Waking Up In Canada

Time Out Just To See

Hungering February 14, 2013

Filed under: faith — wakingupincanada @ 7:10 am
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I have an inkling what it feels like to be viewed as a religious extremist.

I arrived back at work from a lunch-time mass, with ashes on my forehead. 5 of colleagues, each at separate times asked, wondering if I fell into an inkpad or rubbed dirt on my forehead. Each time, in humour and shock, I explained. Having grown up in a Catholic country, there was never a need before to explain the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. “From dust you came, and to dirt you shall return”. If that is the looks I get, good humoured and curious, to ashes on my forehead once a year, I wonder how others feel with more stringent day to day activities. I had taken for granted being a Catholic in Ireland, where growing up having ashes on your head was not accepted, but expected. It is not that my colleagues are not religious, some are, some are spiritual in other ways, but the Catholic population is low on the ground. I travelled 13 miles to get a Mass that I could attend, and I was the youngest person in the small congregation, and by a pretty good gap.

It was also the first ever Ash Wednesday where I followed the fasting obligation. There are 2 days in the year the Church asks us to fast: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. From my mother, I learned I was supposed to have a slice of dry toast, black tea, and a dinner without meat. Never one to accept just one opinion, I had to research: a fast day constitutes one proper meal; you may have something at the 2 other mealtimes, but those 2 together should not amount to a full meal. There is no snacking. It is a sacrifice to prepare for Lent and connect with those less fortunate than ourselves, a sacrifice as penance, to say sorry for sinning, to increase awareness, to detach from the body and connect with the soul, to imitate Jesus’ fast in the Bible.

There was a reason I hadn’t done it before. I may question its reasoning: how does my hungry belly help starving children; why do I need to pray for people who in my judgement, should already be in heaven (Yes I know, I am neither a judge on earth or above) but the real reason: It is tough. When I was doing 24 hour fasts as a child for different charities, I would start after dinner one day, and finish with a late inner the next day. Not so with Ash Wednesday. It lasts all day, and you go to bed hungry. I even ate extra on Tuesday night to give me a head-start on hunger on Wednesday. I skipped breakfast and by lunch was hungry. Somehow, being that hungry made me more aware of actually being hungry and I didn’t even accidentally slip some fruit or nuts into my mouth like I would on a normal day. When hunger pangs struck, I thought on people I would dedicate my suffering to, to help me through it; people who had passed away, people who needed a little extra help, people I miss in Ireland. I really enjoyed my dry toast at lunch time, which I had sneakily sliced deliberately thick, just in case. I aimed to eat slowly, quietly, really savouring it, to make sure I benefitted  from every crumb. When it was all I was getting I’d make sure it counted.

Due to work, we went out for dinner, ironically to an Irish pub, but I safely chose the soup, potato and cheddar. Colleagues again looked at me through their bites from their steaks, cooked rare, as if I was mad. Wow it was good, and then I wondered if having such a delicious soup was over-indulgence. It was thick and creamy and filling, and feeling full, I wondered if I should stop, 3 spoonfuls from the end. I couldn’t, it was far too delicious to waste. Regardless, I felt wonderful; this fasting thing was no problem. I would also have a tiny piece of brie later at a buffet later, and felt a teensy bit guilty. Arriving home at 10.30, I was famished. My tummy was empty, I was tired and I went straight to bed. Maybe for the first time in my life, I went to bed hungry. Again, I felt successful, I was hungry but I was in bed. I’d fall asleep, awake and eat, mission accomplished.

Sleep didn’t come. I tossed. I turned. I tried to focus on breathing yet it took nearly an hour to fall asleep. I was easily awakened and again would lie, trying to take my mind of my empty stomach. I had an argument with my boyfriend and it was harder to be ational when all I could feel was the emptiness in my stomach. At this stage the hunger felt painful. At 12.30, I had some cereal.

