Being a kid

All my vacation days this summer, were spent doing stuff I’ve always done. Visiting family and friends. Hanging out in familiar locations. Even the pace of time away was short and sweet, a few days here and few days there. My cognitive abilities were not being challenged, tested and pushed to the limit, (which my everyday life can often seem like). And so, of course I loved my vacation days this Summer.

If it seems right to reach back to the May long weekend, then Summer 2015 starts there. Unfortunate circumstances, brought my family from Alberta to stay with me. We united with local, extended family for a celebration of life. (See Angel). And even though one amazing life had ended, we felt a boost of energy by being together and playing out our family rituals. This is when I first realized how much my childhood and my family hold the keys to the kind of person I once was. Maybe even more so, the kind of person I want to migrate back to. Who wouldn’t want to experience some of the “great fun” which comes with being a kid again?

In early July we made the pilgrimage back to Portland for WDS. This time my husband joined the fun. In a big group venue, with part inspiration, part education, I am reminded of being in a school auditorium for some kind of special event. The energy in the room is a buzz with great expectations. You leave an experience like that changed, but grounded. At least for me it was an even stronger reminder of what brings me extreme joy. Inspiration is queen. Always has been.

In late July, Calgary was calling. My own children had been in that area for almost a month by that point. While we missed them, we reconnected as a couple. A little scary to start. What happens when we strip away all the busyness of our kids lives and turn to each other solely? Will we have enough to talk about? Turns out yes, yes and yes. Ideas we tossed around in those weeks are some of my most productive, supportive and loving times of the year. Seems we not only have a lot to talk about, we still really like hanging out with each other!

A side trip from Calgary, took us to a very small town in Alberta called Bassano. (Not to be confused with the town of the same name in Italy). In this tiny place, my children can be. They come and go. They swim in the local pool. They eat when they are hungry. They are free to be their own people. The restrictions of modern life, living in a city, bound by endless rules, regulations and customs, have no place in a place where life flows at a simpler pace. This was the story of my formative years. It is only now, looking back, I realize how good I had it. Hindsight. It is also a place where you can feel nourished in a way. Because there are moments of deep reflection, there are also moments of deeper connections with other people. My Aunt made a book recommendation which was absolutely perfect. She listened to me talk, and then the book was placed in my hands. (See Work Life Balance).

3 Girls London

Then I was off on my own, the long haul flight to London, England. There I met up with 2 dear friends and we talked, walked, laughed, enjoyed food and drink and generally acted like the women we really are. Our truly authentic selves. Not the ones that have to be placed in a specific box by those around us. When you have the opportunity to roam like this, you are free. It is a fantastically wonderful feeling. One that I highly recommend to anyone. And it can be done in your own city. It can be done for a few hours at a time. I would think the benefits are greater is this habit can be practiced far more often than once per year. I just take what I can get.

My trip to London was a tiny add-on, to a business trip. I don’t want to give the impression that I jet off to Europe at moments notice for a few days! I do about 6 long haul trips per year and I have added these weekends, only 4 times in about 12 years. Even though the airfare is already paid, the extra hotel and eating out and having fun, can get a little spendy. So I am careful on this type of travel expense. The same amount of money goes a long way towards a Mexico vacation for the whole family.

Whaletown shore Aug

Speaking of family, once I got back from Europe, the very next day we were off to Cortes Island. Maybe it is because I grew up in Alberta, but BC Ferries meant fun ahead, summer, adventure and did I mention fun? Getting to Cortes requires 3 ferry rides. I was so excited, even for this first day of travel. (After the previous day of inter-Europe + long haul, being strapped into a seat for way too many hours, give me some space to roam!) The pace of life slowed with each ferry ride. The busyness of people, the stress, the appointments, everything faded away. As we sailed into Whaletown, I felt like we were finally home.

Whaletown sign

We spent a week on Cortes Island. We tried to do everything, in the hopes of packing it all in. But as the days progressed, we realized that was not going to happen. We had to come back. We started to speak of next summer, of doubling the time. But that seemed so far off. It also seemed like, “not enough”. Would we be able to experience this place for such short periods of time, so infrequently? Cortes was too magical for that. We had fallen under her spell.

For my part, the book “Tidal Passages” by Jeanette Taylor was an eye-opening view of what life was once like on Cortes.

What emerges from Taylor’s colourful pageant is a view of pioneer life that is quintessentially coastal: of potlatches, longhouses, stumpranchers, handloggers, beachcombers, seagoing missionaries, isolation that brought out the worst in some people and the best in others, and through it all the watery element of dugouts, steamships, ferries and tides that pulsed through islander life like a heartbeat.

Combined with our week of discovery on the island, my imagination was overflowing with modern life on Cortes. What would it be like to spend countless hours here? Experience different days, maybe an Easter holiday, Canada Day, even stretch out to a Thanksgiving or a Christmas break?

Canada flag

As we packed up to leave Cortes, I felt a profound sadness. I have arrived, enjoyed and left so many places in my life. Even within the past few months, why should this be so different? Where is the pull on my heart-strings coming from? How did this happen?

