Monday, 8 December 2014

Finding Happiness

Well, I could describe it as having internet again after almost 2 weeks of not, but that would be shallow as would be sitting outside in a warm breeze with a glass of wine at 5:44 on a Monday night because J is at school camp, but let's just say I am profitez-ing (there is no perfect translation but you get the idea).

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop called 'The Theory of the Compass and Map of Loss", a somewhat esoteric theory applicable to all but from an Aboriginal healing and connection perspective, which embraces the idea of moving through life's challenges to a place of healing and happiness.  It was illuminating as has much of the Aboriginal learning and cultural corridors I have been treading to better understand and perform my job.  I won't try to explain the theory and I'm not even sure I could, however, it, and several experiences in the last several months have put me on a path toward finding happiness and not in the places I necessarily expected.

Ayn Rand used the term 'objectivism', that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (rational self-interest), and that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism.  I don't disagree with this principle, except for the laissez-faire capitalism part, as I believe that capitalism and wealth have a role to play in bettering the community in which we live and thrive.  I have often wrestled with the idea that our moral purpose is to make ourselves happy.  Is it "moral" for a person to accumulate wealth and/or experience and keep it entirely unto them without assisting those in-need, without paying it forward?  Or does happiness grow from community service, from helping those who are vulnerable and legitimately in need?  I lean toward a hand-up not a hand-out approach and, increasingly, the idea that for those who have much, much is expected.  Think Bill and Melinda Gates, or here in Australia, think Andrew Forrest.  Learning about their apolitical, non-dogmatic approaches to community have begun informing my own approaches to life and my community.

The life that C2 and I have built is a many-chaptered story; when some chapters closed, new ones began, and each contributed to our wealth of knowledge and experience.  None of it was forgotten, suppressed or ignored but all of it, the good and the bad, have shaped the people we have become, the choices we have made, and the life we are living.  My work in the not-for-profit world has exposed me to horror, haunting injustice, healing, and hope.  I have found that opening myself to all of it has put me on the path to happiness by bearing witness, by being part of the healing, part of a community dedicated to righting wrongs, and bringing balance to bear by our actions, no matter how small.

My current work with the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities has been such a learning experience, such an education, and I understand only a fraction of their 60,000 year-old story.  But it has resonated profoundly with me, and I now see the world through a different lens.  This new lens is causing me to become more open-eyed, open-minded, and open-hearted.  I have been participating in Aboriginal cultural evenings where we sit around a fire, surrounded by spiritual grass trees and healing smoke, and led by a revered Elder, are taken on a journey, where there is joy and acceptance and balance.

We live in a world where the 6:00 news is endlessly depressing, and it can be overwhelming.   We can't change everything, but in each of our little corners of the world, there is a place where we can make a difference, and I think that is where the beginning of happiness may lie.  I am discovering balance between what I have and what I can do.  I hope C2s and my influence will inspire J to be aware that everything he does in his life matters; that everything he will do, every fork in the road, will impact on someone else.  

I think two qualities need to be nurtured for balance and happiness to be achieved, (1) thirst, a thirst for knowledge, and experience; and (2) curiosity, to be open and respectful of new ideas, new places, and new experiences. 

 I'm working on both.


Monday, 17 November 2014

About Films, Deli Counters, and Bugs

About Films:
I've been thinking about films lately.  If I try to recall a list of the good ones I've seen in the recent past, between, 'Godzilla', 'Pacific Rim', and 'The Lego Movie', all I can reach for is 'Midnight in Paris' or 'A Good Year', both of which I've recently re-watched for about the 10th time.  We used to watch a lot of films, good ones, I don't know why we've stopped but I suspect it has something to do with our 11-year old now assuming the same bedtime hour as us on weekends.

Consequently, I am going to challenge myself to see 3 good films before the end of the year.  I'm hoping to see 'Two Days One Night".  If you've noticed that this is the 3rd time I've referenced a Marion Cotillard film, you're right and that would be because when I grow up, I want to be her.  I also want to see 'My Old Lady', and to humour C2, I'll go to 'Interstellar', but only because it was filmed outside of Calgary and because Christopher Nolan rented my nephew's friends' house.  Watch this space, I suspect, all I'll actually see will be 'Night at the Museum 2'.....for the 4th time.

