Imagination

Lying on my back, bedspread pulled up to my chin, I stared at the curtains framing my bedroom window. The ballerinas that adorned them were dressed in pink and white, positioned in various poses. As I watched, one of them moved, bending over gracefully to touch the tip of her pink slipper. This wasn’t the first time she danced in front of me while I fell asleep.

Photo credit: Alexandre Tsuchiya

I loved to let my imagination roam. I loved fairy tales and passed a lot of time imagining that I was Cinderella in a beautiful, pale blue ball gown being swept around the dance floor by my handsome prince. I pored over well-known stories like Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel. I especially loved Hansel and Gretel and despite the wicked witch, wished I could be with them in that gingerbread house adorned with tantalizing confectioneries.

Photo credit: Šárka Jonášová

I often preferred the imaginary world to the real one. There, I could do anything, be anything, but still feel safe. Bath towel fastened with a safety pin and hanging full length down my back, I was Superman. In those days, we didn’t think women could be superheroes. Jumping off the couch, cape billowing behind me, I soared through the air, arms outstretched.

I also had strange experiences, two which are etched in my memory. I was five years old, and it was a hot summer day, so hot that all I could do was sit on the front step of our split-level house and stare at the road fifty feet away. I remember holding my head in my hands, my tank top sticking to my skin. I was thirsty and felt a bit weak but I didn’t want to move. It was easier to stay seated although it would surely have been cooler indoors.

As I became hotter and more uncomfortable, I heard the distant sound of music coming from down the road. At first I couldn’t see anything, but as the music got louder, a marching brass band came into view. All of the musicians wore black pants with burgundy stripes up the legs. Their black jackets were trimmed with gold shoulder epaulettes that matched the gold tassels on their tall black hats.

The whole scene was a bit unusual because although the music was loud and clear, all of the musicians were surrounded by a shimmering haze, almost as though they were being enveloped by the intense heat rising from the pavement. To add to the bizarre scene, Ronald McDonald was bringing up the rear, marching in an exaggerated motion, a huge grin on his face. He too shimmered in the hot afternoon sun. As the band passed and Ronald McDonald drew closer, I saw that he was scooping candy from his huge pockets and throwing it into the air.

Not one to miss out, I jumped up from the doorstep and ran as far as the ditch. Ronald McDonald saw me and threw something in my direction. I didn’t grab for it right away. Instead, I waited and watched as everyone moved on, disappearing over the hill. Only then did I bend down and pick up a piece of Dubble Bubble bubblegum. I ran back to the doorstep where I sat down and peeled off the yellow wrapper. As I popped the pink gum into my mouth, I basked in my good fortune.

That same summer, I was playing with my oldest brother, Andrew, and a few of the local kids in the narrow strip of woods that separated my parents’ giftshop from Mr. and Mrs. Thorne’s property. The Thornes were a retired American couple who seemed ancient to me. I didn’t know them, but to we children, Mr. Thorne had a status of mythical proportions: the mean old neighbor to avoid at all costs.

My father operated a small pony ride close to the giftshop, and from time to time, the ponies would escape and end up in Mr. Thorne’s yard. My brothers, who were only nine and ten at the time, were in charge of the rides, so youthful neglect was likely the reason. One day, I remember seeing Mr. Thorne walking up the road, leading Cross and Mayflower, the two ponies who worked the pony ride. He didn’t look happy, and I took off running.

As we ran through the woods, daring one another to go closer to the Thornes’ property, we suddenly froze. There in front of us, leaning against a cane, was an old man dressed in a tuxedo with a black top hat, shoes and cane. What startled me most was that the man was wearing a white mask which slightly resembled the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, only a scarier, ghost-like version.

The old man looked at us and in a high-pitched, quivering voice said, “You kids stay out of my woods.” In a flash, we were running for our lives. The other kids took off down the road in the direction of their homes while Andrew and I ran at top speed back to our house. At supper that night, we reported our terrifying encounter, and I remember my father saying, “It was likely Mr. Thorne trying to scare you away. Stay out of that section of the woods.”

Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

Years later, I asked Andrew if he remembered what happened. He swore he didn’t. I couldn’t believe he would forget something like that. “I think you’re remembering a dream," he said.

Dreams? Childhood fantasies? Reality? I'd love to know.

Self-Medicating

If you know me, you know my son Max is a singer-songwriter and that he recently launched his debut album, Not Your Outlaw. Of course, I headed out to Fishbones Oyster Bar & Grill, the launch venue, to celebrate the occasion. Knowing I would be outnumbered by the younger generation, I found myself a safe spot at the very end of the bar close to the stage where Max and his band would be playing. I realized later that I had made a bad choice. People buy drinks at the bar (duh), and I was also sitting in the direct path to the bathroom.

By the time things were getting started, I had fueled up with a Pepsi, so I was ready to roll when the opening act hit the stage. People immediately crowded on the floor to watch, listen, and dance. They were drinking, stumbling, jostling, and making out. It got warm, it was sweaty, and the music was loud. I'd forgotten what it was like to be out so late, surrounded by so many people under the influence. At one point, I felt overwhelmed and a bit shaky, so I asked the bartender for some ice water. After a couple of gulps and a few deep breathes, I started to feel better.

When Max and his band took to the stage around 12:15 a.m., the crowd roared its approval. I felt proud.

Max worked hard to bring this album to fruition, and I was happy to see people appreciating his efforts. I was completely wrapped up in the music, energy and enthusiasm.

The longer I sat there, however, the more I began to study the young crowd. Then I started to reflect. I'll admit I was taken aback by the amount and level of inebriation. When you're sober, you notice things like that. In my party days, I wasn't often sober so I didn't realize how chaotic group drunkenness can be.

I was reminded of the younger me, drunk, thinking I was having the time of my life. But I wasn't. In reality, I felt badly more often than not. I was dealing on and off with depression and starting to experience warning signs of the crippling anxiety that would overtake my life. I drank because most people in the bars were doing the same thing, but I was also trying to escape the prison of my mind. I used alcohol to self-medicate.

Given my experience, I couldn't help but wonder what led these young people to be in the state they were. Were they simply having a good time? Were they dealing with self-esteem and confidence issues? Were they feeding an addiction? Were they trying to feel better than they usually do? I'm sure it was any one of these things and more.

As much fun as I had at Max's album launch, I have to say that seeing so many people in an altered state awakened some painful memories. In fact, the next day, I spent a lot of time thinking about self-medication and why we do it. There are lots of reasons, some I've just mentioned, but a couple of others quickly come to mind.

A large number of us are suffering from moderate to high stress on a consistent basis. Although all sorts of things can stress us out, the big ones are money, jobs, illness, and family or relationship issues. I've stressed over all these things and more. Based on my experience, I would suggest that before you use mood-altering drugs, stuff your face with Häagen-dazs, or do whatever it is you do to deal with stress, try exercise, deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness, a creative outlet or counselling. I've done it all. It really works.

Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental health disorders, and I, along with millions of North Americans, have experience with them. When you just want to curl up in a corner and never emerge, when you're in the throes of panic, anything that makes you feel better, even briefly, seems worth it.

Unfortunately, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol only causes more serious issues down the road, does nothing to address your problems in the long-term, and usually worsens your symptoms.

If you require medication for mental illness, make sure it's prescribed and that you're being followed by a medical professional. Also, explore alternative approaches, and never underestimate the power of exercise, diet, sleep, and therapy.

Watching Max on the stage as he launched his debut album was one of my proudest moments. Watching people falling all over themselves was a bit difficult. I really hope that most people were simply having a good time that night. I also hope that the ones who are struggling, like I was, will get the help they need.

And one last thing: Rock on, Max! I love you!

A Little Rant

I was raging so I decided to rant in writing. There were no thoughts on how to calm down, accept what is, or let things go. No, this was full out, angry whining.

