Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Public Debt

I was recently asked to research estimated government debt figures for Canada. The size of our collective debt is astounding. For those of us who take pride in keeping personal debt under control, it's disheartening to realize that, even with our efforts, we're still in the red.

It's sobering to understand that we spend (waste?) money when we do things like ignore recycling bylaws, go to the doctor when we're not sick, take more "free" government services than we need and send things to the landfill that can be reused. Everything has a cost, even if it doesn't hit our personal bottom line directly.

So here's one more new year's resolution: in 2011, let's all think about the true cost of our actions. This may help us know when we've had enough.

Federal government: $517.5
Source: http://www.budget.gc.ca/2010/pdf/budget-planbudgetaire-eng.pdf

BC: $41,885 million
Source: http://www.fin.gov.bc.ca/OCG/pa/09_10/PA_2010_ProvDebt.pdf

Alberta: $1.092 billion
Source: http://www.finance.alberta.ca/publications/annual_repts/govt/ganrep10/confinst.pdf

Saskatchewan: $4,145.3 million
Source: http://www.finance.gov.sk.ca/default.aspx?DN=1ef17811-55c7-4f06-87e7-67fb4cccb95b

Manitoba: $13,995 million
Source: http://gov.mb.ca/finance/budget10/papers/budget.pdf

Ontario: $212.4 billion
Source: http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/budget/ontariobudgets/2010/ch4.html#c4_debtComposition

Quebec: $129 billion
Source: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/topics/economics/budgets/quebec_2010_budget_EN.aspx

Nova Scotia: $13.01 billion
Source: http://www.gov.ns.ca/finance/en/home/investorrelations/outstandingdebt/default.aspx

New Brunswick: $8.3 billion
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/new-brunswicks-debt-casts-tall-shadow-over-heated-provincial-contest/article1686832/

PEI: 1.7 billion
Source: http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Politics/20101226/public-debt-in-maritimes-101226/

Newfoundland: $ 8,457 million
Source: http://www.td.com/economics/budgets/nl10.pdf

Vancouver: $410,630,000
Source: http://vancouver.ca/fs/budgetServices/pdf/09AnuualReport.pdf

Calgary: $2,901.3 million
Source: http://www.calgary.ca/docgallery/bu/finance/budget/2009_2011/pdf/08b_capital_analysis.pdf

Toronto: $ 3,829,795,000
Source: http://www.toronto.ca/finance/pdf/2009fr.pdf page 50

Montreal: $4,217 million
Source: http://www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/pls/portal/docs/page/service_fin_en/media/documents/budget-2010-10-global-dette-sit-fin-a.pdf

Halifax: $279 million
Source : http://www.halifax.ca/budget/documents/2010-11OPERATINGBOOKFINAL.pdf

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lessons Learned from...New Year's Resolutions

In Eat, Pray, Love, Liz Gilbert claims that each of us has one word that effectively sums up our personality and existence. I think mine is "resolve". I love to solve and re-solve plans, constantly changing my path. I am also a very resolved person and no other time of year can this manifest itself more obviously than New Year's.

In preparation for my resolutions, I have joined the site 43things.com, where you can post both what you want to accomplish in your life (long term) and things you hope to do in the upcoming year (short term). I've made about a dozen entries in both categories and hope to chart my progress both in mind and online.

This year, I'm trying to stay away from drastic measures. I know we're supposed to write SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely), but this year I think of my resolutions more as intentions. For me, drastic measures send the signal that what I am doing right now is decidedly wrong. I resolve and change my path so often, but I hope my path is not drastically wrong. I trust that I'm primarily headed in the right direction. That doesn't mean that I don't need to remind myself of my intentions, because I do. And that's just I'm setting out to to in 2011.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Blogging

I just wrote a very witty (at least I thought so) and philosophical post about working from home. Blogger malfunctioned and deleted it. I can't be arsed to write it again, which probably means the world can't be arsed to read it.

