Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Category: Spotlight Column (Kamloops Daily News) Page 3 of 4

All That Dirt…

CleanA few years ago, when shopping for natural laundry detergent, all you had to do was to hit the natural food store and grab a box.

If that was not available, Borax and washing soda were a staple in most neighbourhood grocery stores, so if your health or principles required a non-fragranced approach to dirty laundry, you could proceed without too much fuss.

Nowadays things are getting complicated.

My recent search for natural detergent took almost as long as searching for a book at the library.

There are many of these detergents, all boasting amazing cleaning power, naturally derived and packaged in 70 per cent recycled-content containers.

Some are manufactured by the companies that have been (and are still) filling shelves with regular detergents that may or may not kill fish. Same for cleaning products.

So much for baking soda and vinegar reigning the natural-cleaning realm.

One could argue that having choices is a good thing. Not only that, it is remarkable to see many people surfing the green wave and making environmentally conscious choices.

Just like growing clean food, producing affordable cleaning products and detergents with the least impact on health and the environment is no easy feat. Small companies struggle to compete with giants.

As for trust, this one is up for debate, but I choose to lean toward companies that have engaged on an environmentally sound path from the get go, including some good old homegrown Canadian ones.

Just like in people, character shows from the beginning. You cannot be a cop and a robber at the same time.

Why is this a big issue, you may ask? After all, we have oil spills and mines to worry about.

That may be, but it sometimes happens that we tend to overlook the little things that we have control over versus that ones where debates are flourishing and the power of decision is not ours alone.

I always say that we are responsible for each other’s well-being. My action and choices will influence your life, and the other way around.

The actions I have full control over —choosing what food to eat, what detergents to wash my family laundry with and the products to clean our home — are directly affecting the health and well-being of my family, but indirectly affecting yours as well.

To be preservedThe suds from every household end up in our communal lakes and rivers, just like the chemicals used in conventional agriculture.

It’s a big circle, really.

With an increased number of children and people with allergies, asthma and chemical sensitivities, making the right choices becomes vital. And if “right choices” sounds too cliché, perhaps it should be changed to “our own choices.”

Green washing is still a new concept and one that can easily go unnoticed. Awareness is key.

Having big companies that respond to market trends by producing environmentally friendly products is a good start, but environmental commitment cannot be achieved overnight.

It is important for consumers to know that we have the choice to shape the offer. We still do, that is. When we buy a product, be it food or a household item, we buy the impact of the company that sells it and its footprint that may or may not hurt a fish or more.

As always, when unsure, going back to basics is often the simplest and most affordable solution, economically and environmentally speaking.

Neighbourhood grocery stores will always sell baking soda, vinegar and good old washing soda. We — the consumer — shape their offer and that is the sign of a healthy, respectful commerce.

A model that has established a good reputation and its replication will benefit us all, you’ll have to agree.

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on September 7, 2013 under the title “When we buy a product, we buy the impact of the company that sells it”

A Year Went By

TimeIt was two days ago. The rainbow was dipping its colorful feet in the lake, arching its way all the way from Kenna Cartwright. Intermittent rain pinched the surface of the water and though it was cold, we kept on casting lines. We have learned to fish, you see.

The boys are casting their lines and getting more eager by the minute to catch something. But they have to learn patience while fishing, and learn about baits and how to never leave behind any discarded line, no matter how small the piece.

They brought one of their bows and arrows too, so they switch between fishing and archery. We look at them and smile. There is no arguing over turns with the bow like last fall when they first got their hands on one. They’ve learned and we have too.

Since moving here a year ago we have discovered things and places and people and have gotten over many hurdles. It’s been a good year.

We took the boys hiking mild sunny slopes and also steep ones. They have learned that the gusto you start out with might dwindle as the mild slopes grow into steep trails guarded by merciless thorns. So be it, we said, we can’t give up just like that.

We didn’t, they didn’t and every time we got to the top they said “Oh, this was worth it.” It’s like that in life, I told them. If you don’t have to work for it you just don’t value it enough to not take it for granted.

We’ve all grown in the last year more than expected and that’s because a new place does that to you. It challenges you to step out of the comfort zone and not everything ends with a laurel crown at the end, but you learn nonetheless.

We have camped on a whim, just by throwing a few things in the car and stopping by a lake that seemed like the right location simply based on how the afternoon sun played on its surface.

And just like that, we hiked alongside frozen lakeshores midwinter, we skied across frozen lakes and witnessed the most amazing starry night one night after a late dinner that could’ve ended in early bedtime, but instead became a late night adventure we all remember to this day.

Our first Wells Grey Park foray was wrapped in thick rain blankets almost the whole time we were there but there’s an unmistakable sense of victory when you make a fire using soggy wood and dry up beside it. Sausages and marshmallows never tasted better.

We’ve canoed on lakes and rivers and had the boys remind us of the promise of a big canoe camping trip we mused about a few months ago. It’s a pressing matter when you’re a boy and ready for adventure.

We have built rituals. Farmer’s market on Saturdays, walks to the library and the downtown backstreets with all the colorful graffiti, pre-bedtime walks along the river shores and those few hot hikes in Peterson Creek Park that made us understand the place we’re in and love the landscape rewards it has to offer once you’ve dusted your way up on one of the hills.

The boys have favorite lakes and streets, and so do we. We have come to be in a place that we did not know and had no preconceived notions about.

Every time we leave for a few days or longer, I miss our new home. I have come to love the open green embrace of Nicola Valley as we drive home through Merritt and the long rolls of clouds that build a sky like no other.

It’s been a good year. If all we have learned can seem slightly more than ordinary to other people, then the one thing we hold high is that we have learned how being in a new place has to be a dynamic, give-some-take-some kind of experience or else you would get to taste nothing of what a place has to offer.

We’re now heading into our second year. Preparing the garden for next spring, planning for that canoe camping trip and, since we have promised, have us all camp at least one night in the backyard igloo we will build sometimes in mid-December. Because we will.

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on August 31, 2013

Is “Cradle to Grave” About To Die?

Old? Still holding...Here’s something I struggle with: the new models . . . of this and that.

From phones to TV screens and cars, a new model is just around the corner and the old ones seem obsolete all of a sudden, though many are not.

Do we still believe in the “cradle to grave” concept?

Or are we so driven by money, materialistic desires and keeping up with the times and the Joneses that we are slowly pushing the very concept into its own grave?

There was a time when goods were purchased with no plans of replacing them a year or couple of years later just because the new model was out. Those goods were meant to last.

As a race that keeps growing and invading more of the remote corners of the planet, we are facing two issues. The first one: the exploitation of natural, non-renewable resources to produce the goods we both need and want, though you would agree it is the “wants” that drive the most destructive behaviour.

As for the second one, it is a growing one, pun fully intended. The garbage we leave behind is a reality we can no longer run from.

Every town and city has developed a garbage satellite and whether we are aware of it or not, each of us leaves a trail of garbage, too. That the garbage trails grows long, thick and reaches far beyond the country borders is a present day situation that applies to many.

There is now domestic waste, industrial waste and e-waste, the latter being the least glamorous of all. That’s the one that reaches further than we have ever imagined.

In all fairness, few of us have pictured the kind of waste that TV screens, old phones and computers, and all the electronic paraphernalia we’re surrounded with will leave behind once they break down or fall out of our graces.

With every new model introduced an old one goes out the door. Our door, not the people in a third world country that have no choice but survive the folly of “this year’s model.”

For every new model created and its countless copies to be sold around the world, resources are being mined, people are being exploited and minds are being swayed off in a way that makes them unwilling, unable and uninterested in answering the question “Do I really need that?” That includes children. A losing trade for us all.

The fact that things become cheaper as we go, money-wise, does not help, either. They become expensive in every other way, but our health, our children’s well-being — emotional and otherwise — and the environment are paying the highest price.

To be mindful and be able to ignore a killer sale or promotional price becomes an art, perhaps not the easiest to master.

Out of sight, out of mind is a luxury concept we can no longer afford. Our purchase today impacts someone and ultimately the community we share with our fellow humans.

The old iPhone with a cracked screen that will be send to a third world country for dismantling and recycling of rare metals will find its way to haunt us. Wind and rain know no boundaries. They blow just the same and shuffle the same polluting chemicals on all of us, sooner or later.

What’s the solution? We’re too far in the game to give up the gadgets and the convenience associated with goods we’re accustomed to. But we can still work on our attachment to them.

Stick to what we have for as long as it works, no matter if the surface is no longer shiny. Opt for companies that include ethics in their business plans and never forget that each of our actions impacts the world, whether we see the results or not.

You could argue that one person’s actions will not change the world, but I choose to believe that changes have to start somewhere. Just like a fire, a spark is all it takes.

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on August 24, 2013

“Thank You” And “Goodbye” As Gifts

Growth My mom passed away unexpectedly seven years ago. I never got a chance to say goodbye. It never occurred to me that she could disappear from our lives all of a sudden and still young.

A couple of years later, during a conversation with a friend whose mother had also passed away, I experienced contradictory feelings. His mom had suffered from a chronic disease that kept her around long enough for him to say goodbye and “all the things I wanted to say to her.”

I envied him. I wished I had a chance to say to my mom all the things I wanted to say.

And then it dawned on me that I may have forgotten some of those things anyway. Life is like that. Saying ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ is mostly what I wished I said to her. We’re always wiser after sailing on rougher seas.

I looked back at all of our happy or silent times together, early morning tea, Christmas baking, walking and chatting or hugging after a long time of not seeing each other.

I realized that I did say, over time, most of the things I meant to say. Almost all of them, in fact. Not all at once, but who cares, I wouldn’t have remembered all of that anyway in one go. But, I did say thank you.

My dad on the other hand, has been chronically ill for almost eight years. Every time I visit him, I know it could be the last time I see him and yet it took me a couple of years to know that whispering a soft goodbye on my way out will not do.

I was not really saying goodbye; deep down, I was secretly hoping he would be around next time I went to see him.

Selfish, perhaps, but I wanted him around because I loved him and thought that saying goodbye would somehow push him toward that threshold most of us fear and don’t know how to handle.

Saying what you have to say to your loved one, who might not be around next time you visit, is a gift.

More than an acknowledgement of their role in your life, saying goodbye is act of gratefulness. It’s not about them or you — but you and them together.

We cannot push ailing or elderly loved ones closer to that invisible-but-real threshold. Now I know that. Life happens around us; it follows its course and we should celebrate every moment we have, and had.

Every time I visit my dad, and the reality of his precarious situation becomes more real than before, I know that I owe him something different than sadness and a long face.

I wished for a longer time with my mom, and my grandparents also. I never got to say goodbye to them. Life tailored it that way, but part of me wanted to shield my children from the experience.

Often parents think they have to protect their children from the sadness of life. It is true that losing loved ones is one of the saddest things, but children should be allowed to honour the process and grow gratefulness from it.

It is much easier to keep good memories alive when we have a chance to acknowledge our loved one’s presence by saying thank you along the way and by saying goodbye when the time comes.

When we find the strength to say goodbye, again and again if we have to, we realize that every time is different. It gives us a better grip when it comes to understanding the mysterious rhythm of life.

I have learned that the many thank yous along the way are more valuable than that final package of soul-ripping thank yous and goodbyes.

I hope I can show my gratefulness for the times I had alongside people I loved, for the things I learned, and for the valleys and hills we crossed together, and teach my sons to carry themselves the same way.

Being aware of the finite enriches us in a way that allows appreciation and proper celebration of beginnings and ends and every day in between.

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on August 17, 2013 under the same title.

Domestic Violence Is Never Acceptable

Sad...I was told recently of a case of alleged domestic abuse involving a family I know. It involves a mom’s physical and psychological abuse by her husband, complete financial dependency and the occasional physical punishment of their two young children, both under seven.

That the family looks like the average middle-class family — and nothing “shows” — is sad and infuriating.

I fear this is often the case in families who hide such dark secrets; appearances matter. Also, an odd sense of loyalty and pride prevents the victim from seeking help.

The alleged abuser in this case is, to all who know him, save for his immediate family, a good person. Both he and his wife have post-graduate degrees; their children attend private schools and attend church every Sunday — when the bruises don’t show, that is.

Now you might be tempted to ask how can a situation like this occur nowadays and why wouldn’t the mother extract herself and her children from it?

It’s not easy. Often, the abused spouse is unable to loosen the emotional ties enough to make a rational decision or is simply unable to act, out of fear. Many of those who make it to the shelter often decide to go back to their spouses. I would like to believe that counselling and support programs can enable better, happier lives and less, if any, recurrence.

