A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 234: MosaiCanada 150

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Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday as a nation this year. The capital city of Ottawa, Ontario is my home and in many ways the center (or centre) of the birthday celebrations. But of all the amazing things that have gone on so far in Ottawa in 2017 to mark the occasion, from my perspective the most impressive one is happening right across the river in Gatineau, Quebec.

I had a chance to walk through the wonder that is MosaiCanada 150 in Jacques Cartier Park in Gatineau about a week ago. Here is a description from the City of Gatineau’s website:

For 107 days, Jacques-Cartier Park will host the biggest horticultural event in Canada, with MOSAÏCANADA 150/Gatineau 2017. Mosaiculture is a most spectacular horticultural technique that combines the following different art forms:

  • sculpture for the structure,
  • paint for the palette of colours, and
  • horticulture as the means of creating living and changing artworks with plants.

The theme of the Gatineau exhibit will reflect 150 years of history, values, culture and arts in Canada, represented by some 40 different arrangements. 

 

All the provinces are represented in different sculptures, as are key elements of history and culture, of the indigenous people and the impact of the arrival of the first Europeans and the waves of immigrants, creating the mosaic known as Canada. The beauty of the wilderness and the unique things that define this country are also on display. There are also contributions from China as an expression of goodwill and friendship for Canada’s 150th.

I was overwhelmed by the skill and artistry and the sheer scope of this project. It was beautiful and instructive and inspiring. If you are anywhere near Ottawa or planning to be here soon, I cannot recommend a visit more highly – It is free and on until October 15, 2017.

Here are more photos I took during my visit:

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 232: Sunday God Quotes – Corrie ten Boom

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“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983 ), author of The Hiding Place, provides today’s God quotes. She and her family were imprisoned by the Nazis in a concentration camp. Their crime? Hiding and aiding Jews in wartime Holland. Corrie survived three months of solitary confinement and the horrors of the death camp but lost her sister in the process. She was released due to a clerical error. A week after her release, all the women in her age group were sent to the gas chambers. She returned to Holland during the “hunger winter” and worked to give shelter to those with intellectual disabilities who feared for their lives under the Nazi regime.

Her story is harrowing yet she emerged as someone who always spoke of faith, grace and forgiveness. She is a true hero and a wonderful example of love conquering fear and hate.

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.
“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”
“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
“The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.”
“Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.”
“Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.”
“Let God’s promises shine on your problems.”
“Faith is like radar that sees through the fog.”
“It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.”

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 231: Saturday Life Quotes – MLK

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968 ) was a Baptist pastor and a civil rights activist with the soul of a poet. His words resound so strongly in my heart, not only as inspiration but as a reminder of the work that must continue in order to heal our broken world – work first of all in me, then outward to all I connect with.
More than ever, we need the strength of character and a true moral compass to guide us; we need to appeal to the better angels of our nature. MLK’s words continually point us in that direction.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 230: Cottage Days and Living Deeply

As each of my blog posts this week have been cottage-related, reflecting on my time with my family at a beautiful retreat in Quebec, I’ve decided to re-post an article I wrote three years ago following a few days at the same cottage. I can certainly still relate to the things I wrote. I continue to strive for this kind of living, despite how difficult it can be in the midst of “real” life…

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Cottage Days and Living Deeply

Can a few days at a cottage give you a better perspective on life? I’m not sure what it is about the quiet, simple hours, immersed in nature, but it brings out the Thoreau in me…

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. — Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”

Thoreau was in a little cabin on the edge of Walden Pond in Massachusetts for two years, two months and two days. I was in a cozy cottage on the  banks of Lac Joly in Quebec for about five days. He, quite literally, wrote the book on life in simplicity and nature. I barely rippled the surface of the depths of the kind of living he espoused. And yet because I find myself so willing to succumb to the environment on a cottage holiday like the one I just experienced, I find myself deeply effected by it all. I desperately want the contentment and peace I felt in those few days to stick to me all the year round. Upon return to “real life” I immediately began to feel those things slipping away. It was frustrating. Old habits return, discontentment creeps its way into my day, and I become very un-Walden like in a matter of hours in my so-called life in suburbia.

For five days I felt like I was really living. And I loved it. I find myself echoing Thoreau’s thoughts as I consider embarking on the normalcy of my day-to-day living: I do not want to live what is not life, living is so dear… 

So I’m looking to the feelings of a few days at a cottage to guide me for the weeks and months ahead. Can a few days at a cottage give someone genuine and inspiring guidance for the rest of their days? I believe it can. Let me share with you some of the insights that I hope will embed themselves in my spirit and, perhaps, can help guide you, too.

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There is no medicine as effective as fresh air 

Thoreau wrote that the only “medicine he needs is a draught of morning air.” I couldn’t agree more. We live a climate-controlled life; an air-conditioned, central-heated, hermetically sealed life. Ironically, however, all that control over our climate keeps us merely in a pathetic stasis – like a lifetime in a plastic bubble. Getting out of the controlled place stimulates your senses to life. Humidity makes your skin bead up with sweat, wind blows and cools you, sun warms or heats you up, water soaks your pant legs as you wander through the dewy grass, a buzzing pest gives you a good jab, you feel each root and dip in the ground through the soles of your feet, rain lashes or refreshes, branches and leaves scratch or stroke your arms and face. Out of the bubble of control you discover a place that forces you to really live – in all its beautiful, painful, perspirational glory.

