Finding Meaning on a Day to Atone

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I am not a deeply religious person. I had a rather traditional upbringing, was educated at a  Jewish Day School and attended synagogue with my family on a relatively regular basis. We observed Judaism to the best of our ability, and I have brought my various experiences and beliefs along with me throughout my life. This time of year has always been a challenge for me, with so many Jewish holidays packed in together, mixed in with the changing seasons and new school year. People pass around sweet New Year’s greetings, a wish to be inscribed in the Book of Life and a hope to find meaning as we atone and start fresh again.

Every year, as I receive countless kind holiday greetings from family and friends, I always take an extra moment to think and sometimes question why I am asked to find meaning in this time of year. It seems like an abstract word to me as it can be understood in so many ways. I usually just ponder the word for a few minutes then move along with my day, but this year I can’t get the word out of my head.

How can a holiday, one day or one experience bring meaning to my life? Does it affect me in a positive or negative way? Do I have to take any specific actions in order to find meaning? Can one only find true meaning during Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) if you go to synagogue and pray?

My husband and I decided to not attend synagogue this year during the High Holidays and instead chose to stay at home with our children. We have had a challenging year. While we are headed in a positive (and I think exciting!) direction, when we had to make the decision during the summer to purchase synagogue tickets, we felt that our hearts just weren’t in it. Would we find meaning in praying among family and friends or would find that true meaning at home, with our children? The choice was easy.

Now that those two holidays are over I can reflect on the decision to stay home this year, and I don’t regret it. I have never connected on an emotional level, in a meaningful way, sitting (or standing) in a synagogue. Prayer has not come naturally to me and has not uplifted me spiritually. With the kind of year I have had, often feeling overwhelmed or deeply stressed, I knew that what was best for me – and my family – was to take some time at home.

On Tuesday afternoon I browsed through countless Facebook posts as people prepared for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is not supposed to be enjoyable and relaxing. It is a day of denial – no food, no bathing, for example – so you can reflect and start fresh. You think about what you have done wrong, how you may have wronged people and hope for forgiveness. Some people are able to find that meaning through prayer, but again, that is not the case for me. I find meaning in my life and am able to reflect on my life by spending time by myself, in a quiet place, or by writing.

And on Wednesday I found meaning as I sat around the dining room table with my husband and children as we played a board game. She did what? On Yom Kippur she sat at home in her sweatpants and played board games? That’s right I did, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I spend so much of my life running around, chasing my children, balancing schedules or yelling at one person or another. Life seems to be go go go. But this year, on Yom Kippur, instead of dressing up, forcing my kids out the door and making everyone stay quiet at synagogue, we just stayed home and spent quality time together. I literally had nothing to do but be with my family, talk to them, laugh with them and enjoy their company.

And while I did not attend synagogue, I did strictly observe the rest of the Day of Atonement. I denied myself food for 25 hours, and it was definitely tough. My body is not used to fasting, and at times I felt tired and a bit unwell. But as the day wore and I had time to think about my life and the choices I make. I found meaning.

I don’t know what the next year will bring for me and my family. My children have all embarked on a new year of school, David is balancing various offers to consult on exciting projects and I am a few weeks in to a new and very demanding job.

As we move into that new year I want to say I am sorry to anyone who I may have hurt or offended this past year. I wish you all a year of success and may you find meaning in your life as well.

A Wonderland as A Tourist in My Own City

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I am going to whine a bit today. My father would refer to what I am writing about as first world problems. The company where I am now working hosted a family day at the local amusement park this weekend. This amusement park is a wonderland for children, with every kind of ride and flavour of junk food imaginable. I knew my children would love to go and a day at this place is dreamy for them. I also knew that a day at this place was my idea of a terrible nightmare. What to do? Do I tell them? Do I hide it and spend a lazy day at home? Or do I sign up and just do it.

I did it. I signed up and we went. In theory, a visit to this amusement park, Canada’s Wonderland, on a September weekend should be a bit quieter. Children are back at school and the weather is often not great. But summer just goes on and on for us this year, and my luck, it was sunny and over 30 degrees. The whole city showed up.

You know that sinking feeling when you finally rev yourself up and get excited to go somewhere and arrive to a chaotic scene? That was me when our car drove into the massive parking lot. Cars were parked from end to end, what seemed like thousands of them. We circled for a while and grabbed a great spot. I am sure that just having my son Matthew in the car guarantees me a good parking spot, but that story is for another day.

We got out of the car and immediately felt the beating hot sun on us. It was so hot outside that I could feel the sweat starting to bead on my neck and my shorts stick to my thighs in seconds. I threw hats on the kids’ heads, organized my backpack of supplies and dumped the baby in the stroller. Off we went into the park for a day at a child’s wonderland and an adult’s bad dream come alive.

The moment I walked through the park’s gate I wanted to turn around and leave. My throat was already parched. The beads of sweat had turned into a steady stream of water dripping down my neck and back. I was tired just from the walk from my car to the main entrance. My children and niece, who joined us for the day, even my husband, looked perky and excited. What did I get myself into?

Organizing the logistics for six people, all different ages and sizes, at Canada’s Wonderland, is a challenge. Matthew’s dream finally came true this year and he hit the magic number: 54. That is 54 inches tall, so that he qualifies to go on ANY ride. Julia, with shoes and puffy hair, hit another magic number: 48. That means she can go on almost any ride. Nessa, at 32 inches, is a bit more limited. I am 62 inches so it means I can go on any ride, but catch me going upside down and loop-de-loop. No way.

Every time we go to this wonderland it takes us a while to get in the groove, find our way around and do no more than stand at the entrance and yell at each other. Some want to go on a roller coaster and others want to start with a gentle ride. The baby would be happy to just run around in circles and maybe play with a cardboard box. I personally voted to run fast to the exit and head home.

We finally agreed on a simple ride that most could go on, and of course, it had broken down. So the older two headed for a roller coaster while we took the younger two girls to a gentle kiddie ride: the swans. The line didn’t seem too long on first glance, but it doesn’t move. We stood there, in the blaring hot sun with no shade in sight for about 5 minutes then had enough. Why does it take so long to strap a child into a giant swan-shaped boat?

We finally found another gentle ride for the girls with a reasonably short line and they were happy. Then we zoomed across the park to partake in a free buffet lunch. I didn’t care what the lunch was – all I cared was that it was free. A slice of pizza at this place is almost $8! And the line-ups for food? Oh my gosh. I would rather go hungry than stand in line for 30 minutes for low quality food.

After we filled ourselves with our free low-quality food, at least in a relatively cool covered area, it was back to the masses. We ate lunch in the corner of an area called Medieval Times, with castle architecture and all. But to get to the next ride we had to walk through the Oktoberfest celebrations. Imagine a huge area filled with picnic tables and hundreds of people drinking beer. At the centre of it all was a stage with a pair of middle aged men dressed in lederhosen on it, singing their version of popular music. And they were totally tone deaf. I tried my best to push through the crowds of drunk people who clearly didn’t notice the loud off-key music.

Back to the long lines for rides we went on. Have you ever noticed the very strong odor that people emit when they are crowded together in a long line on a hot day? The smell permeates everywhere and gets worse as the day goes on. I will say that at least, for the most part, the people standing in line for kiddie rides are pleasant and provide good entertainment during the long wait. They all smell bad but we smile through it all together.

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We made efficient use of seats on a ride and got all four in together

Winner of the oddest moment of the day came when I stood in line with my two-year-old for the toddler train ride. You stand in line for at least 20 minutes (this line is at least in the shade) so you can cram your adult behind into a kiddie-sized seat on a mini train and travel for 6 minutes along a slow track at 15 kilometers per hour. We all stood patiently in line with our small children until we made our way to the front. I chatted in a friendly manner with the woman ahead of me, who was in line by herself. I figured she was a smart one and was waiting in line alone while her child (or children) went on another ride. But no one had arrived when we arrived at the  front of the line.

The operator of the ride opened the gate for the woman to enter and stopped her when she clearly didn’t have a child with her. He explained that adults HAD to have a child with them in order to ride the mini train. Had to? Of course they do. Who would want to go on this ride unless they had a child with them? This woman laughed sheepishly and I was faced with a decision: do I look the other way and have him send her on her way or do I smile and invite her to join us? I invited her to join us. Yes, very strange, but she was pleasant and friendly and sang along with Nessa during our six-minute ride. We all yelled “choo choo” together.

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I survived the antique car with the two-year-old at the wheel

Since I only dare to step foot in this wonderland up to once per year, we always stay the whole day, until it’s dark and closed. The day wore on and eventually the heat subsided and the crowds thinned just a little. My eleven-year-old went on his first “adult-only” ride. The eight-year-old went on her first real roller coaster. And the baby experienced her first ever amusement park rides, long lines, sweaty people and all.

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Selfie on a swan with Matthew age 11
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Selfie on a swan in the same spot with Matthew, age 2

Once it was dark outside and the park lights were on we finally lumbered our way, with the thundering hordes, to the exit. On cue, my son announced he was hungry. A random stranger stopped us and handed us his unused food vouchers, worth $20. The park was about to close and our food selection was limited. But the Starbucks, of course, was still open and with $20 in free snacks everyone chose a treat.

After a long, hot, sweaty and hectic day at my children’s wonderland, when every muscle in my body hurt and I smelled like week-old bread, we ended on a high. There’s nothing like caffeine and sugar to perk you up, especially when it’s free. Thanks again to that friendly stranger who handed over your vouchers. You made my day.

Reflections on a First Day

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The first for everything we experience in life is special. Sometimes it’s sensational or thrilling. And sometimes it can be scary or downright terrifying. Or maybe all of the above. The first day of spring brings with it the joy of warmth and growth. A child’s first word or first steps bring delight about the anticipation of a developing little human being. The first day of school comes with a mix of trepidation and excitement every year. The first day of a new job can be stressful, exhilarating and petrifying all at the same moment.