So ended my first fast on a holy day of obligation. I may not have been as successful as I had hoped, but I am proud of my attempts. I feel more connected. I can vaguely understand now how it feels to go to bed hunger. How it would feel to do that regularly, with no fall back is beyond me. I felt tired of hearing about famine and poverty, felt powerless to know how to help, but I have a renewed sense of injustice, of seeing a need I should respond to. Children especially should not go to bed, staring at nothing, overwhelmed by the hunger in their stomachs. I wonder how many people in my own community do not have enough food?

As well, perhaps less lofty as a feeling, I am proud of myself. I set myself a challenge and I worked hard on it. From someone who grazes at food all day long, I did not think I would even manage what I did. I learned that I am stronger than I think.


Ash Wednesday February 13, 2013

Filed under: faith — wakingupincanada @ 8:05 am
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We have tested and tainted too much lover
-through a chink too wide comes in no wonder”
Patrick Kavanagh

This morning brings us Ash Wednesday, and throughout the world for over a billion Catholics, this marks the beginning of Lent. To some it may seem as the biggest diet club around as the junk food is hidden at the back of the cupboard until Easter Sunday, but the next 46 days can go much deeper than that and offers a rare opportunity for all.
For me, growing up, Lent meant no chocolate, sweets, after dinner biscuits or Sunday ice-cream. Even as an adult, if I wasn’t “off” chocolate, I sure didn’t eat it in front of my mother. Oddly, my most successful Lents were when my conscience was standing in the kitchen, and now when I fail at Lent, I always feel I’ve let my Mum down, not because she is strict or would be angry at me, but because I want to live up to her standard, be the person she raised me to be and be able to follow through on something I committed to.

From my Mum, I see Lent for 2 things: Discipline and Simplicity.
There can be scoffing at the idea of abstaining from certain foods, and the connection between Lent and dieting was far from Jesus’ fast in the desert as a sacrifice to bring him closer to God. However, try and abstain from certain foods, and one can see, just how hard it is. It isn’t about losing weight, I believe, it’s about checking in to see where our addictions are, what are our demons, what has a hold on us? Is it tea, chocolate or just mindless eating throughout the day? Is it alcohol or cigarettes, television, computer games, or even a lack of time for or friends, spouse, children, colleagues? Lent affords us a time to see what it is we think we can’t live without, can’t be better at, and disciplining ourselves to realise, we are more than that. We can do better. We are not consumers or reactionaries, we are persons, people; we are children of God.

By paring back on all the clutter, the extra stuff that takes up our day, we can now focus on that which matters. Meals are not about being stuffed, but about savouring a nourishing meal. Spend a week on holiday, eating out all the time and we welcome the home cooked meal when we get back. Luxury can be too much. I forgot until Monday night when I was too tired to cook how wonderful a plain cheese toasted sandwich tastes. I am surprised again and again when I mind my nieces how good a jam sandwich tastes. How special 5 minutes in silence can be instead of an evening in front of the television. Move away from the clatter of everyday, the usual gossip, the worries about money, the stress of the future, the ticking clock on the to- do list, and concentrate on the little things. Live simply. Look at now. What needs to be done now? It is much less than you think. It is not easy to do, live simply. It takes discipline to block out the magazines telling you what you should be wearing or the news telling you what you should be fearing, the DIY shows on how your home should look, how your kids should behave, how you should have kids, have a spouse, have a retirement plan. It takes discipline to give the time to those things you deem important: do you sit and read with your child or get on with the laundry and the dishes and packing tomorrow’s lunches? Do you take time to pray or do you get an extra 5 minutes or 30 minutes sleep? Do you face your fears and join the team, volunteer for the community or stay in the background wondering. Simple, yes. Easy, no.

