Celebrate the Women in Your Life

March 8th is International Women’s Day. I have many wishes for women the world over, happiness, safety, equal opportunity, and education. Beyond global wishes, we also need to remember the special women in our day-to-day life.

The special women is my life are my mom and my two daughters. My mother formed who I am, my deep seeded values and ability to love and nurture. She was my role model for most of my life.

Until I gained two new role models, my daughters, who challenged the values I held, pushed me to be more tolerant and open-minded. They are smart, kind, beautiful, tough and ambitious. They taught and continue to teach me every day.

All three of these women made me who I am today. I love them to the moon and back.

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The Hour-Glass

Lately , my mind has been reflecting on time.  The hour-glass of life is emptying way too fast.

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“What have I done with my life?”  “What should I do with the time left?” It is easy to get depressed looking around at successful people and feel inadequate. “Do I contribute enough?”

I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps success is overrated. There
are many “successful” people who are ruthless and mean.  I don’t want that for myself.  I don’t have all the meaning of life answers, but I do know what is right for me. In the time I have left, as my hourglass empties, I will……

1) Embrace and spend time with the people I love and who love me

2) Limit time with people who are negative or bring me down

3) Accept others for who they are and their choices, make no judgements

4) Find the good in all people and situations

5) Play and Laugh, have as much fun as possible

6) Share my talents, time and resources with others – practice kindness whenever I can

7) Keep learning!  Explore, question, investigate, travel, try new things – never stop learning

8) Practice Daily Gratitude for all I have, big and small, so much wonderful things in my life

9) Acknowledge and validate, not enough people give others complements or simply say “You are important to me, thanks for being you”

 

So there it is, none of us knows when their hourglass will be empty but I have a plan for the time that is left.  No great inventions, books or businesses, just an open mind, open heart, fun and authenticity.

 

 

For the Love of Christmas Cards Sent By Snail Mail

I am, undoubtedly, in the minority, but I just love Christmas cards (the old-fashioned, send-in-the-mail kind). In my 27 years of marriage, I have always sent cards via Canada Post. For some of those years, in my keen, scrapbooking days, my girls and I made our cards. Those memories will stay with me forever.

But even in my, less creative years, everything about Christmas cards are a beautiful tradition. In my house, cards are the official kick-off to the holiday season. The first holiday baking launches the event, with carols playing in the background (often Johnny Mathis).

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The ritual involves hand-written notes in each card. I begin in November, and only do a few each day (especially important when doing the Dutch ones). I reflect upon the past year and devote some quality time writing to friends and family that I really care about. I refuse to let this tradition fall by the way-side. For most recipients, this is the one time in the whole year, I take the time to connect.

The Christmas card ritual continues over the following weeks, as I anxiously check the post box. I love receiving an envelope that is not an account statement or a marketing flyer. It is a throwback to former times and I must confess that pure mail, from a real person, brings a certain excitement. The cards are carried home, unopened. I make a fresh cup of coffee and settle in for opening and reading the treasures Canada Post just delivered. I love them all, the mass-produced bragging letters, the family photos and of course, the hand-written notes.

People say, cards are outdated, but somehow, the genuine letters I get from my friends around the globe are better than the singing Santa e-card that arrives in 250 mailboxes simultaneously. I genuinely care about what your family has been up to. I want to see the photos and know what career little Johnny is pursuing. I am thrilled to know that my children’s childhood friends are now getting married and having children of their own. I just love the annual up-dates.

The cards stay on our kitchen island, until my husband has read them, after which, they are displayed for the remainder of the holidays. The messages will be reread one final time, before I take them down in January. It is a routine that continues, year after glorious year.

I fear that the tradition of sending Christmas cards is becoming obsolete. But that would be unfortunate, because this old tradition makes us pause for a moment, in this world full of busy people and new technology. It is a conscious decision to connect with friends and family. After all, in the end, all we have left is the relationships! As I age, I realize the importance of stopping in for a coffee or taking the time to write some sincere sentiments to friends and family.

How about you? Do you send cards at Christmas? Or is there another way you connect with family and friends during the holidays?

The Years Are Short

I have had a long absence from writing. Quite frankly, I was in a funk. I had an unsettled sensation, one I couldn’t really label. I felt preoccupied and not particularly happy. But then, this morning I saw this video. It reminded me of my husband. Two weekends ago, he helped our son move from New York City to Toronto. He ended up sleeping three hours in a 48 hour period. They worked tirelessly, packing boxes, scrubbing the apartment and driving the U-haul moving truck all through the night. Things did not run all that smoothly, with late moving men and blocked bridges and roads. But….. my husband returned from the weekend with a big smile and said, “That was such a great weekend!” I didn’t get it, until I watched this video.

I think I had allowed myself to forget about the joys in everyday life. The flowers in my garden, the conversation with friend, cooking a meal, my peaceful haven of a backyard and my walk to pick up the mail. I forgot to appreciate a call from my daughter or a visit from my parents. I needed a wake up call and am happy to have received it in the form of Gretchin Rubin’s video.

My daughter has returned to live at home after graduating and I am treasuring every minute we have together, even times that seem mundane. We don’t have to be taking shopping trips or going to the movies, we can be setting the table or folding laundry. I will treasure it, because all too soon…. she will find a different job and move far away. The years are short and this is it !!

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Daily Post – Natural World

Daily Prompt: The Natural World
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Describe your first memorable experience exploring and spending time in nature. Were you in awe? Or were you not impressed? Would you rather spend time in the forest or the city?

From birth, all I really knew was nature. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, on 100 acre farm in rural Ontario, in Canada.

Many fields of rocky soil were held within the borders of our land. My dad managed to cultivate a few acres of the soil for agriculture, but the majority was left to be my playground. My after school hours and weekends were spent in my imaginary world, in the best playground a kid could know. There was a field that had small boulders scattered in such a way, that if I hopped just right, I could travel for a good distance, without touching grass. Abandoned farm machinery were props in the imaginary skit of the day. A creek meandered under a bridge just in front of our white farmhouse. The snakes and frogs would be my friends for the day.

My brother had built a cabin in his wild teen days, in a remote spot back in the woods and I was thrilled when I was permitted to go solo, in search of the cabin. The tree house of my youth was six planks of wood nailed precariously between the branches of an old Maple tree. No walls, no roof, but I sure spent tons of hours up there. In the winter, there were always low spots in the fields that seemed to provide natural stating rinks and toboggan runs. When I was old enough to take my bike and disappear for the day, I’d pack a snack and ride for hours, sometimes checking out corner stores miles from home. It was the kind of freedom I am sure the boys felt in Stand By Me.

My youth on the 100 acre farm made me the person I am today. My love of nature came from my days frolicking in the open air, but it also influenced my character and all that I value. It was the best playground going, and I wish more children had the opportunity to just explore and experience nature in its purest form.

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Daily Prompt: Transporter to the 100 Acre Farm

Daily Prompt: Transporter. Tell us about a smell, sound or piece of music that transports you back to childhood.

Fortunately, there are many things that transport me to my youth. We had a great life, living on a 100 acre farm in rural Ontario, with loving (and not too protective) parents and lots of siblings. The lax parenting style was important because it afforded us kids the opportunity to climb the roofs of barns, build our own tree forts and disappear for the entire day on our bikes. Those were the days of summer.

But I digress, back to the senses being transported.

Whenever I hear a Polka (which, admittedly, it not that often), it takes me back to my childhood living room, dancing with my dad. My dad was a busy man, always working around the property but on Saturday nights or Sundays he would dance the Polka with me. No doubt, the weekly Lawrence Welk episodes had a big influence on us !!
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The smell of cooking grease, not for French Fries or Chicken, but a sweet fried aroma, takes me back to my mom’s homemade donuts. She would roll out the dough and press out the shapes with her donut cutter. I loved helping her and remember, so clearly, waiting for the first side to be browned and then flipping them to cook the other side. That first donut hole, was popped in my mouth the second it was just cool enough not to burn my tongue.
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Whenever I see Basic Lego blocks (a rare find these days), I am transported back to my old living room floor. It seems like every Sunday us kids would dump the Lego bucket onto the floor and get busy as town engineers. We would build an entire community, complete with house-filled subdivisions, Police station, stores and vehicles that we drove around for the rest of the day. We mildly argued over the roof tiles or particular wheels, but basically we played amicably for hours and hours. Close to supper, we disassembled it all, for next Sunday, we would begin again.
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Growing up on a hobby farm was really lucky, although, I didn’t really appreciate it at the time. But when I see a livestock truck with pigs going down the highway, I remember the cute baby pigs, calves, goats and chicks of my childhood farm. It really was a great way to grow up, plenty of hard work, a great education and we were definitely, never bored.
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It is my sincere hope that my children have sights, smells and sounds that take them back to thoughts of a happy childhood.

The Guinea Pig Lady

Guinia Pig Currency

Guinea Pig Currency

There are many reasons people travel. If you had asked me 5 years ago why I travel, I would have said to `see` the world. I wanted to snorkel the oceans, hike to scenic vistas and explore caves and canyons.

I am still a newbie traveller, but my travelling purpose is evolving. `The Guinea Pig Lady` is one of the first people who affected my evolution. She showed me that the real treasures of travelling are the people we encounter.

It was a mother-daughter trip to Peru. My daughter had an urge to return to the small impoverished Peruvian town in the Andes, where her school participated in a cultural exchange program. I was willing to trek along to this rural town, a nine-hour bus north of Lima. It was a great arrangement; I would accompany her on the trip up north to reunite with her host family (we would only stay for a few days) and then she would tag along to Machu Picchu and an Eco-lodge in the Amazon jungle. I was so excited, Machu Picchu !!!

That was five years ago and I have great photos and memories of the Amazon and the Inca fortress, but the best memories, the ones that hold a special place in my heart, are the ones from Mato, the tiny town, high in the Andes. More specifically, the people we encountered. One of those special people was the Guinea Pig Lady.
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Before I get to her, however, I want to tell you about the village in the Andes. Mato only has a few hundred residents. It has electricity in some, but not all of the houses. Indoor plumbing is also a luxury reserved for the wealthier residents, like the teachers or store owners. The town has an irrigation system, where the water is turned off every evening from 6pm until morning. The bulk of the villagers live off the land. Livestock is paraded out to pasture early in the morning and returned in the evening.

View of the Andes from Mato

View of the Andes from Mato

The family that hosted my daughter the previous year owns a local store and a rooming house. They rent rooms to guests that work in the area, for example Peace Corps workers or medical workers from larger cities coming to help in town for a few days. Although scenic, this is not a town where tourists would go.

We were overwhelmed by the hospitality we received in Mato. We were greeted by everyone. People stopped by at Jose’s house to visit with us. We were invited to the school principal’s house for a Coke. When we visited the preschool, they called a recess time so we could meet and interact with the children. Jose, our host, was generous with his time, food and house. He even asked us to stay longer and arranged for our transportation to the bus station a 25 minute drive away. We were made to feel like it was our home. We helped Susan work at the store, played ball in the streets, and laughed into the night with Jose. It was just such a comfortable feeling. At dinner time, we all pitched in to set the table.

Me welcomed to Matos`s preschool class

Me welcomed to Matos`s preschool class

Jose took us for daily walks to share stories of his community

Jose took us for daily walks to share stories of his community

There was a women in town who always struck up a conversation with us when our paths crossed. Conversation is probably a bit of an overstatement here, since our Spanish is pretty limited and nobody in town speaks English. With Jose, it was not too bad, he spoke slowly and we used a lot of gestures. Language barriers aside, we did manage to gather that this lady was keen on us coming to visit her, in her home. Low and behold, one day, Jose announced that we would be going to her house for lunch. And by “we’ he meant, just my daughter and I. He told us how to find the house and sent us on our way. I am not going to lie, I was a little apprehensive. I was really not sure our Spanish ability could sustain us for an entire meal. I was also nervous about eating in a new home that may serve us water or food that could make our feeble North American digestive systems unhappy. In any case, we were on our way, after all, she had always been super nice when we bumped into her on the road.

We arrived and within minutes the initial nervousness was settled. It was surprising that the Spanish-English issue was not that much of an issue at all. The great thing about my daughter and I is that she was stronger at understanding Spanish and I was stronger at expressing myself. So she listened, translated what I didn’t catch and I answered. Of course, we often had to ask them to repeat things three times in different ways and gestures until we grasped the gist of the story.

And what a story it was. This woman had raised 4 children, if I remember correctly, and had a grand child she was raising too. She had suffered battery most of her married life, until finally, she kicked the bastard out. But that left her to feed and clothe the family by herself. The way that she supports the family by raising guinea pigs. (Hence the title of the post)

Guinea Pig Cages

Guinea Pig Cages

This small batch of guinea pigs is her livelihood. There were not really many there, maybe 50 or 60. They make the cutest little noises. She explained that when she needed anything for the house, flour, sugar or light bulbs, she took guinea pigs to market. In Peru, guinea pigs (or cuy) are a source of food. So she would toss 4 or 5 guinea pigs into an over-sized purse, catch a collectivo (shared taxi) to market day in Caraz and sell or trade the rodents for the supplies she needed.

We sat on her sofa and had a lovely chicken dinner and salad. It was such a foreign world though, I knew that with very little refrigeration in this town, she had killed that chicken just for us. We were honoured and wondered how many guinea pigs she had to trade to get the chicken. When she offered us drinks, she did it just as we would in Canada, “what would you like to drink? Coke, Sprite, water?”, except her daughter had to run to the corner store to buy the beverages we wanted and they didn`t get any for themselves. I was annoyed at myself for not thinking fast enough, or I would have said, that we were fine with nothing to drink.

After dinner she continued to tell us about her kids, one had moved to Lima and her grand-daughter showed us her school work. It was surprisingly advanced for preschool. It seemed like such normal after-dinner conversation.

It was a strange feeling. This lady lived a life we could never really understand, she was a battered wife, who financially barely held it together by bartering guinea pigs. But I didn’t leave her house thinking “poor her”, or “wow, am I ever lucky to be me”. There was no pity, I just thought that I had met a kind, strong, wonderful mother.

It was then that I realized that relationships and people are what make travel special. This vast earth houses many people who are in different situations and there should never be judgments of who is more fortunate or lucky. I am not saying that we shouldn`t help each other, but do it in the same spirit as holding a door open for someone, it is a courtesy issue, not a sympathy issue. In that same vein, when you converse with people of the world, learn about their life, their families, their hopes and dreams.

I am honoured and privileged to have dined with the guinea pig lady. I am grateful that she taught me that travel is about so much more than natural wonders and landmarks.

The guinea pig lady with my daughter, what an honour to be a guest in her home

The guinea pig lady with my daughter, what an honour to be a guest in her home

What about you? Have you ever met someone on your travels who left a lasting impression?