Wednesday, December 30, 2009

End of the Year Roundup



Merry Carollers in Bracebridge, Ontario - December 24, 2009



So much is going on. I am halfway through my second week of Christmas holidays and time is disappearing faster than the money in my bank account! Well, not really, the money is gone! My wee family arrived home from Bracebridge on Saturday, 5 days ago, and I just unpacked my suitcase today! So many gatherings of family and friends - twice as many now that I have someone in my life.



Just checked out my kiva loans - 2 of the 3 are now in the process of being repaid. Considered making my 4th loan which would be for Jan. 2010 (1 loan per month since October) but at this point in time they have more loaners than loanees so will check in again tomorrow. I'd like to think that this has something to do with Oprah profiling Kiva on her show a few weeks ago or perhaps it's to do with the time of year, the Christmas spirit of giving and all that. Whatever it is, I'm happy to be a part of it.



Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. Michael and I are going to Jambalaya's for dinner and dancing and then to a friend's house party. On New Year's Day we are going to "collage" our goals and hopes for 2010. Our main focus for 2010 will be "trusting the trust" - something I'll explain more fully as we move forward.



The New Year is also a time to readjust one's budget and financial goals. I appear to be on track with retiring my debt (if not my person) in 4.3 years. So if I decide to retire in 4.5 years I'll be debt-free ONLY if I don't add to my personal line of credit. So please please please my little Chev Cobalt, please last at least another 5 years, please, I love you......



2009 has been a very memorable and groundbreaking year for me. Entering into a new relationship at a time when I thought I had my life's path all figured out has been challenging and wonderful. More to come on that as well.



Stealing the words of a friend I hope that all of you are feeling loved, cherished, supported and understood.



One love!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Different Kind of Christmas

We don't know what goes on behind closed doors. Sometimes we think we know, but we don't know. Sometimes we have an inkling, or a feeling, sometimes we pretend and hope for the best, and then there are the times when you have to take action because deep down you know.....

Such is the case with one of my students. She lived with her grandmother til she was 16 and her gramma passed away. Then she was placed with her father, who is mentally ill - he has schizophrenia. They hardly knew each other, he could barely look after himself but that was who she had to live with.


For the past two years we have helped her as much as we could - we gave her breakfast, lunch and food to take home for supper. We helped her with her school uniform - bought new pieces when we could, found pieces in the lost and found, hemmed pants and gave her laundry detergent so she could keep them clean. She was too old for the Children's Aid Society and too young to make her own decisions. We tried to help them as a family but he was un-cooperative.


Recently she turned 18 and can now sign her own consent forms and make her own legal decisions. She decided she wanted to leave her home and her dad so yesterday we went to her home while dad was out and gathered up her clothing and personal belongings. The apartment was unspeakably dirty and horrible, dark and unfriendly, a deeply disturbing space.


We moved her into a woman's shelter. Over the two weeks of planning she never wavered once from her decision. This is a young lady with a mild intellectual disability and mental health issues of her own - but in this huge life-changing move her voice is loud and clear.


More to come....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stress-free Christmas

Today in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada

The Christmas shopping has begun in earnest, but not by me! I can't remember ever having such a stress-free Christmas. I have a list and it is short. I know where I am going and I know what I am buying. Once or twice I was tempted to veer off-course but after reprimanding myself (gently) I got back on track.

My lovely nineteen year old daughter emailed me her Christmas list along with pictures and links. What a dear. (She knows what she wants and knows how to get it - but not from me!) Tee hee! She said - "it's a long list but you can choose from the list so I can be surprised!" Well, surprise! I cut the list in half and then half again:) I am reigning in the shopping and not buying one thing on credit whilst still paying myself FIRST! I got her a few things that she wanted - like the leather belt from American Eagle in hopes that she'll stop borrowing mine....so it's the kind of gift that gives and gives. She's getting an iTunes card so that when she purchases music the fee doesn't go onto MY credit card. Oh, I'm a thinker!!

As for the rest of the family I made a donation to the World Food Programme and asked them not to buy ME anything. We are putting the emphasis on spending time together rather than on buying more stuff that we don't need. My daughter and I are going to Toronto for a weekend to see The Sound of Music, and to the AGO to see the King Tut exhibition and are going out to a nice restaurant and staying at a posh hotel all at a very reasonable price thanks to a Mirvish package deal.

My partner and I like to spend time at Chapter's so our gift to ourselves is to go there, hang out at Starbucks and purchase a few books. Inexpensive and fun. I love sitting with my laptop and a soy decaf latte watching everyone scurry and hurry around looking for that nonexistent perfect gift. It's like living in a huge library that allows you to eat and drink, browse through their books, have free internet access and you don't have to whisper! Sounds like a perfect day to me!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Generosity is Alive and Well

The True Meaning of Christmas



The true meaning of Christmas is being amply demonstrated at my highschool. After putting out a group email to all the staff on behalf of one of my developmentally delayed students donations have been coming in left, right and centre.


My student, a young lady of 18 who I will call Sarah, is in desperate circumstances. Given up by her mother at birth, she was raised by her paternal grandparents. When Sarah was about ten her grandfather committed suicide. Her biological father is schizophrenic. She is predisposed for depression and mental illness as well as having an intellectual disability - the cards have been stacked against her from the moment she was conceived.


Two and a half years ago her grandmother had a stroke and died and Sarah had to go and live with her dad who she hardly knew. He was ill-equipped to look after a teenager and could barely look after himself. For the past two years they have fumbled along with dad refusing any offers of help. At school we have done our best to look after Sarah and bolster her poor self image.


Recently events have taken a turn for the worse: unpaid utility bills have resulted in the heat/hot water being turned off. Unpaid rent leaves them facing eviction and very little income has seen them turn to the food bank. Medical issues with Sarah are being untreated and she lacks the basic necessities of life. Again dad is refusing assistance and was a no-show for a meeting scheduled for today.


The good news (and there is plenty thank God) is this: Sarah is now 18 and can make her own decisions. She has decided it is time to make a break from dad and we are looking to place her temporarily at a family shelter until her disability pension kicks in and then a permanent placement can be arranged. She will receive grief counselling, psych evaluation, medication, life skills training and support for daily living.


In addition the good people at school have provided boxes and boxes of food, Christmas presents galore, warm clothing, school uniform pieces and money to help her pay for the necessities of life. Each new day finds me crying tears of gratitude for the willingness the staff demonstrates to help a child in need. She has even received several offers of Christmas dinner.


How this story will end is anyone's guess. But we are now moving forward with a plan of action, because a plan without action is just a wish.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

PHOTO OF THE WEEK


Iconic Weed - Westminster Ponds

Outpouring of Help

Every year classes at the highschool where I teach take on an advent project. We raise money in a variety of ways to assist seniors, newcomers to Canada, street kids and families in need. This year we decided to help one of our own students - a girl with an intellectual disability who has had to live with her mentally ill (schizophrenic) father since her grandmother died two years ago.



Dad has been in and out of work (currently out) and they have had their heat turned off due to non-payment and have had to resort to using the food bank. The young lady has mental health issues of her own and is unable to advocate for herself. After learning that she and her dad had gone to the local food bank for help I decided then and there to make them our Advent Project. My staff agreed wholeheartedly. We would try to raise enough money to get their heat turned back on, provide them with enough food to get them through the two week Christmas break and buy a Christmas gift or two.



Next I decided to put the request for help out to the whole staff of my highschool because several have had my student in their class and might want to make a donation of food or money. The response amazed me.



Even though I am well aware of my school's propensity to give and give and give I was overwhelmed at the magnitude of the response. And humbled. Gifts of food have begun to fill the 3 large boxes that we decorated with Christmas wrapping paper, offers to buy clothing and school uniform pieces, offers of cash in order to get the heat back on and another entire class has offered to make this family THEIR advent project. The most touching moment for me was when one of our custodians brought me a $100.00 cheque saying "every kid deserves to have a Christmas".



My decision this year to make Christmas more about giving to others and about spending time with family and friends rather that the usual "shop til I drop" fiasco has taken on a life of its own.



The joyous feeling that comes from helping others in need truly can't be beat.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Girl Effect

Saw this on Oprah yesterday. Wow - made quite an impact on me - this is something I so believe in. Made my third microloan on Sunday - will make one every month. This is the way to empower women around the world!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Be the change that you want to see in this world!

Thanks Gautam! An excellent 2 minute video on collaboration and the "yes we can" attitude as evidenced by a little boy.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In Need of a Wife: Part Two



Sometimes I think the women in my family aren't very wifely. We are opiniated, independent, career women, uncompromising, do-it-yourselfers. And of course, by "we" I mean me!


That being said I wrote the post above "In Need of a Wife" a year and a half ago. Being a special education teacher and a single parent (due to my unwifely nature) has been a balancing act with certain tasks falling by the wayside as a result of a tight schedule of working long hours and being in constant demand as a chauffeur to my daughter's wide-ranging activities which included early morning and after school choir practices and a highland dance career that took us all over the country.


It has been a rewarding journey although I feel I fell short in a number of areas. Housekeeping and cooking and laundry received a minimal amount of my precious downtime. I much prefer to pick up a book, rent a movie, do something artistic or even balance my budget than to vacuum, clean or cook meals.


Hence the desire for me to have a "housewife" of my own!


Well, the good Lord answered my prayers but in His own unique and humorous way! He sent me a lovely Jamaican man who LOVES LOVES LOVES to do all of those things that I hate doing. And as he works mainly from home he has the time to cook up large pots of soup and stews, curries and sweet potato fries, fried plantain and stirfrys, even dumplings!


He washes every dish as soon as it lands on the counter, he vacuums and rearranges the furniture, he organizes the cupboards and the pantry, does the laundry and hangs up the delicates, he shops for groceries carefully selecting the best peppers and avocados even if it means handling every single one in the bins.


He makes our granola from scratch and gets up early in the morning to cook our oatmeal.


Besides all of that he drives me to work and picks me up everyday, drives my daughter to university and to her two jobs and all the while keeps up on his own work. Oh, and did I say he is a life coach? Yes, all of my baggage from previous relationships is being opened up to the light in a positive and gentle way.


I must have done something right in my life to have my wish for a "wife" answered with such abundance and joy. Sounds like there's a song in there somewhere!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In Need of a Wife: Part One


Many times over the long years of single parenting I have often felt things would be a whole lot easier "if I only had a wife" (why do I suddenly feel like dancing down a yellow brick road?) However, as a woman of heterosexual persuasion I haven't yet figured out a way to make that work.


