Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Building Community - One Meme at a Time


You may have seen these posters in gift shops like 10,000 Villages, or in a church basement, or in a resource centre - they've been around for years.  "How to Build Community" and "How to Build Local Community".  We have them in The Witchery - Winnipeg's Pagan Temple & Teaching space.  I see them a couple times a week.  Every time I read them - or glance at them in passing - something different strikes me and makes me go "hmmmmm".....

My first question is always - what is "community" - it has to be more than just a group of people who live in proximity - or a group of people who have a common interest, but perhaps no/limited interaction.  There are many definitions and shades of meaning to this word - some loaded, some nebulous, some semantic, some assumptive.  Large communities may have smaller communities within them, Russian like nesting dolls.

I think about these helpful hints and tips for community building from what I hope is a distinctly Pagan viewpoint.  I think about how I can apply them to my life - in ways that make sense and are sustainable.  I've been turning them over and over in my mind now for awhile - and thought that, in 2010 - I might share some of my thoughts.  These opinions will be based on the theme of "let me share with you what I am learning" - which is all I ever really do anyway, I guess.

Brendan and Juni's recent visit to Winnipeg - from my personal social time with them to the evening they spent talking and sharing at The Witchery - was focused on building community.  Episode 13 of the Magical Earth Quadcast captures an evening's worth of discussion that explores a variety of ideas on the topic.  They are both well traveled and have visited and participated in communities of many kinds - Pagan, musical, agricultural, etc...  Communities are all similar and different - just like the people that populate them.

How many communities are we a part of? Faith-based - interest based - familial - workplace - volunteer - we are intricately connected to each other in a myriad of ways.  How can I be a better more supportive part of the communities of which I am a part?  How can I - me - little old me - build community?  Let me share with you - over the coming weeks and months - what I have been learning.

How To Build Community:
Turn off your TV -  Leave your house - Know your neighbors - Look up when you are walking - Greet people - Sit on your stoop - Plant flowers - Use your library - Play together - Buy from local merchants - Share what you have - Help a lost dog - Take children to the park - Garden together - Support neighborhood schools - Fix it even if you didn't break it - Have pot lucks - Honor elders - Pick up litter - Read stories aloud - Dance in the street - Talk to the mail carrier - Listen to the birds - Put up a swing - Help carry something heavy - Barter for your goods - Start a tradition - Ask a question - Hire young people for odd jobs - Organize a block party - Bake extra and share - Ask for help when you need it - Open your shades - Sing together - Share your skills - Take back the night - Turn up the music - Turn down the music - Listen before you react to anger - Mediate a conflict - Seek to understand - Learn from new and uncomfortable angles - Know that no one is silent though many are not heard. Work to change this.

How To Build Global Community:
Think of no one as "them" - Don't confuse your comfort with your safety - Talk to strangers - Imagine other cultures through their poetry and novels - Listen to music you don't understand & Dance to it - Act locally -  Notice the workings of power and privilege in your culture - Question consumption - Know how your lettuce and coffee are grown: wake up and smell the exploitation - Look for fair trade and union labels -  help build economies from the bottom up - Acquire few needs - Learn a second (or third) language - Visit people, places and cultures -- not tourist attractions - Learn people's history - Re-define progress - Know physical and political geography - Play games from other cultures - Watch films with subtitles  - Know your heritage - Honor everyone's holidays - Look at the moon and imagine someone else, somewhere else, looking at it too - Read the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Understand the global economy in terms of people, land and water - Know where your bank banks -  Never believe you have a right to anyone else's resources  - Refuse to wear corporate logos: defy corporate domination  - Question military/corporate connections - Don't confuse money with wealth, or time with money - Have a pen/email pal - Honor indigenous cultures - Judge governance by how well it meets all people's needs - Be sceptical about what you read - Eat adventurously - Enjoy vegetables, beans and grains in your diet  - Choose curiosity over certainty - know where your water comes from and where your wastes go - Pledge allegiance to the earth: question nationalism - Think South, Central and North -- there are many Americans - Assume that many others share your dreams - Know that no one is silent though many are not heard. Work to change this.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fragmenti: Scripture as Press Release

Every once in a while, I make a quick note, capturing a floating thought, and then lose that snippet of inspiration in the sea of email, post-it-notes, journal books, backs-o-business cards, scraps of paper etc... whatever is at hand, really - and then run across a fragment of contained inspiration and shake my head and wonder "where the hell did that come from."

Here's the most recent of what I lovingly laughingly call "Fragmenti" as I collect it into shoe boxes from time to time ......
"If the bible is made of of press releases, I want to read the blogsphere of those times. I trust the silent wisdom on the crowds more than the cherrypicked sound bites of the Niscean Council."

This comes from a past book study that had a Biblical theme - The Historical Mary: Revealing the Pagan Identiy of the Virgin Mother" by Michael Jordan (not THAT Michael Jordan). Part of the discussion was about how there were many gospels, many epistles, many chronicles, and that a group of men gathered to determine which version of Christian Orthodoxy would dominate, assimilate and obliterate all other versions of the Faith of the Carpenter from Gallilee.  I have read the Nag Hammadi Codex, and it makes for some very interesting reading.  (Hels Bells - even the subtle differences in various translations of the Holy Writ can provide much divergence in meaning as language changes and evolves over time)

My thought was that this makes the Bible, in all it's gloriously poetic beauty (in the King James version, at least - hate the newer dumbed-down adaptations) - basically a compilation of press releases. Mandated and approved messages to promote and propulgate the faith.  Cards shuffled and then carefully stacked to ensure that a winning poker hand was dealt to the Establishment in Rome to codify a new religious culture and reshape civilization.  They didn't count on the few jokers in the deck getting dealt when the cards got reshuffled in subsequent generations (Luther - Descartes - Henry VIII when he had women problems, to name a few in no particular order).

We all know how reliable press releases are. (ahem). "This is marketing, not a documentary" has never been more true.  Doesn't matter which side is putting out the spin - spin it is and spin it shall always be. Veracity is a rare commodity - almost as extinct as the IndoChinese Tiger (they think the last one just got eaten by hungry villagers, but they aren't sure).

I wish we had access to the full range of Citizen Journalism of the Ancient Times. It is lost to us - there are bits and pieces of historical writings and analysis, but very little remains of the Vox Populi that is fully and truly authentic.  So much of who we are as a culture and what we have done was based on the agenda filled interpretation of a couple books.

What if the same thing happened this century with The Spiral Dance - or The Witches Bible - or Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner - or Teen Witch.  Or a chapter from each one - in no particular order.  If all the Official Pagan Elders /Big Name Pagans from around the world gathered, and put together the Holy Book of Wicca and the government made The Craft the official state religion based on the book that was assembled by the Ultimate Red Cord Council.

I shudder to think.  Sleep tight.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Deconstructing Avatar The Movie


The "Pandora's Box" of emotions (from Apathy to Zeal)  that this movie stirs up will provide environmentalists, sociologists, spiritual thinkers, movie reviewers and citizen journalists with much fodder for contemplation and creative writing.

Let's start with some definitions - because the English language is important to me (and hopefully to you too, Gentle Reader)

avatar [ˈævəˌtɑː] 
1. (Non-Christian Religions / Hinduism) Hinduism the manifestation of a deity, notably Vishnu, in human, superhuman, or animal form
2. a visible manifestation or embodiment of an abstract concept; archetype
3. (Electronics & Computer Science / Computer Science) a movable image that represents a person in a virtual reality environment or in cyberspace
[from Sanskrit avatāra a going down, from avatarati he descends, from ava down + tarati he passes over]
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 6th Edition 2003. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

Now we can add another - Avatar as James Cameron's latest hi-tech sci fi blockbuster that is dominating the media and capturing hearts and minds and disposable income of people everywhere.  I have a personal chip on my cinematic shoulder when it comes to Mr. Cameron - his unbridled hubris at accepting all his Academy Awards for the movie about the ship that sank and waiting until the last possible moment - literally before acknowledging the tragedy and the lost lives of the people that allowed his King of the World moment to exist at all.  It went beyond ungracious to downright disrespectful.  The Tin Man of Cinema had no heart. Let's Party Til Dawn!

