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More SPRING to celebrate!

More SPRING to celebrate!

I am seriously a fool at this time of year. I am giddy and giggly and smile at random people all the time. The sun is up from before I wake up until almost 10 o’clock at night now, and that leaves LOTS of hours of time to create and be active. I can’t STOP making these little sculptures… they just make me happy.

I Believe in Fur

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As a Northerner, I am rarely surprised by any of the things that might surprise southerners, but I was with my mother last weekend in Fairbanks Alaska… and she’s from “outside”.   We watched the GCI Open North American Championship Dog Sled Races… my mom was so excited, snapping picture after picture. I live in the Yukon, so dogsled races are an annual event. The Yukon Quest is our annual event…a 1,000 mile sled dog race run each February between Fairbanks and Whitehorse. Dog teams are really cool, but not once-in-a-lifetime cool.

What really captured my attention was the Alaska Trappers Association’s outdoor Fur Auction. Wow. Row after row of pelts, some tanned and some ready to be tanned. I found it fascinating; exciting. My mother found it repulsive, upsetting, anachronistic. There were wolf, Arctic fox, red fox, wolverine, ermine, weasel, coyote, lynx, beaver, squirrel, caribou, even a few bear. Although the sale of bear skins is illegal in Alaska, bears killed by conservation officers are skinned and their pelts are sold each year at this event.   The Trappers Association acts as a wholesaler working on behalf of Alaskans with traplines up and down the state, offering hundreds of furs to people like me as well as artists and those bidding on contract for retail, for designers, etc. I have never seen anything like it.

The furs were beautiful. Stunning. Heartbreaking, yes, but the sight of them reinforced a connection to the land that’s rapidly disappearing from our modern culture. It was amazing to watch the auctioneer and bidders carrying on much as I imagine they did 50 or 75 years ago, making good on a season of effort and keeping traditional trade relationships going. As a society, we don’t hold much stock in fur these days. In the North, that’s not really true. In the North we respect fur; we know it can keep us alive in winter, it can keep us warm and we know the fur trapping and trading industry can sustain families and communities.

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Before you get outraged I want you to consider a few things. I won’t go all “circle of life” on you, but I have spent a fair bit of time the last few days thinking this through in my own head. I know that fur is no longer necessary for us to stay warm or to survive winter. I know we can buy Goretex, we can wear down, we can use other, more modern technologies.

But think about this; down comes from animals. The down industry is a bit cowboy; some countries have good, ethical harvesting practices while others don’t. Some of the down sold in Canada  “is a by-product of the waterfowl meat industry.” But 80% of the world’s down comes from China, where rules are … well,  you know, not really rules at all.  Live plucking, an abhorrent practice does take place in many producing countries including China and some European suppliers of down. A Swedish news program called “Kalla Fakta” (“Cold Facts”) claimed in 2009 that between 50% and 80% of the world’s down came from live plucked birds; that’s a shameful and deeply upsetting statistic. While many countries have scrambled to refute those statistics, the numbers certainly remain higher than most of us could comfortably live with.

Artificial down (poly this or that) comes from a complex manufacturing process that sucks up resources and spits out chemicals and effluent; petroleum based down alternatives are really just another big fat question mark environmentally. How about shearling? Well, you know no sheep is going to survive very long without its skin and wool, so that’s just fur; the ubiquitous uggs are just fur too, for that matter.

The thing is this; you’ve got to stay warm. This is Canada, and it’s winter, and it’s damned cold. You have a myriad of options that cover the gamut from oil by-product down alternatives inside of a nylon shell to wild trapped fur. You can come down on the side of anti-cruelty and choose either polar opposite of the equation; is harvesting an animal after a life lived fully in nature less humane than wearing a nylon parka stuffed with petroleum based down alternative? What is the larger impact? Proper animal husbandry and humane harvesting practices allow the responsible use of a renewable resource. If we want to be honest with ourselves, we’ll consider that commercial meat production in Canada is unspeakably cruel to the animals harvested; pigs held in pens with no room to turn around, chickens are kept eternally in the dark and in tiny cages. You can’t argue that trapping is inhumane while you eat a burger with a clean conscience.  If you buy your meat neatly wrapped in plastic at Loblaw or Walmart or Superstore – or any other major food chain, you are part of the consumptive cycle – you are part of the industry raising animals for human slaughter and use. For the record, so am I. I am a meat eater and am equally a part of the problem.

