Things I Love

I recently came across a great YouTube resource called “Dad, How do I?” On this channel, Rob Kenney posts new videos every week in which he demystifies many basic skills that everyone should know how to do, but many do not (including me)! From jump starting a car, to unclogging a sink, or finding a wall stud, he provides information that is both practical and applicable.

Beannacht / Blessing

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On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue,
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

~ by John O’Donohue, from Echoes of Memory (Transworld Publishing, 2010)

A Beautiful Tradition

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Imagine this: It’s Christmas Eve and after receiving a brand-new book from your family, you cozy up in front of the fire, with a mug of hot cocoa, or an alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland, and spend the rest of the evening reading.

This is exactly how many Icelandic people celebrate Christmas each year. This tradition is known as Jolabokaflod, which translates roughly to “Christmas book flood” in English. Jolabokaflod started during World War II, when paper was one of the few things not rationed in Iceland. Because of this, Icelanders gave books as gifts while other commodities were in short supply, turning them into a country of bookaholics.

“The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday,” Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association, told NPR. “Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading. In many ways, it’s the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland.”

I recently learned of this beautiful tradition and it really resonates with me. Living in a culture that promotes excessive consumption during the holiday season, Jolabokaflod focuses attention back on the simple pleasures in life: reading and spending time with the people you love.

In the last few years, I have done most of my Christmas shopping in local, independent bookstores. I enjoy choosing a special book for each of my family members and investing my money in the community. Rather than buying a lot of additional gifts, I also make a donation, in their honour. This year, I am supporting The Gift of Good Food. This fundraiser supports families who are in need of consistent, healthy produce for their children. Families receive a free Good Food Box every two weeks for an entire year. For me, it feels like a meaningful way to reorient the holiday season.

However and whatever you choose to celebrate at this time of year, I wish you all much love, joy and happiness; and I hope that you have the opportunity to rest, replenish and relax with your friends and loved ones before beginning again fresh and new in 2023.

Winter Solstice

Today is the winter solstice. In the northern hemisphere, this date marks the turning point of the season, the shortest day and the longest night. The word solstice itself means ‘standing still sun.’ From this point onwards, the days continue to grow longer until midsummer on June 21. In Celtic tradition, the winter solstice is a time of rebirth and renewal, as signified by the return of the light. It was the turning point in the year where the darkest hours began to brighten and the nights would grow shorter.

Solstices and equinoxes were very important to the pre- and early-Celtic people, as seen through the construction of monumental tombs whose passages align with the solstice sun, such as Newgrange. Rituals for welcoming back the sun date from the dawn of civilization, as communities came together to celebrate life with feasting, music, dance, drama and above all, light and fire.  Although today we consider Christmas to be a single day, or a weekend event, many cultures traditionally celebrate for at least twelve days.

A key ingredient of celebrations is mistletoe, a revered healing and fertility plant found mainly on oak, ash and apple trees. Long before the Germanic-influenced Christmas tree made its way indoors, a bough of mistletoe would be placed inside the front entrance of a dwelling, there to garb the inhabitants with its protective magic. Oak and ash were particularly sacred to the Druids, as was the holly tree.

Whatever your belief system, consider spending some time to honour the longest and darkest night of the year. Sit down in a quiet place to journal about your hopes and aspirations for the year ahead: plant your seeds of intention. From this day forward, the light begins its slow return, and they will start to grow.

Something to Inspire

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Meditation is a process of lightening up, of trusting the basic goodness of what we have and who we are, and of realizing that any wisdom that exists, exists in what we already have. Our wisdom is all mixed up with what we call our neurosis. Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion, and therefore it doesn’t do any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness. We can lead our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing. The key is to wake up, to become more alert, more inquisitive and curious about ourselves.

Excerpted from:

The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving-Kindness, by Pema Chödrön.

Heart Centered Learning

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“Whenever despair gets the better of you—or anger, or anxiety, or reactivity, or any undesired emotional/mental state—take your hand (either hand, or both hands) and place it over that soft spot in the center of the chest, what some traditions call your heart center, or your sacred heart. Feel the warmth of your hand on your chest. Direct your breath to that spot. Breathe in, pause, let your breath pool in the heart, feel whatever you are feeling, then slowly breath out. Do that several times. Hand on heart center, breathe in, hold, feel, release.

You may want to make an audible sigh when you exhale. Breathe in, hold, feel, release with a sigh. Ahhhhhh. Don’t attach any thoughts or judgements to the practice. There’s nothing to get, nothing to understand, just allow yourself to be a human with a heart that feels. You can pat your heart with your hand if your mind starts getting involved. Breathe in, pat your chest the way you would pat a baby or your pet, and then exhale with a sigh.

Sometimes I spend a good ten minutes calming and opening my heart. Sometimes I cry and am surprised by that. Sometimes I take in and release just one breath with my hand on my heart, and that’s all I need to ground my body, clear my head, and open my heart. I connect to something bigger than “little me”—anxious, fearful, little me. Hand on heart, and I rest for a moment in the big beating heart of what some people call universe or god or great spirit, or you fill in the blank. An open heart is my gate. It restores my hope, my energy, and my willingness to “be the change.”

~ Elizabeth Lesser

Groundless Ground

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Along with many of my friends and peers, I am a member of the sandwich generation; this is defined as a person who is both caring for caring for parents, as well as for children. Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older, and are either raising a young child, or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). People who are part of the sandwich generation are pulled in many directions. Not only do many provide care and financial support to their parents and their children, but nearly four-in-ten (38%) report both their grown children and parents rely on them for emotional support.

It is really difficult to work full-time, care-give, and grieve loss, while attempting to keep it all together for your young children at home. The adults you once relied on for support, knowledge and guidance are now looking to you to provide the same. It all comes down to you. We truly become the “adults” in charge and, as a good friend of mine friend describes it, “Adulting is hard.” As an independent parent, I feel this even more acutely, without a partner to lean on for support. This period of my life feels like trying to walk on groundless ground.

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Stressed caregivers may experience fatigue, anxiety and depression. As a person responsible for the care of others, it is so important to start with yourself, so you have something left to give. There are various support tactics that help to combat caregiver burn-out. I wanted to share a few with you that I recently learned about from the Mayo Clinic, as I thought they would be helpful:

  • Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, a friend or family member may be able to run an errand, pick up your groceries or cook for you.
  • Focus on what you are able to provide. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
  • Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine. Begin to say no to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
  • Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation, meal delivery or housekeeping may be available.
  • Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.
  • Seek social support. Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
  • Set personal health goals. For example, set goals to establish a good sleep routine, find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet, and drink plenty of water.

Heart Centered Learning

One of the biggest food lies we were told: All calories are created equal.⁣

Take a class of sixth graders. Show them a picture of 1,000 calories of broccoli and 1,000 calories of soda. Ask them if they have the same effect on our bodies. Their unanimous response will be “NO!” We all intuitively know that equal caloric amounts of soda and broccoli can’t be the same nutritionally. But as Mark Twain said, “The problem with common sense is that it is not too common.”⁣

I guess that is why the medical profession, nutritionists, our government, the food industry, and the media are all still actively promoting the outdated, scientifically disproven idea that all calories are created equal. Yes, that well-worn notion—that as long as you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight—is simply dead wrong.⁣

The law of conservation of energy states that the energy of an isolated system is constant. In other words, in a laboratory, or “isolated system,” 1,000 calories of broccoli and 1,000 calories of soda are, in fact, the same. I’m not saying the law was wrong about that. It’s true that when burned in a laboratory setting, 1,000 calories of broccoli and 1,000 calories of soda would indeed release the same amount of energy.⁣

But the law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply in living, breathing, digesting systems. When you eat food, the “isolated system” part of the equation goes out the window. The food interacts with your biology, a complex adaptive system that instantly transforms every bite.⁣

When it comes to the soda, your gut will quickly absorb the fibre-free sugars such as fructose and glucose that will then spike your blood sugar, starting a domino effect of high insulin and a cascade of hormonal responses that kicks bad biochemistry into gear. ⁣

On the other hand with broccoli, you’d get many extra benefits that optimize metabolism, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and boost detoxification. The glucosinolates and sulphorophanes in broccoli actually change the expression of your genes to help balance your sex hormones, reducing breast and other cancers.⁣

~ Dr. Mark Hyman