Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Category: Spotlight Column (Kamloops Daily News) Page 1 of 4

A Sad Day

I am tucked away in a coffee shop on Lansdowne Street with a cup full of coffee and a severe lack of inspiration… It is a sad day.

An earlier hot bath and a short-lived chocolate binge could not bring up the endorphine levels… some days are too glum for that. Some news are too.

The Kamloops Daily News will roll out its last pages on Saturday; it was announced today. Economic crunches and such forced a sudden closure. Sudden is tough. Sudden is good someone said, because at least you know what you’re dealing with, no prolonged agony. Sudden is sudden.

An unexpectedly powerful feeling of emptiness sits inside of me like a big mean shadow.

For losing a connection, for something being ripped away from the community I came to belong to and for the unfairness of it all.

The paper was not perfect but it had good people that made it happen, and bubbles of goodwill peppered all over it. It had a heart.

I have come to be connected to the paper as if it were a friend. I did so in a little bit more than a year. Some people have been there for way more. Their sadness surpasses mine by miles.

The owner of the coffee shop comes by. We talk about the paper, the loss of a familiar thing. A sign of the times, he says. True. We talk about the stories that will keep happening, pieces of life that will be lost without the net called Daily News to catch them just like one catches rain water…Fresh.

He says come by and write here, this place will continue to be. I will. A continuation… A good thing.

I trace back the story of my building the short history with the paper. A first interview with my heart pounding – I was after all, just a stranger, recently landed in a city where people seemed to have tight connections, with each other and with the place itself – landed me a job as the new columnist.

I was both excited and apprehensive. I learned a lot, through having my pieces edited, ever so slightly, but what an eye-opening experience every time. I learned to keep being myself but structure thoughts and build nice stories for people to read at a pace that was melodious enough to make them send personal notes my way. Gifts.

I evolved as a columnist through the feedback from readers, some of whom maintain regular correspondence to this day.

I have, as expected, become attached to something that was part of home. The undeniable connection was fuzzy warm and comfortable to have.

I came to love deadlines and the rush of changing a topic swiftly before sending it, simply because I felt like I should deliver something worthy of reading and thinking about.

I loved my dialogue with people, I loved the challenge of a new topic, the funny feeling of starting to know readers’ personalities simply by knowing their screen names.

A couple of times I tilted my head while reading the comments but I have since learned to recognize familiar voices of people I will never meet face to face, but people who read my words and through that became part of my world as they allowed me to be part of theirs.

A trade of thoughts and openness, wrapped up in an unmistakable feeling of belonging to the same place, and seeing the same sunsets drape over the same cinnamon-hued mountains.

I will miss the paper. An unlikely friend I’ve become so attached to…
But I don’t like farewells. I’ve had one too many to deal with.

I will keep my KDN folder as I will all the Saturday editions. I’ll learn just from looking back at how far I’ve come since that day when I walked into the editor’s office, heart pounding and acting very grown-up but wondering afterwards if I spoke too fast or too unclear…

Thank you, KDN.

Online Game Teaches The Wrong Message

(Originally published as a column under the same title in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on December 14, 2013)

I had planned to write about last weekend’s outing near Lac Le Jeune where we took the boys skiing. It was freezing cold (minus 21) and the snow gave up clumping up and turned dusty instead. It was a good frosty adventure.

But that night after dinner a few words were dropped about child slaves – a thing that should no longer exist in today’s world and yet it does and we often discuss social inequities – and my oldest son said ‘Mom, you would not like to hear about this game many kids are addicted to.”

Curious? I was. And he told us. We looked it up and cringed.

It’s called Cookie Clicker. It is described as a ‘mindless, addictive and fascinating web game’ or, according to Wikipedia ‘The point of the game is to bake cookies as fast as possible, to have a large number of cookies, and to have a lot of milk; notably, however, there is no true end to the gameplay.”

Like I said, mindless. So you might ask if the cringing was elicited by the mindless aspect of it. Partially, but the disturbing part were some of the upgrades.

They come with explanations: you can use grandmas (‘A nice worker to manufacture more cookies’) or child labour (‘cheaper, healthier workforce’,) or sweatshop (‘slackers will be terminated’.)

