Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On 50

Happiness and State of Mind

This weekend, my family is having a birthday dinner for me.  It got me thinking about the decades (now 5 of them) of my life, and moving forward.
Like, what if they want me to say something at the dinner???

Then, as often happens, an appropriate blog post entered my inbox.  See, now there’s a sentence that would have made no sense 10 years ago.  Before I got kicked off Facebook for using it for commercial purposes…I digress.

I truly believe that happiness is a decision we make each and every morning when our feet hit the floor next to the bed.  Apparently Christopher Penn feels the same way, as he about writes in his blog post TurningTrouble into Opportunity.

I had a great childhood in a wonderful neighbourhood with inspired parents.  It was fun, safe, evolving; there were endless kids around, we could leave our bikes on the lawn forever and the only worry was rust, and we headed out at 8 am and weren’t expected back until Mum blew her whistle at 5 pm for supper.  School, scholastically, was a cakewalk – there were bully problems and women named Liz still make me nervous, but we walked quite a distance from the city bus stop to the school and our parents didn’t keep us wrapped in cotton wool.  The teachers let us figure things out, and rapped knuckles when required.

Maybe that childhood is what created my expectation of happiness.  Things weren’t perfect in our house; my Dad worked hard to keep it all together for 4 kids, and Mum worked tirelessly in and out of the home, and we didn’t get everything we wanted every time we opened our mouths.  But man, we were happy kids.

When things go awry, and they will and do, I choose to see the opportunity and upside, like Chris Penn.

At 27, with a two year old, I had to take my husband to the Nova Scotia Hospital and have him committed for treatment.  We divorced and I raised my daughter largely by myself.  My parents were endlessly supportive, in every way.  The company I worked for faced bankruptcy when I was in my early 30s and with a six year old in tow, I started over again.  And it never occurred to me to be unhappy.  Jobs ended, relationships ended, and new ones began.  I remember a coworker complaining bitterly about how uncomfortable her pregnancy was – really???  I was quite sick for some of my pregnancy, and still loved every minute of it; an incredible adventure that I never experienced again.

2011 was my annis horribilis as the Queen said about 1992.  And it did steal a bit of my joy; I cannot deny it.  People I had put faith in betrayed me.  And in the end, I am better, stronger and more perceptive than I was before.  So for that, I am happy.  I discovered friends and support from places and people I hadn’t expected, and have met some amazing new people who have inspired me; for that I am happy.

At 50, I figure I’m nearing middle age.  My long term goal in life is to live to 2067; I’ll be 105.  I want to make it to see Canada’s Bicentennial, since I remember the Centennial.  I come from decent genes and take care of myself – it could happen.  I could also get hit by a bus, or die of a spider bite during a vacation.  We don’t know what’s coming but we do have control over how we rise to meet whatever comes.

Did I mention my family is having a party for me?  See, that makes me very happy.  I love my family.  We’re a sit around the campfire and sing James Taylor songs family, and that makes me happy.  I have incredible friends and great new coworkers.  That makes me happy.  There are opportunities for me and others all around me, and I am happy for that too.  I am grateful for everything I have and all the challenges that I've met.  Mostly though, I'm simply happy.

I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming... suddenly you find - at the age of 50, say - 
that a whole new life has opened before you. 
~ Agatha Christie 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Nouveau Scotia, Anyone?

Taking the “NO” out of Nova Scotia
Years ago, urban legend says, when Chevrolet introduced the Chevy Nova, they had trouble with the name in Spanish speaking areas, as in Spanish No Va means ‘it won’t go.’

In the past while, I’ve witnessed several incidents that make me wonder if this viewpoint has somehow been ingrained in us here in this beautiful province, and what we can do to change our own perspective.

I met a couple last year who follow the Toronto Argonauts quite fanatically and had come to Moncton to see them play in the new stadium.  They are well known in the media and are interviewed wherever they go.  They journeyed to Nova Scotia and were immediately struck by the difference in attitude between here and New Brunswick.   They saw that in Moncton the prevailing attitude in everything seemed to be ‘how can we make this happen?’ and in Halifax everyone’s outlook seemed to be ‘why should we make this happen?’

A man came into the shop where I worked and told me he was here for a convention.  He said when his organization has conferences in Halifax they attract 50% more delegates than any other host city, as everyone wants to stay a few extra days and see the province.  He told me that because of this tendency they had actually outgrown the facilities available in Halifax and would not be able to hold future conventions here.  Meanwhile, rumblings of dissent around a new convention centre persist, at least in the media.