I don’t agree with inhumane trapping methods, and by that I refer to leg hold traps. I don’t know enough about how traplines are run to suggest I have any real idea of the process and methods but I believe this with all my heart; it must be a better life for an animal to run, free and wild until death than to be held captive until an appropriately marketable weight is achieved before slaughter.  Responsible harvest of wild animals for use in the creation of garments designed to keep us safe and warm in extreme weather…that I can live with. Not without second thought, but I can accept it.

I don’t think I could make this argument if I lived in Los Angeles or Vancouver, but in the north… the REAL north, yes. Fur makes sense to me.  What do you think?

 

 

 

This is not a life without regret.

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Today I heard a writer being interviewed on the radio. He said that what makes his life perfect is his little family, that sharing stories around the dinner table are the moments of perfection in his life, of pure happiness. He also said he has no regrets. He listed all the things that could have been regrets for him had he not anticipated and corrected them before they had the chance to become tiny stones in his shoe to worry him forever. I googled “no regrets” and there are so many famous quotes, so many people who claim to have lived a life without regret. Imagine that.

I think that’s an interesting idea, living a life without regret. I understand the sentiment, or  at least the desire. Who wouldn’t want a life where nothing from the past ever popped up holding a question mark aloft like a birthday balloon?  No regrets. It’s a great anthemic sort of sentiment… a tune I could hum or a chorus I could holler with a crowd at a concert, but how real can it possibly be? In a life lived fully and imperfectly how can anyone truly get from one end of living to the other end without any collateral damage, with nothing you wish you could take back or do over?

If I run at life with my eyes and arms wide open, full of any sort of passion inside of me, how can I hope to regret nothing? I will hurt people, say things I wish I hadn’t, make decisions that were absolutely wrong when they seemed absolutely right. There will certainly be, at the end of my life, a long list of atonements I must make before any pearly gates will open.  So what does “no regrets” mean, besides being a really cool tattoo?

Does living without regret mean doing whatever you want and not taking responsibility? Does it mean filing for moral bankruptcy and walking away from debts of the heart or spirit? Is it a kind of YOLO for the enlightened ? I genuinely don’t understand it. Is it about self forgiveness, maybe? About acknowledging past errors or lapses and setting them down? I don’t know how to do that either. I have a nicely packed little basket full of “what I did, what I said, what I should have said, what I shouldn’t have imagined, what I should never have tried, who I should have been kinder to” and there’s no convenient place to put it down.  It isn’t the kind of load someone else can carry for a spell, and let me off the hook either. And yes, I’ve had it suggested to me by the no-regret campers, that “should” is a word best left along with the basket of regrets.

Perhaps the people who have no regrets have lived kinder lives than I have, or maybe they have managed to make peace already with the sins of their past selves. I have a soul unwilling to let go of those sins and in a way I am glad. I don’t dwell, I don’t mope or spend nights staring at the ceiling feeling dreadful, but I do carry that little basket. It’s a reminder to me of who I have been and who I wish to be. A reminder of where I have gone and where I hope not to go again.

I think we need to feel regret. I think regret informs our decisions, informs who we become and how we behave. It’s a guide through the dark and rocky patches, where the easy path seems so tempting. Regret is the burn that reminds you the stove is hot.

At the end of it all, I won’t be able to say I have nothing to regret and that’s okay with me. Instead I’ll keep working to make sure I have nothing NEW to regret… that’s all I think I can honestly hope to achieve.

Cross your heart and hope you’ll remember?