Child labour is an atrocious reality of today’s world and so are sweatshops, there’s no way of joking about it and not wondering where your common sense and heart went. You just cannot take such things in jest and have your dignity intact.

Yet children click on cookies and buy child labour as we speak, in an effort (or not, since the device they play on can keep up the game playing by itself) to collect… well, more cookies. Mindless should become worrisome at this point.

A sign of times, you might say. Empathy and a social conscience plus a responsibility to watch over the values our children learn or not learn, that should stay, no matter how crazy the times get.

The world is a crazy place to be, it has always been, but we are witnessing the stretching of this concept to new dimensions. If I had to choose one major aspect of the new degree of craziness I’d settle on information and the way we use it.

The amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis has increased a lot since the first days of internet. Exponential growth on steroids.

If we lived in a physically enclosed internet space, someone looking from up above will be noticing some bursting at the seams here and there. With more to come.

And if daily information for the adult mind is overwhelming occasionally, and increasingly so, just imagine what it’s like for children.

Jumping off a cliff in the azure waters below because you choose to is one thing. Being pushed off is a totally different thing.

Children today are born and raised in the murky waters of too much information, and much of it is often controversial enough and it should make even us adults avert our eyes.

The question is: are we vocal and aware of the controversial content enough to make our children aware of things that are not right. Because that is the responsible thing to do.

It is simply wrong to assume that this is only going to amuse kids. It will also desensitize them. We are born empathic.

Young children cannot stand to hear another one crying, yet if they are not encouraged in that caring attitude they may lose it after a while.

As they grow, they become prisoners to peer pressure and their own social image, which they will strive to keep cool at all costs. Often the price is insensitivity, a sword with more than two sharp edges that ends up hurting them, their loved ones and increasingly affecting the world around.

It is high time we reconsider our children’s upbringing and align the values we want them to adopt for themselves with the ones we would like to see modeled around us every day.

Why The Freecycling Concept Makes Sense

(Initially published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on November 7, 2013.)

The email from Freecycle Kamloops read ‘WANTED: Pure wool sweaters.’ The explanation: someone wanted sweaters to make crafty things out of them.

Right. My old ivory-hue lambswool sweater, with almost see-through elbows, fit the description. The next day I parted with my old, well-used sweater and got acquainted with a new way of creating a sturdy warm, water resistant material out of old wool knits. You shrink them, intentionally.

Shrinking is something I did unintentionally with a few nice wool sweaters (a.k.a. the untold story of how the boys have inherited some nice solid wool sweaters from us adults.) Compact wear, you could say, perfect for Kamloops winters.

The Freecycle concept is aptly described by its name. You save items from the dump by giving them away or taking them off someone’s hands.

It appeals to the free-spirited who believe in recycling and reusing things or even bits of things (think odds and ends left over after a big move, or renovating, or after an occasional purge.)

It is also the ideal place to find things when your budget is close to nil but the needs are not.

Many of today’s short-lived items are a good, but sad, match to our fast-paced lifestyles. A quick browse through the items brought to the dump on any given day paints a rather scary perspective of today’s understanding of our relationship to our environment.

We rely on finite resources as if they were infinite, while making only short-term use of many things that could be given a second and third life.

Freecycling is an obvious, necessary activity for people who live in more isolated communities where self-sufficiency has nothing to do with following trends but with surviving.

Think of an island or a remote community where people cherish every square metre of their land and rely heavily on the old ‘someone’s garbage is another man’s treasure.’

If you visit many of the smaller Gulf Islands you’ll see signs urging you to take your garbage with you when you leave and recycle or compost everything you buy or produce during your stay.

Many of the houses and their attached amenities are patched and fixed in a creative, use-everything-you-can island style.

Some of the more remote islands have free stores, the epitome of self-sufficiency. They are exactly that. Free.

All those bags of clothes your kids have outgrown, all the books you don’t need anymore, all the clutter that makes your life so much easier if only someone could take it off your hands — there is a place for that.

Also, think low budget, but still trying to have the minimum amount of household stuff, clothing and toys — there’s a place for that, too.

It’s a brilliant concept that goes against Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all the don’t-you-dare-miss sales we are sucked into. It may be just the thing to save us from being overrun by garbage in the future.

