Saturday, November 29, 2008

Faith in the Unbelievable

I don't have time to go in to my whole past today, but I must give you a short recap so that this topic will make some sense. I joined an evangelical church over twenty-eight years ago when I was a desperate young girl with two little children of my own. The church literally raised me and gave me a community and a base from which to rebuild my life. I've come a long way, baby.

Eight years ago I met my future husband. I used a dating service because I was clueless (and I am still clueless) on how to date. In the ways of professional matching services, I was hooked up with a Jehovah's Witness. After all, we are both traditional, non-smoking, non-partying religious people. How incompatible could we be?

Hah! They had no idea about the complexities and sensitivities between the sects. Nevertheless, hubby and I have forged our marriage along it's own idiosyncratic way. We make it work. I must say, our conflicts are frequent and spicy. I'm never bored.

Anyhoo, watching how my husband is guilted and coaxed in to (in my mind) illogical conclusions and behaviors, I've become very interested in how the mind is thereby tricked. I'm reading "Expecting Armageddon - Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy", edited by Jon R. Stone. The book provides a fascinating tour through various end-time sects and how the congregations either fail or reinforce their original belief....even after spectacular failure.

What is it about the mind and human behavior that makes us vulnerable to following a failed belief? On page nineteen, I'm seeing glimmers of the reason. We are hard wired to respond to initiation rituals, "Though 'improvised' the rite of apocalypse combines elements of initiation, mediation, and purification found in other types of ritual behavior...In effect, the acting out of a predicted event represents a ritualized reaffirmation of belief." Even if that belief is proven false.

There must be something deep in our nature that responds to ritual. Ritual can be comforting. I think of our annual events like Christmas and Thanksgiving, and the little family rituals that help us identify ourselves with those we are closest with. It sets us apart, it gives us a memory anchor to hang on to, and it helps us identify with our tribe. The Jehovah's Witnesses spurn the "world"'s rituals, of course. But they've replace them with a pale shadow of their own. There's baptism, the midweek meetings, field service, conventions, and of course the annual memorial. All of these activities help reinforce the group's identity and beliefs. These rituals are a comfort in the face of ongoing disappointment.

My husband hangs on to the belief that Armageddon is just around the corner. He truly believes he will not grow old. Yet the evidence of that failure can be read in the eyes of every senior at the Kingdom Hall. If they had neglected to save for retirement, they are in a desperate place indeed. They speak less often than my husband does of the immenent hope of a new world.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What did you dream of becoming as a child?

As a middle class kid growing up in suburbia, I dreamed of becoming an architecht, building struts of air and pockets of intimacy out of steel, wood, glass, and concrete. I also dreamed of becoming a writer, spinning another kind of structure out of magical words. Words are magic. They can inflame the imagination with fear or hope; they build us whole new worlds in our minds. I never became an architecht. But I do love to write.

In a way, that joy of building castles in the air is still with me. I'm a Manager in a busy government office with a large complement of staff and a big budget. My day is filled with meetings, decisions, approvals, and people, people, people. I am an acknowledged expert in my field and people pay attention to what I have to say. When I listen to a new plan or policy, I build a structure in my mind on what it will look like. Are there flaws or obstacles that will hinder us? How can we fix it?

The most fascinating structures of all for me, these days, is complex group interactions. How do we coax a group of people in to a new way of doing things? Can we help them overcome their own barriers? How do we get the best out of our people?

When I started out, I started at the bottom as a records clerk. This job found me when I was very low, and I worked my way up. How did I end up at the bottom? I became pregnant as a teen. The father, who I stayed with for three long years, was abusive. He rarely worked. We lived in a dirty hovel. When I left him, I was a shattered human being. But I was also a young mother of two small children. I did not have the luxury to give up. I had two futures in my hands. So I went to work. And learned and grew along the way with my children.

My children grounded me. No longer a passive dreamer, I went out and built a future for us. I gained some callouses and some smarts along the way. I was no longer a flat and plastic suburbia child. I had depth of character and new insights on how people are; both the dark and the bright. I chose to shine. So, ironically, my checquered past gave me the decent foundation to become a decent writer.

I've been published - once - a cute little anecdote about my son for a magazine. But most of the time my work has been turned down by publishers.

I've learned that rejection is part and parcel of the writer's trade. I've also learned that writing is a higly solitary activity that comes with rare praise. But the creating, if I remember that. The joy of building my castles in the air, that is mine to enjoy and share.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


This past weekend I went on a cleaning jag, throwing out many of my old papers and junk. I organized what I am keeping according to my interests. It is obvious that creativity and doing creative things is very important. That folder is two inches thick. My relationships folder, though, is thin. When I get on a jag, it is as if everything and everyone around me disappears for a while.

When I come out of my jag, I do expect them to pick up where I left them. Which must be unfair. In my mind, they are just as valuable and significant as they have always been. My children similarly have described those times when I took intense interest in their lives. It is as if my searchlight focus is suddenly on them. From the outside looking in, I must blink in and out of my people's lives.

I wonder, also, if my vivid inner life threatens to take over the real. Which could explain the gaps in my history (paper trail) where I just seem to disappear.
I know my salvation comes from being with people and being engaged with people. Let that powerful inner life shine through. Help people see what I see.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Grazers of Edmonton, or Hard Core Dumpster Diving

I've seen very little about this activity in the media, but I know through my son that it is going on. The group my son was involved called themselves "grazers" and were quite happy to live off the excess of modern society. They "harvested" from back yard gardens and dumpsters. I did a quick google search and see that this activity is starting to show up on the web.

Here's a dumpster diver in Calgary.

And here's a meetup site looking for local dumpster divers.

There's a cachet to this sort of activity. After all, there's evidence of excess everywhere. For some people, it can become a mission to reduce that environmental load. Kind of like a modern Robin Hood and his merry men. They get to know the disposal cycles of the stores and where the best "takes" can be found. My son casually mentioned, for instance, the great finds of pre-packaged and expired sandwiches he was able to pick up behind a local convenience store. The "grazers" held a lot of appeal for my son, as he has a very strong miserly streak (I recently broke him from picking up cigarette butts when he's out walking with me). For him at least, the activity also had a side benefit of saving enough money to re-invest in drugs.

Which is the grimmer side of the grazer culture. It tends to pick up people who, for whatever reason, are not fully engaged with society. They could be suffering from untreated illness or addiction. They can literally drop off the grid. Living on the streets in Edmonton is doubly hard because winters can kill.

I won't comment either way on the wisdom of the grazer lifestyle, but I am worried that it's a quiet subtext in our society that no-one is talking about.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deep thoughts under a lurking migraine

After listening to "The Last Lecture"...several times...I bought the book. I bought two of them. One is for me, and one for the lucky employee who impresses me this year. Anyways, having finished with Mercator, I picked the book up, and polished it off in two bus trips and some late night reading. He repeats much of what he said on screen, plus he shares more about his family. The written word is handy for that. You can share deep feelings without blubbering all over the paper (or screen).

So it got me to thinking what I would share in my own "last lecture". It would most definitely start with "do not be afraid", and would include things about boundaries (respecting yourself) and barriers (removing them), about hummaness and inclusion, about believing and trusting yourself, about decency. Find your community, and work hard to make it yours. How to measure the quality of the information you find. How to measure the quality of your own beliefs, and to question. Be a leader worth following, and see how the world changes around you. Why it is worthwhile to fight for a better world.

P.S. I thought of two more. Integrity, the big lesson from my father, and self-discipline. How to get it and keep it and demolish the whole guilt cycle.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Living in a world of ideas

I've always had a rich internal life. Ideas, philosophy, plans fill my mind and my day. I wonder if that is why I've let those around me pick the music I listen to. I wonder if that is why dust can gather and I barely notice. I wonder if that is why my parenting was a contrast of intense interest and passivity. If the child or the employee or the friend were in my sphere of interest, they got the full glare of my attention.