I’ve got a lot going on but I still try to make time for doing things I enjoy. In order to post weekly on my blog,

I usually write a rough draft on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, and throughout the week, I re-visit my draft a few times to do some revisions.

Recently I wrote a draft blog post and saved it. A couple of days later, I opened my dashboard to do some revisions. Much to my surprise, the draft wasn’t there. I thought it was a glitch so I closed the site and logged in again. Still not there.

Then I did what any reasonable person would do. I threw a temper tantrum. After that, I emailed my site administrator to see if he could work some magic and find my lost draft. He did, and all was well.

Why did I get so angry? It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a setback considering my busy schedule. Two hours of work on a precious Sunday morning down the drain. The prospect of starting all over again was not appealing.

The temporarily missing post was a good one. I was tired, and I knew I couldn’t remember enough of what I wrote to easily reproduce it. I didn’t want to start all over again. I was very tempted to simply post: NO BLOG ENTRY THIS WEEK DUE TO TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. It would have given me a break.

But I knew I wouldn’t be happy with myself. I thought people who read my blog would be disappointed. I realized this was my ego talking, and most likely, no one except for me would really care if there was a new post that week.

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of self-help books, done spiritual work, and practiced going with the flow so I find it interesting that a minor setback like this left me in such a state. Perhaps it was a sign that I was tired, trying to do too much, and needed a break.

Perhaps it was a sign that I still have “work” to do. But I think I’ll cut myself some slack, admit I’m human, and accept the fact that despite my best efforts, there will be times I let my emotions get the better of me.

After all, didn’t Jesus himself throw some tantrums? Like the time he got all ticked off and upended tables in the temple? I figure if he wasn’t immune to the occasional fit of rage, I don’t have to be either.

Even though I try to be positive with my blog, I’m not always positive. Sometimes things happen, and I don’t deal with them very well. I figure writing about my frustration and sharing it with you is better than punching a wall. That would hurt.

Thank you for listening.

Let them Grow – Let them Go

"Prepare your child for the path, not the path for your child."

More than once I've shared my views on child-rearing. Most of us are doing our best. We're not perfect, but we're doing a decent job. Still, there's a disturbing trend in parenting which was reiterated to me recently when I browsed an article about how we're raising fragile kids.

These are all true stories:

• Officers came across a teenage boy who was chopping wood with a small axe. When questioned, the boy said he was building a fort for himself and his friends. The officers took the tool and returned it to the boy's parents.

• A preschool received a set of gently used playground equipment. The kids weren't allowed to use the equipment because it was sitting on grass, not wood chips. A daycare spokeswoman said it was a safety issue.

• In Parents magazine, the following question was asked: "My child's old enough to stay home briefly and often does. But is it okay to leave her and her playmate home while I dash to the dry cleaner?" The response from Parents magazine: "No. Take the kids with you or save your errand for another time. You want to make sure that no one's feelings get hurt if there's a squabble."

So...a teenager can't use a tool, preschoolers can't play on the grass, and a tween has to be protected from a possible disagreement with a friend. WHAT?! This is precisely why we end up needing safe spaces on university campuses. (Aside: I'm all for campus safety and not being subject to sexual harassment or physical abuse. In this case, I'm referring to the increasing demand from students to be protected from ideas and speakers they don’t like.)

Our kids are being taught to be so careful about what they say that they may just have to stop talking. Heaven forbid if someone feels offended. Whatever happened to free speech? What's happened to free inquiry and open debate?

Of course we want our children to be safe, but our efforts are overdone and are backfiring. We are raising kids who aren't able to deal with risk, failure or even hurt feelings. And modern child-rearing practices, even laws, are enabling this. When did we make it such a challenge to grow up and better yet, why?

I also read about a term called moral dependency meaning that kids are being taught to have authority figures solve their problems and shield them from discomfort. This means they are ending up more fragile, easily offended, and reliant on others.

