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Sideswiped by happiness (and other detours) June 26, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, creativity, energy, explore, journey, learn, life, nature.
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boulder born
Janet (aka Lavenderbay) took this photo of me admiring the wonders of nature in New Zealand.

I know, it has been more than a month (wordpress courteously calls it “a while”) since I’ve posted, and a lot of water has galloped under that bridge.

I’ve thought from time to time of ideas that would make interesting posts, but thinking doesn’t always translate into doing. And doing has taken up all of my thinking lately. There was the 10-day trip to Paris, then the 4-day trip to New Brunswick, and all the jet-lag, catching-up, mental hiccups, etc that accompany changes of scenery and daily routine, not to mention time zones. But that’s another blog.

The occasion for writing is a prod from a friend, Goodbear, who awarded me with a “Tree of Happiness” and tapped me for a meme. It’s a simple task, at first glance, just the sort of thing to get me back into writing again: list six things that make me happy; name six blogrollers as recipients of this award; and link to the giver and the givees.

And, hey, I like a challenge, so…. hmm, maybe that could be my First Thing… so here goes, six things that make me happy (but not necessarily in order):

Trail ride in Paradise1. A challenge overcome: Yes, I can be competitive, but I my natural contraryness compels me to compete most fervently against the naysayers and despairers. Most of all I love games or problems that I can apply my Gillian-patented blend of humour, intuition and wiggly lines to come up with a possible solution (or even better, a choice of solutions from several possibilities). This is a highly satisfying pursuit, and I will drop my own boring work at the merest whimper from one of my co-workers in order to spring to the rescue. (But it’s strange how my work never gets finished on time…!)

play again?2. A doggy grin: I will admit it, I am now a total dog convert. Of course, I still love cats, and Cuca has no complaints when I stop to skritch him at that dry spot along his jawbone and behind his ears, but only a dog can make me smile when I’m all pouty inside. All it takes is that happy panting goofy grin to cause my droopy mouth to turn up at the corners, and before I know it, I’m grinning right back.

dapple path3. A forest path: I love the hush of the forest — where the ever-present hum of the city is drowned out by bird song and the sound of the wind in the trees. This is the song of the unwound road, which I have written about here, so I won’t repeat myself, except to say that this is one pleasure that I all too seldom allow myself. In fact, I have been doing way too little physical activity of any kind lately, so I hope we’ll have lots of time during our upcoming camping trip in Bon Echo for trail tramping!

family fun 34. A good meal with good company: I may be good at multi-tasking, but all too often I’m trying to read or work on the computer while I’m eating… or should I say, “wolfing my food”. I seldom take time for breakfast at home, ending up most days with a muffin and coffee at my desk at work, and that’s where my lunch often is as well. Then at home, there’s blogs and e-mails and other computer business to swallow up yet another meal time. How marvelous then when my partner and I actually take the time to sit down and eat and talk and spend a meal together, whether at home or at the pub, with friends or by ourselves. Sometimes it’s only then that I truly relax. (Or maybe that’s just the glass of cheer talking.)

the cat and the piano5. Music: I’m a trained musician, but I’ve stopped playing music myself, at least for the time being. (That’s another blog for another time.) Yet I can’t help being moved by music. I love so many styles, and I don’t always know what’s going to hit me in the heart on a given day, whether it’s the sublime “Summertime” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (that we were so fortunate to see in Paris), the joyful skip of a medieval dance tune (as played by the Toronto Consort, for example), the full-throated folk-song world fusion composition (such as a song by the Finnish group Värttinä), the aching pain-pleasure balancing act of a Puccini aria, or one of those comfortably familiar ’70s tunes that we can croon along with in wobbly harmony. Music touches me and moves me; it picks up my feet and my heart and my hopes.

green walk, receding6. Photography: I take photographs. If I am seeing something — anything — for the first time, and there isn’t a camera attached to my face, it’s hard for me to fully enjoy the experience. I use a camera to record what I see, urban juxtapositions and natural wonders, friends and family, the world around me. I take photographs to make sense of what I see, and to help me see and appreciate the small delights that lift life away from the mundane. Sometimes when I’m behind a camera, when I’m focusing on a huge vista or tiny flower, time flows by like a dream, and I am completely absorbed by my task. After viewing and enhancing these photos I’ve created, it is a huge reward (and often ego-boost) to choose the best and share them with others. It’s like that with words, too, although they aren’t as immediate — so thanks for taking the time to read these!

