The good ol’ hockey game

A grinning Laura in the stands at a Hitmen hockey gameJust a few weeks after landing in Calgary, I found myself at the Saddledome watching a Calgary Hitmen hockey game. How stereotypically Canadian!

I can’t say that I missed watching live hockey while in Europe (I’ve never been a huge sports fan), but it was nice to be doing something so typically Canadian with other Canadians. There were families with kids, groups of teenagers, a cluster or two of slightly rowdy young men, and couples on dates; the same demographic that show up at rinks all across the country, regardless of the league or the skill of the players.

While watching the game, I ate salty popcorn and nachos with plasticky cheese and pickled jalapeno peppers, washed down with overpriced beer; the same ‘cuisine’ available at minor league hockey games everywhere in Canada.

I cheered when the home team scored (which happened right in front of us once!) and booed when the visitors got a goal (although the visiting team was from nearby Red Deer and their fans came close to drowning out the local crowd). I applauded the little kids who took the ice between periods, bought a 50/50 ticket, and watched the zambonis resurface the ice during intermissions. Just like millions of Canadians do at hockey games in every province and territory.

Having attended many hockey games (even without really liking the sport!), I knew what to expect and how to behave. I didn’t worry about language barriers or not understanding the basics of the game or inadvertently offending those around me through my lack of cultural experience. For a few hours, I was just a typical Canadian engaged in a typically Canadian pastime. A nameless hockey fan.

There were a few things I knew missed while abroad (like natural peanut butter!), but I hadn’t realized how much I missed feeling like just another face in the crowd. I hadn’t realized how comforting it can be to be typical.

 

 

Thanks to Stompin’ Tom Connors for the post title 🙂 Another typically Canadian trait is knowing at least some of the words to his most popular work – The Hockey Song!

Snow & settling in

Sofie the dog pausing from a deep sniff in the deep snowWe’ve been in Calgary for about a week and a half and are starting to adjust to the dry climate, cold temperatures, and bright sunshine. The windchill can be harsh, but actually seeing the sun in the winter (unlike the typically grey skies in Vancouver or Berlin) offsets at least some of the wintry pain. Sofie’s enjoyment of the deep snow also makes the winter weather more bearable!

Despite being shorter than the drifts, Sofie loves running through the snow – snuffling and sniffing as she goes. She usually winds up with a very icy beard and frequently needs some thawing time after we get back inside. At least she’s consented to wearing booties to ward off the worst of the cold, prevent ice balls forming on her feet, and protect her paw pads from the salt and other chemicals used to melt the ice on sidewalks and driveways.

She was baffled by the booties initially and it was hilarious watching her trying to lift up all four paws at once in protest, but after a few minutes Sofie figured them out and now lets us put them on without a fight.

Sofie’s proven herself to be pretty adaptable and has very much made herself comfortable… an inspiration to my and my husband!

Staying with my sister-in-law and her family has certainly helped with feeling like we belong. They’ve made us feel incredibly welcome and comfortable – even though we’re still half living out of duffle bags!

We’re both looking forward to really settling in – renting an apartment we’ll be in for longer than a few months, finding jobs, developing our hobbies (cycling, squash, and German lessons for him; yoga, volunteering, and a better command of French for me) and learning about our new city.

If you have any tips for Calgary, please let me know!

A wish for bravery & joy

A wish for bravery and joyI’m stealing a New Year’s wish from Neil Gaiman to share this year. He posts these kind of wishes most years and they’re all really lovely!

This one rings particularly true as I step into a very unknown future! There’s a whole lot of newness to look forward to in Calgary (job, home, yoga studio, friends, climate), very little that’s nailed down, and infinite possibilities for happiness!

It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

Neil Gaiman, author
New Year’s wish from 31 December, 2011

 

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and an incredibly brave and joyful 2015!

Walk into the dark without fear

In Remembrance

Travelling through Europe and visiting sites heavily impacted by the two World Wars makes Remembrance Day feel particularly poignant this year.

White grave markers against green grass and rich brown soil
Grave markers at the Adegem Canadian War Cemetery in Belgium.

From cobblestone memorials for Holocaust victims in Berlin to photographs of bomb-devastated German cities at the German National Museum of Contemporary History (Haus der Geschichte) in Bonn; from the massive Canadian Memorial in Vimy to the many roadside memorials in rural France and Belgium, this past year has allowed me to experience war in a highly impactful way.

