Sunday, January 31, 2010

Who's in Control?!

I am a creature of habit... but not the habits I want!

How else can I account for the fact that my body has - again - after 5 hours of sleep, awakened... and I am left to decide whether to toss and turn, or to get up and perhaps be productive (reading, writing... cleaning would take too much energy!)

Or why, after a perfectly good meal in a restaurant last night, I just HAD to have a chocolate dessert!

I am left to ponder how much control I really have of my life! (My body dictates so much about it...)

So do I accept it and relax?! Or fight against it?!

I have come to the conclusion (at 3 am) that I am trying to create a "cookie cutter" life for myself - where everything is the same... and, of course, everything is good! (By that I mean that I always get up at a certain time and go to bed at a certain time and I always feel good because I've had just the right amount of sleep... And I always eat a healthy meal with just the right number of calories!)

Maybe my body knows that life is more complex. Maybe my "rebel" body knows that on a cold day like today (and it has been very cold all week) - it is actually GOOD to have the chocolate and extra calories!

Or maybe - at 3:30 am - I should just go back to bed and rethink this all in the morning!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter Survival

It's sunny outside - and deceptively COLD. The Weather Network tells me it's -21C (but feels like -34C) or, in Fahrenheit, -6 F (but it feels like -29F)

I ventured out - it looked so sunny - walking 2 blocks to mail some letters and 2 blocks back. But by the time I reached our house again, thankful I hadn't slipped on the ice, my fingers were curled up in the palms of my gloves to keep warm!

Now as I sit here indoors - looking at the sunny snowy scene through my living room window - I'm thankful to be WARM again!

When I walk outside in the cold - like I did this morning - my mind invariably turns to the early pioneers who first inhabited this area. Many had never experienced winters as long and COLD as they found here. To me, the fact that they survived in their simple log homes - and stayed - is truly amazing.

Would I have had the fortitude?!

Then I think back to when I was 6 - the year I lived in Kingman, Alberta. A wooden stove heated the small 2-room "teacherage" the school provided for my mother, their home economics teacher.

This picture - taken on my 7th birthday - is the only one we have of it. Our tiny home had no bathroom or running water. We had to go outside to a black-handled pump, bring in buckets full of water, heating it on the stove, to wash and cook.

I remember having to wear long underwear all winter long to keep warm...

Embarrassed, I didn't want any of my classmates to know, so my mother folded the legs carefully so that the extra bulk was hardly noticeable through my thick brown stockings. (Maybe everyone wore them - but kept it a secret!) I think I even wore my "long-johns" when I went to bed!

(You may have noticed that they had wooden sidewalks - not cement ones - in small prairie towns back in those days!)

That's as close to pioneer life as I ever got! I remember my mother warming my clothes in the morning by hanging them over the open oven door - and how I rushed to put them on before they cooled off! But one thing I don't remember is ever being really cold!

How did they do it?!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Keeping a Journal

I have been re-reading a notebook I used as a journal 10 years ago. A lot was happening in our life at the time. Five years after the death of my father, my mother had decided to move closer to us. I was apprehensive about her leaving the small city where she and my father had been very happy, where they had so many friends. Would my mother be able to adjust to a new city, clear across the continent? Would she come to regret her decision? I was anxious for myself as well: we hadn`t lived in the same city since I was 18, and in high school. Both of us had changed in the interim. Did we really know each other - as adults? What were her expectations of me and my family? Could I fulfill them? How would her move change my life?

At the same time, we were also planning to add onto our house. We had felt crowded for some time - five adult-sized people sharing one living room, three bedrooms and one bathroom. Occasionally friends would drop in, making the house seem even smaller. We could use some extra space - but for how long? Our children, all in their teens, might be gone in a year or two. Was it wise to build on at this juncture of life? Were we incurring needless debt and expense? Would we regret it?

Re-reading the journal has taken me back to the spring and summer of that year - 2000 - in a kind of flashback.

While I can`t really echo the words of one of the young ladies in the play, The Importance of Being Ernest, who says:

"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."

... It has been interesting to see how the burning issues of the day - in my life - resolved themselves over time.

Did I really stress over that?
I ask myself...

If I don't write it down, how quickly I forget!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Nature of Things

Years ago in Israel, I met a young man who spoke English in a halting way with a strong foreign accent. I assumed he was from some Eastern European country, but was shocked to discover that he was American, born and raised. He had apparently "blown his mind" - as we then referred to it - on drugs. Whatever other damage his drug use had done, it had markedly affected his ability to talk.

Over the years, as the press has made us more aware of the health hazards of smoking and drinking, I have wondered why the topic of drug damage to the brain has been avoided.