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If you want my respect, say you’ll do something then do it. Don’t tell me what you’re going to do.  Don’t say you’ll do something then forget, or blow it off. All we have to go on in this life are our instincts and our faith in good people.  We have to trust that people will do what they say they will; what else do we really have?

I think we have to remember that we are what we say, we are what we do. When we follow through on what we promise, we are saying that we’re worth trusting, worth believing in. When we think we can decide what is and isn’t important to others and fail to do what we’ve said, we let ourselves and those counting on us down. Saying you will do something you have no intention of doing is a lie. Saying you’ll do something you make no effort to do is disingenuous. The good feeling you get from pleasing the person you’ve promised evaporates pretty quickly once you know you’ve disappointed them.

You don’t have to pinky swear, cross your heart and hope to die  for your word to be considered a promise. The simple act of saying you WILL is a promise. When you say you will, and you can or could and don’t, you’ve broken your promise.   Not fulfilling is a choice… conscious or otherwise. Sometimes there is a really good reason, sometimes not. Circumstances may prevent you from accomplishing what you intended, but if the effort is genuine, honour is maintained.

Men used to be judged on their word; in my world, they still are. What’s your handshake worth?

Lessons in Grace from the Gas Bar

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I stopped for gas this afternoon, cold and complaining to myself, huddled deep into my coat as I waited for the tank to fill. A flash of neon green caught my eye; one of our town’s more infamous characters was pulling a sled with a hot pink skipping rope handle. The sled carried a couple of black garbage bags, open to receive the day’s bounty of discarded cans and bottles retrieved from sidewalks, dumpsters and trash bins. As I watched, she approached the black plastic garbage can at the pump island where I stood.

My instinctive reaction was distaste. For some reason the sight of her and her sled made me feel something unpleasant for a moment. The idea of going through other peoples’ trash makes me so uncomfortable. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous and it just makes me shudder.  I am (I think) more generous of spirit than that, usually. In that moment though,  I was small. I’m not proud of that.

I watched her, as I pumped my gas. I could only see her bare hands from where she stood on the other side of the pump station. Such a cold day today, -25 and colder, and she dug into that garbage can with bare hands. I watched as she bent over, head going deep into the bin, digging deeply for whatever she could salvage. She retrieved a few water and pop bottles, an empty vodka mickey and a McDonald’s bag worthy of further investigation. While I watched, I started to worry. I met a street fellow in Vancouver a couple of years ago with a raging infection in his hand; he’d cut it on something while rummaging for recyclables this same way. I worried for how cold her hands must be, doing this work in the frigid weather.

As she finished up, she did something I won’t forget. She straightened the garbage bag out, making sure the sides were properly stretched down over the top before she carefully replaced the lid. She pulled out a few paper towels from the dispenser and wiped her hands clean. Most memorable to me? A small square of paper towel tore off and fell beside the garbage can. Her red, cold fingers tried four or five times until she was able to get hold of it to toss it in the bin. She moved on to the next can and started over, tidy in her work.

The cautious, careful way everything was set to rights when she was done affected me very much. The small piece of paper, so difficult to pick up with frozen fingers was not left as litter on the ground. I felt, still feel, shame for my initial reflexive distaste. While I hope I don’t have to do that in my lifetime, there is a quiet honour in what she was doing. From an environmental standpoint, she was doing us all a service. Through the salvage efforts of people like her, many discarded cans and bottles make it to recycling centres instead of the landfill. From a self sufficiency point of view she is doing something honourable too; working to earn some money despite the challenges. That effort makes liars of people who point fingers at “lazy” recipients of social assistance. From where I sit there is nothing lazy about crossing the city day after day on foot, pulling your harvest behind you in the depths of winter to make a few bucks.

