Author Archives: Arlene Somerton Smith

About Arlene Somerton Smith

Plain and simple writing on meaningful topics.

On being Mrs. McGregor: Bunnies

This bunny hopped into my backyard early Saturday morning.

small bunny on the snow
March Hare?

Cute bunny, right? But my reaction to the furry friend was not charitable, because last year this bunny, or one just like her, ate the tops off all my tulips. My Canada 150 tulips, no less. I was not impressed.

close-up of the leaf shape in the centre of the Canada 150 tulip
Canada 150 tulip – 2017

And my front garden has become her favourite place to poop. Yuck.

bunny poop in the garden
Bunnies poop is cute, but still . . .

As my tulips come into bloom this year I will be keeping a close eye on bunnies. My red and white blooms will be guarded, and I posted a comment to that effect on my Facebook feed. One of my friends commented: “Okay, Mr(s). McGregor.”

I laughed out loud, because I did sound like Mr. McGregor chasing Peter Rabbit about the garden.

cover of The Tale of Peter Rabbit

I laugh.

But, I love my tulips.

Bunny, I’ve got eyes on you. And I’m not afraid of being called Mrs. McGregor.

It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here

There are days when I wish more people could say, “It’s not about me.”There are days when I wonder why people think life should only be about what they like.

I am guilty of it too. But I try to think: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

I use it at the grocery store when I’m in a hurry and the person ahead of me is paying cash, counting out every nickel. Patience.

I use it in tense meetings. Conflict resolution lessons.

I use it at church every week.

I’m a member of a progressive, affirming congregation. The foundation of our group is that love and grace are available to all people, but beyond that we don’t dictate what anyone should believe. On any given week an atheist could be sitting down the row from a person who believes in the virgin birth. It’s fantastic!

Our conversations are authentic, and deep, and heartwarming,

And challenging. How to balance the content of a church service for people on such different places on a journey?

  • A service about an Old Testament story:
    • “Why do we even use the bible (small b) anymore? It’s thousands of years old, written by men in a patriarchal time. What does it have to do with me? “
    • “Thank goodness we’re finally talking about the Bible (capital B). It has timeless lessons, and it’s the foundation of our faith.”
  • Communion:
    • “It’s a sacred ritual for me. A reminder that I’m not alone and that I have purpose.”
    • “It’s meaningless to me. A little creepy if you want to know the truth.”
  • The cross:
    • “It’s barbaric. I would never wear one because it brands me as something I don’t want to be associated with.”
    • “It’s a symbol of connection with something greater than myself, the reaching and the grounding.”
  • The organ:
    • “The music resonating through the pipes moves me to the depths of my soul.”
    • “How can people endure that horrible screeching?”
  • A short sermon:
    • “It’s about time. No need to go on and on about things. Just get to the point. “
    • “The minister needs to delve more deeply into the topic.”
  • Children in church:
    • “Oh, the noise, noise noise!”
    • “It’s good to see so many children. They bring the place to life.”
  • The hymns:
    • “We need to sing more of the old, familiar hymns.”
    • “Enough of the blood and the sin songs. Let’s sing something new.”
  • The prayers
    • “Oh my God, the prayers are long. My mind drifts off.”
    • I need prayers. They are my time of centering. It’s when I connect with God, and when we connect with each other and the world.”

Every Sunday something happens that I would not choose to include if I were a member of a church of one. (And what fun would that be?) Every Sunday I have to remind myself that the thing I dislike is exactly the thing that someone there—maybe right beside me—is needing. Every Sunday I say to myself: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

There always is. Something authentic, deep and heartwarming.

A pewter communion cup beside bread and a candle
The cup of hope and bread for the journey.

Top sheets to the wind

How have we failed our next generation?

Have we allowed them too many video games?

Do we restrict their freedom too much and not let them just be carefree and out there playing?

Will their inability to read cursive writing or tell time by an analogue clock put their lives in mortal danger someday?

Those are all valid questions. But there’s one place where I know I mis-stepped with my children.

They don’t use top sheets on their beds.

Apparently this is common amongst people of their age. Read one such person’s opinion here: For the love of good sleep, stop using a top sheet.

My children are young adults now so I don’t do their laundry anymore, but when they were younger, this drove me bonkers. On laundry day, I would find the top sheets either removed entirely or balled up at the foot of their bed. And washing a duvet cover is five thousand times more irritating than washing a simple sheet. (I’m not exaggerating there, right?)

I did’t understand why my children did this, and I thought it was a weird familial quirk. I would growl and grit me teeth and ask “Why? Where did I go wrong?

My friend has a theory that it’s because of the climate controlled comfort of our homes. She could have a point.