My first experience with a war cemetery was last January while driving from Antwerp to Bruges. We had taken a minor highway and stumbled across the Adegem Canadian War Cemetery. I was unprepared for the emotions that came up while walking along the rows of grave markers.

My heart swelled with pride, my stomach clenched with horror, my throat choked with the sense of loss, and my eyes welled with tears. I thought of all the people who fought against fascism and Nazism. All the people that didn’t make it home to their families. All the people injured and traumatized. All the grave markers without names. All the freedoms granted to subsequent generations.

We came across many war memorials during the three weeks we spent in a camper travelling across France. Every memorial, marker, and cemetery brought on that same convoluted gut-punch, choked-up sadness tinged with appreciation.

Four flags and a long set of stairs mark the German war cemetery entrance
Entrance to the German cemetery at Mont-de-Huisnes.

And it wasn’t just the Canadian memorials that were emotional.

We stopped at a war cemetery in Normandy (Mont-de-Huisnes) that houses almost 12,000 German dead – from both the First and Second World Wars. I didn’t feel the sense of pride that Canadian or Commonwealth memorials bring on, but the feeling of loss and futility was certainly there.

So many dead. So many families broken. So many loved ones lost. So many stories untold.

War cemeteries are light on context. There might be a plaque explaining the battle or operations that precipitated needing such mournful grounds, but generally the tombstones are left to speak for themselves. Memories of high school humanities and Wikipedia searches filled in some of the details for us, but often emotion took precedence over history.

Visiting the Juno Beach Centre, at the site of the Canadian D-Day landing in Normandy, and the privately funded Canada War Museum (which also had a Polish contingent) near Adegem provided some necessary background. As did the small info centre at the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

Two Canadian grave markers
Dual grave of Canadians who died in the same plane at the Dieppe Cemetery

Sadly, there was no such context for our stop in Dieppe as the 19th August 1942 Memorial Museum is open very limited hours in the winter.

On our trip to France last week, we specifically visited Dieppe to learn more about the predominantly Canadian raid on German-occupied territory that took place there on 19 August, 1942. Almost 60% of the over 6,000 men that went ashore in the Dieppe Raid were killed, injured, or taken prisoner. And the loses in the skies and at sea were calamitous as well.

The magnitude of the operation was clear as marker after marker gave the same date of death – 19 August, 1942. A few pairs of brothers were buried beside each other and there were a number of dual graves with Air Force members who must have gone down in the same place.

Imagining the process of sorting out human remains and respectfully interring them brings up that stomach clench of reality again.

How horrible must that have been. How awful to see your comrades fall. How tortuous to identify the dead. And how dreadful to convey the news to their families.

The limestone Monument at Vimy Ridge
The Vimy Memorial Monument.

After Dieppe, we stopped at Vimy – the site of a major Canadian battle in World War I, which has since come to symbolize Canada’s coming of age as a nation. In addition to the giant limestone monument honouring Canadians who risked or gave their lives in the First World War, the Vimy Ridge site contains graveyards, smaller memorials, and preserved tunnels, trenches, and craters from frontline fighting.

Seeing the proximity of the trenches and the deep craters from shells, bombs, and mines was a harrowing sight, but that distress was trumped when we reached the giant limestone monument erected in the mid-1930s (and pictured on the back of Canadian $20 bills).

The lower walls of the monument are inscribed with the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France whose final resting place was unknown. Thousands of unidentified bodies buried in nameless graves. Not being able to identify soldiers after their deaths (for whatever reason… all the scenarios I can imagine are simply awful) deeply troubled me.

One of the cemeteries at Vimy has a plaque inscribed “Their Names Liveth Evermore.” But many of the tombstones have no names; they read “A Soldier of the Great War | Known Unto God.” Sometimes a regiment name as well, but often just a country – and occasionally not even that basic detail.

Dieppe Cemetery
Rows of grave markers at the Dieppe Cemetery.

I was more upset leaving Vimy than after any previous war memorial or cemetery. The monument eloquently expresses the grief and sadness felt after the First World War, but yet the Second World War arose out of the reparations of what was presumed to be the only Great War. The sheer volume of tombstones inscribed with ‘Known Unto God’ clearly reflects the chaos and horror of war, but we are unable to stop repeating it.

