A little self-care goes a long way

A month before I turned 47, a good friend came over and we spent a lovely afternoon in my garden, basking in the sun on the first warm weekend of spring. We got to talking and started planning a weekend escape together to celebrate my birthday. Neither of us has been to Chicago yet, so we started looking at the possibility of taking off for a weekend to see that legendary city… but as I rolled up my sleeves and kicked off my research, I started having second thoughts. Was I really up to spending a weekend taking in the sights of a big, noisy city, traipsing from museum to museum in a somewhat manic dash to take it all in over the course of a weekend? I was tired, run down and more than anything, I needed a break. I had to be honest with myself – it’s not what I needed. I had a chat with my friend and told her that what I’d really enjoy is a weekend away at a retreat of some kind… yoga, meditation, peace, quiet…

I launched into a search online and found a few options, however the market for spa retreats in the Toronto area is quite under served, and even if you have a ton of cash to spend (which we don’t), unless you’ve planned your life out at least three months in advance, you’re basically S.O.L. But, I persisted, and I found an interesting place close to Campbelford: the Nonpareil Natural Health and Healing Retreat.

David Gouveia and Mano McNabb run Nonpareil from this 1867 country home.


We reserved a shared room and waited for the date to come. I did a little research on the retreat and let my curiosity build. There would be yoga, massage, juice fasting and more. The weekend would be spent relaxing, meditating, and getting healthy!

This was something totally new for me – most of my weekends are spent in a frenzy of taking care of things that didn’t get done during the week. My friend is an old pro at fasting. My experience with fasting consisted of daily breakfast, so I was a little concerned – I detest being hungry… but, I was willing to give it a shot.

Time flew by and finally our respite was upon us – time to jump in the car and head east to our weekend of sanctuary. Of course, GTA traffic was against us, but we finally made it to our destination.

We drove up to the charming red brick house and found the host waiting for us at the front door. David Gouveia opened the door for us and ushered us into a shabby but well-loved room, where we were greeted by his partner, Mano McNabb, who hugged us as we arrived and greeted us warmly. Within minutes we were introduced to another sanctuary-seeker who was spending the weekend here, and served delicious power smoothies to replenish us after our long ride.

We were shown to our room, then invited back downstairs to get to know our hosts and find out what surprises were in store for us this weekend… As we sat and listened, we discovered that we were in for much more than we had bargained for. In a nutshell, David and Mano are healers, each with a different focus. David is a yogi who does Reiki, energy work and different modalities of massage. Mano also does Reiki and specializes in juice fasting and nutrition. She takes care of guests’ nutritional needs while they’re at the retreat and sends them home with a plan to maintain their new healthy habits at home.

We spent the weekend sipping rich organic juices that were custom-blended for us. I wasn’t hungry once (we actually skipped a few servings.) We did yoga with David in the mornings and strolled in the countryside, taking in the sweet smell of springtime grass, spotting birds and breathing fresh air. We hiked out to David’s gazebo on the far end of the property and absorbed the goodness of clean nature. We talked, a lot, and learned about energy, cleared our auras and spent quite a bit of quiet time reading, laughing, thinking and reflecting.

All too soon, it was time to head home…  and I was left wanting more. I would love to go back again and stay longer next time! I highly recommend this to anyone who desperately needs to get away from their lives and take a breather.

I have a confession to make: This was the last post I have worked on in months (we went to Nonpareil in May 2016 and it is now March 2017). Coming back to my blog now, I realize that I have been drifting on my journey, while gladly moving in the right direction. I’ve since started a new job in a new company and have already moved on to a new position within that same company, and I’ve lost 16 pounds too!

To finish off my post, I must add that the highlight of my weekend was a remarkable session with David, working on mind-body integration. It was revelatory, and many months later, I’m still unraveling the outcomes of the hour I spent with him… not easy stuff, but a necessary resetting of my internal compass.

And, the journey continues… perhaps I’ll be fortunate enough to return to visit David and Mano again!


Happy Birthday to me!

My 47th birthday is a few days away, and there’s no denying that I’m officially well into middle age. I’m grappling with what that actually means to me. I’m generally okay with getting older – there’s no point in fighting it, because it’s going to happen regardless, but this birthday has been niggling at me for a while.

Last weekend, I listened to the Purple Rain sound track enjoying song after song, hurling thanks to the universe for the talent that was Prince, and thinking he died way too young. A few days later at work I was speaking with a young colleague pussycontrolwho’s half my age about  Prince’s death… I commented that I’ve always loved his music, and she eagerly agreed, then mumbled that her favourite song is ‘Blablabla’… I didn’t hear her, and asked her to repeat… “Pussy Control”, she said, more clearly. I guess my reply took her off guard… “Oh, really?”, I said, a little surprised.  In my head I was thinking, “That’s a funny choice – it’s not even on the radar for me, but to each her/his own”.

Then, yesterday, my young colleague flagged me down to apologize about saying the word ‘p- – – -’, hoping she hadn’t offended me. I was a little taken aback, wondering how I could’ve been offended – is ‘pussy’ a bad word? I assured her that there’s no problem, I’m a big girl. I can take it. 

I walked away feeling bewildered, then I started feeling old. Clearly this young lady has assigned me a persona based on how she perceives me. And, unless you’ve known me for a while, today, I’m a short, friendly, roly-poly, middle-aged lady. In my youth I was an intense, independent, quadri-lingual, smarty-pants, world-travelling, salsa-dancing dynamo who could press 230 pounds in a lying squat and made no excuse of displaying her ample cleavage to her advantage. And while I haven’t been out dancing or visited a gym in a while, and I don’t flaunt my cleavage like I used to, that younger version of me is only a few layers deep. 

But, as we know, time keeps on slippin’ into the future. Somehow, over the years, it seems I have morphed into this ‘lady’ who seemingly could be offended by the word pussy. I don’t know when this happened… The truth is that lady doesn’t resonate with me, and I’m not even bothered enough to making an effort to fight her off. To be honest, I don’t have the energy or the interest to exorcise her… It is what it is, and I’m not going to have plastic surgery or retool my wardrobe and go back to wearing heels 24/7 to pretend to be younger than I am. Yes, I’m working on getting into better shape, eating healthier and integrating better habits into my everyday life, and I will always keep learning – I’m ferociously curious about my world and how to help make things better. But, when I really think about it, I have to admit that I’m comfortable with my age, and more and more I find myself reflecting on my life to this point, my journey so far, and what’s aroundbday the bend. 

My conclusion is that I’m lucky to have made it this far. I’ve got an awesome life and a good deal to show for it in terms of experience, wisdom, friends, family and a few neat worldly possessions (including a mighty mortgage!) 

And so, here’s to turning 47… come on girl! Show them what you’re made of! 

A fur baby joins the family

Four years ago, my husband started talking about getting a dog. I didn’t object – I grew up on a farm and I love animals. I know how important it is for kids to grow up with animals too, but I was a little concerned. With both of us working full time far from home, and our boys still not old enough to take care of a dog on their own, I wanted to make sure Alex knew what we were getting into. Dogs are work, and we were already really busy. He assured me he was up for the challenge.

Choosing a breed

We started our research and found a few breeds that seemed to align with our lifestyle (Iams has a quiz that we did a few times, just to make sure). My pick was a Berger Picard, and Alex favoured the Newfoundland and the Bernese Mountain Dog.

Personally, I would happily open our home to as many pets as the city would allow us to have, but we had to get real about this – dog food costs money, dogs poop (a lot), they need love, time, and dedication, they shed and smell, room matesthey chew on things, and you can’t leave them alone for a long weekend, plus there are vet bills to think about, too. Newfoundlanders and Bernese Mountain dogs can weigh up to 150 pounds and stand almost a metre tall – our house is tiny at 1,400 square feet
and there are already four of us, (plus an eight-pound cat) living here… My husband had never had a dog, and the kids were still small: was it a wise choice to bring such a huge creature into our little home?

We wanted to set ourselves up for success and have a happy experience bringing a new family member on board. We knew a dog of that size wasn’t the best option for us, so we decided to postpone getting a big dog until we could afford a farm. The Berger Picard, on the other hand, sounded like the ideal dog for us, weighing in at a maximum of 70 pounds and around 65 centimetres tall, a smart, independent, non-shedding dog! However, these dogs are just making a comeback in North America. Not only are they expensive at around $2,500 a pup, there’s a long waiting list and the only breeder is in Quebec… Not practical for us for now.

Finding a match

And the search continued. As we spoke to friends and family, we were convinced to consider a rescue. What’s more, we were also convinced to consider an older dog that is already house-trained (a win-win!) So, we ended up on Petfinder.com looking at rescues. This is a great place to start, with listings for possible pets petfinderand solid advice on transitioning to your new lives as pet owners.

Our friends and family looked too – especially my little sister, who was very excited about our decision to get a dog. I suppose my single friends have had similar experiences searching for companions looking for dates on Tinder, except the commitment we were looking at was much more serious than grabbing a drink and having a fling, and we knew that. As sad as it will be when that day comes, this relationship is ’till death do us part’ for real.

We talked to our boys about how our life was going to change when we got our new dog. They smiled, nodded, and ran around the house like puppies, barking and panting to show us how eager they were about this adventure. We finally zeroed in on two rescue dogs – Max: his resume was stellar (I think he was a member of Mensa), and Trooper. Trooper’s profile was pretty basic, but there was just something about this pup that clicked with me.

The rescue that was adopting out the Mensa dog was unreasonable – they required the adopting family to bring the dog to obedience classes in their town – two hours away, once a week for eight weeks. As much as we were interested in brilliant Max, this wasn’t an option for us. And, that’s when Trooper took his place as the undisputed front runner. We contacted Helping Paws Rescue and filled out the application. They asked for references (and called them) and a statement from us on why we wanted this dog, including a description of our family, our lifestyle and our home. A week after submitting the application, we got the happy news that we were approved! We were excited to bring him home and prepared our house for his arrival, getting a crate, dog bowls, leashes, toys and treats. 


Trooper’s story

Animal control picked Trooper up on the side of the highway in the dead of winter and took him to the pound. The rescue team saw him there but they didn’t have a foster family for him right away, so they begged the pound to hold on to him until they could take him in. Most pounds euthanize animals after they go unclaimed for a week. Trooper waited in that pound for a month, and when the rescue team came to spring him from jail, he was so overjoyed, all he did was kiss them. He wasn’t neutered and he had a cherry eye, so the rescue had him fixed up by their trusted vet, and put him up for adoption. The rest is history. Trooper cost us $375.

The homecoming

When we brought Trooper home, he was scared and timid. Obviously he had been through hell and back and it has taken us years of unconditional love to work most of that fear out of him. Trooper is a sweetheart – the kindest soul you’ll ever meet, and a breeze to live with. He’s one of us now, and we can’t remember what life was like before he came to live with us.

Troops - home
Trooper’s first day in his forever home, feeling safe in a huddle of love.

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Dealing with not-so-great days

Today wasn’t a great day.

Nothing major happened: the commute was brutal, work was pretty intense and I’m fighting a cold, so my whole body aches… none of this is permanent.

But, in the midst of this not-so-great day, my brother called with news that my mom’s doctor phoned him. She has been in a long-term-care facility for about seven years now. Today’s news was that she’ll need to have a shunt put in while under general anaesthesia, because her kidneys aren’t working and she’ll need dialysis.

We knew this was coming, that something was imminent. And, we know this is just the beginning. I have observed changes in her lately and have been trying hard to control my reactions. My mom and I have a complicated relationship… there’s some anger, disappointment, and frustration that I haven’t been able to resolve and I’ve been busy with other distractions – the truth is, it’s simmering under the surface and I don’t want to deal with it. Seven years ago, when she got really sick, it took us almost a year to get our lives back on track. It started years before she fell ill. For years I had been asking her what her plans were for retirement, but she didn’t even know where to start, so she just got old without a plan. Then she got really sick and things went downhill from there, starting with our week-long 24-hour vigil in the ICU, to her six-month stay in the hospital when I taught her how to eat again, and my brother changed her diaper, then cleaning her house and selling it. It nearly tore our family apart – my brother and I didn’t speak for almost three years after that because we were both so angry at the whole situation. Now, she’s safe, stable and taken care of. In the midst of these changes, I find myself grappling with how I feel about it all, and trying to be aware of my feelings without finding myself in a no man’s land of emotion.

A not-so-great day… it would be dishonest to pretend that everything was always rainbows and lollipops, because there’s good, bad and everything in between. The journey goes on, one day at a time.

On Cuba… go now!

Being married to a Cuban, and having travelled to the country nine times already, I feel I have a certain level of authority to speak about travelling to Cuba. And today, more than ever, I wish I were there myself.

Unless you livecurs under a rock, you’re probably aware of the fact that things in Cuba are changing fast… Tonight, the Rolling Stones will play for 500,000 people in Havana –  an unprecedented event and the biggestobama cuba concert Cuba has ever seen. Last week the Obamas had the first state visit to the country in 90 years. From Anthony Bourdain‘s gastro tour of Havana to Naomi Campbell and Paris Hilton making the short hop to the island to get a first hand view of what the fuss is all about, Cuba is on the map and in the news.

Cuba iaucus magic… bittersweet magic. A place that, as it stands today, will inspire you and break your heart at the same time. And, just as I firmly believe that every single one of us must live through heartbreak at least once in our lives to truly understand what love is, I

Abuelo, introducing his grandson to the jicotea.

know that experiencing Cuba was a turning point in my own personal journey.

Auténtica Cuba – the slogan needs no translation, and whoever came up with it spoke from the heart. Cuba is a place like no other. I started pinning the destinations I’ve been to around the world into my travel map on TripAdvisor (this is cool – try it!), and with 156,835 kilometres travelled, I can say I have never felt a connection to a place like I did in Cuba (and yes, I brought my own piece of Cuba home with me to keep forever!) Maybe one day we’ll retire there… who knows!

I highly recommend anyone and everyone who has the means to visit Cuba to go as soon as possible, and let the place into your heart… you won’t regret it, and you’ll surely learn a little (or a lot) about yourself while you’re at it.

Oh, for those of you who are concerned – the food is fine (please don’t expect to eat delicious French food in Cuba – you wouldn’t expect good Cuban food in France), yes, you’ll be safe… it’s safer than here, and the water is treated, so while you’ll probably stick to bottled water, you’ll be fine if you rinse your toothbrush in the sink.

Go to Cuba now, before it changes forever… you’ll never again have a chance to experience the place as it is today, because tomorrow it will be gone. Even Global News says so!

Our eldest on his second trip to Cuba, breathing in the fresh sea air at the Castillo del Morro in Havana.

Music on the journey: Billy vs Kanye

Music and travel have always gone hand in hand for me, whether listening to my own tunes on the road, or hearing something new wherever I happen to be, music is one sure way to augment any travel experience (food, drink, art and dance being a few others).

Tonight, our voyage was short, but sweet. As I drove our family home from a wonderful all-you-can-sAnInnocentMantuff-into-your-belly sushi feast at Yame Sushi with some very close friends, my husband scanned the music on the radio and after pausing briefly on a couple of stations, stopped on 80’s on 8 Sirius RadioBilly Joel was blasting out “Innocent Man”, and I was transported back to the night I heard him sing at Maple Leaf Gardens, a lifetime ago. Driving my family home, happy, warm and satiated, I had an amazing feeling of joy flood over me as my kids connected with a facet of my past. I knew this was one of those fleeting, sacred, family instances, each of us linked in this special moment. The boys, who had been chattering away in the back seat, fell completely silent. They were riveted.

I turned the volume up and sang along quietly, then our youngest son contemplatively declared, “Man, I didn’t know that this old stuff was so good! I’m happy to cut out Kanye and listen to more of this...”

That was an hour ago. I’m still grinning. Thanks for the win, Billy!