Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Category: Homeschooling Page 1 of 5

Mindfulness in Action – Lessons From a Failing Hard Disk Drive

It started unequivocally: ‘Mom, my computer is making a clicking sound.’

Sasha bought his laptop almost two years ago and it has served him well so far. The said clicking marked the end of that period. A lesson in itself.

His online search for reasons that would make a computer click revealed two possibilities: a failing hard disk drive (HDD) or dying fan, the second being the cheapest to fix. Spoiler alert: it was the first.

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Weekly Column: Back To School Should Not add New Debt

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on September 3, 2018. 

There was a time when back to school shopping meant purchasing a fair number of notebooks – one for each subject ideally, pencils, pens (a fountain pen too, but that was back then!) and, if the kids grew an inch or two over the summer, which they tend to do, new clothes and shoes. A backpack too, if last year’s was not holding up anymore.

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Do We Need To Redefine Adolescence?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 22, 2018. 

When I was 12 or so, I became aware that some elderly people around me, relatives or not, had been married or were forced by various life circumstances to become an ‘adult’ early on, at the age of say 16 or slightly older, but under 20. There were a few stories of people whose fathers died suddenly, which meant that the eldest in the family had to work a lot harder to compensate for the loss.

I kept asking my mom about how someone just a couple of years older than me could know enough to take care of a home, or a family. Her answer was that they likely didn’t, but learned as they went along. It made sense then as it does now. Being around my parents during the times I was not at school, or doing my homework, playing, or reading, I got to learn so much just by spending time with them, watching them do things, asking questions, or being given various tasks.

It takes being there and being present, and having the awareness of time spent that way, something I often wonder about regarding our children and more so, our teenagers, nowadays. We cannot make up our minds on whether they are growing up too fast or if they need some extra time allocated to mature and leave the nest.

Throughout the last decade, there have been many books written about the teenage brain and its mysterious ways. The library of knowledge is growing, yet here we are still scratching our heads and wondering if we understand our teens as much as we thought we did.

As of last week, another stick was thrown in a parent’s rather shoddy (at times) wheel. In an op-ed piece published in the journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Journal, Professor Susan Sawyer, Director of the Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne, argues that we ought to rethink the definition of adolescence and redefine existing age brackets as to include all our young ones between 10 and 24 years of age. One of the reasons, she says, is that young people do things such as leaving home, gaining financial independence, and starting a family, a lot later than they used to.

One wonders whether calling a 24-year-old a teenager will solve all those issues. If back in the day kids often had no choice but to grow up fast and fill whatever size shoes life threw at them, nowadays most of them (on this side of the world, anyway,) have the luxury of not worrying too much about providing for their families and instead indulging a lot more in what is generally known as ‘chilling’. On the other hand, a ludicrous minimum wage coupled with education-related high debt can lock young people into living with their parents past the age of 20.

There are, indeed, many facets to having teenagers transition from living with their parents to being financially-independent, and affordable secondary education, and a decent minimum wage can make the process a lot smoother without having to expand the teenage years past the actual ‘-teen’ numbers.

Allowing one to not have any responsibilities has never been a recipe for developing resilience or a dependable character, nor has excusing one’s questionable behaviour or downright defending it. The latter has been increasing over the years, according to many teachers who have had to deal not only with their students’ challenging behaviour, but also with the parents’ resentment over their children being disciplined.

Some of the conclusions streaming out of the neuroscience labs point to the teenage years as essential for brain development (as opposed to just early childhood.) Some scientists concluded that activities involving learning (reading, being involved in various tasks that involve both brain power and hands-on projects) help increase teenagers IQ during the ages of 12 and 16.

On the other hand, a substantial body of research points to the teenage brain being easily highjacked by addictive activities such as gaming, drinking, smoking, or using recreational drugs such as pot, all of which can reduce their ability to perform at their highest potential. In other words, they are vulnerable. Not in a ‘let’s bubble-wrap them’, but in a ‘let’s provide what they need such as a listening ear, time spent together, dialogue, and not least, boundaries.’