Still, at the very least, I am assembling a list of those films worth my time so if you have any suggestions, throw them my way.  Maybe some of them can keep me company on our long flight back to Canada at Christmas.

About Deli Counters:
How many of you have been intimidated to approach the deli counter at your local grocery store?  At my local Woolies, the deli counter is frequently manned by a very grumpy deli guy.  So fierce is this fellow, that I have started referring to him as 'Grumpy Deli Guy' and my heart sinks if I see him as I approach the counter.  Here are a couple of typical exchanges:

Note for ease of translation, Grumpy Deli Guy will be referred to as GDG:

Exchange Example #1
GDG: Scowl
me:  "Um, can I have a medium container of pitted Kalamata olives please"
GDG: Heavy sigh....reaches for a small container and before I can say anything fills it.
me:  "Oh sorry, I guess I didn't make that clear, can I  have a medium container please?"
GDG: Eye roll, reaches for the medium container and dumps contents of small container into it.  "Is that good enough?"
me:  Thinking "if that was all I wanted I would have asked for the small container" but instead I meekly reply "Um no, can you fill it please?"
GDG: Heavy sigh, fills it part-way to the top, slaps a cover on it, hands it to me and turns away.
me:  I resist urge to apologize for ruining his day, and decide to leave the feta cheese for another time.

Exchange Example #2
GDG: Scowl
me: "Um can I have two thick slices of spicy pancetta, about this big"  I demonstrate far too cheerfully with my fingers the size of the thickness I want.
GDG: Heavy sigh, reaches for the mild pancetta and turns away
me: "Um excuse me, I think that is the mild pancetta"
GDG: "AND???"
me: "Er I'd like the spicy pancetta please"
GDG: "We don't have any!"
me: "Er um, yes you do right beside the mild pancetta"
GDG: Eye roll, scowl,  he cuts me two slices of pancetta half the size I wanted and then looks at me to see if I would dare comment.  I didn't.

Seriously!  Is it normal to experience heart palpatations when one enters their grocery store?  Do I have to give up my deli order, or save it for a different shop?  C2 has a somewhat different suggestion but I suspect that it may get me removed from my favorite Woolies, so won't pursue his strategy.

About Bugs:
We are approaching our first summer in Perth and have begun spending a lot of time indoor/outdoor living which has been great.  We love to sit outside in the evenings and listen to the cicadas.  However, indoor/outdoor living comes at a price.  We first recognized that we might have a problem a couple of weeks ago whilst eating dinner outdoors with all the doors flung open, and the lights inside left on...they cast such a nice ambient glow outside.  When we finally returned indoors, our ceiling looked like something out of Wild Kingdom.  Fortunately, most of them lay dead on our floor the next morning, so that was nice.

Then, of course, there are the cockroaches, which J loves to pick up and stalk me with, that's nice too.  There are moths the size of my hand, and huge spiders that have almost become pets (Norman and Warner so far that we were/are rather attached to).  We mourned Norman's passing when he was stung by his lunch (a bee).  There are crickets who you really don't want inside the house if you care to hear anything else besides their chirp, and there are stink bugs (don't ask).  Last night, I noticed a rather large black helicopter roaming around the ceiling.  When we finally trapped and released it (yes we still do that), it turned out to be a giant flying beetle, so that's nice too.

I guess, we'll have to forego that nice ambient glow until Fall.

Things I have Decided Not To Dwell On This Week:
In no particular order:
1.  ISIS, ISIL or whatever that band of sociopaths want to call themselves
2.  Vladimir Putin
3.  The empty corner in my living room where Murphy used to sleep
4.  That the Republicans now rule Congress
5.  That the pair of grey Converse's I would like is 100% more expensive in Australia than in the U.S.
6.  That I still don't understand the game of Cricket despite living in a Cricket-mad country
7.  That the new version of "Do They Know it's Christmas' is really bad
8.  That my Christmas shopping is going no-where fast
9.  That Benedict Cumberbatch is engaged....not that I would have left C2 for him....still...
10.  That my hamstring tendonitis is managed but not gone and I will probably never run a marathon....not that I was planning to....just saying.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Letting a Little Colour Back In

No bones about it, it has been a tough week since Murphy's sudden passing last Friday.  However, we are coming out the other side of the initial shock and grief.  I am now able to have a conversation about her without breaking down.  We still miss her and her familiarity enormously, and the house is eerie without her in it.  C2 has already decided we must get another now.  I put the kibosh on that desire, however, as I would really like to wait a year, tick a travel box or two without the worry of animal care for the first time in 20 years.   His head agrees, but the heart wants what the heart does J's.

