Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Category: Spotlight Column (Kamloops Daily News) Page 2 of 4

The Aftermath: Keeping Halloween Fun For Kids

Picture this: a dummy resembling a person fallen to the ground is placed in front of a garage door to look as if the head has been crushed by the door — blood on the door and suggestive puddles on the pavement included. It looks as real as you can imagine. Anything more would be the real thing.

A neighbour calls 911 and a discussion ensues.

It happened in more than one place. Comments abounded. The majority were a reverberation of, “Come on, it’s Halloween!” and praised the creativity of the displays. A matter of opinion.

Others argued that we shouldn’t allow for something that creates fear or unease.

One such commenter was told to look the other way if she couldn’t take it, while another who suggested we should return to what Halloween used to be (goblins, ghosts, black cats) was deemed a witch and told, “What did they do with witches back then? Burn, witches, burn!”

Feeling uncomfortable yet? Intolerance of a different opinions punctuated with implied violence is never a good thing.

Halloween is one spooky day, everyone agrees, but suggested violence — to the extreme, in this case — can stir negative emotions that are not conducive to good fun. Most commenters suggested that children would be the first ones to find the display funny because they know what Halloween is about.

I disagree. Creepy and horrifying is not funny. Normalizing violence is not acceptable. Halloween or not, some boundaries should not be crossed.

Our 92-year-old neighbour reminisces about Halloweens that were not about zombies and severed crawling hands. “Halloween is for kids,” she said. Jack-o-lanterns and decorations, trick-or-treat if they wished, but horror was never part of it.

Children nowadays are exposed to myriad stimuli that may or may not be appropriate for their level of understanding. They seem to know more, but knowing is not the same as understanding.

Children’s brains need time to grow and rushing serves no one. They need time to learn to make the distinction between fake and real.

Present-day Halloween décor is different from what it used to be. Children, young and old, get a big dose of gore, dismembered bodies and zombie action, on top of the old-fashioned ghosts and skeletons, which seem tame by comparison. Save for the last items, I am not sure children can take the above-mentioned in the expected stride. Some will, some won’t.

One way to honour human nature is to not desensitize children to violence. In my youngest son’s class, some kids still believe in the tooth fairy, while they also talk about watching clips from movies like Chucky and Candyman.

If violence happens out of the Halloween context, children are referred to counsellors for help. Parents have a hard time explaining it. Violent images in the news can shock children. We know that.

Movies have parental guidance warnings for a reason. Not only is the plot geared toward a mature audience, but the horror elements and sexual references are clearly not to be seen, let alone understood, by children and tweens.

I watched 20 minutes of a scary movie once. I was already an adult, yet it made me cringe.

I grew up with very little television. We played outside and read. But here’s an interesting thing: many of my favourite books included sword fighting (Alexandre Dumas) and gunfights (Karl May’s books describing the Wild West). I was never uneasy or scared. The violence wasn’t gratuitous, though.

I am trying to raise my boys the same way. We have always been outside a lot, around our yard, town and on road trips. We read books depicting times past and present and the heroes within — real or fantasy. Ditto for movies.

They never feared “monsters” under their beds — until this year, that is. My youngest now struggles when night approaches.

He was told about a bad guy who comes and kills you in your sleep. Some kids at school talked about it. The name is Candyman. Just the product of someone’s imagination, we told him. He knows, but fear has stuck for now. Having our home broken into recently doesn’t help.

As a result, he is ambivalent about Halloween. Excited about the dressing up part, troubled about the anticipated scary, possibly gory, décor and costumes he might see that day and the stories associated with them.

It shouldn’t be this way; it should be fun — kiddie-appropriate jack-o-lantern, goblin and ghost fun. After all, like our 92-year-old neighbour said, “Halloween has always been fun for kids.”

We should keep it that way.

Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, November 2, 2013. 

Clean Is As Clean Does

On October 17 the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has declared outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans. It is a monumental decision that is bound to affect the future in a positive way. About time, you’d have to agree.

Outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer and increases the risk of bladder cancer, the report said.

Particulate matter, while a major component of air pollution, was analyzed separately and declared a carcinogenic substance by itself. Nothing new there.
Where is it all coming from? From transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions, and residential heating and cooking. In other words, we’re surrounded.

I have been decrying the dreadful reality of air pollution for a while now, not losing hope that things can be changed, but realizing that tweaking the minds of fellow humans is a gargantuan task.

As the cold weather approaches, idling cars make their appearance. Not significant, some might say, compared to industrial pollution. But, here’s the thing: everything adds up.

A few years ago I wrote a feature article for a health publication in Calgary on the topic of environmental allergies, asthma and diesel exhaust as a trigger for both. A new study had come out pointing to fine particulate matter such as the one derived from diesel exhaust – the new and improved diesel fuel that is – as a serious threat to human health and a cause for respiratory problems.

Scientists agonize over far-reaching air pollution that travels in all corners of the world. It’s sobering to think that polar bears walk around carrying the shortest stick of all, healthwise. Various pollutants have been found in high concentrations in their bodies; a dirty inside in stark contrast to their snow white coats.

Yet closer to home, the reality – and threat – of air pollution is impossible to ignore.
There’s countless debates over the proposed Ajax mine. Pro and cons arguments are being tossed on all sides, dressed with stinging words and put on the table again. And, to be fair, there are pro and con arguments.

But if the proposed mine becomes reality and increases the levels of air pollution in Kamloops we will all pay the price. The first ones to pay the price will be people with chronic respiratory diseases, those with a genetic predisposition to cancer, and children. The rest of us will follow swiftly.

Too apocalyptic? Not at all. Real, if anything. If A causes B and B causes C, then establishing the connection between A and C is a matter of logic and social responsibility.

Debates aside, I think we’re drawing near – on a global scale – to the point where any new industrial development should only be allowed to happen if it is vital to a community. The decision should be made based on industry and independent panel reviews, and also based on the objectively-assessed needs of the community where the project is about to be developed.

Wants versus needs has been played to death, some would say. And it is bad enough when wants take precedent over needs and affect our emotional well-being, empathy levels and general health (cheap, chemical-laden conventionally produced food.)

But when it’s about a real threat that will materialize in chronic diseases with the grimmest outcome, then we should seriously reconsider priorities.
From idling cars to big industrial projects, we have choices and responsibilities. We owe it to ourselves and our children to exercise them.

Published as a column under the same title in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on October 26, 2013

The Need To Rethink Our Children’s Heroes (And Our Own)

In the days before the Terry Fox Run the boys did with their school, our walk-from-school time was filled with questions and discussions about Fox.

How did he know he had cancer? How did he come to set on a monumental task like the one he did? How did he manage to run with all the pain and heaviness caused by the disease and medication? The topic is far from over in our house.

Terry Fox is alive in more than our hearts. He is with us many times when there are tough tasks to accomplish, or determination, as a life skill, to understand and learn.

But it goes far beyond that.

It’s about understanding the greater good and why it matters to think of more than yourself along the way.

Terry Fox touched people’s lives. He saved people. No cape, no mask or impenetrable costume; no machines and, unfortunately, no well-designed pause in the scenario at a time when his life was in danger so he could be saved in time.

But he saved people.

Many have gotten stronger in their fight against cancer because of him.

What he did was making people — like my sons and me — realize that superheroes are the most human-like creatures. Vulnerable and strong at the same time. Awe-inspiring.

He is not the only one.

A couple of weeks ago, we stood in a long lineup at TRU for a chance to see and listen to Commander Chris Hadfield.

It was spellbinding. He talked about being nine and dreaming of being an astronaut. He talked about following a dream and making it a reality.

If you have encountered many people like that as a kid, and learned from them, good for you; you are fortunate.

Not to imply for a second that dreaming as a child and accomplishing as an adult forms a beeline, punctuated solely by accomplishments and joy. There are trials, there are many failures along the way, but if the dream stands and becomes reality, chances are there were some more factors involved, such as determination and motivation.

Hadfield and Fox are two of the people who have made many of our dinners and walks alive with questions.

There are many more.

We have our own heroes and role models. We have reasons why for choosing them.

Talking about people who accomplish things we admire is something necessary. Children learn about values because we acknowledge real values and our words have weight.

Children also need to know that regular people do outstanding things.

In a world dominated by superheroes who make accomplishments look so easy and quick, children need to be reminded that achieving anything worthwhile takes time, determination and ability to give ourselves to a dream or cause. It is never an overnight thing.

In a world abounding with “awesomeness” and everything is “awesome” from shoes to movies, to just about everything that our children encounter on a daily basis, we need to redefine the word awesome for them. To rediscover it ourselves.

Awesome is, according to the dictionary, “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration or fear; causing or inducing awe.”

If we are truly inspired, amazed, or awe-struck by what we see in remarkable people around us, in people we hear, read about or meet, we should see it as it is: awesome.

If we keep at it, there’s a chance our children will be learning the true meaning of awesome and applying it to their lives.

(Originally published as a column under the same title in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday October 18, 2013)

Things To Keep

PeacefulIf you follow Westsyde Road all the way to the McLure ferry — the shortest ferry ride around — keep driving until you hit Highway 5. Drive toward Barriere and just before you enter town, turn right onto Agate Bay Road.

You will find yourself among beautiful, peaceful hills with trees touched by the breath of autumn. Every now and then there’s a farmhouse with a trail of smoke climbing into the overcast and you might be tempted to feel envious of their perfect surroundings.

We did. It was Saturday morning and the world seemed slow paced.

We spotted herds of deer that stopped, turned their heads and stared at us as we drove by. We stopped the car rather abruptly a few times because of some ruffled purple flowers that had to be photographed. Or clouds.

Black cows and calves peppered the fields draping the sides of the road. Everything was calm and quiet and green.

The road ended into a fork that hugged Adams Lake and said Chase on the right side. We turned left and started driving on a slick dirt road all the way to our chosen camping spot: Gordon Bay rec site.

It rained on and off, but we set up the tent and took the canoe for a paddle. We docked on islands and shores that had nothing but driftwood and rocks. We discovered a beaver’s dam and paddled around, looking at mysterious entry tunnels and imagining the busy pitter-patter of feet walking through muck and carrying branches every which way in a never-ending effort to improve the half-submerged home.

The boys have learned to paddle by themselves this fall, so they paddled along the shores and into a small bay. They had secret missions to accomplish and seafarers dialogues to carry out while we got the fire going. We ate, roasted marshmallows — “can we have one more?” is the refrain that comes with us on every camping trip — and then we went for a night paddle.

Try it. Water plants seem asleep as they sway with the gentle canoe wake. If all headlamps are turned off, you will find yourself suspended between the glossy, dark, perfect lake surface and a sky ballooned with ghost-white clouds.

We woke up late and lazy. I went to photograph dew on old summer grass, slugs eating mushrooms and rocks hugged by the gentlest lapping waves.

The sun burst out an hour later and all four of us paddled to the other side of the lake to a sunny rocky shore where we found a baby garter snake, no bigger than a pencil and cuddly if you cupped your hands over one another just so.

Rolled upA slice of sweetness, to hold the snake, I mean, a first encounter of this kind. We took turns and whispered as to not spook the black and yellow sliver that seemed to carry some emotions with it.

We drove back the next day, stopping by Roderick Hague-Brown Provincial Park to see the salmon run, a celebration of life and its immutable laws.

It had been a good two days.

We got home by seven.

It was the dead quiet that almost gave it away; our house had an eerie feeling to it. It was cold inside, as if windows had been left open the entire day.

“Why did you leave the back door open?” the boys asked as we stepped in. We had not. But the door was wide open. Shudder.

Our trip had all the good things a camping trip should have: lake to paddle on, islands to paddle to, baby snakes to wonder at and hold if you’re so inclined, rocks to collect.

The only thing that did not belong to the trip was finding our home broken into and our computers gone — with them, work and memories.

The people who broke in looked at our photos on the walls; they wrecked the collage with my sons’ baby footprints and their smiling faces, probably thinking it was the gate toward some secret treasure-laden safe.

We had a hard time settling in; eating; going to bed. Our home was hurt and we were hurt with it.

The boys kept asking if the people are still inside or coming back and we kept reassuring them. Memories of the camping trip almost melted away in sadness. How could anyone do this?

It took a whole lot of will power to do the cleanup the next day, as if someone had severed us from our own home. But we did it so we could all have our warm place back.

Then we looked at the trip photos knowing that there are things no one can ever take away.

Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on October 12, 2013


Night Out In Kamloops

It was last Wednesday evening that I honored an invitation to go about town with a bunch of strangers and eat at four different restaurants for a first time of a culinary and social event called Dishcrawl. I did not know what to expect as everything had been kept a secret until that evening.

Sometimes all you need to do is sit back and relax, but how to? It’s becoming a lost art in our hurried times. Often chased by gadgets into physical isolation, people often find online socializing easier.

It is not unusual for people to go hang out at an eating place because they know for a fact if any of their friends are there. There’s an app for that.

But there was none of that during the Dishcrawl event I attended. I sat down with people I didn’t know at 7 o’clock in place I had not scheduled ahead of time and knew that by the end of the night we will have learned at least the basics about each other.

We ate pizza at Papa Tee’s, sweet potato noodles and other Korean-inspired bits at the Cornerstone Sushi, tacos downtown at Quilas and a raspberry sauce-doused torte at Romann’s Swiss Pastries. Food is food is food you could say and that may be true, but this was more.

