What matters most

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything new here. I’ve been through a lot these past few months: turning forty, going back to the Philippines for the first time in twenty three years, jet-lagging for two weeks upon returning home while trying to catch up with work, and helping with preparations for my brother’s April wedding. Most of it has been good, but still kept me quite occupied.

Then last week I saw an item in the newspaper about how to will family heirlooms that are more sentimental than valuable. At the end, readers were invited to Instagram photos in answer to the question, “What is precious in your family?”

What, indeed? What matters most to me? What would I try to save from, say, a house fire (touch wood)? Picture albums? Framed photos? My mom’s red Spanish shawl? Her jewellery? My dad’s letters from Don Alvaro

I couldn’t decide.

Then today, after a long FaceTime session with my future sister-in-law, ironing out wedding details, my mom opened the Trunk in search of a few things that could perhaps be incorporated into the ceremony: the cord and veil from her wedding, the prayer book my grandmother carried at her (second) weddingarras coins from my great-grandmother.

The Trunk belonged to my grandmother and contained her wedding dress.

There are other things in the Trunk: my mom’s wedding dress and shoes, the baby layette, the white blanket she made to wrap her newborn babies in, coming home from the hospital. My mom’s first birthday party dress is in there too, along with all our First Communion dresses and suits, and the christening gown my siblings and I (and most recently, my nephew) were baptized in. It’s still good as new, ready for the next baby whenever he or she arrives.

Looking at the contents of The Trunk, now I know what matters most in my family.  Not these old things, exactly, but the memories and traditions they keep safe in their yellowed and faded folds. These are the roots that give me wings. 

The layette Mom used for all her babies
The baby blanket she made to take her babies home from the hospital
The christening gown
Can you believe we were once this small?
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Goodbye to my 30s

RedRoses

“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” So goes a quote from one of my favourite books of all time, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I came across such a book recently. A colleague and fellow bibliophile gave me a pile of books, and among them was Quiet by Susan Cain. The subtitle, The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, drew me right in, and I read it cover to cover. And when I was done, I started talking about it to anyone who would listen, and passed on my copy to anyone who wanted to read it. One of those eye-opening, life-changing books, it helped me understand:

  • Why, after a certain time of day, I prefer to be alone and silent—and that it’s ok to feel that way;
  • Why I often feel exhausted after being around extra-gregarious, ultra-talkative people;
  • That I was actually not shy as a child—just extra-cautious when finding myself in unfamiliar territory, confronted with unfamiliar people;
  • That I can influence people and effect change—even if it means stepping out of character from time to time—if I care about something or someone deeply enough.

Most importantly, I think this book has helped me become better friends with myself, the person I am now as well as the person I used to be. One of the people Cain interviewed, David Weiss, a drummer and music journalist, says, “I feel like I am in touch with [my nine-year-old self] today. Whenever I’m doing something I think is cool, I send a message back to that person and let him know that everything turned out ok. I feel like when I was 9, I was receiving that signal from the future, which is one of the things that gave me the strength to hang in there. I was able to create this loop between who I am now and who I was then.”

I like this idea of creating loops, of coming full circle. I think this was a very timely book to read, one of the very last books to pass through my hands before I turn 40. Sometimes I look  at old pictures of myself, and I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, but it seems that often I looked more solemn and worried than a child ought to look. So now I tell that worried-looking little girl that there are challenges and sorrows ahead, but a lot of joys too, and everything turns out ok. And best of all, the things about you that may have been misunderstood and ridiculed then—your bookish, quiet nature, your quirky sense of humour, your sensitivity to beauty and the power of words—are the same qualities that will find you true friends and true love as an adult, and bring you success in your profession.

So chin up—and here’s to the next 40.

 

 

 

The two M’s

Autumn-leaves 2

I don’t know what it is about the fall that makes me suddenly and keenly aware of time passing. Maybe it’s the sight of the leaves turning, a bright brave blast of colour before they wither. Everywhere, signs of slow decay. It doesn’t make me sad, but it does make me a bit more reflective. Summer, so eagerly awaited, has now slipped away to the place where all summers go to die. Ahead of us, another cold winter we’ll do our best to survive. But in the meantime, a chance to watch the most beautiful of all the changes of season, and maybe try to become a little better at living in the moment.

***

Recently I was sitting outside in the sun for a few minutes between meetings and chatting with a friend, when it occurred to me that sometimes we tend to think too much about the past or worry about the future, without realizing that the present moment is actually pretty good. Sometimes what comes to us through our senses is enough to give great pleasure, and make us more receptive to happiness.

I said as much to my friend, and we agreed to try and tell each other 5 things we enjoyed each day—one for each of the senses. I’m hoping it will be a way for us to get into the habit of living mindfully, to appreciate whatever is in front of us right now.

***

As it turns out, being mindful is also great for getting us out of the autopilot mode our brains are in most of the time, and for developing our powers of observation as well as a stronger sense of motivation about the things we do and why we do them.

So here goes: mindfulness and motivation—the “two Ms,” as Maria Konnikova calls them in her book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. It seems like a good way to start the season, to get ready for Thanksgiving, and to finish the rest of the year well.

***

“When people see my images, a lot of times they’ll say, “Oh my God.” Have you ever wondered what that meant? The “oh” means it caught your attention, makes you present, makes you mindful. The “my” means it connects with something deep inside your soul. It creates a gateway for your inner voice to rise up and be heard. And “God”? God is that personal journey we all want to be on, to be inspired, to feel like we’re connected to a universe that celebrates life.” ~ Louie Schwartzberg, cinematographer 

My 15 Favourite Books of All Time

In no particular order.

1) Gone With the Wind

For all the great lines:

“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

First read this when I was 9, and even then I thought Ashley was a twit.

Also, Scarlett may have had some major faults, but she was tenacious, practical, loyal to her parents, and unafraid of doing a man’s work in an era when women were supposed to sit at home and look pretty.  Which just goes to show that nobody’s all bad.

2) A Wrinkle in Time and sequels

The first book that made me look at reality differently…made me realize there’s more to it than meets the eye.

3) Wuthering Heights

The only book I know that can be described as both “horrible” and “wonderful.”

4) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Made me laugh, cry, shudder, and hope. What more can you ask from a book?

For a Mercatornet review of this book, click here.

5) Wives and Daughters

A big, fat, satisfying wedge of a book – if you overlook the fact that it isn’t quite finished! But you can watch the BBC movie to see how they ended it, based on letters and notes written by Elizabeth Gaskell before she died.

6) The Shell Seekers

Rosamunde Pilcher has a marvellous way of making ordinary things sound beautiful, and simple food sound delicious. Her language is simple and elegant. And I love how this story switches back and forth in time so effortlessly.

7) The Canterville Ghost

Witty and hauntingly beautiful (pun intended).

8) The Phantom Lover

Just because it can still make me laugh out loud. A particularly well-written Regency romance, which I’m amazed to find still in print!

9) Cheaper By the Dozen

Same reason as #8.

10) Eleni

True story about a very brave woman, written by her son, after a lifetime of searching for the truth.

11) Letters to a Young Catholic

George Weigel is my favourite journalist. He can explain the most profound realities in the simplest language, without stripping them of truth or splendour.

12) The Nurse Kathy books I read in grade school.

I enjoyed reading about Kathy because she loved nursing and made it sound so interesting, exciting and noble. Also because she dated Steve the hunky fireman.

13) A World of Folk Tales

My parents gave me this beautifully illustrated book of magical tales from around the world for my 8th birthday. I still have it.

14) Merlin’s Mistake

I must have checked this book out of the school library at least half a dozen times. So happy when I found it years later on Amazon Marketplace.  A clever story with a neat twist and a particularly satisfying ending.

15) The Hunchback of Notre Dame

So tragically lovely. The classic love triangle with the ultimate anti-hero. A book that taught me not to be fooled by appearances.

 

Signs of spring

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  • Spring used to be my favourite season, from the first snowdrop in February, to the delicate drifts of cherry blossoms, the golden trumpets of daffodils and the uplifted chalices of tulips, all the way to the lush blooming of the lilacs and the first roses. On the west coast of Canada, you can mark time with each new wave of flowers. Here in Montreal, however, winter clings with icy fingers as long as it can, right through April. Then, overnight, the temperature soars to summer heights – though the trees are still leafless and the grass barely green. And when the flowers do bloom in mid-May, they do it at the same time: tulips, lilacs, roses –  all together. It’s all very strange to me.But in this urban jungle where I live now, I’m learning to spot other signs of spring. For one, the Bixi bicycles are back. The park near my place is once again full of children, squeaking swings and bouncing basketballs. People are out on their front stoops and balconies – and everywhere, everyone is smiling more. I’m learning that it takes more than flowers to make a spring. And if I’m attentive, I’ll see signs of hope everywhere.
  • Speaking of springtime and hope, Pope John Paul II will be canonized this weekend. He combined those two words in one of his most well-known themes: the new springtime of Christianity. Like the east coast spring, this spiritual re-awakening can be harder to spot, and sometimes we can even despair of its existence. But it’s there. We just have to look harder.
  • “This first sign of spring – winter’s loss of power and influence – does not guarantee future flourishing, but it does make spring possible. Springtime is not a period of reward but a time of labor. Unworked land will produce acres of weeds rather than rows of wheat. No harvest can be expected if no seed is sown. In the Christian life as well as in business there is such a thing as a missed opportunity. Springtime offers a temporal window in which to invest one’s efforts for future gains. It is a call to earnest effort, not a promise of guaranteed success.” ~ Thomas D. Williams

Cumulative effects

  • I cut open a tube of lotion this week  — something I do every time I can’t squeeze any more product out of its container. You’d be surprised at how much stuff you’ll find inside an “empty” receptacle, if you only cut it open. There’s usually enough in there to last a few more days. To me, it’s a no-brainer: all it takes is a few seconds and a good pair of scissors (careful with those), and the payback is enormous. Ok, maybe a handful of cream or shampoo doesn’t seem like much, but say you do this eight or ten times. Eight or ten handfuls = a whole new tube or bottle. That’s dollars saved, not to mention one less empty plastic container to end up in a landfill.
  • Never let me go Kazuo IshiguroIn class this week, as an introduction to the novel we’ll be reading for the rest of the semester, we had a discussion about bioethics — “to test our limits,” as our professor put it, of what we find acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to the commodification of the human body. Questions posed: if you were diagnosed with terminal kidney disease and couldn’t get a donated organ to replace yours, would you buy one from a poor man willing to sell his healthy kidney in order to feed his family? What about human trafficking — how did we feel about that? The general consensus seemed to be that the buying and selling of body parts was alright, but not of the whole human person. It was equally clear, though, that many people were unsettled by the whole idea of buying and selling humans, whether in whole or in part, although they couldn’t draw any clear lines as to what would be acceptable, and when. How old am I in the kidney scenario? How poor is the man? How much would a kidney be worth to me? To him? It seems to me that, to find your way out of any ethical or moral morass, it’s best to go back to the roots of the question at hand. Why am I doing this, and what would be the consequences of my actions? In the case of the buying and selling of organs, I’m aware that there already is a huge market out there, mainly feeding on the desperation of people, both buyers and sellers. Ultimately, I believe that saving a life should be a completely free act of love. Once you bring money into it, there is no dignity and no freedom. But moral and philosophical arguments aside, the idea that one action of mine, however small it seems in the relative scheme of things, could have huge consequences in the world at large, should be enough to give at least some pause.
  • Less than two years after the last provincial election in the province of Quebec, another one has been called for April 7. I’m excited, because this is the first time I’ll be able to vote here. But I understand how other people might not be so enthusiastic. Nevertheless, every vote counts. There’s one final example of cumulative effects. If half the population decides to stay home on election day, then they deserve the government they get. So, vote.
  • We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily difference we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee. ~ Marian Wright Edelman

New ways of looking, learning, loving

  • I’ve discovered a new magazine called depict, which provides commentary on Canadiana in the form of infographics and other rich visuals. I’ve always preferred to read text-heavy publications, so depict helps me to see and learn things in different ways.
  • Spring can’t get here fast enough, as far as I’m concerned. But in the meantime, we can brighten things up with flowers, real or otherwise. I’ve never been much good at origami, but this week learned a couple of simple things that even I can whip up in a few seconds flat. (Check out the photos below and click on each image for the instructions.)
  • I helped organize a seminar for single professional women which took place Saturday. The topic: “Finding Mr. Right.” The speaker, Irene Freundorffer, had many interesting insights to share. One that struck me particularly was the idea of being “called to be single.” I’d always thought of the pre-marriage stage as merely a waiting room to the world of “real” love. But people who are stuck in a waiting room aren’t really happy, are they? They aren’t even really there. The recognition of the call to be single, on the other hand, changes everything. You’re not stuck in a waiting room; you are free to live fully in the present and to explore a whole realm of relationships in which you can give of yourself. As Irene put it, “There are so many other ways of experiencing love, not just in marriage.”
  • I love quotes, so I think I will customarily end my Salmagundi posts with one as a parting shot. Here’s one for us to mull over this week: “Our predicament is technological maturity linked with emotional immaturity.” ~ Robert Graves (1960)
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Heart corner bookmark
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Easy kusudama flower