Remember what you Learned in Kindergarten

Kindergarten

Many years ago I read the best-selling book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Robert Fulghum’s profound thoughts made me laugh and made me think, and it was an easy, sweet read. It was on my mind the last couple of weeks when my youngest child “graduated” from Senior Kindergarten and Moved Up, in a formal ceremony to grade 1. My daughter’s graduation was juxtaposed with a leadership summit that I attended a few days later with many work colleagues.

My daughter’s Kindergarten graduation ceremony was short, but it was life changing for the children. They showed off a set of skills to their parents that many of us have lost in the thirty (or gulp, forty) years since we sat in those tiny chairs with wide smiles. It took me decades to understand this, but Kindergarten is, I believe, the most foundational year of our lives.

It’s a transitional time, when many of us experience our first genuine authority figures, when we learn to balance play with work and develop long-lasting friendships. For many children, it’s when they learn to read and write, add 1 plus 1, see a map of Canada and maybe learn a second language.

But there are bigger skills my now kindergarten graduate gained this past year, which I hope she will bring with her in every stage of her life, from elementary school to university and throughout her career. They are skills I used last week as I spent time side by side with my colleagues. I was reminded by my 6-year-old daughter and her friends how important these life-long skills are:

Sometimes, just be Quiet and Listen

There are times to speak up and there are times we don’t. If someone kindly asks to be heard, let them. You can be an active participant in a conversation by just listening to the other person. Whether it’s your teacher or your manager, sometimes, be quiet, and listen.

Honesty is always the Best Path

Don’t lie, to anyone, ever. If you made a mistake, own up to it. It’s okay if you can’t tell everyone around you everything, but at least be truthful. If I ask my daughter, who made this mess? She will own up to it. If her class breaks a favourite toy, they let the teacher know. Remember that.

Be generous

My daughter loves to receive gifts, but she and her friends love to give them too. She came home after her graduation with a stack of “gifts” for us that she made throughout the school year. There was art, sculptures, books and other strange items I can’t recognize. She presented each item to us, one by one.

But that’s not all. This past year she reminded me every Friday to give her a few coins for the class Tzedakah box. This is a Hebrew term that comes from the root word, “Tzedek,” or righteous. They learned about the importance of charity and helping those less fortunate than them. The money they collected will be donated to a local charity, as chosen by the children. Generosity goes a long way – towards your family, friends or colleagues, or perfect strangers.

Be a Good Friend

I sent my daughter off to her first day of Kindergarten in September, and she knew a few of the other children. I watched her graduate in June seated beside her best friend and surrounded by many other close friends. When my daughter hesitated when her name was called, her best friend hugged her and urged her to stand up. When she was handed her diploma, every child cheered. And she cheered them too. Whether you are 5, 20, 50 or 80, remember to support your friends, if they need you or not. And give them a hug. They will appreciate it.

Smile

Anyone who has met my daughter, in school, at the park, in my house – even on WebEx or Zoom as she photo bombs while I’m in a meeting – they see her smile. You can make a huge impression on someone, or make them feel good, by just smiling. Smiles are truly infectious. If one person in the room starts to smile, they can create a chain reaction. Try it.

Be Assertive

This one is key, and you learn this skill in Kindergarten. Speak up for yourself and be heard. It’s a delicate balance between acquiescent and aggressive, and the best place to learn is Kindergarten. I admit that this is one I continue to work on, and I wish I had practiced more back in Kindergarten. It’s key to getting noticed, to gaining respect and ultimately, career progression. Let people know who you are, what you can do and why you are the best there is. Be bold.

Eat a Morning Snack

My daughter’s class took a 15 minute snack break every day at about 10:00 am. I packed something special for her every day. Sometimes it was a piece of fruit, or cheese, a granola bar, or dare I say it, sometimes a sugary treat. No matter how old you are or what you are doing, we all get the munchies. A vast table of snacks appeared every day at my leadership summit, and our group of 30 professionals jumped on it like a pack of wild animals. Take a break. Have a snack. It’s good for everyone.

Bring out your Creative side

Raise your hand if your parents signed you up for dance, art, piano, drama, singing or some other creative avenue when you were a child. While they knew you probably weren’t going to be a concert level pianist or be the next “Big Thing,” you had the opportunity to gain some artistic skills. The Kindergarten classroom bursts with creativity. The children express themselves with paint, crayons, pastels, and pencils. They sing loudly in music. They role play as Mommies and Daddies, or doctors and nurses. Do they sing off key or draw faces that look more like aliens? Of course they do. But they are proud. Don’t ever forget to be creative. A creative idea is refreshing.

It’s Okay to Cry

During a normal day in Kindergarten, at least one person cries. Your friend took your toy. The teacher didn’t call on you. You piddled in your pants. No reason at all, but you cried anyway. And that’s okay. Just like it’s okay for an adult to cry after a long day. Sometimes the pressures of work, family, friends and the general anxiety of the world around us just become too much. Have a good cry. As I learned from the song in the movie/play, Free to be You and Me – It’s Alright to Cry…. It Might Make you Feel Better.

Like Mr. Fulghum, I could probably write a whole book about this. I’m a proud parent of a Kindergarten graduate, and the foundational skills she learned over the past year astonish me. She learned to be thoughtful, gentle, and caring. She also learned how to share, to be kind and to be independent. Social skills. How to be healthy and active. And so much more. And she reminded me that it’s important to use all those skills every day.

Remember what you learned in Kindergarten. It will bring you success for your whole life.

At the Summit, the View is Beautiful

the view is beautiful

At the summit, the view is beautiful. These words have been in my mind the last few days. They were shared with me last year at work, during a very tough time, when we felt we had to work twice as hard, just to meet the basic needs of our customers, but we knew that the effort was worth it. We often felt that we were climbing a mountain, that just went up and up. Our heads were down, we took step after step, but when we reached the summit and looked at the view, wow, was it ever beautiful.

That’s how I felt this weekend. It has nothing to do with work, my job or my career. In fact, it was quite the opposite: a weekend away. I feel privileged that my husband and I, through our families, have homes we can visit outside the city. We both come from close families, who (usually) love to spend time together. We value the time we spend, often in very close quarters, at our family country homes, secluded from the world.

As I have written a few times, we spend much of our summer at my husband’s family country home in Quebec. The property was bought by his grandparents in the 1940’s, and the house was built in 1949 (with renovations over the years). For the last few decades, the home is only used in the summer months and must be opened in the spring and closed in the fall. I had my first chance this year to be part of the official opening of the home for the season.

Just getting to the house was a challenge.

I have traveled very little over the past two plus years. I had a quick getaway to Quebec City in November 2021, but other than that I have mainly stuck close to home in Toronto or to a family country home. So, when we booked a flight to Ottawa, to get part way by air to our destination in the Laurentian mountains in Quebec, we didn’t see an issue. Boy were we wrong!

I have traveled around the world, on my own and with my family. I have faced a few delays and inconvenient situations, but I never thought my husband and I would have to face the kind of climb that we did on Friday evening.

Turn on the news or just ask a friend about the nightmares of travel lately, and I’m sure you will get an earful. Long lines. Crowded terminals. Well, we didn’t face that at all. We chose Toronto’s downtown, Island Airport, as it was small and typically quieter and calmer.

Delays

I should have known we were in for a long night when I got a notification from Air Canada early Friday afternoon that said our flight, “has a revised time due to Aircraft technical issues and is now departing at 19:55” (instead of 19:20).

The next notification delayed departure to 20:15, and the next, received after we had checked in and sat at the gate, was for a 20:50 departure. The delay was annoying but not too terrible, as we enjoyed the quiet and relaxed environment of the downtown airport But I had a bad feeling that the delays would continue and maybe a cancelation.

Cancellation

I was right. Moments later we got a revised departure of 21:45, and then the flight was outright canceled because of “ground handling constraints.” I have no idea what this is or the other reasons we had been given (all different) for the delays throughout the evening.

At this point it was about 8:00 pm, we were still sitting in downtown, and we were frustrated. So, we were offered a flight, same night, from Toronto’s other, larger airport (the giant and wild one), that would depart just after midnight. We took it and grabbed a taxi. Across the city we traveled, and we checked in, dropped our one piece of luggage off, swiftly moved through security and to our gate (note to travelers: Pearson airport is empty and quiet on Friday nights!

We had a few hours to sit and wait for our flight, and at 11:40 pm, moments before we thought we’d be boarding our flight: notification of a delay. I read what looked like a menu of reasons for that delay (including customs and immigration, which made no sense for a plane coming in from Winnipeg), and our revised departure time would be 1:00 am. The plane finally took off at 1:20 am, and we landed in Ottawa just after 2:00 am.

Lost Luggage

But my story doesn’t end here. As I stood, semi-comatose, in the arrivals area and watched the luggage carousel go in circles (it was rather mesmerising), I knew my bag wasn’t there. I will note, my one checked bag had quite the mix of stuff in it, including my daughter’s Barbie “Malibu” house and my old espresso maker, both important items that are needed to keep me sane this summer. My personal items and clothing for the weekend were in my carry-on.

So, back in line we went, and told the kindly Air Canada agent that our large, bright blue duffle bag, full of a random mix of strange items, clearly didn’t make the long trip with us. At this point it was 2:30 am, I was exhausted and a bit punchy and short on patience. We were assured our bag would arrive (we gave him our address in Quebec), and took a taxi to my husband’s uncle’s home in Ottawa, where we stayed for the night.

Have I ever written that I’m not the nicest person when I don’t get enough sleep? Maybe another day. Anyway, after a short night’s sleep, a strong coffee and some errands, we drove over the Ottawa River on Saturday afternoon and arrived at our destination  Throughout the drive, as we traveled along a divided two-lane highway, then past many farms and started the climb into the mountains, I kept saying to myself, at the summit, the view is beautiful. The higher we climbed, past towering evergreen trees and bright blue lakes, my anticipation was building.

As we turned into our driveway, the scene that was etched into my head came alive in front of me. I got out of the car, and I knew that I had arrived at the summit. And I have to say, the view was beautiful! Nine hours to travel to Ottawa. No luggage. Total exhaustion. But my gosh, the view in front of me reminded me that there is extraordinary beauty in this world. Sometimes you have to work twice as hard to get there. The climb may be rough, and you may consider turning around and headed back down the mountain. But my advice: keep climbing. Why? Because at the summit, the view is beautiful.

P.S.: Our giant royal blue duffle bag was delivered here late Saturday night (really Sunday morning) at 1:30 am. And the water container on my expresso maker was cracked and broken. We have filed a complaint to Air Canada for the delays, cancelation, lost luggage and broken contents. I am looking forward to the airline’s response.

The view is beautiful
Oh indeed, the view is beautiful

Cakes by Mommy

Cakes by Mommy

I would consider myself to be a rather creative person. I have bold ideas, and storytelling is central to who I am. I guess the best way to describe me is that I THINK creatively. I bring my out-of-the-box, put a square peg in a round hole kind of thinking to everything I do in life, from my job to raising my kids. I’m the first to admit that I can’t do it all. But what I can do, well, I have some fun.

This past weekend we celebrated my daughter’s birthday. So, let me begin here by saying that in much of my life I’m not a big planner. I do love to plan family trips, and I have a solid grocery list going each week, but when it comes to family social activities I would give myself a failing grade. However, bring on one of my children’s birthdays, and I show up!

With the global pandemic my birthday parties had to go on hiatus, much to my daughter’s disappointment. But this year, the parties were back. And the planning began. Luckily for me, my husband David seems to wake up as well when our kids’ birthdays come along. He booked the bouncy castle for our backyard and I covered the invites, food and activities. Nothing too crazy. For me, it’s all about my child and her friends. And ya, some fun for me too!

At the centre of every one of my children’s birthdays, since my son turned one years ago, is the homemade birthday cake. Or what I like to call the Cakes by Mommy. I think about what is of interest to my child at that particular moment, and then I bake and decorate a cake on the theme. Some important notes on my Cakes by Mommy:

  • They are 100% made from scratch in my kitchen.
  • I decorate them all by myself, and no, my cakes don’t look like a professional ever laid eyes on them.
  • Some people may wonder if the child possibly decorated the cake.
  • My Cakes by Mommy taste great!
  • My Cakes by Mommy look like they were made with love.
Cakes by Mommy
The first one I ever made when my son turned 1
Cakes by Mommy
Percy from Thomas the Tank Engine
Cakes by Mommy
Dollhouse
Cakes by Mommy
Butterfly

I’m posting photos of various cakes that I have made throughout this post. Each one is unique, and in each case I had a wonderful time baking and decorating. I will add that I also had a meltdown at some point in the process, because my buttercream icing melted or my layers fell apart or that the cake didn’t look at all like it did in my head hours before.

Cakes by Mommy
Lego Alien Invasion
Cakes by Mommy
Lego blocks
Cakes by Mommy
8 for Eight

What I’m trying to say is that this past weekend, as I cleaned up my backyard, washed many dishes and went to bed exhausted, I realized how much I enjoyed putting together the birthday party, especially planning and making the cake. And for a moment I said to myself, did I miss an opportunity to start my own small business? Should I have changed my career years ago and opened my own business – Cakes by Mommy?

Cakes by Mommy
Basketball
Cakes by Mommy
Boots from Dora the Explorer
Cakes by Mommy
Frozen snow flake

The thought quickly passed when I realized that what I love is making my OWN children’s parties and cakes, and that really, if I created a website that boasted party themes of “all you can bounce in a giant castle” or “tea party for 7-year-old girls” or “reptiles and furry things” that I would have a meltdown every week. I did have a second take on the cake idea though. Most people like to buy their child’s birthday cake. But imagine buying a cake from me and passing it off as your own? I mean really. My cakes really look homemade. You buy the $60 cake from me and tell all your family and friends that you slogged away in the kitchen all night and produced THIS. No one would ever know.

Cakes by Mommy
Frozen Castle

Joking aside, as I moved on from my Cakes by Mommy reverie, I started to think more deeply about the “what if.” I think we all experience it sometimes. No matter how much we like our job, or our career in general, our employer or the people we work with, everyone asks that question, should I be doing something else? Have I followed down the right career path? Is it too late to pivot now?

I think it’s healthy to think about this and explore opportunities, even if they’re crazy like hosting some stranger’s child’s birthday party as a business model. I don’t actually want to start a business doing parties or baking cakes, but I admit I sometimes ask myself if I should have ever left sports media, or is the corporate world the place for me? Is my job taking over my life, or is it, maybe, a great choice that I made and it’s what I should be doing with my life?

It’s kind of crazy that making a Barbie doll ballroom dress birthday cake made me think about the idea of Cakes by Mommy again. The idea for this business was gone as fast as it came into my head, but for sure it left a lasting impression with me. It opened my eyes to what I’m capable of. Even if I’m not the best at something, even if it’s a bit far-fetched to imagine starting my own small business, I do know I can probably do anything. No matter what I do, and what I will continue to do every day at work, is be creative.

Oh, and if anyone does want a homemade Cakes by Mommy, let me know. I promise, it will stay just between us!

Let’s Celebrate a Brilliant Woman Today: Marla Richler

Marla

This post is co-written by three people. I collaborated with my siblings, Neil Richler and Darcie Richler, as we celebrate the most special woman in our lives, our mother, Marla Richler.

Whoever said ‘it’s the journey, not the destination” probably never retired. From what we hear, retirement is quite the destination!  

Today, our amazing mother Marla Richler (AKA Marla Gomberg to her work colleagues) is retiring after nearly 50 years in the social work field. She achieved a Master’s degree from McGill University by the time she was 22 and devoted the first ten years of her career to children in the Montreal school system then to youth at the Ontario Official Guardian’s Office. Marla spent the last 35 years working as a clinical social worker at a GTA hospital and covered everything from the ER, surgery, the ICU, palliative care, rehab, medicine and her true passion of geriatric medicine (and probably a lot more than that). 

Our mother has been on the front line, in the trenches.  She has fearlessly worked with the vulnerable, the marginalized, the weak, the frail and the very sick.  Her heart has ALWAYS been in the right place and her brain is always set to  “GO GO GO”.   You want something done?  Call Marla. You want it done with high energy and total positivity?  Definitely call her!

Even when we were young, our mom never stopped working.  Our dad had a very demanding and intense career and travelled often.  Somehow, Marla managed to do it all.  Never was she late for carpool, after school activities, dance recitals, etc.  Our food was home cooked with love and she endlessly pushed us all to achieve great things.

And her work. It was her real baby (well except for maybe her dogs!!).  Anyone lucky enough to be supported by our mom knows just how lucky they are.  Over the years our family connected with countless people who Marla had cared for during their time of need.  Patients and their families became beloved people in her life, often regularly following up with her for many years to come.   Our mom TRULY cared about each and every person who was in her charge.  And let us tell you, clinical social work isn’t for the faint of heart. Our mom was a rock, often a shoulder to lean on or cry on, for people during their difficult times.  She advocated and fought for her patients, all the while offering kindness and respect to everyone she encountered.

Over the years, we had the opportunity to get to know many of her colleagues well.  From doctors to nurses, to orderlies and other social workers, we learned that our mom was a true superhero.  Doctors would call her at home to follow up on a patient, knowing that they would be better off calling at night with important information instead of waiting until the next day.  Those who know our mom understand the kind of devotion that she has maintained with her work.

And, let us not forget, her mentorship.  Over the years our mom has mentored and supported too many social workers and students to name.  She LOVED this.  It would take hours of her unpaid time, but she passionately guided and helped the newcomers to the office become the talented professionals that they are today.  In particular, our mom has always been incredibly protective of the young women who have entered the workforce.  Her love for the “younger generation” was endless.  Helping other women find a balance between work and home and everything in between was something she cared about deeply.  To this day, she has colleagues who are in constant need of her support.  She offers it with a complete and open heart.  

If it isn’t obvious enough yet, we are very, very proud of her!  To add, this is the second pandemic that she has worked through.  Her experience with SARS, though very scary, was invaluable on this round.  

As we celebrate our mother and all her incredible achievements,  there is another side to today as well.  Our mother is retiring today because she felt had to. She believed she didn’t have a choice. 

Over the last decade, our mom has felt drained and pushed around by the leadership at the hospital.  As someone who showed up to each work day with her best possible attitude, she felt incredibly depleted by the workplace politics and power trips. One would think that this exhaustion would come from the years of hard work, but in fact, her patients bring her joy, and helping them energizes her.

While we are disappointed that her clinical career, that spanned almost 50 years, is concluding this way, we know it will come as a great relief to our mom to not have so much stress at this point in her life.  

We are sharing this information with our mom’s permission.  She was ok with us doing so because she cares. Maybe someone will read this and see the compassionate place that it is coming from.  So many individuals have retired in recent months and years feeling the same way.  And there are many others who are too scared to speak out.

The workplace that our mother entered in 1985 was clearly ahead of its time, with strong and capable leadership and good people steering the ship.  Colleagues looked after each other and operated in a caring environment that encouraged and supported team work. There was little or no drama and tight bonds were formed that have lasted to today. There was no room for immature behaviour or pettiness.  We are sad to say that it seems that today’s leadership in the current organization has a lot of work to do to maintain a basic level of respect and integrity.  The pandemic threw this observation into technicolour.  It was very clear to us that our level headed and hard working mom did not feel safe working there anymore.  At 70, she was not willing to risk her health to be working in person (factoring in everything currently going on in the world), knowing the potential for danger. Our mom has worked because she wanted to, not because she had to.  Thankfully she was in a position where she could have an easier time making this decision.

Even with that said, today is still a day to celebrate.  A career like this one had a lot more ups than downs.  And yet, our mom still has passion in her.  She is not ready to stop and actually retire. She has decided to set up her own, private practice to support patients and their families who need expertise with aging and later life transitions.  And yes, we will continue to brag about her.

Mom, you truly led by example.  We absorbed so much of your goodness over the years just by watching you in action.  You taught us to open our eyes fully and help when we can.  Your WAZE is always set to the high road, which is probably why you got as far as you did.  

Wishing you a giant mazel tov.  May we all continue to learn from you and be blessed with such long and fulfilling careers.  May others still get to benefit from your great wisdom and compassion for years to come.  May you find the balance between offering that support and doing every single thing that you love.  We are so lucky to have you. 






I Took the Plunge

Plunge

I took the first step. My toe touched the water. Then one foot was immersed. Wow, that’s cold. Okay, keep going, I said to myself. The second foot went in. And I stopped. It was boiling hot outside, and I felt cooler with just my feet lapping the water. But I had to go on. I took a few steps in to the lake, until first my knees were covered then my thighs. I looked around at the deep lake beyond and knew I had to go on. It was cold. Very cold. I don’t like cold water. But I was determined to go further. I had to take the plunge – all the way in.

This is not some vivid dream I had this summer or a parable out of some book of legends. This was me, last week, as I stood on the water’s edge, by the lake, in the mountains, right here in Canada.

For most of this summer, okay most summers, I’m happy to sit on the sidelines, relaxed on a lounger, and watch others swim and splash in the lake. I don’t love cold water, but really that’s not the reason I avoid it. For me, and I am going to throw it out there – for many people – it’s easier to sit and watch, to let someone else do it, to stay away from risk, to keep the status quo. I could describe it ten other ways. Basically, it’s harder to take the plunge and go in the water than to stay on the shore.

Back to my first steps into the lake last week. I had been thinking about taking the plunge for a while. I sit at a desk all day working, and I spend most of my evening in the kitchen. It bothered me that I wasn’t very active, and I watched many people around me find time every day to cycle, run, hike, and yes, swim. I had to do something about that. I had to act.

I waited for a hot day, and into the lake I stepped. Slowly. One foot in front of the other. I kept thinking to myself, what am I doing? Am I crazy? It’s freezing! There are better ways to be active. I almost turned around many times. I stood in the lake, submerged to my waist, for a long time. Finally, I gained my composure, and yes, I took the plunge.

