Island Time: What a month away with my children taught me

11738059_10155931974745083_6601488050755240455_nI just returned from a month away. With my kids. All three of them. 24/7 at arm’s length for 4 whole weeks. We ate every meal together, woke up at an ungodly hour every day together, and spent every second together for 28 days.

Believe it or not, it’s what I wanted. In fact, I was desperate for it. I longed to be free from the schedule: the schoolwork and the activities, the play dates and birthday parties and the overwhelming feeling of always being on the go. I wanted to spend the days with the boys doing nothing. Teaching them that doing nothing is in fact doing something – it’s recharging. Re-setting. And all of us need to know how to do that.

Residing in a busy city and having busy schedules and living with a big, busy family, it’s hard to not get swept up in always “doing”. Checking things off “the list” with compulsion and not really enjoying any of it. I’ve spent lots of time this past year reflecting on how much time we spend “doing” and not “being”. I want to change that.

Most importantly I want to impart to my boys that their self-worth is not tied to how busy they are. And what better way to do that, than to show them how.

We unpacked our bags in Grand Cayman and settled in for a month of island living, where “island time” is a real thing. We spent the days at the beach discovering the sea life, and learning about our world. Snorkelling adventures spanned hours and walks on the sand were slow and unchartered. Mealtime was unhurried and evenings were spent watching old movies, playing cards and lost in our imaginations.

Escaping the perils of boyhood is not possible – even in Paradise. They still fought, and whined, and complained. They still didn’t want to be touched, breathed on, or looked at. The iPads were still taken away and threats were still made, but all to a much lesser degree.

Free from distractions, the boys reconnected with each other and with me. The conversation flowed and while my boys studied mollusks and coral formations, I realized who they are. Their distinct personalities revealed themselves to me in new ways, and my understanding of them and their fears, anxieties, dreams and excitements, became clearer.

The weeks passed in a blur, a painful reminder of how fast the years are slipping by, and tears came with the realization that I can slow down and be more present but I can’t stop time.

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Chemical Peels: Myths Debunked!

imgresA flawless complexion has become somewhat of a life goal. Okay, so it’s not exactly world peace or feeding the hungry but I figure I should start out with baby steps.

Turns out that world peace might be easier to come by than a flawless complexion. I know that some of you, dear readers, think that I am being frivolous or hyperbolic and that’s because you were genetically blessed with a good complexion free from acne breakouts, discolouration, Melasma . . .I could go on.  And some of you, dear readers, know exactly the quest that I am on. Keep reading.

I first discovered Canadian made Miracle 10 when I was invited to an event they hosted for beauty bloggers.   Miracle 10 was developed by Ann Marie MacDonald and acclaimed plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Lista in 2005 after spending years learning about cutting- edge skincare advancements from the best medical doctors and researchers in the world. Together they identified a void in a crowded marketplace where many times promises fail to actualize. After extensive research and development they founded Miracle 10. MacDonald, with her background in dance and psychology, is passionate about providing women with products that allow them to articulate their beauty and develop confidence. Miracle 10 does that by offering just below clinical grade skincare that delivers noticeable results on both a superficial and cellular level at a competitive price.

The Lista-MacDonald team’s life goal doesn’t seem so far removed from my own.

A Chemical Peel Play-by-Play

Elevate_landingpage_v1Miracle 10 Spa offers a variety of medispa treatments including chemical peels – a procedure that had been on my skincare bucket list for some time. I arrived for my scheduled peel 15 minutes early to fill out a comprehensive skin history. After a lengthy discussion with the medical aesthetician, where I fired question upon question at her about side effects, redness, recovery and the epidermis and she patiently and thoroughly answered each one, I lay on the treatment table.

To start, my skin was cleansed to remove make-up using Miracle 10 cleanser. The next step involved dermaplaning, the process of using a surgical blade to gently scrape away two weeks worth of dead skin covering the upper epidermis. There is no blood, it doesn’t hurt and the immediate result is illuminated skin!

When it comes time to apply the peel, the medical aesthetician assured me that the best way for novices like me to begin is with the gentle lactic acid peel.   There are three different peels and each offer their own benefits.

  • Lactic Acid Peels are derived from sugar and are gentle. They are best for hydrating, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and can help improve acne.
  • Glycolic Peels feature glycolic acid and when applied remove the top layer of skin revealing brighter, healthier skin reducing the appearance of wrinkles and acne.
  • Salicylic Acid Peels are made up of salicylic acid, commonly found in over-the-counter acne medication but in a higher concentration and generally help improve the overall tone and look of the skin by targeting pores.

The peel was applied for two minutes, and a fan was made available to cool the skin, but I found that didn’t need this. The treatment felt no more intense than my nightly Alpha Hydroxy cream.

To conclude, the mask was washed off with a fruit enzyme scrub followed by a moisture-rich soothing mask.

It’s important to note that you should always wear sunscreen but it’s especially important following a peel. Also, even though peels are non-invasive and seem as simple as a manicure, it is important to remember that it is a procedure and it is best to have these applied by a trained professional in a doctor/plastic surgeon’s office because there can be side effects.

Admittedly, all I (thought I) knew about chemical peels I learned from Sex in the City. For those unfamiliar, sexy siren Samantha had a peel done and her skin was left a deep shade of crimson. I now know that this is a possibility but a thorough pre-analysis, a well-trained medical aesthetician and low-dosage peel will likely not garner that unfavourable result!

Initially following the treatment, my skin glowed and using the recommended follow-up products has improved the over-all look of my skin. At Miracle 10 they believe skin needs to be healthy, not just pretty but to achieve this standard educated, passionate technicians are a must. And at Miracle 10 you’re in good hands.

Intrigued? Still not sure a peel is for you? Take a look at this video or visit the Miracle 10 Spa in Toronto, or visit their website to order their products to your home!

Shadow Eyes: Reflecting on Dementia

wbhi_silver_pendant4_grandeA few weeks ago I mentioned that I was researching my family tree and working on a keepsake book.  It’s a project that was intended to be a hobby, a brief diversion from the everyday, but it’s taken on a life of its own.  I have accumulated documentation and pictures galore, uncovered some family “scandals” and discovered babies who lived for such a short time that no one living knows they ever existed.

While I was scanning several photos onto my computer, my 6 year-old son offered to help.  He was keen to ask questions about the grainy black and whites that he gingerly passed to me.  He asked about the old-fashioned clothing, the dour backdrops and the sour expressions.  His comments, as they always do, caused me to laugh but also to reflect on how childhood has evolved over generations.

He passed me a square sepia photo; the edges soft and worn thin.  The year 1929 is scrawled in faded ink on the back. A baby, maybe 6 months old, is dressed for winter.  Tiny mittens covering tiny hands, a knitted cap pulled down low, and a blanket pulled up high exposing only pudgy cheeks that appear flush from the cold, a button nose and dancing eyes.

“Do you know who this is?” I asked him; sure that he wouldn’t have the faintest idea.

“It’s grandma,” he said with certainty, without pause, without even a moment to focus on the face of his great-grandmother.

It had taken me a few minutes to place my grandmother’s face.  I had to take care not to confuse her distinct features with those of her siblings, consulting the date to prove my guess.

“How did you know it’s her?”

“Because her eyes are the same.”  He says this as he scoots off the chair and races out of the room. Bored with scanning pictures and hearing about orphaned relatives.

Of course he’s right.  I stared at that picture and compared it with a more recent one of my grandmother, accurately representing her 86 years. I laid both pictures along side several others.

Pictures of her as a young woman with a page-boy and a clingy sweater, as a young mother cradling her third baby on the front porch in the spring of ’56, the undeniably 70’s era shot where she leans into the camera flashing a smile while holding my grandfather’s shoulder, another image of her holding his same shoulder but this time decades later at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  All of these photos are on the table, looking up at me.  The hairstyles, the fashions, the décor are different in each photo, telling a story of their own and yet her eyes remain the same.

But my son was only partly right.  Her eyes may be same shape, the same colour blue dotted with flecks of black, but they are not same.  They are shadowed now.

I come from a long line of octogenarians.  Most of my predecessors have lived well into their seventies, eighties and nineties – even back two hundred years ago.  I like to loom this over my husband’s head from time-to-time.  I like to remind him that when he finds me annoying after 10 years of marriage, I have the potential to give him at least another 40 more.  He likes to remind me that his genes don’t offer such promises.  Sometimes I wonder which of us is holding the winning hand.

Times are changing and people are living longer and more enriching lives.  For the most part people (who live in this country anyway) don’t die from diseases that their ancestors may have succumbed to.  It’s rare to hear of someone dying from tuberculosis or dysentery today just as it was less common to see people living well into old-age hundreds of years ago.

However, it is estimated today that 550,000 people living in Canada have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.  Like most diseases, the patient is ground zero and families feel the collateral damage.  Caregiver fatigue and the Sandwich Generation are hot topics with politicians, policy makers and employers, never mind the voice writers and researchers give to the thousands of people who identify themselves as such.

Lynn Posluns, a long time Toronto volunteer, philanthropist and activist, is one such voice and a powerful one at that.  She recently founded the Women’s Brain Health Initiative to raise awareness about the inequity in brain aging research funding for women.

Women are twice as likely as men as to suffer from brain aging illnesses, stroke and depression.  In fact, 70% of newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients are women.

The WBHI puts out an informative magazine (available online here) with articles written by leading researchers and doctors about how estrogen, stress, cortisol and pregnancy/motherhood may influence your overall brain health as well as simple lifestyle modifications that may have significant long-term benefits.

I have discovered that while my genes my have a ticket for longevity, I want to those years to be as fulfilling as possible.

More and more the research is showing that the choices we make while we are young and healthy directly affect how we age.

I see my grandmother in these pictures as a young woman, a wife, a sister, a mother.  I see how she changes with each passing decade.  I see how her role changes too. No longer is she the central hub of her family, mothering her four children.  No longer is she the grandmother called upon to host family dinners or arrange annual reunions.

Time is sneaky.  The photographs are all the proof that I need.  Generations pass in an instant leaving nothing more than a trail of pictures, and if you’re lucky, memories.

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Visit the Women’s Brain Health Initiative.

The Hope-Knot designed by Mark Lash, to represent brain health, is available as sterling cufflinks, a pin or a sterling pendant and chain.  Prices start at $10.

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The Best of The Blogosphere

imgres-1Give yourself a break from holiday shopping, and rushing to complete the dreaded to-do list.  Indulge a few minutes in this edition of The Best of The Blogosphere.

So Wonder, So Marvelous has a lot to say about not being a super mom.  Moms of all kind rejoice – we’re all fabulous and we’re all doing it right!  Read this if you’re looking for a pick-me-up.

Maybe it’s my background in gerontology, but this series of emotive photographs will challenge you to see your elderly neighbour in a different light.  My favourite is the fourth in the series with the woman sitting at the vanity.  It makes reminds me of Carol’s post, On Gravity and Getting Older.  Which one speaks to you?

Every once in a while you need to read a love story that makes you swoon.  Helen and Les Brown, you’re the real deal!

Are women burning out?  Here’s some food for thought:  according to this infographic women are drowning as working mothers and we’re less happy today than we were in the 1970s.  What would Marion Cunningham have to say about that?

And if you’re looking for some controversy . . .

Theresa Albert, a Toronto nutritionist and blogger for In The Mabelhood suggests that people should take a lesson from kids and be more honest but is this too extreme?

Lisa Heffernan lists Nine Reasons I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom on the blog Grown & Flown.  I would be lying if I said some of her sentiments did not ring true, but then again the grass is always greener.  I am going to re-read So Wonderful, So Marvelous.

Let’s end this edition of Best of The Blogosphere with a bit of humour.  How many of you can relate to this video?

On Gravity and Getting Older

112Some aspects of getting older are so… surprising.  This regardless of the bazillion opportunities to acclimatize to it, since aging happens all the time everywhere to everything.  Still, I find myself doing double-takes in the mirror.  There I’ll be, minding my own business, and just happen to glance up at the glass.  As it turns out, I habour in my mind an idea of what I look like, obviously retrieved from some time ago, because the face staring blankly back at me is not it.

But it’s not the physical changes that make me most aware that I’m getting older, but my slowly evolving relationship to the people closest to me.  Monday spawns these insights most frequently, because that’s the day that my mother has been coming over for visits with me and the kids for years.  She brings groceries, makes lunch and dinner, and plays.  It’s incredibly helpful.

In the last year or so in particular,  I’ve noticed some changes.   Basically, my mom is slowing down a bit.  She’s in her 70s; frankly, it’s about time.  But it was a hard-nosed woman who raised me, the one who sometimes reminded me that sleeping was a waste of time. She’s used to going hard and strong, and she can’t really do that anymore, at least not how she once could.

No one is more mystified by the changes than she.  “I’m tired at night,” she’ll confess, “I can’t keep my eyes open after the 11 o’clock news.”  Or she’ll ruefully recount her memory lapses (which happen to me just as often but whatever).  Then there was the time when the rain started spitting on my outdoor clothes racks, and I rushed to bring in the double load.  My mom seemed to pick off the items one by one, as if selecting the best pieces.  “Quick, Mom, quick!” I cried.  She replied flatly:  “I’m a slowcoach now.”

My mom is completely able, and far from being anything but soundly independent.   She helps my siblings more than we help her and we turn to her for our bearings.  I still remember the moment when my husband’s and my musings to buy an income property solidified into a real possibility for me:  it was when we told my mom about it and she didn’t think it was stupid.

But there is something of a shift in the air.  I take notice when the fiddling with the carseat takes a good while, or how she can’t comfortably carry my toddler anymore.  Walking down the street with my mom and my kids, I’m becoming acutely aware that I am the head of this familial triad.  I’m the only party in my prime, and the weight of competence falls squarely on my shoulders.

I’m in charge.

And presumably I have been for a good while, but it feels more real now.  Something about being the decision-maker, the place when the buck stops, my kids’ best bet, is increasingly imprinting itself on me.  About going to bat not just for me in the morning, every morning, regardless of pretty much everything.

Being an adult, which I’ve been for a couple of decades with some success, is a lot different than being an adult taking care of children and maybe soon helping to take care of parents.  And here I have to add that this latter prospect isn’t frightening or worrying; there’s a part of me that genuinely looks forward to returning some of the care that my mother has gifted to me and my family for so long.

But it all has a gravity to it, more powerful than the forces working on my face and body.  I feel closer to the ground because of it, more securely attached to the here and now, and to the people I love.  I feel older.

On Wasting and Not Wasting Time At 33

rose-174817_640I am 33.

I am not old but not so young anymore either.  In my twenties I thought that I had all the time in the world to be self-indulgent.  If I didn’t get to something, I would shrug it off and add that to the bucket list for next year. Next year I will take that literature course.  Next year I will revive my long-dormant French.  Next year I will make the commitment to Ashtanga yoga.

After all, I am only 27 . . . 28. . . 29 . . .

And then 30 came along followed much too quickly by 31 and 32.

“There’s a minute of our lives that we are never going to get back!”  My 4th grade teacher would say this every time the class would act out and interrupt her lesson.  She would stand in the middle of the room, back ramrod straight, and stare at us until we’d grow silent and still.  We must have heard this sentiment often repeated over the ten months we were under her charge because the words still whisper in my mind at the end of each day.

I don’t remember much about the complexities of the medieval feudal system but hearing “there’s a minutes of our lives that we are never going to get back” at nine years old proved to be very formative to my later years.

List making became an obsession.  I have lists for everything, and lists of my lists.  I check off my list at the end of each day, month, and year.  I feel accomplished every time I draw a thick black line across an ink scrawl or mar the whiteness of the paper with a bright red checkmark.  In these digital times holding down the delete button gives me a perverse sense of pleasure.

I didn’t waste it!  I didn’t waste a minute!

John Belushi, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Eva Peron and Jesus are just a few notables who died at 33.

I am 33.

I haven’t created capricious characters that entertain and delight. I have yet to inspire a generation of women with my graceful style or galvanize a country as First Lady.  I do have three disciples though, and they follow me from kitchen to bathroom and back.  But I am content with just three.

Their experiences humble my paltry list of to-dos and have secured them a place in the history books but my fourth grade teacher was wrong.  Thirty-three years is fleeting! Listening to friends laugh, mindlessly watching TV, shutting out the world in favour of a good book, eating popcorn for dinner . . . none of that is a waste of time.  It’s true that those minutes are gone forever, but they remain precious all the same.

Sometimes you’ve got to screw the to-do list!

On Getting Older

019“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” Robert Frost

The horizontal lines deepening on your forehead, or the slim crescent moons that bracket your smile.   Working out just to keep up with the kids, or savouring your relative strength to them while it lasts.  Feeling overlooked among the young women on the street, or striding confidently past the cluster of men.

Depending on the woman, the man, and the day, any of these experiences can feel false or true.  This week, 4Mothers discuss what it means to us to get older, whether we see it in our children, ourselves, our parents, our world.

Bigwig Oprah outed her views on it a couple of years ago; more recently I read this beautiful reflection by Karina Kenison on turning 55.  What do you think?  Join us this week as we chime in.