With a bit of necessary extrapolation for a bigger community, the concept of consignment stores and also thrift stores that act as fundraisers for worthy causes are a nice complement to a freecycling program every community should have.

Imagine buying only the things you really need when you need them; choosing products that can be reused for many years because the landfill is not an option; avoiding non-recyclable and unnecessary packaging because what would you do with it all once you dig out the goods?

Imagine finding that little, simple-design engine you’ve always wanted for your sturdy homemade lawnmower?

Or, why not a good, old wool sweater you can shrink to your heart’s content and make into gaiters or a warm vest?

Switching your collection of well-read books for a new batch just in time for long winter nights?

Just imagine.

Now, wouldn’t that be great?

Why Every Community Needs A Diner

(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on November 30, 2013)

The one thing I remember about the diner that night is that it smelled like a home rather than a restaurant. Also, the invitation to sit wherever we wanted and being addressed with “dear.”

When you’re new in a place, “dear” sounds right.

An elderly couple smiled from across the room and nodded welcome — a remnant from the days when looking at someone you didn’t know was not rude but rather a greeting that meant just that, ‘welcome.’

We spent a tired first night in the attached inn and late morning found us in the diner again, for breakfast. In less than 24 hours, the diner had become a familiar place with familiar faces and “dear” was tucked motherly into every other sentence. Breakfast was good and warm.

Life rolled on and we moved into our house a few blocks away from the diner. Nightly walks had us by its red-lit OPEN sign often, and every time I looked inside I was reminded of our first night in Kamloops.

A sign outside the door says ‘Coffee and pie, all day, $2.95’ and you see it every time you walk by.

The first time we tried it we had just dropped off the boys at school. Coffee and pie sounded like an invitation and we said why not.

We sat by the window and got engrossed in talking.

The second time, we took the boys there after school and we each got different pies and a big blob of whipped cream on the side.

Someone sitting at another table waved at us, then walked over to say hi. It was one of the paramedics who helped during my youngest son’s asthma attack. He remembered us, my son’s name and the fact that we all have the same kind of boots.

When he left, saying “see you around,” we said the same because we knew it was true. It happens all the time.

The boys pointed at the black-and-white historic photos on the walls, of cars parked outside the same diner, of the inn, of people smiling. I wondered how many of them were still stopping by for meals and conversations. I wondered if the diner will still be when the boys have grown up.

Somehow I know it will. Many diners have been around for a long time and they have the best social-media platform there is: face to face conversations, people from the next table asking how your day has been and actually waiting for an answer.

But not all diners are like this. I remember one in Fort Langley where the old charm is all there but the young waiters who take your order and give you the correct change never ask about your day or whether you live close by.

Another diner near Kootenay Lake had a cold feel to it, literally and otherwise. People there did not connect the dots between visitors and food and you felt isolated.

So we ate and went on our way. It was a freezing sunny day in March, but the outside felt warmer.

Neighbourhood diners where people smile and say “hope to see you again” are a sign of a healthy community and a reminder of the good old feeling of never being far from a friendly face. Locals come and lean back on chairs as if at home, which is somewhat accurate, and travelers feel welcome.

The ladies who bring you coffee and pie and meals call you “dear” and “honey” and you’re tickled pink every time just because. They address children the way an aunt would, they carry smiles from table to table and they laugh with old customers over this or that with a familiarity that you want to be part of because it feels warm and good.

So I want diners like this to stay. Not because I cannot find coffee and pie or a good meal elsewhere, but because of that warm space that connects people to food, to other people and to the community they all live in, for a night, a few years or a lifetime.

After all, a place is a place. It’s the people that make it special.

Which Grinch Is Stealing Christmas?

(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News under the same title on November 23, 2013)

It was always only on Nov. 15 that we would listen to carols, when some started observing the Christmas Fast. The first snow would come around that time, too, as if some well-timed snow lever was pressed at the right time.

At the beginning of December, trees were bought and tucked away on porches or in the backyard until Christmas Eve; there were wishes circulated from children to parents, but most of all, there was a lot of sledding and snow tumbling until cheeks were red and cold at the end of each day. Snow fun reigned supreme and that was that.

A few days before Christmas, we baked vanilla-scented goodies, and on Christmas Eve we pulled out the old cardboard box filled with decorations to adorn the tree.

