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.


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).


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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