Halloween was a good distraction and it is beginning to really catch on in Australia.  People either fully embrace it or mutter about the Americanization of Australia.  Some older kids probably inclined to mischief-making anyway use it as an excuse to cause problems.  Fortunately, we didn't see any of that.  Of course it is nearly summer here and all the kids were wandering the neighbourhood under bright sun and were done by 6:00 but that's just how we do it down under.  J's school had an awesome Halloween disco later in the evening where the boys boogied while I hung back at my girlfriend's house and sipped wine.

 Australians are still working out what to give as Halloween lollies and many are clearly baffled.  Too much is unwrapped candy (straight into the bin) but my personal favorite this year were three dried Apricots....ewww!  I think they beat the banana and packet of TimTams from two years ago.

Another great distraction was Perth's annual Swisse Color Run which J and I ran yesterday along with 19,000 other runners.  The Color Run is a unique concept whereby every kilometre or so, you are pelted with paint (coloured starch) in an effort to become as kaleidoscopic (is that a word?) as possible.  Frankly, it's the only 5k race where I pretty much laughed from start to finish, and then danced along with thousands of others at a great post-race party.  The run was around Langley Field in downtown Perth between the city and the Swan River.  It was picturesque and fun and EXACTLY what J and I needed though I didn't need the reminder that J continues to run a 5K faster than me.

We were nice and clean in our Color Run kit.  I couldn't convince J to lose the sweatband.  Didn't matter much once we got to the race site since everyone else was wearing one too.

Selfie immediately post-race.  I am such a cheeseball whilst J is waaaay too cool for school

The post-race dance party - yep that's J dancing!

Clouds of paint

Yes, we rode the train home looking like this!

We had fun, and we were happy and that was the goal of getting through this last week.

Monday, 27 October 2014

A Death in the Family

Sixteen years and one month.  One month.  One month since I last blogged about her, 2 days since her wellness check at the Vet gave her an all-clear.  One month since it seemed, however improbable, that she would live forever.  She didn’t.

Murphy passed away very early Friday morning with our hands and our voices her last experience.  I had at least wanted that much.  I am grateful that it didn’t happen while C2 was travelling, or at the office.  I am grateful that it didn’t happen while I was at work and she would have been alone.  I am grateful it didn’t happen while we were in Canada at Christmas.  I am grateful but I am grieving.  We three are.

I am grieving her presence, which is so familiar to me; our house is loud with her absence.  When C2 comes downstairs in the morning, he looks at the corner of the living room to her bed, “to make sure she’s still breathing” he used to joke.  That corner is conspicuously empty now.  When I come into the house, I open my mouth to holler “hi Murph” then stop.  I still think to her schedule and automatically open my mouth to ask C2 “have you let her out to pee” at night before I stop.  I look to my feet as I’m cooking or preparing food where she would always be and her absence takes my breath away.

I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach…repeatedly.  We three do.  I’m sorry if you cannot relate to the grief of losing a much-loved animal but she was so much more than that for us.  She has been our constant companion through time and place, our touchstone.   After 16 years, we should have been ready.  We were prepared but we weren’t ready.

J stayed home from school on Friday and we went for a long walk by the river and talked and remembered and cried, and then did it again.  It helped, especially him.  C2 came home early since he couldn’t keep it together at work.  We went to Ikea and bought bookshelves, came home, and redecorated a room from top to bottom.  That got us through that day.

The next day, we spent the afternoon at the Perth Diwali festival, the Indian Festival of Lights, which spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.  Seemed the right thing to do.  The Masala Dosa temporarily filled the hole in our stomachs.

Yesterday, we went for a long beach walk, collected shells, and talked more.  I know that in a few weeks, this feeling of being kicked in the stomach will shift away from sadness and towards recalling happy memories with a smile in my heart.  I wish I could fast-forward to that place.

