A World of Gratitude

“I live in the space of thankfulness – and for that, I have been rewarded a million times over. I started out giving thanks for small things, and the more thankful I became, the more my bounty increased. That’s because – for sure – what you focus on expands. When you focus on the goodness in life, you create more of it.” Oprah

How many days have you had in the past couple of years where you don’t want to look at the news?

I read it online most mornings just to keep an eye on the state of the world, and mostly my little corner of it. When it becomes overwhelming, I’ll take a news-free day (or two) to decompress.

The pandemic has turned our world upside down, but we have so many things to be grateful for. This past Tuesday, September 21 was World Gratitude Day, and this week’s post is dedicated to the healing power of acknowledging and appreciating the good things in our lives, even the tiny ones.

You may already practice gratitude, but if you’ve only heard of it and thought it was bogus, I can tell you from personal experience that it works.

For the last few years in which I was working at a Monday-to-Friday job, it became harder and harder to get up in the mornings, achy and tired from the fibromyalgia, and push myself into a functional state. One particularly dreary morning I decided to try saying aloud five things that I was grateful for – anything I could think of off the top of my head. I was grateful for having a decent job with a pension, for a great hubby, for a car that was running well…I don’t remember them all, but by the end of my little recital I did actually feel better.

I’ve done this many times over the years, and my impression is that it’s like a reset button, breaking you out of a mental loop that keeps replaying everything that’s bugging you – which, if you think about it, is both non-productive and depressing. If you pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re in one of these loops, you’ll notice that your dissatisfaction keeps building until it poisons the entire day. How much better to snap yourself out of it and keep moving forward?

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude will lower your stress level, which benefits your immune system. it will improve your self-esteem (tell that severe inner critic which exists in all of us to just shove it!), improve your sociability (which your boss will appreciate), and help you sleep better (now that you’re not grumbling and beating yourself up). Concrete physical benefits include greater cardiovascular health and lower rates of inflammation. Life serves up both good and bad, but understanding how to mentally balance them will improve your resilience.

On days when gratitude is hard to summon, find other ways to break the cycle. My favourite method is to go out into nature and let the trees, the wind, the birds all wash away my frustration and resentment. I’m so grateful to live on such an amazing planet, with so much beauty to look at:

The silken interior of a milkweed pod
Autumn crocus glowing with sunlight amid a carpet of blue plumbago
Pumpkins for sale at a local farm market

World Gratitude Day was developed in 1965, out of a conversation at a Thanksgiving Day dinner in the meditation room of the United Nations building. A spiritual leader named Sri Chinmoy suggested a day of thanks that the entire world could celebrate.

If you’re uncertain on how to start, you may want to check out Gratefulness.org, a wonderful and thoughtful place to learn more and even participate in a global community. I particularly recommend watching the 5-minute “A Grateful Day” video on their World Gratitude Day page. It’s a beautiful and profound statement on why we should be grateful to be alive.

All photos are by me and all rights are reserved. E Jurus

Choices in difficult times

Is it just me, or does this cloud look like a balloon animal?

I needed another stress break today, so I went on an impromptu trip to one of my favourite places that’s appeared in my blog several times, the botanical garden at the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls.

One of our neighbours has two dogs, one of which hates being outside if all its people are inside. It’s a dog thing – some don’t mind being outside in the yard, but the majority I’ve seen only want to be out if their humans are as well. When dogs are stressed, they bark until the stress is relieved.

The barking went on for over forty minutes; this had been going on all week, every day throughout the day. Today I’d had enough and went over to speak to the family. I’d planned to talk to the parents, but they weren’t home, and I chose to speak to the son about the issue. I was polite, but angry.

I was at my wit’s end; we’ve had ongoing issues with this family since they moved in. Things like repeated trespassing, damage to the adjoining fence by the son over a year ago that the father promised to fix but still hasn’t, and other issues I won’t list here.

What I should have done, though, was ask the son to put the dogs in the house and to have his parents contact me.

