A Mind Break

Yesterday I had a mind break – a mini vacation of sorts.

I spent the afternoon sitting in a lawn chair overlooking the crystal blue waters of Lake Ontario in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is the very beautiful town that sits on at the tip of the Niagara River right where it joins Lake Ontario.  There is a very small public park that is perfectly situated so that you can watch the sail boats quietly skim down the river and into the Lake.  A perfect setting to sit and relax, people watch, and drink in the calming effect of the blue sky against the blue water.

We watched people come and go – some on vacation – others local to the area.  We witnessed a small wedding party taking pictures – we chatted with a family from Philadelphia who were enjoying swimming at the small beach – and we watched both young and old enjoying the view – enjoying the walking path – and enjoying the fresh air.

I realize that I need so much more than an afternoon “mind break” – I very much need to totally detach and take a full vacation break – and I plan to do that very soon hopefully.  However, given the circumstances right now – I am in the last stages of planning a major fundraising event during the Toronto International Film Festival – this was a good start  – and certainly better than not breaking at all.  And when you do this – it helps you to realize the importance of relaxing and breaking away from stress.

Taking breaks is so important.  I hope to build that into my future plans on a regular basis – because I know that the old saying “work hard – play hard” is dead on!  I think I am good at both – but it seems that I have only taken time to do the “work hard” lately.

As we watched families enjoy their time together, I remarked to my sister that it reminded me of our growing up years when we would take family vacations – when we would stop at a beach and have fun skipping rocks, and swimming – even in a very rocky bottom beach.  It just didn’t matter to us as kids – and it didn’t seem to matter to the families yesterday either.  What fun – what enjoyment – and what memories they are making!

I look forward to more valued times of relaxation!  It was a beautiful day – I slept so well after enjoying the fresh air and the quiet calming of the water!

So beautiful!

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The Beauty of Music

Last night on a last minute wim we headed out to the Port Dalhousie Henley Park Band Stand to hear the Jimmy Stahl Big Band concert.  What a perfect evening.

 The weather was just beautiful – the kind of evening where the sky was blue and the humidity was low – but the temperature was warm.  The bandstand sits and overlooks the water.  As we listened to an evening of upbeat big band standards we watched the rowing team in the background and witnessed the fish jumping in and out of the water – as if they were dancing to the music.

Port Dalhousie is one of those small towns where the older homes have great charm with the picket fence porches and the overflowing flower pots and the house lights that look like lanterns.  This small town has the charm without the tourists – the kind of town that you would like to call your own- the kind of place that you always say you would like to retire.

As I sat and listened to creative arrangements of the old standards – I was amazed at the caliber of the musicians.  In fact all of the 5 trumpet players were lead trumpeters – amazing skill – fantastic talent.  I pondered on the fact that such talent would come together to give a first class concert in a band shell in small town Port Dalhousie.  It would seem talent like this should be only heard in great concert halls where the ticket price matched the caliber of the show.

Having grown up in a family where music was a priority and musical skills were “drilled” into each of us I know first hand the necessary skill required and the countless hours of practice needed to achieve even a small amount of expertise in the music field.  I understand that practice does make perfect, but talent goes a long way in perfecting a performance level achievement.  And along with practice and talent, opportunity is perhaps the greatest door for a musician to see their abilities able to translate into fiscally viable profession.

As I sat and listened to this first rate band, I realized that the band members were creating music because of their passion for music – and even this relatively small audience in Port Dalhousie who were blessed with this fantastic concert  – even such a small audience was enough for these musicians to say it was worth it.

And that is the beauty of music!

It is as much for the creator’s enjoyment as it is for the listening ear.  Music moves us – and for those of us who have been blessed with an upbringing that honoured the teaching of music skills, and for those who have been blessed with even a small amount of skill and talent, we all know that creating music is cathartic and allows for an expression of deep inner feelings. I will be forever grateful to my parents for instilling in me this ability to express myself through music.

And as I relive the memory of the simple concert on the water last night, I picture the rowers who always stopped for just a minute by the bandstand to listen – I will picture the sun setting over the water, the fish jumping silently and creating ripples, and I will remember the joy in my being as the music lifted me and created that need to dance – even if I only danced in my spirit.

I am so thankful to my Creator for gifting us with music – and I am thankful to my own heritage for honouring this gift and teaching me the value of musical expression and understanding!

The gift of music is a beautiful gift!

