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.

A Walk with A Stranger, and The Bizarre Story of Good Memories from A Bad Evening

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After my walk with a stranger, I saw this huge caterpillar, and decided to bring out my cell-phone and take some snapshots.

I had an unusual experience last Saturday morning, When I went for a walk.

Just as I entered the park, I saw a woman, probably in her late 50’s, walking a little, white dog.   I casually commented that her dog was cute, when – much to my surprise – the woman began to tear up.  Apologizing, she explained that tomorrow would be 8 weeks since her husband had died of cancer.

Trees at St.Vital Park in September, in Winnipeg.
Trees in the park on a September day in Winnipeg.

I really felt badly for her.  I lost an aunt to cancer a year and a half ago, so I have some understanding of just how hard the whole experience can be.  I gave her a hug, and we started to stroll together.  Wound up doing a lap of the whole park. Mostly, I just listened.

When our walk was done, I felt good that I was able to lend a friendly ear to someone who needed it.  It got me thinking about how acts of kindness really do make both the receiver and the giver feel better.  Actually, this unexpected walk with a stranger also got me thinking about a remarkble experience that happened to my family, years ago.

imageI used to live in the city of Edmonton, Alberta.  One evening, my mom, grandma, brother, and cousin were on their way home after a day-trip to Drayton Valley, when they were rear-ended by a distracted driver on the highway. My mom’s car was a total write-off.  The policemen said how incredible it was that no one had been injured.

The accident occurred in front of a campground about 200 km from Edmonton, so my mom called my oldest brother to ask if he could come and give them a ride back home.  He immediately went to pick them up.

But.

He was a student at the time, driving an older vehicle and – shortly after picking everyone up – his car broke down.  What an evening, right?

Now, it was past 11:00 p.m.  This was the age before cell phones, so my family stood stranded by the side of the road, assessing the unfortunate circumstance in which they found themselves.

That’s when a young farmer stopped to help. He drove my family back to the city, more than an hour and a half in one direction (never mind that he still had to drive all the way back to his farm).  When my mother offered to pay him for his troubles, or at least for the gas, he refused to accept.  No, he said.  Pay it forward.  Help someone who needs your help in the future.

That is not the end of the story.

When the accident occurred, my mom’s car got towed away. In the stress of the moment, my mom wound up abandoning a bunch of the stuff that was in her car.  Some of these items were kind of valuable, like tools.

The following week, my mom and her best friend returned to the site of the accident, in the hopes of recovering some of the items. My mom entered the campground, and asked around a bit, just in case.  Turns out there were a number of seasonal workers who were living in the campground while they worked in Drayton Valley for the summer.  Everyone was so nice.  They had collected all of her belongings and, expecting that she might come back, had stored everything neatly under a tarp.

And there’s yet another twist.  On this trip, my mom had been driving a rental car provided by the insurance company.  Believe it or not, it also broke down while they were out there! Seriously!  It had to be towed, but, fortunately, the rental agency had an outlet in Drayton Valley, and my mom and her friend were able to get a replacement vehicle right away.

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What a strange experience, don’t you think?  Such a bitter-sweet combination.  They had a terrible accident, but, miraculously, no one was hurt. Every car that went out there had to be towed away!   Yet, the kindness of strangers transformed the memories of this negative experience into ones that are warm, and rather positive.

There is something very touching, even powerful, about an act of kindness from a stranger – extended without the hope of any retribution.

Sometimes, it can even be simple gestures that make a difference: being patient and present for others, or smiling at someone whom you sense might be feeling alone.

Kindness has a way of coming back to you in mysterious and beautiful ways, and studies show that helping others increases our own happiness.  It has a way of restoring hope, not only in the receiver, but also in the giver.

I am not sure why, but when I was done this walk, I knew it was time to start blogging again.  I am excited to be here, and I look forward to sharing the simple, everyday adventures that challenge, comfort, and enrich.

By the way, after I said goodbye to the woman last Saturday, I decided to do another lap of the park.   This time, for me.  I’d had a stressful week, and needed to process it so that I would have more energy to give to my family and my work.  Even though I had not planned on it, during that second lap of the park, I took a few snapshots with my cell phone.  Those are the pictures in today’s post, in case you wanted to see what one of Winnipeg’s city parks looks like.

Oh, just thought of one more thing!  While we are speaking of the kindness of strangers, have you heard this story of a life-changing phone call?  Not exactly light-hearted, but it gave me goose-bumps.