I suppose one answer would be to hire a cleaning service like Molly Maid, but really I don't feel my house is presentable enough to let someone come in and clean it! (if ya know what I mean and I know that you do!)


Do I really want a stranger shaking her head in disgust as she tries to scrub red wine drips out of my carpet? Again? Besides, if I had a wife she would do it for free. Right? And if I had a wife she would bring me my 3rd glass of red wine so I wouldn't have to stumble around with it myself thereby eliminating the need for rug scrubbing altogether.


And while I was sitting feet up in my Lazyboy recliner after a hard day of teaching, sipping my well-deserved wine and lingering over the daily newspaper, I could try to guess what succulent delights were on the supper menu based on the aromas of home cooking coming from the general direction of the kitchen, wherever that might be because I wouldn't have to know seeing as I had a wife. Beulah, peel me a grape! No, bring me the bottle!


Sigh....however, as no one has yet responded to my personal ads looking for a wife, I guess I'll have to survive on Costco's BBQ'd chicken wings and pick up a few more area rugs to cover the wine stains.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Active Giving - Jambalaya

Here's my partner - Michael - and our good friend Kevin - owner and chef at Jambalaya Restaurant at the moment of "settling accounts". Kevin and his wife - Denise - generously offered their restaurant and incredible food as a venue to raise money for Hand to Hand Global Leadership's non profit efforts in Jamaica. Between the meal and the silent auction we raised around $1500.00. It was an amazing night spent with friends and supporters eating Caribbean food - jerk chicken, rice and peas, blackened steak, bread pudding and rum sauce, pina colada cheesecake etc - all for a great cause.



In other news I am really excited to report that one of the loans I made on http://www.kiva.org/ is already being paid back (19% so far) after little more than a month. Most loans take 6 to 8 months before they start being paid back so I was thrilled to see that the group of women I supported is making its own profitable way in the world already!


I have been researching ways to get donated goods to Jamaica and have come up with a couple of ideas. Mustard Seed Communities are always looking for donations from a long list of needed items that they ship to Jamaica from Atlanta. That might be cheaper than packaging and shipping by air. My class has offered to use the money raised by our anual Advent project to pay shipping costs as well as donating toys and books to send. Its amazing how much people want to help out when you approach them with specific ideas. Most people want to help out, they just don't know what to do.


This week also marked my attainment of over 2,000 points for my cause (World Food Programme) on Social Vibe. Every 100 points that I earn equates into a donation of one week's worth of micronutrients for a hungry child. So far I've earned enought points to contribute 21 weeks worth of micronutrients. Check out my side bar for the Social Vibe's button and you can help me with my cause. It costs nothing but a few moments of your time. Social Vibe is also on Facebook.


I am happy to report that I haven't shopped this week except for groceries. The only other money I spent was to buy gas for the car and one meal out (at Jambalaya of course) plus $10 for a CD to support our friend Charmaine Bailey who is embarking on a Caribbean tour this January.


Savings is on track and so is my debt reduction. The car I bought in June will be totally paid off in 12 more months. Not bad! I've paid off my trip to Jamaica and started an emergency fund which now has over $400 in it. When I get the bill for the furnace repair it will come out of that. Any money I have left over at the end of the month also goes into the emergency account so within another week it will grow some more. Yay! Hopefully nothing major will happen to steer me off course. Like Christmas! I will definitely be on a budget this year but I don't have much to buy as I have been donating $$ instead.


Life is good.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jambalaya Fundraiser & Back to Work

Well it wasn't too painful going back to work this morning after being off for 12 days due to my surgery. The tough part was trying to sleep last night after the fundraiser we held at the Jambalaya restaurant. It was a great time, great food and the silent auction went well raising more $ than we anticipated. We didn't eat our meal until 9:30 or so as we were hosting the event and then there was cleanup and packing up the car etc etc. We were still buzzing when we got home and I woke up off and on all night. I always get paranoid that my alarm won't go off and I'll be late getting up for work so I woke up at 4am and 5am and 5:30am and then my trusty alarm did finally go off at 5:45am. Man, I was exhausted by then!



But I was Ok once I got to school and had a chai tea and got my things organized. My desk was surprisingly clear after having had 2 supply teachers cover for my absence and I got a good block of time later in the morning and completed my report cards plus a report for a meeting tomorrow so that was a great load off my mind. I had visions of being at school til 6pm in order to get caught up. But I was able to leave by 3pm which meant I had time for grocery shopping before picking up my daughter at the university for a dentist's appointment. The bus drivers are on strike so that means extra driving duty until it's over.



But the day is finally done and now I can relax and finish my book, a Dean Koontz thriller that has kept me going for over 700 pages.



We accomplished at lot - raised money for kids in Jamaica and got caught up at work - I deserve a break by God and I'm going to take it! NOW!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Journey of a Biscuit

An incredible journey - a partnership of major players to deliver food to hard-to-reach areas.

Charity Choices



Deciding which charity or charities to give to is quite the undertaking.
How do you decide? No matter how wide-ranging the charity you choose
you'll be leaving out large segments of the population.


Every week another request for funds comes in the mail: Red Cross,
Easter Seals, War Amps, World Vision, FH Canada etc etc.
Every week at school fundraising is going on: Jesse's Journey,
The Humane Society, Run for the Cure - there's just no end to it.


The choices I made about which charities I want to support have come out of my
trip to Jamaica. I started
with giving toys to a new daycare called "Happy Feet Daycare".
While in Jamaica I met with a government official whose portfolio covered
both education and Aids. I felt my heart strings being tugged the hardest by
those children who were HIV+ through no fault of their own and
for whom there was no place to go. No one wants them - there is still huge


fear and stigmatism in Jamaica for those known to be HIV+ and most end up on the
street. In Jamaica testing for aids in mothers-to-be is not mandatory
as it is here in Canada. Thus an infected mother passes the virus
on to her baby through the process of giving birth or by
breastfeeding. I also found out that there is a strong
correlation between domestic violence and women contracting HIV.


Women are unable to say "no" to their sexual partner because
of the fear of being beaten up and the fear of losing the person who supports
them financially. Culturally it is
expected that they
will submit.


So my choices became clear. I want to direct my support
to women and children who are: hungry, poor and living with
the HIV virus or living in fear of contracting it.
I want to help women get on their feet financially so that
they don't have to be dependent on someone who may beat them. I
want to help them get the medical care and preventative information
that could save their lives. I want to help children get an education.
And I want to feed them because
the need for food for over 1 billion chronically hungry
people is immediate and desperate.
(making micro loans to women to start up a business)
(feeding the most vulnerable/aids)
(campaign for female education/aids)
(United Nations programme on HIV/Aids)

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Can I Give Today?

True confessions time.....gulp!

I like to shop. There....I said it. Show me a woman who doesn't like to shop ....c'mon..... you can't do it can you? But I've hit upon a new strategy that seems to fulfill my urge to spend spend spend!

In my defense I am not a spendthrift. I have done a really good job over the last year or two of only shopping when I need something, and I don't really need very much. Oh, I can always talk myself into believing I need a new pair of shoes (my weakness) and I did recently buy some boots, but I bought them at Talize and they were only $12.00 and I actually DID need boots. Afterall, I live in Canada, nuff said!

So.... my strategy?? When I feel the overpowering urge to spend (like today at 4:23pm) I make a donation to charity instead. I ask myself.."self, do you really need any more clothes? Do you really need to put more food into your already overflowing pantry? Do you really need that 23rd shade of lipstick? Do you really need to spend $40 on iTunes in one shot? (oops! - hey, I'm not perfect!) Do you really need to buy more books? (NO, definitely NOT MORE BOOKS!)"

If I still haven't persuaded myself NOT to shop I think about this statistic: over 1 billion people are now chronically hungry - they weren't just hungry when they woke up this morning, they were hungry yesterday and they will be hungry tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that and..... The World Food Programme is working hard to get food to those who need it but there are so many people and never enough food. Distribution is so difficult in the wake of Hurricane Ida in El Salvador, typhoons in the Philippines, drought in the Horn of Africa and areas ravaged by war, like Sudan and the cost of food is rising.

So you know those wonder hormones - endorphins - that make you feel so good, that give you a high (temporarily) when you shop - you can also experience their amazing effects when you GIVE! It's true - and because they are guilt-free (unlike shopping) they last longer and come time and time again when you remember the good you did for someone today when you gave.

So.... go ahead....use my strategy and see how it makes you feel. It's addictive, I'm telling you!

Doing What We Can

Portmore Youth Information Centre

Meet Kayden. I was very impressed with this young man and not just by his lofty views! I met Kayden at a Youth Information Centre in the municipality of Portmore, Jamaica.

He volunteers daily at the centre keeping the statistics around the use of the dozen or so computers contained in the converted ship container that serves as the Youth Centre. Due to the high crime rate overall in Jamaica the centre is surrounded by fencing and barbwire as are most homes and businesses.

Kayden has completed Part One of a computer technician's course and is a pro at keeping the centre's computers up and running. I asked him if he had a computer at home and embarassed he said yes but that he needed some parts to make it work. Unfortunately he isn't working and cannot afford to take the second part of the training he needs in order to gain employment in the field he loves. So everyday he comes to the centre and volunteers his time. He is obviously a very bright young man who in spite of high unemployment rates and a lack of resources has resisted the pull into a life of crime that gobbles up the majority of young men between the ages of 15 and 24.

But he is stuck.

Kayden is not alone. Opportunities are limited for young men in Jamaica. That is why only a very few remain in school past the age of 16. The rest drop out, join gangs, fight turf wars, deal in drugs and become victim to the 3rd highest murder rate in the world.


That is why my partner is heading up an initiative in Jamaica, bringing much needed leadership training to young men and women hoping to inspire them to make changes in their lives and to make a difference in their communities. I'll keep you posted on their progress.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nim Doma Sherpa, Mount Everest Summiteer

From beneficiary to summiteer! Thanks WFP!

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

A friend on Facebook said this photo reminded her of Sleepy Hollow or some other ficticious spooky place. Well, I guess my backyard was kinda scary yesterday until it got all raked and cleaned up for winter:)



On the other hand it is kind of spooky that this is a picture of the SUN in the middle of the afternoon on November 9th- it looks more like the full moon at night!



