Something to Inspire

I recently watched a really inspiring three-part Netflix series by Davis Guggenheim on Bill Gates called, Inside Bill’s Brain. The series covers the basics of Gates’ life: his childhood, education, Microsoft stewardship, marriage to his wife Melinda, and the charitable foundation they co-manage.

Each episode of Inside Bill’s Brain focuses on one of the foundation’s major initiatives: improving sewage conditions, eradicating polio, and developing a cleaner, safer form of nuclear power. The three parts shifts rapidly between interviews, biographical material, and fly-on-the-wall footage of the Gates team’s philanthropic missions. 

I particularly enjoyed it, as the series highlights what individuals can achieve with personal wealth and influence, if they set their minds to it. Gates, and his wife Melinda, have dedicated their lives to tackling some of the world’s biggest issues and facilitating meaningful change; and it is making a difference.

Five years ago, Gates outlined his concern about an impending pandemic on the TED stage; his predictions were based upon the Gates Foundation’s direct experience in helping to tackle virus outbreaks with Ebola, Zika, MERS and SARS. In the presentation, he identifies the steps needed to prepare nations to face an outbreak on a global scale.

Chris Anderson, Curator of TED talks, recently interviewed Gates to ask him about the current COVID-19 pandemic and to learn how the Gates Foundation is investing in scientific research and the development of a vaccine to tackle it. Amazingly, Gates presents an optimistic view for the future: outlining how nations must act now, learn from this crisis, and pave the way for better response and preparedness in the future.

The Untethered Soul

I recently finished reading Michael A. Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul; and it is one of the best books on spirituality that I have ever read. It is deceptively simple guidebook to connecting with your inner essence. By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, Singer shows how the development of consciousness enables us all to dwell in the present moment: releasing painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization.

Copublished with the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) The Untethered Soul begins by walking you through your relationship with your thoughts and emotions, helping you to uncover the source and fluctuations of your inner energy. It then delves into what you can do to free yourself from the habitual thoughts, emotions, and energy patterns that limit your consciousness.

Although it is hard to boil this wonderful book down into a few key messages, here are five that resonated with me:

Instead of identifying with the incessant chatter in your head, you can bear witness to it. In doing so, you create awareness and separate yourself from it, rather than get caught up in it.

Singer states that if see yourself as an observer of the voice, you can view it more objectively. You can say to yourself, “These are just my thoughts. Just because they are doesn’t make them true. I don’t have to identify with them.” Awareness is key. Singer encourages you to live in the “Seat of Self”— the space where you allow events, thoughts, and emotions to pass before you, without drifting off with the current.

We try so hard to avoid pain that we construct a life designed around it.

Singer provides an example of having a thorn (pain) embedded in your body. If you do not remove it, you start to avoid bumping into things, so not to disturb it. You do not get too close to people because you do not want it to be touched. You have difficulty sleeping because you might roll onto it. In order to live with it, you construct a contraption to keep it from touching your sheets. You order specially tailored clothes to fit around it. The pain that you are trying so hard to avoid dictates all aspects of your life. If you instead face the pain and fear, you grant yourself permission to be free.

We tend to either cling to or resist things, rather than accept them.

What we focus on expands. If we cling to something, we are operating out of fear. We are not allowing it to pass through us so we can be fully present in the next moment. We hold on and get stuck instead. When we no longer cling or resist, we witness our fear and pain without satisfying the impulse to protect ourselves from it. This frees up energy and enables us to be present, not caught in the past or paralyzed by what might happen in the future.

We unnecessarily expend a lot of energy reacting and recovering when we could be enjoying freedom and happiness.

A lot energy is wasted swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the other—reacting and recovering. A healthier response is to notice a reaction and then choose to relax and release it.

We are most effective when we are balanced. If we forgo the extremes, we naturally have more energy available to us to live our lives fully and with purpose.

We qualify our happiness.

Singer states choosing happiness can be simple. He provides an example of a starving man who is asked what kind of food he wants. The starving man simply answering “food” rather than requesting something specific. He is not picky about the kind of nourishment that he receives.

