Friday, January 30, 2015

(Belated) New Years Resolutions/Intentions/Whatever

I'm sort of a half-hearted intention-setter or resolution-maker, whatever you want to call it. I make 'em and then, quite often, break 'em with nary a second thought.

This year, I do have some pretty significant goals that I'm actually excited to work towards:

1. Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and really get serious about reducing our possessions. Its been a three-year journey of decluttering and changing the way we think about material objects and I'm glad its been a slow and steady process. I definitely feel lighter and more content with fewer things, particularly when those items are high quality and bring me joy. This book is apparently The Decluttering Book, so I'm excited to read it and implement some of its advice.

2. Maintain a regular meditation practice. Consistency over quantity. In whatever form feels right, whether it be in silence in front of my home altar, walking meditation in the snow, yoga practice, guided meditations over podcasts. I've given up on trying to be perfect when it comes to finding the "right" form or method, I'm just going to do me instead.

3. Run a half-marathon. A friend and I decided last year that since we're apparently hot shit, to run a half-marathon this fall. This is terrifying to me, who resembles an arthritic gorilla while running and has only (once) managed to complete a 10K and not a graceful one at that. I said I was going to do it though, and I shall. It promises to be ugly, but I'll at least have earned a gluttonous brunch and two or three mimosas after the fact.

4. Complete an obstacle race. Same friend, actually a group of us together, and I'm really pumped for this one. Both the preparation and the actual race.

5. Participating effectively in the family garden. It all went to hell last year and I'm going to take on a more active role in growing our food this year, since I'm the family member who works part-time. I'm reading The All-New Square Foot Gardening book and planning all the wonderful things I'm going to effortlessly grow in abundance. Ha.

6. Make many of my own skin-care and hair-care products. As a lifelong lover of skin care products and makeup, most of which have begun to irritate my skin in recent years and as someone who is  very interested in the concept of zero-waste and low-waste living, I've decided to take this on . I've stocked up on shea butter, coconut butter, glycerin, almond oil, beeswax and lanolin and I'm excited to make some new stuff. First up, chapstick for my poor little guy whose lips have been cracked and bleeding all winter.

7. Continue to improve my commitment to make things myself (as per above), buy secondhand, borrow and repurpose. This weekend I've been knitting some washcloths and making cloth napkins. I've fallen back into the habit of nipping out to Target to pick something up for the sake of ease and affordability, but that's not living my values. I need to slow down and do a gut check before spending, evaluate needs vs. wants, and consider the items I want to bring into my life.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

This blogger is my spirit animal

I discovered, and devoured, a new blog last night over a glass of wine.  Called Paris-To-Go, it is written by an American living in Paris (jealous), who is passionate about minimalism, sustainability, fashion, travel and healthy living. Pretty much all of the things that really get me going.

I was so very happy to stumble upon this gem because I sometimes feel a bit lost in the world of "green living", permaculture and sustainability. Although I know this is silly, it sometimes feels as though there isn't a place in that world for someone who feels naked without a good red lipstick. I've often had to encourage myself to find a balance between the side of me that loves being stylish, having a nicely decorated home, and eating delicious food with the side that is passionate about homemade things, sustainability and minimalism. Its nice to see an example of someone who is really living those values, something I'm still and always striving to do.

Its worth reading the blog simply for the author's writing style. A sample, about eating out gluten-free "I have one rule when dining sans gluten - it should taste like gluten. I don't go out to eat healthy. I eat out so I can press the skin on my arm down afterwards and feel coagulated blood." 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Holiday Creep and How We Celebrate Bodhi Day.

 This post is approximately one month late. Better late than never? 

We've all heard and perhaps participated in the ongoing grumblings about the holiday creep over the last several years and I've been no different. A few years ago, my eye-rolling had more to do with the utter ridiculousness of advertising Christmas before Halloween as well as the jarringly consumerist/materialist focus of the holiday in general, particularly compared to what I remember from my own childhood. In the last few years, holiday creep has been bothering me for different reasons. In fact, I've been having a little bit of a crisis over the last few years in determining how best to honor the traditions of my ancestors and my childhood, while incorporating my values and spiritual beliefs and/or non-beliefs.

I've begun to wonder, how does one celebrate Christmas when one is not only not-Christian, but has now decided they are Something Else. Buddhist, in our case. How does one respect the beliefs and sanctity of the holiday for those who do believe, while allowing ourselves to participate in family traditions and the nostalgia of our youth? How does one participate without cheapening it? How the heck do I explain all of it to my kids? (Most importantly). 

I've polled like-minded friends, who celebrate out of tradition rather than religion, and heard a variety of answers most of which involved something like "well, we try to focus on the meaning of the season as being about family and togetherness".  I'm down with that.  I loved Christmas as a kid and I still love it. I have really fond memories of hanging out at my Omi's house on Christmas Eve, eating cabbage rolls and watching the adults twitch nervously hoping the lit candles on the real tree didn't result in a four alarm emergency. My family celebrated Christmas in a secular way. I want our family to be able to continue some of those traditions, develop new ones, and leave some behind. I want to be able to continue to celebrate the secular stuff that means something to me without being disrespectful of the fact that its not a secular holiday at all.

So this year we decided to emphasize a Buddhist holiday, Bodhi Day or Rohatsu, which falls on December 8th and condense our Christmas-ey stuff into a two week period after that. The intent behind this was to shift some of the focus away from Christmas and towards Bodhi Day in order to place emphasis on things we do believe in. I feel like we reached a good balance this year. We started our Christmas stuff later, made the holiday more simple, emphasized the things we wanted to emphasize and felt that we were being true to our own values. 

Here's how we celebrated in our house:

Advent Calendar - In previous years we've had a simple advent calendar consisting of ornaments in little numbered bags. Each morning, our older son would place an ornament on the tree. He loved it and it was simple, but our younger guy is old enough now to want to participate. After the Great Felt Calendar Fiasco of 2014, I ended up placing little cards with activities on them in numbered envelopes for the boys to open. And every few days, they'd get a chocolate covered pretzel with the envelope which thrilled them. 

From December 1-8th, the activities were related to Bodhi Day rather than Christmas. They included colouring mandalas, buying food for donations, making a Three Jewels craft, baking leaf-shaped Bodhi tree cookies, and lighting the Bodhi Tree. 

Bodhi Tree - On December 8th, we wrapped a little Ficus Benjamina with multicolored lights to represent the many different paths to enlightenment and placed our Buddha statue underneath.  The tree was lit every night for a month.

Rice Milk - This is a significant meal because it was the offering of rice milk to the Budhha by the young girl that brought him out of his ascetic quest and set him on the path of the Middle Way. I made a delicious rice pudding from this book which we enjoyed in new bowls for breakfast.

Small gift - the kids received a new book and their own chopsticks. 

Stories - We talked about the  story of the Buddha's Enlightenment and why we celebrate Bodhi Day. The kids have lights strung in their room which we lit each night for 30 days as well. We lit a candle and incense and three smaller candles representing the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The kids were a bit young for all of this but I was happy to start a tradition that they will grow into.         

Overall, this holiday season felt more "us" than previous years and I think we struck a good balance between tradition and belief.