Fast Forward to now - where he has created his own special Oz - and has created a bio-luminescent world called Pandora, rich in unobtainium, inhabited by stereotypical "noble savages" and menaced by the Big Bad Corporation and its paramilitary wing(nuts).  They have bi-rotor helicopters, big cargo ships, armed walkers straight out the The Matrix and respirator masks, because the air is not fit for human consumption. 

The movie is visually stunning.  One part Alice in Wonderland - one part Oz - one part an inverted Altered States - where instead of regressing, the man in the isolation chamber becomes a 10ft tall sensitive New Age Na'vi, and gets indoctrinated and initiated in the culture of the Blue Nicies who are intrinsically connected to every seed that falls in the forest - their pointy radar dish ears can hear it all.  Their humanoid bodies are adorned with Rave-style glow-stick toned warpaint, crafty handmade jewelry, and pretty nifty "interactive" prehensile tails.  

Here's the kicker.  Would you guess that I loved this movie?  LOVED it. Left me speechless, in fact (I've since recovered).  It has entered into my top 10, may make it into my top 5 depending on how over the top the commercialism goes - if there's a jewelry line launched, I'm not going to be a happy camper.  I am not blind to the thinness and predicatability of the plot (I've already heard the Ferngully comparison).  

The truth is that there are only seven stories in the world (or 3, or 36 or 50) so the argument that "we've heard this one before" is a bit of a Straw Man argument - we've all heard it all before, but the joy is finding new and interesting stages upon which to host these basic stories.  Like Pandora - a true "world stage" if there ever was one.  One thought I had was that we do not know what natural wonders we have destroyed in our wholesale rape of our planet.  We have as many strange and wonderful flowers, birds and beasts as this imaginary world.  We will never know them all in our hubris and greed.

What I loved was the spirituality embodied in the culture of the Na'vi.  The interconnectedness of their world.  Their relationship to and dependence upon the Great Mother that is their planet.  The sustenance they draw from this connection.  The grief they feel at Her despoiling by the Earthers.  Isn't this what we Pagans are experiencing as we connect to our Mother Gaia in ever deepening spirals of awareness?  I accept but do not understand the ongoing debate about whether or not Paganism = Environmentalism.  In my mind, they cannot be separated.  I was also surprised that "we Pagans" were not more upset in the collective with the recent "Quest for Water" on our Mother Moon - that NASA was able to explode nuclear devices on this sacred celestial symbol and there was barely a ripple of protest from those who call upon Her as an ongoing source of potent magical symbolism.  But I digress...

Let's go back to the Pandora's Box of definitions of the word Avatar.  In definition 1, we learn that the Divine can manifest in any living being - and on Pandora - all life is sacred and part of the luminous numinous Divine. Some wise teachers have been called Avatars by their disciples.

In definition 2 - everything is a lesson, a teaching tool, an archetype.  It is a small step to go from archetype to stereotype, and every character in this movie get's caught in that revolving door like Keystone Kops.  Stereotypes are like clichés - they enable collective understanding because, their essence is both persistent and true over our history.  In my mind, an archetype is simply as stereotype that has been promoted to CEO of their particular Olympus.

In definition 3 -  the most contemporary definition, and the use of the word most familiar to today's computer literate cyber connected audience - our Online Persona - our virtual Presence - where, in some circumstances, we have the powers of the Gods (from instant communication across great distance to slaying Dragons with a single World of WarCrack sword blow). 

A number of bloggers from the Religious Right have already jumped on this "blatant pantheism" and declared the movie to be wholly Un-American in its portrayal of the innate goodness of the military (which is more like a Blackwater Ops troupe of gorillas than like anything that reports to the Commander in Chief).

It was refreshing to lose myself in a movie - to suspend my disbelief just enough to connect to some of the major characters - the marine who loses his legs and his brother, the scientist who is at odds with corporate greed, the helicopter pilot who becomes a warrior rather than a soldier, the Na'vi equivalent of Wind in His Hair from Dances with Wolves (another ongoing comparison - and a valid one, I think).

Is it an ordinary story with extra-ordinary visuals? Yes.  It is a story with a message, and it isn't subtle.  Can it move us to see our planet, our Mother Earth as a place in as much or more danger than Pandora?  Does it remind us too much of what we have done and continue to do to the indigenous peoples of our planet?  Does it make us see our part in a culture that can be best summed up by films like The Corporation - SuperSize Me - Koyanisqatsi - Sicko - Thank You for Smoking - and the list goes on...

I'm sure there will be a quiz on Facebook within the month - what character in Avatar are you?  Are you a tree hugging Na'vi? a Curious Scientist? a Corporate Marauder? A ParaMilitary Powermonger?  An apathetic bystander? are you living your destiny? are you hiding from your paralyzed reality by living in a fantasy world? Do you do the right thing for the right reasons? Do you look the other way?

Are you brave enough to fly?  Are you brave enough to try?

Pass the popcorn and the 3D glasses.  See you at the movies.
Enjoy the day,

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Favorite Christmas - Dinner at Big Ruby's

I participate in a writing forum called Red Room and this week's topic was to write about "My Favorite Christmas" - this is my submission.  I continue to be humbled and grateful for the experience I am sharing in this post.  I share it in the spirit of the song that Musique Magique sings "You Can Light A Candle" - as my own contribution to lighting a small candle and seeing the light it brought to others.  I did nothing special.  Here's the story...

