Monday, 26 June 2017

Religion and Mindfulness

This Spring, I have visited the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, known to Sudburians simply as "The Grotto," here in Sudbury on two occasions with my best friend. The first time was to show her the Grotto because she had never been there and the second time was to have a picnic there for her birthday (although it was raining on and off so we didn't stay very long). It is a very beautiful place here in our city. I always think of it as a hidden gem because it isn't something that I see "advertised" anywhere. You usually have to live here to know about it or find out through a friend or through a search online. I first learned about it through a short little blurb in a Sudbury history pamphlet and I have since found some more information about its history on its old centennial website. The area is not only home to the statue of Mary but includes several other religious monuments, some spiritual and decorative monuments, as well as grounds filled with paths, benches, and flowers. A flat labyrinth can be found where one is supposed to meditate as they follow the path to the center. There is also a fountain surrounded by pillars that have a roof. This part of the area is a common place for people to take graduation and wedding photos. Since I went during the Spring, the fountain's water wasn't running but it's beautiful when it is!

One thing that is made clear about the Grotto is that it is not only a place for religious people or people who follow specific religions. It is a place for anyone to go to relax, reflect, meditate, or pray. I'm not religious but I do consider myself to be spiritual so this is a lovely place to visit. When I visit, I just like to look around and take it all in. The view, flowers and plants, monuments, and layout of the area are all things that I enjoy. I appreciate that we have a place like this in Sudbury, even though it has a lot of monuments that I don't identify with. That's ok. It isn't entirely about just one religion. It's about spirituality and appreciating the beauty of life. It's also a good place to just sit and think.

I find that religion and spirituality are similar to mindfulness. You slow down and notice the world around you or pay attention to certain aspects of your life. Instead of just moving through life from one thing to the next, you take the time to look around you and appreciate all of the beauty. Gratitude is a big lesson in religions and I think that gratitude is a part of mindfulness too. Mindfulness involves living in the present moment and I find that when we live in the present moment, we realize just how much there is to be grateful for. The world is so busy and noisy these days and people seem to just be rushing through life. We need to learn to slow down, relax, and appreciate our lives.

Someone once told me that prayer is a form of meditation and it's true when you think about it. During both prayer and meditation, you are focusing on the present moment and focusing on a specific thought or several specific thoughts. They are also both times of relaxation. There are many different ways to meditate and you can actually see many different activities as a meditation or turn them into a meditation. Prayer is simply a more religious form of meditation. The Grotto here in Sudbury is a place where some people go to pray but if you aren't religious, it is also a nice place to meditate. When you see someone praying, think about how they are also doing a type of meditation. It really opens your mind to all of the possibilities when it comes to meditation.

These red and white tulips are the Canada 150 tulips for Canada's 150th anniversary of confederation which is this year of 2017. It was a nice surprise to see a lot of these tulips at the Grotto along with other flowers as well. The second time that I visited the Grotto with my best friend, there were beautiful lilacs and you could smell their amazing aroma while walking towards the statues. More flowers had been planted since the first time and there were a few more candles in tall glass vase-like holders at the base of the statue of Mary. I also spotted a faerie ornament beside the Grotto. It's so nice to see that this beautiful place is being taken care of for everyone to enjoy. It is a place that people know about but, at the same time, it isn't too busy. Even if there are other people there, they tend to be respectful and not be too rowdy. It's a great place to go to get away from the craziness of life for a little while.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Seasons and Feelings

Seasons make us feel a certain way. We feel certain emotions and associate the seasons with certain things or experiences. We look forward to some things during certain seasons, and there are some things that we don't look forward to, but I want to talk about what I love about each season and what I associate with each one. First off, I think I should mention how I rate each season since this will give a better understanding of which seasons I like the best. Fall is my favourite season. Summer and Spring are almost tied but I'd say that Summer takes second place with Spring coming in third. Winter is in last place, although I do like the beginning of it. I'll explain more about the parts of Winter that I like in the rest of this post, along with what I like about the other seasons.


Spring is a new beginning. It is a time to wake up and enjoy the little things in life. The world starts to come alive again. The snow melts away and plants start to grow. It's fun to explore and see which plants are starting to poke up out of the ground. The sun starts shining way more and the cold starts to go away, allowing us to spend more time outside without freezing. To me, Spring is magical. We don't know what to expect when the snow melts and everything that disappeared during Fall and Winter comes back. Spring is full of surprises. When I think of Spring, I think of bunnies, flowers, rain, and innocence. The days should be filled with tea parties and prances through fields of wildflowers. Spring is a time of pretty things.


My birthday is in July, so naturally I love Summer, even though my favourite season actually comes after summer. Summer is a time for swimming and lounging by the pool. It is a time for gardening and eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Summer is very established. Sure, things continue to grow and there are still surprises, but it isn't as unpredictable as Spring. The right place to be during the Summer is outside. Meals should be eaten on a porch, or better yet, at a picnic. The days should be spent on road trips. The nights should be spent camping in a tent or stargazing under a magnificent starry sky. Summer is the time for adventures.


Fall is not too hot and not too cold. It is cool enough to get to wear sweaters but not too cold that you have to wear a whole lot of layers. The mosquitoes are dying away and it is the perfect season for spending time outdoors. You won't get too sweaty and the bush doesn't feel so crowded anymore since the plants are drying up and the leaves are falling off of the trees. It's especially nice if Summer decides to hang on for a little while longer while Fall slowly comes in, giving you that perfect combination weather. Fall is a very cozy season. I tend to think of it as dry and earthy. It's a spooky time of the year, but spooky in a good way. Fall and cemeteries just seem to go together, because Fall seems old too. I love thinking about my ancestors during this time. It's the perfect time to look at old photos and documents. Libraries beckon us inside and an evening in a cabin with a wood stove is a necessity. I love harvesting and seeing what we can still get out of our garden. Herbs, pumpkins, and squashes come to mind. Fall is the time for being thankful.


Oh, Winter. You're so crazy but you're wonderful in the beginning. I love Winter during the month of December (even though I realize that it doesn't officially start until less than a week before Christmas). The beginning of Winter is nice because the snow is just beginning to fall (hopefully it is or else you might end up with a green Christmas) and it's pretty. The first snowfall is magical, even it is light. When it comes to Winter past January 1st, I find that it's just too much. I tend to stay inside a lot during the Winter since I get cold more easily than other people and it becomes uncomfortable and even a bit painful, in a way. Winter is all about curling up with hot chocolate and a good book, with a fireplace video playing on a computer or laptop (or a real fireplace). The Christmas season brings warm, happy feelings, especially when it gently snows the first few times and the snow is just so pretty sitting on tree branches. Winter is a time of love and patience.

Sometimes, I feel like I just move through the seasons without fully celebrating and enjoying them. I am not Pagan but I do think that the Wheel of the Year that most Pagans follow to celebrate the seasons is very interesting. I think it would be great for paying more attention to each season, like people did in the past. Seasons were important in times when there wasn't as much as there is now. Farmers had to pay close attention to seasons and the seasons often determined whether or not something could be done. I want to enjoy seasons instead of always looking forward to the next one. I want to live in the present moment of each season and appreciate each one for what it offers.


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Lumberjanes Vol. 6: Sink or Swim (Boom! Studios)

I absolutely adore the Lumberjanes comic book series as you would know after reading my thoughts about Lumberjanes Vol. 1-5. I read them as they come out in volumes and I am always checking when the next volume comes out. The friendship between April, Jo, Mal, Molly, and Ripley is so strong and they go on all sorts of crazy adventures together! What's not to love? This series is so refreshing and different from other comic books and it has some great messages mixed in. It makes me long for adventures in the great outdoors and makes my imagination run wild. The stories continue to get more and more interesting and I'm always wondering what will happen next while also making some guesses.

Lumberjanes Vol. 6: Sink or Swim has a theme of oceans and sailing. April is working on the badges for the nautical life skills section of the camp handbook and wants to prove to the new counselor Seafarin' Karen that her cabin is a good team after finding out that everyone in the cabin has to be a good team and all tie good knots to earn the "All For Knot" badge. After only thinking of herself and her love of mermaids in the previous volume, she doesn't want to let down her friends again. The girls end up finding out that Seafarin' Karen's ship has been stolen by selkies that keep taunting her and keeping the ship within view but protected by whirlpools and that Seafarin' Karen is a werewolf. Weird things don't surprise the girls so much anymore and they decide to help Seafarin' Karen and also show her how great a team they are. The group actually splits up with Molly and Ripley going to see if the bear woman knows anything about selkies and April, Jo, and Mal trying to help Seafarin' Karen figure out a plan to get her ship back.

Molly wishes that she was something more interesting like all of the people that she has met who are involved in the supernatural and that she didn't have to leave it all to go back home when the Summer ends. She is given the choice of sticking with the bear woman to learn more about the supernatural but she chooses to go help her friends and the bear woman says to herself that she's not ready yet. Maybe the story will return to this in the future when Molly is more ready since she seems to have more potential in the area of the supernatural than the others, especially in the end when the spyglass, which is used for spotting supernatural things, shows that all of the girls are glowing after being involved with the supernatural but Molly is glowing more than the others. Earlier in this volume, Molly mentioned how she remembers the bear woman saying something about the woods and how it changes people and wants them to stay so maybe the woods have chosen Molly. We have already seen hints of how she loves being at camp and dreads going back home because there isn't an exciting life waiting for her back there. Camp has also helped her figure out who she really is. It means a lot to her so maybe this supernatural life is where she is meant to be.

As with every volume, there is an emphasis on friendship, getting along with each other, and working together. This is always evident with the girls of the Roanoke cabin but in this volume it is also evident with Seafarin' Karen and the selkies since they are enemies that turn into friends. The selkies stole Seafarin' Karen's ship because they thought that she stole one of the selkies' pelts but in reality the pelt was stuck in a magical portal in the water. The ultimate reason why it was there in the first place was because Seafarin' Karen had it in her mouth and was tossing it around while in wolf form and it ended up in the water. Due to all of them helping each other while caught in a stormy sea of magical portals, they forgave each other for all of their anger and hurt towards each other and decided to sail away together. And the girls of the Roanoke cabin earned their "All For Knot" badge. Such a happy ending!


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The Muckross Abbey Tree in Killarney, Ireland

When I visited Ireland with my family in the Summer of 2015, we visited a place called Muckross Abbey in Killarney National Park located in Killarney. It ended up being my favourite memory from Ireland all because of the yew tree inside. The true name of this place is actually the Friary of Irrelagh. This specific building was founded in the 1440s. It was used by Franciscan friars until the Cromwellians drove them out in the 1650s. Yew trees are common in old cemeteries and monasteries in Ireland. The yew tree at Muckross Abbey is said to be over 500 years old.

How about I bring you to my favourite part of Muckross Abbey through photos:

Firstly, I need to show you the actual building that houses the tree. Here we stand in the cemetery behind the building. I was very interested in the cemetery (because I love cemeteries) and forgot at first that the man driving the horse and cart when we started our jaunt to tour a bit of Killarney had told us that there was a 500-year-old tree inside.

A view of the entire building from the cemetery.

Some of the interesting old graves in the cemetery with the building in the background. Old graves are so amazing to see. They are often very different, with different inscriptions and symbols than what we're used to nowadays. Also, they make me wonder about the stories of the people buried beneath them.

When I finally entered Muckross Abbey, I was interested in some of the graves that are actually inside of the building but I soon found myself walking into the cloister.

Once through the doorway, these are the views that you get. It really makes you feel like you have travelled back in time. You can imagine the friars walking through here in their robes.

When I first walked into the cloister and looked through the arches at the tree, it felt like time stood still for a moment. I just stopped and stared in awe at this magnificent tree. Some sunlight was shining down on it and it just seemed so mystical and magical.

It is definitely amazing to look up at this massive tree reaching out of the building towards the sky.

Here is part of a plaque with a sketch of the tree and cloister along with a few sentences about this part of the building. This is actually how I learned that the enclosed walkway with the arches is called a cloister.

Here is a pretty map made from tiles that I found inside the building. Unfortunately, one of the tiles is missing and some of the words and images are fading away. A clearer map can be found online on page 161 of The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (5th series, vol. 2, 1892). You'll just have to zoom in on the image. Pages 160-162 of the journal cover information about the architecture of Muckross Abbey.

It wasn't until after my family's trip to Ireland that I realized that seeing this tree was my favourite memory from our trip. When I think of Ireland, I think of words like "ancient," "mystical," "magic," and "history." I wanted to have a moment in Ireland where I truly felt all of these words come alive for me. I wanted some kind of magical moment. Seeing this tree was my magical Irish moment. I also realized that this tree is so old that it has been here for such a long time before I was born and it will still be here for a long time after my life ends. I think that's kind of beautiful. This tree has seen so much and it will continue to see many things. It is strong.

While I was reading Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley, I read these words spoken by Uncle Montague and they resonated so deeply with how I felt about the Muckross Abbey tree: "Look at how long some trees have been alive. Think of what they have seen. Why, there are yew trees in churchyards that may be more than a thousand years old - older still than the ancient church nearby. Their roots are in one millennium and their branches in another."

Unfortunately, our time at Muckross Abbey was limited since we had to continue on the rest of our tour. I actually didn't learn a lot of the history of this beautiful place until after my trip when I decided to read about it. If I were to revisit a place in Ireland, I would definitely return to Muckross Abbey just to wander around and visit more with the tree. I encourage everyone to visit this magnificent tree but if you are unable to, you can still check it out on Google Street View on Google Maps and look inside Muckross Abbey a bit. This link will bring you to the tree but you can go and look in some of the other rooms from there if you move around by clicking, holding, and dragging the image around and then clicking arrows when they appear.


Monday, 5 June 2017

Secret Path (Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire)

Secret Path written by Gord Downie and illustrated by Jeff Lemire is both an interesting collection and an interesting way to tell a story and teach some of Canada's history. It includes a book in graphic novel style, a whole album of music, and a mostly animated film. This collection follows the story of Chanie (misnamed Charlie) Wenjack and his journey of running away from a residential school in Ontario, Canada to try and get back home to his family, sadly dying along the way. The first thing that I noticed about the book before I even opened it is the size. It is a large square book measuring 12x12". The size reminded me of the large size of coffee table books. I wondered if this could mean something because it personally made me think that the size was saying that just like a coffee table book is left out in the open for everyone to see, Chanie's story should not be hidden away on a book shelf but instead be out in the open for everyone to know.

The book itself follows a pattern: a page with the lyrics to one of the songs from Gord Downie's album followed by several pages of graphic novel style illustrations with no words or dialogue (except for a "goodbye" from Chanie as he leaves his body in the end) to describe the part of Chanie's story that the song describes. This pattern is repeated for each of the other songs for a total of ten songs. Every time I came across a song as I was reading, I would read the lyrics while I actually listened to the song and then I would look at the illustrations. It was a very emotional experience. Listening to the songs that are filled with so much emotion and then seeing a visual depiction of the lyrics really makes you feel the story and understand what Chanie went through instead of simply knowing what he went through. It was great to watch the animated film after having gone through the book. It follows the same pattern of showing a visual depiction for each song. The same illustrations from the book were animated for the film and the songs are played in order while each of the visual depictions are shown. Seeing the book come alive on a screen was beautiful and even more emotional. I definitely found myself crying by the end.

The colours of the illustrations are really important to the storytelling. The illustrations in grey, black, and white show all of Chanie's sad moments and memories while all of the colourful illustrations show his happy memories. It's a great way of showing Chanie's emotions. The main setting of the story is the train tracks. As he walks along them while running away from the residential school to get back home, he has flashbacks mostly to his time in the residential school. The flashbacks start, however, with his life before the residential school when he was happy living at home with his family and from then on show all of the bad memories from the residential school. It is as though the train tracks are the trunk of a tree and the memories are branches. In the structure of the story, Chanie is thinking of all of these memories because he is running away therefore it all results from walking along the train tracks. Walking along the train tracks to get back home is the important part of the story and his memories show us why he is trying to go back home. His home is what he wants to go to and the residential school is what he is trying to get away from. Both are the reasons why he is running away. Things that he sees or are seen by us in the illustrations make the train track and memory scenes flow together with them being connected through imagery. Having the illustrations show his thoughts and feelings as he tries to go back home draws us into the story and makes us feel along with him.

I also found some of the messages and meanings hidden in the story, among the obvious message of the fact that we need to be more aware of Canada's history regarding Indigenous people, to be very interesting. "Here, Here, And Here" is a very haunting song about death. I see it as saying that we are all connected. We don't just feel, hurt, live, and die in one place but all over the place because we are connected to so many places and so many people. Another meaning that it could have could be that feeling, hurting, living, and dying happens in many parts of our body like our mind, heart, and soul. A raven shows up several times throughout the story which is important to note since the raven has a lot of symbolism in Aboriginal culture. The raven has many meanings but some of the meanings that I think are important to this story are transformation, exposing the truth behind secrets, and healing. Chanie wanted to go back home and did not want to stay at the residential school where he was taught to be something that he was not so I see him transforming as he runs away because he is figuring out who he wants to be rather than what they told him to be at the residential school. This story is showing us some of the true history of Canada that we haven't really learned about and so it is exposing the truth behind some of the history that was kept a secret. Healing will hopefully come from opening up this part of the history book for all to know and understand. At the end of the story, I thought about how Chanie needed to get back home within his own country when his own country was supposed to be his home and I feel that that is important to think about because it makes us see that this country that we see as beautiful, free, friendly, and as our home has some dark times in its history. We have begun to learn more about the things that really happened in Canada and we continue to learn and must learn more. We are now such a welcoming country to people who come here but the people who first came here from other countries weren't accepting of the people who were actually here first. This was the home of the Indigenous people and yet other people came and tried to change everything.

This is only the beginning of a conversation. There are so many stories of residential schools and all of the other difficulties that Indigenous people in Canada have faced since people from other countries came to this land. Secret Path is a powerful story and sometimes we need a powerful personal story to get us to start looking further into the situation. Just learning about the residential schools is not enough. We need to understand and really feel what happened. History has already happened but we need to learn about and understand what happened in the past so that the truth is known and things can change. We need to understand the past so that it will not be repeated. I apologize if I have misunderstood any part of the story or the messages and meanings in the story. I am always learning. I think that we need to dive deep into the story and how the collection has been presented to us to really understand and we should share our thoughts and feelings that come from experiencing this collection in order to open up conversations about what has happened in Canada.

May we continue to learn the untold history of Canada, understand, and create a better today and a better future.

Sending peace,