Creature Comfort

moon and stars

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – July is one of my 12 favourite months. It has a special place in my heart because my birthday is in July.

I will just take a moment to talk to all of you born in the summer as we share something. We share the deep-rooted disappointment that at school we never got to wear the birthday crown or hear our names on the announcements or find our locker decorated by friends.

But outside these small heartaches, the joyful season that is summer is a great time to celebrate just about anything. The weather is glorious and the options outside are endless – swimming, boating, campfires, gardening or just enjoying a lack of snow.

One of my favourite summer activities is a quick swim before bed. I float and look up at the stars, get a little exercise and then maximize the efforts of my air conditioner when I go to bed already cooled down.

A few nights ago, I had a terrifying experience. There I was in one of my favourite places, looking up at the starry night, when I realized that I was not alone. Something touched me in the dark. As it turns out, the interloper was a giant black water beetle; I however, determined it to be a Loch Ness relation and I panicked.

Now, giant is not an exaggeration here – the beetle was over two inches long, and I am pretty sure it was wearing swimming trunks … but I cannot be sure because I flung it from the pool. This incident made me a little nervous to take part in my “pool and stars” ritual the next night, but I did, and I remained alone.

From scary beasts in the pool to a sad lack of school birthday pizzazz, I still will not be deterred from loving the summer and all that it has to offer – even when it is doing the back stroke beside me in the pool – we’re cool.

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Poetic Perplexity

man in green top

From the desk of Teresa Jordan – Here is my confession: I feel like I should love poetry. I was an English major, I love all things literary and I like to collect, process and deliberate my thoughts through writing. I love quotes about what is important and/or inspiring, and these quotes are often from poems – but all in all, I am not a fan of poetry. 

I guess I generally want more. I find a great quote or line, but then read the poem and find the added context actually makes the quote more confusing or that the layers of meaning I have been applying to the one line are now lost in the sublime lament of the dozens of other chopped up lines of meaning … of, well, overloaded verbiage. 

For instance, I love the term “mind forged manacles.”  I found it in a business article, cited from a William Blake poem. “Mind forged manacles” is just such a great summation of a concept that I often discuss or mull over… all of those limitations that we apply to ourselves based on our fears, all those limitations imposed because of our deeply-rooted backgrounds, cultures and environment, all of that inner critic dialogue that so often chains us in place when something better is so near.

So, I can totally get behind this idea that our mind has forged in the heated fire of living with these life limiting irons clamped on us and keeping us in one place. The next logical step was to look up the poem.  Hoping for more context, more mind blowing analogies that back up all that I was enchanted with in this one line, if found …  nothing … just a super-rich, steeped-in hidden-meaning, bunch of little phrases that even a day later, I cannot not unravel from their tangled web of simile and imagery.  

So there is my confession, dear William Blake – I love the image that is instantly created in your term “mind forged manacles”; however, I cannot love your poems and would rather read the instructions on my shampoo bottle than the bulk of your poems.

I guess despite the image I would love to create of a erudite poetry-loving academic with a scotch in one hand and a pencil carefully tucked into my pulled back hair,  I am instead, just what I am. I am just trying to figure things out and I  know two things at the end of this musing – I don’t love poetry and my shampoo bottles recommends that I repeat if necessary.

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Gun Shy

ancient antique art black and white

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – There is a Strumbellas song that often gets lodged in my head for days, and it is the particularly violent but poignant song “Spirits.” The catchy ear-worm causing chorus – “I’ve got guns in my head and they won’t go” – is a metaphor for all the ways that we shoot ourselves down with our inner critic rattling away all day long.

I have read in many places the idea that the voice we hear in our head is a culmination of all kinds of criticisms and jabs that we have picked up over the years and then haul out like the good china for any special occasion at which we might be feeling confident or proud.  Like thinking – wow, I think I made a great first impression there – and then hearing the little gun in my head rattle… but they did not laugh at half my jokes so really probably not a good impression at all.

Or of course, the – I am feeling pretty confident walking into this room – and the gun rattles, yes but you probably have spinach stuck in your teeth.

I know that we could all fill in the blanks with a million harsh and critical internal quotes, but as the Strumbellas (an awesome band from my hometown of Lindsay) challenge us – we need to be alive while we are here. So, yes, we all have the guns in our head, a compilation album of all the criticisms we have fielded over time and always locked and loaded to bring us down.

So how do you snap on the silencer?  I guess we start by just acknowledging that this is old junk that is not true, it is a pattern that we can turn around and that in all things we are exactly who and where we are meant to be.

And then go so far as to say – I look good in spinach, always have – instantly all quiet on the front.

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Road Work Ahead

traffic red blue sign

From the desk of Teresa Jordan – This week I got to drive to Haliburton in the sunshine.  On Gelert road I could see that there were signs alerting me to construction. As I drove to where the  flag person was standing, the sign turned to stop. The stop was at a bend in the road and I could not see what was interrupting traffic flow.

I have to admit I was a little nervous sitting there. You see, many years ago I was at the front of the line to go through a long and complicated section of roadwork. I lost my way and ended up where I should not have been, with road workers and heavy equipment operators glaring at me.

So waiting at the front of the line in Haliburton, I was feeling nervous about where to lead this mighty band of vehicles that was lining up behind me, when the pilot vehicle came around the bend and pulled over in front of me.  The pilot vehicle with all its flashing lights would take the lead and I had a worry-free trip through the construction. My relief at this scenario was palpable – that I no longer had to worry about leading the string of cars behind me astray.

How convenient it would be if there were such a thing in other areas of my life? A pilot vehicle that guides me to where I should be focusing my energy? A flashing truck telling me what learning I need next or which course of study would have the most influence on my career path? A vehicle with the clear instructions – “do not pass” – guiding me through the tricky  decisions about relationships and financial  investments?

Pondering these questions got me to thinking about all those times that I was in a worry muddle about something or other and a friend, colleague or even a stranger offered me an insight that showed me the way, that helped me decide. And I wondered have I been that person to someone else?

I think sometimes we hesitate, not wanting to say the wrong thing or being unsure if a person wants help. But really, when the truck arrived and pulled in front of me on Gelert road, I still had the choice – if I wanted to – of driving headlong into the fresh asphalt and paving  machines. I know how relieved I felt, and feel, when I am offered help.

Perhaps this adventure on Gelert Road was a great reminder to me to strap on the flashing lights more often if I think I can help, and to look for the helpers around me     when I need them – they will appear and I shall not pass.

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Learning What We Already Knew

person sky silhouette night

From the desk of Teresa Jordan – There are some quotes that just resonate, profoundly, and I have always found this to be one of them:

“We are all In the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.” Oscar Wilde

I think the standout for me is the basic fact that there is not one single person who is somehow on easy street, somehow outside of all hardship; while there are some people who appear to walk in a world of perpetual sunshine, there is rain for us all.

I think the idea that we are all in this together – while a little overused and abused in marketing and the announcements of social distancing guidelines – still holds true. We are all in this gutter called worldwide pandemic, and this is just overlaid on top of the challenges we had going into this time of social isolation and uncertainty.

So with all of this in mind, can we still catch a glimpse of the stars, of what is possible, of a dream or two? In many ways this strange time of restrictions helps a part of of who I am come into focus a bit better. Like the 25 cent viewer at Niagara Falls, I think things that I took for granted are coming crisply into view as what I need and as crucial to my dreams.

I now know much more vividly what fills my tank. I love dialogue in the same room, I thrive on learning and laughing in conversation, and I know so much more the value of a shared meal with family and friends. We are still in an uncertain place, but where will what we’ve learned about ourselves take us? What is next, what big dream is now in focus?

Let’s look deeply into the view finder  and let what is most important come into focus. Then take that knowledge and keep looking for the star that has our name on it and figure what we can do next in little steps that will get us there.

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A Dandy Dispensation

woman holding flower
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From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – Another week of pandemic, another week of discovery of all we miss, want to return to and need to think about.

I had to go to the bank machine this week and while I was doing my banking I was next to a father at the brink of exasperation with his young daughter. I am not ashamed to say that I was listening intently. I was amused, while dad was not, with how well this young lady knew her dad, how well she knew what the real limits were and how ready she was to push her father to the limits.

I could hear all of the best phrases of a dad on the edge: “Get back here, stop bothering people, don’t touch anything… and then the infamous, “I am counting to three and if I get to three you are going straight to your room when we get home.”  Of course, dad started counting and like a well-choreographed waltz sequence the girl did not comply until 3 and ¾’s … at which she snapped to attention and complied with the command to stand beside him.

Next I heard her father say, “Get back here right now” to which his daughter responded that she first wanted to “give this beautiful lady a flower.”  I was concentrating on my banking for some of the time and didn’t even notice the little girl’s approach; then from  below my elbow, a flower was presented to me. The joyful symbol of childhood appreciation – a crumpled dandelion-  was now mine.

First let me say that I was so delighted with the compliment of being a “beautiful lady” and second, for the reminder that a dandelion is a flower first, and a weed and a nuisance only to us adults.

So there I was with my envelopes, purse and dandelion. I thought for moment of putting it in my purse, then I re-juggled everything and held the dandelion in my hand.  Getting in my car to leave I heard this same enchanting little rascal exclaim to her dad, “She is still holding it!”

And yes, I am still holding on to the memory of a gift, a compliment and a little joyful gift of good wishes.  I am sure that the father’s version of this story would not include the amount of wonder and appreciation here in mine… but for me, in the middle of a busy work day, with my little flower in my hand, I was reminded that beauty and wonder is in the eye of the beholder.

The Background of our Humanity

close up photography of person wearing pink house slippers

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – In these challenging times I spend countless hours on video calls with all sorts of collections of people. It is an interesting exercise and a very effective way to meet in these times of social isolation.

I am fascinated by the measures that people go to in order to have a certain back drop, or perhaps privacy, during video calls. I have seen leaders in their child’s bedroom, on their deck, in spare rooms, in dining rooms, in corners of basements.

My favourite video call background is the virtual background – knowing that I am connected to someone in Haliburton in April and seeing the sandy beaches of Jamaica behind them is a little unnerving, but entertaining.

And then there are the inevitable interruptions during video calls – husbands delivering supper, children in states of undress, and another favourite of mine – assorted pets behaving badly.

In a time of separateness how lucky we are to have the technology we have – to be able to meet, collaborate and keep connection while all the time sharing these little extra pieces of our lives both intentional and unintentional.

I once did an interview on the local television station and noticed that the well-dressed host had huge pink fuzzy slippers on. We all hide some things about ourselves from view; we carefully take pictures to show ourselves at our best and maybe even enhance them a little. Yet it is important that we never forget that behind every Australia opera house background we all have dirty dishes, a little pet hair, messy parts of our lives and probably some ugly slippers. This is the stuff of life that none of us puts on the camera, yet in it we can all relate.

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The Peace of Pie

Pieredux

From the desk of Teresa Jordan ~ “We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” David Mamet

Dessert plays a pivotal role in my life. Imagine my surprise when I became an adult and found out that this is not the case for everyone!

My grandparents were quite elderly. Being older when they had my dad they were very traditional in farming and household rituals. Dinner was a huge hot meal at noon with dessert; supper was a light meal in the evening with dessert. Then, oh happy day, if I happened to be there at 11 p.m., another lunch – with dessert. 

My other grandparents immigrated from Holland in 1951, so they ate far less pie but savoured plenty of rich Dutch desserts.

So, as you might well imagine, when people say to me, “I’m not that interested in dessert” or “I don’t have much of a sweet tooth,” I feel like they are speaking a foreign language that I just can’t understand.

Dessert to me represents a cozy kitchen with warm wood stove, a link to my grandparents, a way to fix any heartache. So we will set aside how this thinking has affected my relationship with extra weight, and just focus on how this particular lens makes me want to offer others the same comfort – and how ill-equipped I feel when a cookie does not make everything better for someone else. 

I think this is one of the great challenges of “adulting”- I know what I need to make me feel better, resolve conflict, feel appreciated and so I offer a big ole slice of pie to others whenever I can, but it is not always what they need. I have to set aside what I automatically would do based on all of my experiences and really need to take some space to understand what the other person needs to feel better, feel heard, feel noticed. 

I can’t default to a great Boterkoek when the person I want to connect with has never heard of it and really prefers dill pickles in a crisis. I have to set my automatic responses to the situation aside and try to understand what the other person needs. 

And further I have to, as an adult, know that a need for something completely different from what I need, is equally valid and OK. It takes a great deal of effort especially in the heat of the moment to move past relationship autopilot but I know it is so worth it – I know that when I have done it sort of well a relationship was made stronger. I also know that when people with whom I connect take the time to understand what I need in a conflict or crisis, I feel appreciated and heard. 

We are all so unique and everyone has a place at the table – it’s just that mine needs an extra fork for pie.

Some days are like that

person riding a bicycle during rainy day

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – Some days are hard even in Australia.

One of my favourite bedtime stories with my kids was Alexander and the No Good Horrible Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. In the book a young man has an exceptionally bad day up to and including lima beans for supper. Perturbed, he threatens to move to Australia. At the end of the book, his mom gently says, “Some days are like that, even in Australia.”

What I love is that at the end there is no glorious resolution, group hug or spontaneous sundae-making party that turns the whole day around. The young man just goes to bed and that is that. I’ve recently felt like reading the story to my kids so they could understand – some days are bad, some are horrible, there are things beyond our control (like lima beans) that do not make us feel good – and there is usually some goal or reality just beyond our reach that looks so much better.

And while we are tempted to say, “Have a cookie” or “look on the bright side,” there is not always a fix or a “turn your frown upside down” option. Sometimes we just have to say, “bad days happen, even in Australia” and tomorrow is a different day.

There is a virus, there are government decisions, there is crisis, there are health challenges, there is a pandemic isolation policy that seems to never end. I know that we all know how to get past bad days, to problem-solve, to be grateful in distress, to rise and find some sparkle.  I guess I am just reminding myself and everyone around me that some days are bad and we just need to put on our pajamas and go to bed; tomorrow could be different – and might have cookies

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Regrettable Reverie

yellow flowers

From the desk of Teresa Jordan – Despite my many decades of practice and experience I did the most unthinkable thing this past weekend. I got a sun burn, and not a little cute one, a raging burning assault on my skin that even now – five days later – is troublesome.

How did this happen, you ask? I was applying sunscreen to my shoulders, arms and neck; however, I did not realize that the top I had on dipped far lower at the back than I was reaching with my protection. Then as the day of gardening progressed, my family started to tell me that I was burning. I did the classic touch assessment to my exposed skin, I sat in the shade and examined, and told my family over and over again that I was fine.

In fact, I was becoming annoyed at their observations because I neither felt burned nor was my skin feel hot to my touch. Why would they not just leave me alone to wrestle with weeds and move plants around?

Anyone who has made this kind of error knows well that a sunburn cannot be gauged through touch at the moment of damage. The burning, super-hot, skin cracking pain sets in slowly over time long after the sun has gone down. Turns out my family was oh so right, and before long I knew that despite the wisdom of my age and experience I had goofed this up.

This experience has made me think of other times that people have tried (and failed) to tell me things about my own self-care – you are spreading yourself too thin, you are too busy, you are not taking care of yourself, that is not the right shade of lipstick for you. All super great and well-intentioned advice; why is it so hard to take, to notice myself, to feel these burns?

I guess like my sun exposure, I was distracted by my tasks. I was not really in distress and I thought I knew best about what condition my skin was in. I guess it is a bit like the frog experiment, you can’t just dunk a frog in boiling water, but you can put a frog in cold water and slowly bring it to a boil. They say that the frog does not really notice until its too late as he acclimatizes to each new temperature as it increases and adjusts, carries on, finds a new normal.

These are extraordinary times; be sure to take a moment to ensure that you are not burning. Sounds easy enough, but believe me in the moment you won’t know it, you won’t believe it, you will be annoyed that it was even suggested and before you know it … frogs legs are on the menu.

Sure, we are all handling things, going without seeing those we love, not going to the movies or restaurants, not spending time away from our homes. In our homes our time is gobbled up with school lessons, cooking and trying to keep boredom, worry and fear at bay.

The temperature is rising and we are adjusting to survive. And what else is there to do? It is a tough reflection because we have to get through this. So maybe it’s just about being kind to ourselves, being kind to those around us, making the ultimate declaration that this is not the time to go for the Better Homes and Gardens yard of the week, but instead to walk softly and rest, to turn off the gas and cherish the small joys in a radically different life.

There appear to be no short cuts here so all we can do is journey through and stay as cool as we can.

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