April 16, 2018

A Touch of Spring Fever

Ah, Spring. The time of renewal. The time to realize you've put on a few pounds over the winter thanks to your forgiving clothes and all that comfort food in front of the TV. I saw a couple of pictures of myself recently, ones taken candidly and without me posing/sucking in my gut and standing tall. I thought I was a bit past caring how I look but no. I was up in the middle of that night with those images circulating technicolour-style in my brain. I passed a cringe-full night and woke up the next morning thinking about the best way to lose fifteen pounds. Food is my work these days, food is my hobby, food is almost my first love. As I slide down the hill towards 50 I know that something must be done. Either I break up with food or I fall in love with Cross-fit. Nah, not going to happen. What I probably need is a couple of running partners - for motivation more than anything. I've always wanted to run a half marathon. I could have in my thirties, no problem, but going out for a slogging 5 km jog once a week, which is all I'm managing these days, is not going to do it.

My body is not the only thing morphing into shapelessness. My psyche could also use a tune-up. Like I said. I'm approaching 50 and I think I need to bring my life into focus. My kids are virtually independent, and my last one at home is going to gain it quickly. At the moment I have no idea what I am going to do when she leaves home. At the moment I am savouring all our time together. We are two peas in a pod, and The Three Musketeers when we get to be with her dad. Her presence in our home gives me a title, a focus, a plan. The time will come, all too quickly, when I will need to fill her absence. My husband thinks I need to do more things I enjoy doing. It's all too easy for me to be that mom/servant role and give all my energy to other people. I don't really mind being a supporter, and I'm fairly good at it (my husband got a promotion recently) but there is a growing dissatisfaction in the pit of my stomach. I can't define it exactly, but I believe it has something to do with formlessness, or blurred lines around my sense of self. Am I having a mid-life crisis? Maybe, but crisis implies a great deal of energy directed at finding out the meaning of one's own life. I'm not about to start out on some kind of massive quest or anything. Although a trip to Europe would be nice.

I wish I knew what I was supposed to do. I'm sure it will come to me eventually. In general I'm a cheerful sort, but I can't help thinking I lack the essential quality I value most - discipline. I know darn well I won't get anywhere without discipline. Leo Baubata, the author of the famous blog Zen Habits, says this: Much of the stress that people feel doesn't come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they've started. That's the great thing about cooking. I always finish what I started, with a little help from the oven. As the Little Mermaid sang, however, I want more. Yesterday, while talking with my sister, I heard myself say that I lacked intellectual stimulation - I'm not using my brain much. I'm using my heart and hands an awful lot, and that's fine and good for the most part, but my brain is getting a little mushy. My sister thinks I should go back to school and finish my degree, teach ESL or adult education. Maybe. There's no point thinking about this until my daughter leaves home. In the meantime, what to do? Like I said, it will come to me eventually. Maybe it will come to me while running. Good ideas usually do. Yes, let's start with that.

Happy Spring!

March 4, 2018

Snow White Fear

I was commuting to college with my brother-in-law. He was used to Manitoba snow, not necessarily the messy, wheel-sucking sludge that afflicts British Columbia roads. He steered one way and the car slid another. He attempted to correct the sliding and we got turned around and started going backwards over the edge. I was screaming my head off, convinced we were going to die. The car bumped down the embankment, and stopped. We looked at each other. We decided to risk opening the doors and climbing out. It appeared the car had been hung up an a sharp rock which had punctured the undercarriage, bringing us to a halt.Thank God!We climbed up the embankment and hitchhiked back to Nelson where I lived with my parents and he lived with my pregnant sister and their little girl. It was the first car accident I had ever been involved in. My brother loaned us his car until my brother-in-law's insurance got sorted out and they bought a new one. I did a fair bit of the driving to college for the next while.

A couple of years after the accident with my brother-in-law I was going on a ski trip to Banff with a boyfriend. He had been up for 24 hours for his shift at the hospital and was exhausted. We never should have left that night. I think I pushed him to leave, saying I would help keep him awake. By Kootenay Pass he was too tired to drive, and said I would have to. I didn't have much experience driving a standard, but I was willing to try. I wanted to get to Banff and start our week of skiing. The night was cold and clear and gleaming with stars. We climbed the pass at midnight and began the descent down the other side. We hit black ice. The truck did a 180 and hit the guard rail, which sent it spinning in the other direction. Fortunately, we hit the guard rail again and the bumper hooked onto it, stopping us completely. The bumpers were destroyed. My boyfriend was awake enough to take over the driving from there while I sat quaking and apologizing. I think I remember checking in at the police station where he reported the accident.  Our relationship was never the same after that night. I felt our age difference keenly as he took a tone with me that pointed out my immaturity. I confess to having a bit of a wild streak back then, and somewhat of a fearless mentality when it came to risk. I think the proper term for it is youthful stupidity.

They say as we age that we lose our risk-taking tendency. We know the consequences of injury and loss of wages too well to gamble them for an adrenaline rush. I, for one, have taken this theory a bit further when it comes to winter driving. For years now I have found the combination of being a passenger and an unwilling driver on snowy roads terrifying and anxiety-inducing. Oddly enough, I had no difficulty driving snowy roads when I was in my thirties. We always had four-wheel drive and lived in mountainous areas. If I wasn't comfortable driving my husband would and he is an excellent driver - I was, and continue to be, always in good hands. I know the memory of the winter accidents described above haunts me somewhat, but my irrational fear cannot be completely related to those incidents of long ago. There must be some other explanation.

My intense fear seems to have originated from our move to the Lower Mainland. I think moving here made driving a much more intense experience than when we lived on the Island or in the Kootenays. I have been driving since I was nineteen, but I still consider myself a relative novice when it comes to Freeway and city driving. I wonder if I'll ever be completely comfortable moving along at 110 kilometerss an hour with hundreds of cars, semis, and motorcycles jockeying for position all around me on the Freeway. And the addition of snow merely intensifies this discomfort. If I can go slowly and carefully, I am alright, but it seems no one else has time for that. So, I would rather not drive. One would think I would be content enough with my husband doing the driving, but I am not thrilled with that scenario either because I have no direct control over the vehicle. I have taken to breathing slowly and deliberately like a yogi while we drive to and from the mountain resort where he works (and which is our second home) in order to calm my anxiety. To be honest, I am getting pretty sick and tired of this crazy fear of mine.

Last weekend was a particularly snowy one. My husband was coming down in the 4X4 on Friday night to pick up my daughter and me, my sister and her daughter. My little car is not equipped for the snowy mountain roads and I would never attempt the trip at night in any case. I had expressed my fear the night before in a phone call with my husband and he had calmed me with some well chosen and often heard words. I decided the next morning I would change my approach to the drive. My mantra for the day was going to be, "He is an excellent driver who knows the road. I am in good hands." I know it sounds crazy, but it worked for me. I had decided to stop being so afraid. It snowed all day down here as well, and I drove my twelve minute commute to work, both ways, without incident and without fear. That night, he arrived about 7:30. We packed up the truck and picked up my sister and her daughter from their house. The snow fell heavily until about ten kilometers before the resort, but I remained calm, chatting happily with my sister and our daughters. My husband was an excellent driver who knew the road. I was in good hands. When we arrived at the resort I said to my husband, "I did pretty well, didn't I?" He just grinned.

Will I be fearless on the snowy roads from now on? I highly doubt it. My soul is too well acquainted with fear to merely flip the record over and change its tune. I like to think I am developing some coping mechanisms, however, which will hopefully make me stronger than my fears in the future. My life involves a lot of snow now, so I may as well become friends with it again. Returning to skiing is helping me reacquaint myself with the ways of the white stuff, too, and I am loving it. At the end of a day on the slopes or the tracks, I am too content and tired to worry so much anyway.

