Beth-Anne’s Word for 2015: Breathe

Breathe.

That’s my word for 2015. My one simple word. My resolution.

So tiny a word, so easy to say but yet I constantly need reminding. To breathe.

When I first started on this journey towards living more mindfully, I met with a therapist. One of her first instructions was for me to close my eyes and breathe. Sitting ramrod straight on the brown leather chair, with my feet pressed into the ground, I closed my eyes, flattened out my lips and inhaled.

“Not like that. A deep breath. Inhale deep into your belly and exhale slowly, completely.” She prompted me kindly.

I repeated the same breath. It was a deep breath. I did exhale slowly and completely.

“No. Relax into your breath. Inhale deeply and feel it travelling deep into your belly. Exhale fully. Use your mouth.”

It had been years since I had paid attention to my breath.   In the eight years since I had become a mother, I had spent little time with my yoga mat and even less just sitting still. Time is precious and I couldn’t waste a minute of it . . . breathing.

But something happened when I took those first few breaths. I felt the calmness that I had been searching for. I was acutely aware of my body, noting the tensions in my jaw and my upper shoulders, my tongue pressing against the roof of my mouth and how with each restorative breath, I felt renewed. Relaxed. Clear-headed.  Focused.  Aware.

I have since learned to use my breath as a tool: for restoration, for pause, for reflection, for relaxation and to reset.

In 2015, using my breath will allow me to respond instead of react.

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Holiday Hair: Keep It Minimal

I met Jason Lee, celebrity hairstylist and owner of Salonière (and oh ya, he’s danced with Madonna!), back in July when the air was humid, hair was frizzy and nary a thought of the holidays was in anyone’s consciousness.  Unless of course you were like me, and soaking in holiday preview week in architectural lofts decked out as cozy winter wonderlands.

Lured by the offer of a hair fix-up, I ended up in Jason’s chair.  Within minutes my hair had beachy waves that put Gisele’s to shame.  As Jason worked away we chatted about what looks would be hot for holiday parties.

Jason, aware that most women are running on all-cylinders, said that this year hair should be minimal.  Sleek.  Sophisticated.  Easy to do.

He had me at easy to do.

Jason has shared his three go-to holiday hair picks with us today, along with some tips on how to flawlessly achieve these looks.

Tight and Right Bun

Melissa Gorga would be a fan of this look.  It’s a severe look that really highlights your face so spend an extra few minutes grooming those brows and perfecting your smoky eye.

How To:  Pull your hair back into a centre parted low ponytail.  Anchor that ponytail with either a bungee elastic (which has hooks on either end), or an elastic that won’t tear your hair.  Then, tease the ponytail and smoothen it out for added volume.  Finally wrap the pony into a cool bun and anchor with bobbi pins or hair pins.

Jason’s Pro Tip:  A trick that celebrity hairstylists use to create a slick look for the root area when shooting for magazines and red carpets is to simply use conditioner!!  Apply a little conditioner to the centre parted area and you will instantly have a slick super fashionable style.

 

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I’m No Soccer Mom

The neighbours will do a double take.  Where’s the messy pony?  The nest of tangles?  The hat hiding the bedhead?  Make way for Ms. Sassy pants!  This look screams chic and confident, but be careful to execute correctly or else the neighbours will be wondering if you’ve neglected to wash for your hair for a month.

How To:  Jennifer Lopez just wore this sultry look at the AMA’s last week. The style is done on clean blown out straight hair and then combed back with a little coconut oil!  Just remember that a little goes a long way and don’t forget to warm the coconut oil in your hands before before applying to the hair.  Comb the coconut oil through the hair allowing for the mid length and ends to still look dry.

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Here’s lookin’ at you, Rita Hayworth:

In contrast to the first two looks, the swooping waves are undeniably feminine.  A little bit retro, a lot a bit glam, but still simple and minimal these tresses are a statement.  Admittedly, this one is not so easy and requires a few tools. Warm up that barrel curling iron!

How To:  The most important step here is setting the hair first.  Jason suggests using a 1 1/4″ curling iron to curl the hair away from the face and then anchor the hair with clips.  Heating up hair and then letting it cool down holds the hairstyle much longer which is why we set the hair.  Once you’ve allowed the curls to sit for 5-10 minutes, then take out the clips and brush the hair out completely.  Jason uses a Mason Pearson brush for this step and then uses just his hands to place the waves into a 40’s Old Hollywood wave, hairspraying as he goes.

 

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Visit Salonière at 2470A Yonge St. in Toronto and follow his Instagram for hair-spiration.

 

 

The Christmas Book Box

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Books are a big deal around here. It’s no secret that I wish all the boys in my life loved reading as much as I do, but perhaps they wish I loved fart jokes as much as they do. I try to encourage reading on the sly because anytime I stomp my feet and flail my hands in effort to get the boys onside with my desires, I am often met with sullen, uninterested faces or, more likely, a look that says, “she’s crazy!”.

I took the idea of a book box from my teaching days. I made a project out of it and engaged the boys from the beginning. At the grocery store, I casually mentioned that we needed a box. I didn’t give them any further details so when they were sorting through the heaps of discarded boxes that line the front of the store, their curiosity was piqued.

“Uh-uh. Too small! ” I’d say or “Uh-uh. Too big!”

When they landed on the perfect box, we brought it in the house along with the groceries, but I said no more about the box and deferred all questions pertaining to it saying that I wasn’t quite ready to share its use yet.

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A few days later, my middle one was lazing around the house, bored. Read: he was whining and I was quickly becoming irritated. I suggested that he decorate “The Box”. I gave him clues that guided his colour selection and sticker choices. Once the box was completely covered, I asked him to return it to its place on the floor in the dining room.

When the boys were at school, I pulled all of the Christmas and holiday books from our shelves and placed them in the box and then moved the box to a prominent location in our family room. I said nothing about the box, but when the boys came home from school they quickly thumbed through the books and come bedtime took a few upstairs with them only to return them first thing in the morning.

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I didn’t say too much about the book box but it’s now a part of our Christmas tradition, our Christmas narrative if you will. Each year the boys are eager to become reacquainted with some of their favourite stories and discover what new additions have been made.

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Bedtime Stories: Glorious for all of 2 minutes . . .and then the fighting starts.

photo (54)I remember being pregnant with my first son. I was sure of a lot of things. I was sure that I would never let him sleep in my bed, bribe him to be on his best behaviour or lose my cool during a temper tantrum.

I was also steadfast in my belief that I would read to my children every night. I had visions of us curled on the bed, propped up with pillows and covered in a fluffy duvet. The boys would lull off to sleep with visions of Peter, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook as I would sneak out of the room and head downstairs, settle into my favourite chair with a cup of hot chocolate and my novel of the moment.

And since then I have eaten more than my fair share of humble pie while buying another package of Sponge Bob Band-Aids just to escape the drugstore with a few less tears.

I was pregnant with my second son when my first son turned 6 months old. I battled through first trimester exhaustion all while getting up at least once a night to feed. The bedtime ritual was simple: try to stay awake long enough to put the baby down in his crib.

My second son was a screamer. He cried all day long but really turned it on between 7 and 9 in the evening. Every night he would bawl; his face mottled and his voice hoarse. We tried everything that every book, website and expert recommended. Eventually we resorted to laying him in his crib and blasting Andrea Bocelli from a disc player. These were desperate times. As baby #2 grew hysterical, baby #1 was cranky, tired, and pulling at my leg. The bedtime ritual wasn’t so simple: bath, change, bottle and bed all with one hand, and wailing in my ear.

Eventually the crying stopped, I developed a bad case of amnesia and got pregnant for a third time, with my third son.

Baby #1 was now three years old (and still waking up in the night), Baby #2 was 2 years old (and had mercifully reserved his crying periods to other times of the day) and I would start counting down to bedtime around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, compulsively checking the time. By 7:30 the bedtime ritual began: I would push them into bed with a kiss on the cheek, only to collapse onto the couch with a sigh. I had made it through another day.

I know the benefits of reading to children. And I do. But not at bedtime. None of us do well at the end of the day. When I try to read a bedtime story everything is glorious for all of about 2 minutes and then it starts: jockeying for position closest to me, complaints over the story choice, whining over whose turn it is to choose the book, someone’s breathing on someone, someone’s touching someone, someone’s foot is fidgeting. Nerves are shot, tensions are high and the tears start.

Instead we read on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for swimming lessons to start or the doctor to call our name. I keep the novel, currently Stuart Little, in my over-sized purse (also something I was never going to do as mom) to pull out at those ordinary times transforming them into those special, unplanned moments that really make up motherhood.

What We’re Reading

From Beth-Anne

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Everything’s Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford

It’s true, right? Everything is perfect when you lie. Or post to Facebook. Kelly Oxford and I are of the same vintage, both of us grew up in suburbia, and both of us now have little kids. She’s a tad inappropriate and her humor may be offensive to some and me, well, I kinda like that. Probably because that’s the not like me at all. I laughed at Kelly’s stories from childhood, and cringed at times when she gave TMI but what’s appealing is that she’s honest. She lays it out for everyone to dissect, criticize and judge and that takes a lot of chutzpah. More than I will ever have.

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This novel originally published in 1943 has cemented a spot on my “favourite books of all-time” list. It’s got everything that tickles my fancy: it’s set in the early 1900s in the tenements of New York City, the idea of the American Dream is alive and well, a story about coming of age, the characters are flawed but loveable, the family is both dysfunctional and relatable at the same time, and the writing is descriptive but not overly so – just enough to keep that “movie” playing in your head.

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Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert

I didn’t actually read this book, I listened to it on my walks to and from the school when I drop –off and pick-up the boys. I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love and knowing that this was an entirely different “story”; I still went for it because even though some people find Elizabeth Gilbert’s introspection obnoxious and annoying, I like it. I wish that I had more of her courage (impulsivity?), her capacity to love (insecurity?) and her sense of adventure (immaturity?). Committed is about the long, and often arduous months leading up to her marriage to Felipe, a man she met while on a spiritual journey to Indonesia who is Brazilian-born but of Australian citizenship. Let’s just say that getting to the alter was much more difficult than settling on a dress and booking a DJ. And in true Elizabeth Gilbert form, she has to hyper-analyze every aspect of her impending marriage, her self and her destructive flaws.

From Nathalie

imagesIC9Z2J8OHow to Be Both

Ali Smith

So, so, sosososo good.  I heard Ali Smith read from this book in a Guardian books podcast.  I heard her read from the book, and I knew I had to have it, and I heard her reading it to me in my head and I was utterly smitten.

How to Be Both is a story in two parts: one contemporary, one set 400 years ago in Italy; one about grief and loss, and one about art; one about a girl and one about a boy.  Except that these are not the tidy divisions we may think they are, and the two parts bleed into one another in so many intricate ways that I felt fireworks going off inside my head.  Interestingly, the print run of this book was done in two versions: you might get the version that has the contemporary story first, or you might get the version that has the Renaissance story first.  It’s a book that plays with how to be both.

It is my turn to host my book club this month, and the host chooses the book.  I desperately wanted to pick this one, because it would be so fascinating to have a group discussion about what difference it makes what order you read the story.

I did not pick this for my book club, though, because I love it too much.  I don’t want to know if anyone did not love it or like it or want to make Ali Smith queen of the world.

I have gone on to read three other books by her this month.  Seriously.  Queen of the world.  (She’d probably like to have a more articulate #1 fan….)

atationStation Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel

This is the book that I did end up choosing for my book club.  The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which most of the Earth’s population has died of a rogue flu.  In this world, a troupe of actors and musicians travel from one settlement to another, performing music and Shakespeare, because, as a line from Star Trek has it, “survival is insufficient.”  I love that.  All the characters’ lives fit together like a puzzle being assembled.  I was very happily borne along waiting to see how all of the pieces of the story would come together.  Truly a page-turner to keep you up well past your bedtime.

 

vicThe Victoria Vanishes

Christopher Fowler

I wish I could remember where I first heard about this series of police procedurals.  They are brilliant.  This one, the first one I read, is from the middle of the Peculiar Crimes Unit series, and I never begin a series in the middle, but this was the one I found, and I read it anyway and I fell head over heels.  The detecting duo are old and cantankerous, and I am loving the characters as much as the plots.  This volume, aside from being a very cleverly plotted mystery, was full of historical information about London’s pubs.  On the strength of this one, I was hooked, and I bought the rest of the series from The Sleuth of Baker Street, a wonderful bookstore devoted to mysteries.  Thank heavens for bookstores like The Sleuth that understand my madness and enable my bibliophilic habits by opening the store on a day it’s usually closed just so that I could pick up my order and did not have to wait a minute longer to feed my addiction.  If you shop there, in person or on-line, and I hope you will, please tell them that Nathalie Foy sent you and is very happily immersed in her pile of Bryant and May goodness!

Remembrance Day Books: For children, youth and you

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. – by John McCrae, 1915

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A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson

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In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae by Linda Granfield

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On Juno Beach: Canada’s D Day Heroes by Hugh Brewster

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The Kids Book of Canada at War by Elizabeth MacLeod

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Hanna’s Suitcase – Karen Levine

For older children:

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The Bite of the Mango – by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland

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Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees by Deborah Ellis

For more suggestions visit The Canadian Children’s Book Centre, a wonderful resource!

For You:

Some of my favourite war stories told by some of my favourite Canadian authors.

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Far To Go by Alison Pick

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The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

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Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

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Hanna’s Diary by Hanna Spencer

 

Decorating Your Home for the Holidays

It may seem early to our readers around the world, but in Canada the day after Halloween marks the unofficial start of the holiday season. Gift guides and wish-books from retailers arrive in the mailbox, and the windows of shops are decorated with garland, glitter and the occasional tree. Even Starbucks has replaced their white cups with their traditional, red holiday ones.

We’ve barely put away the ghoulish masks and spooky ghosts and my boys are asking when we’re going to put up the Christmas tree. I try to be all zen about it and remind them that the holidays are weeks away but there is no denying that those weeks are going to pass in the blink of an eye and the bulk of holiday happiness resides squarely upon my shoulders.

So whether you celebrate Christmas or just like to create a cozy home for winter, here is a round up of my favourite items from Indigo, President Choice Home and The Home Depot.

Indigo

I love these copper mule mugs. They add sparkle and shine to the table and can be used at any festive meal.

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These Woodland Cabin napkins are reminiscent of Kurt Cobain and the grunge era, but there is something undeniably Canadian about this print.

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Cake plates are my new favourite tabletop accessories. Last month we did a post on DIY flower arrangements and used this wooden pedestal as the focus point. Additionally they are a great way to display ornaments, treasures and of course desserts.

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medium marble and wood pedestal Dessert plates are an inexpensive way to add whimsy to a table. These ribbon plates are less than $35 but if you wanted to choose something with more longevity, consider the New Year’s Eve Countdown plates that could do double-duty for a birthday celebration.

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Snow globes have come a long way from tacky tourist souvenirs. These globes would standout on any mantle or atop a stack of books arranged on the coffee table.

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Last year I bought some festive pillows on a whim, successfully transforming my living room into a Christmas-y nook. Santa is not for everyone, but these current designs have staying power and will last long past his visit.

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PC Home

I was amazed to learn how much of the PC Home line is designed in Toronto. The creative minds behind the 2014 Holiday collection were on hand to answer questions at the holiday preview and to be honest, I was impressed by both their ingenuity and their desire to create products for every day life. They get that people are clumsy and Waterford crystal chips. They understand that Santa mugs are irresistible to little hands. Above all, they understand that we want beautiful, functional design for our home at a reasonable price.  All the items here are available at Real Canadian Superstore and select Loblaw banner stores.

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My sister-in-law does a cookie exchange with her friends every year and this tin would be ideal as the chalkboard surface allows for the giver to write a message on the lid.

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My most favourite holiday accessory is this faux crystal glassware set. The bowls and the glassware are so well crafted you’ll be amazed when you discover it’s plastic! So stop worrying about chipping your finery, lay this out for Christmas dinner and pull it out again come patio season.

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PC Home outdid themselves when it comes to ornaments.   Beautiful colour palates from muted pastels, to icy jewel tones and classic holiday. For the price, I’ve seen nothing comparable.

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Home Depot

Usually I am opposed to chotchkies but the holidays are the time to bring them all out! Go hog-wild! Clutter-up them surfaces! These are a few that I am clearing space for this year.

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But it’s this tree that has me trying to reconfigure my living room.  Imagine two of these book-ending a sleek, modern fireplace. . . .hmmmm, maybe it’s time for a new fireplace.

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Sadly, I am not on the payroll so I didn’t receive a penny for these recommendations. However, I was invited to their holiday preview events and they were a lot of fun! For more images of what’s new and in stores, follow 4Mothers on Instagram.

The Best Comfy, Cozy PJs for Winter

It’s November. Despite the many birthdays of people I love peppering this month, I don’t like November. The days are drab with little sunshine, and darkness descends well before the dinner hour. What I also dislike about November? It’s the official start of the “cold” season – and I don’t mean the sniffling, sneezing kind. I mean the, “It’s FREEZING!” kind. It’s depressing to know that I won’t feel warm again for another 6 months!

In effort to combat the chilly nights, I did some searching for the perfect, cuddly, snuggly, warm pyjamas.

And if you’re still sleeping in a ratty t-shirt or holey-shorts, please do me a favour and read this, your partner may thank me.

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Old Navy is a great, cheap and cheerful destination to spruce up your sleepwear. My complaint with the nightdress is that it always ends up strangling me in the middle of the night. Not sure if that’s a fault with the design or if it speaks to my inability to lay ram-rod straight all night long. Shorts are a good option if your legs get too hot and these ones are on sale for $10. These light weight shirts ($10) are ideal for sprinting around the kitchen in the morning, and not flashing your neighbours side boob. If you live in the city, most likely you know what I mean.  I am also a fan of the loungewear that can be disguised as “pants” if you’re in a pinch. These flat front jersey pants ($21.94) are stylish while still maintaining their comfy cred.

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I know some people love the adult onesie. I am not such a fan, mainly because I loathe the idea of being completely naked and sitting on the toilet. But I admit to being smitten with this BP. Undercover Free Spirit Fair Isle Print Jumpsuit from Nordstrom for $56.28. Something about this look says “après ski” – which definitely appeals to my senses.

P.J. Salvage is a brand for those with a sense of humor. These flannel sets are $65 but pieces can be bought separately if you’re not willing to commit to the entire Gingerbread motif. I know someone who would be happy to receive the Owl Friends ensemble while I am leaning towards the Cheers set for New Year’s Eve.

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When I was a little girl, a friend’s mom would always emerge from her bedroom in flowing silk and delicate lace. I would always look at her in awe, with post sleep-over eyes, and think that she was the most beautiful woman who ever lived. I am reminded of her whenever I see gorgeous lingerie, and for a fleeting second, I think that I should embrace my inner Liz Taylor. This La Perla tank gown is on sale for $168 but Hollywood glam isn’t really my thing, so this set, also by La Perla wins out every time.

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This may be the only sleep shirt that could convert me and at $88  I feel I could trick people into believing it’s a tunic.

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And my favourites – my ultimate picks for a comfy, cozy, winter weekend morning . . .

These heather flannel pjs ($198) from Coyuchi and this classic white and pink trimmed set from Marigot ($132).

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And for the kiddies:

Moose on Red Kids’ Overall Print Pajama Set – $35.  Hatley is my favourite go-to for luxe kids pjs. I love the prints and the fit, plus they wash well.

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Playjamas is a Canadian brand that we have featured on 4Mothers before, but I have to include their pjs in this round-up. The Ninja jams have been passed down through my three boys and the fabric is just as soft, and the colours just as vibrant as the day we got them. Available: ballerina, doctor, knight, ninja and robot. $38.95

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The Drake General Store is a gift-givers paradise. Their whimsical curiosities guarantee the best reactions when unwrapped. Their 2014 Arborist PJ set (I am partial to the Mountie) is available in kids and adults. A pretty spectacular Christmas morning photo, I’d say!

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And I just had to end with this video to make you smile on this dreary November day.

Mind Full or Mindful?

imgresTo end this month of gratitude and mindfulness, a post on meditation seems only fitting.

Last month I met Jackie. I have been curious about meditation and spirituality for some time but it was a few months ago when I was absolutely exhausted that I succumbed to that niggling feeling of needing “more”.

I was so busy contorting myself to keep all of the plates spinning and the thought that something was missing seemed idiotic. Even I recognized that I couldn’t possibly toss another in the air and sustain life at the most basic level. And then this thought: what if I just let some of these plates drop?

I am good at following rules and I held staunch to the golden one: finish what you start. So you see, the mere idea of saying “no” was counter to my beliefs.

But what if . . .

The worst that would happen is that I would cut my feet. And cuts heal.

I felt like I had known Jackie my entire life, and about 30 seconds after exchanging names, we hugged. In that embrace I felt calm.

I know, I know. Insert eye-roll here.

Sitting across from each other, I dove into my story. I explained to Jackie that I felt as though something was missing from my life. I have all the material things anyone could want. I have health. I have freedom. I have it all. But that’s not enough. I want to enjoy it. I want to live my life without feeling frenzied, harried and EXHAUSTED! But what’s worse, I felt shame for even admitting that I wanted more.

I know, I know. (There may be lots of eye-rolling here.)

Jackie sat across from me, listening to every word I said. She nodded empathetically and when I was finished with my rant, she quietly said, “I relate to how you feel.”

Jackie started to explore her spirituality when she was my age and living a very similar life. She too was baring the responsibility of child rearing and being a supportive spouse; she was also felt that there was something more like what I described.

Thirty-five years ago, Jackie discovered the power of meditation and began in earnest to study Buddhism over a decade ago, which she is quickly points out is a philosophy not a dogma.

I tell Jackie that I am just dipping my toes into this new way of thinking, that I am reading Jon Kabat-Zinn and struggling to practice Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) and in this little time, I have come to discover that “niggling feeling” has quieted, softened.

Jackie nods when she hears this. She leans forward, her blond hair brushing her cheek, and I get a good look at her face. She is radiant. Her eyes sparkle, her complexion is clear and she is focused solely on me. She never glances to her phone or excuses herself to tap out a text message. I am struck by how infrequently these kinds of interactions are becoming.

“Originally my practice was based more on mindfulness until I discovered Vipassana; in Toronto I sit with Satipanna Insight Meditation Toronto.” Jackie goes on to describe a patchwork of experiences from sweat lodges in earlier years to silent meditation retreats that define her journey of spiritual discovery.

When I ask her what benefits she feels meditation brings, she is simple with her reply. “Learning to approach life with more calm, happiness and compassion.”

“You sound so enlightened.” I say this as a compliment.

Jackie looks somewhat aghast. “Oh no! I am just a beginner.”

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From My Book Shelf

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The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown Ph.D., LMSW

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The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting: Raising Children with Courage, Compassion and Connection by Brene Brown Ph.D., LMSW

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Mindfulness For Beginners by Jon Kabbat-Zin

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Everyday Blessings: the inner work of mindful parenting by Jon Kabbat-Zinn

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Mindful Parenting by Kristen Race, Ph.D.

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The Mindful Way Through Depression by J. Mark G. Williams

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About Jacqueline Carroll:

Jackie has  has worked with both Asian and Western teachers.  Since 2001 Jackie has practiced specifically Vipassana Mindfulness meditation, supported by a Metta practice.

Jackie is inspired by her practice with various guiding teachers:  Sayadaw U Pandita, Burma, Sayadaw U Vivekananda, Nepal, Bhante Gunaratana, USA, Ayyang Ripoche, Ayya Medhanandi, Perth, Ont,  Ajhan Viradhammo, Perth, Ontario, Marcia Rose, New Mexico, Michelle Macdonald, Ottawa, Ont., Randall Baker and Jim Bedard, Satipanna Insight Meditation Toronto, Toronto, Ont.

To learn more about meditation please visit, Harmony Yoga Wellness