I’ve been discussing these questions with my sister. She arrived with her 2 boys, (kind of young men now), a few days ago. Her stay marks the end of our Summer vacation days. Tomorrow when she boards her flight back to Calgary, I’ll turn my attention back to work. The big Fall push that drives my company to hit the year-end goals. It is always with some melancholy that I look at the start of Autumn. As the days shorten and we brace for cool and then cold weather, the Northern hemisphere’s environment is moving into a cycle of dormancy, while we ramp up our industry.

Maybe what I miss most about being a kid was the innocence. The end of Summer was the start of school. Depending on the year, that was mostly a good experience for me. Fresh supplies, friends, learning, the return of the schedule. Nothing ever interrupted this certainty in my life. It was with a measure of dismay when I realized upon starting your working life that your Summer vacation would be reduced to a paltry 2 weeks. And that was only if you were allowed to take that whole thing at once, which might take decades to achieve. There was some fine print for you.

So I’ve learned an important lesson this Summer. I’ve practiced how to be a kid again. And I like it. Now, how can I incorporate this mindset into all my days? This is a question I feel compelled to understand and explore further. For me, it is a lock which I am determined to find the key for.

Great fun

“Childhood is a short season.”    ~Helen Hayes

“When we protect children from every possible source of danger, we also prevent them from having the kinds of experiences that develop their sense of self-reliance, their ability to assess and mitigate risk, and their sense of accomplishment.”    ~Gever Tulley

My sisters and I shared wonderful experiences in the 1970’s. This was a decade where children could be free. When the sounds, tastes and smells were wonderful with a heightened sense of joy. We did not have parents or grand parents running after us, urging caution. We were not fearful or worried. We skipped and jumped for the pure delight of it.

Maybe I was lucky to have an unusual family. Perhaps bordering on being hippies? Maybe my parents were too young to know better. But somehow, by luck or by sheer cleverness, we managed through without any serious injuries. In fact, we thrived.

I can remember, so often, being told to “go play”. Which, (I now know from being a Mother), was also code for “leave me alone for 5 minutes”.  But, we didn’t know that then. We took the directive to heart. Go play, have fun, be children. Do what kids do best, live in the moment.

Child_Duck

Imagine the joy of riding on a plastic duck?

Children_fire_marshmallowsChildren_camp chairs

Standing free and clear on those old school camp chairs? Cooking your own marshmallows over a fire?

Child_axe

Have you ever cracked open peanuts with the back of a hatchet?

Children_merry go round

Planting your feet to keep from sliding off the merry-go-round?

Children_trampoline

Trampolines with no cages around them?

Children_Slide

A slide that was 4 times as big as you?

I guess we weren’t the only family who experienced the 1970’s in this way:

I am this…

On the Sunday of May long weekend, seven of us girls piled into my SUV and headed over to Black Bond Book Warehouse. I’m not sure what other families do, but we are readers. In no time we all had piles of books. My sister decided that another person could add a book to your pile, giving you a reading challenge. That puts an interesting twist into things!

I had to admit that I was a reading baby. Even a book a month was a challenge. My Aunt was astonished. I think she reads one a week. Which is why she makes good use of the library. I often have to renew a novel from the library, once or twice!

But this day we were on a mission. Grab an armful of books and get back to the sunny patio. Not only could we more carefully look at our own purchases, but we had the added bonus of looking through the balance of the loot.

I am a sucker for books which are part self-help, part productivity, part management, maybe slanted toward business. That is why I came to own the latest addition to my collection titled, “Do More Great Work“, by Michael Bungay Stanier. What I didn’t realize when I bought this book is, it’s a workbook. Which is a huge added bonus for me. There are so few of these kind of books on the market, it was almost like finding treasure. In fact, the activities are called “maps”. Who doesn’t love to pour over a good map?

The first map was easy. I breezed through it so quickly, I thought I might just make it through the whole book in a weekend. (Given my track record, who knows why I thought that!) Anyway, turn the page to map two and that is where I came to a dead halt. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to complete the assignment. 6 days later, I dug down and pulled out the wisdom I needed.

That was today. Things were going so well, I went on to map three. This was equally tough to complete. These exercises require some serious soul searching. But the results are so worth it. OK, now I am gong to be very vulnerable and share this map. So be kind.

The first word describes what I am when I am doing great work. The kind of work that I love. The place where I loose track of time and when I’m in the zone. The second word is not necessarily bad, or the opposite, but it represents, at best good work, at worst bad work.

  • Visionary not task master
  • Analytical not routine
  • Earnest not complacent
  • Comprehensive not lists of half formed ideas
  • Organized not winging it
  • Knowledge seeking not taking it at face value
  • Engrossed not simply covering the bases
  • At ease not cautious
  • Mindful not quiet
  • Dedication not just 9 to 5

I think this is a pretty powerful list of words. The book advises you to keep a copy near your desk and have a laminated version to travel with. I’ll admit, before I completed this map, I immediately dismissed the notion of laminating. But, now that it is done, and I see it here in print, maybe I’ll pop over to Staples and create that hard copy.