These are challenging times and we’re all feeling the strain. Even though the world is making great progress against the coronavirus, we’re not out of the woods by any means; we can just see the outer edge of the trees. A lot of people have lost loved ones, lost a job or a business, been affected by political issues. We’ve all struggled to stay sane in general.

The father came over to our house later in the day and asked that in future if something’s bothering me I should be speaking to them, not the kids. That’s a fair request, and it’s the choice I should have made.

Everyone is irritable, as much as we try not to be. All we can do to mitigate that is try to be as considerate of others as possible.

Be nice to the store clerk, keep an appropriate distance from others in public, drive responsibly – be a good neighbour, which, although I had good reason to be fed up today, I didn’t do the best job of either.

I read an article the other day that complaints about neighbours have escalated in the Ottawa region in the past year, and I’m sure other communities have experienced the same thing. Our region also holds quite a few tourist attractions, where we’re still having issues with visitors misbehaving – sometimes, sadly, those visitors have lost their lives doing risky things.

We’re all stressed, and looking for ways to blow off steam in the craziness of 2020-2021, but let’s try to do it respectfully, and safely.

I had an issue that needed addressing today, but I could have handled it better. The whole situation bothered me so much that I had to get out of the house for a while. I relaxed as soon as I started walking around in nature. The gardens were busy today, but everyone was calm and considerate; nature is a great way to chill out. I’ll share with you some of the peace and beauty I found, as at least a virtual stress break in case you need one too.

One of the pretty paths to stroll
This was labelled as a ‘Blackberry Lily’, although the name seems odd so I’m not sure
I need this for my Halloween garden!
Several crab apple trees dot the gardens, all full of fruit
The paths at the gardens are so serene to walk
These strange plant bodies are near my favourite pond; they weren’t labelled, but they look like roots of some kind?
Quite a few frogs croaking in the pond
Lots of these pretty blue flowers in the water
A blue jay enjoying his crab apple
No idea what this tree was, but it was lovely
A pretty pink flower shows off its interior
Still trying to find out what this podded plant is – does anyone know?
Beautiful juxtaposition
Unidentified statue by the rose gardens
Shrub rose
I was sitting on a handy branch on the interior of this tree to take a break from the sweltering sun
I loved the layered mix of colours in these beds
Detail of the beautiful veining on the canna leaves
A cheerful honeysuckle flower

All photos are by me and all rights reserved.

Blossom time in Niagara

This week we’re celebrating blossom time in the Niagara region, which is Nature’s sign that spring has truly arrived.

Every May fruit trees all over our farmlands cover themselves in gorgeous flowers. The blossoms don’t last long, and the timing is tricky if you want to see them — like fall colours, it’s all dependent on the weather. This year, with plenty of mild weather, sunshine and rain showers, the blossoms have arrived right on cue, and I thought I’d share them with everyone who can’t come and see them in person during the continuation of the pandemic.

Our sublime May light makes the blossoms look almost incandescent — rows of glowing colours in orchards, lining our parks, and dotting our city streets.

In the photo below, cherry trees line the fringes of a historic site called McFarland House, built in 1800, and the thick showers of pink blossoms contrast strikingly with nearby red maples also flaunting their best spring outfits.

The resplendent clusters of pink flowers pop against the trees’ craggy grey-green bark.

I believe these are Japanese flowering cherries; here’s a closeup of the blossoms and new leaves for anyone who might have a better idea than I do.

It’s not just fruit trees that are livening up our landscapes; here at Queenston Heights in Niagara Falls, vibrant tulips are showing off their best colours. This historic site, which commemorates the first major battle in the War of 1812, is also the southern terminus of the Bruce Trail, the famous hiking trail that runs for 900km (about 560 mi) from Niagara northward to Tobermory on the shores of Georgian Bay.

I’m partial to variegated tulips…

…but all of the flowers were putting on a grand display of their lush petals and intriguing variety of reproductive configurations.

