Not only was December 21st the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, but it was also a celestial phenomena in that we had a Super Moon.
Many of the ancient civilizations placed great stock in the workings of the cosmos. Egyptian pyramids, Mayan temples and, of course, Stonehenge, are all mystical sites in which elements are only touched by the sun on the solstices.
Whether or not you embrace the wisdom of the ancient civilizations or the ceremony of shamanism, the Winter Solstice is a momentous night. The longest night of the year, the darkest night of the soul. A year draws to a end, bringing closure to your experiences in the past year and an opportunity to reflect on your objectives and start on a new path.
New Year’s Day, how could it not represent the chance for a fresh start? You need a goal and a plan if you want the coming year to be different than the one you’ve just lived. If you loved the last year, embrace it with everything you’ve got.
Whether your 2019 is to be sunshine days or a journey to another place, I wish you health, happiness and achievement of your goals. Let’s raise a toast to love and connection, real communication and lots of laughs. Happy New Year.
Did you catch the story earlier this week about seven women who donned nude underwear and protested on the streets of London, England outside the busy Victoria’s Secret shop in Oxford Circus? This was a follow-up to the company’s “historically narrow-minded” runway show of the year. The article was published by Huffpost.
Read it here
The protest was launched by Joanne Morales, founder of Nunude, a UK lingerie brand that carries a wide range of nude garments to accommodate all sizes and skin tones, and Sylvia Mac, childhood burn victim and founder of Love Disfigure, an online advocate for people with scars and skin conditions in mainstream media and pop culture. The pair “called on their communities of followers and customers to participate in what they agreed was not an angry protest but rather a way to celebrate diversity. Their shared mission was to provide an example of what it’s like to be size inclusive but to also be inclusive of race, ability and both visible and invisible illness.”
“We were fed up seeing these so-called perfect body images online, with there being just one perceived beautiful body type,” Mac told HuffPost.
Noble goals to be sure. I’m as much for inclusivity as the next guy, but let’s be honest here. I didn't need to see this, nor did these women really need to stand on the street all-but-naked to make this point.
What, exactly, does ability and illness, whether visible or invisible, have to do with the product line or marketing habits of Victoria's Secret in the first place?
I wrote a blog yesterday saying that human beings are programmed to appreciate art and therefore we can’t help but appreciate beauty in a purely aesthetic sense. In this politically correct, everyone-is-beautiful climate, we are perhaps sacrificing a wee bit of honesty with ourselves and others in our efforts to correct the injustices of our fat-phobic society.
I don’t see being overweight and poorly conditioned as a source of pride. Inclusivity is absolutely something to aspire to, ill health is not. Oh, I totally get the beautiful body type thing, I do understand that unattainable images of perfection cause problems and I know that large bodies can be healthy and fit. On the other hand, let’s not pretend that we are comparing apples and apples here. There are people out there who are simply beautiful in a traditional aesthetic sense. They are not flabby or overweight or old. They are works of art and, in my view, there is no crime in acknowledging and appreciating that. The reverse can also be true, and pretending otherwise is not a viable solution. One doesn't need nude photos to demonstrate a beautiful heart, mind and soul.
Victoria’s Secret sexualizes women, no doubt, and they have staunchly resisted the inclusivity movement in their "fantasy" runway shows. No curvy body types or transgender models are employed by them, although they’ve recently been volleying some backlash about that. They sell lingerie designed for sex appeal and they’re successful at it. They’ve taken a hit in recent years, largely due to competition and the growth of the athleisure industry rather than due to the body positivity movement, according to online reports. Notwithstanding, Victoria’s Secret racked up $7.4 billion in world sales last year. Although they don't promote inclusivity on the catwalk, they do produce lingerie in larger sizes. Women are buying their products, presumably women who fit into their sexy lingerie and look incredible in it. We all know how empowering it is to feel radiant, whether we’re clad in jeans, gowns or rose petals.