It’s the age of digital tech connectivity and life in the fast lane; fewer and fewer families sit down for meals together, or spend enough time with each other to truly stay connected. While defining life stages and pouring over books discussing behaviour and arguing for this or that is great and a good conversation tool, truth is, what we most need, to know, understand, and connect with our growing children, is time. Also, if we want to be able to count on our teenagers to be dependable and trustworthy, we must provide them with good examples to follow, solid boundaries and enough opportunities to learn to grow.

It may not be the definition from outside bodies that counts the most, but rather empowering our teenagers to see themselves from inside as capable to raise up to challenges, instead of letting their spirit succumb to immaturity, a narrative we are collectively suggesting to them, albeit with the best of intentions.

Make Safety Part Of Your Outdoor Adventures

To say that winter cannot make up its mind this year would be an understatement. It’s been a weather seesaw of sorts since it first snowed in early November. Cold, snowy, warm, cold, snowy; repeat, or not.

There’s lots of shoveling to be done, but beauty to delight in too. If you drive out of town for snowshoeing, skiing, or hiking, the rewards are more than worth the effort, more so on a sunny day when snow-clad trees push against a sky so blue it takes your breath away.

Every year in winter, our family aims for at least one overnight hike, where we each carry our sleeping bags and sleeping pads, and use a sled for all the other supplies. It’s a good workout plodding through snow, but most of all, it is yet another opportunity to learn about nature and why playing it safe always make fun better.

From deciding on the time we start on the trail to the estimated time of arrival (ideally before dark, so we have time to set up and get everyone warm,) to deciding how much stuff we take and whether we have what we need in case we get stuck somewhere, to letting people know that we’re heading into the wilderness, and assessing weather but knowing that it can change without notice, it’s all there.

When we go to one of the now frozen lakes around Kamloops, the questions revolve around that: could we fall in? How long till you get hypothermia? Then, there is the conversation about avalanches, which has been on the news lately, as it is every year.

There is a low likelihood of avalanches where we take the boys, but not knowing the way very well or hiking too late in the day could still get one in serious trouble. These conversations are never about inducing fear of exploring. On the contrary. Healthy fear encourages learning more and preparing better, and knowing when to hold back when necessary.

We live in a time when the access to information about backcountry is but a click away, and there are countless stores in town and online selling equipment. Unfortunately, that is not enough. Somehow, more people find themselves in dire straits in the great outdoors.

The stats from all the search and rescue organizations in British Columbia show a worrying trend. The number of calls has increased over the years, and most organizations had a record number of rescue missions. In 2017, the Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) volunteers were called on 49 searches (a 32 percent increase from 2016) with over 3,500 hours they put in (more than double compared to previous year.)

Particularly worrisome is that this trend is seen all across the province. The increase from last year seems to hover at 30 to 40 percent. To note: the searches are all conducted by volunteers and the organizations rely on donations, but without soliciting by phone. That’s a lot of heart right there, and willingness to help, considering that sometimes the volunteers’ lives are at risk. Especially commendable is not losing faith after discovering yet again that some people carry very few or no items that can increase their chances of survival, such as extra clothing, matches, water or food.

While the admiration for the search and volunteers is boundless, the question remains: How come that more people, and not just in one area, but throughout BC (possibly other parts of Canada) are in need of assistance, at a time when there is enough knowledge to make one’s journey as safe as possible through supply, route, risk assessment and overall trip planning?

It is always sad to turn on the radio or read the news only to find out that someone was yet again caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling (which sometimes they caused,) or got lost during a hike, or went out of bounds while skiing, snowboarding. Sadder yet is to hear they lost their lives.

Can we possibly hope that in 2018, the news, warnings, and word-of-mouth will lower the numbers of people who access the backcountry unprepared, no matter the season? Or that people will think twice before putting at risk not just their own lives but also those of the search and rescue volunteers? I would like to believe so.