The idea behind this list is to steer to the left. Staying on the left is where great work can occur. Tendency is to veer right. Although good work is still good, it is with great work that I feel most alive and vital.

 

Grad school

It occurred to me this past weekend, I’m kind of going to a type of grad school. I was looking through my personal email folders and realized I have taken a lot of courses over the past few years. Most of what I’ve read also has something to do with my education. I know a few things about these subjects I’ve been lucky enough to study. Maybe, I can even say I’m a bit of an expert. OK, maybe that stretches it too far. But I feel more knowledgable, for sure.

My husband and son went camping and my daughter and I had the house to ourselves. The weekend stretched in front of me like a blank slate. Uninterrupted time to go wherever my mind wanted to take me. When my husband came home, he commented how cluttered the bed was with all my learning materials. Books, computer, art supplies, iPad, journal, pens, coloured pencils, day-timer, etc. I was in heaven. He shook his head.

Saturday kind of evaporated. We had stuff to do, chores to finish, groceries to buy, my daughter wanted to bake. But Sunday, oh lovely, blessed day, we had all to ourselves. Since I was in bed so early Saturday night, I was up early. Weather looked poor, so I was going to read….

Rainy Day Books_web

Then I was inspired to complete an exercise from last week for my “Thrive” course being taught by Arianna Huffington. I have been wanting to do something like this for a long time, was even on my list of goals for this year. Now a third chart needs to be completed, what do I wish the chart could look like?

Time Pie Chart_web

My daughter finally woke up and we had to be at the White Rock Farmer’s Market. Even though a chorizo hot dog is NOT on anyone’s diet, it had to be done.

Market Chorizo_web

Later in the afternoon, I just had to take this photo of our cat – snoozing in the boat. How cute is that?

Cat in boat_web

My next phase in education arrived today. “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta, a project I helped fund through kickstarter. What a wonderful world!

Zen Habits_web

Angel

The last of my family has departed the Vancouver area. They all arrived at different times, but we managed to get everyone over to the Celebration of Life for Tory Westermark on Saturday afternoon. The program that afternoon was requested by Tory – “keep it light”, which was a hallmark of his great sense of humour. That sentiment was echoed by many of the speakers who took the microphone to share. Lovely stories and thoughts, honouring Tory’s request.

When Tory’s granddaughter started to sing, (she has an amazing voice), I started to fight back the tears. I knew the song well, but had lost connection to the lyrics. They brought up all kinds of emotion that was laying dormant, anything but light feelings buried down there.

“Angel”

Spend all your time waiting
for that second chance
for a break that would make it okay
there’s always some reason
to feel not good enough
and it’s hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
oh beautiful release
memories seep from my veins
let me be empty
and weightless and maybe
I’ll find some peace tonight

in the arms of the angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here

so tired of the straight line
and everywhere you turn
there’s vultures and thieves at your back
and the storm keeps on twisting
you keep on building the lies
that you make up for all that you lack
it don’t make no difference
escaping one last time
it’s easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
this glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

in the arms of the angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here

On April 26, 2015 at the age of 87 years, my great uncle Tory, surrounded by his family, passed away. I was half a world away, in a hotel room in Kragerø, Norway. It took some time for the news to make it over to me, through the channels of my family. I was immediately struck by the significance of distance. Both the physical distance from my loved ones and the eternal separation from my favourite great uncle.

I didn’t take the opportunity to speak about Tory on Saturday. I feared my thoughts were not well formed and I might not make a whole lot of sense. While I’ve spent some time thinking about it since, these thoughts might still seem disconnected.

What I know for sure is that Tory was a leader. He brought his family and friends together and created a very welcoming environment. Conversation was stimulating, yet humorous. I came to Vancouver as a plucky 21 year old and Tory watched me evolve over the last 24 years. He was never critical. In fact, he always had a sparkle in his eye, a curiosity. He would often ask me, “what is the news?” He wanted to be the first in family to have it. My friends and I were invited to cocktail parties where we hobnobbed with UBC Professors. We thought that was the height of sophistication. Tory made a wonderful speech at my wedding, recalling the long tradition in his family of vetting a potential suitor with “the questions”. I learned to embrace my Swedish heritage from the example set by Tory and his wife Vida. The daily kindnesses, acts of simple gratitude, I will never forget. I hope I am modelling these traits in my own house.

As the weekend unfolded, we had time to chat about everything. We shared. There was laughter and a few tears. We promised to get together again. The question was raised, “What do you want your end of life celebration to be?” Hopefully we have some time to answer that question, but one never knows for sure. However, we have pledged to recreate this weekend next year – same time, same place. Until then.

Skål, Good bye och god natt!

Signs of Spring

One of the benefits of going for a run, particularly at the pace I keep, is noticing the subtle signs going on around you.

