Keeping the Christmas spirit alive beyond the festive season

The Christmas spirit only asks us, as Mother Teresa famously said, that we “do ordinary things with great love”

Keeping the Christmas spirit alive beyond the festive seasonWith traditional ways of celebrating on pause, Christmas 2020 was definitely one for the books. Despite COVID-19 – or maybe even because of it – I, and many people I know, celebrated the Christmas season well. As one of my good friends remarked, COVID-19 didn’t spoil her Christmas. She mused that she made new memories;…

Craving the touchstones of Christmas tradition

The traditions and rituals of the festive season have a part to play in creating a sense of normalcy during this time of pandemic

Craving the touchstones of Christmas traditionI almost lost my Christmas spirit, thanks to COVID-19. The reality of no family dinners, no gathering with friends and no church services to attend threatened to dampen my enthusiasm for the holiday season. Not wanting to be Scrooge, I took action. One grey, dreary day in early December, I tromped through the yard, cutting…

Think about the common good: wear a mask

The pandemic gives us a golden opportunity to be altruistic or egoistic

“Stay the blazes home,” was Premier Stephen McNeil’s frustrated plea to the citizens of Nova Scotia in April of this year. The plea resonated across the province; it captured the imagination and gave rise to a humorous bout of creativity. People could buy Stay the Blazes Home beer, T-shirts and other memorabilia while chanting a…

How to enjoy being idle without feeling guilty

Enjoying a break from work can be a spiritual imperative that is necessary for the well-being of the human spirit

How to enjoy being idle without feeling guilty“Never do today what someone else can do tomorrow.” In the same category is an Italian saying, “il bel far niente,” or “the beauty of doing nothing.” These adages seem to advocate laziness, selfishness and irresponsibility, but I think there’s a deeper wisdom at play: Doing nothing is good for us. The pace of our…

The relevance of Easter in light of the global pandemic

Uncertainty, constant change, anxiety, isolation and loss have become our universal companions. But this too will pass

The relevance of Easter in light of the global pandemicOver the next days and weeks, people of faith will have to be flexible and creative because COVID-19 has upended religious celebrations. Passover, Easter and Ramadan will have to be observed virtually in the home, making use of online streaming of religious services. FaceTime, Skype or Zoom will be useful in exchanging greetings in lieu…

Showing gratitude leads to a healthier life

Grateful people sleep better, exercise more frequently, are happier and more altruistic

Showing gratitude leads to a healthier lifeShowing gratitude is good for us, and yet gratitude does not come naturally or easily to most of us. Our brains are “like Velcro for bad experiences, but Teflon for positive ones,” wrote neuropsychologist Rick Hanson and neurologist Richard Mendius. This tendency towards the negative makes it difficult for us to be grateful. Research has…

The inconvenient truth of a mountain of garbage

Consumer spending is important to a healthy economy, but each of us needs to decide where we draw the line between our wants and our needs

The inconvenient truth of a mountain of garbageI felt guilty tossing mixed household and construction materials into container bins at the landfill. We did our very best to reuse and recycle, but we still had a couple of truckloads of stuff to discard. I hadn’t been to the landfill for years, maybe decades, and I was shocked at the change in the…

Politically-correct euphemisms obscure the truth

Terms such as physician assisted dying or assisted suicide make lies sound truthful and murder respectable

Politically-correct euphemisms obscure the truthEuphemisms have been around at least since biblical times when to uncover a man’s foot was an idiom for making sexual advances. Today, as in the 10th century, people “sleep together”, and everyone knows the intention behind an invitation for a “nightcap”. In classical times, “curled up”, “gone to sleep”, or “on a journey” were…

Octopus escape a reflection of the human spirit

Inky's escape is allegorical of the restlessness of the human spirit. Like Inky, we are not satisfied with the place we inhabit

Octopus escape a reflection of the human spiritThere are some amazing stories of pets finding their way home after long absences. But an octopus? Octopi are intelligent, curious creatures. They are so intelligent that aquarium keepers use an enrichment manual to help ward off boredom for octopi in captivity. Aquarium octopi have toys like Mr. Potato Head and Lego, and some can…

Thoughts while running in a cemetery

The commentary in my head was curiously uplifting despite its morbid subject

Thoughts while running in a cemeteryIt was a crisp, sunny morning for a run along Toronto’s Kay Gardner Beltline Trail. Having spent the previous day travelling, I was anxious to get moving. I turned on my tunes, hit the timer on my watch and quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm. I was relishing the beauty of the changing season. The…

The benefits of letting go of stuff

There’s no U-Haul behind the hearse to carry it all anyway

The benefits of letting go of stuffNearly 25 years ago, I declared a war on stuff. I was helping to clean out the house of a favourite relative who had died and there were moments when the sheer volume of stuff threatened to overwhelm us. Everything had to go, right down to the last nail in the shed. It was then…

Technology has proven itself to be a double-edged sword

Just as technology can bring us together, it can also separate us

Technology has proven itself to be a double-edged swordCommunication technology has come a long way in a relatively short time. In my lifetime, we have moved from twice daily mail delivery and phones that required the services of an operator to connect callers, to the instantaneous communication of smart phones and text messaging. At the click of a mouse, we can “join the…

The unexpected gifts of a staycation

The staycation renewed my appreciation for the familiar and nurtured a more generous heart

The unexpected gifts of a staycationWhen I was a kid, a typical back to school assignment was  writing about our summer vacations. I never much liked the topic. My summers, with a few notable exceptions, were pretty much indistinguishable from each other. I had nothing much to write about, or so I thought. At the time, I did not realize…

Intolerance is the new tolerance

New tolerance demands that we accept either the most popular view or the view of the most vocal group or shut up

Intolerance is the new tolerance“I am intolerant of intolerance” has become something of a mantra for suppressing unpopular opinions. Today’s “new tolerance”, as it is called in academic circles, is redefining our understanding of tolerance and shaping our behaviour in public spaces, but it is no friend to the exercise of conscience and freedom of speech. In the past,…

Cookies and the meaning of life

Cookies and funerals remind us that our lives are greater than our physical presence in the here and now

Cookies and the meaning of lifeI do not enjoy attending funerals. And yet, I frequently come away from a funeral feeling peaceful and uplifted, in a subdued sort of way. A well-celebrated funeral puts me in touch with humanity, and reminds me that each life has a transcendent meaning. As a funeral I once attended illustrates, the transcendent meaning of…

Are you one plum pudding away from a Christmas meltdown?

The pre-Christmas preparation can turn the jolliest of elves into Scrooges

Are you one plum pudding away from a Christmas meltdown?I have a holiday cocktail napkin that reminds me to keep a sense of humour during the busy weeks leading up to Christmas Day. The napkin depicts a spotless 1950’s kitchen where a mother and daughter are preparing to take Christmas dinner out of the oven. The little girl looks excited about the feast ahead,…

Why Christmas matters in a secular society

Its message of goodwill towards all people is ultimately in the best interest of a multicultural society

Why Christmas matters in a secular societyWe go to extremes to avoid the religious aspects of Christmas in the public sphere, and we are worse for it. Christian beliefs about Christmas might offend someone in our secular and multicultural society, so we ignore its religious and historical background. The reluctance to mention the origins of this much-loved holiday permeates early childhood…

Bah, humbug to the war on Christmas

In the interests of diversity and inclusion, society shies away from Christian manifestations of Christmas

Bah, humbug to the war on ChristmasIn the interests of diversity and inclusion, society shies away from Christian manifestations of Christmas. Battles loom over nativity displays, the traditional “Merry Christmas” greeting and Christmas trees. Public schools banned carols from school concerts years ago. There is, some argue, a war on Christmas. While some seek to eliminate anything that remotely resembles religious…

Teaching kids gratitude at Christmas

Consumerism has become a “big problem” for kids, a roadblock on their way to becoming appreciative and contented individuals

Teaching kids gratitude at ChristmasMaybe I am romanticizing when I say that the Christmas of my childhood was not about stuff. There were fewer products, less pervasive advertising and no Black Friday sales. A few pages at the back of the Sears Wish Book were the inspiration for visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Surely, the focus on…

Enjoying the beauty of Christmas lights

Across traditions and time, there has been a longing for light to brighten the darkness of winter

Enjoying the beauty of Christmas lightsI had a striking visual of light in darkness early one morning this week. A bright light, probably the planet Venus, shone with extraordinary clarity and pierced an otherwise black sky. Given my Christian faith and the time of year – less than a month until Christmas – my thoughts turned to the legendary Star of…

Body image issues begin early

How we can help our children be comfortable and happy in their own skin

Body image issues begin earlyMy five-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter has an eye for fashion. She has her favourite outfits and she is fond of accessories. She likes to wear beads like Granny and my earrings are a source of great interest. It’s all very cute and sweet, but I wonder if I should compliment her less frequently on her attire. I…

Halloween rekindles the child in all of us

There’s nothing inherently evil about the celebration of Halloween in our time

Halloween rekindles the child in all of usIs there any harm in participating in the annual celebration of Halloween? Some think so. I first encountered the opinion that Halloween may be spiritually dangerous when my children were young. I was surprised when a friend announced that her children would not be dressing up and trick-or-treating. She objected to the pagan roots of…

Rituals around death may help us live better

From creepy Halloween graveyard scenes to praying for the dead, our subconscious is trying to gain mastery over our fears about dying

Rituals around death may help us live betterEach year from Halloween on Oct. 31 to All Soul’s Day on Nov. 2, we give death a cultural nod. Does this fulfil some deep-seated need? We don’t have to be historians to recognize that Halloween is connected with death and dying. Just walk around any neighbourhood in the days preceding Halloween and you'll notice…

Language can calibrate a nation’s moral compass

From Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King to Donald Trump, America offers examples – good and bad – of the power of language

Language can calibrate a nation’s moral compassLanguage is a powerful tool for shaping a society's values. The manner in which a leader uses language can reset the moral compass of a nation. And it can influence, for better or worse, the behaviour of its citizenry. While public discourse in Canada isn’t perfect, it’s reasonably civil. Canadian politicians, though sometimes outspoken and critical…

Tackling poverty and its impact on social and emotional well-being

Reducing poverty is not just about putting food on the table or a roof over someone's head. But there are useful strategies

Tackling poverty and its impact on social and emotional well-being“Stay calm. You're in the Kootenays.” The slogan caught my eye as I waited in line with my grandchildren to order gelato. As my three-year-old grandson twirled himself repeatedly around my legs, I began to wish we'd chosen the ice cream shop down the road. No one was in a hurry here; the wait seemed interminable. When…

In stillness, we find treasure

We should be more willing to sit with the mystery of the puzzle in order to discover the unknown

In stillness, we find treasureSpring may have sprung but most of my yard is still hidden under inches of snow. This year's Easter egg hunt will have to be indoors. For three generations, our yard has been the site of an annual hunt. One hunt, however, stands out more vividly than the rest. Our daughter was about four, the only…

Scrabble’s surprising benefits, from the mundane to the profound

Learn new words, hone your math skills, employ strategy … calm the restless mind, learn patience and humility

Scrabble’s surprising benefits, from the mundane to the profound“Why do we play this game?” I asked my husband for the umpteenth time. I was referring to Scrabble. It was not going well. Despite the claims on the box, not every word is a winner. Not all Scrabble games are fun. It’s definitely not fun to lose by over 100 points. Nor does winning by…