January 18, 2017

To work or not to work. For moms it’s a decade old question that never truly gets answered. It never gets answered because everybody’s answer is different.

I’m not working right now so I have time to be outside running and being active. Good for me.

Because I’m not working I’m not making an income and contributing to my household financially. Bad for me.

My friend is working right now so she has very little time to be active and get in shape. Bad for her.

She is working right now so she is making a financial contribution and feels good about that. Good for her.

I like to work and do feel a bit useless when I’m not working. Deciding what to make for dinner doesn’t really challenge me. But I also love having the time to spend quality time with my family and having some time to myself does make me a happier mommy.

It’s a classic grass is always greener scenario. The Best Thing in Life is that I have a choice. For now.

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No More Pity Parties For Me

No_Pity_Party

It was Sunday night and my husband was packing his bags for yet another week away. I felt a small pity party coming on. He has a job that requires him to travel a lot. Typically he is away for at least three weeks a month and often that involves being away for the weekends too. It’s hard on all of us. He practically lives in a hotel and misses out on so many little things that happen at home. Our seven-year old misses him like crazy and knows exactly how many minutes it takes for him to get home once his plane has landed. But, as he packed and I felt the typical Sunday evening disappointment of being alone again creeping in, I stopped for a moment. The night before we had enjoyed dinner with our friend Nicole and her son Jacob. Jacob is three weeks younger than my daughter. The love of Nicole’s life and Jacob’s father died four years ago. They are alone all the time.

Lucas was only 29 in late 2005 when he was first diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. It wasn’t found in his lungs though. The first tumor was found in his nasal passages. After a horrific surgery Lucas and Nicole thought they were in the clear. Wrong. During the appointment to have his surgical staples removed they were given some literature and an appointment date with the BC Cancer Agency. They asked why and were told “Oh, it’s cancer. You didn’t know that?”  They were shocked but still weren’t particularly worried though as the doctor didn’t seem to be. But after meeting with an oncologist and doing what every sick person does, googling his condition, Lucas and Nicole realized just how bad things were. The doctors were now saying “we will do all we can” but the odds were not in their favor. Somehow in that horrific, stress filled time of radiation and chemo and sickness there was a bright spot. Early in 2007 Nicole discovered that she was pregnant.

Jacob was born on September 26, 2007. Fortunately, the next eighteen months were free of treatment for Lucas. It was a welcome change from all they had been through so far. I remember those times well. My daughter and Jacob as babies. Lucas playing Lego with the two of them at one of Jacob’s birthday parties. Comparing milestones, as all new parents do. The joy that Lucas had for being a dad. It wouldn’t last though. Over the course of six years the cancer came back 7 times and Lucas had 5 rounds of radiation, 3 rounds of intense chemo, 2 brain surgeries, a hip replacement, and countless other appointments and tests. Sadly on January 30, 2011 Lucas passed away. Aside from losing her husband, Nicole was now the sole provider for her family and at the young age of 38, a widow. Your not supposed to be a widow at that age. But she was and despite the fact that she has an amazing family and support group, she and Jacob were now on their own.

Feb 25 Jacob and Olivia...aren't we cute!

It’s not a particularly fun thing to do, but try to imagine your life right now if your husband was gone. Not just for a week-long business trip, but forever. Think of all the things that you rely on when your spouse walks through the door at the end of the day. I know that I struggle with things when my husband is away. Typically it revolves around discipline. Was I too hard on her? Should I have let that one go? Maybe I should have been stricter? Not having your spouse there to bounce things off of can make you question yourself. It breaks my heart to hear Nicole say. “I would give anything to have him by my side to tell me I’m doing alright. Even if just for one minute”. She often finds herself wondering in those times “What would Lucas do? To Nicole’s credit, Jacob is the sweetest little boy. He does well in school, loves to swim, loves Lego and can keep up with my crazy daughter on the dance floor. No small feat.