I don’t ever want to have to dig through garbage to make money, but I need to feel and show respect for the people who do. All work has honour, all work has value. All people have honour and value. I need to work on empathy. It’s  easy to look away, to feel different, separate, more, better, to look for something that provides safe distance between me and “them”.   She did her work today with dignity and I respect that. I hope I don’t mean that I wouldn’t respect her if she’d left the lid off, left the trash where it fell. I hope I’d respect her no matter what, but the  grace shown in the small act of leaving the space tidy moved me in a powerful way. I hope never to be judged the way she is likely judged, every day of her life.

 

Bitchy Tuesdays and the 68 minute 20 minute drive.

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I swear I didn’t wake up this morning thinking this was going to be a bitchy day. I didn’t roll out of bed, snarl and crack my knuckles, ready to rumble. Hell – who takes on a Tuesday unprovoked?  I woke up and it was 26 below zero, crisp and clear and cold and beautiful and I was happy about that. I woke up happy, started my day calmly with coffee, a fuzzy bathrobe and a shower. I did the normal morning things that get me from horizontal (dreaming of hosting a huge dinner party in a Mexican farmhouse with no running water or electricity – no idea where that dream came from or why I remember it) to upright and mobile.

Leaving the house was where things started to go sideways a bit.  Sixteen year old girls and their mothers do not always move in blissful synchronicity. Sometimes, without warning, harmony and smiles turn to discord and gnashing of teeth, while the benign turns radioactive and toxic in a matter of seconds. Ommmmm.

So we left, we drove and we got to where the bus ought to have been but wasn’t. It wasn’t there, of course, because we were several pleasantry filled minutes behind the bus… (that was irony). From my home to her bus stop should be, with no traffic or red lights, a straight forward 18-20 minute drive. Of course that almost never happens. If she misses the bus, which has happened a time or two, we have a problem. The journey from the downtown bus stop to her school is an easy 7 minutes’ drive. The journey from her school back across the bridge to my office is, inexplicably, an agonizing 20 minutes on a good day. We’re talking bottleneck traffic jam backup swearing going nowhere late for work I guarantee it chaos like you just don’t see in a small city. There is a new roundabout, there is a new traffic light, there are 3 school zones and a two lane bridge to contend with, all leading out of a crowded suburb that everyone leaves in the morning to go… you guessed it, the same place as me.

This morning, there was also a car accident – a fire truck and a  flat bed and a couple of cars where they don’t belong…right in the intersection next to the two lane bridge just ahead of the roundabout. You’ve really not seen anything like it unless you’ve been on the Interstate 5 outside of LA at 5:15 on a weekday.  Every side road was bumper to bumper, and there was no getting out of there, period.

So the commute to work, usually a seamless 20 minute jaunt took me 68 minutes. Without coffee. But even that didn’t push me over the edge to bitchy… nah. Once the initial WTF are you KIDDING me happened, I kind of took it in stride. I got to work, told my tale and carried on.

The bitchy has come on by way of a few other things; small things, pissy little things and frightening large things that come with a separation and having teenagers and a new job and all of that real life. Many days I can surf on through it and emerge un-bitchy at the end of the day, but for some reason today those little things have sharp little barbs – they’ve been clinging to me. By the time I walked back into my place tonight I was about done with this day. It wasn’t done with me, of course – that’s how these bitchy days seem to roll.

But I have to thank you, big wide world of people I don’t know. This blogging (also known as utter self indulgence and naval gazing) has given me a new perspective. If I look at it differently, I’ve actually had a great day. I’ve been working on cultivating gratitude, and I’m learning it helps in situations like this. I have healthy kids, a great job, a car that can withstand -26 (it got to -27 as a matter of fact) and a pretty reasonable relationship with the husband from whom I am separated. I have a warm house with a fridge full of goodness and plenty of tea to calm my cranky old soul. My daughter had her moment of angst and anger where it was safe and appropriate…with me, her mom. I had my moment of cranky here, with people who can choose to listen or not (what a great freedom that is!). If I smeared anyone with my cranky today I can try to make it up to them tomorrow. If I sound Pollyanna now, that might just be what I need to fend off the bitchy Tuesday vibe.

Tomorrow is a Wednesday and we all know Wednesday is nothing at ALL like Tuesday. For one thing, it’s payday and that’s guaranteed to make me smile.  My car is plugged in and ready to take on the morning and there’s even a chance we’ll make that 20 minute drive in under an hour.

Here’s to Wednesday…

Me and KD Lang… we’ll just be meditating over here.

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Meditation huh? I have recently downloaded the new free app promoted by KD Lang called Stop, Breathe and Think. It’s interesting.  I tried it out for the first time last night using the “commonality of suffering” meditation. Seems like an odd place to start but given the events in my life over the past six months it seemed reasonable. A very calm voice led me through a 6 minute meditation focusing on breath, on imagery, and on empathy. Imagine how it must feel to lose everything… put yourself in the place of someone whose family and home have been destroyed by a storm.  That’s big stuff for a six minute meditation but I am a novice, so can’t say yet whether it’s too much or just a lot to contemplate in that context and time frame.

Anyway, I’m going to try it again. It’s a free app and I’ve got time on my hands. The commonality of suffering is probably not where I’d like to focus all my attention, but I can see that many of the meditations listed (the longest is about 10 minutes) are of a more positive tone like those entitled Kindness, Equanimity (I guess it’s as good a time as any to figure out what that word means), Joy and Great Compassion. I could use more of all those in my life and would do well to share more of those things too. There’s a great check-in screen that invites you to choose up to 5 adjectives to describe how you’re feeling, then suggests meditations that might be meaningful or relevant.

The truth is I grew up fearing meditation; my mother’s warnings about the risks of transcendental meditation and the obvious link between meditation and certain death by fire (soaked with gasoline) ring loudly in my ears even now. I’ll do my best to avoid long haired men in caftans (think Rasputin in a dress) when plugging in my ear buds; if I see any lurking in the shadows with a jerry can I’ll definitely reconsider the meditation and consider a sprint instead. Joking aside, meditation is still a bit “new age” and “flakey” to many. I’m going to try to overcome that and silence the lingering doubts.

I don’t know if meditation is going to work for me. I’m a rapid processor… my mind has been referred to as a pinball machine in the past, whizzing and bouncing, rebounding and doubling back with bells and flashing lights, zany music and strobe effects. I’d do well with more focus, less zing. If KD Lang is willing to help, I’m all for it. I really dig KD Lang. If KD Lang says meditation will help me gain clarity, peace and inner tranquility, I’m going to listen. Actually, if KD Lang tells me pretty much ANYTHING, I’m going to listen. And if a ten minute meditation once a day really will help me “become more mindful and compassionate”, then cool. Nice to know there’s an app for that. I could certainly use my own “forcefield of personal calm and peace”.

The organization called Tools for Peace is behind the app. Tools for Peace™ teaches people of all ages how to develop and apply kindness and compassion in their daily lives” says their site. That’s a good objective, and any methods likely encourage compassion and participation are good. I’m going to give this app a try and see what happens. I’ve always wanted to try meditation, maybe this will be my starting point.

And KD…. if you’re listening? I’ll meditate with you any day.

This is KD Lang at a concert in Vegas a couple of years ago, holding the magazine I offered her from Yukon… my home. She and I are pretty much best friends now.  While the image quality is not awesome, the quality of the image is pure awesome!

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Same me. New calendar.

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And so the inward looking begins…or continues… in search of meaningful & achievable resolutions. Pointless to say I will exercise more and eat less, folly to suggest I can change much about how I process my external world. I’d be lying to myself if I vowed to drink less red wine and avoid chocolate and cussing.

I need smaller resolutions, tiny resolutions that will be little stones in a giant pond. I need to find tiny ways to alter how I give myself to the world, to my family, to those I love. I need little itty bitty meditative alterations that will smooth the painful bristles of my coat, that will make me more huggable and less of a systemic shock to those whose well being matters most.

