Lessons in Gratitude For Our Modern, Stone-Age Family

The events that have transpired over the past few weeks have me feeling like I’m the matriarch of a modern, stone-age family. But unlike Fred Flintstone, I’m not feeling compelled to shout out with glee, Yaba-daba-doo!

It all started a couple of weeks ago when our dishwasher that’s slightly more than five years old kicked the bucket. More precisely, it began leaking buckets of water all over the kitchen floor, and then wouldn’t run a cycle past the 10-minute mark. Knowing the likelihood of being able to fix it was slim to none (because LG doesn’t make replacement parts for its appliances older than five years), we opted to save our time and energy and just go buy a new one. Now we’re waiting the two to three weeks for delivery and installation, and we’re doing dishes the old-fashioned way in the mean time. Scrubbing pots and pans and constantly having dishpan hands has got me feeling quite primitive. I mean, come on, even Wilma Flintstone had an octopus to wash her dishes for her!

Then, earlier last week, our house was a touch chilly, despite the furnace being on, or so we thought. My husband went downstairs to check, and not only did he discover the furnace wasn’t running, but also that he wasn’t able to reignite the pilot light. We placed a service call to our friendly neighbourhood furnace company, and when the technician came out the next day his assessment was that our furnace was destined for sheet metal heaven. This left us feeling a little blue—because we were cold AND were facing a huge, unplanned expenditure to replace our home’s primary heat source. And once again, just like cave people thousands of years ago, we sought warmth by fire while we we waited for our new furnace to be installed. Thank goodness for fireplaces!

In spite of all of this, and all kidding aside, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of viewing these trials for what they really are—challenges that are simply a part of life, without feeling oh-so sorry for myself, being too over-the-top dramatic, and creating all kinds of stories around what was happening. This may be partially due to the fact that I do my best to practice an attitude of gratitude, and my daily meditation practice may also be helping to keep me more grounded and centered. Whatever the deal is, I realize these kinds of things just happen and it’s really not worth getting bent out of shape over. Acknowledge. Address. Move on without any stories and attachment.

Nonetheless, these situations have, once again, presented me with the opportunity to see life from a different perspective. And, oh, the lessons they’ve revealed. Here’s just a few that I think merit being shared:

  1. While I had initially thought otherwise (probably because it gave me flashbacks to the numerous marathon dishwashing sessions of my youth), doing the dishes by hand hasn’t been as completely awful and tedious as I thought it would be. On the contrary. Washing and drying our dirty dishes by hand has very subtly provided time for me to bond with my husband and children. Surprisingly, everyone has been quite willing to help out, so that’s a HUGE positive right there. Plus, I’ve had some interesting and heartwarming conversations with my family members that I may not have otherwise had if not for our time washing dishes together. And, to my credit, we haven’t even resorted to using paper plates and plastic cutlery to eat our meals!
  1. Related to the point above, I’ve seen how our incapacitated dishwasher is teaching my children the value of hard work and doing something productive with their hands, aside from holding a device or playing video games. The situation has allowed us to explain to our children how not everyone in the world has all of the luxuries and amenities we do, which I hope will instill in them a sense of appreciation for how privileged they are. Also, having them help with the dishes gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. (My son now tells me he is a dish-drying expert.) I’d say this is a win-win for all of us.
Kids caught in the act of helping.

Kids caught helping. Who needs an octopus, or a dishwasher, when you’ve got these two?

  1. As I already alluded to above, these circumstances have framed and reaffirmed for me just how fortunate we are to have modern conveniences, such as central heating, air conditioning, and hot water, and the luxury of a machine to wash and dry our dishes for us. Much of the world’s population can only dream of having access to these things at some point in their lives, while it’s easy for us to take them for granted. And while it causes us some minor inconvenience to be without, I know we’ll have these things working again in relatively short order. Choosing to see beyond the initial inconvenience allows me to see how truly blessed we are.
  1. I believe it was Oprah that said, “You are responsible for the energy you bring” (to every situation). This is something I am aware of and watch closely about myself. The concept was further illustrated for me by our furnace installer. The first day, he was visibly frustrated from the moment he arrived at our house. As I was home for the duration of the work being completed, I observed his behaviour on that first day, noticing how he cursed when things weren’t going according to plan and how his mood mirrored the angry thrash metal music he had blaring in the basement. At the end of the day, he shared how his work truck had broken down on the side of the road the day before, he was without his regular helper, and the guy who had been assisting on our job was quite inexperienced. It was obvious to me what had been happening, so I simply smiled and told him to have a good night’s rest and come back the following day with a clean slate. The next morning he showed up with both of his helpers and a notably sunnier disposition. His music selection had morphed from the previous day’s death metal to The Beatles and other assorted softer classic rock music. And, as you can well imagine, the installation process went much smoother that second day. The shift in his mood and energy was palpable, and the trickle-down effect that had onto the installation process was nothing short of a miracle.

The bottom line in all of this is, no matter how bad things may seem, we can always choose to find something for which to be grateful. It can be tough to do in practice sometimes, but it’s a choice each one of us has the power to make. And when we consciously choose gratitude, positivity, and happiness, the odds are pretty good that we’ll make life easier for ourselves and those around us.

What are you grateful for today?

The Sweetest Things in Life

Much to my surprise and delight, the sweetest thing about this Halloween weekend for me wasn’t mindlessly consuming a grotesque amount of treat size chocolate bars and candy. This is only partially because I specifically bought chips so I didn’t end up devouring more than my share of chocolate while handing out treats to the ghouls and goblins that came to our door. Now, I have to admit a few of my kid’s treats may have somehow found their way into my belly, but that’s really not the point of this post.

Allow me to explain…

This past weekend was one of only two weekends in October that I didn’t have Yoga Teacher Training, so I was able to spend some much needed quality time with my family. It made me realize how much I’ve missed them during our time apart (absence really does make the heart grow fonder), as well as how enjoyable it can be when we’re together.

Here are a couple of the sweetest and most memorable moments from my Halloween weekend:

I got to go out on an actual adult date night with my husband for the first time in a VERY long while. We enjoyed a nice dinner (which was such a treat sans kids), and took in a movie. I cannot begin to explain how nice it is to do something so simple with the guy I love. Just him and I, hanging out and enjoying each others’ company.

We saw The Intern, with Anne Hathaway and Robert Di Niro, and I was completely taken aback at how Di Niro’s character reminded me of my late (paternal) grandfather. I had never noticed this resemblance before, but once I made the connection that’s all I could think of when I looked at Di Niro. Although the resemblance was striking the similarity went way beyond just physical appearance. Di Niro’s character’s sentimentality was akin to my grandpa’s trademark soft side. As I watched the show I reminisced about this special man, who was known for being quiet, and yet you always knew there was a lot more going on beneath his stoic exterior than what you could see with the eye.
I love you and miss you, Grandpa Albert.

Side-by-side comparison of Di Niro (left) and my Grandpa Albert (right).

Another sweet weekend highlight I’d like to share was seeing the pure joy in both of my kids’ faces after trick or treating with their friends. They were both so very happy, and it wasn’t entirely because they scored a hefty haul of candy (much of which has now been donated to Hearts for the Homeless). It was more so because they were having an absolute blast just being kids, doing fun kid stuff with other kids. And I must say, there’s nothing as wonderfully sweet as seeing your children happy.

As you can see, the sweetest things about my Halloween weekend had very little to do with candy and treats, and everything to do with witnessing the importance of relationships and spending time with the people I love.

My heart is full, and how very sweet that is.

A {Digital} Postcard from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

love&possibility

It occurred to me early on in our fall break getaway that no one really sends postcards any more. In today’s world, which is so thoroughly dominated by convenience and immediate gratification, it seems they’ve gone the way of the dodo bird. So, in the absence of a post-marked card featuring the stereotypical photo collage or palm tree and sunset vignette from our vacation, I thought the next best thing would be to create a {digital} postcard. But, just as this is not your traditional run-of-the-mill variety, send-it-in-the-snail-mail-and-wait-three-weeks-for-it-to-arrive kinda card, I suppose it only makes sense that my rendition of our family vacation be equally untraditional.

They say life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans and I suppose I’d have to agree. You see, even though I should have been sitting in an airport waiting to board our fight home at the time of writing this, instead I was taking refuge from the heat of the midday Punta Cana sun in a cabana with an iceberg (beerguarita) in hand. We had other plans, but this was what life gave us. Tough break, right?