I still have a couple of those decorations, as my sister and I split them when the old house was sold. I have since built a tree-decorations box of my own. Every single decoration has a story.

Some the boys made at school or in art classes, some we made together at home, and some were gifted by close friends. The latest acquisitions, glass-made and hand painted by someone in Colombia, were bought from the thrift store ran by the RIH Auxiliary volunteers.

As Christmas approaches, flyers get plump with ads telling of decorations and lights and gifts and kitchenware to cook and bake in, and thermal gravy boats that will keep your gravy at a good yummy temperature, and, if you want, you can scratch the golden dust-covered area at the bottom of the page to see if you won a discount. Nothing? Try again next week, you never know.

And if you want outdoor lights, but are tired of climbing ladders and untangling lights, a patented holographic laser light projector will create the illusion of lights without the effort.

But the effort is what makes it all special. We tell our children that when we work for something, we value the accomplishment even more. Things that happen with no effort are easily forgotten.

Sure, putting up lights may get frustrating when tangles get in the way. Baking takes time and effort. Cutting the turkey with a regular carving knife versus the battery-activated one takes effort, too; as for the cold gravy, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker; you simply warm it up.

Holidays are what they are because people kept at it, efforts or tangles notwithstanding. The spirit of Christmas is not brightened by someone’s ingenious way of marketing a product.

If anything, ‘tis the season to be giving, and that applies to all that we do. More than ever, we need to remind ourselves that ‘no effort’ means ‘no joy.’ I’d rather have the boys learn about tangled wires and burnt cookies than not have the memory of anything that made my many Christmas seasons memorable.

‘Tis the season to be giving is more than a slogan. The recent typhoon in the Philippines is a cruel reminder of how we cannot ignore the reality of climate change, some of which is caused by the many trucks rolling into our cities bringing more and more goods meant to make our lives easier and better and more sparkling at Christmas at the expense of those we don’t see, and whose world we positively wreck as we wreck ours — one new seasonal item at a time.

Before you buy another new seasonal-themed product, be it an inflatable ready-decorated doghouse with an inflatable dog glued to it, or an inflatable, illuminated Santa you don’t really need, or another battery-activated thing that will create the illusion of snowflakes (yes, it exists) think about the one thing that matters: Keeping it real.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, snowflakes are snowflakes and they are not meant to be holograms.

Better yet, set that money aside for the Christmas Cheer Fund and make someone’s holidays brighter. Yours will brighten in response.

By the way, the hottest colour of the season is berry pink, one of the flyers says. Followed by “Ornaments and lights are available for you in hundreds of options.”

To which I dare say this: the Grinch is no longer green but berry pink and he’s stealing Christmas.

Stories of Nearby Coffee Shop Charm

(Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, November 16, 2013.) 

You know a good place as soon as you enter it.

WarmthIt was Thursday morning; we were the first two customers to sit in the Barnhartvale coffee shop and the big wood stove was quietly churning out heat — an invitation in itself.

We sit next to it and set up the computers. It was a working day, after all.

“A few local people will be here soon for a jamming session,” one of the owners, Carrie, tells us.

I like the quiet and the usual kitchen noises you hear from a kitchen you don’t always see, but there’s something special about witnessing a music morning in Barnhartvale.

We sit and write and the coffee is pleasantly hot.

A few people pour in shortly before 11 and take their seats around the big round table by the window after pulling their guitars out for the jamming.

A few more show up and the first notes fly around the room.

Christmas carols, old songs, interruptions here and there to adjust pace, tone, or to exchange words and jokes and all those “good to be here” looks one would expect.

The group seems so well oiled in creating music, we assume they formed a long time ago.

“It’s their first time like this,” Carrie says.

We write, eat homemade parsnip-and-ginger soup, and music fills all the spaces that would have stayed uselessly empty otherwise.

Music people chatter, other locals step in to warm up over a cup of coffee and to exchange a few words, and writing turns plump and satisfying. I am glad I gave in to the morning invite.

Before leaving, we take a look around the store the coffee shop is adjacent to. Half is old country antique and some has one-of-a-kind fair trade and local art pieces.