The scope of all the cemeteries, all the memorials, all the monuments shakes me. It’s one thing to hear the figures (more than 17 million civilian and military deaths in WWI and an astonishing 22-25 million military deaths and 38-55 million civilian deaths in WWII) and quite another to stand amongst the rows of gravestones commemorating the real human sacrifice. The white stones carved with maple leaves mark the final resting places of some of my countrymen – 61,000 Canadian soldiers killed in WWI and more than 42,000 in WWII. Part of the over 118,000 Canadians who have died while serving our country in uniform.

Visiting war memorials, monuments, and cemeteries has really driven home the enormity and incredible loss of war for me. The quiet moments spent walking along the aisles of white stones are among the most profound I’ve experienced in the last year.

Remembrance. Sorrow. Gratitude. Pride. And above all, the fervent hope that war will be no more.

Book overboard

Bookcase with 'begone writing guilt' textI came back from the yoga retreat in the Czech Republic feeling relaxed and happy. Maybe a little too relaxed as my drive to write entirely disappeared.

The perfect balance of scheduled activities and free time at the retreat left me a lot of thinking space, which included pondering my ambition to write a book. I’ve been mulling over writing about breath and breathing from a variety of perspectives,1 but haven’t buckled down and gotten much of anything done.

No solid outline, nothing drafted, just a bit of research, some scattered ideas, and a few bookmarked websites. My initial goal was to have an outline complete by the end of 2013, but almost 10 months have passed and I have found all sorts of other activities to occupy my time.

With the space to think about my nebulous dream to write a non-fiction book as enjoyable and informative as Mary Roach’s Stiff, I realized that I don’t have the necessary ambition – at least, not right now. I’m unwilling to muster the motivation and discipline to make it happen, which is making me feel guilty and delinquent. Those feelings, in turn, make me less willing to commit to writing and less likely to produce anything meaningful.

So, I’m tossing the idea of writing a book overboard. I’m abandoning my thesis on breath and breathing… and letting go of guilt.

Perhaps I’ll circle back to the idea of writing a book later on, but for now I’ll content myself with posting travelogues and recipes!

 

 

 

1 Possible perspectives on breath and breathing:

  • physical – drawing on my own experiences with blocked breathing and nasal surgery
  • spiritual – informed by my religious studies and yoga background
  • athletic – tapping a network of athletic experts and high-level athletes for insight

Permission to be yourself

You need no one's permission to be yourself.While at an isolated yoga retreat, I read an article in Quartz about a three-day work week. In this very business-focused publication was a gem that fit in perfectly with all the self-help peace-love-and-happiness philosophy that a yoga retreat implies:

You need no one’s permission to be yourself.

Mohit Satyanand
Entrepreneur, mountain-dweller, actor

At least in this instance, the business and spiritual worlds agree: discover who you are and don’t let anyone prevent you from being true to that.

Peace peace peace

Peace peace peace on turquoise butterfly backgroundHaving just returned from an amazing week with a group of students in the Prana Yoga College Teacher Training program, I’m feeling very much at peace right now. But it’s hard not to feel peaceful when every day starts with three hours of breathing exercises and yoga postures – the challenge is keeping that serenity afterwards!

Thankfully, I can still hear Shakti closing each daily class with a chant: ‘Ohm. Shanti shanti shanti. Om; peace peace peace.” Shanti means peace in Sanskrit and it’s no mistake that the concept is repeated at the end of each session.

With every yoga practice, Shakti tries to bring a sense of peace to each student. Her style of classical hatha yoga aims to bring stillness in every posture, meditation throughout the sequence, and a deeply calm mind.

That quiet mind seems to be the goal of every style of meditation. Whether you prefer a silent Zen style or an active Kundalini version, the point of meditation is to get your brain to shut up. To find peace within your own thoughts.

Global Meditation for Peace - 8 August 2014

Despite no longer doing a guided yoga practice with Shakti every morning, there are still resources to guide me towards peacefulness. The Chopra Centre’s Global Meditation for Peace hopes to inspire peace through thousands of people meditating at the same time on 8 August 2014. Although 8 August is almost over and I’m too late to join the Chopra Centre’s event… it’s never too late  for peaceful meditation!

With the sound of the teacher training group chanting “Peace, peace, peace” echoing in my mind, I wish you all quiet thoughts.

May you find peace within yourself that will help overcome strife. And may that peace spread and help quell conflicts throughout the world.

Shanti shanti shanti.