Tag Archives: balance

Castles and Illusions


“Who is that?” asks a 10-year old girl in the grocery store line up. She points at a magazine cover featuring an unnamed model.

I’m not sure. Some nice lady. 

“What’s she doing?”

Standing in front of a camera.

“Why is she standing like that?”

I’m not sure. She might be trying to make herself look different than she is. 

“Why would she do that?”

I’m not sure. Good question. 

“That’s weird.”

I know. [Silence.] It’s kinda weird.  

Because I’d hazard a guess that nice lady doesn’t look or stand like that most of the time. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen women at a business meeting, or women at the gym, or women in the school yard, or women at the beach stand like that. Someone else did that nice lady’s hair and makeup so she looked quite different from what she looked like when she got up that morning. After other people with big cameras were done taking photos of her with special lights, that lady probably washed her face, put on comfy pants, and went for a sandwich. Then later maybe she hung out with some friends or her family. Maybe walked her dog. Did some pottery, played volleyball or something. I bet she’s super cool and smart.

It’s just that things and people sometimes get depicted like they are not. Sometimes it’s art. Sometimes it’s trickery. Sometimes it’s commerce. Or entertainment.

Sometimes it’s fear.

And a lot of times it doesn’t feel quite right.

Like when we get our family portraits done. It’s awkward sitting there with hands on each others’ shoulders. With hair combed just right. All that smiling when nothing’s funny. Your face starts to twitch, and your eyes get desperate when you stare at a camera and hold a fake smile for too long.

Or like keeping the house clean when you’re trying to sell it. You make the house look like it  never looks. And you run around every morning shoving things in closets and putting out fake place-settings. And you cannot wait for it to be over so you can get back to how you actually live.

Or the recipe pictures. The shimmering green smoothie on a white marble counter in front of the vase of yellow tulips. If you pan out a couple of feet, there’s a pile of slimy, black banana peels. And spatters of spinach and almond milk on the stove top. And probably stray ice cubes melting on the floor. The smoothie still tastes sweet and rich and glorious.

There’s a furious attempt to build castles and illusions, my dear. And I’m still not sure why. I can’t see all the way through it just yet.

The work comes in the un-layering, in finding what is real to you. Because the discomfort in the pose is real. The toil and story behind every image is real. The desire to flee the illusion is real.

As is the homecoming.




Perfectly, Exquisitely Still

It’s still.

The house is still. And silent. Everyone else is asleep. The fridge is humming and the coffee pot churning. But other than that, nothing.

Outside the curve of the family room window, the leaves are still. They hang just so. Quiet, dormant.

In the vista beyond the leaves, the ocean is still. Sleek and steely blue. No touches of white, the tell-tale signs of wind and chop.

In the gray early morning light, I see the bank of clouds. And they are still. Oh, wait. No. They are moving north ever so slowly. Beneath the stillness, or amongst it, there is movement. I guess there always is.

My mind is still. I can’t find what brought me to wakefulness so early. Not work. Not writing. Not reading. Not exercise. I search and search, layers down. Then I realize there’s nothing to do. Except take this time. To be still.

Because soon there will be wind and chop. And rustle. And noise. And inspiration. And work. And movement. And all that joyfully comes with that.

But for now, it’s perfectly, exquisitely still.

Big, Fat, Deep, Joyful Health

Against expert advice that says New Year’s resolutions should be specific and actionable, this year I’m going with big sweeping concepts.

That’s because lately I’ve been in a big, sweeping concept sort of mood.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my health.

Over the last few years I’ve been really focused on my fitness.  I’ve been “getting in shape”, “eating clean”, “working out”, “training”.  All well and good, and these concepts resonated for a while.

But am I healthy?  This question has been nagging me.  What does “being healthy” even mean? I’m not ill or overweight.  I’m fit.  But sometimes – a lot of times – I don’t feel like I’m there.

Because it’s fun and sexy, let’s quote the World Health Organization.

The WHO says health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  I perused around their website a bit.  Nowhere did they say anything about “getting a six pack” or “taking two minutes off your triathlon time”.  Weird.

My personal health narrative is changing.  “Being in shape” is no longer enough.  The body aesthetic is no longer meaningful. Performance goals are less important.  I’m seeking a bigger sense of health.  A feeling of health.  I’m learning, slowly, there are so many pieces of the puzzle. And they all matter immensely.

