Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remember the Fallen

My husband is what you would call a "war buff". The Military and History channels get more airtime in our house than all the sports networks combined. As a result, I know more about war than I ever really wanted to. Learning by osmosis, I guess. I mock him for his morbid fascination with the most tragic and depressing chapters of our history books, but in reality, I don't hate watching those documentaries as much as I let on.

Of course, with today being Remembrance Day, it's right up there with Super Bowl Sunday for good quality TV programming. I was just watching a documentary on the Military Channel about the last days of World War I and I learned something that I didn't know about the war. To me, war has always seemed a completely senseless and tragic method of "conflict resolution", but this particular show really hammered that point home.

For some reason, I was not aware that the Armistice that was to mark the end of WWI was signed at 5am on November 11, 1918. The cease fire did not come into effect until 6 long hours later - the battle continued and some 2700 soldiers needlessly lost their lives. Private George Lawrence Price, a 25 year old farm labourer, was the last Canadian Soldier (and likely the last of the Allied forces) to fall - at 10:58, a mere two minutes before the declaration of peace in the "war to end all wars". Private Price, along with more than 2700 other soldiers, gave the ultimate sacrifice that day in a war that was, for all intents and purposes, already over. The tragedy of this story is overwhelming.

It is widely believed that the number of soldiers that died during those final 6 hours is actually significantly higher than recorded. The French government is reported to have altered the death records of their soldiers that fell on that day to avoid the inevitable backlash and public outcry that was to come when it was learned their loved ones had died needlessly after the Armistice had been signed. The dates of death were engraved "November 10th" on those military headstones, lest they have to answer any questions about the inexplicable 6 hour "peace delay".

Today I attended a Remembrance Day ceremony at my kids' school. The entire service - the readings, songs, poems and pictures - was put together by the Grade 6 students. It was a beautiful and moving ceremony which left many of the attendees, myself included, reaching for the kleenex. Thinking back to my own school days, I don't recall any special Remembrance Day celebrations, other than the obligatory minute of silence at 11am. I am happy to see that the school board is trying to instill in our children an appreciation for the sacrifices that many have made to ensure their freedom (in spite of the inexplicable fact that our provincial government does not deem today important enough to warrant a Statutory Holiday......but that's another blog post all together).

So, today we remember the fallen, those who came home and those still fighting today. Thank you for all you have done and all you continue to do. Thank you for making the ultimate sacrifice so that my children can proudly live in a country that is strong and free. Simply, humbly, thank you.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

MH + JM = 2gether 4ever!

On October 26, 2002, in a gorgeous Milton Country Club, Marc Halter married Jennifer Meaney in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by 88 of their closest family and friends. The groom wore a rented tux and the bride was lovely in an ivory gown, sans designer label, off the 50% discount rack. They danced to a song written and performed by their best man and drank a martini the size of a small country. A good time was had by all.

I may be a little biased, but I still think that our wedding was one of the best I have ever been to. Happy 8th Anniversary, Babe!

Eight years may not seem like a long time to many, but in today's age of the "disposable marriage", 8 years is practically a lifetime. I heard a story on the radio the other day about yet another celebrity marriage that has fallen apart. The couple had been married for nearly 5 years and have a 2 year old son. The reason they cited for their divorce?? "We are more like best friends than a married couple". Ummmmm....hello..... if you have been married for 5 years, have a toddler monopolizing your every waking minute and you are still "best friends", I'd call that a pretty good marriage. Wouldn't you? All of the great married couples that I know, Marc and I included, really are friends first. You kind of have to be. You can have all the passion and spark in the world, but if at the end of the day you don't really LIKE each other, what on earth is the point?

I think Marc and I are in the minority when I say that our parents (both sets) are still married - and happy! My in-laws have been married 42 years, my parents 37. I'm sure their secret to a long and happy relationship isn't endless passion, romantic strolls on the beach and arguing over which one loves the other more. I'm thinking their "secret" is a mutual love, respect and, above all, friendship first. If genetics has anything to do with it, I'd say we have a pretty good shot at making it!

I do believe Marc and I will go the distance, not just because it is our anniversary and I am supposed to say that. Are we that perfect couple that never argues and just can't get enough of each other? Of course not. We scrap it out just like everyone else. Above it all, however, we have a friendship and mutual respect for each other that has only gotten stronger through life's ups and downs. We are each other's biggest fans. We support each other's wacky ideas (mostly mine), tolerate each other's crazy moods (again, mostly mine) and ignore each other's annoying habits (Mostly his. All of my habits are adorable.) We give each other a good swift kick in the ass when necessary. Plus, he cooks AND cleans. Let's face it, I'd be nuts to walk away from that!

I guess the bottom line is this: these days, it seems that a lot of couples head for the hills at the first sign of trouble or, in many cases, boredom. I'm not saying that there aren't valid reasons that many marriages fail - of course there are. Sometimes you just marry the wrong person. It happens. However, I do think a lot of people forget what marriage really is all about. I think if after juggling a mortgage, bills, jobs, several children, the crazy schedules of said children and family (yours AND the in-laws) the WORST thing you can say about your marriage is "we're more like best friends", then you're doing ok. In fact, you're doing better than ok. When all is said and done, it is the friendship that will take you the distance. After all, when you're both 85 (well, I'll only be 81....) and the passion of your youth is all but gone, it is that same friendship that will ensure that you've still got something to talk about.

Thanks for being my best friend, Sparky. Happy Anniversary!!!! I Love you !!!!