If you're under forty, chances are you didn't have large amounts of time to play unsupervised, explore your surroundings or resolve conflicts on your own. More likely, parents and authority figures were right there scheduling your time, putting limits on how far you could go without them, and jumping in to handle conflicts you found yourself in. Sorry, but this has not helped you, and you may be hypersensitive as a result.

I saw a disturbing statistic that only 13% of kids are walking to school. I know that not all of us live close enough to our schools for the kids to walk, but it pains me to see parents walking middle and older elementary kids to school when they live just two or three blocks away. I live close to an elementary school. I see it happening every day.

Sadly, those parents who shove their kids out the door telling them not to come home before supper are often put under the microscope and accused of being neglectful. I've heard stories where parents have been investigated for allowing their children to play at the park without adult supervision. What we fail to realize is that if kids are doing things on their own, they aren't automatically in danger. In fact, our society is safer for kids than ever before, and there are statistics and research to prove it.

University counseling services claim to be dealing with a decline in student resilience. Emergency counseling calls are increasing and often involve young people's inability to cope with everyday situations: arguments with a roommate or a B grade. There's no doubt that a number of these calls relate to mental health issues, and it's a good thing the stigma is slowly disappearing, but our kids are also failing at being adults, and the stigma for that is disappearing as well. That's troubling.

We have to let our kids climb trees. We have to stop overprotecting our kids emotionally. Kids need to experience challenging - even upsetting - experiences to learn resiliency. One of the best ways to do this is lots of time for free play. This doesn't include organized activities because in these cases, adults run the show. It's only when the adults disappear that kids can take over.

Child development experts say that free play is training for adulthood. When adults aren't around, little kids try to do as well as the bigger kids and don't cry if they strike out, for example. This way, they learn the basics of maturity. In these situations, bigger kids tend to help the little ones and learn empathy. Without adults hanging around, kids have to learn to solve problems themselves. Sure, they argue - even fight - but they eventually get back to having fun. (Note: I'm not talking about bullying here. That's another issue entirely.)

In his book, Free to Learn, Peter Gray says: "Nothing we do, no amount of toys we buy or 'quality time' or special training we give our children, can compensate for the freedom we take away. The things that children learn through their own initiatives, in free play, cannot be taught in other ways."

I'm saddened by the way that some child-rearing norms have changed. Freedom to be a kid and experience life's ups and downs has almost become taboo. By trying to keep children safe from all risks, obstacles, hurt feelings, and fears, we have taken away the opportunities our children need to become successful adults. In treating them as fragile—emotionally, socially, and physically—we make them so.

Peter Gray also says that "Children today are safer and smarter than this culture gives them credit for. They deserve the freedom we had."

I agree.

Decisions

"It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped." - Tony Robbins

It's taken a long time, but I'm learning to be less impulsive. Whenever I come up with one of my brilliant new ideas, I sit with it for a while. After some reflection, I usually decide it wasn't so brilliant after all.

Photo credit: Felix Russell-Saw

Now, whenever I decide I want something, I think about it for a while. There are still times I give in to my impulsive side, but I like to write that off as spontaneity. Gotta have a bit of fun.

One thing with being naturally impulsive is that I'm usually quick to make decisions. Sometimes that's a good thing...other times, not so much. Still, I've never quite understood how people can hum and haw over a pair of shoes, a couch, a purse or a set of golf clubs. In my mind, you either like it, need it, want it, or you don't. Simple.

On average, we make about 35,000 conscious decisions every day. Some of those decisions are easy - white underwear or black; others not so much - stay in a job you don't really like or go back to school. However, no matter how big or small, every decision shapes your life to some extent.

Photo Credit: Jens Lelie

As quick as I am to make decisions, I've sometimes avoided doing so and instead, allowed others to make them for me, from minor decisions like choosing a restaurant to major ones like determining the direction of my career.  In these cases, I recognize that I'm turning my power over to other people and giving them the right to determine the course of my life.