Because of the unanticipated delay of our flight home, there was some question from other vacationers around the pool as to whether we poisoned our pilot to evade our planned departure. While I can assure you we had absolutely nothing to do with the pilot’s untimely illness, I was nonetheless grateful for the found time it afforded me to reflect on our week at the picture-perfect Reserve at Paradisus Punta Cana resort. (In case you haven’t already noticed, this {digital} postcard is brought to you by the letter “P”… and the number seven.)

We took an approximate seven-hour flight to arrive in our tropical paradise. Once there, my family and I spent seven days participating in a variety of activities, including bungee jumping, ping-pong, rock wall climbing, riding bicycles, making crafts, playing games, and aqua gym and spin classes in the pool. My daughter produced a gorgeous finger-painted masterpiece on her own with only a few simple instructions. (Move over Picasso, there’s a new painter in town!) My son loved dressing up as a pirate and searching for treasure around the resort with his friends from the kids’ club. My husband and “babies” went parasailing for the first time and I marvelled at their bravery, as my little daredevils absolutely loved sailing 400 feet in the air.

While the rest of my family was swimming or busy with the aforementioned activities, I could generally be found lounging poolside and catching up on some reading, often with a drink in hand. I particularly enjoyed the book A Man Called Ove, and the story of the curmudgeonly old Swede who lived a life of precise routines, always strictly following the rules, and letting logic and order dictate his every move as a way to protect his fragile, broken heart. I could certainly relate to Ove’s character, because I also thrive on order and predictability. I operate on the premise that most things in life should be done in a certain way or not done at all. And I, too, can be quite guarded—perhaps even cold—with my heart. But just like Ove, I am learning to open myself to love and possibility.

With this in mind as I reflect on our vacation, what strikes me most is how it was less about the location and more about just being present to enjoy the time with my family. The luxuriousness of sleeping in every day and awaking to find both kids in our giant bed for a family cuddle-fest. Seeing my daughter take great pride and pleasure learning to do a back flip on the bungee cords. Witnessing, first hand, what social animals my kids are, as they cheerfully interacted with the resort staff (fist-bumping, learning new phrases in Spanish, and faithfully uttering the “polo” echoed response to the drinky-drinky guy’s “Marco”), as well as effortlessly making new friends from all over the world. These are the precious moments I want to remember long after the tan lines have faded.

As part of my regular daily meditation practice that I continued faithfully during our vacation, I was reminded about how we have the power to create our reality through our own conscious awareness, and that what we choose to focus on expands. For this trip and beyond, I am making a conscious effort to shift my focus to noticing and appreciating the good in people. We had a fantastic vacation experience, and this was thanks in large part to the marvelous resort staff who took such great pleasure in ensuring our comfort and happiness. We were also very fortunate to meet many wonderful people from all over Canada and the US. To Ed and Lori, the lovely couple from outside of Toronto who will make the most amazing grandparents: despite our thanks, you may never know how much your kindness meant as you shared some of your vacation time with us, having fun with our kids at the beach and around the pool, and giving them each a token gift from the Dominican market. These seemingly simple connections with people from as near as Calgary and as far away as Brazil warmed my heart in a way I never thought possible.

It’s a curious thing for me to explain, but I feel as though a bit of magic happened when I dipped my toes into the sparkling blue-green water in Punta Cana. The tide came in, and when it rolled back out like the complementary exhale to my inhaled breath, my feet sank a little deeper into the ground as the sand that was taken back out to sea took a bit of my troubles with it. As I filled my lungs with the salty, tropical air, I had clarity in my otherwise busy mind—even if just for a moment. The only thing that mattered was the certainty of my breath. And somehow I was left knowing it was all part of nature’s miraculous give and take, the process of renewal—creating space in my heart for more love, and within my soul for greater peace.

I am grateful and forever changed for having had the opportunity to meet such wonderful people and to know Punta Cana’s beauty.

Hello 2014 and My Big, Bold, Beautiful Life

hello-2014

I have a confession to make: I’ve tried at least three times to write a blog post in which I would thoughtfully reflect on the previous year while foreshadowing my best intentions for my life in 2014. The problem is each of the three previous drafts I wrote didn’t feel quite right. Too much reflection made me feel like I was dwelling and making excuses for being stuck in the past. Too much explanation of what ‘has been’ just felt like a feeble attempt at justifying myself to, well, myself.

