Tag Archives: Holidays

Dual Citizens Get Two Thanksgivings

Seven years ago, I became a Canadian citizen. There are many things I love about being a citizen of both Canada and the United States. Having the excuse to celebrate Thanksgiving twice every year is definitely part of that list.

Yes, this is blog post about food.

No, this isn’t about turkey. Don’t tell the rest of the omnivores out there, but I’m actually not a big fan of turkey. It isn’t something my spouse and I eat on Thanksgiving the vast majority of the time. If it disappeared from the traditional menu altogether, I honestly wouldn’t miss it.

While there are many other foods I’d happily eat during this holiday, my ideal Thanksgiving dinner could easily be comprised of nothing but the three dishes below. I am only particular about how one of them is made for reasons that I’ll explain later on this post.

The first mandatory dish for Lydia’s ideal Thanksgiving is mashed potatoes with gravy.

Yes, I will love them if they came from dehydrated potato flakes and powdered gravy.

Yes, I will love them if they came from a frozen bag of mashed potatoes (so long as there aren’t any milk products in them) and if the gravy was an everyday ground beef gravy.

Yes,I will love them if they came from real potatoes that were peeled, boiled, and mashed to perfection and if the gravy was a fancy one made from drippings, broth, spices, and flour moments before it was brought to the table.

In short, there is no wrong way to make mashed potatoes and gravy. As long as eating it won’t make me physically ill, I will enjoy them however they are prepared. Mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food.

The second mandatory dish for Lydia’s ideal Thanksgiving is pie.

We’ve had store-bought blueberry, apple, or lemon meringue pie for the last few Thanksgivings at my house, but any kind of pie will do.

Yes, I will love them if they’re homemade from the finest organic ingredients by someone who thought about nothing but happy thoughts while rolling out the dough.

Yes, I will love them if they’re store-bought, generic, and a little squished from being carried home with lots of other groceries.

Yes, I will love them if they have lemon meringue, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches, pumpkins, squash, or just about any other kind of pie-friendly filling in them.

If you provide some non-dairy ice cream to go along with the pie, I’ll be absolutely thrilled. This is not a requirement, though, and I actually didn’t bother to eat ice cream with the apple pie my spouse and I enjoyed this Thanksgiving.

I am not particular about this dessert. The fact that it exists at all will almost certainly make me perfectly happy. All pie is delicious pie.

The final mandatory dish for Lydia’s ideal Thanksgiving is angel eggs.

You probably know them as devilled eggs instead. When I was a child, my parents renamed a few foods that had the word “devil” in them like devilled eggs (we called them angel eggs) or devil’s food cake (we called it chocolate cake). Why they did that is a long, complicated story, but when I grew up I never made the switch from referring to them as angel eggs to devilled eggs like the rest of the world does.

They were known as angel eggs when I was three, and I will still call them that when I’m a hundred and three. This is where I suddenly become stubborn and picky about my food.

No, I will not call them devilled eggs. You can call them whatever you wish, but my mind was made up on this topic very early in life.

No, I do not want store-bought angel eggs. I’d honestly rather pretend like such a thing was never invented at all.

No, I do not want anyone who doesn’t know our family recipe to attempt to make them no matter how delicious they think their version of it may be. My mother’s angel eggs are the best ones in the world. Not only are they the perfect blend of ingredients, they remind me of some very happy childhood memories.

Happy Thanksgiving

Now that you know exactly where my loyalties lie, Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers. I hope this post made you smile.

If you live somewhere else in the world, this Canadian officially gives you permission to borrow our holiday if you’re in the mood for a festive meal today. Feel free to include your favourite foods in them, too, and to ignore the ones you may not like no matter how traditional they may be.

3 Reasons Why You Should Celebrate the Autumn Equinox

If I have any readers in the southern hemisphere, feel free to switch the word “autumn” for “spring” in today’s post. A lot of what I’m about to say can apply to the shift between other seasons as well with a little tweaking.

In fact, maybe I’ll revisit this topic from that angle in six months once Canada shifts to spring weather? I won’t make any promises, but I will keep this idea in mind for the future.

In the meantime, this is why I think everyone should be taking note of the autumn equinox tomorrow.

It Will Help You Live in the Moment

Over the last few years I’ve begun to pay more attention to the two solstices and two equinoxes we have each year in an attempt to remain mindful no matter what season Ontario is currently experiencing.

