our third annual valentines day spa night: in pictures!

Yep, it’s been an entire year since the last spa night, can you believe it? Just when you think your hips recovered from last year’s belly dancing (and also Kendra’s notorious chocolate dipped strawberries)!

Once again the young adult girls from Bethany Chapel came out in style to send a little love back to the Lincoln Park Calgary Housing women  – women who spend the majority of their time taking care of everyone else. Each year the girls try to out-do themselves in small ways, and this past week was no exception. Not only were the traditional foot scrubs and hilarious bright-green face masks available, but also some killer make-overs courtesy of Nyaluak. The new ‘photobooth’ was an additional hit, giving the women a chance to show off Nya’s masterpieces.

Our sincerest gratitude to everyone who was involved; it was a lot of work but gave rich rewards. Spa night is always a time to celebrate the relationships we have made during the previous year, but more importantly this event proves what beautiful, genuine, connections can be made through simple offerings of touch and kind words. See some of the moments below!

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our lives are not our own

dinner blur (2)

This phrase returns repeatedly in Cloud Atlas, a film detailing mysterious connections between various characters throughout eons and plot lines. A radical idea, echoing the Corinthians verse: “you are not your own, you have been bought at a price”. In the film, this thought was enough to spark revolution and new religion, yet we like to keep similar sentiments to the confines of greeting cards and coffee mugs. What does that mean – to belong to others?

When you get down to it, a large chunk of what we do to lead our lives successfully depends on the deposits and withdrawals of trust or reciprocal favours we exchange with other humans. Another way to define this give-and-take is the term ‘social capital’. Granted, we have done a fantastic job in our highly commodified Western culture to avoid these webs of relationships by means of money. If we are lost, cold, or hungry, we can use hard currency to fill our needs, no relationship needed. However I strongly believe, when push comes to shove – the “true true” as Tom Hank’s character says – relationships are all we are and all we have.

I never felt this reality so strongly as at the end of my Asian travels this past fall. After his brother’s wedding, my boyfriend returned home from Vietnam, leaving me to make the last leg of the journey, including a final visit with his family, solo. Despite no direct connection to me, these people blessed me to the point of embarrassment; the beautiful straw cone hat they shoved into my hands before I boarded my flight is still hung on my wall as a constant reminder of their hospitality and kindness. Yet my amazement only increased when I realized, these people were not even related to my boyfriend, but the family of a family friend! The thin strings of relationship on which I relied  – connections far too abstract to ever be acknowledged on a LinkedIn account – were incredibly fragile, yet managed to hold me. There was absolutely nothing that obliged them to take care of me so well, no social capital, except for the request of people they trusted.

I have no doubt that any one in the backpacking community would have similar stories to this. As illogical as it sounds, this system ‘works’, time and again, far more frequently than it fails. What does amaze me, however, is the presence of this strange phenomenon in my own backyard of Lincoln Park.  As we middle class folk flounder trying to wrap our heads around this, the poor intuitively get this. My neighbours stare at me when I talk about this in amazement: for them it’s not just common sense – it’s survival. It is well known that relationships with otherwise strangers who share your immediate siutation, rather than families or professional services, are what ultimately keep food on the table and your children in school, not paychecks.  Once over coffee I asked a wonderful older Iraqi woman in my neighbourhood, who is known for her generosity and service to others, how she could give so much, even when it hurt her own welfare. She took my hand between hers and straightened every inch of her 4’10” frame, beaming, “Angelina don’t you see? We have nothing, I have nothing, nobody have nothing. All is a gift! I am theirs, they is mine, this is how the world works.” If only she could be summed up on a coffee cup!

In the current capitalist system, capital is always based on scarcity, and social capital is no exception. Somewhere, at some point, lines are drawn between who is in and who is out in the circle of favours. Common sense shows that to ask for help too many times without ‘giving back’ is to risk the donor losing their sense of generosity. Likewise, capitalism always allows businesses to ‘externalize’ production consequences from budgets, essentially rationalizing “this isn’t my problem”.

These are all excellent reasons for why a philosophy of grace is a terrible philosophy for any sustainable business plan. In true community there is no tally possible, and absolutely no externalization. The world, and its people, is fundamentally ‘our problem’. Naturally, this is no shallow risk; our stuff, our security, and even our reputation is threatened. Yet as this remarkable little Iraqi grandmother said, the risk is worth it because we belong to others every bit as much as much as they belong to us. Charity doesn’t even start to cover it.

It makes me think, when we practice hospitality with our houses, our stuff, our connections, and so on, we’re giving others complete license to be an inconvenience. It is good to ponder, then, when, where and with whom do we draw the line of whom is given this license? Which people in our social sphere are considered ‘our problem’? With whom do we invest our reputation, our identity, and our prospects? And to whom do we belong?

This is undeniably risky. But we owe no less – we owe our very selves.

– E

today we were reminded of the crucial nature of community.

And not just its merits, its rag-tag beauty, its spontaneity and surprise. All that is marvellous and miraculous and often inconvenient. Our first tomato, served by our downstairs neighbour who shares our backyard garden. Samosas brought to the door hot with a ‘happy Ramadan!’ just in time to fill a hungry belly and empty fridge. Empty freezie packets and extra friendship bracelet threads scattering the carpet. All that is absolutely part of our day to day living, our routine of dwelling and knowing and being. But today we realized it can mean the difference between life and death.

We heard, recently, that a man in our complex had died. They didn’t find him until 2 days later. He lived in a single basement suite. In a community where kids go door to door, sharing kitchen utensils and rice as their mothers gossip and cook, borrowing bikes from our yard and stopping by after school, we didn’t notice. No one noticed the absence. The strangeness of a pocket of silence, in all the noise. It seems impossible, when so many people fill a small space. When we share walls, when we know, intimately, the smell of a neighbour’s cigarette or their fondness for death metal. We don’t know what caused the death. But I know we could have noticed. Someone could have noticed. When we heard, Kendra gathered flowers from the reservoir and put some in a jar by his door. Little touches, rituals of acknowledgement. How we metabolize loss from a distance.

When I was away at camp, a friend of a friend on staff killed himself.  He was successful and well-liked, and the news came out of nowhere. My friend who knew him drove to Edmonton for the funeral and came back, courageously, to work.  Around the dying sparks of campfire, he told the kids with a voice laced with urgency how none of us have to think it’s up to us alone to brave the valley. That we are surrounded by the utmost love and we can never think it’s ungraspable. His words were hinges that night. These teenagers with their buoyant wit and zany hairstyles started spilling story after story about the depression and possibilities of suicide they had waded through; some, in the midst of it, some survivors with their bright smiles the only visible testament. We shared, cried, and walked back wrapped in each other’s coats and sorrows. We faced all sorts of hidden grief and aloneness the only way we can – together.

Another friend from Scotland was staying at the Casapluma for a few weeks after that, and told us one day that a friend back home had committed suicide. He was shocked. This friend had just gotten baptized, was firmly integrated into the church family. What kind of darkness seeps so deeply within that even those who seem closest can’t see it? When did it become such a shameful secret to be breakable? I remember sitting down in summer-warm grass after being attacked by flying hugs on my way home from the bus stop, pushing dark hair out of one of the neighbourhood girl’s eyes and pulling out, gently, like a sliver, why she was so sad. I wish it could always be that easy. But then, maybe it is – at least, maybe for a start.

The kids came over yesterday to return Kendra’s bike bell and chat. We hung out on the back porch catching up as the younger brothers ran races around the garden. Amidst various other topics of conversation (One Direction, Eid, the upcoming talent show) the man’s death came up. One of them said that it makes them nervous to know anyone, that it’s scary. Yeah, I said. But this is why we need each other. We need to take care of each other. I looked around at the circle of somber faces, my heart squeezed tight with love for them. Knowing within the next few minutes they would be smiling again. Knowing that, somewhere inside, they understood. As the good book says, joy comes with the morning.

– c

summer photo update!

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

– e e cummings

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life of late

edIMG_6705edIMG_6621edIMG_6784edIMG_6828edIMG_6808edIMG_6837edIMG_6836edIMG_6838These were all taken before the seemingly endless period of grey and rain we are currently enduring. Sigh. Heads up and hearts strong for sun!

 

a culmination of quiet moments

We treasure the sabbath breaths of peace and stillness that permeate our life. Here are some that happen to be documented. In between these, picture a flurry of ins and outs, accumulation of schoolwork and dishes, newly re-discovered neighbourhood friends (many 10 years and under) and conversations on sisterhood, bell hooks, and the arbitrariness of hemispheric delineations. Yup, figure that one out. – c

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Community Easter Extravaganza

Hey dear hearts. We’re running a community easter event on Saturday March 30th: chocolate egg hunt and crafts for the kiddies. If you’re invested in the community and/or part of it yourself, feel free to come help out! 11 a.m., meeting at the gazebo in the Richardson Road park / green space. We’re thinking it’ll go till around 2 p.m. Comment here or email thecasapluma@live.ca. – c

Earth Hour @ The Casapluma

Earth Hour is tonight, from 8.30-9.30 p.m.! Don’t stay home alone – come to the Casapluma for some candlelit jamming and company. 8-10 pm. Bring a song you know by heart or a poem to share. All welcome. – c

adventures in the average

Starting a ‘radical’ intentional living experiment can be shockingly…ordinary.

