Sunday, June 9, 2013


In a world that seems to slowly be growing more and more impersonal with the onslaught of techy devices and the like, I'd like to share a few of my favourite human-kind experiences over the last little while:

1) About 2 months ago, I was on my way home from the Total Health Show in downtown Toronto. I had a great time with a friend, and while on the subway home, I missed my stop because we were chatting and laughing away. I hopped off and crossed the platform to go only one stop in the opposite direction. Of course, that was long enough to forget my purse on the subway. I panicked! Aside from my wallet and other personal effects, I had just picked up keys to the new office space I started renting for my nutritional consulting, and I hadn't even used the office yet! After 2 stressful hours of waiting for calls from dispatchers to see if my purse was turned in, I received a call from one Dan O'Brady. He had gotten on the subway where I got off, and he had my purse! He took the subway to the end of the line for his night shift at the opposite end of the city. The amazing thing is, I only had business cards in my wallet (with my contact info!) because I had taken them to leave at my new office space. I normally wouldn't have had them on me (now I carry them ALWAYS!). He sounded like an angel, and eventually I drove out to meet him and pick up my purse. I hugged him and thanked him and wished him all the luck in the world, and he wouldn't accept the cash I had in my wallet (it was only $20, but that's so not the point!).

2) There's a Starbucks close to my work with a staff of angels. Over the years, there have been a few people who have entered and just needed a place to hang out, either to get away from the cold or to try and placate the voices in their heads and turmoil in their hearts. On numerous occasions, I've seen the staff there treat these individuals with the same sweetness, soft voices, and smiles that they use with paying customers. Most recently, one such homeless man entered, and one of the staff just got an order ready for him without waiting for him to ask. She just prepared a water and coffee for him and placed it on the side counter. My heart leapt a little at the kindness. It's just a simple reminder that even the smallest of gestures carry an impactful amount of grace and class.

3) We live on a street that has an abundance of animal lovers. On any given day, there are dog walkers and people just giving love to stray cats. One such neighbourhood animal lover recently lost his jack russell (Lily) to a hit and run. As unbelievably sad as that is, the next day they were on-line looking for an animal in need to help fill the void of the loss. They found a young jack russell who had been abused and left for dead in a dumpster. Half of her mouth and nose were torn off, and the poor little girl's eye was ripped and infected. They didn't even hesitate to contact the shelter where this soul was kept, and they adopted her within days. We had the pleasure of meeting her (Maggie) while being walked by her new pet parent a few days ago. Even though the right side of her mouth was missing and half of her nose was gone, she looked like a bundle of joy. Her eye had completely healed, and she looked as though she was smiling. She didn't bolt immediately after meeting our Riley (55 pounds of basset love!), even though she weighed less than Riley's head alone!

Thinking about the kindness in the hearts and souls of every individual brings tears to my eyes (yes, I am a sap regardless, but these moments warrant sappiness, don't you think?). I'm not naive, as many people think. I know there are horrible things that happen. But the moments that truly lift us up are the ones that connect us as humankind, and these moments are never in shortage if our eyes and hearts are open.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Back to Basics

Recently I completed a 30-day squat challenge. Many of you may have seen emails, tweets, and the like about this challenge in slight variations. I decided to try it when my neighbours told me they were doing it. The general idea is that you start with 50, and then in succession build up to 250 by the 30th day with rest-days throughout. 

Now, many of you may be thinking "No Problem!" While others are thinking, "No Way!" But let me assure you all! If I can do this, you ALL can! I started off just curious about whether I could do it, and part way through it turned into something way more personal. As silly as it sounds, I felt as though my ability to complete these squats meant so much more than just a physical accomplishment. I came to equate the challenge with commitment and strength of heart and mind.

According to the challenge, you are supposed to take a picture of your endearing rear before and after the challenge. I did NOT do this. Although my husband volunteered (vehemently), I decided that wasn't the important part for me. Strength was my guiding factor. And the strength that comes with being able to do 250 squats is immense!

Once the challenge was done, however, I was a bit lost. I felt fabulous at having accomplished this goal, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. So, I put the question out there and received a bit of feedback.  And all of this got  me thinking about getting back to basics. It really isn't as hard getting a bit of strength training or cardio into your day as you might think. What's most daunting is trying to coordinate getting to the gym between jobs and life in general, but when you have the ability to do so much at home, then things become so much simpler! 

I found that even going to gym, I wanted to do my squats. So, after some cardio, I found myself in a small corner of one of the weight rooms doing a succession of 50 squats and 10 push ups (totalling 200 squats and 30 push ups). You see, even after having been a consistent GoodLife member for more than 8 years, and even though I've used the weight machines and gone to classes, I still find doing the weight-machine circuit to be an enigma. I don't know how many reps to do of however many sets, and I feel like I can never remember how many I did last time! I considered bringing my trusty notebook and pen with me, but no else has paper and pen in hand! How do they all remember??? Different weights and different reps on different machines makes for a spinning head...there must be a system I just haven't tapped into. And I haven't given up entirely on the machines, but how can a person go wrong with good ol' squats and push ups? Or any of the other exercises available to a gym-less soul?