The end result is that I may not get what I want. As difficult as some decisions can be, I'm learning that each time I look them square in the face, the more self-sufficient I become.

When I don't want to make a decision or feel I'm incapable of making one, I need to remember that the answer - the only possible answer - lies within me. Only I can understand how various choices will impact my life and well-being. I can talk to people and ask for opinions and advice, but ultimately, I'm the only one who can weigh the advantages and disadvantages of any decision I make. The same is true for you.

Not all decisions are profound or life changing. In fact, of the 35,000 we make every day, most of them aren't. However, don't underestimate the impact that your decisions can have on the direction of your life over time, and don't let the fear of making bad decisions stop you. Often the "wrong" decisions can lead you in unexpected directions, and at the very least, they'll teach you to make different choices the next time.

As you make more informed and autonomous choices, you will begin to direct the flow of your life. Therefore, weigh your decisions, take some time to make the bigger ones, but don't drag the process out endlessly.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."



Photo credit: Jamie Templeton

Minimalism on the Inside

"Declutter your mind, your heart, your home. Let go of the heaviness that is weighing you down. Make your life simple, but significant.” - Maria Defillo

There's lots of talk these days about minimalism. If you ask The Minimalists, they'll say that minimalism is:

...a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.

Photo credit: Olia Gozha

I agree that minimalism can be a tool for all these things, but in its basic sense, it means not owning a lot of stuff. That's why I like the concept of minimalism. I don't like having too much stuff (books don't count). In fact, if I had my way, I'd probably get rid of half the stuff in my house. My husband doesn't concur. Yet he knows that the day we sell our house, a lot of things are going to disappear.

Lately I've been thinking about widening my minimalist scope to focus on increasingly more subtle levels: body, mind and spirit. There's no doubt I could do a bit of housecleaning and get rid of excess baggage in relation to all three. Here's my plan. I hope it inspires you.

Body - I haven't been treating my body from a minimalist perspective. I've been reckless with my diet and I've been eating mindlessly. The result: weight gain. For many years, I could pretty well eat what I wanted when I wanted. Not anymore. It would be very easy to make excuses as to why I'm in this position but I won't. Instead, I'll admit that I haven't been taking the time to prepare healthy meals, I've been eating too much, and I've been treating myself to sugar and fat laden foods on an almost daily basis whereas I used to do that once a week.

Although I've been somewhat active, I haven't been exercising as much. That's not good because exercise is so critical to my overall health and well-being. Last Sunday, I saw a short video clip where a local fitness leader was talking about exercise. To paraphrase, she said, "It's not about fitting into the skinny jeans. It's about being able to put your bra on by yourself when you're seventy-five and being able to wipe your ass." That spoke to me. It was also funny.

Photo credit: Kari Shea

So, it's time to reverse some bad habits I've developed. I want to continue putting on my own bra and wiping my own ass. Therefore, I will take a more minimalist approach towards indulgence and a more maximalist approach to healthy eating and exercise.

Mind - I read that we have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day with 98% of them being exactly the same as the day before. And of those thousands of thoughts per day, 80% of them are negative. We're our own worst enemies!

I'm trying to have a more positive outlook, even when things aren't going well at any particular moment. Negativity still creeps in, but that's ok. I'm simply going to try and take a more minimalist approach to it. In addition to fostering a more positive attitude, I'm going to work more on forgiving; letting go of negative past experiences, grievances, bitterness and resentments; and focusing on living a life that's more consistent with my desires, goals and values.

Spirit - I recognize that my soul needs care and nurturing. If I live my life in a mad dash, I won't have time to clean up my inner landscape. Therefore, I need to slow down, take time to examine my needs, clean off the accumulated dust and grime, and restore my soul to  brilliance.

I also need to re-engage in some spiritual pursuits. I haven't decided exactly what those will be yet, but I'm going to do something that will allow my essence to sparkle and help me fulfill my purpose. A bit of soul searching can go a long way in decluttering old thoughts, habits and ways of acting.

