I Love Halloween (But I Curse Chocolate)

In a prior post, I shared my love for September. This extends to the fall in general. I love the colours…. love the crisp air… love the comfort foods… love the clothes (Hello sweaters, boots and coats – I’ve missed you!). I have also come to love Halloween. I’m not sure that this was always the case, but having kids changed everything.

I suppose that all children love Halloween… I mean, what’s not to like – playing dress-up, staying up late,  and eating candy? Sounds pretty good to me!

Despite having 10 cousins, my kids have only one cousin close in age – who they adore! Four years ago, we invited her to come trick-or-treating in our neighbourhood and a tradition was born. Every year, we invite all of my husband’s family to join us for the evening. The group varies from year-to-year, but we usually have somewhere around 15 people at our house. We order in food. The kids inhale something quickly so that they can get out the door. The older cousins have always been wonderful about accompanying them around the neighbourhood. And the grown-ups hang back and have a great evening.

I tell you all of this because what is typically just a frivolous, candy-filled day/evening has become somewhat of a family holiday for us. And I know, without a doubt, that the kids will always have wonderful memories of Halloween as a result.

Now, for my love/hate relationship with chocolate… For the most part, I subscribe to the adage of “all things in moderation”. Giving up any one food group has never worked for me. I once attempted the South Beach diet, which requires you to eliminate carbohydrates in the first phase. I lasted one day. On Day 2, I broke down and had a bagel for breakfast.

Fortunately, I tend to prefer healthy food – given the choice, I would pick a salad over fried foods every time. However, I have one very big weakness: chocolate!! I don’t typically buy it myself. But I am in big trouble if it enters the house through other means – e.g., as a gift, through my husband or kids, and Halloween. You see, it’s not just a matter of having one or two chocolates. I tend to eat them all – at once!  And damn those little Halloween chocolate bars… their deceptively small size allows me to justify eating five of them in one go!

My chocolate issues aside, I love this day and what it has come to represent.  My minion and firefighter are counting the hours until they can scour the neighbourhood with their cousins.

Happy Halloween!

The Sh*t Sandwich

You’ll have to forgive me for the title of this blog post – I just couldn’t resist!

I am currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear.  A friend (Nancy Hotson – check out her wonderful blog here) recommended the book to me.  And then, without knowing this, my mother gave it to me for my birthday.  Coincidence?  I think not!

This is Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame.  In Big Magic, she discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.  By this, she means not only writing, acting or painting, but also infusing our everyday lives with more creativity and passion.  She encourages readers to live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.  The book is divided into six sections, each devoted to a quality that Gilbert believes is necessary for living without fear:  courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust and divinity.

Without going into a ton of detail, let me just say that this book landed in my lap at exactly the right time and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  So back to the shit sandwich…

In one of her chapters, Gilbert references a blog that she read (entitled 7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose – genius!).  In this blog, the author asserts that the secret to finding your purpose in life is to answer this question:  “What’s your favourite flavor of shit sandwich?”  What the author means is that every single pursuit involves some kind of disagreeable aspect.  In other words, nothing is pleasurable or uplifting all of the time.  So, the key then is to find something that you love enough that you can handle the rough patches and ride out the inevitable bad days.

This got me to thinking about the roles that I have held…  As a former management consultant, most would say that the extensive travel was the shit sandwich.  I would probably say that it was the never-ending pursuit of the perfect PowerPoint pages.  And as a former executive recruiter, it was the candidate reports that were inevitably written at night because the daytime hours were reserved for calls and interviews.

Anyway, I thought that this was an ingenious way of looking at work.  We all need to understand that not every day will be perfect.  The best we can probably hope for is 80%.  But it is critical that you are able to ride out the 20%.

I’m still trying to work out what the shit sandwich will be for writing.  Because there’s always one waiting for us!

Why I’m OK with Failure

In one of last week’s blog posts, I shared some of the big life lessons that I hope to teach my children.  One of them was “it’s OK to fall; it’s how you pick yourself up that counts”.  I think falling/failing is an important part of life.  We learn a lot from these experiences.  I really do believe this… in theory.  But not when it comes to myself.