Puddles xoxox

Thursday, October 21, 2010

If you write it, will they read?

It's official. I have developed an obsession. Surprisingly, it's not an obsession that I could have seen coming - like chocolate, shoes or that cute werewolf kid from the twilight movies (sadly, I'm a little old for that one!) For the past several months something has been consuming me - filling my mind during quiet daytime moments and keeping me from falling asleep at night. I often find my thoughts wandering back to my obsession during conversations with family, friends and colleagues, hoping they don't notice the vacant expression on my face as they talk. I have been filling journals with notes and scribbles about how to make this obsession of mine a reality. Now I think the time has come to face this obsession head on. The first step to dealing with it, is admitting it, right? Here goes. My name is Jennifer and I am obsessed with wanting to write a book.

Whew! That wasn't so hard, was it? Actually, it kind of was. I am not sure why I have been struggling with this so much. It's something that has been on my "bucket list" for years so why is it NOW so difficult for me to say out loud? Furthermore, why is it so hard for me to actually DO IT?

I wrote a lot when I was younger. I was a shy kid that could barely look people in the eye when I spoke. Writing was cathartic for me, a way for me to get my thoughts and feelings out that didn't involve having to actually talk to someone. In school, if given the choice of writing a ten thousand word essay or giving a 5 minute oral presentation, I would choose the essay every time. I have a box in my basement filled with old journals, diaries, letters and short stories written during elementary and high school. Even now, I would prefer to take the time to send an email or text message to someone rather than pick up the phone and call. I am somehow better at getting my point across with the written (rather than spoken) word.

Why, then, is the concept of writing on a bigger scale so terrifying? I am guessing confidence has a lot to do with it. "Jennifer Halter" and "self confidence" are two things that you will never hear in the same sentence. Unless, of course, that sentence is "Jennifer Halter has no self confidence". It is scary to think about putting your heart and soul into something that no one might ever want to read. I confided to a friend the other day that I had finally "written" the opening chapter of my future novel in my head, but was unable to actually write it down. I told her that the thought of finally putting proverbial pen to paper was intimidating. What if no one cared what I had to say? Her reply was "Write your story for YOU, and no one else. Even if you are the only one who ever reads it, you will still have written your novel." I realized, she was right.

There has been a story inside me for quite some time now. Until recently, it had been pretty well behaved, quietly rolling around in my head and not ruffling any feathers. Poking its head out every now and then, just to let me know it was still there. For the past several months the story has felt like a caged animal - loud and impossible to ignore, viciously pounding on the cage and demanding to be let out. There is rarely a waking hour that goes by where I don't hear a character "speaking" to me in my head. I had to resort to carrying a journal around with me everywhere to make sure these voices don't get lost in my increasingly feeble memory bank. I know that taking the first step will be the hardest - actually writing that first chapter.

I did, however, finally take an important step in the writing process yesterday. I ordered some books from the library to begin the research process. I have also been following an author online for many years now. He writes a daily blog and a monthly e-newsletter that are entirely devoted to "Novel Writing for Dummies". Recently, I have been devouring his blog and newsletter archives, where I had previously only regarded them as something to file away for that far off day in the future when I would begin to take this novel seriously.

Believe it or not, this blog post is actually a significant preliminary step in the process as well - actually admitting, out loud in a public forum, that this is something I want to do. Not worrying about whether or not people will mock, doubt or discourage me. I have no idea how long this process will take, or even whether or not anything print worthy will come out of it in the end, but I do know this: When my days in this life are drawing to a close, it is unlikely that I will regret having written a novel that wasn't a best seller (maybe didn't even get published). I would be more likely to regret having never written my story at all.

Play ball!

J :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Social Butterfly

Well, all the buzz for this weekend seems to be about the movie "The Social Network" which opens in theatres today. I have to admit, I have been wanting to see this movie since I saw the first trailers a few months ago, and not because I am a Facebook junkie (which, of course, I am). I think it will be interesting to see the story behind the creation of, undoubtedly, one of the greatest phenomena of this millennium. Now that I am reading some reviews of the movie I am even more intrigued....Oscar Buzz!!!! I wasn't actually expecting the movie to be great, just an interesting story. I will definitely have to check it out.

It got me to thinking about what Facebook has actually done for me since I joined in early 2007. At first, of course, the novelty of Facebook was the opportunity to find old friends/neighbours/ex-boyfriends that you haven't seen in ages and check in on what they were doing. Did that guy who broke my heart in 10th grade end up bald and fat? Did the most popular girl in school really end up living happily ever after with the captain of the football team? How about that best friend that I lost touch with when she moved away the summer before high school? Answers to all of this, and more, could be found on Facebook. The first few months were ADDICTIVE - searching for all your long lost buddies. I can imagine office productivity was at an all time low during the early days of FBs popularity, before IT departments had sense enough to block the use of the site at work.

Now, however, I think FB has morphed into something beyond what anyone ever thought possible. Now, one of the greatest things for me about Facebook is being able to keep in touch with my family all over the world. I have over 60 FIRST cousins - most of whom I have either never met, or have not seen since I was quite young. Since FB came on the scene, more than half of those first cousins are on my friends list - as are their children and grandchildren (in some cases), giving me the opportunity to actually KNOW them. On my recent trip to Newfoundland, it was amazing to meet these relatives who were no longer strangers, even though distance had kept me from seeing them for many, many years.