Why the silence? I often wondered. Is it any less important to know about than the dangers of tobacco smoking, drunken driving, or fetal alcohol syndrome?

So I was happy to see that the topic of how a seemingly "mild" drug like marijuana damages the brain will finally be addressed this week on television, on the Canadian science program, The Nature of Things.

Will this topic finally reach our daily newspapers? I wonder... Or will it be avoided ... because we (the readers) don't want to hear about it?

If you are interested in the topic, "The Downside of High" airs this week:
  • It premiers: Thursday January 28, 2010 at 8 pm on CBC-TV
  • And will be repeated: Thursday February 4, 2010 at 10 pm ET/PT on CBC News Network
  • A 30 minute trailor is available for viewing on the website.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cut, Sew, Press, Trim (and Repeat... )

I have been working on the reversible QUILT-AS-YOU-GO blue and yellow quilt. As I move between the dining room table (where I cut and sew) and the ironing board (where I press and trim), I feel like a quilting machine! Back and forth... back and forth...

Decisions! Which fabric should I use next?



Press... Then trim...

Now do it again (for each of the 6 rows on each of the 54 squares...)

Maybe I need a day off... It is monotonous - but "addictive" - as I tell myself, Just one more fabric... Just one more color...

There! The blue side is done!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rideau Canal Skating Rink

The Rideau Canal stretches from the Ottawa River (in downtown Ottawa) to Kingston, Ontario, on Lake Ontario. When it was built, prior to the invention of cars, it was a "superhighway" for boats. Alternative transportation - horse-drawn buggies on dirt roads (in summer) or horse-drawn sleds (in winter) were much slower.

Nowadays it is popular with holiday boaters in summer - and skaters in winter - when the portion between downtown Ottawa and Dows Lake (an artificial lake created when the canal was built) becomes "the world's biggest skating rink," weather permitting, of course...

This past weekend was an ideal one for skating: sunny and crisp but not too cold... Terry and I wandered down to the canal, and - since my skating days are over - we joined the walkers enjoying the view from ice level.

Then we went to a Byward Market French bakery for cafe au lait and croissants.

This is the same bakery where US President Obama bought pastry to take back as a souvenir of his day in Ottawa. They have become famous for the cookies he bought!

I guess they travel well. But personally, I'd choose a different pastry...

Actually it would be hard to choose just one!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Make It Count

I was saddened this week to hear that a singer I admired had died (quietly, without a lot of publicity). Kate McGarrigle was a month older than me. I admired her (and her sister) for somehow managing to live quiet lives amid their public musical careers.

The words of Anne Lamott come to mind. Instructing her writing students to write something every day, she adds: It doesn't matter how much you write... But make it count.

So I am chastised - for wasting time playing solitaire on the computer (justifying it as mental aerobics!) - and for the many important (to me) things I want to do, but never find the time.

There are only so many days/minutes/hours in every life: I don't want to feel I wasted any of them...

I want to make them all count!

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Kitchen

Sue, in one of the blogs I read, is planning to renovate her cozy kitchen, so I thought I'd post a blog about my kitchen - what we have changed - and what we haven't - in the 28 years we've lived in this house.

When we were house-hunting, and I first walked into this kitchen, I immediately felt at home. The house I had lived in as a teenager had pine cabinets. So I knew they were something I didn't want to change. I eventually spent several weeks refinishing them (removing the doors, sanding and re-varnishing them). I also cleaned and repainted the door handles - as I couldn't find any that fit the existing holes in the doors. I've always liked to have the microwave on the counter, even though it uses a lot of counter space. I find it the perfect height.

When we wanted to expand cupboards, we went to Ikea and got some basic white ones, which we installed ourselves. They would be easy to remove and use as storage in the basement, if we ever did redo the whole kitchen. We've gotten used to the open shelves, but if we did add doors, I'd like them to be pine or glass.

We always buy a portable dishwasher, as it provides extra counter space and we don't need to hire a plumber or electrician to install it.

I'm always on the lookout for racks to help organize our stuff. These are from Ikea.

I do most of my food preparation to the left of the stove. Extra work space when I bake is provided by the glass-top stove, which is easy to clean.

We still have the original sink and counter-top - and the flooring which was in the house when we bought it. I thought of putting ceramic tiles on the floor, but heard about someone who slipped and fell on her wet tiles, injuring her back - so I decided to stay with what we have.

The worst parts of the kitchen are the two bottom corner cupboards, which have a lot of wasted space at the end. I can't even open the doors all the way in this corner.

With all its shortcomings, I still love my little kitchen. It's not big enough to eat in - which would be nice - but all in all, it serves us well.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mid-Winter Reprieve

It's cold outside - but there is no wind. It feels like the calm between two winter storms...