Sometimes, the victim finds excuses for the abuser. Perhaps a tough childhood with physical abuse planted the seeds for such behaviour but is that enough to allow violence to affect more people? It’s easy to see the fallacy in excusing one’s abuser, but affection and fear mixed up make for blurry vision.

Due to psychological intimidation and repeated threats, the abused spouse and children might not disclose the situation because they fear retaliation or they do not believe anyone would be able to help.

There could be death threats directed toward any or all of the family members, including suicidal threats.

Sometimes the victim can be a man, too, although in Canada approximately 83 per cent of all domestic assaults are perpetrated by men against women.

Can we spot such a situation? Most likely not, unless we are witnessing it or have someone come forward. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, in most cases the abuse happens gradually and the victims are ashamed to admit it, out of fear and with hope that it will stop.

The same source estimates that on any given day in Canada, approximately 3,000 women (and their 2,500 children) are found in a shelter escaping domestic violence.

Sadly, too many.

Domestic violence is not likely to go away anytime soon. What’s worse, domestic violence breeds more domestic violence. Many of the children who witness violence in the family on a regular basis are more likely to become abusers or victims when they grow up.

It should also be noted that psychological abuse also counts as domestic abuse. Albeit not as dramatic as physical harm, psychological abuse is equally destructive and able to cause serious harm due to its insidious nature.

What can be done?

Awareness — to start with.

Domestic violence, whether the victims are spouses, children, in-laws or parents, is wrong and inexcusable.

Children and teenagers should be taught about respecting personal boundaries — theirs and others’ — and what better way than leading by example.

Whether children are victims of domestic abuse themselves, witnessing spousal violence can have the same effect direct violence would have, and will make them more complacent to violence when they grow up.

Having resources in place to educate people and also offer shelter and counselling to those in need is a must.

When women opt stay in an abused home, we need to refrain from judgment or from pushing them into taking the kind of action that seems logical to those who are not directly involved.

The best way to help is to listen, help someone know that solutions exist and most of all, never turn a blind eye. As always, any help is better than no help at all. Healthy communities rely on it.

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on August 10, 2013

One Sip At A Time

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, August 3, 2013.

 

My mom had a coffee pot, red with black drawings. Wide-bottomed and with a spout just perfect for pouring, it often spilled while she was making coffee because someone would take her attention away from it for a second. I now suspect that it added a certain something to the whole coffee ritual.

My parents had coffee inside when the weather was cold, rainy or windy, and outside on the old bench sheltered by the grapevine during the summer months.

I used to drink coffee with them until my third year of university or so when I thought coffee made my heart jump and thus I gave it up. Missed it though every time the smell of my mom’s coffee would slither its steamy way into my room when I was visiting my parents.

My dad would ask “Are you sure you don’t want any?” I did, but every time I said “Better not.” I don’t have many regrets but the one I have is having missed one too many coffee times with my parents. It became way too real when my mom was no more.

A couple of years ago I was in one of my friends’ sunny kitchen. She was making coffee and it reminded me of my mom’s coffee, of my parents’ slow-paced coffee breaks and I said yes please when she asked if I wanted some.

The summer sun made patterns on the white table cloth and coffee tasted right.

After that, still in Vancouver, I came to discover tiny coffee shops with walls covered in old wooden panels and tables that had stories polished in them by many. Rainy days were best. I would sit and write when alone, or sit and chat when others joined.

I wondered at life’s ways by writing or chatting, and have become that much more grateful for the luxury of being tucked away to work in a coffee shop where time sits around the table just like good loving people in your life.

Then we moved to Kamloops and with us came the love for coffee. My partner and I sat in many coffee shops and came to love some more than others, but appreciate them all and the people who smile at us from behind the counter.

I sometimes meet with people over coffee and no, you don’t just choose a coffee shop, but the coffee shop for the meeting. Work-related or that hour break we sometimes need with a dear friend, coffee meetings are a good thing; or tea, for those who do not fancy coffee.

Then there’s the coffee we make at home. Cowboy coffee that is. Black, no sugar. And the coffee we make when we camp. One of the best we’ve ever had was at the feet of Black Tusk, near Whistler. Early morning sun was dunking its rays in the coffee pot we were taking turn sipping coffee from.

A few years ago when my parents came over for a visit, my mom brought me a coffee pot like hers. Same size but yellow and with a beautiful drawing of my hometown on it.

It sat in the cupboard for a while, because I was still not a coffee drinker and I could not use it for tea or anything else. It was meant for coffee so it sulked its way into idleness until I started drinking coffee again.

Now we make coffee in it and weekend mornings after breakfast find us on the front porch. If it’s winter we wrap ourselves in blankets. Only heavy rains can chase us in. And not always. There’s a certain beauty in rain and coffee mixed together.

Coffee is, you see, those few special moments you share with someone or just by yourself. It’s also gratefulness for being present in a moment, and you could argue it is a rather simple joy. It is, one that extends way beyond the rim of a pot or mug.

I often meet my partner for coffee and every time has its own flavor. Sometimes we make it a work day and write, other times we celebrate togetherness and the profundity of simple silent moments.

I will continue to be grateful for the memories we weave over coffee around the city we’ve come to love: For its charming coffee shops, for the friends we have made, for the beautiful hills that seem empty but never are, and for all the lakes that jewel themselves like a most amazing pendant around the place we are now calling home.

Innocence Lost? There Is Still Time To Act…

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

I read today that the UK has decided to block access to online pornography; unless people ask for it that is. Internet suppliers will install family-friendly filters and those who wants them off will have to ask for it, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron has decided.

Like a breath of fresh air, such radical decisions make sense. They are meant to protect children from exposure to something they don’t need to see, even more so, something that can alter their perceptions and create a new kind of addiction that is still new to us and, according to recent studies, not easy to get rid of.

Parents used to find magazines like Hustler and Playboy hidden in their teenagers’ drawers or tucked carefully under the mattress. It was one of those “Oh” moments, followed by a talk, a shrug or complete silence, depending on the level of openness. Life went on often with no serious damage. That was then.

Things are different nowadays. There is a world behind the screens that our children have access to, a world we cannot fully comprehend the size of, let alone set boundaries and control the information flux that increases every day and slowly eludes any kind of parental control.

Nowadays we put our trust in cyber nannies; they are supposed to be the impenetrable wall that protects our children from internet nudity and pornography. Right. Unless the kid goes to someone else’s house where the computers might or might not have cyber nannies, or, if the kids equipped with a gadget are able to pick up a wifi signal and… well, you get the idea.

To add insult to the injury, all questionable internet content used to be accessible only to 18-plus. Somewhat protected, you could say. That was then also. Nowadays, things are different in that department too. Typing the very words opens up a world that should not be easily available if at all…

Children are curious, that’s a fact. Come teenage years, curiosity crosses boundaries and we cannot prevent that, but we can guide our children on a better path. A safer one.

It is not prudishness that causes my outrage, but fear and sadness that our children are losing their innocence way too early. I don’t believe in hiding things that are the way they are or coming up with fake explanations; my boys know there is no question I will shy myself from answering.

We talk about everything and though I never thought I will one day have “the talk” with a straight face, well, I did. We did. And more will follow. They will always have the option of reading instead, but for now they prefer talking. Questions and honest answers deepen trust on both sides.

Wanting to play grownups, children see things should not. Way before learning what a loving respectful relationship is about, children have access to information that is erroneous and addictive in a way that has been compared to drug addiction.

What is a parent to do? Aside from bringing difficult topics to the table and setting a good example, trusting that our children will be able to resist temptation and peer pressure remains the sole mid-ocean bobbing barrel we can hold onto. But it may not be enough.

We cannot ask teenagers to be responsible for guarding themselves entirely. Temptation can get the best of them to lower the guard. It is high time we look for ways that can help protect young minds from unnecessary exposure that pushes them into unripen adulthood, stealing their innocence way too soon.

One can argue that such content is meant for adults and teenagers and children should not be privy to it. Therein lies the problem though: They are. Whether we want them or not, whether we are aware of it or not, children have access to online pornography and that’s that. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can find a way to prevent it.

Also, let’s not forget or ignore, online pornography is often the result of sexual slavery, yet another black eye on the face of our world. Our acting on one end might bring enough awareness and courage for people on other ends to act towards stopping and preventing it, from victims to survivors to by-standers.

If all parents and educators ask for family-friendly internet filters because we realize the danger of easy access to online pornography, it will happen sooner than later. In all fairness, we are a couple of years late as it is, but there is still time to act.

Our children’s innocence is priceless, let’s allow them to keep it for as long as possible. From family to society level, we will all benefit from it.

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