A few mornings ago, it was a faint whiff of stuff growing. I don’t know how else to explain it. Might be an early pollen of some kind, or a fragrant flower. Or cut grass. Maybe all of it. That is the very thing we miss by being in our cars all the time. Literally stopping to smell the proverbial roses.

Spring Blooms

This morning, there were a few older men standing around chatting with an idling GTO in the scene. Had a collector car plate. Who knows the year? My husband would ask me. I just don’t think it is important to the story in any way. As I ran by, I smelt gasoline. Maybe they had been working on the car earlier. In any case, I was instantly transported to a sunny Saturday morning of my childhood. An old car, my Dad fixing something, the odour of puttering around the garage.

Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes, what seems to be so important can’t be recalled for anything. Then a faint smell can bring back memories, decades old. Makes you wonder if the brain knows what it needs to remember. Those fond memories are sticking around for a reason.

2014 Annual Review

I am inspired by Chris Guillebeau. He shared a deeply personal annual review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Problem for me is a lack of process. I can see from Chris’s post that he creates a detailed set of goals and then conducts quarterly reviews. I would think it makes the Q4 review a little easier to manage! But have to start somewhere, so here we go.

Crafts

January

  • Rang in the New Year in Mexico. A nice family dinner at Corazon Cafe where a singer played guitar. Moved from sleepy La Paz to a big Cabo resort where the kids ran around the pool and played for 5 days.
  • Woke up one morning with a full dose of inspiration. Created a new architecture for my blog.

Categories_web

  • Bought a “Los Cabos” journal for an e-course with Brene Brown. The content followed her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”.
  • Practice is a Process
  • Wholehearted
  • Travelled to Oslo, Norway for the first work trip of the year. Left my family in Calgary, on the way home from Mexico and peeled off via London.
  • Got my hair cut quite short. It was time for a change and the end game was to let my natural color come through. But we made a tiny mistake by putting so much light hair dye in. First I looked grey already and second lots of my natural color is a much darker!

Short hair

  • A few days spent in Denver, Colorado on a work trip.

 

February

  • Back to Oslo, Norway early in the month.
  • On the way home, stopped in Calgary where my parents picked me up for the short trip to Fairmont, B.C. Skied at Kimberly and Panorama during a week of vacation.

Fairmont

 

March

  • Sent my daughter off on her own to Calgary by plane. She was thrilled.
  • On the way to the airport, near the end of the month, was hit by 2 cars near the entrance to the tunnel. My car ended up being written off. I had to catch a later flight to Calgary.
  • Spent a few days in Bassano, Alberta with my daughter. My Aunt hosted a kind of retreat, which was lovely.

Knitting_webB&W

April

  • Renovations on the new MBR were coming along nicely in early April.
  • Quick trip to Oslo, Norway.
  • Bought a new car.

New car

  • April 12th we had a warm enough day to wear shorts and sit in the sun!
  • Around my birthday, headed off to Munich, Germany. Another work trip where we ended up in Austria. The last of the “fancy dress” parties.

80s party

May

  • Tacked on an extra day to spend May 1st walking around Munich with a dear friend.
  • Early May, off to Newport, Rhode Island for a work trip. Entertained customers at The New York Yacht club and sailing on an old America’s Cup boat.

Sail Newport

  • May 27th, the garden was in full bloom. Didn’t get to plant anything this year. Enjoyed everything that was already there!
  • Fallow State

June

  • June 2, our first crab boil of the season.

Crab boil

  • Spent my anniversary working in Seattle, Washington.
  • My Son graduated grade 7. A big one for him as he would head to a private school in the Fall, leaving 8 years of friendships behind.
  • Tried my first Annie Sloan painting projects after taking the course at The Passionate Home in Langley.
  • The MALM Transformation
  • Inspired by Paint

Paint card_web

July

  • Ringing in my husband’s birthday and Canada Day, we spent a few days on the Sunshine Coast. Unfortunately the weather was less sunshine and more rain forest.
  • Personal Space
  • Attended the most amazing conference called “The World Domination Summit” in Portland Oregon.
  • Service, Community, Adventure

Theatre WDS_web

  • Drove to Bassano, Alberta and then back to Calgary. Spent a few days recovering from all that driving. Picked up my kids and drove back to Vancouver. Managed to avoid any hail damage in what was one of the worst seasons for the area.
  • Canned a few jars of beans as they were coming off the fields. Processed bushels of fruit for our freezer.
  • Food Preservation
  • Renovations of the MBR were almost complete. Bought some artwork at the White Rock Farmer’s Market and finished the last of the Annie Sloan paint projects.

August

  • On the way to Oslo, Norway stopped in Stockholm, Sweden for a long weekend with my girls. 2 dear friends who also work where I do. One based in Stockholm and one in Hong Kong.
  • Stockholm Helgen

image

  • Home on my son’s birthday with great plans to be “present” for him. However, the travel was starting to catch up with me. Had the worst swelling in my legs. Felt – just – bad. Ended up sleeping for a long time.
  • Teenager in the House
  • Mid August, picked up my nephews from the airport and then shipped all 3 boys off to camp on Thetis Island.
  • Took a last week of summer vacation when my Sister and Parents arrived from Alberta. All the kids took a week of skim boarding camp at White Rock beach.