It was love at first sight for both of them

The last thing I said to her before she died was to “go find Sam”, her beloved Golden Retriever friend, and equally loved dog of our friends Marc and Nathalie.  I choose to believe that after leaving us, her indomitable spirit found his, and that they are together in Fish Creek Park in Calgary playing and chasing each other as they once did.  That's where she walked with me every day the summer J was born, sitting at my feet at Annie's  Cafe sharing my muffin, and whimpering at the mocking squeaks of the Prairie Dogs.  That's where she swam in the river, climbed hills, played in the snow, and mountain-biked with us.  That’s where we’ll spread her ashes so that’s where she can stay.

Friday, 10 October 2014

A New Job, Mental Health, and School Holidays why it's been a month since I last posted, in spite of my best intentions.  My free time has been so limited, in fact, that I fully expect to take two days to write this relatively short post, between ignoring the dusty tumbleweeds drifting by, finding time to have a shower, collecting J from tennis camp, and trying to spend  quality time with him since school holidays are usually full of precious JAM (J and mum) moments.

Righto, so back to the beginning, a month ago I started a new job, an NGO - perfect!  New field (mental health) and much to learn in short time; I love a challenge so still perfect!  Part-time - perfect,  However, part-time has morphed into near full-time at the moment which would ordinarily be fine, however has been made more complicated by (a)  my mum was in her final three weeks with us  (b)  J has two weeks of school holidays and (c) C2 is in the USA - oy!

This last month has been about trying to skill up very fast on the basic principles and statistics of the current mental health crisis in Australia, trying to skill up equally fast so that I can work respectfully with the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who are key stakeholders in my project, trying to make my mum's last three weeks with us not just about doing our washing and making our dinners, and reminding J that he really does have a loving and present mother.  Toss into the middle of that, a 3-day trip to Sydney (completely awesome)  to accompany my mum part-way back to Canada, and well, it's been quite a month!

The Sydney opera house....and a pirate ship?

I can cope with my current chaos because I know that balance is around the corner; that sweet spot where my brain, body, and soul are fully engaged and there is still milk in my refrigerator.  For the moment, that symmetry is elusive, but I know it's close.  At least the chaos is helping me not notice that my mum has returned to Canada.

One of the highlights during the school holidays was reclaiming our old annual J-Day tradition.  On J-Day, J chooses all meals and activities which not supposed to cost any much money.  This year started with a waffle breakfast, followed by a trip into the city to our favorite sushi restaurant.  J and I can do an impressive amount of damage at a sushi train!  J bought a new toy at Target (he paid) and I bought some artisinal rock candy on Hay Street (I paid).  Home-made chicken soup was the dinner request.  It was a JAM-filled day which ended with a 4-hour Skype call/virtual playdate with his best mate from Geneva while I binge-watched Season 3 of "Once Upon a Time" on Netflix.

Our sushi consumption, why yes those are all our plates,  impressive right?

Geneva calling....still best mates

Chicken soup
On another subject, for those of you who stay awake at night wondering just how far Perth is from North America,  J and I had 2 days and 2 full nights' sleep while C2 was traveling from Perth to Gillette, Wyoming this week....seriously.   I cannot tell you how excited I am for our journey to Canada this Christmas which will be our first from Perth.  It promises to be similarly grueling, dang, I knew there had be a price for living in paradise.

Monday, 8 September 2014


I 'm unsure what more I can say about my darling 16-year old creaky girl, now in the twilight of her doggy life.  I have blogged about her and our relationship with her several times.  She is a special girl but a very old one now having turned 16 this past weekend.

Dogs have been treated very differently in all of the places we have lived.  In Canada, they are typically kept indoors because of the cold climate, and generally considered part of the family.  As Murphy was young whilst there, her preferred place was on the corner of our green sofa prior to retiring to our bed at night.

Christmas 2003, J was 6-months old and Murphy was 5 years old

Murphy's green sofa

In Geneva, dogs are revered and accepted in cafes, restaurants, and (gasp) high end shops.  Still it was rare that we took Murphy to a restaurant because she has always been ruled by her nose and she would consequently visit other tables when our attention was elsewhere.  In her middle age, her preferred place was on our white sofa prior to retiring to our bed at night.

