Springtime thoughts overshadowed by COVID-19

My last post was exactly one month ago. At that time the new coronavirus hadn’t yet received a name as the world watched it gain hold in China. On January 30 the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’. For a time, we were lulled into believing that our excellent Canadian health care system would ensure that, with a few normal precautions, we wouldn’t need to worry too much about it. We were “low risk”, they said. “Just wash your hands and don’t touch your face,” they said.

Then we heard of the cluster of confirmed cases just across the border from us, in Kirkland, Washington. The subsequent deaths. The outbreak in Ontario. Confirmed cases in BC. The first Canadian death in BC.

As Canadians watched this new respiratory infection, now named COVID-19, spread rapidly throughout the world, it became obvious our risk of catching it was no longer low. This morning there were 240,589 cases worldwide, 801 of them in Canada, with 231 of those right here in BC. The numbers change every hour.

Every focus right now is on COVID-19. We are urged to practice social-distancing, sneeze or cough into the elbow, wash hands frequently for 20-seconds, don’t touch eyes, nose or mouth, and self-monitor for signs of illness. All public events are cancelled. Schools are closed. With the exception of essential services, buildings and businesses are closed. Non-essential cross border travel between Canada and the USA is prohibited. Television carries constant updates, interviews and ‘breaking news’ broadcasts from the Prime Minister, the Premier, the Minister of Health. It’s hard to think of anything else. We are daily reminded to “take good care of yourself, and of each other.” [Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC Provincial Health Officer]

This past Tuesday came and went. For the first time since beginning this blog in 2008, I didn’t think of writing a St. Patrick’s Day post. I didn’t think of St. Patrick’s Day until it was almost over. I didn’t even wear anything green! Woahhh!

And now it’s spring; or it will be this evening. I absolutely refuse to let its arrival go undocumented. It’s a big deal, especially this year. We all need the sense of hope and renewal that accompanies this particular season.

Also, Lent began on March 1st — “a time of self-examination, of contemplation and of returning to God” as we move toward Easter. It shouldn’t be overshadowed by all the negativity that accompanies this virus outbreak…but it could be.

While our congregation has currently suspended Sunday services and all midweek groups, the work of the church continues. Our minister stays in contact with phone calls and emails, providing resources for individuals and families.

One of our Lenten activities has been PRESBYTERIANS READ, the reading of NT Wright’s book, LENT FOR EVERYONE. Some folks are reading it by themselves, others in weekly study groups (at least, they were until the groups had to disband), and still others are interacting in a cyber forum.

N.T. Wright invites readers to explore the truth (that “the God of heaven and earth was coming to earth to establish his sovereign saving rule”) through Matthew’s telling of the gospel story. Through close readings of the lectionary texts for each day during Lent, Wright draws us into the biblical scenes as they unfolded, revealing more and more about what it means that Jesus is King and Lord, not just ‘in heaven’ but on earth as well.

At the beginning of Lent we received bookmarks with these scripture readings, so with or without Wright’s book in hand, we can continue exploring them on our own.

I don’t know about you, but I need this daily reminder that despite the turmoil in our world, God is still in control. From the beginning of time he has had a plan for ME. He loves and cares for each one of us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.
[Jeremiah 29:11]
On this first day of a new season, I’m trying to ignore all the COVID-19 hoopla and instead, rejoice that so far, I and my loved ones are still healthy; that regardless of the worries and inconveniences of this time, God’s love is unending, his mercies are available to me fresh every morning; and together we will prevail.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is his faithfulness.
[Lamentations 3:22-23]
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A Writer’s Vulnerability and Discouragement

How often do you unmask? Bare your soul in public? (This is me as an introverted writer asking.)

If you happen to follow the writings of Steven Pressfield you will know that he and his community are currently responding to a writer from Finland. “Katie”, at 4 a.m. after staring at the ceiling for some time, wrote him a raw message expressing her discouragement and saying that writing is a bad idea. “Failing is really hard, particularly when you are too tired to get up anymore.” She concluded with, “I hope I am the only loser. I really do. I want everybody to succeed. Maybe I am just a sad exception.”

