#62: Don’t feed the wildlife!

pigeons

I saw this signage recently at Dana Point, California. I like how it also provides an explanation; understanding the reasons behind a requested action can help provide greater impetus for people to follow through. Kudos for good signage and promoting a useful message with some education.

Posted in Helping Animals, Helping the Environment, Kid-friendly Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#61: Speak with conscious intention

Dr. Martin Luther King speaking against war in Vietnam, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota. CC licensed image by Flickr user Minnesota Historical Society.

Dr. Martin Luther King speaking against war in Vietnam, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota. CC licensed image by Flickr user Minnesota Historical Society.

I recently heard a friend speak at a school related event. He spoke with authenticity, carefully providing some meaningful advice on life and personal growth, to a room of young students, with parents and teachers listening in as well. He spoke in a low register, with a quiet, assured voice. He paused before making key statements, allowing the silence to permeate the room and guide understanding. He spoke in the comfort of his own unique personality and paid careful attention to the words he chose. He spoke from the heart. His speech related to graduating elementary school, growing from children into aspiring young adults and being grateful for family. He described some of his personal moments and feelings about parenthood, about what is feels like to hold your little newborn baby in your arms and, about the dedication of a parent to try everything possible just to see their child giggle. He spoke to the students about integrity, about doing good and showing gratitude to their parents and family. The room was silent. He had a captive audience. I, along with many other students, parents, and teachers held our breath, some even holding back tears. He spoke authentically, intently, powerfully. We were undoubtedly moved by his words.

Speech has the power to influence, to move, to catalyze into action, for better or for worse. The spoken words of such figures as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Socrates, Winston Churchill and many other great leaders of the past, have had the power to influence societies and people’s thoughts for generations. Check out this site, which lists their picks for the 35 greatest speeches in history. In our day-to-day life, the words of the people we surround ourselves with and the words we hear in the media, can uplift us or bring us down, can open our minds to new, inspiring ideas or can taint us with unproductive, upsetting thoughts. I used to love public speaking throughout my childhood and youth (and still do) and participated in many public speaking competitions and speaking events (i.e., MC’ing ceremonies and the like). Now, as a teacher I also speak in front of large groups of impressionable young people everyday and on occasion, to groups of adults as well. I realize now, more than ever, what a privilege it is to be given the opportunity to speak in front of a listening audience–to be trusted and respected to share my ideas and be heard by others. In fact, whether speaking in front of a large or small audience, or even one-on-one with anyone, every opportunity to speak and have a willing listener on the other end is a gift. I am grateful for these moments and will try my best to say ‘thank-you for listening’ more often now. :)

Our own speech is one of our main tools for conveying our thoughts and portraying who we are–it provides a window into part of our inner world. I once read that “Speech is the edge of thinking” (my apologies, but I don’t have the reference for this phrase). However, before becoming a influential speaker, we must be an even better listener. Continue reading

Posted in Kid-friendly Posts, Self-Help | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

#60: Hand it down

CC licensed image by Flickr user Lucas Cobb

CC licensed image by Flickr user Lucas Cobb

I once heard on the radio that in France, giving second hand items to another child is seen as an act of love because it symbolizes that the item had been previously loved and cared for. I couldn’t find any evidence of this tradition, but I like this way of looking at hand-me-downs. It’s all about perception! More often, the perception of ‘new is better and more thoughtful’ and ‘used is worse and less thoughtful’, prevails. This has led to a culture of wanting, buying and acquiring new, producing more and eventually, more waste in the atmosphere and in landfills. Continue reading

Posted in Helping the Environment, Kid-friendly Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#59: Love what is

CC licensed image by Flickr user BK. lovequotes.symphonyoflove.net/category/b/byron-katie

CC licensed image by Flickr user BK. lovequotes.symphonyoflove.net/category/b/byron-katie

I recently came across the book “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie and have been immersed in her ideas. I’ve been inquiring into many self-help concepts for over a decade now and Byron Katie’s work has particularly made a mark in my thinking. Byron Katie teaches people how to reach true personal freedom, by freeing the mind of stressful, negative thoughts. Through a process she calls ‘inquiry’ or ‘the work’, she challenges people to dissect their negative thoughts one at a time, look at reality for what it is, and turn their thoughts around to ones that are positive, loving, objective, empowered, compassionate, and in the present moment.  Continue reading

Posted in Self-Help | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

#58: Create community

The women of Nombe, rural Uganda, dancing together during my visit in 2012...what a beautiful community.

The women of Nombe, rural Uganda, dancing together during my visit in 2012…what a beautiful community.