The simple truth is 2013 taught me a great deal about myself and led me to some important realizations. It was a year of tremendous personal growth, spiritual awakening, and life-changing awareness. The universe gave me subtle and not-so-subtle taps on the shoulder—and even a few face palms. I received the message, loud and clear, that I need to both slow down (my mind), and stop (trying to be perfect, giving others power over me, and hiding my true self from the world).

Many good things had their origins in 2013, though, and I’d like to continue building on that momentum. I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone by changing jobs after 12 years and completing the Spartan 5 km obstacle race. Both are just about as far out of my comfort zone as I ever dreamed I could possibly go, but the point is I did those things and I’m now better and stronger for it.

While I’ve never really bought into the mass appeal of making New Year’s resolutions (if you want to make a change in your life you should be able to make it any time of year, right?), I am focused on being the best possible me I can be. So, as I turn my attention to the year ahead, I am naturally thinking about the things I can do to continue to move myself in this direction. In a nutshell, I intend to work on letting go of my obsession with perfection; blossoming into a confident, empowered woman; and reigniting my dreamer gene.

Coincidentally, I have a hard time with  dreams, and the ‘awake’ kind, in particular. As fate would have it, though, I stumbled upon a book called The Desire Map by Danielle Laporte a few months back. I then also learned of and joined a Desire Map book club, which starts next week. The premise of The Desire Map is getting clear on your desires and having those desires be the force behind everything you do, and I’m sure this will be a valuable exercise that will help guide me on my journey this year. In the final hours of 2013, my husband and I worked on completing some of the book’s exercises together. It was wonderful to share this experience as the conclusion of one year and the beginning of another, and I am grateful to have a partner who is open to exploring these ideas with me. Despite being fearful about venturing into uncharted territory  once again (I am actually scared out of my gourd), I’m also quite excited about the possibilities. I feel in my heart this is something I need to do now. That’s why I will trudge forward, even though I don’t have all the answers right now, knowing  I am—and will be—OK.

So even though I have some work ahead in terms of figuring out what my core desired feelings are à la Daniel Laporte, what I want for 2014, and beyond, are: vibrant health, deep compassion, inner peace, and abundant happiness. Cultivating meaningful relationships, nurturing my love of reading, playing and having more fun (could be a challenge for this super-serious girl), being present, breathing deeply, traveling, and saying sayonara to fear and self-limiting beliefs are also priorities.

If I’m being absolutely honest, though, what I want most this year is to be unapologetically BRAVE and OPEN. I want to give and receive LOVE, without holding anything back. I want to truly LIVE and appreciate every BIG, BOLD, BEAUTIFUL moment.

No resolutions.
No excuses.
No reservations.
No more pretending.

The winds of change are blowing, and there’s much to look forward to in 2014.
I can feel it.

My sincere wish is that each of you also find your awesome, HAPPY New Year! And if you are so inclined, I’d love for you to drop me a line to let me know how you plan to make 2014 your best year yet.

Love,
Andrea

Finding Gratitude, Part 2

This is a continuation of an earlier blog post. It might make a little more sense after reading Part 1 here.

After seeing how grateful my husband was to return to Saskatchewan to play against the Montreal Canadiens Alumni, it occurred to me that I’m not very good at the whole gratitude thing. In fact, I have some serious work to do in terms of nurturing my own gratitude.

That’s why, starting right now, I will make a concerted effort to become more aware of opportunities to be grateful.

I am pleased to share the following things in my life for which I’m grateful:

  • I have an amazingly loving and supportive husband, who treats me as an equal and encourages me to follow my passion.
  • I have two amazing children who are smart, healthy, and happy.
  • I have a beautiful home, which provides me with both shelter and solace.
  • I have money to provide for the needs of my family and myself.
  • I have a job that allows me to make a contribution by applying my skills in a professional setting, as well as providing flexibility and balance with my home life.
  • I have opportunities to travel with my family.
  • I’ve learned how important the mind-body connection is to me.
  • I have physical activities that I enjoy, such as running, hot yoga, and Sculpt Barre.
  • I am in relatively good health.
  • I have the knowledge and ability to take care of myself with proper nutrition, hydration, exercise, and sleep.
  • I am able to enjoy the rights and freedoms of living in a democratic society.
  • I am free to express my innermost thoughts and opinions without fear of repercussion.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, and confusion into clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Melody Beattie

My hope is that, as I make a conscious effort to notice and appreciate the things for which I am grateful, my gratitude list will continue to grow. Stay tuned…

I also invite you to share what you are grateful for in your life.