This is our New Reality

new reality

I wanted to write about the new royal baby today. When I heard the news on Monday morning that Kate gave birth to her third child, I was excited to write about the British royal family. While I’m not obsessed, yes, I’m a fan. But on Monday afternoon I turned on the radio shortly after 2:00 pm. I was in my car, about to leave a parking lot. I couldn’t move. Horror washed over my body. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. This is our new reality.

In the age of technology, with instant news and lives shared on social media, the details of the horror on Yonge street in Toronto spread rapidly. The world saw videos and photos, heard and read witness accounts, after a man drove a van block after block, on the sidewalk, intentionally murdering people.

I couldn’t focus yesterday, and my heart ached for the people killed and injured and their families and friends. So many questions immediately went through my head, like why did this happen? What was going through this man’s mind when he committed this heinous act? What has happened to our society?

While it did not make me feel any better, I quickly realized that this is our new reality. We often speak of how we live in a modern age, with equality, freedom and justice. In Canada children are raised to be anything and everything they want to be. We are free to speak our minds in public and protest against injustice. People walk down the street and hold their heads high, without fear.

Or not.

When I was a child, at age 5, I walked home from kindergarten most days with my brother. School was s short distance from our house, and we walked home together with a group of kids. We went to the nearby park on our own and played sports on the street. Our parents knew we were safe. When we ran off down the street to play with our friends, our parents knew we would come home. When parents kissed their children good bye in the morning, they knew they would see them that evening, after work.

But that is no longer the reality and hasn’t been for years. I’m scared to let my children out of my sight in public, and I will admit that when I say good bye to my husband in the morning, when he jumps on the subway, I often have a quick, horrifying thought in my head, what if I never see him again? What if the subway is attacked or someone drives up on the sidewalk and hits a crowd of pedestrians?

And then it happened to someone’s husband, or wife, sister, brother, mother, father or friend yesterday. Someone said good bye for the last time.  And I wasn’t surprised. I felt sick, horrified and angry, but I was not shocked. This is our new reality.

Or maybe it’s not new, it’s just evolving. Mentally ill individuals, who for any number of reasons were angry with an individual or society, have used violence on a massive scale to voice their grievances. In some cases, there is a religious motivation, but often not. There was the massacre in 1989 which targeted a group of female engineering students at the University of Montreal. An individual murdered police officers in Alberta in 2005.

And yet, yesterday’s attack was somehow different. Or at least it was different for Canadians. Driving a vehicle, intentionally, into a group of people, is not new. It is a tactic that has been employed for many years to murder innocents around the world. But it was new in Canada and in an instant changed our reality forever.

I wish I could offer some unique insights or an inspirational thought to make us all feel better. But I can’t. What I feel today is sadness, as do thousands of Torontonians. We love our city, and I believe that most of us think the best of all people. Right now, we are coming together to grieve and to pay tribute to those whose lives were lost, to those who were injured and to the first responders who did a tremendous job to help those in need.

Moving forward we need to face our new reality with our heads held high. We must show kindness to our fellow human beings and reach out and support people who suffer from mental illness or who feel they don’t have a voice. I wish that would mean our world would be a better place, but at least we can try.

Once you have a Dog, you have a Dog for Life

dog

I love dogs. There is no other living being, in my opinion, who is more loyal, sweet and kind, than a dog. There is a reason why dogs are considered man’s (or woman’s) best friend. I have never had my own, but I have been around this most wonderful animal all my life. I have observed that once you have a dog, you have one for life.

While I love dogs, I will very publicly state it here that I don’t want my own right now. It is a tremendous commitment, of time and money. A pet deserves to be cared for in a very particular way, from an early morning walk to visits to the vet, and I am just not up for that now. No doubt I always have time for cuddles and play, but that’s the easy part. My life and my family are hectic enough right now. I just don’t want to take on the ownership of a pet.

Owning a pet is not for everyone. For those who choose to have a dog (or maybe any other animal), the connection is for life. It always troubles me that dogs have a relatively short lifespan (compared to a human’s at least). But during life, and for years after its death, an owner’s love and devotion to his or her dog remains.