Since my parents moved to Newfoundland back in February and my only brother has been living in Vancouver for several years, it is wonderful to be able to check on what they are up to and for them to be able to see pics of my kids' lost teeth, new hairstyles and redecorated bedrooms. Since I now have a new niece or nephew due to arrive in February, I won't feel so isolated from his/her little west coast life because mommy and daddy can keep us up-to-date on Facebook.

The other benefit (admittedly, an unexpected one) is what a great tool FB has become for my business. I can think of 3 or 4 real estate deals this year alone that would not have happened were it not for Facebook. I realized that there were a lot of people in my immediate circle that had no idea that I was a real estate agent. Now they do, thanks to FB, and they have an easy way to get in touch with me if they have any real estate questions. I have no problem adding past clients to my friends list, if they request it, as I never post anything on FB that I wouldn't want everyone to know. It is a great way to keep in touch with them and give them a chance to really get to know you as a person, instead of just the person that sold their house.

My friends list, relatively small compared to most, currently sits at around 400 - most of whom are old friends from the past, family members, co-workers and people that are in my current social circle. There are also a handful of real estate agents (mostly from the GTA, but several from other provinces and the USA)that are there for networking purposes. There is also at least one person on that list who I actually met BECAUSE of Facebook, and we have since become good friends. I trim my friends list regularly to get rid of folks that annoy me, post things that are offensive, or routinely get into fights with others via their status updates. The friends that remain on my list - I look forward to hearing what they have to say, sharing ideas, hearing about their awesome/crazy/stressful/funny/crappy day. I love to hear about engagements, new babies, vacations and birthdays. Sometimes life can get in the way of friendships and relationships, and Facebook gives you an easy way to just stay connected.

To be quite honest, I am not sure how we ever stayed in touch BEFORE Facebook came along. How did we plan a party, organize a fundraiser or remember everyone's birthday? I realize that Facebook is now a multi-billion dollar commodity, but I think most of the 500 million users (with the exception of, possibly, my husband) would agree that Facebook has changed the way they socialize, stay in touch and even run their businesses. Oh sure, it can be a huge time waster (some of those stupid games are ADDICTIVE!) but I think that if we woke up tomorrow and discovered that Facebook was gone, it would be sorely missed - as would all 400 of my FB friends.

J :)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hachiko: A Dog's Story

Recently, a friend loaned me a copy of a movie that I had never heard of. "It's about a Dog. Just watch it", I was told. Tonight, the girls and I snuggled in and did exactly that. It was, indeed, a movie about a dog. As it turned out, the movie was about so much more.

In addition to "the dog", the movie stars Richard Gere, Joan Allen and Jason Alexander. All pretty big-name stars, yet I had never heard a word about this movie...not a trailer, not a review - nothing. Surely, it couldn't be much of a movie then, could it?

How wrong I was - what an absolutely wonderful family movie it turned out to be! Based on a true story, the movie opens with an Akita Puppy being shipped on a plane from Japan, presumably to be united with his adoptive family. As often happens with airplane luggage, the poor pup is misrouted and ends up at a train station at the feet of Richard Gere. (LUCKY PUPPY!) After several attempts to locate the pup's intended owner, Gere realizes that perhaps he and the pooch were meant to be together and decides to keep him. He discovers a collar around the dog's neck with a Japanese symbol for the number 8 - Hachiko, or "good fortune" - and this becomes the dog's name (Hachi, for short).

The movie then goes on to follow the story of the dog and his beloved master as Hachi becomes a part of his family. I won't spoil the movie for those of you that have not seen it, let me just say that this was one of the best family movies I have seen in a long time. The performances were understated, yet powerful, and allowed the viewer to become lost in the story as it unfolded. This is not a movie with a big budget, a huge special effects team or endless plot twists. It is, quite simply, a really nice little movie. Should you decide to watch, you will not be disappointed.

What I cannot begin to understand is this: why is it that I had not heard of this movie until now? After a little research on the net, I discovered that the movie premiered at the Seattle Film Festival in 2009 to high critical praise, yet the studio decided not to give the film a theatrical release - shipping it, instead, straight to DVD and relative obscurity among the movie watching public. With the utter crap that is continually rammed down our throats in the mulitplexes (seriously people, Pirhana 3D???), how is it that a little gem like this was swept under the rug and forgotten? It is a shame, really.

It is a story of true love, loyalty and devotion that you will not soon forget. More than an hour after the end credits rolled, I am still thinking about it, hoping to get a chance to watch it again before I have to return the borrowed DVD. It just goes to show that it takes more than a big budget, flashy trailers and A-list stars with huge paycheques to make a good film. All it takes is a little heart, something that is sadly lacking in most of the mindless drivel that Hollywood churns out year after year.

The next rainy afternoon, snuggle up with the kiddies or your honey and give it a chance - you'll be glad you did!

J :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life is a Highway....

Yesterday at around 2:30pm I was driving westbound along Highway 401 - radio blaring and my 2 kids in the back seat (possible reason for radio blaring could have been to drown out the sounds of the 2 kids FIGHTING in the backseat, but I'm not sure) I was in the left lane, doing a respectable 110km/hr . Suddenly, I felt like the car was losing power. I couldn't maintain my speed any longer. I quickly decided to pull to the right lane to make sure everything was ok. Sure enough, my speed kept decreasing no matter how hard I jammed on the accelerator. I immediately pulled the car onto the shoulder and that's when I smelled the burning.

I am pretty certain my heart stopped at that moment. First thought: Get the kids as far away from the car and the speeding 401 traffic as possible. Second thought: Rescue my purse, my Nikon and my Blackberry from the front seat (stupid, perhaps, but let's be serious. I wasn't going to let my 2 other "babies" burn if the car was, in fact, on fire). Third thought: Now what?

While I was pulling kids and electronic gadgets from my 15 year old relic, a kind stranger had already pulled off the road and called for help. Thankfully, the car was not on fire, even though the smoke billowing out from under the hood would have you believe otherwise. To make a long story short, the mechanic called this morning with the sad, $2600+ news. My car had finally given up the ghost.

Last night, after the excitement had died down, Marc and I were talking about the "Ghosts of Cars Past". It got me thinking about how cars really are more than just a way to get from Point A to Point B. A car can represent your first taste of true freedom, your first brush with responsibility (and, usually, debt), they can be a status symbol or a reflection of your personality.

To date, I have owned seven different cars. I bought my first car at the ripe old age of 16. The ink was barely dry on my newly printed drivers licence. I purchased a 1984 Silver Chevrolet Chevette for the bargain price of $500 using some of the money I had earned working in a real estate office for the past 3 1/2 years. As you can imagine, I was on top of the world. I no longer had to rely on my parents to get me where I needed to go - freedom at last!

I was one of the first of my friends to have their very own wheels, and, boy, did those wheels get a workout. That poor little car never stopped. One day, one of my friends called the car "The Silver Bullet", and the nickname stuck. The car didn't have air conditioning, power steering or power brakes, but I loved it. For 15 bucks you could fill the tank and drive for 2 weeks. On any given day, the Silver Bullet could have as many as 8 passengers - in spite of the fact that the car only had 4 seat belts. (Luckily a few of my friends were small, and not at all opposed to riding in the hatchback). The Silver Bullet was witness to several first kisses and a few painful breakups. A few of my friends even learned how to drive (and passed their road tests) in that car. Best of all, the Bullet never left me stranded on the side of the road. In the time that I owned it, I never spent a penny on it, other than gas and oil changes. When the Silver Bullet finally gave up its ghost (after at least 250,000 Kms), the junk yard actually gave me $250 for it. It was, without a doubt, the best $500 I have ever spent.

My next car had big shoes to fill. The Silver Bullet was a hard act to follow. I bought a cherry red Dodge Colt for exactly 5 times what I paid for my Chevette. The car was a 5-speed manual transmission. My boyfriend at the time had taught me how to drive a stick (exactly once) on his honda civic, so of course I figured I was qualified to purchase a standard car. I was a second year student at U of T. I survived first year calculus - I could conquer this car!!!! I stalled the car at least 10 times on the way home, but I evenutally got the hang of it. It was a fun little car to zip around in, but it never pulled at my heart the way my first car did. I did, however, eventually give it a nickname - Little Red.

Little Red was a money pit - there always seemed to be something going wrong with it. Within months of buying it, I had to replace the clutch. At one point, Red's starter went. One of my friends told me that all I needed to do was have someone give the car a push while I sat inside and popped the clutch - and PRESTO, no starter needed. This was great fun and saved me a bundle in repair bills, but was a real bitch when I went somewhere by myself. I had my first accident in this car - my fault. I was driving Eastbound on the Lakeshore admiring a white Lamborghini heading West when I suddenly found myself parked underneath a Nissan Pathfinder. That was the end of Little Red. I can't say I was sorry to see her go.

Several other cars have followed. My blue Eagle Vision was the car I bought after I sold my first few houses as a brand new Realtor. My fondest memory of this car involves a camping trip at Kilbear with 3 of my guy friends from university - the car packed so full of gear that I couldn't see anyone in the backseat.

Next came a Chrysler Cirrus, which was the most incredible shade of purple. This car took me on my first date with Marc, brought Makenna safely home from the hospital, and fought a stop-sign-running mini van, emerging with barely a scratch.

After I (sadly) returned my leased Cirrus, I ended up with a 2001 Silver Chevy Cavalier. This car was a lemon from the get go. I'm hard pressed to even think of a good memory with this one - most of the memories involve me stranded on the side of the highway (always a highway, never a quiet side street) making a panicked phone call to Roadside Assisstance. It was cute, and the 5-speed manual transmission made it fun to drive, but I couldn't wait to get rid of it. In fact, I had already signed all the paperwork to lease a new Chevy Venture Van, when I parked the car under yet another SUV. (This time I blame a snow storm instead of a flashy white lamborghini) A $7,500 insurance claim seemed to be a fitting farewell to this lemon of a car.

The Venture van had a pretty unremarkable 4 year term as my mode of transportation. The girls were quite young, and most trips in the van involved watching the same movie over and over (and over) on the very handy entertainment system. Two that stick out in my memory are The Pacifier-starring Vin Diesel (sadly I couldn't see him, only listen as I drove) and Scooby Doo. There were no accidents, no highway breakdowns - just endless trips to brownie meetings, dance recitals, preschool classes and T-ball games. The quintessential "Mom Mobile", my mini van did its job of carrying my family safely wherever it needed to go.

In 2009, my four year lease was once again drawing to a close. I started shopping around for new cars. I really wasn't sure what I wanted and I wasn't keen on signing up for another 4 years of car payments. It would be really nice just to have a break! My dad had retired at the beginning of the year. He and my mom had decided that they didn't really have a need to have 2 cars on the road any longer, so his 1996 Grand Am was sitting in his driveway, undriven. He offered it to me and I jumped at the chance - happy to have a car that was paid for, even if it wasn't as pretty as some of the cars I had in the past. (Aren't I a little too old for my daddy to be giving me a car?) This car had its quirks (drivers window didn't open, glove box didn't close and the gear shift often popped off in my hand when I was trying to shift into park) but I quickly grew attached to this little junker (and the extra $500 in my bank account every month. Hellooooo, SHOPPING MONEY!!!!)

I took this little baby on my first big-girl, man-free road trips - first to Montreal, then to Buffalo (to spend the aforementioned shopping money) and, most recently, my first hubby-less camping trip with the kids. What it lacked in looks, it made up for with heart. The Pop-mobile ran like a champion until its untimely demise on the 401 yesterday. Now, you would think I would be happy to have an excuse to run out and buy a new car. You know me...I love spending money! Yet today, as I signed up for another 4 years of car payments, I was sad. Why am I so sad to see this car go? (In fact, as I was writing this blog I only got emotional about two of my former rides - the original Silver Bullet, and the Pop-mobile). Maybe it is because the car belonged to my father. With him so far away now, maybe I am more emotionally attached to this old car than I ever thought possible just simply because it was his. I'm not sure. In any case, that car lived a good life. RIP Pop-mobile!

As of Monday morning I will be the proud new owner of a 2010 Kia Forte in Titanium silver. A sporty little sedan that is good on gas and light on the wallet. I've never really been one to care about the kind of car that I drove (although some of the preceeding paragraphs might have you believing otherwise). I have always thought of a car simply as a mode of transportation. Period. The time I have spent writing this blog have made me realize that is not necessarily true. A car takes you on vacations and brings you to work. It watches your first date kiss you good night and takes you home to visit your family at Christmas. It brings your babies home from the hospital and is ready with kleenex in the glove box after you drop your "baby" at University. A car becomes a part of your life adventure, whether you realize it at the time or not.

Drive slowly...and enjoy the ride.

J :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No Regrets

This blog was inspired by a video that a friend of mine posted on Facebook today. The video was a clip from the show "Britain's Got Talent" and featured an 80 (!!!) year old woman named Janey who was taking a crack at auditioning for the show. Of course, she came out and wowed both the audience and the judges (grumpy Mr. Cowell included) with an incredible singing voice that was even bigger than she was. The title of the song she sang so beautifully was "No Regrets". Appropriate, don't you think????

Miss Janey probably waited her entire life to have a moment like that. I am sure that before she ventured bravely out onto the stage she had to listen to those voices in her head telling her that she was out of her mind to think she could compete against the other contestants, most of whom were probably only a fraction of her age. Kudos to Janey for not listening to those voices, and, no matter the outcome of the show, an internet superstar has been born. More importantly, Janey can live out her remaining years knowing that she had her chance....and took it! No Regrets.

(To see a clip of her performance, click here)

Watching this video really struck a chord with me. Seeing Janey, I realized that when we are all in our "Twilight" years, we are not likely to look back on our lives and regret the things we DID. More often than not, our life regrets are the things we DIDN'T do. Sure, we will all have those little regrets - a bad haircut, a lousy prom date or an unfortunate neon green outfit (in my defence, it was the 80s!!), but if we had it all to do over again, would we change those things? Not likely. Those little "errors in judgement" helped to shape us into the people we are today! No, if we were given a chance to do it over, chances are that the things we would do differently would be the things that we were too afraid to try the first time around.

A few years ago, I decided that I was going to make a point of trying something new every year. Something I had always wanted to do, but was too afraid to try. One year, it was to run a race. I didn't have the fastest time, but I will never forget the feeling of crossing the finish line after those 5K. For that moment, I was a RUNNER! Another year, I wanted to play baseball with my hubby. I struck out more times than anyone in the league, but I wore the jersey and was part of the team (and even made a few dazzling catches at home plate).

From bungee jumping and public speaking, to raising over $2500 and walking 60 (long!) kilometres in the Weekend to End Breast Cancer, I have tried to step out of my comfort zone a little at a time. For someone like me, who was always the shiest kid in the class (and was likely to burst into tears if someone new tried to talk to me), all of these things were a pretty major accomplishment! Until recently, I had pretty much gotten through my life trying to blend into the background.

Take tonight for example. Those of you that have been reading my posts on Facebook know that I was in a dance recital at the Living Arts Centre. This, too, was born out of my desire to try to live my life with "No Regrets". I had been watching my daughter dance in the show each year, and each year I watched the adult classes saying "I would LOVE to try that one day!". But I never did. How could I, I had never danced a day in my life (other than at parties, bars and dance clubs...usually spurred on by a few cocktails). One day I decided....WHY NOT? What have I got to lose?

This was my third show and it was a blast! Maybe I wasn't the most co-ordinated person on the stage (OK, there's no "maybe" about it. I was DEFINITELY not the STAR), but I can say that I was one of only 8 ladies that were brave enough to give it a shot!

So, I think we can all learn a lot from someone like Janey. We shouldn't live our lives playing it safe. Where's the fun in that???? I know that everyone has a "Bucket List" of things that they want to do before their time is up. What better time than right NOW to try to cross things off that list, one at a time?? I know when my days on earth are numbered, I don't want to spend them wistfully thinking about all those things I wished I had done. Instead, I'd rather be looking back through a scrapbook of memories saying "I can't believe I actually did all that!!! What a ride!!!"

What's next for me?? I don't know if my knees are up to training for that Half Marathon quite yet. Maybe Sky Diving? That's something that has been on my list for YEARS and keeps getting postponed for various reasons (cost...having babies...disapproving hubby). Perhaps starting that novel (even if it is just one poorly structured chapter)?? I'm not sure. I am sure of one thing though. Stepping out of your comfort zone may feel strange at first, but there is no better feeling than doing something you thought you could never do. You just have to take the chance and DO IT! As the old saying goes "You will always miss 100% of the shots you don't take!"

So, what's on your list???

No Regrets.

J :)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Me: Under Construction

This year, I decided not to make any New Year's Resolutions. For me, in the past, a New Year's resolution has typically gone in one "year" and out the other. I always have the best of intentions on December 31st (sometimes, but not always, spurred along by several cocktails), but, without fail, a few days into the new year my resolve to eat better/exercise more/be more organized/work harder has disappeared quicker than the New Year's Day hangover.

New Year's resolutions are basically about goal setting. What is so special about January 1st and our ability to set goals for ourselves? What did we do with the other 364 days in the previous year that kept us from reaching our goals? January 1st is just an arbitrary day, no more special than today. A recent study of New Year's resolutions showed that only 12% of people that set a new year's goal for themselves actually achieved that goal. Why is that? I am sure that the other 88% of people didn't simply decide that their goal wasn't worth reaching for, so why is it that so many New Year's Resolutions fail?

(NOTE: Yes, I am aware that it is now the end of April and a very odd time to be talking about New Year's goal setting...I promise, I have a point.)

I think this is the first year that I didn't make any resolutions. At the beginning of the year, rather than make lofty aspirations and try to do a complete self-overhaul, I decided to spend the entire year just working on myself, one day at a time. (There is actually a half finished blog to that effect dated January 1st that never made it to "press") I think the biggest reason that most resolutions fail is that we try to change too many things all at once. I can remember years where I have said to myself "Come January 1st, I am going to give up junk food, exercise 4 times a week, be more organized, more patient with the kids, stop procrastinating with work and become better at managing my money". With a resolution as drastic as that, it is no wonder that I failed miserably at reaching my goals for that year!

Instead, I began the year with a list of areas that I felt needed work, including, but not limited to: improving my work habits, my fitness level, my diet and my spending habits as well as becoming more organized and stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something new. I also began the year painfully aware of the fact that I couldn't make all of these things happen at once.

There is a reason why Addiction Recovery programs involve 12 steps and their motto is "One Day at a Time". They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Why is it that we think we can, in just one day, break a habit that we have likely spent years "perfecting"? I think the key to self-improvement is "baby steps". Setting small goals for yourself will not only seem less daunting, but will give you many more opportunities to reward yourself for a job well done. Someone that walks into their first Weight Watchers meeting thinking only about the 100+ pounds they have to lose is less likely to be successful than one who walks into that same meeting, needing to lose the same amount of weight, but is only thinking about the first 10 pounds.

I wanted to spend the first few months of the year focused solely on getting my business back to where it needed to be. I have been making several small changes over the past 4 months to improve my work habits and I believe I am now headed firmly in the right direction. I may have started the year with many areas of my life that I felt needed an overhaul, but I chose the one that I felt was the most important and ran with it. Now, it's time for step #2.

As a result of my increased work load, I feel like I haven't been taking the time to take care of ME. I have been eating poorly, keeping erratic hours and exercise has been non-existent. As a result, my energy levels resemble those of a hibernating polar bear. The old me would have said "Starting Monday I am cutting out all junk food and beginning a drastic diet and exercise program". Invariably, by Tuesday evening I'd be sitting on the couch with a diet Pepsi in one hand and something chocolate covered in the other.

Baby Steps.

Staring tomorrow, and for the next 21 days, I'm going to focus solely on eating better. Not a certain number of calories or points, just better. Each day I will write down what I ate, the good, the bad and the ugly. The next day, I will try to do "better"....and so on, and so on for 21 days, with the goal being to form a "habit" of making better choices when it comes to food. Once I have that under control, it will be easier for me to move on to Step # 3 ...

In addition to "baby steps", another key to self-improvement is to be happy with each positive change you make, no matter how small, and to remember not to let little setbacks throw you off your path entirely. Even the strongest among us stumble occasionally! Take it "one day at a time" and treat each day as single step. Just because you had a terrible Thursday, doesn't mean you can't have a fantastic Friday! to pillage the kitchen for that "Last Chance" chocolate chip cookie...

Baby Steps.

Jenn :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Winds of Change

"Your worst day can be your best day....if it changes you" - Richard Robbins

Richard Robbins is very well known in my industry. He is a renowned motivational speaker, a sales expert and an achievement coach. Even though he doesn't realize it (as we have never actually met), he is also partly responsible for my new, re-energized career path and goals. This was Richard's Facebook status one day last week. (I really hope he doesn't mind me borrowing it).

As often happens with Richard's quotes, this one really stuck with me. It brought to mind that so many of us often let the negative events in our lives form excuses for our failures , both personal and professional, instead of our motivation for success. I, myself, have been guilty of this very thing in the past.

How many times have we allowed a failed relationship to confirm, in our minds, that there is no true soul mate out there for us? How often have we failed to win a race, only to give up the sport entirely? Why does a less than successful business negotiation or project often convince us that we have made the wrong career choice? It seems that it is our nature to allow negative events to govern our life choices, and not in a positive way.

Truly successful people are able to take these negative experiences, find the life lesson and to allow that lesson to change them in a positive way. That negative experience is used, not as an excuse for self-pity and despair, but as a motivator for success. How many times have we seen an Olympic athlete, smiling on the podium with a medal around their neck, only to hear the story of their disappointing attempt, or even injury, at the previous games? If they had allowed that negative event to defeat them, surely they would not be standing proudly on the world stage today.

Of course, in my own life there have been several failures, both personal and professional. My tendency has always been to allow less than ideal outcomes to defeat me. Perhaps not for long, but I can easily say that I have not always been able to find the "lesson" and allow it to change me.

This past summer, our family experienced what I would consider to be its worst day. My husband was laid off from his job of 17 years. While this was particularly devastating for him, it really turned our entire family upside down. For the past 6 years or so, Marc was our primary breadwinner. I worked a little here and there, but I was really relying on him to keep the family going. Whatever money I made was basically "fun money".

I remember the teary-eyed conversation that I had with my Broker about how I was going to need to get a "real job" with a steady paycheck. Surely, I couldn't be the one to support my family in a career as unpredictable as real estate? Without pulling any punches, Nelson told me that Marc losing his job could very well be the best thing that has ever happened to me. He told me that I could allow this experience to knock me down for the count, or I could discover the very valuable lesson within and allow it to change me for the better. He told me "The world is telling you that you should no longer be a passenger in your own life! Now get out there and do something about it!"

Very wise words from a very wonderful leader. He knew that I was capable of so much more than I was achieving, but it took a real kick in the teeth for me to realize it. More than 6 months later, things are going better than I could have dreamed possible. Sure, it hasn't been smooth sailing, but with my new found perspective on things, I am always looking for the lesson in each of life's "road bumps".

I am sure that almost everyone can relate. Just think of how much better our lives would be if we allowed our worst day to become our best day, simply by learning something and allowing it to change us for the better.

J :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Innocence Lost

Well, well, well. A new blog entry two days in a ROW! Who knows, maybe someday I will write that novel.

This post was inspired by the Facebook status update of a friend with two teenage daughters. My friend was simply wondering what has happened to the young ladies of today. When did it become acceptable for them to dress, talk and act like women? When did the skirts get so short, the necklines get so low and the heels get so high? How does a parent of today try to guide their daughter in the direction of dressing and acting more appropriately for their age without becoming public enemy number one?

Although I, myself, do not yet have teen aged children, I can easily admit that this same thought has crossed my mind on many occasions. When I drive by the Catholic High School that is located just a couple of blocks from our house and I see the uniform skirts the girls are wearing that barely cover their behinds, I can't help but hope that baggy track suits and bulky sweaters are all the rage when my girls enter high school. And sadly, as much as everyone would like to point the finger at mom and dad, there is often not a lot that parents can do once their daughter is out of the house and on her way to school. When we were in high school there were rules about how short your skirts could be, and girls that didn't follow the rule were sent home to change.

I am quite certain that somewhere in the handbook of all schools, both public and separate, there is a dress code. What happened to the school boards of old that actually enforced these dress codes? Parents can't follow their kids to school every day, but if the school administration could pick up where parents left off, there might be a lot less pressure for young girls to dress in such a way. Let's face it, the reason they are dressing this way in the first place is because "everyone else is doing it". If no one was allowed to do it, at least not at school, then that would be a small step in the right direction towards helping these girls regain their lost innocence.

The truly scary thing is, that I am noticing this style of dressing is appealing to younger and younger girls. Thankfully, my 10 year old is still blissfully unaware of this sort of thing, but I am noticing that some of her other classmates are already looking, dressing and acting a little "old" for their age. Even the stores that cater to pre-teen and teen girls often carry clothing that belongs in a dance club, not a classroom.

Of course, we're also dealing with the media, TV, movies, Internet and music. These days, you are pretty hard pressed to find photos of celebrity ladies with all of their assets covered. Even the younger starlets who were often the picture of innocence, can now be seen in music videos dancing on the hood of their car in daisy duke shorts and heels. Heck, even the dolls that young girls play with are dressed in outfits that you wouldn't let your child wear on Halloween.

Of course, as kids get older, they want to assert their independence and develop their own style. As parents, we want to try to encourage this growth in a healthy and appropriate way. Simply barking out orders like a Drill Sargent may be what we would like to do, but will often have the end result of the child rebelling and heading full speed down the very path you wanted them to avoid. What to do, what to do?

At the end of the day, I guess that all we, as parents, can do is to try to lead by example. Showing our young girls that dressing and looking beautiful does not equal showing as much skin as possible. Praising celebrities and public figures that dress in an appropriate fashion. Steering kids towards wholesome activities, groups and clubs that stress positive body image and modesty. All of these things will hopefully have the desired effect of increasing our daughters' self-confidence, leading them to make choices that make them feel comfortable, rather than those that are made to simply keep up with the crowd.

I know that within a few short years, I will likely be dealing with these issues myself. It will make me long for the days when the biggest problem my girls had was a boy at school telling them they had the cooties! SIGH.

J :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March Break - My @$$!

They may call the middle week of March a "break", but for most of us that are juggling work and a family, this week is usually the furthest thing from a break. Unless you forked out the big March Break dollars to head south for a family holiday, of course.

Actually, this might be the first year ever that I am very thankful we didn't do exactly that. What a week it was! The kids, playing outside without coats. Me, heading to the mall for a shopping trip in flip flops and capri pants. Driving around all week with the windows rolled down. When was the last time THAT happened in March?

All in all, it was a pretty good week. A little on the crazy side, but good nonetheless. On Monday we kicked the week off with a trip to the Reptile Show at Erin Mills Town Centre. My kids are big animal lovers, but Erin in particular is a fan of all things cold blooded. I don't think there is a reptile or amphibian on the planet that she can't identify at first sight. Marc is a big fan of the BBC "Earth" DVDs. We own every single boxed set and he and Erin watch them over and over. All that viewing has paid off because she really is a walking, talking nature encyclopedia. The kids got to hold a ball python, a giant tortoise, a Cayman (crocodile cousin, with its jaws safely taped shut) and various other little critters. Of course, I forgot my camera for this little adventure, but thankfully a friend snapped some shots with her trusty iPhone. We also got to visit with some friends in the afternoon that we hadn't seen in a while.

Tuesday we had booked tickets to see "The Stars of Pop" at the Stage West theatre along with 2 friends and their kids. Oddly, after not going to Stage West during the entire 25 years I have lived in Mississauga, this marked my second visit in 4 days. This show was definitely better than the "adult" show I had seen on Saturday evening, in spite of a few laughable moments throughout. The show featured tributes to Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift (my personal fave) and The Jonas Brothers (the source of the above mentioned laughable moments). The performers really tried hard and the kids enjoyed it, so I guess that is all that matters.

Wednesday, Erin had a friend over for the day and we headed to Jack Darling Park to enjoy the phenomenal weather. (Yes, it hit 20 degrees today!) Then a little shopping trip to pick up some leggings for my impossibly high maintenance child that is now refusing to wear pants. Yes, Erin, I am talking about you! What child has a total emotional breakdown at the thought of wearing jeans???? Sigh. I shudder to think about what I will have to deal with when she hits her teenage years.

Thursday was a total "work" day for me, much to the kids dismay. "What do you MEAN we aren't doing ANYTHING today Mom?????". That's right, kiddos, mom has to work! Amazingly, they tagged along with me for most of the day without too much complaint. A March Break Miracle! Makenna and I did make cookies in the evening, and I think they might be the best cookies I (we) have ever made. Makenna says it is because of her perfect cookie rolling (amazingly, each cookie was perfectly round and exactly the same size!), but really, it is just a great recipe. Milk Chocolate, skor bits and oats. How can you go wrong?

Friday was my personal favourite. After a working morning, we picked up a friend of Makenna's and headed to Roller Palace for some good old fashioned roller skating. Man does THAT bring back memories! The place hasn't changed in 25 years - I think the DJ is even the same guy from when I was a kid. It's a bit of a costly outing, in my opinion, but it's 4 hours of roller heaven. Makenna, while not the most co-ordinated child on the planet, did pretty well with her skating this time. I think with a little more practice she may be able to relax and have more fun. Erin, on the other hand, is a natural born skater. I was quite shocked to discover this the first time we had her on ice skates, and roller skating was no different. By the time we left, she was zooming around the rink passing kids twice her size. She fell quite a bit, but she's pretty close to the ground to start out with, so it didn't seem to faze her much. She said that she would like to be on the Canadian Roller Skating Team in the Olympics, and I didn't have the heart to tell her that there wasn't such a thing. Who knows, maybe it will be introduced at the 2020 summer games, just in time for her to win the first gold medal in the sport! haha

Saturday morning, we hit the theatres bright and early for the 10:30 am showing of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". Did you know that all movies that start at AMC Theatre before noon are only $6? SCORE! (Sadly, it cost us more for popcorn and drinks than for admission...). The movie, while not as funny as I had expected, was actually pretty good. Some really good messages in there for adults and kids alike. I wouldn't say you should rush out and see it, but if you do find yourself accompanying your kids to the theatre, I think you will find it enjoyable.

After a hectic working afternoon, we had some friends over for dinner. A really great couple that we met while on vacation in Cuba last year. They have 2 kids around our kids' age and it doesn't matter how much time passes in between visits, these kids pick up exactly where they left off, as if they just saw each other yesterday. I think we adults can learn a lot from kids. Marc made the most fabulous chicken parm, completely from scratch, even pleasing the 4 toughest critics in the house. When was the last time you made dinner for 4 kids and all FOUR of them licked their plates clean? (Kraft dinner and hot dogs doesn't count!) It has never happened in our house before last night, that's for sure.

All in all, between the kids activities, work appointments and deadlines, the week didn't feel like much of a break. A break on the BANK ACCOUNT or my NERVES, maybe, but not overly relaxing. Sure, it was great not to have to get up with the kids every morning and rush them out the door, but there was definitely a lot of rushing around going on. I am really thankful that we had some great weather this week so the kids got a chance to remember what sunshine actually felt like. It is truly amazing what a little sun can do for your mood and energy levels. I think I might have gotten more accomplished this week than any other week in history. I also think that if the weather had been gloomy and cold, I might have been more inclined to sit around the house all week with rented movies and video games as our only source of entertainment.

So, while the week may have been a little hectic, it was probably the best March Break that I can remember. I'm glad that I got to spend some time having fun with the kids, but I'm equally glad that as of tomorrow at 9AM, my job as "Entertainment Co-ordinator" is over. At least until Summer Vacation, but let's not even THINK about that yet!

J :)