Sunday, January 9, 2011

Last Post - Fond Farewell

Dear readers,

This will be my last post.

After posting on my blog diligently every week for the last two years I have decided to move on to other projects.

Writing this blog has been an adventure of the soul. It has taught me many things about myself, about others and about the world.

I looked at life a little differently these last two years. A bit like a reporter would I guess, with an intense curiosity about what is happening around them and a desire to report events back to the rest of the world with their own spin and insights. I would go about my daily life on the lookout for intriguing books, movies, events. I would see deeper meaning in banal everyday situations. And I would ask myself "what thoughts and feelings do I want to share with readers in cyberspace this week?"

I plan to keep that spirit of inquiry alive. I want to nurture an attitude of wonder in all my new ventures. That is what this blog taught is all about perspective. There is always a lesson to be learned, in the momentous occasions as well as in the innocuous circumstances. You just need to open your mind and your heart to what emerges from your encounters. Magic happens. We all still have so much to learn from life.

Thanks for accompanying me along this journey.

Thanks for your words of encouragement along the way.

Many blessings,


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Quotes

A gift of quotes

This is my last post until January 10, 2011. I wish you a wonderful Holiday Season filled with happy memories like:
  • Watching the twinkling eyes of a child on Christmas morning;
  • Getting a big bear hug from a loved one;
  • Smacking you lips with delight after savouring your favourite dish - your sister's tourtière, you friend's latkes or your colleague's homemade chocolate truffles;
  • Receiving a homemade gift
  • Enjoying the sensation of big fat snowflakes landing on your face;
  • Feeling a deep sense of gratitude as you acknowledge the abundance around you.
Peace and love be with you always.

I love to collect quotes. All kinds of quotes. Quotes can convey powerful wisdom in just a few little sentences. Words that pull at heart strings. Words that are springboards to new understanding. Words that feed the soul.

Here are some of my favourite quotes about Christmas:

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ~Norman Vincent Peale

Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen. ~Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness. ~Bob Hope

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child Himself. ~Charles Dickens

Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect. ~Oren Arnold

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. ~Dr Seuss

>Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies!
~Francis P. Church
From the New York Sun, September 21, 1897.

Here is the integral letter to Virginia written by Francis P. Church for your reading pleasure.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A ring - a symbol of young love and a symbol of enduring love

My daughter was the first and only grand child in my in-laws family for the first four years of her life, until her little sister Maya was born. Needless to say, Nadia was the apple of everyone's eyes during those years. For her grandmother Luella, Nadia was even more special because Mom had four boys and she was thrilled to have a little girl in her life. A special bond developed instantly. That bond is even stronger now, eighteen years later.

Every Christmas, since Nadia has been seven years old, she and gramma spend an afternoon Christmas shopping together. Over the years, many traditions have evolved around this yearly event. For example, there is always a stop at the Cinnabon shop for a decadent cinnamon roll (that tradition is so ingrained that where they do their shopping is determined by whether or not that shopping centre has a Cinnabon store)! Nadia and gramma cap off their day of shopping by going out for supper at a restaurant. After the meal, they come back home and hide in Nadia's room to wrap all the gifts before maman sneaks a peek... (I have a bad reputation as someone who can't wait until Christmas to find out what she got, which I have overplayed over the years because the girls get such a kick out of it. One year, the girls rigged some of their "spy gear" around the Christmas gifts stash and an alarm would ring every time I would go near it. They laughed so hard thinking that they had outsmarted their mom. I would go near the stash on purpose so that they could "catch me in the act")

Last year was a sad year for all of us. Mom was battling cancer and having chemo treatments which left her weak and ill. For the first time in ten years, gramma could not go Christmas shopping with Nadia. So I took Nadia shopping for an afternoon and drove her over to gramma's house with her stash of newly bought presents, wrapping paper and of course, cinnamon buns from Cinnabon. I left Nadia with her gramma for a couple of hours of quality time for a modified annual Christmas tradition.

