Sunday, February 03, 2019

Groundhog Day Adventures


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.

  • 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. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Retelling a Story

Humans are innate story tellers. From oral histories that are shared around a community campfire to stories on television, in print, on social media and other internet platforms, we continue this tradition.

My mother wrote an autobiography a couple of years before she died. She worked diligently on it but did not collaborate with the rest of the family as she recorded the highlights of her life. When the book was published, there was a reaction of disbelief and shock from myself and some of my brothers as in several instances, the story she told was not the story we remembered. One of my brothers was indifferent to our protests and commented that it was Mom’s story and that is how she saw her life.

I agreed to press coverage of my recent hip replacement as it was the first, same day discharge for the hospital. I received a page of questions for the initial press release which I completed and emailed to the press officer. She sent the draft story to me and I was surprised by the focus of the article as well as the way my words were misquoted. I kept a copy of the answers that I submitted and challenged the author on her interpretation of what was said. We did come to a consensus and the published story was adequate but superficial and told in a voice other than my own.

Last week my surgeon and I were interviewed by the local CTV television station. The reporter was very professional and put us at ease. The recorded interviews likely totalled 7 to 10 minutes and the surgeon’s comments were particularly articulate and insightful. When the story was featured on the six o’clock news, the entire segment, including the reporter’s comments was three minutes long. The story was accurate but bare-boned and, in my opinion, the best of my surgeon’s comments were edited out.

After my mom’s book was published, a brother said he would never read any biography or autobiography in the same way again. My recent interactions with the press remind me that a video news clip, newspaper article or 280 character tweet will never capture the whole story but is written for the target audience. The emotional side of a story is more compelling more than a factual, objective version.

I was taught to believe that the Bible was the inerrant word of God with every detail accurate and factual because men were inspired to write under divine direction. Most scriptures began as oral traditions retold over centuries to cultures very different from our first world cultures today. The gospels were written decades after the events they describe and are contradictory at times. Story retelling in scripture reflected the authors' memories and the message they wished to relay to their specific audience. We deceive ourselves if we believe otherwise. 

What can we believe? Is my mother’s book or any other biography deceptive? Was the reporting on my surgery accurate and honest? Is the Bible true? What about the news we read and see every day?

My favourite section of the newspaper is the editorial page. I enjoy reading thoughtful analyses of news stories. I seek these types of articles online as well. A well written editorial, while an opinion piece, will discuss various perspectives and provide insight into complex topics. I try to read news from the least biased sites while avoiding memes and click bait on social media. 

Story telling is an art and will always contain biases. That is not a problem as long as we recognize the context of what we see and hear and understand the story teller’s objective for their target audience.

Here is a link to the news clip about my surgery. The story written in my voice is quite different in focus and detail. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

1918-2018 Lest We Forget

My grandparents lived through two world wars. My paternal grandfather turned 14 in 1918. He came to Canada from Amsterdam in the early 1920’s as a young man. Several members of his extended family died as civilians during the world wars in Europe.

My maternal grandparents attended medical school at the University of Toronto during World War 1 in the graduating class of 1918. Grandma graduated as a doctor in 1918 but my grandfather graduated in 1919 because he served in the medical reserves for a year.

My husband’s father was born in August 1918. The Spanish Flu hit his community hard in October and November of the same year and hundreds of people in the region died, many of them young and previously healthy. This plague at the end of the war killed millions world wide as soldiers returned home from Europe.

I heard my family’s stories first hand as I was growing up. The suffering and sacrifices endured by that generation became very real and personal to me unlike other wars I learned about in text books at school. All I remembered about historical conflicts were the dates that we regurgitated on exam papers. 

The living connections to the world wars of the 20th century will soon be gone. Will the children of today and tomorrow remember these wars only as boring history lessons? 

Why do we not learn from the past? We quickly forget how extreme nationalism, racism, economic disparity, greed and unresolved historical grievances caused unprecedented loss of life. 

Sadly I realize that history is repeating itself again. The cycle never ends. There are people who remember and recognize the warning signs. Their voices are often drowned out by leaders and their followers who stoke fear and live without a vision for a peaceful future.

I heard the church bells toll 100 times today at sunset. I hope that the children who heard them ring this evening will learn, understand and commit to pathways of peace.

Bells of Peace -November 11, 2018 in Cambridge ON