Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Dance of Life

My job today was to sew a nightgown for a dear grandgirl who is coming for a visit next week. She’s worn my last creation to shreds, and I know she’s eagerly awaiting the next one.

So, because it’s sunny outside, I haul my sewing machine down to the dining room table so I can have a view of the garden while I sew. Delightful! The garden is beginning to show colour as the petals of the tulips, bleeding hearts, heather and pink flowering currants respond to the ever-warmer sunlight.

Sewing occupies the hands, but this is not a complicated job, so my mind has lots of time to wander. Today I’ve been pondering  my parents. It would have been mom’s birthday yesterday, and every year March 26 is an occasion for pondering.

There is so much we take for granted about our parents. When we were children, parents were our world. When we became adults with a life of our own, our parents occupied a much smaller corner of that world. But they were there, as they always had been. And you thought they always would be – but then, one day, they weren’t.

Several months after I became a grandparent for the first time – 2 babies within a month of each other – Mom died. Nine months later, Dad died. Two babies, two deaths: the dance of life had caught me up in a fierce and relentless grip that had me spinning crazily. Raw grief and delighted joy were my partners, pulling me in opposite directions.

Now it’s 11 years later, and the pace of the dance is much slower and gentler. With time comes perspective. I miss my parents, and I wish that I could have just one more visit. I’d show them our garden, and invite mom to arrange one more bouquet for the table.

 We’d share stories about the outfits she used to make me for Easter. I’d listen as dad told me how to prune the roses and what kind of mulch he used on the rhubarb, and how to keep those tulips blooming year after year.

But I also realize that the dance of life continues. My parents are gone, and yet they are not, for as I sit sewing in the dining room while enjoying the garden, mom the seamstress, and dad the gardener are still dancing with me.  Here I am, having inherited a little bit of both their skills and passions, creating something for the next generation. My memory hears their voices as they look over my shoulder, cheering me on in my work.

The dance of life goes on: that’s also the message of this week that leads up to Easter. The message of the story of Easter is that Love is stronger than death; that our spirits continue. Just as the  plants in the garden rise from the ground at the end of winter,  taking on colour and new life, we too have opportunities every day to start again, to grow and to be beautiful, to connect with the past and forge on into the future.

I hope you’ll have a chance this week to take a little time to ponder and reflect, and rejoice in the potential within you because you are deeply loved by the Creator.

The joy-bringers have been at it again: sometime in the last day or two, they've redecorated the little tree in the woods.   
 I'm taking a little break from blogging to play with the grandkids and to get ready for a trip to Ontario to celebrate my sister's 65th birthday. Have a wonderful Easter!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

How's Your HI?

I just saw something on Facebook that made me very happy. I am writing this on March 20, the first day of spring (at least somewhere in the world!) AND it is International Day of Happiness, as declared by the UN in 2012.

“The initiative to declare a day of happiness came from Bhutan – a country whose citizens are considered to be some of the happiest people in the world,” says the website I consulted.  The Himalayan Kingdom developed a Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) as an alternative to the GNP (Gross National Product – a measurement that depends solely on economics and material wealth) to determine their nation’s well-being. Now the whole wide world is acknowledging that tiny Bhutan (population 770,00, geographically wedged in between India and China) is on to something. “[International Day of Happiness] recognizes that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well being of all peoples.”

Well now. This news makes my heart sing. My personal  happiness index (HI) is doing a little happy dance.

Just imagine that all countries would intentionally approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of ALL people. The declaration states, “The UN aims to focus world attention on the idea that economic growth must be inclusive, equitable, and balanced, such that it promotes sustainable development, and alleviates poverty.”  Now my HI is clapping and cheering.

Unfortunately, when I dug a little deeper , I found naysayers, critics, bean-counters, and the ever present “ya-butters”. Yup, they’re everywhere. I also found studies, charts, graphs, policy papers, measurements, and standards – enough numbers to leave me numb. I know it’s important to be real, and that the studies and charts are necessary steps in making the dream come true. And so I am choosing to trust that this declaration and these papers will in some way make a difference in the world.

But just for today, I will also celebrate my own personal Happiness Day. Happiness begets happiness. Reminding yourself of those things that make you happy recharge your HI. There’s a lot of garbage, sadness, and anxiety in my life and yours, in our community and in the world, but just for today, I will look for diamonds in the dust, and celebrate the sparkle.

A good recipe for recharging your HI:
"We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day" – Henri Nouwen

I will celebrate the stories that give me courage to keep pedaling when the going gets tough. Yesterday, a woman who makes comfort cushions for mastectomy patients shared a story about a young woman who has already lost both breasts and a leg to cancer, but made ten cushions for the program because she wants to give something back.

I will celebrate children, who bring delight to our lives. On Wednesday, I took a long walk in the woods with our grandson. We stopped and listened to a winter wren singing his heart out. I suggested the  “boy bird” was probably excited because he and his mate were building a nest. This led to a long conversation about – what else? – the birds and the bees! “Who lays the eggs? Why does the girl need the boy? Which is more important, Oma, a boy or a girl?” I didn’t expect all that when I went for a walk in the woods!

I will celebrate long conversations with friends, conversations that enlarge my understanding of the world, conversations where my inner self can safely come out and say what I believe. I will celebrate the wholeness of inner and outer selves matching and  being real, and books like Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness that remind me of that.

I will celebrate the power of the little action which may lead to big things. Bhutan had a vision way back in 1975: could they be a country that didn’t buy into rampant development? They’ve been struggling to work out their future in a balanced way, never dreaming that their little example would someday be on the world stage.

And I will celebrate the colour green.  On St. Patrick’s Day, I found our little tree by the river redecorated in green to honour that saint. I celebrate people who secretly add a little joy note to our days by doing such things.

Our little tree in the woods: at Christmas, it was decorated with ornaments; at New Year's with a party hat and streamers. I can't wait to see what it will look like at Easter.
I celebrate green because in my walks in the woods I feel calmed and at peace, and hear the Creator whispering all around me. And I celebrate green because it is the colour of growth and change and learning – activities that make me ... well ... happy!

 Last week, I attended a workshop where I learned how to add more bits of green to my tree pieces.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

To Thing or Not to Thing

Well. I wasn’t going to write this week. It’s been a non-week: nothing except the hum-drum happened, and so really, there was nothing to write about.

And then something caught my attention. It was an article entitled “Thinging and the verb ‘to thing.’” The article was written by environmental philosopher Ray Grigg, who uses our local freebie shopping news as his regular platform. Such are the little surprises you get in a small town newspaper.

Thinging, says Grigg,  means to section off a little piece of reality, separating it from the rest of the world, and regarding it as an object on its own, with no connections to the rest of the world. The word ‘thing’ becomes a verb, rather than a noun.

If I were to “thing” a specific tree, for instance, I would look at its shape, its size, its colouring, how many board feet it would yield if cut.

 I would not think of this specific tree as related to its environment, its roots holding together the soil on a river bank; I wouldn’t think of it as something which evokes deep emotion within me as I gaze at its beauty, wonder at its age, and appreciate how it feels as I rest in its shade; I wouldn’t check out how many animals rely on this beautiful bit of nature for their homes, their food, their protection; or how this tree is embedded in the web of creation, an amazing organism that breathes in carbon dioxide and breathes out oxygen.

When I ‘thing’ a tree, it has no connection to me.

In a busy world like ours, with millions of bits of information being tossed our way every day, it’s an easy, almost automatic, reaction to ‘thing’ our world. It’s much easier to ‘thing’ a tree than to feel the pain or wrestle with questions when we read about environmentally unsound logging practices. The danger of ‘thinging’ is that we no longer feel connected to or responsible for the world we live in.

I am so guilty of thinging. I started this blog with thinging: I wrote that this week was just a humdrum, ordinary week in which nothing important happened. I neatly sectioned my week off from the rest of my life, as though I could discard it and be done with it. I dismissed the words I said that may have impacted, for good or for bad, the people I met this week. I disregarded the actions I took: the hugging and rocking of our newest grandchild, the little pieces of art that I tried to create, the workshop I attended.  I left out the big and little events that colour my life: our son’s birthday bash, the first meal of the year outside on our patio, the worries about a friend with whom I’ve lost touch.

And the antidote to “thinging”? It’s summed up in a wonderful poem by one of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver. When I looked up her poem The Summer Day on the Internet, the introductory comment said it all: “The act of attention is a form of prayer.” The opposite of thinging is paying attention, and paying attention is a form of prayer, connecting ourselves with our world and the Creator of it all. “Tell me,” writes Oliver, “what is is that you intend to do with your one wild and precious life?” Tell me, she challenges us: how will you spend these moments and days as they pass?

