Pondering Peace ~ Lest We Forget

St Vital Park Peace Pole.
A Peace Pole dedicated in a popular Winnipeg park.

Today is Remembrance Day, here in Canada. It’s a day to reflect on the lessons that we’ve learned from war, especially since World War I; to remember and honour the sacrifices that were made by so many so that we may live in freedom; and to consider the suffering that conflicts are still causing in modern times.   The hope is that, in remembering all of these things, we will continue to work toward a more peaceful world.

In these times, it seems especially important to take a moment to pause and remember.

St Vital Peace Pole.
Peace Poles can be found in more than 180 countries to promote peace, understanding, and goodwill.

I took a walk in a popular Winnipeg park today, where a Peace Pole was dedicated in 2015.  Have you heard of these?  The inscription explains that they are “found in over 180 countries to promote peace, understanding, and goodwill.”

This Peace Pole was added to a beautiful little garden in the park that, in the summer, radiates colours and delightful fragrances.  Since it’s November, many of the flowers and plant life around the pole lie dormant amongst the evergreens, waiting to bloom again in the spring. A fitting symbol of life, perserverence and hope.

“LEST WE FORGET”

 

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A little down the the main road in St Vital, we see the Red River through more November trees.
A little down the park’s main road, we see the Red River through more November trees.

In the meantime, in the nearby pond, all sorts of birds gathered to prepare for their autumn  migrations.  It felt good to pause and reflect, as I watched with interest how the animals in nature – ducks, geese, and seagulls – managed to share this space in the park.

Seagull flying takeoff, ducks and geese, in St Vital Pond.

St Vital Park, ducks and a seagull on the pond.
Ducks and a seagull.

Pond at St Vital Park on Remembrance Day.

May we humans continue to learn how to treat each other, our planet, and all life on it with empathy and compassion.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

~Martin Luther King Jr.

The pond at St Vital Park.
Long shadows at noon in November.
November in St Vital park, long shadows on the pond.
November shadows on the pond.

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img_4351A little down St Vital park's main road, we see the Red River through more November trees.

5 Neat Things a Dog Will Bring Into Your Life

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Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?

Me?  I can’t choose… I like them both!

Earlier in my childhood, we had a variety of pets, including dogs, but after the age of 10, we’ve really only had cats.  I enjoy cats because they are low-maintenance, elegant, and very loving animals with a complex charm.  So… I guess I would say that I have become more used to having cats around.

Until this year, that is.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember my brother’s dog, Carlita.  You can read more about her on my first (and so far, only) Scribble Share.

My brother and his family went to live in France for the year, and they left Carlita with my mom.  Recently, my mom went to visit them in France for a month, so she left the dog with us (me, my son, and my husband).  When my mom returned to Canada, she injured her foot while working in the yard (Fortunately, nothing serious), which meant that she couldn’t walk the dog for most of last week.  So, Carlita stayed with us again until my mom’s foot started to heal.

Having a dog as a pet, albeit temporarily, has been a bit of a novelty for us.  They are a big commitment, almost like another baby!  But it is easy to see why people think of dogs as Man’s Best Friend.

This sweet little Carlita has helped me see some of the neat things that a dog brings into your life, aside from the obvious unconditional love, and loads of fun!

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Some of the neat things that a dog brings into your life:

1) A chance to be exuberantly joyful on a daily basis.

Every time I would get home, I would be greeted by the unrestrained joy that Carlita felt at our reunion. Of course, I would join in her excitement, laughing and talking to her in that silly voice that we naturally reserve for babies and cute animals.  Really, though – When else does one get to be that excited about anything, let alone something so ordinary as walking through the front door?

How wonderful that every arrival became an excuse to express unabashed joy!

2) An example of how to be totally in the moment.

One day when I got home from work, I took Carlita for a walk.  I’m usually pretty mindful of the beauty around me as I walk through the park, but on this day I was preoccupied with work, and my thoughts were far away, worrying about deadlines, decisions, and interactions with colleagues.  I was starting to get a headache. That’s when I looked at Carlita and really noticed how, as we walked, she had her nose buried in the thick, green grass.  At that moment, the grass was her world, the reality in which she was completely immersed.  I bet she wasn’t worried about whether I would give her that new canned dog food which she doesn’t like for supper, or which direction we would walk on our next outing.  No, she was just smelling that grass, giving all of her attention to the lush green blades that beckoned.

Yup. Dogs really know how to be in the moment.  Looking at her that afternoon, I took a deep breath, and remembered to pay more attention to the gorgeous, bright day around me.  We have a lot to think about as humans, and learning to take a break by being “in the moment” can be simpler than we make it. Dogs have it licked.

In fact, today when I got home from work, I went for a walk (no dog this time, she is happily back with my mom). I took a page from the book of Carlita.

I looked up at the trees, and focused my attention on the physical world around me. I noticed the shapes, and textures of the trees; the colour of the sky against the miriad of greens; the sound of birds echoing above. I noticed the sensation of the breeze against me, and the drifting fragrance of the flowers.

And I felt relaxed, joyful, and better prepared to take on the rest of the week.

3)  A dog encourages you to get outside and walk.

This is especially true with Carlita, who simply will not pee in the yard.  (I don’t know why! I certainly wished that she would, late on Friday nights). She is a dog that needs to be walked, several times a day. Sometimes long walks, sometimes short, but walking became an obligatory part of my day, every day.

4)  The vitality of a new perspective.  

This relates to the previous point.  With a dog around, I had to walk at times of the day when I normally wouldn’t. Like first thing in the morning, before heading to work.  These morning walks were not long, just a couple of blocks, but instantaneously de-stressed me.  To step outside and move a bit, smell the fresh morning air, and listen to all of the birds chirping their lovely melodies was remarkably relaxing.  And it only took a few minutes.

I also had moments of bliss walking Carlita early on Saturday mornings, when I would normally be sitting on the couch, drinking a coffee. One morning, it had rained, so the bark of the trees was dark, a deep contrast to the rich, green leaves.  The wood chips on the path looked exceptionally reddish, and the air felt soft and fresh. If it hadn’t been because of Carlita, I would have missed the joy of walking in the park on that drizzly Saturday morning.

Sure, I have taken morning walks in the past, and I used to jog in the mornings.  But now days I tend to reserve my walks for the afternoon.  It was revitalizing to change up my routine, and head out for walks when I normally wouldn’t.

5) And let’s face it, dogs sure know how to relax after a good walk!

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Oh Carlita, that funny, sweet little dog! (Ps. My husband took these yawning pictures.  They made me chuckle!)

A dog can teach us a thing or two about living well, and I’m not too proud to learn!

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Scribble Share: A New Friend Is in Town

I have two older brothers.  I get along extremely well with them, and I love their families to pieces.  One of them will be living far away for a year; left yesterday evening.  So I came up with this new little thing I am calling a “Scribble Share”…

A few days ago, I scribbled down this anecdote with some markers, and thought I would share it today, along with a few photographs.

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… Carlita is great with people, and loves kids.  Unfortunately, she is not so keen on other animals, which means walking her is not always as relaxing as one would like!

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I have to give my son credit, he has stepped up and is taking the dog for walks, and being very helpful.

…and he is already asking for his own dog for next year. (❕)

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Below, Carlita dries off after a swim in a pet-friendly beach.  I guess she needed to relax after seeing so many other  dogs!

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Is that a squirrel?

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If you think you might want to do a scribble share, have a go at it!  It’s pretty fun to do.  Please link it back here, I would love to check it out. 😃

Time to Paint

Post by Carina Spring.

It’s been a lovely Mother’s Day weekend. Aside from lots of time with my family, and a delicious supper prepared by my husband and son, Saturday also included plenty of time for creative work.

This Saturday I decided to paint.  What a treat!  I would like to do that more often.

I love the beginnings of paintings, so full of potential.

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There are points in the life of a painting, especially one that is largely developed from the imagination, when you have to decide whether to stop or continue. Is it finished?

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With this painting, I decided to continue. Maybe I should have called it done at the stage illustrated in the second photo (above), because I really liked how it looked and kind of miss it now.

Somehow, though, it didn’t feel finished, so I continued. I suppose that is part of the learning.

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The third picture above is where I stopped painting.   I am not satisfied with it yet, so I know it’s not finished.  It’s time to step back and get a bit of distance from it in order to understand what it needs next.

How I would love to paint every day! Knowing that I would be painting again the next day would help me approach each painting as an experiment- an evolving part of a larger process.

But painting is a very consuming activity, so it is challenging to do when one has a career.  It takes focus and energy that I also need to devote to other aspects of my life. It is even harder when one feels pulled toward various creative outlets: I long to write, and blog, and draw and paint.  I don’t want to – or perhaps just can’t –  choose between these forms of expression.

As I reflect on the past year, I am somewhat encouraged. I have completed several larger drawings, and quite a few small, fun paintings. Little by little, I am finding ways of making visual art a satisfying part of my life.

It takes so much patience, though!!

About the painting…

Images of birds often find their way into my art, and I am sure that is due to childhood experiences that imprinted themselves into the stories that weave through the tapestry of my life.

This painting was loosely inspired by a photograph from a book, as a starting point, but was mostly developed through my imagination.

Though I prefer oils, I worked in acrylics in order to avoid the fumes.

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What a great weekend!  Today is Mother’s Day and is also my aunt’s birthday, so we invited my mom, aunt, and cousin over for lunch. My husband made quiches, and we all relaxed and enjoyed a few hours together.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Shelter That You Take With You.

Post by Carina Spring.

Recently, my eldest brother scanned big boxes full of old family pictures and shared the files with us.  It was a labour of love for him, taking hours and hours of work.  I was so grateful he’d done it, as those pictures are part of our family history.  It was amazing to see all of these captured moments in places that have represented home not only to us, but also to some of our ancestors. And what really struck me was how much it is the people and the love that make home; the rich, shifting tapestry of relationships that accompany us through life.

“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map.  It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together.  Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”

Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye?

Finding Happiness in Our Everyday Lives.

Happy: A Film by Roko Belic

On Saturday night, I watched a documentary called, “Happy”. Have you seen it?

In the documentary, they traveled all over the globe to show us some of the universal elements of happiness.  According to research, our deepest happiness comes from the simpler things in life – like time spent in loving companionship, nature, and contributing to a greater good.

Interestingly, once our basic needs have been reasonably met, more money does not seem to increase happiness.

Experts say being happy is a skill we can improve with practice!  So here is a brief  list of suggestions, based on some ideas from the film, on how to nourish our happiness.

How to Be Happier

1) An attitude of gratitude. Focus on what you have, and make it a regular habit to remember what you are grateful for in your life. Even if you are facing troubles, even if you are feeling down, take a few minutes to think of the things, even the small ones, for which you are thankful.

2) Exercise! There is a direct correlation between exercising and feeling happy. You don’t need to become the next Iron-Man champion (unless you want to, of course!). Just find something you enjoy. For me, walking is always an excellent way to boost my frame of mind.

3) Connect with loved ones. Make time to enjoy the relationships that matter to you!  If you are feeling lonely, be open to fostering new friendships: volunteer, or take classes. Keep in mind that inter-generational connections are valuable to our well-being, too. And never underestimate the joy found in the companionship of a loving pet.

4) Cultivate caring, and compassion. Research shows that helping others or working toward a good cause makes us feel happier. We become part of something bigger than ourselves, and that changes our perspective. We feel useful knowing that we have something significant to contribute. It’s a way of creating connections, and bringing more meaning to life.

5) Rest! Sleep, and relaxation are so important to happiness. In Japan, they now have a word for working yourself to death: Karoshi. In the documentary, a widow talks about this phenomenon. It’s a disturbing trend: corporate culure needs to change, and so do our attitudes.

6) Enter a state of Flow. Are you familiar with this concept? Think about a time when you were so engaged in an activity that you completely lost track of time, and you sort of forgot about yourself in the process. That is called a state of flow. People who enter this state regularly are happier than those who don’t.  Meaningful work and hobbies are just two of the things that can take us into flow.

Being happy doesn’t mean that one is never sad, angry or frustrated. It is healthy to have natural reactions to situations, but the key is not to get stuck in a negative frame of mind.  We integrate and feel our experiences honestly, finding our way back to a fundamental contentedness.

A Few Quotes:

“Let’s be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ” – Marcel Proust

“There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.” – Stephen Chbosky

“The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.” – Audrey Hepburn

You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” Jonathan Safran Foer
“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” – Tom Bodett

“Happiness is a warm puppy.” – Charles M. Shulz

 

The surprising Beauty and Benefits of Owning a Fish.

Post written by Carina Spring, and her son.  

What kind of animals have been part of your family?

Our animal friends have a way of making a house feel more like a home. Don’t you think?

There have been a few periods in my life when I didn’t have a pet, but over the years so far, I’ve had dogs, cats, budgies (they were my brothers’), and a baby bird that we rescued after a storm, and eventually released. I have so many stories about these animals!

Currently, we have a 20 year old Tortoiseshell cat, as well as a new addition to our family!

Fishy Facts

Have you ever owned a fish?

For the longest time, my son wanted a Betta fish.  I hate to admit this, but I kept thinking, “A fish?  Really?  How boring.”  I didn’t get the point of owning a fish. All that work of cleaning a tank, and no cuddles?

Nonetheless, last spring, we got one.  And you know, I was wrong. I still can’t believe how friendly and interactive this animal is. A lot of people believe fish only come toward you because they think it’s meal time.  It’s not true: Our fish’s behaviour at meal  times is very specific, and very different from other interactions he seems to enjoy with us.

Fish are beautiful and endearing, but that is not all. There are documented, scientifically proven health benefits to owning an aquarium.

The Health Benefits

Fish have been shown to improve our mood,  reduce blood pressure, and calm children. When looking at fish, our pulse slows, muscle tension relaxes, and our skin temperature warms.

Studies with Alzheimers patients have shown that, when an aquarium is placed in the dining room, patients eat more, need less supplements, and even exhibit less aggressive behaviour.

A study even showed that dental patients needed less pain-killers after looking at an aquarium.

A Soothing room-mate

An aquarium in the bedroom can add beauty to the space, and help you sleep better. Our Betta is in my son’s bedroom, and the soft sound of the water and gentle glow of the light help my son relax and sleep well.

Fun Fish Tales

My son wanted to share a few fun anecdotes about Mr. Betta.  Does anyone reading know if this is typical of a Betta?

~When my husband pours (special, treated) water into the tank, Mr. betta swims through the stream, rather than away From it!

~Mr. betta likes to use the soft current of the filter (kept on minimum for a Betta!) as a “water slide”. He will go up to the filter, let the current push him down, and then repeat until he gets tired.

~He will chase my son’s wiggling finger with remarkable speed!

~Turns out cats aren’t the only ones who get the “evening friskies”!  Mr. betta seems to have a lot of energy right before bed-time. 

Mr.Betta’s Home

Originally, we had him in a 3 gallon tank. We’ve since upgraded him to a 10 gallon tank. Having seen the difference in his behaviour and colouring, I recommend anyone with a Beta consider getting a 10 gallon tank with a filter and heater. Lots of plants, too!  Your pet will be much happier, and live longer.  We’ve also found it easier to maintain.

The neatest thing is that my son has taken on the responsibility of caring for the fish, and unfailingly follows through!

Interested in getting a Betta?  Check out the following link to learn more: http://www.firsttankguide.net/betta.php

 Mr Betta is now a part of the family!

Well, we’d love to hear about your pets!  And let us know if you’ve ever owned fish!

 

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION! Be sure that your fish was sourced responsibly. Avoid buying fish that were taken from their natural habitat. More info on that in a future post!

*Editor’s Note: In the first comment, AncientMariner explains how using fish from their natural habitats might actually help protect that habitat. A good point!