Sunday, April 28, 2019

Looking for Stateswomen and Statesmen



Statesman -noun, a person who is experienced in the art of government or versed in the administration of government affairs. a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.

I am pretty sure my family always voted Conservative but other than my uncle’s occasional rants about  Bill Davis’ provincial Conservative party (Davis was Premier of Ontario from 1971-1985), I remember little political discourse in our family. My dad once told me that Protestants voted Conservative and Catholics voted Liberal, but he kept his own choices a secret away from the ballot box. 

I have voted for every main party at one time or another in federal and provincial elections and have never identified strongly and consistently with any party. My leaning is “left centrist”, but after careful consideration, I try to vote for who I think would be the best local candidate and who would make the best leader. In the past I expected that my local MP or MPP would present their personal values as well as the concerns of their constituents in the legislature. Today, our representatives must vote along party lines, even if they do not agree with a policy, or be booted out of caucus. In my opinion, that is not how democracy should work.

My grandma always said that if a married couple never had a disagreement that one of them had to be stupid. She observed that intelligent people will have different viewpoints and opinions. How boring life would be if we all agreed on everything and had nothing to debate. We look at things from different personal, generational and cultural points of view. Differences of opinion and conflicts happen in the home, work place, schools, churches, as well as in the political arena. 

A couple of years ago I faced a work place conflict that escalated to the point where management became involved. A meeting was called and while I was confident that there was no wrong-doing on my part, the situation was very stressful. I read the book Crucial Conversations- Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High and took notes on how to approach the problem. I had to put myself in my co-worker’s shoes and step away from any defensive anger to come to a resolution. It was important to present some positive solutions without attacking the character of the other person. The meeting went far better than I could have imagined the issue was resolved. (I highly recommend this book!)


It is disheartening to see the polarization of social, economic and political ideology in many countries today. Angry accusations and personal attacks are the norm and people feel they need to put others down in order to promote themselves. We are bombarded with opinions and rumours online and it takes time to research and contemplate an issue from various angles. I believe most people are moderate and reasonable, but the voices at both ends of the political spectrum can be very, very loud. People will take sides on highly polarized issues, refusing to listen to each other or debate in a civil manner.

Will Durant, historian, philosopher and co-author of The Story of Civilization wrote, 

"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.” 

Observing the turmoil in Great Britain, United States and other western countries, one can see how internal fighting is destructive to a nation’s socio-economic strengths and freedoms. Canada, as a large and diverse nation is not immune from partisan politics. No leader or party is perfect but I have hope that as a nation, in this election year, we can put aside vindictive and hateful rhetoric and negotiate respectful solutions for the present and future. That being said, I will not vote for any person or party, or follow anyone on social media who promotes personal attacks. But I welcome a good debate and love to participate in lively discussions about a variety of issues that we may never agree on completely. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Passage of Time



Six years ago I sat with our mother during her last night on earth. In some ways it seems like yesterday but in other ways the passage of time is very real. Our father is living with significant cognitive and physical challenges and each day in itself is an eternity for him. There are three new great-grandchildren who will never know her but two baby girls carry her name. 

The Queen of England is 93 years old today. Our mother, born six years later, was also named Elizabeth and the Princess was her girlhood role model. Mom carried herself with style and grace, just like the Queen and many others of that generation. She dreamed of living an active, healthy life into her 90’s. 

I roamed around meadows, ponds and streams today thinking about Mom and wondering if she has a window into our world. We humans imagine many things about the after life that bring us solace and comfort but there is no way of knowing the timelines of eternity.

Today is Resurrection Sunday. Our pastor preached from 1 Corinthians 15, the great (mystical) resurrection chapter of the New Testament. 

There are plenty of questions in the chapter and Paul’s answers are riddle-like to me. 


But someone may ask, "How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?"

Paul says,
What a foolish question! 
(I don’t think it is a foolish question)

When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 
And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, 
but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 
Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. 
A different plant grows from each kind of seed....

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. 

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 
Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. 
They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 
They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies.

1 Cor 15:35-39, 42-44a

Well, I understand seeds and I understand spring and when I am outdoors I feel my closest connection to God. Spring time is a yearly object lesson of resurrection from death. We count the passage of time on earth by seasons but we cannot fathom time on the other side of death.

Between the anniversary of Mom’s passing…April 22 (which is also Earth Day)...

to her birthday on May 5th.... 

and Mother’s Day a few days later…

Spring will unfold in extravagant beauty. And that gives me hope for eternity. 