My friend Kelly owned a small cafe called Big Ruby's. It sat 40 people at full capacity, and was a real neighborhood meeting place in a lower class neighborhood with a middle class fringe.  It was the type of cafe where good and interesting food was well presented for very modest prices.  It had ambience, and provided the feeling of a big night out for those who would save up for a special dinner, and was "the" place to go" for a great cheap meal for those who found eating out more often more affordable.  Their yam fries were to LIVE for.
Rewind to Christmas 1997.  Dan, the cook at Big Ruby's had a crazy idea - that Christmas dinner should be available to anyone in the neighborhood who didn't have a place to go.  On him.  After a year of watching people walk past the cafe, he knew "the hood" and the people that never came in.  Kelly fully supported the idea, but had already made plans to go away to visit family out of town - so he handed Dan the keys and said "Make it Great - use what you need".  Dan put up the money for two of the largest turkeys I had ever seen, a hundred  plus pounds of potatoes, and everything else needed to make a traditional Christmas dinner.  All he needed was someone to serve the plates and help do dishes and clean up.
As a Wiccan, my holiday is Dec. 21st, the Winter Solstice - and given that I was a retail store employee, Christmas Day was usually for sleeping in, soaking my feet in Epsom Salts, eating well and resting up for Boxing Day.  My family is all out of town, and with no time off, visiting them was out of the question  It was a "day in" with my partner, my cats, and some rented movies.  When Dan told us about his plan - Jacinthe and I looked at each other, and said "We're there".
Dan arrived early that morning to get the food started - he didn't want any help peeling all those potatoes.  We arrived shortly after lunch, each with a change of clothes in case of Tragic Serving Disasters and a pair of very comfortable shoes.  We put some holiday decorations on all the tables, helped with the prep work, set up the beverage service area for expediency and put big signs in the windows of the cafe - "Free Christmas Dinner - all welcome - 4 pm - love, Big Ruby".  I called some of the shelters and social services hotlines to let them know what we were doing.  I also called the youth and adult hostels, thinking that people travelling might not have anywhere to go.  I called the crisis lines, the emergency health lines and anyone else I could think of that might be in contact with those in need.   At 4 o'clock, we opened the doors and waited. For about 30 seconds.  The door opened.
The first person in was a young man who had a light jacket, no mitts and no scarf. He had been waiting outside for a while he said.   He stood in the foyer, rubbing his hands together and said "hey, the sign says free dinner - what's the catch?"  No catch.  We seated him, brought water and  a coffee, and within minutes Dan had put together a perfectly plated traditional Christmas dinner - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, turnips, peas & carrots, cranberry sauce, and a slice of Christmas fruitcake for dessert.  It was the first of over 100 perfectly plated Christmas dinners Dan the Super Chef produced from the kitchen that day.   Our guest looked around, and said "I can't pay for this" and we patted his shoulder and said "Courtesy of Big Ruby" and left him to eat in peace.  Others were arriving.
The next group crowding the doorway were a group of 6 kids - I'd guess ages 16 to 5.  We put them in the big booth in the window, and brought them dinner.  They ate slowly, carefully - and then I realized that their hands were cold.  Instead of coffee, we gave them big mugs of hot chocolate, rich with milk.  The littlest one fell asleep, his head on the window, gravy on his chin, boots kicked off. The eldest brother asked if they had to leave right away, and we told them to take their time. Warm up.  Have some more to eat.
An elderly woman, frail as porcelain was leaning on the doorframe of the foyer - a little unsteady on her feet.  We seated her, and helped her off with her coat, her hands were shaking so badly that she had trouble with her buttons.  Her clothes were shabby, but clean, she was wearing some costume jewelery that was missing a few stones, her nails were polished, and her makeup had been brightly applied-colorful streaks due to unsteady hands.  She folded her shaking hands to say a small prayer over her steaming plate of food, and asked, very quietly, if she could please have "English tea" instead of coffee.  We pretended not to notice the little bottle of amber liquid she poured into the metal teapot, but just kept filling it up with hot water and brought her an extra teabag.  She ate with delicacy as if she were at a formal banquet, and sometimes mumbled quietly to herself.  We weren't sure who she was talking to, perhaps memories of Christmases past in better times.
More arrivals.  A steady stream of curious hungry hesitant people.  We seated people together if we could, because it is more enjoyable to eat "with someone" than alone.  It also allowed us to seat more people.  No one minded having someone to share dinner and some conversation with,  it seemed.  The Christmas music played softly over the fragments of conversations, but the predominant sound in the room was the clinking of silverware on plates, and the gentle thudding of coffee cups being put down on the tables.  Followed by that special sound of the holidays - the deep sigh of contentment that follows a good meal eaten slowly in a place of peace, comfort and joy - possibly more peaceful, comfortable and joyful than where some of these good people came from.
Our first guest had carried his own plate to the counter and asked if he could take some food to a friend of his who wasn't able to leave her rooming house.  We packed up two full meals, wished him Merry Christmas and he went out into the night.  Our family of children were finally warmed up enough to finish their meals.  We asked if there was anyone at home, and they said "just our mom, and she's drunk."  We packed up food for them too. We even packed up some less than choice turkey parts (no bones) for a pet at home.  The old man's hands were trembling with joy when I gave him the two take home containers, with the top one labelled "Toby" - he hadn't asked, but all he talked about was his dog - the only family he had in the world.
The ever present question was "Is it really free"?  Yes. It is free.  We had to work hard to convince one sweet older woman, who smelled of an abundance of rye whiskey and a shortage of soap that she didn't have to pay, do dishes, or even pray (her big concern) "I won't say grace - God doesn't love me" she snarled with her chin jutted out and eyes blazing under the brim of her stained acrylic toque).  Are we from a Church? No.  Do we own the cafe? No - the owner is letting us use it.  Do they have to do anything? No.  No payment - no prayers - no exchange required.  Just enjoy your food, and Merry Christmas.  Is there anyone at home or in your building that needs a Christmas dinner?  We started asking that question of everyone.  We packed up as many meals as we served.
The cafe kept filling up.  If there was no one in the foyer, people lingered and had a third or fourth cup of coffee.  But at those times when all seats were full, or a larger family group would arrive and there weren't enough seats "together" for them, people would either finish their meals, or simply move themselves over to another table to join make a three-some a foursome so we could bus the table for the new arrivals.  There were timid smiles, the occasional handshake between newly made friends.  We cleared plates and poured coffee and hot water for tea.  One person offered to wash dishes.  We gave her another piece of fruitcake instead.
