Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: raising children Page 2 of 4

So… Kindness

‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi

Suns to giveThe boys and I used to play a game. If you could have one wish… Or three. What would you wish for? One of mine was always ‘that there is enough kindness in the world’. The boys would smile and tilt their heads.

Of all the things you could wish for, Mom? Of all. Of any. Just like that.

Kindness. It’s what we crave. Smiles and warmth; the touch of brightness that someone’s kindness brings forth and makes into a hug. The thing that’s often the hardest to give.

Not because we don’t want to, but because we’re often locked inside. Because somehow, somewhere, when we were just about opening our eyes to the world, we were met, every now and then, with a cold breeze rather than the warm one our hearts were primed for.

So we learned to hide the wish we wished for. Kindness. We learned to say ‘perhaps I am not worthy of it’… Then, an even colder breeze took ‘perhaps’ away and the certainty of unworthiness spread like an algae plume taking over a lake. Clear becomes opaque and troubled. We’ve all been there, we’ve all lingered a bit too long at times in that realm.

Kindness reverses it. It is always a few words away, a hug away, from wherever we are, whenever… It’s what we need the most of, it is what we often give or receive the least of.

I will always remember the last conversation I had with my Mom. It was kind and warm like an embrace. The last moments I had with my Dad were hugs and tears. Kindness and forgiveness became the ground for later understanding that without them every day is a burden. But each burden becomes a lesson. Each memory too.

I carry mine as you carry yours. We ought to remember the occasional unkindness too. Loud voices, storming away from people, seeking a refuge. Wanting to be at peace with the world and yourself, but running away from both. We all do it until we learn that until kindness comes from within, it can never happen for real…

The parting words to last us into the next hour, or the next day, or the rest of our life… are they going to just echoes of the stomping and the shadows of frowns?… The regret of having let go of kindness for a bit becomes a sharp bite and then a healing wound.

We learn kindness from understanding that we’re all fallible, all humbled by how easy it becomes to bring our hearts and minds to a new start. ‘Try again’ is a soft breeze that takes us sailing farther than anger and resentment ever could…

To be kind is a choice. One that has us open our eyes to a new day and say ‘I want to be kind’. One that has us look into ourselves and upon seeing all the broken bits, we take a deep breath and think that all that we are – broken bits included – deserves kindness. We walk on the path where others walked too, we see the wells of their steps filled by the same: joy and sadness, hope – lost and found again, will to live and love, desire to be listened to and understood, the need for kindness. We gain compassion for the other travelers when we stop to soothe our own aching feet.

To be kind is a choice that powers more than our face muscles to open into a smile. It is what makes us reach to those who need a word, a hug, or no sound at all, but a listening ear. It is what makes us forgive and ask for forgiveness. It is us be willing to show ourselves vulnerable. It is what makes us soar, tattered wings and all. It is what mends them…

To be kind is a choice that allows us to build instead of destroy and see instead of turning a blind eye. To be kind is to come to the realization that we are the measure of kindness and through what we give we can make someone’s world brighter. And just like that, kindness fills the heart of those who give it.

That’s why I wish for it when I’m asked. Not because I am always kind, but because I need to remember to be. Because I can choose.

The Bond We Cannot Let Go Of

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on January 30, 2016. 

Day with boysThe sky was painted in yellow light and beautiful white and blue clouds as the sun was setting in Kamloops. No sign of new snow, just the old hardened dirty banks by the sides of the road, some already transformed into dirty rivulets by the day’s warm air.

Just minutes ago we had left behind at Stake Lake a blizzard so thick and fast it felt unreal. Between getting out of our boots after a day of skiing and warming up next to the woodstove, we were in winter wonderland. ‘That came so sudden,’ both boys said as they ran outside on the cabin porch to look at the white curtain draping ever so fast over the surrounding trails and lake.

We had opted to play some today. After a shorter than usual day of school we took off into the hills, prompted by the morning warm breeze that had the awnings drum a premature spring dripping song.

The trails of hard snow with their surface melted by the midday sun made for some challenging terrain for young kids unaccustomed yet to all the skiing tricks, but it sure compensated in opportunities to bring our school talks with us in the middle of the woods.

Icy tracks on slopes that make you slide backwards again and again offer a wealth of physics observations, aside from the terrible annoyance of finding yourself subject to forces opposing your actual will.

So much to learn from as we followed trails, green and blue, and had clomps of falling snow missing us by mere seconds. The more ‘why’s sprout out of an outing, the clearer the message that if we allow our children to get separated from the great outdoors, a whole lot of learning disappears. For us too.

We all have much to lose if that happens.

We need to see trees to remember why we have to have many of them, countless, and we need to see forests in order to protect them from excessive and irrational logging.

We need to breathe fresh air and see the blue sky in order to be in unison as a community asking that the project that would bring a mine too close to Kamloops be reconsidered. Or that more areas are made available for walking and biking, which will slow us down enough to realize the preciousness of clean air and the beauty of a place where clean air matters.

We need to head out with our children to see the magic of the endless spaces our province is blessed with. Every season has its magic, but winter holds a special place in the hierarchy of wonders as it provides us with stories otherwise invisible: tracks of all sizes left by animals, big and small. It makes visible a world that we are easily forgetting in the rush of everyday life.

It is easy to forget that it is all shared land, easy to take for granted all that the invisible others make happen, easy to forget that we are not the tip of this wonderful world, but part of it, with a duty to try our hardest to keep it in balance.

The delicate and at the same time sturdy features of nature are available to us in Kamloops just steps away from home, wherever home happens to be. On any given day as you go for a walk, stop and take a look around. The vast spaces we have so much of are but an open-end invite to take yourself and your family out there and see the secrets nature so willingly shares if only we make time for it.

The icy slopes near Stake Lake were reason for intense frustration in our little guy at times, but then again, life is like that. If you’re out there, you learn that too.

Ups and downs, bumps and bruises, hope and laughter, frustrations bunched up like a ribbon that wraps around your mood too tight, there is nothing like taking a day off and finding yourself far from your everyday life and staring at shreds of clouds careening over tree tops as if to taunt you… Slow and fast redefined, time as you know it disappearing, and woods silent enough to bring the worries inside your heart down to a whisper. It matters to know that feeling.

Our sacred bond with nature is not one we can afford to let go of. There is simply no replacement. No app for that either, there’ll never be one. We owe this big secret to our children, sooner than later, because that’s what’s going to keep their world alive.

About Trades And Why They Matter

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on January 8, 2016. 

IMG_8864Soon after we arrived in Transylvania my youngest had set up shop in a corner of my sister’s yard to do one of the things he likes the most: forging. It’s not quite what you’d imagine a 9-year-old doing and yet he loves the concept, enjoys the time spent learning about fires no matter how cold it is outside and every step adds a new layer of appreciation for manual work and for the things people can make if only they take the time.

He learns about durability in a world that becomes more disposable by the day. It’s a valuable lesson often packed with a blister here and there, sweat and time; lots of time spent learning and making things. Also, researching the next step in learning.

I remember the first time we went to Fort Langley during the time we still lived in Vancouver, the boys were four and nine at the time. The blacksmith’s shop was the main attraction for them. And why not? To see a piece of metal being transformed through the sheer power of heat and by the hard work of a strong arm into a unique candle holder was fascinating.

And yes, we still have the candleholder. It’s a beautiful reminder.

That day opened the topic that has become a mainstay: blacksmithing and forging. Who does it, where can you learn about it and where can one find people who carry on the trade?

Well, we found a couple in Barkerville. Our trip last May saw the boys perched on the blacksmith’s workshop fence, sun and all, just to hear stories about the trade and observe the process of how each piece comes to be. They saw pieces of bar stock curled into pendants and hooks and tools that the people of then needed for everyday life.

Trades are something of a lost art for the most part. We live in the days of 3D printers and cheap offshore labour (unethical often but then again ethics often gets in the way of money making so the issue is conveniently obscured by justification) and that means that trades that create cradle-to-grave products to be sold at fair prices may be slowly disappearing unless we make sure they don’t. And we cannot allow that to happen because we have too much to lose.

Our recent trip to Europe added more to the argument. I read about an elderly man up north who recently passed away. He was known for the beautiful traditional wooden gates he made all his life. I listened to him saying that he leaves but a handful of people who will carry on the trade.