And it makes you feel great! Even if you are hot and tired and have been assaulted by bugs, something deep down in you, something primal, feels so incredibly great! Why? Because you’ve lived! You’ve breathed deeply of the healing air the world has to offer; you’ve released control over your climate and let yourself become just another part of the world. This is freeing and it is healing. No drug, no Cafe Latte, no Booster Juice, no pharmaceutical marvel can compare to the high of taking a big gulp of nature.

For me this means being deliberate about those trips to the natural spa, all year round; planning time to just be and let the created world do its work on me. I took every opportunity at the cottage for those five days to hike, jump in the water, go for a kayak ride, breath deep and look and listen and let it wash over me. And it felt great. Why not take every opportunity that presents itself in my non-cottage days to do the same? There is a healing place waiting outside the bubble.

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The biggest happiness is found in the smallest things

I find myself so often overwhelmed by the complexity of life. Big, Busy, and Banal – that seems to sum up so much of what the culture around me reflects, celebrates and pushes on me. But I find so little happiness in complexity, in busy-ness, in the Big Things. In fact, so often those things are the source of discontentment, leading us to believe we need more money, more time, more stuff. From this will arise contentment and happiness, we are told. Yet the opposite is true. We just sink deeper and deeper into a joyless place. And we ourselves are digging that hole.

At the cottage, we could be in rapt attention watching the doings of a pair of hummingbirds. We’d giggle at the almost unbearable cuteness of those tiny birds when they’d actually take a moment to sit still. All activity ceased one early evening, and we were hushed to complete silence, when a pair of deer ventured onto the property. We collectively held our breath and marveled at their sublime beauty and grace. On a kayak ride, the subtle “bloop” of a loon surfacing nearby made my day as I gently floated just feet from that most excellent of fisherman. We eyed each other for awhile and respected each others’ right to be.

Thoreau wrote, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” I fear that often in our haste to chase the big things we trample the small things underfoot. Yet God speaks so much more clearly through what is “under our feet”. We expect divinity in the “Grand Design” but find it much more so in the details: the elements that escape our notice when we are too wrapped up in the Big, Busy and Banal.

Truth, Beauty, Joy – these are the things that give life a reason and a purpose. We can find them all around us in the smallest of things. But we have to slow down; we have to stop, look, listen; we have to cultivate an awareness. I am blessed to share my life with a woman who is exceptionally good at taking great joy from so many little things. She has helped me appreciate the flower blossom, the gold finch, the spider web, the color of dusk. She has a childlike love of these things that is infectious.

Perhaps it is that childlike sense I need to retain, as well. At the cottage, my sense of joy in exploring and experiencing is heightened. But there is no reason why I can’t maintain that in my non-cottage days, as well. God has provided a vast array of ways to see him in the details and to learn more about what is important from what we so often treat as unimportant. I am without excuse – I can find God, find contentment, revealed in the world around me. But I have to be… intentionally.

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I want to make a habit out of the practice of living deeply. Like Thoreau, when I come to die, I do not want to discover that I did not truly live. A few days at the cottage was enough to impress on me the fact that life is precious.

My life is precious. Your life is precious. Live deeply. Live well. Joy will find you and, ultimately, it will define you.

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 229: Wistful Cottage Art

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It has only been a couple of weeks but I am missing my cottage days of summer. This week I’ve shared some creativity that came from our stay at a cottage in Quebec. Today I share some wistful cottage art.

I had some leftover paint on student’s palettes at work and decided to use it to paint cottage scenes that were still in my brain: the rugged beauty of the pine trees we saw all around and the familiar across-the-lake view that any cottage-goer would recognize.  I have yet to  find a place that makes me happier or more content than at a cottage. Let’s hope there’s one waiting for me up yonder some day…

Both of these paintings are done with dollar store acrylics on leftover copy paper sheets.

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 228: Cottage Creativity, Part 3

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Monique painting on Lac Joly, Quebec – Photo by Zoe Kok

For my last installment of Cottage Creativity, I present a small gallery of small paintings done by my wife, Monique.

I have posted about her ability to translate the large landscape to the small canvas before. She worked that magic again this time ’round at the cottage. But she also put some of the small flora around the cottage to canvas, too.

The largest canvas here is 4″ by 5″ while the smallest is only 2″ by 2″. All were done en plein air. Monique has again given us proof that fine art doesn’t have to come in large packages.

As a bonus, see if you can spot the little guest making an appearance in the painting below…

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 227: Cottage Creativity, Part 2

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I don’t do plein air very often. In fact, up until a couple of years ago, I didn’t know what “plein air” meant. It comes from the French phrase en plein air (“in the open air”) and describes a style of painting done outdoors, observing your subject and the light and atmospheric effects first-hand while creating your artwork. The Impressionists were the first to make a strong habit of this style. It is a challenging way to paint as your light and atmospheric effects are constantly changing. So, in truth, you are getting an impression of what you are painting, not a photo-realistic image.

At the cottage we stayed at in Quebec a few days ago, I sat on the dock and attempted some plein air painting. I say “attempted” because I am definitely a novice at this sort of thing. But, I must admit, I enjoyed it immensely. It helped that the setting was so beautiful and so peaceful. Certainly, it was intimidating to begin. But as I got into it, I found it was so much more gratifying than drawing or painting from a photograph. I felt connected to the scene around me, far more than I have even when out shooting photographs of the natural beauty here in Canada.

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Plein air painting wakes you up. It is more than the fresh air, it is a fresh perspective and something that seems to draw on so many of your resources at once. The painting I share here was the result. It is not a masterpiece but it was authentically done, with the all of me that I was capable of putting into it.

Hopefully, into the future, me and plein air will get far better acquainted.

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Clouds Over Lac Joly, Quebec – Acrylic on canvas, 2017

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 226: Cottage Creativity, Part 1

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For a few glorious days early this month, my family and I enjoyed some much needed rest at our friends’ cottage in Quebec. I indulged in some Cottage Creativity while I was there (as did my family) which I’d like to share with you this week. The first part is a few haiku poems that I composed while sitting on the dock with my two 20-something kids. I decided to base the poems on observations of what was going on at the lake for that hour we relaxed together.

Haiku is a traditional Japanese form of  three-line poetry, usually composed of a 5-syllable line, a 7-syllable line, and a 5-syllable line. It is an exercise in sparseness of words to communicate much bigger thoughts. Below are the haiku I came up with on that beautiful August afternoon plus some photos taken on the lake.

Cottage Haiku

A loon all alone
Sings a lovely aria
Gets me every time

A loon on the lake
Submerges without a splash
And outswims the fish

Floatplane soars and roars
Casting a swift shadow down
That runs on tree tops

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Floatplane skims the lake
And gracefully touches down
Air to waterborne

Motorboat of fun
Glad you’re enjoying yourselves
But hate your music

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Thousands of green trees
Crowd the water’s stony edge
Like eager beavers

Fish breach and hop, flop
Jumping high for tasty bugs
Dinner and a show

Expanse of water
Fresh and cold, sparkling like gems
Magic to tired souls

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Boat/Shore shoving match
Pushing water back then forth
Loon bobs in between

Mama duck and babes
Serenely they pass on by
Me and my small brood

by Ronald Kok, August 1, 2017

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 225: Sunday God Quote – Meggie Royer

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“I refuse to be the wounded woman on a cross
that you crucify with your disapproval like nails”

I believe in God. Yet I find that often some of the most beautiful and insightful thoughts on God, faith and spirituality come from people who don’t believe in God. It has made me greatly appreciate them. The perspective they bring causes me to ask important questions about my perspective. Sometimes an atheist or an agnostic can teach me far more about belief in a song or poem or work of art than a year’s worth of sermons.

For my Sunday God Quote I give an example of that kind of creativity. It is a poem wonderfully crafted but also very challenging if you happen to believe in God. But don’t take that challenge as an affront; instead, take it as a means to a deeper understanding – of yourself, of the world, of your God. And, perhaps, a deeper understanding of those who don’t hold to your point of view. Art is meant to speak from an infinite number of angles in order to build countless bridges between people. Ultimately, it creates compassion.

The quote below comes from Meggie Royer, a 22-year old poet from the United States:

“My lack of faith in God is not a dilapidated house.
It does not need to be razed to the ground or burned down to cinders.
I refuse to be the wounded woman on a cross
that you crucify with your disapproval like nails;
I will only be the woman who believes in thunderstorms
the same way lightning loves the tops of trees it strikes
every time it gets tired of being pent up in an unforgiving sky,
the only difference is that I believe these are natural weather phenomenons,
not God’s belly rumbling or synapses firing.
When my doorway is filled with groups of people
wielding religious conversion pamphlets like crossbows,
I will be the martyr who steps aside to let the arrows
crack through the plaster in my wall instead of piercing my chest.
This is not a eulogy to the believer I could have been.
This is a battle cry to the believer I always have been,
believer in sunsets like splashes of paint, handholding
like willow branches brushing one another, new mornings
after old nights spent drowning in despair, believer
in love as an entire language instead of a single word.
Just because my beliefs align themselves on a different spectrum
does not mean they are the wrong wavelength or color.
And even though I think the universe was created by the Big Bang
instead of a God with magic dust shooting from his fingertips,
my universe does not contain fewer stars.”

Meggie’s Bio:

Meggie Royer is a writer and photographer from the Midwest who is currently majoring in Psychology at Macalester College. Her poems have previously appeared in Words Dance Magazine, The Harpoon Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, and more. She has won national medals for her poetry and a writing portfolio in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and was the Macalester Honorable Mention recipient of the 2015 Academy of American Poets Student Poetry Prize.