Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Decluttering the Mind

Occasionally a self-help book becomes a summer reading project for me, as I slowly digest the book, daily reflecting on a portion, trying to apply it to my life. A few summers ago, I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People over the course of a summer, and I was never quite the same.

A few days ago, an online book review caught my eye. Always on the lookout for articles with suggestions for easing household clutter, I was drawn to the title, which suggested that not only our living spaces - but also our minds - needed to be decluttered! Intrigued, I read the review and jotted down a few notes.

Now I have a summer plan: I plan to reflect on the topics mentioned in the review: relationships, finances, work, family, health, and others important to me such as my faith in God and my role in the church community. I hope to define a vision of how I'd like these to be - what's getting in the way - and to think about (and perhaps make) small changes to achieve my goals. The review talks about the importance of living in the present, facing fears and celebrating successes. I think I'll try to reflect and journal - regularly, if not daily - about some aspect of these topics - to see if my life, my actions, are really in tune with my inner desires for this stage of life...

And when I've done all that, I may even read the book the reviewer was talking about: Enough Already! Clearing the Mental Clutter to Become the Best You by cleaning guru Peter Walsh!

Our lives do become cluttered! Sometimes we are not really in control of situations we find ourselves in. At other times, we have responsibilities that overturn personal plans, hopes and desires. So when we do find a gap of time - like a relaxing summer - it is useful to spend time reflecting on how we really want to be spending time and emotional energy. At least, I have found it helpful from time to time to try to "declutter" my mind.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yerba Mate

I promised myself that I wouldn't buy any more tea until I had used up all the tea in my cupboard. That should take about a year - since I have about a dozen half-full containers of tea!

But then I discovered Yerba Mate - the drink of choice in many South American countries like Brazil and Argentina.

A recent conversation with a young Argentinian set me on the hunt for a local supplier of Yerba Mate.

As I often do when talking to people new to our country, I began by asking her about life in Argentina and how she was finding Canada.

Did she like Canadian food? Was it different from food in Argentina? What was a normal breakfast for her back home? What did school children eat for lunch? Did families eat their main meal at noon or in the evening? And so on...

I was surprised to discover that she only drank a cup of warm milk for breakfast, at 7 am before going to school. There was no lunch hour at school - just two 10-minute breaks, enough time to eat an apple or a small snack. A lot of people, she said - especially young men - carried around gourds of Yerba Mate which they drank warm or cold through a straw, sharing it with their friends. That was all they would have to eat or drink until they went home around 3 and had a proper meal then.

Here is what a Yerba Mate cup and straw look like.

Yerba Mate, she said, was very healthy - and it filled one up - so it was popular among the poor, who didn't have much food to eat.

Intrigued, I set out to hunt down some Yerba Mate.

I discovered some at a local tea shop.

I had actually had some mate previously. About a year ago, I bought some Kusmi Detox tea, which I really liked. That was the first time I encountered the ingredient - mate - found in this Detox tea, in addition to green tea and lemon grass.

A youtube video provided instructions for making Yerba Mate the way it is made in South America. I had been making it much like regular tea with boiling water and a teaspoon of tea per cup of water. But the video says to add a lot of dry tea - a third of a cup? - but to keep refilling the gourd or cup with water - hot or cold, but not boiling.

So I have started drinking this interesting tea. And if the YMAA (Yerba Mate Association of the Americas) website is right, I can expect to look and feel better before long!! The YMAA claims this tea provides energy, enhances mental alertness, increases immunity and helps with diabetes and weight control! Sounds good to me!

Hey, who am I to argue with the YMAA?!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Inundated with STUFF!

I have come to the conclusion that a large part of life is spent accumulating STUFF - which one eventually has to get rid of. (And for some of us, parting with it is not an easy task.)

Accumulating STUFF is, I think, a normal part of life. I remember the first records and books I bought with my teenage babysitting money. I was so proud of the fruit of my early labors. I probably still have the records, and maybe a few of the books as well.

Then in my early working years, I carefully purchased a wardrobe to look "professional" rather than "student-y."

Add to that furniture and dishes for my first apartments, and the pile of STUFF is really beginning to grow!

Later on there were the baby things - toys and books - we bought when our kids were small. We still have all the Dr. Seuss books. Some of their childhood STUFF is gone, but a lot remains. It is interesting, to look back and see what I was reluctant to part with.

Now that my house is full to overflowing with STUFF that marks the different stages of my life, I suddenly have to decide what to do with STUFF my mother has been keeping, as I clear out her home.

It doesn't feel the same as my own STUFF - which holds the aroma of my life, the scent of my special memories, and is part of who I am...

My parents STUFF is a lot easier to part with.