Skim boards

  • My sister and I, taught ourselves how to add beads into a knitting project. Made great progress early on, as usual!
  • The Good Beach Life

Beads knit

September

  • Private School
  • Early days, my daughter was not back in school. That was due to the Provincial teachers being on strike. We had an interesting experiment in home schooling, which my daughter did not enjoy.
  • Education Hacking

Daytimer_web

  • Mid September, off to Hong Kong for the better part of 2 weeks. This was a long trip and I suffered coming come with adjusting back to the schedule. For many nights, had to take sleeping pills. This was unusual and a little concerning.
  • Unpacking

HKG_web

October

  • Early October off to Alicante, Spain. Another long trip, about 10 days. While it was a fantastic location and I quite enjoyed much of it, had a very tough time with my mood. Even had an episode of what I could only call “panic” which was very strange. Made an appointment with my doctor.
Team SCA leaving Alicante October 11, 2014

Team SCA leaving Alicante October 11, 2014

  • Extreme Sports
  • Missed Canadian Thanksgiving which was a bummer. This is a non denominational holiday all about food!
  • My husband who was the VP of Marketing for a high tech company was laid off as they continued to downsize staff. This is no fun to go through, but he successfully negotiated a fair severance.
  • Dia de Muertos Shrines
  • Last day of October we adopted a cat. Not sure what we were thinking. But he is considered a “senior” as a 7 year old. At least we stopped short of a kitten, (we almost adopted 2 kittens), who would have tore our house apart.

Lynch

November

  • Creative Soul
  • Joined a knit-a-long where I created a very nice hat. My daughter, who looks amazing in hats, immediately laid claim to it. That works well, I look terrible in hats.
  • Hosted a work friend for dinner in White Rock and she gave me a lovely present!

Worry Dolls

  • Day trip to Calgary, mid month.
  • Picked up my Aunt and Uncle arriving from Calgary who were staying at our house for a week.

December

  • Spent a fantastic week in New Orleans, Louisiana on a vacation of a lifetime! Really felt like I was in another world.
  • True Rest & Relaxation

NOLA

  • One more trip to Calgary for work with a couple of days added on. Relaxed for the weekend at my parents house, attended a Christmas party at my sister’s house and a family Christmas dinner. Super nice.
  • A Christmas Eve flight to Mexico. Will spend the last days of the year, back where the year started.

Next year

  • A group of three represent woman from all over the world. We will do amazing things.

Dolls

  • A new beginning for my husband, built from the ashes of the past.

Crow

Día de Muertos shrines

As our family just experienced the loss of an Auntie and Day of the Dead celebrations are soon upon us, it seems fitting to start a proper celebration this year. If you are reading this, living in North America, you probably shudder at the thought of celebrating death. It has been a topic I have often avoided discussing for fear of seeming too morbid.

In the process of moving towards only positive thoughts, (leaving behind anything like death), I am trying to live my life with more intention, more passion, more joy. This is a practice and it takes time. Sometimes I wonder if I am making any progress at all. In those moments I also wonder, what if I don’t finish and suddenly die instead? How will my husband and children remember me? As this frantic woman trying to cross off all the tasks on her “to-do” list?

Of course, a practice is never “finished”. That is the whole point of it. Little ways, each day, progress is made. Maybe our modern world just moves too fast. Slow, intentional and barely incremental change is too small to register. If you don’t move forward in big steps, you are perceived to be standing still, or worse moving backwards.

In contrast to always moving forward, I thought it might be helpful to look back. To honor those who have come before and be grateful for what they leave behind. I think that is the essence of the Día de Muertos celebrations and particularly the shrines.

But I don’t want more stuff in my house. I don’t have a place for a typical shrine and it doesn’t speak to me. But a carefully curated selection of digital items, paying homage, can easily be bound together and taken with me as I wander the world. I can be guided by the wisdom of the past anytime.

So I have started with my Grandmothers. I feel connected to them in small ways. Some experiences I know for sure and others are only from stories. With help from my parents, I am going to practice my first celebration this year. Somehow this process feels good, like I can add some joy in my current life, from the people who longer share it with me.

The lottery

Over the past couple of months, my family has discussed what we would do differently if we won the lottery. This is not passive dreaming, we had purchased tickets.

First one was my Dad. He had a ticket for a grand prize of $50 million. Since we were discussing how to spend his money, we didn’t get too greedy. My sister and I suggested a luxury family vacation. We started with what we knew.

My sister has been to Maui and has no great urge to go anywhere else, so Maui it was. I said it had to be at least a month. We agreed that private accommodations for parents, separate from children was a must. On the beach. Then, I really wanted to fly business class. My Dad busted out a private jet. So generous! It actually felt, for a few minutes, as if we were going to Maui on a private jet!

