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A fine balance May 18, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, diversity, energy, family, journey, learn, life.
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all is calm

“Work-life balance” has become one of those catch-phrases which seems to sum up a modern conundrum: the clash between personal and professional satisfaction. But, after reading various work/life advice sites on the internet, I find their solutions unsatisfying. And that, I realize, is because work and life don’t split neatly into two halves; the struggle for balance is not two-sided, but multiple-sided.

And I have been struggling for balance. Work is a given — from approx. 9 to 5 every day, I’m committed elsewhere — and work stresses do have an effect on my life. But enough about work. My main concern is how I spend the rest of my time, because that’s where the balancing act is the most difficult for me. (My partner is having similar difficulties: check out her litany here.)

After all, there’s a new puppy, which has meant less sleep, more interruptions in the rhythm of the day, and definitely a lot more mopping up. (Of course, there’s lots of benefits too… more on that at another time.)

There’s family time, catching up on my partner’s day and actually having a conversation from time to time. There’s eating and sleeping and trimming my toenails — all the aspects of personal care. And, yes, that should include exercise… my balanceball and weights are languishing in the cupboard, but at least I’m bicycling to and from work nearly every day so I can take the puppy out for his lunchtime pee break.

Then there’s my own particular (or peculiar) computer interests: besides my sometimes-near-addiction to computer games (also known as “the great escape”), I am halfway into a do-it-yourself Dreamweaver course, I have a slideshow project that I’ve committed to create for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary next month, and then there’s e-mail correspondence and co-op board information to keep up on. And besides this blog, I post photos and participate on Flickr, and I’ve recently started a new blog as well. So, I’m obviously having difficulty finding balance because I feel like I’m rushing from one thing to another.

A-ha! I hear you conclude: I obviously do it to myself. Why oh why would I take on so much stuff if I’m having trouble with balance? Hmm… good question. It might be the perfectionist side of me, or the workaholic, but to tell you the truth, I don’t think those aspects are very strong. You’d realize that if you saw what a messy packrat I am.

I think my own particular (peculiar) challenge is that I love a challenge. And, more specifically, I love starting a project, I love the thrill of learning and mastering something new. But… I’m not that good at continuing once the freshness has worn off.

Oh yes, speaking of freshness, let me say a few words about my new blog, which I’ve called “Wondering eye“. I was inspired by seeing the new photoblog design that WordPress announced recently, and thought I’d use it to showcase some of my favourite photos. And I discovered, as I thought about what to say that would harmonize with an attractively framed photo, I re-discovered a former interest of mine: poetry.

You may have noticed the “Haiku of the Day” from Shaw Malcolm (thanks, Shaw!) which I feature in my sidebar, and occasionally I’ll quote a line or two of poetry in my posts (I especially enjoy the poetry of Jan Zwicky). And I also owe thanks to faithful blog-friend Richard, who more than once has remarked that my writing is poetic. But I once wrote poetry — ok, I was in my teens, and it was pretty bad — and I’ve decided to give it another try.

Writing poetry is not at all like writing this blog; it needs time for reflection, carefully chewing over and choosing the best words, trimming, listening, and trimming again. The point is: it can’t be hurried. I have to wait with it, sit with the words and the feeling I’m trying to capture, until it seems right. So, I don’t know yet whether it’s any good, and maybe that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that, through writing poetry, I’ve found a way to stop hurrying through my life, and listen.

tall gillian leaningAnd when I listen, I can hear my body saying it needs more exercise, or less junk food. I remember how much fun it is to take photographs and start planning for an outdoor excursion. I find I have time to sit on the sunny lawn and watch the puppy romp and sniff the dandelions.

I haven’t found the perfect balance yet, not by a long shot. But I hope I can continue this new project, because I believe the contemplative listening involved in poetry will help.

So, maybe poetry doesn’t work for you, but what helps you keep your balance? I’m still looking for ideas and advice on this one.

And while you chew over that question, here’s a Life Balance Quiz I adapted from one I found online. There are several quizzes out there, but I think this style is more effective than the multiple choice version. See what you think:

Elements of Life

Think about your life today. What is most important to you? Take a moment to examine your priorities. Below are some of the important elements of your life you may try to balance every day. In Column A, circle the importance of each element of your life as you would like it to be (1=not important; 5=very important).

Elements of Life ………………. Column A …………………. Column B

Family ……………………………… 1 2 3 4 5 …………………… 1 2 3 4 5
Personal Life ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Spiritual Life ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Volunteerism …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Education …………………………. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Career …………………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Physical health ………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Emotional well-being …………. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Relationships/Friends ………… 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Recreation ………………………. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Other ______________ …………. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5

How did you rate these parts of your life? There is no right “formula” but there should be a balance. Everything cannot be a “5”. That would set unrealistic expectations for life. You will probably feel more in balance if you have a variety of numbers circled. Take some time to think about what is right for you.

Now, in Column B, circle the number that most closely represents each element as it actually fits into your daily life. Cover up Column A while you do this, so you don’t subconsciously echo your previous answers.

When you are finished, compare the two lists. If Column A and Column B responses match, then you are giving proper attention to the areas that you feel are important. That’s great! You are probably better able to cope with the stresses in life that come your way.

If the Column A responses are very different from the Column B responses, then you are not providing enough attention to those areas that are important to you. Is it possible that this imbalance is hindering your ability to deal effectively with life’s changes? Think about what you can do to align what is important with your daily patterns.

