Leading up to an Overseas Family Vacation

family vacation

I love to travel, and if I could, I would take many trips around the world every year.  I can’t afford to do that, but hey, a girl can dream. But I don’t always have to dream, as once in a while I am lucky enough to go on a big trip. I’m leaving on one in a couple of days. And I’m not going alone. I’m taking my husband, my son, two daughters and niece too, to Israel. We are going on a long overdue, overseas family vacation. And I’m freaking out!

I have traveled many times with my husband and children, and we even took my nephew with us the last time we went to Israel, three years ago. Traveling with children does not scare me. I think that going on a family vacation is something wonderful and adventurous. If one can, travel is the greatest gift a parent can give to a child.

family vacation
Our attempt at a family selfie in the Old City of Jerusalem during our last visit to Israel 3 years ago

So why am I freaking out? Well, first of all, I think I always do in the final days leading up to a big family vacation. Whether we are driving to David’s family country house in Quebec or flying around the world to New Zealand, all the details that go into the booking, planning and (wince!) packing for a family vacation are stressful.

Most of the booking and planning is complete. The planning is actually the fun part. In some ways, you get to stretch the trip out longer when you surf the web and do research about activities and excursions. I’m now in the packing phase, which is always challenging. When I travel by myself, no problem. But I have set a lofty goal to pack efficiently and get everything our family of 5 needs into just 3 suitcases.

How many shirts? Did I remember to pack pyjamas for the baby? Since we are in Israel over Passover, did I make sure to throw in nice (clean) clothes for everyone? We will be in the desert, where it’s hot, for a few days. But oh, evenings are cold. So, I guess we need light jackets? Socks. Underwear. Toothpaste. Enough children’s Advil and Tylenol if the kids get sick. All of this swirls through my head night and day in the days leading up to our family vacation.

But it’s not just the packing. Just because I am going away, it doesn’t mean life at home stops. Okay, so I turn down the thermostat, shut off the lights and lock up my house. My daily life and daily routines comes to a halt. But the people I interact with every day keep living their regular daily lives.  I always need to prepare myself for that reality.

Who do I need to alert that I will be away? Are there services providers I need to contact? I don’t receive a daily newspaper anymore, so no worries there. I can monitor my home alarm from anywhere in the world. And in the technology age, I travel with my cell phone and am reachable at the top of Masada, on the beach in Tel Aviv or a windy road in the Galilee.

But there’s still so much to do. I work a few hours more in the week leading up to the family vacation to ensure I don’t leave any of my colleagues in the lurch while I am away. It reminds me of a study released back in January by ADP Canada (my main communications client right now where I spend most of my time) that examined how many hours Canadians typically devote to work before and/or after a vacation. Over 70% of people admitted having to put in much more work in the days leading up to vacation.

And for me and my family right now, as I have written about on a few occasions, life is stressful in general right now. Our work-life situation is rather unstable, and we don’t quite know where life will take us in the coming months. Is this the right time to go on such an ambitious family vacation? Should we be so far from home and potentially miss the next great opportunity?

Is all this freaking out on my part worth it?

The simple answer is, yes. I need a vacation. I really need a vacation. My family really needs it. No matter how many times I freak out in the next couple of days and wake up with night sweats paranoid about remembering to pack enough diapers for the baby for the plane, it’s all worth it.

Once I stand on my mother-in-law’s balcony, looking west to the view in the distance of the Mediterranean Sea and to the east view of the Jerusalem hills, I will feel better. Most of what I am feeling right now is normal. Going on a family vacation is a tremendous luxury, one that I appreciate more than ever right now. It doesn’t mean I will freak out less.  But it does mean I may enjoy it just a little bit more.

Caught Being Kind


I am fascinated by the word kind. And I mean the adjective form of the word. When I describe it, I think of goodness, considerate, helpful, gentle and generous. These are qualities I would hope we all strive to have and that we nurture in our children. It was actually my daughter, Julia, who got me thinking about being kind and ways we can all live our lives with it being central to what we do every day.

Back in January, Julia’s teacher sent a note home to parents that made me smile. Not only did this note reassure me that we made an excellent choice for our children’s school, but I was thrilled to see how excited my daughter was. This is what the teacher wrote to the parents:

“The Grade 2’s have accepted a Kindness Challenge! Our class displays acts of kindness daily. With the new year beginning, we are doing this challenge to go above and beyond and to push ourselves to do acts of kindness that we might not always do! In addition, to be mindful of acts of kindness that we do on a daily basis. Outside the classroom are little notes that say ‘caught being kind.’ If your child performs any act of kindness from holding the door for someone to sharing with a sibling, please feel free to take a note from the bulletin board, fill it out and I will hang it up! I think that this will be a wonderful learning and growing opportunity for all!”