I was exceedingly grateful, however, to be able to sit outside on a lawnchair with a book while my partner did all the cleaning up. No coat, just a sweater as the temperature got up to 18c. Even with the weak sun filtering through a leaden grey sky.



My opinion of November as a bleak and windy, sleet-filled and totally miserable month is being revised - NOVEMBER ROCKS! A month ago there was heavy frost on the pumpkins, now I have flowers blooming again. Yes, it is confusing, but I say lets enjoy it while it lasts which will hopefully be til next April!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Septoplasty....Nasty?..... or Nice?



Ok, here's the before. What's that weird bumpy thing halfway up my nose? And since when did my nose in profile have more ups and downs than the stock market? Huh? (We'll discuss double chins some other time!) No wonder air was having difficulty traversing the corners, hills and valleys in my schnozzola. Step aside Jimmy Durante!


Here's my nose at about 3pm today. The deviation in my septum has been repaired and although I still can't breathe it does look straighter. I am really really really hoping that short-term pain will translate into long-term gain because, man, my brain needs more oxygen!


On a side note, it was absolutely delightful to sit outside today in what for November was balmy 18c weather. You know something is wacko with the world's weather when November has better weather than October. I am actually hoping for a green Christmas!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Endoscopic Nasal Septoplasty

This is what I went through yesterday in the hopes of breathing better eventually. Nose is swollen and very stuffed up today but I have high hopes!

Will keep you posted.

Monday, November 2, 2009

PHOTO OF THE WEEK


Cranberry Almond Stuffed Squash

Cranberry Almond Stuffed Squash

Today is Meatless Monday! YES! Back by popular demand is my link to the great recipes offered at the Meatless Monday website.

I just bought squash so am going to try this mouth-watering recipe tout de suite! It's a year and a half, actually a bit more than that, since I've eaten any hamburger, weiners, sausages, bacon or processed meat of any kind. I will confess to the occasional steak seared on the BBQ and pork loin roast (it's the OTHER white meat)!

Since watching "Fast Food Nation" which made me more than a little queasy with documented evidence of fecal matter getting into the hamburger AND the Maple Leaf listeriosis fiasco in Canada wherein 22 people died from eating tainted lunch meat AND trying to reduce my carbon footprint by eating less meat I have turned to a more vegetarian diet with the occasional inclusion of chicken, turkey and fish.

The Meatless Monday website is a goldmine of delicious meatless meals and snacks (like the Apple Walnut Corn Muffins mmmmmmmmmmm!!!) that will make you wonder why you ever ate meat in the first place! They certainly make it easier to give meat up at least once a week.

Try it - you'll find its not such a hardship after all.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kiva.org Promo

So far I have made two loans on kiva.org - I hope to make many more. The sum of $25.00 represents a few trips to Starbucks for me but for entrepeneurs in developing countries it can make the difference from being a beggar to being a provider.

WWW.KIVA.ORG

Two weeks ago I accidentally came across the website http://www.kiva.org/. I was researching various charity websites where you can "click" on a button to make a donation. I found several of those and also found "kiva".



Kiva.org is even better than the "clickable" websites (several clickable buttons on my sidepanel) because you get to choose who you are loaning your money to and can watch their progress in paying it back. Before you dismiss Kiva.org as some sort of scam they have been written up in many major newspapers and magazines and interviewed on various television shows and have an amazing success rate. Repayment of loans is in the high 90% range. Very, very few loans go unpaid and usually the only money loss is due to rates of inflation diminishing 3rd world countries' currency values.



I have chosen to loan to women who are attempting to support themselves and their families and have made two loans so far. My intent is to make one new loan to a woman or group of women each month and you can follow the progress of the loans in the sidepanel of my blog. The loan amount can be as low as $25.00 and you will eventually get it back. It's much better than just a donation to charity because you're helping someone become independent. I have loaned money to a group of women who sell clothing and cosmetics in Uganda and to a woman in Nigeria who manufactures and sells blocks of ice.



Consider this option for yourself if you would like to make a positive difference in the world. Check out their website at http://www.kiva.org/ and consider joining a group and making a loan. It's a very exciting way to help someone get onto their feet and become a contributing member of their community. Gift certificates are also available and what an excellent Christmas gift for that person who has everything.

Be Kind to Yourself

The last sunset photos I took in Bayfield in October were the best of a long season of sunsets. I look at them and am in awe, not of my skill ha ha, but of their beauty, and am so profoundly happy that I get to witness those few fleeting moments.



I can also look at these photos and recognize how huge and limitless the sky is as I try to imagine the infinity of galaxies and solar systems that exist beyond what I can see. When I try to wrap my mind around infinity I can put my own puny little problems into perspective: in the grand scheme of things I am a mere speck, a dust mote floating around in the atmosphere subject to forces of nature beyond my control. I need to let go and let God.



Sometimes I beat myself up over the stupid things that I do and then my partner (who is a life coach among other things) reminds me of my humanness. Part of being human is making mistakes and hopefully learning from them. I have much to learn. Only God is perfect.



So today I am going to be kind to myself. I have made my apologies and have accepted that I made a mistake. Now it is time to move on and make a fresh start.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Going Back in Time = Instant Stress Reliever

Yesterday after my partner and I arrived home after busy work days we decided to go for a walk - the sun was shining, it was 19C, our camera batteries were recharged and so off we went.



After walking a few blocks through neighbourhoods lined with red and yellow trees we followed a trail which led us to the banks of the Thames river. Gone was the sound of traffic, gone was the stress of the work day and present was the sound of the breeze rustling dry leaves, the sound of the river cascading over rocks and partially submerged logs and the sound of mallard ducks as they took off, landed and bobbed for...well.....whatever it is that they eat:)

The sky was HUGE!! and populated with odd rippling clouds.



The palette of muted pastels - peach, soft mossy green and wheat-coloured grasses were very soothing reflected in pools of slow moving water.


Here the slight ripples created a canvas worthy of Monet.


A prima ballerina couldn't arch her body as gracefully as this tree branch.



As I hopped from rock to rock and followed the trail along the riverbank I was taken back to a childhood spent playing on the banks of the Otter Creek. There was just no end to the wonders of Otter Creek: I spent endless long hours pretending I was Tom Sawyer as I pushed a rickety raft down the creek with a long pole (is that my mother turning in her grave?); collecting pollywogs in pop bottles that would later make my mother shriek; wading through the muddy water and then pulling off the stubborn blood suckers; and playing make believe games with my brother that would involve crossing and recrossing the creekbed by jumping rock to rock and up and down the pathways through the ravine (someone was always chasing us)!!



It is a blessing to be able to relive the best moments of my childhood and I am so very grateful that a beautiful river is only a few minutes walk from my home.


The Thames River area is full of treasure and it photographs so amazingly well. During the upcoming winter months I can look back on these photos and appreciate all the river has to offer. (Stayed tuned for shots of a frozen river and riverbanks heaped with snow!)

Got these ducks as they were coming in for a landing - it ain't always pretty!


Milkpod fluffies, escaping everywhere. Kudos to my partner for the first photo showing one little fluffy suspended between two leaves - that one wins photo of the day in my book, or should I say, blog!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Do You!



Chris Rock is hilarious. He has a funny way of cutting through peoples' crap to get at the truth - however ugly or ridiculous or personal it might be. You can either be offended or you can laugh at yourself as a member of the human race complete with its idiotic pretensions.


I saw Chris Rock recently on Oprah drumming up support for his latest project - a documentary called "Good Hair." (Click for the trailer) I hadn't heard about the movie before and was quite taken aback when a black woman stood up and accused Chris of dissing black women and revealing their hair secrets - she was mortified and outraged. She doesn't want white women knowing to what lengths black women go in order to have "good hair", in other words, white women's hair.


Apparently within the black community you are deemed "prettier" if your hair is straight and long. Wavy is OK, but not the natural look. Black women are spending thousands of dollars each year for defrizzing straighteners, relaxers and weaves. I really had no idea. They also feel the straight or wavy look is more professional and helps them to advance in their careers and that if they wore their hair in its natural form they wouldn't be taken seriously and wouldn't get promotions at work. They feel that white women look down on them if they don't have "good hair." AND they want white women to think that "good hair" just happens - that they're NOT spending half of their salaries and half of their life sitting in beauty salons. AND due to the expense and weaves in their hair black women have a "hands off the hair" policy with the men in their lives.


WOW. I have a friend from Trinidad and a friend from Antigua and have never given a moment's thought to their hair other than to admire it. Is it really true that white women think less of a black woman if her hair is natural?? Or is this in the minds of black women due to them wanting to look like white women so that they don't feel inferior? Given the last few centuries of "black history" I can understand that but find it apalling to think black women feel the need to emulate white women in order to feel better about themselves.


I, for one, have not spent one moment of my life thinking about black womens' hair. However I also don't live in an area where there are equal numbers of black/white women so perhaps I am not well enough informed to have an opinion. However, as a white woman I spent a lot of time and money on my hair - dyeing it different colours, getting perms etc until I reached the age of 40 when I decided to let it go its natural colour (salt and pepper) and keep it cut very short (I cut it myself with the same kind of electric clippers that my mother used on my brothers).


All I can say is that I reiterate Chris Rock's message when at the end of the Oprah Show he said to all women: "do you!" Don't try to be somebody you're not, be true to yourself. If you do different things to you hair do it for yourself, not because you think others will think poorly of you if you don't. The message "do you" can apply to every area of a person's life. Be authentic, be who you really are and live that way. Sometimes I think that we see and listen to so many media messages each and every day of our lives that we're not sure who we really are because we're trying to measure up to society's version of the perfect woman or perfect man.


It takes courage and a lot of self-reflection to live an authentic life. We are not a reflection of the stuff we own and we are not a better person if we live in a bigger house. Getting rid of my stuff is a way of peeling off the outer layers of my life so that I can live in a more honest way.


Stay with me as I try to "do me"!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It's Easy to GIVE!

Last Christmas my sister, brother-in-law and I decided to change the way we "do" Christmas. It wasn't that we weren't grateful for all that we had and all that we were given but we don't need any more STUFF! I am on a mission to decrease the amount of STUFF I have around the house and have been making good progress. There are actually empty shelves in my home now but I still have much more STUFF to get rid of.



(My goal is to have my possessions down to two suitcases full by the time I retire! Goodbye silverware, goodbye books, goodbye useless clutter!)