Photo credit: Vladimir Malyutin

I believe that physical clutter is a manifestation of mental, emotional and spiritual clutter.  If you want to take a more minimalist approach to life, you might want to consider starting with the inside. Regardless, start somewhere and see how you feel. I bet you'll say, "Better."

Quit the Busy Game

How are you? Busy. How are things? Busy. What's new? Not a lot...just busy.

More and more I'm trying to avoid this default answer. It's like being busy has become a status symbol. On the one hand, we complain about being too busy, and on the other, we feel ashamed if we're not.

I've often rattled off the reasons I'm busy like some badge of honour when in reality, all I'm demonstrating is that I'm making poor choices. Let's look at some of the busy myths I've deluded myself with and a few reality checks to go with them.

Work is busy - Sure it is. But if I'm going non-stop and working too much, there are likely a number of things at play: I'm not prioritizing; I'm failing to delegate; I'm taking on more work than I can handle, meaning I need to better negotiate time lines and even say no; or I'm suffering from a hefty dose of self-importance.

If you're inclined to climb the work ladder, the accepted notion is that if you're not busy you'd better pretend to be. The reason? We glorify busyness. If leaders and managers look busy, well darn it, I should too.

I'm starting to say, "Screw that." If I die tomorrow, a few people where I work will be sad and two days later, someone else will be doing my job. In other words, I'm trying to keep it in perspective.

There's so much housework to do - Indeed. I used to live in a five-bedroom house that I kept spotless. That's a pretty big job when you have kids and are working full time. However, there are options. I could have hired someone to clean it, but I didn't. Instead, I downsized and moved to a very small bungalow. I also relaxed my standards.

I'm learning to live with a bit of dust and a few fingerprints. I don't scrub the floors as often. Still, things look good enough that I'm not embarrassed if someone pops in unannounced.

I'm busy with kids' activities - I know...it's tough. Having kids, particularly wee ones, takes a lot of time and energy. But we often bring it on ourselves. I mean, how many activities does a kid need to be involved in, and do we have to sit and watch every one?

After working all day and then having to do cleaning, laundry, meal prep, and yard work, I was tired. I wasn't great to show up to every game that my kids had. I dropped them off at most practices and picked them up later. I think they've forgiven me. They're also the first to say they had good suppers. Hey, pick what you're good at. I wasn't a good hockey or soccer mom but I'm a good cook.

I've got a lot of extra-curricular activities - Cut back. I'm only now learning to say no to certain things. Don't get me wrong. If you're doing something that you love, give it your all. But cut back on the things you're doing out of a sense of obligation.

You don't have to volunteer for all the school or sporting activities, church committees, or fundraising drives. Yes, it's good to help out, but consider the other things on your plate and keep it reasonable. Even things you love can become burdensome if you're on the go all the time so relax!

At one time, a leisurely lifestyle was considered a sign of wealth and success. Now the marker has changed and it's busyness. Interestingly, in Europe, leisure time is valued more. For example, in many European countries, if you talk about working all the time, people either think you're a loser or that you're not very interesting.

It's a common misconception that appearing to be busy — even if we're not — is a signal that we're valuable, whether it’s to our bosses, colleagues, families or friends. In reality, being too busy usually means we're letting down family and friends as well as hurting ourselves.

One of the real reasons we say we're busy is that it makes us feel that we matter. Being busy all of the time can also be an avoidance behaviour, a refusal to deal with certain unpleasant issues in our lives. After all, if you simply sit on your veranda and watch the traffic go by, you may find yourself thinking that you hate your job or don't love your partner. Those are difficult things to think about.

For the sake of my health and sanity, I've made a conscious decision to be less busy. I also know that if I wax on to someone about how busy I am, they're really not impressed.

Likewise, when I ask someone what's going on, I like to hear things like, "I'm taking time to relax," "I just did a painting,""I'm restoring an 1860's farmhouse in my spare time" or "I just took up ballet." Now that's a whole lot more interesting than listening to someone whine about how busy they are.