There are parts of this time of the year that I deeply enjoy and other parts that I’m not such a big fan of, just like there are things I like and dislike about winter, spring, and summer.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about practicing mindfulness has been how its adjusted the way I see the world at the end of a season when I’ve grown tired of the snow, rain, or heat.

This, too, will pass if given enough time.

Nothing lasts forever, so it’s a good idea to settle into it while it is here and find the good in whatever it is that’s happening right now.

 

There Is Always Something New to Discover

When I was a teenager, I noticed that my grandfather read a lot of books about World War II. While he wasn’t old enough to serve in that war, he was definitely old enough to remember it when it happened. Instead of asking him why he read about a period of history he’d personally experienced, I decided to quietly pay attention to what he kept on the stand by his favourite chair to see if I could figure out the answer myself.

Most of the books he read were about history in general. Many of them were about things that happened decades or centuries before he was born. I think I also remember seeing books related to farming, fixing machines, and other practical topics that applied to his lifelong work.

What I learned from this experiment is that there’s always something new to discover no matter who you are or how much you already know about a topic.

So far the autumns of the 2010s have been warmer than most of the ones I remember from my childhood thanks to climate change. While some of this may be part of the natural process every mind goes through when it decides which memories to keep and which ones to toss away that may have distorted my memory of what September should be like, I also think there is something to be said for paying attention to how weather patterns have shifted over time.

Someday someone might want to hear our stories about what it was like to watch the world grow warmer than its ever been before. We’re living through a part of history that is going to be discussed for many generations to come.

Autumn Is the Beginning of the Holiday Season

I’m not a huge fan of celebrating most of the big holidays hat happen between now and January, but I sure do love seeing all of the pretty decorations for them.

Hallowenn, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Eid, harvest festivals, and many other holidays bring out the creative side of people. The nice thing about living in Toronto is that we get to see decorations for just about every holiday known to humankind during this time of the year. If any group of people celebrate it, a few of them are almost certain to live here.

I am often amazed by just how much thought people put into the decorations they choose for the holidays their families celebrate. For example, look at the gigantic scarecrow above this paragraph. I’ve never looked at a bale of hay and imagined it could be repurposed as a friendly face, but that concept works beautifully here.

The outfit this scarecrow is wearing looks like something that could be hemmed together fairly easily and inexpensively, but the joy he or she brings is immeasurable. If this is something you find pleasure in as well, now is the perfect time of the year to begin looking around and seeing what kinds of wonderful decorations will begin to pop up in your area.

How you celebrate the autumn equinox is up to you, but I hope you’ll consider acknowledging it as the seasons change.

Now Is the Perfect Time to Start Practicing Mindfulness

The autumn and winter holiday season is right around the corner.

In the past, I’ve felt kind of like discombobulated like the glass of water in the picture on the left for several different reasons: I’ve felt pressured to participate in religious rituals I disagreed with; I do not enjoy the wasteful, commercialistic side of the holiday season; I miss the sun when sunset begins to happen before 5 pm in November and December.

Whether you love the extra hours of darkness and the festivities of this portion of the year or, like me, are not a big fan of them, they’ll be here before we know it.

This will the first holiday season I will have ever been through as someone who meditates and practices mindfulness regularly. I have already seen positive changes in my life as a result of these new habits. It’s going to be fascinating to see if they make the end of the year more enjoyable for me. My best guess is that they will be!

If you haven’t started practicing mindfulness yet, now is the perfect time to begin. Let’s talk about why this is so and what to expect if you decide to add this habit to your daily routine.

Mindfulness Isn’t a Quick Fix

No, this isn’t going to be one of those blog posts that promises to improve every part of your life in five easy steps. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of that writing style or of the idea that reading a single article is all someone needs to make big changes in their life. Few people are that simple or that easily swayed.

There is also the fact that learning how to stop and focus on the present moment takes time. While I am gradually getting better at brushing away unhelpful thoughts and keeping my mind focused on what is currently going on, I still have a long way to go.

This is by far the biggest reason why I strongly recommend getting started with this habit as soon as possible if it’s something you’re hoping to get benefits from over the next few months.

If you want to be able to live in the moment at the end of the year when you’re at an event that you find stressful or over-stimulating, practicing now will make that day easier than it might have otherwise been because you will have already gotten into the habit of quietly focusing on the moment instead of thinking about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future.

Mindfulness Is a Lifestyle Change

Think about practicing mindfulness the same way you would if you wanted to learn a new language, strengthen your muscles, or play a new instrument.

All of these skills take time and effort to master. I’ve never heard of anyone becoming fluent in a new language in a day or a week. The same can be said for learning to play the piano or swing a kettlebell.

While the basics can be figured out fairly quickly if you’re motivated, it will take sustained effort over much longer periods of time to really reap the rewards of your hard work.

Mindfulness requires that same attention to detail. When I first began meditating and doing my best to remain in the present moment when I wasn’t meditating, I didn’t notice any major changes in how I thought or felt.

It took a while for me to fall into the habit of doing it regularly, and even longer for me to learn how to use it to relax consistently.

Mindfulness Is Worth It

I wish I’d started practicing mindfulness regularly many years ago. There were several false starts over the years as I slowly figured out what did and didn’t work for me.

While I understand why it took me a while to where I am today, I sure wish I could have had a cheat sheet to both warn me about the techniques my brain would not find helpful well as to tantalize me with all of the positive effects of mindfulness if I kept plugging away at it.

If there were a way for me to give you a tour of my mind and show you all of the small but still wonderful improvements I’ve made as a result of this habit, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Since that isn’t currently possible, I’ll tell you that my mind wanders a little less now than it used to. It’s easier to return to the present moment when it does go scampering off into the furthest recesses of my brain.

I’ve also come to love my daily meditation sessions and mindful moments. They are such a nice way to pause and immerse myself in the moment before moving on with my regular routines. It’s going to be interesting to see what other benefits I discover over the next few months as I become even better at the skills i’m currently practicing.

In short, mindfulness is worth every ounce of effort you put into it.

How to Meditate in a Noisy, Crowded Place

Over the last few weeks I’ve been practicing something that doesn’t come easily to me at all.

My spouse enjoys the energy of the crowds at the mall. He likes wandering around during the busier parts of the day and year. Here in Toronto we often have special giveaways, promotional booths, or other events put on by various companies to draw attention to their products.

As you might have already guessed, I am not a huge fan of this pastime. There is nothing relaxing to me about being surrounded by so many strangers in such a loud, bright place whose only purpose is to sell things to you that you don’t even necessarily need.
Last month I decided to take a new approach to the time we spent at the mall. Would it be possible for me to meditate in a busy mall? Would I ever learn to enjoy spending time there? Could I be as peaceful at the orangutang on the left in that environment?

The only way to answer those questions was to give it a try.

How It Went

Luckily, I had many opportunities to practice mindfulness at various malls this past month.

The first time I tried it I was sitting in a small food court that is nearly always packed full with people. There was so much background noise that I couldn’t make out what anyone was saying. The sounds of clinking dishes, chairs scraping against the floor, and dozens of private conversations were all going on at once.

One of the reasons why I dislike that kind of environment so much is that it’s impossible to pick out individuals sounds or conversations. They’re all so muddled together that my brain can’t make sense of any of it, and that annoys me.

This time I ignored my urge to think about the background noise. Instead, I closed my eyes and let it all wash over me. It felt sort of like floating down a river. You can’t control where the current goes, but you can choose to relax and allow it to carry you downstream.

The most interesting part of this experience for me was how well this metaphor worked for me. I hadn’t realized how much energy I was putting into figuring out what all of those noises meant until I consciously chose to stop interpreting them for a little while.

The food court I sat in for my second attempt at meditating in a noisy place was larger and busier than the one I’d previously visited. I kept my eyes opened this time for the sake of comparison. This experience didn’t last very long due to reasons that I’ll explain in a minute.

The other attempts I made to stay mindful at the mall happened under less controlled circumstances. I was usually walking in a crowd while trying to get my mind to slow down and focus on what was happening in that exact moment. This is something I’ve had a lot of luck with when walking outdoors at the park or in some of my favourite Toronto neighbourhoods, so I wanted to see if it would work just as well at the mall.

The Results

The first trial was the most successful one. That food court was slightly quieter than the other places I chose. Closing my eyes and purposefully allowing all of the sounds I was hearing to pass through my mind without trying to decode them also helped. It will be interesting to see if I can recreate something similar to this experience in the future.

Keeping my eyes opened in the second experiment didn’t work well for me at all. Food courts have too many distractions in them for me to stay focused on what I’m doing, especially when they’re as crowded as the one I was in. It will be interesting to see if I can reduce the amount of stimulation in this environment by focusing on a particular object the next time I try this. I’ve been thinking that something small and inconsequential like a soft drink cup might be the perfect thing to rest my eyes on if I want to keep them open in the future.

I was surprised by how little I enjoyed the experience of walking through the mall while trying to clear my mind. After thinking about it, I suspect it was because there weren’t any signs of nature there. Trees, bushes, flowers, and small animals are soothing to me. I was also so busy trying to avoid running into other people that it was difficult to keep my mind clear of thoughts.

Have I become a fan of wandering around the mall for the sake of having fun? No, I haven’t. I don’t think it’s ever going to become my idea of a good time, but this was still an interesting and worthwhile experiment.

Everyone feels uncomfortable in certain places or situations. There’s definitely something to be said for learning to relax in an environment that isn’t your cup of tea.

I’m looking forward to trying this again in other noisy, crowded places soon. It will be fascinating to see if I can get better results next time. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to hear what your experiences have been with meditating or staying mindful in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Staying Mindful During the Holidays

santa-claus-christmas-beard-celebration-41963We’re quickly sliding into the busiest time of year for retailers and shoppers alike.

I’ve been spending some time watching strangers rush around at the mall lately. If you’re not struggling to find those last few presents, it can be a fascinating way to use up half an hour or so of your time.

There are people who seem to love the thrill of shopping and jumping from one event to the next, people who are unbelievably stressed by all of the things they’re expected to do and to attend, and people who barely give any outward indications of how they feel at all.

If I could gather them all in the same room and talk to them about remaining mindful during what is the busiest time of the year for many people, this is what I would tell them.

It’s Okay to Say No

Several years ago, I unintentionally overheard a woman talking about how tired she was of buying presents for so many different people. She had no idea what to get for any of them and didn’t enjoy the process of searching multiple stores to find something that they might not even end up needing or liking.

I wish someone could have told her that it’s okay to say no to gift exchanges, parties, reunions, and other events if they don’t bring anything positive to your life.

There’s a decent chance that at least one other person in that group feels the same way and is wishing they could find a way to simplify their life. Mentioning how you feel could be doing them a big favour!

Even if you turn out to be the only one who wants to stop or change how things are being done, being honest about what you’re feeling in this exact moment is still a good idea.

Don’t Forget to Breathe

I have a meditation app that prompts me  to stop and focus on my breathing for one minute twice a day.

reflection-water-canal-mirroring-70574Since I started using it, my average resting heart rate has gone down a little bit. I’ve also been feeling more peaceful than I was before I began this habit.

You don’t have to spend a great deal of time meditating in order to benefit from it. While I am definitely planning to get back into longer sessions in 2017, it’s nice to take these short breaks and focus on the moment regardless of where I am or what I’m doing.

I am not a big fan of the huge crowds that form at this time of year. Meditation helps me relax when I’m in a situation where I’m surrounded by them.

Ignore the Hype

One of the other things I dislike the most about this season is how hard advertisers push to convince us that buying stuff is the secret to happiness and family harmony.

While I understand that this is a critical time of year for their bottom lines, ignoring the hype is an important part of staying mindful during the holidays.

Since I don’t have cable, Youtube is where where I see most of the ads in my daily life. A while ago they started forcing viewers to watch at least a portion of them before you could watch certain videos. There are times during the year when I’m willing to watch them, but I’ve been trying to cut down on how much time I spend on that site because I really need a break from advertisements for a while.

The nice thing about reducing the number of ads you see is that it can also reduce your number of must-have items. For example,  I find myself wanting fewer electronic devices and specialty food items when I haven’t given companies a lot of opportunities to market them to me.

Sometimes what you tune out is as important as what you tune into.

May the holiday season be a peaceful and joyful one for all of you!

7 New Rules for Labour Day

Traditionally, people weren’t supposed to wear white after Labour Day if they wanted to be seen as fashionable. Almost no one follows this rule anymore, so I thought I’d nominate some guidelines for this time of year. Let me know which one you want to vote for as the official replacement in the comments below. No guilt-trips… Read More

A Short List of Acceptable Christmas Songs

Every year stores seem to start playing Christmas music earlier than they did the year before. My patience for these tunes is all but entirely worn out this season, and we’re still a little over two weeks away from Christmas. Nearly every rule has at least one exception, though, so today I’ll be sharing the short list of… Read More

Thanksgiving Stories

Happy U.S. Thanksgiving! So I won’t be having the big turkey dinner today for two reasons: 1) I already celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving last month, and 2) I’m not actually that big of a fan of most of the foods that are traditionally served for this meal. They’re ok. I’ll eat them with gratitude if someone else wants to… Read More