Country Garden

Have I mentioned how much I like my new back yard patio?  Its like being in an oasis – and I am so thankful for this gift in my life.  Morning coffee has never tasted better than when sitting listening to the water bubbling over the rocks and hearing the birds chirping and waking up.

I have to say I love walking around and pulling out the weeds – making sure that they don’t take over the garden beds.  Watching the buds come in  on the hydrangea and coming to full bloom gives great joy.  I love the garden!

The next step is to invest in some outdoor furniture – and more than likely that can wait until next year.  I like to sit in a room and see what it needs before making any decisions – to feel what would be best there – to sense how the room will function and what kinds of pieces will not only function well – but give it a special aura of “home” – and of course a personal touch of style.

And so I will wait probably until next year – just continuing to use my two plastic adirondack chairs for now.  As I sit and drink my coffee or read  or just enjoy the sunshine I will dream about what it might need.  Should I get 4 chairs to put in a circle – an umbrella – long lounge chairs so that I can stretch out  – should I have a table with chairs surrounding so that I can host dinner parties – should I have some of the above or all of the above?  Questions I don’t have the answers to yet – I need time to “feel” it.  That is part of the fun of the whole experience as well!

This garden patio from the blog ” A Country Farmhouse” is just beautiful.  The country table was built and stained a light grey blue colour.  It is  lovely.  I love the idea of an unconventional outdoor table.  I would like to have something similar however, I’m not sure I could easily move and store it in the winter.  These are the functional issues I would have to consider when making a decision regarding a table.

The wicker chairs are wonderful, inexpensive and stackable  Very functional!

Please visit the blog “A Country Farmhouse”. (link on the sidebar)  You will just love the beautiful farm house in this blog!

Vulnerable is ok…

I have a friend at work who I admire so much.  She is a young 35 year old doctor who has spent the last 4 years working in Malawi in our project ensuring that women, men and children receive access to medical treatment for HIV/AIDS and other health needs.  She loves her work – has a passion for it and for that alone she is to be admired.

However, I admire her for more than that.  She recently returned to Toronto to work with us here in the head office and continue with her clinical work.  She misses Malawi – that is her passion – and it is very possible that one day she may head back again and work there for an extended period of time.

This alone would make her anyone’s hero – however, that is only one reason why I admire her so much.  My friend makes no apology for this – she states it very clearly.  She came back because she wanted to find a life partner.  She did not want to go through life on her own and she knew that the likelihood of meeting that someone in Malawi may be small.  She came home and put the word out.  Way to go is what I say.  So often we are afraid to say what we want in this area of life – we are afraid to say what we need for fear we might seem too needy, or desperate.  It is ok to be vulnerable – it is ok not to be able to do it alone – no matter what that “it” is.

Somehow this gift of a life partner has passed me by up to this point in time – I can’t really say I understand why this is the case – many doors shut – well not many but certainly more than one- and maybe there is something in the future – that would be my hope and my desire.  I know I would be a much better person in a relationship even though I would say I have come to learn to be content on my own!  Whatever the future holds –  I know I am not ashamed to say that I don’t want to be alone and I long just like many do for a partner in life that can walk the journey into the future.

I have another friend – a medical doctor as well  who is revamping his life and his work schedule  and focused activities for the very same reason.  He wants to balance his life – he wants to make space for a life partner .   I applaud him as well!  He has encouraged me to focus on what will make life rich and fulfilling – and although work is important and a very big part of what makes us “tick”  – it is not all there is.  Relationship is so ultimately important to bring out the best in each of us.

I follow a blog written by Joel MIller and not long ago he describe what his marriage has given him.  I loved his words – the way he describes what a life partner can give is magical and yet realistic.  I have to say this is what I would love- I wonder if it is possible?

Listen to what he says marriage provides him:

A smile when you step through the door

A hug when you head back out

Mercy when you don’t deserve it

An embrace when you really need it

Someone who will pray for you

Someone who will tell you no

A friend to share the better moments

A partner to ride out the lesser ones

Laughter, affection, home

Warmth, surprise, support

Kind words, wise words, funny words

Hard words, soft words, sweet words

Welcome indulgence

Necessary resistance

Encouragement

Astounding intelligence and aptitude

A capacity for the new, the hard, the challenging

Love, joy, peace…..

and the one thing I would add…..more laughter – and lots of it!