People kept coming in a steady stream until 7:30 pm.  Old people, young people, people who were obviously homeless, people who looked like they might be "the working poor", people with their children, children without parents.  Some people were in absolutely filthy clothes, or visibley hadn't washed well in a while.  Some were just shabby, threadbare, underdressed for the weather, with holes in the toes of their shoes.  No hats, no mitts, no scarves.  Thin jackets. Multiple layers of  t-shirts, collared shirts, hoodies and a jean jacket.  Some better dressed, or the children were well insulated against the cold, but the mother or father had a thin cloth coat - so you know where the priority spending was.  All of them hungry, and many not just for a hot full meal - many of them were hungry for companionship - conversation - and a moment of grace or maybe graciousness.  We treated them like paying customers.  We wanted them to feel like our guests.
We poured coffee and tea.  We provided seconds on request.  We packed up meals for those at home.  We send many people out with steaming styrofoam cups of coffee, loaded with sugar and cream.  From time to time, we would seat people, or serve plates and take a moment to listen - to hold a hand, to touch a shoulder.  Then the three of us would go hide in the back for a minute and share the stories we were being told and have a bit of a cry - then wipe our faces, put on our holiday helper smiles, and get back to seating, carving, serving, busing and washing the dishes.
The stories were unique and the same.  I am alone. My husband died this year. My wife has Alzheimers and is in  a home and I have no one to share Christmas with.  My children are far away. I can't afford food like this.  I have no heat in my apartment. I live in a shelter. I don't live anywhere. My mom is drunk.  My dad ran away. My son doesn't speak to me. I lost my job and my benefits ran out.  Thank you for the best meal I've had in weeks - months - years.  Thank you for doing this. Thank you for caring. Jesus loves you. Happy Holidays.  God bless you. Thank you. May I hug you. Thank you.  God bless you. Merry Christmas.
 A group of people came from one of the hostels.  We moved the tables so they could sit together, and they sang Christmas Carols in German after their meal.  They left a $20 tip, and one word written on a paper napkin - Danke.  Sometimes we would find a quarter, or two under the plate when we cleared it.  A couple cabbies showed up - and asked if the free dinner offer applied to them to. Absolutely.  Every cab driver that came in for a meal made a significant donation to the cause - they just appreciated a hot meal and a moment of connection on a very busy day.  We tried to give all the tips and donations to Dan to offset the expenses he had incurred, but he put it all in the Winnipeg Harvest donation can on the counter.
Our first guest showed up again with some friends in tow.  They looked rough - really rough.  Our new "old friend" could see our apprehension behind the smiles and he winked and said "Its okay, they're with me"  and the six of them settled into the big booth by the window.  We still had an abundance of food - so we made big "man-sized" plates for all of them.  Our first customer ate another meal.  We asked how his friend enjoyed her take-out dinner, and his eyes misted up and he looked deep into his coffee cup. "she says thanks, eh and Merry Christmas.  I found another friend who is living under the bridge for the other one, eh. He says thanks too. He was too drunk to walk here."  His friends never said a word, just tucked into the food on their plates with the careful gusto of someone who hasn't had a big meal in a long time and knows that pacing themselves is the wisest course of action on an unsteady stomach.  They shook our hands before they left with another meal packed up under their arm.  They never met our eyes.
As the evening wore on, we kept sending food home with as many people as we could - especially the families. One mother of 3 started to cry when I put down a big bag full of carefullly wrapped takeout containers and said "For tomorrow".  Our goal was to have no leftovers.  At 8 o'clock we took the signs out of the window and started a slow cleanup around the last of our guests.  When the last guest was done, we wished them Happy Holidays, and locked the door behind them, and turned down the "front of house lights".  We had kept up on dishes as the evening progressed, and Dan had cleared and cleaned the kitchen, so we did the final bit of clean up and pack up, washed the floors and restocked the salt shakers and sugar bowls for the next business day.
We were done. Emotionally and physically exhausted - but it was a "good kind of tired".   Big hugs all round, and we turned out the lights, locked the door and put on our warm winter boots and thick winter coats and snuggly heavy mitts and hats and scarves and got in our cars and went to our warm houses and full fridges, and closets full of winter wear.  And then I cried for about 2 hours while I struggled with my feelings about the day - the mixture of joy and sorrow - of cheer and despair - of compassion and pity  - of caring and daring to share - of seeing people that are often invisible in the business of my middle class life.  I have so much. I know it. and I am grateful for it.
This is the story of my favorite Christmas.  And I share it not because Dan, or Jacinthe or I did anything special.  We simply did what was needed to be done.  In many ways, it was no big deal.  Really.
It was special because I saw the true joy of giving and receiving.  We gave so little - and it meant so much. We gave warmth - of space - of food - of the heart.  We nourished people - body, mind and spirit.  We were reminded about how much we have and how much we can take it for granted.  We treated each person with dignity - welcoming them,  seating them, helping them with their coat, chatting with them, giving them the gift of our time in a moment of caring,  saying goodbye and Merry Christmas to each person.  A different experience for our guests than going to aa soup kitchen, mission dinner, food bank, church basement - all good works of giving that are sadly needed in our world.  We tried to take advantage of the unique environment of the cafe to offer "Big Ruby" hospitality.  That made it different and special.
To me the stars of the day, the heroes of the story (aside from Dan the Superman Chef - who will be so angry with me that I am telling this story in such a public venue so many years later) - the real heroes were those who were brave enough to come in drawn by a handwritten sign in a window.  Who dared to believe in the goodness of people in a world that seems to have disappointed them so often.  Those who went back and got friends - or told others in their circle what we were doing - so many people came because someone who had just had dinner told them to come and eat.  Those parents who sacrificed for their children. Those children who were fending for themselves because their parents couldn't help them.  Those who dared to dream that they could have Christmas dinner and feel the festivity of the season for an hour or two.  They let down their barriers and shared a table with strangers and many laughed and joked and "communed" with others that began the meal as strangers and ended it as momentary friends.
To those heroes - I thank them.  For the learning - for the lesson - for the reminder of how fragile life is, and how much I have.   Thank you for giving me the best Christmas of my life - better than the mountains of toys I received as a child, better than my first Christmas in my own home, better than any Christmas since.   Big Ruby's is gone now - Kelly moved on to other adventures, and Dan moved on to another opportunity outside of Manitoba. Every December I wonder what happened to some of the guests we served that day.  I bless them, and wish them peace and thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Astrology? Really? Yup.


