The Search for the Perfect Photo Among the Cherry Blossoms

mittonmusingsIt was a most gorgeous weekend when the hubby and I went to visit a new (at least to us) tourist attraction in our city.  We journeyed with hundreds (maybe even thousands!) of other park goers to participate in the century-old Japanese tradition of Sakura Hanami, or cherry blossom flower viewing.  He was out to walk.  I was out for the perfect close up photo.  Both of us marveled at the shear number of people out enjoying the spring weather… and a little frustrated when we discovered that most of them drove.  Traffic was brutal.  Some quick prayers for patience and the perfect parking spot had us on our way.  We weren’t quite sure what we were looking for as we descended the steep steps and made our way to the interior of the park.  So far, the hubby was getting his workout wish. I was getting dirty feet and tired knees.

According to the “Sakura Project” websites, this tourist’s marvel came about when the Japanese ambassador to Canada, Toru-Hagiwara, presented 2000 Japanese Somei-Yoshino Sakurathe (cherry trees) to Toronto citizens on April 1, 1959 on behalf of the citizens of Tokyo, Japan as a gift for Toronto’s support of Japanese-Canadian refugees after the Second World War.  The city has added to those numbers, and now a grand display of God’s handiwork awaits the visitor who descends the hill.  It really is breath-taking.  Visions of royal weddings and Pride and Prejudice scenes are complimentary backdrops to the cherry blossom.  Romantic photos of girls in flowing dresses, bicycle rides and picnics with finger sandwiches and chilled champagne …well… you get it.  In Japanese culture, the cherry blossom tree represents the fragility and the beauty of life. The brief bloom period of the blossoms act as a reminder that life can be incredibly beautiful — but that it is also tragically short.  Wind and weather affect the blooming period as much as our trials and joys affect our lives. This is why the cherry blossom is used in so many Japanese items… stationary, dishes and special gifts.  It also accompanies many poems and paintings.  Perhaps a gentle reminder from our Maker as well?  I think so.

I wanted photographic bliss from this event.  I have been learning and playing with my camera and was hoping to get some good shots.  Alas, there are too many buttons on a camera.  Too many dials and never the right light.  Practice makes perfect, they say.  Tell that to my photo editing software.  *sigh* I will keep trying…  Here are a few of my favourites:CBCollectionsepia Cherry Blossom

So what can we learn from the cherry blossom? Besides the fact that we were happy to spend some time with just each other (flower gazing is not a family event– at least not without picnic lunches and lotsa snacks… and maybe a soccer ball and way less photo shoots).  We were also reminded that we need to make the most of our moments… because time is fleeting. This tiny, elegant flower only blooms for a short time.  Here… and then disappears.  It’s blooming season is easily affected by outside influences… rain, cold, wind.  The heartier varieties of cherry trees are the ones who don’t necessarily have pretty, ornamental blooms… but they produce the best fruit.  Maybe all that we do to get the most “pretty” The Perfect Photolook will only work for a short while.  I am astonished at how many beauty blogs are out there… the quest for the prettiest face is so real, my friends!  Perhaps the true fruit comes when we are well planted and are aware of the fact that we are fragile. The perfect photo doesn’t exist. Not even on Instagram. We have to practice and learn from others.  We have to descend the steps and walk a bit of life’s journey to see real beauty. We have to be patient with others.  We have to be kind to those who are fragile.  We have to recognize that outward appearances, although exceedingly beautiful at times, are not the final destination.  Our “blooming” is tragically short… and we need to make the most of it while we get a chance.

Charity on the Refrigerator

Does anyone else have a refrigerator covered in photos?  Those ones your ex-cousin’s- sister-in-law-once-removed gives you of their perfect family photo poised angelically by the Christmas tree? (Seriously! How many re-takes did that require?!) Or those magnets you get in the mail from all the realtors who are trying to buy your home and the pediatric dentist/walk in clinic that just opened up named “Mr. Smiles”?  Yup.  We have one of those fridges.  I still have those colourful magnet letters on the side… should one of my blessed offspring choose to practice their name.  (Note: my youngest kid is almost finished grade school and has been spelling her name for 8 years now with no troubles).  I love my fridge.  When friends come over they poke at the photos and comment on it.  “Hey!  How do you know these people?” or “Wow…who is that cutie?”  It’s my connection to the people I love.  I heard a speaker say once that God has a big fridge, too, with all our photos and crayon scribbled drawings on it — just because He loves us.  That thought makes me smile.fridge magnets

There are a couple of photos on my fridge that are kinda special, though.  They remind me to expand my love to not just my beloved friends and family… but also to the world at large.  One is a beautiful, dark-skinned newborn still all squeaky and fresh.   She (or he… I don’t even know!) is wearing one of my handmade, crocheted hats.  The hats were delivered via a visiting friend to an African hospital.  The photo makes me just wanna squeeze something.  The other photograph has now been replaced by a digital version delivered to my inbox.  It is of Shurjio, our sponsored child from Bangladesh.  He’s grown a bit since our first photo, but it makes me a proud “foster” momma.  I have never met either of these children, but something I did reached them… so they get a place on my fridge.  A connection to my heartstrings.

