Friday, 6 December 2013

What My Christmas Tree Taught Me

When I was a young wife, houseproud and anxious to make a perfect Christmas, I put our tree up on December first and took great care in decorating it. 

As the years passed by, the tree went up later and later. Eventually a year came when we put the tree up on Christmas Eve. The next year we put the tree up but never got around to decorating it.  The year after that we didn't get around to putting a tree up at all.

That was the year I finally realized that I don't like decorating a Christmas tree. I don't want to spend hours carefully placing ornaments only to spend more hours just a few weeks later taking them all down and storing them away again.

Now we celebrate Christmas without a tree.  Neither of us miss it at all, and I'm very grateful to have that chore crossed off my list.

Given my dislike of decorating a tree, you can imagine how I felt when I arrived at the office this week to find that one of my co-workers had donated a Christmas tree, and to learn that I was expected not only to decorate it, but to go shopping for the ornaments during my not-working hours.

Let's just say I was not delighted.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, first of all because we all feel pressured to create a perfect, never-happens-in-real-life holiday and I want you to know that - despite a gazillion Pinterest posts, seasonal how-to TV shows, and glossy magazine covers - you can choose to do just the things you love. It's perfectly okay to forget about the rest.

If decorating the tree, or frosting beautiful sugar cookies, or singing carols, or going for walks in the snow, or knitting Christmas stockings brings you joy, by all means do those things.  If any of those things don't bring you joy, feel free to set them aside in favour of creating a happy holiday that works for you.

If you want pulled pork sandwiches instead of turkey, or chocolate cake instead of Christmas pudding, if you want to spend the day watching a Star Wars marathon instead of "It's a Wonderful Life," if you choose not to make that wreath for the front door, I can assure you that the holiday police will not come pounding on your door.

I can tell you, too, that no one will care if the things you do choose to do are less than perfect.  Your loved ones are far more interested in spending time with a happier you than they are in being entertained in a house that looks like a feature from Better Homes and Gardens.

That having been said, we all know full well that there are also holiday obligations we can't forgo.   Like my office Christmas tree, there are some chores we just have to do.  Sometimes they're work obligations. Other times they're obligations taken on because we know that, even though we don't love them, they bring joy to someone we love.  

If I had kids in the house whose eyes lit up every time they saw the tree, I'd take the time to put it up, however much I dislike the chore.

So how do we deal with those obligations we don't enjoy but can't forgo?

We each have our own way of coping.  I'm learning to paste a smile on my face and get the chore out of the way. Grumbling isn't going to make the process any more enjoyable.  It will only make those around me unhappy or uncomfortable.  If I dispense with my obligation with good cheer it's likely to go more smoothly, and the sooner I'm done with it the sooner I can get back to doing the things I do want to do.

So right now I'm turning on the Christmas music, making some hot chocolate, and rolling up my sleeves. I'm sure the tree will look lovely when it's done.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Rules: How to Have a Happy Holiday Visit With Your Elders

It's visiting time.  Many of us travel at this time of year, to see family in different towns, or provinces, or states, or even countries. 

Those family visits can be one of the very best thing about the holidays but, let's be honest: They pose some challenges too. Particularly when we're visiting our elders.  

It's hard to know how to abide by the etiquette of a home not our own, and hard to know when - unintentionally - we are testing the bounds of our hosts' hospitality. Despite our best intentions, tempers can flare and harsh words - later regretted - may be spoken. 

Now that I'm growing older myself, I've come to realize that there are some simple steps that can be followed to help ensure a pleasant family visit. I wish I'd known them when I was younger.  It would have made things so much simpler but, somehow, people never speak about them.  Silly, really.  We want to enjoy our family visits, not dread them.

So here are some things I've figured out along the way:

Be prepared.  Set aside some time before your visit to make a list of what you may need.  Write down every single thing that comes to mind. You can cull it later but, remember, it's better to over-pack than to find yourself up in the middle of the night because your youngest child or grandchild won't drop off to sleep without their favourite teddy bear.  

Plan to take bedding.  If you have an infant or toddler, providing safe comfortable bedding is always your responsibility.

Even if you know your hosts have enough bedding, taking along sleeping bags for the kids will spare them some laundry after you leave. Taking along familiar pillows and pillowcases can help ensure a more restful sleep. 

Check with your hosts before you leave.  Things can change unexpectedly, especially if you are staying with elders.  If they've had a lot of visitors they may be too tired to enjoy your visit, and much too polite to say so.  

Before leaving for your visit, call your hosts. Ask how their week's been and listen carefully, taking your cues from their conversation.  If they've been ill or had a lot of company, you may want to amend your plans.  I know that this can be a real nuisance so it's important to have a fall back plan from the beginning.  

If plans for your visit do change, remember that your elders have accommodated you for a lifetime.  Now it's your turn to accommodate them.

While you're checking with your hosts, ask if there's anything they'd like you to bring.  