When I was a child, I begged my parents to get me a dog. With three kids and a busy household, my parents’ joking responded, “If you want a dog, then one of the three of you (children) has to go.” My brother and I quickly pointed at my sister. We still didn’t get a dog. I yearned for one, as did my siblings (not my father). Shortly after we had all moved out, of course, my parents got a dog.

Oscar was the closest thing I ever had to my own dog. He had many sleepovers at my house and I happily cared for him all the time. But he belonged to my mother and of course his loyalty was to her. As is the case with my mother-in-law’s dog, Mu Shu (and Soho before) and my sister’s bedroom slipper on acid, Herzl.

These dogs belong to them, but more importantly, they belong to their dogs. And that includes during the pet’s life and after. The connection and the memories last a lifetime.

As soon as you get a dog, you become what I call a dog person. If canines seemingly urinate at every fire hydrant, then dog people stop to look and admire at every corner when a dog passes by. My mother can’t help herself and has to engage in a conversation with every person walking by with his or her dog. No matter how big or small, old or young, friendly or cranky the dog is, my mother has to share a story about Oscar.

My sister is constantly on the hunt for her – or my mother’s – next pet. They follow an endless list of dogs on Instagram and Facebook and send me photos, links and stories that I just have to read. They seek out breeders who may be a good fit and tell me all the time about the perfect one for my home.

I don’t blame them. They are dog people. I am not. I love this adorable animal, but I don’t follow their every move on Instagram (okay I do follow Clark Kent Superdog, but he is special) and stop innocent people on the side of the road who are out in the cold hoping their dog will just pee so they can run back inside.

Dog people won’t change, and that’s okay. They amuse me. I am amused that my mother leapt out of the car on Saturday in the Home Depot parking lot and accosted some poor woman who was just trying to get her Morkie (Matlese Yorkie mix) to quickly do his business in a small patch of grass. The woman smiled and was friendly, but her yappy and hyperactive animal friend beside her had no patience.

So, maybe one day I will be a dog person. But for now, I will just give a little chuckle when I watch them interact and share their unending love of their true best friend.

**Just a note that in the feature photo for this story that’s then three-month-old Matthew with, from l-r: Mu Shu, Herzl and Oscar.

Climate Change is Real

climate change

I have a layer of thick, solid ice on my front and back lawn. Maybe there’s a bit of snow mixed in. It looks like January 15thoutside my house. And today is April 20th. I live in Canada, where we expect some snow throughout the month of April, in most parts of the country.  Anyone who takes their snow tires off on April 1 always lives to regret it. But the ice and snow usually melts quickly in April as the weather warms. But not this year. And I’m not surprised. Why? Climate change.

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That’s a snow and ice covered sidewalk in Toronto this week. the fact that the city didn’t bother to clean it is another story.

I don’t like to use the buzz word, global warming. I am not a scientist, an environmentalist or really any kind of expert. Basically I am just a weather watcher and would consider myself to be a relatively intelligent person. I don’t question that our planet is slowly warming, that each year, the world’s average temperature is going up. But what we see, every day, in a different part of the globe, is climate change.

Earth Day is coming up this weekend, on April 22. It’s the one day of the year when it’s not just okay, but we are encouraged to hug a tree. And for those of us living in parts of Ontario and Quebec, with our lawns, streets and sidewalks still covered in ice, the timing is very poignant.

My husband, David, who by the way happens to be trained as a Professional Environmental Engineer and has real, extensive knowledge of the subject matter, explained to me this week what is happening around the world and why there is a layer of ice on our lawn. He specifically referred to climate change.

We are seeing extreme weather, with a massive cold snap complete with sleet, freezing rain and snow, followed by warm, sometimes hot weather. And that can happen in Toronto in February, November, or April.

Last spring Toronto saw record rainfall, with so much flooding across the city that access to the much-loved Toronto Islands was closed for months. We could count the number of hot days in the summer on one hand. I do recall that September and October were nice and warm. Our climate is changing. It’s erratic.

