Monthly Archives: March 2013

Favorite Things

I spent the past few days doing one of my favorite things, which is spending time with loved ones. Well I did several of my favorite things actually, as I also traveled, went for walks and felt the sunshine on my skin, cuddled my nephew, laughed over old pictures and memories, took photos, baked cakes, tried new foods, and sang songs. My favorite things occurred on a quick trip to Seattle to see my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, who recently moved there, and also my mum, who was over visiting from England. The song by the same name, from the film The Sound of Music, became our theme tune during my trip.

My Favorite Things is one of my favorite songs to sing. I love the actress, Julie Andrews, who sings it, who not only stars in The Sound of Music, but also Mary Poppins, and The Princess Diaries, to name a few. She has a beautiful voice and wonderful smile. Hers were the songs I would sing to children on the chairlifts, when I taught as a ski instructor – “Doe, a deer, a female deer…” or “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…” could be heard drifting past the pine needles to the surrounding chairs. It made me smile when one little girl, upon hearing me sing in my British accent, asked me in wide-eyed innocence “But are you Mary Poppins?  Are you?” Invariably when I am around children, the songs come out.

Over the past few days I found myself humming or singing My Favorite Things as I made tea, or heard my mum sing it as she pottered about, and all of us would sing it to my nephew James. We like to sing in my family (well, at least the girls do). I will always remember my mum singing when we were growing up. Each morning she would skip into the room I shared with my sister, raise the floral Austrian blinds with the pink trim which she had sewn for us, and proclaim in her sing-song manner that it was a wonderful new day.

My family would sing in the car on our weekly drive to my grandmother and grandfather’s house; my parents, siblings, and I would sing to Bob Marley or Motown tapes while making dinners; we sang songs to learn our times tables; at karaoke while on holidays; and my sister, friends and I would sing at the bus stop on the way home from school. It was not always Von Trapp style songs mind you, my family humored me with Vanilla Ice’s Ice, Ice, Baby, when I was 11. The singing wasn’t always tuneful either (my sister and I were encouraged to leave a karaoke machine after a particularly untuneful version of U2’s With Or Without You), but singing made us feel good.

In the song from The Sound of Music, the favorite things include Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, Brown paper packages tied up with strings. I can visualize each one, something simple and pleasant, which puts a smile on your face. They evoked happiness for the character Maria in the film, when she was feeling sad. It inspired me to jot down my favorite things from my recent trip, in the style of the original song (but I took poetic license to add an extra verse):

Some of my favorite things from the past few days.

Some of my favorite things from the past few days  -picnics, candles, walks, blossom, and babies.

Picnics in paper and sun on our faces,
Playgrounds and swing sets, and skipping all places,
Candles, and birthdays, and a restaurant that spins,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Walking by water and ducks going swimming,
Chatting and hiking with my favorite women,
Blossoms on branches and the first signs of spring,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Wide blue eyed babies, so trusting and loving,
The smell of fresh muffins that bake in the oven,
Tickles and giggles and laughter that rings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Cuddles and cradles, and small toes and fingers,
Bouncing the baby his sweet smell that lingers,
Chuckles at midnight at photos and things,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Though I miss you, know I love you,
And we won’t feel sad,
We’ll simply remember our favorite things,
And then we won’t feel so bad!

That one is for you Mum, Madeleine, August, and nephew James. I like writing poems and sometimes include them in birthday or thank you cards for people (for some friends it has been the first poem/rap/ditty ever written for them). It puts a smile on people’s faces. What are your favorite things to do for yourself and others? I am lucky to get to do some of mine again this week with my husband and some great friends who are visiting us. I hope you get to do your favorite things soon.



I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Derek Parra last week, Olympic gold and silver medalist in speed skating from the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He is author of the autobiography Reflections In The Ice.  We met in an intimate setting at my friend’s house (she had bid at an auction for him to come and join our Book Club for the evening).  I bound up to him with a huge smile on my face and called out his name in a friendly greeting.  It is unusual meeting someone whose autobiography you have read, as you feel so familiar with them.