Plan some "down time" into each day of your visit.  Even though we love our families to bits, too much of a good thing can be, well, too much.  Plan a daytime outing for each day.  It can be something as simple as a walk in the park, or it might be something like skating or an afternoon show at the local movie theatre.  Whatever you plan, do invite your hosts along but don't be insulted if they decline.  Everyone needs a breather now and again.

Don't assume that because they love your kids, your hosts will want to be left alone with them while you go out.  However much they may love your children, elders may find caring for them without your help tiring, and even a little aggravating.  If they ask or offer to babysit, go for it.  Otherwise, assume that, while visiting with your children, your elders want your company too.

Pitch in.  Pick up after yourselves, help to clear the table, and wash the dishes.  If your hosts are the kind of folks who don't mind sharing their kitchen, cook a meal or two, planning the menus around things they enjoy and are used to eating.  

At least once during your visit, say "I'm going to take a few things to the laundromat.  Do you have anything you'd like me to wash for you while I'm there?"  Under no circumstances should you accept an offer to do your laundry for you but, if they offer, it's okay to accept your hosts' kindness in inviting you to use their washer and dryer. Of course, it goes without saying that you should leave the laundry room as neat as a pin.

Call it a night, early.  Except on the holiday itself, it's always wise to get the kids to bed at their regular bedtimes and to call it an early night yourselves.  If you're not an early-to-bed person by nature, retire to your room and pass a couple of hours quietly reading, or online.  It gives your hosts time and space to recover from their day and to get organized for tomorrow.  

Know when to leave.  Benjamin Franklin once said that "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days."  That may be pushing things a bit, especially if you've traveled a long way, but do remain sensitive to the needs and preferences of your hosts.  If they're flagging, you can always make arrangements to leave a couple of days early.  It's the courteous thing to do.  

Write a thank you note.  The real kind.  That goes in the mail.  If your hosts are elders, this is especially important.  They were raised in a time when sending a thank you note was considered a required courtesy. 

Your note should thank your hosts for their hospitality, mentioning one or two things that you particularly enjoyed about your visit, and it should express your appreciation for their kindness in making you welcome. 

So that's it:  All common sense really.

Go forth and enjoy your visits.  

Cherish the ones you love and tell them how dear they are to you.  

Have a wonderful holiday.  

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Next Thing: Kindness

If you spend any time at all on Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest, you'll know that there's an awful lot written about the importance of planning, and varied advice offered on how to go about it.  I'm the pits at planning and always have been, so I read these posts with interest. 

Looking back, I realize that most many of my life decisions have been made in reaction to my circumstances rather than anticipation of what the future might bring.  I've always found it almost impossible to imagine where I might be in five years time or what I might be doing, and the idea of setting a distant goal is nothing less than overwhelming for me. 

I mean, seriously, how can any of us have any idea what the future will bring? If there's anything my life has taught me, it's that life in general is just one big long series of surprises.

But I'm turning fifty-five this week, and clearly I'm at a place in my life where some decisions need to be taken.  Plans need to be made.

So I'm reading about planning.

(lol!  Anything to avoid the actual task!  ;^)

All of the planning posts I read tell me that in order to make a successful plan you must set a end goal towards which you will strive. 

I ran through goals in my mind: 

Not being homeless or hungry in my old age?

Not being lonely in my old age?

Having plans in place for when Alzheimer's takes my mind?  (With our family history, this is likely to happen.)

They're all things that must be dealt with, to be sure, but they're about practicalities, not about passion or about joy.  If I'm to work towards a goal with enthusiasm, it must have a positive place in my heart.

So I sought out posts suggesting how I might identify my goals. 

Several suggested making a mission statement - like businesses do - as a means of defining values and clarifying priorities.  

Good thought!

Surprisingly though, when I set out to make a mission statement, only two words came to mind:

Be kind.

That's it. 

I'm sure it's hardly the sort of mission statement the bloggers I was reading had in mind. A person couldn't build a successful business on the idea, or use it as a basis for concrete plans, to be achieved in quantifiable steps.

But here's the thing:

A few years back, when I was at a very dark place in my life and ready to give up hope altogether, I sought a simple goal to work towards; one that would lift me out of my place of despair and give me the means to move forward.  A two word mission popped in to my head then too:

Be grateful.

I took those two words as my mantra and began to make a conscious effort to recognize and acknowledge the blessings in my life. 

In recognizing those gifts, I found within myself the strength to move forward.  Things got better and they are improving still. Not only does my life seem better to me now because I recognize and am grateful for what I have, but it really is better.

Over time, gratitude became a habit with me and it brought more gifts my way than I might ever have anticipated. Opening my heart to gratitude opened my heart to other things too, like optimism, and friendship, and creativity, and sharing, and - in opening my heart to those things - I made new social connections, learned new things, and found new work.

Perhaps "be kind" is simply the next logical step on my journey.

It's entirely possible that this next step may bring me no tangible benefits at all, but it will, at the very least, help me to have a happy heart. 

And for now that's enough.