My Dad did not win that lottery. But my husband got into the spirit and bought a ticket for the BC Children’s Hospital Dream Lottery. The proceeds from this support a great cause and a hospital which we have used several times for our own children. It really feels like a donation, with a possible upside.

The prizes are quite lavish, with the early bird draw yesterday of a brand new Tesla Model S. I have not checked our answering service, so it is not 100% confirmed, but probably we did not win the car. However the final draw is November 5. While the homes and cars and furniture are all nice, we have our eye on the cash. $2 million would allow us to set up our future more quickly and easily than our current path.

As we discussed this lottery it quickly became apparent that we have a pretty great life already. In fact, I would not change a thing for the rest of this year. That is a pretty satisfying thought. Money would not improve the things in my life which I hold with the highest value. My family, our health. Friends and the great relationships they bring. Experiences, learning. These things money can’t buy.

So we sleep soundly knowing that whether we win the lottery or not, we already have the life of our dreams. I know how that sounds and my younger self would have scoffed at hearing me say it. Maybe this kind of perspective comes with age. But I have finally realized, acquiring more stuff, traveling to far off places, these things alone do not bring me true happiness. It is how I feel with the people I cherish most, these are moments of bliss.

Cars

Next week, I’ll take possession of my sixth car. It is interesting that I have had so few cars. I proclaim not to care very much one way or the other. But, as my husband began the search for car #6, it quickly became clear that I do have strong preferences.

And so I should. Both my father and husband are extremely well versed in all details of vehicles – make, model year, full retail prices; they can spot tiny differences as they zoom past on the freeway. Their opinions were hard to ignore. I’ve spent many hours walking through car lots, even junkyards, looking for a certain part or hopeful to find a hidden treasure.

So I really started to look at cars in the past couple of weeks. I drove the “cheaper” version of my wrecked car. And my list of possible cars became very short for a number of reasons. Turns out when you are spending tens of thousands, details that are second nature to my husband start to become far more important to me.

It occurs to me that most of my cars have not been my choice. More often, a little bit of chance and circumstance.

  1. 1977 Chevrolet Monza, rust colored – new to me in 1986. Bought this from a family friend for $100 who wanted to buy a weed wacker with the cash. Of course he didn’t need the money. Wanted the car gone. We were soon to realize why. The list of repairs, (including rebuilding the engine, changing the head gaskets many times, chronic carburetor problems) are too long to mention. Suffice to say, in the first summer when I stopped for gas, (which it was a guzzler of), I also had to refill the radiator with water and usually add a half litre of oil. Nice. Drove that baby for 7 years. When I was off to Vancouver with it, my Dad said famously, “find a boyfriend that can fix cars”.
  2. 1991 Geo Storm, black on black – new to me in 1995. I bought this in the US for about $7,000. It was on a Ford lot and my boyfriend, who would be my husband, gave me the down payment from Canada when the loonie was about 60 cents to the USD, ouch. I financed this car and probably didn’t negotiate one bit. I did not even test drive it. Just loved the look of it. This car had a major problem with the struts and I had one replaced in the first month, under warranty. My husband would come in handy for years later, changing those struts regularly.

    Jeep - my son age 2

    Jeep – my son age 2

  3. 1990 Jeep Grand Cherokee, red with grey leather interior – new to me in 2001. This would later be called “Darth Maul” by my son. But he was to young at the time to know what a menace this vehicle was at times. However, those “times” where never under my command. My husband bore the brunt of the breakdowns and the quest to fix the strange things that seemed to go wrong. I loved this truck. When my children were young, it was perfect for infant seats and toddler car seats. The leather repelled everything they threw at it. It was extremely sure footed in the snow and even on ice, which we experienced much of in those years. This was our first family vehicle and we had some epic adventures.
  4. 1994 Acura Vigor, kind of a brown color with taupe leather inside – new to me in 2003. This was a fun car, 5 speed, heated seats, go fast engine, lots of other luxury features. I felt like a serious grown up in this car. After a few good years, we ended up limping it into a Honda dealer for a trade in on car #5.
  5. 2004 Mazda 3, grey with grey leather – new to me in 2007. This was the first nice “late model” car I ever owned. 5 speed, one owner, low kilometers. We paid, what seemed to me at the time, a lot of money for this car. Of course, when your first car cost you $100, well, you see how far I’ve come. My kids named her, Queen Amadala. We had no major problems with this car, until late March of this year. Coming into the entrance of the George Massey Tunnel at rush hour, I was hit twice after I came to a full stop. Evidently there was a fatality that day in a separate accident at the other end of the tunnel. So, it was really a lucky day for me.
  6. 2010 Acura CSX, charcoal with black leather – new to me April 2014. I can’t even imagine how nice this car will be to drive. It has an integrated hands-free iPhone system, navigation, XFM, 5 speed, v-tech engine, another 3 year Acura certified warranty, etc. I’ll never understand, or forget the experience of negotiating the price at the Acura dealership, which my husband conducted. It is a very formal, offer – counter, new offer, counter and so on. All written down on a piece of paper and the salesman bouncing up and down like a yo-yo to get approvals. Both sides throwing out statements to support their numbers. Strange game.