All places are family owned and operated. Every one of them came with a smiling host explaining the food in simple, user-friendly terms. Curiosity and the novelty of it added new flavors.

My table-mates and I talked life, careers and whether Kamloops is anyone’s birthplace. Less important in the end, it turned out, since we all call Kamloops home no matter how far from it we were born. There’s consent about the beauty of the hills and mountains spreading forever, and the wonder of our somewhat small but lively city.

I discovered that night that even when you hang out with strangers – and they are only strangers until one breaks the ice really – mentioning a name will have someone at the table say “Oh, I know that person!”

It is a small world, but how small could you go in the end? It turned out that a Labrador native is no stranger to a handful of Kamloops native. Or someone could tap you on the shoulder and say they know you and you realize that you know them. Conversation ensues and you feel the comfortable homey warmth of a place like Kamloops.

I may or may not see my table-mates any time soon, but what I know is that saving seats or seeing an arm raised signaling the seat that someone saved for you connects you to people you’ve never met before. An intimacy of some sort that will not go away. Memories of a time when you did know what to expect.

I wondered what made people sign up for the event. Perhaps curiosity or something to do on an ordinary Wednesday night, or both. At least one person moved to Kamloops two weeks ago.

At some point I am asked about advice for a newcomer to Kamloops. Someone just acknowledged my “no longer new in town” status! A rite of passage for sure. I take pride in telling of the many places I have visited with my family since we moved here a year ago, skiing across frozen lakes and hiking on crumbly cinnamon-hued hills included. It comes down to three words: Just do it!

In a time where we schedule our next breath with apps and such, a surprise evening may throw the proverbial stick in the wheels. There’s no app for that. It better not be.

Four places to go, countless conversations to be had, snippets of life to be swapped over a glass of wine, laughter and a brisk walk back to the car when the evening is over.

There’s something to be learned every time you take the word “usually” out of a schedule. For Dishcrawl, you shake hands, smile, introduce yourself and let the evening unfold while tasting good food prepared by local chefs you meet and greet as you walk in. “Thank you,” and then you’re off to your next adventure.

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, September 27, 2013

Find A Child To Read To

We finished The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on the way to Vancouver — the last three chapters or so. We had started reading it the day before in the midst of unfinished chores, but what better time to read than when the child says, “Let’s read!”

There’s never been a better excuse for shifting priorities.

A few days before, we had picked up The Wizard of Oz from the library and dedicated two overcast afternoons on the front porch and a sunny one to reading about Dorothy’s happenings. I had only read an abridged version as a kid, so we savoured each chapter together. You can call a book remarkable when a scarecrow inspires you. Read it and you’ll see for yourself.

I mostly read to my youngest these days but my oldest joins in sometimes. He reads on his own and I choose to credit at least part of his voracious appetite for reading to the fact that we had countless mornings and afternoons of reading.

The first book my oldest son and I picked up from the library when he was one and a half or so was called Anna and the Rain.

I must have read it 20 times only that first day. They usually let you borrow them for three weeks. I was new to the concept of reading a book until your tongue becomes numb. For veteran readers, Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks is always a good book to see where you stand in regard to tongue numbness.

A few months later, the library put Anna and the Rain up for sale. It was a bit worn, they said, and no wonder; loved books often turn raggedy. A mere 25 cents later, the book was ours. To us, it was priceless; it still is.

When my youngest came along, he picked his preferred book on a rainy Vancouver morning at the neighbourhood library: The Gunniwolf.

By then, I was well versed in reading a book many times in a row, voices and all — and the anticipatory giggles only a child that young could come up with were precious fuel; eyes wide and curious every time, as if we were reading it for the first time. The book never grew old with either of us.

When you read to a child, you open a door that lets them see farther than you can imagine — taunting them to learn about the world and calling to them in a way that only books can.

I never read to them because I wanted them to do well in school or to keep up with any recommended amount of reading. We read because it makes sense, because we need to do that or else my world, or theirs, would not have all the colours in it.

From the simplest rhyme books that are never simplistic, to more complex stories that go on for many chapters, reading with my sons has been a privilege. I never shied away from reading big books from early on either. I grew up with big books, and long and intricate fairy tales being read to me. I always thought that children could understand a lot more than we think. Now I know they do.

I can recall many days that have wrestled me into a state of mind that was anything but peaceful and to many of them, there is a jolly tag attached by my kids when they asked “Can we read?” No matter how tough the day, reading a book that’s smurfing good will make you smile. Smurf’s honour!

Reading is not a “follow the rules” affair, either, that is bound to squish some of the fun out of it. Pick books that abound with silliness, pick books with your eyes closed if you have to, and tiptoe back to your childhood for the books that you loved. Read book backwards, if your child asks for it. Mine did. It made no sense, the book I mean, but then it did.

Reading to a child, yours or not, is an adventure like no other.

Closeness that is exclusive to that time together also comes with secret keys to a magic world you both step into. It’s the gift that will grow with every word and the only side effect I can think of is that every book in your child’s library will have a memory attached to it so that giving them away might become problematic.

When people refer to books as being alive, they may refer to the world inside the covers, but to me the books that are alive are the ones that have memories attached to them. Every time you read with your child, a piece of your soul stays behind in that book.

I cannot think of a better way to stop time but by building a fort of whispers, silly giggles, cuddles and words. Words to live by.

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on September 21, 2013 under the same title.

Prolonged Teenage Years: Fact Or Fiction?

Kids grow fast. People will tell you that when you show up in the world holding your new bundle of joy.

You get to see it yourself as scrunched little faces bloom into toothless sweet smiles.

Kids grow, mind and body, and so do we alongside.

Then the world knocks and our kids run to the door. They peek, eyes growing wide. They hold onto us, ready to hide, should the world look too scary. We have the necessary grip, still; attachment and love create a magic potion.

The world is a big, wild place; we know that. Yet with the advent of new challenges like the Internet and its ever-growing multi-headed younger sibling, social media, we are facing the prospect of opening the door too fast for our kids, allowing them to step forth but not checking whether we’re perched on a ledge. Freefalls are nothing to joke about.

When my oldest was born, I was, like all moms, weak in the knees just by feeling his velvety little forehead and have his tiny fingers curl around mine. Cloud Nine became my permanent residence, sleepless nights notwithstanding. I was told, “Beware the terrible twos, it’ll get rough.”

Whether it was luck or enlightenment in how they were raised, we had no terrible-two storms raging through the house. Perhaps the negative connotation is something that creates the very storm we’re trying to find shelter from. Negative expectations mold themselves into real life, some believe.

While I am still wading in the warm waters of early years when innocence is not yet lost and silly laughs happen when I least (or most) expect it, the warning from the well-intentioned are as perky as ever.

It’s about the teenage years now. Brace for impact, they say. Based on my experience with the non-terrible twos, I may choose to celebrate rather than fear my sons’ impending transformation into men.

Yet, regardless of what I choose for my family, here’s my concern about all of our kids: If we fear the teenage years, why do we shove our kids forth by allowing them to be peeled of innocence too soon?

Why do we allow corporations to pull them into social networking before they’ve finished playing hide-and-seek in the backyard?

Why do we enable teenage-idol creators to tempt children with skimpy clothing, conflicting messages about how to be cool in a world where image counts but not the substance behind it?

Children are multi-dimensional beings. Now they’re being tempted to live in a bi-dimensional world — a sure way to lose depth.

Parents are still learning the ropes of the fast-evolving multi-faceted present-day world. The often-clueless state we find ourselves in is but a natural consequence of things moving fast. Trouble is, by the time we find our bearings our kids are long immersed in a world we’re just starting to learn about.

That most children become teenagers too soon is no longer news.

As if that was not enough to scratch our heads about, some psychologists and educators point toward an equally worrying new phenomenon: prolonged teenage years.

Many young adults become older adults while still living with their parents and in a state of teenage bliss way past the 20s threshold.

“No responsibility, no worries,” looked fuzzy-warm and funny in Lion King, but it is bound to give us cold shivers as we see our children grow up and indulge in a state that we used to have the habit of warning each other about.

It was a time of budding independence when hugs, while still needed, were becoming something you could let of as you would face the world as an almost adult. Budding independence went beyond handling a phone bought by your parents and used for texting at large and keeping the Facebook I.V. dripping at all times.

A declared optimist, I believe that honest dialogue, the oldest tool still standing, can still save the day and the ones to follow.

Between parents themselves, or parents and educators or other influential adults, and most of all parents and children, dialogue remains the best tool in understanding the world and acknowledging that often the guide becomes the guided one, for some of the portions that is.

The world changes constantly, ever-evolving and with new daily challenges, but society relies on the same old values to build itself strong such as reliability, trust, honesty and courage.

Just like every season has its role in maintaining life as we know it, so do developing stages in our growth as human beings. But they should start in a timely fashion and not go overtime either.

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

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