Whereas some people need to be stimulated by their environment, "entertain me", it seems that I prefer to entertain myself.

It is my salvation, I think, to look outside myself, to stay engaged with those around me, to include them in my sphere of interest. When I get outside myself, I am good. Too much navel gazing and I become self-absorbed and fearful. After all, if any one of us look too closely, we are going to find some damaging flaws. (OMG! Fix it, fix it!) But the fix is not inside, it is out there.

With people. Dust and all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More of that nervous energy...

The other night I caught myself spastically reaching for the popcorn. I did not stop until I gave my hands something else to do. So I pulled out my knitting. I now have a DS cover nearly done.

I don't know if my iPod and cell phone socks will take off, but it seems that they should be really cool. I do check with really cool people like my granddaughter and my neice just to be sure. My daughter scoffed at my idea until she saw a woman with a cell phone sock on the train. She, also, had balked at the cost of the iPod sock and opted to make her own...out of a real sock.

Anyways, that's how I kept my hands busy. When I am dieting, I am overwhelmed with frenetic energy, searching for an outlet. It is my hungry cells looking for their ambrosia? What will it take to get them to open up?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Candor and Veritas

Candor and Veritas, two descriptive words for Mercator, the founder of modern maps. I just finished his biography, "Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet" by Nicholas Crane. On page 225, these two descriptive words are used to describe this very, very productive man, this man who also cared deeply about his work. Any natural analyst would understand his obsessive pursuit of perfection and harmony.

Wikipedia describes candor this way... "is a virtue that is the quality of being open and honest in expression. i.e., frankness. For example, 'He is a man of refreshing candor.' The word originated from the late Middle English (in the Latin sense): from Latin candor 'whiteness'".

The image I get is of a fresh fall of snow, which suddenly brightens our drear winter. It is crisp, clean, and refreshing.

From wiki also, a little bit about veritas. "In Roman mythology, Veritas (meaning truth) was the goddess of truth, a daughter of Saturn and the mother of Virtue. It was believed that she hid in the bottom of a holy well because she was so elusive. Her image is shown as a young virgin dressed in white.[1] Veritas is also the name given to the Roman virtue of truthfulness, which was considered one of the main virtues any good Roman should have possessed".

Truth's elusiveness reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Twain:

We are always hearing of people who are around seeking after the Truth. I have never seen a (permanent) specimen. I think he has never lived. But I have seen several entirely sincere people who thought they were (permanent) Seekers after the Truth. They sought diligently, persistently, carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted judgment- until they believed that without doubt or question they had found the Truth. That was the end of the search. The man spent the rest of his hunting up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather.- "What is Man?"
I think an honest seeking after truth demands that the search never stop. Always, always challenge my base assumptions. Never cave to fear or pride that I might be wrong.
I found this picture at

One tooth holds me hostage...

I was doing great, charging along, absorbing all the new information from the diabetic class, I get home, and pow. Down I go. A tooth, that has been sensitive for some time, starts sending out waves of pain.

I take an anti-inflammatory, and go to bed early. Hubby, bless his soul, notices, and puts a temporary halt to his endless teasing. He even offers to call the dentist at seven the next morning. I must look really, really bad. It turns out they are not open at seven but rather, open at ten in the morning! I take another anti-inflammatory, and soldier on to work. Taking a break halfway through the morning meeting, I make the call at ten sharp. And then another call at one minute past ten. Thankfully, the receptionist picks up on the second call.

I find out that dentists, or rather their loyal receptionists, can hold you hostage, too.

She asks if I can come in at three. "But I have meetings this afternoon. Can I make it later?"

"Our next opening is the following Wednesday."