Pre-amble: Vanity Fair magazine is not a fashion magazine - it is a serious piece of cultural journalism that takes its name from the Thackeray novel.  It may have celebrities on the cover, and occasional puff piece /celeb society type articles, but the majority of the magazine is pretty hard hitting and insightful cultural commentary - and is often ahead of major media in exposing the soft white underbelly of our real world - when the glitter falls off, so to speak.

Having gotten that out of the way.....

I've been reading Vanity Fair since it's rebirth for a variety of reasons (I have been known to call it People Magazine for the Culturally Literate proving that yes, Virginia, I am a snob who likes to have interesting trivia and stories to tell at dinner parties and since my life is far from interesting or exciting - this provides me with good stuff).

One of the regular features I used to love dearly was Michael Lutin's monthly Astrology column, that ended abruptly about 3 years ago.  All the weeping and wailing and roaring terrible roars and gnashing terrible teeth did not make the Astrology column magically reappear.  Color me majorly disappointed.

I'm not a bit believer in the "slice the population into twelve neat pie wedges and here's your truth du jour" type of astrology. Having said that - Mr. Lutin's monthly commentary was frighteningly accurate and insightful. So glad to find him again on the web at - not the world's sexiest website - but functional and delivers the StarGoods in the way that only he can.

In addition to Mr. Lutin's esteemed Insights on the Stars (celestial), I have been fortunate to find another keen pair of eyes that watches the stars, and she is proving to be as insightful as Mr. Lutin - though she expresses herself much differently.  Georgia Nicols is a familiar face to those who read their daily horoscope in the papers, but I have found her more indepth writings to be - star powered.  AND - she was born in Winnipeg (a little home town pride there!)

Take a look back through your year and compare it to her "The Year ahead for 2009" predictions from the beginning of last year and see what you think. You may want to tune into these fine folk for some signposts along the road type guidance in the year ahead.  Never hurts to have someone make you look at the meanderings of your life with a slightly different point of view.  Anything that slows me down and makes me think - even if I don't agree - the new perspective is often a good thing.

Have a blessed Yule - and a safe Calendar Change Day on January 1.  Here's to the new decade.   And while you are singing Christmas carols with your family and friends this week - add this one to the mix ... and then do what you can to make it come true.

Blessings to you and yours.