Sunday, February 03, 2019

Groundhog Day Adventures

Housebound!

I decided a trip to the Ottawa area would be the best way to celebrate my end-of-January birthday so with a coupon, the senior’s discount and “cheap Tuesday” sale, I landed a ticket price with VIA Rail that was much cheaper than driving the distance in my car. As it turned out, the weather was bitterly cold and we were hit with a snowstorm the night before I left. Strangely enough, south-western Ontario was colder than Ottawa all week which is very unusual. But Ottawa has a lot more accumulated snow with treacherous ice under that snow!

Much as I love the outdoors, this was not a week for walking trails or river sides or city sidewalks or parking lots. It was not a week to drive around rural roads looking for owls or raptors. So in spite of sunny skies, we stayed indoors most of the time. Life is not boring with a toddler underfoot and my week was full of love and joy!

My return home on the train started with yet another Ottawa snow fall which made the drive to the station challenging. No groundhog in the Ottawa Valley saw its shadow yesterday which supposedly forecasts an early spring. I wouldn’t bet any money on that though!

The train arrived on time and headed toward Toronto uneventfully until we passed Kingston. Due to an earlier accident on the line that resulted in a fuel spill, all subsequent train traffic was slowed almost to a halt. I had a connection time of over 100 minutes in Toronto for my next train but in the end we were almost 3 hours late. Shared misfortune brings a certain camaraderie and the train car was abuzz with conversation. Four women travelling together were headed for a Toronto airport to catch an early evening flight to Iceland where they hoped to see the Aurora Borealis. They received all kinds of advice and encouragement from fellow passengers even though it was unlikely that they would catch their plane.

VIA Rail did the best they could to accommodate the inconvenienced travellers. My connecting train waited for the passengers coming from Ottawa and Montreal. We received a voucher for 50% off our next trip. It was warm and comfortable on the train unlike a long delay on the highway in your car.

On the last leg of my journey, an elderly man sat beside me. He boarded the train in Moncton NB over 36 hours earlier and was also caught in the mishap on his way from Montreal to Toronto. I had a choice of burying my face in my iPad or engaging in conversation with him. I was glad I chose the conversation option.

He shared the highlights of his humble but joyful 83 year journey on earth. Growing up poor in a rural, French-speaking community in New Brunswick, he left for Ontario and worked on the roads laying asphalt for many years. He bought 70 acres of land in New Brunswick 30 years ago for $1700 and built a small house where he has lived alone since retirement. He chops his own wood and has a large vegetable garden. He gives away the fresh food he cannot use to his neighbours and they return the favour in food gifts and friendship. He had a significant stroke a few years ago that left him with some right-sided weakness but he returned to full independent living except for the cane he needs for walking. He drives his car and meets friends daily at Tim Hortons or McDonalds. He was coming to my city for a few weeks to catch up with friends he made while he worked here for over 40 years.

I couldn’t help myself from secretly assessing him for signs of frailty and cognitive decline. In spite of his lack of education, he was mentally alert and very robust. I love observing people who age well!

He enjoyed a positive outlook, a supportive community, social contacts, regular physical activity, acceptance of his limitations, and pleasure in the small things of life. And he didn’t complain once about the train delay. We disembarked at the same station where freezing rain was falling. We both made it safely off the platform and to our respective rides.

Goodbye Raymond, and thank you for your lesson on community and friendship.

Community Spirit by Peter Etril Snyder
Use of image granted by the niece of the artist Cynthia Weber who holds the copyright to his body of work

Description of the above picture from The Record

"Peter Etril Snyder painted "Community Spirit," in 2011 inspired by a photo published in The Record.
It was the final painting in a series he created as a fundraiser for KidsAbility, his charity of choice.
At the time he wrote, "I wanted to create a historical neighbourhood-themed Christmas painting. What can be more Canadian than shovelling snow. Including the little guys on the porch added to the idea of the community joyfully working together."
"I've had a charmed life," he said in 2009.
Snyder died in 2017, but his lifetime achievement remains, reminding us that we are surrounded by the beauty of community."

Link to the Snyder Gallery


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Full Wolf Blood Moon Total Eclipse


It was exciting to watch the full moon eclipse tonight under clear, cold skies. Being relatively close to the Great Lakes, we generally have more days and nights with at least some cloud than without. The temperature is very cold but it could be colder in mid-January. This moon comes with plenty of labels. As well as being a Wolf Moon, it is a Perigee Moon (super moon), a Blood Moon as well as a totally eclipsed moon. I don't plan to stay up to watch the reverse show as the moon returns to its full brightness in a couple of hours.