Lent is a time to pare back the clutter and see that we are stronger than we think. What do we need and what do we want? It takes perseverance and discipline, but it asks us to be compassionate with ourselves. Jesus told us not to go about looking drawn from fasting and loudly giving alms, but to do so quietly. We do not need the world to watch as we fight our inner demons, we don’t need their judgement on whether we are succeeding or failing, it is for ourselves alone. But come the joyous morning on Easter Sunday, we may be a little more relaxed, a little more nourished physically and spiritually and in a better place to appreciate the wonder of our own lives


Reading, deliberately

Filed under: Books,Uncategorized — wakingupincanada @ 6:23 am
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Some of you will know about my love of reading and books; those underestimated resources of knowledge, emotion, inspiration and escape. Standing in a second-hand bookstore on Saturday, I realised the amount of books I have at home, unread. I also realised the amount of books I am reading, right now. I have 3, that I was occasionally picking up, more of one, one day, a little of none the next day. I was grazing on words.

I don’t usually have so many books on the go. I take a taste from a few maybe, until one just cries out to me and I must keep reading as if my very happiness depended on this story unfolding. A book I cannot get into today may sing to my soul in 2 weeks. A good book is not just about the story but about where you are, body, heart and mind, when you read it. However, my 3 books right now is a perfect synopsis of my head right now: all over the place. I am flicking from thought to thought, project to project, book to book. The Dalai Lama may classify it as undisciplined. So I am taking his advice, and injecting some discipline into my book-reading. First, I sorted them into spaces. By my bedside now, sits Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, a fantastic story of the search for the secret of eternal life in a conflict between traditional books and ever increasing technology. One night, I got so enthralled by the late night secret scanning that I stayed up to the early hours, which for me, old before my time, is a true wonder. On my Kindle, in my handbag, for waiting situations, is Samantha Power’s A Problem from Hell, a tough read that takes an honest look at our world’s lowest moments and our own responses to them. The third, on my office desk is a reflection from the Dalai Lama on Happiness, for early morning coffees and after dinner tea. It inspires and soothes me.
With the Dalai Lama’s, I have begun taking chapter end notes, just a few words or sentences to summarise my understanding of what I just read. I want to give those great pages the respect they deserve. With the amazing Twenty Four Hour Bookstore, I want to slow down, read deliberately, take it all in. I want to pay attention to Samantha Power, so that I don’t close my eyes to the worst of our world. Regardless of what we do in life, when we pay attention to that which we do, right now, in this moment, it is a moment well spent.

Books give me inspiration, information and escapism, so I want to give them the time and the space to work their magic. Not a bad investment, I think.


My life, today February 11, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — wakingupincanada @ 11:49 am
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I started this blog in a small room I rented as part of my work package, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, in the town of Banff, Alberta. I was alone, but with a team in Ireland keeping track of me and an international squad of salespeople, ski instructors, rock specialists, musical stars, party animals, yogis and snowboarders and lawyers-in-waiting, even an ultra-marathoner to get to know, I was kept from falling.

In having little I recognised it is in simplicity, we have abundance. In being  alone, I opened up to having company; that solitude can be too much. I would eventually realise, no woman is an island either.

It was an amazing experience.

I am now building a home with a beautiful man in the Alberta Prairies. Instead of a ring of mountains I have fields as fas as the eye can see. My horizon has never been so far away. Back then, in my small room and small world, I was finding out what I loved and who I was. I stopped looking at the future and lived in the here and now. Now, I am with he whom I will spend the rest of my life with. I becomes we.  This is my home now, my future, my world.

I wash the dishes, knowing how much I love having a clean kitchen to wake up to, but then spend an age inside my head, working out if it was my turn, if it has become my chore, if I am compromising my feminist values or satisfying my inner need for order. If he washes the dishes because I have asked him, does that count? Nobody wants to do dishes, but should he not want to do them so as to please me. Then I wonder why it is about me, when he benefits just as much from washed dishes and clean laundry and a full fridge. When he does wash the dishes, I cringe at the running water, the deep attention to detail and a 5 minute task taking 15. I often leave the kitchen and distract myself. 30 minutes of chores sometimes become a full weekend of a life dilemma, but in the morning the kitchen is clean and that is good.