No, Katie, you are not an exception! At least not as a discouraged writer. Perhaps an exception in your honesty.

Writers spew out words onto the page all the time, but they are most often words belonging to their fictional characters. We rarely “bleed onto the page” from within our own hearts. Admitting our uncertainties is too painful.

But at 4 a.m. Katie had hit rock bottom. In facing the reality that she could not make a living from her writing and at 60 she was too old to find another job, she concluded she was a failure. When Steven asked permission to reprint her letter he had no idea the number of people who would respond. In his next post he admitted, “Sometimes when I’m writing these posts, I wonder if I’m crazy to keep doing them. Some posts will get three Comments, or four, or six. I find myself asking, Is anybody out there? Is any of this doing any good?” Nearly one hundred fifty responses provided his answer.

So, what am I taking away from the discussion?

The writing community is awesome.
Discouragement is universal.
We’re more resilient than we realize.
We haven’t failed unless we’ve quit.
We can always start again tomorrow.
Success means different things to different people.
Age is a relative thing and I’m not the only “old” woman
still writing.

We’ve often heard that writing is a solitary activity. It is indeed. Some writers get together occasionally for a shared time of putting words on the page, but the majority of our creative time is spent squirrelled away in our office or some quiet corner in a library or coffee shop, oblivious to the presence of others. We focus on writing our stories. We don’t compare notes about our feelings of success or failure.

Katie from Finland did us all a favour in sharing her pain-filled yet very brave message. In doing so, she also reminded us it’s okay to reach out to others for encouragement. Knowing how many successful authors admit to the same need is in itself empowering.

We don’t have to make a living with our words. We just have to find joy and satisfaction in getting them out. Publication of them isn’t always something within our control. If it’s something we hope for, doing so should be seen as a bonus. Not doing so shouldn’t be seen as failure, but as motivation to find alternative ways of making our writing feel purposeful.

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Where do you look for encouragement when writing begins to seem pointless?

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Not a Resolution

Many people begin a new year with resolutions … fresh goals, usually focused on some kind of self improvement. Unfortunately, statistics say that more than half of resolutions fail by February. Personally, I abandoned even making resolutions many years ago.

It’s not that I don’t have any ambitions, but making a resolution is like making a promise to myself — one I know from experience I’m not likely to keep. If I have goals in mind, I’m more likely to pursue them as ‘intentions’ rather than ‘resolutions’. Intentions suggest a desire more than a promise. A desired goal is less intimidating than a promised one. I’ve talked about this in an earlier post.

While I was working on a New Year’s post for our church website I came across an article on the GoSkills website that offered ideas for ways to make goals more attainable:

  • Prepare for change by taking a personal inventory. Evaluate what you’ve realistically been able to accomplish (or not) in the past. Recognize your limitations.
  • Write each goal on a separate sticky note, then arrange and rearrange the notes on a handy surface in order of priority until one emerges as a manageable goal that will inspire you toward achievement.
  • Break up your goal into specific manageable chunks. For example, instead of losing fifty pounds in 2020, set mini-goals of five or ten pounds per month, and celebrate each milestone.
  • Write down your goals, share them with supportive friends/family, and document your progress. This will help keep you on track.

Do you have goals for 2020? Things you’d like to accomplish or maybe even intend to do? How do resolutions work for you? How do you get the tasks done?

One of my main intentions this year is to make inroads into the boxes of family and historical photos that fill a corner of my office. They’ve accumulated there because I didn’t want to put them back downstairs where they’d be out of sight, out of mind again. I thought if I had to keep looking at those boxes I wouldn’t be able to ignore them. Wrong! Now they’ve become such a permanent fixture that I take their presence for granted. I don’t even see them anymore! I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to tackle the job. I have empty albums; I have scissors, paper cutter, archive quality pens and glue. I just need to s-t-a-r-t.

I guess saying it here constitutes writing it down and telling my family and friends, doesn’t it? Gulp.

