Sunday, December 23, 2012

Celebrating the Solstice

Captain Santa!  What a fun gift
from my best friend and her partner.

Yule is a modern expression of the Germanic géol, meaning 12-day festival.  It originated as a mid-winter celebration in northern Europe involving feasts and gift-giving in honour of the change of the seasons and the promise of renewal in the spring.  The solstice, the shortest day of the year, is the beginning of the celebrations as it marks the turning of the Wheel of the Year with the rebirth of the Sun.  From this point on the days get longer, the sun strengthens as the Earth’s axis swivels back once again toward its warmth.

Beautiful calendars and foot scrubbers
from my daughter and SIL.
In ancient times, people’s religions were closely tied to the Earth and her seasonal transformations.   Their mythologies told the stories of how the gods facilitated these changes and the gifts these changes represented for all life on Earth.  The focus was on celebrating life as part of the whole in balance with all that is.  It was understood and accepted that life isn’t always easy.  The gods (nature) can be fickle.  And necessarily so to keep that balance and so celebrating life – survival – became a way of showing gratitude and acknowledging one’s place within nature rather than separate from it.

The stairs became the "kiddie table" as
young people gathered there to enjoy
the feast!
Mom gives Son a bit of a ribbing.
Note the amazing "ugly sweater" design -
A Jack-a-lope!
It was in this spirit that I opened my home, Alegria, to 24 wonderful people last night in celebration of the bounty our great Mother Earth has given us.  It was in the spirit of sharing – food, laughter, love – that I welcomed them.  It was in the spirit of knowing how intrinsically we are woven together into the fabric of the Universe - tiny threads that comprise the Whole - that we gathered.   And within that gathering I found great Peace – of mind and body and soul. 
This is a very special gift from
a (hopefully) new friend.  Krista
self-published this modern
adult fairy-tale and kindly gave
me a copy.  
Among my beloved guests were family, friends and strangers alike.  There was the sharing of food, the giving of gifts and the acceptance of each other as community.  I sat in awe for some time at the blending of beliefs without judgement.  It was truly one of the best holiday celebrations I have ever had and I will treasure the memory of it for the rest of my life.
Dear friends and very special people!
Warm socks and gaiters for
snowshoeing adventures.  
Today, in the quiet after the merrymaking, Alegria still hums with the joy that filled her.  There are still dishes to do and bits of wrapping to pick up.   But that happiness, that sense of community, still lingers.  This is what it’s all about for me.

Friends and family and strangers alike
gathered at Alegria to celebrate the Solstice.

Had a bit of fun wrapping
my daughter's gift then
vandal-eyes-ing it! 
For all who stumble upon this missive, I wish you all of the very brightest of blessings.  May the winter months bring you rest and renewal and may your hearts and homes be filled with the warmth and comfort of those blessings.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Walk a Mile...

It’s winter time.   The snow is deep and cold.  When I have to go out into it, I wear a pair of boots to protect my feet from the cold.  They are comfortable and warm and I bought them when I needed them from a store.  I chose them from among dozens of other possibilities for colour and style.  I had that option.
My warm and comfy winter boots.
A couple of weeks ago, a dear friend of mine returned from a month-long trip to India with a beautiful pair of shoes for me.  I was thrilled.  The soft camel hide hugs my feet and the hand-stitched and brightly-coloured pattern pleases me. 

The beautiful, hand-stitched shoes my friend
brought me back from India.
I have a thing about feet.  (Feet – not shoes!)  I don’t have tons of shoes, but I love pampering my feet and so when I do buy shoes, I look for comfort above all.  Colour and design are close seconds. 

The other day another friend of mine, a man I admire for the many things he taught me about life and business, among other things, came into the library and presented me with one of the most amazing pairs of shoes I have ever seen.  They are a simple pair of flip flops cut from old tires.  Two thin straps, one for the big toe and one for the arch have been fastened on with nails and then painted bright yellow, green and orange.  They are the most uncomfortable things I have ever slipped my feet into – even more uncomfortable then the platform shoes that I used to traipse around in when I was a kid.  But I love them. 

Creative genius!
I love them because they make me realize how fortunate I am.  Not just in the shoe department, but in life in general.  They also speak to the ingenuity and creativity of people who see a need and seek to fill it.  They are inspiration incarnate. 