I make it for three. Again, hubby refrains from teasing and picks me up promptly from the train station. I must sound really, really bad. The dentist checks me over, taps my teeth, shaves down the offending tooth, and confirms that I will likely need a root canal. He prescribes an anti-inflammatory and some antibiotic in the meantime. As I rise from the chair, I have to pause for a moment as I am washed over with an intense wave of pain. A tsunami wave that overruns all my senses and leaves me reeling.

The dentist quickly decides to do some emergency work. I sit back in the chair. I am given a happy face ball to squeeze the life out of. The dentist chatters about his "day of pain". It seems that everyone that came in that day needed help in the worst way. Sure enough, when he drills in he finds a dead tooth, just starting to abcess. He cleans it out and puts on a temporary filling. I am now on antibiotics and yet another anti-inflammatory.

But here I sit the morning after, and I am surprisingly pain-free. I was held hostage, but the ransom wasn't too expensive. I simply had to put a hold on my regulated day to take care of some necessary things. Now, to find the money for the root canal.

Oh, P.S. I've borrowed the picture from a fellow blogger, Willie Walsh:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Something New - Youth Games

A local organization is promoting an "Edmonton Urban Games", possibly for 2010, that will feature at-risk youth participating in hip-hop, beatboxing (what is beatboxing? Oh. It's music. I thought it involved beating on each other) graffiti, and skateboarding.

Here's another great group, working at breaking down the barriers, and re-integrating some of our disenfranchised back in to the community.

The organization is Youth Restorative Action Project (YRAP), and is peer-run. Think about it. Committess of teens telling teens how to straighten out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Have you thought of seeing a counsellor...

...or perhaps diarizing your feelings?" Can I count the number of times I've been given that advice? Well, it happened again. A zealous instructor called me ahead of her course on clutter-busting. I admitted I knew what kept me from throwing away miscellaneous papers and things at home.

I'm afraid of losing my history.

Thank God she added the second part, diarizing. I can honestly say that I do. Though I don't know how much is spent on introspection. I also fear that too much navel-gazing will make me self-centred and neurotic.

But more about forgetting, which is what the instructor suggested I explore a little further. It's not like alzheimers runs in the family, but my mind my most valued asset. Just like a pretty woman fears losing her looks, I fear losing my mind. I spend so much time with ideas, will I forget my children's names? Where have we lived? What have we done? So I keep the utility bills from twenty years' back.

Yes, it's probably time to clean out the attic. And the basement. And the cobwebs in my own mind.

I have a feeling that instructor is going to have an amazing course. She asked me to make sure to introduce myself at the class.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What room in my home is my favorite?

So asks the "One Minute Writer" another fun blog.

What is my favorite place in my home? Hard to say. I guess you could pick where I spend the most time. But that might be for convenience and comfort, not real joy. Of, course, most time is spent in the bedroom. We have made it comfortable. It has satiny soft microfibre sheets, deep mauroon window curtains, and a flat screen television on the wall. The room is comfortable.

But I don't think it is my favorite.

I would have to say it is my kitchen. My kitchen is where I can most easily create. Oddly enough, it was the purchase of a simple recipe cover that changed the way I approach my kitchen. It inspires me to put up the most recent recipe to try, and prompts me in the evening, when I would most comfortably retire to that cosy bedroom, to make something instead.

I am reading of Mercator, maker of maps

His biography came my way by boredom. I'd bought the most recent Koontz novel and to my deep disappointment, I was finished it in two days. It was a very fine novel. But it did not satisfy over the days.

So I went to the library. One of the books I picked up is "Mercator: The Man Wo Mapped The Planet" by Nicholas Crane.

The book gives a rich description of life and society of the 1500's. The story is extensive, too, because like so few of his time, Mercator lived to be over eighty years old. What strikes me is that a bad winter or a poor harvest could send the people in to a spiral of poverty and starvation so very, very quickly. I am at the part of the story where Mercator is in his fifties. He has just lost a grandson, his daughter, and one of his sons to the plague. His contemporaries are passing from kidney stones, an accidental splinter of jousting pole to the brain, gout, stroke, and heart attack. Familiar to our times, the series of disasters and political events have many convinced that armageddon is at hand. All the signs are abundant.