Liv and Jacob

Jacob is seven now and a great kid. He is a mini Lucas. Kind, funny, smart and energetic. But he is having a bit of a hard time right now understanding why all the other kids in school have dads and he doesn’t? He’s even gone so far as to ask Nicole “will I ever have a new daddy”. If that doesn’t break your heart then I don’t know what will. Can’t even imagine how you would answer that question. Nicole keeps Lucas’ memory alive as best she can for Jacob. They look at pictures and she shares stories of Lucas. His love of sports and the Miami Dolphins. Most stories, she says, include the word “fart.” Its a boy thing. Lucas liked a good “fart” story too. He was a big kid with a huge smile and a positive attitude about everything. Mostly she tells Jacob how proud Lucas would be of him.

I’m pretty sure that if all of this happened to me that I would find a dark closet corner somewhere and curl up into a ball. I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to not only lose the love of your life but to then be a single mom and entrusted with raising a little boy without his father. Nicole doesn’t understand how people see her as an inspiration but if you met her and saw the love in her eyes for that little boy and the smile that is on her face every day, you would understand. When I asked her if she had any advice for somebody else going through this she said. “Be easy on yourself. It’s a tough journey”.  What keeps her going?

Jacob-the reason she gets up each day
Family-her mom and brothers
Friends
Lucas’ strength of never giving up
Wine-it’s not an answer but some days it sure helps!

So going forward I will not hold pity parties. Whenever I am feeling like the world has dealt me a poor hand or if I feel like I just can’t quite make it through a difficult time, I will think of Lucas, Nicole and Jacob. They were all short-changed in the game of life but somehow have managed to move on and are seeing all that is good in what they do have. Beautiful memories, love and family. The Best Things in Life.

 

Coincidence or Kismet?

piano

Do you every think that things are just meant to happen when they happen? That the universe has a plan and you just don’t know about it? Today was one of those days for me. At a time when I was lacking motivation, questioning my decisions and wondering if the direction I was going in was leading me the right way, I had an Oprah moment. You know the one. The quintessential “aha” moment. I wasn’t unhappy, I was just unsure of where things were going or if they even needed to go anywhere. Should I soldier on or reevaluate and make a change? I felt I was lacking a focus. Then I had lunch with a very wise and lovely friend that I had been trying to connect with for months. Coincidence?

A classically trained pianist who grew up in, of all places, Prince George, Stephanie and I met when our kids attended the same pre-school. She started playing the piano when she was two and her piano teacher recognized her talent early on. By the time she was fourteen she was flying down to Vancouver once a month for lessons. She was accepted to Juliard, Peabody and Eastman – the creme de la creme of music schools in the US. After choosing and studying at Eastman she was destined for a career as a concert pianist. She, however, had a defining moment when her panic attacks started to get the best of her. She also never felt the pull that many performers feel for an adoring audience or a standing ovation. Many performers continue for the ego boost, but she realized that the direction she was heading was not meant to be. What was meant to be, was to bring the pure joy of music, that she felt, to others. As a teacher.

Her approach to teaching is truly organic. As I ate the delicious spicy Mexican soup she had made us for lunch, I listened to her explaining how learning music is not just about the notes and the technique, but the feeling you get from playing. She has been known to tell a student to “go and watch water”. The point being, to teach the lightness and finesse of playing the notes. To mimic the way the water flows and bubbles. “Some kids get it, some don’t”. She went on to say, that teaching young kids comes with a unique opportunity to mold the way they approach playing and practicing. Most would start with the easy stuff and go on from there. She encourages them to start with the most challenging part. That is a difficult thing for anybody to do at any age.

water

The most important thing she tries to instill in her students is that music should come from a place of happiness – not from a place of ego. You could win a hundred music competitions and still not understand the meaning of the music you have played. Some of the best musicians play for the pure love of it. If they are able to make a living doing it, then it really is just icing on the cake. The need for a gold star or, in my case, verification that somebody is reading my blogs and that I am making a difference, is a huge stumbling block for me. She reminded me that perhaps there was somebody out there reading my blog and thinking “wow, that’s exactly how I’m feeling too”. I could be making somebody think a different way or see a different side to something. Maybe I’m just allowing somebody to steal a few minutes from their day, read a story and enjoy the way it makes them feel.  Like a piece of music.

As usual I went into this situation with one idea and came away with a completely different point if view. I started out being envious of my friend’s passion for music and the way that she had been able to take that and use it to teach children and left feeling like maybe, just maybe, I too had a path to follow. An opportunity to catch up and learn about her music career turned into a life lesson for me. Go figure. I left her house feeling inspired, rejuvenated and happy to have reconnected with such a kind and insightful friend. Even if nobody is reading my blog, I am doing what makes me happy. Perhaps I am not “over achieving” but my family is happy too. I need to live my life for the joy and not for the gold star. The Best Thing in Life is just letting things happen the way the universe wants them to happen and enjoying the kismet.

November Challenge Completed

The life you want begins when you start embracing the life you already have.The Best Things in Life are right in front of you

At the beginning of November I challenged myself to find one of the Best Things in Life every day and document it on Twitter. So, the first day I did it and thought, piece of cake. Day two I forgot and had to get out if bed at midnight and find my phone and send a tweet. The next day I set up an auto reminder on my phone so that every day at 5:00 pm until November 30 I would be reminded to stick to the challenge. That was the only hard part. Finding something each day seemed to just…..happen. Some days it was obvious and some days I had to think about for 10 seconds before it came to me.

The tweets were quite different day to day. Some were simple little things like a cup of cucumber mint tea.

One was recognition of my son turning eighteen. Truly a huge moment in both of our lives.

Sometimes the Best Things in Life turned bad.

Looking back it seems that a lot of things were outside.

A few months ago I wrote a post about being happy. One of the ideas I talked about was called 100 days of Happiness. It’s a similar idea to what I have done but it’s longer and you email your daily happiness point to somebody you don’t know. This, I felt, was a bit more personal for me but also allowed me to share it with my followers. (I always find it weird saying that I have “followers”). At the end of the day it has made me realize that it is extraordinarily easy to find some small things in each day of your life that are special, unique, personal, meaningful and just one of the Best Things in Life. I am resetting the auto reminder on my phone to “never”.  Follow me on Twitter here and see where this takes me.

Happy?

happy face

What makes you happy? It’s different for everyone I suppose. The easy response would be, perhaps, a sunny day, a warm hug, an unexpected windfall, a great glass of wine. It’s a pretty loaded question really. It could be something life encompassing or it could be something tiny and seemingly insignificant. This morning listening to the Eagles Live album really loudly in the car made me happy. Sleep, chocolate, a new pair of shoes.  Those things seem so fleeting though. What sustains happiness, long term?

Over the years I have discovered that my happiness is very closely tied to my physical well being. If I feel good physically I am happy. If I’m tired, have an upset stomach or haven’t worked out in a few days, I can feel myself slipping into an unhappy place. I think this is true for most people and really it’s just simple biology. The act of getting your heart pumping and the endorphins flowing, puts a smile on most people’s faces. So why can’t we just spend our days out running or hiking on the trails? There. Problem solved. Happiness all around.

Then there is the saying money can’t buy you happiness. No, it can’t. But it can alleviate the anxiety and stress that go with a mountain of debt. I’m not ashamed to say that I am happier now than I was a few years ago when we were struggling to make ends meet. We don’t have any more “things” than we did then, but we argue less and worry less and in turn, are, I believe, happier. Do I envy people who have more than I do and think that having all that would make me happy. You bet. I know it’s materialistic and there are many people who have nothing and are extremely happy. I’m just not one of them.

When I reached out to friends to see what makes them happy, without a doubt, the most common answer was friends and family. Kids laughing, connecting with friends, time with spouses are all major happiness factors.  In no particular order here are a few examples of the responses I got.  They really are some of The Best Things in Life.  Sunshine, nature, wine, travel, napping, sex, cold beer on a hot day, love, chocolate, exercise. Of course one of my friends turned if around on me and asked me what made me happy. On that day? Seeing my inbox full of happy emails. Learning more about my friends and their joys in life.

An old friend commented that she was happiest when she knows that her interests and ideas are being supported by those closest to her. But then in the next breath she wonders if it’s right to leave her happiness in the hands of others. “I shouldn’t rely on others to make me happy”. This is something I struggle with as well. I have tried not to be a “gold star junkie” as Gretchen Rubin terms it in The Happiness Project. When you rely on others to pat you on the back or give you a gold star for your achievements you are, in essence, keeping score, and rarely come out on top. Am I successful in this? Let’s just say I’m working on it.

100 Happy Days is an on line project that has been around for a while. I was hiking with a friend a few weeks ago who was on day 56. The premise is that you email an image to their website every day for 100 days that symbolizes happiness to you. I would imagine that by the time you reach 100 days it would have become a habit for you to find something each day, no matter how small or insignificant, that makes you happy. A bit like a gratification post. I think that I’m going to try the 100 Happy Days project. It may be a good reminder to me of how many great things I encounter each day that make me smile. I also find that “having a clear vision and taking steps towards it every day” makes me happy as well.

Can you be happy all the time? I don’t think you can and I think that’s totally okay. Of course it’s not okay to be unhappy all the time either. The key is to find the right balance for you. The right mix or percentage of happiness . Over thinking things makes me happy too. It’s an odd thing, actually, to stop and really think about whether you are happy or not. People have made billions in the self help industry telling us what we need to do to be happy. Why do we need to read a book about it? Shouldn’t we just BE happy? Can it be that simple?

So at the end of the day did I find my answer? No. But I did start thinking more about my happiness and the happiness of others and that in itself is good.   One of the surprising emails I received was from a friend I hope to meet with very soon to talk about her passions. I totally expected her to say decorating cakes and being on my bike with my dog. What did I get instead? A great quote to close my post .

“I am happiest when I am continually striving for my potential in life.”

Wendy

Not many people would disagree with me when I say that one of The Best Things in Life is a really good massage. The kind that leaves you rejuvenated and yet melting into your car seat on the drive home. The kind you get from a true professional. Just thinking about it is making me want to pick up the phone and make an appointment. You see, I’m lucky enough to have a massage therapist on speed dial. Not because I’m a diva, but because she’s my friend.

Wendy has known since she was in grade 9 that she wanted to be massage therapist. A competitive rower for a prestigious private school, she was always giving her teammates massages after long days on the water. The feeling of satisfaction she got from that, hooked her in. She loved that she was making other people comfortable and easing their achy muscles but most importantly, she was making them happy. If there is one thing in life that Wendy strives for, it is to make others happy, sometimes to her own detriment.

After a year working at a job she didn’t like, she returned to college to get her prerequisite classes and then in 2002 started the three year course to become a registered massage therapist. “Three years of hell” is how she described it. And at the end of those three years came three written Board exams and then a hands on, live exam. Imagine doing an exam with an instructor as your client and three other examiners standing around watching. Holy crap, talk about intimidating. Massage therapy is a physically and mentally demanding job. Many therapist burn out after 5-7 years, I’ve learned.

She passed, of course, got married, moved to the Sunshine Coast and got pregnant. So, sometime things don’t go quite as planned. Anyway, once things got back on track she set up practice in Gibsons and built up a healthy clientele. Another baby later and Wendy and her family found themselves back in North Vancouver. She currently works at a practice in Lynn Valley. “Choosing where you want to work is a lot about being comfortable in your surroundings and finding the right fit with the practice” she told me. What she likes about the practice she works at, is that it is a multi-disciplinary practice. This gives her the opportunity to consult with other experts in physiotherapy, homeopathy and pre-natal, just to name a few.

“Does the line ever get blurred between massage therapist and just plain therapist?” I asked. “Absolutely”. She often gets people on her table in really difficult situations looking for some relief through massage. And they start talking. Without going into any detail, lets just say that Wendy has had some horrific and traumatic things happen to her in her short life. As horrible as that has been, it has given her a certain perspective on life. That perspective allows her to be completely open and honest with her clients, in the hopes that they can use her experiences to help themselves. The expression “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has never been more evident to me than in my friend Wendy. Her passion is to truly help people and that doesn’t just make her a great massage therapist it makes her an exceptional human being.

Few times in my life have I talked to somebody who really loves what they do. Who honestly enjoys their job. What a concept. But it’s not just that. When we talked about how Wendy’s past effects her work, the conversation, at times, became emotional and difficult, but when Wendy talks about the joy of helping somebody feel better and improve their life through massage therapy, you can hear the sincerity and caring in her voice. There is something unique about the way the she approaches her craft. It’s honest and vulnerable; just like her.

So the best things I see in Wendy? Knowing what your passion in life is, overcoming life changing obstacles and using them as a powerful tool to take that passion to a whole other level.