I have an intense fear of failure.  I always have.  And, for the most part, this fear has served me well.  Over the years, it has propelled me to get things done.  It ensured that I never disappointed my colleagues or clients.  But it also meant that I put unnecessary pressure on myself.  And that I probably said “yes” at times when I should have said “no”.

I am absolutely loving my writing course.  I’m learning a ton about novel writing and am more convinced than ever that this is what I want to be doing.  So far, we have covered the structure of a novel, transitions, character and point of view.  The class content has been so rich.  However, I have been struggling with the assignments.  More to the point, I have been struggling with the fact that all of the assignments are intended to culminate in the first chapter of my novel and an outline of the rest of the book.  I’m just not there yet.  I have been toying with several possible plot ideas, but haven’t zoned in on the “one”.

Last week, I came to the conclusion that I had one of two options (the recognition that I actually have a choice was a huge step forward for me!):  (1) I could fake my way through the course by picking a random plot idea and dutifully completing the assignments, or (2) I could accept that I still need time for my idea to evolve and not undertake the weekly exercises.  I chose #2.

I cannot even begin to tell you how unusual an experience this was for me.  Anyone who knows me well knows that my default answer is always “yes”.  But, I am learning that I don’t always need to rise to the occasion.  I don’t need to accept every challenge that comes my way.  And so, I have let my writing teacher know that I will not be handing in the assignments.  On the one hand, this is a huge relief, but on the other, it is very strange knowing that I will technically “fail” this course.  Yikes!

Interestingly, in this week’s class, my teacher talked about getting our first book published.  She spoke firsthand as to how arduous a process it can be.  It is a process that is often replete with rejection.  While I choose to remain optimistic about my writing journey, I also need to recognize (and embrace!) that this failure might be but the first on my road to becoming a published author.

The Power of Silly

I believe deeply in the power of “silly”!  Silly was a cornerstone of my upbringing.  I have wonderful memories of my mother and grandmother laughing until tears rolled down their faces – my grandmother pulling Kleenexes out of unmentionable places to dab at her eyes.  My father once chased me several blocks to a friend’s house during a game of tag (I should add that I was a teenager at the time!).  And my brother used to laugh so hard at the dinner table that he would literally throw himself from his chair.  Don’t even get me started on his kitchen figure skating (he will kill me for sharing this!).

Let me back up a bit.  What do I mean by “silly”?  For me, it means laughter… it means letting your inner freak out… it means acting crazy and goofy without concern for what others might think.

The average four-year-old laughs 300 times a day.  The average 40-year-old?  Only 15!  Kids are fantastic at silly. It is not until later in life that they learn to care what people think of them and reign in their silly.  But while it lasts, there is no better sound in the world than that of a child laughing.

Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones.  Think back to the last time you laughed so hard that your stomach hurt.  Wasn’t it the best feeling in the world?  And didn’t it make you forget, at least temporarily, about all of your worries?

I was reminded of this feeling today as I was belting out Adele’s new song “Hello” in the car.  Let me be clear, I was not blessed in the vocal department.  But that doesn’t stop me – I love to sing and dance in the car.  It makes me happy.  More importantly, it ensures that my tendencies toward road rage are kept at bay 🙂  My daughter, who was sitting in the back seat, piped up to say:  “Mommy, you’re not very good”.  We then killed ourselves laughing.

My daughter embodies silly.  She is shy, but once she gains a degree of comfort with someone, watch out!  Her inner freak comes out with a vengeance!  She has been known to sing made-up songs, do free-form poetry, invent stories, tell silly jokes and dance her heart out.  There are times when I’m busy with day-to-day stuff and lose my patience with her.  But truth be told, I admire her ability to let loose.  And I recognize that I need to do everything I can to help foster her “silly”.

My husband and I regularly have tickle fights with the kids at bedtime.  I’m quite certain that this is an ill-advised sleep ritual.  Many would probably argue that it gets children riled up.  And maybe it does…  But I like to think that it sends them to bed with happy thoughts.

At this very moment, my husband is scooping out pumpkins with the kids in preparation for Halloween.  I can hear them laughing and commenting on how the seeds and goop look like brain guts.  I’m going to go join in on the silliness!

“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old.  You grow old because you stop laughing” – Michael Pritchard

Get On Board Already!

I’m going out on a limb with this blog post… talking about something fairly controversial:  politics!

