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When to Retreat

This is itSpiritual care retreats aren’t for everyone. The longer I go between breaks, the more I wonder if they’re for me, if I’ve got anything left in me to nurture and to bring to the world other than a curmudgeonly attitude requisite for being a veteran mortician.

Today, I plowed my way through the two-lane-traffic-corridor from hell that takes you out of the GTA and to Kingston. It’s an exercise in patience and dreaming of creative ways to free our highways of transport trucks and drivers who do not obey the left-lane-is-for-passing rule.

I muttered through traffic, rolled my eyes at the lack of parking signage at the retreat location, and cursed the universe in general for having the rain start just as I was wrestling my basket of yoga mat, meditation cushion and blanket for deep relaxation out of my trunk.  I have under-packed for retreats before, and I was determined that based on the wet forecast, this was not going to be one of those soggy times. I looked like a 44 year old-yoga-pant-and-pink-sweater-wearing-mule trying to get all three bags  inside on one trip.

I was appalled at the woman who let me struggle with the door to the registration lounge without helping me, and the lack of smile on the face of the registrar. This is not Buddhism! Buddhism smiles for crying out loud! I could not get to my little room fast enough so I could dump my suitcase, prep for the mediation hall and ensure my precious bottle of South Australian plonk was safely stored next to the second draft of my novel.

This is how I entered my retreat space; frustrated, exhausted, and ready to give the world not a single, but a double salute using my middle fingers.

And then I entered the retreat space. I hastily set out my mat and cushion in the middle of the room and plopped myself down to breathe. Ha! To breathe…think about that one. Just taking a single, deep, focussed breath can do so much. For a veteran with this particular group, my entrance was anything but mindful. I did not bow. I did not do all of the small, but mindful ritual requirements of coming into such a sacred space. That was my first wake-up call. I needed to be exactly where I was.

I changed course, focussed on the minutiae of what I was doing, and in doing so,  I found myself at home. In observing my breath, the bell, the noble silence at the dinner hour, nourished by lip-smacking vegetarian food, in the dharma group listening, and finally back in my room (with a glass of contraband wine), alone with my thoughts.

Again I am reminded how precious these times are. I’m reminded how they crystallize my intentions, and help me manifest the kind of person I try to be.

I raise a glass to that…after all, nobody is perfect!

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Air Travel for the Commoner

AirTravel CaribbeanThere are few things better than being cramped in a flying-death-trap with a gaggle of strangers who lack common sense and manners.  A PAP test and  mammogram are much less uncomfortable, and take a fraction of the time.

Most recently I witnessed an individual wearing a, “WORK IS FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T DIVE”, shirt waltz down the aisle of a package-vacation aircraft with every imaginable piece of kitchen survival clipped to their camo-pants. There was a phone, a travel mug, travel pillow and an assortment of acoutrements jangling. We were all coming from a beach vacation for crying out loud. Chill out MacGyver. Another person followed, travel pillow, purse, iPad, hat and carry on in tow. As she swung around looking for space in the overhead, she clobbered someone in the head with her purse.

This delicate ballet continued as people kept boarding. I was fascinated by the lack of decorum, and complete disregard for other passengers. This has become a typical experience when it comes to package vacation carriers.

As a teenager sitting in my boyfriend’s living room, his very proper Irish father reacted to a belch or some other such masculine roar by calmly telling us that as we aged, we would appreciate small manners that added up to civilized society. I’ve aged. I appreciate it.

During my last experience with a trans-atlantic flight, I experienced the most absurd rushing to board I have ever seen, with a line-up forming an hour prior to boarding. What resulted was an irritated mob of unorganized boarding-a lovely way to begin an eight hour forced confinement. I’m convinced it was because people were vying for overhead compartment space.

airplaneMy most recent experience with air travel have been interesting to say the least. No, I cannot boast surviving a terrifying emergency landing like a friend and colleague.  I have never been privileged enough to witness a mid-flight take down of an irate passenger, and on the other end of the spectrum, I have also have never been graciously upgraded because I’m an obedient, no fuss traveller.

I did however witness the trio of women who swung their luggage around like a cat by the tail, spill red wine on themselves and the passengers behind them while laughing loud enough to keep everyone awake on the plane. Combined with the guy behind us who coughed up snot throughout the entire journey, it was a five hour exercise in patience.

Alas, I have been around long enough to witness the complete decline in etiquette and common sense when it comes to air travel. Perhaps it’s because the real estate inside aircraft has become more valuable. Overhead bins have become kind of like the condo market in Toronto – you know, people throwing money at 400 square feet like it’s an estate home on five acres. It’s all getting smaller and demand is exponentially rising.

Please, I beg of you, the next time you arrive at the gate, leave your ego behind, get in, sit down, and don’t be an asshole.

 

 

 

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Unable to Connect

bad connection

There are few moments that stand out as pivotal when it comes to my developing self. Today I experienced a disconnect clearly, and it was extremely unsettling.

How many special people change?
How many lives are living strange?
Where were you while we were getting high?

My go-to for writing is usually a Starbucks. Not original, I know, but it has worked for me for a long time; the chill music at just the right volume, people sauntering in cooly giving orders for extra-hot-no-whip-soy-double-shot beverages, while trying to look like they’re not checking out who looks more saucv than them while dredging out their phones to connect to the free wifi and talk at a volume just loud enough to feel important, about their co-workers’ annoying habits to their pal with the great hair who just ran through the door, out of breath and ready to talk about just how damn busy their life is.

Slowly walking down the hall
Faster than a cannonball
Where were you while we were getting high?

So, today I walked into the Starbucks in Unionville, which offered all of the above.  A special beverage juste pour moi, and enough noise to give me something to work against.

I wasn’t aware of why, but I felt it. At the the counter, I suddenly felt dumb (as in gobsmacked). The atmosphere around me buzzed with an energy that made me totally uncomfortable.  I fumbled to figure out what I wanted (normally a latte or a tall, full-bodied brew in a grande cup with lots of room for cream, or maybe even an iced chai latte with very light ice and non-fat milk), so I just ordered English breakfast tea, my simple go-to-comfort drink.

I juggled my laptop and milky tea to the middle of the shop and looked for a seat. I chose the one next to the Spanish looking fellow who was plugged into his phone, singing Oasis at the top of his lungs and making everyone else feel more than slightly uncomfortable. It was either him, some guy in a button-down and tie trying to look like he was working, and an  Asian lady looking anxiously at the guy singing, like he might suddenly jump up and mug her right there in the middle of an upper-middle-class afternoon.

The crazy guy seemed like the only reasonable, and sane choice. Everyone else was wearing a mask – you know what I mean, looking but trying not to. Caring what everyone else thinks, but enjoying being on show. They hugged their paper cups like cocktails in a 1940’s thriller. The crazy guy was more my speed.

Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne supernova in the sky
Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne supernova
A champagne supernova in the sky

He turned his head and looked right at me. We were just inches apart. I looked right back and stared into his eyes, “Hello” I said. He turned away  and kept on singing.

Wake up the dawn and ask her why
A dreamer dreams she never dies
Wipe that tear away now from your eye

For some reason I could not connect. My laptop froze in the ether of this moment of self-discovery.  I’d connected at Starbucks a zillion times all over the world without a problem, but today it just wasn’t happening.

Realizing that I was just wasting my time trying to plug in to the rest of the world via my 12″ screen,  I decided to spread out at the bar if front of the floor to ceiling window that lines Main Street.  A plastic-enhanced woman in a white jacket swooned that she could not believe that I was leaving a corner seat as she slid over and let me know that she was expecting an important client (the crazy dude had already left).

Important clients deserve more than in indiscreet conversation in a public, brand-name coffee shop, but for some reason they settle for it. I moved and let her have the corner office.

Having just come back from a vacation where there is an overtly open relationship regarding the energy exchange of buying and selling, engaging or disengaging from those around you, I suddenly realized that this aloof, dare I say, apathetic environment no longer serves me.  It’s just more distilled in places like Starbucks where everyone thinks they’re special because they’re not at the Tim Horton’s Drive Thru.

I wrote, people came and went, and I missed  simple, authentic interaction with other human beings.

This was not the environment I wanted or needed. I packed up my kit, and strode back to my car, hair blowing in the wind, yellow jacket shining against the overcast skies of a colder than usual spring.

Zipping past the boutiques that line this picturesque little part of my community, I noticed another cafe – Chee Organic Cafe, and I made an note to drop in tomorrow. Maybe I can connect there.

How many special people change?
How many lives are living strange?

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When the Community Board is Empty

Most of you know that I have recently moved. I live in a very strange community that has come to make me appreciate the effects of foreign property investment on our ‘communities’.  In effect, all of the empty grand homes in our neighbourhood  are mostly empty, with lights on timers, regular professional landscaping, and someone who clears the local newspaper and flyer delivery from their front porch. There is no neighbourhood here, only bank accounts in the form of houses.

It robs us of community. It robs us of mom and pop shops able to keep their doors open to provide goods and services for the neighbourhood.

Yesterday I popped in to a local  Starbucks for a delightfully refreshing iced drink, and while I was waiting for my sweetie’s pour-over, I turn to the community board as I’m often want to do.

This is what I saw;

A picture is worth a thousand words. Nothing. There is regularly nothing related to community posted on this board. Despite there being a steady stream of people in line to buy their caffeinated bevvies at all hours through the weekdays and on the weekends, there is little if any sense of community.

I’m a writer, and admittedly, I’ve spent way too much time in coffee shops picking away at my keyboard, and I’ve spent way too much money on coffee. I have however honed a keen sense of place while I’m out and about mooching free office space.

I have never (not even once) settled into this location for my hour long writing sessions, arranged for a meeting with friends, or lingered any longer than it takes to make my Sunday-morning-one-bag-in-one-bag-out herbal tea.

This weekend in Toronto while getting settled in to a workshop, I was recommended to a coffee shop just down the street from where we were gathering. And this is what their community board looked like;

 

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Mallo – Located at 785 Bathurst Street. Worth becoming a regular meet-up spot. Definitely make time to try their absolutely delish menu.

I stopped, took off my coat, enjoyed a cup of tea, and ordered one to go. The staff were so friendly, and vibe was so great, that I came back again after my workshop and tried their menu with a pal who was in the neighbourhood. $70.00 later I felt like I had a new place to add to my favourites. Lesson learned; a sense of community translates to profit.

Earlier this week, I was back in my old stomping grounds at my favourite Starbucks in Mississauga, and their community board looked like this;

community board

 

When your community boards are empty at informal meeting spaces like coffee shops, there is a fundamental problem within the local community. There is a disconnect.  People go out to write, to gather, and to get their over-priced half-caf-low-fat-made-exclusively-for-me beverages because they are craving connection as much as they are craving sugar and caffeine.

When your community board is empty, I challenge you to go out and find one that is overflowing with posters for yoga in the park,  poetry readings, amateur nights at the local coffee house. I guarantee you’ll be a happier, healthier person.

 

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What You Need to Know About Paris

 

First of all, you need to know that I love Paris. Like: Love as-in-I-would-move-there-tonight-with-nothing-but-a-carry-on-kind-of-love. Looooooove…..

giphy-1

 

Recently I was asked by an acquaintance to send some information about my most recent holiday in the City of Light. It took me forever to get back to her. Mainly because I knew just how into it I would get, and therefor how much time it would take me to compose an email as full of useful information as I could muster with all of the enthusiasm I have for the city. I enjoyed every.single.second.

I went on about my favourite places, included links and maps, tips and tricks, and loads of my very own opinion. Which, of course, the world needs more of.

paris cafeYes, I adore all of the idiosyncrisies of the French. This includes terrible and rude (if not also terribly rude) service and their casual sense of elegance.  I love the tiny streets of Montmartre with the colourful shops squeezed together like hippies on a road trip. I love the billionaire-on-a-budget attitude of St. Germain, the connection to great artists I feel when I sink into the reading nooks on the second floor of Shakespeare and Company, and the thrum of those places where new worlds collide and your footsteps become unsure.

Had I only been able to make one suggestion to her though about getting a feel for what to expect, it would be this;

Find a lovely scarf which is slightly too long to wield delicately, and get thee to a crowded outdoor patio in the spring time. Order wine or coffee and a tiny glass of water, and no matter what the menu, expect an exquisite presentation of deliciously prepared food. All of this served to you by the most disinterested and apathetic server that you can imagine while your scarf blows in the wind like a prop from an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Welcome to Paris.

 

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February is For Love Stories – Not Just Fairytales

Aggie the cat was stretched out on the roof, just past the glass of the window that was tipped open to allow her coming and going. Taped to the glass was the vintage orange, cover of Tennessee Williams’, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. You would have had to be a complete idiot to have missed the pun.

It was tucked up in the reading room of Shakespeare and Company that I read, in its’ entirety, Neil Gaiman’s, Art Matters. Amongst all of the old, hard cover, well-bound books that had possibly been in the hands of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway or even Gertrude Stein, I soaked up the love of storytelling written by one of our contemporary masters.

 

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Valentine’s day is the one day a year that we set aside to tell our love stories. There are very few of us who have lifetime love stories to tell, about meeting, marrying, raising children, and living into our twilight years hand in hand with our soul mate.  But this isn’t the only love story. Love does not follow a script. It follows the heart, and hopefully, if you are lucky enough, you have, by mid-life ,a small collection of stories that continue to inspire you.

Spending time in Paris, tucked up on the old daybeds of Shakespeare and Company will always be one of those stories. The syncronicity of how I met my late, angel-to-artists friend Nick Beat is another.

Stories are the thread that binds the fabric of our collective experience. Sharing them should be treated as a sacred honour, worthy of our full attention. Worthy of dedicated time to gather and share.

February is mostly past. Valentine’s day is over. Our love stories involve more than romance and fairy tales. Don’t forget that. Celebrate all of those things that make you vibrant; tell your stories.

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For Women Over 40 – Period.

enhanced-7925-1428613781-1This is a blog about menstrual cycles.

There. That should be enough information for you to decide whether you want to read this or not.

Having reached the age of, well, too old for the pill and too old to be convinced I need extra chemicals in my body, I found myself in need of (for the first time), supplies.  Having opted for the Mirena for years, I had little if any need for pads or tampons. But when my body had had enough, and the Mirena was removed, I needed to get back to the wonderful world of feminine hygiene products. Aside; I despite terrorizing reports about the Mirena, I loved it. The worst part was having it implanted. Removing it was a snap, and my doctor did it in her office. Easy-peasy.

I’m convinced that until men start bleeding from their penises, women will be unfairly taxed for feminine hygiene products.

Introducing the Diva Cup. If you haven’t hear of it, just click on the link there. Promoted as being reusable, and a cost saver (because you simply wash and reuse it), I’ve heard excellent things about it.

The Diva Cup isn’t the only menstrual cup out there, but it’s easy to find.

menstural-cup-small-cups-menstrual-cup-greece-menstrual-cup-comparison-india

Basically, it’s a reusable cup that’s supposed to be inserted into your vagina. It forms a seal and catches your menstrual blood. There’s a little tip on the end (kind of like the tip of a condom, but more solid) that you can, theoretically, grab hold of and pull it out.

To make it interesting, the Diva Cup comes in sizes. Since I’m over 30 and have given birth, the general instruction is to go to the largest size, a size 2.  I picked myself up Diva Cup for the standard $39.99, and took it home, eager to see what it was all about.

First of all, the material is  a lot thicker than I thought it would be. And it gets slippery when it’s wet.  Ideally you’re supposed to kind of fold it in half and slide it up into your lady hot-stove. Ideally.  Let’s just say I had to make more than one attempt to launch my Diva rocket, and I was convinced that despite my age and history of childbirth, that I still had a nice, tight woo-hoo. The discomfort did da lot for my gynaecological confidence.

Maybe I needed a smaller size? After a few attempts, the Diva Cup did make it’s way  to where it was supposed to be. But it was still folded over, it had not opened up into the full circle so the cup could form a seal.

Instructions said to give it one full turn to make sure that it was sealed. Easier said than done. It’s slippery up there! It was like trying to grab hold of a soaped up piece of rubber in a narrow, squishy drain pipe. I’m sure it just takes practice. Having my fingers inside of my nether bits while I’m menstruating wasn’t really a fantasy that I dreamt of living out when I slid the pretty Diva Cup box off of the pharmacy shelf. Alas, there I was, bloody fingers slipping all over the outside of a wet, rubber vaginal insert…already panicking of course about a myriad of things to be anxious about once you have a foreign object jammed inside an orifice.

After monkeying around bent over like a dog digging at mange on it’s stomach, I finally got the seal.  A seal I wasn’t entirely confident of. And then I waited.

Actually, I went to bed. What better way to test the seal than to lay down, roll around and get things moving in the morning.  No leaks. This was a plus. No horrific feeling of having a giant bowl stuck inside of me. I was convinced  that I could get through a yoga class without any concern of leakage or discomfort. Bonus.

Time to remove it.

It was cold last night when I took the Diva Cup for a ride,  and I had snugged in tight underneath my fluffy duvet. Turns out the Diva Cup also snugged in tight. The small little doo-hickey that I had carefully examined prior to inserting the cup seemed to have shrunk overnight.

handwashing_fight_germs

Let me just start by saying that I have short fingernails. Shorter than average. I also excelled in microbiology. ‘Nuff said. I’m quite convinced that had I tried to remove this cup, which seemed to have formed a vacuum seal, with fingernails, that I would have broken one off in my vagina.

Getting the damn thing out was difficult. Yes, I was likely tense, but getting ahold of that little tip was like catching a greased pig. Bent over the toilet, I thought that worse case scenario, I could get a pair of locking forceps and pull the damn thing out.

Please see a video on YouTube for an official DivaCup informercial, including insertion and removal.

Having said all of this, I can see the benefits of using the Diva Cup. It does what it’s supposed to do, and it saves money over the long-term. Who really knows about environmental benefits. After all, does the material in pads and tampons degrade more harmlessly and more quickly than medical grade silicone? That, I do not know.

pads.jpgI will be using the Diva Cup again, and hopefully becoming more and more comfortable with inserting and removing it.  I loved the idea of using this while camping and travelling but the reality is that being in a clean environment for removal could  be problematic under those circumstances.

Yes, it is more environmentally friendly, and the cost would definitely be worth it if you are going to use it all of the time. Provided you’re in an environment where you feel comfortable inserting and removing it, I think the Diva Cup could be a lovely addition to an active woman’s lifestyle.

The big plus; Not trying to get to sleep  with a mattress sized pad between your legs, and dare I even go as far as saying, sleeping completely a la mode.