His laid back attitude gets on my last nerve when we are grocery shopping or late to a party but it is heaven to go camping with or walk by a river or hike a mountain with. His attention to detail kills me as he rinses a knife after washing, but I am delighted that he keeps my car in great working order.

He brings out the best and worst in me, and he loves me, for them or in spite of them I am not sure.

It took me 30 years to work me out and find my voice. Now, one year in, I am coming to terms that I am someone’s other half. I am in a real and proper relationship which involves finances and dishes and underwear on the bathroom floor. I am working out who I am as someone’s “other half”.

I often wonder, how does he put up with me? God love him.



Breathe February 9, 2013

Filed under: life — wakingupincanada @ 10:11 am
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Sometimes it is enough, just to breathe.

Sometimes, the day is long and your head is full and your mind is racing, and it is just enough to take a few deep breaths.

Sometimes, the world seems too big, and you too small, and so you just breathe to keep going.

Sometimes, the world seems so big and you so small, and you breathe, just to take it all in.

When those around us need more than we think we have, we breathe to relax, to remember love, to re-energise.

When we fall short of our own expectations, in the midst of our own disappointment at ourselves, we breathe, and realise, we can.

In the midst of chaos and collapse, we breathe to survive.

In the pause of the waiting moment, we breathe to use the time.

In the moment of utter happiness, we breathe to drink it all in.

When alone and lonely, we breathe to remind ourselves, we are.

In the midst of being lost, I breathe and remember I am here.


Sometimes it is enough just to breathe. Sometimes, it is our everything.




Snow Sunday Starts November 11, 2012

Filed under: snow — wakingupincanada @ 10:24 am
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The sound of the shower signals the start of the day proper; an end to this quiet morning time by myself, my time of contemplation and wonderings, newspapers and Sunday morning communication from the British Isles and my scattered siblings.

I watched as darkness moved slowly into light, breaking through fog, to a blue sky and pale sun. The thick snow is now a bright white and the grey trees are glistening white in the sunshine. My iPhone tells me it is now -30, an increase of 1 since 7am. It predicts that is should now be -14. Somehow, to me, the variations in sub-zero are not at all obvious. I wonder where Apple gets its

The front yard is cut through with tyre tracks. The back yard is untouched. The summer deck chairs, one pink, one green sit covered in snow, sheltered by the white branches of the Caraganas. The green lies on its side, strewn over by a storm a few weeks ago and never lifted. The coffee table sits alongside them, a tablecloth of snow where once I sat my strawberry daiquiri and watched the men play horseshoe. Perhaps we should have taken them inside. I had forgotten they were there.

The snow blankets my world, and somehow silences it. Snow gives time to breathe, to stop and listen to the silence. It cotton-wools my life; stress and tensions and plans don’t seem as important, as big, as imposing.

Footsteps come plodding towards my window seat, the coffee pot is lifted, the fridge opens. The day begins.


Gaining direction from disapppointment April 4, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — wakingupincanada @ 8:33 pm

There is a dull ache to disappointment.

I can feel it somewhere between my chest and my stomach. I am sitting in my pyjamas, eating popcorn and feeling let down by the universe.

Yet, somehow there is this strange warmth, this little ray of light, of hope. I understand how ridiculous this sounds but bear with me.

By realising how disappointed I am, I am now fully aware of how much I care. This is where I get my hope from. There is no greater feeling than knowing that you are pointed in the right direction.  Even though right now I may be disappointed, I know it is a short term set back.

Sometimes, it is very easy to go with the flow, to follow on and see, but you reach a point on the big, wide river when you wonder if you are still going the right way. I wasn’t sure there for a little while. Then, my plans got changed and I was disappointed. I sat in sadness. Slowly I began to see. Short term there may be an obstacle but I can get around it. Disappointment has helped me sort out what I really want. It has highlighted what matters for me.

My weekend plans are looking quite bleak but overall, the picture is looking good.