Category Archives: suzette

Flying Gazebos and Other Perils of Life

My favourite season of the year is spring, when we begin to thaw out  after the long cold winter and things start blooming. It reminds me of a promise – the promise of a warm and sunny glorious summer! Until the wasps come.

Having once been stung more than 30 times, I can honestly say I hate them.

I discovered wasps had taken up residence behind my shutters on my house when I went to remove them to repaint them. So I offered my brother, who always needs money, $200 to go up and bring them down. He jumped at the chance for easy money. After climbing up the ladder to the second story of my house, he removed the shutters, threw them to the ground and quickly descended the ladder in a visible state of agitation.

“Holy cow” he exclaimed, there’s thousands of wasps up there!
“Why do you think I was paying you so much money just to remove the shutters?” I told him. “Consider it danger pay”. My next goal was to create an outdoor space on my back deck, so we bought a gazebo. It didn’t take long for the wasps to find it and start building a nest.

My daughter’s boyfriend decided he would earn some brownie points by offering to remove the nest. Armed with nothing more than a broom handle, he ventured outside and started poking the nest. I could see what was going to happen so I quickly closed the patio doors. As the wasps came out in force, said boyfriend ran for the door screaming “Let me in”. Well, there was no chance of that; if I opened the door the wasps would get in, so I quickly locked it. I’m not a cold hearted person though, so I did eventually open the door and let him in – after the wasps had gone away.

Wasp-free, my gazebo was now perfect for sitting out on warm summer evenings. I purchased a few comfortable chairs, some side tables, and plants, and surrounded the deck with solar powered patio lights. It was divine!

Until the first storm of the season, when the winds picked up my gazebo and tossed it about, twisted metal lying amid the devastation of knocked over tables and plants.

Not to be deterred, we purchased another gazebo – a bigger gazebo, a better gazebo. This one was screwed to the deck and had netting all around it. Paradise!

Until the second storm of the season, which was one week after we had put up the gazebo. Still fastened to the deck, the gazebo still managed to become twisted and mangled. We complained to the store and they gave us our money back.

Our next gazebo came from TSC which is more of a farm country type of store. Surely their gazebos were better. After we had put it up and fastened it to the deck, we added some carpeting and a beautiful chandelier style light in the middle. We even purchased more plants and some outdoor drapes to block the western sun in the afternoon and to give us some privacy. We were the envy of our neighbours.

Until the third storm of the season. The entire gazebo collapsed in on itself, destroying the beautiful chandelier.

Undeterred, my husband bought some metal bars to reinforce the parts of the gazebo frame that had broken or twisted. Success!

Until the fourth storm of the season. The reinforced parts of the frame held up very well, but everywhere that wasn’t reinforced was broken and twisted. No problem – we were pros by this time. More metal bars, more reinforcement. We were so confident by this time that we even put a new Edison light bulb in the chandelier and hung it back up. My paradise was restored.

Then the next storm hit. We were home at this point and as I heard the winds pick up from my office upstairs, I quickly ran downstairs, screaming “Protect the gazebo”. I wanted my husband to go out on the deck and loosen the canvas from the frame, believing that would stop the gazebo from damage. He disagreed and decided to hold onto the frame, to hold it down so that the wind couldn’t take it away.

I watched him through the patio door as the wind picked up and lifted him off the deck. Then I saw lightning. I asked him if he thought it was wise to be holding a metal rod with lightning happening. He assured me this was a better solution than loosening the canvas.
After checking the double indemnity clause on his life insurance policy, I decided he could do as he pleased. In the end though, he is fine.

The gazebo did not fare well – the final storm of the season destroyed it one last time.  I console myself with the knowledge that it was never up long enough for the wasps to rebuild their nasty little nest.

 

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Happy Dad’s Day

Today is Father’s Day and so I’d like to honour the memory of a very special man. Continue reading Happy Dad’s Day

This is Me!

Wanted to quickly share somethings, so I guess this is a “quicky” post.

I did one of those stupid Facebook quizzes today – the kind of thing I tell everyone NOT to do because they’re just mining your friends and personal information. I was bored though. It resulted in a word cloud made up of my most often used words on Facebook. I have to admit, I think they got this right, because when I think of the things that matter most to me, this is it.