The takeaway? Slow down and put your feet up. You'll be happier, healthier, and a lot more fun to be around.

Let the Fun Begin

"You don't stop having fun when you get old; you get old when you stop having fun."

I grew up absorbing the Protestant work ethic that self-worth is largely determined by how much time you spend toiling (a lot) and how much time you spend relaxing (not a lot).

As a young kid, I played, but as an older kid and into my teens, I spent more and more time doing chores, cooking, working weekends and summers in the family business, and holding down other part-time jobs. I suppose this trained me to get things done and go the extra mile, but I can't help thinking that I missed out on some fun.

Writing = Fun

Then came adulthood, children, illness and life's general demands. There was a bit of fun in the mix, but not enough. I was too serious about life. Now I'm fifty. I have most evenings and weekends to myself so I feel like it's time to make up for lost opportunities. Victor Hugo said that fifty is the youth of old age. Well, I'm ready to play!

Here are a few things I've started doing and other fun things I envision for my future. I hope you find some inspiration here.

Spending time with my tribe - The right people are entering my life (young and old), and I'm appreciating more the ones who've been with me a long time. I want to enjoy others' company.

Writing - I started this blog over a year ago, and I haven't missed a week yet. It's a commitment I made to myself, and most weeks, I enjoy putting something together to post. I'm also involved in a series of memoir writing workshops that are changing my life. Writing has improved my mood, allowed me to unburden my soul, and taken the weight of the world off my shoulders.

Creating - I'm surrounding myself with creative people who share the beauty of life in their own unique way. To begin opening up more to my creative side, I painted a picture a short while back, and I think I may do more of that. I've also discovered that I LOVE doing collage.

Being a bit weird - I want to be one of those eccentric old women with wild hair and a face full of wrinkles who wears weird clothes and doesn't care what anyone thinks. When I'm ninety, I want to pinch the handsome young men's bums because they'll simply laugh me off as a crazy old lady. Kind of bad ass without being really bad. I'll also have two or three cats, and I'll talk to them a lot.

Challenging myself - When I'm 100, I want to do a charity walk, a long one. I'm going to figure out a way to meet royalty. They'll always talk to old people for no other reason than that they're old. I'll push myself out of my comfort zone and travel a bit but not too much because I'm a homebody who loves her routine.

Enjoying music - I can sing you a lot of songs from the 60's, 70's and 80's but nothing much from then on. I seemed to fall off the music bandwagon. Life got busy, and I stopped listening to new music. I want to change that. I'm not really into the top 40 stuff, but I'm interested in great indie music. I plan to get out more and listen to live performances, especially emerging artists.

My Collage

I want to drink in the sights, sounds and flavours of life. We're here for such a short time. We don't need to make life difficult because difficulties will find their way to us without our help. But when those difficulties arise, and they surely will, I plan to stare them straight in the face and tell them to f*%k off. They're not going to bring me down. I've hit the ground more than a few times in my life, so I'm figuring out how to deal with sucker punches.

I've often bemoaned the fact that I should have taken other jobs, gone other places, met other people and lived other lives. Then I realized my life isn't over yet, so I will do all of this. If you take the attitude that your best days are behind you, they pretty much are. So I'm taking the attitude that my best days are ahead of me. My goal is to find the silver lining in everything. Life can be dreary at times, so every minute that's not, I'm going to have fun. Are you with me?

 

Hug a friend

"I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming… suddenly you find – at the age of 50, say – that a whole new life has opened before you." - Agatha Christie

Growth after Adversity

"Action is the antidote to despair." - Joan Baez

We all face adversity. We experience pain. We suffer. We deal with things like injury, assault, accidents, illness, divorce, environmental calamaties, financial hardship and death. Yet, we often underestimate the human capacity to thrive after adverse events.