Phew. I did manage to find six things, and I haven’t even mentioned chocolate. Wow. I have a lot to be happy about. Thank you, Goodbear, for the invitation!

Now, since I haven’t been active here for a long while, I don’t know whether my blogfriends will notice if I tag them, but I guess it’s worth trying. So, here’s a Tree of Happiness — and an invitation to list six happy things — going out to: haiku-ist extraordinaire Shaw Malcolm, world-explorer Richard, Devon organic farmer Paula, and… oh, Lavenderbay has already tagged the others I would have asked. Oh well. Three Trees of Happiness is a good start, and maybe I’ll find some more recipients later.

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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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The world’s food, our fortune April 26, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, consumer, diversity, energy, food, learn, life, nature, world.
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wheat seeds - Time

One of my favourite family stories has to do with food. My mother grew up near London, and remembers standing at the back door and watching bombs falling during the Second World War. The frequent air raids meant that visits to the nearby bomb shelter became part of the family’s daily routine. On one occasion (that I know about), her mother ran out of the bomb shelter during a raid to fetch the roast from the oven. Bombs may be falling, but the family has to have its dinner!

The western world’s focus has recently turned from the consumption of “stuff” to the consumption of food. Much has been written about the current global food shortage crisis.

Yet how can it be a crisis is when people have been talking about a global food shortage for at least 10 years? There have been famines and other food-related crises in the world before now. Perhaps this time is different because the wealthy countries are sitting up and complaining, too.

The food shortage is affecting countries in different ways. There have been protests in Mexico, where the price of tortillas rose 400% in at the end of 2007, and Haiti, where the poor are eating “dirt cookies” (made of dirt, water, salt and butter. India recently banned the export of all except the highest quality rice. A sharp increase in the cost of milk (blamed on floods in Argentina and a drought in Australia) have affected foods from cheese to croissants. Higher wheat and fuel costs were blamed for a 20% increase in pasta in Italy. There have been bread-queue riots in Egypt, and unrest across Africa.

Global Food Crisis - Der SpiegelIn some parts of the world, food prices for staples have risen 50% or more over the past year. However, in the United States, consumers have had to cope with a 6.5% increase in their grocery bill.

A UN official recently listed a number of causes:

  • growing populations
  • crops being used for biofuels
  • more sophisticated (or diverse) diets in places like India and China
  • a lack of strategic grain reserves
  • the effects of climate change causing drought conditions in places such as in Australia, affecting wheat production in recent years.

A related problems is that of inefficient food distribution and food wastage. Have many of us have refrigerators full of food we don’t need and might not get around to eating? I can’t even imagine how much wasted food restaurants and grocery stores throw into the garbage. In 1995, the BBC reported that 17 million tonnes of food is added to landfills in Great Britain each year because it’s cheaper for the food industry to dump it than give it away.

And with the globalization of food production and distribution, more people are beginning to rely on processed or pre-packaged food. Western foods (can you say MacDonald’s?) are a cultural as well as commercial influence.

The fact is, like the cheap energy we have been used to, food doesn’t get any respect. I’m not suggesting that high food prices are good — there are too many people in this world who have barely enough to eat as it is — but that the North, as the source of much of the world’s food, doesn’t know how to tighten its belt. (And while I’m on the subject of belt-tightening, I know I’m not the only person who should be eating less!) The word “rationing”, familiar with the Second-World War generation but a foreign idea to most westerners today, is coming into vogue again.

People react to the threat of a global oil shortage produces in two ways: by panicking and and buying up all remaining stocks (have you seen the price of gas lately?), or increasing research into alternative energy sources in order to wean themselves off oil dependency.

That’s why I think the boom in biofuel research and production — as wrong-headed as some of it is turning out to be, what with everyone running off madly in all directions — is a good sign. It means that costs are now high enough to make people value alternatives, and maybe think more carefully about conservation and how to stop wasting the energy we produce now.

