Thursday, December 20, 2012

Time To Go

The winds are blowing strong and the occasional branch hits the roof of our yurt. The tarp surrounding our outside kitchen is flapping. I’m concerned about the electrical outlet exposed to the precipitation. It’s cold out there! Every time I have to leave the warmth of our yurt, is a struggle for me, and, as I re-enter the toasty warm circle, I sigh gently as I enter the warmth.
The view from my
morning shower

The view during my shower was definitely unique this morning. The snow is falling and if I venture even a step from the shower spray I can feel the crisp air on my skin. Thank goodness for our functioning hot water tank, although I did notice that the water begins to freeze even as it makes it way down. I’m grateful for the experience, and, I’m also glad that we’re leaving. I don’t think I’d still like this after a few weeks!

It’s time to go! Winter is undoubtedly upon us, and we are not equipped to live here comfortably. So we prepare to leave. Our tickets to Fort Cochin India are booked for travel on December 28 leaving from JFK airport in New York.

We leave the island on Saturday for 3 months. Our first stop is New York City to see my mother before we leave the continent.  She’s 87 tears old, and though she seems physically solid and healthy, I welcome the opportunity to be with her and spend some time while she is still here.

Paul and I haven’t been to India together for 3 years. I’ve been there twice since we explored the country together 3 years ago. I am excited to immerse myself in Yoga for the first month and to deepen my practise. Yoga has become a major focus in my teaching and I embrace the idea of broadening the practical applications I’ve learned. Returning to my teacher in Fort Cochin and reuniting with my Cochi community is exciting. I look forward to visiting the schools where I previously spent rich and fulfilling hours and reconnecting with the special people who make those Kerala schools so successful.     

Paul and I intend to travel to places in India we haven’t been before. Rajasthan, Varanasi, and Jaipur are all northern areas where we want to explore. This year I’ll even get to attend the festival in Bangalore at the Gurukala of my dear friend and teacher, Mah. The last two years my visits have been in early autumn and I have missed the weekend festival that occurs annually in February. This year, with Paul, I will be there!

Visiting with Sajee and Aji, has become a yearly event for me. Immersing myself in Yoga practise and enveloping in the environment of Indian family life and community activities is time I have grown to crave. I am getting my yearly fix.

And, though I am joyfully welcoming my trip to India, I also know how much I love my life here on Gabriola, and, once the Winter rage has passed, I can openly engage in focussing again on the land and creating an outdoor living space that enriches and fulfils.

Okay then…Canadian Winter, friends and family who I love dearly here on this continent……see you soon!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chanukah 2012

         Today is the 5th night of Chanukah. It is evident to me that Chanukah is a time of contemplation. I tend to ritualize the holiday and take stock of my situation in life.
          I remember Chanukahs of years gone by. Our family avoided the exchanging of presents. We kept our celebration focussed on the lighting of candles, praying and singing together, and eating traditional foods, like potato latkes and suvganiot (jelly donuts). The reminder of the miracles that happen in our lives, even those that we forget to consider, was, intentionally included in our gatherings.
       Of course, extended family members just couldn’t hold back with the presents, and several of them sent or gave our kids Chanukah gelt (money) as a gift. So, when Chanukah was over, we would gather the kids and drive over to Toys “R” Us. Each child got to buy something he/she wanted, and also, spent half the money collected to buy a toy for a distressed child. On our way home, we would stop at the Women’s Shelter in our area and hand over the toys! I appreciate that our children grew to practice this with ease. There was never thought of ‘keeping it all for myself’. And, as the children grew, their ‘giving’ spirit grew bigger with them.
          Our family hosted the Gellman/Applebaum Chanukah each year, which was really the only time that the whole family gathered together in celebration.
          In 2003 Paul and I travelled to Israel with our 4 youngest children, our daughters. It was Chanukah when we arrived in Jerusalem and the essential memory I have of that time was walking in the streets of the holy city and seeing a constant display of Chanukah lights in the houses that lined the residential streets of the community. Menorahs of all designs sizes and materials are publicly displayed in every window we pass. It is a most beautiful sight, enhanced even more by the quiet, subtle, spiritual energy that exudes from the ground of the city! That year, we all lit our candles together hugged by the Jewish community that surrounded us outside of our hostel and into the villages all around. There is an embrace that happens for me in Israel like nowhere else. I experienced that during that Chanukah 2003.
        Last year, Paul and I were in Guatemala. Our first weekend in Guatemala City was with a community of Jewish people with whom we, over the 3 months we were there, developed an emotional and spiritual connection that will be life long. Adat Israel (previously Casa Hillel) is a community of Latino people who have adopted Judaism as their own spiritual preference. Many of them were brought up in various other religions, especially Catholic, and were seeking something more personally meaningful and relevant for themselves. Each found Judaism as the ideal way of religious expression. Once they ‘found’ each other, they established a community. They learn together, pray together, share weekly services together and celebrate holidays together as a family of converted Jews. Paul and I spent several weekends (Shabbatot) with Casa Hillel during our 3-month stay in Guatemala. Chanukah was our inaugural experience with them. It is memorable, and, this year, I am thinking deeply about them.

          In Guatemala, Paul and I lived in San Marcos, a small Mayan village situated on Lake Atitlan. San Marcos is one of many villages encircling the lake, each exuding a different energy and a variation in vibe. We connected strongly with a hostel called Del Lago where we spent a lot of time, playing music, playing with locals, learning Spanish and feeling close to Mayan culture. There we spent the first night of Chanukah last year. An Israeli “expat” and I used the community kitchen to fry about 150 latkes that we brought over to the local centre to share with others. We lit Chanukah candles, sang traditional songs in Hebrew and English, and shared the stories related to Chanukah. It was a blast!
        This year, we lit our first Chanukah candle with our son and grandchildren in LA. We are in our yurt on Gabriola. Using Skype we are able to light the candles, sing the prayers, even a special Shehechiyanu, and sing Chanukah songs. The times change, no doubt, and practices do differ, but all in all, Chanukah is a holiday about dedication, education, and miracles. I’m up for it all!!!!
                   Happy Chanukah to all, and to all, a good night.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Road Trip

               I live a crazy life…no doubt! We left LA a week ago after a 10 day stay with our son and grandchildren. These past 7 days have been packed with driving, eating, connecting with dear people in our lives, and inching our way closer to home after a month of being being away from home.
                 San Francisco was our first stop. On our way we stopped for the afternoon with friends in Santa Cruz. We’d been there several times before. It is a small, quiet town with beautiful beaches and a tremendous boardwalk. We walked and watched the surfers. I think in my next life experience I might want to learn how to surf!
          Overnight in San Francisco, we spent time with old friends. We walked in the parks, made delicious meals, went to see a movie in a real movie theatre (Lincoln) and just hung around visiting with Gerry, Mark and their two grown up wonderful daughters. We even gave up our plan of going to Reno just to spend extra time with them.
                From San Fran we made our way to Morrow Bay, a quaint little town situated on the Pacific coast. Clusters of residential communities perch on hills overlooking the ocean. Simple, inexpensive restaurants and charming shops line the boardwalk. Expansive, white sandy beaches unroll as far as I can see. People, pelicans, and an enormous assortment of birds find their own space on the sand. The water, more aggressive than our Gabriola ocean, is active with enormous waves. Surfers are everywhere.
                 Rising out of the ocean is Morro Rock, a 175 metres high volcanic neck that stands at the entrance to the harbor. There is a narrow bridge connecting it with the shore. It reminded me of the Perce’ rock in the Gaspe Peninsula. That was the place where I did my first scuba dive after passing my course in Ontario. Like Perce’, Morrow Rock offers an awesome and protective presence.
     We spent two nights with new friends who we met through our ATC membership. With them we ate incredible tacos and visited some of the beautiful sights of the area. The Hearst Palace is just outside of Morrow Bay. We didn’t go inside the castle. The $25.00 entrance fee just didn’t seem reasonable, but we did check out the museum. Interesting but not too impressive.  My take from the display was that George Hearst had a lot of money. That’s his claim to fame. Not impressed!
          What was impressive was the home of the elephant seals along the coast. It happens to be the beginning of the mating season now. The expanse of beach just off the Pacific Coast Highway was blanketed with hundreds of the seals. Some of them are just hanging out on top of each other, clustered together, sleeping. Some are sloshing around on the beach. Others are actually sparring with each other as it is said they do when they are preparing to mate. They are huge and, by adulthood, the male seals grow a beak shaped trunk. I guess that’s why they’re called elephant seals. We loved sharing the afternoon with them.