We experienced a few firsts this week in our family, and for sure there has been quite a mix of emotions.

Tuesday was the first day of school for many children across Canada. For my oldest two children it was the first day at the same school they have always known, but of course in the next grade. With every new school year there are changes and growth with elevated expectations for the child. There’s a new teacher, sometimes a new classroom and a few new students to meet. The child is nervous and jittery, and taking that step into the school hallway and into the classroom can be tough. My son ran away and barely waved good bye. My daughter got a bit teary-eyed as we walked away from her grade 3 classroom.

For my youngest, my baby, Nessa, it was literally her first day of school. She’s only going to preschool, but this is a huge step for such a tiny person. She has always been home with me or a caregiver, and this week represented the first time this little two-year-old went out into the world. Okay, she wasn’t walking the floor of the Stock Exchange or selling lottery tickets from a kiosk, but it was her first day out of the house, in a brand-new environment. That’s a big step for anyone, and she made it through like a champion. There were a few tears, but she perked up when she saw the baby dolls, plastic food, and so I’m told, lunch.

When Nessa’s tears began to flow at drop-off I swiftly gave her a kiss on her forehead and was out the door. She’s my third child, and I know how it goes. I remember the first time I dropped off my son at daycare when he was only 11 months old. He was my first child. I don’t know if he cried, but I did! I sobbed outside, on the steps of his daycare, feeling guilty that I had abandoned my child. By number three I sure didn’t feel this way and easily waved good bye and ran.

But I didn’t run home because on Tuesday I also experienced my first day. I didn’t go back to school but I started a new, full-time job. As I have written a number of times here in my blog, I have been on a journey the last two years to find the next steps on my career path. I established my own small business doing consulting and contract work in communications, and of course this blog. I wanted to figure out what’s best for me professionally, where I could bring value and contribute to an organization in a meaningful way.

It took me a while to figure it out and I definitely have hit some speed bumps over the last year. A few months ago I was offered a full-time position at a company where I was doing contract work, and it was the right fit. After a lot of planning, both logistically and mentally, Tuesday was my first day back at work full-time. It was an overwhelming day with more information thrown my way than I could ever absorb. But the first day turned into a second day on Wednesday. And it was much less overwhelming and much more productive and fulfilling.

So the first day is exciting and terrifying. The second day is a bit calmer and less scary. When we  get to the third, fourth, fifth day and beyond we get comfortable and confident. We will all experience many more firsts in life, and I hope they are as successful as the ones my family and I had this week.

Just in the Nick of Time

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I snagged a great parking spot yesterday. Do you know that wonderful feeling when you enter a parking lot that looks full, you turn the corner, and there, in front of you is a fabulous parking spot? That was me yesterday. I drove into the parking lot at the absolute perfect time, just after someone had left but before another car pulled in 30 seconds after me.

I firmly believe that much is determined in my life, or life in general, by doing something just in the nick of time. This idea came to me last month, during my trip to Scotland. Over a period of about 5 days, David and I road tripped all over central and northern Scotland. We zig zagged and crisscrossed this beautiful country and drove some big distances. Even though we were on vacation and were relaxed, we had to always keep track of time to ensure we arrived at each location when it was open or not over crowded.

There was one day of our trip, as we traveled from the sweet village of Braemar, deep in the Highlands in the Cairngorms National Park, all the way down to Edinburgh. I had packed a lot into our itinerary that day and was nervous that my plans could fall apart and topple over like dominos if the timing wasn’t right.

We woke up early and enjoyed a tasty homemade breakfast of fruit, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes at our bed and breakfast. We packed up the car and were on the road just after 9:00 am. This was day four of our trip, so by now we had figured out that roads don’t go straight in Scotland and that distances are much further than they look on a map. Put together windy twisty roads, driving on the other side of said roads, in a manual car and we definitely had some challenges. But with enough time, we knew it could all work.

We drove directly south from Braemar, through thick forests and mountains.  As the road continued to curve, we left forests and made our way through what I had always visualized was the true Scottish Highlands. We saw bare rocky mountainsides, with sheep grazing. The sun was shining and the sky was blue (okay not typical Scottish but it worked for me!). We even drove past a ski resort. I looked at my watch to check the time and told David to pull over so that I could take a photo of a chairlift, in the middle of Scotland.

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Packing up early that morning in front of our B&B
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I had to stop and take a photo.

Edradour

I jumped back in the car and we made our way to Edradour, a small, unique single malt Scottish whiskey distillery. We parked and walked into the visitor’s centre to enquire about joining a tour. The lady at the info desk said, “You arrived at the perfect time. Our next tour starts in about 10 minutes.” We bought our tickets and had just enough time to make our way leisurely to the tour meeting point.

After our tour, led by a most entertaining, plump and friendly guide who is definitely a bit of a lush (and a sample or two of the product), we got back in our car and continued south. We were heading into an area in central Scotland with so many sights to see that I knew we had to choose carefully. By now it was about noon and I knew that many attractions closed between 4-6 pm.

