Tuesday, December 3, 2013

on saying goodbye

Saying goodbye isn't easy. And it isn't supposed to be. When we open our hearts to people, whether they're friends, mentors, teachers or family members, we become vulnerable. It took me a long time and a lot of loss to realize that vulnerability is a beautiful thing. It's beautiful because it's only when we're vulnerable that we can truly, truly connect with others in meaningful ways, and those connections are what life is all about.

This past year has been one of indescribable loss. One of the beloved cousins I grew up with, Andrew, committed suicide in March.  In June I had to say goodbye to my beloved Chelsea. In October one of my friends from university passed away from lung disease. Our university program was limited enrollment so we were a pretty tight knit group. We were shocked to lose our dear Richard and kicking ourselves for not making good on our plans to get together this last summer.  One of our friends wasn't able to make the planned reunion so we held off, wanting everyone to be there, and eventually planning fell by the wayside, as it too often does.

Late last night I learned of the passing of another friend, Mary Podgorski.  I was pretty fragile when I met Mary, which was around the same time I met the other people I consider to be my spiritual family. Vulnerability is not something I've ever been very comfortable with, but I was so raw at that time it was impossible to put up a front. Whatever reservations I had about being so open about my wounds were quickly put to rest. Mary was a kind, gentle soul and she treated my tender heart with absolute care and compassion.  Mary taught me that it's ok to be vulnerable. She impacted my life in such a positive, meaningful way. I said to a friend "I can't believe that she's no longer in this world, filling it with her grace, her beauty, her kindness and compassion".  But here's the thing... she is. She left her mark on everyone who knew her. I dare say that everyone she met was better for having known her.  That is an amazing legacy, and it will never die.  We can take what we learned from Mary and hold it close to our hearts, and as long as we do that she will always, always be with us.  When we do something kind or pass what Mary has taught us on to someone else, Mary lives on that way too.

When you let someone in to your heart it changes you, even if the change is subtle, it's there.  We're all creating our legacies with every interaction, even those which seem insignificant. Last night as I was thinking of everyone I cared about that I had to say goodbye to this year, I realized that I'm grieving those people because they touched my life, and that only happened because I let them in.  So yes, vulnerability is a beautiful thing, and there is sadness in having to let those people go. But if this sadness is the "price of admission" for surrounding myself with such wonderful people, it's a price I'd gladly pay again. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. I wouldn't go back and keep the people I've lost at arm's length. I'm grateful I was able to connect with the people I've lost in such a beautiful, meaningful way. Being vulnerable is what allowed me to form those connections, and those connections are what life is all about.

Part of me wonders when the next shoe will drop.  Saying goodbye is inevitable in this life. But I've realized that even though it hurts to say goodbye, my heart, my spirit, and my life are so much richer for all the times I've allowed myself to say "hello" with an open heart.

Thank you Mary. I'll always keep you, and everything you taught me, very close to my heart. xo

Thursday, August 9, 2012

home beauty files - honey and turmeric face mask

As a 34 year old woman skin maintenance and wrinkle prevention is top of mind. Like many of you I don't have big bucks to shell out on products from big name cosmetic companies.  In the interest of beauty and budget some friends and I are exchanging home remedy tips for skin and hair care.  One friend suggested using honey as a face mask.  I did some research and learned that not only is honey harmless for the skin, it is also has moisturizing, antiseptic and antibacterial properties.  I was intrigued.

After a little bit more digging I found a recipe for a honey and turmeric face mask. BINGO!
Why turmeric?  Followers of Ayurveda know that turmeric has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so if you're prone to breakouts, redness, or skin sensitivity turmeric and honey might just be a winning combination.