        We loved the two-day respite from driving. It was nice to take some time to just explore a new place and spend some time together quietly.
        The next few days was all about meeting up with old friends, first in Redding, California, then in Portland Oregon. Redding is right near Mount Shasta, but the clouds were too thick and the rains too rough for us to even get a glimpse. Some of the people we saw were friends we hadn’t seen for 30 years, or children of friends’ who we’ve known since their childhood and we’ve watched them grow into independent adults. It is amazing to reconnect with people from our past. There is something special about weaving these relationships into adulthood, and noticing the growth in the way we interact with each other. Sarah, Paul and I went thrift shopping in Portland. Paul did all the buying! A new hat, a pick up for his guitar and an old novel was some of his finds.
             Our 6000-kilometre road trip has come full circle. Maggie, our GPS indicates our first stop…. Ferndale Washington. That’s where we are tonight, playing guitar with David, eating good foods and drinking simple wines. I feel at home a little bit. We will be soon…until we go off again.
            Our last night was a quiet one having diner with our Jacquie and Lindsay in Vancouver. It is our settling place before getting the ferry to the Islands. I like being at home. As wonderful as our trip has been, I’m craving the opportunity to be still.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Affordable Travel Club

ROAD TRIP!!! We’ve been travelling in our car this past month driving across three states to spend time with our son and grandchildren in LA. It’s not our first road trip. Over the past 3 years we’ve travelled approximately 40,000 kilometres in our little blue Subaru, between Toronto and Gabriola and back, Toronto to New York, New York to California and back, and most recently Gabriola to California and back.

People ask us how we can afford to travel so much. Undoubtedly, the major expense is gas. That’s an expense that can’t be avoided. We bring healthy foods along with us, mostly organic fruits, vegetables, yogurt ad other snacks that we’re able to purchase at local grocery stores. We try to eat only one meal a day in restaurants while we are on the road.

When travelling, our first choice is to stay overnight with friends and family. We use our travel to visit people we want to see along the way. When we need to stay overnight and there is no one we know, we use our membership to The Affordable Travel Club.

Each year we pay our fees of $70.00. We then receive an online catalogue of people throughout the world (mainly the U.S. and Canada) who have also joined. These people are mostly retired seniors who love travel and love meeting new people. They usually live in quite luxurious homes sometimes right in the heart of a city, and sometimes in remote areas deeply surrounded by wild. For $20.00 a night for the two of us, we meet delightful, similarly-minded people and stay in beautiful private accommodations sharing delicious homemade breakfasts with our hosts. I call it “Couchsurfing for the Over 50 Crowd”.

First we contact the people in the area we would like to stay.  Sometimes they are unavailable or travelling themselves.  Occasionally, they invite us to stay even though they are not there!

As we plan our trips, we make contact with members to request a stay for a night or two. Sometimes the accommodations are not available. Many of the people travel too. Sometimes the hosts invite us to stay even though they are not there. Recently I attended a conference in Santa Rosa California, and, not wanting to have the exorbitant expense of a hotel, I chose an Affordable Travel home. For 6 nights I stayed in a gorgeous house in the suburbs of Santa Rosa. The hosts were in England at the time and I had the entire house to myself. How wonderful to leave the conference each day and come ‘home’ to a beautiful house, with kitchen facilities and the comforts of solitude and quiet.

ATC is a traveller’s community. Each person on the list is screened and a clear description of each person is given. Our listing reads like this:

Canada - Gabriola, BC (5 km E. of Nanaimo - Vancouver Is.)

GELLMAN, Paul & BLOCK, Amy., Gabriola Island, CANADA. - Musician/IT Consultant & Ed. Consultant. Int: music, yoga, learning. Cabin, Yurt, acc: 2, bed: double, shared bath, smoking outside. Guide. Gabriola Island is one of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia. (Dec10)

Other than the nights we spent with friends or family on this trip along the western coast of the United States, we stayed in Affordable Travel homes. In Oregon two of the houses we stayed in were right on the Pacific Ocean. One of the houses was a stunning condominium built on the waterfront. Our upstairs bedroom overlooking the cliffs allowed us to hear the crashing of waves against the shores.

Some of the people we meet through ATC are fantastic!
In Eugene, Oregon we met an incredibly interesting couple. They directed us to wonderful places to go. We even participated in a drop-in yoga class and attended Shabbat service in a nearby egalitarian synagogue. After our experience at the synagogue we went ‘home’ to an interesting conversation with our hosts, one of whom is a non-practising Jew.

In Morro Bay we stayed with Bill and Toni, retired teachers who are active grandparents to a 6 year-old granddaughter. We stayed for two days, which gave us a chance to hang out some. Morro Bay is a small town built along the coast. The entire town is centred around Morro Rock, a huge formation that stands majestically above the water. On our first night, we walked to the local taqueria with Toni and Bill, and ate delicious (and enormous) seafood tacos.

It adds so much to our trip to share time with the people in the areas we visit. I’m sure we see things we would never know about, and eat in local, lesser-known restaurants. Sometimes, we even buy groceries and cook together while chatting and drinking wine. Years ago, while travelling through Arizona, we stayed with ATC people in Sedona, and we became such good friends that we stayed over a week!

Stopping in Depoe Bay, Oregon, our host suggested we meet them at a local restaurant before venturing on to our condo on the water. They have two apartments there and offered us one of them. As I approach the table where they were sitting, I think: “How interesting to have dinner with these people. Paul and I have just spent all day driving together. What a nice opportunity to connect with others too.”
The Affordable Travel Club has been such an inspiration to our travels. We can afford to stay over now even when we don’t have friends or family. We love meeting new people while we are travelling. Even Europe seems manageable now. I never would have considered travel in Europe because of the high costs of accommodations. Now it seems possible.

I like the idea of sharing our home with others too, and, as Affordable Travel Members, that is part of our responsibility. In the 3 years we’ve been members, however, we’ve had only 2 requests to stay in our home in Toronto, and both times we were not there and our house was not available. Now, living in a yurt in B.C. it will be interesting to see how many people want to come to visit.
Our friends in Toronto, Harriet and Morty told us about ATC three years ago. It has changed the way we travel! There is no doubt that meeting new people along the way makes the trip way more interesting. Thank you for the tip!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Seeing The Forest Through The Trees

We’re driving through The Redwood Forest. I am awestruck by the trees that line the road and flow into the woods. Tree trunks stand solid and straight. Symmetrical layers of bark climb up towards sprouting branches, majestic umbrellas of living green. I imagine the depth of the roots and the mass of growth under the ground stabilizing each tree and providing strength for growth. It is spectacular.

We stop the car in a clearing and take off in different directions to explore. As I stroll, I absorb  the natural energy and I am awakened to my spiritual awareness. There is profundity in the life of a forest. It is deep, strong and simple.

Sometimes you have to look at the trees through the forest. Each individual tree has its own character and purpose. Some trees stand alone, majestically. The treetops reach towards the sky’s light. Others gather in groups, absorbing energy from each other. They depend on the same space and the same source of nutrients, and successfully share nature’s energy for survival. They don’t always grow as big, but they grow in depth and are strong. There are some trees that have fallen, not quite able to withstand the natural elements - young stumps that were never strong enough to survive, and older ones who have lived long quiet lives. All of them lie grounded in their place, replenishing earth and making room for others.

Sometimes seeing the forest through the trees is helpful. We often don’t realize what we have until we are able to see the bigger picture. I consider my dad who enjoyed the pleasures of planting small flowers in his garden. Occasionally he would plant a tree and marvel at its beauty and how it affected his landscape. I remember one day as we walked down a neighbouring street together, my dad tossed his head toward a beautiful home, exquisitely landscaped with many of the same plants that he had planted on his own property. “I wish I had a garden like that,” he said. “Dad… you do have a garden like that!” I answered him with a sly smile. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the bounty of what we have.

Solving problems would be so much easier if we considered seeing the trees through the forest. Problems, often seeming insurmountable, become so much more manageable when we break it down to its many smaller parts. Sometimes recognizing the various types of trees in the forest, categorizing them according to the age and height and specific needs, might help us organize more efficiently and care for the forests more successfully. Prioritizing in life; separating what really matters for the moment, and what can wait until later simplifies decision making and helps us solve challenging issues more easily.

Trees, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tall and strong. Some are evergreen and thrive brilliantly even during freezing and snowy weather. Some conform obediently to their environment, shedding their leaves after changing colours and adapting to changes in climate. Others weaken considerably during change, often succumbing to the environment and becoming sick and dying. Attending to individual needs gives strength and fosters resiliency. Seeing each tree as part of a whole forest reinforces the ability for shared responsibility and combined strength. 

We create forests as we develop community, from individual and unique trees.Forests are rich diverse, sensual, beautiful communities that touch our souls and envelop us in their sacred space. Individual trees draw us closer and call to our specific yearning. Others beckon us closer and help us understand the energy of the forest where we are. Each of us exists in a unique, rich and complex place. Together we make up the great wholesome forest.

Friday, November 16, 2012

B.C. Ferries

The ferry system in British Columbia is an excellent model of mutual respect in the public sector. BC Ferries are awesome! I love travelling between Vancouver to Nanaimo on the ferry. I find the whole system to be very respectful and pleasant. Travelling for 1 hour and 45 minutes doesn’t have to be enjoyable. I think the ferry system makes it work.

“Attention passengers on the upstairs deck. Please be aware that the horn will be sounding very soon. It is a very loud horn. We want you to be prepared!” Being respectful doesn’t have to be a challenge!

The food in the cafeteria-style restaurant is good. I like their clam chowder. The coffee is excellent, and they serve beautiful full meals and it’s possible to substitute yam fries for the French fries if you like. “Would you like to warm up your cinnamon bun? The oven is just around that counter”, instructs the cashier as she rings up our coffee and dessert.

When I travel in the morning, there is hot, natural oatmeal. Who could ask for more? The seating in the cafeteria is open and sunny. The view out on the water is always spectacular! Seeing whales is a possibility and makes the occasional glance necessary. Today’s trip included an announcement. “Attention passengers! For those of you who are interested there is a pod of porpoises following our ferry. Look out the starboard side of the ferry to see a spectacular sight!” Sure enough, as I glance out, I see at least 50 porpoises swimming together! Diving in and out of the water, dancing through the ocean waves…  playfully struggling (without a hope) to keep up with us.

Other announcements can be heard during a trip: “Attention passengers! A wallet has been found on the counter in the women’s washroom. Please come to the lost and found to retrieve it.” Or “Attention passengers! Will the owner of a blue Subaru, license plates 574 WKN please return to your car. You left your lights on.”

There are televisions on the walls of certain decks. There is a gorgeous safe and comfortable sundeck that is inviting and welcoming. Young lovers sit on the floor with their backs supported by the wall. The sun shines down upon them and they shine upon each other as they kiss, as if no one else can see. A separate place for smokers is provided.

Children’s play area and video game machines occupy one area of the ferry. Another room has jungle gym and equipment for the more active soul. Everyone has what he or she needs. An hour into the ride, a young woman invites young people (and older too) to a short seminar on some topic unique to British Columbia waters. Wildlife, fisheries, canoe making are some topics I have heard about.

I particularly notice how respectful our BC Ferries are, when I had the chance to travel on the Washington ferry line from Anacortes to Victoria. There’s nothing really wrong with their line. There’s just not much ‘right’ about it. People seem a little gruffer. The accommodations are older and more used, dirtier. There’s good popcorn, but nothing else in the menu interested me. There are no public announcements other than to tell passengers what is prohibited and what are the consequences of poor behaviour.

