Joy Journal #30: December 25, 2022

Since I was thirteen years old, and my parents split up, and then remarried, I have had a blended family. No matter the holiday (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving) it meant two different celebrations, in two different households. When I got married myself, we added in my husband’s family into the mix; and when we eventually got divorced, my daughter began her own complicated journey with juggling multiple families over the holiday season.

It has always been hard to try and fit everyone in, and manage family dynamics. So many people and so many expectations. This year, I decided to take a step back from tradition. I wanted to try and celebrate the holiday season in a way that felt right for me, rather than prioritizing everyone else. This meant asking myself some hard questions: What do I want to invite more of into my life? And what can I let go of?

The holidays are an emotionally charged time for everyone. Although it was difficult to make change, as it required setting boundaries, and risking the disappointment of others, I did my best to approach it with kindness and compassion.

As a result, I enjoyed the first Christmas in forty-seven years that truly embodied the spirit of the season for me: Friendship. Community. Love. Joy. Ease. Laughter. Connection. It was all of the best things rolled into one, and for that, I am so deeply grateful. #JoyBlogging

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Joy Journal #29: November 25, 2022

This past weekend, my daughter and I travelled to Vancouver for our annual holiday trip. It is a tradition for us to go to Grouse Mountain for their Peak of Christmas celebration. My sister and I have been taking our kids every year, since they were little. It is a beautiful, snowy wonderland at the top of the mountain. Santa is there to visit in his workshop, along with his reindeer. There is a lovely light path through the forest, which is magical to walk after dusk. Festive holiday movies play in the theatre all day and the restaurant serves a great lunch.

To top the day off, you get to ride the gondola back down to the base: enjoying a breathtaking view across Vancouver and the Burrard Inlet as you make the descent. I cherish the opportunity to make these special memories with the ones I love. They are much more valuable than any present left under a tree. #JoyBlogging

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Joy Journal #28: November 23, 2022

There is something beautiful and sacred about the quiet, uninterrupted early morning hours. Although it is hard to get out of bed when the alarm goes off, I cherish the time it offers me to read, write, reflect and move my body. It is a pause before my day starts up in earnest: an instance when I am not a mother, sister or daughter. I am simply a woman taking a moment back for herself. #JoyBlogging

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Joy Journal #27: June 30, 2022

One of my favourite things about living in Aix was the daily outdoor market. I love that markets remains a central part of the French culture. It is a beautiful thing to be connected to where your food comes from and the people who bring it to you.

After dropping my daughter at school, I would shop with the vendors every morning. The larger market took place three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It sprawled across most of the old town, and it included clothing, antiques, housewares and fresh food. The smaller food and flower market took place on all other days.

I would wander from the larger gathering at Place des Prêcheurs to the smaller square at Place Richleme, visiting my favourite vendors. It was such a gift to choose from an ever changing, seasonal selection of fresh, locally-sourced produce, cheese, fish and meat.

Throughout our eight weeks spent in the city, I became friendly with many of the people who worked the market stalls and in the local shops (e.g. fish monger and bakery). In a place where I knew very few people, I looked forward to seeing their smiling faces brighten when I approached their stand, or wave their hand in recognition, as I passed by.

Although we did not know each by names, a familiarity grew, and we would warmly ask after each other’s health and well being. They were very kind to me and I deeply appreciated the human connection and a sense of community that came from getting to know all of them. #JoyBlogging

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Joy Journal #26: May 25-29, 2022

My two sisters and my niece came to visit us while we were living in Aix this spring. Our plan was to spend a few days together in the city and then head down to the coast to stay in a popular seaside village, Cassis. Our family had vacationed there fifteen years previously, so it holds a special place in our hearts. We booked our accommodation months in advance, as it was a school holiday, and a very busy time of year in France.

The night before we were to set out, the VRBO owner called to cancel our booking. No real explanation was provided. He just cancelled. Needless to say, it was very upsetting, and everyone was incredibly disappointed as my family had travelled all the way from Canada to return to this special place.

We started researching our options. We looked at hotels. AirBnb. VRBO alternatives. At first, it appeared that there was nothing, as most places were booked up. It looked like we were not going to be able to go. At the last moment, I reached out to one owner on AirBnB, and I explained our situation. It turned out that she had just joined the site, and her rental was not quite ready, but she was willing to make it available to us, due to the circumstances.

The house was located in Saint Cyr-sur-Mer, a charming little town on the Mediterranean. It had a pool and it was within walking distance of the ocean. The place was lovely and it actually surpassed our original booking with its amenities. We all felt very fortunate to have found it and we enjoyed our time there together immensely. During our stay, we took a day trip to Cassis to ocean kayak in the calanques, and we visited our special town.

Although it was a bumpy start to our vacation, the experience turned out to be very memorable and wonderful in the end; and this was entirely thanks to the kindness and generosity of strangers. #JoyBlogging

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Joy Journal #25: November 12, 2022

Now that the time has fallen back, and there are less hours of sunlight in the day, my friends and I are back to swimming in the ocean in the early morning hours. Rich in magnesium, seawater helps release stress, relax your muscles and promote deep sleep. Swimming in the sea has also been linked to stimulating the parasympathetic system which is responsible for rest and repair and can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin. 

Exposure to full spectrum sunlight in the morning causes our bodies to produce serotonin, which not only helps later on with nighttime sleep, but improves mood throughout the day. Bright lights have been used for a long time as standard treatment for seasonal depression. Outdoor light, even on a cloudy day, delivers considerably more lux than indoor light.

I love this special time with my friends. We always laugh a lot and it is a great micro opportunity to catch up on each others lives. Although I never want to go into the cold water (and it does not get easier), I never regret doing it. It makes my body and mind feel electric for the rest of the day. #JoyBlogging

Joy Journal #24: November 9, 2022

After having the rare and privileged opportunity to travel the world over these last few months, I realize that no matter how wonderful it is to be an explorer, nothing compares to coming home and belonging to a community. #JoyBlogging

“We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been: a place half-remembered and half-envisioned. We can only catch glimpses of it from time to time. Community. Somewhere there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch on our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us. Eyes will light up when we enter. Voices will celebrate with us. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace we can be free.”

~ R. Garcia y Robertson, The Spiral Dance

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Joy Journal #23: November 5, 2022

Now that I am back to work, I am enjoying the little things, like taking the bus again. This may not seem like a big deal, but I have not taken the bus in over two years, due to the pandemic. I forgot how much I love it. It is a really relaxing way to start the morning. I enjoy the quiet half an hour ride, as it provides a cherished opportunity to read or practice French on Duolingo. It sets the tone for a great day ahead.

It is funny how quickly your body and mind adjusts to being back in the office. Within the first two days of returning, it felt like I had never left, but in a good way. It was so great to see my colleagues again. There were lots of coffee dates and opportunities to catch up. I am fortunate to work with some of the kindest, smartest, and values-driven people. I enjoyed reconnecting with them all.

All in all, it has been a positive week, and I am excited to see what opportunities lie ahead to do some meaningful work in the months ahead. #JoyBlogging

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Joy Journal #22: October 29, 2022

Although I have been divorced for six years now, I am fortunate to remain close with my ex-husband’s large, Irish family. I was a member of the Carrolls for over twenty years and our heart connections remain strong.

Over the weekend, I was invited to attend a farewell party for an elderly relative. He is moving to the United Kingdom to live with his daughter, and for many of us, this will be our final goodbye. It was a rare opportunity for the extended family to gather together: three generations of siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews travelled into say farewell.

The house was full of laughter and the table was teeming with food. There were many hugs, kisses and animated conversations with old friends. I looked around the party and I felt such gratitude to still have these wonderful people in my life. It is a gift that some things never change. #JoyBlogging

Photo by Anton Atanasov on Pexels.com

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Joy Journal #21: April 22, 2022

Cold water or “wild” swimming is something that I began doing during the pandemic, along with countless people across the globe. It has a many reported health benefits, including alleviating anxiety and depression, improving circulation and reducing inflammation. I appreciate that it gives me a regular excuse to spend quality time with my friends and I feel great for hours after I finish my swim.

In addition to the health benefits, I like that it is an accessible activity (you can do it most places and it is free), and you can generally find a community wherever you go. When I was in Ireland this spring, I enjoyed swimming in lakes, rivers and the Atlantic Ocean. Through word of mouth, I met some lovely people who kindly welcomed me to join their regular swimming groups. It was a fun and memorable way to explore the local landscape. #JoyBlogging

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Joy Journal #20: September 29, 2022

One of my favourite things about living on the west coast of Canada is spending time in and on the Pacific Ocean. I love to swim with my friends, year round, and experience the amazing health benefits of the cold salt water; and I really enjoy padding in my little kayak with my pup on a sunny afternoon.

It has been a beautiful, slow transition into fall this year, with many bright, crisp days; and this has given me extra opportunities to get out in my boat. Today, I ventured out with Lucky and we explored along the coastline. I loved peering into the shallow waters and spotting the sea life below. We passed over top of starfish, minnows, oysters and bull kelp forests. A heron stood guard on a rocky outcrop, patiently waiting for its prey. Sandpipers gathered in large groups and seagulls floated over head. It was peaceful and serene. What an exceptional gift it is to be able to immerse myself in this beautiful landscape. #JoyBlogging

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Joy Journal #19: June 25, 2022

“Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves”

For Paul Cézanne, there would have been no great painting, perhaps no painting at all, without the landscape of Provence. Cézanne has come to represent many things in art history — harbinger of modernism, proto-cubist, terminator of classical styles and preoccupations; but he was first and foremost a painter of several hundred hectares of rugged, sun-drenched earth in and around Aix-en-Provence.

In the early 1890s, after years of moving back and forth between Provence and areas in and around Paris, Cézanne began spending more and more time in Aix and environs, rediscovering his most important and reliable sources of inspiration. Around the middle of that decade, he launched what his biographer Alex Danchev describes as “the greatest period of late painting since Rembrandt.” He spent much of that time painting in Le Tholonet.

A persistent object of his attention was the ancient quarry at Bibémus, located a kilometre or so northwest of the village centre. Quarrying began there in Roman times and continued until 1885, roughly ten years before Cézanne started painting at the site. The relative isolation and solitude of Bibémus were undoubtedly attractive to him, as were the stunning rock formations, products of ancient geological forces and more recent centuries of excavation and cutting. But it was especially the colours in the quarry — complicated shades of ochre in the rock and the greens of the quarry’s trees and shrubs — that captured his imagination.

One warm summer evening in June, I spent several hours exploring this exquisite area, retracing the steps of the painter with a small group of hikers. Starting at Le Tholonet, we entered the Parc Départemental de RoquesHautes, and walked until we came upon the Bibémus plateau. With a panoramic view of the limestone ridge of Montagne Sainte-Victoire, the air was fragrant with thyme, rosemary, lavender, pine and mint; and we were surrounded by the chirping of cicadas.

As we eventually descended into the village, dusk fell upon the valley, and pink and purples hues filled the sky. Live music rose from the festival stage on the pétanque court below, beckoning us closer. Darkness fell upon the valley, and we joined the crowd gathered under the broad plane trees and bright stars, soaking up the beautiful evening together. #JoyBlogging