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Selfie with our whiskey before we left Edradour

Doune

We decided to make our way to Doune Castle, a fortress built in the 14th century by Robert Stuart, the Duke of Albany. I had read good reviews and also knew that Monty Python’s famous Holy Grail was filmed there. We entered the main courtyard just as a pair of “historic comedians” had begun a live action tale of the castle’s history. They were funny, witty and very entertaining. I learned a lot about 14th and 15th century Scotland and about the castle where I stood. We then toured the buildings and grounds and were back on our way again.

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We took a moment to get a photo of David outside Doune Castle
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These two were just hysterical and made our visit to Doune Castle very memorable.

Stirling

Our next stop, only 15 minutes down the road, was Stirling Castle. This famous, and enormous fortress, was the home of Scottish royalty for much of the 15th and 16th centuries and has a major historical significance because of its location along the River Forth. I didn’t know exactly what time it closed or when the last guided tour would be and was nervous as we pulled up in a busy parking lot around 3:45 pm. We found our way through the maze of people and asked about guided tours at the info desk. The friendly lady at the counter smiled at me and said, “You arrived at the perfect time. Our final tour of the day begins at the well at 4:00 pm. You have just enough time to make it there.”

And so we did. Our colourful guide started the just as we walked up to the meeting point at 4:00 pm and gave us a thorough behind-the-scenes tour of this spectacular castle. And just as our tour was coming to an end, as we stood beside the medieval chapel, we heard bagpipes blaring as a wedding was set to begin. Our tour group looked like the local paparazzi as they pulled out their smartphones to record the event.

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This is the entrance to Stirling Castle. Does your house look like that?

At this point it was 5:00 pm. We picked up a little snack and I felt great that we had toured three important places in central Scotland. We had more than enough time to make our way to Glasgow for the evening to have dinner with a new-found distant cousin. But David wasn’t ready for Glasgow. First, he wanted to drive over, just an 8 km drive, to the William Wallace Monument, to pick up a specific souvenir.

The Morning Star

I freaked out. I figured for sure it was already closed and we had visited this place a few days before when we first arrived. This monument is situated high up on the top of a hill that is accessed by foot or a rare shuttle bus that is inconsistent. David had seen his dream souvenir, an actual replica Morning Star, at the monument’s gift shop three days earlier and suddenly decided he had to have it. All my timing had gone well all day and it was about to fall apart.

I finally gave in and we drove the short distance to the monument’s base. I figured it would be closed and we could be on our way quickly. We arrived in the parking lot at about 5:45 pm and learned that it was open until 6:00. But there was no way we could hike back up to the monument in time. Oh, no problem, said the person at the info desk. She called the shuttle driver, and a moment later we had a private vehicle taking us up the mountain to the monument.

We got out of the vehicle at 5:55 pm and our driver said he’d be right back to bring us down the mountain. We walked into the gift shop and there it was, David’s Morning Star. Fifty Pounds later David had his precious souvenir, just as they were locking the doors. We walked outside and there was our driver, ready to take us back down. Talk about just in the nick of time.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner in Glasgow that night with our new-found Richler cousins, got a tour of the University of Glasgow then drove to the airport to return our car. Then we hopped on the last tram of the night to the city at 10:30 pm and pulled up to our hotel in Edinburgh around 11:00 pm.

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A photo with my Richler cousins, Sam and Emma, in Glasgow

We were exhausted and fell over soon after into a deep sleep. David and I had traveled a huge distance that day, with an ambitious itinerary, and we did it. We did it all, because time was on our side. Whether it’s arriving at an attraction, joining a tour or snagging that special parking spot, doing it in the nick of time feels great.

Music with Guitars and Fiddles and so Much More

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Some say that music can heal the soul. It has a special power to get the body moving but also keep it still. It makes our emotions come alive. I am lucky that music has been part of my life since I was child, from Creating Together toddler classes to piano lessons through my adolescence. I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur at all but can keep a tune, have decent pitch and can easily sight read almost any piece on the piano.

There are so many ways that music impacts our lives. My children have participated in classes, Making Music Together in particular, since infancy. The instructors remind us often how early exposure to music in children creates stronger neural connections in the brain and helps set them up for success later in life.  Learning an instrument is not only good for hand-eye coordination but it gives a person another way to express him or herself.

While I know many people who jump at every opportunity to attend a concert or download the latest hit song (or dare I say, buy a CD?), I am more of a fair-weather fan of musical events and recordings in general. I have attended my fair share of concerts and my iTunes account has a nice mix of downloads. A large percentage of my iTunes account is filled with Classical music, which has always helped get my kids to sleep or just calm me down.

Once in a while I grab the opportunity to hear live music, which is what I did this past weekend. Celebrating its 43rd year, the annual Summerfolk event in Owen Sound, Ontario is one to note on the calendar. For various reasons I was not able to attend for a number of years, but the stars aligned this year and I bought a ticket.