As I join other passengers on the BC Ferry line at the end of our trip, we are all waiting to disembark. People smile. It has been a fun trip. The ferry workers are already out with their cloths and brooms, cleaning the areas and preparing for the next passengers. “Thank you so much.” I say as I leave. “You are so very welcome…come again!” And I definitely will.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Joyce, Oscar and Life Cycle Reality

Today is the yarzheit (memorial) of my dear friend Joyce. I look at her picture and I feel close…. so close.

Joyce was a wild woman! She laughed hysterically at times, and at other times settled into serious, sad conversations. She smoked cigarettes, drank a lot of alcohol, revelled in good food, good drink and just loved being with people she cared about. She cared about so many. Family was the most important part of her life, and so many people felt like ‘family’.

Joyce Daniels was my good friend. I met her while travelling in Trinidad in 1985.  I was there as a gift from another friend as payment for helping him get his resort established there. I did all the hiring for the resort from Toronto. The resort didn’t last very long. It was one of those places that looked spectacular from the pictures, and when you arrived it was actually a run down, cockroach infested place, with dirty swimming pools and not enough food at the buffet (all you can eat) kitchen.

Joyce chose that ‘all inclusive’ resort for herself and her family: Richard, her partner, and 3 kids, two daughters from her first marriage and one son from Richard’s. Though they had loads of money, Joyce was always open for a bargain, and as a travel agent and avid traveller she chose Trinidad as an adventure for that winter break. It was a big mistake from a comfort point of view, but I think we both agreed, we found each other via that experience. It was worth it.

At the time, Joyce and Rich were living together, not yet married. They were in the midst of the challenges of blending a family of children from previous marriages. They did so consciously and mindfully. They had money, which made travel and general living just a bit easier. Prior to meeting Richard, Joyce struggled to make ends meet. She was a teacher like I, working in the inner city schools in special needs, and immersing herself in the life issues of so many youth. I was a beginner teacher at the time, learning how to engage and still stay balanced.

I was a single parent of two young teen aged boys at the time, struggling with money, trying to keep my head above the proverbial waters, and still maintaining some sort of comfortable life for my boys.

She was smart too, delving into areas of realization that few others in my life would dare to go. Conversations about sex, childrearing, money challenges ... Joyce listened to me through my divorce, change of jobs, and varying ventures in my own life. She counselled, advised, encouraged and loved me unconditionally, and was there to share the love I eventually attained in my own life. My life, not so coincidentally, in many ways mirrored her life. Blending family, travelling extensively, absorbed in teaching, living alternatively, I feel the soul connection deeply.

Joyce was fun! Her laissez faire attitude towards life kept her smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and supported her desire to experiment and explore. With a conniving twinkle in her eye she would say, “Come on. Let’s just try this once.” She played hard that girl.

And, in her harsh, rough voice she would yell out “Asshole! What the fuck do you want from me?” She was crass and loud and involved and aware. She was curious and involved and, in a special way exhibited her New York self-absorbed attitude.

I flew to New York from Toronto to attend Joyce’s funeral, say good-bye to my dear friend and to comfort and be comforted by other friends and family there. It was an important time for me to connect with others who loved Joyce as I did. She has so many dear friends and an exceptionally closely-knit family. On my way home, while waiting to board my plane back to Toronto, my grandson Oscar was born.  How beautiful, I thought. My grandson enters this world as my loving and cherished friend leaves it. Oscar…may you have the depth of character, joy for life, and love for people that Joyce experienced in her life. May you dance, laugh, sing, work hard and play. May you love unconditionally, feel deeply, learn and explore as intensely. And, too, dear Oscar, may you have the love of life that my dear friend, Joyce Daniel left with us. Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween 2012

 I am grateful to my friend, Leita for informing me about the Celtic origins of Halloween. I have generally believed that Halloween is a meaningless and flippant holiday; one that I avoided. It is the cause of jokes now that our children have grown up totally scarred because they were never allowed to go out trick or treating or engage in Halloween activities. The fact is…. in our house…. Halloween didn’t exist. I suppose that caused some issues for our kids.

We saw some great movies on Halloween night when the boys were young. It was my only way to help them get through the Halloween excitement without engaging in the activities. We didn’t have a lot of money in those days. I remember consciously saving enough to take them out for the evening and avoid the trick or treaters knocking on our apartment door begging for candy. I, for one, looked forward to having that night away from the antics of the holiday and together, creating alternative experiences with my kids.