I found this election exceptionally disappointing.  But not for the reason that you might think.  Sure, the outcome was not necessarily what I would have wanted.  But I’m actually OK with that.  It’s the negativity that surrounded the election that saddened me.

Perhaps more disappointing than the negativity of the candidate(s) was the negativity of the voters.  Newspapers, TV and social media were filled with horrible, derogatory comments about the candidates.  It was divisive politics at its worst.

During the election, I stumbled upon a quote…  “Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.”  Isn’t that sad?  I would far prefer to see voters supporting one candidate’s platform versus tearing down another’s.

So here’s the thing…  The election is over.  Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have won.  It’s done.  That ship has sailed.  So what are we going to do about it?  We can choose to continue being negative (and there is plenty of evidence of this in social media) and plot his demise, or we can get behind him.  Because there isn’t much choice…  Do we really want to see him fail?  What would that mean for Canadians?

We live in an amazing country.  In Canada, people of various ethnicities, cultures and faiths live and work together in peace and prosperity.  We are surrounded by beauty in this vast and varied land.  We have the freedom to write and speak without fear of retribution.  And yet, we don’t always use this freedom for the greater good.

I learned one of my most valuable professional lessons from an early manager.  I had come to him unable to resolve an issue.  In response, he said “bring me solutions, not problems”.  I really believe that if you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it.

Canada isn’t perfect.  But if we want to continue down a progressive path, we must end the negativity and come together to find solutions.  I hope that we can all work with Justin Trudeau to make this country even better!

I’ll get off my soapbox now…  Thanks for indulging me!

The Inner Voice

I’m not a big consumer of parenting books.  Truth be told, while I have picked up a few books over the years, I’ve never read one in its entirety.  Rightly or wrongly, I subscribe to basic common sense in raising my kids.  I had (still have, that is!) wonderful parents, and I’m hopeful that I learned parenting skills by osmosis over the years.

Having said this, it is almost impossible in this over examined life that we live to not take in the odd tidbit of parenting advice.  Some time ago, I stumbled across the following quote:  “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice”.  And it resonated with me.

Let me digress with a story…  Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference that my company hosted for corporate board directors.  One of the speakers was an African American CEO of a Fortune 100 company.  He was raised by a single father – a janitor with limited education.  During his presentation, this CEO described how his father “brainwashed” him and his siblings into believing that they could achieve anything they wanted.

This was amazing to me – that a man with limited means and opportunities could not only envision a brighter future for his kids, but also convince his children of the possibility.  He had clearly figured out a way to infiltrate their inner voice.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about the big life lessons I want to teach my children.  I’m sure there are a million – but that’s maybe one too many for them to keep track of.  So I tried to distill it down to a manageable number.  Here is what I came up with:

  • always chase your dreams instead of running from your fears
  • it’s OK to fall; it’s how you pick yourself up that counts
  • be kind to others; how you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you
  • you can’t please everyone so focus first on making yourself happy
  • believe in yourself; whatever you believe about yourself on the inside is what you will manifest on the outside
  • surround yourself with people who push you, who challenge you, who make you better, who make you happy

I would be lying if I said that I always use the right words or tone with my kids.  I lose my patience sometimes, as we all do, and say things that I shouldn’t.  I am trying to be more mindful of what I say and how I say it (this sometimes requires me to count to 10 in my head before reacting to a situation!).  I’m hopeful that beneath it all, my children are aware of my unwavering love for them.  And I’m hopeful that in everything we say, and everything we do, my husband and I are reinforcing these big life lessons.

I’d love to hear from you…  What are the big life lessons you think are most important?

Lifelong Friends

In high school, there were seven of us that were close. It is an unusual number given the sheer size and the fact that it is an odd number, but it worked for us. I can honestly say that I have the BEST memories of high school because of these friendships. We prioritized one another above all else. We talked about everything, working through every conceivable issue together – family, love interests, school, the future. You name it, we covered it.

Life has taken us down different paths. All except two attended different universities. We all pursued different professions. And we are geographically dispersed – only two remain in Ottawa, while three live in Toronto, one in Indiana and one in the UK. But none of this matters. We don’t talk every day, but when we do, it’s like time has stood still. We pick up right where we left off.