So this year I’m going deeper.  Yet at the same time I’m lightening up. My goal for the year is to maximize the following:

Nourishment.  This is a big one for me.  It’s weird.  I’ve been eating my whole life, yet some days I feel still don’t know how to eat.  I’ve tried a lot of theories and plans, and I have seen “results”.  But looking back, I find I swing between restriction and overindulgence, awareness and lack of awareness, caring and not caring.  I have yet to find a simple way to eat that optimizes how well I feel and then live it consistently.

So this year I’m going to do some personal experimentation, some bio-hacking if you will. I’m going to pay close attention to hunger, levels of energy, cravings.  No more white-knuckling and praying for willpower.  Do I have food intolerances?  What do I need more of? How do I reduce toxins and stuff that isn’t even really food? Does what and how I eat reflect my core values?

Bottom line: I want to learn how to nourish myself, not just eat.  And I want to support my kids and husband in their sense of nourishment.

Rest.  This is another big one.  Anyone else out there exhausted? Like all the time?  For me, this means physical rest as well as mental.  Sleeping more and sleeping better.  Unplugging more.  Not “doing stuff” all the time.  Stopping the chase.  For me, it is about recognizing there is a point in the day where there is simply nothing more do be had.  At that point, I will train myself to stop.  I will turn off my mind.  And I will rest.

Connection.  I am blessed with great friends.  Some live near, some live far.  But here’s the thing.  I rarely see them.  I get that everyone is busy.  We’re all working, raising kids, taking care of homes and businesses, and such.  We’re all running around like crazy.  But  this year I’m going to book more time with my friends.  Regular time.  What’s-going-on-with-you time. Let-me-see-the-whites-of-your-eyes-time.  More dinners together.  More fitness stuff together.   More little trips.  This may be the year I personally initiate the renaissance of the potluck.  My world needs more potlucks.

Presence. I have a habit – as I think many do – of looking down the line.  What’s going on this afternoon?  Next week? What’s for dinner? What’s next on the list?  Oooh, that (new idea, food, place, whatever) sounds good.  How do I solve this uncomfortable problem? I spend more time in the future than the present.

I want to improve my ability to see, feel, and appreciate what is right here, right now.  In a sense, it’s tied back to the rest concept.  There is enough right now.  No more is required.  And I can handle whatever is right in front of me.  It’s all ok; in fact, it’s all wondrously perfect.  This doesn’t mean giving up or settling.  For me,  it means appreciation and acceptance while moving consciously with the flow of life.

Movement. I feel like I kind of have this down in a way that is working for me.  I love to move everyday.  I like to run.  Bike.  Jump. Swim. Lift, push and pull heavy things.  I like to sweat, and to feel strong and nimble.  I’m going to keep doing what I do.  But I’m going to ease up. I’m learning that more and longer is not better.  You cannot outsmart your body, and it will ultimately shout back when you push it too hard.  I’m going to play with the movement I love.  And I’m going to walk more.  And stretch.

Joy.  I’m grateful to know this feeling – those rare but sparkling moments of aligned perfection.  But I’ve noticed it hasn’t been coming around as much lately.  I hope my old friend joy will show up more as I work on all of the above.  For me, joy comes with laughter, levity, authenticity, connection, compassion, and creativity.  This year I’m going for maximum joy-buzz. Yo.

So there you have my new years resolutions.  Nourishment.  Rest. Connection. Presence. Movement. Joy.  And the maximization thereof.  All totally high level.  For now, all completely unactionable.

I’m not sure what form this will all take.  But I believe progress in these areas will show up on the body. And in the mind and soul. I’m hoping it will foster a deeper sense of health.

Big, fat, deep, joyful health.  Yeah, that sounds good.

Happy new year!






Winter Fitness and Heavy Stuff

Last night I did something unusual.  I went the gym.

I like to work-out, and I do it pretty religiously.  But mostly I stick to home.  No time wasted packing gym bags, finding parking, and battling for equipment.  I’m usually done, showered, coffeed and alive by the time the kids get up. In balmy weather, I can also be found riding my bike and running.  But week-to-week there’s a lot of jumping around and clanging weights in my basement. 

This is all part of my pursuit of balance.  Of feeling sane and whole in my busy life.  I like to feel fit and strong.  I like to feel, that if crisis beckoned and it was just me against the world, I could run for miles through the desert or move large boulders to save my family.  

But I’m mixing things up over here.  Bored with my routine, in need of a new goal, and perhaps slightly mad, I’ve hired a personal trainer. 

I’ve asked a seriously fit-looking gentlemen to come up with a fitness and nutrition program that will take me to new levels over the winter.  This will also be something to take my mind of the  six plus months of deep freeze we’re about to embark on in Calgary.  This program needs to be mostly home based, but let’s think outside the box, I said. I would like to get strong and lean, so do what you have to do.  Bring it on. 

I got my new program this week.  I stared blankly and nodded a lot as my trainer walked me through it.  I was a little worried and nervous, and alarm bells began to go off.  But I figure that’s the sound of me evolving. 

Things will still be mostly home-based (as I requested), but, there is one day a week I need to go to a real gym.  A gym that has more weights than I have at home.  And I am required to go to the part of the gym with the heavy-looking stuff and sweaty, grunting men.  No pink barbells.  No inner-thigh machines.

So last night I packed my gym bag, found parking and made my way into the gym.  I was excited and inspired.  Once there, I promptly swore to myself , got re-dressed and drove home after realizing I’d forgotten my work-out notes.  Off to an excellent and efficient start.  

But eventually I got organized and wandered out on the gym floor.  I headed for the “serious” corner with the sweatshirt-clad men.    I wandered around for a bit trying to identify the equipment I’d need.  Eventually, with a furrowed brow and watching the time tick away, I sought the help of one of the staff.  Bless her heart, she was kind.  She walked me around and pointed out the equipment I was looking for.  Almost an hour after I left the house (the first time), I was finally ready to begin.

I muddled through.  I kept my eyes down and my notes handy.  And I proceeded to “tear up” my legs, as they say.  I may have grunted once or twice.  The big men politely ignored me.  I found the corner with the mats and balls and grunted a bit more over there for a while.  And then I got on a treadmill and ran for an hour.

Home just before 10:00 p.m., I was spent.  Finished. Done like dinner.  But on a deeper level, I felt great.

So once a week, around my daily home-based workouts, this will be my night out.  I will go to the gym to move heavy stuff, roll around on balls, and such.  For me, it’s better than a movie.  More fulfilling than pottery class.   Beats the pants off scrapbooking.  But, hey, that’s just me. 

The things we do in the pursuit of balance.  Now excuse me, while I hobble gingerly around my house.

What makes you feel balanced?

mom’s day off

I’m having a rare day today.  One by myself.  In my house.  No work-work to do.  No pressing appointments or meetings.  No commitments, except to pick up my kids by 4:00 p.m.  That’s like six straight hours.  And it doesn’t happen very often anymore.     

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had plenty of pockets of time to myself over the last four years since becoming a parent.  When on maternity leave, I’d have a few hours to myself most days when the baby was napping.  Mind you, it was always a  bit of a race against the clock to get work-out, shower, clean up breakfast disaster routine completed.  But I’ll take it.  In between, I’ve had some business trips, we’ve had some great evenings out together and with friends, and – glory be – there’s been a couple of vacations with just my husband and I.  So I’ve had some time away.  But today I’m just at home.  And the house is silent.  Just me and my thoughts.  No clock-watching.  Frankly, it is glorious. 

Sophie has started at dayhome.  I was glad to not be working for this first while, just in case it was a total disaster and I needed to pick her up early and deal with an anxiety-ridden baby and an anxiety-ridden self.   But, as it turns out, Sophie is a pretty cool customer and has been a real trooper settling into dayhome.  From day one, no crying, normal naps, and good eating.  And all smiles when I pick her up.  I know, I shouldn’t have said that.  Watch – tomorrow it will all turn sideways.  But I will relish in today!  

I’m not working yet either.  As a project-based consultant, I didn’t have a ‘regular job’ to go back to.  There’s some proposals in.  But as of today, there’s no billable hours or pressing deadlines.  I have recently heard that one project is a go, and others are looking good.  So I don’t feel the anxiety of no work, because I’m pretty sure it’s coming.  Thus, I’m not spending this day frantic about not working, combing monster.ca, and calling everyone I know and used to work with.  I’m just hanging.

So what to do with a day like this?  To the spa?  Out with friends? Shopping?  Nope.  The thing about ending maternity leave is a little situation called strapped-for-cash.  The free money from the government has stopped (this is a small detail I overlooked until I nearly ploughed through my overdraft last week).  So it’s time to quiet down the spending until that first pay cheque is real.  No whimsical trips to the farmer’s market to pay practically double for everything.  And Costco, we’ll have to catch up later.  Instead, I’ll just stay home in the quiet.   I did a great, tough workout this morning.  Cleaned up the house a bit.  There’s some laundry to do.  And I’ve spent a lot of time decadently mulling over writing ideas and this blog.  Hey, I may yet venture out and get some milk.   Or not. 

I know.  Ferris Beuller did a day-off much better than I. But as parents, sometimes the biggest gift we can give ourselves is a little peace and quiet and the permission to do nothing.  A day like this may not come again soon. 

Wow, I thought this post might be funny.  Turns out it’s not.  At all.  It’s just a post about my quiet, boring, glorious day.

5 things i didn’t know about preschool

My four-year old goes to preschool.  She started in September, and goes twice a week in the mornings for a couple of hours.  She loves it.  There’s lots of painting, gluing stuff, singing, and learning about important things like bears and turkeys.  She’s making lots of little new friends, too.  Their Christmas concert was adorable.   All twenty of them lined up on the stage and sang away, giggling to each other, and waving madly to their families in the crowd.  Even cuter were all the dads in the back of the room and up the aisles with the multiple cameras – proud as punch – capturing every moment like paparazzi at the Golden Globes.   

I always figured, in an abstract way, that preschool would take a little weight off parenting.  Fantastic – the kids are being entertained for a couple of hours!  Now back to me!  I didn’t figure all the stuff that came along with it really adds layers of complication to certain days and keeps the to-do list getting longer instead of shorter.  Here are five things I didn’t know about preschool.  

1. You’re supposed to buy the teacher a Christmas present.  What?! Christmas is a mad-house already.  Shopping for all the people already in my life is torture at the best of times.  And I’ve already made decisions along the way with certain friends I love and cherish to stop buying presents because everyone knows it’s just a huge pain and no-one needs any more stuff.  We, as a people, I thought are trying to buy less – not more – stuff.  So the last thing I want to do is start buying a Christmas present for someone I don’t really know so well, although she is perfectly lovely and nice.  But I showed up with Isabelle on the last class before the Christmas break to see a lot of the other mom’s bringing beautifully wrapped presents for the teacher.  Nobody told me about this, not even on the mom down-low.    Guilt immediately set in, and I felt like a schmuck. It had never even crossed my mind.

2. You’re supposed to get presents for all the other kids on special holidays.  I picked up Isabelle from the class before  Halloween, and she had a loot bag of goodies.  Many of these goodies appeared to be given by the other kids’ moms.  They were all wrapped up beautifully, with goblin and ghost ribbons, and tags that said things like “Happy Halloween! Love Jenny”.  Then at Christmas, some of the mom’s who’d bought presents for the teacher also bought individually wrapped little presents for each kid in the class, all with little tags that said things like “Merry Christmas!  Love Jenny”.  Again, I’m the schmuck.

3. You have to collect stuff that is sort of garbage.  I now have to remember, in the midst of my daily life, not to throw out and recycle things like paper towel rolls, egg cartons, and baby food jars in the same place everything else gets thrown out and recycled in our house.  There’s a new step added to the routine every time I change a toilet roll.  I now walk through the house with the empty toilet roll in hand to a newly designated place where I collect things that I may need to give to the preschool someday.  It’s not a big deal; I ultimately got a toilet roll collection system in place.  But it’s just one more step in my day, when I was kind of expecting …hoping…for a few steps less now that we’re in preschool.  

4. You’re supposed to bring goodies for the class on your kid’s birthday.  I sort of expected this, because I remember this from my childhood.  You get to bring cupcakes to school on your birthday, right?  Except when I was a kid the cupcakes just magically appeared on the counter in the morning, and I happily carted them off to school ready to bask in the festivities.  Now I have to remember the night before and stay up late making batches of cookies so they are  ready on the counter in the morning.  Nothing magical about that. 

5. You have to pick up your kid in the middle of the day.  OK, I knew about this one, but I hadn’t really thought it through.  Preschool ends at 11:45 a.m., and someone needs to be there to pick up the kids and bring them along to their next destination wherever that is.  Understood.  No big deal when I was on maternity leave.  When on maternity leave, I could pick up and drop off all day long.  But how in the world does that work when someone has a job?  I hadn’t figured that my job choices, career decisions, and ability to schedule myself would be so deeply affected by the seemingly simple task of transporting my daughter the 1.5 kilometres (about three-minute drive) from preschool to her day-home.  And how, in sweet glory, will this work when she starts kindergarten and this needs to happen every day?

More experienced and smarter parents than I are rolling their eyes, I’m sure.  Deal with it, right?  That’s life as a parent.  You finally get yourself organized during one stage, only to be tossed another series of curve balls when you move to the next.  So, I guess I have to figure out what I can and cannot handle in the preschool expectations department.  Foreshadowing now to December 2010: “Merry Christmas Ms. (insert teacher’s name).  Thanks so much for everything.  Can I give you a Christmas hug?”.

writers write

This New Year’s Eve starts cold and gray.  It’s -22 Celsius in Calgary this morning.  My husband is at work today, and I am at home with our two little girls.  It will be a quiet, cozy sort of day together with them.  I am trying to cherish such days.  I’m cherishing wearing dirty sweat pants and slurping back a second cup of coffee, while finishing up my morning ritual of checking favourite websites and headlines.  The first place I go, I admit, is people.com. Must keep up with celebrity deaths and break-ups; however, must also must minimize the screen quickly when on this site and my husband enters the kitchen.  This is followed by a quick check in at Facebook, and then on to more serious matters like the globeandmail.com and the Huffington Post amongst others.  I may not be able to enjoy such rituals in the morning while wearing sweatpants and listening to the girls play much longer.  On Monday January 4th, both girls will go to day-home.  Back to day-home for Isabelle, who just turned four, and it will be Sophie’s first day. 

 My year of maternity leave with Sophie has just ended.  She turned one a week before Christmas.  I am thrilled with the idea of going back to work.  I seriously cannot wait.  Yet the other side of my heart is sad and worried about leaving little Soph at day-home.  I get choked up and a bit panicky thinking about it.  At least she and Isabelle will be together.  But it needs to happen so I can get on with work and find the balance.  I’m very excited about re-launching my career full-steam ahead, with the perils and exhaustion of the first years of parenthood behind me, not to be revisited again.  But, oh yeah, I don’t have a job to go back to.  That’s another story.  We’ll talk more about that on another day. 

 Today I’m contemplating my new year’s resolutions.  I love the idea of new year’s resolutions.  I know it’s a random point in the year; no better than any Tuesday in say June to take stock and recalibrate one’s goals, one could argue.  But for some reason it works for me.  The limited sunlight and post-Christmas chocolate-induced haze equate to natural periods of contemplation, I find.  There will be lots going on for me in 2010: back to work (touch wood), two young kids, turning 40, some personal fitness goals.  I also want to write more this year.  I want to start capturing the details of this life in a more defined way.  And, in doing so, I want to see if a story, a creative narrative, emerges.  I want to see what version of my voice bubbles up when I think about writing for an audience…whoever you are.   I’ve always fancied the idea of being a writer.  My career so far has lent to much writing, though most of it (well, all of it) technical and analytical.  It has required me to understand issues and figure out the stories behind them, albeit in order to solve them from a business perspective.  And I’ve loved it and will continue to do so.  But I feel I have broader, more personal, stories to write. 

 My brother quoted someone once to me, saying “writers write”.  It doesn’t matter really about what, or who reads it.  Just sit down and write; that’s what makes you a writer.  Write what you know.  The story will come eventually.  So I need to do more of that…just writing.  I have to just start.  That is a goal for me this year.  So I will start by capturing some of the riveting monologue that ticks away in my mind.  I will capture my take on things as the world unfolds, on the things that stand out to me.  Where to write it?  Where to start? In a blog, a friend suggested.  Any one can do it, and then it’s just out there.  However, I don’t feel like this should even be called a blog.  I’m not organized enough yet.  Is there such thing as a mini-blog?  There is now. 

 I read somewhere that blogs should have a specific theme or topic.  Yeah, I don’t have that yet.  The overarching themes of this mini-blog are still emerging.  But there’s no time for clarity and precision.  The new year is upon me, and so I have to start.  But it will likely involve my fumbling, day-to-day learnings and perspectives on such things as: parenting; fitness and efforts at healthy eating; politics and current affairs; turning 40 this year; and work-life balance.  These are the things I find myself thinking about often these days.  There will be other things I’m sure.  Really important, cutting edge things that I want to write about.  Of course, I can’t think of them now, but they’ll come to me I’m sure.  Crystallized and cutting bites of wisdom are undoubtedly not far behind. 

 Asking myself what theme I’ll write on raises the question of who I am and what is my corner in the world.  I am hoping that writing will also help me bring the person that I am into sharper focus.  Good Lord, it could even help the process of personal evolution and growth.  And for some reason, the idea of writing for an audience (even a theoretical one), rather than rambling in a private journal, feels different.  It seems more accountable.  Writing with the thought that someone actually might read it shifts the focus.  Plus my handwriting is hard to read when I’m scribbling in my bed-side notebook in the few minutes before I got to bed at night.  I need to do it in the stark light of day, when I am in the midst of living.  Never best to write, I figure, when one is in a state of fatigue-ridden half-sleep. 

 So here it goes.  Mini-blog is on.  Thanks for joining me (if there’s anybody out there).