Why do we blog anyway? My boss recently started a blog which is essentially a venue to promote her cats and extrapolate on the many loads of laundry she manages to do on a Sunday morning. Surely that's not the point. So what is?

C.S. Lewis said "we read to know we are not alone". Is that why we write too? Tomorrow I'm attending a symposium (I love that word) at the local journalism school. The topic is "Truth: Fact and Fiction". Perhaps that will provide me some insight into our compulsive need to share the minutiae of our lives with the world.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Athletes




I've never been a huge sports fan.

I enjoy staying active, but can't tell left from right and have limited hand-eye coordination. However, after recently hearing two Olympians speak about their journey and love affair with sport, I'm almost converted. Within the span of a week, I was inspired by both Shelley-Ann Brown and Catriona Le May Doan.

Now I understand that sport is more than external competition. It's about being the best that YOU can be, believing in yourself and your teammates and picking yourself up when you fall. Sport allows you to hear "it's never been done" or "it can't be done" and say "why the hell not?" Brown and Le May Doan have different, yet remarkably similar, stories.

Consider Shelley-Ann's mantra: "There is no coincidence. There is only preparation and opportunity meeting together with passion." When pressured to be the best in the world, she decided instead to press herself to be the best Shelley-Ann Brown. When tempted to ignore her training regimen, she decided instead to adhere to her own internal standard of excellence, not anyone else's. Then, when the moment arrived to finally start her Olympic race, she knew she had done all she could to be the best she could be. And nothing else seemed to matter much. (Although she did end up winning a silver medal!)

Catriona Le May Doan explained how hard it was for her to get back up again after her famous fall in the 1994 Lillehammer Games. But despite her anger, Catriona got back up to win (and then defend) Olympic Gold.
So maybe I'm not an Oymypic athlete; maybe I still don't really like sports. But I like what it stands for: pushing yourself as far as you know you need to go and not giving up when you know you can do it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Temporary Moments of Insanity

The Phoenix has always been my favourite mythological character: the quintessential symbol of self-reinvention and the idea that the trials of life allow us to reemerge as new versions of ourselves. During a moment of insanity this past weekend, I got a glimpse of what the legendary Phoenix must feel like.

Yet again, I rushed into a recipe. Julia Child, who claimed that one must always read a recipe completely before beginning, must be getting quite frustrated with me. I attempted to make bran muffins, except in my haste used the similarly branded wheat germ in lieu of its wheat bran cousin. The result, while still visually appealing, was horrifying to the palate. There was nothing I could do but have a mad fit.

I threw the muffins on the floor and watched the berries ooze onto the linoleum, then I scooped the mutilated muffins off the ground and dumped them into the green bin. On top I added every bit of wheat germ, bran, seed and flour we had in the house. I felt like one of the witches of Macbeth around their cauldron. It was extremely cathartic.

Sometimes we need to give into our basic urges to appreciate the pretense of sanity that everyday life takes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Riding my Bike to Work


If you've been reading this blog, it will come as no surprise that I am constantly on some kind of self-improvement mission. Often my missions are aborted before completion, but I've refused to believe that they are impossible or flawed...until now.

I recently asked my family: "if you could live any other life, what would it be?". While I had grandiose visions of myself living as a lesbian journalist in Paris, most of them wouldn't actually change much about their lives. So why am I eternally trying to improve myself by metamorphosis instead of accepting myself for who/where/how/what I am and working with that? Not that self-improvement missions are inherently evil, but I am now convinced that they should follow the course of "minor tweaks" (as my sister-in-law puts in) rather than complete and utter personality overhauls.

For example, I've recently moved into a new house and starting to ride my bike to work. I had visions of myself cruising through the city in a perfectly-placed straw hat and cotton tunic, bottle of wine perched jauntily in my basket. Reality, naturally, is a lot more precarious. When I went to buy wine, I ended up buying snacks too, thus my basket broke from the extra weight and I had to hold it to the handlebars manually. It was unseasonably cold, so I had to augment my cotton tunic with leggings, which ripped during my managing of the basket-to-handlebar ratio. I actually don't own a straw hat, and wouldn't be able to wear one anyway since helmets are mandatory in Halifax. So in lieu of my chosen accessory, I donned a CCM black bicycle helmet (the type quite popular with 8-year-old boys).