This past weekend, six of us travelled down to Florida together. We began this trip several years ago to celebrate our 40th birthdays. All seven of us were able to make it. During that first trip, we toyed around with the idea of doing something similar every five years. But then a couple of years passed and I suggested to the group that perhaps five years was too long to wait. So, we replicated our trip last year and again this year. And I suspect that we will be doing a yearly trip from here on in. Not everyone has been able to make it every year. Work and family commitments sometimes make it difficult. But everyone knows that they are welcome.

As we did when we were teenagers, we spent the majority of this past weekend hanging out by the pool talking and catching up on one another’s lives – work, significant others, kids, extended family. One of our husbands said that he thought we’d run out of things to talk about. Not a chance! If anything, there wasn’t enough time.

There is something to be said for lifelong friends. These people not only know the person you are, but also the person you were. There is a shared history that makes it easier for us to communicate. We know one another’s families… We went through our most awkward years together… We understand each other’s insecurities and fears (and, more importantly, know where many of these come from). Don’t get me wrong, we have had our share of disagreements over the years. But our shared history holds us together.

I am so very grateful for these women and their friendships. I am who I am today in large part because of them.

Thank you for another great weekend ladies. I love you all very much!

The Red Blinking Light

Up until a few years ago, I was a Blackberry devotee.  I found the keypad much easier to work with, especially since I often had long emails to write while on the run.  I could type a mile a minute and do it without bumping into walls.  After all, it was important that I worked at maximum efficiency because I had two little people to tend to at home.

But here’s the thing, I didn’t turn off my phone when I walked in the door at the end of the day.  In the moment, it was easy to justify that the red blinking light which announced that I had a new e-mail was more important than what was going on at home.  And that may very well have been true…  But it couldn’t always be true.  If you strung together all of those red blinking lights, I couldn’t possibly justify that my phone was always more important.  But I usually did!

Fast forward a few years…  I had replaced my Blackberry with an iPhone.  And the red blinking light was replaced with a vibrating alert.  It wasn’t quite as noticeable, but I was still captive to my phone.

I have a story to share which won’t cast me in the best light as a parent.  But I will share it anyway…  A couple of years ago, I announced to my husband that I wanted to take the kids to New York City.  They were five years old at the time, and I felt that they were ready for a “big city” experience.  And I was right – it was a fabulous trip!  We walked and walked, saw the sites, and had wonderful meals.  It was magical!

Back to the bad Mommy moment…  We arrived in NYC on a Thursday night.  My husband had to work on the Friday which meant that I was on my own with the kids.  It was raining, so I knew that we had to have an inside day.  So I picked the Museum of Natural History.  The day started out well, but shortly into our tour, I received an urgent e-mail from work.  It required several e-mails and at least two phone calls to resolve.  I knew that I was pushing the limits with my kids.  They were growing more and more annoyed with me.  But it was work – what could I do?

To this day, when we talk about that trip to NYC, my son brings up the fact that I spent the entire time in the museum on my phone.  I look back at the trip and remember the Rockettes, the zoo, and FAO Schwarz.  And my son remembers that I ruined the Museum of Natural History with my e-mails and calls!

I realize that I have potentially painted myself as a horrible mother here…  And I hope that’s not true.  I love my children dearly and try very hard to live in the moment when I am with them.  But more often than I would like, the outside world creeps in.  While I acknowledge that this is going to happen from time to time, I certainly don’t want their most precious memories to include me AND my phone.

Now that I no longer have colleagues and clients to answer to, you’d think that it would be easy for me to put my phone away.  But some habits are hard to break.  My son has already started to ask when he can get his own phone (trust me when I tell you that at age seven, he has a LONG time to go).  But I want to make sure that when the day does come, he understands that the people in front of him will always be more important than the red blinking light.  But first, I have to walk the talk!  So, I’m working on putting my phone away and being fully present.

Giving Thanks

For anyone with young kids, Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving for my American friends) ushers in an interesting time. The holidays that round out the year encourage kids to focus on more selfish pursuits – Halloween is all about “getting” treats, while Christmas is often about “getting” presents. Because of this, it is so crucial to pause at Thanksgiving to appreciate what is truly important: family, friends and health. These are not particularly straightforward concepts for children to grasp. When all is well, it can be easy to take these things for granted.

I must admit, I also regularly find myself getting wrapped up in trivial matters. In the wee hours of the morning, I’m able to justify that a myriad of things are worthy of my stress. But I recognize that I should be sleeping peacefully, comforted by the fact that my family is healthy and we are surrounded by loving and supportive friends.

This is our second year celebrating Thanksgiving at the cottage. We bought a cottage last year, and I spent much of July and August here with the kids. I love the fact that my children will grow up appreciating nature and the simple pleasures of cottage life – jumping in the lake, feeling the sunshine on their backs as they lie on the dock, and exploring new territory for their next adventure. But more than anything, I love that we are able to invite family and friends here to join us.

As I reflect on this weekend, the following things bring a smile to my face: making – and eating – delicious meals with family; talking and laughing around the dinner table; my daughter dancing with her cousins; my father playing basketball with my son; my mother and aunt playing Go Fish with the kids; my brother and sister-in-law playing Disney’s Eye Found It (with my 6’2″ brother assuming the role of Tinker Bell); my husband giving up part of his holiday weekend to coach our son play a sport that he has come to adore; and the kids jumping in the lake today (despite the fact that it is October… in Canada!).

I am truly thankful for all of these simple pleasures. And as we move on from this holiday weekend, I hope that I can find little ways to remind my children (and myself!) that these are the things that matter.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Down the Rabbit Hole

I started this blog with two main goals in mind:  (1) to hold myself accountable to writing on a regular basis; and (2) to chronicle my journey into the writing world.  As such, I would be remiss if I didn’t write about my first day of school.  Yesterday, I started my “Writing the Novel:  Introduction” course.  And, boy, I feel like I have plunged headlong into the writing world, ready or not!

Strangely enough, I didn’t feel nervous leading up to yesterday.  I have been preoccupied with a multitude of things lately – volunteer commitments at two schools (for the second year running, I have somehow ended up as class parent for both kids’ classes); various kids’ activities (hockey, ballet, swimming, the list goes on…); hosting Thanksgiving at the cottage; and planning a girls’ weekend in Florida in two weeks with my closest high school friends – just to name a few.  All wonderful things that have kept my mind off of this class (I see now that this might have been intentional).

Yesterday, I started to feel a bit jittery.  Of course, this was made worse by the fact that I had a dentist appointment immediately prior to the class.  There is nothing like having your gums jabbed at for 30 minutes to ease your nerves!  I got to the building early to make sure I knew where I was going.  Upon arriving on the 11th floor, I poked my head into the designated room only to find that the classroom was the size of a closet (a walk-in closet, but still a closet) with a handful of chairs arranged in a semi-circle.  Clearly this was not going to be the kind of class where I could hide at the back and remain anonymous!

As it turns out, there are only six of us in the class – an interesting assortment of people of different ages and at various stages in their writing journey.  The teacher seems quite nice.  She has published two fiction novels – one of which was on the New York Times bestseller list!  I am quite confident that I will learn a ton from her.  The class lasted two hours and I was definitely right in saying that there would be no hiding.  The teacher called upon each of us regularly as we went through exercises on showing versus telling and character development.  As part of our assigned homework for next week, we were asked to describe the main character(s) in our novel.  Yikes!  I had thought I would ease into this novel-writing thing.  But clearly that is not going to happen!

Something I have come to realize about myself is that I tend to put off that one thing that most scares me.  This has always been the case, whether it be at work, at school, or in life in general.  As it pertains to my novel, I have been skirting around the subject for the past three months.  I bought seven (yes, seven… with another three on order) books on writing which I have been dutifully reading.  I signed up for this writing course.  And I even started a blog.  But I have been desperately avoiding zoning in on this fiction novel.

I think there is a part of me that was hoping that the “grand idea” would come to me in a J.K. Rowling-esque sort of way.  For those of you who don’t know the story, J.K. (as I like to call her) has said that the idea for Harry Potter fell into her head when she was on a four-hour train ride to London.  She claims that all the details bubbled up in her brain.  Can you imagine?  We’re not just talking any books here either… this is the best-selling book series in history!!

It is clear that this isn’t going to happen – at least, certainly not before my homework has to be turned in next Tuesday.  This is going to take some good, old-fashioned work.  I’m quite confident that my “grand idea” will evolve over time.  For now, I’m going down the rabbit hole and we’ll see where it takes me.