Niagara Falls also boasts quite a pretty 10-acre lilac garden.

The garden is free to visit; you can spend an entire morning or afternoon there, inhaling the wonderful perfume of the flowers…

,,,and admiring the different varieties. There were a handful of us getting some outdoor exercise on a lovely day, although rain was on the horizon.

I loved the pretty variegated leaves on this shrub.

Turning back toward Niagara-on-the-Lake, I found numerous pink-strewn cherry orchards…

and white apple orchards lining the roads.

Clusters of white apple blossoms were bursting out on all the branches, their sprays of delicate pistils making them look like lace.

Even the other trees are sporting froths of bright new leaves. I love this time of year, when the air is fresh and invigorating, and the sunshine begins keeping its promises.

Heading to the Fonthill area, numerous farms are studded with the stubble of last year’s corn stalks.

Even though the region is starting to drown under the weight of wineries (over seventy in about 700 square miles), if you take the time to wander the back roads you can still find pretty farms tucked away.

In fact, a leisurely wander is the best way to see the region’s spring beauty when you have a chance. You might even spot some of the area’s wild turkeys searching a field for lunch. There used to be one that patrolled an intersection near where I live, stopping traffic for the better part of an hour as it strutted up and down the road. (If you’ve never seen one for yourself, they’re huge birds, up to four feet tall and rather ornery.)

Hiking trails abound; this section of the Bruce Trail is twinned with a trail project in South Africa, surprisingly enough.

Even here the trails were luminous in the afternoon light.

At some time in the future, when life has returned more closely to normal, you may want to visit the Niagara Region in the springtime, when it shows all of its prettiest colours. In the meantime, I hope you have some lovely areas to explore and let Nature work her magic.

A holiday wish

We will look back on this holiday season as one that tested us. But we are marvelous human beings who can transcend challenges. This year has shown that to us – dedicated front-line workers, many acts of kindness to counteract the people who can’t think in terms of the greater good, a massive global effort to make vaccines.

This season, be compassionate to yourself and others. According to neuroscientist Daniel Levin, generosity, compassion and gratitude actually change our brains, including those parts that govern our own immune systems.

My entire province is going into lockdown on Boxing Day for several weeks to curb the rising number of Covid cases that are pushing our hospital system to its limits. Today I sent my hubby over to our senior aunt’s with a box full of Christmas food – it’s a safe way to share a bit of the holiday with her and let her know she’s cared for even if we all can’t be together.

Tonight we’ll eat the same food ourselves, watch Disney’s A Christmas Carol, and snuggle in as a big winter storm heads our way tonight. For the next few weeks, we’ll spend our time at home as peacefully and wisely as we can, and we’ll make a point of appreciating what we do have.

I grew up in northern Ontario where storms were always extreme. It didn’t just rain, it came down in torrents so heavy that my dad would often have to pull our car over to the side of the road to wait for the storm to clear. Fogs were similarly dense. Snow was always heavy and could block the roads for days, and keep us trapped inside our farmhouse with our wood stove and wood-burning furnace, but my parents always made sure we were well-stocked with food and essentials. Survival meant making the best of things, and I grew up loving storms for that feeling of hunkering down inside, safe and snug.

For this holiday season, I wish all of you a sense of snuggling in to wait out the pandemic storm.

Be kind to yourself and others, and do simple things of comfort and peace.

Light candles – the real kind, because fire has represented comfort and safety ever since our early days living in caves and we feel its cultural influence even today.

Do something different – eat a different meal, read a new book – to combat cabin fever, and enjoy the traditions that give you a sense of stability.

Give yourself an emotional break – watch shows that make you smile, play games, take walks, let the news run along without you from time to time.

I wish everyone all the serenity and joy you are able to find this year. Remember that this is a season of hope, and of light in the darkness. Keep looking toward the light.

