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Mindfulness and Summer Allergies

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about summer?

For me it’s seasonal allergies.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are many things I enjoy about this time of the year. Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably noticed my tweets about enjoying the sunshine and all of the local fruits and vegetables that are ripening now. It’s definitely not all bad news.

With that being said, this is still a pretty sniffly season for me. A field of flowers might look picturesque to someone who isn’t allergic to them, but I’d sneeze my way through that sort of experience if I were to go wander around in that meadow. Breathing in that much pollen isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.

Unfortunately, this has been a particularly bad year for my seasonal allergies so far. Whether it was the unusually warm periods of this past winter we had or some other factor, the plants in Ontario have been growing wildly since spring began.   I’ve been taking medication for my allergies as often as possible for the last couple of months, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon.

The beautiful thing about mindfulness is how it changes my approach to these itchy, sneezy days.

Acknowledgement without Judgement

Right now my nose is congested, my eyes are itchy, and I have a mild headache.

It took me a long time to learn how to acknowledge the things my body was feeling without immediately putting negative labels on them and jumping to conclusions about what would happen with them next. Honestly, I didn’t see how doing such a thing could possibly make a difference when I first heard of it.

The transition was so gradual that the only thing I can say about how it happened is that it started when I began to compare my assumptions about the future with what actually occurred.

Often, I was completely wrong about how a particular situation would turn out. A mild headache would fade away instead of becoming more painful. One particular itchy day didn’t necessarily mean that the entire week would pass by under a haze of sneezing fits.

This isn’t to say that acknowledging discomfort without jumping to conclusions is easy. There are still times I struggle with noticing molehills without assuming they’re going to turn into mountains any second now, but the more I practice this the easier it does become.

No Such Thing as a Perfect Time of the Year

My seasonal allergies activate during some points of the year and (obviously) cause few if any symptoms during those times when it’s cold and snowy outside.

Strawberries, one of my favourite foods, are in season and on sale at the grocery store from May to July. Other fruits and vegetables make appearances on my dinner plate when they’re in season. I relish the chance to eat as much of them as I can before the local supplies of those crops end for the year. As grateful as I am for the opportunity to eat fresh produce year-round, there is something special about the taste of a fruit or vegetable that was grown much closer to home.

Thunderstorms, snowstorms, and other types of weather appear and disappear throughout the year. If I can stay home and watch them subtly – or not so subtly – change the landscape, I can find a lot of beauty in the ways they soften the edges of a building, illuminate the sky with a bolt of lightning,  or wash away the small bits of trash that accumulate in every city eventually.

There’s no such thing as a perfect time of the year. Every season has its benefits and drawbacks. The more you can remain in the moment, the easier it is to see this.

This, too, Shall Pass

A few months ago, I was impatiently* awaiting the true beginning of spring. Toronto continued to receive snowstorms and cold weather long after the spring equinox had technically already occurred, and I was dreadfully tired of the short days and icy sidewalks.

Now that we’ve had a few days where the temperatures soared well into the 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit, for my American readers), it’s getting a little more difficult to remember what those  chilly times were like back in April.

Sometimes the world seems to change both slowly and all at once.

But this, too, shall pass.

*See! I told you haven’t completely mastered acknowledging sensations without judging them.

What helps you to remember to remain mindful? If you have seasonal allergies, how they are doing this year?

My Favourite LGBT Books

Happy Pride month! Today I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourite LGBT-themed books in honour of all of the Pride festivities that have been and are still going on here in Toronto. Rainbow flags are popping up everywhere, and that’s always a heart-warming thing to see at this time of the year.

This list spans the range of everything from children’s stories to a biography to a historical novel. I’m the kind of reader who seeks out a well-told tale no matter what genre it’s from, so you’d be hard-pressed to get me to stick to one particular genre for this sort of post.

Feel free to share your favourite LGBT books in the comments below. I’d love to know which ones have caught your eye.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

Honestly, I could have spent this entire post talking about nothing but Sarah Waters’ books. She’s one of those authors whose stories are a must-buy for me, so I had to restrict myself to only mentioning one of the things she’s written today.

What I loved the most about Tipping the Velvet was the character development. Nancy, the main character, lived at a time when it wasn’t possible for a woman who was a lesbian to live her life openly and honestly. She didn’t even know the word to describe who she was until she became an adult. Eventually having a word for it didn’t make her identity any more accepted, and yet still she persevered.

The Kind of Girl I Am by Julia Watts.

The only reason why I discovered this book is because I happened to be browsing in the W section of the fiction shelves at my local library years ago and found myself intrigued by what sort of girl the protagonist might turn out to be. (Don’t you love it when that happens?)

Like Tipping the Velvet, The Kind of Girl I Am followed a character from her sheltered, rural upbringing to a life as an adult that she could have never imagined when she was a child.

I liked the fact that the storyline followed Vestal from the time she was a teenager until she was a senior citizen. There’s something rewarding about watching a character grow and change over the course of multiple decades.

My favourite part of this book can’t be discussed in detail due to how many spoilers it will give you about the ending, but I deeply enjoyed seeing how Vestal reframed and eventually came to peace with certain parts of her life in her final years. Her character development was excellent.

Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller.

As I’ve said before, I was one of those kids who generally enjoyed the classic novels we were assigned to read in English class. It was always interesting to see what our teacher had to say about the meaning of a blue curtain in a scene or why a character kept talking about something that eventually actually happened to them.

If I’d been born a few decades later, Patience & Sarah might have been an assigned read in one of my high school English classes. It had the same serious themes and foreshadowing of many of the other books we read and discussed in class when I was a teenager.

Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith.

I loved this picture book’s cheeky approach to the Santa Claus myth. It clearly explained why it was reimagining Santa as a man who was in a same-sex, interracial relationship, although I can’t go into any more details about that without giving away the ending.

Should this be read by kids or adults? I’d say that it will appeal to readers of all ages.

Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote.

Ivan E. Coyote is one of the best contemporary Canadian authors I’ve discovered so far. Not only does she have a beautiful writing style, her anecdotes are among the funniest ones I’ve ever read. She grew up in a small, rural community.* A lot of her stories are about what happens when she goes back for a visit and well-meaning, heterosexual friends and neighbours try to make conversations about LGBT topics with her without knowing what they’re talking about at all.

*Yes, this does seem to be something I gravitate towards when reading LGBT books. I suspect it’s because they’re similar to my own childhood.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

If you don’t know the story of the gay activist Harvey Milk, this is the perfect place to get a quick overview of his life and everything he accomplished for the LGBT community. We wouldn’t even have something as simple as the Pride flag without him.

This is the sort of thing that I wish could have been covered in my public school history classes growing up. While we still have a long way to go, the world has changed for the better so much over the past few decades. Children – and honestly many adults, too – don’t always realize what their society used to be like or what it really takes to improve it.

Sometimes I think about Harvey Milk when I’m feeling discouraged about certain current, dangerous trends in the North American political climate. It’s easy to feel like you’re too small and ordinary of a person to possibly make any different at all over the longterm.

As Harvey Milk once said, “you have to give them hope.” I believe that knowing about the lives of ordinary people who did manage to make our world a better place is one of the best ways to give people hope when they need it.

 

Suggestion Saturday: June 16, 2018

Happy Father’s Day! Here is this week’s list of comic strips, poems, and other links from my favourite corners of the web.

I’m Not a Father, so Stop Acknowledging Me on Father’s Day via AmberLeventry. Humans sure are strange sometimes. I can’t imagine making this mental leap. Can you?

Why Scientists Once Used Taste Tests as Paternity Tests. I honestly thought this was a joke when I first read the title. Humans sure are creative.

Why I Celebrate My Uncles on Father’s Day via theotherblair. This was a touching tribute to this blogger’s uncles.

Two Dads Adopt a Son with Autism. I love a happy ending. Don’t you?

How to Be a Caring Father via 04fsbryntin. Bryntin is a blogger I discovered a few months ago after a friend of mine retweeted something he said. He has a tongue-in-cheek writing style that I think is hilarious. I hope you like it, too.

A Father’s Duties via notquiteold. Being a parent doesn’t end when your child turns 18. It was interesting to see how this blogger’s relationship with her dad evolved in an emotionally healthy way well into adulthood.

From My Father’s Hats:

Sunday mornings I would reach

high into his dark closet while standing

on a chair and tiptoeing reach

Characters Who Would Have Made Great Dads

After publishing a similar list for characters who would have made great moms in a Saturday Seven post last month, I simply had to repeat the idea for male characters now that Father’s Day is nearly here.  If the Saturday Seven meme was still around, this is what I would have written for it for this week.

Like I said last month, in no way do I think having kids is the right decision for every person, fictional or otherwise. I’m happily childfree myself, but I still wonder how the lives of these characters would have changed if they could have become fathers.

Some of the people on this list died before they were old enough to have children. Others simply never found the right time to become a dad. All of them would have been good at it if the circumstances in their lives had been different, though.

1. Fred Weasley from the Harry Potter series.

Fred and his twin brother George provided a lot of the comic relief in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories. They were intelligent, mischievous and energetic teens who embraced the playful side of life.

While their antics irritated Professor McGonagall and many of the other adults in their lives at times, I think a grown-up version of Fred would have made an excellent father. He spent his entire lifetime soaking up every bit of joy he could find in the world.

Any child would have been lucky to grow up with such a positive role model in life, especially if they inherited his rambunctious and needed to be shown how to use that energy without annoying the more proper members of wizarding society too much.

2. Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series.

Wizards in the Potterverse generally live much longer than humans do. Dumbledore seemed to spend most of his adulthood focusing on his career. I completely understand why someone would want to do that, but a small part of me does wonder what his life would have been like if he’d found a nice man to settle down with and raise a few children.

If he could protect and help to educate hundreds of teenagers at work for all of the years he was at Hogwarts, I’d like to think he’d be just as patient with a few baby wizards at home.

3. Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

One of the things I occasionally like to do when my spouse is in a quiet mood is ask him questions about parts of classic science fiction and fantasy novels that were never really explained by the original authors.

For example, I spent lost of time talking to him about the Ents in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series this past spring and winter. Where did the Entwives go? Will the Ents ever find them again? How did Ents reproduce? When did or will the last Ent die? The more I thought about this species, the more questions I had about all of the parts of their lives that weren’t revealed by the plot.

My newest obsession with this series these days has to do with the wizards. There were so few of them that I never got a strong sense of how their society worked when they weren’t fighting against Sauron. The legends about them made them seem bigger than life. I’m not even entirely sure that a wizard could have a child if he wanted one, but I do think Gandalf would have had the patience and love needed to be a good dad if he could.

I mean, he did come to care about the hobbits quite a bit, and they were about as un-wizard-like as a mortal creature could be.

4. Bilbo Baggins from Lord of the Rings.

Unlike the wizards in this series, I do know for sure that hobbits could reproduce. They didn’t seem to do it as often as humans do on average, but I think Bilbo would have made a good dad if he’d been one of the members of his people who decided to go down that route.

He loved food, music, and dancing. Storytelling was important to him, too. I’ve never met a child who didn’t find happiness in at least one of those activities, especially if their parents raise them to enjoy the simple things in life.

Also, just think of all of the stories he could tell his children about his adventures traveling to and back from the Lonely Mountain.

5. Shepherd Book from the Firefly television show and graphic novels.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Firefly, it followed the motley crew of a space ship whose members included a sex worker, fugitives, former soldiers from a failed revolution, and other folks who lived on the margins of society.  The cargo they shipped was often stolen or illegal.

Yet they also had a Shepherd – or what we’d call a pastor – travelling with them. He lived with people whose values were radically different from his own, and he loved them all the same.

If every father had the same sort of unconditional love and acceptance for his children, our world would be a far better place.

6. Jonas from Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

The concept of parenthood – and marriage, for that matter –  in this universe wasn’t the same as you or I think of it. Jonas was born into a highly regimented society where your spouse would be selected for you based on your personalities and interests. When a couple felt ready to become parents, they applied to a committee for a baby.

The members of this society who created the children were never the same ones who raised them. Once a year, all of the healthy babies born over the last twelve months would be given to families who had been waiting for an infant. It was a cold, efficient process that I only wish had been explained in greater detail.

Due to all of this, it came as a surprise to me to see just how paternal Jonas was as a 12-year-old boy. His family was temporarily assigned to care an infant whose fate was still up in the air, and Jonas bonded with that baby quickly.

7. Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

(Some of the Star Trek novels were about this character. I say that’s enough to count him on this list).

When I first started watching TNG, I wondered if Captain Picard was childfree as opposed to childless. He wasn’t the sort of person who would coo over a baby, for example, and he seemed to relish sticking to the same routine each day. His demanding but rewarding job was the focus of his life. There was precious little time for anything else.

There were a few subtle hints about this character’s regrets in life later on in the series, though. “The Inner Light” showed him experiencing 40 years of life on a planet that was about to be destroyed by a nova. His four decades of experiences there included him becoming a father and grandfather.

This was a side of Captain Picard I’d never seen before. As confused as he was by how he’d managed to slip away from his current life as the captain of the Enterprise, he genuinely loved his family. Their safety and happiness meant the world to him. It was in those scenes that I realized just how much this character would have loved to have the chance to raise a child or two of his own if he could meet the right woman who was also willing to let his career take precedence over where they lived and how often they moved.

That’s a lot to ask of someone. I understand why no one ever took him up on that offer, but I also think he would have been a doting dad if his circumstances had been different.

Which of your favourite male characters do you wish could have had the chance to be someone’s father?