What’s in a decade?

I thought I’d sit down and take stock since, after all, just about every social media feed has been telling me to do so for the past couple of weeks.

I clicked open my Pictures file and scrolled down to 2010. I then opened up my journal and wrote Last Decade at the top of the page and 2010 in the margin. I began viewing the photos and writing down the highlights of each year: trips, graduations, sports events, publications, relatives…

Once I’d finished, I mulled over the list. Wow! I realized that the past decade was rich in learning and insights, mainly around three themes.

#1. The Value of Life

In 2016, my husband Vincent went into the hospital for a day operation. The doctors wanted to do an angioplasty (insert stents into the arteries). When Vincent was wheeled back to his room, he said, “They have to keep me at the hospital. I’m going to have an operation this week”.  Less than three days later, he had multiple by-pass surgery. While he was in the ICU, I realized that life is as close as a heartbeat away. One millisecond it is there; the next it may not.

We both came away with a different point of view on life, and a new drive to make every moment count.

#2. The Value of Family

The same year, in 2016, I had the wonderful privilege of meeting biological relatives on my father’s side in England in 2016 (I was unable to meet my father since he had already passed away when I found him). It was amazing to feel the connection that we had even though I hadn’t been brought up with them. It was palpable. My husband and sons couldn’t deny the metaphysical link that they saw especially between my aunt and cousins.

A year later, in July of 2017, since my biological mother had moved back to Montreal, she accepted to meet me for the first time ever. During the three days we spent together, we went out for coffee, went shopping and talked about so many things. It was precious – doubly- so since I lost her to cancer less than two months later.

That was painful because I had just found her. But I take comfort in the fact that I was able to meet a number of other biological relatives on her side of the family that still live in Montreal.  

Hers wasn’t the only death I experienced this past decade. I lost two brother-in-laws and an uncle, too. Death separates us from family members we love, but life continues and gives us the wonderful opportunity to keep strengthening the bonds with those we still have.

#3. The Value of Breathing

This has undoubtedly been the decade that I learned the importance of breathing. Through learning and practicing mindfulness, meditation and Bodyflow (a combination of TaiChi, Pilates and yoga), I have experienced the amazing the healing and restorative benefits of breathing deeply: heightened awareness, more powerful stress management skills and greater emotional balance.  

Learning to breathe changes everything! The more I learned about it from books, practice and courses I took during my certificate in Developmental Psychology, the clearer I became on who I was and what I wanted. I retired from teaching in the school system and embarked on a career change process (which was ironic since I only just officially earned my teaching permit in 2011, after over 20 years in and out of various teaching capacities.) I just didn’t want to work in an environment whose values didn’t match my own.

I am now trained in mindfulness meditation and coaching so that I can help others develop their own mindfulness lifestyle and experience the benefits.

In conclusion, my backward look leaves me with the insight that it isn’t the trips, nor the professional, personal or academic achievements that give me the greatest buzz. It’s being able to look forward to celebrating 30 years of marriage with my husband Vincent in three weeks, seeing my sons Nick and Olivier develop and thrive in their personal and professional lives, and helping others live mentally healthier and happier over the next ten years.

What about you: what are your greatest take-aways from the past decade? And what are you looking forward to in the new decade? Drop a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers, and keep learning!  

Claire xx

[Photo Credit: Nacho Juarez/Pexels]

Outer mess, inner stress?

“Tell me something you don’t like”, I asked my student.

“I don’t like when things are messy.”

“”Really”, I responded, “why? “

I don’t know.”

“Okay, well, what does it make you feel?”

“No idea.”

“You just don’t like it. You prefer when things are in their place, organized, structured?”

“Yes, let’s say I arrive at someone’s house and it’s a mess. I feel like taking a huge garbage bag and shoving it all in! “

I wasn’t really surprised. She works in administration. It’s her job. But also, I surmised, a part of her personality. Someone who likes everything in their right place.

Right place. What a concept! Is it possible we polarize things right down to our belongings?

Reflecting on ideas I’ve been reading from Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and from my Authentic Leadership course at university, I mused on that right and wrong reflex we develop from such a young age.

From what I’ve gleaned, our polarization is a prehistoric reflex we develop to ensure our safety and security; once we learn to distinguish the presence of objects outside of ourselves, we start categorizing them into good and bad, nice and mean, right and wrong.

Of course, we need to differentiate if something is good for us or not, however when it starts influencing our inner states of well-being or ‘rightness’, it may have become a little excessive.

Let me share one of my own typical personal default settings. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do when arriving in the kitchen is to scan for orderliness and cleanliness. If it doesn’t meet my standards, I start putting things away.

Why? Otherwise I just can’t relax.

Okay, so you’re saying you’re the same as your student?

Yes, guess so!

You may now well ask: what can you do about it?  

I must admit it’s not an easy reconfiguration to make. However, my university class is challenging me: what belief does that discomfort stem from? What is the deep-down need that is being jeopardized?

Ouch! For me, I realized that I was taught: work, before play; you can go out once you’ve done your chores; you have to clean your room before you can go and play.  

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Good work ethic, but is it always realistic, to keep everything in order, structured, under control? No, it would perhaps be healthier to learn to accept that I can’t always be in control, that there’s a time for everything.  

Upon deeper thought, I realized that that work ethic was instilled in me at a time that it equated acceptance and love, and a sense of security.

Yikes! Does that mean my OCD could stem from that?

Perhaps yes, perhaps not. I’m just saying our behaviors sometimes stem from a deeper belief that may not be entirely appropriate now that you’re an adult.

Does that mean anyone’s OCD stems from that?

Only they know that! Maslow’s pyramid of needs refer to physiological, security, love & belonging, self-esteem, fulfillment, and transcendence. Only they can know what need was at stake when they developed the automatic behavior, which instilled a foundational belief that would guide future action.

Final thought: when you’re getting all worked up from the visual chaos, you might want to ask yourself:

Why am I getting so worked up?  When did I start reacting like that? What is the underlying belief?

Maybe it’s time to let it go and be a little more realistic – and at the same time become a little easier to live or work with!   

Does your inner level of stress grow in proportion to the outer mess? How do you deal with it?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

[Photo: Conrado/Shutterstock]

Three Questions & A Birthday

Why can’t I say Happy Anniversary when it is someone’s birthday?”, many an ESL student has asked me.

That’s a great question and one that merits a post about to explain the answer – especially since I just attended a very special birthday celebration for someone close who was celebrating 90 years (name withheld to protect the identity of the person in question. Don’t ask!)   

Here’s the deal. The definitions of the words will help us out.  

Question 1: What’s the difference between the words birthday and anniversary?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, an anniversary is defined as: the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event.

In English-language culture, this applies to notable event such as the following: the founding of a company, a wedding, a graduation, a natural disaster… however, it does not apply to a birthday! (Unless you want to say: Happy Anniversary of your birth!)  

A birthday, by definition, again according to the online Cambridge Dictionary is: the day that is exactly a year or number of years after a person was born.

So, if you want to wish someone well on the day they are born, the term that is used is birthday, not anniversary.

Question 2: Are there any other ways to say Happy Birthday?

Ah-ha! Another great question. You could say any of these:

  • Best wishes for the day!
  • Enjoy your day!
  • Have fun on your special day!
  • Many happy returns (British)!
  • May your day be filled with love, laughter and joy!

Of course, there are as many ways to wish someone a happy birthday as there are people. I won’t even try to list them here (just google Ways to say Happy Birthday for more).

Question 3: Are birthdays really that important?

I added this as the third question because the person who we celebrated this past week would have preferred us not to celebrate their special day, especially not talk about the number of years being celebrated.

My answer to this question is a resounding yes! Yes, yes, yes! Please celebrate your birthday and the birthday of those around you! A life is important, precious and unique. There is only one day in the entire year dedicated to celebrating the presence of that person on this planet and in your life.

Each person arrives in our existence for a reason. Yes, I believe that those skeptics and cynics may smirk and scoff. What reason you may ask? There is no one-size fits all answer.

The answers to that precise question lies in what makes you so incredibly unique. Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential.

  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your special abilities?
  • What are your talents?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What moves you to tears?
  • What kind of music makes you want to get up and dance?

Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence, in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential. The number of years is inconsequential to your specialness.

I’ll leave the final point to Dr. Seuss, who always knows how to say things so eloquently!

It basically comes down to the fact that celebrating your birthday is a day to honour you, not your achievements or non-achievements, that you are, not what you are or aren’t.

Thanks for dropping in to read. What do you think: Why are birthdays important to you? Or are they? I’d love to hear what the youer-than-you has to say!

Cheers, and keep on learning!

Claire :o)

3 Reasons to Savor the Summer Solstice

Got to admit it, I didn’t know much about the Summer Solstice. Yet the more I Googled, the more I learned, and the more I realized that this is a date to celebrate.

1. Summer has arrived!

The word solstice comes from Latin and basically means the day the sun stands still (solstitium: sol – sun; stit – stand). Scientifically speaking, it is when in the Northern Hemisphere the sun hits its northernmost point (called aphelion), thus causing June 21 to mark the longest day, the shortest night and the beginning of summer.  

2. Love is in the air!   

Ever heard of Puck? He was the mischievous hobgoblin (a bizarre-looking fairy) who turns a man’s head into that of a donkey’s and mistakenly spreads a love potion on the wrong suitor so he falls in love with the wrong girl in Shakespeare’s comic play A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Just think: that means he wrote an entire play just to underscore the importance of the summer solstice!

The question is: why would Shakespeare have chosen this event? He obviously knew what he was doing! In many countries in both ancient and more modern times, people celebrate courtship and romance with many rituals and traditions, such as jumping over bonfires as a couple (Sweden), floating wreaths to snag an eligible bachelor (Poland) or leaving a personal belonging beneath fig trees as they dream of marriage (Greece), or contemplate the marriage of the Earth and the Sun over the circle of rocks at Stonehenge (England).   

3. Great food abounds!  

For those who live off the earth, the Summer Solstice marks the beginning of a season of growth and imminent harvest. Spring planting and rain have prepared the crops, and the heat caused by the sun’s position above the earth means that farmers will begin harvesting soon, and enjoy the fruit of their labor, in both food and income.

Of course, if you’re an urban citizen, like I am, it means the heady delight of local market produce and country drives to purchase freshly picked fruit and vegetables that actually taste like the fruit or vegetable their physical form denotes!

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like all the ingredients for a party! Savoring warm temperatures, love and friendship, and delicious food is what summer is all about. So how are you celebrating the arrival of summer?

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

[References: https://www.etymonline.com/word/solstice; https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/summer-solstice-world-traditions/index.html; https://www.themanual.com/culture/what-is-summer-solstice/; https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/21/summer-solstice-celebration-facts-longest-day-year/721004002/ https://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/msnd/character/puck/; https://www.space.com/june-solstice-northern-summer-2019.html; Photo Credit: Tatsiana Hrak/Shutterstock]

Have you connected today?

People matter.

With those two words, American psychologist, Chris Peterson, summarized his life research on how to enable people to go from surviving to thriving, discovering and pursuing what really what makes life worth living for them. 

In the Huffington Post Canadian edition today, publishes a video with the astounding title: The most connected generation is now also the loneliest. The ten-minute video draws the portrait of a society gone screen-happy and heart-sad.

The ten-minute video draws the portrait of a society gone screen-happy and heart-sad.

A humorous, but also thought-provoking, Ted Talk by Chris Nice, entitled A Funny Look at the Unintended Consequences of Social Media describes the side-effects of our modern society that lives in a more screen-to-face than face-to-face fashion. He ends with the startling statement: The true question is not whether technology is scary; the true question is how human are you ?

The ture question is not whether technology is scary; the true question is how human are you? – Chris Nice

In other words, the problem is not the technology, the problem is the user. Just pause for a moment to observe people walking down the sidewalk or shuffling along at your local shopping center to see how true that really is. Couples spend together time walking side by side, but both checking their phones obsessively. Mothers (or fathers) jabber animatedly on their phones while their son or daughter whimpers or whines for attention in vain. No need to go on, you’ve been there and seen that, too.

The problem? Not connecting. The solution? Get together, connect. Have you connected today? If not, read on!