A caterpillar in St.Vital Park in autumn

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A Beautiful Mess

“At the worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.”

Dame Rose Macaulay ((1881-1958)

An Oil-Pastel Drawing I made last year.
A space that allows us to grow and express ourselves is truly a thing of beauty, and that is one of the ideas behind this oil pastel drawing.

My grandma used to smile sometimes with a shrug of her shoulders and refer to the famous piece of French wisdom, “It’s a beautiful mess”.  Her home was always wonderfully kept; a welcoming place full of flowers and fresh baking.  But this attitude helped her enjoy her grandchildren and embrace life’s imperfections.

Because life comes first, and there is a real wisdom in arranging our priorities and our spaces with that in mind.

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A home doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect.  It doesn’t have to sport the most stylish and expensive decor.  It doesn’t have to be spotless.

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Displaying special items collected through our experiences can be an inexpensive and uplifting way to decorate.

The real joy comes from creating a space where we can live fully.  A place that expresses who we are, and that enables us to do the things that really matter to us.

After all, there is a profound beauty in living life well.

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Thanks for stopping by… I can’t wait to share my next post with you!

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From The Fence I’d Catch The Wind.

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I remember when I was little, maybe 4 or 5 years old, one particularly windy day.  The gusts were strong enough to catch my breath slightly, and offer resistance when I leaned forward.  It quickly occurred to me that this might finally be my chance to learn how to fly.

I climbed onto the ledge of our fence and leapt off with all my might, trying to catch the wind, convinced that it was strong enough to support my weight and take me on at least a short flight.  In my imagination, I could see and feel what it would be like – the sensation of air all around me, and the delightful dip in my stomach as I swooped upwards and downwards.

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A spontaneous sketch, quickly drawn one morning upon waking (Dec 8, 2013).

I don’t know for how long I tried, but I kept at it again and again before finally sensing, with some disbelief, the futility of my efforts.  Undefeated, I decided that maybe it was necessary to wait for a windier day.  Decades have passed, and I chuckle when I think back on that moment, but the truth is that I still love flight (…although I’ve accepted it is easier done as a passenger on an airplane).

The last time I flew was this past month, January.  This flight was different, though.  I was on my way home after my dad’s funeral, and my childhood felt far away.

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When I booked the ticket, I hadn’t  looked that carefully, and failed to realize that I would be flying on a turboprop (instead of a jet).  The experience of flying on a turboprop turned out to be unique from flying on a jet.

I had paid extra for a window seat, but soon discovered that the propeller was pretty much right outside my window, and the seat was rather crammed.

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I also noticed that the vibrations from the engine were definitely stronger than on a jet.  I didn’t mind, though, because it increased the sensation of take off and landing, which I always find exhilarating.

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The biggest difference between a jet and a turboprop, though, was that this plane flew lower and slower, so the trip took longer.  Interestingly, this turned out to be exactly what made the flight special.

Why?  The sky was clear and it was around sunset, so flying lower and slower, I could see the details of the world below in a way that one can’t from up at 38,000 feet in the air, like on a big 747 jet.  With my cell phone on airplane mode, I took pictures of the view.

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Months ago, in late October of 2015, I flew to Edmonton to see my father when he was placed under palliative care. He was thinner than I can describe, and he could hardly speak, but still managed a couple of wisecracks to make me laugh.  I remember the morning that I was heading back home to Winnipeg, after that visit.  It was something like 5:00 am.  I sat at the airport alone, tears streaming down my face.  I knew it was probably the last time I’d see my dad, and I was right.

He died early in December.  The funeral was held in January.

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On my flight home after the funeral, despite my sadness, I found myself also feeling reverence.  Reverence for this incredible, fleeting gift of life.  Reverence for that very moment, looking out that tiny window at the beautiful world bathed in the pink light of the dying day, as I flew above it all on an 18,000 Kg piece of metal.

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Last year, in 2015, I lost an aunt, my father in law, and my own father.  (Our two family pets also died.)

It was a hard year, but loss – like all difficult experiences, really-  has a lot to teach us.

In a recent interview with The Cancer Society, Blogger Christopher Foster (more than 80 years of age) expressed one of the key lessons he’d learned as a cancer survivor: “I think that, in trying to suppress my fear, I suppressed my joy.  Conversely, now that I’m facing the fear–the joy has been increasing. I’m a pretty happy guy now.”  That simple idea succinctly touches on a profound truth.  Numbing ourselves from sorrow or fear results in numbing ourselves from joy.  Learning to face the full range of emotions that life inspires helps to make us stronger, and lead richer lives.

