Category Archives: General Health

A Hall of Fame Journey…

My dad is being inducted into the Alberta Golf Hall of Fame tomorrow night.  Parents often tell their children how proud they are of them, but statements of pride and admiration don’t flow from child to parent as commonly.  AB golf hall of fame

This is one of those times.

I’m so proud of him.  And not even for the Hall of Fame induction per se, but for the passion that he’s followed his entire life.

I grew up with golf playing a major role in my life.  Until I was ten years old, we lived in the tiny village of Hughenden, Alberta, with a population of a couple hundred people.  The golf course of my early childhood had sand greens, and at weekend tournaments I would earn spending money raking the sand as each group played through.  We owned a two-seater golf cart, and I vividly remember learning to drive it when I could barely reach the pedals.  I remember Sunday pancake breakfasts at the clubhouse, disturbing red ant hills in the treed area behind the number one tee box, building elaborate wooden forts alongside the forested roadway entrance, and walking the course in the Spring as crocuses peeked up and signaled the end of the harsh prairie Winter.  At seven years old, we memorialized our poodle, Sugar, with a pile of rocks that lies deep within the forest off the number three fairway.  I can still imagine that clearing in the trees and see my mother’s tears.  Am I painting you a picture?  Can you feel the golfbag on your back, the crunchy grass beneath your spikes, the crisp Alberta sunshine on your face?

After our move to Sundre, at age ten, my love of the game waned.  Moreso, I suspect, due to adolescent moodiness rather than any feelings for the golf itself.  Nevertheless, golf remained a constant.  We played as a family nearly every Sunday afternoon, even as my teenaged petulance grew.  Now, with the benefit of hindsight and maturity, I can see that these afternoons were never about the golf for my parents, but rather a chance to spend some time together.  My brother grabbed this opportunity and ran with it, eventually earning a golf scholarship to a D1 school in the States, and lots of international travel and competition.  I went the other way, rebelling against a sport steeped in rules and tradition; my perfectionism, impatience, and stubbornness do not serve me well on a golf course, and these days, I limit my golf to the driving range and tee boxes only.

But I’m flying in for the event tomorrow; just me, no kids, and 24 hours in Alberta at my dad’s side.  I’m going to squeeze in a run on my beloved Snake Hill, snuggle with my baby niece, and enjoy an evening celebrating my dad’s passion.  Because really, “there is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” ~Nelson Mandela

 

Les Swelin golf hall of fame

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We’re creating their “normal.”

My son had a flag football game on Saturday morning.  I snuggled in a blanket on the sidelines with my daughter and we played with colouring books and hand clapping games while we watched him run around.  He’s only eight, and his teammates are in the six to eight-year-old range, so it’s a bit of organized chaos unfolding amidst a sea of mouthguards and football cleats.  Flags flying, kids running, and footballs dropping everywhere.  It’s childhood fun at its best.

The game was scheduled from 11:30am-12:30pm, so we packed snacks to eat at the field to tide us over for a later lunch at home.  Both of my kids are snackers, as am I- in fact, our sporting event snack bag looks more like a full grocery bag than a few snacks thrown into the bottom of a purse.  I’ve always been that way; I’m the mom with a full cooler at BlueJays games and a packed lunch for an afternoon at the park.  Nutrition is important to me, and I find that I have far less control when purchasing food than I do when I pack my own.  Food brought from home allows me to better manage the preservatives, the additives, the sodium, and the fat content of typical take-out on-the-run options.

When the game finished, we began to pack up our gear.  My children are still young enough that we usually pack like we’re going away overnight when in fact we’re only gone for the afternoon.  I gathered our blanket, our games, our snacks, our extra layers, and we began to leave.  My husband, who is the assistant coach for my son’s team, mentioned that team snacks were being handed out further down the field.  The post-game snack is a big part of the fun in young children’s sports, so my son hurried down to claim his share.  He came back with two things:

 

 

I cringed on the outside and raged on the inside.

Now, I don’t consider myself to be unreasonably strict with my nutritional standards.  Yes, I believe in high-quality food, and yes, I try to minimize my family’s intake of processed junk, but I’m not on the all-organic, all-homemade, no-sugar, no-yellow #5 train either.  I like to live in the world of moderation, with a heavy emphasis on fruits and vegetables.  All that being said, “normal” is based on one’s perception, and my household normal does not include multi-coloured goldfish crackers and KoolAid jammers.

As is always the case in parenting, I weighed my options.  I let my son have some of the above, and my daughter had a taste too.  We threw the rest out and we had a good, long conversation on the way home about properly fueling our bodies so that they can be at their healthiest and help us to perform and feel at our best.  As a lifelong athlete, I have learned first-hand the effects that nutrition can have on athletic performance, and that’s why I find it particularly troubling that these snacks are being given in a situation in which we are promoting fitness and sport.  The irony is not lost on me.  The same could be said for school cafeteria and vending machine choices- if we expect our children to perform at their best, physically and mentally, why are we choosing these types of snacks?

A pre-cut veggie tray and a block of cheese would be no less convenient.  A bag of apples and a box of fig bars would be no less costly.  A watermelon and some granola packets would be no less tasty.  We can change the food industry with the choices we make with our dollars, and we can change our children’s well-being with the choices we make with their food.

Please, let’s choose wisely.  After all, we’re creating their “normal.”

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Circle the Wagons.

Circle the wagons. ed5cfee01d5f386bb343d5fb66908373.510x510x1

It’s a North American phrase that means to “unite in defense of a common interest.”  My husband and I say this to each other often when solving problems around our house.

  • “I feel overwhelmed lately”…… circle the wagons.
  • “I feel like we haven’t seen each other in days”…… circle the wagons.
  • “______ had a problem at school today”….. circle the wagons.

You get the idea.

Our solution to most things is to hunker down and bring the four of us closer together.  We shut out distractions, we close off the outside world, and we rally inward towards strength and love.  In fact, that’s how we live our day-to-day lives.  We live (and love) a busy life, but we also live (and love) unstructured downtime.  The act of just being together.  Of just being.  We’ve carefully constructed our routines to minimize chaos and the frantic rush from place to place.  And in times when things become out of control, we circle the wagons.

Here’s The Disease of Being Busy, written by Omid Safi, and he describes my thoughts far better than I can:

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I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and just whimpered: “I’m so busy… I am so busy… have so much going on.”

Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.”

The tone was exacerbated, tired, even overwhelmed.

And it’s not just adults. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.

After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

Horribly destructive habits start early, really early.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

Somewhere we read, “The unexamined life is not worth living… for a human.” How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.

For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.

Smart phones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.

One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.

The reality looks very different for others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.

The old models, including that of a nuclear family with one parent working outside the home (if it ever existed), have passed away for most of us. We now have a majority of families being single families, or where both parents are working outside the home. It is not working.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.

I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and face-paced sports.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.

We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

W. B. Yeats once wrote:

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?

I am always a prisoner of hope, but I wonder if we are willing to have the structural conversation necessary about how to do that, how to live like that. Somehow we need a different model of organizing our lives, our societies, our families, our communities.

I want my kids to be dirty, messy, even bored — learning to become human. I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart.

How is the state of your heart today?

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

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