I'll continue to work on practical day-to-day stuff too of course but, just now, and for the foreseeable future too, my two word mantra has been expanded to four:

Be grateful, be kind.  Be grateful, be kind.  Be grateful, be kind...

As a mission statement, it works for me.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Horse Chestnuts

These are horse chestnuts, so named to distinguish them from the chestnuts we like to eat in fall and winter. They look similar but are very high in tannin, making them bitter tasting and difficult to digest.

Horse chestnuts are valued shade trees here.  Their smooth grey trunks, towering pyramidal shape, and dense foliage make them a stately addition to large expanses of park land.  They were planted along the boulevards of many of our older streets and now, perhaps a century later, their branches form a shady bower under which both cars and pedestrians find shelter from the summer sun.  

In springtime, horse chestnuts bloom, the tips of their branches bearing upward-growing pyramidal racemes of white, ivory, or dark pink blossoms like the ones shown here.  They're beautiful.

As small children, though, my friends and I treasured horse chestnuts most in the fall.  

The blossoms that decorate the trees in spring transform over the course of the summer into formidable looking, spine bearing, green drupes and inside each of these husks are hidden three or four silky smooth chestnuts, usually about an inch and a half or two inches in diameter.  

As kids, we greeted those chestnuts with delight. 

Even as a child, the beauty of horse chestnuts spoke to me.  I admired the swirls of reddish-brown and dark brown that dressed them, and I loved to gather them up, enjoying their weight in my coat pocket and the pleasure of running my thumb over their smooth skin.  They were my worry beads.

For the boys in the neighbourhood, they incited a flurry of young warrior games.  

Horse chestnuts were gathered as ammunition for sling shots, and they were pierced through and strung on old shoe laces.  

Some were strung with a chestnut and either end of the lace and hurled like bolos at targets marked on tree trunks or fences. (Or school walls.  Sssshhh!  Don't tell!)  

Others were strung singly so their owners could face off against each other, swinging the chestnuts in arcs at the ends of their laces so that they collided with as much force as possible. "Cobbers" would be swung at each other again and again - with poorly aimed chestnuts imperiling unguarded knuckles - until one or the other of the chestnuts shattered.  The owner of the surviving chestnut would be declared the winner and eventually, by means of a complicated tournament structure that only the participants understood, a grand champion would be declared.

These games may seem silly now, but as children they engaged our attention as completely as any computer game might engage a child today.  They helped us learn to derive entertainment from the materials at hand.  Contests were taken seriously, and through them we learned a lot about competition, chance, and fair play, all the while having a great deal of fun.  

Although I can't resist picking them up myself, I notice that the children in my neighbourhood no longer seem to gather horse chestnuts.  Their attention is taken up by other things.  They are busy with organized activities, with cel phones, and with screen time.  Not that these things are necessarily bad; they're part of modern life and our kids need to be proficient with them in order to succeed. 

Still, it makes me sad that the free play games children have improvised for centuries, from the materials nature provides, seem to be on the wane.

Perhaps there's a way to strike a balance?

Perhaps if we let, or even require that, children have a certain amount of unstructured outdoor playtime each day - time with no cel phones, no electronic games, no rules other than those pertaining to basic safety and courtesy - it would be a good thing.  

Kids learn a lot important life skills from free play.  Free play builds social skills and problem solving skills.  It fosters creative thinking and independence.  It helps children to understand and appreciate their environment.  It prepares them to be successful adults by enabling them to find their own ways of interpreting the world around them.

That's a lot from a handful of horse chestnuts isn't it?

What do you think?  Do kids need more free play time?  Would you like to see your kids (or grandkids, or students) spending more time at play without structure or screen time?  

Stop by my Facebook page or Twitter feed and share your opinions. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Walking in the Rain

I had a million things to do on Sunday morning, but chose instead to go for a long walk in the rain.

I was supposed to go grocery shopping, but reckoned we could eat from the pantry for another day.

I was supposed to clean the bathrooms but knew they would still be there in the evening, when it was too dark to walk.

I was supposed to tidy the living room and dining room but reckoned that, like the bathroom, they would wait.

That's the thing about "to do" lists:  They're patient.  They'll always still be waiting for you when you get around to them.

Rainy Sunday mornings will not.

The skies were a uniform, flannel grey and the rain a steadily falling curtain when I left.  The sound of tires swishing on wet pavement provided background to the music of rain pattering on pavement and splashing in puddles.  The flow of rainwater in the gutters sang the same song a stream bed does as water finds its way downhill.

The wind, forecast to be very strong in the afternoon, was already picking up.  Trees were beginning to sway, and my neighbours, heeding the wind warning published on the weather station that day, were busy taking down hanging baskets and carrying light objects from their lawns and patios indoors.

Few people were on the streets.  It was a good time for solitude, and for noticing small details. 

At a house near mine, near-ripe grapes hung abundantly on vines trellised up a white stucco wall.  Sheltered by leaves, the grapes were not completely slicked with water but each wore perfect, round droplets that acted as tiny lenses, reflecting the garden in miniature vignettes.  It was like viewing the world through a thousand tiny crystal balls.