The result: less polished, less coordinated, but definitely more ME. So what if I'm not the kind of person who is perennially smooth and coordinated? I should rejoice that I AM the kind of person who rides my bike to work and doesn't let things like helmet hair or lacerated leggings get her down. I still made it to work on time. Tomorrow, I'll even have a smile on my face.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Poetic Interlude: Forth and Back

Mary Oliver was born on September 10, 1935 in Cleveland, Ohio. Oliver once told an interviewer that she "was very careful never to take an interesting job. Not an interesting one. I took lots of jobs. But if you have an interesting job you get interested in it." For Oliver, the only worthy interest was writing. Oliver led a very solitary life as a writer. But that didn't bother her: "I decided very early that I wanted to write," she says. "But I didn't think of it as a career. I didn't even think of it as a profession...It was the most exciting thing, the most powerful thing, the most wonderful thing to do with my life. And I didn't question if I should - I just kept sharpening the pencils!"

Oliver’s work reflects a deep communion with the natural world, a phenomenon she also finds innate: "I don't know why I felt such affinity with the natural world," she says, "except that it was available to me, that's the first thing. It was right there."



I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
- “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver


We are like a seasaw, a heavy-duty circular saw
Cutting into the emerald water, perhaps killing a fish.
That fish is the only record we have of progress.
I want to say I love you.
Not only say it, but mean it.
Gravity prevents me, but inertia compels me.
I want to defy gravity, be a grasshopper
And spring away from urges that plague my senses.
You question my motives, but I swear I do,
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

After getting backup. This swing does not forget
the motion it must make.
The swing remembers to go back and forth, up and down,
It’s that continual motion that distracts us
from the frivolous imperative that was once our life.
What happened to the sweetness you used to eat
Out of my hand? Have I fed you wrong?
Have a fed you astray?
You wonder how to continue, now that I’ve led you
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,

Without me? You’ll find a way
Away from me. You’ll just need a plan,
A just plan you’ll need. You can’t just float away
Which is what you’ve been doing all your life.
It’s fine for a day, but you need to do more
With your precious life. Be wild. Be free.
I think I have a plan, and although I’ll help you with yours,
You’ll need to do most of it on your own.
You’ll need to learn how to be on your own,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

With no Guide. I know I’m not perfect.
I know I have things in my life which are
Enormous and complicated; enormously complicated, even
I myself can recognize this. I am trying to improve
In between life’s metaphors and malapropisms
I am trying to make sense of why I’m here,
Who made me. Why?
But besides finding my Purpose in Life,
I must also try to find Happiness,
which is what I have been doing all day.

Lessons Learned from...Poetry

We don't read poetry like we used to. We still study poems in school; we still acknowledge poets at prestigious award ceremonies; but how often do you see someone leafing through Leaves of Grass on the subway? Exactly. I attempted to revive poetry last autumn. I loftily headed out and bought a volume of Christina Rossetti (there's nothing life reading "Goblin Market" on a crisp fall day) and tried to read it like a novel. It didn't quite work, but more annoyingly, I didn't know why it didn't quite work. I suppose it was because reading poems is so much more labor intensive than reading a novel. There is the multi-layered meaning, jungle gym of language and general density to a (good) poem.

Poetry and Poets teach us to take our time, to meander in this ├╝ber-efficient and ultra-sonic world. It's a hard lesson for me to learn. I love 'getting things done' and 'crossing it off my list'. I often jump into projects without fully considering all the ramifications. But poetry lives in the ramifications.