But some of it, like this Lowry organ I have to move from my mother's apartment before the end of next week, has special sentimental value. I remember how much pleasure my dad derived from it. Music was an important part of both my parents' life. For my mother, this organ is a part of my father she was reluctant to give up, until now. Otherwise, why would she have brought it with her across the country when she moved East? But now she is now ready to say good-bye to that, too.

And out of love for him, I hope it will find a home with someone who enjoys it as much as my father did.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

And the Winner is... er... the Winners are...

Life has a way of changing our plans. When I started to talk about our neighborhood snow mound, and suggested that people could guess when all that snow would disappear, I imagined a quiet May - with time to check on the mound every few days. But that didn't happen. I was unable to get there at all last weekend...

So yesterday morning, Tuesday May 19, when I was finally able to get back to the pile of snow, this is what I saw...

There was still a puddle where the last of the snow had been.

So, since I was unable to determine exactly which day the the last of the snow pile melted, I will surmise that sometime - perhaps before May 16 (guessed by "thewind") or May 17 (suggested by "gazelle") ... it disappeared, leaving us with the puddle shown above.

It took about a month for this much snow to melt! (You may have to click on the image to see the total extent of the snow.)

Our spring has been cool, rainy and windy. If the weather had been warmer, would it have disappeared more quickly? I leave that question to the physicists - or perhaps the meteorologists...

Congratulations to the winners!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May on St. Denis Street in Montreal

Why visit Montreal's St. Denis Street - in May?!

Street Entertainment!
Everyone has spring fever!

Outdoor cafes - even at McDonald's!

Lovely street art!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good: I discovered a new flower blooming in my garden today!

The Bad: They're pretty - but my neighbors hate to see these pepper my lawn. They usually spray them away... (Now why can't the squirrels and rabbits eat these instead of my tulips?!)

The Ugly: This is what's left of the snow mound... I think it should be gone by the weekend... so if you guessed Saturday, I think you have a good chance of winning...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day. I'm not one to make a big fuss over Mother's Day or Father's Day... or many other days that the greeting card industry, the flower industry, and the chocolate industry love. (Okay, the secret's out! I'm a grinch!)

I do, however, plan to spend some time with my mother and with different members of my family today, and I am thankful to have them nearby. And I do plan to give my mother some roses... but no card.

On Mother's Day, my thoughts often turn to motherhood - being a mother - and on the totally new perspective on life that having a child (and becoming a mother) gave to me.

I had never given much thought to people being born, or how amazing an event that is, until my first child was born. Experiencing the miracle - where there was no person, now there was a very real, very active (and at times very demanding) person - that was a phenomenal experience for me. Where there was no one, now there was someone I loved so much I would risk my own life to protect that little person...

The world became a different place for me. I remember walking down the street and thinking, as people walked by - You were born, and you were born, and you were once a new little baby... I looked at every person as a miracle.

I am still reminded of that sometimes, often in the most unlikely circumstances - like when I see a dusty someone sitting on the sidewalk asking for a handout: You were once a baby - just like all sweet, innocent babies... wrapped and held in someone's arms...You were a miracle of birth...

So for me, Mother's Day is a day of appreciation - not only for the people who have enriched my life and continue to enrich it - but for the gift of seeing the world in a different way... (Is this a glimpse of the way God sees it?)

For this is one of the most profound and surprising gifts that motherhood gave to me.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Don't Look Back!?!

I have always been fascinated by the story of Lot's wife in the Bible - how she couldn't resist looking back at the destruction of the city that had been her home (despite the angels' warning to leave and not look back)... and, as a result, she was turned into a pillar of salt.

Is looking back a bad idea in life?
It is such a natural thing to do - part of memory involves looking back. Or is it more the idea of regret that is so harmful to us? We can't change the past... Can regret can keep us from moving on because we're focusing on what lies behind?

I really don't have any answers to these questions, though I do wonder about it. I have been looking back a lot over the past few weeks, as I sort through year books, pictures, letters and souvenirs from trips my parents took. My mother should have been a museum archivist - she kept everything!

I recently even came across a folder of school work I had done in grade 3! Here is one sheet inside:

It looked like math exercises any child could have done - except it had my name on it. The first question does date the assignment though:

Draw a circle using your ink bottle.

My kids wouldn't know what an ink bottle was!

My mother has kept this paper - and others like it - for so many years! As I laughingly showed it to my husband, I had to admit... somewhere in the basement, I have a box of "souvenirs" like that from my children's school years! I also have a few of their toys that I can't seem to part with... and Archie comics... souvenirs of different stages of their lives.

Oh, here it is... I just dug it up! There is a lot more in the box than I remember keeping! There are several boxes of toys in the basement, too.

Why am I keeping this stuff?! I've discovered (by talking to the my kids about these souvenirs of their childhood) that they mean more to me than to them. In fact, they often don't remember the toys - I'm the one who can recall how they enjoyed playing with them.

So maybe it's all right for me to throw away my grade 3 math exercises or my elementary school report cards that my mother has been keeping... They were souvenirs for her, not for me...

But still, I find it hard to cut these little ties with the past.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

More Gardening...

Every year this front garden grows bigger...

This is what it looked like four years ago when I started it:

And this is what it looks like now:

And from another angle:

It looked so tidy four years ago, but like all living things, it has taken on a life of its own - and I have a hard time controlling it!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What else is happening in my flower garden?

Gardening has taken a lot of my time this week.

I have added a few hosta and sedum plants that a neighbor gave me. I also added a red cedar mulch to keep away dandelion seeds. Now the front bed is ready for the summer. I just have to water it and wait for its magical growth.

But there is more yard work to do. I still have to rake the back yard. Every time the wind blows, dead branches and pine cones fall to the ground. Nature's way of pruning!

In the front garden bed, the bleeding heart is blooming ... (or should I say, bleeding?)

More tulips are blooming too... And the squirrels are still enjoying them! Do they eat the flowers or plant their seeds? I don't know... I spotted this hole in the red mulch near another decapitated tulip plant. What - I wonder - did the busy squirrel bury in the hole?

One neighbor suggested sprinkling the tulips with paprika to keep the squirrels away. So I plan to try that... I hope it doesn't kill the tulips!

This is a plant I bought last year at a church bazaar. It was tiny then. I don't know what it's called, but it's spreading... I wonder where else I can plant it... It could be divided...

So much to do.... I hate to be indoors!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Report Card

I am at that stage of life when I need to watch what I eat - and exercise more. A while back, I promised myself that I would start walking for 45 minutes every day. My doctor advised using a pedometer to make sure I walked 10,000 steps - or about 45 minutes.

I haven't gotten into the habit of doing that yet... the problem is I hate boring walks - I want to see new scenery. So my plan is to drive to different neighborhoods in the city and discover them on foot... but so far that hasn't happened.

One thing I did start to do, about three years ago, was to begin exercising at Curves, a fitness center geared to women. It isn't a gym - it's a room with a dozen or so resistance machines in a circle. Music plays and members go around the circle twice, staying on each machine only 30 seconds at a time. A recording calls out: Change stations now - every 30 seconds. The idea is to go around twice, using each machine twice for 30 seconds, then stretch for 5 minutes. This should take only half an hour. The designer of the program (a fitness coach) claims three half-hour sessions a week should keep women fit and strong. I do go three times a week most weeks. The benefit is that I feel markedly stronger - and I have experienced no muscle soreness, as I often have at the beginning of other exercise programs.

It's my kind of work-out: I'm not a fan of exercise classes or smelly gyms!

I try to go in the early afternoon, when it is pretty quiet, so that as I can sometimes linger a little longer on a machine if I want to. If it's busy, you have to move when everyone else does and stick to the 30 seconds... But time passes more quickly if there are more people chatting while they exercise! So there are benefits both ways.

The program works for me - and I have noticed a difference. I haven't lost any weight, but I no longer get a sore back from lifting a garbage can or heavy grocery bag. In fact, my back has been great ever since I started the program...

I recently celebrated my 400th workout, so I got a new shirt to mark that event. I view it as a kind of "report card":

In our club we can get a shirt to mark each 100 workouts. These t-shirts serve as goals and inspiration: I find it inspiring to see a shirt that says 800 workouts on somebody else... It gives me a goal to aspire to!

It works for me!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Practical Jokers

I'm not a fan of practical jokes - probably because I really hate to have them played on me. I am not alone. When my children started school, I tried to "teach" them about April Fool's Day by saying something like, It's snowing out so there is no school today.... and when they would look out the window in surprise, I'd say: April Fools!

When I did that to my daughter, I remember her looking at me in annoyance and saying: I don't like it when you do that.

But my youngest son loved the concept - and he still plays practical jokes on friends. Sometimes I hear about them.

I usually laugh - because they are funny - and warn him: Remember the boy who cried "Wolf!" Soon nobody will believe anything you say!

He told me about a recent road trip to Toronto when he and his equally-impish travel buddy decided to call up one of their friends and pretend that they were participants in a game show. The long drive - 5 hours each way - no doubt fueled their imaginations.

We're in the Quiz Cab, they told him, and we have to answer 3 questions. We can't get the answer to the third question, so we're calling you to help us. You have 30 seconds to give us the answer: What causes accidents in the summer that never causes accidents in the winter?

The Quiz Cab? What's the Quiz Cab?

Never mind! We have 30 seconds to get the answer...

Well, I don't know. Drinking?

No, we already guessed that. Oh-oh, we only have five seconds - five - four - three - two - one! Bye!

They did this to several of their friends, who were all equally dumbfounded.

I shook my head: It's amazing you still have friends... By the way, do you even know the answer? Is there an answer?

Of course - sandals!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Another Sign of Spring PLUS Snow Mountain Update

Another sign of spring in our neighborhood is the soccer stadium near the snow mound. In winter it is covered with a big plastic dome.

Eventually the dome comes down... a big job!

And we are left with an open soccer field.

By the way, what has happened to our Snow Mountain?

I took this picture last night - so it won't disappear this weekend!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tulips: Another Sign of Spring

The tulips are starting to bloom - a sure sign of spring!

Ottawa is famous for its tulips. We even have a Tulip Festival in May when visitors come from all over to admire the city's many tulip beds. The tulips in the city gardens are an annual gift from the Netherlands - given to thank Ottawa for providing refuge for their royal family during World War II.

I don't have many tulips - and those I do have risk being eaten by squirrels - so I have to photograph them quickly. Last year, I admired one lovely tulip, ran into the house for my camera, and by the time I was back, the flower had been snapped off and was gone!

Oops! It happened again! Those nasty squirrels!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Bible: A Library of Books

When I was last in Jerusalem, it happened to be the Jewish New Year. I was invited to celebrate with a group of friends I had known in my university years, whom I hadn't seen in a long time. I had often spent Jewish holidays with them when I lived and studied in Israel, so it was a real homecoming!

After Brian, the host, led in the prayers for the New Year, I commented that there were a lot more prayers than I remembered. Yes, he said, he had added prayers from other Jewish traditions, prayers he had been unfamiliar with in the old days - when I had previously celebrated with them.

I made some comment about a passage in the Bible. Brian knew the passage I was referring to, and corrected me: That's not from the Bible, Marlene, it's in the Prophets.

I think that for him, the Bible consisted of the five Books of Moses alone. From his comments, I sensed that for him, the rest the Jewish religious writings, those Christians consider to be "Scripture" or sacred writings, did not rank equally with the Torah, the five books written by Moses, which in English are called the Law.

Our conversation reminded me that the Bible - Jewish or Christian - is not A BOOK but a COLLECTION OF BOOKS... a little "BIBLIOTEQUE" - to use the French word for "LIBRARY."

The Bible being a collection of books, not in chronological order, I have always been confused, about how the they fit together, from a historical point of view - in other words, what happened when? I also had other questions, like: What were the historical circumstances surrounding the various Psalms, the songs of the Bible, which I particularly love?

A few years ago, I came across a different kind of Bible, a chronological Bible - where the various books, or even parts of books, are not presented in the traditional order, but in the order in which they occurred, historically speaking. I have been reading through this chronological BIBLE - or BIBLIOTEQUE, as I tend to view it, for several years now. Even though it is divided into 365 "parts" - if you want to read it in a year, I don't want to rush through it. I have a lot to learn.

Several things have surprised me so far. First, I didn't realize that the book of Job, which tells of the tragic things that happened to this man who tried to do his best, is really a very old book. In the chronological Bible it comes before the books of Moses. To me, the story of Job always seemed very modern. I could identify with it: it talked about questions, doubts and feelings. The five books of the Law, written by Moses, on the other hand, give us the Ten Commandments, but there are also large sections that deal with situations that I personally can't identify with, like surviving in the desert, touching dead animals, dealing with problems like lack of water and leprosy.

The second thing that has surprised me, so far, is how much of the Old Testament is about the Babylonian Exile, a time about 2600 years ago when powerful King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (now part of Iraq) conquered the Jews, and deported them to Babylon. Prophets (including the lonely Jeremiah) predicted this would happen. Jeremiah wrote several books (found in the Bible) about it. Eventually it did happen, and several books in the Old Testament, notably Daniel and Ezekiel, were written in exile, after this mass deportation. Then other books were written about the Jews who returned to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. The new temple, called the Second Temple - or Second House, in Hebrew - was rebuilt with the blessings of a new king, King Darius (also sometimes called Cyrus), king of the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians (two countries that make up present day Iran), who conquered Babylon.

That's as far as I have gotten in my Chronological Bible reading - I have yet to read about Queen Esther, who I would have guessed lived earlier than this, but apparently didn't. And of course Christianity is still several hundred years away.

But I am enjoying my historical journey, and would recommend the chronological Bible to anyone who wants to get a historic, chronological perspective of these readings that have been a major force , not only in the Middle East, but all around the world.