When we are too particular regarding how we define happiness, it becomes less available to us. If we choose to embrace it in its broadest sense, we let go of our parameters, and we find peace with more far more ease and frequency.

If you would like to learn more, here is an in-depth interview with Oprah and Michael A. Singer on The Untethered Soul:

You can access free audio highlights from the book here.

Be the Light

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” 

~ Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)

As I watch the news these days, it is hard not to feel sad, scared and overwhelmed. There are many frightening and despicable actions taking place every day and it can often feel like there is no hope. When I start to feel like this, I lean on the wise advice provided above. I look for the helpers. I search for the light. Throughout history there have been brave and selfless people who have fought for justice, despite facing great personal and professional risk. Alongside the pain and injustice in the world, there continues to be an abundance of kindness, love and bravery.

With this in mind, I wanted to highlight some positive stories and resources for you to check out. I hope they inspire you, as they do me.

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Factfulness: Ten Reasons we’re wrong about the world — and why things are better than you think by Hans Rosling

When asked simple questions about global trends―what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school― people consistently get the answers wrong.

In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and renowned global speaker Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators, Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens.

They reveal the ten instincts that distort our perspective―from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse). 

Our problem is that we do not know what we do not know, and our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases. It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. That does not mean there are not real concerns. But when we worry about everything all the time, instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most. 

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Official Secrets

The other night, I watched a film called Official Secrets, which tells the true story of British intelligence specialist Katharine Gun. One day in 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, staff at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) received a memo from the National Security Agency (NSA) with a shocking directive. The United States was enlisting Great Britain to help them collect compromising information on U.N. Security Council members: with the aim of blackmailing them to vote in favour of an invasion of Iraq.

Unable to stand by and watch the world be taken into war under false pretences, Gun makes the incredible decision to defy her government and leak the memo to the press. She does this at a great personal cost to both herself and her family. She is arrested, loses her job, and faces trial under the Official Secrets Act. Her story is an inspiring example of how an ordinary person can do extraordinary things.

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Together Rising

Glennon Doyle is a writer, speaker and activist. Doyle’s online writing career began in 2009, with the creation of her blog, Momastery. The funny, conversational and tell-all nature of her writing quickly gained popularity. Viral blog posts beginning with 2011 Lesson #2: Don’t Carpe Diem led to the publication of her memoir, Carry On, Warrior and the growth of her social media audience. Doyle has since gone onto write two more books, Love Warrior and Untamed. She is a professional public speaker and the President of the not-for-profit, Together Rising.

Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real. My job is to wake up every day, say yes to life’s invitation, and let millions of women watch me get up off the floor, walk, stumble, and get back up again.”

~ Glennon Doyle

Together Rising invests money in both domestic and international projects. It’s motto is “Love Wins”. 100% of what Together Rising receives from every personal donation goes directly to an individual, family, or cause in need – not one penny received from individual donations goes to administration costs, unless a donor specifically authorizes that use.

Cultivating Intimacy & Connection

I have been reading a lot of non-fiction over the past year. I wrote an article on the blog a few months ago sharing financial resources that I enjoyed; and my most recent learning focus has been on relationships. As I explore the world of dating, I am particularly interested in expanding my knowledge of how to cultivate a strong and lasting connection; and I have been delving into all kinds of books that cover this vast topic.

Although I have already had a successful long-term relationship (21 years), it was not a healthy one towards the end. As I learn more from experts in the field, I can now identify many of the things that pulled us down, and I see an opportunity to do it better the next time around. A relationship is a living organism; it is something that requires daily care and tending, like a delicate plant. Love is not a destination. It is a way of being.

On that note, I have picked a few of my favourite books to share with you. They vary in topic and approach: from exploring early dating to maintaining an established relationship. They each offer a valuable perspective on the complex journey of being in relation with another human being. I can highly recommend them all.

Wired for Dating by Stan Tatkin

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, is the author of Wired for Love and Your Brain on Love, and coauthor of Love and War in Intimate Relationships. He has a clinical practice in Southern California, teaches at Kaiser Permanente, and is assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In his book, Wired for Dating, Tatkin uses neuroscience and attachment theory to understand dating couples. He categorizes readers into one of three attachment types: islands, whose predominant approach is “I can do it myself”; waves, with a more psychologically dependent nature; and anchors, with a balanced, stable approach. He then counsels readers on how to identify and interact with each of these personality groups while exploring how childhood influences shape one’s psyche.