Fortunately I have both honey and turmeric on hand, which is kind of the idea for home beauty, right?  If you want to try this and don't have the ingredients on hand they can both be found at any grocery store and are inexpensive (you'll find turmeric in the spice section)

I didn't use any special recipe or measurements.  I just mixed turmeric (about a tablespoon if you're the measuring type) and enough honey to form a paste.  I applied it as I would any mask, avoiding my hairline (it's sticky), eyes and mouth.  Turmeric is orange so it's very easy to see where I've already applied the mask. I can feel it tingling a little bit but not in an unpleasant way.  I also have a pressing urge to scratch an imaginary itch on my jaw, probably because I know I can't. I'm going to leave it on for 20 - 30 minutes and then hop in the shower.

15 minute update: I REALLY want to scratch my jaw! The mixture has run a tiny bit towards my throat, maybe because I applied it a bit too thick.

20 minute update: I have an imaginary itch above my lip, and the mixture is starting to run a tiny bit again. It's not really messy because it's so viscous it moves very slowly.  I could probably doing it wearing regular clothes but I wouldn't recommend it due to the colour and stickiness.

22 minute update: An imaginary itch beside my nose. In to the shower I go!

The mask was surprisingly easy to remove in the shower with plain water.  I did use a dime sized amount of Spectro Gel cleanser because I am paranoid about clogging my pores.  I wouldn't recommend a harsh cleanser after this mask - the idea is to soothe, purify and moisturize.

The verdict:

Cost: Super cheap.  I had both honey and turmeric on hand but if you don't you can easily find them for less than $5 at the grocery store.  The cost for the mask was probably about $0.25.

Ease of application: Surprisingly easy, mix small amounts of both in a bowl, make sure your hair is out of the way and you're good to go. I did leave the water running for the 25 seconds it took to apply so that I could easily wash my hands afterwards.

Ease of removal: Again surprising easy, just hopped in the shower and it rinsed right off.  You may or may not want to use a bit of cleanser afterwards but if you do make sure it's gentle and just a tiny amount so as not to undo the benefits of the mask.

Post-shower impression: My skin feels soft, there is no trace of orange left behind by the turmeric. Imperfections didn't disappear in 20 minutes of course, but my skin looks healthy and there is no dullness or flaking whatsoever. I did spritz my face with rosewater after it I patted my skin dry with a towel.

Recommend it?  Heck yes!  If you do let me know what you think!

Stay tuned for more home beauty files because the recession isn't going anywhere, and my 35th birthday is less than 6 months away.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chells Bells

Some of you know I've been considering retiring Chelsea from Pet Therapy. If you've been following our journey you know how long we spent on a wait list to be tested, how much the actual test entailed, and how much we love the work we do at the secure youth treatment and detention center called Syl Apps. 

We had the same three kids in the program for about a year, and over that time they bonded with Chelsea and I became very attached to them.  All three have been discharged now, one was moved to the adult prison in Brampton and the other two went in to group homes/assisted living situations. I am still in contact with one of them.

Physically we had a few setbacks over the holidays. I had a seemingly neverending infection that went on for about six weeks, and Chelsea had minor surgery between Christmas and New Years.  I am much more aware that Chelsea is aging, partly because of the minor surgery and partly because she's clearly slowing down and becoming more neurotic. I feel the need to shield her more than I ever have. Thinking back I never used to have that feeling at all. She was Chelsea - well behaved, ridiculously appropriate with other dogs, and in love with every person she met. I never worried about taking her places because I knew she would behave and I knew there was virtually no possible scenario that would require me to rescue her.  I think that's changing.

She doesn't play with Lulu anymore. When Lu tries to engage her Chelsea just gives her a "piss off" bark and poor Lulu is dumbfounded, like "what did I do?".  Just to be clear Lulu adores Chelsea, she always has. It's not like Lulu's spent the past 3 years tormenting her and Chelsea just decided she's had enough. They'd run, chase, play, wrestle, they were buds. Now Chelsea wants nothing to do with her. That disinterest hasn't extended to people, fortunately, the way she follows my mom around is actually kind of pitiful. And it's interest in people that's crucial the successful pet therapy.

We're starting up again on February 28. I wish I didn't have doubts about it working out but I do. It's always been something Chelsea loved and she bonds with people very well.  Fingers are crossed, but the day she stops enjoying it is the day she retires. That day could be months or years from now, or it could be just around the corner.

Friday, November 5, 2010

our Royal Canadian Embarassment

For some reason I happened to be watching CTV (aka Canada's Tory Voice) when the news came on this evening. One of the featured stories was about outrage over the White Poppy Campaign.

Rememberance Day is a Commonwealth holiday (also known as Poppy Day or Armistace Day) commemorating the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and civilians in times of war, specifically World War I, which ended with the signing of the German Armistice of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

According to Canadian Centers for Teaching Peace, the Women's co-operative Guild in England chose to wear white poppies in 1933 to symbolize their commitment to work for peace and to end their complicity with militarism. The tradition is being adopted in many other communities now too. Many people are choosing to wear red poppies to remember veterans and white poppies to renew their commitment to work for peace and to remember the true costs and causes of war.

So who is outraged by this desire for true rememberance? Why, The Royal Canadian Legion of course. "It's remembrance season, it's not peace season. If they want to distribute something they can distribute a dove" said Legion spokesperson Bob Butt. I'd like to suggest he change his name to Ass, but that's neither here nor there.

The Royal Canadian Legion also made news this week when two white men attended a Halloween party at the Campbellford, Ontario branch of the Royal Canadian Legion dressed as a member of the KKK and a prisoner in blackface, complete with noose.  Not only were they not tossed out of the party, they won a prize for their costumes.

I won't be setting foot in a Royal Canadian Legion branch for a loooong time, I don't care how cheap the beer is.  It also makes me think twice about throwing some change in the poppy boxes, which is sad because a lot of that money goes to provide much needed assistance to veterans and seniors.

For those interested in adding a white poppy to their red poppy, or maybe rocking a white poppy solo, here is some contact information courtesty of my friend Matt:

Toronto: Anna Lou Little 416/ *** **** UPDATE : Anna is no longer involved with the campaign. I am actively trying to find a Toronto/GTA contact.

Victoria, BC: Marya Nyland ph/fax 250/ 592 6484 philmar at islandnet.com & Terry Wolfwood ph/fax 250/ 595 7519 bbcf at islandnet.com

Halifax, NS: Jan Slakov 902/ 837 4980 jslakov at tartannet.ns.ca

Monday, September 27, 2010

the long road home after the 'wellseley fire'

I arrived at the Wellseley Community Center for the first time Saturday afternoon. I knew there was a need for pet food after the 6 alarm fire on September 24 but I didn't know how great the need would be. As soon as I walked through the Center I was overwhelmed by the smell of smoke.  People had left their apartments with the clothes on their back and the smokey smell was pervasive.  Once I reached the Animal Information table and introuduced myself I was given a really warm reception by the City of Toronto staff working there (most were social workers from what I could tell).

People came to the table draped in Red Cross blankets to inquire about pets still in the building.  There wasn't a lot of information available at that time and people were despondent.  No tears, no outrage, no panic - at least not visibly. I delivered the pet food I had brought with me, and as I was unpacking the last few items I looked down to my left and saw an American Eskimo dog.  I was about to ask the owner if the dog needed any food when I realized that the owner was an online friend of mine!  She had come to donate pet food, leashes, carriers, etc.  Finally meeting her made my day, and on a personal note it was nice to share the experience with someone, even briefly.  Trying to explain it after the fact - the smell of smoke, the sight of people wrapped in blankets, the despondence, the overwhelming need - is difficult because I'm not sure I have the words to adequately describe it. After my friend and I parted ways I drove straight back to the Oakville Milton Humane Society because I had delivered the entire pet food bank that day and had nothing left.  Fortunately they had several large bags of dog food so I loaded up the car again and headed home (after a pit stop at the LCBO lol).

