Tuesday, 25 September 2012

solo road trip

I took a solo road trip to Goshen, Indiana for some meetings last week. As I drove, it struck me that I have never driven 7 hours ever by myself. The most I've driven solo was about 4.5 hours. All other road trips have been with my family growing up, my family now, my husband, friends, work colleagues, etc. Never just me. And I wasn't looking forward to the trip.

Admittedly, I have sunk to some embarrassing lows in terms of some learned helplessness that I've developed around traveling since kids have come along. It's like my brain can only handle so much - and these are the things I've become self-proclaimed "captain of": packing for everyone, snacks, entertainment, managing emotions, leading sing-alongs, driving when need be. Derek is captain of gas (both types), paying for things, passports, navigating, driving, and pointing out things along the road that nobody in a carseat can see.

What happened to the 19 year old me who led a group of 16 15-year olds on a 10 day canoe trip through Algonquin park (sans cell phone)? Where was the 21 year old me who breezed through Indian customs in Calcutta, my only casualty in 7 months of traveling my stolen Birkenstock shoes? Or the 25 year old who led a group of grade 12s on a month long trip in China?

I needed to summon these earlier versions of myself.

And I'm glad I did - it was a great trip, both there and back. Kind of a little silent-ish retreat. If you have the chance to do a 7 hour solo road trip, seize it. You can sing and slap your knees as loud as you like. You can stop at outlet malls for as long as you like. You don't have to wait for anybody but yourself to go to the bathroom. There is no one to gasp when you have to brake quickly, and no one but Mr. GPS to show you the way.

Because I was by myself, I had lots of time to think. And observe. I had time to take in the changing leaves of fall, and the bald eagle sitting regally about 30 feet from the road. Here are a few of my additional trip observations/tips:

  • If you happen to go to a place called "Bubba's" for supper, stick with the quesadillas and pass on their specialty, "dopey dough" which comes with a side of Velveeta cheese for dipping.
  • Order one salad at Panera Bread, but then change your mind at the last minute and order a different one. Hopefully, the cashier will record the 1st one, but at the pickup counter they'll insist on giving you both salads for the price of one.
  • Go to the bathroom at a gas station BEFORE the border crossing so that you don't spend 45 minutes in crawling, stop and go traffic wondering if you have a container big enough or whether you should just say "those people will most likely never see me again" and go beside the car. This can all be avoided. 
  • Why, oh why, North American women, do you wear your yoga pants and sweats out on the town? Have going to restaurants and shopping at malls become so commonplace? Growing up, I lived on a farm in the country. We would go into "town" a couple of times a week for groceries and such. My town friend always joked that we sounded like we lived on Little House on the Prairie. But town was always an occasion to get out of "home clothes" and look presentable. Where has presentable gone, ladies? Sure, I like to dress casually, but do we need to look like we're ready to break out into a workout or yoga pose at any minute? [end of rant.]
  • Outlet malls no longer hold the thrill that they held for me in the 1980s. At that time, it made me almost giddy to go to our yearly high school cross-country meet in Rochester, New York. This trip always meant a stop at the North Tonawanda Outlet Malls. I was the only grade 9 on the team that year, and I eagerly followed my older and wiser teammates around the mall, loading up on reddish-brown Bass penny loafers, a forest green Ralph Lauren polo shirt, and bright yellow and dark pink pants from Benetton. I was truly in heaven. And the prices! Oh my. Now... well, I found some Christmas pjs for my daughters, and that was about as exciting as it was. I actually got bored and got back in the car. The appeal of more time to myself was more than the appeal of consuming. Amazing.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


A friend sent me some links to wonderful videos about playing to your strengths last week. There is a lot of great stuff to chew on; I highly recommend that you sit down and watch them sometime. I'll post them here:

I love how Marcus Buckingham (the guy in the videos) defines strengths (things that make us feel strong and magnificent) and how he defines hobbies (things for which we have a huge appetite but little ability).

This made me think about my own hobbies. In the past, when I would list my hobbies in the "interest" section of my resume, they looked something like this:

  • reading
  • writing
  • playing piano
  • languages
  • gardening
  • camping
Kind of dull, eh? They were either things I'm already good at, or interests of mine that I'm semi-good at already. Or things where there's not really a scale of good or bad, gifted or struggling, for them. Like "I'm an amazing camper - I'm probably the best camper in my family." Who really cares? 

But I didn't have any hobbies on this list that were things where I have little ability.

So this made me wonder: why do I avoid the things I'm not good at?

Pretty easy to answer that question: because I don't like failing. Especially in front of others.

In high school I even avoided team sports, except for soccer. Because I didn't totally suck at soccer. But besides that, I ran cross country and track. Individual sports where I had no one to disappoint but myself. 

If I would have been playing guitar for all of the years that I've said I'd love to learn how to play guitar, I'd probably be a pretty mean guitar player by now. But as it is, I'm not. 

I admire my daughters, who are learning many things right now and practicing, practicing, practicing. And playing. My daughters' piano teacher emphasizes that they find a "playtime" every day for piano. Not a practice time, but a playtime. I like this slight change of wording, and think I need to bring some "playtime" into my days.

So this fall, I've chosen a couple of things to try out where I have a big interest and absolutely no skill:

  • Bollywood dance lessons. I know that my friends who traveled with me to India will find this highly amusing. I've had a love affair with the Bollywood genre ever since I traveled there in 1995. The lessons are a hoot. So much fun and laughter and stumbling around. And absolutely humongous mirrors where you can't help but peek at yourself flailing around. The whole while, I'm thinking "Wow, I suck, but this is a pile of fun." The only thing I'm really good at in Bollywood dancing is smiling. I have one plastered on my face for the whole 45 minute lesson.
  • Poetry group. I have no idea what I'm doing as far as discussing or writing poetry, but I'm interested. And I'll probably make a fool of myself. Just like Bollywood. Only not so much hip and bum actions.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

doing enough

I have a problem with "enough." I often feel like I could do more, or should do more. More as a parent, more as a wife, more as a friend, more as an employee, more as a volunteer. I collapse into bed some nights, weary but wishing for that more. Thinking I haven't done enough that day.

I'm reading a very good book right now - perfect for this time of year when I tend to take on more. It's called A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller.

One part that I read last week has stuck with me. He writes about resetting our inner thermostat - that we all have a regulator inside ourselves that tells us when we are doing enough or too much. When we know how to "read" our body, it can tell us when our activity level has reached a comfortable level, or when it is uncomfortably busy.

BUT many people don't take time to read their inner thermostat (like me). Or the thermostat is broken and the house is on fire.

How do we know when we have taken on too much? Muller recommends asking this question when you approach a new task or responsibility:
  • Am I truly able to say that I really love this or is it more honest to say that I can handle this?
He says that if we take on too many things that we can merely "handle", then we get to a point where we feel we are barely able to handle our days - that we have too much. If we choose based on things we love, we are more likely to be nourished and feel "enough" at the end of the day. 

I struggle with this. I know I tend to take things on with the "I can handle this" attitude. Because I think "well, SOMEONE has to do this." If I'm at a committee meeting, I want it to end as soon as possible so I go away with more jobs than I probably should, just to speed the meeting along and because I can handle it. Or so I think.

But I want to keep this love/handle question in front of me this fall. I want to hit my pillow at night and think "That was a good day. That was enough."

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

end of summer

Well, it's me again. I've been away from this blog since the end of May, which in blogland is an entire eternity, so I'll understand completely if you've stopped reading. But if you're still there, I'm back. Probably not in a daily way that I was at one time, but in a weekly way.

I've realized that I need this space again. The summer has been full of ups and downs and has been consumed largely by our move to a new house. My moods have been down more than usual, and I feel like I need to write to keep myself on the up and up.

I've realized the power of words - to hurt, to heal, to make whole. And also the power of silence. There is something very healing for me to type words on a page. And if these words can give just one other person a bit of a balm to their day - even better.

And now here I am, the first day of school. Part of me is really sad about the start of the school year. It makes me wonder if we squeezed enough out of this summer. But as I look back, I realize that we did many, many things that felt summer-y and oh-so-good to me. Like:

* visiting Kawartha Dairy for some chocolate peanut butter ice cream

* going on a hike at a new spot - this summer to Eagle's Nest and Egan's Chutes near Bancroft, Ontario

* canoeing on a still lake - even better, at night during a full moon

* swimming in a northern lake - even better, at night during a full moon

* finding monarch caterpillars, watching them turn to chrysalises and releasing the butterflies (we cared for 3 this summer)

* spending time with friends and renewing old friendships

* family camp at Fraser Lake Camp

* sleeping in a tent, reading by flashlight

* fishing (didn't catch a thing, but it's the process, not the product - right?)

* making s'mores over a campfire

* spending time at cottages with family

* spending evenings chatting on our new porch (old porch, but new house to us)

* making nature crafts (it's amazing what hot glue, imagination, and googly eyes can make)

* catching frogs, minnows, toads, and crayfish

* making giant bubbles

* making fresh pesto

* eating paella on a perfect summer evening

* watching the sunset on the lake

* counting the stars

* writing in the air with sparklers

* discovering a new bakery (that sells macarons, which we hadn't had since our time in France)

* going rock collecting at this cool place that looks tacky but was a pile of fun

* eating wild raspberries

* quietly watching a deer from only 15 feet away

* jumping from a jumping tower

* floating on my back in a lake and completely forgetting about everything

* planting new things in our backyard

* lying in a hammock, watching squirrels fight and hummingbirds flit around

* reading a novel (hasn't happened in a long, long while)

* tie-dying t-shirts

* watching street performers

* riding the ferris wheel

* eating cotton candy

* building an inukshuk

* doing a belly flop

There. I feel better already. I really DID have a summer. Phew! When I look at this kids' bucket list, I love that there are many things on there that we did this summer.

And now I can enter this new day, this new school year at a brand new school for my girls, knowing that we played, we relaxed, we summered well.

What are your favourite summer memories? Or things on your must-do list in the summer?