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.

New York City: An Inspirational Tale

Skating at Rockefeller Center with my honey.

Skating at Rockefeller Center with my honey.

I am completely in awe of how being in a place for just a few days can have such an impact on me. It’s tough to describe the feeling, but I left New York City feeling somehow different than when I arrived. I am at once exhausted yet energized, and even more in love with the city than I was after my last visit over 10 years ago.

For me, part of the the magic of NYC is found in its inherent contrasts: the visible extremes of rich and poor; the ever present underlying theme of struggle and triumph; and the prevalence of despair set against a backdrop of constant hope.

The people are, without a doubt, one of the city’s greatest attributes. I can’t help but marvel at their gritty determination and sheer awesomeness. It’s evident it must take a tough skin to live—and thrive—in NYC, yet most of the people we encountered didn’t seem to be too hardened by living there. Everyone we came across—from retail and hotel staff to people on the street—was friendly and helpful.

For those with a hearty appetite, one of the best things about New York is the food. The city is a mecca of multiculturalism, and nowhere is this more evident than in its culinary offerings. Some of the highlights for me were the poppy seed ‘Pick your Bagel’ with lox and house made cream cheese, thin crust pizza from Lombardi’s, and chicken eggplant rollotini with penne and fresh tomato sauce from 44SW Italian Eatery. The mussels and frites from Brasserie La Hasse were also amazing!

No trip to NYC would be complete without taking in at least one show on Broadway, and we were lucky enough to see two in our short four-day trip. The first was Rock of Ages. My husband and I actually went on a date to see the movie when it was released a few years back, so we were already familiar with the story and new it would be right up our alley. Also, it’s one of the few shows that plays on Sunday evenings and we lucked out getting half-price tickets from TKTS on the Square the day of the show. Wahoo! The plot strayed from the movie version a little, at the same time offering even more electrically charged raunchiness and hilarity. It also included a couple of unexpected songs in the second act that weren’t in the movie. All in all, Rock of Ages is a great show and tons of fun to take in.

Based on the recommendation of nearly everyone we talked to, the second show we saw was Kinky Boots. Let me just say this was the greatest show I’ve ever seen, bar none. Lola is the drag queen and central character of the story about a struggling mens’ shoe factory in England at the turn of the century. Played by Billy Porter, this performance earned him a Tony in 2013 and it’s not hard to see why, it was spot-on. With a score by Cindy Lauper, phenomenal supporting cast, and wonderful message of accepting others and being yourself, Kinky Boots was awesome!

Seeing the amazing Jimmy Fallon during the second week of his new Tonight Show format was another major highlight. I’ve always regarded Fallon as extremely talented, and getting to see his live show only served to reinforce my belief. While we were in the neighbourhood for the live taping of the show, I made my husband’s year by asking if we could go skating at Rockefeller Center. (He’s a good, hockey-loving Canadian boy, and we had never been skating together in the nearly 20 years we’ve been a couple.) Aside from the steep price tag for our two admission tickets and skate rental fees, I’m glad we had this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had a blast, and dare I say may have even redeemed myself as an adequate skater —both in my husband’s eyes and as a good Canadian girl.

I find the history and architecture of NYC absolutely fascinating. I could literally walk around for days just gawking at buildings—admiring the architectural details, and sheer magnificence of it all. I particularly fell in love with SoHo’s quaint buildings and adorable cobblestone streets. The charm had me caught up in a daydream, losing myself in a fantasy of becoming a writer and spending countless days in coffee shops.

By far, the greatest gift of our trip to NYC is the indescribable feeling of change it sparked in me. We stayed in an adorable boutique hotel, The Muse, and the city itself is beyond amusing. I may even go as far as to say New York has been a muse for me. Irrefutably, it stirred something in me. The tiniest spark seems to have ignited a little fire in my belly, and I have the sensation of a dormant dream being awakened.

Maybe it’s the symbolism as a place where dreams are born and made. Or maybe it’s the people—so many of whom have had to overcome all kinds of adversity, and others who continue fight every single day for the chance to do what they love. I’ve noticed I now have a slightly different view of life and many new ideas are starting to bubble up to the surface. Is this what they call inspiration? Maybe.

Whatever you call it, I feel as though the stories of my heart, which have been locked away deep down inside for so long I’d almost forgotten were there, are now trying to break free. And so I’d like to thank you, New York City, from the bottom of my heart, for loosening the shackles and helping me see a whole new world of possibility. I am forever grateful we had the chance to meet once again, and I sincerely hope to return to you before another 10 years pass.

Until next time.

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