That evening I saw a tweet on Twitter that the supply of dog food at the WCC was adequate but there was a desperate need for cat food.  My heart sank because that's the one thing Project Maddie never has enough of.  I bought some from a retailer and called it a day.

Sunday was a beautiful fall day.  I drove to Toronto in light traffic congratulating myself on leaving early enough to beat any gridlock.  What I didn't know about was the marathon that had most of the exits from the Gardiner closed.  After a few detours, with some much needed help from Matt, I arrived at WCC.  Things were a little different there on Sunday.  The first thing I noticed is that security had really tightened up.  Only 'residents', staff and volunteers were allowed access to the building (although people making donations were allowed to bring their donations in).  The second thing I noticed is that there was no smokey smell at all people had somehow managed to change their clothes.  I can't imagine going through the trauma of a fire only to have to sit around in clothing that smelled like the fire that just turned your life upside down.  Maybe this was the very beginning of a new start, the first leg of the long journey "home", wherever that will be. The building wasn't as crowded.  It was a completely different vibe than the day before.

I had made plans to meet Matt after dropping off the food but once I got there I stayed and volunteered at the Animal Information table.  The city employee working there was fantastic and we worked very well together.  Toronto Animal Services had finished a 24 hour shift at 2am Sunday morning - that's how long it took to check all of the units they knew had pets in them.  For simplicity's sake they called it "registering". By 11:30 TAS was back to make another sweep of newly "registered" units. The officer I spoke to said the building was straight out of a horror movie.  Cobwebs with huge spiders in them, cockroaches... he couldn't believe people and pets were living in these conditions.  The social worker I was working with also told me about residents who slept outside rather than on cots in the makeshift shelter because they were afraid of getting bedbugs.  Inspite of having very little to begin with and quite possibly having lost it all to fire, smoke, or water damage, the mood at the 'shelter' was very congenial.  Pet owners inquiring about their pets were reassured to hear that a) their pet was alive (most were) and b) enough food and water had been left for two days.  More food and water was left for them today.  Most of people I met were stoic, gracious, and demonstrated admirable grace in the face of unimaginable loss.

I was fortunate to meet a few people Project Maddie was helping including a very sweet couple and their wonder dog Kelsey (rhymes with Chelsea :) ).  Kelsey is a rescued German Shepherd cross (one of my favourite breed mixes to work with because they're so fecking clever).  She has some of the same phobias Chelsea does.  She also has a strong prey-drive and likes to pull on the leash.  Sitting outside having a smoke with them and talking about simple things they can do to manage these issues was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The boyfriend talked passionately about his years as a volunteer dog walker at Toronto Humane Society.  I couldn't really wrap my mind around them thanking me so profusely for pet food when it's obvious that they do a lot for animals (and probably other people) themselves. 

Last week, before the fire, I received a message from Maddie's 'mom'.  She has another dog and needed some food for him, which I had set aside and planned to drop off today.  Last night she wrote me to say her situation had changed and she wanted to donate to "the fire people".  I was going back to WCC today for another drop off, this time canned food, and was completely overwhelmed by her generosity - four bags of canned cat food and people food - a donation for complete strangers made by someone who often has to do without herself.  Why? Compassion.  Compassion is the basis for every kindness.  Compassion can transform us, if we let it. Compassion can help us transform the lives of others. Sometimes we donate money to a good cause, sometimes we make sure someone gets what he/she needs, sometimes we spend time investing in something or someone other than ourselves, whether through activism or volunteer work, or both.  We'll never regret showing compassion and sharing our gifts to benefit others.  At the risk of sounding cliched it's my experience that the more I do for others the richer I am for having done it.

The people displaced by the 'Wellseley Fire' have a very long road home.  Some will return to their apartments, some won't.  Some will have furniture and clothing but based on what I heard this weekend about smoke and water damage, most won't.  Luckily most will have their pets. If there was ever a time to feel compassion and reach out it's now.  The victims of the fire will still be struggling long after the media and public consciousness move on to something else.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

if you want inner peace it will cost you....