Most of us are familiar with PTSD, but researchers have now discovered a more common experience resulting from traumatic events: posttraumatic growth (PTG). PTG is the tendency to experience meaningful and positive change as the result of crisis or trauma.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have determined that most people who experience a crisis - natural or man-made - will not only return to equilibrium, they will experience positive benefits that were prompted by the crisis:

  • 1. a greater appreciation for life;
  • 2. new priorities in life;
  • 3. improved or renewed relationships with family and friends;
  • 4. increased personal strength;
  • 5. a more rewarding career path; and
  • 6. spiritual growth.

Experiencing PTG doesn't mean that people haven't suffered. It simply means that a lot of people develop new strengths and discover new possibilities through the process of coping with adversity and crisis. The more we handle adversity, the better we become at dealing with it. We all have our limits, but within reason, adversity makes us stronger, and by facing it, we become more confident.

Photo credit: Evan Kirby

One thing to remember is that social support is important during times of trouble. Although we are now more "connected," isolation and loneliness have reached epidemic proportions. Therefore, people who are feeling alone need to find communities with similar interests and start developing

relationships. During times of trouble, those connections offer support.

Finding a way to add meaning to a loss or crisis, or to identify some positive outcome, may lessen the impact of a traumatic event. This often happens when people have been victimized in some way and take on an advocacy role. They haven't eliminated their grief, anger, confusion or hurt, but they've chosen to channel it into something positive.

Life isn't always easy. However, in the aftermath of tragedy, we can learn to rise up, reinvent ourselves and move forward with a new sense of resolve. Remember, a wounded heart has wisdom that a joyful heart has not yet gained.


Mother’s Day Without Your Mother

"A mother's hug lasts long after she's let go."

Imagine this. Your mother falls ill, and a few months later, she's gone. My mother lived that experience. On June 27, 1959, my grandmother died at the age of forty after a short battle with cancer. Mom was sixteen.

While her mother was in the hospital, Mom visited briefly only a couple of times. The thinking at the time was that children needed to be protected from this sort of thing.

My grandmother, Helen, and my mother, Myrna
Christmas 1958 - My grandmother died 6 months later

After her mother’s death, Mom stayed home from school in order to help her father in the family’s general store. She also wanted to be around for her five-year-old sister and fourteen-year-old brother. This proved to be a bad decision because she never finished grade twelve.

Although Mom knew her mother's death was inevitable, she was still shocked when it happened. Naturally, she felt sad, lonely and lost.

On top of that, she had to deal with her father who, in his grief, turned inward and became deeply depressed.After her mother’s death, Mom stayed home from school in order to help her father in the family’s general store. She also wanted to be around for her five-year-old sister and fourteen-year-old brother. This proved to be a bad decision because she never finished grade twelve.

Mom had some support: a beloved housekeeper, an aunt, and a few women in the community who included her in some of their group activities. She also dealt with people who meant well but made thoughtless comments.

"Your mother's death was God's will. He needed her."
"I know how you feel." (They didn't.)
"You should stay at home with your father."
"You don't need more education. You'll get married and raise a family."

Although my grandmother has been dead for fifty-nine years, tears still well up in Mom's eyes when she talks about her. Mom says that she missed not having her mother around during her adult life, and she regrets the fact that her mother never met her grandchildren. In fact, she feels her mother's loss more profoundly now than she did when she was younger.

Occasions like Mother's Day can stir up painful emotions for those whose mothers have died. If you're missing your mother today, here are a few things that might help.

  • 1. Plan to do an activity that you enjoy.
  • 2. Spend time with other women in your life.
  • 3. Share memories of your mother with your children, partner or friend.
  • 4. Spend time with your dad if he's alive.
  • 5. Spend time in a place your mother enjoyed.
  • 6. Look at photos of your mother.
  • 7. Write a letter to your mother to update her on what's been going on in your life.
Helen MacMillan

Losing a mother you love is painful. Many can attest to that. If your mother is no longer alive, honour her today by taking some time to cherish her memory and being thankful for the love you shared.

Have a blessed Mother's Day.