As for the boundless admiration for all the search and rescue volunteers… Feelings are great, always, but not nearly enough. Everyone should consider helping by donating to the local SAR team (https://www.ksar.ca/donate-help-us-out/) – more so because they do not even entertain the thought of charging people, thinking that some would avoid calling for help.

Another way to help is volunteering, if possible (https://www.ksar.ca/join/). It is on my list of potential volunteering options once the boys are all grown-up. Until then, my husband and I will keep safety as part of the must-haves when our family heads out for adventures in the great outdoors.

The Magic You See When You Close Your Eyes

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on November 20, 2017. 

Late afternoon Saturday found us at our neighbours’. My husband was to lend a helping hand lifting a potato and onion box our neighbour built for his wife. There was no defined B-line between walking in, moving the said box, sharing stories of old and new, and the time when we were all seated in the living room, our boys and dog included, their dog too, listening to Todd playing his guitar. It just happened.

He played a Johnny Cash song first and then a composition of his own. His fingers picked gently at the chords and his voice waltzed with the guitar sounds at a mesmerizing rhythm. The magic of those shared moments of beauty made my thoughts burrow deep inside where I only seldom get to go; life’s hurried that way. During Todd’s song I closed my eyes, so I could better see the place he was describing, the wind-swept islands of Haida Gwaii.

That sent me straight to my favourite quote by Helen Keller ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they have to be felt with the heart.’ This quote stuck to me back in high school because there was something she was alluding to that I was not sure how to describe or get myself close to do so, but I knew it was true and worthwhile. Many life stumbles later including births, deaths, farewells and new beginnings, moments alone and with people that hold my heart in theirs, I started to understand more. You get to see more by closing your eyes. It’s where the soul fairies live and dance.

Todd’s song and his words opened the door towards that state of wonder. In the softly lit living room and with all of us in a spell, I was reminded that I could see better if I closed my eyes. It brought me to tears, for many reasons amalgamated. Todd is blind, you see. And yet, since we met him, I’ve learned that he sees more than many of us do with our intact, or close to, vision.

He sees those he meets in a way that few of us do. He listens in a way few of us do. He lives a fuller life that many of us do, simply because he does not take any given day for granted. I got to learn that since I made his acquaintance.

I met him shortly after we moved in mid-November. I was returning from an afternoon walk with the dog. I said hello and introduced myself. I introduced my family too, in absentia. Might as well, since we live across the back lane. Our dog, an overt people lover, budged in with much curiosity and smelled his hand. Todd stooped down and petted her, remarking on her soft coat and snuggly nature. Then he asked me to describe her.

Ah, I realized he could not see. I described her as accurate as I could. We chatted some more, and I left bewildered. Not because I had met a person who was blind, but because when I greeted him in the back lane and introduced myself, I actually interrupted him from work. His shirt was peppered with wood dust and so were his hands.

Soon after, I met his wife, Maggie. Her smile is just as heartful as his, which is why we never just say hello and get going. There’s always an extra life bit shared. It’s better that way.

Todd is often in his workshop. He builds furniture and makes beautiful things, many of which adorn their home. His hands tell stories of many a happy hour spent in the shop. Yes, you may wonder, like we did ‘But… how can he do that?’ He’d laugh at that and say he does it the same way anyone else does; with care. With love and dedication, I’d add. Lots of it.

The same way he learned to play guitar, which he did after the accident that left him blind, in his mid-twenties. From one day to the next, his world turned black. You need a heap of grace and resilience not only to go through that, but to grow, despite of it. Todd has both, plus a whole lot of determination.

To do his full-time job, and hold the volunteering positions he’s been taking over the years, many of which made him instrumental in designing the blind-friendly features that the streets and public buildings of Kamloops now have. In a world we take for granted, he sees so much more that can be improved on. It’s humbling. And even more humbling is to hear that on more than one occasion people address his wife rather than him directly, assuming that his handicap prevents him from being who he actually is. Indeed, it takes grace to know that.