The farmhouse I lived in as a child had no central heating. My father, bless him, was first up in the morning. He lit the wood furnace and heated the lower floor while the rest of us — weighted down by layers of our grandmother’s quilts — watched our breath condense in the cold of air of our bedrooms upstairs. When he thought the house was warm enough, my father yelled up. My brothers and I would count, “1, 2, 3,” throw off the quilts and run as fast as we could from the frigid upstairs to the warmth below.

I grew up in a generation that needed layers for those winter nights, and the more the better. The top sheet (flannel in winter) was another much needed layer. And it protected the quilts, of which every stitch was sewn by hand.

On the flip side of that, without air conditioning the upper floor of our farmhouse could be suffocating on sweltering humid Ottawa Valley summer nights. The thin top sheet was all we could bear. It gave us the feeling of being covered without causing heat distress.

Even though the thermostat in the house I live in now is set to reduce automatically to a lower temperature at night, our home never reaches the biting cold of my old farmhouse on a winter night. And even though I’m not a fan of air conditioning and use it seldom, the times I do choose to use it are on the kind of sweltering hot days when a single top sheet for sleeping would be the choice.

As a result, for my children and others like them, the top sheet has become superfluous. They kick it off. Tra la la, I’m free.

Bonkers, it drives me.

But wait. To add insult to injury, my Facebook feed these days is filled with advertisements about weighted blankets. Some of these blankets promise that they have been “re-engineered” to guarantee sleep that will solve everything from ADHD to restless legs syndrome to my menopausal symptoms.

The same generation that kicks off their top sheets is now paying extra for the sensation that mounds of my grandmother’s quilts provided.

My grandmother never had to “re-engineer” her quilts.

As a parent, there are many things I would like to go back in time and do over. Some of those things “weightier” than others.

One thing I would rectify for sure would be the top sheet thing.

I would turn our furnace WAY down at night, load up their beds with quilts and not turn the heat back up in the morning until they had a good dose of watching their breath condense..

quilt with embroidered rose squares
Grandma’s quilt – the original weighted blanket.

Nancy Greene advice: Look at where you’re going, not what you’re going through

To receive a skiing tip from Canadian alpine ski legend Nancy Greene Raine is a priceless gift.

It’s also slightly embarrassing.

We spent last week skiing at the Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia, and one of the immeasurably valuable benefits available at the mountain is the opportunity to ski with Nancy Greene, Olympic medalist and World Cup champion.

Sign on ski hill about skiing with Nancy Greene Raine

She is gracious, kind and generous with her time. Several times a week she skis with visitors to Sun Peaks, and last Tuesday I was one of those lucky guests.

I’m a competent skier, but it seems that no matter what I do, I am always last in any group. I don’t care for speed. So, that day fifteen or twenty skiers followed Nancy down the hill, and I trailed behind.

She stopped to make sure the group held together. Of course I was last. She and all those fifteen or twenty skiers watched me struggle with fresh snow on the final slope.

“You’re all right?” she asked.

Oh God. Was it that bad? 

“When you’re skiing, look ahead at the big picture,” she said. “Don’t keep your eyes on the snow just in front of your skis or you’ll get tense. Look ahead and relax.”

I remembered her advice when I skied after that, and it helped. I noticed it especially on Friday night when we attended the Alpine Fondue & Starlight Descent.

We enjoyed a three-course fondue dinner at the restaurant on the mountain and then skied down after dark via starlight and headlamps.

chocolate fondue
The final course – chocolate!

Spectacular.

Skiing in the dark meant that I had to free myself of concerns about what lay ahead. I had to relax and go with the flow. I took this photo of other members of my group coming down the mountain AFTER me.

skiers with headleamps on a dark hill

I wasn’t last!

I had time to stop, remove my gloves, take out my phone, unlock it and take the picture, and just look how far behind me those skiers are.

Keep our eyes on where we’re going, not what we’re going through.

Freeing, free advice from a champion

snowy mountain scene

Devotion and transformation

“In every religious tradition there is a practice of devotion and a practice of transformation . . .
Devotion means trusting more in ourselves and in the path we follow. Transformation means to practice the things this path imposes on us.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ
city street with a large tree in the middle
Trusting in the path, and growing through what it brings us to do.

Christmas tree stars

Haiku Prayers: https://www.facebook.com/HaikuPrayers/
Christmas Tree lights that look like stars.
Christmas tree lights look like stars.

“Each of us is raised with a sense of ‘us and them.’ Initially the ‘us’ is just family, and everyone else is ‘them.’ As we get older and more experienced, more and more people join the ‘us’ but there is usually still a ‘them.’ …

Once in orbit, though, with time to not only work but to gaze at the world over a period of months, I noticed my perception shifting. As I sent pictures to the ground and commented on them, I found myself unthinkingly referring to everyone as ‘us.’ …

I would see a city that I knew well and just 30 minutes later, see that exact same pattern of settlement in a city I had never heard of. It forced me to face the commonality of the human experience, and our shared hopes and desires.”

Chris Hadfield in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth