Red Wine Or White? Why You Need To Know About Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland’s Grape Juice Event! #MentoringMatters

If you know me well, you know that I don’t drink wine – but today I’ve got wine on the brain.

Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland is having an event that ALL the wine drinkers I know – and there are so, so many of you – are going to love! I’m supporting it because it funds mentoring relationships for young girls who may be facing bullying, isolation, poverty, abuse, social anxiety and low self-esteem or other challenges. A healthy, consistent support system like the one provided by a big sister to a matched little sister can change the world, one girl at a time.

I have a personal connection to Big Sisters through two of my cousins who were raised in the program as little sisters. One of them, Danisha, is now the Manager of Fund Development for the Edmonton and area chapter. She attributes the kind of person she is and the positive choices she made in unfavourable circumstances to her mom’s wise decision all those years ago to enroll her daughters in the program. Danisha speaks in public and private circles about the benefits of mentorship from both sides of the equation; her story is backed by research that has found that 96% of adults who had a mentor as a child say they are happy, and 92% of them also claim to feel confident.

Here’s what you need to know about the wine auction and GrapeJuice Event:

GrapeJuice will run from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm on Thursday, April 26, 2017 at Aston Martin Vancouver and Bentley Vancouver and will feature a cash bar, hors d’oeuvres, silent auction wine items and wine tasting stations. There will be some rare wine finds to bid on while you network with 300 business professionals attending the event – and raise much-needed funds for the program.

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152 girls are currently waiting to be matched with a Big Sister. If you think of the potential of each of those girls, you’ll see the enormity of that number. What if each one of them were given the opportunity to fulfill that potential? What if you could be a part of that?

Grab some friends and some tickets!

If you’d like to sponsor a match between a Big Sister and a Little Sister, you can do that as well. And you can also choose from a selection of wines online that you’d like to donate to the auction table.

There are so many ways to be involved, even if wine isn’t your thing.

I’d love to hear in the comments if you have a personal connection to a Big Sisters program or if you plan to support this event!

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3 Tools I’m Using To Learn Spanish

You know how some people write out their 5 year and 10 year plans? When I sat down to pen all the things I wanted to accomplish in my 20’s, I included a list of several languages, including Spanish. I didn’t learn any of them. But that is not the point. The point is that languages are intriguing to me – I like listening to the rise and fall of them, hearing the unique phonemes, and untangling the cultural elements that exist within them.

Last summer, I learned of an app called duoLingo after overhearing a blogger say she was using it to learn German. Suddenly, I had the ability to learn several languages right at my fingertips! I chose Italian kind of on a whim. It has a beautiful feel on the tongue, is lovely to listen to and I tend to lean toward the Romance languages after studying French through high school. Throughout the summer, I plugged into the app for 10-15 minutes a day…then that time eventually diminished to once a week when school was underway and life felt like it started up again. At this point I am about 10% fluent in Italian which means I can name some animals, some foods and tell you I am a beautiful woman (plus a little more) but let’s just say it’s not enough to get me by with Nonna.

I’ve left it alone for awhile, not really feeling motivated to keep learning a language that I don’t see myself using, and thus maintaining, in the near future. It was during a Zumba class last month while I was swaying my hips to a sultry Enrique Iglesias song and dreaming about dancing on the beaches in Mexico that I realized I should really be focusing on Spanish. After all, I am planning to go to Mexico with the family this winter, and I am more likely to use Spanish on my travels anywhere as Spanish is the second or third most spoken language in the world (depending on the source). And to be honest, I am not sure what the social climate is like in Italy at this point. As a brown-skinned traveller, this is something I unfortunately have to take into consideration when planning vacations. Does anyone have feedback on this? I’d love to hear!

My goal is to learn enough Spanish by December that I can have some form of a (probably slow) conversation with at least one local wherever we end up going in Mexico. And here’s how I’m going to do it!

  1. duoLingo will be my go-to app again. It now has the option to practice a conversation with bots after you reach a certain level. And there are also clubs you can form and join in which you speak only Spanish (I assume. I don’t know. Not in a club yet). I’m committing to 10 minutes a day Monday to Friday. And 20 minutes a day on the weekend.
  2. Since Enrique Iglesias is HIGHLY motivating for me, I’ve started listening to his music in the mornings to start my day. This is when I usually tidy up the kitchen after the hurricane (aka children) passes through. After listening, I pull up the lyrics in Spanish and English (what did we do before Google?) and pick out the individual words and match them up. I’m going to continue doing this with his songs and other Spanish-speaking artists you may recommend to me in the comments!
  3. Practicing with my sister-in-law, Zahida who happens to be fluent in Spanish. This is super helpful for me! I love to learn by speaking with other human beings. This way I can pause or stop or question something to death. And I can string together actually useful sentences in real-life context.

It would be awesome to be part of a meet-up at some point with a group of people for the sole purpose of practicing Spanish. But I know 1-3 above are do-able. I’ll keep you posted! If nothing else, learning this new language will give me the opportunity to stretch my brain and invest my time in something I think is fun.

I mean…watching this every day is hard work but I can imagine it’s a blast, right? 😉

Wish me luck!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

Meeting Lawrence Hill: Bestselling Author Of The Book Of Negroes, Social Activist & Amazing Canadian

If you’re following me on Instagram, you know that all week I was anticipating meeting bestselling author, Lawrence Hill. First, I have to share with you how I came to know about his lecture at UBC as part of The Vancouver Institute‘s lecture series.

Last November, I wrote to Lawrence Hill for a couple of reasons: to tell him that his work aligns with and inspires my own, and to ask if we might be able to meet when he came to Vancouver next (I knew he was planning a trip to B.C. to participate in the Book Clubs for Inmates program).

I had just launched Her Story with Karen Bannister  – a space for Canadian women to share personal stories of living with social injustice, and I had recently met with literary agents at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference who were interested in my passion project that took seed in my imagination after I read Hill’s Black Berry, Sweet Juice. Basically, I was pumped! I was moving my writing into a more purposeful (to me) arena – there was no stopping me from writing an email to another Canadian writer I knew would appreciate my endeavours. Aside from reading his books, I get updates via his Facebook page and know that he has a deep interest in growing and supporting the writing community; even if he was too busy to reply, I had a feeling my thoughts would be met with kindness.

I heard from his office assistant a few days later saying she would pass on my email to Lawrence and provided me with details of the two talks he would give at the University of British Columbia. The first was on Saturday April 1 and it was called Crossing Seas: Refugees in the World and in the Imagination. The second one is Tuesday April 4 and focuses on The Book of Negroes, probably his most famous work.

All that was left to do, then, was wait till April (!) and buy some books for him to autograph.

I arrived at UBC over an hour before the lecture was to begin. First of all, I went with my long-time friend Saira (fellow book-lover and Hill fan) who was a Queens University student. I went to Simon Fraser University, so together, we are completely unfamiliar with UBC. Second, this was a free event with first come, first served seating. You bet I wanted to make sure we got the best seats possible. It was actually really nice waiting for the lecture to start; Saira and I got to catch up and also talk about fuelling those parts of us we love and sometimes miss. Like our extreme book-nerdiness and insatiable love of intellectually-stimulating environments. (In other words, I’m worried my brain is atrophying secondary to motherhood).

Hill’s lecture inspired many, many thoughts (I scribbled down notes when I dared break the trance) but today I’ll share 3 ideas that jump to mind even without referring to those notes.

  1. Volunteer activism – getting involved – helping others because we can – provides us with some of the richest moments of our lives.
  2. Writers and other artists have an ability to shed light in the forgotten corners of our history and on current social climates, and share them in a way that can transform people.
  3. Canada has its own history of mistreating refugees (the Jews arriving from Europe in 1939 aboard the St. Louis who had to turn around and sail to imminent death at concentration camps; the South Asian community aboard the Komagata Maru arriving from Punjab, British India who were turned back after months at bay) and we must remain vigilant of how we treat those seeking asylum today.

During the Q&A period following his talk, I asked him what he thought needed to happen in Canada so that we could avoid the kind of political climate we see happening just south of the border. Of course, this is a huge question but I was looking for a simple response for the citizens of Canada. His thoughts? Keep your eyes open for instances of hate – name them, call them out. And don’t get too complacent about our country, believing that ‘that wouldn’t happen here’ because it has and it could again. This was the perfect material I needed for my next column for Peace Arch News which I had already decided was going to be about being mindful of our own social issues.

And of course, the highlight for me was having a conversation with Lawrence Hill while he signed my 3 books.

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When I introduced myself as the writer who had emailed him about my project inspired by his memoir, he asked me really thoughtful questions about what I was writing; his enthusiasm basically fanned the flame to push me to the next phase of my work (I jokingly told him that I was at the ‘tell a famous author’ stage of my project). Whether my passion project becomes a bestseller or even a book, I know that as a writer it’s pretty much my job to chase the things I am curious about and see where they lead. Seeing that in action by some of my favourites has basically shown me that this way of life is possible.

I had such an amazing evening – not only did I get to hear one of my favourite authors speak about the issues I care deeply about, I also got to have a conversation with him as he signed my books. He remembered me as the writer who was inspired by his memoir and wrote to tell him so. (And that’s how I came to know about his lecture at UBC). He asked me what I was writing these days and was even kind enough to ask me to keep him posted on my project. I literally just wrote that so it would still feel real to me tomorrow morning! @talktosaira came with me and heard the whole thing, and I made her repeat the conversation to me several times so I wouldn’t forget the lovely details! Lawrence Hill is a stand-up Canadian and writer; we are so lucky to have his passionate, articulate voice pointing us in the direction of the things we ought to notice.

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It was an incredible evening and one that will stand out when I look back on this year.

I encourage you to spend your time doing the things that fuel your unique spirits. And if you’d like to share what that is, please do so in the comments – I love hearing from you!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

When You’re Not Where You Think You Should Be, It’s OK #MotivationMonday

There’s this concept that is totally made up – that we have made up – and it traps us and binds us and makes us crazy. It causes us to lose sight of what we have, where we are, how far we’ve come, and most importantly, who we are as these amazing beings.

It’s this idea of needing to be in a certain place in our lives at a certain time. Or rather, needing to be at the peak, at the top, at the imagined height of our potential or career or relationship or whatever. But that’s not really how life works and the sooner we stop fighting the truth, the easier time we’ll have actually moving forward and experiencing the things that we want in our lives.

I was the Queen of I-Should-Be-There (there being anywhere but where I was). I’m a habitual goal-setter and planner and when anything derailed those objectives I set for myself I took it as a personal offense. I would be led, kicking and screaming, onto what I thought was a new path that I hadn’t foreseen or even known existed. Now I know that the ‘new’ path was actually THE path I had always been on, the one with my name on it, the one that I am still on. It’s just the scenery that changes every so often.

And no matter how hard I kicked or how loud I screamed, I ended up here. Doing things I never actually planned to do – and loving it. Now I see I can be excited about what’s to come without being stressed about constantly trying to pull it out of thin air. It’s coming anyway. I can just keep strolling down the path and we’ll meet at just the right intersection.

Understanding this has basically opened my eyes to that woo-woo concept of abundance. You know: there’s enough for everybody and you have everything you need, always. It’s shocking when the woo-woo things become true things. Even to me, who always has one foot on the side of woo-woo.

Feeling like there’s enough of the pie to go around doesn’t make me feel rushed to get to the table. It’ll be there when I get there. And there’ll still be pie. Just the kind of pie that I like.

I think that’s what abundance is – knowing that there isn’t a rush, there isn’t a competition.

I’m getting there. You’re getting there. One foot after the other, one experience after another, one lovely connection after another, one idea after another. Come to think of it, I don’t actually want to get to the peak of my potential. There’s only place to go after the peak and I’m not interested in that.

Moving forward is fun now that I’m seeing every change in scenery as the Universe’s way of keeping things interesting. It’s been a beautiful path, including the moments I’ve had to rest on a log and weep or felt weary. I’m starting my week feeling thankful for that. For all of it.

If you need some motivation this Monday, I hope this can help. Be ambitious but stop pushing things. Do you really want this to be a sprint when you can enjoy the view instead? And just where do you think this all ends? I’m not in a rush to find out.

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Gourmet Food And Wine Pairings At Blues & Bites Gala Fundraiser For Autism Support Network

It seems like another lifetime that I worked with children with autism and their families. But after one conversation with Dione Costanzo, Director of Autism Support Network of BC, I was brought back to all of it: sitting with families at Sunnyhill as they received the diagnosis, arriving on the doorstep of a family’s home for my autism intervention session, setting up visuals for a child in their preschool or after-school care setting…the first time a child said my name. I was an advocate, an educator and a firm believer in the potential of each boy and girl I worked with. Switching career paths has not squeezed autism out of my heart, and I’m thankful that today I get to work for these families from this platform.

I’ve seen firsthand what a family goes through as they await a diagnosis – often pushing their general practitioner for a referral to a pediatrician to initiate the process. I know the look in a parent’s eyes when they hear the word ‘autism’ and then the aftermath of being told they were eligible for funding, but given no direction about how to use it in their child’s best interest. I’ve seen the vulnerability and I’ve seen it being taken advantage of by people toting all kinds of cures for something that the medical community believes has no known cause or cure. In many ways, I’m an outsider looking in but I have been close enough to know that the work of Autism Support Network of BC (ASN) is valued and important. As Dione said half-jokingly, their work is not sexy but it’s necessary. I completely agree. Being in the trenches is often that way.

ASN offers solid, evidence-based information from parents who have been there to parents who are new to autism. They are very much about connecting families, forming friendships and building much-needed support. This includes a lot of 1:1 time with moms and dads over coffee or the phone. It also means monthly group meetings – all facilitated by volunteers – where families from the same neighbourhood can come together.

ASN also provides online resources through their website and Facebook pages (public and closed). And they print brochures with information about autism and Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) for doctor’s offices, and resource and community centres. Webinars and online courses are now a part of their repertoire and a solution for families in more remote areas of B.C.

The school experience is where 100% of the families seek support and a large part of ASN’s work is to help in this area; they educate parents about their rights and their children’s rights in school as well as the role of ABA in their child’s education. An incredible amount of advocacy is required at this level and parents need to know what is possible not just academically, but how to elevate self-help skills, social skills and communication skills.

After talking to Dione this morning, I marvel at how approximately 20 people are doing all this groundwork to serve over 6000 families. It is a huge network and initiative – and of course, funding is required.

Their biggest fundraiser of the year is coming up on Saturday April 8 from 6:30 pm at Semiahmoo Secondary school in South Surrey. And if you appreciate gourmet food, wine pairing and award-winning blues music, this proves to be a gala you can enjoy while making a difference!

The Blues and Bites Gala Fundraiser will be emceed by Global BC News reporter Catherine Urquhart and will treat guests to Top Chef style tasting stations by local culinary master Chef Peter Bucher. Paired with some B.C. wines, you can expect a gastric treat! Entertainment will be provided by Canadian blues musician Harpdog Brown and his Travelin’ Blues Show. Harpdog recently won the title of Blues Artist of the Year at Fraser Valley Music Awards.

Read more details of the event including bios of the chefs, musician and the mouth-watering menu, and grab your tickets ($125 each or $800 for a table of 8).

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Victoria, B.C. – Where We Ate, Played And Stayed #exploreVictoria

My family and I just got back from a wonderful 3 night stay in Victoria, B.C. – the home of my first truly vivid memories, where I grew from a toddler into a young girl. I’ll share some memoir-style posts soon but today I thought I’d give you some ideas of things to do, food to eat and where to rest your head at night!

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We were blessed with some great weather while we were on the island; it’s usually milder than it is here in the Lower Mainland. Our province’s capital is beautiful all year-round but I’d say from March through October you’d be able to enjoy all the outdoor things Victoria has to offer. And with plenty of indoor experiences, restaurants and cozy corners to curl up with a book (or significant other!) this romantic getaway should also be on your list of winter escapes.

Here’s Where We Ate:

Dinner at Pizzeria Prima Strada – For delicious, authentic Neopolitan pizza, you’ll love the variety of toppings and sauces this place has to offer. Children can select a special bambina pizza (straight cheese) so don’t write this off as an adult-only dining experience! My youngest actually devoured some of our funghi pizza, loaded with, of course, mushrooms! All 5 of us were intrigued by the way the dough was handled and stretched (I never thought to hang it over the countertop!) and then wood-fired to perfection.

Lunch at Frankie’s Modern Diner – We found this place just by walking around the downtown core. It’s got a great location with lovely street-side views. I’m so glad we gave it a try; the whole experience is created to represent a retro diner but definitely more upscale. All your favourite comfort foods are on the menu, mouth-watering and made from scratch. What caught my eye as we walked in was the incredible selection of desserts on display in the giant fridge by the reception area. So before I had even decided on lunch, I knew I was having the New York style cheesecake with strawberries. It was one of the best slices of anything I have ever had!

Dinner at Barb’s Fish & Chips – This restaurant we found on a list of top places to eat and I’m so glad we tried it. It wasn’t just the tasty battered cod but the fact that it was situated right on Fisherman’s Wharf. We ate there on a beautiful evening with the sun setting over the water and just a slight chill in the air. It was fun and casual with picnic benches under a covered area. We finished eating just in time for a stroll along the wharf, admiring the float homes and daydreaming about retiring in one of the condos overlooking the sea.

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Snack/Dessert at Chocolats Favoris – This came recommended by my friend on Instagram where I had asked for ideas of where to fill our bellies in Victoria. So this chocolate heaven was already on my radar but also super easy to spot when the older kids and I took a walk around downtown. Of course, we had to stop in even though it was closer to dinner time; I couldn’t really say ‘no’ to a soft serve cone dunked in one of their incredible flavours (you can sample what you like till you find a match for your tastebuds!). And I don’t mean like a quick dip, coming away with a thin, flaky chocolate-like coating. I mean, this thing was so thickly coated, it was like there was a bowl of chocolate surrounding the vanilla ice cream. You had to bite through it. Definitely check this place out as it’s the only one in Western Canada!

Dinner at Millos Greek Restaurant – This was definitely a family hit with something for everyone. The food was incredible and I loved that it has been family owned and operated since it opened (and the restaurant is as old as me!). It was the perfect place to unwind after a few days on the go, eat some of our Greek favourites (oh, with the exception of my oldest who opted for the fettucine alfredo and said it was the best she’d ever had!) and then amble back to the hotel which was basically directly across the street. We would absolutely eat here again!

Breakfast at Willie’s Cafe & Bakery – Recommended by my friend Salma from The Write Balance, we made this our last meal on our way back to the ferry. We sat in a really beautiful section of this old-bakery-turned-restaurant where we were kept warm by a toasty fire. We rarely eat breakfast out, even when we travel, so it was nice to treat ourselves to pancakes, French toast, different styles of eggs etc. I loved the fact that this place has been around since 1887 and that they use local and organic ingredients.

Here’s Where We Played:

The pool at Hotel Zed (where we stayed the first night – more on that below!) – Recommended by my friend Jamie from Styling the Inside, we had to check out the waterslide called The Zedinator. It was a huge hit with my oldest and my husband; they both said it was fast and scary! We spent the entire first afternoon in this pool just unwinding from the excitement of catching the ferry!

Royal B.C. Museum – I didn’t know how a museum would go over with my 9, 7 and 3 year olds but I think the fact that we spent 4.5 hours in there and they never asked to leave once kind of gives you the picture! This was a highlight of our trip; we each came away with something. Even the 3 year old loved the interactive components (she didn’t know what was going on but she loved pushing the buttons!). My personal favourite was the First Peoples exhibit and the Our Living Languages section. There was so much to see and listen to and even life-size models to experience – it was just incredible! I would love to go back for the Terry Fox exhibit that opens next month. We ran into my son’s preschool friend’s family there (isn’t that crazy?) – they said they visit family on the island often and the museum is always a stop. I can see why!

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Miniature World – This was a short walk from our hotel as well. The kids really enjoyed it but there was so much to see that they just zipped through the whole thing fairly quickly. If you’re a history buff, I think you’ll appreciate the scenes from the world wars and the development of technology. There are also some more whimsical displays of fairy tales and nursery rhymes; again there is an interactive component with many buttons to push, making this a hit for the 3 year old.

Colwood – This city is only 10 km outside of Victoria but truly does feel like its own entity. This is the neighbourhood I lived and went to school in so we really only stopped at my old home, my elementary school and the corner store I used to frequent for two cent candy! But there is more to see there in terms of parks, trails and lakes, and of course seaside beaches.

Goldstream Provincial Park  – For a brief stop before catching our ferry home from Victoria, we took in some deep lungfuls of fresh air amongst the giant Western Red Cedars. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the restaurants and activities when really, to truly appreciate a place, I think it’s important to connect with the natural surroundings. And in Beautiful British Columbia it’s a shame to go anywhere and not spend some time with Nature. You can spend a lot of time in this park on the trails and scoping out the waterfalls, but for us it was short and sweet. We’d definitely go back here again though with more time and a picnic lunch!

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Here’s Where We Stayed:

Hotel Zed – As I mentioned above, my friend Jamie suggested we try out the pool and waterslide at this place. It’s a fun, retro motel-style lodging with bright colours and a really old-skool vibe. They even have typewriters in the lobby and rotary phones in the suite! This is a really budget-friendly solution for a family of 5; we got a suite with a separate bedroom for $149/night. There is a free VW shuttle that takes you right into downtown which is a 5-10 minute drive away. After the first night we decided to move closer to the inner harbour so we could just walk right out of our hotel lobby and to our destination.

Marriott Inner Harbour – When we were walking around downtown after dinner the first night, the Marriott caught our eye as a place we would like to try out; it was so close to everything we wanted to visit. When we discovered the pricing was also quite competitive, we decided to move in there for the next two nights. We didn’t have a separate room but were able to get a twin mattress cot so the 5 of us had comfortable sleeping arrangements. What we’re learning is that as a family of 5 we have to consider accommodations a little differently. We were thankful that the Marriott allowed us to roll in a cot!

Have you visited Victoria lately? Tell me in the comments where you ate, played or stayed! I’d love to hear!

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Camp Still Vancouver Is Holding A Meditation Party – And It Looks Awesome!

A meditation party? Is that an oxymoron? To be honest, I had to read the details twice when they first floated into my inbox. I kept imagining a bunch of people sitting on pillows and trying so desperately hard to squash all the thoughts in their heads. And not much else happening. While I’m all for quiet time and zoning out, I didn’t think this event was for me if it included doing that in a group setting.

Thankfully, Camp Still Vancouver’s first mass meditation party is NOT that! It’s actually an event with guest speakers all focusing on mindfulness and the practice of meditation – including Farzana Jaffer-Jeraj who wrote a book called How to Cheat at Meditation. This definitely doesn’t sound like your regular practice. Another guest of note is Chin Injeti, a Grammy award-winning music producer who’s worked with Pink and Eminem. There’ll be an opportunity to learn a meditation technique that could start you off if you are new to the practice, or enhance what you already have going on. And there will be experts on hand to answer your questions.

Because it’s a party, you can expect food, music, a DJ, swag bags…and a sound bath! What’s a sound bath? I’m not entirely sure – but if you follow them on Instagram, they do post a lot of great information.

Here’s what I DO know:

Contact: info@campstill.com
What: Vancouver’s First Modern Mass Meditation Party
Date: Thursday, April 6, 2017
Location: BMO Theatre Centre, 162 West 1st Avenue, Vancouver, BC.
Time: 7:00 pm -10:00 pm
Cost: $40.00
Let’s be honest – we could all use a refresher on getting back to our own breath. The world right now seems a little crazy to me, and I often need to shut it all out, power down the laptop, close my eyes and just remember my own Divinity. I think there’s no better time to reach out to a like-minded community – one that is safe and inclusive and encouraging of your own inner journey. Because really, I don’t think we can get anywhere on the outside if we aren’t grounded on the inside.
Do you have a meditation practice or something that helps you feel still?
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The Key To Being Happy

There was a long period of time when I felt like happiness and I were at two different ends of the room. Trying to catch up to happiness was like weaving through a crowd where nobody was parting the way – meanwhile, happiness kept changing location.

It was frustrating.

Over time, it’s occurred to me that happiness is not at the other end of the room or in any location outside of me, but actually exists within my perspective. I know, I know. I’ve read the memes and been to personal development conferences. I was fed a steady diet of Wayne Dyer growing up. But it’s one thing to hear the words and another to really, truly understand them.

I’ve always found journaling to be a source of reflection which helps me see things in a different light. I could start out writing about how terrible I feel about myself – maybe I’m having a yell-y mom day or feel overwhelmed when comparing myself to others – but once I start writing all of those thoughts in a space that is free of judgment and allows me to be totally real, my tone starts changing. I start talking to myself like a friend. Encouraging myself, reminding myself of the wonderful parts of me, and really helping me focus on being authentic and making decisions from that place. That ability to express freely, to reflect without bias, and to write down the loving words that come from deep inside me has kept me connected to happiness.

Yes, happiness is found inside me.

I’m also conscious of placing the responsibility of keeping me happy on myself rather than anything or anyone else. I have a great network of friends who I enjoy being with but they don’t govern my happiness. My kids – I love them to death. But God knows, in day-to-day moments, if interactions with them were the sole things that made me happy…well, my emotions would be all over the spectrum. My husband is my partner in every way and I love him deeply. But again, if I relied on him to be happy, I’d be off the mark.

While my relationships and my thoughts can sway my emotions, who I am as a person, my gifts, my talents, my dreams, my faith in goodness, are like the rocks at the bottom of the fast-moving river that can’t be budged.

Time and again, I’ve dived deep and rested on those rocks through journaling. It really helps me understand what I want, what I don’t want, where I’m at, where I’m not at, and how to be content with it all. Most of all, it helps me bring to light the things I wouldn’t trade about myself for anything even if those things mean nothing to anyone else. Even if those things don’t make me look successful or flashy or important. Because being anchored to those rocks means that I know what I value. And I think that is part of what keeps me happy.

So, the key to being happy? For me: know myself, make decisions based on what sits well in my soul, and spend time doing the things that please me. Life can be chaotic and unpredictable. But those rocks…they’re amazing places to hang out.

What keeps you happy?

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Bittergirl, The Musical: A Review

I’ve got the Supremes singing Where Did Our Love Go through my laptop’s speakers right now – the perfect girl-group accompaniment to my review of what was a hilarious and touching show. Until I read the program I didn’t realize that the 3 main characters are based on the the writers themselves, one of whom was divorced, another dumped by her long-time live-in boyfriend and the third whose recent romance went up in flames. Knowing the background made the experience even better, more real – though without that information you are still guaranteed to find either yourself or your girlfriends in these characters. We’ve all been her – the girl going through a heartbreak, trying to pick up the pieces and glue them all back together. Sometimes doing ridiculous things to ourselves. Cleaning too much. Maybe a little stalkery. Yeah, they captured it all in Bittergirls: The Musical.

You may have heard of Bittergirls from its previous incarnation as the smash-hit play bittergirl that toured London to New York City and had three sold-out runs in Toronto. The success of the play prompted the writers, Annabel Fitzsimmons, Alison Lawrence and Mary Francis Moore to share their stories in a relationship advice book called BITTERGIRL: Getting Over Getting Dumped, which was published in 2005 and also was wildly successful.

So, what to do after your play and your book soar to the sky? Create a musical, of course! Fitzsimmons, Lawrence and Moore did this spectacularly with a 60’s and 70’s soundtrack that will have you at least humming along. The song lineup included some of my favourites from The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Crystals and so many more. Basically, it was a soundtrack that reminded me I was totally born in the wrong music era. How fun to have it all come together on a beautiful set, with incredible voices and impressive acting.

Let’s talk about the set for a minute. You know what blew me away? How simple it was. How very few props were needed to transform a simple stage to an aerobics class or the bushes outside an ex-lover’s home. (Seriously, you just have to see it to know what I’m talking about). The simplicity of the set really drove home the idea that you don’t need much when the talent is sky-high.

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The three actresses were literally a harmonious match; from the first note of the first song and throughout both acts, they blew me away with how their voices weaved through each other, never one overpowering the other unless it was called for in the song. And their script – there were times when all 3 of them had to say the exact same thing at the exact same time in the exact same tone…and they did it! I would have loved to watch their rehearsals as they practiced that because I am sure there were some serious bloopers. (Anyone reading this from the creative team? Valerie Easton, the director? I really think you should add a ‘blooper reel’ that is acted out live on stage after the production). Kudos to Lauren Bowler, Katrina Reynolds and Cailin Stadnyk – you gals were amazing! And of course, ‘the guy’ who played 3 guys, Josh Epstein, you did your job well! Thanks for letting us laugh at you.

The musicians who sat in the top corner – Diane Lines on piano, Madeleine Elkins on guitar, NoeLani KeAloha on drums and Linda Kidder on bass – were wonderful.

I had a great time reviewing the touring Arts Club Theatre at Surrey Arts Centre. You can find out when they’ll be in your part of the Lower Mainland as they make their rounds until March 15, 2017.

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Kinky Boots – Broadway In Vancouver: A Review

Ladies! Gentlemen! And all those who have YET to decide!

On February 9, 2017 I caught my first musical of the year: Broadway hit, Kinky Boots – a flashy, showy delight with entertaining and poignant musical numbers. There couldn’t have been a better show to set the stage for 2017! (It’s definitely set the bar high being the winner of 6 Tony Awards, including BEST MUSICAL!)

This is the story of Charlie Price, son of a shoemaker with no interest in following in his father’s footsteps. He leaves his home in Northampton, lured by the more exciting prospects of London living and, more honestly, by his materialistic fiancee, Nicola. But his father’s death yanks him back and proclaims him the owner of Price & Sons, the last place on earth he feels he belongs.

Enter: Lola. A vibrant drag queen who is absolutely comfortable in her skin – but not in her boots made for female bodies. A chance meeting between Charlie and Lola sets both destinies in motion but the road is bumpy with ignorance, fear, and childhood trauma. Kinky Boots is a timely backdrop for current issues that plague society, but with messages that had the audience clapping, exclaiming, and in the end, on their feet for a well-deserved standing ovation.

[Tweet “@KinkyBootsBway: If you can change your mind, you can change the world. #IntermissionTweets”]

It was a pleasure to be swept up in the many sides of Cyndi Lauper through her music and lyrics for this performance. From wild and lively to heartrending and mellow, the score is truly spectacular.

And those BOOTS! To take the name of one of their songs, ‘the sex is in the heel’, and those boots were all that! Wonderful artistry by costume designer Gregg Barnes, hair designer Josh Marquette and make-up designer Randy Houston Mercer. Well done!

Of course, without the enormous talents of the performers the magic of this show would not have been what it was. Hats off to Curt Hansen (Charlie Price), J. Harrison Ghee (Lola), Tami Dahbura (Trish), Katerina Papacostas (Nicola) and the rest of the crew that brought this story to life. They worked together with incredible chemistry and talent; their desire to give their audience the greatest show they could was evident from the first scene.

The young boys who played Young Charlie and Young Lola – Landon Maas and Sebastian Maynard-Palmer, respectively – blew my mind! Learning that this was Landon’s National Tour Debut made my own mama heart burst! And Sebastian already has quite an impressive dance and performance resume in the fourth grade! Truly, the arts are the backbone of any civilization, and the involvement of these young actors indicates that our civilization is alive and well! Congratulations to them and I am sure I’ll see them on stage again!

Thank you, Kinky Boots, for starting my musical year off so well!

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