True kindness, for me, is helping or doing something good for someone else without expecting anything in return. That somehow seems unnatural, really just against basic human nature. Does it make sense to be considerate and generous just because? It’s different than paying it forward because you do something truly kind not because someone else helped you but because it’s just the right thing to do.

Over the past few months, as my family has faced some struggles and stresses and I have had some days of feeling quite overwhelmed, extended family and friends have reached out to me and shown me kindness. They paid for a coffee. I got a phone call, just to talk. Some offered to take my kids for a few hours to give me a break (now THAT is kind, or maybe just crazy!). I just know they cared. And I appreciate it, all of it.

And it inspires me to be kind. Not to pay it forward or to thank them, but just because I think it’s the right thing to be a good, considerate, helpful, gentle and generous person. And I like the added twist that Julia’s teacher gave the students and their parents: she asked us to catch the kids being kind. She challenged the children to live their lives doing good things, and she asked their parents to catch them doing that.

We are quick to punish our children when we catch them doing bad things: lying, stealing, swearing, hitting, bullying, teasing and so much more. If a child is caught doing any of these, then there are consequences.

So, while I don’t believe we necessarily need to reward a child for being kind, we sure can catch them being kind. I want my daughter to know that it’s the right thing to pour a cup of water for her sister or give her brother the last piece of gum. I will acknowledge when she makes a card for her friend who is sick at home or to help her little cousin who can’t reach the light switch and she turns it on. No matter how big or small her act of kindness is, I will catch her and tell her she did the right thing. And she will grow up to be a kind person and spread kindness to others.

I am challenging you to be kind, and I am challenging your family and friends to catch you in the act. Be kind, and catch others doing it, not because you want thanks and a reward, but to encourage you to do it again and again.

I Don’t Make it, I Break it


Did you know that I’m not exactly handy? I have many talents of which I am very proud, like writing, skiing, and cooking, to name a few. But don’t ask me to fix a computer. Or hang a picture on the wall. And definitely not something complicated like a leaky faucet. Sometimes I feel like I just look at something and it just stops working or shatters before my eyes. When something goes wrong in my vicinity I automatically assume it’s my fault and give my usual line: I don’t make it, I break it.

Earlier this week I arrived at an appointment and did what most of us do: I checked in with the receptionist. He asked for my name and looked it up on his computer. Of course, he couldn’t find me name. I didn’t exist, even though I had been there before. No problem, he said, he would just create a new account for me. He typed in my name and details, saved everything, then went into my new account. It wasn’t there. Whatever he did, it did not work. Then his computer froze.

It was as though I was passing vibes over to the computer, a couple of feet away, telling it to not work. I paced around nearby for a few minutes, to leave the receptionist alone, and of course the computer started to work properly again. My explanation: my mere presence causes things to break.

Have you ever noticed that the office photocopier rarely functions properly, if at all? It’s my fault. I break photocopiers, just by being near them. I look at a photocopier and it just stops working before my eyes. And if I try to fix it, well, it just gets worse.

I grew up in a house with a father who could (and still can) fix almost anything. But it was more than just fixing, it was also making, creating and building. A lightbulb burnt out in the bathroom – Dad will replace it. We got a new painting at the art gallery – Dad will hang it on the wall. We used permanent markers to colour on the kitchen table – Dad will get that stain out and make the table look like new. I always found ways to break things, but he was (and still is!) there to fix, mend and recreate (and remind me that I break things and thank goodness he’s there to pick up the pieces!).

Maybe I’m a bit harsh on myself. I am not an accident waiting to happen, and I don’t walk around smashing things and destroying everything in my path. But, if I do break something, or if technology stops working around me, I don’t know what to do.

If my computer freezes, then I turn it off and hope that it turns back on. When my car starts making strange noises or a warning light appears, I take it to the mechanic. If my toilet keeps running, then I call a plumber (or my father). I will give some credit to my husband, David, who seems to have some handyman abilities deep within. He seems to be rather capable of fixing and problem solving, but he also tends to the side of breaking. While my slogan is, I don’t make it, I break it…his slogan may be I break it, then I make it.