My husband and I tell Todd that he types faster than both of us combined and he laughs a hearty laugh. He shows the boys how he does it, and then he sends each of them an email. They’ll email him back in a couple of days. He makes a deal with our youngest to exchange jokes, they both seem to have a knack for it.

We say goodbye after we plan another get together. Again, I find myself bewildered. Both Todd and his wife are as warm as can be, gently embracing each other’s presence and building a space for us, their friends, to come as we are. It’s called grace. It’s called gratefulness. When I grow up, I want to be like them.

You Are Human Before Anything Else; It’s What’s Left Behind

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on October 16, 2017 

Saturday was a cold, wet, and slightly dreary day, though rain was such precious commodity during the summer that I cannot get myself to dislike it, no matter how much I miss the sun. On our way to the farmer’s market, my oldest son and I bumped into Vaughn Warren, who was as enthusiastic as ever about the time capsule that was about to be attached to the new Freemont Block sign he was recently commissioned to restore. Come by the Makerspace between 3 and 5 today, he said, so you can sign a postcard for the time capsule.

Most of the day had already been scheduled for a few activities but we made it there a few minutes before 5. The sign looked beautifully vibrant and the table next to it was full of cards, photos, and other mementos to be sealed in the time capsule. We signed the guest book and then proceeded to write something on the card before writing down our names.

I had to stop a while and think. This was something that someone, a hundred years from now, will read and think about for a few moments. Much like I was taking my time trying to stretch my thoughts to the other side of the hundred years, that person, or people, will be trying to imagine what it was all like here, now.

An exercise in humbleness if you will. A hundred years from now on I will be long gone, and so will my sons, most likely. Sobering indeed. It’s a thought that makes you hear all the noises in the room suddenly, and makes you see everything around in a different light. It makes you shudder, too. there is a finality attached to you and your life, and there’s no two ways about it. It’s part of the deal. A rainy, cold day is the day you’re in, a gift like no other, and not a dreary time slot you can’t wait to be done with.

The day was already inviting to a lot of reflection regarding the thin line between life and death we’re all due to cross at some point. It was my late friend Richard Wagamese’s birthday (he would’ve turned 62,) and it was the day chosen for Christopher Seguin’s funeral service. Their passing, as well as the passing of some many people I’ve known over the years, my parents and other close relatives included, left me with a cloud of questions: What matters after all, what is worth striving for while you’re alive and what will the others remember of you once you’re gone?

From all that I’ve seen so far, it’s not the material things but the heart matters that live on. They do not only linger, but continue to grow and fill that empty space one leaves behind once they’re gone. The things we do because we choose to show and wear our humanity with pride and gratefulness is what matters; it’s what will inspire those who miss us to keep on going, choose to act with courage and joy, and leave a mark on the world by allowing their humanity to shine through as they live their days.

It is the whole range of acts that count, not just the ones that are news-worthy. It’s the mark we leave behind us when no one’s watching. The gestures, big or small, that can restore someone’s smile, restore someone’s trust in humanity and change the way people around us choose their next steps, so that their hearts show through.

When we choose to live heartfully and with compassion, there’s glowing that transcends your immediate presence. It’s the kind of hopeful shiny stuff that guides those left behind you towards decisions better suited for the greater good, less judgment and more compassion towards those who need it.

A few days ago, I read about an incident in Williams Lake. An elderly man was lying on the ground in a parking lot after having suffered a heart attack, and though many people passed by, no one stopped. Eventually, a woman stopped and called an ambulance, informed the man’s family south of the border about his condition, and took care of his vehicle and boat (the man was on his way to an annual fishing trip with friends.)

Whatever accomplishments the woman who saved his life has achieved so far or will from now on, that she showed her humanity at a time when someone needed it the most is something she will be remembered forever by the man she saved and by his family. Perhaps she will inspire many to be compassionate rather than judge.

