Friday, May 29, 2015

On the First 50 Years of Wedded Bliss

We didn't throw a 50th Anniversary party, though we shared very nice dinner with our eldest son, Ian, in the evening. We always have a good conversation and enjoy our time together, and of course it was his birthday too, so we had double reason to celebrate. No cake, since neither of the fellas can eat flour, and Ian is pretty disciplined about his sugar content, but we did each have a wee bowl of Cherry Garcia ice cream. 

I'd spent much of the day in the garden, directing (and helping as much as I dared) a landscape crew of three transform the garden beds into summer dress. Winter casualties were removed and replaced with what may look like lost lambs now, but will eventually be more attractive substitutes.  Annuals were added to fill in the blanks between the bursts of perennial blooms. Pruning happened where branches had died or intruded where they were not welcome, tree wells were weeded and neatened up. It looks much better now. In fact a moving van arrived this morning to move a new set of owners in, and one of the movers took out his camera and took several photos of the plants we'd put in.

My lovely friends A and L from France sent this Medal of Honour for bearing up/surviving 50 years of wedded bliss. Couples celebrating 50 years used to get a letter of congrats from the Queen (or in the case of Canader the Governor General of Behalf of Her Majesty). These days so many of us reach 50 years they don't bother. I think you have to hit 75 years. Lord, we'd be 94 and 99. I don't think we'll make it.  So, as this is likely the only medal for marriage I shall ever receive I am thinking of printing it, laminating it and wearing it on a lanyard around my neck!

The "bearing up under" is entirely on my wonderfully patient husband's part. I certainly got the better part of the bargain. I don't know if I was made for him, but he was made for me! 

We weren't able to see our younger son, Zak, who lives in Europe, but we did receive a wonderfully sweet letter from him. He has a way with words that would make the greatest writers cry. Well, it makes ME cry anyway. I'll admit to crying over many a manuscript, but mainly because seeing the English language butchered in such barbaric fashion was like having a knife stuck in my Oxford, a special organ which only editors and children who compete in spelling bees possess.


Dearest Madre, Dearest Padre,

Growing up in our small family, there were many things that I took for granted. I thought that parents didn't shout at each other or their kids (well, except when I was setting things on fire.) I thought that it was normal for homes to be instantly turned into animal rescue centres, doll factories, herbal compounding shops, solar heater manufacturing facilities, costuming workshops or any of a host of other things at a moment's notice. 

I thought that families read to each other, built models together and spent hours dreaming up the future over popcorn dressed with brewer's yeast and butter. I thought that other children must be encouraged to tackle any creative venture that caught their interest. I also thought that the level of perseverance and devotion that I witnessed day-to-day and year-to-year between the two of you was a normal thing as well.

In the years since I've left home, I've learned that these things (along with many others) were all rare gems to be treasured. I've also learned, ruefully at times, that they are long yardsticks to measure oneself and the rest of the world against.

The more time passes, the more I grow to admire the essential characteristics that define you as individuals and as a couple. The more time passes, the more I understand (but can never know) how very much you must mean to each other and how much we must mean to you.

I would like to be with you both and Ian on this day. I fear that we'll have to settle for our virtual presences later today or in the near future, and a real visit as soon as time and finances permit.

With all my love,

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Walk Along the Rhine…

Younger son's birthday was last Wednesday, but seeing how he lives in Switzerland a cake and ice cream was more of a challenge than we could manage. An e-card had to do. 

However, we had our regularly scheduled Sunday FaceTime chat at noon today, and when I picked up his call I found he and his lovely friend Nicole were at a pond near Nicole's apt. 
I was able to see the beautiful yellow flag iris, lily pads, the reeds, the blue damsel flies, a red-billed duck and hear the frogs, who were in fine and very noisy voice. Zak knows that these are things that get my motor running, and the pond tour was wonderful! 

Then we went on a walk along the Rhine, saw the lock system, crossed the hydro-electric power generation dam and walked some lovely paths. We figured out that the i-phone can even look through the telescope on the dam that gives viewers a look at the spire of the cathedral in downtown Basel several miles away. 

One interesting concept the Swiss have is the preservation of certain areas along paths as undisturbed habitat for insects, bees, small creatures like frogs, lizards and birds. The native grasses, wildflowers and plants are left alone to grow wild. 

The area we passed was very lush with grass which appeared about 30" (.76 m) high, and a wild rose by the path was at least 60" (1.5 m) tall and wide, and blooming with a lovely pink rose of the same type we have here in Alberta. It was lovely. It is forbidden to walk into these areas, or to allow your child or dog to walk into them. 

Zak says there are often loose piles of stones, or large stones piled loosely between two fences of wire, with ivy or vines planted on them, to create a rock wall full of hiding places for small creatures.   

Tuesday I have a doctor's appt. I did what she said, took calcium and vitamin D supplements, and my blood test came back with a high calcium reading. Her nurse called me in a bit of a panic last week. I knew what she was thinking. High serum calcium is one of the signs of a cancer that has metastasized (spread) to the bone. I told her not to worry. I have Familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia  and every time I take calcium supplements or vitamin D my calcium level shows up as high. Sometimes it shows as high without calcium supplements. 

I've been out plant shopping for the condo flower gardens. The spring bulbs have put on quite a show, and because our days have been relatively cool they have hung on forever. 

But now it's past the official "last frost date", and safe to put in the summer annuals and replace the perennials that didn't make it through the winter. We need to do a bit of weeding. I saw a set of twin Russian thistles which have come up under one of the shrubs and are already 24" (.60 m) tall. You have to arm yourself with leather, or something similar to pull them. They are armed with venomous spikes, and are covered with hairs that blister if they get on your skin. Like Vladamir Putin, they don't play games. 

Aside from the twin Vladamirs there are a few small dandelions and one or two other grubbies and we need to cut back the grass that's crept into the beds. Once that's done I have a balcony full of both perennials and annuals which will make the beds dance with colour. 

I found pink Echinacea (coneflower) and bought three. I wanted to buy pink ones last year but all I could find were white, so I bought white, and now I'll have both!  I got some beautiful purple salvia, begonias for the spots that don't get much sun, oh too many to list!(aren't you thrilled?). 

The landscaper is supposed to send two men to do the weeding and plant the new plants on Wednesday.    

And not inconsequentially Wednesday will be our 50th wedding anniversary. It's also our older son's 49th birthday. We will probably have dinner together, unless Ian has other plans. There won't be much "partying". We're not party people. If we got flowers Smokey would just eat them and make himself sick. 

Good food, each others' company and some memories shared, perhaps a few tears remembering all the loved ones swept away by the River of Time in those 50 years. And that River ever flows, and it flows.   

Monday, May 18, 2015

KIVA Loan for May 2015

I wait like a child for the 17th of the month, because on the 17th we get our report! Every month you get a report on how the people you've lent money to are doing. All of our borrowers are paying back on time. No one is behind on their payments.  

Remember the lady we loaned money to last month so she could get new dentures? Well, she has already paid back her loan in full! It makes me feel so happy that we were able to be there at the very moment she needed help. 

This month we go right around the world to make a loan to a lovely and hard working couple in Korce, Albania.  Monika and Gezim have been farmers for their entire married lives of 24 years. They grow beans, peppers and tomatoes in large quantities for sale to the wholesale market. 

Monika and Gezim
In addition to vegetables, they also have a fruit and nut orchard, where they grow five types of nuts, 30 variety of plums and 50 variety of pears (who knew there were so many?) that they also sell to wholesale buyers. 

They are seeking a loan because they need to dig a new well, because with the changing climate, the river water is not sufficient, and their old well has dried up. They need to dig a deeper well or the trees in their orchard will die, and they need water for their crops. 

Their loan is administered through field partner VisionFund Albania, a micro-finance subsidiary of child hunger nonprofit World Vision International. Striving to improve child welfare, the organization offers a variety of loans designed for rural, traditionally underserved clients and their families. These include agriculture, business and household improvement loans, as well as loans to help the poorest, most vulnerable Albanian households acquire resources which enables them to start micro-businesses or produce products which provide income for themselves and their families.

While VFA is focused on the empowerment of the poor overall, it pays special attention to women. About 60% of loans to entrepreneurs on Kiva go to women.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

If you're not prepared to be wrong you'll never...

How do you express your creativity? Or do you? 

In this funny and thought-provoking TED talk Sir Ken Robinson says, "If you're not prepared to be wrong you'll never come up with anything original."

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Practicing With Loss

Our sorrows provide us with the lessons we most need to learn.
Lama Surya Das

After a difficult and painful week when even breathing has hurt, sitting up has been a challenge and I've been forced once again to face my declining ability to do the things I love, like spending an hour working in the flower beds, I'm again facing a feeling of loss. To say this is both a physical and psychological blow is an understatement. I know also the losses most people go through by the time they reach their late 60s, the loss of parents, siblings, a child, friends, places I loved. And though I've meditated for decades I still found this article both thought-provoking and helpful. Hopefully something from it will speak to you as well. 



At one time or another, everyone loses something. We lose loved ones. We lose our health. We lose our glasses. We lose our memories. We lose our money. We lose our keys. We lose our socks. We lose life itself. We have to come to terms with this reality. Sooner or later, all is lost; we just don’t always know when it will happen.

Loss is a fact of life. Impermanence is everywhere we look. We are all going to suffer our losses. How we deal with these losses is what makes all the difference. For it is not what happens to us that determines our character, our experience, our karma, and our destiny, but how we relate to what happens.

Realistically, since we will all suffer many losses, we need better, more evolved and astute ways of approaching sorrow and emotional pain. We need to be more conscious about the ways our losses can help us become wiser and more spiritually evolved; we also need to be more sensitive to and aware of other people’s pain and suffering.

Different forms of universal wisdom may tell us to “shake it off,” “get over it,” “offer it up to God,” “learn and grow from it,” or that “time heals all wounds” and “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” To somebody who is suffering from a profound loss, these words can sound superficial and shallow; they can even be infuriating.