I am not one for New Year’s resolutions (and since it’s the Ides of March today I may be a bit late), but here is a goal for me in 2018: learn to fix something. Maybe I will learn how to hang a picture on the wall. Or maybe I will figure out how to paint a single wall in my daughter’s bedroom. Maybe it will be something as simple as walking past a photocopier without it dying.

Will my slogan change from I don’t make it, I break it to something new and exciting, and not so destructive? Maybe. Maybe not. Stay tuned.

Automation has arrived in the Public Restroom

public restroom

A few months ago, I attended a day of meetings with a client at a local golf club. During a break, I decided to use the restroom.  After a couple of cups of coffee and a steady flow of water, it was rather necessary. After I washed my hands, I walked over to the paper towel dispenser and couldn’t figure out how to extract paper from it. I could clearly see it was full, but there was no obvious way, it seemed to me, for paper to come out. I stood there, with dripping wet hands, dumbfounded. Then suddenly, my younger colleague, dare I say, a Millennial, waved her hand over a particular spot on the dispenser, and lo and behold, paper appeared. I was amazed. And confused. I couldn’t figure out the fancy technology behind a paper towel dispenser in a public restroom.

Once my hands were dry, I looked around this restroom and noticed that it was quite automated. Public restrooms are no longer just a flushing toilet and basic sink. There is complicated technology in there. And since that day, I have been most intrigued by the various kinds of technology that now exist in the public restroom.

I don’t have a bunch of photos to go with this blog post as I think I may have been stared at, or worse, arrested, if I started to take photos inside a public restroom. So, I will just go through some of my observations.

Some people believe – and some don’t – that the public restroom is one of the most germ and bacteria-infested places one can visit. Whether it be door handles, the floor, taps, sink or the toilet itself, we are encouraged to touch as little as possible in there. So, I guess it makes sense that there has been a big investment technology in the public restroom to help keep us clean and safe. But you have to touch some things, right? How about the toilet paper? Or is that covered in bacteria too?

The public restroom experience begins when you walk through the door. Buildings that are sensitive and inclusive always have the handicapped button on all doors, which is great. Recently I saw an even better button, which is both inclusive and perfect for germaphobes: you wave your hand in front of the button and the door opens. Brilliant!

public restroom
I got a photo of this, on the outside of a restroom. Just so smart.

Once inside, you will need to touch a door or at least the door handle, if you want to walk into, close and lock your cubicle door (I haven’t been in a public restroom yet that has an automated door on the cubicle). But the toilet, now that’s an automated beast.  How many times have you approached a toilet and it starts to flush before you even use it? Or how many times did you finish your business and the toilet didn’t flush? You search for a button, a switch or some sensor where you can wave your hands, and nothing. What do you do? Do you walk away and hope the smart toilet flushes on its own eventually?

Many public restrooms have installed the automated sink and soap dispenser. For some of them I find that I have to put my hands in a very specific spot and hold them still on a certain angle so that the water can flow. And I love the sinks that have the automated water and soap all together in one contraption.  There was one public restroom I particularly liked, in the airport in Rome, Italy (again, sorry, no photo), where each individual sink had an automatic tap, soap dispenser and even hand dryer. It was simple, clearly marked and very intelligent.

I feel like we are on the cusp of full automation in the public restroom. Most of the solutions, while sometimes confusing and complex at first, are very intelligent – and inclusive. I particularly love the technology that allows me to wave my hand to activate it (even though some of the sensors are still weak and don’t notice I’m there). The world is embracing technology everywhere, so why not in the public restroom?

Do Women Want Gender Parity or Do They Want Recognition?


On March 8, every year for over 100 years, we celebrate women around the world. Officially what I have read and learned, it is a day that focuses on the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. That’s a bit vague, but okay. I also know that this day is widely marketed as one that focuses on accelerating gender parity. I will admit that I am not much of an activist and am not drawn to women’s marches or protests. For me, International Women’s Day is a day for reflection and discussion. It’s a day that puts women at centre stage to state our case to the world. As this annual celebration comes to a close, it makes me think, is what we want really gender parity or is it more about recognition?

If one looks at the definition of gender parity, this is it: a numerical concept related to gender equality. In the context of gender equality, gender parity refers to the equal contribution of women and men to every dimension of life, whether private or public.

But is that realistic? Gender parity is about numbers – equal numbers, across all parts of life, all around the world. While in theory it may be something nice for our society to aspire to this, I think it is simply idealistic and a fairy-tale. It is not going to happen. And quite frankly, I don’t think it has to happen.

I would love to celebrate women every day. We are great. And we are different from men in so many ways. Our bodies are physically different. We think differently and definitely behave differently. We internalize our experiences in such different ways. And that’s okay.