Postscript: I did another edit in the morning with my best shots. Photos are hand held with a Canon SX50 superzoom camera.




Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter Solstice


After six months of shortening days, we make a U-turn and enjoy the gradual lengthening of daylight hours. The change is barely noticeable at first but by mid-January the longer days make a difference.

There are numerous holidays around the world that celebrate light. We live about 90 minutes from Niagara Falls, Ontario where there is a Winter Festival of Lights from early November until the end of January. Several kilometers of light displays run from the Rainbow Bridge to Dufferin Islands along with the usual lights on the American and Canadian Falls. It really is a winter wonderland at night and worth visiting if you are in the area.


A natural light show tonight is hidden by a thick cloud cover courtesy of a storm system that brought a lot of rain yesterday and today. The full Cold Moon, a meteor shower and seven planets will appear over the next eight hours.

We are indoors with candles burning and tree lights brightening the room. I made a double chocolate yule log to celebrate this special day as we begin our journey to summer.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Basis of Belief


What do you see when you look at this picture? If ten people wrote a story about it, there would be ten very different accounts.


  • A groom or horseman may focus on the horse, analyzing its health, gait and performance.
  • A sulky driver would notice the cart and harness.
  • A farmer would see the horse in a different light than a race horse owner.
  • An Old Order Mennonite would notice the distinctive hats and clothing of various sects of their faith.
  • A shopper would recognize the market setting.
  • A local resident may know the context of the picture and be familiar with the event that is in progress.

I listened to an interesting interview on the CBC Radio One show The Current. James E. Alcock discussed his book Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions Are So Compelling.

The introduction to the book states,
"This book explores the psychology of belief - how beliefs are formed, how they are influenced both by internal factors, such as perception, memory, reason, emotion, and prior beliefs, as well as external factors, such as experience, identification with a group, social pressure, and manipulation. It also reveals how vulnerable beliefs are to error, and how they can be held with great confidence even when factually false."

I shared a post last month titled Retelling a Story where I discussed how people see events in unique ways. I can be impatient with people who hold views I feel are inaccurate or untrue. I get annoyed with those who share biased or sensationalized information online. Rather than remaining perpetually upset, I went off Facebook and blocked people on email who frequently sent memes. Many of my family and acquaintances are conservative in politics and belief while I lean liberal in comparison. I disagree with many things that others hold as indisputable truth. 

This discussion on belief got me thinking that I should not be so harsh with people who see things differently than myself. I am not perfect. My perspective of life is based on six decades of living, a career that requires analytical and objective proofs, the privilege of education, travel and a stable, middle-class lifestyle in a first world country. Every person has unique life experiences and influences. Many people align with a group, giving unquestioned allegiance because belonging can be more important socially than looking for truth.

I remember when election campaigns were positive, without attack ads and smear tactics. Negative campaigning gained popularity in the last 30 to 40 years and I feel that social civility has declined, especially as we communicate with people who have a different belief systems than ourselves. The American political scene is very disturbing to me and I cannot understand why so many people stand behind a deceitful, lying leader. I read a few books this year that opened my eyes to the social history and experiences of many Trump supporters. I wouldn't recommend buying all of these books (*listed at the end of this post), but if they are available in a library they are worth reading. 

Can we accept people who have different outlooks, granting them courtesy and respect as we hear their point of view? We should be open to listening to the perspectives and opinions of others and try to understand where they are coming from. Parents need to pass essential values to their children and grandchildren as well as a sense of their family history. Parenting is an important task and our children need a good moral base. But life in the 21st century is far different from my formative years in the last half of the 20th century. I do not want my children to be personal clones but desire that they will be able to discern, be critical, ask questions, make their own mistakes, and eventually come to their own conclusions without fear of reprisal on my part.

There are people who flaunt their opinions loudly and obnoxiously without regard for anyone but themselves. We need to stand up to bullies who mistreat vulnerable people. But I believe most people can discuss different viewpoints and experiences with self control and respect, especially if we model respect in return.
 


The pictures in this post were taken at the September horse auction at St. Jacobs' Farmers Market in Waterloo, Ontario. I can guarantee that the memories of this event will be different for the two older men than it will be for the two young boys observing from their perch on a round bales of hay. Even in this very conservative group, experience, external factors and perceptions will continue shape the beliefs and values of upcoming generations.


