Silver Linings

silver linings

Do you ever have a thought, feeling or emotion that rattles around in your head for, oh, let’s say, weeks?  Maybe months?  The problem is your not sure how to express it.  Or even if you should?  Here’s mine.

This year my son will turn twenty and I’ve missed half of his life.

Let me explain.  If I can.

I left my first husband when our son was three months old.  Within the first year I agreed (begrudgingly) to a custody arrangement that was a 50/50 split of time.  Over the years that has meant alternating house every three days, four days or seven days.  At times it was confusing (mostly for other people) but it seemed to work.  Bottom line, my son has spent half of his twenty years living away from me.

There’s no blame here.  No looking back in anger.  It was what it was and its history.

But here’s the thing.  It’s a weird feeling knowing that so many things that your child has experienced were not with you.  That during those days away you had idea where he was, who he was with or what he was thinking.  There are so many experiences, emotions and moments that I have no history of.  No pictures, no memories, no knowledge what so ever.

I’m not wallowing in pity either.  I know that he grew up loved by so many people and so far has had an amazing life.  It’s just an observation I’ve made in the past while.  I was struck one day by the fact that for days at a time I had no contact of any kind with him.

The hardest thing to do every week was not to pepper him with questions the minute he walked through the door.  Sometimes I was successful and sometimes not so much.  I just wanted to know what he had done.  What had he eaten.  How had he felt.  Had he been happy?  Had he had a hard week?

at school

Boys, as some of you may know, can be….um….lacking in details when it comes to what they’ve been doing.

“How was school?”

“Good”

“What did you do?”

“Stuff”

“Who were you with”

“Dunno”

Sound familiar?

I’m not sure if it is despite of or because of our arrangements that he has grown up to be a smart, caring, happy young man.  There have been trying times for him but I believe the same could be said for other boys his age who have grown up in a more conventional setting.

He’s not home much anymore.  Between work, school, friends and having his own car we are lucky to get a dinner once a week.  Oh and the odd “what can I eat?” at 1:00 pm after rolling out of bed.  Again, not judging, just observing.

I also know that going forward there won’t be as many family vacations, day trips or ski days and that’s okay.  I’m happy that he is happy and moving on into his adult years.  A parents job is to ready their children to make it on their own in the world and I am confident that he will do just that.  I’m hoping that when that happens there will be the odd phone call home to say, ask how long to roast a chicken?

walking away

It’s so hard to put these feelings into words.  The feeling that I’ve missed a lot but have still been given so much.

I suppose in some ways it has prepared me for the next stage of our lives.  I’m not that worried about him not being around all the time.

The Best Thing in Life is silver linings.

 

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What Does it Take to Motivate People?

trail 1

If you could eat and drink and not exercise, yet still stay healthy….would you?  “Umm ya.”  I’m guessing is what most of you are saying. Well you can’t, so you need to find some form of exercise that works for you and that you will stick with.

For the past eight or nine weeks I have been going to a trail based boot camp run by my friend Donna.  Just for the record, I do not do the 6:00 am class.  I drag my sorry ass to the 9:30 am class.  So what motivates people to get out of bed and go to a workout, outdoors, occasionally in the rain?  Maybe the first time would be easy, but what would bring people back week after week?

I’ve spent 33 hours in a van with Donna.  Twice.  And I would be happy to do it again.  Both times she has passed a sweaty slap bracelet on to me with a smile and encouraging words. She has also told me to “suck it up bitch” when I’ve whined about running up a hill.  She’s one of only a few people who know that if I put my hand up while I’m running it means don’t talk to me I’m not having fun right now.  It’s called giving them “the hand”.  We can laugh about it now.

Fitness has always been a part of Donna s life and in high school and university she joined any team she could find.

“I found strength in belonging to a team and my self-esteem was created through my success in sport.”