The first onslaught of winter has come and gone, leaving lots of snow.

A few days of warmer weather melted some of it. But then cold weather returned, hardening the slush into dirty banks of ice along the sides of the roads.

I could stay indoors reading or doing creative stuff - but instead, I'm rushing around shopping. Why not? The roads and parking lots are clear.

I'm not the only one who's tired of being indoors! Squirrels are also running around today.

Their tiny paw-prints are next to the X-prints made by the ice grippers on my boots.

No one knows when winter will return in full force... Only that it will - it's too early for spring. Our cold weather will probably last another 6 or 7 weeks... till mid- March.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor

When a child cries, a parent cries... my father once told me, when I was going through a hard time in my mid-20s. It was uncharacteristic of him to express feelings of that nature.

I mentioned it in my father's eulogy. Later my brother came over and asked: Dad said that?!

Yes, once.

Dad was always afraid that we wouldn't be tough enough to survive in the "real world." He had been left to make it on his own (at age 4) after the death of his father in World War I. The oldest child of a widowed mother, by age 5 he was supplementing their family income by herding geese for a neighbor.

I never had anyone to stick up for me, he told me more than once, so I was usually blamed when my friends and I got into trouble.

I had to make it on my own, and I did. A lot of people I knew - who started with a lot more support - didn't. I wonder if life has been too easy for you, and you won't survive.

I didn't know what to say - but, in response, I asked for very little help. I had to prove to him that I could do it on my own.

As a parent, I chose a very different parenting style from my parents'. I chose to be there for my kids, helping them as much as I could. Was I - like many in my generation - guilty of being overly involved in "helping"?

We criticized ourselves for over-organizing their sports and after-school activities ... (When we were young, we had been left to fend for ourselves in the playground after school.) We questioned the wisdom of what we were doing... yet we didn't stop. With our help, we expected them to achieve much more than we ever did ...

Now that they are young adults, do we expect perfect jobs, perfect homes and perfect lives for our children...? (After all, we've given them all they should ever need... )

But some - are struggling - like we did. And I confess I am dismayed to see my children struggle... I want to jump in and help...!

But today I came across an enlightening proverb:

A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor.

Yes, they do have to struggle, making their own choices, because that's the only way any of us ever learn. There simply are no short-cuts. Like those of us who have gone before, they need the bumps and bruises of experience to develop the strength and the skill they need.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to Change Your Husband

I remember a comment made by an older woman when someone asked me (in my late 20's) why I wasn't married...

I replied: I haven't met anyone I think I could live with yet.

To which the older woman replied: Husbands! First you marry them - then you change them into what you want them to be!

(Her advice ranked up there with: It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one - a comment a friend of mine heard from a well-meaning aunt.)

Fortunately, I wasn't naive enough to believe her!

Now, after 32 years of marriage, I have come to the conclusion that you can NEVER change your husband or anyone else ... except perhaps yourself (and even then with great difficulty!)

But we have helped each other change...

How have I changed you over the years? I ask my husband.

You haven't, he says. But you did encourage me to pursue some of my dreams, like getting a counseling degree. And you are always ready to travel.

True. And for his part, my husband (a good listener) has patiently heard me vent my frustrations and offered advice on dealing with issues at home and at work. Early on, when I would respond to some situation in anger, he informed me that when we are angry people don't hear what we are saying (or trying to say). Instead, they only hear the anger. That was important for me to realize.

So have we changed in 32 years?! Of course! Have we changed each other?! Of course! But not necessarily in the ways we want! I'm still as messy as I ever was, and my husband - a neat-freak - still watches as much football on TV as he ever did!

But when two sets of eyes view the same situation in different ways - talk about it... and listen to each other... change and learning inevitably occur.

Change is what life is all about.

As Benjamin Franklin wisely said: When you're finished changing, you're finished.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Beginning a New Quilt

I have been planning to make this reversible quilt ever since I saw the one in the picture - at the home of my cousin Maria. Guided by this photo of her quilt and instructions I found online, I have been planning the blue side.

Sometime last year, one of my neighbors gave me all her quilting fabrics. Most were scraps from a men's shirt factory. Although the fabric is thinner than most cotton used for quilting, I think it will work in this quilt, which is machine quilted on a solid backing.

I plan to dig into my own stash of quilting fabric for the yellow side - but will sew the blue side first.

I always get excited when I plan a new quilt... But when I pull out all the fabric and and the creative mess begins, I start to feel overwhelmed. I have to remind myself to break the task down into manageable steps.