He also talked about the gates and other unique woodwork he made. Far from being ‘just a…’, the things him and others make in the area are stories. Of times past, stories of centuries-old faith and values, joy and sorrow, stories of life unfolding.

That’s when it hit me. People tell stories with their craft. That is some of the magic of it. The solid root of a trade is the tradition incorporated in it by generations of people who believed it should continue, by communities showing they need the craft and those who make it happen.

Such realizations only point to a simple truth: no culture is too far from another. We are united in how we aim to carry further our traditions, and for those who get to see the same craft and trades in various countries, they get to see how trades become the bridge that tells of universal values and gifts carried throughout time by each of us. If we choose to see the treasure held in hand-made pieces of this and that, whether they are for decoration or everyday use.

Trades and crafts can be a common denominator of the non-imposed kind if you will… the kind that reminds us of a thing we often forget. That cultures around the world have so much in common, and their old stories tell of the same way of developing crafts that see solid things made and also see stories told to generations coming. For survival.

We cannot trade the old ways that taught us to value work for the sea of disposable things we’re surrounded by nowadays. No one has anything to gain from it. In fact we all lose.

Progress is not forgetting old ways and making everything fast and disposable, but rather incorporating old trades into new technologies that maintain good standards and see the world better not by the number of things we see sprouting every day, but by the way they hold their own as time goes by.

There is something to be said about that and I think kids learning about it may well be what saves us from ourselves in the long run. And just like that, there is something to be said about a child lifting a piece of raw material, whatever that may be, and saying ‘Mom, you know what I could make of this?…’

That’s how stories are written. And that’s how old stories continue; because they must.

The Human Element Better Stay

Initially published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday October 30, 2015.

SignsLast Saturday was a lazy one with lots of snuggling and reading in bed with my youngest and a pancake breakfast that made our late morning both forgivable and pleasant.

Because of that, farmer’s market became a late affair. I visited my usual spots and filled my backpack with colours and crispness. All fall bounty in one heap, minus one preferred treat: watermelon radish. I am not sure if it is the intense fuchsia colour in the middle bordered by a layer of green on the outside that makes it appealing to my boys, but it was love at first sight and taste too. They ask for it every Saturday.

So I asked the smiling merchant about it. There had been a few but they’re all gone, she said. Sigh. Ah, missed! A guy who looked like her father or father-in-law got up from where he was sitting behind the table. ‘Here, take this!’. He handed me the last half of a watermelon radish that was saved in what looked like a lunch box.

‘Are you sure?’ They both smiled and said yes. Not much more I could do other than smile and say thank you. And another thank you as I left the market. The incident added some extra sparkling to the already bright morning I was immersed in.

Half a radish is no grand treasure but the gesture is priceless and adds to the warm feeling I associate with the market. A community is no community unless you know the people in it and the threads of your life braid with theirs as you go through life.

The human element that the farmer’s market is infused with is what makes me steer away from self-checkouts in big stores, and also opt, whenever possible, for the small local stores where smiles and a small chat are never too far. (Yes, a year-round farmer’s market would be a lovely local affair.)

The argument that we reduce waiting time by using checkout machines because they add speed and efficiency to our hurried lives does not persuade me in the least, just like self-driving cars not only don’t impress me but they actually make me shudder. The missing human element is something I cannot make peace with.

In the age of increased virtual ‘connections’ and automated devices that speed up life and unequivocally impart the conveyor belt feeling to so many of our activities, letting go of the human element might just be that one mistake we cannot afford to make, lest we should be stepping too far off the beaten path where familiarity comes from communicating with another human being and seeing other human beings around as we carry on with our day.

Also, as population increases, it would make sense to have not fewer but more jobs that even though they could be done by machines at the benefit of a few humans, they should be done by humans and benefiting more than just a few.

Having just learned that 50 percent of the world’s wealth belongs to a mere 1 percent of the world’s population (how is that for scary math?) maintaining the human element wherever we can becomes a must.

Creating jobs whenever possible and having them filled by people rather than machines can help fill the gaps that life often creates just because …life happens. When you are having an off day and nothing seems to do, it is often the unexpected smile from another human, a familiar face or not, that can brighten perspective and add a sliver of goodness.

There is no replacement for smiles, and no replacement for the human touch behind so many activities we perform throughout the day.

Which is why having more of each other’s presence makes life better. Well before human babies learn to talk, they are able to recognize and rejoice at seeing human faces.

As they grow, children need human interaction in order to develop harmoniously through the attachment bonds those interactions enable. Children learn best when human interaction is part of the learning process. No five-star computer program can replace a Saturday morning snuggle and read, just like no machine can wipe tears and hug us better, no matter how many positive reviews it has on Amazon.

No machine can ever inspire a human towards lofty goals or create the joy that an unexpected and much needed smile or kind word can bring. It is vital that we remember that.

It is only natural. We have been, are and will always be sentient beings who are complete – whether we admit it or not – by having relationships and by interacting with each other. The fact that we punctuate the important things in life by attaching faces to them and the fact that we need the human element is because life becomes meaningful when other humans are in it.

As for the cars that drive themselves, nothing can convince me that we need them. The last thing we need is to use our senses less. Being present where you are when you are there is not a chore but life itself, happening as we blink our way through it. And yes, a blink is all, so why not be there to live it fully?

Tread Gently. Add Courage

RiverIt’s in that little breath of wind that sweeps across your face as you walk on the river shores alongside the one you’ve chosen. Or was chosen for you. Do we know? Will we ever? It is not important, as long as you understand that magic is part of it.

The wind, ever so softly reaching for the leaf that fell asleep on the sand and laying it gently on the water. Swirl, swim, reach another shore, rest, and then go again. Thoughts do too, those inner birds that make nests of who we were yesterday to shelter who we will become tomorrow. Today is the in between, today is where you take a deep breath, feel the sand crunch under your feet, and count it as a blessing. Among many others.

Little boy runs ahead, making swirls of glittery sand with bare feet. His feet are still pudgy from the childhood that clings onto him like a magic thistle. Boys and the swirls of glitter add to the wonder of our day celebrating the commitment made a year ago.

Follow, follow my steps, the dusk light calls… Take wind and water and sand sparkles, make a castle. Could that last? What lasts? Nothing that we can touch with our bare hands can. The commitment we make in our heart does, the feeling that come what may, you will have the courage to keep searching for the sliver of sunshine that finds cradle in the eyes of the one you’ve chosen.

What have we learned this whole past year? Have we learned to sail better? To see the storms, to take shelter but also brave them when too much is at risk if you choose to hide?…

We walk, our tracks enveloped by tiny sand storms we create as we tread along. Walk ever so gently, storms will come your way, life happens. Keep on walking, the wind says, keep on… it’s there, the warmth you seek, summer’s breath buried in the sand, the hand that your hand has learned the warmth of.

It will take yours, if you let it, again, to have and hold, for better or worse. There are hands that will keep your heart cradled forever.

Boy running, sparkles of words upon discovering a treasure someone left behind. ‘It’s a crater, Mama, look!’

A crater?

Little boy runs ahead, walks through a portal of two branches stuck in the sand like a gate to the inner space that loops like a crater.

‘Who made this, Mama?’ I shrug. ‘Teenagers, I think…’ Little boy smiles. He knows.

To dig‘Wanna go inside?’ We did. We sat. Little boy sat too. ‘Just for a bit.’ So it is, just a bit. We have to remember that a blink is all. Life. Make it count. Forgiveness so you can see the day.

Hugs, skies darted with long thin clouds, water whispers, colours that paint our hearts happy.

The lady came out of nowhere and said ‘This look like the beginning of a beautiful home. I’ll take a photo of you two.’ So she did. We will remember this. We kept on sitting there for a while, the two of us. The branches and the barely warm sand, the gentle river songs, boys who play and make the day complete.

The promise of what’s to come, the learning we carry with us through portals of branches that remind us of the day we promised:

To keep on going, never let the uphill be anything else but worthy journey. To hope.

To press on, to believe in the magic that made us take the first steps. To follow the winding road.

To choose to see, to forgive, to understand what is and isn’t, to build, to rebuild, to play.

To taste the day that is, to know that there is only one of each. To let it touch our souls.

To remember the simple things and the silence of hearts seeping sunsets. To hug.