The evening with Derek was wonderful.  I was so impressed by him.  His story is of a simple upbringing with limited resources and support, but through sheer determination and hard work he achieved great successes.  The thing that struck me most about him was his display of humility.  Others in his position, having been the top in their field and earned two Olympic medals, might walk around with their chest puffed out and a sense of superiority, but not Derek.  He was as interested in us as we were in him.  He was thoughtful, humble, and unassuming.  He was not too proud even to help grab clean-up supplies when my friend’s baby regurgitated!  He was one of us.

It was a pleasure meet Olympic medalist Derek Parra.  He was one of the most humble people I have had the pleasure of meeting.

With Olympic medalist Derek Parra. He is one of the most humble people I have had the honor of meeting.

My first memory of humility was at elementary school.  A child had been asked to play a piece on the piano to the entire school.  He must have been about 9 or 10.  He sat at the piano the way I have now seen several talented pianist do (including our wedding musician Richard Souther), his long fingers arched and body bent low over the keys, as if being drawn into the instrument itself.  The child’s playing was beautiful and displayed a rare talent.  As the echoes of the melody ceased, we broke into rapturous applause.  The boy’s response will stick with me – he stood, gave a slight, almost imperceptible, submissive bow of his head, and slunk along the edge of the crowd back to resume his space, crossed legged on the floor, as if nothing had just happened.  I was surprised.  After a performance like that I was expecting a grand bow and wide grin, and to lap up the limelight.  But not he.

I have witnessed many other displays of humility and modesty in my life, be it friends who are incredibly intelligent and intellectual and went to the best schools in the country, but will never divulge this information, certainly not upon first meeting and unless specifically asked.  Or someone receiving an award, who basks little in the glory themselves but attributes their success to all the others who helped them get there.  Their humbleness always impresses me.  I feel it demonstrates the idea that – I am just one of you, don’t put me on a pedestal, we are all talented in our own way.  I find the opposite display of behavior – arrogance and boastfulness – such a turn-off.

However, I have been wondering, is a certain level of pride ok?  We are told to be proud of our achievements or to have national pride.  What does pride mean?  It is a confusing term. Even the dictionary definition (from Merriam-Webster) of proud and pride point to their meanings as something both reasonable and something excessive.
Proud, adj
having or displaying excessive self-esteem, much pleased, having proper self-respect.
Pride, n – inordinate self-esteem, a reasonable or justifiable self-respect, delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship.

This is confusing being defined as both reasonable and excessive.  Pride has been described as one of the seven deadly (or cardinal) sins, the sin that leads to all other sins, and it also falls into the ninth (and most wicked) circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.  That seems to show an overriding view by some that pride isn’t good.

Perhaps there are two different types of pride though?  The self-righteous, self-worshipping pride (excessive) and then being proud of a job well done (reasonable).  Feeling proud of your country and citizens and thankful for things your country has, such as rights and freedoms, natural beauty, etc. (reasonable) and thinking that your country is superior to all others (excessive).  Celebrating your child’s success, be it academic, social, or in sports (reasonable) and telling your child that they are better than others (excessive).  We all have talents, strengths, and gifts.  Some people, like Derek, through their drive and determination, achieve great successes that are recognized globally.  Others achieve incredible things every day, which might go unnoticed, perhaps due to their modesty and humility.

Which brings us back to humility – the quality or state of being humble.  The dictionary describes
Humble, adj -not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive; reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission; ranking low in a hierarchy or scale.
So, is it good to be humble?  While some of these traits would seem positive, such as not being haughty or arrogant, and offering deference to others; some, such as not being assertive or ranking low, might not seem as appealing.

I wonder if we can find a balance between humility and pride.  I try to remind myself and those I love to find that equilibrium.  I talk about it with my husband.  We think about it at church.  Let’s live in a world where we can celebrate our successes, but remember those who got us there; where we can be thankful for what we have, but not think we are better than others.  As C.S. Lewis eloquently put it “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” I like that.



Last evening I watched the movie The Cove.  It is a 2009 documentary film directed by Louie Psihoyos, which analyzes and questions Japan’s dolphin hunting culture.  The film was awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010.   I had heard from friends that it is thought-provoking and worth watching.  I knew little more than it was about dolphins and tragic.