*Books:
  • Hillbilly Elegy -J.D. Vance
  • White Rage- Carol Anderson
  • White Trash: The 400 year untold history of class in America- Nancy Isenberg
  • The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion- Jonathan Haidt

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

A 2018 Resolution Kept!


My main resolution for 2018 was to read one book a week. I have always loved books but my computer and social media usage had gradually increased until I was hardly reading at all. I use the Kindle app on my iPad but the temptation to check emails, look something up on Wikipedia or check Twitter was always there. I dusted off my old Kindle device that has no browser and started visiting the public library more frequently. 

Initially, it seemed that my attention span for reading had decreased and I struggled to finish a regular length novel. Had the internet made my brain adjust to short articles and 280 character tweets? Eventually I was able to read in the evening without multitasking or falling asleep. 

I enjoy electronic book readers but studies show that turning the pages of a real book improves comprehension. Our 13 month old granddaughter loves her book shelf and asks for "book" when she wants someone to read to her. Familiar words and sounds delight her and she is very definite in regards to her favourite books. She can turn the pages and is starting to track pictures and words from left to right. When holding a book, she can tell when she is at the beginning, middle or end of the story. An ebook does not give that tactile feedback. 

As of today, I have read 48 books and will easily finish 52 books by the end of the month. I read many non-fiction books including several uninspiring biographies and 'tell-alls' about American politicians. There are many trendy self-help books available as well.

I enjoy historical fiction, mysteries and stories about coping with illness and death. My most recent book was The Great Alone which is listed by Goodreads as the best historical fiction of 2018. I had to chuckle when the story opened in 1974 and ended in 1986. The main character in the novel was born in 1961. This is my generation and it looks like we are already have a historical designation.

Here are some of my favourite books and authors from this year’s reading.

Lane Winslow Mysteries - Iona Whishaw 🍁
I read the entire series which offered a little world history, a little Canadiana and a little mystery and romance. It is set in British Columbia after WW2.

Gilead- Marilynn Robinson
This is a  beautifully written and compelling multigenerational story. I read Robinson's other books too, but this was the best of the trilogy. 

Feeding my Mother- Jan Arden 🍁
Jan Arden's book about caring for her mother who has Alzheimers Disease is moving and funny, just like Jan.

The Lacuna- Barbara Kingsolver
I have read all of Kingsolver's books over the years and enjoy her style very much. The Lacuna is historical fiction about artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and the Mexico of their time.

The Great Alone- Kristin Hannah
I am waiting for her other best-seller The Nightingale to come available at the library. The author has written 20 books. I read this book in one sitting into the wee hours of the morning. 

Blue Nights- Joan Didion
How did I not know about Joan Didion before 2018??

The End of Religion- Bruxy Cavey 🍁
I find the teaching of this Canadian Anabaptist pastor to be thought-provoking and challenging

The Stone Angel- Margaret Laurence 🍁
I hated this book when I had to read it in high school but now I think it is brilliant.

I am always open to new book suggestions as my resolution for 2019 will be to continue reading one book a week.


Sunday, December 02, 2018

Wishes or Hope


One of my daughters teaches English as a second language to adults at a community college. She said the subtle difference between the words “hope” and “wish” are difficult to convey to her students in denotation and connotation.


I wish...

I could turn back the clock
I looked like him/her
I was successful like him/her
I had a new car
it would stop raining
I had a better job
I had enough money to retire

I hope…

the world will be a good place for my grand daughter
my car will last a few more years
I can budget my money wisely and save a little each month
I can make a difference in my community
I remain healthy as I care for my body
I can take a trip to ________ soon
I can pass along good spiritual values to my family


We can spend a lot of time passively wishing for things that are unlikely or impossible to happen. Some people expect God to act like a genie in a bottle who grants their wishes miraculously on demand. On the other hand, we can work toward fulfilling our hopes and dreams for things that realistically could happen. The human spirit needs hope and we are inspired by stories of people who persevered through difficulty to achieve their goals. 


Negative attitudes destroy hope. As I get older I need to encourage younger generations and act in ways that show that I believe in their future. Am I doing my best to care for the earth, to be relevant with my beliefs rather than looking back to “the good old days”? Some have lost hope due to abuse, loss, poverty, social pressure, depression or other illnesses. How can I make a difference in my community to help those in need?

Advent is a season of waiting and hope. Proverbs 13:12 says,

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” 


Let us work to help make someone’s longing a reality.