I came across an interesting poetry form while reading the Griffin shortlist this year. P.K. Page's book of Glosas were so engaging I decided to try to write one myself. Here goes...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Moving (Part 2)

My husband and I recently moved from Toronto to Halifax. Reasons for our move can be summed up as follows: we wanted to improve our Quality of Life (QOL). I've always assumed this to be an objective term, that everyone would implicitly know what I meant when I employed it to explain our rationale for moving. Wrong. Discussing our impending move with a bona fide 'big city' girl, she asked what exactly I meant by QOL. She claimed that, to her, QOL meant living in a city with millions of other people. (I don't know how to reconcile this with the fact that her choice complaint concerned her inability to read on the commuter train due to crowds, but whatever.)

This got me thinking as to what QOL really means. I know various brains have attempted to define it (the 'Popsicle Index' is likely my fav), but, to me, it comes down to the following:
  1. Climate and weather
  2. Pollution, air quality and urban hygiene
  3. Convenient access to amenities
  4. Availability of pleasure activities
  5. Reasonable commute to work
  6. Proximity to like-minded people

Of course, built into this paradigm is personality: one person's pleasure and favorable climate is the next person's pain and rain. We all have varying definitions of convenient and reasonable. We all weigh these factors differently. Am I missing anything (...besides the dirty, yet quirky, Toronto streets)?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Overindulgence

Perhaps this is an ironic lesson to learn during Abstinence August, but I think the key to happiness is Moderation. Moderation: a tiny and sought-after neighborhood nestled in between the sprawling suburb of Overindulgence and the exclusive condominium complex of Abstinence. It's OK to visit Overindulgence for an evening or stay with relatives in Abstinence for a month or so, but I don't really want to live there.

When we do get lost and find ourselves in Overindulgence or Abstinence for longer than necessary, let's just draw ourselves a map and steadily make our way back home again.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Abstinence August, Starting Out

Remember the Sex & the City episode where Miranda uses chocolate as a substitute for sex? She ends up eating so much chocolate cake that she throws the pastry in the rubbish and pours dish-washing liquid all over it. When we're trying to abstain from something, it seems a natural reaction is to replace it with something else. But does this really accomplish the self-restraint, self-denial and forbearance we are trying to obtain when we abstain? I don't think so; otherwise this month would be called Alternative August.

Many different cultures have fasting, total gastronomic abstinence, as part of their rituals. I wonder why? I suspect there is something cleansing (either mentally or physically) in the act. I'm sure the reward of congratulation (both from self and society) holds some inspiration as well. Often, especially when abstaining for religious purposes, some greater motive is involved. For example, the hunger you feel is supposed to remind you of some greater void. I wonder what should I reflect on whenever I feel tempted?

My first challenge, even before the month began, was to convince others that I really was going to follow through with this. I met some resistance: eating chocolate and drinking wine is a lot more fun when you have company. Around my house I'm probably the biggest promoter of cocoa and vino. But ultimately you have to do what's right for you. When you know in your heart you need to do something, that's motivation enough. And getting through the first day primarily unscathed, well that boosts my motivation even more.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lessons Learned from...The rest of 2010

I might be premature in assuming that I'll learn a lesson from the rest of this year, but I hope not. In case you haven't noticed, as of late I've been slow in my absorption of life's lessons. To combat this developmental sluggishness and provide structure, each remaining month of my life for 2010 will have a distinct and alliterative focus:

  • Abstinence August (I will abstain from all sweets and alcohol)
  • Smarty-pants September (I will immerse myself in a new academic discipline)
  • Others October (I will do something meaningful for someone else each week)
  • Nothing November (I will buy nothing other than necessities for the entire month)
  • Daring December (I will do one thing that scares me each week)

I'll be recording my struggles and accomplishments as they happen.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Moving (Part 1)

Yup, I'm moving!! Anyone whose moved across the country before knows what a long and arduous process it can be, so it's only fair that I devote multiple blog posts to it. The first will focus on PACKING. Grrr...the frustration! Who knew we could accumulate so much crap? This lesson was relatively easy to learn: buy less stuff.