Well, I DO intend to make a start and hopefully get the task completed before year end. Note that’s an intention, not a resolution, but I’ll ‘document my progress’ and report in here periodically, and then we’ll just see how it goes. Okay?

(I think this is called ‘Documentation #1’)

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Ornaments or Decorations or Neither?

A few days ago a writing friend of mine blogged about Christmas Ornaments. She said she had been asked to bring a Christmas ornament to a party and tell the story of the ornament and why it was special to her. It wasn’t really her thing, she said, and she hadn’t planned to take part. Then a box arrived from her sister and inside were “five small prettily wrapped gifts—Christmas ornaments for [her] first tree and [her] first Christmas in [her] first house.” Each ornament was special.

(Click photo twice to enlarge detail)

It was a loving and meaningful gesture by her sister and as she displayed and explained the significance of each ornament, I was reminded of the ones our family has accumulated through the years … only I’m not sure what they should be called.

Ornament: a thing used to make something look more attractive but usually having no practical purpose, especially a small object such as a figurine.

Decoration: the process or art of decorating or adorning something.

Memento: an object kept as a reminder or souvenir of a person or event.

Just below the centre of this photo, nestled among the branches, you can see a small cross. (It looks like it’s comprised of little jingle bells strung together, but they don’t make noise.) My parents passed it along to me the year my first child was born, with the reminder that it had been on every tree since my first Christmas. Not shown is another small circle of well worn nylon bristles with the picture of an angel affixed to the centre.  It has also been on every tree since my birth.

Yes, it makes the tree more attractive but has no practical purpose. Yes, it helps adorn the tree. Yes, it’s a special reminder of my first Christmas. It’s all of the above and yet it’s more.

My parents weren’t religious. I’m sure they believed there was a god, but he played no role in their lives. We didn’t attend church or say grace before meals. Christmas wasn’t thought of as a holy holiday but was traditionally a celebration of friends and family…of visiting, eating, singing and gift giving. So I’m not sure what prompted them to choose a cross and an angel to commemorate the first Christmas of their only child.

I’m glad they did, because it’s meaningful to me, but I wish I’d asked them about their motivation when I had the opportunity. At this point in my life it waits out the months between Decembers well padded in a box labelled as ‘Heritage Ornaments’, along with others given to me from my grandmother’s tree–a fragile red teapot, two glass birds and a tiny brass bell. I treasure them for the memories they evoke of the people we celebrated with…my parents and grandparents.

The cross wasn’t a thing of beauty. At some point many years ago the wire holding the ‘bells’ together broke and the silvering began peeling off. My hubby thoughtfully restrung them and bought a can of silver paint so we could refurbish it. I sprinkled silver glitter on the wet paint, and, while it was an amateur job, to this day it continues to shimmer in the lights on my eightieth Christmas tree.

This same tree marks our sixtieth year together. That makes it pretty special, too, although earlier this year while on a cruise to Alaska I bought a little ornament to specifically mark that occasion. Looking at it, I’m inclined to say that these are neither ornaments nor decorations, but are mementos. What do you say?

Do you have holiday decorations / ornaments / mementos that are especially meaningful to you? I’d love to hear about them.

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Speaking, Writing and Freedom of Speech

Have you heard of Don Cherry? His name is well known in Canadian hockey circles, often for all the wrong reasons. While he’s extremely knowledgeable about the game, he’s best known for his televised Coach’s Corner opinionated rants. Mmm, yes, well he’s also known for his outlandish taste in fabric for his suit jackets! He’s controversial. Few people admit to liking his on-screen persona, but he makes money for the television stations and sponsors by getting viewers involved. At least, he did until last weekend. That’s when his comments got him fired.

His choice of words overrode his message. They were deemed racist and they riled the audience. Racism is defined as the superiority of one race over another. The Merriam Webster Dictionary says it’s “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” With that in mind, it’s hard to define Cherry’s comments as racist, although there’s no doubt they were derogatory and divisive. The station and network were quick to take steps to avoid the backlash.

If Don Cherry had apologized, that might have been the end of it, but he says even if he wishes he’d chosen his words more carefully, he stands by the truth of them. Thus his conviction (or maybe his stubbornness) brought his forty year career to an abrupt end.