I just came across this article which is all kinds of amazing.  I've seen "Eat, Pray, Love" in bookstores and while it was obviously really popular, I found the "pray" bit off-putting so I never bothered to buy it, or read it.  Now that I've read the article titled "Eat, Pray, Spend, Priv-lit and the new, enlightened American dream", I'm really glad I didn't.

The premise of the book is a woman who leaves her un-fulfilling life behind to travel, find herself, find inner peace, etc. etc. etc.  What most people don't know is the trip was actually paid for by her publisher, Viking, and she embarked on her (sponsored) journey with the intent to write a book about it.  The "lesson" that this book (and others also mentioned in the article) is if you want a big spiritual payoff, you have to make big sacrifices.  A little disingenuous when you consider that the author sacrificed very little.

For those seeking enlightenment, inner-peace, and contentment (and I count myself among them) we're supposed to want badly enough to give up everything - homes, jobs, families - to go on a journey to find them. As someone who lives paycheque to paycheque I can barely afford a vacation.  The article also cautions that there is an implied message that there's something inherently wrong with women that needs to be fixed, thus necessitating the costly pursuit of a solution.

In today's economy, very few women can actually afford to leave their jobs and drop tens of thousands of dollars on a literal journey that's supposed to be spiritual, and why should we be expected to? An abundance of life lessons is available at little or no cost - friends, books, the internet, and of course, life itself.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

jailing more people = epic fail

 Blogger Impudent Strumpet asked "What is the political motivation behind jailing more people?"

Oh boy. There's political motivation, ideological motivation, and greed motivation.

The political motivation is to appeal to people who think "tough on crime" policies will bring crime rates down and keep them safe. There's also the "fear factor", that if people are afraid of crime and believe the government will keep them safe they'll give the government a longer leash, perhaps even letting the government infringe on its citizens civil rights (ie. Patriot Act).

We have become a throwaway society.  I see it every day. If animals or people have problems, or are inconvenient, our society is more likely to put them down or away - out of sight, out of mind. Never mind that the factors that cause animal overpopulation, or criminal behaviour (poverty, disenfranchisement, racism), can be addressed but are not, so the cycle begins again.

Therein lies the ideological rub. People with conservative ideologies generally don't acknowledge that social factors contribute to criminal activity, whereas people with progressive ideologies are more likely to address these problems.

Then there's the profit motive. There's big money to be made in locking people up - if the institution housing them is privately or corporately owned. This was touched upon in Michael Moore's "Capitalism, a Love Story" but it is happening in Canada too. The secure detention/treatment facility I volunteer at is part of the private sector, not public sector, but all of the youths are there by court order.

The US model of "supermax" prisons is an epic fail.  It doesn't work. Locking people up for 23 hours a day is sure to contribute to mental/emotional disorders, and increase anxiety and aggression.  I consider myself a fairly level, compassionate person but if I had to spend 23 hours a day in a cage for years on end I might become a completely different person. 

Supermax prisons are inhumane.  I believe that most people are good.  Most people in the justice system are good, but have made really bad decisions.  I've made really bad decisions. Who hasn't?  As a society are we prepared to say that people who make bad decisions are no longer human? No longer thinking, feeling people and no longer entitled to dignity? A decent quality of life? An opportunity to overcome whatever social, mental, or emotional impediments led them to commit crimes?  I wouldn't keep a dog in a cage 23 hours a day.  I wouldn't do that to a human being either.

By contrast, there are some models in the US in which inmates with serious convictions, including murder, are detained in lower security facilities.  They have the freedom to come and go from their cells, to interact with other inmates, to participate in programs.  These are dangerous people.  So why aren't they shanking each other and rioting and attacking guards? Because they know they have a good thing and they don't want to blow it. These inmates are easier to manage than inmates in so-called "supermax" prisons.

It's time to re-think the way we view people who commit crimes, and the way they live while incarcerated.

My two cents.