My children grew up in a Jewish home. Wearing costumes and pretending to be someone else happens on a holiday called Purim when the intention is to dress up like the characters of the story of Purim. Wearing costumes on Halloween had no particular cultural significance. And going from house to house, begging for candy, dressed in monster costumes or Batman, simply went against every idea about healthy eating and nutrition that I tried to model.

Halloween is a very scary time for some youth. I realized that when I was a middle school teacher in the inner city of Toronto. In the students’ journals, as Halloween approached, expressions of stress and worries about ‘being mugged’ or ‘attacked’ for candy became a common topic of note. Many of these youth came from other countries, wanting to fit in to the Canadian way. In adolescence they want nothing more than to be accepted in the social mores of the environment. For many, Halloween made no sense in their country of origin, and complying with the practice just became easier than fighting the mainstream.

In addition, Halloween became opportunity for danger. Stories of razor blades and poison in distributed food led to the termination of homemade, interesting desserts to share with neighbours. The holiday became, for many, opportunity for violence and horror! Even movies depicting frightening faces of vampires and monsters intended to scare and haunt the child psyche. Desensitization to murder, carnage and gore brutality becomes desirable and amusing. There’s something wrong with this picture! Especially in a world that struggles with war, urban violence, prejudice and teen bullying, we want to promote and model positive activities. We need to be way more loving and compassionate and kind. Those are the behaviours we want to model and highlight.

We were definitely the exception in our community in Toronto. Most people completely bought into the practices of Halloween. Making (or buying) costumes, purchasing bags and bags of Hershey’s or Cadbury to distribute, getting involved with Halloween parties, all became a part of the days leading up to October 31st.

In my own classroom the challenge was to acknowledge the holiday and still respect the various cultures and religions that were represented in our learning environment. To represent the day, we would have a potluck lunch. Everybody had to bring food that was black or orange. Recently I have learned some interesting information about Halloween that opens me up to make more sense of this holiday.

A Pagan holiday in origin, it is said that October 31 is considered to be the identification of the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the 'darker half' of the year. The separation of the seasons is a time for change, ‘house cleaning’, preparation and inner reflection. It is time when many believe the ‘door’ to the otherworld opens allowing the souls of the dead to appear. It reminds me a bit about saying Yizkor and connecting to the loved ones in our lives who have passed. The Celtic holy day of Halloween is actually called Samhain (pronounced sow in). During the festivities people wore costumes to disguise themselves so they are unrecognizable from the evil spirits that could appear. Jack-o-lanterns, originally made from turnips, were carved and lit along the pathways for light and protection from the spirits. This was the last chance for these souls to seek vengeance on Earth before they were permanently settled in heaven. The trick or treating practice originated from the desire to distribute food to poor people who came to one’s house. Doing good and helping others, people believed, would save their souls.  Like Yom Kippur, it represents your ‘last chance’ for redemption.

There is also a Christian connection to Halloween, which many of us know as ‘All Hallows Eve’. Like the Celtics, it too is assumed that those spirits, who have not yet passed in to the Other World, use their last chance to make a presence in this world before they are moved on to Heaven.

I wish I had known more about Halloween while I was growing up and growing up my children. I’m not sure if it would have influenced me to practice the rituals for the holidays, but I do think I would have been much more forgiving of those who did.

Happy Halloween to all those who care…

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Thanksgiving was more than two weeks ago already and I still feel in a place of thankfulness.

I feel it when one of my four daughters calls in the morning to say “Hi mom. I just want to let you know I’ve arrived home safely. How was your weekend?”

I feel it as I move about our outside living space and marvel at the choices I’ve made in my life. Our outside composting toilet naturally feeds our trees and flowers. I am blessed with the presence of Nature and I feel the joy of my surroundings that feed me.

I feel thankful as I walk towards the ferry on my way into town to get passport photos taken. Living on an island sometimes means making extra effort to acquire simple things. I feel separated from and also connected to the rest of the world.  On my way down the road I see a sign “Live Music Thursday”. I am grateful.