But none of this alters the fact that we need to find more enlightened ways of approaching loss. There are so many different modes of suffering and dissatisfaction arising out of the various troubles and travails that afflict us. How can we appropriately respond to loss, failure, illness, death, tragedies, calamities, injustice, betrayal, shock, trauma, abuse, grief, and life’s most hurtful wounds? Can we do so with wisdom? Our sorrows provide us with the lessons we most need to learn.

Compare the intensity of losing a tennis game with that of losing a child. Think about the difference between losing a job, a mate, a house, or a parent. Think about what it means to lose innocence, trust, faith, or belief. Some varieties of loss are momentary, while others are more lasting and not necessarily to be swiftly released and forgotten. 

Some losses, like bankruptcy, unemployment, or eviction are serious, but they can eventually be put behind us. But others, like the loss of family members, mates, and young children, can be so brutal that we may never really get over what we have known and experienced; nor do we need to. The deep pain we continue to experience reminds us of our love and keeps our hearts open. We discover, often to our amazement and relief, that love is greater than time and place and even greater than death. We discover that we can hold our lost loves in our hearts even as we slowly open to new love.

With every breath, the old moment is lost, a new moment arrives. This is something Buddhist meditators know. We breathe in and we breathe out. In so doing, we abide in the ever-changing moment. We learn to welcome and accept this entire process. We exhale, and we let go of the old moment. It is lost to us. In so doing, we let go of the person we used to be. We inhale and breathe in the moment that is becoming. We repeat the process. This is meditation. This is renewal. It is also life.

Teachings on the nature of loss and change are the most basic and essential to seekers on the Buddhist path. However, most traditional Buddhist teachers don’t call it loss or change; they call it impermanence. Buddhist teachings remind us not to run away from our thoughts and feelings about the losses in our lives, but instead to become intimately aware of the gritty facticity of life.

Meditation On Impermanence
Sit someplace where you can be quiet and alone. Try to find a place that brings you closer in touch with a sense of the natural ebb and flow of all life. …this kind of meditation is often done outdoors…but this isn’t absolutely necessary. 

Wherever you are, get comfortable. Release the muscular tension throughout your body. Breathe in through your nostrils; breathe out through your nostrils. Do this several times until you are feeling relaxed and settled.

Rest in the moment. Stay with this awareness of breathing. Be aware, attentive, and mindful. Let your breath come and go, rise and fall. Simply be with what you are presently experiencing, beyond judgment and beyond interference or alteration. Don’t suppress what you feel or what you think, but also don’t allow your mind to get carried away into trains of discursive thinking. For the moment, don’t try to work or figure anything out. Let it all settle, dissolve, return back to where it all arose.

Let it all be, as it is. Love it and leave it, with a light, lovely touch. Let things fall as they may.

Processing Loss
Start by listing your greatest losses. Just jot down whatever comes to mind. This is not a test; nothing has to be alphabetized. Skim the surface at first, and just see what comes up.
Don’t worry about whether or not you are writing exquisite prose. In some ways, writing in this way corresponds with the tantric principle of getting it all out until you are exhausted and then seeing who you are at the bedrock level. Some people are working through a current loss; others are enmeshed and caught up in the past. Start from wherever you are.

After you have skimmed the surface, you might want to consolidate your loss list or break it down into categories, such as “material loss,” “relationship loss,” “lost opportunities,” or “lost dreams,” to name just a few possibilities. Which areas stand out for you? With each of your losses, reflect on what happened. Reflect on your deepest feelings and get into the details. 

When you start writing, you might be surprised at the losses that take priority.
With each loss that you write down, ask yourself the following question: What did I really lose? List the answers and work them through. For example, if you lost your job, and one of your losses is a sense of status, ask: “Is this really important to me? And why?” Here are some suggestions for questions to get you started:

•What did I really lose?
•Why did I lose it?
•Have I healed from this loss?
•Will I ever heal from this loss?
•Do I want to heal from this loss?
•If I have healed, what lessons have I learned about myself?
•What lessons can I apply to current or future loss?
•Have I stopped blaming myself?
•What can I do to be more accepting and forgiving of my own behaviour?

Then write down what you are feeling because of your loss. Ask yourself:

•Am I still angry and bitter?
•Why am I still hanging on to losses that have no real meaning in my life?
•Am I hanging on to unrealistic fantasies and illusions around my loss?
•How can I let go of my negative feelings?

Often when we have lost something, we blame ourselves. People blame themselves if their partners cheat or their children become ill, but it isn’t spiritually intelligent to blame ourselves. There are many factors involved with each event, and we can’t control the ungovernable world. Getting more in touch with your feelings about the major and minor losses in your life can help you heal and forgive yourself. This can be an important first step on the road back to wholeness.

Adapted from Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be © 2003 by Lama Surya Das. Reprinted with permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Reposted from Tricycle  

Lama Surya Das is a teacher in the Tibetan Dzogchen lineage, and the author of several books, including Awakening the Buddha Within. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts.