Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Richness of Tradition

Well friends, Christmas is just around the corner and what a special time of year it is. I love the carols, the storefront displays, the crisp feeling of excitement in the air and the smell of Christmas baking in our homes.

For our family, we have a number of traditions that we have either adopted or established ourselves. One of those traditions is our Tree Decorating Night. This is always done on the first Friday in December and it’s a night that we all look forward to. Friends and family know about this night in our home and they know that our door is always open.

On this night, we all take part. Philip is the lighting and music man, Sophia is head designer, Gabriel is creative consult and wee Ella is a very able assistant to all. My role is catering, dance co-ordinator and accident control (baubles breaking, decorations falling apart). We all hold very specific and important roles and we take our responsibilities very seriously.

As we work, we talk about the decorations, where they have come from and the stories that go with them (just another little tradition, we buy a Christmas decoration when we travel so that our tree truly has a global theme). We laugh, we eat whatever it is we have all agreed upon prior to the night, we talk and we simply enjoy coming together, relaxing, reflecting on the year and being in the moment as family. In addition to the laughter, there is always music, carols are ringing throughout the house and we push the chairs aside and we dance.

This year, I taught the kids how to polka. There is one album that is played in our home from December 1 through to January 2 and it happens to be one of my favourites. The kids don’t love this album (yet), but have come to know that it is part of our tradition. It’s the Kenny & Dolly Once Upon a Christmas album. I love it. I play it loud and I play it proud. So, if you find yourself anywhere near the Sohn home during the holidays, just know that Kenny and Dolly will be right here with us.

I believe that tradition is part of the fibre that keeps our families strong and rich. Tradition is part of the root system of a family and it’s a necessary ingredient. Friends, celebrate your traditions, don’t let them go by the wayside because you’re busy, tired or just don’t see the point. When we look at a tree or a beautiful flower, we don’t get the opportunity to see the root system below, rather we just marvel at the beauty in front of us. Family is like that. I would suggest that the strong families you see have traditions that they hold tight.

I know that as my children grow and as they eventually leave the nest, our Tree Decorating Night will be one that they will miss. I know that on the first Friday of December, if they are near, they will be at home, if they are far, I know our phone will ring and their hearts will be in our living room. I also know that as the years progress, it will be them requesting Kenny and Dolly. I know that this is only a night, however through this one night, we are giving them stability, strength for the journey and a confidence that is deep within their being.

What are your family traditions? I’ve shared just one of ours with you and there are many more. As I said, some we have adopted from our families and some we have established on our own. I encourage you to create in your home a strong root system through tradition. Create something that is unique to your family and know that you are building a great foundation. Whether you are a young family, further along the journey or a new, blended family, carve out tradition and watch the richness unfold.

For my Mum and Auntie Myrna know that where ever we are for Christmas, there is always red and green jello on the table – a great a tradition we have adopted and so have many of our cousins. Thanks for being such great women of tradition and passing so much on to all of us. You are greatly appreciated and loved.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Go Take A Walk

I once asked a lean, mountain goat of a cyclist if there was a secret to staying in shape during the off-season. He crossed his skinny arms and told me the answer was to exercise moderately during the day and make sure you went to bed feeling hungry. I thought that was just great news. Personally, I’d prefer to stick toothpicks into my eyeballs than try to sleep counting sheep that I would actually rather be eating. So, going to bed hungry is not the answer. The answer is to wake up feeling hungry. There is a significant difference.

I remember that as a teenager, whilst growing up, I watched my dad eat mountains of rice for lunch. He would easily consume more than the rest of us put together. At the same time, my mum would eat a piece of toast with some broccoli and a bit of spinach, then wash it down with a weak mixture of some sort of diet milkshake. I thought it was odd that she ate less than our pet hamster and yet struggled to become lean, whilst papa bear over there ate enough to feed the five thousand and still looked pretty good.

Being bipedal, my dad, like most of us, walked on two legs. If he were still alive, he’d still be doing what the rest of us humans were meant to be doing in terms of locomotion. He walked a lot. A foot note (sorry about the pun) – he did a lot of walking until he retired and discovered bicycles, it all changed then and he didn’t walk enough, preferring instead to cycle, but that’s another story. Anyway, where was I? Walking. OK, so he walked a lot ... This did a few things. It saved on bus fares, wore out his shoes and increased his basic metabolic rate.

Your basic metabolic rate has nothing to do with tax cuts or bank bail-outs. Your basic metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy your body requires for doing nothing. It is the amount of energy you need to breathe, stay awake and watch daytime television. Exercise has a knack of raising this basic metabolic rate. This is good.

If you exercise, and yes, walking is certainly a form of exercise, you require energy to do so. You are also likely to raise your BMR. At tick-over my dad’s BMR was higher than my mother’s, whose BMR was closer to that of algae. To make matters worse, she had been consuming so few calories for months on end that her body was geared up for a low calorie diet. It had, in fact, become very efficient at holding onto and storing any fat that came along.

When my mum could not resist a bit of trifle, or the odd chocolate bar, her calorie-deprived body would think: “Oh wonderful, I’m hanging on to that, tomorrow we’ll be back to dry toast and rabbit food.” At the same time, it turned down her metabolic tick-over to the lowest possible setting in an effort to conserve energy. Where dad’s metaphorical metabolic fire was stoked and roaring away, mum’s was on super-economy mode. This, of course, is bad news for weight loss.
My advice to all of you out there who are considering cutting down on heaps and heaps of calories in an effort to lose weight – don’t be over-zealous. Try first to increase your daily amount of light exercise. Take the dog for a walk or, better yet, encourage someone else to come with you. Take the kids along, walk to the post office instead of driving. Think about ways you can all walk instead of driving and you’ll be amazed at just how many short car journeys you will cut out.

This bit is important. Walking. Most people walk far too slowly to receive any benefit at all. You need to walk quickly. Here’s a tip. Try this. Go outside and walk and while walking, count your footsteps per minute. Try increasing the pace to the point where it feels uncomfortable. Where it begins to feel odd, ridiculous even. Just before that point is your ultimate cruising pace. Cross that line and you’ll feel like you need to jog. Scale back the speed 10 or 15 steps per minute. That is the pace you need to maintain on a fitness walk. Got it? If you’re still not sure, It’s the speed that you would walk at if you were really late for a movie. You’re not about to run, but you can’t saunter. If you saw someone else walking this fast, you’d notice it as they came past. Not all jiggle-hipped or anything, just a “hmm, that person is in a big hurry” kind of way.

Enough talking about walking – just get out there and do it! And go easy on the pecan pie. Let me know how you get on. And if anyone finds a nice recipe that involves broccoli, spinach and toast, don’t send it to me – my mum has tried it!

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Reality of Christmas

Well friends, the festive season is in front of us. The baking has started, the parties are underway, well-wrapped gifts are finding their way under the tree and that sense of wonder and excitement is in the air.

Christmas is that one time of the year when somehow we all find it within ourselves to lay aside external pressures and simply relax and enjoy. This year is no exception. With the economy in turmoil and (in Canada) our political situation unstable, the celebration of the birth of one child is able to still our hearts, cause us to reflect and show gratitude and love in a way that we, for whatever reason, reserve for this one season every year.

I was thinking about Christmas and the family side of the holidays. Sadly, family can be the cause of some of the strongest pain we experience. Unresolved issues, unforgiveness and hurt can take the place of joy, happiness and great memories. It has been said that when you have been hurt or wronged by someone close, walking through the pain can feel almost impossible. This, coupled with the cheery, celebratory side of Christmas, can turn what should be a happy time into something dreaded.

Bearing this in mind, together with my ever-hopeful disposition, I have a suggestion. This Christmas, why not make the decision to give a gift that will last a lifetime. That is the gift of choosing the relationship rather than the offence, the pain or the hurt. The relationship is much more valuable than holding onto and keeping track of the other stuff. Give the gift of forgiveness. It might be the most costly gift but it is one that will last a lifetime and it is a gift that only you can give.

Choose the relationship over the pain and the offence. I say this because I have chosen this year to make right what was once wrong in one of my family relationships. I took a risk and a step in the right direction; I humbled myself and extended my hand. A decision and a choice I am not regretting. I chose relationship over the past and stuff that had happened. You too can do it and Christmas opens the door for all of us to extend more than a well-wrapped gift. An extended hand of forgiveness and kindness – showing that the past is the past – is a gift worth giving and one that won’t empty your wallet.

As you make your Christmas preparations, consider your relationships and do whatever it takes to make right that which needs attention. Choose the relationship! Remember to drink some eggnog, enjoy your Christmas goodies, laugh lots and celebrate Christmas in the fullness of family, friends and faith this year.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thoughts on travel … and sponsoring children

I have just returned from a week in Vietnam, and have come back with a new sponsor child and a renewed appreciation for fresh milk, the English language and clean water.

The other thing that has stayed with me is the fact that no matter where we live or who we are, we all value the same things. As clich├ęd as it has become, we all hold dear dreams for our children’s future and the intimacy of family.

I often think that if everyone found the opportunity to travel, not just overseas but even to a different suburb or a particular multicultural part of our own cities, then our tolerance of each other would be greater. We would appreciate diversity instead of fearing and stereotyping each other.

Underneath it all, we are the same.

My travels have also shown me how people so often thrive in adversity, whilst those of us in comfortable societies often complain about our abundance.

It was so lovely to observe people in villages just living their day together, loving each other’s children and preparing meals. One village we visited had recently been hooked up to a clean water supply and, as a result, water-borne diseases had been eradicated. Such simple lives, but so much to be grateful for.

I saw much heartache and need and wondered why it didn’t really touch me, until I met Vinh, my new sponsor child, and his mother. I am such an advocate for child sponsorship! After our meeting, I watched them ride off on their bike before I dissolved into a blubbering mess! I can’t make a huge dent in the enormity of poverty, but I can dramatically change the life of a few children around the globe.

I was so moved that I brought home photos and details of five other children who need sponsorship in Vinh’s village. Just AUD$38 a month can make such a significant difference, and I was humbled by the opportunity to be a part of that.

Anyone interested in finding out more about these other five kids, please let me know.

Meanwhile, if you can’t go to another country, visit Chinatown if your city has one, or even a restaurant that serves food you don’t normally eat. Placing value our differences may just change the world.

Lv Jane

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