But a lot of the Value Village-destined things I have in my apartment were given as gifts. How do we control the amount of unwanted gifts without seeming rude or ungrateful? That's a lesson I would like to learn. Any suggestions?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Trying (and failing) to attach a bike lock to my bike

In The Boy in the Moon, Ian Brown quotes someone (I forget who) who says this: People used to live their lives by the question "What kind of society do I want to live in?". Now the question most of us live by us "How can I be successful in this society?".

This morning, while I was struggling to accomplish the simple task of affixing the bracket for my bike lock to my bike, I realized something. I had no idea the difference between nut and bolt. I often am frustrated that other people cannot cook, or analyze poetry (I can't do this either, but pretend that I can), or read a novel a week. Surely most people would have been frustrated with my lack of handyman/tactile skills this morning.

Compassion. Probably something I need to learn. After reading Brown's book and seeing the compassion, honesty, insight and humor with which he approaches his disabled son Walker, I am inspired to have a greater compassion for others as well. After all, a compassionate society is the type of society I want to live in, a society where we can all accomplish our own definition of success.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Children

Original thought: Children are a gift from God? Having none of my own and no plans to have any, I may not be the most obvious promoter of kids, yet I felt the time has come to make this post. Between spending lots of time with my 18-month-old niece and just finishing Ian Brown's The Boy in the Moon, I have lots to say on the subject of what children teach us. I know, I know, this subject has been done to death; the poor old horse has been beaten so much he's practically dead. But bear with me and stay tuned, I think I may have something new(ish) to say...

Amended thinking: While of course there are many things that little ones help us learn (as aforementioned, many authors have chronicled them ad naseum), I've discovered after that perhaps I do not have anything new to offer to this narrative. I don't think I'm comfortable essentializing children in this manner. "Children" is my first Lessons Learned post that involves people. While I know we all try to learn from our fellow human beings each day, it's important to learn from particular people. It wouldn't be appropriate, for example, for me to right a post on Lessons Learned from, say, "The Elderly", "The Blind" or "White People" (OK, this one might not be appropriate, but might be hilarious...thanks, Christian Lander). Not to say that we can't learn from individuals in these groups, but I think it's important to learn from the individual, not from our stereotypes about the group.

A common thought is that "children are a mirror" - they show us what we truly are. If this is true (and I'm not necessarily convinced it is), I am a narcissist, trying to turn them into a lesson for me to learn. So I didn't learn a lesson from children themselves, but from trying to learn a lesson about children. How meta is that?

I like learning a lesson from everything in life, but not EVERYTHING is a lesson for me to learn. Some things are just meant to be appreciated for what they are.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Heatwaves

It's another disgusting, hot, humid. smoggy day in Toronto. Between the 'baby blackout' on Monday and the layer of smog that persists in icing the horizon, it hasn't been one of Toronto's most inspiring weeks. Coming from Newfoundland (where you're lucky if Mother Nature simultaneously blesses you with sunshine and a temperature in the low-twenties), I automatically assume that warm weather necessitates outdoor play. It always catches me off guard when the radio people give their admonitions to stay indoors.

So we're stuck inside and graced with the lethargy that this temporary clime so often brings. Coupled with that, I am now "enjoying" (sometimes loving it, but still slightly bored) a leave of absence from work. The low energy and lack of structure is driving me mad. With no air conditioning in my apartment, what is there to do besides go shopping and binge on frozen treats? No wonder the American south is a region of overweight debtors.

I too was destined to that fate until I read the following line in Gourmet Rhapsody (a novel by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson): "A pitiful but conscientious fan gave the room the charm of a breezy space but did little to refresh us". How perfectly does this describe the cooling device found in my living room!

So to combate the tempations of laziness and gastric indulgence, I now have a mission: try observe three things and describe them in the manner of the above. I have often thought that language is a tool with untapped potential; now I'll do by best to tap it. I challenge you to do the same and post your observations/descriptions here. Hopefully this heat will cause us all to learn something and see old things in a new light.