This year, mom is much healthier so the Christmas shopping extravaganza was back on. Nadia and gramma went shopping yesterday afternoon and came back home tired but happy with their purchases. Gramma remarks at how every year she notices how their conversations change. When Nadia was a little girl she talked about her friends at school and her favourite toys. This year, much of their conversation centered on Nadia's boyfriend and her love life. Nadia and her boyfriend will celebrate one year together this January. Nadia is in love and wanted to buy something extra special for her boyfriend this Christmas, a gold ring. Nadia and her gramma went from one jewellery shop to another until they found the best deal. Gramma will always be part of Nadia's story of "the day I got my boyfriend a ring". Nadia and her grandmother have a privileged relationship. How many young adults to do you know that would spend hours with their grandparent sharing their feelings, happy and sad, and bring them into their most intimate world?

A ring was also at the centre of a celebration last night. Instead of going out for supper at a restaurant like they usually do, I invited Nadia and gramma back to our house for a festive meal. Just to set the context, last October 8th, Mom and Dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Mom did not want a big celebration and so the important milestone passed very quietly. Around that same time, I had noticed that Mom was not wearing her wedding ring and asked her about it. She said that the ring was broken and she had to put it away so that it would not get damaged any further. I asked her if I could have the ring repaired for her as a gift for their 50th wedding anniversary.

During supper last night we toasted Mom and Dad on their fifty years of married life and I gave her back the ring that a talented jeweller had brought back to its original beauty. She was touched. We were all touched when she slipped the ring back on her finger and told us the story of how she proposed to Dad. Dad's Alzheimer is slowly erasing his memories. He did not remember that story but his eyes still shone with love for his wife as she took us all down for a walk down memory lane.

Mom and Dad have collected over fifty years of memories together. Those stories will endure and still be told at family gatherings for many years to come. New stories are being created with the new generation. The Christmas shopping tradition has generated many happy memories for Nadia and gramma. And those stories will also be told. Time spent with loved ones and the memories they create is timeless...

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Island of Misfit Toys

As a child, one of my favourite Christmas animated movie was the 1964 version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

I have always had a soft spot for Rudolph. I guess I could relate to him. I too was "different" from the other kids. I had two strikes against me. I was overweight and I was a nerd. I tried to fit in. I really did. But tried as I might, I always was an outcast.

Like me, Rudolph was teased and even ridiculed. After a while Rudolph started to believe that he was not as good as the other reindeers. He stopped trying to fit in and decided to leave his birthplace in search of a place where he would really belong.

Along the way, Rudolph meets a Christmas elf named Hermey who, like Rudolph, is a misfit. Hermey is not well liked by other elves because he would rather be a dentist than a toymaker. They decide to travel together accompanied by a prospector named Yukon Cornelius. On their journey, they come upon the Island of the Misfit Toys, a dumping ground for all the toys that are unloved because they are not up to standards. Some of the Misfit Toys are a "Charlie-in-the-box" (rather than a Jack-in-the-box) a spotted elephant, a train with square wheels, a bird that doesn't fly (but swims), a cowboy who rides an ostrich and a boat that sinks.

On the Island of Misfit Toys, Rudolph's difference is the one thing that allows him to belong. Everyone on that island stands out from the crowd. They are unified by their differences.

It took a wise old soul; Santa Claus himself, to recognize that Rudolph's difference was actually a blessing. On a stormy Christmas Eve night, Rudolph's red nose led the way. In that instant Rudolph's difference became his best asset.

As a child, I longed for someone to appreciate my differences. I longed for a place where I could belong, like the Island of Misfit Toys. Eventually, I found that place but first, I had to accept my differences.

I think that we have all experienced a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer moment in our lives. For some, the "moment" lasted longer than for others. Be proud of your differences, your own personal "Santa" is waiting to recognize you and celebrate your uniqueness.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas: a job or a joy?

"OK girls, I thought that this year since you are both teenagers we could skip the Christmas tree thing and save ourselves a bit of work. What do you think?"
The girls looked at me in horror. How could their mother be such a "Grinch"?
"What do you mean no Christmas tree?" they said in unison with an incredulous look on their face.
"Well, I didn't think you would mind because you don't help me decorate the tree or to take the tree down after the holidays so I thought you didn't care one way or the other" I said in my defence.
"Oh no, you are wrong! We do care. It would not be Christmas without a traditional Christmas tree in our family room"
Maya was the most passionate of the two. She said "Nadia had Christmases with all the trimmings every year of her life. She is now eighteen. You have to keep decorating the house for Christmas and get me an Advent chocolate calendar for at least another four years until I am also eighteen just to be fair!"
"What about a small artificial tree on stand instead?" I bargained.
"No. It's got to be a regular tree with all the trimmings." they insisted
"Are you going to help me decorate it then?" I asked.
"Of course we will!" they said. (We'll see about that...)