So, as my earlier readings of medieval times have led me, people are no different today. We react the same way to dire events. There is love, dignity, fear, and prejudice in abundance.

What is different today is the strength of our administration, civilization, health care, and the devising of social safety nets. Can you imagine today, when a financial crisis looms, that we be faced with lines of migrants leaving our city, emaciated, munching on grasses and barks to stave off death?

Not that we take the needs of the poor for granted. Oh, no. But we have come a long way. There are ways to prepare for social crises. We've learned something from our histories. Like Joseph of old, our leaders should store up during the seven fat years of abundance, for what may lay ahead.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Repast of Vegetables

The numbers don't lie. Bread kills. Me. After weeks of monitoring, on Saturday morning I get a "good morning" number - 5.4 mmol/l. What did I do differently? I ended my evening with a crisp and nutritious vegetable stir-fry. Flavored with ginger, honey, and chillies (no salt), it bursts across the palate. This is now my favorite way to serve sweet potato. It filled, it satisfied, and it was a meal without bread.

(Added November 13, 2008 - well, I'm fresh back from diabetic training and it turns out I was only half right. The nurse told me the culprit was FAT. Fat gets processed the slowest, so it will stay in my system, being broken down and stored, for over 24 hours. The list of food "good guys" gets shorter and shorter....)

This morning, I wake up to one of my worst morning numbers, 8.0 mmol/l. What did I do differently? Hubby and I indulged in a large pizza with bread sticks last evening. I ate the equivalent of five servings of bread in a single sitting.

The numbers don't lie. Bread kills. Me.

I mustn't give up carbohydrates altogether, of course. The stir fry was nearly all carbohydrates, too. But they were at their most complex. There was nothing complex about that pizza. I can all the toppings I want, it is still a very, very simple answer to my cravings (fat, salt, and bread).

It is obvious there is more work to be done in our family to change our eating habits and our preferences. I have an image of me in a monk's cowl, sitting down to a plain meal of vegetables and barley or perhaps a little soup, parsimonious in my sips, withering to a shadow of my former self, a veritable living prune...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The seven fruits of the soul

My theological meanderings have brought me to Judaism. If I am to understand the foundation of my faith, I must understand where it came from. And Christianity is definitely born out of it's Jewish roots. The biblical condemnation of the Pharisees and centuries of anti-Semitism, I fear, have kept Christians from any deep look at our similarities.
That's where we get peace from, isn't it, not from highlighting our differences, but how we are fundamentally the same?

I've been transported by new ideas in the way that a Jewish scholar may approach the Bible. And don't think that all scholars approach the bible the same way. A treasure from the Jewish school, I think, is that reflection, questioning, and doubt are part of the curriculum.

So, anyways, I've been introduced to the concept of the seven fruits of the soul. In Chaddism, wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates have allegorical meanings beyond the plain reading of the text. Each represents a quality of man, specifically transcendence, vitality, joy, awareness, action, struggle and tranquility. The Jewish holiday of Yom Habikkurim celebrates rebirth in the spring and the first fruits of the harvest, including these seven traditional "fruits" of Isreal. For Christians, we would recognize this in the Old Testament as the feast of "first fruits".
What relevance does that have for us today? Well, in reflecting on our seven characteristics or needs, we might see where we are out of balance, or where one over-arching characteristic or need has overtaken our life. It might help, on self, reflection, to re-introduce balance in our lives.

Friday, November 7, 2008

When you realize you are in a pissing contest...

Get out as soon as possible! So goes the advice of Randy Pausch, the man of "The Last Lecture". In so many ways I can relate to this inventive, creative man. Like me, he managed his ambitions within a bureaucratic framework. He found his way around and through, and picked up a few arrows around the way. His nonchalance towards the arrows, I must learn. It comes with the territory if I happen to be someone who loves breaking ground.