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

From New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1992.

Reprinted at

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Omnium Gatherum

Omnium gatherum, before it became the name of a Finnish death metal band, meant “an assortment of unrelated things.”

 Actually, I didn’t know Omnium Gatherum was a Finnish band. But because the first rule of writing is “Check your facts”,  I googled it. I learned that there’s a difference between melodic death metal and progressive death metal as musical genres; also, that Omnium Gatherum (as a band) records under the Lifeforce label. Does anyone else think that’s a little weird? The things you learn when you check your facts with Google!

I also learned that omnium gatherum --  “an assortment of unrelated things”–  has many wonderful synonyms: agglomeration, alphabet soup, collage, crazy quilt (oh, I like that one), farrago, gallimaufry, grab bag, gumbo, hash, hodgepodge, medley, mélange, menagerie, miscellanea, mishmash, mixed bag, montage, olla podrida, pastiche, patchwork (another great word!), potpourri, ragbag, salmagundi, scramble, shuffle, smorgasbord, stew, tumble, variety, welter. In fact, it’s a veritable omnium gatherum of synonyms, and a great source of pleasure for word lovers, of which I am one. Why use the word assortment, when you can use a word like gallimaufry or salmagundi?

But I digress. This blog will be an omnium gatherum of things I learned last week when I hung out with my kids and grandkids. So, without further ado:

 1. “It’s not fair!” wailed 5-year old Aerin, when she watched her sister open a birthday gift, a toy similar to one Aerin already had, but nicer.  “She’s a lucky duck!” We spent a few moments reminding her that when it was her birthday, she too had gotten great toys. “Yeah,” she said, wiping away her tears, “Sometimes you get to be the lucky duck, and sometimes it’s someone else’s turn to be the lucky duck.” Wow! What a precocious child to have already learned that life lesson. (BTW, the toy is a galimoto, made in Kenya and sold at 10,000 Villages, the MCC fair trade store.)

2. It’s great to walk with your grandkids and explore the world. On a walk through the Matsqui prairie, Geneva, 9, found a lovely blooming hellebore, with a sign beside it: “Planted in loving memory of Geoff.” Because I’d been taking a class on end-of-life issues, the idea of plants as a fitting memorial instead of a tombstone was dear to my heart. “You can plant something in my memory after I’m gone,” I suggested, then had second thoughts. Perhaps this idea was a bit macabre for children? Geneva didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, I think it will be a rosebush, Oma, and I will come and water it a lot.”  Ah, thank you, dear child. Roses would be lovely!

3. Life is short: wear the sparkly shoes before you outgrow them, even if it is just for a walk on a muddy trail.

4. There’s a time to walk, and a time to rest. Holding hands when you walk is lovely. Sitting on a bench is great, too. From the bench you can see where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going, if you just take the time to observe.

 Ditto for life: sometimes you keep walking, sometimes you rest and check out where you are.

5. And finally: there’s no time like the present to think about the future and make your wishes known. At the aforementioned class about end-of-life issues, participants were urged to talk to their loved ones about their beliefs, values and wishes – even to put these things down in writing so the ones you leave behind will have a clear understanding of what’s important to you. We had “the conversation” with two of our children last weekend. It was wonderful. We laughed a lot. In particular, they laughed about my expressed wish that a particular song be sung at my funeral. No, it’s not “How Great Thou Art” or “Amazing Grace,” although those are good. It’s this one, which I sing with my grandkids every time we visit – even the 11-year-old still sits on my lap when we sing it:

It's so nice to have a cuddle with a person that you love
Feels so good to have a snuggle with a person that you love
When I'm happy or in trouble I run fast right on the double
Just to sit and have a cuddle with a person that I love.

(You can listen to this at

My kids are mystified as to how they will insert this song into a funeral service. And maybe I’m asking too much. It will be one of those things that is in the omnium gatherum of their lives, lurking in the background on their “to-do” lists: figuring out how to sing a cuddle song at mom’s funeral, when that time does come. If it makes them smile, so much the better. I’m smiling too.

PS One of my 14 readers asked me to post a picture of my finished “Loose Ends” project (see post "Loose Ends" a few weeks ago) Here it is:

I gathered the loose ends of fabric selvedges, stitched them down, and inserted into a frame which I painted with more dots. I also beaded in the spaces. I left space around the composition to indicate that I have unfinished business in my life, loose ends that need to be tied up.