Now, I don’t want you to think that I am a super woman who pours my heart into charity and raises thousands of dollars to “save the world”.  Angelina Jolie I am not.  In fact, my heartstringphotosbetter half is much more aware of such issues and his empathy is usually the leading factor in our family donations to charity causes.  He was raised in a missionary family who served in a variety of places out there in the world — many members of which also have “prayer cards” stuck on our fridge to this day.  And so, by association, we share our resources diligently.

The purpose of this post is not to promote one charity mission or the other — it is simply a muse about some stuff that is on my to-do list, and close to my heart.  Some time ago, I read a book by Dr. Wess Stafford, one of the CEO’s of Compassion International, called “Too Small to Ignore”. He too, was a missionary kid growing up in a different culture and shares how his life was impacted by the world around him — so much so that in his adult years, he chose to  passionately make a change.  It’s an inspiring book that changed some of my thinking about sponsor children.  Our sponsor child happens to be with Compassion too… and they have some great resources for how to write letters and such to your sponsor child.  toosmallbookCheck out our Pinterest page if you want some great ideas for your family, school’s class or church group.   It’s on my to-do list to write to Shurjio… his birthday is coming up!! (We “picked” him because he shares the same birthday as my middle son).  I want him to know that some Canadian folks remember him, care about him, and want him to have a life deserving of all children.  Complete with school, hugs and some birthday wishes!

That being said, I truly recognize that not all charity should be directed overseas.  Our own neighbourhoods are filled with the poverty-stricken, the homeless, the helpless.  I applaud the many who do great work right here.  The blogging community is full of them, and my new adventure has connected me with a few new ones that I hope to stick on my fridge sometime soon.  So where do we start?  I read recently, that a according to a recent Angus Reid survey,  one-third of Canadians feel they should be “doing more”.  Tragedies like the Humboldt crash and their overwhelming GoFundMe page response, show that we are definitely trying.  More and more of us give “goats” and “soccer balls” at Christmas via charities. We recognize that we don’t need more stuff… we have plenty to share. Our next generations are so much more aware of their world’s needs and are full of justice seeking ideas.  My daughter’s fourth grade class recently raised enough money for a whole herd of goats.  A bunch of seven and eight years olds made an impact in their ever shrinking world!  Heaven smiles and sticks another photo up….

The skeptic in me wants to be sure, though.  I am not as quick with my cheque book as others.  I want to be sure that my funds are not being fueled into the pockets of those who don’t really need it.  There are lots of articles out there about those charities.  Do your research.  Learn about the work and the people who do it.  And then, if you are like me, and have a few photo cards up on your fridge, make sure you connect.  Take the time to build relationships with some kids you don’t know.  Whether they are down the street or across the ocean.  Kids and moms and dads are the same all over… we worry about the same things, and like to play the same games.  Me? I gotta find some stickers to send to a birthday boy in Bangladesh.  Maybe he will put his birthday card from Canada up on his fridge. 🙂

Refrigerator Charity Photo Samer Daboul

#1.  Do your research.  Pick a charity that uses their funds wisely and makes a difference to the people or things that really need it.

#2.  Be consistant.  Set up monthly payments or keep track.  Don’t commit and then give up on them.

#3.  Connect.  Write letters, fundraise, put some effort in.  Share your talents or gifts to create some unique masterpiece they can use to help.  It will make the cause more special to you. (Don’t forget to put that photo up on the fridge!)

#4.  Share.  If you love a charity, tell others about it.  In this day and age of social media, we have no excuses.

#5.  Pray.  I know so many people supported by this simple act of kindness.  Perhaps you don’t have the funds or are physically unable to walk or fundraise.  You have no idea how God will use your prayers to update the photos on His fridge!

Science Fairs are Fabulous!

I have a fondness for fairs — especially a good science fair.  I loved them as a student, and I love them now!  There’s something about all that genius in one room that invigorates my senses! I’m not much of a physicist, so life science projects float my boat, but a good model is always an eye-catcher.  Even if it is made of cardboard toilet paper rolls and scotch tape.  Recently, two of the younger folks at our house participated in their respected school’s science fairs.  Here’s my little muse about the results.

science fairs are fabulous
Photo: Andrew Jay

I don’t know about yours, but my kids are kinda the last-minute-mom-it’s-due-tomorrow students.  Many a times I am running to the 24 hour Wal-Mart in search of bristle board! So, I have a book called “Help! My Science Project is Due Tomorrow” for just such an occasion.  It is great for some simple, yet thought-provoking projects for the kids.  This and Pinterest are my best friends.  The youngest, strong-willed one, decided she was doing a project on Chromatography.  She liked the fact that she could play with markers and colour.  Chromatography is “…the separation of parts of a mixture…” in its simplest terms, and this particular fun project is to see what colours are separated out of single coloured markers.  She decided to tackle her discoveries with a friend and the results were super!  The write up was complete; now to put together the display board.  Did I mention she was the strong-willed one?  Those glue stick wielding kids slapped those print outs on the board so fast they forgot to pay attention to the scientific order of such project. *sigh*  My “slightly-controlling-freak-out-science-fair-project-junkie-self” took over for just a moment but — I smiled — breathed — and suggested we carefully peel off the print outs and start again.  Maybe with some pretty coloured matting this time?! And a title!? Her grade level doesn’t move on at her school, but her and her partner proudly displayed their (slightly gluey) board in the gym and nobly collected their participation ribbons.

Her slightly quieter and more methodical older brother, proceeded to complete his project at a friend’s house with ne’er a notice to his science fair loving mom.  The nerve!  They completed a wonderful prototype model of a Concussion Measuring Helmet.  (Coming soon for a $499.99 price tag).  Did I mention he’s into sports?!  His school chose to organize their fair under the premise of “product pitches”.  Despite the fact that they had no parental influences,  I am pleased to say that the two sports buddies were asked to display their project at a local university’s “Innovation Science Fair for Young Inventors”.  My son pleaded with his mom not to go.  Ahem.

Our Entries

One of the super things I love about science — especially kids and students doing science — is it is just magical enough to ignite that love of learning.  Why are erupting volcanoes so popular at science fairs? Duh… it’s because volcanoes EXPLODE and you get to make a huge mess in your mom’s kitchen because it is “for school”.  It’s hands on and it’s investigative and bonus: it teaches you something!  What could be cooler than that?!  Another thing about the great discipline of science in our world is that it is so diverse.  We have life science, engineering, micro, macro, space, technology, math… and the list goes on.  Just about any topic you choose can somehow be related back to science.  One of the top projects at our school this year was about bananas.  Bananas! Did you know there are a variety of ways to store different types of bananas?! This is science fair at its greatest, my friends!

What should be your topic_

Besides the spark of ingenuity and diversity of the great competition, science fairs often spark connections.  Parents often work together with their children on projects.  As much as I have heard complaints of “that so and so parent did that child’s project” (which I certainly don’t condone!) it is usually a project that needs to be completed with some guidance and over time at home.  A perfect excuse to be involved in your child’s education! These connections sometimes put children on a career path that they may never have thought of before doing their research.  Could a visit from a real scientist encourage a child to become the next great surgeon or astronaut?  Could they be the one to embark on an epic journey or discover a new cure for the world at large? Absolutely.  Even if they are not the next Albert Einstein, some kids will become part of a great team of professionals and bring their expertise to their work.  I love how the Bible’s description of Ezra’s journey in Ezra chapter 8 includes “learned men“.  This was an epic journey to fulfill a religious duty, and yet Ezra brings learned men (I am sure a scientist or two!) to round out the collection of priests, musicians, scribes etc.  Even the Magi of the Christmas story were astronomers!  Despite our backgrounds and diverse beliefs, science often rounds out our discussions and strengthens our faith through discovery and collaboration.

Alas, maybe you are not like me.  Maybe you dread the science fair and all it brings.  No worries, my dearest reader, here are five fun resources to make connections with, to learn from, and to make your next science fair project the best one ever! (oh… but don’t forget to use pretty matting and put it in the right order!)

5sciresources
Photos: KMitton and vlad-tchompalov(unsplash)
  1.  Your local library or college/university fair.  These are great places to start.  Visit a competition and see what makes the grade and impresses the judges.  Find books — there are a tonne out there– that give you step by step instructions on completing a great project!
  2.   Television.  Call me old school, but I love Bill Nye the Science Guy.  Cable Channels like Discovery have shows like Myth Busters and Shark Week.  Our local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) have great shows that spark imagination in kids.  Talk and news specials too. Just remember to watch with your kids.  Make appropriate connections.
  3. Professionals.  Do you know a doctor, astronaut, engineer?  Take a kid to work day may be a great option.  Ask the teacher!  They know! Get those high schoolers ready for the real world and workplaces.  Participate in a live project!
  4. Charities.  I love Scientists in School.  Often they are the first exposure to a real scientist that kids have.  Their workshops provide lots of resources to ignite that creativity in the little ones! Edutopia also seems like a really great resource in collaboration with the George Lucas Educational Foundation… and who knows science better than the Star Wars guy?!
  5. The great internet!  I would have loved access to the internet back in the days when I had to create my projects.  Homeschooling moms, true scientists, educators and authors have lots to share on Pinterest and other places.  Don’t worry, your kids already have googled ” super gross experiments” and have their top 5 list for you.  Word to the wise though… filter filter filter!

 

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10 Things to Do in the City (That’ll Force you Out of your Comfort Zone)

So, we’ve been talking about getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.  (What?! You didn’t read that post?! You can:  here. ) And since it is March (Spring) Break here in the big city, lots of people are heading out to do some stuff with the family.  I thought it would fun to think of some things that might just push you a little out of your happy place and experience something new.  Maybe even inspire you … and me … to get out there.

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10.  Visit a Tourist Attraction In Your Hometown.

Okay, this doesn’t seem like it might drive you out of your comfort zone.  However, they say you should take a “stay-cation” in your own city and really discover your own hometown.  When’s the last time you went to the local tourist attraction?  And not when visitors came … just you!  You drive by it, you hear about it, you see it advertised … but when is the last time you went?  A school trip maybe when you were little?  Me too.  It’s fun to go to new places and visit, but familiarity is comforting, remember?  Try some of the comforts of home.

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9.  Go to a Sporting Event.

Maybe this one doesn’t apply to you either.  You have season’s tickets and you go to the game all the time.  Okay … so try a new game.  Learn something new.  Or check out a community team with some not-so-professional players.  Or a special needs event — you will learn what real sportsmanship is there!  Go to that nephew’s little league game. It’ll make his day! Be sure to go if there is a once in a lifetime event happening in your city … the Olympics or PanAm Games or Expo.  Memories will count when you tell your grandchildren you saw so-and-so run that race way back when.  Or, if you are like me and rarely go to the game because you are just not that sporty person … go with someone you love, just because they want to go.  It’s about the relationship, not the event.  Cheer for the opposite team. *wink*Blog1 - Page 009

8.  Visit a Farm.

Remember the experiences of the city mouse? You appreciate home when you see the other side of things.  Besides, farms are fun.  I was shocked when we took a neighbour to our local “pick-your-own” and he was super excited to steal a berry or two off the bush and eat it right there in the field!  It’s important to teach our city kids where our food comes from.  To see it fresh.  To eat it off the tree or pull it from the ground.  To smell the smells of the farm (yup… those smells) and pet those wet cow noses!  I know some city families who chop down their own Christmas trees as part of their Christmas traditions.  We pick out our pumpkins for Halloween every year with grandma. Farms force us to slow down and appreciate the conveniences of the city.  Once you have picked all those berries try making your own jam or preserves.  Make a new tradition.

 

7.  Take a Hike.

I admit, this one isn’t a “new” for our family.  We go for walks all the time.  Sometimes in the city proper, sometimes in parks and green spaces.  Occasionally, I have to be dragged out though.  Especially in winter when it is warm and cozy inside. Literally out of my “comfort zone” to the great wilderness.  But I go, because it is one of my husband’s favourite things to do.  Ask any of our friends.  They’ll tell you he’s a walker.  Hikes can refresh and challenge you.  Especially if you work in the concrete jungle cooped up in an office somewhere on the 21st floor.  Fresh air is helpful, they say, to clear your mind and get some new perspective.  The dog might appreciate it.  The kids might sleep better after a long hike.  And if it is available in your city … challenge yourself, physically, with a mountain range or marathon or something.  Hmmn.  Might have to work on this one after all.Blog1 - Page 007