Cottonwood leaves, dry and skittery the day before, clattering across the streets at every breath of breeze, now lay plastered to the pavement, their bright outlines contrasting the dark concrete, the clear water's meniscus swelling against the sharp edges of each leaf.

A congress of crows gathered on the telephone lines at the intersection, their necks drawn in against the wet, as if debating whether to make the effort to pluck the ripe walnuts from a tall tree or to seek shelter within its foliage.

A soaking wet woodpecker busily mined the trunk of a birch tree, his feathers soaking wet and ruffled by the rain, so intent upon his search for a meal that he let me step within four feet of where he worked.

At the lake, raindrops hit the water with such force that they pocked its surface, each drop causing concentric ripples that, in their path outward, collided with the ripples made by other drops; an endless, entrancing, constantly shifting geometry.

Red wing blackbirds sheltered among bullrushes, as still as these active birds ever seem to be. Even in the driving rain they were not at rest for long.  They still flitted back and forth from reed to reed, resting a few moments here and there, their heads turning constantly, bright yellow eyes regarding the silvery world around them.

A small girl dressed in a bright turquoise rain coat, pink-polka-dotted boots, and a brand new rainbow umbrella, walked with her patient grandfather, plotting her path from puddle to puddle, jumping in each one and laughing in delight.

Even with my rain gear and a brand new umbrella, I was soaked through by the time I got home.  But refreshed.  Calmed.  Restored.

I'd "lost" two hours from my day and had no hope of finishing all the chores on my list, but some things are more important than turning "to do" into "to done."  

We are, after all, human beings, not human doings.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Hay Bales and Other Things

We had a period of unusually warm weather this month.  The bright sun and higher-than-usual temperatures came after a short period of revitalizing rain, and were a boon to local farmers.  Hay crops burgeoned and farmers laboured to bring in the third (or in some cases even fourth) mowing of the season.

My daily drive to and from work takes me right through the heart of our valley's farmland.  I watched with interest as the hay was cut, then fluffed and left to dry for a couple of days, and finally baled and brought in. 

One evening, I passed by a field in which the bales still stood.  They were the old fashioned kind - smaller than many modern bales, and rectangular - and I thought "That's what hay bales are supposed to look like!"

There were lots of good reasons for thinking that, but when considering my reaction I have to admit that it was mainly rooted in nostalgia.  Those smaller, rectangular bales are the bales I grew up knowing; seen on countless Sunday drives, together with the hardworking folk who gathered them from the fields.  When I think "haying" they are the image that comes to mind.

My "that's how they're supposed to look" reaction gave rise to a whole new line of thought: 

Am I getting old?  (Of course I am. Well, older anyway.)

When did I start reminiscing about the "good old days?"

And why do so many things from my childhood - although often not anything to do with me directly - seem so much better than what we have today? 

Will my grandchildren reminisce about computer games the same way I reminisce about Sunday drives?

All good questions.

I don't pretend to know all the answers but I did come to an understanding about a couple of things while following this line of thought:

Memory is flexible and selective.  Humans want to remember good things more than bad, so the past tends to take on a golden light in our memories; filled with sunshine, and happy thoughts, and good times.  There is simplicity there.  It looks, to our mind's eye, so much less complicated than our present time that we can't help but yearn for it.

Besides, some things really were simpler in the past.  All of this technology - which was touted to simplify our existence - has not helped.  Somewhere along the way, we confused labour saving with simplicity.  There are a great many things we can now do while scarcely lifting a finger and rarely leaving the house, but the processes involved in doing them are much more complex than they used to be.

Hay bales are a good example: 

An old-style rectangular bale of hay weighs about 60 pounds.  The hay is mowed with a tractor, and baled with an attachment pulled by the same machine.  Once baled, it can be lifted by human power onto a truck, or a trailer, or even a wagon pulled by horses, and taken to its storage place.  It is can then be stacked it into place in a loft, a barn, or some other storage facility. 

The equipment required for the old fashioned baling process is fairly simple.  The size and shape of the bales allows them to be moved with no machinery at all if need be, and ensures that they will fit in a compact space.  The stacked bales have an additional benefit too, insulating the building in which they're stored against both heat and cold.

More recently, though, someone looked at the haying process and thought "If we can find a machine to bale hay in larger portions, and if we can store it right in place, in the fields where the animals will eventually eat it, it will take less labour and we'll require fewer workers." 

A specialized machine was constructed that rolls the hay into vast cylinders, then wraps the cylinders in heavy plastic as protection against the weather. The wrapped bales can be left right in the fields until such time as they are needed.  It's a labour saving process that also spares the farmer the cost of specialized storage.


Those immense hay cylinders are too large to be moved without the aid of machinery.  Those who do need to move them about must purchase a forklift with a specialized attachment in order to accomplish the task.  Should the cylinders need to be transported away from the farm, they're so large they must be loaded onto the flat bed of a tractor trailer truck.  Both the forklift and the tractor trailer truck are very expensive and if they break down or become unavailable, moving the hay becomes a difficult process indeed.