Don't get me wrong, I definitely appreciate the weight machines and all they have to offer, and I completely understand for those who have a specific goal in mind (whether a certain weight, reps, competition, etc.) that these machines offer invaluable support towards those goals, but I'm a layman, and my comments are directed to the other laymens out there...WORKING OUT NEEDN'T BE OVERWHELMING! And using your own body weight prevents the possibility of injuries when you (read "I") don't really know what kind of system to put in place on the machines.

So, whether you want to start with the 30-day squat challenge or just a series of push ups and sit ups at home, I say DO IT! You don't need money for it, and only limited space is required. 

Spring is the perfect time of year to get into the spirit of working out, so dive (squat?) right in!

Friday, March 8, 2013

This week we said goodbye to Gramma Winnie Cragg. She would have been 94 years old this April, and she embodied a class of women reminiscent of the lovely Audrey Hepburn. While saddened by the loss and idea that she will no longer be gracing us with her sweetness, we celebrate a life spanning two continents, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Her story was an incredible one before she travelled to Canada from England after WWII. But her experiences never dampened her spirits.

Her sharp wit (lucid until the end!) and easily accommodating demeanor leaves us a legacy with which to aspire to. One of her nieces said at her funeral that "Winnie could have written the book on how to make friends." It's so true. She was always one to ask about what was going on in everyone else's life. She would only talk about herself if she was asked questions. Otherwise, she was all about making sure other people in the room felt they were acknowledged and made to feel welcome. In fact, she and her husband, the late Grampa Leslie Cragg, were the first in my husband's family to make me feel truly welcome nearly 20 years ago. They instantly made me feel as though I mattered, asking me questions about my travels, family, culture, interests, education, etc. They were never meddling questions. On the contrary, they made me feel as though I was extraordinary. They found commonalities and connected with me. They bravely held our pre-wedding reception at their home, and it was full of hearty laughter, music, and love.

Gramma has me thinking of all that made her classy. It was more than making sure she had her hair done regularly. She had it done weekly, in fact, and made sure to have a head covering to keep it from various environmental elements. She even had it done the week before she passed away! I discovered last night from my husband and brother-in-law that she taped her hair at night to keep it in place! I didn't even know that was a "thing." Taping hair!

The modest care she took in herself was admirable, and she has me thinking about my own grooming techniques...or lack thereof. Sure, I'm clean. I eat well and exercise. But I'm usually clad in worn out shoes, tousled hair either up in a careless bun or loose in a frizzy maze, t-shirts and jeans or cargo pants, over-sized sweaters, unpolished nails...I always go for comfort and assume that anything other than what I'm used to would be less than comfortable. But where did I get that idea? It's not true at all. Sure, some people dress up and are obviously uncomfortable, tugging at too-tight dresses and pulling up too-low pants. But Gramma brought an ease to it. Come to think of it, my mother has that same classy look, always looking amazing in all that she dons. Alas, that is a blog for another day...

So, here I am on International Women's Day and thinking about the women in my life, both past and present, who epitomize grace and true beauty. Gramma was a woman of grace and class, in mannerisms and character. Because of her, I will remember to care a bit more about the whole package (exterior as well as interior). She was an incredible woman, and after 94 years, she is a symbol of how we should cherish triumphs rather than wallow in defeats.

Goodbye, Gramma. We all take comfort that you are resting in peace with your beloved.

Friday, March 1, 2013

I digress...

Once upon a time, there was a girl who thought technology was going to be the demise of human-kind. She scoffed at people (including her husband) who would check their phones incessantly. It was deemed unconscionable to even LOOK at a phone while in anyone else's presence. She hesitated and died a little inside when her husband bought her an e-reader one Christmas ("Oh No!" she thought. "How can this relationship work when he's one of THEM?!?"). 

Then, one day, she foolishly broke her wrist right before a trip to England. After nearly 8 months of barely using her e-reader, she found she could carry innumerable books with her abroad while not breaking a sweat! This made her a little feverish with glee...but no one needed to know THAT tidbit of information...

While abroad, her archaic phone became virtually non-functional. So, upon arriving back home, she decided she would upgrade to a smart phone. But she wouldn't abuse it. In fact, she would be stoic and discrete to the point that people wouldn't even KNOW she had a smart phone! After all, people had just recently discovered she had an e-reader! Unbeknownst to them, she was falling in love with it...but no one needed to know THAT tidbit of information, either.

Well, imagine what happened when she discovered all the functions of the "smart" phone! At first, the idea of using it as an actual computer to figure things out just plain scared her. Check email, weather, and even the bus schedule? What?!? And what was this business of chirping and linking?? All very foreign concepts to her.

Until...ding...what's that? I know when I get an email automatically!?! And bzzz...what's that? I can get an alert when I'm "tagged?" Uh oh...did I say, "I"?? I meant "she"!! 