6. Get Out on the Water.

Our city has a great beach.  Boardwalk, with ice cream and sand and everything.  Many picnic nearby in the summers and watch the sunset over the horizon.  Boat. Fish. Pretend you are a pirate.  Learn to canoe or sail or skip rocks.  Maybe your city doesn’t have a large body of water close by.  Cross a river or a brook or jump in puddles in your local green space, or after a rain on the concrete sidewalk!   Our guys once ran around in a giant rain storm splashing and laughing in the puddles  — the neighbours thought our family was crazy.  Appreciate the water and all that it means.  Many don’t have clean water.  The cities often pollute it terribly.  Be reminded of those luxuries you have in the developed world.Blog1 - Page 006

5.  Try new Foods.

One fabulous thing about living in the big city is the plethora of restaurants!  You could try a new place every day and never get bored.  If you are in a multi-cultural city like ours, you can try a host of new and exotic foods!  Just the other day, my eldest daughter and I found a grocery store with all kinds of foods from all over the world!  Shop or dine at a new location.  Meet some new friends and have them take you to an authentic restaurant from their native homeland.  Many cities have ethnic markets or local cultural festivals where food is plentiful.  Go to one!  Step out and try a new recipe to go with that homemade jam from the farm!Blog1 - Page 008

4.  Hone in on History.

This one is not one of my preferred activities.  It’s a personal “comfort zone crossing” I have to work on.  Maybe if I lived in Rome, I could appreciate some city history.  Museums are okay — but sometimes I skip through and don’t take the time to read all the fine print.  If I did, it might enlighten me about some of the unique history of my fair city.  Ancient visitors and old ghost stories.  Battles won and lost here on the land where my feet tread day after day.  How my neighbourhood and local school was once on Native land.  Pop culture icons who visited “back then”.  How times have changed along with the fashion and architect of the city.  Urban sprawl and all that.

 

3. Let your Art out.

This one is a bit easier for me.  A bit harder for others.  I like art.  Even if it is not my “taste” in art, I can appreciate the efforts of the artist.  Cities are great breeding grounds for all kinds of art and culture.  Theatre. Music. Visual Art.  Cities usually have something to appeal to almost any taste.  As city dwellers we should take advantage of all those fringe benefits.  My husband once took me to see the musical CATS when we were dating.  I am sure he hated it.  He goes with our youngest daughter to “the painting place” because she enjoys creating something.  My son just informed me we have something called “graffiti alley” in our city.  I have lived in this city my whole life.  Never heard of it until today.  Art is cool.  Learning to appreciate creativity and another person’s tastes is even cooler.art-supplies-brushes-rulers-scissors-159644.jpeg

2.  Play!

Shy introvert, this one is for you.  Nothing humbles you more than playing with some kids.  Many cities have an abundance of activities for little ones.  It can be as simple as swinging as high as you can on the swings of your local playground, or walking across those stepping-stones in the stream.  Maybe it’s going to the painting place and creating a masterpiece with your youngest.  Dress up. Blow bubbles. Build a snowman.  Giggle and play “Truth or Dare” and “I Spy”.  Don’t have kids?  Borrow some. (Trust me — the parents will totally appreciate a day off!)  See the sights and sounds of the city through a child’s eyes.  Go to the circus or an amusement park with your niece, nephew or cousin.  Be silly.  Have a tea party.  Build a Lego castle.  Eat ice cream and candy till you puke.  (That’ll send you over the comfort zone edge!)  Okay, don’t do that one.  But you should definitely play.  Just because it is fun.

 

1.  Have a Pajama Day.

This one might be easier for some of us.  Others have a hard time with the ultimate comfort of those jammies!  Many of us struggle with the day-to-day busyness of our lives.  The to-do list that never seems to end.  I am the ultimate homebody — but even when I stay inside for the day,  I have a list of things to do … clean a closet, work on a crochet project, put the dishes away.  Once — when the kids were younger, we had a pajama day.  We didn’t get dressed.  We had nowhere to go and even though I had lots I could have done, I was resolved to focus on my relationships with my family and build those bonds that day.  We baked and played board games and laughed and giggled and danced to music.  Daddy was forced to change back into his pajamas when he arrived home from his board meeting (boy,  was he stepping out of his comfort zone, let me tell you!) and soon joined in the fun.Blog1 - Page 010

Living in the big city we have lots we could do, but lots that we don’t do.  When’s the last time you took time to just sit? To marvel at God’s world even among the skyscrapers?  To appreciate something as simple as clean, running water?  To create. To savour the sweet aroma and taste of good food.  To giggle and cheer and scream out loud?  To make memories.  To connect with our close friends and make new ones.  To learn and appreciate your past and invest in your future.  To love your family.  We are told in James 4 that we are “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes”.  Let’s make the most of it while we are here!