If the hay cylinders are left in place in the field, the farmer need not worry about transporting them at all but must pay for the plastic needed to wrap them, and the disposal of the plastic once the time comes to use the hay.  That plastic has its own impact on the environment too.

Each method has its merits, but the second option is certainly more complex and expensive in terms of both the materials and machinery required to make it work.

The point of all of this?

I guess what I'm trying to say that I've finally arrived at a time in my life where I understand why our elders reminisce:  

They do it to seek comfort against rapidly changing times and the stress that comes with change. 

They do it out a desire to share knowledge and to help younger folk understand their thought processes. 

They do it because, sometimes, the old way of doing things really can be a better solution to a specific challenge,

and they do it because humans beings form emotional bonds through story telling.

Wish I'd understood all of that sooner.  I'd have been more patient!

So here I am: fifty-something in a time when that is neither old nor young, finally realizing that there's merit in embracing both the promise of the future and remembrance of times past.  And I'm asking you, please, to have patience with the reminiscences of your elders.  You might find something in them that can move you forward in a whole new way.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Here I Am; An Update

It's been about two months now since an unfortunate reaction to one of my prescriptions caused me to re-evaluate my approach to caring for my health. I set some pretty big goals at the time, and I thought you might like to know how I'm doing so far.

The first goal on my list was to encourage positive thinking in myself and in others.  I feel like I've done pretty well with this.  I've started a Facebook page to encourage myself and others along the way and it provides an impetus for me to turn my thoughts in the right direction.  There are lots of great resources out there and I'm having fun finding them.

The second goal on my list was to perform at least one small, anonymous act of kindness each day.  I'm so glad I set that goal!  This one small thing has gone further to brighten my outlook than anything else I've ever tried.  The emotional boost I get from mindfully watching those around me and then finding some small way to lift someone else's spirits is immeasurable.  I highly recommend it.

I've had mixed success with my third goal; to do some sort of exercise every day.  I'm a long-time couch spud and changing that mind set is requiring real effort of me.  I've been making better progress lately, though, thanks to a TED talk by Matt Cutts

Matt encourages folks to try something new for 30 days.  He says that 30 days is long enough to form a habit, but not so long as to be unendurable if it turns out to be an activity you dislike.  Makes good sense to me!

My current 30 day fitness goals are pretty basic:  I'm trying to do a beginners' calisthenics routine daily, and to go for a walk every evening. Both are attainable, although I do confess to having to talk myself into doing the calisthenics. 

I failed at my fourth goal - to be mindful of what I eat - rather spectacularly. Apparently this is a big challenge for me!  I'm an emotional eater and this process of change has been very emotional.  It's something I'll continue to work on. 

I'm still not planning to worry about weight loss but I do need to work on my love of sweets.  I've decided that rather than counting calories or going on a diet of some sort, I'll simply focus on trying to eat the five to ten servings of vegetables and fruit I should be consuming daily.  If I manage that, and eight glasses of water (the last goal on the list, and one at which I've been quite successful), there probably won't be a lot of room left for goodies. 

Fingers crossed!

Reading back over this list and my comments, I find myself feeling that I was mighty ambitious when compiling that first list, and probably bit off more than I could chew. 

It's something many of us tend to do, I think. Our initial enthusiasm for change makes us think we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. 

And we can! 

We just need to break those big goals down into a series of smaller, more attainable steps.  

It's like that old joke that asks "How do you eat an elephant?"

The answer? 

"One bite at a time!"  ;^)

How are you doing with your goals?  I'd love to hear from you. 

Stop by my Facebook page or Twitter feed so we can share our successes and encourage each other over the rough spots.  The road is much smoother, and the journey more interesting, when traveled with friends.  :^)

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Best First Prize

I love a harvest fair, and I love small town fairs the best.  They are closest to what fairs used to be:  A place where the agricultural community meets to learn, to trade, to do a little bragging about their skills, to visit with their neighbours, and to encourage kids to carry the traditions forward into the next generation.

I went to just such a fair this weekend, in Cobble Hill.

As I do at any fair, I headed first to the exhibit hall. For me, it's like an cornucopia, filled with bounty. Here can be found the prize winning vegetables, the jars of canning, the beautiful pies, the hand stitched quilts, and the flower arrangements; treasures every one. 

I especially like the classes in each exhibit that are open to young children.  It's great to see them making their best attempts, and to witness their pride in winning a ribbon.

At a small fair with a great many entry classes and a small population from which to draw exhibitors, chances of winning are good.  A child who places something in each of two or three different classes will likely find a ribbon awarded to at least one of their entries.

Which leads me to the story of my very favourite entry at this year's fair:

This was the first-prize-winning zucchini animal by a child under the age of six.

It was the only entry in its class.  

