Living in unusual times

We are definitely living in unusual times. We’ve watched as COVID-19 swept across the globe and now it’s reached our shores. I’m tempted to sit at my laptop hour after hour watching and reading updates. Things are happening so fast! Late Sunday, it was announced that schools across our province were closing. Yesterday, the province declared a state of emergency and non essential services began to shut down. Recreational facilities, museums, libraries, art galleries, community centres, children’s play centres, casinos… all closed until further notice. Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited. Even churches are closing their doors. I’m sure it’s much the same where you are.

So what do we do in such unprecedented and uncertain times? How do we cope when the calendar is suddenly blank? Self-isolate and social distancing are new additions to most people’s vocabulary, but I have a little more experience than most with these concepts. Over the past six and a half years, I’ve had 14 PRRT treatments and I was required to self-isolate for one to two weeks after each one. The present COVID-19 crisis will likely last significantly longer than that, but this too shall pass and when it does, I don’t want to look back on this as time wasted.

We’ve just been handed a lot of extra uninterrupted time, something most of us never seem to have enough of. What will you do with yours?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Declutter. Clean out a closet, a drawer, the kitchen cupboards. Start your spring cleaning early.
  • Try some new recipes. This one might become a necessity. We visited five grocery stores today only to find the meat departments almost empty. I’m definitely going to have to be somewhat creative with meal planning over the next while!
  • Prepare and freeze some meals for when life gets busy again.
  • If you’re able, get outside. Self-isolating doesn’t mean you have to stay inside. Go for a walk or, depending on where you live, do some yard work, ride a bike, go snowshoeing, paddle a canoe. Fresh air and exercise are essential to maintaining a positive outlook in trying times.
  • Check out Duolingo and start learning a new language.
  • Keep up social connections via phone or video chat.
  • Play board games.
  • Do jigsaw or crossword puzzles.
  • Finish the craft that you started some time ago and never completed.
  • Start a journal or a blog.
  • Read all those books that you never had time for.
  • Enjoy virtual tours of 12 famous museums from around the world.
  • Attend the opera online.

Whatever you do, don’t panic and don’t just sit around waiting for this to pass. Take wise precautions, be safe, but also seize the moment. Choose to do something worthwhile in the midst of these difficult and uncertain times. Make it a time worth remembering!

And one final bit of advice… assuming that you don’t live alone and that no one in your household is sick, remember that hugs are healthy! The thing that I missed most during my periods of post treatment isolation was the comfort of physical touch.

Remembering my father

The blog has been unusually quiet for the past week and a half. There was no Fashion Friday post last week and nothing in honour of International Women’s Day yesterday. My father passed away less than 48 hours after I published the last post. All I’ve written since then is his eulogy and a myriad of lists. Lists of things to do and people to contact. In fact, I wrote so many lists that Richard suggested perhaps I needed to make a list of my lists!

As I worked on the eulogy, when we chatted with Dad’s pastor while planning the memorial service, and when we visited with friends and family after the service, it was comforting to recall who Dad was before macular degeneration robbed him of his sight, a stroke stole most of his speech and mobility, and in his final months, dementia began to weaken his mind. My Dad was many things. He was a kind and generous man who was accepting of all people. He had a keen scientific mind, but also loved good literature and often quoted poetry to us. Above all else though, Dad was an adventurer. Even though it was very far removed, he was proud of his Gypsy heritage!

After graduating from the University of British Columbia in the spring of 1946 with an honours degree in chemical engineering, Dad found a job up the coast in the pulp and paper town of Powell River. That fall, he bought an old 24-foot wooden boat powered by an ancient 1927 car engine. With a friend, he sailed it up the coast from New Westminster to Powell River where he spent many hours over the next year sanding, re-caulking, and painting the hull and having the engine overhauled. He also met his bride-to-be that fall and the summer after they were married, they spent two weeks puttering up the coast in that old wooden boat. Apparently it rained every day but one, but that didn’t deter them from further adventures!

It was also during the Powell River years that Dad took up mountain climbing. He was a member of the BC Mountaineering Club for many years and ascended many peaks in the Powell River area as well as around Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. Dad always had a passion for seeing what was in the next valley, behind the next hill, or around the next corner. As a climber, he had at least one first ascent because, in his words, he was mad enough go one mountain further back than anyone else had ever bothered!

Dad loved to get away to quiet and remote places. For our very first camping trip as a family, he piled Mom and three kids into the little rowboat that he’d made with his own hands and rowed us across an isolated inlet to a rocky point where we would set up camp and stay for a week. A second trip in the rowboat brought the big canvas tent and the rest of our camping gear across. We had so much fun that we returned to the same spot the following summer!

After we moved to Vancouver in 1963, Dad’s passion for the path less traveled took us to some of the most remote places in BC that were accessible by road. As a child, I remember wondering if some of them were really roads at all and if we were going to get permanently lost! In 1967, we drove the then mostly unpaved Alaska Highway all the way to Anchorage. The following year, Dad chartered a little floatplane and we flew into Garibaldi Lake to spend a couple of weeks camping, climbing, and exploring. While we were there, Dad and I climbed Mount Price together.

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Dad on the summit of Mount Price

Just before Christmas 1968, Dad accepted a job with the newly formed Government of the Northwest Territories. He moved to Yellowknife in January while the rest of us stayed in Vancouver until the end of the school year. Our last long road trip as a family took us from Vancouver to our new home in Yellowknife with a side trip to visit Wood Buffalo National Park. Dad’s role with the territorial government involved quite a bit of travel, sometimes to comfortable spots in southern Canada, but mostly by small aircraft into settlements across the Arctic. On one of those trips, he froze his fingertips while desperately clinging to a komatik (sled) as it bounced across the ice and snow behind an Inuit man on a snowmobile.

In the early 1970s, Dad decided that it was time for he and Mom to begin seeing more of the world. With my younger siblings, who were still living at home, they spent the summers of 1973 and 76 exploring Europe. In typical Dad fashion, those trips took them off the popular tourist trail to some more remote and unusual destinations including Leningrad and Moscow.

In May of 1982, Dad retired and in his words, he and Mom became homeless wanderers. Their belongings were shipped to Vancouver and put into storage while they spent most of the following year traveling North America and sleeping in the back of their little Malibu station wagon. After returning to Vancouver and living in a rented apartment for six months, it was time to set off on an even more audacious adventure. Dad ordered a Volkswagen camper van from a dealership in Vancouver to be picked up at the factory in Germany. Rather than flying directly to Germany, they got there via Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, two weeks in China, and the Trans Siberian railroad across the Soviet Union. After picking up the Volkswagen, they spent more than a year living in it and roaming around Europe and the Middle East before finally shipping it back to Canada. Sometime later, while a niece housesat for them, Dad and Mom were off on yet another adventure living in a rented van in Australia for several months. It was there that they survived a head on collision virtually unscathed.

In retirement, when he wasn’t traveling, Dad quickly learned that there’s no end of things to do as long as you don’t want to be paid. He spent three years working as volunteer office manager and treasurer for the Africa Community Technical Service, an organization committed to providing clean, accessible water to isolated communities in Africa. That led to yet more travel as he and Mom spent seven weeks in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania with the director and his wife seeing first hand what their efforts were accomplishing.

Over the years that followed, the Volkswagen van brought them over the mountains to Alberta numerous times to visit their children and grandchildren. Their last big trip was to a resort in the Dominican Republic where they celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. That brought their total number of countries traveled to 67.

Life changed significantly for Dad when Mom began to show signs of dementia. For many years after that he devoted himself to the challenging task of caring for her. As a family, we were deeply concerned that he was burning himself out, but he faced it like another mountain to climb and later, after she passed away in 2014, he was heard to say that those had been good years.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 1, while I stood at his bedside, Dad ascended his final peak and caught his first glimpse of what’s on the other side.

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June 25, 1923 – March 1, 2020

At the reception following his memorial service, I was asked if I had inherited my father’s adventurous spirit and I was proud to reply that, yes, I believe I did! Thank you, Dad!

Ansanm… together

Tim DeTellis is President at New Missions, a ministry started by his parents in 1983 when they set up five tents on the Leogane plain in Haiti and started holding church services. Tim was 11 years old at the time. From that humble beginning, New Missions has grown to include 35 churches and schools as well as medical clinics in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In addition, a Bible school and a professional trade school prepare graduates of the New Missions schools to support their families and become leaders in their communities. As a lover of words, I was touched by something that Tim recently posted on Facebook.

“Ansanm means together in Haitian Creole. Togetherness makes life better because you have community to share life with. When I lived in Haiti I saw the strength of togetherness as villagers would gather at the shoreline to help pull in the fishing nets. It took many hands and the strength of togetherness to survive.” 

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photo: Tim DeTellis

We’re not meant to live life alone. Married or single, we were made for community. We’re meant to do life together… ansanm.

The Bible says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1 and Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” Ecclesiastes 4:9

While there are times that togetherness can try our patience, maybe even drive us a little bit crazy, there are definite advantages to being part of a group whether it be immediate family, physical neighbourhood, church, workplace, or even an online community.

  • it’s safer
  • it’s mutually supportive
  • it provides comfort in times of trouble or loss
  • we can share knowledge and learn from one another
  • we’re inspired by others
  • we receive advice and encouragement from others
  • we cheer one another on and celebrate together
  • we can share resources
  • it provides accountability
  • it’s fun

Not only do we need other people, but they need us. Someone needs you! Who are you doing life with?

Never forget to laugh!

Ideas for blog posts come from all sorts of places. Sometimes a word or a phrase catches my attention and suddenly, I feel a blog post coming on. Recently, my good friend, Richard M, responded to a comment from another of his friends on Facebook with an excellent bit of advice. “NEVER forget to laugh!” he wrote. That immediately sounded like a title to me!

We’ve all heard it said that laughter is the best medicine, but did you know that it’s actually good for your health? I have absolutely no medical background and I know better than to depend on Dr. Google for sound medical advice, but even trustworthy sites like the Mayo Clinic agree that laughter has many positive physical and mental benefits.

Physical benefits of laughter

  • Lowers stress by reducing the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
  • Boosts the immune system which is negatively affected by stress hormones.
  • Promotes heart health
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases oxygen intake
  • Relieves pain by releasing endorphins which act as natural pain killers.
  • Boosts energy
  • Relaxes muscles
  • Burns calories. Though it won’t replace regular exercise, 15 minutes of laughter burns 10 to 40 calories!

Mental benefits of laughter

  • Builds rapport and strengthens relationships between people
  • Eases symptoms of depression as endorphins also act as natural antidepressants.
  • Reduces anxiety and other negative emotions
  • Improves mood
  • Promotes relaxation

Clearly Richard M is right. We should never forget to laugh. Laughter adds joy and zest to life, but we live in a world that seems to be in constant turmoil. Last month it was the fires in Australia and a plane shot down; now the news is dominated by the coronavirus. Our own personal lives are often a struggle. How, in the midst of all that, do we remember to laugh?

Here are a few suggestions

  • Spend time with people who make you laugh
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Look for the humour in everyday situations
  • Watch funny movies or TV comedies
  • Make time in your life for fun activities
  • Play with a pet
  • Hang out with a little kid and find your inner child

If you really can’t find any reason to laugh, you might even want to check out laughter yoga or laughter therapy. While the idea of sitting in a group or one on one with a therapist forcing myself to laugh definitely doesn’t appeal to me, I could probably use more laughter in my life. We probably all could.

I will add one caveat, however. Never laugh at someone else’s expense. Not everything that passes as humour is funny. Make sure you know the difference.

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“The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”   Mark Twain

Kintsugi… broken made beautiful

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“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”   2 Corinthians 4:7

When I read this verse in my morning devotions today, my mind went in several different directions. It immediately brought to mind a couple of verses from the Old Testament book of Isaiah.

“You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”   Isaiah 64:8

and

Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘You did not make me’? Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing’”?   Isaiah 29:16

We are all vessels shaped by God’s hands for His purpose, not our own.

Next, my mind went to the value of a clay pot. Many are plain on the outside and made for ordinary everyday purposes. They might not look like they have much value, but from earliest times people the world over have survived in the harshest of circumstances because they had simple clay pots to carry life giving water. We ought to be like those jars carrying life to those around us.

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Finally, I was reminded of the centuries old Japanese art of kintsugi. or “golden joinery.” Life is hard and sometimes our jars of clay are chipped, cracked, or broken, but God is not only the potter; he is also the master of kintsugi!

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Kintsugi is a method of repairing broken pottery using lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum. Rather than trying to hide the brokenness, it becomes part of the beauty of the piece. The process often enhances the value of the item as each mended piece is completely unique.

In a similar manner, when we bring our brokenness to God, He doesn’t reject or discard us. Instead, where we see only ugliness, he sees potential and the possibility of creating something new and beautiful. He takes our broken pieces and carefully puts them back together so that even though the cracks and scars might still be visible, they become part of our beauty. Through His loving grace and mercy, he forgives our failures and heals our hurts. When His gold fills our cracks, we are made stronger and more beautiful and His power and glory are seen in us. We simply need to put our broken lives into the hands of the master of kintsugi and trust Him to put us back together!

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Do the good you can do

Do you ever feel like permanently turning off the news and hiding away from the world? Sometimes it’s overwhelming, isn’t it? A plane is shot down and 176 people die, Australia burns and earthquakes rock Puerto Rico, a volcano erupts in the Philippines and thousands are forced to flee. Violence, murder, and mayhem seem to be the order of the day.

The Bible tells us that such things will happen as end times approach. Mark 13:7-8 says, When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” But what are we to do in the meantime? How do we continue to function in a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams?

Do the good you can do.

Can you accomplish world peace, end hunger, prevent climate change, or stop the tectonic plates from shifting? No, of course you can’t, but there is good that you can do.

Do the good you CAN do.

  • make a Kiva loan to help an entrepreneur in a developing country establish a business and provide for their family
  • give a child the gift of education through child sponsorship
  • volunteer at a local homeless shelter or food kitchen
  • donate blood
  • become a mentor or tutor to someone who would benefit from your skills and experience
  • rake leaves or shovel snow for an elderly neighbour
  • make a donation to your local food bank
  • help build a Habitat for Humanity home
  • clean up a local beach or park
  • fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child
  • recycle
  • reduce your kitchen waste by composting or making “garbage soup”

The possibilities are endless. Do the good you CAN do.

Make kindness a lifestyle. Whether it’s simply smiling and saying hello or doing a random act of kindness for a stranger, you can make a difference in someone’s day. It won’t save the world, but it will make your small corner of it a better place to be and you might be surprised by how much better it makes you feel.

Do the good you can do.

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What hydrates your soul?

We all know that drinking water to stay hydrated is important to our physical health. It helps maximize physical performance, promotes cardiovascular health, has a major effect on energy levels and brain function, and may prevent or relieve digestive issues. Conversely, even low levels of dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, lethargy, and constipation.

But what about our souls? What hydrates or nourishes your soul? What brings you joy or a deep sense of satisfaction?

If you’re like me, you might find January a month when your soul begins to feel depleted;  malnourished. Christmas is over and New Years has come and gone. Depending where you live, winter may seem to stretch out endlessly in front of you. It’s easy to start feeling down. The solution may not be as simple as drinking a glass of water, but there are many things we can do to hydrate our souls.

Here, in no particular order, are 12 things that nourish my soul:

  • daily time in prayer and God’s Word
  • spending time with people who make me happy
  • soaking up sunlight
  • doing something unexpected for someone else
  • losing myself in a good book
  • writing
  • spending time in nature
  • traveling
  • organizing and decluttering
  • exercising
  • sipping a cup of tea or a glass of wine
  • relaxing in a hot bath

Your prescription might be entirely different than mine, but if your soul is feeling dehydrated, here are some things you might try:

  • listen to music or make music if you’re so inclined
  • visit a museum or an art gallery
  • watch a movie or a live theatre performance
  • keep a gratitude journal
  • volunteer
  • go for a massage
  • get some sleep
  • do something creative

What hydrates your soul? 

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