Category Archives: Gratitude

Gratitude for that which endures, on Thanksgiving


The Buddha Board my daughter gave me for my birthday reminds me of what endures, and what doesn’t.

A few weeks ago one of my favourite bloggers, Tuesdays with Laurie, celebrated a birthday by posting a list of 59 things for which she is grateful.

I thought of Laurie’s list on Canadian Thanksgiving Sunday when the minister at my church spoke to us about gratitude. In her reflection, our minister encouraged us to ponder mindfully where we focus our gratitude. Are we thankful more often for material things that perish at day’s end—life’s manna, if you will—and do we remember to express gratitude for those aspects of our life that endure?

Laurie’s gratitude list impressed me because so many of the items on her list are those intangible qualities that a person cannot hold in a hand, and yet they somehow endure: connection, creativity, healing, safety, peace, kindness, spontaneity, imagination, comfort with being alone, dreaming, curiosity, enjoyment of learning something new . . .. Other items on her list require some physical element to achieve them but still lead to something that endures: photography, mental acuity, travel, music and singing, laughter, glasses with which to see clearly . . ..

In the comment section of her post I wrote that I’m grateful to work in a place where I see children. Their uninhibited approach to life and their infinite creativity inspires me; they are physical beings who give me a gift that endures.

Uninhibited creativity

I love the uninhibited creativity of children.

I’m grateful for inspirational books that enlighten me and brighten my days.


I’m grateful for the Famous Five who made my life as a woman so, so much easier and more fulfilling.

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

I’m grateful that my friend, Jennifer, gave me my two-word poem: Laughing Thinker.

postcard poem Arlene

And at this time of year, I’m grateful for baseball. The players, the teams, the stadiums may change, but the character development that comes from participation in sport endure.


Our Thanksgiving turkey leftovers and pumpkin pie are almost gone already. In a few weeks the baseball season will be in the past. When that happens, this Laughing Thinker, a woman who enjoys full benefits in our society, will be pondering wisdom she gleaned from inspirational books and learning life lessons from those fabulous children she sees at work every day.

Those are wonderful gifts that endure on Thanksgiving and all year round.

From war and hardship to pleasure cruising: Thoughts on Colonel By Day

Yesterday most Canadians celebrated a civic holiday. Not every Canadian (some provinces don’t have a long weekend in August) and not all for the same reason.

Because there is no specific occasion for a holiday in August (other than it’s really great to have a long weekend in the summer) provinces and municipalities have creative licence. In British Columbia, it is British Columbia Day. (Okay, maybe not so creative.) In Alberta it’s Heritage Day. (Better, if a little vague.) In Toronto it’s Simcoe Day. (For John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.) Here in Ottawa we designate the weekend as Bytown Days and Monday specifically as Colonel By Day.

The locks on the Rideau Canal.

The locks on the Rideau Canal.

Ottawa’s original name was Bytown, in honour of Lieutenant Colonel John By. Colonel By, a military engineer, was the first city planner, and he laid out plans for the area that has become our downtown core. He oversaw the construction of the first bridge across the Ottawa River, a vital link between the provinces of Ontario and Québec. Most famously, he engineered and supervised the building of the Rideau Canal and the lock system that connects the Ottawa River to the Rideau River. (Here in Ottawa, Rideau is pronounced REE-deau, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Pronounce it Ri-DEAU and we’ll know you’re not from here.)

Canadians first had the notion that a navigable trade route other than the St. Lawrence River might be a good idea after the war of 1812, when American/Canadian relations were a little more fraught. At the time, the unquestioned need to maintain water transportation avenues that could be protected from American attack made the prospect of carving through 125 miles of bush and swamp and rock seem not only possible but imperative.

For six years, thousands of Irish and French Canadian labourers and skilled stonemasons endured hellish working and living conditions with high incidents of accidents, disease and death to build the canal and the lock system. Malaria, of all things, was a major threat. They did it because they needed the work to survive, and they believed that their labours would ensure the survival of future generations.

These days we are at peace with the United States. These days our supplies travel by airplane or highway or train. These days, the trade route that Colonel By envisioned, that water transportation link that people lost their lives over, is a place for pleasure only. In the summer yachts fill the locks and cruise the canal.

Pleasure craft on the Rideau Canal.

Pleasure craft on the Rideau Canal.

In the winter skaters laugh as they glide way between Beavertail stands.

Rideau Canal Skateway

Rideau Canal Skateway

I wonder, what would Colonel By think of how we use his creation today? I walk beside the canal and the locks on my lunch breaks in downtown Ottawa. As I stroll in peaceful, malaria-free Ottawa,  I imagine Colonel By surveying his city from his vantage point on the great cliff at Major’s Hill Park where his house used to stand. I envision his stiff British bearing as he peers down to watch us walk and bike and boat in the same area where men suffered and died.

I wonder if Colonel By, a man who lived in harsh times, would despair at how we luxuriously and thoughtlessly take his engineering marvel for granted. Perhaps he would scowl over our carefree abandon. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would commend us all for shaping our city into one of safety and freedom. Maybe he would give us a rousing Hurrah! for creating a vibrant, economically progressive, multicultural and compassionate city to honour his name.


Read more Rideau Canal history here:

For the Light: Something to aspire to

For Canada Day, for Independence Day, for those figuring out how to deal with Brexit . . . a poem I wrote for my friend, Ellie Barrington, who is for the Light. Something for us all to aspire to.


the-lightFor the Light

For the Light
She sees in all people.
Divine Presence glowing in Every Body.
Accepted. En-Couraged. Embraced.

For the Light
She shines on ancient stories.
Enlightened Insights illuminating Ancient Wisdom.
Explored. Excavated. Evaluated.

For the Light
She makes for hurting souls.
Healing Compassion lightening Heavy Hearts.
Comforted. Soothed. Carried.

For the Light
She channels in a spirit community.
Raised Hands receiving Flowing Grace.
Transmitted. Shared. Reflected.

For the Light
She is called to be in a needful world.
Engaged Advocacy targeting Wounding Injustice.
Balanced. Restored. Righted.

For the Light
She encompasses in her very being.
I AM permeating her Sizzling Presence.
Blessed. Brilliant. Be-Loved.


Everything is exactly right: Replacing Hope with Faith

“Hope is a beggar.” —Jim Carrey

Take a moment and place yourself in a state of Hope. Think of something you wish for, something you would like to see happen. How do you feel?

Now take a moment to place yourself in a state of Faith. Think that everything around you is exactly as it should be for you to build toward what is next. How do you feel?

Hope says: “What’s happening now is not good enough.”

Faith tells you: “What’s happening now is exactly right.”

Hope is unfulfilled yearning. Faith is purposeful acceptance.

In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t, Jim Collins writes about the Stockdale Paradox. The name comes from Jim Stockdale, who survived eight years in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp. Admiral Stockdale made it home, but many didn’t. When asked, who didn’t make it back he replied, “Oh, that’s easy. The optimists.”

The ones who looked to hope to solve their problems, the people who did not face the brutal facts of their reality didn’t make it. Stockdale said:

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Hope sees only that which is unfulfilled. Faith accepts the now as leading to the best “what’s next.”

May you have a faith-filled day.


So THAT’S what happens: Being at peace with life

A few little things went wrong in my life this weekend. Nothing major. Just petty little annoyances.

It was gorgeous and sunny in Ottawa, but I felt yucky and didn’t want to move from the couch. Our friend’s dog that we were looking after for the weekend caught a nail on our heating grate, hurt his paw and bled all over our kitchen floor. (You can imagine how awful we felt about that.) And the curling team that I was pulling for at the Tim Horton’s Brier didn’t win. (Brad Gushue, you were so close.) 

Little things added up until I collapsed on the couch and said, “You know what? I’ve had better days.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to be at peace with minor inconveniences. It’s an even greater challenge to accept major upsets that come along. Sometimes it’s even a challenge to allow ourselves to savour fun events or people that crop up on our life paths.

We spend so much time evaluating whether something is “good” or “bad” we never arrive at accepting what is. And appearances can be deceiving. Events that appear catastrophic at first glance often lead to unforeseen good fortune. Other events that strike us as lucky turn out to be anything but.

All of us would love to have 100 per cent control over what happens in our lives, but we don’t. Even as we lay track toward our goals, unexpected events blindside us and derail our plans.

When that happens I try to remember to rise above all the things going on around me and survey them as if I were an impartial observer. I try view whatever comes—no matter what it is—as a big, welcome surprise. “So THAT’s what happens!”

This attitude makes it easier to be at peace with life. Stuck in the slow line at the grocery store? So THAT’S what happens! A winning goal for your hockey team in overtime? So THAT’S what happens! You’re fired? So THAT’S what happens!”

It’s easier to be at peace with life if all the petty disagreements, unforeseen twists of fate, illnesses, riches, journeys, friends, deaths or births become big, welcome surprises.

So THAT’s what happens! Surprise! I wonder what happens next?



Training ourselves to be kind

If you want to spend your day in despair over the state of humanity, the fastest route to that sentiment is through the comments section on YouTube or any other internet site.

Comments sections put the meanness, pettiness, ignorance, judgment and narrow thinking of some members of our society on full display. I simply cannot read them, or I have to spend time after giving myself a chin-up pep talk.

unfoldingSociety needs a kindness injection. And there might be a way.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggest we might be able to enhance our tendency toward kindness. All it takes is some meditation, some training and some practice.

Participants in a study worked at building their compassion “muscle.” Those who did responded to others in need with caring and a desire to help. They became more altruistic.

Goodness knows we need more people like that.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is not the first to propose physical, spiritual, mental and emotional benefits of meditation; it has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase serotonin levels, reduce pain, and increase creativity and mental sharpness. Their study adds another motivational level to begin the practice.

Okay everyone? Let’s change some brains.

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