100 steps of death

That feeling of inclusion and teamwork is evident in the way she runs her boot camp. Yes we are all moms, but we are all at different fitness levels, some have injuries and some are brand new moms with a totally different set of needs.  “She is always on top of alternative exercises for those with injuries – and keeps the class moving a good pace!” One bootcamper commented.  Her energy and enthusiasm keeps you going and before you know it the hour is over and your are done your workout.  Sometimes you don’t even realize how hard you have worked until the next day.

Donna originally wanted to study marine biology and has a BSc in Biology from the University if Windsor.  But living in Windsor, next to the Detroit River, didn’t do much to inspire that career. In 1998 she moved out West and entered the Exercise Science program at Langara College with the end goal being a kinesiology degree at SFU.  But, as often happens, life changed course and she found herself working as Head Brace Fitter at Paris Orthotics.  For the next nine years, after obtaining a diploma in Prosthetics and Orthotics from BCIT, she would work in the orthotics industry.  In 2006 she became a mom and focused on raising two active boys.  With more time on her hands now that her boys are older she has started a series of trail based boot camps.

“I find group training to be a lot like belonging to a team.  You can lean on members to help you stay motivated to continue your fitness journey.  There will always be someone in the group that helps challenge other members and I myself, find motivation through these members as well.”

cates bootcamp

We live in an area with an abundance of great trails and scenery and Donna has developed a program that has us sweating up and down those trails using rocks, trees and strategically placed water jugs full of water.  We have done plank with owls swooping over our heads.  We have conquered the 100 steps of death.  We have crawled like crabs in the sands of Cates Park.  We have challenged Old Buck and lived to tell about it.  We have laughed and we have commiserated over sleepless nights and school yard drama.  And we have sweat.   A lot.

“We laugh and have fun, I see progress in many and I love to show people that finding a place and time to exercise can be easy!”

With three time options on three different days Donna’s sessions accommodate lots of moms. Not everybody wants to go to a gym or run by themselves so this is a great option.  “No matter what you’re ability or fitness level, Donna makes sure everyone is getting what they need!”  She is a strong believer that staying fit and exercising is just as much for your mental health as it is for your physical health.  Her approach is educational and she is constantly introducing new exercises to challenge us.

“We love Donna – she rocks…even if she’s making us carry them up hills…LOL!!!”

So back to my original question.  What would motivate people to get out of bed and workout outside?  Donna would.

Educational, inclusive, naturally gifted, motivational.  Just some of the words fellow boot campers have used to describe our fearless leader.  “It also never rains during Donna’s boot camp…must be her super natural powers! LOL

The Best Thing in Life would be having Donna’s boot camp available to everyone!

Barbed Wire and Untied Shoe Laces

barbed wire

Over a year ago I left my job for a number of great reasons.  You can read about them here.  It’s been an amazing fourteen months but every once in a while I find myself re-reading that original blog post.  What is my thing?  And why is it so damn hard for me to find it?  I feel as if I’ve come to a point where I am no longer making progress on my own.  If I want to move forward I need a new approach.

So I went to see a friend yesterday.  Okay that’s not entirely true.  I went to see my therapist.  Yes, you heard me right.  I went to see my therapist.  Who, over the past ten years, has become a “friend”.  So, partly true.  She has helped me through way worse stuff than this over the years and always seems to zero in on exactly what is tripping me up.

I did, for a moment, think twice about writing this post. That perhaps it was too personal.  That it would leave me a bit too open and exposed.  But then I thought, “Hell, there must be other women in my position?”  I can’t be the only fifty something mom trying to figure out where she fits into this world.  (Or maybe I am)  Also, I’m not one to hide under a rock.  So here I am, baring my sole to you as I did to her.

A few weeks ago I went on a girls weekend.

A weekend away with four friends that I have known for well over ten years.  All with kids and all successful in interesting careers.  An accountant, an engineer, a speech pathologist and a marketing consultant.  Over the course of the weekend I began to feel……directionless.  Don’t get me wrong, I can hold my own with this crowd but I just felt like I could be doing more with my life.  As they were.  That I had more to offer than yoga and renovating the bathroom.

The week after that trip I had a very vivid dream.