And so I recommend the “don’t panic” approach to the current food shortage. (Waves of panic-buying of staples and rice-rationing have already hit some U.S. food stores.) Greed won’t get us out of this difficulty, but thankfulness might. We need to appreciate what we already have, and support ongoing work to better manage food distribution, diversity, and sustainability. Let’s get our governments to find some swords-into-ploughshares funding and share the wealth… of food, that is!

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Related Links:
CBC interactive: Global Food Prices
CBC: “Beef is out, wheat is in: farmers”
Guardian, UK: “Change in farming can feed world: report”

Telegraph, UK: “Potatoes could solve food shortage”
ABC: “UN warns on food shortage riots”
Financial Post: “Forget oil, the new global crisis is food”
Time: “How to End the Global Food Shortage”

A bicycle revolution April 22, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, consumer, energy, environment, journey, learn, life, world.
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carlton street 2
Originally uploaded by Seeing Is

I rode my bike to work today. Not because it’s Earth Day, but because I have a class tonight and riding will get me home and to a late supper a lot faster than walking. But since it is Earth Day today, it’s a good time to think about the cost of commuting.

I’m fortunate enough to live only a 20-minute walk from work. I live and work downtown, within a few minutes of the Don Valley and only a short bike ride from Lake Ontario. I own a car, but I usually save it for out-of-town trips. Besides, parking is expensive!

One thing I’ve noticed, as a pedestrian and occasional cyclist (and even less frequent driver), is that cars in the city are most times at a disadvantage. Traffic — and drivers — get snarly during rush hour, and a driver can sit at an intersection waiting for three lights to change before being able to turn left (I’ve been in that situation, knowing full well I could have walked home in the time I took to turn one corner!). Cars double-park or stop in bicycle lanes because there’s no convenient parking spots left near the Tim Hortons. And then there are the risks of bad drivers, taxis doing sudden u-turns, pedestrians dashing across four lanes right in front of you, cyclists weaving through stopped cars and barrelling the wrong way down a one-way street…

But while I’ve had quite a few scares — and a lot of stress — as a driver, my only accidents (except one as a new driver) have been as a cyclist. I’ll tell you briefly about these two incidents, because I learned something important on each occasion.

1. Head-on: About 15 years ago, I had a head-on collision with a car. Literally. I was on my bicycle, turning left with the traffic, but the car which turned with me was a lot faster, and I found myself in the middle of the intersection in the path of an oncoming car. I don’t remember the collision itself, but I know that I managed to twist sideways on my bike and hit the car windshield with the back of my head. Yes, I was wearing a helmet; it saved my life, or at least saved me from serious head injuries. The car windshield was shattered, my body left a large dent on the car hood, my bicycle was twisted, and I was knocked unconscious. But I walked away from the hospital with only a few bad bruises. Lesson: wear a helmet!

2. Face first: The second incident happened last fall. I was leaving a class, in a hurry to get home, and started pedalling quite energetically. I was crossing the street in front of the school and turning to go left when my front bicycle tire slipped into a streetcar track. The next thing I knew, my face was on the pavement, my glasses were a few feet away, and my first thought was, “oh no, not again!” Fortunately, there were no cars coming, and several people came to help me right away, including a doctor who asked someone to fetch ice for me. My helmet didn’t help me this time (because I fell face forward), but I still managed to walk away with some bad bruises and some dizziness that disappeared after a month. Lesson: don’t be in a hurry!

hitching posts

This past Sunday was the first time I had been on my bike since that incident, and I have to say that I felt no hesitation. I love the feeling of gliding on my bicycle, not being caught in rush-hour traffic, not having to pay for parking. And I really like the way bicycling is for people of all ages, that I can ride my bike even when my body gets old and creaky!

And when I read about other cities where bicycling has become part of the transportation grid, about the way commuting by bike is part of the culture in places like Holland and Denmark, I feel like I’m part of a revolution. And this revolution is good for our planet. Happy Earth Day!

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Related Links:
Commute By Bike blog — check out the Gas Savings Calculator
11 Most Bike-Friendly Cities in the World
New York Times: “In Portland, Cultivating a Culture of Two Wheels”