Category Archives: Living life to the fullest

Come to my house, no need for a hostess gift

I hearken back to the simple times of my youth as part of a large extended family in a rural community. Those were the days. Back then, at that time, when we visited our friends or relatives there was no such thing as a hostess gift. How I miss those simple visits with no obligation to bring a “little something.” Pot luck sure, there were plenty of those. But hostess gifts, no. Thank God.

I love that we went to visit people knowing that they wanted to see us and to share what they had with us with open hearts. We were enough.

When people came to our house we shared all that we had with open hearts. Their company was all we wanted. They were enough.

When I read this piece “5 Rules for Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party (and Seeing Your Friends More Often)”  on thekitchn.com I thought, “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!”

Here are the rules to follow for a pre-arranged Crappy Dinner Party

  1. No housework is to be done prior to a guest’s arrival.
  2. The menu must be simple and not involve a special grocery shop.
  3. You must wear whatever you happen to have on.
  4. No hostess gifts allowed.
  5. You must act like you’re surprised when your friend and her family just happen to show up at your door (optional).

Come to our house. We’ll share all we have with open hearts. No need for a hostess gift.


http://www.thekitchn.com/5-rules-for-hosting-a-crappy-dinner-party-235815?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=tracking&utm_campaign=article-share

 

Attention! Beating ploughshares into swords: Remembrance Day

poppies-in-franceOn Remembrance Day last year, I journeyed to my hometown in the Ottawa Valley to honour our veterans at the ceremony there. In her tribute that day, the minister, Rev. Patricia Van Gelder, spoke about the old testament passage from Micah about “beating swords into ploughshares.” The passage assures us that someday—that elusive someday—peace will reign so unequivocally that weapons will be redundant and the metal from them can be turned into tools used to provide us with food.

But, she said, when she attended a presentation by the local historical society, she noticed something. The presentation was about a shift in farm machinery that took place in the early 1900s from horsepower to tractor power. Tractors allowed farmers to work faster, cover more ground, and they didn’t need to worry about horses breaking legs in groundhog holes or other similar tragedies. Farmers adopted the technology and soon there were tractors on almost every farm. Early versions had flaws so there were rapid changes and turnovers. Tractors, tractors everywhere.

So why then, asked a person in the audience at that presentation, were there so few old tractors of that vintage still around?

The answer? The war.

The metal from implements that farmers used to grow food for us was donated to the war effort to turn into weapons. Rev. Van Gelder realized that what happened was the opposite of what the passage in Micah talked about. “The stuff of life turned into the stuff of death. Isn’t that a grim thought?” she said. 

So, how do we hold onto faith when faced with that grim truth?

Rev. Van Gelder suggested that the passage reminds us that war, hunger, fear have no place in this world. We need to pay attention when we make choices that contradict that. If we wake up to the incongruity of what we’re doing, maybe we can change our course.

We need to re-think choices that take us toward death and away from life. If make the better choice, if we feed each not kill each other, perhaps that elusive someday might actually arrive.

 

Some thoughts on life and death for El día de los muertos

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I recently read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. The woman behind The Order of the Good Death gives readers an interesting perspective on the life/death experience (if you don’t mind some occasional gory passages).

In her book Doughty references a 1961 paper in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology that outlines seven reasons why humans fear dying. The paper suggests that fear of death arises from concerns about

  1. Grief caused to relatives and friends
  2. Plans and projects that coming to an end
  3. The process of dying being painful
  4. The end of  being able to enjoy life experiences
  5. No longer being able to care for dependants
  6. What will happen if there is life after death
  7. What will happen to the body after death

To that list I would add my own personal concern: my house needs a thorough cleaning and things are a little disorganized. I don’t want to leave a mess behind for others to clean up. I know I’m not alone in that: an acquaintance told me she never leaves her house without making sure the kitchen is clean and the beds are made, in case something happens to her when she’s out.

