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]

Who do you choose to be?

Tomorrow is November 11, Remembrance Day; it’s a time to remember the soldiers that gave their lives to counter the forces that were jeopardizing the freedoms we take for granted today. As I ponder their sacrifice, I can’t help but see a certain, though obviously not so dramatic, parallel between the challenges they braved and the future described by the author I was reading today. Those soldiers, and so many civilians, courageously chose to stand up and fight impending disaster to provide a better life for us today.

During a discussion at university on Friday about the challenges of resonant leadership in the face of opposing values or ideologies, my professor dropped the expression islands of sanity as he explained that a leader in this kind of situation needs to focus on what they can do to change things, rather than what they can’t, to create a refuge of hope in a sea of disorder and chaos. Just like those soldiers did during the First and Second World Wars, and our armed forces continue to do throughout the world where freedoms are threatened today.

The expression, islands of sanity, is used by Margaret J. Wheatley in her book entitled Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity (published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017).  I ordered the book online and was ecstatic to get it already today. I was mesmerized right from the first page. Here are a few challenging thoughts I came across while reading.

Warning: This is no feel-good book; rather, it is a call to arms in an era that is increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).

  1. Wise leaders are willing to give up the delusion that technology can save us, or that we can master the Universe. We must face the reality of decline and choose actions that support people, not technology. The choice couldn’t be more clear. Or consequential.  (p. 41)
  • A culture focused on individual freedom can only result in narcissism, polarization, conflict, estrangement, and loneliness. What is the meaning of life if it’s all about me? (p. 69)
  • We could have been anything we wanted, yet free-floating individualism has taken us far from community, contribution or connection, the very things that truly give life meaning and purpose. (p. 70)
  • Cultures focused on popularity have no depth or resilience. They are superficial and ephemeral: tastes change; fashions come and go; fads rise and fall. Always changing, such a culture increases our sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. We may be popular now, but beneath the surface our anxiety and stress keep growing. Will you still love me tomorrow? (p. 72)
  • More speed, new apps, artificial intelligence, more connectivity through technology is not the answer. Sane leadership is. (p. 74)

Certainly, we are not facing the same challenges as the generation that celebrated that first Armistice Day in 1918; however, we all have a choice to make in terms of who we desire to be and which values we desire to defend. Personally, I am thankful for the choices made by my own Grandfather Todd (WWI) and Uncle Tom (WWII), and feel challenged by the words penned by Wheatley to our own generation:

Who do you choose to be for this time? Are you willing to use whatever power and influence you have to create islands of sanity that evoke and rely on our best human qualities to create, produce and persevere? (p. 11)

How do these quotes resonate with you? Who are you thankful for this Remembrance Day? Share below.

– Claire :o)  

[Image: musicman/Shutterstock]

The Call of the Open Road

No, I don’t know what I am going to do next, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s time [to go].”

A friend and I were discussing her recent discussion to leave her job. She talked about the subsequent reactions from friends and colleagues: surprise, consternation and wonder, bordering on envy. She told me she was comfortable with taking some time for self-reflection before jumping immediately into another employment opportunity.

When she said that, I read her the following excerpt from the Leaves of Grass poem by Walt Whitman I had seen just this week in Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,

And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.

I couldn’t help but think that Dewitt Jones, former photographer for National Geographic, would agree with the sentiment.  In his TEDx South Lake Tahoe talk of January 3 2018 entitled Celebrate What’s Right With The World, Jones eloquently reminds the audience and viewers through awe-inspiring photos and a skillfully crafted narrative, that there is a world of possibilities out there, and that there is more than one solution to the challenges we encounter.  

I especially liked the way he summarized his main point: “Change your lens, change your life.

My friend has changed her lens. Her life is about to change. Who knows what she’ll do next? Does you always have to know? Regardless, it’s her life, her choice. I’m convinced whatever she chooses, will line up with her values, beliefs and personality.

I wish her well; I can almost feel the waft of freedom and excitement on my face as I see her in my mind’s eye walking out the door of this life to embark on a new journey towards new horizons.   

