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.