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Reigning cats and dogs May 6, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in cat, change, dog, family, journey, life.
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snoozing in the sun

I’ve always been a cat person. One of my earliest memories was of the family cat Dusty, followed in time by Frisky and Trixie and Coffee, then Tigger and Tobey and Kit Kat.

the look

Cuca (on the right) is our current reigning cat. He came to us as a kitten, a timid creature emerging from under bushes in a church garden, mewling pitifully. He is the most playful cat I know, although sometimes he prefers to chase ankles instead of catnip treats.

Cats have always seemed mysterious, graceful, solemn and wild. I remember enticing our family cat onto my bed at night, so I could fall asleep to her comforting warmth and constant purring. In one moment, a cat can be impossibly proper, the incarnation of etiquette. And the next moment — look out — that impeccably sophisticated goddess is suddenly racing across the room after a tinkling ball, or leaping impossibly to the top of the bookcase… and down again!

When I think of cats, I think of Rudyard Kipling’s short story, “The Cat That Walked By Itself” from his Just So Stories:

“…between times, and when the moon gets up and night comes,
he is the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to him.
Then he goes out to the Wet Wild Woods
or up the Wet Wild Trees
or on the Wet Wild Roofs, waving his wild tail
and walking by his wild lone.”

somebody loves me

But now I find I’m a dog person. Now that I live with Cai the magnificent, adorable Cardigan Welsh Corgi (on the left), my life has completely changed. And this Saturday we will welcome Fergus or Robin (top photo, on the left) — we have yet to finalize his name — to our family.

What is it about dogs that has captured my heart? They are so tuned in to you that it feels that you’ve never had a friend so loyal. They are ready to play, to run, to snuggle beside you, to attempt any feat for your pleasure, and theirs. Who would not smile to see them wiggle and wag with delight and anticipation whenever you offer a game, a biscuit, a greeting?

When I think of dogs, I think of Buck from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, and the intense love and loyalty he felt for his master:

“He had a way of taking Buck’s head roughly between his hands, and resting his own head upon Buck’s, of shaking him back and forth, the while calling him ill names that to Buck were love names. Buck knew no greater joy than that rough embrace and the sound of murmured oaths, and at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his heart would be shaken out of his body so great was its ecstasy. And when, released, he sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, his eyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with unuttered sound, and in that fashion remained without movement, John Thornton would reverently exclaim, ‘God! you can all but speak!’”

Cats and dogs are just two of life’s pleasures. I know that, without pets, it’s easier to travel and cheaper to eat. A cat can be left alone for the weekend, and the worse you will find when you return is disdain. But a dog is fully committed to being part of your life. 

Since Cai has come to live with us, we have gone for more frequent walks, remembered how to play, and we have met and talked and become friends with more people — even here in the cold environment of a big city — than we could have dreamed. And that is a gift.

(For more stories about Cai and the new puppy, visit my partner’s recent post and read her corgi-tagged stories. And for more corgi goodness, visit the breeder’s blog, or check out the two photo sets featuring Cai on my Flickr site.)

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A step back in time May 4, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, diversity, explore, learn, life, world.
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Scenes from a Mennonite kitchen 1This past week, I had the privilege of visiting an Old Order Mennonite couple. The group of us stayed for about 40 minutes, listening to tales of harness-making and quilting, ploughing and making preserves.

My only previous exposure had been seeing the black horse-drawn buggies near St. Jacob’s, and buying Mennonite sausage at the market. (Yum!) You may have seen the women, in lace caps and flowered dresses, and men in their dark suits and sober hats. They belong to a tight-knit community, and as much as possible try to stay out of the public eye.

The Mennonites are sometimes known as “the quiet in the land.” A few years ago, I saw the award-winning play (“Quiet in the Land“) by Anne Chislett; its portrayal of the tension between tradition and change in a small Amish community is heartfelt and compelling.

Out of the approximately 50 types of Mennonites in Canada (the Amish are a Mennonite offshoot), many have modernized to some extent. Most of the Old Order Mennonites now have telephones and electricity, and more modern groups drive cars and go to university.

Descendants of a radical wing of the Protestant Reformation, the pacifist followers of Menno Simons (1492-1559) endured two centuries of bitter persecution in Central Europe. During these two centuries, many Mennonites sought sanctuary in Prussia and southern Russia. Others, like the Swiss ancestors of the southern Ontario Mennonites, emigrated to North America. Their descendants now live all around the world, from Paraguay to the Congo, with two-thirds living outside North America.

Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 4

This global perspective means that the Mennonites are active in reaching out to people around the world through relief organizations such as the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the volunteer-run self-help stores known as Ten Thousand Villages.

During our conversations, I observed the care given to crafting everything from leather bridles to hockey gloves, peach preserves to quilted chair covers. I looked at the weathered hands of the old couple, and their faces lined from sun and smiling, and I could see that their simple hard-working life had been full and fulfilling.

Although I am modern in my desire for freedom and self-determination, part of me longs for that kind of connection — to the land, to the community, to their craft, to their beliefs — that the Mennonites show in their lives.

Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 2Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 1

Scenes from a Mennonite kitchen 2

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Related Links:
NY Times Book Review: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
Introducing the Mennonites
Special section: Modern Mennonites
Mennonite Central Committee
Third Way Cafe
Ontario’s Mennonite Heritage