In Europe and North America we don’t like to talk about death. We are “death phobic,” as The Order of the Good Death describes it, which makes it all the more difficult for us when the inevitable happens. Regardless of which of those seven fears resonates most clearly with any one person—and I suspect it’s different for everyone—death comes to us all one way or another.

People in Latin America have a more open approach. Beginning on November 1, El día de los muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a two-day celebration that recognizes death as a natural and necessary process and part of the human experience. During El día de los muertos, the dead share in the celebrations, eating, drinking and being merry with their loved ones.

“. . . let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.” —Isaiah 22:13

Today I will eat, drink and be merry with some departed loved ones—after I clean the bathrooms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude for that which endures, on Thanksgiving

buddha-board

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.

three-questions

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.

Peanuts-Charlie-Brown-baseball-sun-600x127

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.

New beginnings and the power of habit

September—the word, to me, is a calling-to-attention for my brain. After allowing said brain to go fallow for most of the summer, September re-snaps my focus. Forward momentum rolls on new beginnings.

This year in particular the “new beginnings” theme resonates with many of my friends and acquaintances. With the whir of the passing of time come new retirements, new jobs, new universities, new courses, new living arrangements, new projects  or new health challenges. Around me friends and acquaintances thrive or survive in changing circumstances, finding ways to fill empty spaces or empty full spaces. Like unicycle riders, afraid, excited, overwhelmed or uncertain, they hold arms out for balance and find a way to peddle forward.

9780385669757In such times, the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg comes to mind. At times of upheaval we need to mindfully form or change our habits to shape our days in the most positive way.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg breaks down the three-step loop: Cue, Routine, Reward. A habit is triggered by an external cue (a particular location, a time of day, a certain mood, other people, or an activity), the external cue sets a routine in motion, and at the end, we receive a reward. For example, an alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., a person puts on jogging clothes and goes for a run, and then enjoys the runner’s high and a strawberry smoothie. Or, at 3:00 p.m. every workday, a person, bored and restless, leaves the desk and visits the vending machine for an afternoon chocolate bar boost.

Many of our habits serve to sustain us as we navigate daily life. Putting on our clothes, making our toast, or driving our cars requires a series of habits. The first time we do any of these, we think through each step. Cued by a feeling of cold, a hunger, or a need to get from one place to another, we work through every step of managing buttons, setting the right toast preferences and backing out of the garage. Eventually these routines become automatic “habits,” so our brain doesn’t need to think about them anymore. In other words, we need habits or our brains would be overwhelmed. “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”

Because habits are so necessary, and because our brains are constantly seeking to create new ones, habits have a powerful influence over our lives. And once a habit takes root, it doesn’t disappear. Duhigg writes: “. . . unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”

What it means for us? We can examine our daily lives, identify our habits, figure out which ones serve us well and which ones could bear re-routing, especially during this autumn time of new beginnings.

 

Roundhouse: Servicing and light repairs

Roundhouse Park

Roundhouse Park

When I attended the Canadian Writers Summit in Toronto, Canada this summer, the daily walk from my hotel to the conference site at the Harbourfront Centre took me through Roundhouse Park. When I walked there my steps slowed, and I had to stop to contemplate the metal tracks and the mighty engines on display. I could not walk through the park apace. Something about the circular shape and the radiating rail lines gave the site a sacred feel. In slowing down, in breathing in the spirit of the place, I felt reinvigorated.

In the early days of rail travel, steam locomotives could only travel forwards. Toronto-bound locomotives arrived at the John Street roundhouse for servicing and light repairs. The turntable allowed the locomotives to be turned around for the return journey.

According to the Toronto Railway Historical Association, the locomotives serviced there were “so attractively maintained that their appearance became known among railroaders as the ‘John Street polish’.”

Today, Roundhouse Park no longer services locomotives, but it still provide servicing and light repairs. Like a forward-moving locomotive, I arrived in Toronto this summer and the John Street roundhouse gave my creative soul a “John Street polish” of a different sort.

We all need a little servicing and light repairs from time to time. Where is your “roundhouse?”

Roundhouse Park

Roundhouse Park

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