And when I say our climate, I really should say our planet’s climate. Our global village. What happens in one place affects another, and when one community abuses the environment, the effects can be felt thousands of kilometers away. I don’t think we can blame one group of people, one country or political regime for climate change. This didn’t happen overnight. We have been abusive for years, and while climate change was slow for a long time, I believe it is quickening now.

Freak storms used to be just that – freak. Rare. Out of the ordinary. We were shocked to hear there was flooding in southern China, wildfires in central Australia or a long draught in Texas, in the United States. Over the last few years that has become commonplace. There is always a swollen river, causing a flood in some community. A new wildfire breaks out in some part of the world almost weekly. There are so many places in all corners of the world in a state of draught, with little to no water.

Have we become used to climate change? Have we become so disaffected by news of another ice storm, flood or draught that we barely take notice? I sure hope not. If we don’t speak out, if each and every one of us doesn’t try, even a little bit, to be better environmental citizens of the world, we are doomed to see even more extreme weather.

On Sunday, April 22, during the event’s 48thanniversary (year one was 1970) of Earth Day, go hug a tree. Or better yet, go plant a tree. Or pick up some trash you see on the side of the road. Maybe lower the heat in your house a bit or turn off some lights. This year’s theme is End Plastic Pollution, so maybe you want to check your recycling bin and make sure the right plastics are in there. Or stop using bottled water and invest in a reusable cup or bottle.

There are so many ways that all of us, as individuals, can make a difference and do our best to slow down climate change. Let’s all try to do our part. Maybe next year, on April 20th, 2019, I can be in my backyard, in a t-shirt raking leaves and getting my garden ready for spring like I used to do.

Baseball is Back

baseball

I know what you are thinking – didn’t the Major-League baseball season begin a few weeks ago? Midway through April, haven’t most teams played at least a dozen games? The short answer is, yes. The 2018 season opened on Thursday, March 29, and I was lucky enough to watch it live with my good friend Meir (a super-fan) in Israel.

But, I was so far away from where the action happens. After I watched opening day (at 11:00 at night, semi-conscious), it seemed as though the baseball season really launched without me. If I wasn’t there to watch the games on TV or go to a game with my son, it was as though the season hadn’t really begun.

We arrived home from our whirlwind trip on Thursday, and my team, the Toronto Blue Jays, had an off day. I was so jet lagged on Friday that I slept through the game. I was ready, both mentally and physically, to watch the Jays play Cleveland on Saturday afternoon. Rain got in the way. Same on Sunday. Then a chunk of ice had to smash through the roof of the Rogers Centre in Toronto on Monday. Another game postponed.

Finally, on Tuesday, baseball came back to my life. A double-header. A double-whammy. My dream, hours and hours of baseball, all afternoon and evening. It was a slow start to the first game, but then the boys woke up and started to whack the ball in every direction. 11-3 final score. No complaints here. I continued on, to watch game 2, which the Jays won in the bottom of the 10th. I was on pins and needles, but it was a great ending, thanks to Luke Maile. 

Many people complain that baseball is too slow. It is definitely not the sport of choice for people who like fast-paced action-packed sports. It’s one of the few sports (maybe golf too) where you get a mix of athletes who are in the best of shape and others who are overweight and out-of-shape.

You get to know the life story of the commentators as they share their tales between pitches.  With an average length of just over 3 hours, watching a complete baseball game is a commitment.

And I love it. I love every minute of it.  I don’t care how slow it moves, that some of the players can barely jog to first base or that a blister puts a guy on the disabled list for ten days. Baseball has personality.

Here are some of the things that I love about baseball, in no particular order:

  • A team can score up to four points (okay, runs) with one swing of the bat.
  • The manager (known in almost every other sport as the head coach) wears a uniform, just like the players, who are half his age. Even the players who are out of shape look better in the uniform, but kudos to him for putting it on each night.
  • That I can get a ticket, in a decent seat, for under $30. I may spend more than that on snacks when I’m there, but that’s my choice.
  • Even during and after an ice storm, it feels like summer when I’m watching a game.
  • That I can write while I watch the game, or make dinner, or carry on a full conversation with the person next to me, because the action is slow enough.
  • Endless statistics. How many players have hit a home run, during a home game, with a player on second base and two outs? Baseball has an answer for that.
  • Great catches. Great, diving catches (thanks in large part to Kevin Pillar!).
  • Players jump on each other, like they just won the World Series, when they win in extra innings.

Did I mention that I am thrilled that baseball is back? And because it’s only April, I have months ahead to enjoy it. Whether my team wins or loses (okay, I always want the Jays to win), I will always be a fan of baseball.

The Personalities of a Field School

field school

When you travel, you meet all kinds of people along the way. It’s part of the fun of being in a new place. It’s not just the sights, sounds and smells, but also the locals. People watching I call it. Some people you come across share similar characteristics while others are rather eccentric.  Where we are staying now, in Ein Gedi, in the desert, beside the Dead Sea, at a Field School run by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, there are many different personalities.

There are many places just like this one all over Israel. With simple but spacious accommodations, a field school is a wonderful way to see Israel. During holiday times the field school attracts hundreds, if not thousands of families. It provides a good home base for hiking, sight-seeing and just relaxing.

It’s where you meet real Israelis. The challenge for me when I travel is that I want to get a flavour of the real culture of where I am visiting. How do locals live and what do they eat? How do they spend their free time? In Israel, the field school is where local families go on vacation. And here, I get a true mix of local personalities.

Bohemian Religious Man

I saw this man in line at dinner the other night. Dressed in what I could only describe as pink nurse’s scrubs and sandals, he had a long grey beard, long curly grey hair to match, and of course a kippah on his head too. He was surrounded by a large family, spoke a mix of Hebrew and English and had a friendly, Santa Claus look on his face.

Cool Boarder Nature Guide

We had the opportunity to take an incredible hike at night organized by our field school, through a dried-up wadi (river) near Masada. We were led, in the darkness, by two experienced, 19-year-old guides who were a wealth of knowledge of astrology, the local area and its geological history. One of the guides was a brown-haired, curly-haired guy with a big smile. The Canadians in us quickly discovered that he likes to snowboard but really, he is in to surfing and skateboarding.

Children, so many children

One can find gangs of children all over the field school. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they are everywhere. The children speak in rapid Hebrew (that I can’t understand) and run around the place like wild animals. They wake up early in the morning, and with their loud voices and rapid footsteps, they are a great alarm clock.

Generations

Something that intrigues me about the field school is that one often sees three generations from one family all here together. Our group is a great example of that, but we are not unique. It is not uncommon to see a grandparent chasing a two-year-old down the path or a man explaining the various food options at dinner to his father. It’s actually kind of sweet that the field school is a place for multiple generations of one family to congregate together.

Gold Chain Wearing Man in a Wife Beater Shirt

There are always a few of these, here with their families. This is one of those situations where a picture is worth a thousand words, but I don’t have the guts to take a photo of one of these men. He’s typically tall, has dark hair, has on a tight shirt with some jewelry and speaks in loud, rapid Hebrew. He thinks he’s cooler than life itself and boasts to all around him how great he is. And oh, is it ever entertaining to listen and watch him.

Friendly, Quieter Religious Women

Israel is a place with a wondrous mixture of people, including many religious Jews. They travel and experience the country in the same way as other locals, including visits to a field school. Many (but not all) of the religious women cover their hair and dress in a modest manner. Sometimes they are followed by a brood of children of all ages. And they are a staple of the field school experience, often sitting at the same table as the gold chain wearing man in his wife beater shirt.

Overweight Head Cook in the Dining Hall

Not only does one get a family-style accommodation at a field school, but for a reasonable fee, breakfast and lunch are included. It’s not five-star dining, but there is a good variety of food, including tons of fresh vegetables, fresh dairy at breakfast and meat at dinner. There is a hard-working team of cooks preparing the food. Each field school I stay at the team is always led by a slightly overweight cook, who only speaks Hebrew and has a permanent frown on his face. He is probably harassed every day by annoying people like me asking if there is plain yoghurt or more fruit in the back. He appears at some point during every meal and quickly runs and hides in the kitchen before another guest whines or complains to him.