Like many documentaries, and indeed almost all information presented to us, I understand there to be an element of bias based on the opinions of the author, or in this case film-maker.  I always try and take this into account.  In fact I think I have a higher than usual tendency towards skepticism.  (Perhaps it is from my statistics background.  I’ve always felt that statistics can show anything you want it to, and as Mark Twain once said “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”)  I’ve watched multiple documentaries where people leave criticizing the film maker, such as Michael Moore’s Sicko.  However, I find documentaries fascinating, and despite their varying degrees of bias, they give me something to think upon and a base to find out more information, and form my own opinion.

The Cove left me with lots to think about.  My over-riding feeling was absolute shock and horror at the brutal killing of so many dolphins and pilot whales in Taiji, Japan.  I sat in my instinctual pose at seeing something horrific – my hands covering my dropped jaw, or at the worse moments, my eyes.  Seeing the usual dark blue color of the ocean turn a vivid opaque red from the dolphins spilled blood, as if gallons of paint had been dumped into it, will stick in my memory forever.  It was heartbreaking watching these mammals being herded, confused and panicked, from their migratory routes to their death by boats creating a loud and constant sound barrier (through banging on metal poles stuck into the ocean).  Then to see them thrash and squeal as they were speared and bludgeoned, and dragged by their tails to shore.

I had the pleasure of spending time with dolphins while on my paddleboard in Tahiti.

Activists in the film The Cove try to protect dolphins.  I had the pleasure of spending time with dolphins in the wild while on my paddleboard in Tahiti.

This barbaric killing deeply bothered me.  I reminded myself that as a carnivore I eat other types of meat (cow, pig, sheep, chicken), and they too likely have distressing deaths.  Thus it would seem hypocritical of me to judge the Japanese fishermen for killing dolphins.  However, rightly or wrongly, I place a different value on the lives of different species.  I think little of swatting a fly or wasp, but cruelty to more intelligent animals sorrows me.  Dolphins are said to be incredibly intelligent and conscious/self-aware, thus their deaths seem worse.  But I understand that pigs are very smart too, perhaps even as smart as horses, and not far behind dogs and cats.   Why is it then, that I find the death of pigs tolerable enough to eat their meat? Or cows, sheep, and chicken for that matter?

Humans seem to view or rank animals based on a scale, with those domesticated being higher on the totem pole.  Our view is probably swayed by media representation of animals too, with certain animals (e.g. sharks and rats) having a bad rap, and other, perhaps cuter, animals (e.g. dolphins) being revered.  Maybe I should take a leaf out of a Buddhist’s book.  They view all lives as sacred.  From The Dhammapada, verses 129-130 “All beings tremble before danger, all fear death. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill.” Dwelling on this makes me feel badly for eating any meat.

This brings me to whether and how to act on our feelings.  How many times have we seen shocking things and turned a blind eye or not acted and gone about our day?  In the movie The Cove Louie Psihoyos said at one point in the film, “To me, you’re either an activist or an inactivist.”  That hit home to me.  That sentiment does not allow us to be a spectator, to sit by.  By not acting we are an in-acting.  If something moves you, touches you, shocks you – do something about it.  The movie also quotes Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist, who said “Never ever depend on governments or institutions to solve any major problems. All social change comes from the passion of individuals.”  We have the power to make a difference.  I hope to make a difference in life in my own way.



I recently had the opportunity to do a service project abroad – at a shelter for girls in Jamaica.  I was very excited at the prospect.  I have helped with service in my local communities before, such as visiting the elderly, fundraising events, and so on.  But until this point I had never done something of this kind overseas.

We were asked to bring items with us that would be beneficial to the girls, such as school supplies, toiletries, and bedding.  I was glad to be taking a donation by-hand to those in need and knowing our gift would get to the right people.   In a world with greed and corruption there is sometimes worry about how much aid gets to the real cause when giving to a charity.  This way would leave no doubt.

I bought my items with eagerness and anticipation; I was so enthusiastic I told the staff in the shops what they were for.  They congratulated me and said it sounded like a great cause.  I did not want to appear boastful or self-indulgent declaring my good deeds.  It is much truer to do something purely for the good of others without desire for self-promotion.  But I was so thrilled about the project I wanted others to know about it and for them to think about service projects too.  It made me think we could all do more, we could take items for those in need whenever we travelled to poor areas.  It was opening my eyes – the possibilities were endless.

We arrived in Jamaica and the day came for the project itself.  The group I was with dressed in our matching t-shirts and were transported to the shelter.  A tall perimeter chain-link fence topped with coils of rusty barbed-wire met us.  This seemed a little ominous, but the bright buildings within proved to cheer the place up, painted in the colors for which Jamaica is known – shades of canary yellow and emerald green.

Upon seeing us arrive the girls immediately ran to the fences, curling their fingers around the wire or pushing their arms through to touch us.  The scene was so moving and heartbreaking I wanted to pull out my camera straight away and capture it all.  But I held back, I thought it might seem uncouth and insensitive to immediately begin snapping away.  The principal of the school greeted us and spoke about the shelter.  The girls were here for their own safety and in custody of the state.  Their stories were tragic – of abuse and neglect.

During our visit we were given the option to spend time interacting with the girls, or to put our man-power to use in building a goat enclosure or rabbit hutches, to enable the girls to take care of these animals, as part of a 4-H youth-development program they were doing.   I began with building, but after helping dig a few holes and trim some fencing, I wanted to be with the girls.  I have a fondness for children and an affinity to those of an age many of the girls in the shelter were.  I left the bright Jamaican sunlight and headed down the dusty steps into their rudimentary building.

Spending time with the girls at a shelter in Jamaica.

Spending time with the girls at a shelter in Jamaica.

Some of the girls were showing the visitors their sewing projects, others were at computers.  They were intrigued by technology, drawn to the phones and cameras carried by many of us – wanting to hold them and use them.  Girls were crowded round iPhones listening to music or playing games.  Others were snapping away photos on recently borrowed cameras. This made me nervous.  I had seen a friend’s camera dropped by a tourist that morning and I didn’t want the same thing to happen to mine.  It is expensive and I am protective of it.  I tentatively let one of the girls take some photos, but soon wanted it back in my possession.

It is interesting the concept of possessions.  Many of us have an abundance of them and we take them for granted.  The girls had very little.  I noticed they were keen both to look at and use our possessions  but also to see what they could acquire.  Some of the girls asked if they might have their visitor’s sunglasses for example, or did we have any money we could give them?  One of the girls told people it was her birthday to see if they had anything they could give her.  I gave her the food I had with me, others gave her their belongings or dollars (although we were asked to avoid this as it would cause battles between the girls).

The skeptic in me wondered if it really was her birthday.  I felt disheartened and frustrated by the keenness of the girls to get things from us, and also felt defensive of my belongings.  I had envisioned spending time chatting with these young ladies, learning about them, playing, and perhaps teaching them something.  But it was not panning out like I had imagined.  It led me to think that my time was better spent outside helping build something for the girls so as to leave something physical and lasting for them, or capturing photos of the project, which is what I returned to do.

After I left the shelter I had conflicted feelings.  I was pleased I could help with the project, but sad at my interactions with the girls.  But after reflecting and chatting to other visitors, it made me open my eyes and heart to what had happened.  I saw things differently.  I shouldn’t have judged the girls.  They had almost nothing of their own, no home and family, and had suffered neglect or abuse.  Life was not easy for them.  They had likely just learned to get things where and when they could.  They were desperate for something to call their own.  And perhaps it was a matter of survival for them.

I thought about how much of my time at the shelter I was capturing photos, and I am glad to have these for myself and others to remember the project by, but I wished for more of the time I had put my camera and wallet away, if I was worried about them, and really just engaged and interacted with the girls.  I wished I had talked to them more and got to know them.  I realized that visiting the girls at the shelter did me a service too.  It helped remind me not to judge people, to think beyond what is before me, to open my eyes and heart to others, and to be present and real with those around me.   I am thankful for this and look forward to my next service project with my eyes and heart open.




Since writing this post, I read something on the topic of frustration that made me think.  It was in Olympian Derek Parra’s book Reflections In The Ice “Frustration occurs when our results don’t match our expectations.  We experience frustration because we expect better.”  It made me think about my frustrations that day with the girls and their behavior, and my subsequent berating of myself for feeling frustrated with them.  I had come to terms with why the girls acted like they did, but I had not fully done so with myself.  In thinking about Derek’s comments, I realized that I could ease up on myself.  I acknowledge that my feelings of frustration were because I wanted my contact with the girls to go better.  My frustrations were coming from a good place – it was because I cared.