I told Lannie and Jim about the money my class raised to purchase 6 baby goats for people in Sudan and how good that made us all feel. So the three of us decided that instead of giving each other gifts this year we would donate to a charity instead and let family members know that instead of giving us gifts they could make a donation on our behalf. The charity we chose is the World Food Programme - a part of United Nations and the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. A mere 25 cents will feed a child for one day. (http://wall.wfp.org/ ) The donation my family and I made will feed 4 children for a year. That sure beats the stuff I got last year for Christmas - I'd tell you what I got but I honestly can't remember - that's how unnecessary it was.



You can't imagine how freeing it is to get rid of stuff along with the desire to accumulate stuff until you actually do it. It clears out a lot of space in your BRAIN too so that you can actually spend time thinking about what is important in life, such as helping others less fortunate than ourselves, and there are SO many that need our help.



I encourage everyone to take part or all of their Christmas shopping money and donate to a worthy cause this year. It feels so good to give and you'll be so glad you did. Let's spread out the wealth in the world a little bit more evenly so that everyone can at least eat on Christmas Day.



Get UNSTUFFED!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

One Person's Trash

Major clean sweep going on over here - organizing, tossing and selling. Took in my VHS movies and some record albums to see what we could get for them and was surprised that the albums garnered more cash than the movies. Then I read today that vinyl is making a comeback - that people are now discovering that the best way to listen to music is on a turntable.



What???



First I purchased every Beatles and Doors record ever made - some on 45's, most as LPs. Then I repurchased or recorded them onto cassette tapes - spent hours and hours doing this. Then suddenly those suck and they're coming out on CDs (and you couldn't record them onto blank CDs from cassettes back then, man I'm old!)



Woops - forgot the wonderful suitcase-sized 8 tracks. The first car I bought had an 8 track player in it, but it didn't work very well. Every time I hit a bump or ran over a leaf it would go skippity skippity skip. And you could only store so many in your car - like about 3.



I am NOT going back to playing records again! Somehow that magical time of crackling static and repeating lyrics "so long....so long.....so long....so.." arghhhhhhhhhhh! is not bringing back the good memories for me, sorry. Now that I can put my entire music collection on something the size of an index card and take it with me everywhere there ain't NO turning back for this rocker chick!



But I digress - the point of my post is I now have $$ in my wallet for the second week in a row which means no withdrawals of cash from my bank account which means some extra savings at the end of the month which means more $$ going into a savings account which means I am getting closer to my retirement goals! Whew!

Monday, October 19, 2009

An Oasis in the City

After spending most of my day on school work yesterday my partner suggested a nature walk through Westminster Ponds. What a great way to restore one's soul at the low, rock bottom price of....why...nothing, nothing at all! Hours spent on students' progress reports and Individual Education Plans melted away into the abyss of forgotten time as we walked in brilliant fall sunshine through rustling leaves, changing colours, bird song and and landscapes fit for a movie screen.



Imagine the adventures you could get up to in this setting - rafting along the surface of the pond while keeping one eye out for crocodiles and water snakes!



Surviving on a diet of nuts and berries...



Lying on a bed of plant fluffies....





Seeking shelter under a roof thatched with gold and orange boughs...


Now, back to the GRIND.....sigh...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Money Money Money

It feels great to be able to donate to worthwhile charities, but this also means generating enough income to do "good works" AND maintain my standard of living. Or as close to it as possible without becoming a charity case myself! Of course I have the advantage of belonging to a family that would feed me and shelter me if worse came to worse (right siblings? .....hello?.....anyone there?).

I am also still on the quest of getting rid of non-essential stuff or outdated stuff like the CD player above that I've had for about 10 years. Seems that electronics updates happen faster and faster these days and now I have my music on my computer and iPod. I really like using my iPod as its so portable and has a large storage capacity - I can take it upstairs to my exercise bike and pedal like crazy through The Distillers hard-hitting songs, I can take it to my trailer and put it in an iPod dock and can listen to it in my car via my FM adapter. And here's a tip for all you iPod users: I took several boxes of CDs down to a used CD shop and received over $200!! Mad money for two weeks which left more $ in my account for saving! Yippee! Next to go will be all my VHS movies and my record albums.

So I advertised my CD player on Kijiji a week or two ago and sold it to a grateful young woman now attending college as a mature student. A great bargain indeed for someone in her situation. I took what she offered as I can still recall with humiliating clarity my own university days when sometimes I had to pay for my groceries with my Visa card, sad but true. Luckily my diet consisted of tea and toast so the outlay was minimal!

I find I spend a fair bit of time thinking about money still. Today I was reading the Sunday Globe and Mail online and there was an article on retirement income - the first in a series looking at how most Canadians don't have enough money socked away to live on when they retire. I realize I am one of the lucky ones with a great pension although my contributions have risen by several percent over the last couple of years to make up for the economic crisis - at least I'm not one of the 60% of Canadian workers without a pension at all! Even so, when I completed the pension calculator it recommended I save more money. I'm already saving over $900 a month: $400 into a tax-free account, $180 into RRSPs; $140 into an emergency fund and $200 towards my daughter's tuition.

Anything beyond that will have to come from downsizing my considerable belongings as I journey towards a two-suitcase retirement! I want to travel lightly through the rest of my life as my partner and I continue our work.

So next spring I will be holding a mammoth yard sale! Watch for it!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Times They are a Changing!