After the full days of move-in productivity, there’s a lot of silence. The plates ar481099_10152648399165652_2140342071_ne stacked, the throw pillows are plumped, and our macgyvered coffee-maker-turned-tea-kettle steams hot and poised for tea action. Things are ready for a first grass-roots-hospitality-as-justice-community-as-development-intentional-sustainable-missional encounter! But the kitchen table stays stubbornly empty.

In the silence you find yourself edgily staring out of windows at neighbours shuffling hurriedly from cold car to warm door. It’s like being in far right field, waiting tensely for the whole inning, jumping at every bat crack.  A person emerges from the row of closed doors to toss their garbage? You’re off like a gunshot, half-filled trash bag and brilliantly casual conversation-starters in hand. But the ball doesn’t even reach the grass: the conversation is quickly doused with a polite smile and efficient heel turn. And…. you’re back in the kitchen, scratching at paint flakes on the table and watching minutes stretch.

Finally, many mundane afternoons later, factors come together and you do ‘encounter’ a neighbour. You excitedly (inner monologue: “but not too excitedly, that’s desperate and creepy – don’t be creepy.”) sink into the business of (“meaningful!”) relationship building that you’ve prepped for: gaining their trust in small ways (“don’t push it, be genuine!”), discovering their needs (“avoid any and all paternalism!”) and digging for those small connecting points that will put you on level ground (“empower dignity!”). In the rare chance this connection does meet all these swirling inner expectations, and you don’t walk away from the dumpster mentally kicking yourself, the fact is that the conversation still had to end. Relationships can’t be made in a couple curbside conversations, ergo “kitchen window time” might have to be your norm for a little while longer. Better make the most of it.

I begin to realize now, time at the window does not need to be purgatory. It can be a good place too. Maybe later Casapluma will do much, but for right now it’s good to be faithful in the little things; in watering Jacob, our poor startled spider plant, and in stocking the bookshelf with subversive reads. Maybe in this silence I will turn and realize, I’ve been talking ‘theory’ or ‘vision’ with my roommates for far too long. After all, it’s often the ones live closest to that are the last to get undivided attention and vulnerability. And, just maybe, further down the line I will look back at this note, hankering for a little more time spent staring out of windows.

– e

Prologuing

Flash flurries outside Phil & Sebastian’s. I’m reminded of the absurd spontaneity of mother nature in Calgary, so often used as rationale for the Canadian magical realist tendency in our writing – this is magic, of a sort, the kind that shocks and surprises and brings us together in comical awe. Maybe Robert Kroetsch was on to something.

I am thinking about the Casapluma and how things have fallen together equally magically. I once wrote that I do believe in magic, I just believe it all has a name. If there’s anything that specifically resonates with me out of Blake’s writing, it is the assertion that God is to be mystified at. All of this marvelous mystery, manifested in the quotidian. Among many of these instances: the way the oak set matches the piano, and the coffee tables are the perfect height. The way the piano sounds, out of tune and all, like echoes at the bottom of a well, notes ringing out from underwater. The beautiful Ikea bookshelf and the way our book cohabitate so comfortably. How we didn’t pay for any of our furniture. How we were blessed with so much food we still haven’t gone grocery shopping. How I mentioned one morning to Heather that we didn’t really need anything, but a microwave and a kettle would be nice, and that same day Ann gives me a microwave and Arlene drops by the church to offer an extra kettle. Insert comical Kroetschian awe. Thank you thank you thank you to all who have been part of this, and in the process, enlarged our capacity for wonder.

At the thread shed, all the kitchenware we could need. Two dish drying racks. Beautiful bowls and tea supplies, that once conglomerated, fill the cupboard. Amazing friends who paint walls and move furniture, and a twin mattress that fits perfectly as the window seat. The prophetic drawing given to Kendra of a sun, shedding feathers. The bird figurines scattered throughout the house. The peacock feathers in a jar. Even the tacky parrot cushions. Evie’s verse of the sparrow’s nest. The psalm I love of being sheltered by God’s wing, covered in his feathers. Sanctuary.

In a week, we have already learned the names of many of our neighbours, been gifted with greenery and wine, and given away soup. We have danced in kitchens to old records and jammed to 90s worship songs, read poems and nestled by windows.

It’s a start. And a pretty good one, I’d say.

– Celine