No matter, this is completely fictional...

So, as I type this on my laptop with my newer, pocket-sized e-reader (interestingly enough, in my pocket) and my precious phone to my right, I don't see myself as having succumb. I'm not weak, really, I'm not! I can  be plugged in and still pay attention to you. 

Oh, hold on a minute, I've got a message...

Friday, February 22, 2013

When I'm uber busy, there is no question as to what needs to get done, and those things GET done! When I suddenly have time, I get so lost in the possibilities that if I don't act quickly, the time has disappeared into the ether and I feel guilty. So, this morning when I had that foreboding sense that I was going to "lose" it (time), I took action! And I'm so grateful that I did. My journey led me to a peaceful, self-reflective day that still has me smiling.

Admittedly, my first stop was a sinful treat that happens maybe twice a year--Cafe Crepe on Queen West in Toronto. I had a fantastic, savoury crepe with real maple syrup (they really DO go well together!), accompanied by a Nutella latte...yes, to my fellow typo...and no apology...

Enjoying every morsel of crepe while reading Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall), I realized I was the only one in the crowded restaurant seated alone. This doesn't bother me. While I love eating out with family and friends, I'm also surrounded by people throughout my regular day, and sometimes it feels good to sit alone so I can make sure my voice is still present in my head.  It's easy to get lost in the chatter, so regrouping is definitely necessary for my own sanity.

Once that leg of my day was done, I headed to the Art Gallery of Ontario. I LOVE the AGO. In fact, I have  a long-standing love affair with the AGO. When I was in school, I used to volunteer in their bookstore. Afterwards, throughout university, I had a student membership and would visit frequently, often just choosing a different section of the gallery to sit in with my notebook (writing poems to accompany some works...not talent there!) while gazing at whatever my mood led me towards. I even did an internship there while studying Book and Magazine Publishing, editing and proofreading various things. The odd thing is that I'm not an art history major or even remotely talented in a way that most people drawn to galleries are. I'm just a lover of beauty and stories, and my GOODNESS the AGO is filled with both.

So, upon arrival there today, a sense of calm settled over me, and as I checked my coat in, the volunteer there saw the picture of my cat on my phone. She said she also had a cat, and when I asked what its name was, she answered Cyprus! My full-on grin prompted her to ask why that was strange. I told her that was where my family was from, and whether she had any connection to the country. She said no... that it was just a beautiful name that she'd always loved how it sounded. Familiarity always oozes from that place. A great way to start the next phase of my afternoon!

I went and saw a few of my faves to start with: Otto Dix's Dr. Heinrich Stadelmann (I'm always mesmerized by his creepy eyes depicting the horrifying, emotional reality post-WWI), Henry Moore's gallery of gorgeous statues, Barbara Hepworth's Mother and Child, to name barely any! But stumbling upon Patti Smith's photography exhibit was elating. I really knew next to nothing about her, but I feel that she completely gives all of herself to her photographs, and they had me hypnotized. Her relationship with her surroundings makes me believe that she is truly connected to all that she photographs. I was witnessing the love she felt for her mentors and friends through her work. I heard people commenting aloud and to themselves while passing various selections (one man chuckled in admiration, "Hermann Hesse's Typewriter! Huh!"). Of course, I couldn't help but think that this must be an artist's greatest form of flattery--whether with the written word, sculpture, photograph, or any type of artwork--to stir emotions in people as she was is just so very cool.

After the Patti Smith collection, I came across the Michael Snow exhibit (a modern, industrial installation that was unique in and of itself), and I started chatting with one of the security guards. We got into an earnest conversation about what a shame it is that galleries aren't accessible to a lot of people in our city. They're expensive! I told him I usually go to the gallery on Wednesday nights (free), and he said, "But it's so busy!" It is, but it's most accessible at that time. 

Art has so much more to offer than just pretty pictures and photos. It shouldn't be an elitist luxury. Art is an ongoing statement of life, emotion, and the world's history. It connects people in its ability to "speak" in new and unusual ways. It tells stories, enrages, delights, and awes. Sometimes it bores. But that's the great thing! It's like music--there are so many forms of it and limitless ways of expressing oneself that different kinds speak to different personalities and experiences. Everyone SHOULDN'T love EVERYTHING. People gravitate towards what moves them. That's the beauty.

So, as my day draws to a wonderful close, I feel lucky to have spent it rejuvenating my heart and soul. I spent it feeling united with my surroundings, and I'm better for it. Learning something new is always a good way to spend some time. There are people who feel that they need to be busy all the time, feeling pressure to always be ON, but without these moments of solitude and immersion in something other than what NEEDS to be done, then we can get lost in other people's realities.

After a day of reconnecting with myself, and with a great sigh of contentment, I feel fully prepared and happy to re-enter the world of need...until the next opportunity for complete and utter selfish me-time occurs...maybe accompanied by another crepe, if the fates allow...