I don’t think either men or women are better than the other. Each gender contributes to the world, but I don’t think they do so in the same way. Numerically, in the workforce, yes, they should be equal. No doubt. If a 35-year-old woman with ten years’ experience puts in an 8-hour day as an accountant she should be compensated the same way her male colleague, also a 35-year-old-accountant with ten years’ experience, is paid.

I think where I disagree with many people is the notion of equal contribution of women and men in every dimension of life, whether private or public. Men and women do not have to be equal in every dimension of our lives. Because of the vast differences between men and women that I stated above, I believe that it is not possible to be equal at everything.

A wise friend of mine (yes, of course a woman) discussed this very issue with me today. We talked about how men and women see themselves in the world. When you get to a certain age, how does a man versus a woman view their accomplishments and contributions to society?

For the most part, the men I know measure success on career advancements and their contributions to their profession. Losing a job, not getting a promotion or failure in a business venture means he is not successful.

The women in my inner and even outer circle measure success very differently. No doubt, my female friends and family are ambitious and want to achieve great things in their careers. But for most of them, life is about more than that. Whether it be running a household or supporting a close group of friends, women see the big picture. If one part of their life has stalled, they pick up the pace somewhere else. Women balance a career and all that life throws at them.

And women do it well. On International Women’s Day, heck every day, we want to be recognized for being different from men. I’m not saying we are always better or that we deserve more. In some parts of life, for sure, we demand equality. But we also demand the recognition of being different and the respect we deserve for who we are.

So, happy International Women’s Day to all my female friends and family. May you go from strength to strength, and be recognized for that strength. Every day.

My Birthday Boy: What it Takes to Make a Cake


Today is March 5, 2018. It’s my son’s eleventh birthday today. For the past few days I have been thinking about what I wanted to write on this day.  I’m a proud mother, and like all mothers across the world I love to boast about how great my child is. If you have met Matthew (or read my blog!), you know he’s a great kid. So, I’m not going to write about Matthew today. I’m going to write about cake.

My eleven year-old

Writing about cake on my eldest child’s birthday makes a lot of sense if you know a little bit about me. First of all, Matthew’s nickname, that I gave him when he was a baby, is Cake. He loved a particular patty cake book, so I of course changed the words to Matty Cake. And it stuck. Or at least for me it did. I still call him Cake. I can’t help it.

But that’s not the only reason that I’m writing about cake today. I love to bake. I’m not a professional and I often skim over recipes and do my own thing. My baking works out, most of the time. And each year, on each of my children’s birthdays from age one and on, I bake a cake. And we’re not talking about just any old chocolate or vanilla slab number with icing. I’m talking about an elaborate theme, with designs, cut-outs, colours and shapes.

I will admit that the finished product usually tastes better than it looks. Again, I am really not a professional. I would barely even call myself an amateur. I guess I’m just passionate. Fun. Creative. And definitely a bit crazy.

My first adventure into crazy cakes was on Matthew’s first birthday, back in 2008. I had a son. He loved everything boy. So, I made him a car cake. By age two he was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine. My husband challenged me that he could bake a better cake. He baked Thomas and I baked Percy. Mine was better. Much better.

I made Percy and David make Thomas. Percy tasted better.

As Matthew has grown up I have made a spaceship cake, a volcano, snowboarder on a. mountain and last year it was a basketball net. Some cakes have gone according to plan and others, well, not so much. His Boots cake when he turned three (yep, from Dora the Explorer) looked a bit funky, but the kids liked it!

My strange attempt at Boots the Monkey
He asked for a flying saucer and that what’s I did in my own special way.
It was his first year of snowboarding so I had to do it.
He loved basketball when he turned 10, so that’s what he got

I didn’t slow down when Julia came along. I did the tea party theme when she turned one and made a dollhouse when she turned two. During the Frozen craze, I put together Elsa’s castle. Last year she asked for a butterfly. And of course, I came through.

I tried to make a teapot when Julia turned one.
Julia’s second birthday: the dollhouse
She wanted a butterfly and Julia got one

For Nessa’s first birthday last year I will admit I was a bit boring with a simple, though multi-layered, circular chocolate cake. But I cut out nice letters and made a special mini one for her to smush into her face.

One for us and one just for Nessa on the day she turned one.

Matthew asked for cupcakes this year and no big elaborate cake. I was a bit disappointed, but I dove into my cupcake making this weekend. I produced 60 cupcakes, half white and half chocolate, with icing, sprinkles and a blue icing birthday message. He enjoyed them with his snowboard team and was quite satisfied with my effort.