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Today, I want to leave you with these words by author Elisabeth Kubler-Ross from the book, “To Live Until We Die”.  I found the book in October, on a cart of free give-aways at the library.  I didn’t read the whole book, just a few chapters, but loved her closing words:

“… To love means never to be afraid of the windstorms of life.  Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the true beauty of their carvings… [People benefit from learning to] expose themselves to these windstorms, so that at the end of their own days, they will be proud to look in the mirror and be pleased with the carvings of their own canyon.”

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Where Do You Go?

For me, there is something captivating, even comforting about migration.  Even though my life on the ground may have changed over the year – I’ve lost loved ones, my father is in palliative care – in the spring, the birds return.  And while it does not make the losses easier, there is a serene kind of solace found in the predictable beauty of the cycles of nature.

Depending on the conditions of their geographical location, some Golden Eagles migrate, and some do not.
Depending on the conditions of their geographical location, some Golden Eagles migrate, and some do not.

The arrival of the migrating animals after their long journey exemplifies courage, and life’s triumph over adversity.   We look up and welcome the geese, not only as a sign of the changing seasons and spring’s renewal, but simultaneously as a symbol of perseverance, and life’s constancy.

A family of geese

That’s the thing about migration – it heralds change, but also continuity.  It is a process that transcends our existence here on earth: Migration was here before us, and continues without us. Just like when children grow, they make us more aware of the passage of time, migrations orient us to the seasons of life and create a sense of connection between the passing years.

There is something so worthwhile, so healthy about pausing, and remembering the processes in nature that transcend our own lifespans

Alicia and Neil’s Photography

Migration also reminds us of unseen bonds that connect us to other parts of the planet. We share something beyond ourselves; We share a living species that calls both of our lands home.

“Where Is Your Home, Restless Wings?”

In the modern era, it is harder for us to grasp the magic of migration.  We have developed the remarkable technology to connect with almost anyone, anywhere, instantly, but in so doing may be forgetting a time in recent history when distant lands were still mysterious, and the world felt much bigger.  Less than a century ago, simply receiving a letter from a different part of the world was an exciting event.  In some ways, migrating animals are like living, timeless emblems from distant lands; messengers reminding us of an intricate connection with people we will never meet, and places we might never see.

Reader Julia shared this picture of a beautiful Monarch, know for its epic migration.
Reader Julia shared this picture of a beautiful Monarch, known for its epic migration.

And just as I finished writing these reflections, the world outside my window was transformed over night by a fluffy snowfall, and the words on this post are now a farewell to fall.

How wonderful that the timeless truths of nature are right at our doorstep, and the simple act of stepping outside and looking at the sky can help us find comfort and perspective in our modern, everyday lives.

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A beautiful Mountain Blue Bird:  Alicia and Neil’s Photography

Unless otherwise indicated, all of today’s photos are from Alicia and Neil’s Photography.

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Last winter, I heard this song for the first time.  This song may have helped inspire this post.  I have to add that I love this band, and they seem to share my poetic obsession with birds.

Would you like to learn more?  Here are some links to organizations that are working hard to preserve habitat so that life on earth can stay diverse, and migrating animals can persevere.  Every bit we do helps, and these organizations are making a real difference.

World Wildlife Fund

World Wildlife Fund International

Nature Conservancy of Canada

Sign a petition to protect Caribou habitat or  Learn more about CPAWS

Thank you for stopping by!

Letting Go

Working in the backyard, I notice again the bike leaning in a corner, up against the large wooden play structure.  It’s starting to look rusty, sitting there all of this time.

My son has outgrown this bike, I think to myself. Somehow I keep it here, waiting to make a decision about it.

Donate it? It’s not in good enough shape at this point.  Sell it on Kijiji?  The amount of effort that would take is hardly worth the 10$ I might get for it.

I roll it over past the front gate, onto the boulevard.  It’s later in the day, the sun is getting lower in the sky.  Using my cell phone, I take a few snapshots.

The neighbours’ daughter stops on her way to get the mail, asks me about the bike.  It’s a special bike, I tell her.  I inwardly notice that she looks more like a young lady now, rather than the girl she was three years ago when we first moved into this home.  She moves on.  I take a few more pictures.