Back to the protestors. A few of them look great. A couple of them look like typical women. And a couple of them would, quite simply, have had more dignity if they’d kept their clothes on.
This was not the only protest over Victoria’s Secret's lack of inclusivity in recent months. There was another in New York in November, just after the Angels show was taped, arranged by supermodel Robin Langley and backed by a team of known models representing positivity. Featuring all shapes and sizes from voluptuous to statuesque, the protest made a statement with class. Those women are all stunning. Point made.
Read article, The Independent, November 2018
“It’s time Victoria’s Secret recognized the buying power and influence of women of ALL ages, shapes, sizes, and ethnicities,” Robin was quoted as saying. The We're All Angels Show, staged by lingerie retailer Simply Be, featured models from sizes 10 to 22 wearing garments from their AW18 collection.
Some industry experts have expressed the opinion that this year's Victoria's Secret Angels show might just be the last one to feature only tall, slinky models on its runway. The show drew criticism from another direction this year as well, when VP of Public Relations Ed Razek told Vogue in an interview that he didn't think transgenders belonged on their catwalk. Singer Halsey, the headliner at the Angels gala, came out of the gate swinging on social media after filming the event. "As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have no tolerance for a lack of inclusivity. Especially not one motivated by stereotype," she wrote.
Interesting times we live in. Aside from my personal belief that the protest in Oxford Circle was ill-advised, hats off to the seven women who strutted their stuff with passion and grit.
It’s a tale as old as time. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is only skin-deep. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
On some level, we all know that the most beautiful people are not necessarily the ones we love the most. Nor are they necessarily the most intelligent, the kindest or the most socially aware. Beautiful people are good to look at. As human beings intellectually programmed to appreciate art, we can’t help but admire beauty in a purely aesthetic sense.
Merriam-Webster had by far the most inclusive definition of beauty beyond the physical. “..the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” Bravo!
Cambridge English Dictionary says, “the quality of being pleasing, especially to look at, or someone or something that gives great pleasure, especially when you look at it.” Pretty visual, that one.
Of course, there’s all that stuff about being beautiful inside and out, and that’s really what it’s about. Being beautiful on the inside is where it’s at. If you are fortunate enough to blossom with true physical beauty as well, you’ve got it all.
When is the bloom of youth not beautiful? And therein lies the issue with age acceptance. It’s easy to be supportive of the movement because it’s right thinking. A mature woman is the product of experience and understanding. Her beauty is different than it was. Some say ravaged, some say ripened. It’s all in the perspective. Mature women are beautiful, but it’s more about what they can do than about how they look. This is a message we need to pass on to all ages and future generations. Priorities.
Most of us have grown up with reinforcement that our beauty is terribly important and it colours our world.
There are physical manifestations of aging that can’t be avoided, although some blessed women have seemingly ageless genes. Most of us? Not so much. We lose collagen and elascticity. Facial muscles droop. Permanent wrinkles develop. Let’s be honest. Compared to the way we’ve always regarded ourselves in the mirror, this is not feelin’ pretty time. I think every woman addresses this uncomfortable process at some point. The least possible amount of time worrying about it is the objective.
Make no mistake, there will be days that you shine. Like a diamond. A great mantra is, “but not today”. It works because it implies, either positively or negatively, that wherever you’re at right now will not be where you’re at another day. It keeps you grounded in the moment and prevents those "my entire life is a ruin" moments when those inevitable feeling-like-crap days arrive.
What might be the key to weathering this life season? Like so many other qualities, it comes from the self. You know you're more than what you see in the mirror anyway. You’ve never been better equipped to kick some ass. And you can still look damn hot when you feel like it. You’ve earned it. Go and own it.
Congratulations to Alaria Ritchie, Director and Lead Instructor at Living Well Movement Centre in Cobourg. She has recently added the designation of Stott Pilates Post Rehabilitation Conditioning Specialist to her already extensive list of fitness, health and wellness qualifications.
"Every step taken in a purposeful way can lead to great accomplishment. It's valuable to know that each step is important not just the end goal. Every step holds meaning and growth, and one day you look back and can see all the beauty and courage in these steps to becoming the best version of yourself that you can be!", she posted on the Living Well social media page on December 7th.
"Bursting with joy today as I have received the designation of Post Rehabilitation Conditioning Specialist through Stott Pilates! I knew from the beginning that this would be my specialty but it took years...to get to where I am today in my education and also confidence in working with this group of people.
There are many teachers that have helped me on my way and I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from many disciplines including Pilates Instructors, Physios, RMT's, Yoga Teachers and Somatic Educators.
Each step I take is moving me in the direction of my dreams and this is definitely one of those steps!
Thanks to all the clients that have worked with me and trusted me with their bodies, you have my deepest gratitude for honouring me with the opportunity to assist you on your journey towards feeling fabulous!"
This Warkworth area resident founded the Living Well Movement Centre in 2016, offering the only dedicated Pilates studio in Northumberland County. Prior to that, she worked extensively around Trent Hills, offering Pilates and Yoga classes through her own home studio in Warkworth, at the West School in Campbellford, with the Campbellford Community Resource Centre and in various senior facilities around the area. She also worked as a Physiotherapy Assistant and Aqua instructor at Sharpe's Physiotherapy in Trent River.
The opening of Living Well represented one more step along the road to the end goal for Alaria. She has been offering Pilates classes based on the Stott method for over 12 years, and also holds a 500-hour Hatha Yoga designation. Her work as a Physio Assistant exposed her to clients suffering from traumatic brain injury, Multiple Sclerosis, Scoliosis and Osteoporosis, sparking an interest in honing her qualifications and skills to allow her to improve quality of life for all demographics and special conditions.
As well as offering a host of Pilates and Yoga programs at Living Well, Alaria offers specialty workshops, most recently one on awakening the spine. Plans include upcoming workshops on foot health and fascial movement in the new year.
She is currently studying to become a fully certified Clinical Somatic Movement Educator. This brain and body practice is designed to relieve chronic pain through awareness and movement. The Living Well Movement Centre works closely with a team of Registered Health Professionals in Cobourg to ensure that clients receive an integrated approach to treatment.
"Alaria's qualifications and experience are diverse yet unified to guide and create a Holistic Movement practice that's perfect for you!" explains her website.
After an illustrious 20-year career in human resource management, development and coaching in the non-profit sector, Cathy Ginsberg has set out to share her expertise in the field under her own business umbrella, People Focus Training Inc.
The company was launched in the summer of 2017 when Cathy moved from Richmond Hill to settle in Campbellford. Although she serves clients throughout Southern Ontario due to her connections in the industry, her home base is now in Trent Hills and her door is open to local “non-profit leaders who want to inspire commitment and achieve results.”
Cathy’s sessions employ proven techniques to increase productivity, teamwork, morale and efficiency. She also develops some of the essential business considerations that can so easily get overlooked in a fast-paced work environment, such as defining the mission, succession planning and employee retention even on a tight budget.
“What often happens is that people attend a one-day training and then forget everything when they go back to work and get busy,” Cathy explains. The People Focus programs are designed to provide ongoing coaching and support to ensure that clients derive maximum benefit from the concepts they learn.
She offers 60-day and 6-month leadership training programs which incorporate a number of workshop options including team building, productive meetings, performance feedback, building a clear vision through vision boards and leadership renewal retreats. “Sessions are relevant, timely, engaging and flexible,” she says. Custom workshops can also be designed based on client needs. Although usually delivered on site at the client’s workplace, technology makes it possible to set up team coaching sessions online.
Prior to her relocation, Cathy worked for Job Skills in York Region as Manager, Services and Programs. She also worked as a Business Coach for a number of years, assisting entrepreneurs with start-up and business planning. As well as a Bachelor of Education (BEd) from Brock University, Cathy graduated the Business/Commerce program at Northumbria University and studied Adult Continuing Education and Teaching at Seneca College.