This is ME!

Don’t click it though, because it won’t take you anywhere. I hate those types of things. Except this one.

Timeless Advice 

I recently turned 60, and it’s been a surreal experience. I tell myself that I’m not “really” 60, and then I look in the mirror and realize that yes, sadly I really am.

I thought I would commemorate this depressing occasion by sharing a story from my youth, that helped me to terms with growing older. You see, I had always been terrified to grow old and I actually never thought I would. I made a deal with myself to stop at 30. Life was very painful for me back then, and I was struggling to exist on a daily basis.

When I was 16, I read a newspaper article about a woman who was turning 100. I couldn’t imagine anyone living that long; why would anyone want to? Being the weird person I was, I looked her up in the phone book, found her address, and mailed her a letter, explaining my fears and asking to meet her. Imagine my surprise when I received a letter back, inviting me to tea. I donned my nicest clothes and went hoping to hear some wise advice about growing old without fear. The fact that she invited a complete stranger to her house, a street urchin no less, gives you an idea of the kind of person she was.

Louise Tandy Murch was an amazing lady; she lived alone in a huge house that looked dated, as did she. Her face was etched with deep lines that reminded me of the Sahara desert.  She carried in a large silver platter that held a tea service and some scones that she had made herself. I offered to help her carry it, but she insisted she was fine. As we sat drinking tea and eating scones, she shared with me some information about her life. She did yoga every day, despite having pins in both her hips, and she was a pianist. Her husband had been an orchestra conductor and together they had traveled the world. He had died several years before but she said she didn’t have time to give up on life or get depressed (yes, we discussed depression) because she was just too busy. She was currently trading music lessons with a young man in return for free gardening work.

I told her that I liked to play guitar and sing sometimes, so she played the piano for me and invited me to sing. When I started singing, she punched me in the stomach (in the diaphragm) and told me that’s where it had to come from. By the way, that was NOT a gentle punch – it got my attention. She reached into her piano bench and took out a music book with country songs and gave it to me. She told me she didn’t enjoy playing country music but she thought my voice was perfect to sing country. I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or not. 

It was a very different type of afternoon, one that I have never forgotten. All these years later, I still have that music book, and I often remember this incredible lady and her timeless advice for living at all ages. Her secret for living so long was because she was simply too busy to die. I’m fairly sure her advice has had a lot to do with how I’ve lived my life – keeping busy (often too busy), staying involved, trusting others. In a moment of remembrance after my birthday, I decided to “google” her name and found out that the National Film Board has a short film about her life that was directed by Deepa Mehta in 1976. It also looks as if something was in the works in 2014 as well http://www.hollywood.com/movies/at-99-a-portrait-of-louise-tandy-murch-59211080/credits/.

 

I never knew I was in the presence of someone famous, I just knew I was getting some timeless advice about living and aging. Thank you Mrs. Murch, for the lesson and for the example.

By the way – if someone “googles” your name in the distant future, what do you think they’ll find? 

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Unexpected Lessons

bluelogoA speech given a couple of months ago by a fellow Toastmaster had a profound effect on me. I find myself thinking often about what she had spoken of, and many times I thought about forwarding the advice to others. It was her 10th speech project (Speaking to Inspire) and so meaningful and inspiring. It was about the 7 things we need to let go of in our lives and I wrote them down. I wanted to create a poster and hang it above my desk to help me remember and stay aware. I’ll share them with you further down.

As I thought about how much that message meant to me, I reflected on how much I’ve learned from everyone since I’ve been in Toastmasters; it’s been more than just learning to speak with confidence, or to listen, and evaluate.

From watching advanced leaders I’ve learned (and am still learning):

  • how to build trust and teams (thanks Lori and Merri)
  • how to run a meeting and parliamentary procedures (thanks Paul)
  • how to build enthusiasm and remain positive (thanks Brian)
  • the art of using humour (thanks Mark)
  • how to lead by example (thanks Al)
  • how to encourage and inspire (thanks Merri)
  • the value of servant leadership

Thanks everyone who gave me an opportunity to learn.

From watching advanced speakers I’ve learned how to pause, how to move with purpose, how to use the stage, how to use humour to connect with the audience, and how to use vocal variety and pitch to get my message across. And to always have a message; give the audience something to take away with them. And that’s what my fellow Toastmasters have done. They’ve given me so much knowledge that I took away with me. Some small things such as: it takes 21 days to develop a habit (thanks Debbie), some larger things such as the inspiring tenth speech given by my fellow Toastmaster (thanks Jane).

In between, I learned:

  • how to select the perfect dog for your family (thanks Ron)
  • why Canada geese fly in a V shape, and how they support each other in flight (there’s a lot we can learn from them) (thanks Lori)
  • about the re-oxygenation of Lake Simcoe (thanks Ron)
  • where the expression “never let them get your goat” came from (thanks Eric)
  • how to handle stress (thanks Lynne)
  • how to sell a solution instead of a product (thanks Craig)
  • how to create a vision board (thanks Monica)
  • how to identify weeds local to the area (thanks Bart)
  • about the inequality of power in Ontario (which has to do with electricity, not politics) (thanks Rita)
  • how proportional voting works (thanks Paul)
  • how to make plum pudding (thanks Nancy)
  • about Victorian architectural designs in Hamilton (thanks Marlena)
  • what’s really in Haggis (thanks Iain)

So, even if I had just joined Toastmasters and never said a word, I have still learned so much from so many wonderful people.

The profound message I heard a few months ago, that I am often conscious of, is the 7 things we need to give up (thanks Jane):

  1. Let go of toxic people
  2. Let go of past regrets
  3. Let go of the need to be right
  4. Let go of feeling sorry for yourself
  5. Let go of negative thoughts
  6. Let go of limiting beliefs
  7. Let go of worrying about the future.

Jane challenged us to track our thoughts for 72 hours. It’s been a month for me, and I’m still checking my thoughts.

While I’m in this grateful state of mind, I think the most gratitude must go to the person who brought me into Toastmasters, which ultimately led to me developing confidence and a network of incredible friends. He was my mentor in the club, as well as my mentor in ways he may not realize, as I’ve watched his professionalism, his discretion and his ethics, and I’m still learning. Thanks Paul!

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The Worst Decisions

I hate making decisions; I’m a fence-sitter at heart. When I’m forced into making a decision, I second guess myself for days afterwards. I have doubts and they can be crippling. That’s how I feel though, it’s not how I act. People who meet me in meetings would describe me as decisive, opinionated, confident. Which is true? They both are to some extent. The first one is internal, and the second one is external. You don’t always get to see what’s really inside some people.

downloadThere are people worse than me though; those who can’t even pretend to push themselves. They can’t make a decision and they’ve given up trying. people-who-have-an-indecisive-personality

Then there are those who will not make decisions so they won’t have to be accountable. Nobody can ever accuse them of making a bad decision; because they never make decisions. If things go wrong or don’t work out, they can point the finger at whoever made the decision, safe in the knowledge that the fingers will never be pointed at them. Let someone else take that risk. The people who do this, consciously or subconsciously, are much harder to recognize. I’ll point my finger at them though. It’s easy to abdicate your responsibility and let someone else take the chance and the risk. Then you can resent them if they fail, (but subconsciously you’ll resent them if they succeed, because you’ll feel it should have been you).its-not-my-fault

If there’s one thing I’ve learned though, is that the worse decision you’ll ever make, is the one you never make.

As the Dalai Lama said, Great results and great growth involve great risks.

  • Right or Left?
  • Chicken or Beef?
  • Mutual Funds or Bonds?
  • Red or White?

Just make a damn decision, take a chance. It’s always better than doing nothing.

 

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At What Cost?

This may be a deep, thoughtful subject. It’s definitely going to be a controversial one. It’s also definitely a conversation worth having. It’s a conversation about choice and the right to make your own decisions. It’s about the end of life.

I read a blog a few days ago about a husband and wife, scientists from Australia, who had decided when and what their end of life would be. They made no secret that this is what they had planned. I read it, then watched the video, then did a lot of thinking.

The Big Sleep

I thought about my pets, and how I loved them too much to let them suffer. I respected when it “was time” and let them go, though it broke my heart. Sometimes it seems we have more compassion for our pets than we do our loved ones.

And I thought about some animals in the wild, who wander off when it’s time to die, so that they can be alone and not weaken the herd or pack.

Then I thought about some people I have met in nursing homes, incapable of seeing, hearing, communicating; being kept alive on machines, mind and body long deserted.

And I thought, “At what cost?” We can make people live much longer than ever before, but at what cost? Are we keeping people alive against their will? Quality of life must factor into the equation at some point.

Taking into consideration that there is a great cost to society dealing with an aging population in nursing homes, if they do not want to continue living, why are we doing it? For the families? Because we’re afraid to lose them? Isn’t that like letting your beloved pet suffer because you’re not ready to let go? Isn’t that kind of selfish?

Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m definitely not saying “Kill all the old people”. I’m saying if someone whats to end on their own pre-defined terms, whether because of chronic illness or progressive dementia, do we have the right to force them to continue? At all costs?

I don’t know the answer. I’m not saying this is right for me and you may say it’s not right for you. I’m saying we need to think about this. While we have developed the means to keep people alive, maybe we also should be respecting people’s wishes to die – within reason.

You may notice that I’m leaving God and religion out of this discussion. MY God never wants us to suffer. Having been brought up Roman Catholic, the explanation always given when someone dies is that God called them “home” and that it was God’s “will”. Well, if someone is dying (God calling them home) and we force them to stay alive through artificial means, are we not circumventing God’s will?

We all need to think about this – it’s a huge moral and ethical question and it needs to be discussed more as a human right.

2016 – The Year of Living

new-year-resolution-c-carouselHappy New Year 2016!

I’m not a fan of resolutions, as I think they set us up for disappointment and self-loathing. Setting a resolution tends to make us over-critical of ourselves, as if somehow we aren’t good enough just as we are. Sure, we can all get healthier, lose weight, quit smoking, etc., but those are things we should be doing all the time anyway without needed to start self-hating. At the end of the year we can look back on everything we didn’t accomplish and feel even worse about ourselves. Resolutions are not necessary or healthy. For example, I quit smoking a few years ago and I didn’t make a resolution to do it. I just did it.hobbes

What I’d like to do is set loftier goals. What are loftier goals you ask? Good question. I am going to aspire to be a nicer person, and a happier person. I’m going to set some realistic goals for myself that are based more on personality development, and then on the first of every month, I’ll revisit my goals. I can pat myself on the back for the ones that I am actually doing, I can re-commit to some others by re-thinking how to achieve the goal, or I can completely discard the goal if I don’t think it’s realistic, or if my interests have changed. No long-term commitment – this is like a month-to-month lease.

I want to be more conscious of what I’m buying and eating, and I’m not talking diet. My purpose is to buy Canadian products whenever and wherever possible and share my Canadian finds with as many people as I can. I think this is a good way to raise awareness of where our products are grown, produced, manufactured, etc. and might have a positive influence on Canadian jobs. If I can’t find a Canadian product (for example, pineapples don’t grow in Canada), I’ll look for products from the USA.

foot in mouthI also want to be a more positive and less critical person. My purpose is to try to elevate my moods by spreading kindness around. Some people do this by paying it forward at a coffee shop drive through. I don’t use drive throughs though (I actually think they’re the best example of laziness and disregard for our air quality), so I’ll do it by trying to say something nice about most people I meet. I’ll try for three a day. It might be to compliment someone on their appearance, or thank them sincerely for good service, etc. I’ll smile more too – smiling is infectious. Before I make a comment, I will try to ask myself, “Is it helpful?” “Is it supportive?” “Is it necessary?” I’m going to try to be more patient and remember the golden rule – if I can’t say something nice, say nothing at all. Not terribly hopeful on that last part, but I’ll re-evaluate how realistic it is after a month.

I want to disconnect from a lot of social media as well. The town I live in has several Facebook pages, and so many of the comments on them can be very negative. I have a tendency to try and correct misinformation, but I now realize that ignorance truly is bliss for most people. A friend recently pointed out to me that most successful people aren’t on Facebook very much and I realize that’s true. It’s also true that the people who are on Facebook most of the time, don’t have much else going on in their lives. Please don’t let that be me!

I’m going to put a limit on my Facebook activities and even leave some of the groups that I’m a part of because of the negativity. All town information will be on a need to know basis and I don’t need to know about other people’s negativity and close-mindedness. It just makes me lose faith in society. Along those same lines, I’m going to learn to walk away or set boundaries with negative people or people who consistently upset me. I don’t know if they do it deliberately or if it’s just how I’m perceiving it, but whatever the reason, I will no longer accept that negativity in my life. It’s bad for my chakra*.

Since I’ll be disconnecting from Facebook more, I’d like to devote some time each week to writing. I find writing elevates my mood, and allows me to connect with my inner spirit. I’ve already started writing more with this blog and by joining a writing group, so I’m well on my way! I’m also going to spend some time each week reading. I find I’ve been spending more time reading news lately and not recreational reading. I have a list of books I’d like to check out – some e-books and some physical books, but reading a novel for even for 15 minutes a day will be relaxing for me.

And here’s a weird one – I’d like to watch more television shows/movies. This is something I’ve stopped doing over the past year and like reading and writing, it’s a way for me to relax. I’m not going to expect to watch television every evening or go to the movies every week, but I’d like to go to the movies at least every two months if there’s something worth seeing, and watch recreational television for at least an hour or so a week.

I’d like to try something new at least once a month. It might be colouring, a drum circle, wine-tasting, bus trips, whatever – just something to get me out of my stale routine and keep life interesting. If I hear that friends are going to be doing something different, I’m going to speak up and ask if I can join them. I’ve met some really nice, positive people over the past few months by doing this, and it’s definitely a positive thing. I’d like to try yoga and meditation for example. Maybe I can find a friend who would be interested in these things as well. I’d also like to go to Toronto on a Friday evening for storytelling. I used to go years ago and really enjoyed it, so I’d like to do it again and maybe introduce some friends to it.

When I get stuck in a rut, I start to become afraid of change. I need to get out of my comfort zone and stretch my wings a bit. Life’s too short just to go through the motions and soon I’ll be another year older. I’m now at the age where I never know how much time I have left. Time to learn to live.

So here’s a summary of my list of goals:Growing

  • Buy and promote Canadian products (because this is important to me)
  • Say something nice to 3 people a day
  • Be less critical and impatient
  • Avoid negative people
  • Limit interactions on Facebook
  • Make time to write
  • Make time to read (aim for 15 mins a day)
  • Make time to watch TV (aim for an hour a week)
  • Go to the movies at least once every 2 months
  • Try to do something new or different at least once a month
  • Try yoga and meditation
  • Re-visit the goals on the first of every month

Welcome to 2016 – I’m looking forward to the journey!

*This is the first time I’ve used the word “chakra”. It just felt right. I looked it up after I used it and it definitely is the word I wanted to use.

Tears

tearsI cry a lot. I have always cried a lot. I’ve cried for many reasons. When I was a little girl, my teachers made fun of me in school for crying so much. One teacher, at William G. Miller Public School in Scarborough refused to let me go on a school trip to Niagara Falls because I cried so much.

I didn’t have an easy childhood. There was a stigma to being in the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). Neighbour’s children were not allowed to play with me, a teacher at Norman Cook Public School refused to talk to me. I was tainted with the sins of my biological parents. I had been abused and had nightmares. Life scared me and I had trouble fitting in. The loneliness hurt very badly.

So I cried.

My foster-father made me buy my own tissues – as if somehow that would make me reluctant to cry. Finally he tried to understand.

“Why do you cry so much?” he asked me quizzically.

“Because it makes me feel better” I explained. “When I feel sad and alone, or if my feelings are hurt, I cry about it and then I feel better.”

He shook his head in confusion. I knew he couldn’t understand; he couldn’t relate to me. I loved him for trying though.

My crying continued.

In my twenties, I was often told at work that I needed to grow a thicker skin. The only way that would happen was if I stopped feeling though, or stopped caring. I kept crying.

I cried around family too. If my daughter came home from school and told me someone had called her a name or hurt her, I cried. I could almost feel her pain. I took her pain and disappointment on myself; how I wished I could remove her pain in doing so.

Seeing homeless people or abandoned or mistreated animals breaks my heart. I have only to close my eyes and imagine the suffering in the world to feel the pain; warm tears will follow.

In my thirties, a woman named Jacqui told me it didn’t look good to cry at work. She suggested the stairwells. They quickly became my “go to” places. If I thought I was going to start crying, I would suddenly remember something I had “left” somewhere else, and would dash to the stairs to go and get it.

Once, in a meeting during a difference of opinion, someone said to me “Are you going to start crying now?” I realized it takes more than that to make me cry now; first I have to care.

I’m glad I cry. Besides the release, it reminds me that I am alive, that I have a heart, and that I care. I worry about people who never cry. Have they hardened their hearts? Does nothing touch them? Or do they only cry for themselves when they’re alone and nobody can see them?

We cannot fully appreciate the happy times in life until we know what sadness is, so thank God I cry. I love the times when I’m filled with happiness and joy, but when someone makes me cry, they’ve touched my soul. I still have a heart and I can still be hurt. I can still feel the pain when those I love are hurt.

I still cry. Not for myself as often, but for those who are close to me.I cry for the insensitivity of some people. I cry for the future of our world and I cry for  the injustices I see all around me. I cry for you and I cry for me. I cry for all of us.

I’m glad I can still cry.

Memories of Christmas Past

For the first time in many years, I’m home on Christmas with nothing to do, except clean up from the night before since we had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. I tried to plan something for today. I tried to find a place where I could volunteer to help serve Christmas dinner – at a shelter or church. Getting the vulnerable sector screen done at the police station was not the problem. Most places had a policy in place where volunteers had to be trained and training was scheduled for January. Some places were surprised I was offering and didn’t know how to answer me. Some never answered at all. Emails and voice mails left unanswered.

I don’t remember any Christmases before I went in the CAS at 5 years old. I remember the Christmases afterwards though. My foster mother, Alice, would bake the week before – mincemeat tarts, lemon tarts, butter tarts, and shortbread cookies. Then there would be tortière. On Christmas eve, my father, Art, would drive us around to see all the glorious Christmas lights. We’d joke about the most extravagant ones, how they must work for the hydro company! When we got home, we’d hang our stockings, drink our eggnog, watch a Christmas movie on TV, sing some carols, and then go to bed and try to sleep; excited for the arrival of Santa.

On Christmas morning we’d find our stockings on our beds, to keep us amused until the grownups awoke. Inside were colouring books and crayons, clementine oranges (a real treat back then), jigsaw puzzles and small books to read. When the grownups awoke, we’d have breakfast at the kitchen table; usually pancakes or french toast. Then we’d gather around the Christmas tree to open our gifts. We learned patience and delayed gratification in the process! The gifts were never anything large, usually clothing, books, a jigsaw puzzle, and a toy or two. A handmade cradle for a favourite doll, a stuffed animal (mine was a poodle) that we could cuddle with at night; just little things that showed us we were loved and thought of.

After we got dressed, we’d help my mother in the kitchen with the turkey. We’d chop onions and celery for the stuffing, and prepare the turkey for the oven. Even the phrase “sweet and savory” reminds me of my childhood Christmases. In the afternoon the relatives would start to arrive. They’d bring bottles of wine and boxes of candy, such as chocolate covered cherries and Allsorts licorice. We’d all talk at once, in French and in English and eat until we’d almost burst. I’d pass my lima beans to our dog Rex discretely, and he’d be grateful because someone snuck him food from the table!

Dishes were done in shift work. When the tea towel from drying got too wet to dry anymore, another person with another towel would take over. Clean up went by quickly.

So while I spend an uneventful day today, I’m reflecting on my parents, and how grateful I am for all that they gave me and taught me. I’m grateful for the “normal” childhood, for the values demonstrated, and for the lessons of charity that were their most important gifts to me. I tried for many years to recreate that feeling of Christmas and family in my home. I hope I did. Because it isn’t about the expensive gifts, it’s about family, friends, and above all else, love.

This Christmas, I wish everyone much love in their lives.