In the antique and consignment side of the country store, there is a handmade thick wool sweater with a few moose and evergreen on it. I am hardly the impulse buyer, but this time is different. Every now and then we each give in to a “winter’s on our doorstep” kind of gift and this is mine.

Outside, it smells like winter and feels like it’s about to snow.

We take a stroll through the yard. We’ve seen it before during a drive-through trip in the spring when the coffee shop was still a project and greenness abounded.

PondThere is a pond with edges festooned with dormant water lilies and ruffled-top reeds and a wooden dock in the middle of it. Two mallards with orange feet and a whole lot of confidence make their way out and question our empty hands. The only place where a sense of entitlement doesn’t seem exaggerated.

There is no denial that country charm has dipped its toes in this pond and frolicked about the yard. We’ve seen it in bloom in early spring and we’re not scared by its rather stark autumn appearance, but comforted by its slow pace and leaf-covered paths.

I am partial to quirky coffee shops. I admit it. And though I like walking to my favourite ones in town, the 15-minute drive to and up the windy Barnhartvale road was well worth it.

You know it’s a good place to be when people, who know each other only by virtue of inhabiting the same community, gather to strum a few chords in the warm place that has coffee and homemade lunches — and all the stories and smiles a good host should.

The “Right in the heart of downtown Barnhartvale” sign outside in the parking lot calls it straight.

There’s a heart to it.


Our Freedom Is a Gift From Veterans

ReminderOur neighbourhood has many charming little houses, which were built for the returning veterans back in 1945. A thoughtful project meant to say ‘thank you’ in more than words.

Every year on Remembrance Day, I am reminded of two things: That there are some very brave and selfless people out there, and that the Remembrance Day ceremonies do not bring much solace to those who were injured while serving and are left at the mercy of a system that creates additional stress.

A few days ago, a soldier who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Afghanistan came forth with his story of grief.

Cpl. Shane Jones has been working with seven or eight caseworkers and has been visiting multiple doctors since his injury happened during his 2005 tour. He suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder like many other veterans — and, like many others, feels betrayed by the government.

It is sad and disheartening to hear, yet he is one of many veterans who are not getting appropriate care and consideration for their service.

There are also debates around the financial compensations for injured veterans.

A group of ex-soldiers is suing the government over the new compensation system, arguing that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A lifetime disability pension has been replaced by a lump-sum payment, a decision that has angered many.

Previous governments have taken pride in providing for veterans, recognizing the sacrifice of the wounded as a great service to the Crown. Our present government argues that promises made in the past should not be binding.

While debate flourishes, injured veterans are left, more or less, to their own devices. Some injuries are more visible than others, but all war-inflicted injuries are debilitating and take their toll on soldiers and their families.

Once a year, some of the veterans are called upon to share their story and make some of their stories known to the public. Many details are left out because they are too gruesome to share or too painful to recall.

After the wreaths are laid and the poppies are forgotten, stories are set aside for another year and the wounded veterans are back to fighting their private war.

On top of it, they have to worry about a Veterans Affairs minister who expands the definition of a veteran to the point of making it look ridiculous.

Minister Julian Fantino’s words, “… I spent 40 years in law enforcement, I too have served. I’ve been in the trenches and heard the guns go off. I guess I can also put myself and other colleagues, firefighters and other police officers, who put themselves in harm’s way every day, in the same category …” has earned him a resignation request from angered Canadian veterans.

I don’t discount the courage and dedication of firefighters and police forces; they should be honoured for their own sacrifice in serving the people of this country, too.

Some could argue that the Canadian military service is volunteer and so is deployment. But, no one goes to fight a war in their own name. Every soldier deployed by Canada is a soldier of Canada, and his or her sacrifice should be properly acknowledged.

By acknowledging them, we to teach our children that putting one’s life on the line in the name of your country is something that is honoured — not only by citizens, but also by a government that stands true to the core values of a nation honouring its fallen heroes and veterans.

A definition by an unknown author on the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association website reads: “Simply put, a veteran, whether regular or reserve, active or retired, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to ‘The Government of Canada,’ for an amount of ‘up to and including’ his life. That is honour. Unfortunately, there are too many people in this country who do not understand it.”

Lest we forget, the freedom and peace we enjoy are a gift from today’s and yesterday’s veterans, to each of us, every day.

Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday November 9, 2013

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