She is looking forward to presenting a workshop entitled “Strategies and Tips for Leading Excellent Team Meetings” at Cannexus 19, a national conference, in Ottawa at the end of January. The annual event is hosted by CERIC, a charitable organization that advances education and research in career counselling and development.
Although her initial focus is on the non-profit sector, Cathy says that her services may well be made available to public sector companies as well. “You have to start somewhere,” she says, “and the non-profit sector is what I know best.” She notes that many of the skills and concepts she teaches in her workshops are applicable to both private and public sector organizations. She has also offered her vision board workshops to the general public, most recently last fall.
Cathy says that she’s wanted to start her own business for quite some time, and she’s excited about her new direction. “And,” she says, “I love living here!”
Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from our feature story on psychic medium and photographer Laurie Anne King, detailing her project and mission. Read her full story here.
The Resurrection of the Crone Project is a raw photographic portrait series based on the intimate journeys of older women as they connect to and celebrate their inner Crone. The intention of this project is two-fold, explains psychic medium and photographer Laurie Anne King.
“To look beyond the modern day trappings of today’s ideals of unnaturally perfect and youthful beauty, and to reinstate the culture of female elders being perceived as not only beautiful as they age naturally but having deep substance, gifts of experience, self-acceptance, clear wisdom and therefore being a great and valuable asset in today’s society.”
The term crone carries a negative connotation and has done so since the 14th century.
“[In ancient times, the female] was revered as one all-encompassing mother goddess who controlled birth, death, and rebirth. As patriarchy began to arise after 7000 BC, this concept began to change as women themselves became increasingly under the dominion of men,” Anya Silverman writes. “The one mother goddess image was split into three aspects reflecting the stages of women’s lives – maiden, mother, and crone. The crone goddess represented the older woman aspect of a woman’s life.” This article, entitled The Ancient Crone, was published online at cronescounsel.org.
Vocabulary.com explains the term as follows: “Since the late fourteenth century, the word crone has been a term of abuse describing old and bad-tempered women. It traces back to the Anglo-French word charoine, meaning dead flesh.”
According to Wikipedia, “The crone is a stock character in folklore and fairy tale, an old woman. In some stories, she is disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner, often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing. The Crone is also an archetypal figure, a Wise Woman.”
Laurie Anne’s mission through the Resurrection of the Crone project is to change societal perception of crone back to its original interpretation, that of a mature woman with aged beauty, wisdom and substance, a tremendous asset to society due to her depth of life experience.
The project began with a small selection of images which were released for International Women’s Day in 2016. The works were featured on ABC Open, a blogging site to which Laurie Anne contributed, and its affiliates. Several women’s magazines including Harmony (India), Bokekh-Digital Rev (Hong Kong) and Yours, a subsidiary of Women’s Weekly (Britain) picked up the story, and details of the project were subsequently shared widely on social media by women’s consciousness groups. The eventual outcome was envisioned by Laurie Anne as a photo exhibition and/or a coffee table book, originally anticipated for completion by International Women’s Day 2017 or 2018.
Despite an enthusiastic foundation and reception, the project ground to a halt when Laurie Anne’s husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Darryl died in March 2018. Laurie Anne has since moved back from their home in Australia to her native Canada, settling in Campbellford in October.
This psychic medium and photographer is eager to reactivate the work and share her message now that she’s settling in to her new home. The Resurrection of the Crone project imparts a message we need to see.
Watch Laurie Anne's video on journey portraiture
Read Laurie Anne's article in ABC Open on The Resurrection of the Crone Project
Real Talk on Authenticity
There’s a lot of talk about authenticity these days. There always has been, really. The ancient Greeks inscribed “Know Thyself” over the door to the Temple of Delphi. One of Shakespeare’s characters in Hamlet proclaimed, “To Thine Own Self Be True”. Playwright Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.” In a more contemporary take, the urban dictionary defines authenticity as “being who you are, listening to yourself and making your own decisions, rather than buying all the crap society foists on you.”
What does it really mean to be authentic? To be true to yourself, certainly, and not to pretend to be someone or something you are not. To accept your strengths and weaknesses, absolutely, and value yourself for what you are rather than belittling yourself for failure to be something you were not destined to be. To stand up for your rights, most definitely, and not be persuaded by subservience to suffer abuse or undertake things that are not right for you. The concept is, however, a double-edged sword. A sociopath is authentic.
Psychologists agree that there are two levels of authenticity, inner and outer. It’s not always possible or desireable to be 100% authentic in your public persona. There are laws, courtesies and pecking orders to be observed. You want to project your best self to others and, sometimes, the mask you wear to do this helps you gain strength and subdue inner demons. Who hasn’t pasted on a smile and gone off to an obligatory function they’re not in the mood to attend, only to find that the fake smile becomes genuine as the day wears on? You can’t boycott housework in the name of being true to yourself, no matter how much you may hate doing it.
If you are by nature a compassionate, responsible, law-abiding individual, your authenticity is not likely to harm society or wound others. Authenticity is not and should never be an excuse for cruel or inappropriate behavior. It’s important to recognize the ways in which authenticity sometimes has to be trumped to serve your own best interests or the well-being of others. If, however, you consistently find yourself in situations where you are martyring yourself to the wants, needs or dictates of someone other than yourself, you may want to think about making some changes to your environment or your attitude so you can be more truthful more often in your daily life.
Inner authenticity is another matter altogether. You can’t be authentic unless you know who you are. If your vision of self has been formed by the influence of others or compromised by experience, you may need to invest some time in getting to know yourself and your true values a little better. Do you do 'X' because you’ve always done it, or because it’s expected of you, regardless of whether or not it still serves you well? Are your opinions likely the views of the last person who shared theirs with you?
The late Steve Jobs, the American entrepreneur who brought the personal computer to the forefront of society and co-founded Apple Inc., is quoted as saying: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Although there may be a vaguely amusing logical disconnect in someone dying their hair a shocking, cerulean blue in order to express their authenticity, there is a valid message here. Should you feel that blue hair reflects your inner blue goddess or, more likely, the decision to do it is a radical and courageous departure from the norm for you, go for it. It’s an outward expression of an inner decision to take charge, and that’s a good thing.
The Skinny on Body Positivity
Body positivity can be a double edged sword as well. We all understand that we needn’t aspire to look like the 20-year-old photoshopped models we see on the covers of magazines, nor should we beat ourselves up for our failure to do so. The unrealistic images of womanly perfection are, thankfully, changing.
France, the long-time industry leader in the fashion world, passed new laws in 2017 regulating the weight of runway models to ensure that the bodies presenting the high fashion looks of the season to the world are not, in fact, anorexics who deprive themselves of adequate nutrition in order to maintain the otherworldly long limbed elegance previously thought to be the height of female chic. The fitness industry has been a major player in this revolution as well. It’s no longer considered unfeminine for women to show off muscles.
Society’s preferences for the size and shape of the ideal female form have been fluid since early times. From the voluptuous women depicted in Renaissance paintings to the stick-thin 1920’s flappers, the curvaceous early film stars of the 1940’s to the waif-like coltishness of Twiggy in the 60’s, the picture of perfection has changed with every generation. Thankfully, such horrors as whalebone corsets have gone the way of the dinosaur. Today, big booties are ‘in’ thanks to the likes of Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez.
Not surprisingly, the incidence of eating disorders in women has paralleled these trends with both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa being recognized as mainstream disorders in the 1970’s. Although understood by psychologists to be a product of much deeper control and self-subjugation issues than aspiring to an unrealistic body image, the disorders are certainly fanned by the steady barrage of misleading imagery in the media and in advertising.
Large women, the current vernacular is “curvy”, are accepted more readily by society than they’ve been for generations. Witness Ashley Graham, an advocate for body positivity and inclusion, gracing the covers of the past few Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues, a spot previously reserved for the long-waisted classic bikini body super model.
It’s wonderful that heavier folks are being encouraged to accept themselves as they are without recrimination, and it’s great that society is now recognizing that it’s not cool to discriminate against larger people simply because of their size. It’s now widely recognized that folks with a larger Body Mass Index (BMI) can indeed be healthy and fit. They run marathons, teach yoga, do pole dancing and dance ballet. Kudos to them, trailblazers that they are.
Body positivity is also a double-edged sword. No matter how accepting you may be of your body, there are some realities to consider. If you are significantly overweight and sedentary, you are setting yourself up for a host of diseases and reduced quality of life. You might remind yourself every day that every inch of you is beautiful, and we applaud you for your personal victory in embracing this, but you’re still increasing your chances of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, osteoarthritis, some cancers and premature death through an unhealthy lifestyle. The body positivity movement is not and should not be a license to do yourself harm. There is absolutely nothing positive about that. There has to be a sensible middle ground on this issue.
The bottom line is that both of these initiatives, authenticity and body positivity, are hugely important in defining the female role in modern society. We should embrace them with joy. At the same time, we need to recognize that moderation and balance are the keys to owning them.
Congratulations to Christine Althouse for launching the first WomanSpeak circle in Ontario earlier this week in Campbellford.
WomanSpeak is an international initiative founded by a former investment banking analyst, KC Baker of Arizona. “We are on a mission to support women and girls in feeling free to own the value of their ideas and perspectives, and to share them authentically and confidently”, explains the WomanSpeak website.
Loosely patterned after Toastmasters with an entirely feminine slant, WomanSpeak is designed to instill confidence in communication, whether the goal is to address a large crowd or speak up without restraint at work or in daily life.
The introductory session offered up an icebreaker, some relaxation techniques and a couple of official videos from WomanSpeak explaining their mission and methods. The women present were given a few minutes to write their thoughts on an “I believe” statement which they could then present to the others if they chose to do so. Most accepted the offer to share their thoughts.
Christine explained that the ongoing program follows an established curriculum which includes various themes on which attendees will address the group. The atmosphere is one of a safe, non-judgemental space in which everything said remains in confidence while women learn, not only to speak more confidently themselves, but to listen with full attention, support each other and accept recognition without embarassment.
The full program is 16 months, but shorter options are also available. WomanSpeak is structured on a fluid basis so women can join anytime. The basic cost of the program is $50 per month although discounts are available for long session registrations.
Christine’s WomanSpeak circles will run at 7 pm on the first and third Wednesdays of every month at the Campbellford Branch Library. Since it is still in its infancy, Christine plans to offer additional introductory sessions before the regular meeting, at 6 pm on the first Wednesday of the month for the time being.
Christine is a long-time advocate of female empowerment and is already involved in production of two live weekly videos on social media. Read her full story here.
Sometimes, it feels like you just have to sweep everything off the table and start over. Perhaps you’ve been through a personal crisis that has rocked you to your core – the loss of a loved one, an expected upheaval in your career, the erosion of your self esteem through an abusive relationship. Maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, and has instead been a gradual process as you realize with growing certainty that you are not where you want to be in your life and that the path you’re on is not likely to get you there any time soon. You may even feel that there’s nothing overtly wrong with your life or the way you’re living it, yet you still feel inexplicably unfulfilled, and perhaps you question what is wrong with you, being as you are so ungrateful for the comforts in your life that are denied to so many.
We all reinvent ourselves from time to time as we age. It’s the inevitable result of maturity and experience. What you aspired to be at 20 is likely not what will fire your soul at 50, simply because you’ve been there and done that, growing in the process. Regardless of the age you are, a conscious decision to reinvent yourself is not the same as coming to the retrospective realization that you have been changed through life experience.
Deliberate, conscious change starts with you and an evaluation of what you want and who you want to be. This requires some soul searching. We all lead busy lives and it’s easy to push aside the inner voice that keeps reminding us to invest some time in an honest look at who we are and where we are headed. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What brings you joy? What diminishes you? What do you want that you do not have? What do you carry that you no longer need? What stands in your way? Change can only come from a clear and honest vision of who you are right now and what you have to work with and work on.
The answers to those questions may come easily to you. For many, understanding who and what you want to be is the easy part. It’s the journey that’s hard. How do you go about redefining the parameters of your life when you’re busy living it?
Establishing a goal, a vision, is at the core of the process. You need to see yourself, living the life you want to have, as the person you want to be. It’s a given that your vision needs to be realistic. If you’ve worked honestly through the evaluation process, the vision you hold will be achievable and it will come from the authentic spirit of you. It may be daunting, it may involve overcoming many challenges, it may involve letting things go, but it is not impossible, and it’s crucial that you understand that and hold it close to your heart.
Once you’ve established your end goal, it’s time to assess the steps you need to take to get there. We all have ingrained habits, routines and behaviors. These are acquired patterns, developed from the experiences we’ve had and the environment we live in now, from the people we surround ourselves with and the obligations we have taken on. Some of these elements may have to go or be adapted to a new paradigm. Do you sacrifice your own needs to the desires of others? Are you unable to say ‘yes’ to yourself? Are you unable to say ‘no’? Do you escape through instant gratification or compensatory rewards that harm you in the long run? Does your job stifle you or feel like a dead end? Are your relationships crushing your self esteem? Do your friends share your misery in pity parties rather than inspire you to grow? Are you physically and geographically where you want to be?
Addressing patterns and behaviors is difficult. It’s not practical to quit a job you don’t like when you have a family to feed and mortgage payments to make. Could a change of attitude, better communication or a more confident approach help the situation? Is it possible that opportunities would open if you were to improve your skills or understanding through extracurricular education?
Closing doors to the people in your life who hold you back can be even more difficult. Again, there’s a middle ground here. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition to make significant changes in your outlook. Unless your partner is abusive or your friends destructive, it may not be necessary to leave them behind at all. Maybe you just need to broaden your circle. Make some new friends. Reach out to the women you admire. Join groups or classes that will enhance your sense of self through shared passions or personal growth, whether it be needlepoint, yoga or environmental causes. Communicate with your significant other. Seek counselling as a couple if you need it, or independently if you naturally gravitate to a role that no longer works for you. Find your community. It’s out there.
Some people find that vision boards, mantras and meditation help them to clarify their goals and the road they need to travel to reach their destination. Others may gain more power and insight from their connections with other women who support mutual empowerment. The female has a deep inherent need to commune with other females. This is a biological imperative from early tribal societies in which women were considered equal but different. The subjugation of women over many centuries is a regrettable part of history, but that’s not at all how the history of humanity began.
Gender roles are changing in society and this is a great time for women. Although we may still have some distance to travel in terms of pay equity and sexual equality, we’ve already come a long way. This is, sadly, not true in many parts of the world, but females in western society have made great strides, largely due to the courageous efforts of our trailblazing sisters who followed their dreams despite societal disapproval, those who fought for the vote and the early feminists who truly changed the world.
We’re equal in the eyes of the law, we have a say in government, we’re breaking through the glass ceiling and holding positions of influence in unprecedented numbers. Our partners are taking a more active role in parenting and sharing household duties. We’re actively fanning the flames of change through initiatives like #me too, body positivity and age acceptance. As a community, we have more power than we’ve ever had before, and there are many ways to find women of like mind through consciousness groups, empowerment programs, retreats, lifestyle coaches and social media. Today’s girls don’t start school with the belief that they will grow up to be housewives or secretaries. All career options are now on the table and we are rocking them.
The thing is, it’s never too late to hop on the train to self empowerment and fulfillment. Life is too short to live it out with mediocrity. Go for it, sister. You can do this.
There was a time when my preparations for Christmas began as soon as I’d packed away the Halloween decorations. Baking was the first priority, interspersed with endless treks to the malls in search of the perfect gifts. Back in the day, that also meant days of wrapping, ribboning and bowing, not to mention handwritten and mailed Christmas cards. We gave up the wrapping and the cards many years ago, but the baking and decorating have remained as honoured annual traditions.
Not only did I serve platters of homemade cookies at our home when we entertained during the festive season, but I took them everywhere as hostess gifts and handed out 40 to 50 tins as gifts to family, friends, staff and colleagues. At its peak, that meant producing 36 batches of cookies, and we’re not talking drop cookies here. Rolled, cut, layered, piped, pressed, dipped, filled, drizzled, they were the fanciest and most festive confections I could produce. I enjoyed it immensely at the outset, cranking up some rocking Christmas favourites and kicking off with a classic shortbread cut into various yuletide shapes like trees and stars. By the 20th batch of elaborate laborious bonbons, my enthusiasm usually waned a bit. Cleaning up the post-baking mess got old long before that, but I loved serving and giving them. It was always worth the effort.
And decor! Emerging from the days of cherubic Santa faces and reindeer everywhere for the kids, my festive style evolved into something I quite enjoyed creating, in the harmonious hues I love. The bronze, silver and champagne tones that welcome the yuletide in our home are reflected more modestly in my living room, both current and prior, with tans and grays. I enjoyed the process and, undeniably, the result of bedazzling my tree. As we entertained frequently, the house was always thoroughly bedecked by December 1st, at which time we would launch our holiday celebrations, host friends every weekend and maintain a packed schedule of parties and corporate events, culminating in a large-scale party at our home on the Saturday before Christmas, complete with mulled wine and over-the-top hors d'oeuvres.
Although the baking side has downsized enormously since our relocation, I’ve continued to uphold the custom and I've yet to miss a year. My tree and my home have always been enthusiastically decorated by December's arrival. We still host a Christmas party on the Saturday before the big day.
Over the past number of years, I’ve been watching the societal phenomena of Christmas on fast-forward. We’re still a week away from December, and social media posts announcing the completion of festive decor have been appearing in my feed for weeks. Gorgeous they are, too, and if you’re motivated by your love of the season and a desire to prolong it, then I wish you and yours a most joyous one. If your motivation comes from a more practical desire to get the festive trappings out of the way so you can focus more fully on shopping, baking and socializing, kudos to you for your advance planning. Life can get quite hectic over the holidays.
This year, I uncharacteristically feel no urgency at all about Christmas. None. It is, in fact, our turn to host the monthly neighbourhood gathering at our home on December 1st. We’ve drawn the month in previous years and have never even considered holding the event without being able to offer festive cookies in the soft glow of the sparkle from our Christmas tree.
It’s not going to happen this year, at least not by next weekend. I've been consumed by other things, but I'm sure I will get to Christmas sooner or later, and I will undoubtedly enjoy it as I always do. Having said that, I know there will be a year when I choose to opt out. If I decide, this year or any year, that I’m not inspired to bake or decorate, I’m okay with that. Perhaps you're in the same place. Maybe you've had some health issues this year, or challenges with work, family or relationships. Maybe you're just caught up in something so exhilarating that you have no energy left over for the mechanics of holiday preparation. So be it. Give yourself a break.
The decision to skip the annual Christmas routine, should you ever decide to try it, doesn't imply that you have forsaken the spirit of Christmas. Not at all. The spirit is everywhere. It’s in the fellowship, the music, the community, the events and the memories. Even more than that, it's in your heart and in your voice when you belt out the lyrics to a Christmas carol on the radio in your car en route to the grocery store. Most of all, it's in the joy of giving to others, whether it be your compassion, your love or your time. This remains true with or without your homemade cookies, mulled cider, cedar bough garlands and Aunt May's traditional sweet potato casserole.
May the joy of the holidays fill you this season and, in the true spirit of giving, may you also be true to you.