I cannot imagine having no choice but to wear flip flops made from old tires.  They aren’t pretty.  They aren’t comfortable.  But man, are they practical.  And they would never wear out!  To think that something as commonplace as a pair of shoes is a luxury in many parts of the world is humbling.    

Flip flops are the most common type of footwear in the world.  Also known as thongs, jandals or zori (as well as a host of other names), these shoes are responsible for hundreds of thousands of injuries every year, ankle sprains and breaks are the most common of these injuries and they most commonly occur when the wearer steps off a curb or trips when the loose shoe catches on something in his/her path.  Stubbed toes, broken toes, and toe-nail injuries are also familiar territory for the flip flopped foot.  A broken strap can be catastrophic.  Constant wear can lead to flat feet and tendinitis.  Yet, while they are not safe, they have never diminished in popularity in all the six thousand years that they have been in use throughout the world. 

The most uncomfortable shoes in the world!
The oldest pair of flip flops ever found (to date) came from Egypt and date back 4000 years.  Another pair, found in Europe, is 1500 years old and made from papyrus leaves.  Modern flip flops are made from plastic, rubber, canvas, leather, wood, foam or fabric.  They can be quite plain and quite cheap, or they can be very ornate and very expensive. 

The pair I now have from Kenya – complete with Kenyan mud in the treads! – will not likely serve as actual footwear for me.  They are too big for one thing, and they really are very uncomfortable!  They will however be kept in pride of place somewhere where I can see them and be reminded of my good fortune; somewhere where I can look at them and be inspired by the innovative solution they are to so many people’s misfortune.  They will symbolize creativity!

I don’t have to walk a mile in them to understand how truly blessed I am.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Look For the Helpers

I don’t watch the news.  Ever!

I haven’t watched the news for many, many years. 

The reason that I don’t watch the news is complicated.  It involves a great deal of philosophical reflection and while it makes sense in my head, I have difficulty in articulating it.  Today I realized something very deep and profound about myself, that philosophy and the world that I live in.  And it has all become even more complicated – in an astoundingly clear and cathartic way. 

I don’t watch the news, but I do subscribe to Facebook.  And Facebook is often a source of news – whether I want it or not.

The first post I read on Facebook this morning was an announcement of a massacre at an elementary school in Conneticut.  Twenty children were shot and killed by a twenty-year-old man.  A total of 27 people, including the shooter, died in that massacre and for a moment as I read the brief article I actually hoped that world will end next week.  I was horrified.  I was mortified.  I cried.

I cried for those 20 murdered children and the 6 murdered adults.  I cried for their families and their friends who now have to face the holidays without them.  I wanted nothing but to wrap my arms around my two beautiful grandchildren and hug them and tell them how much I love them and keep them forever safe from all the awful things that can happen in this world.

Why?  Why would anyone do something like this?  How could this happen?

As my day progressed and I began to see more and more posts about the massacre, I grew agitated.  It took me a while to figure out what I was so angry about, but it finally dawned on me that I was angry that this “news” had invaded my Facebook.  I go to great pains to avoid the news and here it was, so utterly in my face.  There was no erasing it; no un-knowing it.  I had no control over its appearance in my – apparently aptly named – “news feed.”  And that made me mad.  Then again, a lot of things that appear in my news feed irk me and so I started thinking about my philosophical reflections and why I don’t watch the news and what real good my choice not to watch the news was doing and – here’s the kicker! – why I use Facebook.

As I said, the whole news thing is complicated.  It started in one of my earlier spirituality phases when I was introduced to the concept of energy and read this passage:  What you pay attention to grows.   In a nutshell, it seemed to me, at the time, that if I paid attention to the news, which is mostly bad, it would grow and so if I didn’t pay attention to it, I would, thusly, not be contributing to the perpetuation of all that negative energy.   I thought that I was trying to be the change that I wished to see in the world. 

It hasn’t stopped the news. Nor has it stopped the events that fuel the news.  The news just keeps happening and today 26 people were gunned down and I still read about it.

A while later I read another post on Facebook.  It, too, moved me to tears:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." -- Mister Rogers

It was just the medicine that I needed at just the moment I needed it.  Good old Mr. Rogers.  What a beautiful perspective. 

And I began to realize that not watching the news was not enough to make the change I wanted to see in the world.  I began to realize that the violence in the movies I watch and the books I read are very much the same energy as that in the news.  I began to realize that my rationalization that movies and books are fictional, so not as bad, is just a rationalization.  I am eating my cake and having it, too. 