Life may have given Toronto lemons, so in typical Toronto one-upping fashion, let's make not just lemonade, but limoncello.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Getting a prescription filled

This week I got a prescription filled and paid $9.77.
Coming home from vacation, I had my tweezers confiscated at airport security.

How are these two events related? I had previously gotten the exact same prescription filled, at the exact same pharmacy, with the exact same insurance coverage, for a total cost of $0. I had previously taken the very same tweezers through various aviation security checkpoints with nary an issue. So why am I now tweezer-less and $9.77 poorer?

I haven’t a clue, which drives me crazy. It’s not that I mind being charged ten bucks or having my tweezers denied airplane access. I mind not understanding why my life seems to be at the mercy of random acts of corporate big-brotherhood. I want to understand what happens to me. I want the world to be rational, consistent, reasonable and fair. I don’t want to feel ripped-off.

Forget physical needs (food, water, shelter), the most universal of human desires might be this: to know that that our sense-making abilities are being put to good use. In the end, I think we can accept the bad things that happen to us if we understand why they happen. We ultimately just want to “get it”.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Vacation

The societal sage tells us that a break is as good as a change. I couldn’t agree more. It’s critical to take a break; it’s a chance to reset the mind, body and spirit. In yoga we flow through a vinyasa, a series of postures to reset the body, to ensure we are ready and cleansed for the next pose. I like to think of a vacation as an extended “mental vinyasa”, something we need to do to ensure all aspects of our being are prepared and clear for whatever life will choose to give us as our next phase.

Going away and coming home reminds us of the joys in everyday life. After a week of eating out, we welcome the chance to prepare a home cooked meal in our own kitchen (and perhaps even do dishes). Relaxing the amount of work we have to do provides the chance to relax. Letting the discussion meander doesn’t mean that conversation stops flowing (au contraire!), it just flows wherever it wants to go. Indeed, doing nothing is not at all synonymous with getting no thing accomplished. We need that space to reflect, relax and renew. This is crucial for us to appreciate life.

On the other hand, the word “vacation” comes from the verb “to vacate”. What are we vacating? Our lives? Our minds? Ourselves? If we find ourselves not just enjoying our holiday, but dreading the eventual return to everyday life, perhaps it is time for a change rather than a break. Hopefully as we take that space to reflect, relax and renew we will have the wisdom to know the difference.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Messing up a recipe

Very few things in life cannot be fixed. There is usually some corrective measure we can apply to atone for past errors. But this should not be an excuse to do something sloppily, as it so often is with me. Although it's a comfort to know that things can be fixed, the best course of action is to do something right the first time.

All well and good for the smaller things in life, like messing up a recipe. But what about the more meaningful things we do that can alter our lives for the worse? Can we ever atone for those? I think we do need to admit that there may be some unforgivable things in life.

Naturally we want to minimize these things. I believe in human inertia: good begets good and bad begets bad. So, the answer seems to be to surround ourselves with wholesome ideas, wholesome food, wholesome activities and thoughts. Quite the task.

When we do find ourselves cannibalized by our own lack of judgement, what can we do? Can we really counteract the saltiness of our lives by adding more sugar? Or, once life's recipe has been ruined, are we doomed? I hope not, but I'll be trying to avoid all forms of sodium just to be sure.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Yoga

Part of me feels cheap for writing about yoga because (unlike reality TV or alcohol) yoga is something you are supposed to learn from. Well, sometimes its refreshing to realize how vanilla and boring we all are.

I find yoga interesting and fulfilling because it is one discipline where learning the theory supports you in learning the practise. It's different than, for example, chemistry, where although the theoretical supports the practical, it doesn't necessarily help you learn it. Knowing that a certain chemical reaction leads to combustion may help you avoid flames, but does nothing to help you help you with the frustration of memorizing the periodic table.

Yoga is different. Learning the theory of yoga will actually make you a more successful yoga practitioner. In my yoga class today we focused on the Ahimsa, or nonviolence. The teacher explained that in addition to the more obvious incarnations of this concept, it manifests itself in ways we would not expect: practising nonviolence towards ourselves is the first step in being kind to things beyond ourselves. This means taking care of our bodies and not beating ourselves up when we make mistakes: learning from mistakes and pushing oneself to the appropriate edge is central to advancing a yoga journey on and off the mat.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lessons learned from…Julia Child

I have just finished reading Julia Child’s My Life in France. When she and Paul first went to Paris in 1948, she knew nothing of the language, culture or food. She could easily have kept it that way, holed herself inside her flat, hired a servant to cook her meals and socialized only with expatriate wives. But she did not. She jumped in with both feet – “took the bull by the tail” as my mother would say (a confused amalgam of “took the bull by the horns” and “had the world by the tail” which happens to fit perfectly in this case.) Immersed inside her world of ‘Cookery’ and ‘Marketing’, she taught frigid Americans the pleasures of la cuisine Francaise.

Like Julia, I tend to jump into new projects head first. At a recent meeting, I was told that this is one of my ‘areas for improvement’ (curious euphemism that hardly softens the blow of criticism). But I agree. More reflection before I start a project would do me well and better prepare me for inevitable setbacks. Like Julia says, “Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn’t use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste.” Julia seemed to find balance between ardent enthusiasm and stoic fortitude and so must I.

Even though the books are decidedly different, I confess to be surprised at the similarities between My Life in France and Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, especially since it is rumored that Child did not approve of Powell’s project. Both women were not content to live an uninspired life; and in finding their own inspiration inspired others as well.

How to find my inspiration? I’m not sure yet, but I’ll definitely be approaching the task with enthusiasm and fortitude.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lessons Learned from...A glass of wine

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love wine, vin, vino. Yet, to call me an oenophile would not be accurate. The way a wine drinker approaches wine can be revealing. Wine is something that draws innocents towards snobbery and influences moderates towards over-consumption. There is so much to learn about wine that knowing even the tiniest bit enables us to pass ourselves off as experts in certain company. I am no expert, but I do know this:
  1. Wine reminds us of the fruits of hard work. Wine is a living thing. It takes work to make and years until its ready (well, sometimes). Just as a glass of wine is influenced by it's environment, people need to be constantly responding, anticipating and evolving in order to stay relevant.
  2. Wines attunes us to the joys of moderation. Wine makes you feel good...if you drink in moderation. It's deliciously yummy until you've had too much. A professor of mine once said that our weaknesses are our strengths overdone. I contemplate this as I bashfully enjoy my third glass of Shiraz.
  3. Wine shows us the beauty in relationships. Food and wine have the ultimate relationship. They are definitely better together, but can easily be enjoyed apart. Wine also brings people together. Whether to show off your wine knowledge or just get a bit tipsy together, raising a glass with a friend is the ultimate wine pairing.

What more reason do we need to drink? Cheers.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Not learning a lesson the first time

Anne Shirley has a saying that my dad loves: "never make the same mistake twice". If I could abide by this mantra, I would consider myself successful indeed. But despite constant attention and best intentions, I often find myself replicating a mistake over and over. Granted, I may learn something new each time, but at a certain point I just want to learn the damn lesson and close the case. Life doesn't seem to work like that. Perhaps some lessons are harder to learn; perhaps we spend our whole lives learning them.

I am a morning person: I see mornings as an opportunity to start over. The mistakes of yesterday no longer hold as much consequence; hopefully we have been able to transform them into lessons for today. With each setting and rising of the sun we get a chance to begin anew - yesterday's mistakes made, yesterday's lessons learned.

Ultimately, I believe it is about respect and love.
Respecting and loving the many gifts from above: gifts of people (relationships), gifts of experiences, gifts of the physical world. Enjoyment of these blessings can so easily spill from joyful abundance to over consumption. Proper respect and love can safeguard against this spillage.
Respecting yourself enough to give yourself the tools and will power to succeed, but also loving yourself when you don't succeed - and allowing yourself the opportunity for a second (or third, or forth, or fifth) chance.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lessons Learned from...The Biggest Loser

So I am not normally an avid consumer of reality TV. However, I must confess that NBC's The Biggest Loser inspires me. I get excited by the prospect of taking control of your life. What more tangible example is there of making your life better than shedding hundreds of pounds, adding years to your life expectancy, and gaining energy you never knew you had plus perspective you thought you lost?

Lately the question "if you knew you could ___, wouldn't you?" has been perplexing me. Insert whatever you wish for ___: prevent cancer, live longer, be happier. If we knew we could do these things by making changes to our daily lives, wouldn't we? No. Human nature illustrates that we would not necessarily make the required changes. People constantly eat the wrong things, drink too much, watch copious amounts of TV, snap at their children and behave nastily towards their friends. I do understand that we all have momentary lapses when we overeat or say things we don't mean. But often I realize I'm doing something wrong while I'm doing it AND I KEEP DOING IT. As my husband recently reminded me, that is the very definition of being an idiot (thanks, darling...I love you too!).

Well, thanks to The Biggest Loser I am going to be an idiot no longer. If the contestants on this show can make such monumental changes to the way they live, surely I can make the relatively microscopic ones that my life requires. My first adjustment is to eat more slowly. I have constant issues with digestion and I have repeatedly been told that if I eat slowly and chew my food, I could likely resolve these issues. So if I knew I could, why wouldn't I?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Donkeys

I recently visited The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, a place where donkeys who have been abused, abandoned or neglected can go for refuge and a happy life. Apart from being touched by the attentive care provided by volunteers and restrained excitement of visiting children, I felt I had a lot to learn from the donkeys themselves.

Donkeys are humble. Donkeys have a bad rap. They're famous for being stubborn and synonymously known as an ass. Yet, donkeys don't behave in hierarchies and find pleasures in simple things like lining up for a carrot. It was from donkeys that the whole 'carrot and stick' incentive concept was developed.

Donkeys are gentle. Seeing my 16-month-old niece pet the donkeys' mangled fur, I realized that if I had children poking and prodding at me all day, I wouldn't just stand there and enjoy it. I'd find something to complain about and probably end up kicking a child. But not donkeys. They stood there and found pleasure in sweaty little palms rubbing them down.

Donkeys are hardworking. It was a donkey who carried Jesus Christ both to his birth in Bethlehem and to his death on Palm Sunday. Did the donkey break down when there was no room in the inn? No. Did the donkey buckle beneath Jesus's weight on the way to Jerusalem (even though he had never been ridden before)? No.

Perhaps donkeys aren't so lowly after all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Getting a Starting Point

One of my dad's favourite sayings is "get a starting point and go from there". So this post is my starting point. And I have no idea where I'm going. But I hope this blog helps.*

Since no experience is a waste if you learn something from it, I've decided to turn the wasteland of my life into sometime valuable by chronicling my Lessons Learned. Yes, I think there are worthwhile lessons in everything, from messing up a batch of cookies to having a disastrous argument with your friend or partner. I intent to document at least one a week.

Reading is also a fundamental part of personal growth. As much as I learn from my own experiences, I also learn from other people, often through words they have written. So I want to include excerpts from novelists, poets, dramatists, thinkers and soothsayers that have said something which appeals to me.

With the help of numerous discussions with friends and family, I've recently been trying assemble the criteria for an interesting person. So far we think that someone is interesting based on their ideas, experiences and relationships plus their ability to tell a story and constantly surprise.

I hope you find this blog interesting.

(*Yes, this blog is selfishly for personal growth. No, I don't think what I have to say will be particularly fascinating for anyone else. Indeed, I am appalled by the number of idiots who think they are writers just because they have a blog. Alas, I am ready to join their ranks.)