I feel it as I teach Yoga to the people who come to our weekly soup social. We talk sometimes in between our intentional breathing. We move and stretch and balance and focus within, and sometimes in between asanas, we share stories and tears and laughter. And always there is thanksgiving.

I feel it when I am able to share my gifts, further developing literacy skills with adults, helping high school dropouts acquire secondary school certification. I feel it when these people begin to talk about university and future learning options that previously were deemed insurmountable. I feel it when a local resident, destitute and addicted to drugs, rises from his dank, dark and densely smelly trailer with a smile on his face as I bring him healthy and fresh food from our local food bank.

I feel so grateful when Paul turns over in bed, wraps me in his arms and warm body and helps me settle down to a calm and better place for sleep.

I am grateful for the chance to love my 87-year-old mother. She used to be an angry, hurtful and jealous parent when I was growing up. She has reached a place of peacefulness and acceptance. I think of it as being in a mental place of Yoga and meditation. She loves me now. I know that, and most importantly, she knows it. I’m thankful that she gets to feel that love before she dies. And I am thankful for the love I feel for her.
I am grateful for the rain, and the cool winds as autumn shows her presence. God’s colours are changing now. The red leaves, once so green, are dropping from the now tired branches. They are mingling with the yellows and oranges and golds from other trees creating a warm blanket for the earth.

I give thanks for the many friends and neighbours here, on Gabriola who stop and talk with me on my way to the mailbox, or at the village market where I go to buy milk. And to Michelle in the produce department, who stops me to say, “What are you looking for, Amy?” as she observes my confused expression and realizes that I have completely forgotten why I came into the store in the first place.

The other day, I read something on one of my friend’s Face book pages. She wrote, “Why can’t I just feel good all the time?” When that happens to me, I say….”Let me find something good in  my world.” and then I remember! I am even thankful to that friend for the reminder!

Monday, October 15, 2012


“Where is home?” I often get asked as I travel through the world.

Home is the quiet of my soul. The place I go to when I feel lost and untethered. I find strength and comfort when I allow myself to go inside, meditate and sit quietly. I find home in my own being.

Home is the deafening sound of the quiet in the woods on our land. Or the growl of the wind as it passes from sea to sea. Home is the hum of the ferry liner cruising past Gabriola as it makes its way to the mainland.

Home is the warmth of the rocks on the shore at Drumbeg  Park. The eagles soaring above my head. It is the gentleness of the rain pattering on the canvas roof of our yurt in the afternoon. It is the crackle that comes from the wood stove.

Home is the dazzling contrast of God’s colours everywhere I look…blue sky, green leaves, brown bark from the trees…simple and profound.

Home is the comfort I feel as I look into my love’s face. It is the simple conversations that we have. It is the politics, literature, money issues, joys, dreams and fears that we get to share together. It is believing that we can always be together.

Home is making simple meals and lighting candles and drinking cheap red wine that we make ourselves for $3.00 bottle. Home is anywhere in the world, and everywhere in the world. With Paul I am home.

Home is actively sharing love with my children. It is knowing that, as we grow older, our relationship deepens, and we open up to understand each other more. Home is being with them, through all aspects of our lives, sharing laughter, tears, music, grief and joy. Home is having them near me, where ever we are on this planet.

Home is knowing that what I do in the world is helpful to others and that I make difference in their lives.

Home is teaching and the gift of being able to help others become more aware…of life…of their universe…. of themselves.

Home is learning. Travelling and reading and talking to others helps me expand my opinions and my perspectives. Learning is listening with my eyes and ears and an open heart… without judgement and the need to form an opinion. Learning is accepting every point of view before I feel confident enough to form my own opinion. Home is being able to say, “I don’t know.”

Home is writing. Paper, computer, dictation into my IPhone allows me to express what goes on in my heart and soul. It is that form of expression that connects me with others. It is the pathway that I create to make sense of myself in this world. Letting stuff out makes more room for finding space at ‘home’.

My life is full! At 57 years old I have lived in many places of the world. I have been born into and created family where personalities have incubated and flourished. I have studied, taught, sacrificed, danced, laughed, mourned, and sown myself carefully into this universe. I continue to do all that. I am here, now. I am home!