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I turn around, start walking towards the gate, and haven’t even reached it when I hear a car stop on the street behind me.  A woman is already putting the bicycle into her mini-van.  “It’s free?”, she confirms.

“Yes.  Just needs some oil.”

She nods confidently, “Oh, we’ll be able to fix it.” Adding, “My son is 8”.  We smile at each other.

“Enjoy.”  I wave and slowly start walking toward the gate again.

That bike looked so big when we first got it.  I am astounded at how quickly and permanently time has passed to change my perspective.  Today, that same bike looks small.

And now, another eight year old boy will be excited to get it, excited to ride it through the neighbourhood and park.

Much better than watching those memories rust in the backyard.

 

 

Summer’s Ghost

 “We cannot stop the winter or the summer from coming.  We cannot stop the spring or the fall or make them other than they are.  They are gifts from the universe that we cannot refuse.  But we can choose what we will contribute to life when each arrives.”

Gary Zukav

Welcome back!  Hope you have all had a wonderful summer.  I have missed you, and I have missed blogging for the last long while… Looking forward to catching up.  I have a lot to share, and despite of the fact that the months ahead will be very busy for me, it is the season to get back into regular writing.  I can hardly believe that we are almost at mid-September, but (I think) I am finally embracing the idea of autumn and its routine (maybe).

July and August of 2015 are now behind us, and when all is said and done, I look back on a special summer.  Many out-of-town guests, one road trip to Alberta, a brief stay at the mountains, some time at home, time at the lake. That is the synopsis that describes my summer, but hardly captures it.

It was not a perfect or bump-less summer (literally… I recently suffered a mild concussion.  Please don’t worry, though, I am much better already).  But there were so many beautiful moments – and I am glad that I remembered to notice.

Northern lights, a big round moon, the stars. Fireworks.  Hot days spent swimming in cold water, cool evenings spent by the campfire.  Farm fields, trees, birds.  Mountain lakes.  Laughter, family and friends.  Aaaah.

I miss summer already… and I have lots of stories to tell, but I won’t try to relate my whole summer in one post.

Swimming off one of the many charming public piers. The picture taken at Winnipeg Beach by Julia, a reader.
One of the many charming public piers around Lake Winnipeg. Picture sent in by a reader, Julia.

Hopefully, some of the experiences and thoughts that I’ve been wanting to share with you will find their way into my blog posts in the months to come.  As I’ve heard it said, “In September, we know we’ll welcome summer’s ghost.”

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

John Lubbock

A serene moment on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, image captured by reader Julia.
A serene moment on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, captured on camera by reader Julia.

Home Is Where The Story Begins

It feels good to be writing again!  I have not posted in 28 days.  I just counted, and the number actually surprised me!  I started blogging at the end of November, and since then, I have always posted at least once a week, and often more.  Most months, 2 or 3 posts a week was the norm.

Back in November, as I was just starting this blog, I created the image below for my landing page (with the help of my 11 year old son).  It was a fun little project, completed on a big piece of paper early one afternoon, but I wound up not using it.  So today, as I ‘begin again’, I thought would be a good time to share it.

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The other thing that has surprised me is how hard it is to start writing again.  When I was writing all of the time, sitting down to prepare another blog post came quite easily.  Having broken the momentum, though, it’s kind of awkward to begin again.  You know when you hear your own voice on a recording and think, “I sound like that?”  Writing for the first time in a while gives me a similar sensation.

So all this has got me thinking a bit about why I haven’t posted, and how staying at home, and leaving on a trip both play a part in the creative process.

On staying…

We can do simple things at home to create the environment we need. We can surround ourselves with books and quotes, images that inspire, and keepsakes that we love.  We can change the colours in our office, or get a brighter lightbulb for the desk.

In the famous words of Franz Kafka, “It isn’t necessary that you leave home.  Sit at your desk and listen.  Don’t even listen, just wait.  Don’t wait, be still and alone.  The whole world will offer itself to you.”

There is a value in knowing how to stay, especially in today’s world, which is constantly in motion.  Staying teaches us how to change our perspective so that familiarity does not become stale; to see the old through new eyes.   This requires and cultivates a certain creativity and ability to appreciate everyday moments.

On Going…

Still, it is invigorating to change our environment entirely every now and then, and go somewhere different.  Distance is the quickest prescription to refreshing and reviving our spirits, helping us see things in a new way.