Recently I was fortunate to meet a lovely young woman whose work I had admired for a few years.  She is Veronica MacIsaac, a local fashion designer.  Her work is youthful, avante garde, playful and wearable, and she crafts everything using authentic tartans; reinventing a traditional material for a contemporary lifestyle.  When I learned Veronica was at a party I was attending, I ran over to meet her.  She was in conversation with some intelligent financial minds who were trying to convince her that the only way she could make money was to outsource her garment construction to China.  There was some debate about whether China or India would be the best place, but no debate about the necessity.  It was obvious that Veronica was astounded at how easily it was assumed that this was the ‘only way.’  She is a craftsperson; for her the fact that her designs are locally hand made one at a time here in Nova Scotia IS her raison d’etre.  Clearly she’d like to be able to make a living at it; however it’s not about mass production.

A young man came up to me while I was at the Seaport Farmer’s Market selling wine recently one Saturday.  He gave me a bit of a hard time about the price of Nova Scotia wine; the industry in his opinion would not survive such ‘gouging’ when Chilean wines could be bought for half the price.  He didn’t seem to understand that the support of local industry is what makes for a sustainable economy.  Or that as the industry grows, the prices will go down.

Not everyone can afford local wines right now, or Nova Scotian couture.  We can all afford local carrots, onions and potatoes, however, and we need to start demanding them at the grocery stores.   A lady at the farmer’s market is selling hand knit hats for $15, about the same as the ones made in China at the Wal-Mart.  Whether it’s a skating oval offering exercise at minimal expense to children, a CFL quality stadium, business ventures to support the shipbuilding contract, or community gardens, we need to stop saying ‘That won’t work here’ or ‘Why should we?’  

As it turns out, the story of the Chevy Nova isn't true.  Chevrolet actually did quite well with sales in Latin America.  How cool would it be if negativity in Nova Scotia became an urban myth as well...we need to dream, and dream large, and dream large right now.  It’s time to say ‘Yes, let’s try that’ more often.  We have stayed home already, now let’s go big!

Monday, December 5, 2011

You Are Who You Meet

There are people that pass through your life that shape who you are and how you’ve become who you are; a few for the worse, most for the better.  Even the ones who negatively impact you often improve your life as they become the cautionary tales.

Living in a small province like Nova Scotia and a small city like Halifax, it’s very likely you’ll see each other again at some point.

I’m thinking of this for a few reasons this week.  It is coming up to the Holiday Season, with hope and joy and possibly even Peace on Earth on our minds.  Time to mend fences, build bridges, start anew, put your best foot forward, learn from your past, put your big girl pants on (big boy pants I presume work the same way.)

Another reason ‘you are who you meet’ is on my mind is that I saw this past weekend one of those teachers from my school days – you know the ones.  The one or two, or in my case seven, that I’ve never forgotten; whose story I’ve told, whose lessons (and I don’t mean English) I learned, who probably didn’t even realize the incredible impact they had on their students.  It made my day; heck, it made my week to see Mrs. J.  She was and is vibrant, independent, fun and funny; and back in the late 70’s we girls saw her as the kind of woman we could be.  Single and making her own way in the world, undaunted and unfettered, Mrs. J made us actually feel the liberation movement making its’ way into suburban Halifax.  I had to hug her when I saw her.  There are a lot of very real success stories, personal and professional, coming from our era of J.L. Ilsley High – and many of those can be in some way attributed to the role models that she and a few other teachers were to us.  I sure hope she heard my sincere Thank You.

I lately met another woman I knew slightly many years ago.  Her lessons must have been tough ones.  I remembered her as a sweet sunny girl, and felt badly for the hard woman she is now.  In turn, I have been shaped by my recent encounter with her; cautionary tales indeed.

Lastly, I watched the movies Before Sunrise (1994) and Before Sunset (2004) last week, sequentially.  If you haven’t watched them, do.  In essence, two young people through a chance meeting find their soul mates.  In their youthful naiveté, they don’t appreciate that this is a gift that seldom is given, and squander it; they don’t exchange contact information and move along in their lives.  It is only upon later reflection that they realize that this was an encounter that has shaped their being; a connection upon which all other relationships are measured and found wanting, a pivot point in the creation of who they have become.

Over the next few weeks, thank your Preacher or Rabbi, hug a teacher, send a card to a mentor, forgive that spiteful co-worker, buy dinner for your long-time friend, tell your Dad or your son you love him, find a long lost love.  Most importantly, look inside and see the person you are and realize that we are the sum of our experiences.  And we only go around once; flawed, bruised, dinged up, but lucky to be living where we are in the world, and hopefully generally happy.

In 1978 a co-worker at my after school job at Sears gave me a brass key ring that says ‘Super Weird Person.’  My keys are still on it.  Thanks Jackie.  I hope your life is going well.  Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Yarmouth on My Mind

I'm always surprised by how many Nova Scotians tell me they've never been to Yarmouth.  No, that's wrong. I'm always shocked.  Never?? Never driven around the South Shore and back up through the Valley?