A dozen squares wouldn't be so hard to deal with, but large quilts - ones you can wrap yourself up in - are a lot more work. This one will have 54 squares (not 64, like the one in the online instructions). Why? Because I ran out of backing after cutting out 54 squares! Rather than buy more backing, I decided to make it a little smaller. (I think that it will still be big enough for an adult to snuggle under, watching TV.) With 64 squares, the finished quilt would be a square: It would have 8 rows of 8 squares each. My 54 square quilt will have 6 rows of 9 squares each, so it will be a little longer and narrower.

But it does feel good to see my pile of scraps go down, as they are slowly pinned - then sewn - in place, all contributing their individual patterns to a bigger design.

However much I plan, I'm always surprised by how it looks when it is done!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Spirit Day

Riverpark Place, the retirement residence my mother calls home, had a spirit day last week - at least, they used to be called spirit days when my kids were in school: Pajama Day (when children could wear pajamas to school); Bring-Your-Teddy-Bear-to-School Day; of course, Halloween (when they wore costumes and received candy); and my personal favorite - Beach Day (usually in the middle of winter, when students brought beach towels and wore beach attire - pretending that they were at a warm resort, rather than at school on a snowy winter day!)

Riverpark Place called it YELLOW DAY: Residents were encouraged to wear yellow. (I suspect that the hope was to make a dreary mid-winter day bright indoors, if not out!)

From the first day the announcement was posted, my mother started hunting for something yellow to wear.

I've never heard of Yellow Day before, she told me. Have you?

No, I can't say that I have, I replied.

I don't have anything yellow in my closet.

Well, yellow is a hard color to wear, I said. Not everyone can wear it.

Not one to be deterred, she started to hunt for clothing that had even a speck of yellow in it.

I found a necklace with some yellow beads in it. And a blouse with yellow flowers. I did have yellow silk pants, but they were too cold to wear alone, so I wore them over a pair of warm winter slacks. By the time I was dressed, everything I was wearing had some yellow in it, she reported to me on the phone. I got so many compliments!

How like my mother - to take up a challenge like that - and run with it!

Did her enthusiasm put a smile on the faces of some of her neighbors? I suspect it did. It certainly cheered her week, as she plotted how to share in the fun - although she didn't think she had anything yellow to wear.

Perhaps I need a spirit day too... (Winter can be long...) What would brighten my day and my family's day? Perhaps a batch of muffins or chocolate chip cookies. The smell of baking always cheers us all up - any day of the year!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Give a Penny, Take a Penny...

I'm able to drive again... (It took nearly a month for me to see well enough, after my PRK laser eye surgery.)

Yesterday I dropped off several bags of used clothing at St. Richard's Nearly New Shop. They have two rooms - one for clothing - another for books...

Of course, I had to stop and browse!

I left with a novel (light winter reading) and this cheerful bag - all for less than $2!

I think we do a disservice to the community (and to the environment) when we simply toss things we no longer use, if they can fill a need in someone else's life - so I support thrift shops like this. In fact, some of my favorite framed "art" here at home came from thrift shops.

Like this pen and ink drawing...

And this cute cross-stitch...

The bright flowers on the bag I got yesterday remind me of Hawaii! It will be perfect for carrying my next "traveling" knitting project.

For several years, this scarf was my waiting room project. I finished it a few days ago, so I'm on the lookout for another easy project to grab when I go to medical appointments - or anywhere else I expect to sit and wait.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Winter of the Three Plagues

I often wake up early - around 4am - and have a cup of coffee before starting my day... Or sometimes I go back to bed for a few hours and sleep.

This morning I was starting to feel a little tired, after my coffee. I was on the verge of going back to bed, when the telephone rang... at 5 am.

I don't usually get 5 am calls, though my kids know my early morning habit and sometimes call if they are up.... But they're not usually up then, so I was surprised.


On the other end of the line was one of my adult children who lives a five-hour-drive away in Toronto.. (I will refrain from naming names, as they like to remain anoymous...)

Mom, there is a mouse behind my stove... What should I do?

Do you mean right now or when it's daylight?

Right now.

Well, if I were you, I'd call your brother [who lives 2 blocks away] and then go over and spend the rest of the night over there - and then go buy some mouse traps in the morning...

But I want to stay here and watch and see where it goes. Besides, I can't sleep... Not now.

Then she proceeded to tell me how a strange rattling noise in her gas stove woke her up. She got up to investigate, fearing a gas leak. She peered in cracks all around the stove with a flashlight - and noticed a large clump of lint behind the stove - then saw that it had a tail... While she was trying unsuccessfully to take pictures of it (without her flash), it disppeared...

So for the next hour and a half we talked on the phone... while she kept an eye on her stove ... We talked about mice, mouse traps, the value of cats, how hard her winter has been so far - she has squirrels above her ceiling (that sometimes keep her awake with their scratching at night), she developed a mid-winter ant problem, which she may have resolved with ant bait...