I started to look for more stories about the incident.  I started to look for the helpers.  And they were there.

They were so blessedly, wonderfully, heroically there.

I am sickened and saddened by what happened this morning.  I cannot even begin to imagine the pain all those people’s families and friends are going through right now. 

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the people that were directly and indirectly affected by this terrifying tragedy.  My thoughts and prayers go out to all the helpers!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Old Table, New Work Bench

Good Enough Construction was at it again today. Out came the drill and the tape measure and the circular saw and the saw horses and the ever-important pencil and in a couple of hours I had a work bench, complete with a tool tray.

A few weeks ago, while building the storage shelves in the basement, I discovered an old – a really old – trestle table in the utility room. It was eight feet long, the legs were bent and rusty and it sagged just a little in the middle. It was rickety and my first thought was: find a pick-up and haul it to the dump. Then another thought struck me: Why not transform it into a work bench?

The rickety old trestle table I found
in the basement

The legs were bent and rusty.
They had to go!
Last week I posted a request for scrap 2x4s, 2x6s and plywood on an FB buy and sell page. Within minutes, a complete stranger offered to give me – give, not sell – the 2x4s and 2x6s that I needed. Cool. I could start the transformation.

I cut the legs and screwed them into place, added the cross pieces and, with no free or cheap scrap plywood, improvised the tool tray with some scraps of panelling that were also in the basement. Two hours later I flipped my creation over, nailed the panelling into place and had a work bench that was much sturdier than the table had been.

Sturdier, but a bit tippy…

I failed to take the sagging in the middle into consideration and so it tends to rock a bit. Only a bit, mind you.  I’m counting on some counter-sagging to even it out in due course.

And I still had time to strap on my snow shoes and go for a short trek to gather some small, fallen trees for a Yule project.

My new work bench ready for
the next project!
It’s been a good day!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Lose the Battle; Win the War

Well, the Yule tree has been packed back up in its box and put away. Having pretty much destroyed it, Willow and Oliver were not pleased to see it returned to the basement. Nor was I pleased to have to do the returning. As the saying goes: Pick your battles. This was one battle I just don’t have the energy to fight. As sad as it makes me not to have a Yule tree for the first time in my entire life, I guess it is just the price one pays for giving two really very sweet cats a good home.

I’ve had my melt-down moment. I got mad, bargained, went through denial, got depressed and now have finally accepted that it just isn’t meant to be . The challenge here is to now get creative and festivize (I just made that word up) for Yule in some other way.

As I am writing this, Oliver and Willow are wrestling happily on the floor. They have no concept of how heart-breaking it is for me to not have a Yule tree. I’m struggling at the moment with the wisdom of pets in general and weighing up not having to constantly vacuum up hair, clean a litter box, clip nails and fill food dishes against not coming home to these two little fur balls greeting me at the door every day. The idea of being able to go away (someday) and not have to worry about arranging care for them is appealing. Knitting without having them steal my yarn or planting themselves squarely on my lap as soon as I pick up my needles sounds so peaceful. Not having to keep the bathroom door closed so they don’t shred the toilet paper or take off with my tub plug or razor or bath poof seems like a definite plus. Being able to roll over in bed without one or both of them plastered against my legs would be nice. I have rearranged so many things and changed so many routines to accommodate these cats over the past eleven months.

They say that pets make people happier and healthier; that people with pets live longer when they share their lives with an animal. Today, I think, that was made up by a shelter manager to get some dogs and cats out of his kennels. Today I just can’t see it being true at all. (So there is a bit of residual bitterness lingering…)

As I said, it’s time to get creative. I’ve considered getting a real tree, but that just doesn’t seem to be the right answer. And I don’t really want to go and cut down an innocent tree, just so I can have one this year. Besides that means buying a stand and lights and then having to dispose of it after the holidays. Forget all the needles that it will drop and the fact that Oliver and Willow will still climb it. I thought about just putting out other decorations and ornaments and foregoing any kind of tree at all. What about a cardboard cut-out? Or otherwise creating a surrogate tree…

While composing this missive, a friend sent me a picture of the perfect solution! It means a bit of fussing about, but it will be lovely.

Stay tuned. The cats may have won the battle, but I’m going to win the war!