I could go on and on describing the various personalities one comes across at a field school. To really understand the unique nature of this place you have to experience it for yourself. You get great views, the most beautiful scenery and of course the most interesting personalities.

**Disclaimer: that’s my mother-in-law, Barbara, and my father, Barry, in the feature photo. While they are not the typical personalities one finds at a field school, they are both an important part of my experience! And in this photo they are sitting in front of our rooms, with a view over the Dead Sea.

It must have been Hot when they Wandered the Desert

desert

I am at one of the lowest points on Earth. Well below sea level. I am surrounded by mountains, rocks and the deadest piece of water you can ever find. As I write, the sun has set, the moon is rising and there is a warm breeze outside. I’m in the desert. And it’s beautiful. And during the day, wow, it’s hot.

desert
Sunset over the Dead Sea and Mountains of Moab

People often ask me, when they hear that I blog or when they start to follow my posts, “Where do you think of all those ideas?” It’s easy. This blog is about my musings. Everywhere I go I get inspired by the people I meet and by my surroundings. Sometimes someone says something to me, and I have to stop and take note so that I can write about it later.

That happened to me today, in the desert in Southern Israel, when I visited a fantastic historic site called Tel Be’er Sheva. This is the ancient site of the city of Be’er Sheva. The modern city sits west of this small national park, where layers of civilization from a few thousand years ago remain.

desert
Some information on the ancient ruins I visited

It was a hot day, with blue skies and a blazing sun above us. As we walked towards the ruins of this ancient walled city, my mother joked, “It must have been hot when they wandered the desert.” And boom, my blog post came into being. Just a comment, a thought, a sight or a random meeting can inspire me.

So yes, it must have been hot when they wandered the desert. It’s hot in the desert. But I am amazed by the desert. When I see a small shrub growing out of dry rock and sand or a small stream of water making its way through the ruins of an ancient city I am astonished by the beauty of the nature around me. The desert is truly beautiful.

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Shades of deep green, lime green and brown, with camels, on the edge of the desert
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Look carefully at the beautiful delicate flower my daughter picked, in the middle of the desert.

And when the desert blooms, it’s even more beautiful. After we left Tel Be’er Sheva we drove along a windy road, with big signs saying dangerous curves ahead and descended hundreds of feet, deep into the desert. The landscape turned from deep green to lime green to brown, and each kilometer became more and more beautiful.

Desert
500 feet above sea level. We have a long way to go.
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100 feet above sea level. Going down!
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Sea Level!
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100 feet below sea level and still descending!

And then suddenly, before our eyes, was the Dead Sea – the lowest point on Earth. It is a body of water with such a high salt content that nothing can live in it. It’s pretty much, well, dead. We continued to drive until we reached our destination: Ein Gedi. This is an oasis in the desert. It’s not some kind of strange mirage that you see in the distance in a cartoon. It is a place of beauty, with palm trees, grass and flowers, surrounded by a brown desert.

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My first glimpse of the Dead Sea

desert

Our group is fortunate to be staying at the Ein Gedi Field School – run by an organization called, in Hebrew, Haganat Hateva, and in English, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. We are high on a hill, with spectacular views of mountains and the Dead Sea. It makes you forget that you are in the middle of the desert. When I walk outside and soak in the beauty around me I understand why, even though it was hot, people have been wandering in the desert for thousands of years. Not only am I at the lowest point on Earth, I may be at the most beautiful one as well.

Sealed with a KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

simple

Keep it simple stupid. It’s a phrase that is not necessarily associated with travel, but on our first full day in Israel it was my motto. After a long and sometimes stressful couple of flights (details in a future post), we arrived in Israel on Monday. Oh, how nice it was to feel the first blast of hot humid air on my face as I walked off the plane. The chaos of Ben Gurion airport, while totally insane and absurd, was a warm welcome to me to a place I had not visited in three years.

There’s so much I love about Israel, and over the next couple of weeks I will try to give a flavour of all the sights and sounds around me. On our first full day here, we decided to spend the day in the bustling city of Tel Aviv. It’s easy to get overwhelmed while visiting this city, so I stuck to my motto to bring success, keep it simple stupid.

Actually, I think it’s a good motto to have when traveling, especially when traveling with children. Complexity brings chaos, anger and confusion. Keeping it simple brings order, happiness and joy. And that’s what our day was all about.

With six kids in tow (that’s right six), I knew we had to keep things simple. Our group included my three children, my niece who is traveling with us, my niece’s friend who lives in Israel, as well as another niece who also lives in Israel. Age range of the children: 22 months to 12 years. Girl to boy ratio of said children: 5 to 1. Maybe that’s why my plan worked?

My day’s success was partly determined by the children’s willingness to walk, a lot. My favourite way to explore new places, anywhere in the world, is on foot. You can feel the vibes of a city by walking around its streets. You experience the culture by smelling the spices in the markets, touching the fabrics in the stores and eating at small cafes. On foot, you can scoot around quickly or meander slowly.

That was what we did. After a short train ride to the city, my plan was a walk through downtown, on both big boulevards and crooked narrow side streets, with a goal of getting to the beach and dipping our toes in the Mediterranean Sea.

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We made it to Tel Aviv!

Tel Aviv didn’t disappoint. The horns were honking, cyclists were cutting us off on the sidewalk and people were screaming. We took our time getting to our first stop, picking up a local SIM card for my phone and lunch for some of the kids.

Then here is how I decided to keep things simple. I had intended to walk through a local craft market, called Nahalat Binyamin. It only appears on Tuesdays and Fridays, and we headed in its direction. We took one wrong turn and ended up in another, very different market, called Carmel. While Nahalat Binyamin is full of local artisans and craftspeople selling beautiful pieces of art and jewelry, Carmel is a packed and cramped long path where local merchants sell everything from junk and household items to spices and fruits and vegetables.

I didn’t back track or panic or become angry. I went with the flow and realized that junk, candy and fresh fruit made the kids happy. They all picked out a bag of candy from one vendor and we enjoyed fresh fruit smoothies from another (I had pomegranate, pineapple, mango and passion fruit. Wow, so good).

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The candy buffet in the Carmel Market

Once we passed through the market we continued to meander through the city, and again, while I had at first intended to show the kids the Bauhaus district, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, I could see they were restless. They needed to run around and get off the street. I needed to keep it simple. So, I made a quick turn and headed in the direction of the beach.

The Tel Aviv tayelet, or boardwalk, is one of my favourite places in the world. The city of Tel Aviv is on one side and miles of sandy beaches and the Mediterranean Sea is on the other. I thought to myself as we arrived on the tayelet, let’s walk up the promenade and enjoy the long stretch of beach.

The kids would have none of that. No sooner did I blink and their shoes were off and they had all (okay, maybe not Nessa but she pointed) ran onto the beach and into the water. That’s right, fully clothed, into the water. They splashed, they squealed with delight and I smiled from ear to ear. I even gave up keeping Nessa in her stroller and let her bum walk her way through the sand and to the water’s edge.

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Will she or won’t she? Does Nessa want to check out the water?
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bum walking beach baby
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My niece showing off her acrobatic skills
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silhouette sand castle building with just their hands

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach. No bathing suits, towels or sand toys. No beach umbrella or picnic lunch. Just two adults and six rambunctious children, living it up in the sand and the sun.

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Playground on the beach? Check.

I think we walked over 10 kilometers, ate more junk food than I had planned and got sand in places I would rather not discuss. It was a perfect day. It was a perfect, simple day because I sealed it with a KISS. Try it some time. It will make your travel experience fantastic.

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We actually got a family photo on the beach

Caught Being Kind

kind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Make it, I Break it

break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Automation has arrived in the Public Restroom

public restroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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