I've been thinking about the plagues in Europe in the middle ages, she tells me... I feel like I'm living them...

I don't disagree...

I tell her about the dead mouse I once found in my school desk. I tell her about the time my cat brought in a live mouse to "show" me... We laugh ... and talk some more.

I don't tell her that when my cat jumped onto my bed and I realized that something was wriggling in its mouth, I screamed, jumped up, woke my apartment mate, jumped up on a chair and kept screaming until Hazel (the girl I shared an apartment with) opened the balcony doors - and chased the mouse out...

Some things are left unsaid...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My First Anniversary... of Blogging!

I posted my first blog a year ago today - January 13, 2009... on a cold winter day. Since then, blogging has brightened my life - as I share ideas and post pictures of "my world," and in turn hear from some of you who read my blog.

I don't receive a lot of feedback in the form of comments, though some readers have emailed me, saying they tried to leave a comment, but it doesn't always seem to work.

One way is to open a (email) account - using whatever name or pseudonym you would like to use to author your comments. Once logged into gmail, your comment will be identified and received by blogger. It might work with other email programs as well - I'm not sure. Or if you have a blog, once you are logged into it, you can also leave a comment - and your blog name and picture will show up as well.

I'm not sure where this next year's blogging will go...

My mother often comments that Life is a constant change... (So I expect to be surprised as well!)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Laser Eye Surgery (PRK) ... at my age?!

I'm pretty excited this morning. I just came back from my one-month appointment after having had Wavefront Laser Eye Surgery (PRK) 10 days before Christmas. It has been an interesting experience... There were times I was wondering if I should have done it, when the glare of sunlight and even the computer monitor hurt my eyes. And my vision was still pretty blurry (the first few weeks). But my vision has been steadily improving - until today I was told it was 20/25 - without glasses! (Two weeks ago it was 20/40...)

For someone like me, who has worn (and hated wearing) glasses since I was about 9, and who has lived in a blurry fog (of astigmatism and near-sightedness) ... this is a dream come true!

I still have a ways to go - my eyes are still very light sensitive - and my vision will change (or so I'm told) for the next few months... Hopefully it will continue to improve!

I will still need to wear reading glasses - though I currently use a magnifying glass to read books, and CONTROL + on my computer to enlarge the screen images. I have also adjusted power saver to dim the monitor, so that it doesn't hurt my eyes. I was told the light sensitivity should end in another 2 months.

So I'm not there yet... But all in all, I'm pleased.

I kept a diary the first little while - and wondered if I should write a blog entry giving details... (Are there others over 55 who are considering the procedure?)

But for now, I'll just pass on two sites that I found helpful. One I read before having the surgery. The second, a YouTube video, I just watched last night. The girl's experience was a lot like mine.... except, of course, she doesn't need reading glasses!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Clothing Can Be a PAIN

I remember reading about a man who had suffered back pain for years - going to doctor after doctor - before realizing that the problem was his wallet, which he carried in his back pocket. It was causing him to sit in an unbalanced way, at work and in the car. The result: back pain... until he realized the cause and moved the wallet to a front pocket.

I was reminded of the story because I recently changed handbags - emptying my favorite "summer" bag, putting all my stuff into a larger carrier with lots of zippered compartments. I used to use it back when I was teaching to hold my lunch and all.

I decided to wear it like a back pack - diagonally over my back - while walking to and from Curves, a half hour trek each way.

The evening after my first walk, I had a slight pain in my upper back. The second day, after repeating my trek, the pain was so bad I needed a hot water bottle to ease it...

The following day, I only used it (draped over my arm) while shopping. My lower back ached until I got home.

Could this bag be the problem? (The way it rests on my back?)

Or is it my change purse - which currently weighs 10 ounces (200 grams)! I suspect it is a contributing factor!

Better find another "winter" purse that doesn't hold quite as much!

This isn't the first time that clothing (or accessories) have caused me pain. One winter I left a pair of comfortable (somewhat sloppy) shoes at school - to change into when I arrived wearing my snow boots.

A few months later, my knees hurt so much that I was sure I had developed arthritis.

I went to see my doctor, but discovered an older gentleman was replacing her for a few weeks.

I think it's your shoes, he said. Do you wear them all the time?

I've been wearing them all winter, I replied.

Change them and your pain will go away.

What do you know?
I thought - indignant that he hadn't sent me for an xray.

A few weeks later, I returned. My doctor (who was back) sent me for an xray. The result: No arthritis...

It must be your shoes, my doctor confirmed... Get rid of them!

So I did - and my pain disappeared!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Some Hard Sayings of Jesus

I have been reading through my chronological Bible (New International Version) since 2006, taking baby steps, trying to get the big picture. A few months ago, I left the Old Testament world of the prophets, and moved into the time of Jesus.

There is so much I love about Jesus' life - his healing ministry, his acceptance of people, especially those shunned by the "correct" religious people of his day. (Would I have been one of those?) He ate and drank with people considered to be "sinners", offering them hope.

But I have come to some teaching that has left me... well, almost speechless... Is Jesus using hyperbole - exaggeration - to make his points? Or am I to take his words literally? If I did, my life would change dramatically...

Having said that, I will simply cite the words here, taken from the account written by Luke, a Greek physician who was a follower of Jesus. He wrote about the life of Jesus - in the book of Luke - and about the origins of the Christian Church - in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Both of these ancient "books" are part of the Christian New Testament.

Here are Jesus' words, in a sermon, found in Luke, chapter 6 quoted from the New International Bible Website:

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man [a name Jesus used to refer to himself].

"Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Getting Along with (Adult) Children

Parenting is never easy. Parents are always being "stretched" ... (And, as a parent, I think that's a good thing. I want to keep "growing"!)

The burning problems of the early years (such as, Will I ever sleep through the night again without my child waking me up?) or the middle years (Will my child be influenced by peers to start smoking?) have been replaced by other concerns now that my children have reached adulthood. My concern now is: Will I continue to get along with my adult child? and Can we continue to be friends?

Being friends with my children is one of my goals in life. I remember a teacher-colleague telling me that the professor in a course he was taking had made the comment: I didn't have children to be friends with them.

And my colleague (a parent of two) immediately thought: How strange! That's exactly why I had children!

I had to concur: If I didn't have a good relationship with my children when they were grown, I would consider myself somewhat of a failure as a parent.

Without going into great detail about my own family dynamics - which I still puzzle over - I will only say that my father loved to "push my buttons" by saying things that would predictably upset me. Why did he do that? Was it to maintain a sense of control? Or was I immature to fall into that trap so easily whenever it happened? I don't know. I only know that it didn't build a strong relationship between us.

So recently - when I said something I shouldn't have said to one of my children - and was met with an icy response - I was devastated. Had I broken the bond of friendship between us? Could this be mended?

My husband said something that was of great comfort to me. He said: I think you have enough "money" in the emotional "bank account" to cover it... Just don't do it again!

He was right. I apologized - and all is well.

But his comparison of building (or destroying) relationships to putting "money" into a "bank account" (or withdrawing it) has made me more aware of how each small kindness (or hurt) affects the "balance" in our relationships not only with our children, but with everyone we know.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Houseplants Cheer Us Up

When I was a child, one of my "jobs" on Saturday was to water my mother's plants. She didn't have all that many - a few African Violets in the living room, as I recall. I remember hating the job and telling myself again and again that when I grew up I would NOT have any plants in my home!

What happened?!

It all changed when I got a home of my own. I started with one spider plant, then planted a grapefruit seed and an avocado seed. And from there my indoor garden just grew...

Now there is barely a room without plants. You even have to maneuver around them in the hall.

A few days ago, my cousin, Rose-Marie - knowing about my indoor jungle - sent me this online article about the therapeutic value of house plants. Yes, they do make me feel better! Especially now that winter is here - a room with plants makes me forget the cold outside.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Too cute to eat...

A Christmas tradition - when our children were young - was to put several small boxes of cereal in each child's Christmas stocking - the single-serving size - in the hopes that they would be inspired to eat something healthier than candy and chocolate for breakfast on Christmas morning.

My son remembered this on a recent trip to Japan, and brought back these Japanese single serving boxes of breakfast cereal for our Christmas stockings. They're so cute - I haven't eaten mine yet!

Before Christmas, I came across a marzipan pig - a symbol of good luck - at a local deli, so. I bought it for New Year's Day. Then my traveling son surprised me with two more mini marzipan pigs that he had found in Switzerland.

They are all still sitting on the table, together with the glass pig container of truffle-flavored vinegar that I bought after reading about French truffles in Peter Mayle's books: A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence (both of which I highly recommend if you like armchair-travel.) The marzipan pigs also look too cute to eat!

As an aside, in case you're wondering how a pig is connected to truffle vinegar: Pigs are used to find truffles - the expensive mushroom kind. Pigs love to eat truffles, and are good at locating them in forests. A good truffle-pig is as important to a truffle gatherer as a good hunting dog is to a hunter. (All this wonderful information comes - of course - from Peter Mayle!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Finding a Job that You Love...