Walt Whitman was a man who obviously knew something about the abundance of possibilities and the exhilaration of exploration and discovery. He expressed it well in his poem Song of the Open Road.

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me.

The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune – I myself am good fortune;

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Strong and content, I travel the open road.

Safe travels, my friend, and keep learning!  

  • Claire :o)

[Photo Credit: Dominic Lelièvre, 2019.

Poem Leaves of Grass: Walt Whitman in Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, 10th Anniversary Edition, Hyperion, NY, USA, 1994, p. 35.

TedxTalk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gD_1Eh6rqf8

Poem Song of the Open Road: https://www.bartleby.com/142/82.html]

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)

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)

Need a shot of chutzpah?

I’m thinking I sure do!

Chutzpah is that zingy Hebrew word that means gall, effrontery and sometimes outrageous audacity. It’s the stuff that entrepreneurs, politicians and every-day go-getters have loads of.

What does it look like? How about not taking no for an answer, daring to ask why when everyone else is frozen in stunned silence or anxious passivity, or thinking ‘what the hell, why not?’ and jumping into a situation without any guarantee of the results – but being without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt sure of what you’re aiming for. 

Chutzpah is just one of the concepts illustrated in the numerous stories of entrepreneurial success described in the book Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer (M&S, 2009). The tour guide on my recent trip to Israel and Jordan highly recommended it as a resource for getting a better grasp of the innovative Israeli mindset and culture.

He was so right. Not only is it enlightening, but it is inspiring. Wix, Waze, Teva… these are just three examples of Israeli start-ups. When considering the fact that Israel boasts the highest per-capita density of start-ups in the world, you can’t but help be intrigued by the success of this New-Jersey sized newborn state.

So how does chutzpah play out? What can a language teacher or student learn from it?

#1. Chutzpah means asking questions.

Senor and Singer explain that Israelis learn from the get-go that ‘assertiveness is the norm, reticence something that risks your being left behind’ (p. 31). This means that whether it be at home, school, in business or the army, they are taught to ask questions.

To me, the practical application is a gentle reminder to forget being shy and speak up when a question is warranted. What do you want? What do you need to know? Ask. Don’t be shy!

#2. Chutzpah means taking the initiative.

Soldiers in the Israeli military are trained to act with the understanding that all performance is value-neutral, meaning that whether positive or negative outcomes are treated equally. The priority is to learn from the ‘errors’ and to take risks intelligently.

So, speaking up in class, possibly making all kinds of syntactic errors is no big deal. What can you learn from it? Or, as a teacher – or writer, trying out a new activity or form of writing and seeing it fall flat, does not mean you are not made to be a teacher or writer, but that you have something to learn. Learn from it and do better next time!

#3. Chutzpah means arguing when necessary.

 Four guys are standing on a street corner…

An American, a Russian, A Chinese man, and an Israeli…

A reporter comes up to the group and says to them:

‘Excuse me… What’s your opinion on the meat shortage?’

The American says: What’s a shortage?

The Russian says: What’s meat?

The Chinese man says: What’s an opinion?

The Israeli says: What’s ‘Excuse me’?

  • Mike Leigh, Two Thousand Years (p. 23, Senor & Singer)

That Israeli guy had some chutzpah! And you know that a debate probably ensued. That guy was ready to defend his opinion.

Elsewhere, the authors of Start-Up Nation quip that when you have two Israelis, you are most likely to have three opinions! My own personal thought when I was in Israel, upon observing the way questions were asked and debating was welcomed, “It’s no wonder there are so many Jewish lawyers and business-men!”

If you believe in your idea, either as student or teacher, defend it – calmly, logically and creatively. The entire class will benefit from the discussion!

Final Shot

I’ll leave the final thought with Alan Alda.

Nothing important was ever accomplished without chutzpah. Columbus had chutzpah. The signers of the Declaration of Independence had chutzpah. Don't ever aim doubt at yourself. Laugh at yourself, but don't doubt yourself. - Alan Alda

Shabbat Shalom! Have a great weekend! – Claire