I applaud my friend who talks about this so openly – it gives others courage to say what we feel deep inside.  And if it is to be I will be forever grateful.  And if it is not I know that my life has been rich just as it is.  Being grateful for what you have and who you have become through all of the experiences of life is what gives contentment.  My  father always says when I ask him how he is – “I’m content”!  And maybe just maybe that is a good place to be!!

Oh …my friend has met someone!  Good for her!

Love is better than anger…

“Love is better than anger, hope is better than fear, and optimism is better than despair”.

Jack Layton

Early this morning Jack Layton, the Leader of the NDP party in Canada and the official opposition lost his hard fought battle with cancer.  Mr. Layton stepped down temporarily a few weeks ago to fight this battle, and we are all very saddened that it so quickly took his life at a time when it seemed his leadership within his own party was so very important.  He left a letter to the country in which his closing words were

Love is better than anger, hope is better than fear, and optimism is better than despair”.

I had the privilege of knowing his wife Olivia Chow, who participated in the annual Race For Dignity event at Dignitas, the organization where I work.  She is so approachable and supportive of the work we are doing providing medical care to those with HIV/AIDS in Africa,and for that we are grateful to her.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to her and the family at this time of deep loss.

Mr. Layton’s final words to his country illustrate deeply rooted values and beliefs in love and hope and optimism and in the face of such great disappointment we are all grateful for this positive message.

Yesterday here in Toronto a huge rainstorm came through – one of those storms where the sky is completely black in the middle of the day, and the rain comes down in torrents so hard and fast that puddles gather on lawns and gutters are filled with rushing water and all plant life in the path are almost flattened with the force and weight of the water. It poured for what seemed to be forever but more than likely was 30 or 40 minutes.  I wondered if the grass and the gardens would ever soak up the water that lay in puddles throughout.

Once the sky had cleared I went out to inspect and found the door mats waterlogged and many of the plants close to flattened by the force.  I lifted a few and shook the water and thought how this unexpected storm had created such havoc for the plant life.  Would these plants ever recover from such a battering?  I shook as much water off them as I could and retreated inside knowing that plant life is resilient and chances are they would look very different in the morning.

And I was right.  Although there was damage, such as mulch that was carried by the force from its garden bed to the middle of the yard, the plants are once again standing tall reaching for the sun.  The water on the leaves has dried and the weight has been lifted.  The rain that had soaked the beds is now being soaked up by the plants giving their stems strength to stand and recover from the battering.  The shapes might need a bit of pruning but really not a lot.  Although the storm was tough for the time it endured, the plants are all the better for the great drink of water they received in the end.

You know where I am going with this.  It’s just a simple example of our resilience as people if we choose to soak up the lessons from the storms that pass through.  The message is in the story and really needs no further explanation.  Sometimes resilience is about attitude – and willingness to be positive.

And that is why the words of Jack Layton are so important.

Even in the storm where he lost his battle with life here on earth he chose to leave a message of hope and optimism.  And he is so right.  Love is better than anger.  Hope is so much better than fear.  And optimism a far better option than despair.

Thank you Jack Layton for your leadership  right to the end – we so appreciate your words and your life!

Beauty in the eye of the beholder…

“Beautiful is a manner of being – not looking” Karen Zeigler

I came across this quote on my twitter feed not too long ago and it had an impact on me.  Of  course we know  that beauty is more than just looking beautiful – however there was just something about the way this was phrased that caused me to stop and think.

Beautiful is a manner of “being”.

I thought about it – and I thought about “things” that are beautiful – like a beautiful sunrise or sunset or the colour of leaves on the trees in the fall, or a wonderfully appointed room in a beautiful home, or the way a beautiful meal is presented on the plate, or the first glimpse of a bride as she makes her entrance or the wondrous majesty of a waterfall with it’s thundering roar, or the smell of a crackling fire on a cool fall or winter day.  All of these “things” are beautiful not only because of the way they look to our eyes, but also because of the impression they leave on us – the way they make us feel and react.  It is not just about looking beautiful – it is about being beautiful.

And then I thought about people I know who I believe are beautiful – those that come to mind immediately are of course beautiful on the outside – but not anything out of the ordinary – they are average in looks – but they are outstanding in beauty on the inside.

Let me describe them to you.

She always smiles and is positive.  Any time she is asked for assistance she responds with enthusiasm.  She is smart and insightful and cares about advocating for the needs of the poor.  She has told me that sometimes she has to “act” positive when she doesn’t feel like it and so she works at keeping her attitude positive which is so outstanding.  She exudes positive energy and is someone so easy to be with and to work with.  She is truly a beautiful person.