To speak up, to write, to say the words, to say them loud enough, as loud as can be, knowing that holding hands is holding on and that counts as words spoken.

to seekTo seek until you find. Up close. To listen.

To not brush over, to never close eyes and heart, to be kind, to live fully. To feel.

To tread gently. To be brave and scared, to say it, to hear it, to learn humbleness. To live with it. To wake up in wonder.



GratefulTo be grateful.





The Place We’re In, Up Close and Personal


Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday May 8, 2015. 

Have you ever seen a bee napping in a clump of flowers? We have, my youngest son and I, as we were walking to the bus stop on our way to school today. Just a very sleepy bee, its will to fly conquered by the brightest morning sun we’ve seen in the last few days.

‘Will you write about it, Mom?’ I promised I will.

You see, we now make our way to school every day from up on the hill to the downtown, and every day comes with its own novelties. We add to it all by reading on the bus. He snuggles close and we step into a world of wonder. Black Beauty, Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans and King Arthur and Robin Hood, they join us to and from school every day and give us countless topics to discuss.

Honour, compassion, empathy, meanness, values and principles, the ‘why’ behind so many human actions, and all the questions we still have to find answers for regarding human nature. It’s a wild ride, no pun intended.

I am an outspoken advocate of reading quality books, which leave you richer and better for having read them. I do believe, as Iranian-born, Canadian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo said, that ‘A mediocre book has nothing to offer to its readers, no matter how close we read it.’

Children’s reading choices have diverged tremendously over the years and some does not qualify as quality reading, which is a shame, because children are eager to learn about the world, past and present, and they are have questions, many, which increases their appetite for free thinking. Much needed in today’s changing, trend-dominated world. But that is the topic for another column.

On my way back, I walk, instead of taking the bus. I choose quiet streets over busy ones, and spring makes every step worthwhile. The world is alive and blooming, and I am there to see it. I listen to books most times and then I walk listening to the sounds around. It’s a revealing trek every time with certain addictive features that make me look forward to the next day’s uphill walk, rain or shine or blustering winds, as it was the case two days ago.

But, as they say, the path reveals itself every day anew. Some streets are simply raucous: waves of heavy trucks roll so close and fast on the road, it feels like they’ll peel you right off the sidewalk, and then, the dust… it makes the air hard to breathe, which makes that perfectly blue sky and crisp morning sunshine a great tease. The city feels, at times, and looks like it’s drowning in fumes and noise. We breathe walk and live next to all of that.

It’s a shame that it has become this way, as walking should be a common thing (along with cycling, and commuting by transit when needed). I am partial to that sense of belonging to a place that sprouts from the nod and smile I get (and give) to my fellow town trekkers. Cyclists too, they nod too. Presence, I like that.

When on the bus, we greet, smile to people and say thank you for the ride. The driver always acknowledges that. We share the place for part of the way and that creates the ‘together’ we all need to be safe and have the said sense of belonging.

In my quest for avoiding busy streets, I have come to discover various trails that take me downtown but in a more, well … hobbit-ish way. Snaking among trees and overwhelming lilac bushes, the dirt paths I take add colour to my daily walks. They connect this street to that and create the feeling of a world apart from the one we’re used to by living in the city.

BlueThe other day I came across some larkspur shining blue among tall grasses, and just a few steps up the trail there was a woodpecker proudly wearing a fiery red tuft and pecking at an old birdhouse. I’ve never seen one so close; it makes for a quiet reappraisal of how we could, if we wanted to, have a place that would foster reminders of life and, most importantly, life beyond the city limits.

If more people see, through the eyes of those who venture out first and then through their own, we’d all join in finding ways to make the city a good place to be when you choose to travel on foot, bike or by bus.

A place where such activities are encouraged and shared becomes a safe place or be where the motivation to make it better, for everyone’s sake, not just on an individual basis, grows with each step we take off the beaten path.

I will soon walk downhill through the dry midday sunshine, King Arthur and his valiant knights tucked in my backpack, ready to pick up my son and have him snuggle close so we can read further.

Before we do that though, we will walk hand in hand to the bus stop and maybe, just like yesterday, someone will be there playing a harmonica and carrying an old violin and we will smile and say hello, and later on my son will wonder about the story that person carries along… I will too, and that will expand my horizon even more, to include understanding and the need to see the human to see what human is, yet another perk of walking and taking a bus rather than driving.