Julia is still asking for an original and creative cake for her birthday in a couple of months, and I have years to go with Nessa. No matter how crazy the idea is, I’m up for it. Sometimes, the crazier the better.

So, a big happy birthday to Matthew. When he was born, he was the original inspiration for this blog. It only took me ten years to actually do it, and I don’t regret it at all. His love of sports, travel and all things intellectual continue to inspire me every day.

Sometimes it just has to be Ladies First


I don’t know if the best description of me is a lady. There is something sophisticated and elegant about the word. I don’t think it is something I aspire to be. Sometimes the word just makes me chuckle. But if that’s what we were on Friday, all 575 of us, then I’ll take it. I enjoyed my first ever (and hopefully not my last) Ladies Day at my ski club, and wow, what a great day it was.

Throughout the winter, I have written a lot about my love of skiing. It is my stress release, my escape from everyday life and a great chance to enjoy the outdoors and be active. The best way to get through a tough Canadian winter is to find an outdoor activity you love and embrace it. It makes the season not only enjoyable but also something to look forward to.

For many years, I have balked at the chance to participate in Ladies Day at the ski club. I was too busy. I couldn’t take the day off work. Or I had a baby to care for. My mother and sister gave similar excuses and chose to not participate.

But this year my sister and mother said, what the heck, and they registered. I refused to follow suit and even made fun of them. Why would they choose, and even pay, to spend a Friday at the ski hill with a bunch of women, who from stories I had heard, just shopped, ate, did yoga and drank too much alcohol all day? Not for me. No way.

But a few weeks ago, a work colleague, who attended her ski club’s ladies’ day, convinced me otherwise. She told me it was the greatest ski day of the year. There are no men there. There are no whiny and demanding children there. Someone else feeds me. The ski hill is only there for the ladies, who for the most part are polite easygoing skiers. What’s not to love? She looked at me and said, go, sign up! And I did!

And wow, what a great day was had by all.

How nice is it to start the day at the ski hill with a buffet breakfast, that someone else cooked? We stuffed our faces (my sister is an expert at keeping her eye on the prize and making her way through any buffet) and were happily filled to start our day. Then we visited the Marketplace. I did not actively participate in this activity as I was not interested in spending $245 on machine washable shoes or $120 on a micro down après ski skirt. There were definitely some cute items at this little pop-up market, but I was there to ski and eat. And that’s it.

And ski I did. 18 runs. The hill was ours. We crossed the mountain, enjoyed many laughs on the chairlift and definitely seized the day. I even went down, for the time ever, one of the steepest (not THE steepest) runs at the ski club, called Slingshot. I was too much of a wimp to go down more terrifying runs like Crescendo and Free Fall. I’m not that crazy.

On the hill selfie with Tamara and Darcie
I looked, I photographed and moved on.
We took a selfie and moved on.
But I went down this one!
And so did my mother.

Lunch was another buffet, with a glass of white wine (that was included too!), followed by an afternoon of more great skiing. I took a spectacular tumble on one run called Ambush, spread eagle, eating snow and all, but I picked myself up and kept going.

The day’s theme was Nashville North, and while I don’t think we Canadian ladies quite understood what that means, after a day of skiing we changed our clothes and enjoyed our themed après ski. There was a lot of plaid and cheesy cowboy hats and even a few Dolly Parton look alikes. By late afternoon the drinks were flowing, appetizers were being consumed and the music was blaring loudly.

Selfie with my mother, just because.
Yes, we wore matching shirts.

Kudos to my sister (and many other brave ladies) who rode the mechanical bull. Others danced and sang with the music. Many people (not my group) drank too much. Some of the day wasn’t to my taste, but that’s okay. It was a day off. It was a day for me. For my mother. For my sister. It was a day of pure enjoyment and relaxation for the 575 ladies who participated in the day.

That’s my sister falling off the bull
My friend Tamara did a great job on the bull
That’s the closest I got to riding the bull

Everyone needs a day like ladies’ day. Whether you ski, snowboard, socialize, eat or just relax, it’s a great way to recharge the battery and give back to yourself. If I got anything out of my experience on Friday it’s that I need down time and time just for me. I learned that it’s okay to stop the world for a day and focus on what I love and what I need. Thank you, Heather, for reminding me to do that. Thank you to you my mother, my sister and friends at the ski hill for being part of that day with me. And thank you to the ladies who organized this day. I can’t wait until next year!