There seems to be two experiences of Christmas in our household: mine and theirs. My experience of Christmas is a mile long "To Do" list, dish pan hands from cooking and cleaning, blistered feet from shopping which leads to exhaustion by the time the big day arrives (a bit like planning a Wedding every year and looking back at the end of the day and saying to yourself "that was great but I can't believe it is already over after all those months of preparation". Their experience (I'm referring here to my husband and my two daughters) is one of Eggnog sipping, desert sampling, and afternoons of relaxing watching Christmas shows on TV.

I don't know how I have inherited the job of Christmas master decorator, baker, shopper, gift wrapper, and all around Christmas cheer maker. And to be perfectly frank, I resent it most times.

To be truthful, I am fully responsible for this state of affair. Something has got to change... I don't want to dread all the work ahead of me to prepare for Christmas. I want to have a happy Christmas this year. I want to enjoy the whole experience and make choices with my eyes wide open.

Is decorating the house an obligation or a fun activity? It is a matter of perspective wouldn't you say? Aside from the Christmas tree (which is a non-negotiable apparently) I don't think the girls really care which Christmas knick knack I take out of the boxes in the basement. I know that my husband won't even notice if I decorate the house or not.

There are no rules that say that if you are a good mother you bake several batches of Christmas cookies and stock your freezer full of brightly coloured tins filled with million calories worth of sugary treats. (Is there?)

And for the longest time I believed that a gift was an indication of how much you loved someone therefore I would put myself under huge pressure to find the "perfect" thing to express my feelings. By the time Christmas rolls around I am so tired from all the preparations and so anxious to get everything just right that I have to admit I am not much fun to be around. What if I reframed my thinking? What if I chose a new belief: a gift is just a gift and what makes someone feel special and loved is the quality time you spent with them.

As they say "If it is meant to be, it is up to me". So I started "Operation Happy Christmas 2010" this very day. I asked each of my daughter what was their favourite Christmas decoration and took those out. I went through all the boxes of decorations and only took out my favourite ones and I enjoyed finding special spots for those decorations throughout the house. The house looks festive and I am not missing the decorations from Christmas past that remain packed away in boxes.

As for the baking, I've earmarked a Saturday in mid-December and we will make it a family affair. We will each bake our favourite Christmas cookie while listening to Christmas music and drinking eggnog. We will only be making four recipes this year - one recipe per person. That should be plenty! And, it will be fun too!

This year, I want to give experiences to the people I love rather than store bought gifts. I will buy tickets for concerts, plays, or sports events and enjoy an evening in the company of my loved ones. Making memories together is better than a gift card from a big box store any day!

What about you? Are you an overworked Christmas elf or a cheery Mrs Claus at Christmas time? Will you do anything differently this year at Christmas time?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Our Deepest Fear

This week I want to share with you my favourite poem. Whenever I read it I am reminded of how amazing we humans are. If only we would let our light shine more often and more brightly, what a different world this would be...

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is
within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson
Note: I am travelling on business for the next two weeks. My next blog will be posted on November 28.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Need to schedule your down time?

I woke up with a start in the middle of the night remembering that I had forgotten to change time on the clocks to Standard Time. Before I went to bed, I had set my alarm for 8:00 am so that would have time to get ready to teach my 9:00 am yoga class but did not remember to change the time on the clock. Here I am wide awake at 5:30 am confused and a bit panicked. Do we move back the time one hour or move it forward? "We move the time back an hour" said my husband drowsily as I nudged him awake at 5:30 am. "Oh yeah" I thought, "I get to have an extra hour of sleep". I tried to go back to sleep but I tossed and turned, my subconscious still worried that I would somehow mess up and miss my yoga class. I woke up every half hour or so until I finally gave up and got up for good at 7:30 am. I got immersed in household tasks and ran out of time. I left home in a hurry at 8:45 cutting it much too close even though the fitness club is only 5 minutes away (if I am lucky and get all the green lights). I got to the club with just a couple minutes to spare before the start of my yoga class, out of breath and feeling stressed. Kind of ironic isn't it that I have to rush to go to a yoga class? Finding time to relax seems to be a stressful proposition for me.

According to an article entitled "The Time Crunch Takes its Toll" in the Globe and Mail, this Tuesday (November 2, 2010), I am part of a growing number of Canadians who are in a perpetual time crunch. The authors, Tralee Peace and Siri Agrell asked busy Canadian professionals to share their stories and opinions about on coping (or not) with the work-life juggle.

Asked what one thing we would like to change to improve work-life balance:

  • 17.2% said they would like to do less work followed by more money (Wouldn't that be the very best scenario? Surprising that this number is not much higher!)
  • 15.1% said they want more vacation (Again, how come this number is not any higher?)
  • 8.1% said they wanted a different job
  • 8.0% want a more interesting job (Maybe it is the same 8.1% who want a different job!)
Some 33% of Canadians have come to the same realization I did (almost 9 years ago) when I decided to work part time, four days a week rather than the usual 5 days of week, which reduced my pay cheque by 20%. Granted, I did the equivalent of 5 days work in four (often skipping lunches and staying late) but I had the luxury of having my Fridays off to do a workout and take care of some household duties which freed up my weekends to spend more quality time with my family.

Now that I work for myself, I rarely have a day "off". I actually work much longer hours, weekdays, evenings and most weekends. Since my office is in my home, there is no time off unless I am disciplined enough to put aside work for a period of time. It is very tempting to check emails, catch up on paperwork, prepare for the meetings and workshops of the following week, all in an effort to get organized and save time in the long run (very ironic!) Now what am I going to do about that? I will need to set some clear boundaries and schedule some "relax time. I hope that one day it will become part of my weekly routine to set aside some days of rest (weekends would be a good start!)

According to this article, 20% of leisure time has shrunk between 1998 and 2005. Vacations (and leisure time) take some planning and it appears we do not even have time to schedule down time either. Instead we let the vacation leave we are entitled to lay unclaimed. In Canada in 2009, a staggering 36.5 million vacation days have been unclaimed!

Our employers have a good thing going here because not only do we not take all of our vacation leave, but millions of us work unpaid overtime. Up to 2.6 million employees over the age of 15 worked unpaid overtime every week in 2007 and I am sure that this number has grown significantly over the last three years judging by what I see and hear when I visit workplaces these days.

To be fair, we cause much of that stress ourselves. Whether you like to admit it or not, it is the choices you make and the attitude you adopt that cause you stress. I had more than enough time to leisurely get ready for my yoga class this morning and leave in plenty of time but somehow, I missed the mark. I would agree with Mary Jane Copps who is quoted as saying "I often don't pay close enough attention to the time needed and then suddenly I'm overwhelmed or off-balance."

The article cites that when asked who most frequently cause us stress, Canadians admit that they themselves are their biggest cause of stress.
  • Themselves: 3 times per week
  • Spouse or partner: 2.1 times
  • Kids: 2 times
  • Colleagues: 1.9 times
It would seem that geography and culture has an impact on our work-life balance. According to the authors of this article, Pearce and Agrell, if you live in Quebec 50 to 54% of the population says that they are "very happy". Ontario is the bottom third with 40 to 44% and British Columbia is the very least likely to say they are "very happy" with 35 to 39%.

Francophones are often described as "bon vivant". A "bon vivant" is someone who is jovial and takes life in stride. A "bon vivant" enjoys the good things in life like good food and wine and socializing with friends. Maybe there is some truth to the saying "choose your attitude, choose your life"? I would think that Quebecers have very similar time pressures and responsibilities as their British Columbia counterparts but perhaps they manage it differently.

As a Franco-Ontarian with Quebec roots, some would call me a "bon vivant". Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the impromptu kitchen parties at Christmas time (especially) and other family gatherings. My aunt or my grandmother would get on the piano cranking out traditional "chansons à répondre". Someone would pull out the spoons and tap out the rhythm, someone else would take out the violin and everybody, adults and children, would sing and dance. If these kitchen parties are any indication of the French culture's aptitude of celebrating life and enjoying each other's company, then maybe this explains why, given similar life circumstances as other Canadians, Quebecers seem to find more ways to be happy.

But you know, this ability to find happiness throughout life's ups and downs is within everyone's is simply a matter of choice.