I came upon it at the very same time the proud young sculptor discovered he'd received a blue ribbon.  He is two years old, and told me all about how he'd made his zucchini creature, taking particular pride in his placement of the blueberries.  

When he had finished telling me about it, I thanked him for showing me how he'd made his project. I congratulated him on his ribbon, and pointed out that a blue ribbon meant he'd won first prize.  

His reply?

"I know!  And it's the very BEST first prize!"

And you know what? 

He was absolutely right.  :)

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Our Lady of Lists

My fella once jokingly dubbed me "Our Lady of Lists."  It's a fitting title.  I do love a list. 

Actually, I love a lot of lists. 

I have a reading list, and a topic list for future blogs. 

I have a grocery list, and a list of items I'm collecting for craft projects. 

I have a list of craft supplies I may need, and sewing projects I want to undertake. 

I have a list of things to look for when I go thrifting. 

I have inventory lists for my pantry and both deep freezes. 

I have a list of birthdays and anniversaries that I try to remember and, of course, the big kahuna of lists in my house, the "to do" list.

The process of list making helps me to organize my thoughts and to give some priority to the many things I'd like to fit into my schedule. 

There is a dangerous side to all this list making though: 

If I have too many projects on the go and still more waiting to get started, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it all. 

When I get overwhelmed by the tasks at hand, I'm kind of like a deer in the headlights; frozen, mesmerized, and unable to more forward to accomplish anything at all.

It took me a long time to realize I was creating this feeling of being overwhelmed, and even longer to arrive at a solution that works for me.

Here's what I figured out:

I can still make all those lists without feeling overwhelmed if I just limit my "to do" list to three attainable goals each day. 

The attainable part is really important. In order not to find myself mired in frustration, I need to feel at the end of the day that I've accomplished what I set out to do. 

I'm careful with my wording: 

Instead of writing "sew new dress,"  I'll write "cut out new dress" because I know that I can get at least that much done. 

Instead of writing "do the week's baking,"  I'll write "bake bread"  because that's the most important portion of the baking. 

If the rest doesn't get done, we'll get by just fine. 

By keeping the goals on my "to do" list more attainable, I can end my day with a feeling of accomplishment.  If I get more done than what's on my list, I feel even better.

Simple, right?

Funny how smart solutions so often are.  ;^)

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Thinking Like My Grandparents

These are my parents and grandparents, on my parents' wedding day in 1957.

I'm very fortunate to have grown up knowing all four of my grandparents, and some of my great-grandparents too.  That's a rare thing these days.

I was thinking about my grandparents while I was out on my walk this morning.  

My morning walks are part of an ongoing attempt to regain better health after a long term illness, and to strike a healthier life/work balance.  It occurred to me that my grandparents' examples could provide some good tools for moving towards those goals.

On the surface of things, my grandparents didn't have a lot in common. They came from different upbringings and had very different outlooks on life but, when you look deeper, there are a lot of commonalities between them too.  

My grandfathers were both "working men," spending most of their lives in jobs that required physical labour.  Neither earned a great deal of money.

Neither of my grandmothers had paid work outside their homes, though both did volunteer their time to various causes.

Both of my grandfathers were enthusiastic gardeners, producing a good percentage of the fruit and vegetables that were consumed in their homes.  

My grandmothers were accomplished plain cooks.  They cooked from scratch, put food by when it was abundant, and were rarely willing to pay the extra money needed to purchase convenience foods.

Restaurant meals were treats, not regular events, and outings with the car were carefully planned.  There was no driving four blocks to the grocery store and then popping out an hour later to go somewhere else.  Errands within walking distance were planned for and done - on foot whenever possible - in a single trip.  Visits to nearby friends were made on foot too.

Phone calls were for business, for making appointments, and for emergencies.  Long phone conversations were not part of their social lives.  Visits were made face to face and friends communicated over distances by writing letters.

If you went into either of my grandparents homes, you didn't find a lot of "stuff." Resources were carefully managed.  Things were cared for and mended and used up completely before they were discarded.

All four of my grandparents lived long lives.  Even my mom's mom, who had Alzheimers, remained physically strong until she was in her 80's.

Despite their comparatively modest means, my grandparents owned their homes and died with no debts, and even a little money in the bank.

Admittedly, a lot has changed since my grandparents' day:  Most women work outside the home for at least part of their lives.  We all seem to have demands upon our time that our grandparents didn't, and we certainly have access to a broader range of choices, foods, information, and education than was available back then.  

Some of these modern changes are good and some of them not but - good or bad - we can't turn back the clock.  We exist in the here and now and have to find our way forward as best we can.  

Much of the "simplicity" we hark back to in my grandparents' time involved a considerable investment of both time and hard labour. In order to emulate that "simple" life, a person must be willing to give up some things that are common currency within our modern lifestyle.  

For me (and I'm sure for many others), the giving up portion of the exercise would involve less time connected to technology. I'm not willing to give up my modern toys completely, but here are some choices that I am willing to make:

I can spend less time on line and more time on my feet, walking, doing errands, filling my pantry, and making, maintaining, or repairing household items.  