The following are a few synonyms for event and some ways to make an invitation

The Event

A supper (or dinner) – some people over for an evening meal.

Gathering –        usually a larger crowd, more likely in a public venue.

Party (or house party) – some people over to chill at your house.

Pow-wow –        more informal, more fun (think barbecue, or pool party).

House party –    an evening event at home with food, drink and lots of music!

Social –               an organized event probably at a public venue.

Celebration –     a group of invited people in a public or private venue to celebrate a special event (think birthday, anniversary, graduation).

The Invite

  • What do you have anything going on this weekend?
  • Do you have any plans for Thursday after work?
  • We’re having a party on Friday evening. Can you come?
  • Let’s meet up!
  • Do you want to get together on Saturday?  

Now you – or rather, we (since I, the Inveterate Introvert, include myself here) have the means to make our weekend a live event, as opposed to a virtual one!

By the way, these lists are by no means exhaustive. What’s your favorite way to call a get-together or make an invitation?

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :O)

References: Chris Peterson video: https://youtu.be/DRiIAqGXLKA; Huffington post video: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/ retrieved on June 20 2019; Chris Nice TedTalk: https://www.ted.com/talks/chuck_nice_a_funny_look_at_the_unintended_consequences_of_technology?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare; Photo credit: photo id#300361952/Shutterstock]

In Honour of Father’s Day

How many ways do you know how to say father in English? Three?  Five? More?!

I thought it would be à propos on this Father’s Day (note that it is Father’s, the day of father, as opposed to Fathers, plural, the day of/for fathers) to write a post on that precise question, and perhaps provide a bit of insight for English language learners who may be a bit confused at the nuances of difference.

I was amazed to find 16 synonyms listed! Just have a look at this:

ancestor                begetter                padre                    sire

dad                        daddy                    papa                     source

parent                    origin                      pop                        forebearer

predecessor          pa                          progenitor             procreator

Obviously, some are more stilted (read, formal or scientific) than others! If we are talking about ‘Dad at home’, then let’s remove ancestor, predecessor, begetter, origin, progenitor, sire, source, forebearer and procreator right away!   

That leaves us with dad, daddy, pa, padre, papa and pop. Let me explain where you would probably see them used.

Dad – that’s usually the teen or adult’s way of addressing their father. 

Daddy – we’ll leave this one for the kids!

Pa – this is another way most young people call their dad, though there may be some adults too, who still prefer using it as a particularly affectionately way of speaking of their father.

Padre – I was a little surprised to see this one here, but since I know Spanish, I suppose you would see this one in families with Hispanic roots. Correct me, any of you out there who beg to differ!

Pop – that’s a familiar way many teens and young adults refer to their fathers.   

And let’s not forget father, which is a more formal way of referring to one’s Dad.

Around my home, we called our father, Dad (daddy, when we were young). He was a great man: energetic, intelligent (often pulling out the encyclopedia to answer our questions at the dinner table), interested in us (he bought me books to satisfy my inquisitive mind as I went through phases of interest in geology, wild flowers, archaeology…), disciplined and stern (there was no point in arguing when he laid down the law!)

I miss him dearly (he passed away of cancer in 2009) and think of him most often in two specific places. One is at work, since he was an electrical engineer who worked on the first flight simulators ever at CAE in Montreal, and I teach English to employees working in high tech. The other is in the garden, when I’m pulling out the weeds, pruning the hedges or tending my flowerbed. Dad loved to garden!

I am thankful to carry his name as his adopted daughter. I wouldn’t be what I am or have what I have today if it wasn’t for his patience, love and guidance.

So, on this Father’s Day, 2019, I pay him homage. Thanks, Harold E. Ford, for giving me a name and a future.   

Whatever the name you call your own father, I hope that you, readers, had an opportunity to thank him for his input in your life. I am well-aware that some people had experiences much less than ideal growing up, and I am so sorry for you. However, I invite you to look for the blessings in the input your male parent did give you: a life, opportunities, the possibility to change the past and do better.

I leave you with one question: What’s your favourite name for your father (or father figure, if such is the case)?

  • Claire :o)