Women around the world

My dad was ahead of his time. His generation viewed women only as wives and mothers, but he encouraged me to study science as a career choice. When I was a little girl and wanted a bicycle, he took me to the bank to open my first bank account and helped me save up enough money to buy one. Years later, he taught me not only how to drive but also the basics of car maintenance — he showed me how to check the oil, change a flat tire, top up the windshield washer fluid.

When I was just seventeen and adventurous, I decided I wanted to drive 300 miles to visit my great-aunt in the city I was born in, and he agreed to let me take the family car. He drew a map for me of how to get there while avoiding the craziness that was Toronto traffic at the time. My mother, who couldn’t drive herself, came along with me, but in contrast to my dad’s calm assumption that I’d do just fine, she prayed surreptitiously most of the way. She was a good sport, though, and we had quite a few laughs along the way.

I was lucky — both my parents raised me with a strong sense of ethics and taught me how to be an independent woman. When my husband and I decided not to have children, they supported our right to make that decision for ourselves.

Not all young women in the world have had that encouragement and respect, so the annual celebration of International Women’s Day, just around the corner on March 8, is so important because it’s also a celebration of equality for all genders, whether female, male or any other. The theme this year is EachforEqual, which speaks to exactly that point.

There’s a photo contest attached to the event, but I’m not a competitive person (except when playing Backgammon, at which I’m ruthless 😀 ), so I’m happy to just post my own photos of wonderful females from my travels.

Flower arranger, Lima Peru
Group of lively girls dressed up for a Day of All Souls parade, Camana Peru
Ladies selling handmade dolls, Arequipa Peru
Samburu women with their spectacular beaded neckpieces, Samuru Kenya
A mother elephant protects her baby, Samburu Kenya
The sisterhood, Masai Mara Kenya
Grandmother making flour, Uros Floating Island, Lake Titicaca Peru
Young woman herding llamas, Andes Mountains Peru
Girl selling handwoven reed cup, Khwai village Botswana
A devoted mother

What lies ahead?

Twenty years ago my husband and I celebrated New Year’s Eve with family on the cusp of the new millennium. It was a momentous turn of time’s great wheel. We brought out the china and crystal; I made a special dinner with beef tenderloin; our aunt suddenly manifested signs of a winter virus just after dinner when she vomited in the bathroom, and she had to go home before we cracked open the expensive champagne at midnight. So, a fairly standard wacky holiday meal.

We all wondered what the approaching century and millennium would bring as half the world seemed convinced that our own technology would doom us as soon as the computer clocks ticked over to a year with a new configuration. We even had acquaintances who sold a profitable business to live completely off the grid.

Hubby and I weren’t as convinced of impending disaster, although we did prudently stash a small stock of supplies in case the electricity system failed for a few days – all things that we could use anyway if nothing happened, which is exactly what happened. Arguably the greatest non-event in history.

It didn’t take long for the 2000s to become tumultuous, and we’re now in a time of great uncertainty about the planet’s future.

Having grown up on Star Trek, I prefer to keep that positive vision of the future, but here are trends I’ve noticed that aren’t helping anything:

  • Overpopulation – our planetary ecosystem can’t support our current level of population growth
  • Rampant profiteering – we can’t continue stripping our planet of critical natural resources, so (among other things) someone has to put a stop to big corporations who don’t seem to care that that they’re destroying the future of their own families along with all of the rest of us
  • Divisiveness – we all need to become truly global citizens, tolerant and accepting of everyone, every life form on this planet, and the planet itself as our magnificent and precious home
  • The “it’s all about me” attitude that seems to prevail now – we need to return to values of kindness and consideration for others, and to understanding that all of our actions have consequences and that we’re responsible for those consequences
  • Unbridled materialism, which I believe is a symptom of deep cracks in our society that no one’s addressing, along with things like increasing rates of depression, anxiety, irritability and stress-related illnesses

I think people around the world are frightened, but letting our fears govern our actions isn’t the answer.

If more and more people resolve to put the welfare of each other and the entire planet on a par with themselves, to become the light-filled beings we have the capacity to be, I think we can turn the tide. If you feel the same way, let’s start something!