I want to be gentle. I want to be kinder. I want to be more loving, more giving, more forgiving, more forgivable. I want to be soft. I want to be feather soft. I wish to be a balm, a soothing salve rather than a burn, a wound, an abrasion.

I don’t know where these new ways of being live. I don’t know where to find them. I want to.

I want to.

It’s a new year. This year there is no hollering, no kicking of cans. This year there is only quiet retreat, a catch in the throat, a throb behind my left eye. I wish things I can’t give, I’ve given things I can’t reclaim.

It’s almost a new year. It’s almost a new…

No, it’s the same me on a new calendar page unless I can find a new path.

And the stone is about to fall, and the pond is about to ripple.

So happy new year.

 

And They will Change the World

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I recently met a young woman who has, by the strength of her conviction and passion, challenged the way I see the world and my place in it.

At 22 years old, Morgan Wienberg is co-founder of  Little Footprints Big Steps.  She has created a safe place for street children in Haiti; a transitional home to help them reintegrate into their families when possible. She has worked with international donors to help these children find hope, safety, health and education. The families of these children are poor. Many were tricked into turning their children over to orphanages in order for them to have an education, a better life.  It seems the more starving children an orphanage can show to the world, the higher the income of the orphanage owner. In Haiti many orphanages are run by profiteers who abuse the children, pocket the aid and sell whatever goods are donated by international aid groups. Morgan saw this when she did an internship in an orphanage and it changed the course of her life.  She has now spoken at the United Nations, is legal guardian to several Haitian children and has had a profound impact on the lives she has touched…mine included.

When I listened to Morgan’s presentation a few weeks ago, I heard her words. I thought about her story. I was impressed by her poise and her certainty, her dedication to the children and families she serves.  Later I tried to tell the story to my daughter. Morgan’s words came back like a kick to my stomach when I tried to share them.  I couldn’t talk about the children whose stories she shared without tears. I still can’t.  I’ve found my mind wandering to the place she talked about, the people she described, the troubles she faces every day.  I find myself researching how to get to Haiti; researching visas, immunizations, airfares…  She told me the annual operating budget for her entire program; housing up to 50 kids, school fees, food, salaries for staff, even buying small plots of land for families to build homes is a mere $160,000 per year. That is less than the base salary for any CEO of any US or Canadian based charity.  I can’t get over how much she can accomplish with that meager budget, and yet she does, with grace.

At 47, there is a lot of stuff in my head, a lot of stuff in my heart. I am as busy as anybody else, with as little spare room in my schedule as ever but I can’t stop thinking about this. I can’t stop thinking that somehow some time I need to do something bigger than I’ve done. I’m very happy that Little Footprints Big Steps will now be receiving funding from the organization I work with, glad to see new relationships sparked from the presentation I helped organize, but I still feel compelled to do more, personally. I think a visit to Haiti is in my future. I genuinely have no idea what my presence could possibly do, how I could be of any use, but I’m guessing an extra pair of unskilled hands will come in handy at some point.

We hear so much about the bad, the lost, the directionless youth. There are so many young people doing so much good in our towns, our communities, across the globe. At the presentation Morgan did  recently at my workplace, the audience was packed with youth. Three local high schools brought students – Canada World Youth brought us eager young people from across Canada and Mozambique, eager to learn more and participate fully in their world. This is so exciting to me… it fills me with so much hope.

We can (and should) worry for the young people who are not participating, but we really have to celebrate people like Morgan Wienberg, young citizens like the students in the audience that day, intently listening, taking action in their very own homes after listening to her speak. We have so much to be proud of  and thankful for in these young people… they are amazing, and they will change the world.

Please visit Morgan’s site, and look at the work she is doing. She and the staff of Haitians she has been able to employ are currently caring for many former street children, providing them a safe house, an education, love and medical care. If you are moved to give, please do so. If you are moved to act for another cause, please do so. I am grateful to Morgan, grateful to anyone who gives so much of themselves.  Through them, I believe I can be better. I can do something big.