Visuals can be awfully deceptive at times. Wearing one’s heart to be seen as we walk through life never is. That’s what I hope a hundred years from now people will still value and strive for. Because before w are anything else, we are human. That is the gift that is handed to us when we’re born, the one we’re supposed to make the most of while we’re alive, and the one we’re leaving behind when we go. That’s what I’ve learned so far from those who lived letting their hearts walk alongside. It’s the kind of legacy humans ought to bestow onto humans.

What About The Kids?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 11, 2017. 

A few years ago, when my sons were still in public school (now homeschooled), we would get a lunch program to peruse and choose from if we wanted to. We chose nothing, not because we’re fussy, but because the options were deplorable.

One of the options was called taco salad. ‘It’s a salad made of tortilla chips, Mom,’ my oldest announced a couple of weeks later, rather bemused, when he got to see the very dish. No matter how you turn it, that is not food.

Feeding children can be a wild adventure at times, given occasional pickiness and all, but that’s no excuse feeding them junk food or low-quality ingredients as part of the school lunches. Not when we live in the middle of a farm-rich country and there is an abundance of fresh, wholesome foods that could be worked into school lunches.

I am willing to say that more parents would sign up for the program if there were healthy options, and would welcome the break from figuring out next day’s lunch. There is a high chance that many kids would learn about healthy food and be better for it. Which could be amplified if students would have a garden to tend to right on school grounds. You see, gardening invites to more than planting and picking, with the occasional weeding in between.

Gardening means learning about soil and all its wondrous components, from chemical compounds to bugs of all sizes that keep it healthy; it opens the door to learning about how liquids travel through soil and how they get absorbed through the roots. It involves delving into the biochemistry of the cell and if you add a microscope to the mix, you can get hours of intense studying, which will be followed by more curiosity. From there, you get to how fruit and veggies grow, and from there on, it moves into the realm of eating good-for-you foods.

Which isn’t anything that I saw in the school district’s lunch program I happened to come across. Chicken bites, chicken burger, chicken nuggets, all served cold, followed by some fruit slices and either juice or chocolate milk or plain milk. Fruit juice is empty calories that do not benefit children or anyone else for that reason. Eating the whole fruit is where it’s at.

Again, this is happening right here where we see ripe fruit that falls on the ground all summer and fall too, from cherries to apricots to plums, apples, and pears. On top of it, we have a farmer’s market so plentiful this time a year, that it would only make sense to use some of that to provide good food for children. Just imagine connecting local farmers to the department that organizes school lunches in the district.

That being said, there will be a chorus telling me that many kids prefer junk food and they would scoff at healthy (deemed boring by some) food options. Be it so, it should be part of a school mandate to educate about healthy food options. In an age where child obesity and chronic health issues starting in childhood are on the rise, that would be a moral duty, to say the least. That’s one of the reasons why I never refer to junk or processed foods as ‘treats’, but call them by their name.

Living a long, healthy life involves no magic.  Eat wholesome meals, mostly veggies, and never until full, get outside, get moving, and connect with people. In a nutshell. To keep with the scope of this piece, I will ask this: how many kids nowadays are doing all or some of the above?

There are too many processed food options (with attractive advertisements), there are devices that make them sit in one place for hours on end, there is the culture of fear where parents do not want/dare to let their kids play outside on their own, and there is, at society level, for the most part, a growing and deeply worrying trend of living life in an isolated, often self-centered way.

Many of our children are anxious, depressed, obese, or plagued by other eating disorders; some are bullied, others are bullying, at war with the world around them. They all start out eager to learn about the world around (healthy foods included,) and then somewhere down the road they become self-conscious, bored, tired, fearful, addicted to screens and drugs. Reclaiming them becomes the hardest task.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Fixing a generation (or more) is no easy thing. As always, one step at a time is where we can start. No drugs can ever fix what healthy food, free play, and time spent together can.

Hippocrates once said, ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ Let’s start with that. Make every bite, treats included, count. As for the rest of the issues, perhaps we should go back to forming the village needed to raise a child. A connected community is where better things happen. When it comes to our children, no effort is too big to make that happen.

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