Murphy's white sofa

Young Murphy

Now we are in Australia, where dogs are expected to remain outdoors, where finding holiday accommodation that accept dogs (of course she comes with us, why would you even ask???) is a challenge, and it's generally considered cruel to keep a dog in the city (seriously???).  In her old age, her preferred place is on her doggy bed and it's where she stays at night too  since arthritis has halted her stair-climbing, and age-induced night terrors have made her prefer the kitchen with several lights left on to the dark of our bedroom.

12-year old Murphy at Apollo Bay

14-year old Murphy in Melbourne

It has been heart-wrenching stewarding her through this part of her life.  She is not the same dog she was either physically or emotionally.  Her bones ache, her knees hurt, and her snout is completely white.  She has experienced a handful of age-related seizures that shake her confidence.  She is nearly blind and deaf, her eyes weep (we've nicknamed her Alice Cooper), and her teeth are ground low.  She no longer cares to cuddle as it is hurts her bones and skin.  She is too weak to jump on the sofa or to walk very far or very fast.

15-year old Murphy last month in Margaret River ask why?  Because, she still finds joy in greeting us every morning with a whack of her tail.  Because, she still thrills to the myriad of smells her Labrador nose unfailing leads her to.  Because, she loves to eat and spins in circles of excitement before every meal.  Because she stares expectantly at me until I give her a cookie after every short walk.   Because she still remembers when we eat Salmon that she gets the Salmon skins, or Grandma's apple core, or the odd watermelon rind.  Because she couldn't get to her birthday pancake fast enough yesterday.  Because she is still happy to be near wherever we are.  Because neither of us are letting go yet.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Bonjour Full Circle!

I speak French, did I ever mention that?  The Bienvenue in the blog header might have been a hint.  I think I speak French pretty well although there is puh-lenty of room for improvement.  I grew up in Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada, with a father who's first language was French.  But here's the thing, he never spoke to me in French and I was educated entirely in English.  A most unfortunate decision.

Culturally, my youth was representative of Canada's two solitudes.  I learned basic French at school, however, all of my social experience was again entirely in English.  At the time, it was unclear to me what an incredible gift bilingualism is, and it was only when I went to a bilingual College (in Quebec, we attend College or CEGEP for 2-3 years prior to entry into University) that I began regretting the lack of attention to my second language.

The subsequent years were spent studying and working in an English-language University, and with the exception of a handful of friends and acquaintances, interacting entirely in English.  The language wars raged in Quebec during those years, with Bill 101 and Bill 22 the rights of the English language diminished, and society fractured through separation referendums.  While I fully believed, and continue to believe to this day, in the distinct character of the province and the imperative of protecting the French language in a sea of English, I could never understand separation as a means of achieving those goals.   Ultimately, fatigued by the language wars, and its economic and social cost, we decamped to  Alberta.  During our 8 years in Calgary, my French language skills were rarely exercised.

But here is where things get interesting.  When we moved to Geneva in 2005,  J was 2.  Geneva is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and C2 and I were delighted to settle into this culturally and linguistically-rich part of Europe.  We resisted connecting with other Canadian or American groups deciding instead to integrate as much as possible with our neighbours and fellow villagers.  We sent J to the local French school where for the first year, all he said was "oui" (yes) and "regard-moi" (look at me), and we seized the opportunity to become as bilingual as possible.

My language skills with the help of tutoring improved dramatically and rapidly.  Within a couple of years both J and I were functionally bilingual.  By the time we left Geneva for Melbourne in 2010, I was determined that neither of us would lose our skills.   There was one primary school in Melbourne that offered an innovative bilingual French program for native speakers.  I stalked stayed in regular contact with the principal in the weeks before our move, and we ultimately received acceptance for J.  The next 3 years were amazing.  J's language acquisition and cultural appreciation for the language never flagged despite only speaking English outside of school.  Our entire social network was Franco-Australian so we were never very far away from anything French.

We resisted moving to Perth, even though it was clear that we should have been here from the beginning, in large part because of our commitment to J's language acquisition.  He worked hard to earn those skills and they remain a high family priority.  However, we did come to Perth four months ago.  Where am I writing this epistle to bilingualism?  At the Alliance Fran├žaise de Perth, the language and cultural epicentre of all things French in most major cities around the world.

In English-speaking Perth, J goes to after-school French school once a week, just like my Hebrew-, Greek-, and Italian-speaking friends did when I was a child.  I come once a week to a conversation class, and we all speak exclusively French at home on Mondays.  It's not perfect but I hope it will suffice.  I remind J every Monday as we walk into the Alliance, that one day he will thank me for insisting he speak French.  Maybe then we will move back to Quebec.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Exercise for Everybody!

It's no secret that exercise is a big part of our lives.  I  principally do it to indulge my well-documented Tim Tam addiction, but the endorphin high doesn't hurt either.  We've managed to include J in many of our activities and he does love the outdoors, running on the beach, climbing dunes and hills, hiking, and bushwalking.

Last weekend, we went on a bushwalk with our neighbours in the Yanshep National Park, about 50km north of Perth.  The Australian flora is always a treat, we were surrounded by Gum trees off all sorts, Tea trees, and gorgeous blooming Wattle.

 It was a glorious Winter day to bushwalk 12.5k though my feet didn't feel so glorious 4.5 hours later!

We really didn't expect this Croc to leap out of the bush at poor J.  He managed to fight it off thankfully.

 Gum trees galore!

 Deep in conversation, probably about something Minecraft-related.

Then we saw this fella, we were terribly impressed to see him, but I don't think the feeling was mutual.

Meanwhile, it is important that my mum continue to exercise in order to maintain good health whilst visiting us down under.  She's been working very hard!

Monday, 11 August 2014

FROZEN in Perth

Winter in Western Australia, how do I explain it?  Let me step back a minute.

 I grew up in Montreal and my clearest recollections of Winter were salt-stained boots, freezing toes, snow plows, snow drifts taller than me, digging my car out, and slipping on the glacier of uneven ice that thawed and refroze above the Guy-Concordia metro station. 


No exaggeration!
After leaving Montreal, we spent nearly 8 years in that Winter capital Calgary.  My blocked-out clearest recollections are taking Murphy out for a final evening walk and near flash-freezing, skiing at minimum temperatures of -20c, and planes being delayed due to long queues for de-icing.  

Ah the joys of air travel during Canadian Winters

OK, Winter does have some charms (Chateau Lake Louise, Alberta)

Moving on, we had 5 years of Winter in Geneva, a serious improvement over Canadian Winters.  Skiing at normal temperatures, few blizzards, but we still had that northern blast known as "La Bise" to contend with which could whip the Lake into a frenzy and render cars and benches into instant ice sculptures.

The effects of La Bise in Geneva

Melbourne for 3 years was again an improvement, but I still wore boots and a winter jacket; we still used our fireplace....a lot.  It just never snowed and I never wore gloves.

Now we have arrived in Perth where central heating is rare, where everyone uses an exterior clothes line, not a dryer, yet the Winter rain comes down in sheets, and the wind whips stinging water into your eyes, and an umbrella will not prevent a drenching.   Clothes stay wet  and soggy on the line waiting for a dry day between storms.  We sleep under our Canadian-weight duvet (called a doona here), and wear Uggs as slippers, as they're supposed to be worn.

All of this Winter fun is feted in the city for two weeks in July known as Perth's Winter Wonderland.
It is celebrated with outdoor ice-skating venues (where the ice is half-melted), an artificial snow ramp for tobogganing, artificial snow balls being launched into the air to the squeals of children who have never known the joys of -30.
J at Perth's Winter Wonderland last month

In fact, Winter is sufficiently regarded in these parts that J's class recently presented a performance of "Frozen".  J was the King, I think he looks very kingly...even if he did send Elsa to her room for 10 years.

All of this lasts....about five weeks...then Winter is over, O...V...E...R, as in good-bye rain, hello warm sun on my face, good-bye heavy duvet, hello crazy 11-year olds swimming in the ocean waves (it is still technically Winter), and welcome back shorts and t-shirts.

Cottesloe Beach last Saturday

J and his mate T braving the Winter waves

That's how I explain Winter in Perth.