Every time we get off the bus and call it a day (transit-wise) I feel richer in the best possible way. Such are the consequences of acquiring more. Knowledge and experiences that is. Even when I’m in a rush, as long as I am on foot, the world appears closer and the colours are more intense. I assume that is part of making it personal.

Education Should Not Be About Money But About Critical Thinking

Initially published as a column in the AM News on February 6, 2015. 

I grew up in a country where I had access to free university education. It seemed logical. I had to pay to live in the dorms and I had to pay for food, of course, and I also had to pay for some of the textbooks that were not available to borrow from school (department or library) but most were reference textbooks that I have to this day and have served me for more than one particular course with a final exam.

My graduate studies here opened my eyes about paid education. I could pay my tuition from scholarships and by teaching in my particular field, but the undergrads I was teaching often complained about having to work and study at the same time. Some could barely made ends meet, coming from underprivileged families but they were very keen on learning; their debt grew with every year of studying.

I also had many students that arrived to school in expensive sports cars and could not care less about the way cells uptake glucose. There were arguments about marks, haggling over fractions of a mark and an attitude that was that I had to deliver something that will push one’s social status to a higher tier. I guess the perception was that if one pays, the goods should be delivered and they’d better be worth the price.

That was when I started having the distinct feeling that such a conflict of interest might breed trouble. The story repeated itself during my years of teaching at a private post-secondary school. Some students believed that though they were paying (and more so, because they were paying money that did not come easy to them) they had to work hard and make it worthwhile. Others believed education to be some sort of merchandise that was being bought with money. A certain sense of entitlement was often looming over their heads and it was affecting the learning process.

Many a conversation with people who have to pay for their own education bear a bitter taste. Tuition is high and increasing, quality of education often low because, many feel, every paying student has to be caught in the safety net that will not allow very many to fall behind, whether they truly have something to show for it or not, and then, there are the exorbitant prices for textbooks that, on being resold after merely a semester, bring but a fraction of the money back (percentages may vary depending on the discipline and institution.)

Tuition, I was told by a second year student, includes a bus pass which she uses occasionally, but some do not use at all, it also includes daycare costs (she has yet to have a child in need of a daycare), and union fees; thus, fee by fee, tuition meant to open the avenue to higher education becomes an avenue towards frustration.

Should education cost so much? Getting a loan these days becomes increasingly difficult. Between not having well-to-do parents and/or acceptable co-signors, many a student willing to learn are pushed out of line because they cannot afford it.

The cost of living even in a city like Kamloops is increasing, rent and food, and many have trouble paying for textbooks that rake bills in the hundreds just for one semester, which makes one wonder about it all. Should education be free and standards higher, wouldn’t the whole society benefit after all?

By higher standards of learning I do not mean forcing kindergarteners to read before their time or promoting competitiveness at the expense of true knowledge and common sense, but rather allowing them to learn at their own pace while providing them with enough time to play and express their creativity and encouraging them to develop critical thinking as they see the significant adults in their lives use theirs.

As soon as we put a price on education, everyone suffers. The learners in the first place, the instructors, and the society. By promoting values and true knowledge, with no price tag, students feel like they have truly achieved something when they graduate from school, be it elementary, high school, university or post graduate) and moving forward. I have heard from high school students and university students as well that they do not feel challenged enough so when they finish school they almost feel like frauds. That is a sinking feeling.

On the other hand, no one benefits from anyone entering society with superficial knowledge or barely any knowledge, just like we do not benefit from people doing jobs without much passion and just for the monetary gain. We see critical thinking and common sense missing; in politics, at a family level, in all types of learning institutions and workplaces, we see it everywhere and at all levels.

Education should not be about money but about learning and acquiring knowledge not just for personal benefit but in order to bring a contribution to the society that has enabled us to get an education to begin with. When financial issues get entangled with education, a certain bias is bound to overshadow the noble and worthy endeavor of acquiring true knowledge.

A first discussion topic on many an education board should perhaps be disentangling the learning and finances for everyone’s gain… for the greater good, you could say, and that is a lofty goal for any society where critical thinking and knowledge are valued.

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