Category Archives: Living life to the fullest

Holding through winter

I like winter, it must be said, but it’s a little frosty in my house today. As I write, I lean over from my chair and snap this picture.

Snowy back yard with a window sitting on a deck at the bottom of a ladder.
New windows on a snowy day.

We’re having new windows installed, and it’s snowy winter here. The window leaning against the ladder will soon be hoisted up and installed in our bathroom. In the meantime . . .

There’s a chill in my house.

Not to mention an invading army of workers who moved in and commandeered the place as of 7:10 a.m.

It snowed the day in late October when we returned to Ottawa from sunny days of hiking in England, and it has not really let up since.

Winter arrived unusually early for us.

According to the article “Winter Leaves that Hang On” by Jim Finley on the Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences website:  

Sometimes, early cold weather or frosts may interrupt the abscission process or “kill” leaves quickly. In these cases, the occurrence of marcescent leaves may increase. 

Jim Finley

I already worry about how people who don’t like winter will manage. I’ll walk in the snow, and ski, and skate and enjoy it, but I know the extra-long winter will wear on others. I already feel some of them withering. 

And now, this is what I see when I look up from my chair. 

Window installer starting to remove an old window.
Old window about to go.

That window is out. My room is cold. It’s interrupting my “abscission” process (the natural detachment of parts of a plant, typically dead leaves and ripe fruit) and killing my writing quickly.

Consider this last line a marcescent leaf.  

Thinking our way to true self

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Can you eat an apple by yourself?”

That was the question asked of the children gathered at the front of the church. All of them nodded. Yes, eating an apple was an easy thing for them to do. 

“Could you always do that, or did you have to learn?” 

Roxanne Goodman, a performance instructor in popular voice with Carleton University, started her presentation with those questions. I think she wanted all of us — children and adults — to think and learn and honour our potential.

Every day she works with people who tell her they want to develop stronger, more beautiful voices. The problem is, she says, that those same people don’t have a good perception of their voice at the time. 

In other words, they want to “eat an apple” but they haven’t yet, and they’re sure they’ll never do it as well as Ella Fitzgerald, Lady Gaga, or Elton John.  

She shared a story from her own life to help us on our path to understanding. When she was a young woman she sang a solo in her church. After the performance a gentleman said to her, “You have such a beautiful voice.”

“It’s okay. It’s all right,” she replied. 

Hearing that, he said, “Tell me, am I the only person who’s ever said this to you?”

“Oh no, people tell me that all the time.”

“Do you think that we are all lying to you?” he said. 

After that she asked herself: if she was wrong about her ability as a singer, what else was she wrong about? What else could she do that she was telling herself she couldn’t do?

She started from there, with a new belief that she had a beautiful voice. She studied to learn the technical aspects and how to get the emotion out.

She made lots of mistakes and learned from those too. 

She believes that anyone can learn to sing from their true voice if they do two things: 

  • Appreciate what they already have; believe in the beauty of their voice.
  • Sing from the depth of their being, their essence. 

She pointed out that Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t say we must do the thing we cannot do, but the thing we think we cannot do. 

We sometimes think our way out of facing fears and opening ourselves up to the next step. 

We can also think our way to our true self. 

I apply Roxanne’s lessons to writing: appreciating the beauty of my writing voice, learning the technical aspects and how to get the emotion out, making lots of mistakes, and allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to let my readers see me. 

Can you eat an apple? What else can you do that you’ve been telling yourself you can’t?

Start with one bite. 


Listen to what she had to say: http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Reflection-181118.mp3

Visit Roxanne’s website: www.confidencebooster.ca

Go to the Big Soul Project Christmas concert: Saturday, December 8

Start with one bite.

Reconciliation: Respect and peace

In late October we visited the old Coventry Cathedral, eviscerated by Second World War bombs, and saw these decapitated stair steps.

Stairways that used to lead somewhere alone in the middle of a bombed out cathedral

War leads nowhere

The stairway remnants, alone in the vast emptiness of the bombed out church, used to lead somewhere, but now they don’t. War robbed them of their purpose.

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But the periphery of the cathedral serves as a testament to reconciliation. The cities of Coventry in England and Dresden, Kiel and Berlin in Germany have worked together to process what happened, heal the damages and reconcile with each other.

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“Reconciliation” by Josefina de Vasconellos

The inscription below this sculpture reads: “. . . in the face of destructive forces, human dignity and love will triumph over disaster and bring nations together in respect and peace.”

Better yet, let’s try hard together to skip the destructive forces part and simply live in the respect and peace.

 

 

If trees could talk

I live in a land of timber. How could a simple tree impress a Canadian? But many times on our recent trip to England we stopped to marvel at the wonder of a tree.

Like this giant one at Winston Churchill’s Chartwell estate.

Giant Japanese cedar at Chartwell

We asked the gardener to repeat the name of this tree several times. She stuck with the Latin, which we think was Cryptomeria japonica. (Would it have been too much to ask for her to say simply Japanese cedar?)

And this scenic one at Hampstead Heath.

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But my favourite was this one. This tree could begin talking to me at any second and impart to me grand wisdom about life. I think this tree is telling me to stay rooted in what’s important because I already have everything I need, and to breathe.

What do you think?

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Boy, am I organized: A date with . . .

This is an entry in my day calendar.

Calendar with Death? written in at 7 p.m.

A date with death

I jotted the note, without a thought, when we were setting a tentative date for a Death Café we plan to hold at our church.

Only later, when I returned to the page, did I laugh out loud thinking what someone who didn’t understand the context would make of that note. They’d think, “Boy, is she organized.”

No, I’m not penciling in my imminent demise, just planning an evening for people “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

At a Death Café people eat cake, drink tea and talk about something we need to talk about more. Because, let’s face it, whether it’s written in our calendar or not, it’s coming!

It’s not a grief session or counselling. Just open discussion.

I realized how taboo the subject is when I puzzled over what to call this post.

  • A date with death. Love it. But how many people would think, “Oh no! Arlene’s going to die?!”
  • Talking about death. Also good, but so many people cringe at the idea of death. (The very ones who could benefit from a Death Café.) They would think, “Ugh,” and delete the e-mail without reading it.
  • 10 ways to talk about death. The SEO people are always trying to get me to put numbers in titles. But (a) I don’t know ten ways and, (b) the same group of people would say, “Ugh,” and delete.

I couldn’t find a way to include the word “death” in my title that wouldn’t either give the wrong impression or turn people away. If you’re in Ottawa, Canada on November 6, you could come and eat cake with me. If not, find someone else and make a date with death.

You might end up laughing out loud.


I highly recommend Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. He writes about “contingency sims”–death simulations, really. (Even astronauts find the word “death” taboo.)

He writes:

[Contingency sims] force us to think through our own demise in granular detail: not only how we’d die, but what would happen afterward to our families, colleagues and the space program itself. … What to do with the corpse?… What kind of help would crewmates need to deal with the trauma?… How should the PR people respond?…

Death sims are not weepy, grief-stricken affairs. They’re all about brass tacks. Although family members aren’t required to participate, Helene [his wife] has joined in several times because she has quickly discovered that taking the time to verbalize what you think you would do in the worst-case scenario quickly reveals whether you’re really prepared or not….

I reviewed my will, made sure my financial affairs and taxes were in order, and did all the other things you’d do if you knew you were going to die. But that didn’t make me feel like I had one foot in the grave. It actually put my mind at ease and reduced my anxiety about what my family’s future would look like if something happened to me. Which meant that when the engines lit up at launch, I was able to focus entirely on the task at hand: arriving alive.”

Bam! Gratitude lessons from a child

It was Thanksgiving in Canada yesterday. 

I’m grateful for the combination of creative solitude and family celebration I enjoyed over the weekend.

I’m also grateful for past blogs to turn to after I used the creative solitude for other purposes, and the family celebration was way to fun to interrupt to write.

The boy I wrote about in this post from last year has grown up and he no longer follows this practice. I miss it! But no matter. He taught me a timeless lesson during that brief delightful phase of his childhood.


Monday evening is the regular library time for a father and a small boy. Those two are the highlight of my week.

At the time of their visit, I work in the room that houses the book drop. The murmur of their voices and the scraping sound of a step-stool being pulled into position comes to me through the slot. The child’s feet climb up one step on the stool and  another as he prepares for his book return ritual.

“Thank you, book. Good-bye,” he says to the first book. He pushes it through the slot. “Bam!” he shouts.

He performs this small ceremony for every book. He returns 10 to 15 books, on average, so his process takes some time. If there are people waiting behind him, he doesn’t adjust his pace; he savours his moment.

I stop whatever I’m doing and savour his moment too. I smile widely.

This child shows me:

  1. He respects and cherishes books.
  2. He expresses gratitude.
  3. He knows how to “be here now.”
  4. He celebrates each moment with a Bam!

Some lessons for all of us, from a child.

Bam!

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I’m also grateful for chocolate.

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