Finding work we love is one of the most important personal quests we have the luxury to make. I say "luxury" because in some parts of the world people don't have a choice in the work they do - they work to meet the needs of the people who depend on them, doing whatever job is available to them. And sometimes their families dictate what they do. It used to be that way in many of our families in generations past, but most of us nowadays (in North America and Europe, anyway) have the luxury of looking for work that gives us a sense of personal fulfillment.

From my experience (as an adult educator and a career quest-er myself), there are several critical questions to consider:
  • What do I enjoy doing enough to spend all day long five (or six) days a week doing it?
  • How much money do I want to earn? (Or perhaps, what lifestyle do I want?)
  • Where do I want to live?
What would I enjoy doing?

Enjoying one's work is one of the greatest gifts a person can have. How can we discover what we would like to do ... all day every day?

One of the most useful resources I ever came across to help me assess what I enjoy doing is a book called What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles. It provides thinking exercises aimed at making a person reflect on what they have done in the past that gave them a sense of joy and satisfaction.

Doing these exercises while taking a break from teaching, when my children were young, rekindled my interest in writing. I had considered journalism as a career when I was in high school, but my university experience quickly squelched that dream: I concluded that my writing wasn't good enough for me to be a professional writer. Recalling how much pleasure I had derived from writing (while I was doing the exercises in the Parachute book) encouraged me to consider writing again.

Another way to discover what we truly enjoy doing is to work in a field, preferably before spending 2 or 3 years studying (and then discovering that we don't like the reality of the workplace). I met a young woman recently who was studying law here in Ottawa, after spending several years working for the government. But midway through her studies, she realized she didn't want to be a lawyer either, though she planned to finish. Another young woman I know was fascinated by the idea of creating animations - but when she completed her studies and began to work in the field, she realized she hated sitting in front of a computer all day long, staring at the screen. She also discovered that working with many others on a large animation project - even an artistic one - did not give her a sense of personal satisfaction, as she was one of many "cogs" in the production "wheel."

Internships can give us a taste for the reality of the workplace. I tried one after taking numerous writing courses. One summer I did a brief journalism internship at one of our local newspapers. Was this to be my big break into journalism?! My three weeks at the Ottawa Citizen demystified the journalism process, but I also discovered that, as much as I derived pleasure from writing, I didn't want daily writing assignments which could be edited away if space that day were limited - or if a bigger story came up. I also didn't want to interview people who had just experienced a tragic event, sit at the courtroom, or dig through government data - to get a news story...

So I went back to teaching - realizing that I did love my daily interaction with students, much as I hated the endless marking!

As a teacher, I encouraged my students to try on-the-job learning. Our school had an active co-operative education program, and I recommended it to many. One of my students told me she planned to study nursing, so I encouraged her to do a five-month work placement in a nursing home, as one of her courses, to see how she liked the medical field.

How is it going? I asked her one day.

I can't wait for it to end, she replied. I hated hospitals when my mother was sick. But I thought I had gotten over that. Now I see that I still can't handle seeing so many sick people. I definitely can't be a nurse.

She changed her career plans and became an accountant.

Having seen many students change their career plans after experiencing the reality of the work place, I am a great believer in internships, summer jobs, part-time employment, volunteering and student work placements - anything that gives one a taste of the reality of the workplace environment.

How much money do I want to earn?

This may seem like a strange question! As much as possible, of course! But the reality is that not all jobs earn the same pay! So if your goal is, for example, to "help street people," you may earn minimum wage, working somewhere like a drop-in center for the homeless (where many workers may be volunteers). You will earn more as a social worker (though you probably still won't drive a Mercedes Benz and live in an upscale neighborhood). Your chances of getting rich would be better if you were a lawyer, perhaps on the board of directors for a shelter for the homeless, or owned a successful business - where you could partner with organizations that help homeless people get back into the workforce.

I remember reading about a man whose dream was to be a professional dancer - but he realized that (given his talent) he couldn't earn enough money to live. But he didn't give up his dream. Instead, he found a job that met his financial needs yet gave him the flexibility to pursue dancing in a serious way, though not as his main source of income. Artists, actors and writers often do the same thing.

Realizing this was liberating for me: I could still be a writer - yet not depend on it for my family's financial needs. So I wrote part-time, not earning a lot, but satisfying my creative urge to write.

Finally, where do I want to live?

Every job has a location. When I was studying at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, there were a lot of engineering students on campus, many studying mining engineering. But if you become a mining engineer, you will probably spend your life living near a mine in the mountains... Similarly, if you want to work in publishing, you will probably only find work in a major publishing center like Toronto or New York...

It may not seem important, but I have heard of marriages breaking up because one partner didn't want to live where the other needed to work... Of course, some jobs (medical, educational, mechanical, and so on) are needed everywhere!