Most folks tend to think of it as the far end of the province (in NS, read as 'Earth') and virtually inaccessible.  In reality, it is about  two and a half hours from Halifax, a perfect distance to drive on a sunny afternoon along the South Shore (OK, it's going to take you six hours because there's so much to poke around and explore along the way.)  And then you get to stay overnight in a lovely, possibly quaint, B&B or motel for an excellent price.  You get to really see the town, shop in the shops, eat the food.  Oh, the food...don't get me started...

Most folks tend to see it as dying; no jobs, no industry left, no boat to the US anymore.  I don't see it that way.  Sure, a few parts of it have been horribly disfigured due to bad urban planning over the years.  The train is gone.  The ferry is gone.  However, I see it through the romantic eyes of my childhood, where four kids from Halifax could get up early in the morning, wander through town all day, stop at the DQ for a Mister Misty (lime) and find amazing things everywhere we looked.  A giant tuna being landed on the wharf.  Holly bushes as big as a garage.  Old moss laden cemeteries.  Gigantic houses on huge lots.  Names right out of Nova Scotian history books.  The sights and smells of my great uncle's butcher shop.  A real gramophone that played 'Blueberry Hill' on a 78 record.  A lemonade stand on the main road through Sand Beach, where American visitors in big cars with real white shoes just like in the movies would give us a quarter - a US quarter! (1930's memories courtesy of Marie, Villages of Yarmouth County.)

I was last there in the summer this year, and went for a run along the wonderfully groomed old train trail, with my Auntie's dog.  We listened to some amazing bluegrass music in the bandstand on the waterfront.  I bought a hand made hat and mitts (on July 1st!) from a sweet lady in a craft co-op.  We spent the morning at the new Farmer's Market (yummy peach salsa,) trying on fabulous and stylish shoes, and of course, doing our Frenchie's hour.  Had fishcakes for brunch at Rudder's Brew Pub.

If you haven't been to Yarmouth - GO!  They need you, they need us.  Get out of the car, walk along the streets and see the Grand Dames of Seacaptain's houses.  Buy some amazingly fresh fish at the Red & White in Dayton.  Go over to the Forchu Light and have tea.  Stay in a motel overlooking Lake Milo.  Go to the Firefighter's Museum.

I'm passionate about exploring this incredible province we live in.  As Joseph Howe said, we need to "Brag of your country. When I'm abroad I brag of everything that Nova Scotia is, has, or can produce..."  However, the lack of tangible support of Yarmouth by Nova Scotians worries me.  It's NOT the end of the Earth.  And it's well worth the visit.  Trust me, the shoes alone are worth going for.

Photos courtesy of,, 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A New Canadian Gifting Tradition

If you know me at all, you'll know I'm passionate about local stuff. Local events, local food, local products.

This came from my friend Susan; no idea where she got it from, however it says to spread the word, so I am up on my soapbox right now.

Christmas 2011 -- Birth of a New Tradition

As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Canadians with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods -- merchandise that has been produced at the expense of Canadian labor.

This year will  be different. This year Canadians will give the gift of genuine concern for other Canadians. There is no longer an excuse that, at gift giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by Canadians hands. Yes there is!

It's time to think outside the box, people. Who says a gift needs to fit
in a shirt box, wrapped in Chinese produced wrapping paper?
Everyone -- yes EVERYONE gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates from your local Canadian hair salon or barber?  Gym membership? It's appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health improvement.
Who wouldn't appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, Canadian owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates.
Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plonking down the loonies on a Chinese made flat-screen? Perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or driveway plowed all winter, or games at the local golf course.

There are a bazillion owner-run restaurants -- all offering gift certificates. And, if your intended isn't the fancy eatery sort, what about a half dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint. Remember, folks this isn't about big National chains -- this is about supporting your home town Canadian with their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open.

How many people couldn't use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a shop run by the Canadian working guy?
Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom? Mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day.  My computer could use a tune-up, and I KNOW I can find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running.

OK, you were looking for something more personal. Local crafts people spin their own wool and knit them into scarves. They make jewelry, and pottery and beautiful wooden boxes.

Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip. And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theatre.   Musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands. Honestly, people, do you REALLY need to buy another ten thousand Chinese lights for the house? When you buy a five dollar string of lights, about fifty cents stays in the community. If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice BIG tip.

You see, Christmas is no longer about draining Canadian pockets so that China can build another glittering city.  Christmas is now about caring about us, encouraging Canadian small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams. And, when we care about other Canadians, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn't imagine.

THIS is the new Canadian  Christmas tradition. 

Forward this to everyone on your mailing list -- post it to discussion groups -- throw up a post on Craigslist in the Rants and Raves section in your city -- send it to the editor of your local paper and radio stations, and TV news departments. This is a revolution of caring about each other, and isn't that what Christmas is about?

BUY CANADIAN - BE  CANADIAN - The job you save might be your own