I’m sitting at the computer in my home office. The room has a window facing the back of my house, which backs onto a little park. It’s Sunday morning and I have the window open. I hear the sound of a steel drum band playing (right now, they’re actually playing the theme song from Mario Brothers…so cool!!!), kids playing, the water from a splash pad fountain spraying, dogs barking and people mulling about. It’s the weekly community farmer’s market. Every week the community comes together for fresh, local food, music, activities, socializing and simply, connecting. I feel a sense of comfort, giddiness, and happiness, knowing that people are coming together in my neighbourhood in such a positive space; there’s an air of camaraderie amongst strangers and a level of trust within the community, on this fine day. I feel proud seeing all that my community has to offer. It’s the same feeling I’ve gotten on other occasions when I’m in a venue filled with people coming together for a common purpose: my grad school convocation, the Bon Jovi concert, the Beaches Jazz festival in Toronto, the Canadian Breast Cancer Run for the Cure, the Victoria Day fireworks celebration at Ashbridge’s Bay in Toronto, my school’s Remembrance Day assembly held in the gymnasium, my salsa dancing performances, the beautiful women of rural Uganda dancing together to their heart’s content at sun down, and my son’s first birthday party, are just some examples that come to mind. Continue reading

Posted in Helping People, Kid-friendly Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#57: Show gratitude for the gift of grandparenthood

CC licensed Flickr image by J Aaron Farr

CC licensed Flickr image by J Aaron Farr

It’s been an enriching, eye-opening experience, seeing my parents as new grandparents. I have a new appreciation for what it means to be a grandparent. Grandparents can play a huge role in their grandchildren’s lives and feel happy, proud and fulfilled leaving behind a legacy of selfless love. Sometimes there are challenges too. Grandparenthood is a very unique phase of life, with many things to deal with–aging of oneself, friends and family members, larger families, new roles, new perspectives, reflections on when they were younger, new physical, mental and emotional demands, new cultural, generational and technological adaptations, new relationships and new priorities. There’s a lot of change to take in (and change is often not easy), so I can appreciate how complex it could be for some to navigate this new role and life stage. I’ve been searching for articles to read on the topic, but surprisingly have not found much. Perhaps they are out there, or perhaps this is a particular phase of life that could use more knowledge building and sharing.

I can empathize that aging would have its share of mental and physical challenges (I took a developmental psychology course on the ‘Psychology of Aging’, which helped educate me a little bit on the topic), however, the power and privilege to pass on life lessons to future generations and influence your family legacy is a gift and something that can indeed have an impact on the world. Grandparents are important vehicles for making this happen. Personally speaking, my own grandparents had a very positive impact on me. Even though I only saw them once every few years when I would visit them in India, they helped instill in me, the values of warmth, caring, giving, and family connectedness.

Here is a poem of sorts (I am no poet, so perhaps this is more of a reflection) on what makes a good grandparent, inspired by what I have observed from my own grandparents, parents and other people’s stories of parenthood and grandparenthood. Continue reading

Posted in Helping People, Self-Help | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

#56: Emulate our young leaders

CC license image by Flickr user quinn norton

CC licensed image by Flickr user quinn norton

I’ve been to my share of graduation ceremonies over the years. Between my own several, some of my family members’ and my students’, I’ve sat through a good number of impassioned, larger-than-life speeches, awards presentations, and let’s not forget the proverbial roll call of handing out diplomas. While many people are not fond of the formalities and perhaps somewhat quixotic, floating feel of these ceremonies, I for one, find them as a source of inspiration. The most inspiring of all, being the grade 8 elementary school graduations I’ve attended over the years. Continue reading

Posted in Helping People, Kid-friendly Posts, Self-Help | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#55: Eat ethically–Have a cow about cows

CC licensed image by Flickr user David Oliver

CC licensed image by Flickr user David Oliver

Eating ethically involves making informed and socially responsible decisions about the food we eat. It means using logic and evidence-based reason to determine how we can eat in a way that does the most good or least harm to all beings and our planet. It’s about understanding where the food we eat comes from and what processes were involved in getting it from the farm to our tables. It’s a complicated issue, but can be simplified by tweaking the way we eat in small ways. There are certainly many layers to this pie but if we work with manageable portions, we can start to make a difference. For a few years now, I’ve been learning more about ethical eating and have been taking small steps towards being a more socially responsible food consumer. I’m definitely not ethically perfect and admire those who hold themselves to high (or perhaps, ideal) ethical standards in the way they eat…you are my inspiration and my motivation to continue improving.

To start, I urge people to have a cow about a cows. These animals currently play a huge role in the pressure we put on the environment so let’s take stock of this issue. Beef currently ranks as one of the highest products for its water footprint (ranked second to chocolate); that is, the amount of fresh water it takes to produce the product from the moment it begins production to the time it’s consumed. Although it is difficult to get a precise calculation of a product’s water footprint, due to geographical variations and the contextual nature of statistics, general estimates from the majority of sources I visited, such as waterfootprint.org, approximate that 1kg of beef requires around 15000 litres of fresh water to produce. That converts to approximately 3500 litres of fresh water used to produce an 8 ounce serving of steak! That number blows my mind. Think of it this way: the average person in Canada and/or the US, uses approximately 300+/- litres of water at home, per day (which is apparently already much higher than other countries). That is water to shower, use the toilet, drink from the tap, wash veggies, do the dishes, etc… (namely, residential or household water use). One piece of steak uses almost two weeks worth of your household water consumption! You can also imagine about 7000 standard water bottles (500ml) to produce that piece of steak. Compare that with chicken, which is estimated to have a water footprint of around 4325 litres of water to produce 1 kg. That’s less than a third of what it takes to produce bovine meat. Vegetables on the other hand, use 322 litres of water per kilogram produced. Way to go veggies; they’re good for you and more ecologically sound. This info graphic is a useful comparison of the water footprint of several common commodities. I also recommend reading through the waterfootprint.org website, as they have detailed and relatively up-to-date, research-based information. Continue reading

Posted in Helping the Environment | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

#54: Live each day to the fullest

CC licensed image by Flickr user BK

CC licensed image by Flickr user BK

I’ve been thinking about this topic lately because of news from a few different people lately of loved ones nearing their last days or being diagnosed with scary and unfortunate illnesses, such as cancer. I also just watched the series finale of How I Met Your Mother and…(spoiler alert! Don’t read the next sentence if you intend to still watch it. Love the show, btw) it also brought me back to the realization that one’s life can end at any moment and we must truly appreciate and make the most of the present. After having a child, I’ve also been more sensitive to the idea of loss, as I now have another life that is depending on me for so much and on whom so much of my own sense of well-being now depends, not to mention the increasing bond I have with my family–my loving husband and parents (who are now grandparents)–and dear friends, as well.

As a friend of mine recently expressed to me, all we have is NOW. We can think back to our past and learn from it, we can envision and plan for our future, but the one and only moment that is real is RIGHT NOW. So, why not make the most of it and live this very moment at your best? I have a little plaque at home that says ‘…live each day as if it were your last.’ I like this perspective, although I find it challenging to live by all the time because I can’t truly internalize how I would really feel or act if I absolutely knew I was on my last days. I’m pretty sure I would spend as much time as possible with loved ones and soaking in all the beautiful things on this planet, such as nature, good food, music and dancing (amongst other things), but I think I would feel a different (perhaps a deeper, more connected and aware) sense of self and perspective on life that one can only have when one is in such a situation. In any case, what I think is key is ensuring that we live in such a way that we would not have any regrets if our lives were to (unfortunately) end too soon.  To this end, I try to give my husband and child a loving gesture each and every time I or they leave the house to go out, I try and frequently communicate words of love, kindness and appreciation to those around me, and I try and be the best person I can be a little more each and every moment of each day. I certainly do fall into traps of negativity and unproductivity from time to time, but reminders of life’s fragile timeline helps me improve. Meditation is also a great tool for training ourselves to be present. I don’t want to come off as being overly fatalistic–instead, my goal is to inspire greater authenticity. All we have is now. Let’s make the most of the present and strive to live our best lives, being our best selves, each and every precious day.

Feel free to check out a different but related post I wrote on this topic several years ago.

Posted in Self-Help | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

#53: Bring some sunshine to a stranger–a small act of kindness

CC licensed image by Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography

CC licensed image by Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography

Since becoming a mother I’ve been privy to an awesomely open and welcoming community that exists in Toronto. A community where strangers will approach me and my baby boy with delightful smiles, hellos and waves (for my son, of course); a community where lighthearted colloquy and friendly gestures become contagious.

A few months ago, a stranger (a fellow mother), put a smile on my face with a small act of kindness. I was at a baby store with my husband and my five month-old son, looking for infant sunglasses for an upcoming trip we were taking. My husband and I were amusingly testing out sunglasses on our son (babies in sunglasses are uber cute!), but unfortunately none of them fit him. Another mother who was in the store with her son (of a similar age) came over and started up conversation with us. After several minutes of talking about our kids and travel, she told us to hold on, as she had some infant sunglasses in her car, that she would gladly retrieve for us to try on. She fetched the sunglasses, which were still in the original packaging with the price tag, and handed them to us. They fit our little guy perfectly. We gave them back to her and made note of the brand, but she told us to take them, saying that her son wore them briefly during their recent travels but wasn’t likely to wear them again. We offered to pay, but she said there was no need and we could have them. It was a nice gesture that shed a glimmer of kindness and generosity that exists in what sometimes feels like a big, hurried, individualistic city.

We went on our trip and our little guy wore those cute sunglasses every day. As we soaked in the warmth and glory of the sunshine, my husband and I relished every moment of seeing our baby grin and giggle from behind his shades. It’s beautiful what a small act of kindness from a stranger can do for others. :) Thanks!

Posted in Helping People, Kid-friendly Posts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment