we left Hong Kong in July 2011

At Thanksgiving supper with my niece Grace in October 2012 in Cottam Ontario

During the time the necklace languished in my jewellery box broken and unusable I couldn’t believe how often I reached for it thinking it would fit perfectly with whatever outfit I happened to be wearing.

A walk on Hecla Island in September 2020

With my friend Sue in January 2014 strolling on the beach in Sarasota Florida

I knew I had bought the necklace at a women’s clothing store in Hong Kong but how long ago? I decided to go through my photos and see when I had first started wearing the necklace. 

Visiting with my former high school student Jovie in March 2011 in Toronto

With Aphrodite at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City in July 2015

It was only when I saw how many photos I had with that necklace that I realized it had perhaps become one of the most central pieces of jewellery in my fashion wardrobe. I recently took it to a jewellery repair shop and had it fixed and I am so glad to have it back. 

Reading a chapter from my novel at a literary night my husband organized in October 2019

Visiting my Aunt Mary in Hesston Kansas in March 2017

Holding hands with Thomas Edison in Fort Meyers Florida in February 2014 

Celebrating our fall birthdays on my friend Glenys’ deck in Steinbach with my friend Esther September 2020

With a photo of Churchill, Roosevelt and Lenin at the Livadia Palace in Yalta Ukraine in June 2011

Visiting a daycare centre in Runaway Bay Jamaica in January 2014

Posing with the painting Orient IV by Bridget Riley at the Museu Coleção Berardo in Lisbon Portugal in January 2018

The photo evidence would seem to indicate that I’ve had this necklace for at least a decade.  I have made many good memories in wonderful places and with wonderful people while wearing the necklace. It was a bit expensive to fix, but definitely worth the cost. I am ready to visit new places and make new memories in my favourite necklace.

Other posts…………

 I Held You Before Your Mother Did

Beer, Baseball and Literature

On the Boardwalk

 

 

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Why Do People Collect Things?

Mom with one of the Royal Doulton Figurines she loved to collect

My mother-in-law Anne, collected Royal Doulton china figurines. She loved beautiful things and she had a curio cabinet in her living room where she kept her Royal Doultons.  Each woman in our family received one after her funeral. In this picture, Mom is holding a figurine called Fair Lady which she received as a Christmas gift.  It was the one I inherited as a keepsake. 

Note seashells on furniture cushions, seashells on the coffee table and seashell picture frames underneath the coffee table

Many people collect things. On a trip to Mexico, we visited a woman who collected seashells and items connected with seashells. One room in her house was exclusively for her seashell collection. There were seashells from all over the world everywhere. The room was furnished with couches and chairs with a seashell pattern on the upholstery. There were lamps with shades covered with shells. Sculptures made of shells and books about seashells sat on the tables. Family photos in seashell- encrusted frames lined the shelves. Even the business card the woman gave me was decorated with a photo of a large shell.

My mother collected buttons in this button box

People have a natural tendency to collect things. Seashells may not be their passion but whether its coins, stamps, postcards, spoons, buttons, or more bizarre things like teabags, chocolate bar wrappers or traffic signs we human beings seem inclined to be collectors. Dr Steve Anderson, a neurologist at the University of Iowa says our need to collect may harken back to an earlier point in our evolution, since many animals hoard things, especially food.

According to Susan Pearce, author of the book Interpreting Objects and Collections one in three North Americans collects something. There are many different kinds of collections and collectors.

The earrings I bought in Ukraine

Some collections are souvenirs. I collect earrings from the places we visit on our travels. My sister and her husband have a collection of traditional painted masks from many of the countries where they have travelled. 

Some collections are gifts. For years my brother gave my mother a china plate every Mother’s Day with a message or saying about mothers on it. He hunted through antique stores and curio shops, often for weeks, until he found a unique plate and a design. 

Some collections are of practical use. A couple who were our teaching colleagues in Hong Kong collected Starbucks coffee mugs from every place they visited. 

Our friend Rob collects military memorabilia. Photo by Jordan Ross/The Carillon

The desire to learn new things can also be the impetus behind a collection. Dave and I have a friend who collects military artefacts. He has uniforms, machinery, vehicles, sheet music, maps, books, flags and photographs. His collection has helped him learn a great deal about military history. 

Some people collect things because of their monetary value. I used to work with a woman who collected Barbie Dolls. She assured me someday she would sell her collection and make a mint of money.

Our son in a shirt he received as a gift from our friend who collects Superman items

Susan Pearce says there are some collections which she terms ‘magic’. There is no rhyme or reason for collecting them but they have a certain appeal or attraction for the collector. I imagine this might apply to the collection of snow globes my brother used to have or a friend’s large collection of Superman memorabilia

Collections can remind us of positive experiences and important people in our lives. They can help us learn new things. They can be practical or magical. Collections can enrich our lives.

If you enjoyed this blog post you might also like………

My Mom’s Button Box

Earrings and Tombstones

Among the Birch and Pine

 

 

 

 

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Beautiful Debris

A plate made from the recycled ceramic debris pictured around it

Smashed! That’s the title of an article in the latest edition of the magazine Positive News. It talks about the Granby Workshop in Liverpool England which makes new dinnerware and decorative tiles by recycling discarded ceramic crockery. About 68 million tons of ceramic waste is sent to the landfill each year in Britain. The Granby Workshop is trying to reduce that number.

The Granby Workshop reminded me of my visit to the Temple of Dawn in Bangkok, Thailand. It is covered with millions of pieces of smashed ceramic bits that skilled craftspeople have turned into works of art on the exterior of the temple.

The Temple of Dawn was built by King Taskin in the 1700s. He wanted to find a way to use the millions of broken bits of beautiful china that had to be discarded when ships arrived from China with ceramic dishes. Some of the dishes always smashed in the ships’ holds on the journey to Thailand.

Winter Sun From the Ski Trail by Sharon Loeppky

The article about the Granby Project also reminded me of my cousin Sharon Loeppky who makes these absolutely stunning pieces of art from discarded bits of smashed china and ceramics she finds in rubbish heaps.

Isn’t it lovely and interesting how the bits and pieces of broken things can be turned into something new and beautiful?

Other posts………..

A Giant Recycling Project- The Temple of Dawn

An Artist in the Family

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Thoughts About 100,000 Nails

Metropolis by David Partridge

This is a mural called Metropolis which I photographed on a visit to Toronto’s City Hall. Created by artist David Partridge it contains 100,000 nails.

Metropolis is composed of nails of many different shapes and sizes to illustrate that cities are made up of very diverse kinds of people. It makes me think about the rich and interesting diversity of human beings that make up Canada with its approximately 38 million people and our world with its 7.5 billion people .

At the centre of the mural which represents the heart of the city the nails are very close together. There are many places in our country and our world where people live in close proximity. Downtown Vancouver is the most densely populated area in Canada. When I lived in Hong Kong I often went shopping in the Mong Kok district which is the most densely populated place on earth.

As you move out from the centre of the mural the nails are further apart since they are representing the suburbs of the city. In Canada, many people live in smaller communities. Both my husband Dave and I grew up in a small Canadian community and so did our parents.

On bicycle trips I have taken in China and Croatia and Germany and on drives in rural Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Portugal and Australia and other places, I have come to realize just how many marvellous and infinitely diverse small towns and villages provide homes to the people of the world.

The furthest edges of the mural represent the area just outside the city where the metropolis gives way to rural living. Although fewer and fewer people in Canada and the world live in isolated and sparsely populated regions there are still some. I think about an isolated bed and breakfast we stayed at once that literally hugged the rugged shore of Newfoundland or the house we rented in rural Iceland where there were no other homes for miles around.

A really interesting thing about the Metropolis mural is that if you drop a coin anywhere near the top of it that coin will make its way through the maze of nails down to the bottom and create a beautiful musical sound as it travels. The day we visited the mural we saw a large group of tourists lined up along the wall and they all let their coins go at the same time and it made this grand and lovely symphony of sound.

For me, the mural of 100,000 nails can represent the unique populations of Canada and the amazingly diverse populations of our world living in different places in different ways. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all come together in one gigantic mural of sight and sound where everyone creates a cohesive whole but at the same time everyone is seen and heard?

Other posts…….

A House with a View and So Much More

House With a View in Newfoundland

Farmers

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Meditation – Custom Designed For Me

I want to learn to accept and appreciate my body. I want to accept the fact that it is good to spend time simply being. Those are things I wrote about when I chose my word for 2021 ACCEPTANCE. My niece Grace and my friend Deb have given me ideas for creating a personal practice that fosters those two kinds of acceptance.

With my niece Grace

Grace has a master’s degree in social work and is employed as a therapist and yoga specialist providing clinical counseling services. An idea for meditation she posted on her Instagram page really struck a chord with me. I have tried meditation before but find I don’t always have the patience for it. Grace suggested a body scan form of mediation that I figured I could handle. You slowly move up and down your body stopping to focus on different body parts and taking deep breathes. I tried it and really liked it.

An image from my friend Deb’s Instagram page that shows the setting for her morning gratitude journalling practice

My friend Deb is a professional editor and a member of my writer’s group. She has often posted on her Instagram page about her practice of gratitude. She begins each day thinking about the things she is grateful for and writing about them in a gratitude journal. I thought that was something that would be helpful for me too but wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time to write things down.

I decided to put together the ideas from Grace and Deb to create a meditation/gratitude practice of my own which seems to be working for me. I take time just after I wake up each morning to do some deep breathing. Then I move up my body slowly continuing to take deep breaths and pausing at ten different body parts to express gratitude for each one and think about specific gifts that body part has given me the day before.

my feet for the things that grounded me,

my legs for the places I went,

my waist for the times when I was flexible or someone was flexible with me,

my heart for ways I gave and received love,

my hands for things I was able to create or do,

my shoulders for responsibilities I fulfilled,

my mouth for things I tasted or words I spoke,

my nose for memorable smells,

my ears for good things I heard,

my eyes for things I was thankful I could see

and my forehead for things I thought deeply about.

I only spend a few minutes doing this although I am noticing that each day I seem to find myself spending a little bit longer.

The practice is helping me to be grateful, more focused and more accepting.

Other posts…….

Living Intentionally

Lessons From Leonard

Gratitude and Envy

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