He never talks about people in a negative tone but always looks on their best side and chooses to give the benefit of the doubt.  You know that if he does that for others he will do that for you.  He is a beautiful person.

She was not born with a beautiful body although she is very attractive .  She is not afraid to step into the swimming pool baring her imperfect body.  She does not worry that others will look at her as less than perfect.  Her confidence exudes and you know she believes that her beauty lies in who she is and not the physical aspects of her body.  I wish I was like that – I think she is beautiful.

He cries when he knows others are hurting and he wants to do something about it.  He always drops change into the baseball cap held by the man on the street with the sign that says “homeless – please help”.  He stops to speak to them and looks them in the eye recognizing them for their humanity.  He is a beautiful person.

He lives on government assistance because he is not able to work due to health issues. He has so little to live on himself but yet he sponsored six World Vision children because he wanted to make sure they had opportunities like clean water, schooling, and food.  He was considered a “major donor” at World Vision – and yet he had barely enough to cover his expenses.  So many of us sponsor one child and feel we have done enough.  He has a tender heart and acted for the good of others.  He is a beautiful person.

I could continue on – these are all people I know – they are not glamourous by any means – but they exude beauty.  For each of them beauty is a manner of being  – not a manner of looking.  Humans look on the outward appearance and judge, but God looks at the heart – and that is where true beauty lies.

I think of Mother Teresa, a very small little woman but what a mighty force she was.  Each wrinkle on her face is etched deep because of her smiles and her tears – each wrinkle an indicator of the life of beauty she lived.  Her words as seen below point to a heart of beauty – and she set an example for us to follow.

“Let us always meet each other with a smile,  for the smile is the beginning of love.” 

“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

“Our life of poverty is as necessary as the work itself. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.” 

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” 

“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” 

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” 

Mother Teresa

I want to always remember as I continue to live life that looking beautiful is not what true beauty is.  Beauty is a manner of being – I hope we can all – both men and women alike – work at being beautiful – in all our thoughts, deeds and interactions.

Good Advice

“If you are going through hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill”

I had to laugh when I read this quote – when in fact it isn’t really a laughing matter – anyone who is going through very tough times is not laughing.  I know that – because I have been there on many different occasions.

Sometimes it just seems like you get through one “hellish” issue and another one pops up!  And lately in my life and the life of my family it seems that we don’t even get through one issue before another one pops up.  Multiple issues – all at one – most having to do with loss in one form or another.  Loss through death, loss of health in more than one family member, job stress, transition stresses,  loss of relationships and the list goes on and on.  And when these losses compound one on top of another and you are trying to cope with one problem and another one comes up – sometimes life becomes so tough you want to give up and crawl in a hole.  I know this feeling – I know it all too well.

It is easy to look around you and wonder why others do not get hit with the same amount of stress and it is easy to wonder why all of the loss at once.  I have found that asking why doesn’t really help – usually we don’t get an answer to why.  I am such a “why” asker – I always want to understand and get to the bottom of issues – there is a lot of good in that quality – I realize that  – but it can also be frustrating especially if answers cannot be found – at least immediately – sometimes we see the bigger picture a long way down the road and can look back and understand the “whys” better.

I wish I could offer some bit of wisdom here  that would help to answer the questions of “tough times”.  So many books have been written on the subject.  I do know that tough times can make strong character if we allow it to.  Tough times can be a great teacher as it seems we are more attentive learners when going through deep waters.  Tough times can be refining times as when we are put in the fire, we will come out polished.  I know all of these things to be true.  I also know that whatever we are going through others are as well – and we are so blessed to have all that we do have – in comparison to what others in countries far away have to deal with.  Knowing all these things helps, but does not take the “hell” away.  I know that as well.

And so this piece of advice is so very true – when going through hell – keep going.  Keep going – don’t stop – because eventually you will pass through the storm – and come out the other side.  It just requires putting one foot in front of the other and taking small steps – keep going forward – and don’t crawl into a hole.  For many in the deep waters this sounds all too easy when in fact it is not.  I know that too.  However, one step forward is all that is required – not the full nine yards – and then another step – and another step.  One step at a time.  And eventually the storm cloud will be gone – and the sun will shine again.  This I also know to be true.

“If you are going through hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill”