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.


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.


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.