I went in. It was freezing cold. I screamed. I cursed. Then I calmed down, and I swam. I kept moving, and it was exhilarating. After a few minutes the cold didn’t bother me. I kept swimming, all the way to the raft that lives a short distance from our dock. I was out of breath and took a break when I reached the raft. Wow, I was out of shape. I gained some strength, turned around, and I swam back to our dock.

I emerged from the water triumphant. I did it! And I felt great. That moment of exhilaration, when I took the plunge, was very meaningful. It made me pause and think about who I am, what I do, and the choices I make. And it made me want to swim again!

Since that moment, I have taken the plunge, into the lake, for a swim, every day. My confidence builds every day (as I close my rings on my iWatch too!). But that moment, the first dip in the lake, has pushed me to take the plunge to do more than just take a swim in cold water. It made me realize that it’s hard to accomplish anything if I’m just sitting there, on the sidelines. Yes, it’s easy to be stagnant, to relax on a comfy chair and live with the status quo. But is that what I really want?

Clearly, the answer is no. This plunge into the lake helped me raise up my voice, assertively, and take steps towards some life goals and career goals, How can I take on more responsibility, do the work I want to do, or work with the people I want to work with, if I don’t take the plunge and tell people how I feel and what I want? I’m not a shy person, but when it comes to my personal growth, I admit, I am often quiet and reserved. It’s not that I always put others ahead of myself, but I’m hesitant, even anxious sometimes, to act.

If I’m comfortable, I stay put. Sometimes that’s okay, but my plunge into the lake reminded me that I need to take a cold refreshing swim more often. It’s worth it. How will I know until I try it? I tried it. I took the plunge. Into the lake. Into my work, and my life. And I’m loving it. I encourage everyone to take a plunge of some kind. It’s worth it.

plunge
I started to paddle board too every day, with my dog!

Women Run Circles around the Men

If you know me, or if you follow my blog, you know that I’m a sports fan. It’s a topic I love to write about, from baseball to hockey to football and basketball. Skiing. Tennis. And of course, the Olympics. Yes I admit it. I love the Olympics. I love to watch the Olympics, whether it’s the winter or summer games. I can’t get enough of it. For the past week and a half I have closely followed the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but what has piqued my interest the most are the Canadian women.

I am a person who defines myself in many ways. When I ask myself who I am, I never have a simple answer. Of course I am a mother and a wife. I’m a daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, cousin, friend. I am a writer and communications leader. But I’m also a woman. I’m a woman with a voice, often a loud voice.

My career has been shaped, in part, by choices that I made as a woman. I turned down a promotion, and raise, when my son turned one, so that I could work part-time and be with him. I was laid off from a job during a supposed reorganization weeks after I returned from a year-long maternity leave with my older daughter. I lost another job while I was on maternity leave with my third child!

I learned years ago that I couldn’t do it all. Kudos to the women who find a way to do it all, but for most of us, we need to make choices. If I wanted to be with my children when they were babies, it meant my career slowed down, or at times, paused. If I want to push myself all the way now at work, it means time away from my kids. So many women feel this pull, as they push forward with a career and raise a family.

So, back to where I began and my love of the Olympics. I’m not going to make excuses for that. There are many reasons why the Olympics may be past their prime and need to be rethought for our 21st century society. The cost to plan and execute the games is absurd. Venues are built that often fall into a state of decay a few years later. The lives of the locals are put on hold when the world arrives in their town. Quite frankly, the Olympic games are rather unpopular.

The Olympics has never been less popular than the 2020 games (yes, happening in 2021). Even I, a long-time fan, had my doubts. But, I woke up at 6:30 am back on July 23rd, to watch the opening ceremonies on TV. As soon as the countdown began to the live event, at 7:00 am my time, I was hooked. I watched the athletes march out, each with a woman and man holding their country’s flag, together. I heard the commentators state that Team Canada has about an equal number of men and women this time. There was a feeling in the air that it was an Olympics that wouldn’t just be defined by a global pandemic but also the strength, determination and power of great women.

Before even one game was played or one race run, women made headlines around the world. Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold won an appeal to compete, since she chose to have a baby during the qualifying period. But it wasn’t only Bujold who got a chance to compete. She changed the rules so that in the future, women who are pregnant or postpartum during qualifying will have a chance to compete.

Then there’s Kim Gaucher and her baby, Sophie. She appealed – and won her case – to bring her infant with her to the Olympics so that she could nurse her daughter.  And don’t forget the Norwegian women’s beach handball team who were fined for not wearing bikinis at a European Federation event. It went viral on social media and was not actually connected to the Olympics, but it brought up the role of uniforms for women in sport.

And once the games began, Canadian women are lighting it up. As I write this blog, Team Canada has won 3 gold, 4 silver and 7 bronze medals. How many have been won by women? Thirteen. Do the math. 3 + 4 + 6 = 13. With the exception of the great Andre de Grasse who won a bronze medal in the 100 metre sprint), all the medals have been won by women. I do not want to discount the hard work and incredible effort and achievements by our Canadian men. Just being at the Olympics is an achievement. A top 10 finish is amazing. And how about a fourth place finish? Two one-hundredths of a second in a race can separate an athlete from a medal and fourth place.

But let’s go back to the incredible achievement of our Canadian women. Like me, every one of Canada’s female athletes has a story and define themselves in many ways. Some are wives or mothers. They may be students or professionals. And they are all Olympic athletes. It would be hard to find another sporting event around the world where women are adored and celebrated like they are at the Olympic games.

I watched as the Canadian team rowed and raced in the Women’s-Eight event. I was in awe as they pushed themselves to the brink of exhaustion and stayed ahead of the competition from the moment their ores hit the water. This amazing group won gold. They come from diverse backgrounds and came together as one strong team to achieve greatness – while the world watched.

Canadian women are making their mark in the pool, as they swim and dive. Weight lifting. Softball. Judo. And of course rowing. But they are really making their mark on Canadian women – and girls. We are reading about them on the internet. We are watching them achieve greatness on TV. And we are talking about them at home. The story in Canada right now is just how great our female athletes are. These Olympic games are pushing women into the headlines, as we celebrate them every day.

On the weekend the Summer Olympic Games will come to an end. Many of the women who became household names this week will return home, some to train at school, or back to work or hug their kids. It is my hope that we keep the momentum going, to encourage our daughters to be their version of an Olympian. Maybe our girls will be baseball stars, or concert pianists or become a doctor or teacher or write an award-winning novel.

Or maybe win a gold medal at the Olympic games.  Or just compete at the Olympics. And I’ll be there to watch. Every time.

Blueberry Fields Forever

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This afternoon, as usual, I was heads down in work. I have a very busy, and often challenging job, which I love, but sometimes I am so focused on my task at hand, as I jump from virtual meeting to meeting and file to file, that I forget to pause, to look up, to take a break. Like millions of people around the world, for the past 16 months my home is my office, and my office is my home. It’s sometimes hard to separate the two sides of my life. On days when work is particularly busy or, I’ll just say it, demanding and stressful, it can envelop me. I forget that something sweet, and relaxing, and mentally healthy is just steps away: the blueberry patch.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there have been many research studies, papers published and articles written on the virtual workplace or how to balance work and home life, or for women in particular, the tremendous stress we often feel to perform at work and take care of our family. I openly admit that I have a lot on my plate. I love that I have a job where I am respected for my experience and skills, where communications is playing a central role to materially contribute to the success of the business and I am given an opportunity to write almost every day. But as I sit in my home office, when does the work day start and end, and when – and how – can I find time for me? How can I refresh and feel good about myself?

The first way I’ve done that is to escape the city in the summer. I recognize that I am very fortunate that I can do this. I’ve spent the past few weeks living – and working – from my husband’s family country home deep in the mountains in Quebec. I am mere feet away from a beautiful (yet freezing cold!) expansive lake, where the air is fresh and the sunsets are magical. While I work most days from dawn to dusk, when I remember to look up, I see a magical vista. But I rarely take a break.

Today I actually walked away from work and took a short break this afternoon. Which brings me to the blueberry patch. I am surrounded by wild blueberries here. Some years the land is barren, and finding just one blueberry is a challenge. But this year, with our warm spring, that had just enough rain, the conditions were perfect for the patches surrounding the house to bloom and grow. My husband and I, along with his mother, were on a mission last week to pick enough blueberries to have a pie on the weekend (my pie post is for another day. My husband bakes the BEST pie. I am not exaggerating.). I joined them in the evening, after I stopped working for the day, when I was often exhausted. We succeeded. We picked those blueberries and wow was it worth it.

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Some of what we’ve picked the past few days.
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My slice of pie last weekend. Heavenly.

This week we’re on a mission to pick some more, to have enough for him to bake yet another blueberry pie. But this week is different. I looked up at my stunning view early this afternoon – at the mountains, and the lake, even my filthy dog who flitted past the window as she stalked another chipmunk – and I saw the blueberry patch. I decided that I deserved a break. It was healthy for me to walk away from my work and clear my head, in the blueberry patch.

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Selfie in the blueberry patch today!

And that’s exactly what I did. I stood up, grabbed a plastic container and walked into the centre of a huge patch of gleaming bright blue berries. As I sat there (yes I sit in the dirt when I pick blueberries!), in no time I released all stress from my body. It was easy to pick each blueberry, with so many of them clumped together on their delicate branches. I’m careful to only pick the blue ones though. The very immature green berries sit closely packed in beside the maturing purple and fully mature blue.

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In about 20 minutes I had picked about ¾ of a cup of blueberries and it was time to return to work. I felt a sense of accomplishment, that I had contributed to our next pie, and that I did something healthy for myself with a short break, outside. And yes, I had a little snack too. I mean really, how can I not eat just a few as I pick?

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Even my dog can’t resist a blueberry treat!

The wild blueberry patch is a bit of a legend within my husband’s family. Picking the most blueberries is a competition some years, and licking your plate clean after you have consumed your piece of wild blueberry pie is a must.

For me, the wild blueberry patch is an escape. It energizes me and makes me feel happy. I learned today that it’s an important part of my work day. I work better and am more productive when I walk away and take a break. As I think about it, the blueberry patch is a metaphor for a mental health break while we work in our homes. It is sweet, healthy, and just steps away.

Three Kids. Three Provinces.

three kids

I have spent almost every moment of almost every day of the past 16 months with my husband and three kids. And our dog. The global pandemic has shown me, more than ever, the value of family. I feel fortunate that I have a great job where I am surrounded by smart, thoughtful people, and that I have close, wonderful friends who have my back, but really, the centre of my world is my family. That’s why July 2021 is so unique. For the first time in over a year, my family has spread out across Canada. I have three kids, and they are in three provinces.

My life, like that of so many people, changed on March 11th, 2020, when the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Within 72 hours my office closed, the children’s school made plans to switch to online learning and everything around us shut their doors, from the ski hill to the local library to small shops in our neighbourhood. We hid inside our homes, into the safety of our four walls and warm embrace of our families.

The fact that I had a comfortable home, surrounded by my husband and three kids, was not lost on me. Even a year into the pandemic, when online learning continued and there was still no end in sight to Ontario’s lockdown, my three kids kept me sane. Okay, sometimes insane too, when they refused to go to bed or clean up toys or give me just a few minutes of quiet. I got used to this new reality, of life with my family 24/7.

By the middle of May I was fortunate to receive my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Case counts slowly started to drop and summer plans were on my mind. Would summer camp happen? Could we spend some time at our family country homes in Ontario and Quebec? Would the children ever leave the house again?

Our hopes were dashed when Camp Kadimah had to close for another season. But things quickly looked up when my sister and her husband invited Matthew, our eldest, to spend some of the summer with them in New Brunswick. I mean really, how could I say no when someone is offering to take my kid for weeks?

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Matthew’s view this summer

Child #1: Check. Going to New Brunswick.

Julia, my older daughter, HAD to go to camp. Any camp. She joined forces with the first friend she made at Kadimah, and we signed the girls up for overnight camp in Ontario.

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Child #2: Check. Going to overnight camp in Ontario.

Overnight camps don’t take 5-year-olds, nor does my sister. And as I personally had coined the phrase when I was younger… Little persons have to be with their parents, I knew that no matter where I went, Nessa would be with me. If our offices were still closed and the summer was coming, then off to Quebec we would go, to my husband David’s ancestral country home, deep in the mountains by the lake.

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Child #3: Check. Going to the country house in Quebec.

And that is how our summer story came to be: three kids. In three provinces. Matthew is living it up in New Brunswick, by the sea. He is eating new and exciting foods, he is attempting to be flexible, living with many boys, and he’s learning how to sail on the ocean. Julia is experiencing life at a different camp, closer to home, and it’s definitely an adjustment. And for our youngest, well, so far it’s the Summer of Nessa. She’s it, and she knows it. She’s lucky that she’s so cute.

three kids Three kids

We are just about one week into our full summer plans, and I feel really blessed. It all began on my birthday last week, when I woke to a mini celebration of a homemade breakfast, with cheesecake (yum!), and birthday presents. Then our road trip began, as we dropped Julia at her camp then drove east to Ottawa.

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I can’t remember the last time I had stayed at a hotel. It was a bit of a surreal experience, as we walked into an eerily empty lobby and checked in. There was but one valet and one concierge on site. I could count the guests on one hand. It was so quiet that the cheesy phrase, you could hear a pin drop, was true.

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Here’s Nessa’s first political ad.

three kidsWe enjoyed a quiet evening and leisurely morning in Ottawa (including breakfast at a great patio, with our dog), then we were back in the car and over the border into Quebec. There is a wonderful feeling that I get as our car climbs into the mountains and we make our way to our hidden gem of a country house. It’s like our car knows all the curves in the road as we travel through the countryside. The anticipation of the arrival is as wonderful as the actual arrival. As our car turns into the driveway and we see the decades-old, kind of rickety house, and the spectacular lake in front of us, we are filled with a sense of great joy.

three kids

three kids

And so here I am, on a warm summer afternoon, sitting by the lake and thinking about how not long ago I was surrounded by my three kids, locked down in Toronto. Could I have imagined that in July they would be spread across Canada, from Ontario to Quebec to New Brunswick, each experiencing their own unique summer? I am thankful to everyone who helped me make this happen. Three kids. In three provinces. I wonder where we will be next summer.

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My view as I write

Fifty Years of a Golden Life and Love

Love

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

This is the song that played as my  mother walked down the aisle, 50 years ago today, the day she married my father. June 10th, 1971. A different age. A different world. Could they have known on this day what kind of future lay ahead for them, for their family or their lives?

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The all important wedding photo with the parents.

This blog post is not a historical perspective of the past 50 years, nor is it the text of a speech that I would have shared, with a group of family and friends, had the world not been what it is today. My intent here is to share some highlights, thoughts and memories of a most wonderful love story, of a close intimate friendship, of two people.

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The Montreal Jewish community of the 1950’s and 1960’s was vibrant and growing, and from stories shared with me by my grandparents, I feel like everyone knew each other. Whether you lived in Côte Saint-Luc or NDG or Westmount or TMR, people were connected. My parents first met as children through a friendship my father made with my mother’s brother, and they found each other again years later, as teenagers.

LoveLike so many couples who stay together for many years, I firmly believe that their 50-year marriage is based on a strong foundational friendship. And a good sense of humour. Okay, a love of music too. Maybe also that one loves to cook and the other loves to clean (guess which one?).

And a commitment to family. On this point you may say to me, come on Alicia, of course family. But for them, the commitment to family has always been something central to everything they do. It’s extra special.

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Wow, the hair, and the green shag carpet.

1977. Yep, the baby is me!
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Early eighties in St. Agathe

So, my parents, Marla and Barry, got married on June 10th 1971. That was a Thursday, just like 2021. In 1971, a postage stamp was 8 cents, and the latest song playing on the radio was Joy to the World. The Montreal Canadiens had just won the Stanley Cup (will they do that again this year?). They honeymooned in Europe, as they road tripped through England and France. My mother often recalls tales of the road, in particular strange stories of my father’s driving prowess across England.

They returned to Montreal ready to start their life together, in a small rental apartment. Even before they had children, as a couple in their early twenties, family was important to them. Whether it was a quick hello to my mother’s parents who lived a few blocks away or a weekend at my father’s parents’ country house, staying close to those they loved always mattered. They were always surrounded by their large families, from siblings to parents to grandparents, aunts, uncles and tons and tons of cousins.

My brother, Neil, was born a couple of years later, the first baby of the generation for our grandparents. My parents stretched themselves to buy the famous house on Avenue Méridian, that I think is the house they loved more than any other they have lived in (in the city) during their 50-year marriage.

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I never knew my mother gardened.

I came along a couple of years later, just a few weeks after my parents made the BIG move to Toronto, in 1976. They left behind their whole world, of family and friends, really the only world they ever knew. When Neil and I were little children, in the late 1970’s in Toronto, our parents built a whole new life for themselves, with new jobs, a new house, and many close friends. We had visits from our extended family in Montreal, but for the most part, in those first few years in Toronto, it was just us. They had started to build their own family, in their newly adopted city. And they always had each other.

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1980. Party of Five. Now that’s a good looking young family.

Our family grew again the year I turned four, when Darcie was born. My mother often reminds me of the days leading up to Darcie’s birth, when I, aged 3, looked at my mother and said…”I will love the baby, even if it’s a boy.”

Well, the baby girl, who my parents always called sweet, quiet, smiley and easygoing, grew to be the little sister I had asked for. The three kids were not a quiet group. The Richler family definitely had a reputation of being loud and sometimes boisterous (okay, Neil not so much, he was just the referee!), and we were always surrounded by tons of family and close friends.

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Happy, and….
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…Just a bit silly.

My parents raised us in a loving and warm home, where we were always encouraged, but not pushed, to be the best we could be. My mother was always my role model of how a woman could have a career and raise a family, and also have her own hobbies and passions. My father has always been the person I look up to as a mensch, as someone so highly regarded by his family, friends and peers. He has inspired me to be ambitious, but always to be honest and decent.

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That’s a great picture of me and my parents!

 

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Chanukah 2019

Were we the postcard Canadian family of the 1970’s and 1980’s? Maybe sometimes. Has everything been perfect for my parents for the past 50 years? Absolutely not. Do they fight? Of course they do, and yes, there can be screaming sometimes. But it’s a marriage founded on mutual respect and

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Summer 2010, with two new babies

friendship. They have raised three kids, celebrated Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and weddings and welcomed eight grandchildren into the world. But they’ve also buried their parents, my mother’s brother and had to say good bye to countless friends over the years. They have seen the best of the world and the worst of the world over the last five decades.

And I believe today, on June 10th, 2021, that their marriage is stronger than ever. They still love music festivals and a nail biter hockey or baseball game. My mother still cooks some of the best food I have ever tasted, and my father is always by her side to eat that food and clean up after (and to vacuum too!). Their country house, that they built over 30 years ago, is still their favourite place on Earth. Bad jokes make them laugh. Chocolate makes them smile. Their grandchildren are central to everything they do. Their dogs, first Oscar and now Teddy, bring them both the greatest joy every day. And family is at the core of who they are.

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I feel fortunate that I could write this post today, as my parents celebrate their special milestone anniversary. Fifty years may have gone by, but the commitment they made and the love they share today is as strong as ever.

Love

 

Today is the Day After International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

March 8th is an important day on the calendar. Not only is it my paternal grandmother’s birthday (she would have turned 96 this year), but it’s also designated as International Women’s Day (IWD). It is significant that this day is marked around the world. But… I believe there is a more important day for women – March 9th, the day after International Women’s Day.

My husband reminded me of this yesterday. I told him all about how my employer, ADP Canada, celebrated women on IWD, and we discussed the Insights Survey released by ADP entitled, Workplace Gender Gap Hits Home. He said to me, “Just like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day,” don’t you care more about every day except that day?” And I realized, he’s right. Let me explain.

I have always told my family and friends that I did not need any specific day designated on the calendar to tell them how I feel. Take Mother’s Day. I should show love and gratitude to my mother every day. Or Valentine’s Day. I don’t need a special day of the year to tell those I love most that I love them. I should feel compelled to show my love, devotion and appreciation every day of the year.

In particular, I have always felt that the day after a special or designated day is most important. It’s the day the merchandise on the stores shelves is gone, replaced by items that represent the next one. Or it’s the day when we don’t see posts on social media or headlines in newspapers. It’s not that people forget, but it’s not top of mind anymore.

I feel this is particularly the case for International Women’s Day. I respect and honour this significant day on the calendar. And I am proud to celebrate on March 8th. But today, on March 9th, is the day I am choosing to write about it. And maybe tomorrow, and the next day too. Celebrating women is something dear to me. And celebrating the great boys and men around me, who help raise me up, and who have guided me and mentored me to be the woman I am today, well that matters too. The world is made up of women AND men, and I feel we will all succeed if we support, and celebrate each other.

As I have written here before, my career began in sports radio. I can’t remember how many people worked in the sports department at the radio station, producing shows, as on-air hosts and reporting sports news. But I do remember that they were ALL men. Well, except me. That’s right – I was the ONLY woman on the team at this all-sports radio station. And I have only kind, wonderful things to say about the few dozen men who I worked with there. I was never looked at as being different, because I was a woman. I was respected for my intellect, my hard work and my dedication to stepping up and being part of the group.

I felt the same respect when I worked on the assignment desk in sports television, and when I pivoted my career into communications. I count both women and men among the people who raised me up, taught me new skills and reminded me that I’m smart.

And what’s important is that all of the wonderful women and men who I have worked with throughout my career celebrated me, as a woman, every day. Not just on March 8th. I want women to know that it’s their right to speak up and speak out every day. They deserve to achieve whatever career – and personal goals – they wish. And they deserve to be celebrated every day for their achievements. They deserve to work in an environment that promotes equity and equality, every day.

The theme for IWD 2021 is #ChoosetoChallenge. So here is my challenge to you: celebrate the wonderful women in your life today, March 9th. And tomorrow, and the next day. Raise them up. Tell them that they are great and they can achieve anything they put their mind to. And when we cycle around to March 8th, 2022, remind them again.

Thank you to everyone in my life who have reminded me that as a woman I can do anything. You can too!