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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SummerTIME.

Summertime is the best time, isn’t it?  THE BEST.  My husband is a teacher, and my work hours are currently part-time (but growing enormously next week; stay tuned) so Summer for us is all about time.  Time together, time apart, time to explore, time to grow, time to learn.

A few years ago, I started making lists of our adventures (60 Adventures in 60 Days), both to use as a reference for myself at a later date and to share with others who might enjoy some of our finds.  This year’s list comes from our goal to have a “low key” Summer, following our busy Summer of 2015 when our move to a new house occupied much of our time.  A low-key Summer it was most definitely not, but an amazing Summer it was.

I hope you put some of these gems on your Summer 2017 list (and yes, many of them are food related.  No judgement.), and I’ve included links on most if you’re curious to learn more:

  1. Canada Day 5km and 1km races.
  2. A toy and lemonade sale to benefit the Joseph Brant Hospital Foundation.
  3. The Farmer’s Market at Burlington Mall.
  4. My daughter’s weekly soccer game with the Burloak Soccer Club.
  5. Sleeping on a sailboat in the Picton Harbour.
  6. Sandbanks Provincial Park.
  7. Wild Waterworks.
  8. Strawberry/raspberry/pea picking.
  9. Blood donor appointments.
  10. BlueJay games.
  11. Way of the Woods Camp (Conservation Halton).
  12. Burlington Beach.
  13. Royal Botanical Gardens 1/2 day camp.
  14. Taco Tuesday at Maracaz.
  15. Overnight guests- friends and family from Alberta!
  16. Cupcakes at Kelly’s Bake Shoppe.
  17. The boat pond at Spencer Smith park.
  18. Sunday morning runs by the lake.
  19. Dundas Driving Park and splashpad.
  20. Finding Dory in 3D.
  21. Biggest Little Night festival.
  22. Camping at the Pinery.
  23. Centreville at Centre Island.
  24. Hosting friends and family for backyard BBQs.
  25. The City of Burlington’s SNAP camp.
  26. Doughnuts at the Sunshine Doughnut Company.
  27. House projects (painting deck, painting fences).
  28. A weekend at my sister-in-law’s cottage.
  29. Assumption Sports Camp.
  30. Family reunion for my mother-in-law’s side of the family.
  31. Sunripe kids triathlon.
  32. Making a batch of pickles using a many-generations-old recipe.
  33. Kid’s dentist appointments.
  34. Optometrist appointments (new prescriptions and glasses for both kids).
  35. Weekly Wednesday morning 3-generation golfing.
  36. CrossFit.  CrossFit.  CrossFit.
  37. My monthly book club meetings.
  38. Hosting hot tub parties.
  39. School uniform shopping.
  40. Fishing and feeding chipmunks at LaSalle park.
  41. Hot yoga.
  42. Pool time in family and friend’s backyards.
  43. Monthly massages.
  44. Watching my husband’s touch football games.
  45. Mountainside Pool.
  46. IV therapy for athletic recovery.
  47. Playdates for my kids and their school friends.
  48. Tragically Hip concert.
  49. Burlington’s Children’s festival.
  50. Stand up paddleboarding.
  51. Celebrating 10 years of marriage.
  52. Watching the Rio Olympics non-stop.
  53. Fishing at Robert Edmundson Park.
  54. Hiking at Mount Nemo.
  55. Lunchdates with girlfriends.
  56. My husband’s annual NFL Fantasy Football draft.
  57. Driving range and the mini putt course at Within Range.
  58. Ice cream at nearly every Burlington ice cream shop.
  59. Grandpa playing in the Canadian Men’s Senior Championship at the Grand Niagara Golf Club.
  60. Ribfest.

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I hate camping.

This past weekend, I went camping with my family.  Just a short trip, for two nights and three days, we ventured to Pinery Provincial Park, on the beautiful shores of Lake Huron.  But I have a shameful secret to share:

I hate camping.

It’s true.  And now I feel exposed and raw and vulnerable.  You now know the real me, one that includes a hatred of camping.

I grew up in the foothills of the Alberta Rockies, and regularly went camping with my parents and brother.  I don’t remember loving or hating it, it was just something we did every Summer, and I would bring my books and fishing rod and head out into nature for a few fresh air sleeps.  Back then, I lived in a small town, and “nature” was a big part of my everyday, so camping wasn’t much of a stretch beyond my normal.  But now, living in a very urban centre, it’s more of an adventure for my city kids to camp.  And they love it.  We go annually, and my husband and I suck up our camping aversions, load up the SUV until we can’t see out the windows, and take our children to a campsite for a few days of marshmallows, lake swims, and free-range parenting.

Logically, I can’t quite figure out my negative feelings towards camping.  I love the campfire part, the fresh air part, the hikes, the swims, the fishing, and the tent sleeps.  But the higher-maintenance part of me wants clean feet and easy access to coffee, and I still haven’t figured out how to cook a gourmet meal on a campfire, like I see our camping neighbors doing.  In fact, just last night I overhead a mother tell her son they were having Tex-Mex fajitas as I choked down my burnt hot dog and lukewarm beans.  Sigh.  And I can’t quite understand the appeal of spending hours making lists, grocery shopping, and packing the car, only to head to a campground to try to emulate the comforts of home.  To each their own, and a true camper I am not.

I am writing this post from my iPad in the car, on our way back to Burlington.  My grimy, exhausted children are colouring in the backseat, and my hairy, sweaty husband (he just wrestled the tent back into its bag.  Another question: WHY OH WHY are tent bags always so small???) is looking for the nearest Tim Horton’s.  In a couple of hours we’ll be home, and I’ll be scraping the filth off of me and washing campfire smoke out of my hair so that I can head into work and look forward to a blissful sleep in my own bed.  But first, we’ve got a few hours of unpacking, de-sanding, and laundry to tackle.

Happy children.  Check, check, double-check.  So I can pretend to love camping for a few days a year.

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