So it ends, my list for now. I’m sure I’ll drive a few more, see a few more places. The fun is in the journey, not only the destination.

Gratitude practice

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” ~William Arthur Ward

This week my creative assignment is to photograph the moments of my life. Those everyday scenes that pass by, almost without notice. Those brief snaps of time which are easily overlooked. Almost taken for granted. And if they were snatched away by some tragedy, might bring us to our knees in loss.

Easy, right? At first, I thought so. I love photographs, everything about them. Taking them, staring at them, playing with them on the computer, just everything. I started to assemble some images which may end up in my journal later this week. Turns out, not so easy to capture the little bits of my life that are part of my routine and are also moments I feel grateful for.

For example, I took this photo of the rain outside my window on a dark and dreary Monday morning. Am I grateful for the rain, no. I am actually grateful for all of it. The rain that powers my electricity, waters my plants, sweeps away the streets, fills the drinking aquifers, keeps the trees green all winter and the startling contrast it provides for the sunny days. If my window view were gone, or if the rain no longer fell – I would be sad and scared. (When I vacation in the Baja and dream about living there, I always wonder about the lack of water).

Rain

That was an easy one. What about my most treasured family members. How to capture them in a way that shows what I am most grateful for? While I can easily talk about my feelings of gratitude for them, it is proving difficult to get the right photo’s. In part, it is due to my children’s programming of popping on a smile whenever a camera is near. Uncanny, really.

Browns

Then myself. What kind of photograph can I take which shows gratitude? This is why Brene Brown warned us, “this won’t be as easy as you think.” Darn.

CW Shadow

Most importantly, this weeks lesson is about practice. Anything which is worth having will not come easily. Although, practicing something which moves me, happens to be fun as well. And the results are often great.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~John F. Kennedy

Connected

For our last days of vacation, we moved to a big Cabo resort. Two pools, hot tubs, Sea of Cortez swimming beach, drinks brought to your extended hand. This place caters to people who want the best of the Mexican weather, but don’t really want to leave the US or Canada. For a short period of time, this is heavenly. The room service, fresh towels each day, anything you can think of can be had.

Yesterday, as we were making dinner reservations, my husband’s La Paz phone quit working. Over to Telcel and they explained he probably needed a local SIM card, (local to Cabo?) and they would gladly sell him one once their computer systems were up and running. Companies have blips all the time and we have come to expect a little more of that here in Mexico. No biggie.

The thing about big resorts is they get you coming and going. Everything has a cost. So I finally decided to eat the daily surcharge and get online. About 3:30pm yesterday. My husband had no luck with his phone and when I couldn’t hook up my iPad, the front desk confirmed their entire internet connection was down. Might be working tomorrow, but could be as long as 72 hours. I guess they figure that people are not that good at math and won’t be able to calculate 3 days, which is quite a long time. But, oh well – I’m on holiday and the internet will still be there in 72 hours.

7pm table at our favorite restaurant in San Jose Del Cabo – Cynthia Fresh. New location from our last visit and the menu reads, tiny print at the bottom, cash only. No problem, my husband ventures over to the shopping complex and the cash machines. Then I try to get online with my phone and I’m getting no cell service all of the sudden. As I stare at my device trying to figure out what is going on, the waiter comes over and apologizes for sending my husband for cash because he won’t get any. The cell service is down along with the internet – in the whole of Baja California Sur. Cynthia comes over to our table and says don’t worry, we can pay for our meal when we can get cash. Don’t worry, relax and enjoy the evening. (I love her!)

The kids and I start to devise strategies for how to get over to my husband and let him know he is not getting any cash and to just come back and eat. But, sending one of my children off alone on the streets of Mexico, might be a bit much. Yes, they have MMA training and no, they probably wouldn’t get lost, but we 3 decide to stay put. (I have been trying to give my children challenges and responsibilities that build up their independence. Not to mention get things done for me. Thank you to my sister for constantly teaching me that lesson).

Anyway, my husband comes back and you would think the whole thing would be over, right? Well no. The discussion at our table was around, how long would the outage be and what is all connected to this problem? My husband was pretty certain that credit card processing would be down throughout the area, so there goes anything we would want to do, potentially for the rest of our stay. But we were in a full service resort and could make do there. My daughter almost started to cry when my husband started to list of all the things that we needed money for. And then the discussion turned to flying on Tuesday. Would the planes be able to take off without an internet connection?

OK, stop this nonesence. Never has one of my Oslo trips been cancelled due to a technology or natural disaster problem. If we made it out at the time of the volcano dust cloud in Iceland when most of the rest of Europe was effected, some technology issue in Mexico is not going to let me spend a few more heavenly days in the Mexican sun. Then I took out my phone and started to see the 3G connection come back. Cynthia’s phone rang and we all smiled to hear it.