It isn't easy to find the perfect job - but it is worth the effort to try!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Good News - Bad News!

The good news is that I finished the hat I started on Sunday, December the 13th... Did it in 2 days!

The bad news is
that it is too small for my adult head!! (That's what happens when you use a different yarn than the yarn called for in the pattern!) Oh well, I can always donate it to a shelter or the church nearly new store...

So now, I have decided to go to the Red Heart website to look for a pattern for this particular yarn... I think I have enough for another hat from the same (double) ball.

I came up with this one... It looks easy (no cables - which make the hat less stretchy)... I think that this time I'll make it a little bigger, since I usually have a hard time finding hats that fit me. One-size-fits-all is usually too small for me.

So here I go again!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Winter is here...

My mind has gone numb... Blame it on the cold white world outside!

I'm one of those Canadians who would like to be a snowbird - and move to a warmer climate from December to March!

But not everyone is like me... Many Canadians enjoy snowshoeing, skiing, skating and even camping outdoors in winter. I read about one in the paper a few days ago ... camping on the river.

The story reminded me of a student I taught at the University of Ottawa a number of years ago. Several times a year the university offered free English and French courses to university personnel, so classes had an interesting mix of people - from academics to support staff (office workers, truck drivers, cleaning staff - anyone who worked at the university).

In the lower level class, we focused on speaking. So that first Monday morning, as the students introduced themselves, I asked them if they had done anything interesting on the weekend. The question usually created a long list of vocabulary words, as they all had different interests.

One grandmotherly-looking woman informed us that she had gone camping on the weekend.

As it was winter, I corrected her - thinking she had made a mistake with the word "camping." Camping is sleeping outdoors in a tent, I said, drawing a rough picture of a tent on the board. We go camping in the summer, and sleep in "sleeping bags," not beds...

The woman nodded vigorously: Yes, camping. She then proceeded to tell us that she had a special tent and special sleeping bag for the winter. Her husband liked ice-fishing, and she would go with him - spending most weekends camping - as long as the river remained frozen.

As usual, my students taught me as much as I taught them: I was reminded - again - not to "judge the book by its cover."

Yes, even older people, even grandmothers - who could be enjoying the warmth of their cozy homes - sometimes choose to go camping in winter... (But not me!)

(Yes, she was a grandmother, too!)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Looking Forward AND Looking Back

I have been thinking about some of the personal and family events that marked last year - 2009 - for me.

1. I started to blog!
2. My mother moved into a retirement residence - where she is happy.
3. My daughter started a new business venture.
4. We celebrated 2 family milestones: My mother turned 90 and her brother 95. These occasions allowed me to see relatives I don't see very often.
5. I visited Hawaii - a lifelong dream.
6. I had laser eye surgery to improve my vision, something I've thought about doing for a long, long time.

But, of course, some things never change!

As I look forward to the coming year - my New Year's resolutions echo those I found in a journal from last January 1st:

I resolve to live healthily - and exercise more!

But, of course, I'm still waiting for the IDEAL DIET that allows me to eat whatever I want - yet be healthy and lose weight.

(This resolution will probably be on my list of goals next year as well!)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Looking forward? Or Looking back?

January 1st - in the media - is spent looking back on major events of the previous year, and - this year - on memorable events of the decade.

Some cultures celebrate New Year by looking at the year ahead - with symbols used to wish people a HAPPY NEW YEAR. In Israel, the New Year (Rosh Ha-Shana) comes in September or October and January 1st is referred to as "Sylvester." (I'm not sure who St. Sylvester was or why January 1st is associated with him.) But on Rosh Ha-Shana, sliced apples are dipped in honey - then eaten as good luck for a sweet year ahead.

Iranian New Year (No-Ruz) is celebrated on March 21, the first day of spring. It is celebrated with outdoor picnics - where people can enjoy nature beginning to bud.

Several years ago, one of my sons was visiting a friend in Denmark on New Year's Eve. As midnight approached, everyone stood up on chairs, and - when they ran out of chairs, on the sofa! At the stroke of midnight everyone jumped onto the ground. I never did find out why in Denmark it is good luck to be in the air - not on the ground - when New Year arrives!

There are no GOOD LUCK symbols here in Canada for the new year... But we do often plan a new course in life. A New Year offers hope for a NEW BEGINNING and a better year ahead. Like many others, I take time to assess my life's journey - and plan for change.

So ... today as I look back at 2009 - thankful for the year and its many blessings - I also look ahead, thankful for the gifts of MEMORY (which allows me to learn from my mistakes) and HOPE (which encourages me to try, try again!)

And to all who read this - may you also be filled with hope for a BLESSED NEW YEAR!