January 5, 2018

A Modern Christmas Casualty

I really have no idea for how many years I wrote an annual Christmas letter full of news of the kids, our latest escapades and injuries, career moves and camping holidays. Maybe twenty? Maybe more. After time ran out this year for a Christmas letter I tried to sit down and write a New Years version, and nothing happened. I came out of the study where I keep our laptop on a nice desk with all the things around I need to pull off similar missives, flopped down by my husband on the couch and said, "I'm not feeling it this year."

I wonder if my annual Christmas letter writer's block comes from having a family growing up, moving out and moving on. I wonder if it comes from my active connectivity over social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Nearly everyone out there knows what we've been up to, how our son graduated from university in the spring, how we bought a condo and moved house for the second time in a year, how our youngest will play Lumiere in this year's production of Beauty and the Beast, that I got a new job as a baker for a lovely little artisan bakery. Do they know our older daughter returned to school full time to finish her degree? I don't know, but it feels like that might be the only unknown thing I would write about in a letter. That must be it - everything I would write about would feel like old news, trite, like gilding a lily as they say.  Perhaps, thanks to technology, we may have evolved beyond the Christmas letter. Evolving is fine. Life isn't meant to stay one way forever and I suppose forcing myself to produce the same sort of greetings year after year simply feels pointless now. Now that this year is a washout, I do look forward to sending some sort of personal greetings next year, but in what form?

We had a massive snow storm here after Christmas. One of the mail carriers apparently slipped and fell on the ice, breaking her leg. Perhaps the Post Office cancelled home delivery after that because we saw no mail for days. The weather improved and we received mail yesterday. In our box along with the VISA bill and a notice from our daughter's school was a Christmas card from a friend. She had written a few personal lines and signed off with love and best wishes. Her card joined the few others on the mantle. Gone are the days when a long clothesline-type string was hung with dozens of cards from friends near and far. We haven't lost the friends and family who used to send them - we have stopped sending as many cards as we used to as well. Postage is pricey and emailing and Facebook are 'free'. As Christmas approached I added my greetings, accompanied by a photo of our Christmas tree, to the chorus of similar posts online. While digital Christmas cards are lovely, you can't cut them up into recycled gift tags the next year. Honestly, I treasure the Christmas cards I receive no matter how they are sent, but the paper ones seem extra special nowadays.

I know how busy everyone is. I am busy, too. The rush up to Christmas seems jammed with activity, at work and at home. When I was a stay-at-home mom I found time to do everything I wanted to do for the holiday, and I loved it. Now, I seem to have less energy to spare beyond the required baking and cooking and parcels for our moms. Our younger son and older daughter came home for Christmas. They asked what they could help with and I gave them a few jobs. Daughter make Gingerbread cookie dough. Son wrapped gifts and did dishes. The to-do list which would have taken me all day was conquered by noon. Aha! I thought. I forgot what it was like to have help. With my husband working out of town much of the week and our youngest spending most of December dividing her time between school work and rehearsals, I am on my own with most of the tasks. Something had to give, and this year it was the Christmas letter. Perhaps I will write one next year. Somehow I doubt it. I will, however, try to send paper Christmas cards. We should, after all, give what we like to receive.

Wishing everyone a happy, prosperous, peaceful New Year,


November 28, 2017

Holiday Preparations

I've had a busy month. I left my job at the cafe and started another at a bakery much closer to home. My brother-in-law accepted a position at the resort where my husband is employed and he's been staying with us on his days off. My sister and their younger daughter will be moving here this week, so I've been assisting with advice and house-finding and moral support and everything I can do from here, three provinces away. I knew, somewhere in the periphery, Christmas was beginning to creep into view in shop windows and in people's windows as well, the ones who put their tree up in mid-November, but I had yet to allow my consciousness any tangible participation in the gradual and intentional takeover of the city scenery. The only Christmas-related things I had been doing were paying attention to the price of Brazil nuts for my Christmas cakes which have to be baked by the end of November each year, and hoping the price would go down (It did not), and practicing carols with the choir I am a member of for our upcoming concerts