Took this photo last weekend which was Thanksgiving here in Canada. We were driving to Bayfield for one last weekend of trailer living but man was it cold! Our campfire was more functional than aesthetic and I gave thought to early man and his discovery of fire. My gratitude for its heat had to have been on par with that of the neanderthal!

In Canada autumn is a time for giving thanks for an ample harvest and for taking drives into the countryside to view the changing colours of the trees. AND it's the time that most of us turn on our furnaces and start to cocoon! And its time to start getting used to higher utility bills not to mention maintenance calls on faulty furnaces like mine:(

I turned my furnace on last Monday. We had an unseasonably wet/cool summer and I had hoped for a long mild fall to make up for it but alas, it wasn't to be. When we drove back from the trailer Monday it was all of 3Celsius and our house had cooled down to 16C. So I forced myself to turn on the furnace and it took several hours for the house to warm up to 21C so I knew something wasn't quite right. (I have a gift for the obvious!) And, oh yes, there was SNOW on my car this morning - I damn near fainted - it's only October 16th, and two months until the REAL WINTER starts! CRAP!!

So after a visit from our local furnace guy they are now looking for a part for the furnace that will hopefully help it to churn out some quality heat. But being the weekend now they won't get serious about the search until Monday. Can't wait to see that bill when it comes. Once their feet cross your threshold you owe them about $95.00. To actually go down to the basement and turn on the light in the furnace room - $250.00. To take a tool out of their kit - $500.00. To make a correct diagnosis - PRICELESS!

To be continued.....(unless I have to hock my laptop to pay the bill!).....

Back with Purpose

So here I am back with y'all again. My life has been going in a different direction and for awhile I didn't think I would have the time to blog anymore. And if I did blog what would I be writing about? My five year plan is not what is driving me forward anymore though I am still on track. But there are so many other, more important things going on in my life than thinking about retirement. (see profile comment) Well, I think I have it figured out finally, at least for today. And if you're trying to live in the moment, like me, then today is all you need.



One of the important things going on in my life is in my arms above - Mia. I met Mia and her daycare buddies on a life-changing trip to Jamaica in August. My partner and I went there for a few days to meet with government officials and young people around the youth leadership development project he is working on. We had received a plea before we left that a new daycare was in need of toys so I went to my local Talize and bought enough toys to fill a huge suitcase.

We put smiles on many faces that day (and a few tears) and introduced an important new concept - sharing!LOL! For the most part people only see photos of the resort areas on the northern shore of Jamaica (Montego Bay, Negril etc) - but most Jamaicans live in third-world conditions and the poverty is amply evident in the capital city of Kingston and in rural areas. Jamaica's murder rate is the 3rd highest in the world beaten only by Colombia and South Africa.


But on this particular day joy and youthful optimism won out. Children are our future and there were definitely a few potential leaders in this bunch!



Despite the crime, the violence and the grinding poverty Jamaica is so alive, so vibrant, humming loudly with energy, love and vitality. I can't wait to go back.


My partner and I will be going back to Jamaica in July 2010 to deliver his leadership program to 100 young people, to donate more toys and computers. There are more computers in the school where I teach than there are in ALL of the schools in Jamaica!


There is much work to be done. Jamaica is just the beginning.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fascinating Feet

I think feet are highly under-rated. I don't know about you, but I use mine all of the time. And I do mean all of the time. One of the things about having ADD is that some part of me is always in motion - with me it's my feet.

At work I only sit for brief snatches of time, a minute here and a minute there. I no sooner sit down when I pop back up again - to fill my coffee cup, answer the phone, attend to a student, turn down the airconditioning down, or up, it's great fun working with several menopausal women, including me. Even when I do finally sit for a few minutes one leg crossed over the other my feet are constantly moving. Up and down, back and forth, to and fro, wiggle, waggle, wiggle, waggle.

My feet are good at lots of things: they can change direction quickly in a game of volleyball, they can peddle a bike for hours, they can walk and run (well, jog), kick a ball, climb stairs 2 at a time and leap small buildings (lego) in a single jump. My feet are good at balancing too, I used to like the balance beam in highschool (remember highschool?)

Even nowadays I like to try my luck walking across a concrete parking divider to see if I can still do it, or walk across a partially submerged log at the edge of the lake. In the photos above and below I show off my balancing expertise (and new pedicure) crossing a log many, well several, inches above the whirling frosty Lake Huron rapids. Every time a wave slapped me in the shins I gave a little screech but managed to hang on til the end.

Getting totally wet here, but it was exhilarating nonetheless!

Whoa, getting slippery here, trying out the sideways shuffle.

Note the prehensile strength and ability to curl my toes around any protuberance or crevasse. I think my feet look strong and well capable of holding up my well-rounded pear-shaped yet muscular frame.
I am proud of my feet. I take them with me everywhere. Whenever I look down, there they are, wiggling away. My heels may dry out and crack despite daily applications of Dermal Therapy, my toenails may be ingrown, and my baby toes may stick out at right angles but dammit they're dependable!
Where would I be without them??

I think my feet even reveal my emotions. Guess what I'm doing in the photo above? Go one...guess! Can't guess? Give up??
I am waiting in line for a moosetracks icecream in a waffle cone. Mmmmmmmmm, my feet can hardly wait!!