Category Archives: Living life to the fullest
How did I not know about Elsie MacGill?
There we were on Parliament Hill last September for the commemoration of the Battle of Britain. As if to belie the horrors of war and the sorrow of lives lost, brilliant sun shone down on Ottawa, Canada that day. Gentle breezes rippled the Governor General’s standard flying from the Peace Tower.
Vintage aircraft, including a Lancaster Bomber,thundered overhead.
The Snowbirds flew in missing man formation. Chills.
And then we strolled by the Hawker Hurricane aircraft on display on the vast lawn and read this sign.
Elsie MacGill, a Canadian, was the world’s first female aeronautical engineer, and a woman who supervised Hurricane production in the 1940s. How did I not know about her?
I did more research. As a child growing up in Vancouver, Elsie took drawing lessons from Emily Carr. Talk about inspiration. Elsie earned degrees from the University of Toronto, the University of Michigan and MIT. In fact, she was the first woman in North America to earn a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering.
Before her graduation, she contracted polio and was told she would never walk again. She was determined though, and she learned to walk with the help of two metal canes.
While using those canes, she went on to become the world’s first female aircraft designer. She co-authored the report from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. She became a member of the Order of Canada.
How did I not know about Elsie MacGill? Somehow she managed to fly under the radar.
I imagine her in the Canadian Car and Foundry factory in Thunder Bay (then Fort William) surrounded by metallic clanging, blazes of welding and the haze of smoke that hung in offices in her day. I picture her making her way to meetings with the help of two canes, somehow managing to command respect despite her gender and a physical challenge. I cannot help but feel awe and respect for doing what she did at the time she did it.
She wasn’t on the curriculum when I went to school. She needs to be. She’s my new Canadian hero.
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.
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.
My daughter’s birthday is Christmas Eve. This means a lifetime of both (a) feeling a little special, and (b) being cheated out of a full day dedicated to her birthday and her birthday alone.
When she was a child, we had big, fun family gatherings for her birthday. She thought that was great. But when she became a teenager, she realized what a difference a date makes. “Hey, wait a minute,” she began to say to herself. “My friends get to do birthday dinners with friends and go to movies on their actual birthday. On my birthday, everyone is doing family stuff.”
Last year we realized that, as a result of all that “family stuff” we do at Christmas, she had never had a birthday lunch or dinner out at a restaurant on her actual birthday in her whole life. We resolved to fix that.
We chose the restaurant—one that was newly opened and about which we had heard good things. We appeared on the day, happy-happy. We ordered drinks to start. She and her brother ordered iced tea. My husband and I ordered beer. When the server came to the table, she set the iced tea down. The imbalance made her tray wobble, and she spilled an entire very large, very cold beer all over my daughter. It made a spectacular mess.
So much for a special birthday lunch.
The next day, we hosted Christmas dinner at our house—a lovely turkey meal with my family and our neighbours. At the end of the meal we stacked up the plates. I picked up the pile and turned to head toward the kitchen. One hand caught on the edge of a chair and the entire stack of plates flew out of my hands and smashed into thousands of pieces. It made a spectacular mess.
A shattering end to a Christmas celebration.
Two unfortunate circumstances. No one died or was permanently injured, so not tragedies. But they are the kind of circumstances that make you want a do-over. An opportunity to rewind life like a VHS tape to the point just before the event and then to alter the outcome. Alas, all we can do in such situations is shrug and acknowledge that things didn’t go according to plan. Let it go.
Given the back-to-back mishaps in our family last year, I’m hoping we bought ourselves a reprieve for 2015. But if my plans go awry, I’ll try to shrug and let it go. And in all the many holiday gatherings going on around the world this time of year, some things are not going to go according to plan. I hope people will be able to shrug and let it go.
I wrote this post three years ago, but I decided to post it again as we wind down our holiday preparations. A reminder of what is really important at this time of year.
Correspondence from an earlier time helps us to gain perspective about our own circumstances. These letters, written by my husband’s ancestors, span the years between 1928 and 1936. The mood changes from comfortable and optimistic, to worried, to discouraged, to desperate.
In 1928 times were good. People had no inkling of the challenges to come. They proudly made use of electricity as they gathered around their radio in the evenings.
By October 1930, people had started to feel the pinch, but hope did not elude them. Reading this now, we know the long, lingering hard times that lay ahead of them—the Great Depression and then World War II—but back then, they were certain it was a short-term dip.
In 1933 many people were out of work. Lay-off notices were dreaded but common. Without a social safety net, no work meant no food or shelter. This lay-off notice came just before Christmas.
At Christmas 1934, this letter was sent: “. . . we find that it will be impossible to send any gifts this year, and therefore we would rather not receive any gifts this year.”
By comparison, we are wealthy beyond all imagining. Our social safety net is not perfect, but it helps.
Rest easy. Enjoy our luxury. Happy Holidays.