For many of us, the Holidays mean family coming home, decorating, baking, cooking, cleaning, list making, shopping for and/or making gifts, in other words, a fair amount of work. Add to the list the fact I must have everything ready to transport up to the resort where we will spend Christmas again this year. I enjoy hosting my family at Christmas and feeding them and all that, but I honestly had not even begun to think about it. Last Saturday, while we were having our usual Saturday afternoon beer together, my brother-in-law, Brent and I chatted as I began to prepare supper. Having him around a couple of days per week has been fun. As my daughter says, 'he is so mellow and easy to talk to'. I lived with him and my sister many years ago when I was in university, and we had always been good friends. Brent was impressed I still had the mixed tape he made me for my birthday in 1988. He sent a photo of the cover with all the songs listed to his older daughter who is away at college, and she made a Spotify playlist of all the songs for herself. Some of those old songs wear well - I still listen to my tape from time to time. Anyway, we were chatting, which can make it hard for me to concentrate on cooking, when he said, out of the blue, "Do you like Dylan Thomas?" I said, of course, A Child's Christmas in Wales is my favourite Christmas story. He clicked a key on his laptop and Dylan Thomas' deep, whiskey-soaked voice filled the room. I smiled as I spoke along with the words,

I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve 
or if it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

I let the author tell the rest of his story alone as I made supper. It was at the moment when Dylan Thomas sang Good King Wenceslas in the hesitant voice of himself as a small boy when I felt the magic and the possibilities of the coming season. I rather suddenly began to look forward to making the Christmas cakes, despite the price of Brazil nuts. As Brent, my daughter and I sat down to eat we talked about our favourite Christmas music and I put Charlie Brown's Christmas on the stereo and said it was the only Christmas album my kids could all agree on. Brent told us about a jazz album his family had bought at their local variety store in the small town in Manitoba they are leaving behind and how it had become their family's trademark Christmas album. We had a festive evening listening to music and chatting away happily about traditions and families and such.

The next day, after Brent had left to go back up to the resort, I gathered up the necessary energy to drive in the pouring November rain to the local Christmas craft market where I started my shopping in earnest. I bought some handcrafted gifts and talked to vendors, some of whom I knew from other annual markets I attend. I entered the door prizes, voted on my favourite Holiday themed flower arrangement and tasted all the free samples I was offered. I missed my husband, who usually shops there with me and helps me navigate the maze of stalls with his keen sense of direction (I am admittedly geographically challenged) but somehow I found my way out of the massive building without him after circling it a few times.

The next evening I took out some Seasonal piano music and played carols and songs for half an hour missing the resonance of our old upright piano we had to give away, but grateful for the digital one our son decided to leave with us. My husband, home for his days off, came over and put his hands on my shoulders. The twenty-five Christmases we had celebrated as a family fell like cascading notes from my memory onto the piano keys. I played those Christmases with the halting style of a musician who rarely practices but enjoys it all the same.

For anyone who would like to be told a wonderful story, here it is, A Child's Christmas in Wales

November 6, 2017

Yes, #metoo

I would be remiss as a mother, an aunt, a sister, a daughter, and most of all a woman, if I did not somehow in this blog address a certain campaign recently on the minds of most people who roam the many halls of the internet. At first, I did not want to join my voice to the others. I have never been one for jumping on a bandwagon, and I honestly thought I owed no one my own stories, but that pesky issue of sexual harassment keeps on rearing its ugly head, even exposing the seedy underbelly of our beloved Hollywood movie mill. Harvey Weinstein, that other director I can't remember the name of, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, even Dustin Hoffmann all have allegations of sexual harassment against them, with some of them accused of even worse. In an interview, actress Emma Thompson said the allegations against Weinstein were 'just the tip of the iceberg' and her words are becoming more painfully true all the time. These men have all created great art and entertainment which most of us have enjoyed some time or other. (If either Kevin Kline or Bill Pullman turns out to be a perpetrator I am going to need a steep hike up the nearest mountain followed by a very strong beverage. Not that there are any rumours at all, I just really like those guys.) The #metoo campaign hatched a few weeks ago was an emotional one for me as I am sure it was for so many others out there. Introduced by someone in response to the first allegations against Weinstein, #metoo was meant to show how widespread the problem of sexual harassment and assault is. Let's face it. It's a systemic problem and the remedy is long in coming.

Certain types of men abusing their power to use or control women is nothing new, but I suppose many of us had thought our stories were not worth mentioning up until the #metoo campaign picked up so much speed. Many of us were raised not to make a big deal out of minor sexual impositions. "Oh, that's just your uncle George being funny" when he pinched your bum, or "Oh, that's just Mick. He's harmless" when we were invited into a neighbour's tool shed and saw the walls plastered with hard core pornographic images of women. I did not have an Uncle George exactly, but I did have a neighbour like Mick. Mick also had a brother - let's call him Fred - who lived up the street. We kids were always looking to make a dollar or two. Fred asked for some help washing his windows and invited a posse of pre-teen neighbourhood girls up to his place. Five of us walked up the steep hill to Fred's one hot summer afternoon. He answered the door in a tube top, except it wasn't covering his top, it was covering his hips and was the only thing he was wearing. I just about turned around and walked out but the others went in the house so I thought I had better follow. Fred showed us the windows he wanted washed and gave us the cleaning supplies. Then he went back up to his roof to suntan in the nude. We washed the windows as quickly as possible. He invited us to stay for a drink of pop or something but I wanted out of there, so I left. I'm not sure who stayed. To this day I hope nothing worse happened to any of the other girls. Also, to this day, I wonder what possessed Fred to think it was okay to behave as he had, answering the door in such a way, leering at us and making us all so uncomfortable. What a jerk. He would be reported now.

Several years after the 'Fred' incident I was at my local club dancing the night away. I had just met a  nice guy who was visiting from the States and was enjoying myself with him and a large group of friends. Most of us danced in a group on the floor, so I was not paired with anyone when the next incident happened. I was really getting into the music and having a great time flailing about when a man, a much older man than I, came up to me and grabbed my crotch. I was so shocked I went into an immediate rage and shoved that man so hard he flew across the room and fell on the floor. I then turned, grabbed my coat (it was the Christmas holidays) and ran the seven blocks home so fast my feet barely touched the ground. The next day, the nice American boy called me. He said he and his friends had seen what had happened, followed me out of the club, jumped in their car and tried to find me, but I was long gone by then. I never reported what I would now call sexual assault, and I decided it was my liberal, energetic quality of dancing that encouraged that man to touch me. I toned down my dancing for a while after that incident so as not to lead men to think I was open for business, but fortunately I was too free-spirited to let the actions of that one complete jerk determine how I was to express myself on the dance floor. These days I tone it down merely to keep from putting my back out.

I have other, more complex stories, but I choose not to share them in this way at this time. Some things are too personal, too painful or weird to talk about, especially when I didn't feel like I 'won' the situations. Luckily, I learned from those experiences and went on to marry a true gentleman.

When I was reading all the reports of the actresses who came forward in the Weinstein case, I was relieved to know how many of them had been able to assert themselves and escape his greasy clutches. Still, their ability to escape does not somehow erase the attempts on their bodies and their dignity. Where did Weinstein and the others like him, get the idea their desires trumped the rights of their victims? Their attitude has to come from somewhere. Did it come from their own fathers? From other authority figures in their lives? From television or film? I remember watching a documentary when I was a teenager called Not a Love Story, about the world of pornography and its impact on society. The documentary was made by a woman with hidden cameras. She and her crew went inside the seediest sex shops and strip clubs to see what was going on. The filmmaker's conclusion, and it made a huge impact on me at the time, was no matter how small and innocent we think our participation is - maybe we've been to a strip club, bought a Playboy magazine - we have contributed to the incredibly lucrative machine that portrays women as objects and excuses men as users of those objects. Some may laugh it all off as 'just a little harmless fun' but I am not laughing anymore and neither are the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women who have come forward in the #metoo campaign to share their stories and speak out against abuse, assault and harassment. And, now some young men are coming forward with stories of being used and abused by more powerful men, as in the Kevin Spacey case, and in some cases women as well.

Where will it stop?

It stops with each of us. It stops when we not make concessions for men simply because they do some great things in the world. It stops when we treat other people with less power than us with respect. It stops when we honour and completely respect each other's personal space and chosen boundaries. It stops when we not allow our own ambition to put us in potentially harmful situations. It stops when we truly listen to warnings from others with more experience than ourselves. It stops when we stand up to bullies, not counting the cost to our reputations. It stops when we dismantle the 'old boys network' and its ideas that make allowances for 'boys being boys'. It stops when we parents pay more attention to the true needs of our children, especially our daughters, and work diligently to form the attitudes of our sons. It stops when we are strong enough to see what needs stopping, and act on it.

And to rephrase that old song, "What the world needs now, is justice, sweet justice." We have all the tools to make the world safer for each other. Let's use them.

November 1, 2017

Sears: The End of an Era

Recently, my coworkers and I were discussing the impact of the demise of Sears Canada when one of them said, "That means no more Wish Book, I guess." A sudden rush of memories hit me. Sears was not only the place where I had, for the past several years, purchased my socks and underwear, it was the stuff of childhood dreams as well. How my brother and I pored over those Christmas Wish Book catalogues, marking the things we wanted and discussing them in detail! Kids all over the country did the same with their own treasured copies of that Wish Book every year. The Wish Book was tradition with a capital T. From the gaudy fruit cakes to the plush monogrammed bath robes, the annual Holiday Barbie to the wood burning kits, gift ideas pored forth from the pages and filled our young heads with 'visions of sugarplums' throughout the dark days of November and December.

If I remember correctly Sears came out with a new catalogue every season. Or maybe there were only two per year plus the Wish Book. Whatever the case, while the Spring and Summer catalogues were not nearly as fun as the Wish Book I still went through them page by page (We only had two television channels at our house). I longed for a white canopy bed with Holly Hobby bedspread and accessories until I was in my teens. Many nights I lay awake wishing hard for the sudden appearance in my closet of a certain black velveteen outfit complete with trousers, button up vest, jacket and skirt. How smart I would look at school, I thought. I replaced all my parents' mismatched living room furniture with turquoise French Provincial sofas and Lazy-boy recliners - in my imagination, at least. The Sears catalogue represented a lifestyle quite foreign to me, where parents bought their children huge Barbie houses and Bugs Bunny bedroom curtains. The minimal exposure I had to daytime soap operas convinced me their characters shopped at Sears. Their living rooms were always perfectly clean, serene and decorated like in the catalogues.

Sears, in my hometown, and many towns like it, was not a brick and mortar store. It was a small counter, if memory serves, at the local Greyhound bus depot, where mail orders were given and picked up after a long awaited phone call. The only other department-type store in our town at the time was Woolworth's, so Sears offered many things we could not shop for in person. My parents ordered their trusty Kenmore appliances with excellent extended warranties from Sears. My older sisters were always ordering new clothes from the latest Sears catalogue, and often, due to them not fitting properly, sending them back. I suppose one could say the Sears catalogue and other catalogues like them were the precursor to today's online shopping, which is ironic since online shopping is being blamed for the demise of Sears. The entire retail landscape is going through a major shift, and I do not think we can blame only one thing for that major shift. Sure, online shopping is often a great source for a better value - my daughter's Otter Box for her iphone purchased recently for half the price of the one available at our local Best Buy, for example. I think globalization, saturated retail markets (and their by-product - discount outlets such as Winners and HomeSense), and brand loyalty are also factors. Here's an example: I like Jockey underwear. They are 100% cotton, well made, and oh, so comfortable. With our city's brick and mortar Sears closing I know of no other place in my city that sells them. I will have a good look in the possible shops, but if I cannot find my Jockeys, I know I will look online. I know my size, my preferred style and price, so purchasing would be easy. Would I buy shoes or other clothing online? Rarely, if never. I have to try them on, and if possible I like to support my local businesses.

I am sad Sears Canada is closing. I shopped there often. They had great sales, good products, and friendly staff. Unfortunately, despite their monumental efforts at rebranding and revamping, they cannot carry on. Like Eatons they are going the way of the dinosaur, taking their beloved Wish Book with them.  I am sorry for their thousands of employees across the country. Where will they go? Sears hired many older people and now their pensions are evaporating along with everything else. The world does not feel like a very merciful place today. Progress, as usual, leaves many casualties in its wake.

For more information on the history of Sears Canada, have a look at this article, which, by the way, I read after I wrote this post.

The last Canadian Sears Wish Book - the end of an era

October 15, 2017

A Slow Burn(out)

Everywhere you look there are young people trying to change the world. They are starting their own businesses while raising young children, achieving advanced degrees, inventing new and improved stuff, working to save the environment, running for office, and renovating crumbling houses (at least on TV). While their energetic output is encouraging and inspiring, and their earnestness is heartwarming it also sets off some alarm bells, at least in me. I used to be one of those people. My goal was to make people in my former small community appreciate and value the role of the arts in their everyday lives, and I worked hard volunteering my time to help make that happen. I also worked from home to make some extra income and volunteered at my church.  I did all this while raising four active children, running to stay fit, and cooking like mad. My thirties were a whirlwind of gratifying, caffeine-fueled community involvement and motherly ambition. My early forties were a slow decline into burnout. Let this post serve as a gentle warning to my young friends.

Burnout is real and, in my experience, happens when you begin to be unable to separate your 'self' from your 'work'. We are so busy in this Western Hemisphere trying to become so many things. Much of this ambition is good. We should aspire to grow, to learn, to strive for a better world, but we also need to simply be ourselves sometimes. We need to protect our peace of mind from too much intrusion, which is difficult in this age of social media and subsequent addiction. Social media nags us continually to DO SOMETHING. Yes, the world has needs, but they are endless. We can all do our bit but none of us can do everything - the treadmill was once a form of punishment for a reason. Gone are the days when simply enjoying oneself was a worthwhile goal, and I am sad about that, for enjoying oneself with the simple pleasures of life can reap great rewards, fend off depression, and spread ripples of good feeling around us. I recently read (for probably the fifth time) Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. My aunt loaned me the DVD of the televised version and I am making my way through the series now. A Year in Provence is a funny, delightful account of Peter and his wife retiring from successful, but high stress careers in London and moving to the South of France where they restore a two-hundred year old stone farmhouse and spend their days eating, drinking, walking their dogs and getting to know the local culture and characters in the Luberon Valley. Not everything is ideal at all times for the couple, but they embrace their new life and Peter continues to write popular books for the great enjoyment of others around the world. His books exude a sense of having time for others without agenda, of experiencing life with all the five senses, of not taking oneself too seriously, and of laughter being, in fact, the best medicine. The point I am trying to make is Peter Mayle is an educated man and a gifted writer but he doesn't produce his beloved stories by beating himself over the head for not 'doing enough' and being miserable. Quite the opposite.

We all have gifts and most of us must work to pay the bills. Fully recognizing how to use those gifts and figuring out what work to do is sometimes a long road. Many of us learn by trial and error. In my own case,  and living in a city with a large homeless population, I recognize my desire to help the less fortunate, especially the homeless. Some days I honestly feel like the homeless are my sole responsibility, but I am wrong and must guard against these feelings because I know they stem from personal guilt that I have a nice place to live and my fellow citizens pushing those laden shopping carts do not. The desire to help others should never come from guilt. It should come from a more positive feeling of wanting to share. Guilt may be the impetus but it should not be the reason. The amazing helpers such as the Union Gospel Mission, Covenant House and others in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver are not able to carry on doing what they do simply out of guilt. They do it out of love, and that is what keeps them going. They have a special kind of grace to do the work they do and I would hope their work makes them happy and fulfilled and energized most days, not drained and left feeling perpetually vulnerable and raw. At this stage in my life, guarded against burnout, and recovering from some heavy personal stuff, I give my homeless neighbours spare change, smiles, greetings and hopefully some dignity. For now, that is all the emotional energy I can spare, and recognizing this is no small thing.

I leave this post with one prevailing thought: