Marking Time

Fifteen minutes to three o’clock.

I was nervous. I had flown into Vancouver early this morning. Why did I agree to meet him today? By the time I cleared the arrival gates and taxied to my hotel, I only had time to quickly wash up and unpack my suitcase before heading out to Gastown.

Ten minutes to three o’clock.

I had promised to meet him at the clock in Gastown. It’s one of only a few landmarks I know in Vancouver. I haven’t been here in twenty years; things have really changed. I’ve changed, and I’m sure he has too. Would we still be able to relax and laugh together? Time will tell.

Five minutes to three o’clock.

Time moves slowly on the west coast. Or so he always used to say. I have no idea why we lost touch. Same country but different ends of the world it seemed. He told me on the phone that he had never married. I wonder why not. Is it rude to ask someone that question?

Two minutes to three o’clock.

I hope I don’t embarrass myself by talking too much about myself or asking weird questions.

Now I see him (at least I think it’s him). Did he always wear such thick glasses? Recognition slowly dawns on his face (at least I think it’s recognition – we agreed to meet here and I’m the only one here).

“Sarah?” he asked. Just for a moment I saw the doubt in his eyes.

I smiled. “Hi Mark, is it really you?”

His face lit up with a grin as he wrapped me in the biggest hug I’d had in years.

Then at exactly the same time, we both started to laugh.

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On Devil’s Rock

The following is a work of fiction.

She stood high atop Devil’s Rock, looking down on Lake Timiskaming, high above the surrounding expanse. From her vantage point she could scan the areas all around her, each one holding a precious part of her past. She could remember when she used to jump from this rock into the water below. The first time she was terrified and she had no idea how she had finally found the courage to take the plunge. Perhaps it was peer pressure or not wanting to look weak in front of her friends.

Through the years there had been accidents though, times when people took a chance and didn’t jump far enough out and ended up crashing onto the rocks below. Those ones never survived. Others had been caught by undertows and couldn’t make it back up to the surface for air. While some of them managed to be rescued, others ended up being carried on the current until they landed on some unfortunate person’s beach.

The houses all around her were reminders of her friends; she could associate almost every single one with a friend’s name. Most had moved away over the years and she wondered if they ever reminisced about their escapades, such as the time they climbed to the top of the water tower and sat drinking an entire bottle of Black Label whiskey. They ended up far too inebriated to be able to find their way down and so they slept on the cool surface of the water tank until the morning.

She thought about how each of them had grown and changed so much. As time goes on, people drift apart and start new lives, lives that didn’t include them. They started new families, in new cities, and had almost no ties to the past. She’d kept her ties though and faithfully made the trek to northern Ontario every summer, to reconnect with family and to remember who she was and where she came from.

Like she was doing today, standing here on this rock reliving memories of her youth.

She raised her arms above her head and stood on her toes as she slowly started her dive.

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The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person or place is unintentional.

“You seem much calmer lately; much more relaxed. What’s changed?” she asked.

I was a bit flippant in my response. “I’ve stopped worrying about everything. We’re all going to die someday; it’s just a question of when, so why worry about it” I replied. “The more I convinced myself I didn’t want to get old, the longer I seemed to live. Now I’m trying reverse psychology on Mother Nature. Maybe that will help me live a shorter life.

“I’m just kidding though. I’ve actually come to realize that tomorrow’s going to happen whether I worry about it or not, so I don’t. “

“Well it definitely suits you!” she exclaimed. “You’re even wearing your hair differently these days, and is that mascara you’re putting on?”

“It doesn’t hurt to at least try to look good,” I said in my defense, “after all, this is the best I’m ever going to look- it’s all downhill from here!” She grinned in response. Then she became serious.

“I also noticed you’ve even been treating me better and not talking down to me anymore. You used to be so rude and insulting sometimes.” I knew she was telling the truth; I had been terrible to her.

“I’ve decided to treat you the way I treat my friends, and I’m trying really hard to do that,” I admitted. “but we ARE friends, aren’t we? I think we should be.”

“You can be my friend or you can be my biggest critic” she said, “but I like it better when we’re friends. We all needs friends who motivate and encourage us. There’s going to be enough people criticizing us, we should be more supportive.”

We were silent for a few minutes. I finished putting on mascara and carefully applying my lipstick. This was going to be a good day. I looked in the mirror and smiled; my reflection smiled back. We had finally become friends.

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Overthinking Things

An associate of mine (recent immigrant to Canada) told me that in his country, the work ethic was very different. Companies took responsibility for their employees, and looked after them. Part of Management’s compensation was based on their employee retention rate. The culture is very different in North America. When a company reorganizes, they eliminate the “skill sets” they no longer require and hire the skill sets they need. These “skill sets” are people. Gone are the days when you worked for the same company for most of your life and they invested in your development and progression. The average statistic for employee retention these days is 3 to 4 years.

For some people, this can cause anxiety and a tendency to overthink things. People plan their lives over a longer period of time than 3 to 4 years. The success of plans often depends on a level of security or at the very least not financial instability.

This recent article from Kaizen-Habits explains the very real effects from overthinking things:

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“Many people overthink because they are scared of the future, and what could potentially go wrong. “Because we feel vulnerable about the future, we keep trying to solve problems in our head”

David Carbonell, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It.”

I used to have the same problem; for years I used to overthink everything. I became incapable of making a decision, because I was sure if I kept thinking, I’d come up with a better decision. When I found myself on my own again, I was constantly worried and was overthinking everything. The world became overwhelming and I resorted to using podcasts and meditations to distract my thoughts and quiet my brain so I could sleep at night.

I’m proud to say I’m much better now. I’m working hard at distracting myself, just like the article describes, and I now have a different perspective on life, and on myself. I’m learning to worry less and that any decision is better than no decision.

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Fear of Flying

I was driving down the road the other day and I saw a tiny house fly hanging onto the outside of my driver side window. His little wings were flapping furiously as he struggled to cling onto the window. I wondered why it was so important for him to hang on – he had wings, he could fly away anytime he wanted. Was there something sweet on my window that he wanted? Had I simply taken him by surprise when I started to move?

I glanced to the other side to change lanes, and when I looked back the fly was no longer there. I didn’t know if he’d left on his own or if the air current had swept him away. For a brief moment I wondered if he would be okay – if he’d survived, and then I gave my head a shake. Of course he would be okay – he had wings and he could fly.

Then I realized this was a good analogy for life as well. Sometimes we cling onto things far longer than we should. We hang onto marriages, friendships, jobs, and even houses, when sometimes it’s better to let go. We hang on out of fear, out of a sense of obligation, out of pride, for financial reasons, and for a plethora of other, personal reasons.

We worry about what will happen if we let go; will we survive? Change is scary! People use the expression “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”, or “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”, but that usually doesn’t justify not taking a chance. We recite those types of quotes to make ourselves feel better about not making life changing (and often scary) decisions. I now know that sometimes it’s better to have no devil at all, and that sometimes even one bird can crap all over you.

“Action may not bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

We’ve all had those moments when we knew we needed to do something but seemed frozen – like a deer in the headlights. We all want to make the right choices, the right changes, and we’re terrified of making the wrong decision, but even doing nothing is a decision – and it’s the worst possible decision you can make.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

When I look back through the years, I realize that most changes were thrust upon me – broken relationships, lost jobs, relocations, and many more. There were changes I needed to make but didn’t. I stayed in jobs when a change would have been better for my career. I stayed in relationships long past their best before dates. Hindsight really is 20/20 though isn’t it? I’ve learned that it’s important sometimes to reflect on our lives and decisions and to use that insight to learn and grow.

“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in”. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Sometimes that means making a decision to let go. To feel the fear and do it anyway. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Maybe we’ll find out that like that tiny fly – we too have wings and we too can fly.

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Gaming the System

Are you on Instagram or Twitter? Do you sometimes get connection requests from completely random strangers? Why would anyone randomly want to follow you? We all want to believe that we’re fascinating people, but sadly that has nothing to do with it. They’re gaming the system. Let me tell you how that works.

Life Memory Lane

The Best Present I Ever Got

I grew up in a foster home, and like many other foster children, we didn’t receive many presents. Every year, we were reminded of the many children who didn’t receive any presents at all. My foster parents were forever telling us that we should be grateful for what we had, because there were so many people who had less, and some who had nothing.

When Christmas time came, my foster sister and I were always excited. This was the only time we were allowed candies and sweets, a time when all of our foster relatives came by and we played music and danced and laughed. It was such a joyous occasion! It was also the only time we got any toys and books. I thought I was getting a doll one year, because I’d seen my dad making a very small cradle, and my mother had been sewing tiny little clothes – much too small for even a baby.

Christmas Eve came and like every other year, we went to the church hall to join in the mass and the party that followed. Santa would sit at the front of the room, and give out presents to each of the children. I found out many years later that the parents brought the presents to the hall, and Santa would just call out the names on the presents.

This particular year, we were all assembled in the hall after mass, even the Evans family, who were the poorest family in town. They had no heat in their house, and we’d seen them at our school many times without any food for their lunch.

One by one the children’s names were called and we walked up to the front and got our presents then returned to our seats. When all the presents were handed out, Santa yelled out “Merry Christmas to All” and then left to go to wherever they’d hid his reindeer. But wait! Santa made a mistake – he didn’t give any presents to the Evans children. Just as I was thinking that, my mother called out loudly, “There’s been some kind of mistake; these presents aren’t for my daughters, they’re supposed to be for the Evans girls”. Then she took the presents out of our hands and handed them to the Evans children. I couldn’t believe it! How could she take our presents away? We cried all the way home. This was the worst Christmas ever! When we got home, we were still crying as we walked into the house.

“I’ve had enough of that”, Father sternly said. “Go up to your rooms right this minute and get into bed”.

We were washed and in bed, still crying when mother came into the room. She knelt down beside our bed, and said softly, “I know you’re upset, but you have so much to be thankful for, you have our house to live in, and you’ve never gone hungry. There’ll always be next Christmas for you, but that poor Evans family has nothing. Your gift to them will give those children hope and will mean so much more to them. This is the truest Christmas gift you can ever give, and you should feel proud of yourself.

After she left the room, we laid there in the dark, thinking about what she said. It took awhile for us to get over feeling sorry for ourselves, and then a peaceful feeling came over us.

I slept better that night than any time before, because I had truly felt the spirit of Christmas.

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I’ve been watching/reading with so much pride, the peaceful Franco-Ontarians demonstrations across the country! So many people don’t consider me French-Canadian, but look at my name for Heaven’s sake! Only a French person would give a child this name. The fact that I no longer (yes – no longer) speak French is exactly why the rights of French-Canadians MUST be protected.

I know there are many people (usually non-French speaking) who don’t understand, so I’ll explain what formed my beliefs in two ways:

  • The official languages of Canada are English and French, which “have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada,” according to Canada’s constitution.

It doesn’t matter if you agree with it or not – this is different from a law to protect the language. Laws can be repealed. This is part of the Constitution – we are a bilingual country, French and English. No sitting government has the right to amend the constitution and we should not stand quietly by just because you didn’t agree with it anyway. Next time it may be YOUR rights; and you will have already opened the door and set precedence. When the constitutional agreement was made, there were promises to protect the language. We, as a society, should never go back on our promises. A deal is a deal, even if in the future we decide we no longer like the deal. If I sell my house for $500,000 and in ten years it’s worth $700,000, I can’t go back and say, that didn’t work out the way I expected, I want a new deal and more money. The only time a deal can be changed is if BOTH parties agree to change it.

  • There’s a benefit to being a bilingual country. Not everyone learns every official language, but those who do greatly benefit. Learning French for example, opens the door to all of the Latin based languages, such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese.

Here are some other multilingual countries:

  • In Austria, the official languages are German, Slovene (official in Carinthia), Croatian and Hungarian (official in Burgenland)
  • In Finland, both Finnish and Swedish are taught
  • In Belgium, Dutch, French, and German are taught

My biological father was from Thedford Mines, Quebec. My biological mother was from Cochrane, Ontario. The Chartrand family who raised me is all throughout Northern Ontario – branching out of New Liskeard, Ontario. My foster mother was born in Hearst, Ontario.

There’s a feeling that comes over me whenever I drive north. I was born in Toronto so it isn’t a call back to my birthplace. I told a friend about it once and she said “Because it’s in your blood.” And I realized it must be so because whenever I’m driving north and I see the granite walls that line the highway, I am filled with awe. I see the landscape before me – majestic and beautiful. The mist over the treetops is more beautiful than any photograph could ever capture; the snow tipped trees – a white sparkling wonderland and the pristine, blue lakes, more breathtaking than a postcard. I drive through it all and I am filled with peace.

The people there speak French and their rights matter.

I sincerely hope that at least one person finds something in what I’ve written that compels them to stand with all French-Ontarians and all Canadians, to protect our Constitutional rights.

#franco-ontarien #solidarité

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Do you ever get to a point in life where you look around and decide to reinvent yourself? When I was in my twenties, I reinvented myself a few times. I was on a journey of self-definition. As years go by though, one can have the tendency of becoming stagnant. A fait d’accompli – this is just who I am.

But is it? Sometimes life has a way of kicking you in the pants and forcing you to re-evaluate your life. To maybe re-invent yourself.

If you could re-invent yourself, what kind of person would you want to be?

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Memory Lane

Two Lost Landmarks

A few articles over the past year about how the Spadina Hotel has been torn down to build million dollar condos, started me reminiscing about living in Toronto in the 70’s, so I thought I’d take a few minutes and share another story from my younger years.  The story starts at the Spadina Hotel on King Street West and it ends at the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen Street West.

CabanaThis particular memory is about meeting a couple of guys who played music at the Spadina Hotel which was at the corner of King and Spadina in Toronto. One played the piano and the other played the drums, and at 16, they seemed ancient to me. I mentioned that I played guitar, so they asked me to sing for them and we arranged for me to meet at the hotel, in the upstairs lounge. I was pretty excited, so I went to the Salvation Army and I bought a beautiful dark green satin, off the shoulder, formal gown, with light green inserts at the sides. It looked fantastic on me and I wore it into Spadina Hotel, armed with my guitar and a 20140121-Global-SpadinaBWlittle bit of confidence.

We basically played rather sedate country music, songs like “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, and I added a couple of folk-type songs, like “Changes” by Phil Ochs, and “Sit Down Young Stranger” by Gordon Lightfoot and “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens. The bartender used to serve me Singapore Slings and Cherry Brandy. I played there for almost two months, every Friday and Saturday night, and I was able to walk home with a few dollars in my pocket, a little less hungry.


Until the day the hotel manager asked me for some identification because someone dared to suggest I might be underage. Ah, the audacity!!! Of course, I had no ID to support me being old enough to be in a licensed establishment (because I wasn’t), and thus ended my brief career as a lounge singer.

The age of majority (i.e. legal drinking age) at that time in Ontario was 18. It had recently been lowered from 21, but when you’re on your own trying to support yourself and stay alive, what difference does a few years make, right?

Up the street at the corner of Queen and Spadina was another bar called the Horseshoe Tavern which used to be a blacksmith’s shop. It was the birthplace of many country music stars in Canada and over time I got to watch performers like Ian and Sylvia Tyson, Willie Nelson and Stompin’ Tom Connors. It was an incredibly dark and smoky place and nobody asked me for identification.Horseshoe

I would stand outside on the street corner (get your mind out of the gutter) and beg for money. A few cents here and there and I could afford a sandwich at a restaurant on the other side of Spadina, and then come back and have a draft beer (I think it was 25 cents) and I would nurse that glass all night and listen to the music. One evening, a guy approached me outside and wanted me to “perform” for the money (again – get your mind out of the gutter) and I did a quick comedy routine pretending that the lamp post was a person and had a funny conversation (albeit one sided). At least I think it was funny because people walking by gave me money and I started to realize I was onto something.

I took the routine inside the Horseshoe Tavern a few times as well, naming the third stair down to the washrooms and loudly declaring “Don’t step on Harold” to people who walked downstairs. A lot of people laughed but only a couple gave me any change, so I decided it wasn’t worth my while. The fact that I forced myself out of my scared, introverted self was a testament to how desperate I was for money. Hunger is a great motivator.

I celebrated my 18th birthday at the Horseshoe Tavern with some people I had become friendly with. Imagine the bartender’s surprise when he found out I was now 18 and he had been serving me for just over a year. He even bought me a drink to celebrate!

The following year the age of majority was raised to 19.


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