Public reactions are mixed. Nobody likes what he said. Some are celebrating that this diatribe was the last straw and he’s finally been removed from the airwaves, while others are questioning if his right to freedom of speech has been quashed.

This steps into the realm of censorship and It’s a dilemma that many authors have also faced: do you speak or write from the heart and risk offending, or do you carefully filter your words to be safe?

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says “The right to express yourself and form your own opinions is an essential feature of a democracy.  Freedom of expression is a core part of the right to dissent and a basic feature of personal development … In Canada, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects ‘freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication’.” There are lines drawn, however — lines between derogatory statements and hate speech, between criticism and defamation, lines that restrict verbal bullying and obscenity.

The National Post said recently that “book banning has become passé in Canada, and when works do get challenged, it’s often for opposite reasons than those seen in the past.” The Freedom to Read website publishes a list of some of the books, magazines and public papers that have been challenged and/or banned in Canada. It’s a selective list, yet it carries more than one hundred titles.

Parents frequently desire to protect their children from literature or art that they find offensive — words or pictures they believe are disgusting, that depict anything that opposes their personal standards of decency, that glorify evil, etc.

The Canadian Library Association resists these attempts when it comes to banning books, although individual schools districts and communities occasionally succeed within their local boundaries. The CLA states, “Libraries have a core responsibility to safeguard and facilitate access to constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas, and opinion, including those which some individuals and groups consider unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. To this end, in accordance with their mandates and professional values and standards, libraries provide, defend and promote equitable access to the widest possible variety of expressive content and resist calls for censorship and the adoption of systems that deny or restrict access to resources.”

So, where do YOU stand in all this?

  • Is there a difference between punishing Don Cherry for his comments, refusing public speakers with offensive agendas, and banning written words in our country?
  • What guides you in your choice of words when reading and/or writing?
  • Do you keep a particular audience in mind as you write?

 

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Compartmentalizing the Process of Aging

This Facebook meme made me giggle:

It seemed particularly appropriate because I marked a milestone birthday this month. Years ago upon reaching 65 I declared myself ‘officially old’ because it was society’s perceived age of retirement and  I finally qualified for Canada’s OAP. Now, having reached ‘Lvl 80’, I’m not sure what I am. Maybe ‘officially ancient’? 

There are lots of clichés about aging… about only being as old as you feel, or about age being an issue of mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. An elderly woman in our church was once asked how she was feeling and cheerfully replied, “Oh, I’m feeling just fine, thanks, but my body is wearing out.” Another elderly woman of a similar age, while receiving some physical assistance, complained bitterly about her limitations and said, “I wish you could just shoot me.” Granted, their home situations differed, but their attitudes affected both how they viewed their conditions and how their friends related to them.

A writing friend recently reviewed a story about a woman with total amnesia who looked in the mirror and was distraught when she didn’t recognize the woman she saw. She considered herself much younger than the wrinkled, grey-haired reflection. When I look in the mirror, I’m not upset, but sometimes I’m surprised by who is looking back at me. Surely that’s my grandmother! But no, she died back in 1967 when she was 70. Yikes! I’m already ten years older than she was. Definitely ancient!

Aging is a fascinating process. Looking back, I view my life as a series of videos, each covering a block of approximately twenty years…

  • Block  I — Childhood, School
  • Block 2 — Marriage, Family
  • Block 3 — Empty Nest, Second Career
  • Block 4 — Retirement

In retrospect, each block was a fulfilling, growing experience as it built on the previous one. I have no idea what this fifth block is going to look like; it’s a video still in the recording process. I know I’m more accepting/forgiving of my shortcomings now, and I have different goals from those of twenty, forty or sixty years ago. But I do still have goals, and I look at them now with a greater sense of urgency since the years ahead don’t stretch out with the same sense of indefiniteness that they once did.

When I think of the two women mentioned above (who were in their late-90s at the time), I hope my attitudes will more often resemble those of the first one when it comes to accepting the challenges my latter years may bring. Then with a continuation of some of the blessings God has granted me in the past plus a bit of good ol’ Irish luck as the future unfolds, perhaps at the end I’ll be able to entitle the final video Block 5 — Goals Reached.

Whatever the case, I’m content to be celebrating the achievement of ‘Lvl 80‘ in this game of Life!

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Killing our dogs with misdirected good intentions

 

I’m passionate about my canine companions. I’ve owned, bred, trained, exhibited and adored Shelties (and now also Labradors) for over forty years. I try to keep a sane perspective — after all, “they’re just dogs” — but it doesn’t work. They’re an integral part of our family and, just as is the case with the rest of the family, I’m committed to doing my best for them. That’s especially true when it comes to meal planning.

Given that dogs get much less variety in their daily diets, choosing the one food that meets all their nutritional needs is particularly important. Years ago the options weren’t as abundant as they are now. The only decision was between a premium formula to support higher physical performance and an everyday, adequate formula at a lower price.

Now? It’s almost like perusing the cereal aisle in a grocery store. Walk down the aisles of any pet food store and you’ll find shelf upon shelf displaying a confusing choice of dog foods.

There are extensive marketing campaigns trying to appeal to our emotions and convince us that dogs evolved from wolves and therefore need the same kind of food wolves eat. It says wolves don’t eat grains and dogs shouldn’t either. It promotes tasty-sounding, meaty options with an emotional appeal to those of us who want the very best for our furry friends.

The problem is, the advertising isn’t based on valid research. Wolves do indirectly eat grains; today’s dogs do not have the same dietary needs that wolves do; in fact, our dogs are omnivores.

Over the past couple years, the increased trend towards those mouth-watering (to us, anyway) grain-free, meat-vegetable-fruit-based foods has paralleled a radical increase in a particular heart disease that’s killing dogs — Nutritionally-mediated Dilated Cardiomyopathy (N-DCM). Symptoms don’t show up until the disease has advanced to the critical stage and diagnosis is only achieved by expensive echocardiograms. Without symptoms, many veterinarians have been reluctant to recommend the echos until it’s too late.

However, as suspicions have risen, some veterinarians and dog owners have been reporting their cases of DCM to the Food and Drug Administration. Between 2014-2017 there were a total of seven reported cases of DCM. In 2018 alone the number rose dramatically to 320. To date in 2019 there have been 586 reported cases, including 121 deaths. The FDA has studied the cases in detail and determined that the majority of affected dogs were eating grain-free dry dog foods that contained legumes, potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, ‘exotic’ ingredients, and/or were foods produced by small ’boutique’ companies that didn’t have veterinarians or qualified nutritionists on staff and didn’t do long-term testing of their foods. In an unprecedented move, the studies went as far as naming the brands of food most often reported as being eaten by the affected dogs.

While there isn’t proven scientific data available yet, concerns have risen to the extent that the FDA is recommending dog owners take the precautionary move of immediately switching away from any of the grain-free, exotic ingredients, boutique company foods. In many identified cases of N-DCM, switching foods initiated a measurable reversal of the damage done to the heart.

So what foods are being recommended? Surprising to many, it’s food manufactured by the large, well-established companies whose practices follow the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines. Right now the only ones are: grain-inclusive formulas produced by Royal Canin, Purina, Hill’s (Science Diet), Eukanuba, and IAMs.

I apologize if your eyes are beginning to glaze over, but people who are losing their beloved companions to this dreadful disease are trying desperately to get the word out to other owners. Hopefully the FDA’s investigation into diet-related DCM will soon result in irrefutable scientific data. But in the meantime, don’t be suckered into the desperate marketing campaigns designed to appeal to your emotions rather than meet your dog’s dietary requirements, because you could be killing your canines with well-meaning albeit deadly choices.

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RESOURCES:

Facebook group of 95,600+ concerned veterinarians, canine nutritionalists and dog owners (this is a closed group but if you would like an invitation to join, let me know):
https://www.facebook.com/groups/TaurineDCM/

It’s Not Just Grain-Free: An Update on Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy

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