So anyways, so much of what he said resonated with my own career. What is new is his attitude towards the barriers. He did not let resentment build. He used each barrier as a reflection of his own determination, and found new ways around them.

What is most revelatory for me was the above statement. "When you realize you are in a pissing contest, get out as soon as possible!" Why? Because the dream is more important than anyone's ego! Isn't that why I strive to break ground, over and over again, even when the aftermath may include a little pain, misunderstanding, ruffled egos, diminished opportunities?

So how do you get out of a pissing contest? What is your rival saying? What is their chief need? Have you expressed it back to them, letting them know you understand? In the last lecture, I think Randy asked, "What is it we are not understanding here?" He put it out on the table. He listened. And he helped his obstacle overcome his concerns.

For personalities whose chief interest is "return on investment" (I relate to the "Gold" personality in a color quiz), I have to address their fears and concerns. "Because it's cool and fun" just isn't going to be enough.
The "gold" card is borrowed from one of the many color personality training programs out there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sparrows have worries too

Watching the sparrows out my window, I learn something of a sparrow's worries. I've given them a gift, a steady supply of seed to help them through the winter. But they approach the feeder cautiously. Over the past month, they have quietly made their way to the feeder, and quietly left. They don't approach it directly, either. First, they land in the upper branches of my cedar, then in the cool, green dark, they hop ever closer to the goal. Even as they eat they are cautious, taking a quick look around before they crack a seed.

Why such caution? Because others are watching as well. We now have cat-visitors to my yard. More than once I've caught a strange cat sitting in our basement wheel well, intent on that feeder, so temptingly close above.

"What is the price of five sparrows? A couple pennies? Yet God does not forget a single one of them". - Luke 12:6.

I am sure God is not tracking them with the same intensity as a cat. And with another motive altogether. Why does God care about the sparrow?

Note also, the sparrow does not throw caution to the wind, even if God is watching.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Income Tax Volunteer

Renewed, invigorated, inspired...I'm looking forward and revisiting my roots at the same time. This blog is heading towards a theme. Remembering the disenfranchised, and simplifying their life. It came to me that I've done this sort of thing before. For years, I worked as an income tax volunteer. I was involved in the single parent community at the time, but of course, single parents are one of those struggling groups who need this sort of help.

So I'm going to do it. I'm going to start up an income tax workshop again.

It's a great program. Revenue Canada veterans, the same people who review our submissions, teach us how to do an income tax return. They are full of humor, hints and tips, and how to apply the latest changes. So not only do you help get some deserved income for grateful people, some who may not have collected their GST for a while, you get expert advice for your own return!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

School Shoes

I was chatting up a new friend on charities at a conference last week, and I caught myself sharing an old idea. The worst month for staying on budget when I was a single parent had to be September. In September comes school. With the start of school comes school fees and school supplies, school clothes and school shoes. It didn't help that for me at least, my driver's licence came up for renewal the same month. I always sweated it out in the fall, hoping I could keep food on the table and bills paid.

The school shoes were the worst. It's not like one pair would do. The janitor would specify scuff-free gym shoes - no outside shoes - for his gym. So each child would need at least three pair. One scuff-free for the gym, indoor shoes, and shoes or boots to get to and from school in. And in the early years at least, the child would either grow out or wear out those shoes midway through the year.

From my granddaughter's example I've learned that the schools have come a long way to help with school supplies. For a fee, the school will bulk buy and get every child what they need.

But what about the shoes? It seems to me that this would be a great way for a shoe company to step up to the plate and offer a shoe club or shoe membership plan. These days with bar codes, internet sign up, point plans and membership cards, it should be easy enough to set up. Perhaps a family could sign up for a monthly shoe club plan, say, for five dollars a month, they can accumulate credit towards the big shoe purchase in the fall. For families closer to the edge, sponsors could offer membership cards for qualifying families.

What do you think? Isn't a shoe plan a great idea?
The photo is borrowed from Jessica on Picasa. Thank you, Jessica.