The last 28 days for me have included some travel.  Nothing too exotic – we drove west through a couple of provinces to see the mountains (that’s where I took the first  picture of the sign) and visit family.  I haven’t been to the mountains for years, though, so I was excited about it, and I always love to see our families.  The 28 days also included a short period of intense work, as well as hosting out of town guests in our home.  Each of those 28 days was rich and meaningful. There were amusing moments, light with humour and laughter.  Other moments stirred thoughts about life, the passage of time, and even the meaning of bizarre coincidences (more on that soon).

I took this photograph from the passenger's window as we drove through Saskatchewan, "The land of the living sky".
I took this photograph from the passenger’s window as we drove through Saskatchewan, “The land of the living sky”.

In tandem…

It is only now that I am home again that I am ready to reflect on these experiences through writing.  In many ways, home is where I make meaning of the adventures that happen outside its doors.

Home is the firm base from where we can launch into our adventures, and home is often where the story is ready to be told after our return.  And whatever home might mean, and whether the story is a sad or joyful one – in so many ways, the story really does begin at home.

 

Saying Thank You.

The photograph was used with permission (and gratitude!) from Alicia and Neil’s Photography.  

 

"Make it a habit to tell people thank you, to express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return.  Truly appreciate those around you, and you'll soon find many others around you.  Truly appreciate life, and you'll find that you have more of it."

~ Ralph Marston
"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."       

~William Arthur Ward
"Saying "thank you" creates love."

~ Daphne Rose Kingma
"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."

~ G.K. Chesterton

Gratitude is a wonderful frame of mind from which to view our life.  Research shows that people who take the time to write down the things for which they are grateful actually increase their happiness.  Gratitude creates an optimistic mindset and helps us make more positive choices.

But what about thanking and giving praise to those around us?  Is that important? It sounds so easy, but sometimes it can be difficult.  Some people find praise and gratitude very hard to express.  Others find it easy to give, but feel uncomfortable accepting it.

Today, I wanted to share a Ted Talk by Laura Trice. It is only three minutes long; a quick, thought-provoking glimpse into this subject.  She believes that learning to give and ask for genuine praise creates happier lives and households, and that it might very well be where the seed for a better world is planted.

I invite you to listen to this 3 minute (and 24 second) video. I would love to hear your take on this topic, so please feel free to leave a comment.  How important is it to express gratitude?  Is gratitude still valid if we have to prompt it?

Wait… before I go, Thanks for visiting, I truly appreciate you stopping by!  🙂

 

Backyards

How has the weather been where you live?  Have you had a chance to get out a bit to enjoy Spring?

Thankfully, the weather around here has been quite beautiful lately. A good amount of rain, and lots of blue skies and sunshine in the mix!  Everything has turned to a lush green, and flowers are blooming.

The other evening, a couple of birds were singing the most beautiful melody in the backyard. I couldn’t see them, but their enchanting song seemed to joyfully echo through the trees. It was a rare kind of sound, and made me drop everything I was doing to stop and listen.

We have been making the most of the nice weather. Even on weeknights, we’ve often opted to eat in the backyard, enjoying the longer hours of sunshine and the blissful fragrance of the nearby lilac blossoms.

We have been so busy lately that our backyard is definitely sporting a very ‘natural’ kind of beauty.  😉  If the weather cooperates, I am hoping to spend some time working in the yard next weekend. Over time, I hope to create a yard that grows plenty of native plants and provides some habitat for butterflies and bees, so I will be doing a bit more research, too.

In the meantime, I hope you have a great week!  I’ll leave you with some famous reflections on “the backyard” and outdoors.  Do any of these resonate with you?

“People’s backyards are much more interesting than their front gardens, and houses that back on to railways are public benefactors.”

~ John Betjeman

“Nature is impersonal, awe-inspiring, elegant, eternal. It’s geometrically perfect. It’s tiny and gigantic. You can travel far to be in a beautiful setting, or you can observe it in your own backyard – or, in my case, in the trees lining New York City sidewalks, or in the clouds above the skyscrapers.”

~ Gretchen Rubin

“The really best acting is children in a playground or in a backyard. They’re just lost in their imagination…”

~ Nolan North

“I like to sit in my backyard. I go out on the hammock and sit in silence and kind of meditate. Nature is calming, and it’s nice to go out there and clear my head.”

~ Devon Werkheiser

“I feel a responsibility to my backyard. I want it to be taken care of and protected. “

~ Annie Leiboritz

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