I can do more visiting face to face - having conversations with my friends in person rather than on the phone or on line - and I can write letters.  Real ones.  That go in the mail.  (So much more fun to receive than bills and pizza flyers, don't you think?)

I can buy fewer things, use up the things I have, and clear out some of the excess.

I can remember that, through the all the challenges and joys their long lives brought them, thrift and good management were second nature to my grandparents.  

Perhaps, if I work at it, they can become second nature to me too.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Learning By Doing

I've been wanting to share craft projects on my blogs for some time now but I've been debating about how to go about it.
I love the blogosphere and all I learn from it, but I have a problem with it too:  All that perfection can be daunting.  

The materials for each project are laid out in perfect order and the projects proceed logically, step-by-step - without any mistakes along the way - to a perfect conclusion.  The flawless finished project is then beautifully photographed and artfully displayed somewhere within the blogger's house-and-garden-magazine-perfect home.

I'm saddened by how many people see projects on line that they'd like to make, or are inspired with their own wonderful, creative ideas and yet never even attempt to follow through.  They're afraid that their finished project will be imperfect; that it won't measure up to the near-impossible standards demonstrated in those perfect photos seen on line.  
In making those comparisons between what we do and what craft bloggers share, I think we're missing the whole point of crafting.  

In real life, the creative process is messy, confusing, and almost always flawed, but it is also a process growth, and discovery, and learning.  The act of making something, however flawed, has the potential to bring us great joy.  
Who cares if there's a dropped stitch somewhere in that sweater, or that the batting in your first crib quilt doesn't lie perfectly flat? Who cares that your drop cookies are all different shapes and sizes? Who cares if the first bookshelf you build is crooked and a little homely, or that those colours that looked so great in your mind but look less than great on the wall?

No one but you.  

And I'm here to tell you that you're being too hard on yourself.
A failed project will not cause the world to end.

The project police won't come to get you. 

Even if your project fails completely, you've still benefitted from the joy found in the creative process and you've learned a few lessons along the way.  Those lessons - about both the craft and yourself - are invaluable.
In my world, the creative process often looks something like this:    
  • I look at an object or a piece of raw material and thing "Hey!  I could make this into a..."
  • I look through the other materials I have on hand to see if any of them can be used to make my project.
  • I go to the store and buy any additional materials I think I might need.
  • I form a hazy plan that I think may work, then roll up my sleeves and - without further ado - dive right in.
  • Some parts of my plan don't work out as planned, so I change my approach as I move along.
  • I return some things to the store, having discovered I don't need them after all, and end up buying other things I hadn't thought I needed at the start.
  • Sometimes things go so badly awry that I set the project aside, intending to rethink it.
  • Very often, the projects I set aside eventually end up in the trash.
  • Sometimes I find a project really boring and decide it's not worth pursuing to the end.  
  • Mostly, I finish my projects and find that, while they do approximate my original idea, they are riddled with imperfections and flaws. 
  • I take the lessons I've learned from one imperfect project and apply them to the next.
  • Without even realizing it, I get better and better at what I'm doing and - although I still see imperfections and flaws in my work - others notice an on-going improvement.

I've decided that when I blog my craft projects, I'll show you the mistakes, the re-thinking, and the flaws just as they really happen - with as many photos and as few words as I can manage. At the end of each post, I'll tell you what I might do differently next time.  
Hopefully, as I share these imperfect projects and the fun I have making them, you'll be inspired to put aside your worries about imperfect results and discover joy in the process too.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Sitting By The River

Every neighbourhood has its special places; places that the residents gravitate to year-round, drawn by community or scenery or quiet - some particular attribute that is valued on a personal level and that adds value to the quality of life of the neighbourhood as a whole.

In my neighbourhood, one of those places is the park by the river. 

I'm sure it has an official name but in all my years of knowing that park - and I've known it for nearly half a century - I've never learned what that name is.  For me it doesn't matter.  The name of the park is not at all what the essence of the place is about.

The park by the river  has tennis courts, a couple of soccer fields and lots of benches.  It has interpretive signs explaining the watershed and wildlife. It has trails, huge cottonwood trees, lots of wildlife, abundant blackberries that we forage late summer each year, and - of course and best of all - it has the river itself.

The river is broad where it runs through the park, and the water fast-moving.  Brown trout live in its waters and people travel from around the world to fish them. 

In winter and in spring the waters climb high up the banks and the river stretches its green-brown fingers out to touch the hollows in grasslands not sheltered by the dyke. 

In summer the waters drop and change their mood, running clear and chuckling over boulders, resting still and green in shallow pools and back eddies along the river bank.

This is the time when I like the river best. 

On hot, humid days, its shaded banks are call to me.  I pack up my chair, a book, and perhaps some food and drink, and head for our favourite swimming hole.

The water in the swimming hole is always flat calm and clear, cleansed by the flow of the river and stilled by a manmade weir of stones that has been there as long as I can remember.  It is no elaborate structure; just a half circle of river rocks, piled one atop the other to form a barrier that slows the current enough to allow the waters to rest in a natural hollow formed by the river's motion. 

There is still current here, but it is greatly slowed in comparison to the quicker waters just beyond, and the cottonwoods reach out their sheltering branches to shade a small strip of sandy beach.

I love it there.

It's often a busy place.  The swimming hole is visited by children and dogs, by walkers and families, by ducks and gulls and noisy crows whose constant conversations are shouted down at us from the branches above.  And yet, despite all its business, this place speaks calm to me.

So, I set up my chair in the shallow water at the edge of the pool, and open my book.  Sometimes I read.  Sometimes I gaze about me and enjoy the scene.  Often I give thanks for the cooling shade and the simple comfort of dabbling my feet in the water.

The swimming hole at the park beside the river is a gift; a treasure, a blessing.  It's my special neighbourhood place.

Do you have a favourite neighbourhood place too?  I'd love to hear about it.  Please stop by my Facebook page or Twitter feed to share your stories and photos. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Why I Walk

In the day-to-day course of things I'm  more given to practicality than fuss, affordability than luxury, durability than show.  

If people were analogous to cars, I'd be a family sedan: practical and kind of boxy, with not a lot of chrome or fancy bits, mostly reliable but no speed-mobile.  

Like my grandparents' car back in the day, this family sedan would rarely leave the garage if not specifically required to do so.  I'd prefer to keep the mileage low.  No gadding around town for me.  

I'm no fan of exercise, but I know that if I am to maintain even a reasonable level of good health I need to move about.  

So I walk.

I actually enjoy it.  

(Never thought I'd say that about any form of exercise, but I do.)

Here are some reasons why walking works for me:

Walking requires no training. I need no coaching and I need not pay for expensive classes.

There are no rules.  There is no sports association telling me I must walk in a certain way, at a certain time, or with certain people.  I need not compete with other walkers.

Walking requires little in the way of special equipment.  A durable, well fitting pair of shoes and clothing appropriate to the weather are really the only requirements.    

Walking is gentle to my body. Even with balance problems and limited depth perception walking has a slow enough pace that I rarely sustain any sort of injury. I also know that I can walk without fear that my jiggly bits, improperly restrained, will move about enough to cause me discomfort.  

There are lots of places to go walking.  There are, quite literally, hundreds of kilometers of trail readily available to walkers in our valley. Even when I'm away from home, I can always find somewhere to go walking.  There are parks, streets, sidewalks, running tracks, beaches...Even shopping malls or long hallways will do in a pinch.

I can easily carry things with me while I walk.  A backpack affords me the opportunity to take my camera along on my walks, along with drinking water and any other small items I might need.  I can fit walking in around my other chores, stopping in at the library or grocery store along the way.
I notice my surroundings when walking. I have time to look around me and appreciate the small details in the landscape, to enjoy the scents of fresh air and flora, to hear birdsong, the chuckling of water over stone in a nearby creak, or the rustling of pebbles on the beach as they roll to follow the receding waves. I have an opportunity to see  and appreciate the wild creatures that are sharing the space with me.

Perhaps most important to me, walking provides quiet time.  It allows me time for reflection and requires little enough of my attention that I can let my mind wander.  My attention shifts away from the concerns of the day.  I do some of my best creative thinking while walking.
Walking makes me happy.  

Are you a walker too?  

Would a Facebook forum about walking be of interest to you?  

Please stop by my Facebook page or visit me on Twitter with your comments.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Here I Am

My grandson took this picture at my request and, when I saw it, I almost reconsidered my idea of sharing it. 
Here's the thing though:  Part of moving forward and finding a more balanced path for my future is accepting who and where I am now.
So this is me:  Bad posture, pot belly, funny clothes, and all.
There are lots of things a photo can tell you about a person and even more that it can't but, flattering or not, a picture can be a useful tool both in setting goals and tracking progress.
My goal right now is to work towards a healthier me, both mentally and physically.  It's a really big goal and, to attain it, I'll need to break it down into smaller components. 
My first small steps along the way to achieving a healthier me are simple:
  • Encourage positive thinking in myself and in others.
  • Perform at least one small, anonymous act of kindness every day.
  • Move.  Do some sort of exercise every day.
  • Be mindful of what I eat.
  • Drink lots of water.

Weight loss is not a specific goal for me, and a fashion makeover is not even on my list (however beneficial it might be), but I won't be surprised if my shape and posture change as I make my way toward a healthier life balance.
Just to benchmark so I know where I've started: I am 5'1" tall and today I weigh 142 pounds.  I walked (at a leisurely pace) for an hour this morning and I plan to spend 30 minutes swimming this evening.
I'll keep you posted on my progress and I'll share a new photo every month or so.

If you are pursuing a goal and would like some encouragement as you work towards it, please stop by my FB page and join the conversation there.  I'm all about positive reinforcement. 

Imagine how well we'll do if we all help each other along the way!