I was in an art class at a university and the professor had asked us to start work on a project. The project was to represent our life.  He wanted us to make some notes in point form (sometimes my dreams are very precise).  As I worked away on my notes the teacher walked around the class and made comments on what we had done so far.  As he leaned over my shoulder he grunted and said “No, you can’t do that. It’s too boring.”  But it represents my life, I said.  “I know.  It’s boring.  Make it better”.  He said.  What the hell?

So I took these events and laid them out to my “friend” and asked her to help me.  She walked me though some exercises and made some observations and suggestions.  Within minutes she had figured out what she thought was holding me back.  I told you she was good.

And here is what I walked away with……..

We go through life thinking we have handled things from our past. Things that we think are behind us and dealt with.  Sometime they are.  Sometime they aren’t.  Sometime they are lurking in the shadows with a roll of barbed wire, hell-bent on keeping us from being free.  Sometime we think things are unimportant and dismiss them as irrelevant.  Like an untied shoe lace that will eventually trip you up.

I have some work to do in the next few weeks but I am confident that I can, with my “friends” help, figure out what my thing is.  This week the Best Thing in Life is knowing when to ask for help and having a resource to go to for that help.

untied shoe laces

In Search of Higher Education

grad cap

Over the years, whenever I’ve come to a crossroads in my life, I’ve entertained the idea of going back to school to finish a degree I halfheartedly started after high school. For one reason or another it has never happened and now, at fifty, I’m pretty sure it never will. I have no regrets though, because I know that if it was meant to be it would have happened. My friend Karen, however, came to a point in her life, at 47, and realized that she did want to further her education. Growing up in Saskatchewan, Karen’s mom didn’t have a formal post secondary school education and as a single mother she struggled. Seeing that, Karen knew from an early age that she wanted more for herself. She would go to university, get an education and have a career. It was never a question, it was just something she would do. Her life has taken some twists and turns along the way but the desire to better herself has never faded. At 50 years of age she is five months away from earning her MBA.

After high school Karen earned a degree in Commerce and Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan then took a year off and travelled in Southeast Asia. At the end of that year she needed to make a decision on what to do and where to go. “I sat in a bar in Bangkok and tried to decide if I should go to Australia or the UK”. Although the lure of beaches and surfing was strong, the UK won out. Securing a work visa, she headed to London. Even though she had her degree, she was in her early twenties and had no real life work experience so she joined a temp secretarial pool. Her programming background and her wicked typing skills got her plenty of jobs and within a few months she was offered a full time programming position. There’s no doubt in my mind that it wasn’t just her university degree that propelled her into this job. Karen has, what I would call, moxy.

Okay, so quick life segway…..While working in London Karen met her soon to be husband. They returned to Canada and had two boys who are now 18 and 16. She took a programming position at a telecommunications company and continued to move up the corporate ladder. About 2002 she met me. (Okay, so maybe that’s not really a “life moment” but it was at a time that her life was changing so I’m putting it in the story). A few years later she found herself going through a divorce. Having been through a divorce, I know how all consuming it can be. From what I saw, Karen took it all in stride. She put her head down, worked hard and raised her sons. All the while continuing to better herself personally and professionally. I truly admire that.

Getting an executive MBA requires a lot of things. Working for an organization that believes in people is a great place to start, and Karen’s employer has been behind her all the way. But ultimately you need to have a full support team. Work peers, friends and family. At one point in her first year Karen was struggling to juggle work, school and parenting . Feeling like she was, perhaps, not fully there for one of her sons as he reported a less than stellar grade, she said to him, “I think I should just quit this and be more available for you.” As her eyes filled with tears she recalled that her son had adamantly told her, no way was she going to quit. They were behind her 100%. Now if only she could get them to study as much as she did. Unfortunately it hasn’t all been as good as that. “I wish that women would support women more.” She’s left friendships behind because some friends, female friends, couldn’t support, or understand, what she would gain from this venture. Feeling that there was no room for negativity in her life, she has forced to moved on.

A big part of the program she is enrolled in involves working in teams and networking. Some of the members of her team are VPs of huge corporations and are well connected men and women in Vancouver business. At first she was a bit intimidated, but then one night over beers she realized she was just as smart, if not smarter, than most of them. Hey, she thought, I could do your job. One day she probably will. As she gets ready to travel to Mexico next month to complete the International portion of her degree, she thinks about how good it will feel to be done. She has specific goals in mind for her future and opportunities and connections that will take her anywhere she wants to go.

This is the reason I write this blog. Exploring other people’s Best Things in Life and searching for mine over the last nine months has shown me so many different approaches to doing what you love. So many different ways to be happy. I will not go back to school. It’s not in me. But I admire Karen so much for what she is doing and I think that not only will she succeed in all that she does, but along the way she will teach others a thing or two. She has taught me that some things are really hard to achieve. Sometimes the road to them is long, winding and full of pot holes. But if you can navigate that road, as Karen has, great things await you. The Best Thing in Life await you.

It’s Just Pastry

lady baking

Yesterday my friend Jane and I made soba noodles. We had been complaining about the price of 100% buckwheat noodles so Jane had the brilliant idea that we could make them. We both had bags of buckwheat flour going unused in our cupboards so why not give it a try. As we mixed our dough and started to knead it into cones (why it needed to be a cone we are still not sure) Jane mentioned that I looked like I knew what I was doing and that I must be a good pasty maker. I laughed because pastry is the one item that I have never been able to master. I’ve had people offer up “no fail” recipes and yet still, I’ve failed. Maybe, June surmised, it’s because you are such a perfectionist. Wow, you know what, she couldn’t be right. Later in the day I was thinking about it and thought. Really? I can’t make pasty? Okay, tomorrow I am not going to be a perfectionist and I am going to make pastry.

So I pull out my somewhat ratty copy of Martha Stewart’s cook book that my dear friends Karen and Geoff gave to me twenty years ago. ( yes, she’s been around that long). Holy cow there are a LOT of different types of pastry. Once I figured out which one to use, I gathered the ingredients. Flour, salt, butter, lard and ice water. Five ingredients. How hard could this be? The instructions mentioned that for best results everything should be cold. Bowl in freezer, ice cubes in water, butter and lard, well chilled. Okay, ready to go. Am I really this nervous about making pastry? Given my past record of doing it, I think I’m just afraid or failing again. Come on. It’s just pastry right?

cookbook

Everything goes as planned. Sift flour and salt together. Cut in lard and butter and crumble together until it resembles a course meal. The next step is typically where things don’t work out for me. My expectation is that I will add the water and the dough will magically come together in my hands and form a lovely smooth ball. As I tip in the ice water I try to remember that it doesn’t need to be perfect and once it forms a ball I should just wrap it up and put it in the fridge. As Martha points out, you shouldn’t overhandle the dough. And then it happened. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway except instead of fire, I Had Made Pastry! Okay, so it was still just a ball of dough, but I had never felt this confident before that it actually might make it into the oven as a pie.

crumbleball of dough

I moved on to making the inside of the pie. This, for me, is the easy part. A bit of this and a bit of that. Sauté the onion and garlic, make a rue and pour in the chicken stock. Taste the gravy and throw in the chicken and the veggies. If it isn’t quite right, adjust and taste again. There is room for personalization. The insides can have lots of sage or just a little. Be spicy or slightly sweet. Be chunky or more refined. You get to pick the ingredients and season it to your taste. Lots of room for interpretation. Pastry seems so…..exact. Either it is or it isn’t. Not a lot of wiggle room.

And now the true test. Rolling the dough out and actually making a pie crust. Flour the board and turn the chilled dough out. It starts out a bit wobbly as I think it should be a bit less cracky and I start to knead it smooth. No wait, Martha said not to overhandle it. Let it go, let it be cracky. Let it be imperfect. And as I rolled and turned and flipped and rolled I realized, after all these years, that it really is “just pastry” and that the end product doesn’t need to be perfect ( see right side of top crust) it just needs to be pastry. I made pastry. Imperfect, buttery pastry. Watch out Martha Stewart, I’m on a roll here.  Yummy chicken pot pie for dinner. Not only have I made pastry, but I have made my family dinner.

pie

So, yes I am a perfectionist and over the years it has probably held me back from doing things and driven more than a couple of people (mostly my family) a bit crazy. The Best Thing in Life is that it is just another piece of who I am. A perfectly imperfect person who can now make pastry.

Soccer Anyone?

soccer girls

It’s Monday night, 7:15pm at the all weather field at Ambleside Park in West Vancouver. My friend Sarina and I are sitting on the grass talking about the Women’s Only Soccer Program she runs. As we chat, women start to trickle in across the park. Some come with a friend, some come alone and some come in groups. It’s the first night of Sarina’s ABC’s of Soccer summer session program and a couple of the women are noticeably a bit nervous. Sarina introduces herself and encourages the women to start kicking a ball around. They are all shapes and sizes and ages and fitness levels looking to learn some skills and play some soccer.

Sarina started the Women’s Only Soccer Camps in 2002. Two things got her there. She had recently changed careers and was looking for something to compliment the somewhat rigid life of banking. At the same time she was playing soccer in a local over 30 women’s league. She would see women come out who wanted to play in the league but didn’t have much, if any, experience. They had the desire but got zero support and encouragement and ended up not returning. She felt it was such a shame that these women, who were looking for some fun exercise, were walking away, when it would be so easy to give them a little training and the tools to let them enjoy playing on a league team. So Sarina created the Women’s Only Soccer program that runs every Monday night in West Vancouver.

I was introduced to the program about six years ago. I hadn’t played in years but was looking for a good workout after my daughter was born. Even though I knew some other ladies already, I still felt kind of nervous that first night and totally useless once I got out onto the field. Two things stick out in my mind from that first adventure back into soccer. First, I ran my ass off and couldn’t walk properly for a couple of days. Talk about a whole body work out. Second, I felt so empowered. I couldn’t stop talking about it to my husband when I got home. It was fun, exhilarating, challenging, exhausting and oh ya, so fun! Even when I sprained my ankle in my second session I couldn’t wait to get back out there.

As the women gather in a small circle Sarina goes over a couple of things. “I don’t care if your are late and I don’t care if you have to leave early.” She just wants them to show up and have fun. After a few quick safety points, she asks them to each quickly introduce themselves and describe their level of soccer. Some women have been in her program for years, some play in a league and are looking to improve their skills, some haven’t played since they were ten and some have never kicked a soccer ball in their life. Everybody is welcome and everybody is included. The women were immediately put at ease just knowing that they were not alone. As they head off for a quick warm up lap of the field they are already chatting and getting to know each other. Did I mention how fun this program was?

Before the women showed up, Sarina and I got a chance to talk about why the program is so successful. There are a lot of reasons. To start, women are having kids later in life and don’t always have a lot of options for finding a fun, unintimidating workout that fits into their busy lives. With the Women’s Only Soccer Program there isn’t a huge time or financial commitment and the timing allows the moms to slip out the door after the kids are in bed. One of the biggest attractions, I think, is that there is no judgement what so ever. Nobody cares if you score a goal or if you pass the ball to an empty space or if you can do perfect throw in. Last week a women showed up that Sarina used to play with. She knew the woman was an accomplished player and wondered, at first, what she was doing at a scrimmage league. At the end of the evening the woman mention what a great time she had. Sarina realized that it wasn’t about the level of play or the skills achieved for this woman. It was about the environment, the workout and the fun.

At the heart of this amazing program is Sarina’s coaching style and approach to women’s soccer. Women show up week after week because they know they will learn the basics of soccer in a fun, encouraging environment and that is so important. Really it’s one of The Best Things in Life for me.  If you are interested in meeting some great women, learning soccer and having so much fun, I encourage you to contact Sarina and join her one Monday night on the field. I plan on doing it again very soon.