We had been “down” with real knowledge of the extent for about 2 hours. In that time, we wasted so much effort wondering what bad things might happen, what minor inconveniences we might suffer that for me, the dinner was a bit wasted. Most of us lost our appetites. It was a sobering reminder of how connected we are digitally. How much we take those connections for granted.

After dinner, the cash machines were back up and spitting out Pesos. We paid back Cynthia before heading back to Cabo. We had a huge sense of happiness and relief to know our digital world was fine and well, at least for now.

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Cognitive tests

Some of the administration details of travel can really put your brain through the paces. It is almost like taking a cognitive test. (This I have recently become all too familiar with my Dad and my Son.)

These “exercises” have an upside though. The feeling of elation when you come through one of the tests successfully is quite something. At face value, it doesn’t seem like the tests would be difficult or that overcoming the challenge should provide that level of happiness.

Very early Sunday morning our travel day started, (and by very early I mean the crack of silly). I was thinking, the evening before, one of our foursome needs to get a good nights sleep. Our cognitive function needs to be sharp. Although travel is relatively easy, there were a number of new experiences, which could go smoothly, or not. I took one for the team and went to bed at 7pm Saturday night.

Armed with our packet of print offs, for each of the transitions, we set off from our house around 4am. The usual routines went as planned.
*Drop off the truck and get over to YVR on the shuttle.
*Priority check in with Air Canada, no charge for the extra bags, including the skim boards.
*Breeze through International security screening, (except the minor blip of a twelve year old and a pocket knife).
*Breakfast at Starbuck’s, (fake smile as my kids devoured frappachinos and highly processed, sugar loaded baked goods).
*Priority boarding.

From then on, we were in new territory. I usually don’t sit at the back of the plane, so close to the rest rooms. I am also not surrounding by children on all sides, my own or otherwise. Take a deep breath, we are on our way, relax!

Then comes the first test – filling out the Mexican immigration forms. I’m used to doing this. I have been to many different countries and to Mexico as recently as last year, so as we easily passed the first inspection where half the people had not filled out their forms properly, we were good.

Luggage in hand, we “pushed the red button” and got a green light, no extra baggage check. (Last year when we were carrying 9 bags, that was a treat!) Then we ran the gauntlet and had to take the correct exit to get our rental car. (I posted about this yesterday, setting off in the rental car, not as smooth as it could have been).

With iPhones and navigation apps, we tried to locate directions to our lunch stop. My husband ended up seeing the road sign and we turned off having found our destination by memory, road signs and general common sense. After lunch, the same technology was supposed to land us at the Walmart superstore, but I was already snoozing from dos cerveza’s in the sun, so we missed it. Just as well, I didn’t really want to go in there. Not in Mexico, or anywhere else.

After a quick backtrack, we were on the highway North to La Paz. Now I could sleep in earnest. As we approached La Paz, my husband drove us straight to our destination and our final cognitive test. Getting into the complex, (of which we had a key for the passenger gate), and into the condo with a code.

Passed with flying colors! Looking back, it was all really easy – but of course anything would seem that way after conquering the car problems first.

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Secret Santa

My husband bought me a gift for Christmas that we have hidden from the kids. I know what you are thinking, and no – it is not x-rated.

It is very strange to be hiding presents from the children which are not meant for them. Usually we are waiting until the last-minute to buy, or hiding presents in cars, at work, wherever. My husband and I must have been devious children, because on many occasions we had discovered the hiding place of Santa. For anyone who has done this, you know what a huge let down that was. But it was an addiction and we kept on hunting each year. So we expect our children to be the same and strangely they are not.

It could be that our children are smarter than we were, (are). Why ruin the fun of Christmas morning by snooping around in closets when your parents will be furious if they found out what you had done or were trying to do? Or they are too lazy to bother. Or they have everything they could ever want.

In an effort to simplify our Christmas gift giving this year, I came up with a new scheme. We pick a mall, (Oakridge) we pick a day, (Saturday Dec 7) we have a limit, ($33 per person) we make a list. The idea is to enjoy a day shopping together, although we are all suspicious of what fun can be had in a mall fighting crowds. We only spend one day on shopping, which makes my life so much better. We have a low limit so we target less expensive gifts which foster creativity on the side of the list maker and the shopper, (kids are completely disappointed as the super expensive things they want are not getting bought. I guess that is like finding Santa’s stash and realizing not much of what you wanted was in there.)

The plan for this day sounded good, but my husband was dismayed. “What about my gift for you?” (I think he already bought it). Oh that is exempt from this scheme. We are teaching the kids a lesson. What we didn’t learn already is not going to be gleaned by this exercise. We are grown ups, do as I say, not as I do!

And that is how I come to be in possession of a new iPad. Can’t very well put it under the tree. The kids will immediately call us out. No, better to be a bit discreet. If they ask, this new one is a replacement for the old one that died. Which is partially true, old one is not dead yet, but on its last legs.

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Ultimately, we are the parents, making up our own rules as we go. Someday they can too!