Founded in 1975 by a group of local artists on the shores of Georgian Bay, this festival has seen some of the most talented musicians from around the globe perform. But what draws me to this event are not the major performances but the whole atmosphere of the love of music and joy it brings to people of all ages.

My parents have been attending this annual summer festival since the early 1990’s. They have always embraced music of all genres and instilled in their children an appreciation of the art. This year I brought along my two daughters and my nephew, and the group of six of us, ranging in age from 2 to 70, took it all in together.

Music aside, what better way to spend a beautiful summer’s day than in a giant park, that’s covered in lush green grass, on the shores of one of Canada’s Great Lakes? While Summerfolk, at its core, is about music, it also celebrates artistic expression in general and the joy of summer.

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And Julia shows off another
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Nessa shows off one way to get the groove on
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Tons of visual arts as well for the kids.
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She’s always good for a smile, anywhere, anytime

Loaded up with our wagon that was filled with a dozen folding chairs, snacks and different changes of clothes (I really should have taken a photo of my father lugging it around), we wandered the grounds for almost 12 hours checking out all the event had to offer.

My favourite part of the day was when I sat on the grass at the main amphitheater stage with my girls, taking in a concert with well-known children’s performer, Fred Penner. When asked to sing a note, Nessa did. When the musicians clapped their hands, Julia joined in. While they were a bit antsy here and there, I could see that the music calmed them. They were focused on the tunes and the words and were taken in by the beautiful sounds all around them.

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It has Paw Patrol on it and it’s mini, but Julia found a way to play our ukulele.
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Nessa actively participated at Fred Penner’s concert
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Thanks Fred Penner for the photo. At how many concerts can a kid do this?

In the evening most of us crowded into the limestone amphitheater to listen to one set after another of music from Juno Award-winning musicians. Would my kids sit still? Would they cry or scream? I was ready to jump and leave at a moment’s notice. But when the music began to play and seemed to envelop us, everyone, from the two-year-old to the seventy-year-old, was mesmerized.

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Of course we had to take a selfie

We could feel the music, almost smell and taste it too. We watched people expertly play guitars, fiddles, harmonicas, drums, the piano and so much more. It was uplifting and calming. It definitely reached the depths of the soul. Music, especially good music, is wonderful.

Cute or Terrifying? Watching a Disney Movie

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I am not writing about a very original thought today, but this one has been nagging at my brain lately and I can’t get it out of my head. We have a large collection of Disney DVD’s in our house, with favourites ranging from classics like Snow White to eighties and nineties hits like The Little Mermaid to more recent blockbusters like Frozen. These movies have been viewed hundreds of times in our home and in some cases I probably could silently mouth the whole script.

In recent weeks, as most people dive deeper into the digital age and watch movies online or download from iTunes, we have revitalized our Blue Ray and DVD player and pulled out our collection of films. The first up was Aladdin. This movie, about the “street rat” turned prince thanks to a loveable genie, is classic Disney, and even though I’d seen it dozens of times I happily joined the family to watch it once more.

I forgot how utterly terrifying this movie is! Oh my gosh. So it all starts with the cute and entertaining narrator sequence. But soon we see Jafar, the sultan’s most trusted advisor but also an evil sorcerer, who is scheming about how he will take over Agrabah. Jump forward a few minutes to the Cave of Wonders when an innocent no-name character is swallowed up by a pile of sand that has seemingly come alive as a giant talking monster. Then our hero, Aladdin, is introduced, as he sings about living life on the street and stealing in order to eat. He’s definitely likeable and sweet, but he is called a street rat. That’s not so sweet.

Aladdin has all the Disney fairytale flare: one poor or unlucky person who dreams of having it all, and he (or she) falls in love with the one who does, in this case, a princess. They change it up a bit each time, but definitely this movie sticks to the formula. I smiled and enjoyed the magic carpet ride and every line that came out of the genie’s mouth. But between the people-eating sand-monster cave and Jafar’s antics near the end as he went from sorcerer to sultan to sorcerer to genie, that may give me nightmares, never mind my children.

And yet this movie, like all other Disney movies, is intoxicating. You want to watch it again and again, even though there are some scary parts that could put a horror movie to shame. My two-year-old wanted to watch Aladdin over and over again last week, and I always knew that a scary part was on the screen when I felt a little person tugging at my legs. It was too much for her.

You will find a number of terrifying sequences in basically every Disney movie. Bambi’s mother is killed. Snow White takes an apple (and eats it!) from that horrifying looking old lady who is really the queen. The Sea Witch in Little Mermaid? Anytime she is on the screen I cringe. Mustafa unceremoniously lets go of his brother’s hand. The Lion King falls down a cliff and dies following a stampede of antelope. How revolting.

But how can any of us resist those oh so cute sequences in those same Disney movies, like meeting the seven dwarfs or the ceremonial introduction of a new lion cub? And the songs. I can’t get “Never had a Friend Like you” or “Part of Your World” out of my head.

Besides the scary scenes and sequences of scenes, as I alluded to already, there are some mighty scary characters. Is a movie (or even a TV show) ever complete without a good villain? I will give Disney credit that it’s subtle in Frozen. But it’s rather obvious in early films like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Jungle Book. I’d argue that it goes beyond Disney and that it’s not too hard to find what may be considered an evil character in almost every children’s show.

My two-year-old loves to watch Dora the Explorer, but again, there she is, clinging onto my leg every time Swiper the fox dances onto the screen. Supposedly my own husband was terrified of Sesame Street’s character, The Count. The character is a take-off on Dracula, so I can see how this seemingly cute Muppet was a source of agonizing fear for a three-year-old. David was obsessed with Sesame Street and didn’t miss an episode each day. But my mother-in-law recalls how in fewer than five seconds her little boy would tiptoe towards her, with that sheepish look on his face of, “Mommy, I’m scared,” every time the crazy character appeared on the screen and started to yell, “1, 2, 3….”

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Swiper the Fox
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Count von Count

So what’s the verdict? Cute? Terrifying? Something in between? No matter what, I will keep watching those Disney movies, over and over again, with my kids, or I will admit, even on my own.

Do I Live in the Wrong Century?

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I believe that we are often wistful of times gone by. We bring up memories of past experiences and think longingly and lovingly of wonderful trips and family celebrations. Babies grow up too fast and grey hairs appear on our heads too early. We consider the future and try our best to live for today, but we never leave the past behind. I was born and grew up in the late 20th century and am raising my children in the early 21st century. Over my 42 years I have seen tremendous changes in the world and an exponential growth in innovation and technology. I live a good life, often live for the day and dream about tomorrow. But with all the comforts and conveniences around me I often ask myself the question, do I live in the wrong century?

Ever since I was quite young I have had a great passion to soak up knowledge about the second half of the 19th century. It is a period in history that fascinates me, in particular Victorian England and the time of the American Civil War. If I can pinpoint a specific decade it would be the 1860’s. So much happened in the world at that time. I often wonder what life may have been like if I lived in London in 1862 or Washington DC in 1865. Or a city or town in Eastern Canada in 1867.

This thought often crosses my mind and I considered it quite a bit this week after I saw a revival of the play The King and I. Originally produced in 1951, the play was based on a book called Anna and the King of Siam, written in 1944. It is based on the true story of Anna Leonowens, who traveled to Siam in 1862 to teach the 39 wives and 82 children of King Mongkut. The play covers Anna’s time in Siam, from 1862 to 1868, when King Monkgut died.

As I watched the play and later that night, I thought about what the world was like and what happened between 1862 and 1868. Queen Victoria celebrated 25 years on the throne in 1862. The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865 and its President, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated. Confederation in Canada happened in 1867.  European countries, Great Britain and France in particular, signed treaties and formed various alliances in countries across Asia and changed the landscape of that continent. The Industrial Revolution continued to change the world, with new kinds of automation and inventions.

I am fascinated by the way of life during this era. I don’t doubt that for the lower classes life was hard. For many people it was a long exhausting work week, and they often lived in very harsh conditions. Slaves in the southern United States were finally granted their freedom, but with that freedom came new challenges and still a hard life. Women around the globe, whether it be Europe, the Americas or Asia, were all considered second-class citizens. They did not have a voice or the vote. For poor women who had to work, they earned significantly less than the men.

I don’t know if Anna, from the King and I, really spoke so directly to the King of Siam like she did in the play. She looked him straight in the eyes and told him to respect women and to listen to them. She showed him how the women in his life could guide him and advise him. Which she did. So, whether Anna actually did this or not, I am sure there were strong brave women around the world in the 1860’s who did speak up and let their voices be heard during what was a tumultuous time in history.

I also like to fantasize about the world of the upper classes during the 1860’s. Those giant hoop skirts probably were not too comfortable, but I adore them. The fabrics, the colours of the clothing are spectacular. And some would say it gave women a comfortable one metre distance away from anyone else. No crowding or claustrophobia if you are wearing one of those magnificent gowns!

Then there’s the stately homes and unique architecture of the late 19thcentury. The grandeur of design and splendid style that went along with it. I don’t think that I am that lavish a person, but I think I could have handled it. I can read book after book and watch an endless stream of movies from this time period. I just can’t get enough of it.

I will admit that while I am fascinated by life in the late 19th century, I do enjoy my modern conveniences. Running water and a flushable toilet in my home would be the first to come to mind. My washing machine. Electricity everywhere. Air conditioning. I could go on and on forever about the joys of the modern conveniences we have in the 21st century that could never have even been imagined in 1862. So maybe I am living in the right century or maybe not. But with my imagination I can live anywhere, in any century.

Halifax is my Home away from Home

Halifax

I have had a bit of a whirlwind summer and have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit. As I have written many times, travel is the greatest gift I can give myself. Sometimes it is exhausting and frustrating but the stress and fatigue that come with travel are worth it. This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit and enjoy one of my favourite cities, Halifax. I have visited this city so many times that it has almost become my home away from home.

This summer I have spent every weekend in a different place. It all began with my trip to Scotland. The second weekend was spent at my family’s country home, near the southern shores of Georgian Bay. Then I had a weekend in Toronto, as we hosted family from abroad. And this past weekend I was in Halifax, the city I love so much.

The reason I traveled, with my family, to Halifax, was for the annual visit to our beloved Camp Kadimah, where my children go to overnight camp. Yes, I put my children on an airplane each summer and send them hundreds of kilometers away to Nova Scotia to go to camp. Besides the fact that Camp Kadimah is the greatest place for my children to spend a summer, it gives me the chance to visit Halifax in late July.

What is so special about Halifax, you ask?

First of all, it has all the amenities, history and culture that you get in a big city but in miniature. It’s not to say that Halifax is tiny, but it is a small city. It’s easy to get around, with polite drivers and friendly pedestrians. Fellow cars let you in when you change lanes and gently stop at crosswalks to allow you to walk across the road.

Then there is the waterfront, or as the signs say, the “Harbourwalk.” The heart of downtown, by the water, is a sprawling, clean boardwalk. It goes on and on, from the historic seaport where new immigrants docked in Canada for decades, all the way into the harbour to the casino. Along the boardwalk are restaurants, cafes, a couple museums, benches, stores and even a small playground. It’s adult and child-friendly, and during the summer it is populated by locals and tourists alike. We walked up and down this fabulous stretch in the morning, afternoon and even late at night and always felt welcome and safe.

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Nessa kind of enjoyed our first afternoon on the Harbourwalk with her grandmother and cousin
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This was my view from dinner on Friday evening
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This is the boardwalk, where everyone can be silly.
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Nessa invented a new kind of pole dancing at the Seaport.

Do I sound like a paid advertisement for the city of Halifax? Eek, that’s not the intention here. There is just this warm feeling I get when I am driving around, walking the streets or even checking into my hotel. And sometimes I wonder, when I bite into a fresh piece of halibut, tuna or haddock, if the reason I eat fish today is because of this city. I didn’t like fish of any kind until I tasted the real, fresh kind. I ate more fish this past weekend than I eat all year.

Halifax
We found a new Japanese restaurant and loved the tuna tataki in particular
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Enjoying a snack downtown with roadside food.

Every time I visit Halifax (and I have visited too many times to count) it draws me in and I begin to imagine what my life would be like if I lived there. No, I’m not selling my house tomorrow and moving to Nova Scotia. But the thought, the feeling, the question, jumps into my head over and over. People seem happier, more at ease and more full of life in this east coast city.

They are a stone’s throw away from beautiful maritime towns like Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. You can smell the fresh saltwater air even on a hot day downtown. It is not just okay but it’s encouraged to paint your house bright red or pale yellow. There seems to be a bar at every corner, if you like that kind of thing. When Waze tells me it will take ten minutes to drive across town, it actually takes ten minutes. There is a new unique central public library and also a Discover Centre. And Camp Kadimah is only a 90-minute drive.

Halifax
Need I say more? BEST ice cream.
Halifax
Selfie at COWS. Enough said.

Maybe I am just coming down from a high after an exhilarating four-day weekend away when I didn’t have to cook and clean. Maybe I am suffering from a bit of heat stroke after I walked the city for hours in what felt like forty-degree heat. Or maybe Halifax really is as great a city as I have hyped it up to be and there is a good reason why I consider it to be my home away from home. For now, I will keep visiting, and we will see where life takes me.

Ahhhh the Wedding

wedding

I don’t attend too many weddings. Maybe I don’t know enough people. Or maybe I’m at an age when most of my friends and I guess family too, are either married or not old enough yet to tie the knot. No matter how good, or bad, the wedding is, it is nice to attend them.

So many people lead very busy lives, with little free or unprogrammed time in the schedule. Children go to school, activities, camp or play with friends. As adults, we spend much of our time working, cooking, cleaning, shopping or if we have kids, chauffeuring them too. Sometimes it seems that one day just flows into the next, with a hectic schedule from dawn to dusk.

I will admit that I don’t put aside nearly enough time for myself, to relax or do stuff that I love. And I mean stuff for me and only me. My recent trip to Scotland was definitely for me (ya I guess David too), and it gave me the chance to recharge my battery. But I will say that I definitely make time for family and for family celebrations, like a wedding.

In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, we often turn down invitations to celebrations or events because it’s too expensive to attend, too hard to travel or we just don’t have time.  We say, “Oh I can’t come this time but I will try to make it next time.” And we continue on with our busy day. We see the photos and hear the stories and we think wistfully of the next event, when we will attend.

David and I try to attend as many family celebrations as we can. I will admit that we can’t make it to everything, but we try our best. With family and friends who live all over the world, and with our love of travel, we have participated in a fair number of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, milestone birthdays and weddings. It can be a financial strain sometimes and the timing can be a challenge, but really, it’s worth it.

On Monday we celebrated the wedding of our nephew, Joseph, to his wonderful new wife, Hadas. I will not do a rundown of all the details of the day, from the elegant but simple flowers to the dinner’s main course (oh my gosh they served roast beef and it was cooked perfectly!). If anyone wants a full detailed analysis, you know how to find me.

It was a small, intimate wedding, with family and a number of their close friends. David’s sister, Linda, lives in London, Ontario, and we traveled the easy two hours down the highway on Sunday afternoon to join the festivities. A wedding is not just the short ceremony and party. It also includes the days leading up to the big event, day before, day-of activities and even breakfast the next day. It’s a bit of a package deal, if you want to get the full benefit. Sometimes the best part of a wedding can be a BBQ in the backyard the night before or running around the following morning to the liquor store to secure the right kosher liqueurs!

wedding

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Having fun the night before
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Last minute liquor purchase, phew.
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Nessa enjoyed some entertainment from her cousins before the wedding, at Walmart, of course.

The faces of the bride and groom as they walk down the aisle or how they look at each other during the ceremony are special moments. And will he break the glass on his first try? Family photos – who won’t smile and who will blink when the camera flashes? Which child will throw a tantrum? What was the best appetizer passed around during cocktails? Which dessert was the tastiest?

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The moment they walked down the aisle
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They kept eye contact for much of the ceremony.
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He got it the first try.
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She didn’t sit still and had a wonderful time.
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It’s not a wedding without a big family photo

You have to be there to experience it. I know it’s not always so easy and I’m so glad every time we make the effort. A wedding is fun and it creates such wonderful memories for not only the bride and groom but for all the guests. We have another family wedding, for a cousin, in a few weeks, so who’s next?

A Letter from Camp is Worth More than a Picture’s Thousand Words

letter

How often do you receive a hand-written letter in the mail? Do you ever wait by your mailbox anymore, hoping the postman (or woman) shows up soon to deliver your mail? Do you even receive mail anymore? Letter writing, for the most part, is a lost art. We spend a good percentage of the day connected to the world with our smartphones, sending texts, posting to social media and crafting emails. But how often do you pick up a pen or pencil and write a letter to someone? I would say most of you are quickly answering my question – never.

I rarely hand write letters anymore. My laptop’s keyboard is one of my best friends, as I swiftly send communications to colleagues, friends and family every day. The world wide web has made communication instantaneous. When we send a text we often panic if the person doesn’t respond in 30 seconds. We expect a response to an email within 24 hours, at most.

But then there is summer camp. While so much has stayed the same, so much has changed since I went to overnight camp a couple of decades ago. No matter what camp a child chooses, there will always be swimming, dancing, singing, boating and campfires. The kids will make new friends, eat some strange food and compete in all kinds of activities. The heart and soul of what is summer overnight camp hasn’t changed.

But the way parents and their children communicate has changed. Instead of waiting for the mail or looking at old photo albums as a reminder of what the children look like, parents (and grandparents) hit refresh throughout the day on the camp’s website, waiting for pictures of their children to be uploaded. Parents can write an email, press send and camp will print and deliver the message to the child within 24 hours. Some camps even scan the children’s handwritten letters and email them home to the parents.

My children’s camp, Camp Kadimah, for the most part, is technology-free. The photographer and videographer roam the camp and capture every moment of the children’s day. The administrative staff check their email and cell phones often and are available at a moment’s notice if a parent needs something. Emails from home are printed and handed to the children.

But the child’s experience of camp is basically technology-free. That means all communication from the camper to the outside world is accomplished the old-fashioned way – a written letter, affixed with a postage stamp and dropped in the mail. So that means for about six weeks each year I do something that feels slightly anachronistic – I check my mailbox throughout the day.

The letters are few and far between, contain very little information and are basically illegible. And yet I long for them. There is something so sweet in seeing my child’s handwriting on a page, written from a bunk bed or picnic bench in central Nova Scotia.  I see dozens of photos of my kids posted to the camp website, but I will take a letter any day over a photo. There is something so personal and so human about a hand-written letter (even if I can’t read or understand most of what’s on the page).

My kids have been away at camp for just over two weeks. So far, we have received one postcard and three letters from my daughter and one letter from my son. Supposedly each child is required to write one postcard home in the first few days of camp in order to receive a treat from the tuck shop, and yet Matthew has managed to get away with enjoying tuck each year and not writing a postcard home. I figure I only got my token letter last week from him because it was my birthday and he did acknowledge it.

His one letter, fully handwritten of course, arrived last week when I was having a bad day. Hey, we all have bad days, so no big deal. A career opportunity I thought might come through fell apart and I was feeling down. We’ve all been there. So, I checked my mailbox, and there it was, a letter from my child from camp. My mood changed in an instant, as I made out the words that he is having “the best summer ever.” His cousin, and close buddy, Max, is in his cabin. His other cousin, Elia, from Israel, is his counselor. The weather is great. What could be better?

letter
My birthday letter from Matthew. I learned that he can chew gum at camp.

I will keep hitting refresh on the photo stream, check Instagram and read email updates from the Director. The pictures may be worth a thousand words, but a personal, handwritten letter from camp, well that is worth so much more.