Tatkin provides practical tools for navigating the emotional landscape of early dating, so your choices are based on fact not fiction. These include: developing “sherlocking” skills so you can really get to know your partner; asking your friends and family to provide honest and regular feedback; and learning how to foster a securely functioning relationship.

Secrets of a Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch, PhD

Dr. David Snarch is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist. He directs the Marriage and Family Health Centre in Evergreen, Colorado. Secrets of a Passionate Marriage is structured around three main sections: the Basics; the Tools for Connection; and Observations on the Process.

This is not a “how-to” book on creating a passionate marriage. Rather, it is an insightful book which gives couples a guide to sexual fulfillment and intimacy via emotional maturation. The first section lays the groundwork for the book and acquaints the reader with an understanding of Schnarch’s theoretical model of sexual and emotional development. The second section, Tools for Connection, offers the reader specific examples of where and how to begin in making changes in your life and relationship. And in the final section, Observations on the Process, he reflects upon his own experiences as a clinical counselor and a married man.

Throughout the book, he provides thoughtful insights by:

  • Describing the process of differentiation in intimate relationships;
  • Discussing why emotional gridlock is a critical and necessary phase for a healthy relationship;
  • Recommending steps to achieving more passionate sex and a more intimate relationship;
  • Explaining how to “self-soothe” your anxieties and open to the full range of human eroticism;
  • Interpreting the psychology of sex.

The Mastery of Love by don Miguel Ruiz

don Miguel Ruiz is a renowned spiritual teacher and internationally bestselling author of the Toltec Wisdom Series, including The Four Agreements, The Mastery of Love, The Voice of Knowledge, The Four Agreements Companion Book, The Circle of Fire, and The Fifth Agreement. The Toltec Wisdom books have sold over 12 million copies, and have been published in 46 languages worldwide.

In The Mastery of Love, don Miguel Ruiz illuminates the fear-based beliefs and assumptions that undermine love and lead to suffering and drama in our relationships. Using insightful stories to bring his message to life, Ruiz shows us how to heal our emotional wounds, recover the freedom and joy that are our birthright, and restore the spirit of playfulness that is vital to loving relationships. The Mastery of Love includes information on:

• Why “domestication” and the “image of perfection” lead to self-rejection;
• The war of control that slowly destroys most relationships;
• Why we hunt for love in others, and how to capture the love inside us;
• How to finally accept and forgive ourselves and others.

“Happiness can only come from inside of you and is the result of your love. When you are aware that no one else can make you happy, and that happiness is the result of your love, this becomes the greatest mastery of the Toltec: the Mastery of Love.” ~ don Miguel Ruiz

Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, PhD

World-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, John Gottman has conducted 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples. His work on marriage and parenting has earned him numerous major awards. Dr. Gottman was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter-century by the Psychotherapy Networker. He is the author or co-author of over 200 published academic articles and more than 40 books.

The Seven Principles

Gottman’s principles are research-based. He and his colleagues have studied hundreds of couples (including newlyweds and long-term couples); interviewed couples and videotaped their interactions; even measured their stress levels by checking their heart rate, sweat flow, blood pressure and immune function; and followed couples annually to see how their relationships have fared.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman outlines the principles that build emotional intelligence and a successful relationship:

  1. Enhance Your Love Maps: Gottman encourages couples to get to know each other well. Asking questions is a way to meaningfully learn about your partner and to stay connected as you grow and change.
  2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration: Gottman contends that fondness and admiration are two of the most important elements in a satisfying and long-term relationship. By focusing on each other’s positive traits, you will build respect for one another, and it is easier to move past the more challenging aspects.
  3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away: According to Gottman, “[Real-life romance] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.” This principle teaches that little things add up. Couples that turn toward each other have more in their emotional bank account. This account distinguishes happy marriages from miserable ones. Happy couples have more goodwill and positivity stored in their bank accounts: so when rough times hit, their emotional savings cushions them against conflict and stress.
  4. Let Your Partner Influence You: Happy couples work as a team. They consider each other’s perspective and feelings. They make decisions together and search out common ground. Letting your partner influence you is not about having one person hold the reins; it is about honouring and respecting each other’s role in the relationship.
  5. Solve Your Solvable Problems: Gottman says that there are two types of marital problems: easily resolved conflicts and perpetual, gridlocked issues. It is important for couples to determine which ones are which. Telling the difference can sometimes be tricky: “One way to identify solvable problems is that they seem less painful, gut-wrenching, or intense than perpetual, gridlocked ones.” Solvable problems are situational and there is no underlying, long-term issue.
  6. Overcome Gridlock: While some conflict can be solved through simple adjustments, many disagreements are related more to more fundamental differences. Finding a way to respectfully work through these more complex and difficult issues is the key to a healthy marriage.
  7. Create Shared Meaning: Building shared meaning together sustains the family culture; this is where traditions, rituals and rites of passage are found. There is a spiritual element underlying this principle; and it is the one that binds a family together.

Winter Solstice

In astronomical terms, the Winter Solstice (20-23 December) is the single moment when the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky (or its northernmost point if you are in the southern hemisphere). Solstice means ‘sun stands still’, and for three days at this time the sun appears to rise and set in the same southeasterly position on the horizon, before beginning its gradual incline north once more.

It is a spiritual event as much as an astronomical one, calling in the rebirth of the year, as the day on which the Winter Solstice occurs is the shortest of the year, and the night the longest. From now on the sun will gradually arc higher and higher in the sky until it comes to another standstill at the Summer Solstice, on the longest day of the year, when it rises in the northeast.

The Winter Solstice has been of deep spiritual significance since the Neolithic era and was marked by the stone circles and rows, passage tombs and temples left by the first farmers ever to till the rich earth. There are a number of sites aligned to to the rising or setting of the sun in the United Kingdom and Ireland: the ancient monuments at Maeshowe on Orkney, Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Newgrange in County Meath.

Newgrange, also known as Brú na Bóinne (Palace of the Boyne), is a majestic structure dating from 3200 BCE. This circular cairn or passage tomb has an exterior of white quartz and rounded granite boulders, and its impressive entrance stone is famously carved with intricate spiral designs, referring perhaps to the wheel of the seasons or the journey through life, death and rebirth. Its entrance also includes a small roof box through which the first rays of the Winter Solstice sunrise penetrate the deepest recesses of the tomb and illuminate the triple spiral carved on its back chamber.

My daughter and I visiting Newgrange in 2013

In the Celtic calendar, the Winter Solstice is a time of stillness and rebirth, when the wheel of the seasons completes its turning, only to begin again. At this time of year, I like to light candles in the early morning hours and spend some time reflecting. What are the seeds of intention that I wish to plant? What are my hopes, dreams and aspirations? How can I be of service? This is a quiet, inward time. It is a wonderful opportunity to slow down, express gratitude, and cultivate focus for the year ahead.

*Passages quoted from The Magical Year by Danu Forest.

A Season of Giving

The holiday season is upon us. From the end of October onward, the stores are packed with merchandise, and we are bombarded with the message to buy more, more, more. Expressing love has become synonymous with gift giving.

A few years ago, I stopped to think about how I wanted to intentionally cultivate my own family traditions; and I spent some time reflecting on some important questions. What values do I want share with my child at this time of year? How can we meaningfully experience this season together? How can we give back to our community?

For me, quality time is very important. I want to fill my child with love and lasting memories. This is a gift that she can carry with her forever and it does not end up in the landfill. I also want her to learn the value of community and the importance giving over receiving.

To try to achieve these goals, we have established some traditions that we look forward to sharing.

Giving:

  • Santa’s Anonymous: There are so many families who need help during the holiday season. If you visit a local mall, such as Hillside or Mayfair, between November 25 – December 6, 2019 you will find a Tree of Wishes. Low income children from across the CRD have requested a special gift to make their holiday season bright. Food hampers are also provided to their families.
  • Donations instead of gifts: Instead of giving large gifts to the adults in our family, I make donations in their honour to charities close to my heart; and I ask them to do the same for me. I also like to choose special books for each person, purchased from independent booksellers, like Munros, Bolen Books or Ivy’s Books. This not only supports authors and publishers but also local businesses.
  • Volunteering: There are many local not-for-profits looking for help at this time of year. In our family, we volunteer with a local chocolate maker. She raises money for Connections Place, a supportive drop-in centre for people facing mental health issues, through her annual fundraiser. My daughter and I help with the packaging and assembly. I also order her delicious chocolate for stocking stuffers.

Home Activities:

  • Baking: It is really fun to spend time together in the kitchen. There are so many delicious treats that you can bake at this time of year. We enjoy shortbread and sugar cookies. Decorating them together is the best part! You can gift your goodies to friends and family.
  • Host a Gingerbread Party: Invite a few of your child’s friends over to the house and decorate gingerbread houses. If you do not want to make them yourself, there are simple prepackaged options available at the grocery store.
  • Trim the Tree: We love to pick our tree together and spending an afternoon decorating it, while enjoying festive music and hot chocolate. My daughter loves putting the star on top at the end.

Community Events: There are so many great events taking place across the city and many of them are low cost or free. Here are a few events coming up this year:

  • Christmas Lights Across Canada: Celebrate the lighting of the provincial Christmas tree and the Parliament Buildings. Enjoy festive performances, music and seasonal treats. December 5, 2019.
  • Gingerbread Showcase: The Parkside Hotel & Spa hosts an annual Gingerbread Showcase in support of Habitat for Humanity. It is free to visit and you can enjoy exploring a wide range of creative and festive entries, in support of a good cause. You can vote for your favourite one. It runs November 16, 2019 – January 5, 2020.
  • Light Village: The Downtown Victoria Business Association is hosting a light maze in Centennial Square this holiday season. It will run from December 13, 2019 until the end of the month.
  • Christmas Movie Nights: Oak Bay Beach Hotel is hosting screenings throughout December. Holiday films are accompanied by light dinner, popcorn and house-made sweet-treats. Partial proceeds of all sales go to the David Foster Foundation. Films include: Love Actually; Elf; Home Alone; and the Polar Express.
  • Christmas at Butchart Gardens: Colourful lights and festivities are on offer at the world-famous gardens. It is hosted from December 1, 2019 – January 6, 2020. I like to take my daughter in the days following Christmas, as it is quieter, and it is nice to have something seasonal and bright to look forward to after all of the holiday fanfare is over.
  • The Peak of Christmas: Every year, we make a special trip to Vancouver to visit Santa at Grouse Mountain. It is a lot of fun to take the gondola up to the top. Grouse does an amazing job create a winter wonderland, with ice skating, a light maze, live reindeer, crafts, movies. Santa Claus has his own cottage in the snow. It is at truly magical experience.

Celebrate Diversity

  • Learn and Grow: There are so many wonderful celebrations taking place throughout December in addition to Christmas. In our family, we enjoy learning about how this season is celebrated by cultures across the world. A few of them include: Hanukkah; Winter Solstice; St. Lucia Day; Kwanzaa; and Ōmisoka. You can do this by taking books out from the library, researching information online, and/or speaking with friends in your community who celebrate these special holidays.

Every year we add new traditions to our list. It is fun to try out new things, spend quality time together, and explore this beautiful season in our own special way. It is the greatest gift we can give to one another.

#NewYork2019

I just returned from a spectacular seven days spent in New York City. I visited my sister, as well as a very dear friend from art school, who I have known for over twenty-five years.

It was a fantastic trip. From the moment I arrived, it was go go go. Every day was filled with fun and adventure. I was fortunate enough to experience the city through the eyes of two natives and it provided a unique view into its many, diverse cultural offerings.

Some highlights included:

Aside from the joy that it gave me to spend quality time with two women that I cherish, I was amazed by the reminder of how friendship and connection can be maintained and cultivated despite geographic distance.

I see my sister a few times a year, and every time we are reunited, we pick up from where we last left off. My lovely friend Elise and I only have the opportunity to visit in person every five years or so but it is equally as effortless. This speaks to the resilience of deep heart connections.

This trip was a gift that I will always hold close: both for the unique and wonderful things experienced as well as for the reminder of how lucky I am to be loved and to love deeply.

A Celtic Heart

“Now is a time to lay down your tools, the symbols of your productivity, and light a fire to honor not only what has been done throughout the past year, but also all that has preceded you — in this life, and in all the lives lived before. Now is a time to make space, in your heart and in your mind, for the stillness and silence of death.” ~ Teo Bishop

Irish and Scottish ancestry roots runs deep and wide in my family; and I have always been drawn to the magic and mystery of Celtic traditions. One of my favourite books growing up was The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I still love it to this day. I recently discovered a wonderful book, Walking in the Mist, by Donald McKinney. It reflects upon on the subtle nuances of Celtic spirituality.

The Celtic Fire festival of Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”) is commonly known as the Celtic New Year. Samahin is a time of growing darkness and introspection. It is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in the dark half of the year. Celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world are thin during Samhain.

Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals, taking place at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. During this time of year, hearth fires in family homes were left to burn, while the harvest was gathered.

Since the emergence of Christianity in the British Isles, the festival of Samhain became overlaid with the Christian festival of Halloween or All Hallows Eve, on October 31, followed by All Saints Day on November 1.

Although I do not formally celebrate Samhain, I like to practice simple rituals to acknowledge its presence. I burn candles and keep my fire lit. I create a small alter on my mantelpiece, with seasonal items such as: colourful fallen leaves; interestingly shaped sticks and twigs; nuts, gourds and mini pumpkins. I meditate and journal. I rest. I remember loved ones who have passed on. I feel their continued presence in my heart.

Samhain is an opportunity to pause and reflect: to grow a practice of stillness, silence and listening. It marks the transition of the seasons and helps to prepare the mind and body for the winter ahead. There is something powerful in marking the transition of the seasons and reconnecting with one’s ancestral knowledge. I enjoy the quiet introspection of this time of year and the chance to open myself up to the unknown.

Financial Freedom

Financial literacy was not a topic that we discussed in my family. There was always a core value of “spend less than you earn” but I did not received a lot in terms of practical tips and tactics for how to lead a financially strong life.

As I grew into adulthood, I made a lot of mistakes. Many of them to do with credit cards and borrowing money that I could not afford. I learned the hard way about the realities of compound interest and how it can either be your greatest ally or enemy: especially when it is working against you, at 18%.

Three years ago, after my separation, I became the sole financial provider in my family; and I realized that I could not continue to live with my head in the sand. I had to learn how to be financially strong and strategic: especially if I wanted to be a good role model for my daughter.

I started to ask questions of friends and family who seemed to have it figured out. Some of them did. Many of them did not. In Canada, we are a country of citizens living with an extremely high level of personal debt. Financial literacy is not a common strength. It is a common weakness.

Over the years, I have read a number of books to try and raise my level of financial acumen; and, so far, I have landed on two that are my favourites. Combined together, I think that they provide a well rounded picture of what you need to know in order to take control of your financial future.

Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach

David Bach has written ten consecutive New York Times bestsellers with more than seven million books in print. Although I dislike the flashy title, the basic principles of his approach are incredibly practical and helpful. His underlying message throughout the book is that you do not need to earn a lot of money to be wealthy. You just need to be smart about how you allocate it. The book is designed around a seven step plan for achieving financial security.

Step 1: Learn The Facts – And Myths – About Your Money
There are three primary myths that he takes apart in this chapter: make more money and you’ll be rich; someone will always be there to take care of you; and the government has inflation under control. All of these are false. You need to spend less than you earn and plan for the future, no matter what situation you find yourself in.

Step 2: Put Your Money Where Your Values Are
Bach describes an aspect of personal finance that many people skip over and do not think of as important. He encourages the reader to get very clear and identity personal money values. This is done by asking yourself the question, why is money important to me? For example, it could be that you value security, freedom, confidence, helping family, and independence. The answers are very personal and they will be different for each person. Why do this? When you are crystal clear on your core money values, they will drive your short and long-term financial goals.

Step 3: Figure Out Where You Stand Financially … And Where You Want To Go
Although this step can feel overwhelming at first, Bach boils down to “just get started.” Collect as much financial paperwork as you can and organize it by income, debts, and assets. This step is absolutely vital. Why? Being organized financially and knowing where you stand allows you to plan for your future. Once this is achieved, you can set specific and measurable goals, mapping out steps towards achieving each one.

Step 4: Use The Power Of The Latte Factor … How To Create Massive Wealth On Just A Few Dollars A Week!
This chapter lays out Bach’s theory of the “Latte Factor.” The basic idea is that if you trim out unnecessary spending (such as a morning latte), you can save a huge amount of money over time. For example, saving $5 each weekday could result in $100 for debt repayment or savings each month (or $1,200 a year).

Step 5: Practice Grandma’s Three Basket Approach To Financial Security
This is the longest chapter in the book, but it boils down to a very simple concept. Each month, pay yourself first. Set up automatic contributions to your security basket (insurance, emergency fund), your retirement basket (401(k) or RRSP contributions) and your dream basket (a trip, a renovation).

Step 6: Learn The Nine Biggest Mistakes Investors Make And How To Avoid Them
Most of these mistakes are either psychological (“giving up”) or debatable (30 year mortgage). In a nutshell, the best way to avoid most investment mistakes is to be informed, to set up automatic contributions, and always think about investing from a long term perspective.

Step 7: Follow The 12 Commandments Of Attracting Greater Wealth
The final step is some basic career management advice. Bach outlines the twelve steps to finding clarity in your work, securing fair compensation, and giving back.

The Millionaire Teacher by Andrew Hallam

Millionaire Teacher is written for those who are looking to enter the stock market for the first time. It is designed for a reader with little to no knowledge about investing. Hallam is very skilled at taking complicated investment concepts and boiling them down into easily understood, digestible advice. He outlines the benefits out playing the long game to build wealth through compounding returns and establishing a portfolio of passively managed index funds, rather than actively managed mutual funds.

I like this book as a companion to Smart Women Finish Rich, as it provides the tools to take action, once you have your financial house in order. It demystifies the world of investment and provides simple steps for taking back control of your financial future through making informed investment decisions.

Rule 1: Spend Like You Want to Grow Rich
This chapter covers what it actually means to be wealthy.  Hallam provides his own definition of what it means to be ‘rich’ or ‘wealthy’ beyond houses and cars. This section also looks at how to buy a car as an appreciating asset (hint: DON’T BUY BRAND NEW) and how Hallam achieved early retirement through being strategic with his money.

Rule 2: Use the Greatest Investment Ally You Have
This chapter talks extensively about the benefits of compound interest and the power of combining compound interest with long term investing. It clearly makes the case for starting early (a good lesson for our kids).

Rule 3: Small Percentages Pack Big Punches
Hallam makes the case for why actively managed mutual funds are a terrible investment. He demonstrates how the fees you pay add up and how they will ultimately put you behind when seeking to grow your investments.

Rule Four: Conquer the Enemy in the Mirror
In this chapter, Hallam demonstrates how our own behaviors work against us as investors. This chapter highlights how to not get caught up in emotions and how to remain patient when investing in index funds.

Rule 5: Build Mountains of Money with a Responsible Portfolio
This chapter clearly explains the difference between stocks and bonds.  Learn about level of safety or risk that comes along with investing in either and the importance of diversifying your index portfolio between different markets.

Rule 6: Sample a “Round the World” Ticket to Indexing
Learn about specific examples of index portfolios from different countries and the variety of ways to build an index portfolio.  This section provides helpful information by providing examples of specific index funds and how to start investing.

Rule 7: Peak Inside a Pilferer’s Playbook
Banks and financial advisors will actively try to guide you away from investing in passively managed index funds. This chapter provides some tips on how you can respond to a financial advisor’s advice. He also outlines how you can now take your money and directly invest in index funds through online platforms, such as Wealth Simple or Modern Advisor.

Rule 8: Avoid Seduction
Hallam details mistakes he has made over the years and he describes how easy it is to be seduced into seemingly ‘easy-money’ investments.

Rule 9: The 10% Stock Picking Solution…If You Really Can’t Help Yourself
This chapter is for those people who want to venture outside of index fund investing.  Hallam provides basic information on how to make decisions when picking singular stocks and indicators of a smart buy.

Taking the time to read these books, along with other blogs, articles and resources, has proven to be a really empowering experience for me. It may sound strange that learning about finance can be fun but it is true: especially when the penny starts to drop. There is nothing better than feeling in control: to make plans for the future and dream about what is possible, rather than worry about the unknown. Do you have any books or resources that you recommend? If so, would love to hear about them.

Clean Cosmetics #3

I have posted a few times about my passion for clean cosmetics. Being informed about what you put onto your skin is essential for your overall health. It is also important for the environment. The ingredients contained in products are not only absorbed into your skin (the body’s largest organ); they are eventually washed down the drain and into the ocean. Our choices affect both us and the ecosystem. Animal welfare is also an important consideration, as many companies test their products on animals or use animal bi-products as ingredients.

I have recently come across a few new companies and products that I am excited to share with you. I have not been paid to endorse any of these items.

Loma Hair Care:

Loma products are Paraben, Sodium Chloride, Gluten and Soy free; and they use Sulfate-free cleansing. They are vegan friendly and they never test on animals. All of Loma’s packaging is recyclable. They require a minimum of 25% post-recyclable plastic in their bottles; and their manufacturing facility generates very little waste.

Loma sources, formulates, manufactures, and fills all of their own products in the United States. They investigate their ingredients and raw materials to ensure there are no traces of harmful materials.

My family uses their daily care duo. It is both gentle and effective. I purchase the large size bottles from my hair dresser and they last us close to four months; although it is an up-front investment (around $30 per litre bottle), it is good value as this quality product is very concentrated and you only need to use small amounts.

Forget Beauty:

My sisters introduced me to the Forget Beauty line. Designed by a holistic skin care expert, this Vancouver-based firm focuses on hydration as a key tactic of healthy aging. Forget Beauty is a natural cosmeceuticals product; they merge natural skin care, eastern herbs, and top-quality, cosmeceutical-grade actives. They are also cruelty free.

Ever since I was pregnant with my daughter, I have struggled with melasma, a hyper-pigmentation of the skin; and, as a forty-four year old woman, I am mindful of caring for my face as it ages. I recently started using Forget Beauty’s three layers of hydration and illumination kit to help with both of these issues.

The vitamin c powder included in this kit is designed to help revitalize the skin and improve overall skin tone; it is combined with the Awakened Hydrating Serum for application. The Nurtured Replenishing Oil and Immersed Nourishing Moisturizer assist with hydration and replenish tired skin. I am already noticing an improvement in the overall tone and brightness of my face, as well as a reduction in fine lines. Although purchasing the kit is an up front investment ($235), I expect the product to last me five to six months. New customers also receive 10% off on their first purchase from the site.

What clean products are you using and excited about? I would love to hear about them.

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Soul Nourishment

As an independent parent, there is limited time for self-care. Much of my day is spent cooking, cleaning, working or driving; but as I have discovered over the years, if I do not make time for the things that nourish me, I cannot fully show up for my child, or anyone else for that matter.

I recently decided to start waking up a few hours earlier each morning, before my day gets started. This time is dedicated to reflection and self-care. I have a rule that I cannot do chores, email or social media. It is solely for activities that fill my heart with joy.

For me, this often includes meditation, reading, writing and movement (yoga or strength-based exercise). After a few weeks of practice, I have noticed a significant improvement in my overall sense of happiness and well-being.

The activities themselves are personal preferences, not the solution. When I show up every morning, it sends a signal to my body and soul that I value them; they deserve love and care. This is the magic. Every day, as I fill my tank before I get started, it not only helps me to sustain myself throughout the day; it prevents me from simply putting one foot in front of the other, and instead, it empowers me to gaze with hope towards the horizon.

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