Getting there

Getting there

Friday, April 29, 2011

Of London, Love, and Lovers

I honestly didn't really intend to, and it was definitely a last minute decision. At bedtime last night I looked at my husband and said "I think I might sleep on the sofa tonight. That way I can get up at 2 AM and watch the wedding without waking anyone". I don't think prior to that moment that I wanted to, but there it was. Why? Well, not really to see the wedding so much, dear friends, although it was lovely. What I really wanted to see was London.

As some know I was in London just a few short months ago. I had dreamed of visiting London since I was a very young adult, and to actually find myself there was incredible. Regular readers of this blog know that Ireland came along a bit later and ran away with my heart, but London was there first, and in some ways always will be.

The first views of London this morning took my breath away. The city had that grey misty look that could become rain or could instead become glorious sunshine. The route to Westminster Abbey was lined with hundreds of that flag that means so much to me - the ever-stunning, ever-inspiring Union Jack. It may have been two in the morning but I was practically clapping my hands with glee at the sight.

The initial views inside Westminster Abbey almost brought me to tears. One of the first things I saw when I entered the Abbey in December 2010 was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and I remember the impact it had on me. Seeing it made me realize I was really there, in a place of such history and renown. My family and I had stood in front of that beautiful, serene poppy-ringed rectangle and read the engraving while we absorbed the atmosphere of the Abbey.

If you've been to the Abbey you know it can be quite a solemn place, but today it sprang to life with green trees and bright lights. I don't know if I've ever seen anything quite as gorgeous as the Abbey was today as it waited for a future king and queen to wed. As the cameras panned around I remembered the majesty of the Abbey and just the feeling the place holds. It's almost impossible to describe but it's a sense of a depth of history that is almost beyond your grasp. It's the kind of place that makes you a bit speechless. You walk around and suddenly discover that you are standing on the final resting place of someone like Charles Darwin. You may find yourself, as I did, bending to the floor and laying your palm down on the cool slate as if you can touch the history of this place. I did this several times and initially thought it might be a bit odd until I looked around and saw so many other people doing the exact same thing.

What was so wonderful about today is that you can't take photos inside the Abbey (it is a church, after all) so being able to see it again prompted so many of the same feelings I had when I was there. You didn't see it today, but it is the resting place of Elizabeth I, and I clearly recall that I stood in front of the statue on top of her burial place and wept. I've read about her for over 3 decades and to be in her presence, even hundreds of years after her death, simply proved too much for me. I recall my daughter slipping her hand into mine, not really understanding why I was crying but knowing that it wasn't a bad reaction, just an overwhelmed one.

When our future king and queen left the Abbey (and unless things change, dear friends, they will in fact be our King and Queen some day, the monarchs of Canada) I was again almost overcome by the display of Union Jacks and the pure emotion of the crowd. As they travelled the distance to Buckingham Palace the crowd seemed to grow and become even louder and  even more excited. London can be a rather distant and cool place but today it seemed so warm and festive and joyous.

Watching today reminded me of all the things I saw there, and of why I fell in love with London so many years ago. It is a place of history and beauty. It is a place of excitement and vibrancy. It is a place of possibility. The wedding was wonderful and memorable and brilliant, of course. For me, though, it was London that shone today, and I was so happy to be able to see it again as it presented it's finest face to the world. Congratulations are in order for the newlyweds. Congratulations are also in order for London, I think, because they put on a bloody good show, and I bet a few more people fell in love with that city today. Myself? I fell in love with it all over again. I sit here drinking much-needed coffee out of my Union Jack mug, and have decided that for the day I will pull out the Union Jack handbag that had gone into seasonal retirement. It just seems the proper thing to do, doesn't it?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Closet Fairytale Believer

Even I have grown weary of the media hype over the impending wedding of Kate and William tomorrow. I don't even feel the need to say Kate and William who, because unless you are living on the moon you know who they are. I suppose the final straw for me was the email from iTunes telling me I could pre-purchase the music from the wedding and all I could think was "Why the hell would I? Why would ANYONE?!?". This is actually a bit sad for me, because you see, dear friends, I am a closet fairytale believer, and I have been for a very long time.

When I was growing up my favourite fairytale was always "Beauty and the Beast". There was just something about that particular fairytale that seemed a bit more raw than the others, a bit more "real". I read several different variations of it (including the supposedly original French one), and was always enchanted by it (not so much when it got Disney-fied, though). When Prince Charles announced his engagement to Diana in 1981 it actually seemed a bit like Beauty and the Beast to me - Diana was certainly a beauty and while Charles wasn't exactly a beast he wasn't really a handsome young prince, either. I suppose I hoped he was the handsome prince in spirit, though, who would overcome his enormous ears and advanced age with his pure and absolute devotion to his beautiful princess. I was one of those who got up early to watch their wedding. I was one of those who watched Diana walk down the aisle and become a real princess. I was one of those who watched their marriage unravel, and who realized that Charles wasn't a handsome prince in appearance or spirit. I was one of those cried when they heard the news report about an accident in a tunnel in France. I was one of those who watched her funeral and thought it was surreal and just deeply, terribly, wrong. I was one of those who watched two boys grow up without their mother. I was one of those who wanted to see happily ever after, and who felt saddened when it didn't materialize.

The fairytale of Charles and Diana ended badly. It ended badly in so very many ways, and it wasn't really a fairytale at all. It was just the story of two people no more and no less than the rest of us, but with the entire world watching them as they tried and failed, and eventually as one of them died far too soon and senselessly.

Tomorrow at 3 am local time Kate and William will wed. I might just watch the wedding, as due to insomnia I am often awake at that time. This time, though, I am not watching a fairytale. I am watching two young people wed just as my niece and her new husband did last year, and just as I did many, many years ago. I am watching two young people embark on a future none of us can predict. I am watching as they launch themselves into their future, and I hope they achieve a marriage of happiness and joy. Not happily ever after, mind you. Maybe just something like it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Irish Racehorses and Canadian Girls

Before we left for Ireland I told my daughter that one thing I knew about Ireland is that they have a passion for horses. This might seem an odd thing to know, but I went through a phase in my life, pre-discovery of boys, when I also had a deep passion for horses. In my very early teens I was all about horses, and during those years I read a lot about the Irish and their horses.

When we arrived in Ireland my daughter quickly acknowledged that I was right. There were horses everywhere - almost every stone-enclosed field had a horse in residence, often a scruffy pony but sometimes a fine-boned prancing steed. Our Irish driver Kevin is a very observant man, and while driving us around quickly realized my daughter's deep love for animals (perhaps this is because she commented on every sheep we saw, and let's just say there are a lot of sheep in Ireland). It turns out that Kevin, like many people in Ireland, is co-owner of an Irish racehorse. He suggested that he could call the racehorse trainer and arrange for us to visit the racehorse training facility. My daughter and I were thrilled by the idea, and my husband, while not a horsey type, is a good sport, so we gave Kevin the green light.

That is how on one cool late December day in Ireland we found ourselves in the Irish countryside surrounded by Irish horses. The trainer turned out to be a wonderful man nicknamed Dixie. Dixie was obviously a gentle sort, and with a deep love and respect for the horses he trains. When we arrived I told him that I loved horses, and that I had worked in veterinary clinics for most of my adult life. I can't claim to know a great deal about what makes a good racehorse, but I do like to pretend I know a bit, and Dixie was more than happy to indulge me by bringing out horse after horse for my thoughts. We discussed equine conformation and muscles, and we discussed behaviour and personality.

My daughter was delighted by the horses, although she was also distracted by the most beautiful little puppy. The puppy had raced over to us when we arrived, and bonded to my little girl a bit like super glue does to skin. When I commented to Dixie that we were tempted to take his puppy back to Canada with us he said that we should take her as she had just turned up one day and was starving, so what could he do but begin feeding her (the Irish are also a soft touch, dear friends, for animals, children, and women). He seemed open to the idea of us stealing his puppy, but I also suspect that if we had pursued it that he would have eventually admitted his actual fondness for the charming puppy and refused us. As it was it was enough for my daughter to cuddle this adorable little thing while Kevin and Dixie and I discussed horses. My husband, again being the family good sport, took photos of the goings-on.

Eventually Dixie led us over to a stable area. I noted quickly that some of the stabled horses were very nervous individuals. Approaching the stalls would quickly result in head tossing,  nervous neighs, and often a hasty retreat into the recesses of the stalls. While looking at another horse, though, I observed my daughter out of the corner of my eye. My daughter is like most other girls her age - giggly, boisterous, often noisy, and occasionally whiny. She moves quickly (unless it's to take her dishes to the dishwasher) and honestly can make me feel nervous from all her sudden movements and chatter. Around animals, though, she changes, and I saw this with such clarity that day. She would approach the stalls slowly. Her voice dropped several octaves and became but a whisper. The words she said were words of pure reassurance - calm, gentle words designed to soothe a nervous beast. It only took moments until the most nervous of the horses had their noses in her hands. She caressed them gently, looking them in the eyes all the while. Now, I had tried to approach these same horses and they shied away. They would have nothing to do with me, and yet here they were, allowing my daughter to touch their sensitive noses. Kevin, who was also observing this, looked at me and said quietly "She has the touch". Now, we didn't discuss this much, but if this means the same in Ireland as it does here it simply means she has the ability to calm nervous animals and to connect with them on a certain level beyond which most people can. That day on that farm I realized how true this was.

We spent a couple of hours with Dixie and the horses. When we left we were quite entirely filthy. My daughter had paw prints on her jacket and pants, and I had straw stuck in my hair. I suspect far worse things clung to our shoes. What we also were, though, was blissfully happy. I had never, ever anticipated that this would happen, and that my childhood love of horses would be indulged this way. I had never expected to see my daughter connecting with Irish racehorses and stray Irish dogs. I walked away from the experience deeply grateful to Dixie for agreeing to entertain some Canadian tourists, and to Kevin for making it happen. These events, dear friends, are what make a holiday special. It's not the tourist attractions like theme parks or even Blarney Castle. It's those little unexpected moments that make your heart sing, like a few hours spent with Irish racehorses and Canadian girls.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Imperfect Bliss

Last week was Spring Break in our city. This meant my daughter had an entire week off school to sleep in and wear pyjamas all day long, TV blaring and iPhone in hand. We celebrated this past long weekend of Easter quietly, and last night began the preparations for going back to school. A lunch was made and a backpack was packed. This morning she woke up bright and early, had her shower, dressed carefully and did her make-up and hair, and walked out the door. Moments after she left it occurred to me - I hadn't checked the school calendar lately. I thought surely there would be school today even if it is Easter Monday - after all, they had had all last week off! I grabbed my iPad and checked the online copy of the school newsletter and there it was - Easter Monday, No School. I said a very choice few words, grabbed a jacket and shoes, and flew out the door after my daughter.

I found her walking towards me as I raced towards her. She was making noises - crying, I feared. As I grew closer, though, I realized it was laughter. Her first words? "Wow, Mom, you suck!", and we both dissolved into gales of laughter, tears forming in our eyes. I tried to convince her it was a late April Fool's joke, but she is no fool, April or otherwise. I asked if she was mad at me and she said a little, but then hugged me and said not really. We walked down our street laughing and both talking at once - her about walking up to the school and realizing there was no one there except a maintenance truck, and me about my horror on looking at the newsletter and realizing my error.

I think the funniest thing is that not that long ago I would have never forgiven myself for this kind of error. I would have beaten myself up for days for this as I had decided long ago I would be "perfect mom". You know, the mom who always knows what's going on, who has all the answers, and who never gets things wrong. I wanted to be the mom who never disappointed and who never gave cause for anger. Gradually in the last couple of years things have changed, though. I suppose I started to get involved a bit more in my own life and a bit less in hers as she has started to grow up. I suppose I also started to notice that my drive for perfection didn't do me any good as it was an unattainable goal and led to being disappointed in myself. I also noticed that it wasn't doing her any good. Just as I expected perfection of myself she began to expect it of herself, and to express frustration with herself when she was imperfect or made mistakes. It saddened me to see her so hard on herself when it was unwarranted. This was not what I wanted for her, or for me. Things needed to change, and they needed to start with me.

So, this morning when I made a colossal error, I can't tell you how good it was to laugh about it. I certainly felt (and still feel) sheepish about it, but I don't feel I need to blame myself or examine my personal flaws because of it. I think what's even better is that my daughter forgave me in the same way I hope she forgives herself when she makes mistakes and, quite frankly, screws things up like we all do. I suspect somehow that my new acceptance of my imperfections will serve her better than my previous self-loathing of the same imperfections. I know that years from now we will still laugh about the Easter Monday I sent her to school when there was no school, and how we raced towards each other in the chilly air, laughing until we cried. As I write this post she sits and plays the piano, because she knows I love to hear her play, and because an entire unexpected day off now stretches before us. Imperfection may just be bliss, my friends. Embrace it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wedding Aisle Dances (and Associated Implications)

Unless you've been hiding under a rock you've heard something about the upcoming royal wedding. Even if you've been under a rock I suspect the media coverage has infiltrated even there, although it is probably a bit muffled. This past week a friend posted a video on her Facebook wall which I thought was hilarious, and wanted to share with you. Here it is:

Now, I must admit that this video kind of got me going. I have no idea how my mind works some days, but like a dog with a bone I get on to an idea and can't quite let it go. The video reminded me of the American version of the show "The Office". Fans of the show know that two characters on the show married and, of course, their office workmates decided to re-enact the wedding aisle dance. Here's the video of that:

Once I'd found that video on Youtube I needed to find the original video. It took a little bit of detective work since the wedding aisle dance has now been replicated hundreds of times and it seems every copycat couple uploaded it to Youtube. However, I believe this is the original that started it all, at least as far as I can tell:

By this point you're probably wondering why I spent a few hours of my time this week on this little project. I guess I am always curious about where ideas begin and how they evolve over time.  It made me think about which of these weddings I would like to attend or have attended - and while the royal wedding would be a great occasion to finally buy some Louboutin shoes and The Office wedding would be filled with "characters" I can't help but think that the wedding that started it all seems like the one that would be the most fun. Anyone who can come up with the wedding aisle dance seem like people who know how to throw a helluva party, don't they?

In the end I suppose I just find the nature of this amazing. The world has become such an intimate place, really. With the arrival of the Internet and Facebook and Youtube what would have been a cute little wedding aisle dance remembered by a few dozen people becomes an international phenomenon that eventually spreads to include the upcoming royal nuptials. I think there is a lesson in all this, too. We can spread ideas, good and bad, with the speed of light these days. That should both excite us and frighten us a little - the potential and the peril seem endless. Since weekends always make me think of music and dancing and, yes, even weddings, it seemed the appropriate time to post this entry. I think today however I'll forget about all the implications and just enjoy the videos. Those implications will still be there on Monday, and that seems a far better day to consider those sorts of things. I hope you enjoy the videos too, dear friends. It seems a grand day for a wedding, doesn't it?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Patience, Chickadee

I will be the first to admit it. I have a problem with patience. I do not like to wait, and I do not like to be kept waiting. Patience may be a virtue, but it is not one of mine. Recently my greatest impatience has been to do with waiting for spring to truly arrive.

Every morning I wake up and hope it will be 15C outside. Then I can toss on a dress and espadrilles and head out for my day knowing that it will only get warmer. Instead I get up every day and discover that it is still -3C and the high we are headed for is in the single digits. Some days the forecast even calls for "wet flurries" (shudder!). I know it's northern Alberta. I know its only April. This means nothing to me, or to my impatience.

The sad thing is that it seems I have passed this trait on to my daughter. She is not a patient person, either. She does not like to wait. She has been known to become whiny and irritating when impatient, and I strongly suspect I do, too. The other day, though, I remembered an event that gave me some perspective.

Our previous home was directly across from the forest that surrounds our city. As I am a great lover of animals I quickly adorned our yard with as many bird feeders as I could possibly maintain. Year round they attracted all manner of birds - woodpeckers, blue jays, pine grosbeaks, sparrows, and, of course, the ubiquitous chickadee. Far from being the most humble of birds, though, I think the chickadee is the most spectacular. I love everything about them, from their charming "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" call to their lovely black-capped coloration. What I love even more about the chickadees are their quick swooping trips into the feeder to snatch a sunflower seed and then flitting back into the forest to eat. What is so charming is that if you are very, very still, and very patient, a chickadee might land right in your palm to grab a sunflower seed before winging away. There is nothing quite like the feel of those tiny clawed feet and the little rush of air that they leave behind them as they wing away.

A few years ago I told my daughter about the chickadees that had been landing on my hand to feed. She insisted she wanted to try it, and I had some serious doubts. She is not patient. She is not good at sitting still. She is not willing to wait for things. I put these doubts aside, though, and she grabbed a lawn chair. She stationed herself directly beside one of the feeders, filled her palm with sunflower seeds, and waited.

She waited in silence. She waited calmly. She sat, stock-still, for what seemed like hours. And then, suddenly, one of those wee little birds landed right on her hand and snatched a seed. My daughter's face was absolutely indescribable. There was joy and incredulity. There was satisfaction. There was accomplishment. She had been patient. She had waited. She had succeeded.

One morning this week when I got up and again began internally bemoaning the lack of those warm temperatures I stopped. I thought about my daughter and her willingness to wait for something she really wanted. I thought about how patient she was, despite it being so foreign to her nature. I thought about how perhaps the fact that it wasn't easy and didn't happen quickly made the experience of having the chickadee land on her hand even more memorable, and how perhaps it made her even more grateful. I thought to myself "Patience, chickadee. Spring will come, and when it does you will be even more joyous and even more grateful because you had to wait for it".  Sometimes it seems the greatest lessons come from the smallest sources, like chickadees and impatient little girls.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Not Your Regular Choice

As regular readers of this blog know I have a little problem with shoes. The problem, of course, is that I adore shoes, and the more unique they are the more I love them. When I was in London over Christmas I found the most wonderful shoe company called Irregular Choice. When I walked into the store on Carnaby Street I almost felt tears of joy forming, and it was in that store that I fell in love. Not with a man, as I already happen to have one of those, but with a pair of shoes that made me feel weak in the knees. I snatched up those shoes as quickly as I could produce my credit card and brought them home to Canada. There they sat in their box for the next couple of months. I would occasionally take them out and caress them as I looked forlornly at the 4 feet of snow outside and sigh about not being able to wear them yet. When I was in Vancouver at the end of March, though, I knew opportunity was upon me and it was time to release these fabulous shoes in Canada. Where better than Vancouver, one of the most stylish and fashion-forward cities in the country?

So, one evening my sisters and aunt and I had tickets for a George Bernard Shaw play on Granville Street. This seemed like the ideal event. People often dress up for live theatre and I decided a dress and these shoes were the ideal attire. The sister that shared a room with me gave me the thumbs-up and so off we went to hit a couple of the stores on Granville before we met the rest of the gang for dinner and the theatre. I put on my shoes, and we stepped into the elevator.

Well, my friends, the reactions started the instant I stepped off the elevator into the lobby. At the reception desk were a young male and a young female employee. When I left the elevator they both instantly zoomed in on the shoes. Jaws dropped slightly, his just a fraction of an inch further than hers, and I knew that this was going to be an entertaining evening.

We hopped into a taxi and headed to Granville and one of my favourite stores, Plum. Getting out of the taxi and crossing the street was amusing as the stares were instantaneous. I entered the store and immediately was stopped by an employee who said "Oh my god, where did you get those SHOES?!?". She called over the other employees who all wanted to see the shoes up close. I tried on a few dresses, selected one, and as I was leaving the employee said "Keep on buying fabulous shoes!". My sister and I hit a few other stores and the reaction was always the same - an initial stare, a slight jaw drop, and then the question "Where?!?". We stopped for a coffee at Starbucks and my shoes were ogled by fellow coffee imbibers. The waitress at the lounge we dined at was thunderstruck by my shoes. One of my other sisters was meeting us and said she looked across the street and saw these incredible SHOES - and then looked up and realized it was me. She insisted on walking behind me for the rest of the night so she could record the reactions.

I had women stop me on the street to tell me how amazing they were, and to ask where I'd found them. After the play when we were trying to find a taxi a young homeless woman begging for change outside the theatre told me I had great shoes and when I told her where I had gotten them (she asked) she said she figured they weren't from Vancouver. When my sister and I went to the Fairmont Vancouver lounge later in the evening we overheard a man asking his female companion if she liked the shoes and if perhaps she could get a pair, too. We didn't hear her reaction, but I certainly would have liked to. Now, there were a couple of adverse reactions, mostly from elderly women who looked aghast (I figure it was just plain ol' jealousy).

The next morning I left the hotel early to grab a coffee at the Starbucks across the street. I was just leaving the lobby when I overheard a woman exclaiming to her male companion "That's her! That's the one I told you about last night - the one with the SHOES!". I suspect I smiled for hours after hearing that.

The funny thing is that there was a long period in my life when being the centre of such attention would have made me very uncomfortable. When I was in my teens and early twenties I was the sort who dyed her hair crazy kaleidoscope colours and wore nutty clothes, and who loved to be noticed. I went through many years, though, when I shrank inside myself a bit and when shoes and clothing became utilitarian and a chore. In the past couple of years, though, I underwent some pretty profound personal changes. I also rediscovered my love of great shoes and interesting clothing. It was like waking up after a long and very deep sleep, shaking off the last vestiges of slumber, and realizing how bright and exciting the world was. Suddenly being the centre of attention was fun again - and boy, did these shoes ever accomplish that. Now that they've been unleashed in Vancouver I can't wait to wear them in my northern Alberta city and see what kind of response they receive here (I'm expecting a bit more incredulity, but then again this city isn't really a fashion mecca). Oh, and my husband and I are planning another trip to Vancouver this summer - and, well, Vancouver, I'm coming prepared....

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Power of Words

I was recently visiting a small local website forum when I came across a thread about this video. I'd never seen the video before, but not only do I think it's well done I also think it's quite profound. Check it out:

I suppose it touches me so deeply because of how strongly I feel about words. Not only do we use words to convey our thoughts and opinions but our words are the threads that connect us. They can be weapons used to harm or they can be blankets used to comfort. We see the power of words every day. Words inspire, provoke change, and motivate. They can fuel the rise of great nations and the downfall of dictators. They are the foundation for the greatest speeches of all time (think of Martin Luther King, or John F. Kennedy). They are such simple things, really, and yet words power our world, and our relationships with each other.

A friend's mother died recently after a very brief illness. My friend's request was that in honour of his mother every person who heard the news of her death take a moment to tell those they love how much they love them. That has to be one of the loveliest legacies to leave behind you, and when I saw this video I thought of my friend, and his mother. Dear friends, how will you use your words today? I humbly suggest that you use them to tell someone in your life how much they mean to you. It is a beautiful day to tell someone that you love them, isn't it?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Charmed, I'm Sure

Someone recently commented to me that I appear to be obsessed with charm, and charming men in particular. I couldn't argue, really, as they are quite right. What they said next rather stumped me, though. They asked what exactly I consider charming. I was a bit speechless, which is decidedly not a normal state of affairs for me. You see, dear friends, I've never really devoted a lot of thought as to what is charming. I've always just met men and either considered them charming or not, and not really thought about why. Over the last few days, though, I've given it some consideration, and here's what I've come up with.

For starters, lots of things can be charming. Places can be charming, some more than others (guess which has my vote?). Children can be charming (as mine is, I think), as can dogs (as mine is not, I'm afraid). A great pair of shoes can be quite charming, as can a fabulous purse. I suppose even women can be charming, although I am not a great judge of this. For myself, though, what I notice is men who are charming, and I always have. In fact I ended up marrying one, so that speaks volumes about what I think about charm. I am not an expert on charming places, children, women, or dogs, and while I can claim some expertise on shoes and bags I'm afraid my real area of knowledge is on charming men, so that's what I'm going to discuss.

Charm is an elusive, almost indefinable quality. I have a very dear gentleman friend who has excellent manners, and good manners are integral to charm. He is the only man I know who rises when a woman enters the room, and my best friend was delighted when they went out for a cigarette together and he lit hers before lighting his own (she commented that she didn't think men did that anymore - ever). However, my dear friend is charming for far more than his genteel manners. He is the sort to compliment me on my clothes, or tell me I look "magnificent" (oh boy, do I like that word!). When I returned from holiday he told me that I looked even more beautiful than before I had left. That, my friends, is charming.

Men who open doors for me have excellent manners, in my opinion. Those who practically run to get ahead of me to open the door? Charming. The one who once rushed up to open a door for me even though he wasn't going into the same store? Utterly charming. Made my day, in fact. Pulling out a chair for me (and not pulling it out from under me!), opening car doors, letting me get on an elevator or escalator first - good manners and, generally speaking, charming. I know there are dissenters on this, and those who will toss around words like chauvinism. Not me. I like being treated nicely, and think the world could do with more of it (and to be honest if I reach a door first I've been known to hold it open for whomever is behind me, including men).

I must admit I find men who can tell a good yarn charming, too. This may explain my weakness for the Irish, including my husband. They all seem to have had a good smooch on the Blarney Stone and thus can be incredibly charming. It's a trait I noticed in men all over Ireland, and even in men I've met here who happen to have Irish heritage. I'm sure some of them are not charming - I just haven't met any yet (well, there was that ranger at the Cliffs of Moher, but maybe he was just having a non-charming day). This ability to spin a tale, though, isn't limited to the Irish, and the ones who do it well, whatever their nationality? Charming.

I've thought about whether good looks are necessary for charm, and to be honest, they aren't. A handsome charming man (again, like my spouse) is a wonderful package, but even a man who isn't particularly physically appealing can be incredibly charming, and I've met several. A charming man is one who will make you feel good about yourself, who makes you feel special, and who has a way with words or actions that makes you think the world is a better place. That doesn't take good looks - it just takes a good heart. I've been charmed by a musician in Dublin who, at the end of a night in a pub, popped up and shouted across the table "You're gorgeous, you are!" at me. I was charmed by a Starbucks barista in Vancouver who, on my second visit to the coffee shop, noted that this time around I didn't order whipped cream on my coffee. I expressed my surprise that he recalled my coffee from the day before since he'd never seen me before, and he replied "I didn't remember the coffee. I remembered you". Simply, utterly, charming, my friends.

I must caution that there are things that are NOT charming. Grabbing any body part uninvited is not charming. Someone told me recently that this happened to them at a local nightclub and all I could think was that whatever man did that to me would be grabbing his own parts after my knee had connected with them. Making comments that are rude, overtly sexual, or more suggestive than the situation warrants isn't charming. It's just crass and frankly reeks of desperation, not charm.

There is also a dark side to charm, my friends. There are those who have learned to "be" charming, but who are not in fact charming at all. They use charm like a weapon to get what they want, and as opposed to using their charm to make you feel good they use their charm to pursue their own agendas. It can sometimes be initially difficult to discern if these ones are really charming or just using charm - but listen to your inner voice and you will know. If their charm seems to pump up their own ego before it even touches your own you have your first clue as to their charm quotient. I've had the good fortune to only ever encounter a couple of these characters, and the equally good sense to walk away.

So, there you go. I realize that not everyone will share my opinion on what constitutes charm. What one finds charming is going to vary a great deal from person to person, and I suppose there are people who don't find anyone or anything charming (which personally I think is a bit sad, but that's just me - a world without charm would be pretty dull in my opinion). I suppose I also find charm so appealing because if I know anything it's that I am not a charming person. I harbour no illusions about myself - I'm a pretty nice sort, can talk your ear off, and have a bit of a problem with shoes. What I don't have, though, is that ease with words and actions that is so charming, although I occasionally try (and end up looking a bit daft, I imagine). Often we find appealing that which we don't have in ourselves, and I guess for me that's charm. I've been lucky to have met so many charmers in my life, and I hope I meet many more. I hope you do, too, dear friends. They make the world a far more interesting, and, dare I say it, charming, place!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ringing in A New Year, Ashford Castle Style

When you think of New Year's Eve what do you think of? Where do you think of as the perfect place to ring in a new year? Until New Year's Eve 2010 I hadn't found a special place, a place to which I would love to return every year - but on December 31st, 2010, I found my special place. That place is Ashford Castle, County Mayo, Ireland.

When the touring company (Ireland Chauffeur Travel) we used to book our tour of Ireland suggested celebrating the new year at Ashford Castle we were intrigued, but we truly had no idea what a magical experience this would become. It was perhaps in many ways the ultimate defining moment of a holiday that held dozens of defining moments. It encompassed all that we found delightful in Ireland, from the beautiful setting to the wonderful people, both staff and other guests. Ashford Castle epitomizes all that is special about Ireland, and perhaps it was here that I first realized how deeply in love I had fallen with this country.

Ashford Castle is a magnificent hotel, but calling it a hotel seems almost demeaning. It is a resort of the grandest style, with acres of land around it and natural beauty that astounds. The staff are professional and helpful without being obsequious, which is a charming trait I found in people all over Ireland. They have an uncanny way of making you feel at home even if you are surrounded by 5-star luxury (and I contrast this to London, where in many places the goal seems to be to make you feel a bit out of place).

The New Year's celebration at Ashford is a 2-day standard package, meaning that for those two days you will be with a defined number of other guests. What is so lovely about this is that there is a finite number of people present and over those two days faces become familiar and you begin to chat and make friends. It begins to feel less and less like a hotel stay and more and more like you are celebrating a holiday in the midst of a very large and diverse family.

When you arrive at the castle you are greeted with mulled wine, and over the course of two days kept supplied in copious amounts of champagne that are included in your package. Servers with trays of champagne flutes just appear, and who was I to decline? I've never drunk so much champagne in my life and came home with a decided taste for the stuff, which could become an expensive habit. Food appears at regular intervals - tea time snacks of finger sandwiches and scones, and breakfasts of the hugest variety. There are activities to participate in - falconry, boat cruises on the lake, archery - or you can just kick back and hang out in the lounge.

New Year's Eve in particular is an amazing event. It kicks off with cocktails in the lounge, followed by dinner in the hotel's lovely dining room,. The fare is of the highest quality, and carefully prepared and served. The afternoon prior to dinner you are invited into the hotel's wine cellar to select your wine for the evening meal, which my husband did with glee (I think he's waited his entire life for this sort of invitation). The dinner and following dance are a black-tie event, so my husband had a tuxedo tailored in London and I purchased a floor-length evening gown at Selfridges - the first such designer gown I've ever owned. My daughter had a lovely black velvet dress and feather capelet, and when we swept downstairs for the meal I think we felt the grandest we've ever felt, anywhere. With all the other guests similarly attired the atmosphere is festive indeed. After finishing the wonderful dinner we moved into the hotel sitting room area where a wooden dance floor had been installed and a band was beginning to play. The band played a medley of big band, swing, and even rock music (us Canadians were delighted when Michael Buble songs were added to the mix). My daughter, a budding trumpeter, was especially taken with the handsome blonde lead singer who also happens to play a wicked trumpet. As midnight grew closer they announced that the countdown would be led by a special guest. It turned out to be a gentleman we had met earlier that evening who had modestly told us he is a "performer". What he had neglected to mention is that he is the puppeteer who has been behind Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird on Sesame Street since the show began. So, it was Oscar who counted in the New Year, and at the stroke of twelve there were balloons, champagne, and kisses. Almost immediately we began to see flashes and hear popping noises and realized that the fireworks display over the lake had begun. We rushed outside, me in my long gown and Jimmy Choo strappy silver sandals, champagne flute in hand, to stand in the damp grass and ooh and aah with everyone else as 2011 began.

The rest of that evening is a bit of a blur of champagne and laughing and dancing until 2 am. The rest of that hotel stay was packed with boat rides, archery, falconry, more wine, more champagne, Irish coffees, new friends, Irish music sing-songs (at which we were welcomed as "special guests from Canada"), and a general feeling of goodwill and anticipation about a new year. I imagine Ashford Castle is lovely at any time of year, and I know I will visit it again, perhaps in the summer next time. I am so very happy, though, that my first experience of Ashford was for the beginning of a new year - because it is a very special place to celebrate a very special occasion.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog, The 70's Band Disc

It always seems that on weekends my blogging turns to thoughts of music. For some reason this past week I have been on a seventies band/music kick, and I have no idea why. I woke up one morning with the insane need to listen to Heart's "Crazy On You", a song I'd never thought much about or realized I even liked. I suspect I heard it somewhere and it stuck in my head, and off I went.

So, in my typical slightly obsessive - oh, let's call it "passionate", I like that word better! - fashion I was off and running headlong into a week of seventies flashbacks (interesting because I don't even remember the seventies - I was alive then but apparently not really taking notice of much). So, here's what I've been spinning this week. My poor kid is likely bloody tired of it being played loudly at all hours. Sorry, cupcake, but you know your mom!

First up, the song that started it all this week. These ladies are actually pretty phenomenal. I had no idea I like them as much as I apparently do. I even put this on my iPod. Go figure.

Heart - Crazy On You

Next up is a band I've always known I liked, but haven't listened to much in recent years. Their musical craftsmanship is astounding in my opinion, though, and they have a certain intensity I adore. Besides, Lindsay Buckingham is kinda hot. Never knew I thought that, either!

Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way

And now we come to a classic seventies band. My husband has always been a big fan of these guys, and for those laidback easy listening kind of days they are truly the best. Just kind of dreamy feeling, you know?

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Have You Ever Seen The Rain

For some reason I've always loved this song. It was on the "Forrest Gump" soundtrack but I'd heard it before that, of course. It's just always stuck in my head. I love the line "Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then" - freaking brilliant. Pure poetry, and I've thought that exact some thing, too.

Bob Seger - Against the Wind

Finally, a Canadian band, and a true classic at that. Someone has pointed out to me that this song is from the 80's, but to me Geddy Lee and the boys will always scream "seventies". So, as per usual my feelings on this trump accuracy. Love the song, love the lyrics, almost always make me cry. Haven't you ever wanted to freeze a moment in time? I have. I still do.

Rush - Time Stand Still

Right, thought I was done but I'm going to include one more video just because I can, and because I really like this song. Heard a cover of it recently by some new young artist and while it was okay it doesn't hold a candle to the original...

Heart - Alone

And there you have it. That's been some of my playlist this past week. I must admit I do have an ulterior motive for posting these. I'm kind of hoping sharing them will get them the hell out of my head and into yours so I can move on to some new musical obsession (passion, dammit!). Like all good viruses it really just wants to spread, so if you find yourself humming one of these this weekend you can thank me. Or blame me, if you prefer - either way, I'm cool with it!

Friday, April 8, 2011

The End of Innocence

Shortly after I finished high school and started university I became involved with Canada's anti-nuclear movement. Many people are surprised when I tell them this. They are not surprised that I was an activist, but rather that Canada even had an anti-nuclear movement. We did, though, in the early 80's when the USA was planning to test cruise missiles on Canadian soil. Many Canadians, myself included, objected to what we saw as our complicity in promoting nuclear weaponry, and thus the Canadian anti-nuclear movement was ignited.

I was eighteen at the time, and, without a doubt, hopelessly and relentlessly idealistic. I revelled in the meetings and strategy sessions. I delighted in the company I kept, a diverse group of young students and older people from all different walks of life. I felt a common goal and purpose. I was, at that time, a member of many such advocacy groups, like Greenpeace. I was involved in politics and I was always questioning and challenging.

I was also going through profound personal changes. I had recently taken on a dramatic personal transformation, having cut my long auburn hair into a crazy style and having it dyed a kaleidoscope of colours - pink, black, yellow. I was dressing in the way known as "new wave" back then, although it was more an amalgam of punk and what we now call goth - tight black skirts, black bondage boots, and black lipstick. I was showing on the outside how different I felt on the inside, I suppose - I did not want to be "like everyone else" in any sense.

In the fall of that year it was announced that Helen Caldicott, the Australian physican and ardent anti-nuclear campaigner, was coming to my city to speak. I was beyond excited, and quickly signed up to be an usher at her talk. She was one of my heroes, someone I found inspirational beyond words, and someone I wished to emulate. As the day of her talk grew nearer I became more and more excited, and when the night finally arrived I arrived at the old church where she would speak extra early to do my job. I dressed carefully, teasing my hair up extra high (people who saw me that night said I looked like a  colourful exotic bird), and wearing some of my most unusual clothing pieces, items with chains and metal rivets.

I performed my job as usher well, I think,  and I was pleased that so many people in my city had come out to hear her speak. As one of the rewards for volunteering I was granted a seat in the front row, and, finally, when the last person was seated and she was about to begin, I crept into my seat to await the words of one of the people I respected the most.

When she began I was enthralled. She spoke of cruise missiles, and of the movement. She began to speak of people in the movement, and of how we needed to protest and strategize. She then said this : "We need to come to these protests in our business suits and our Sunday best - not looking like aliens" - and at that moment, dear friends, she looked straight at me, sitting in the front row. I couldn't have shrunk back quicker if I'd been shot with an arrow. I was thunderstruck. I was devastated. I was heartbroken. There I was, crazy colourful hair, black lipstick and black clothing. She meant me. She meant that I was the opposite of what the movement needed.

Now, so many years later, I understand her point. She was trying to say that the movement needed to appeal to a wide audience and not appear to be entirely devised of counter-culture "freaks". At the time, though, her words killed something in me that was never to be regained. I slunk out of the church that night, not bothering to meet her after her talk or get her autograph. I still respected her ideals, but she was no longer my personal hero. I was stung to the core, and hurt beyond words.

I went home and cried that night. I attended a couple more anti-nuclear meetings but saw things with new eyes and a new cynicism. I saw young idealistic people being encouraged by older people to attempt things that could end up in criminal charges (the older people in the movement being quite willing to see the younger ones take the fall for these actions). I saw older men using the group to prey upon young idealistic women. I had always seen the good in the movement but now I saw the bad, and I eventually stopped going to the meetings altogether. Any of the innocence I'd had about it, and all the idealism, had been drained away the night I sat in the front row of that church.

Over time, as I mention above,  I came to understand her words and why she said them. I also came to realize that eventually I would have become cynical about the people in the movement and their personal agendas and motivations, but that it likely would have taken longer. In a way I suppose she did me a favour and introduced me to my own cynicism which had previously always taken a back seat to my idealism. Back then, though, I felt I had suffered a profound loss. I felt something had been stripped away, and it had. My idealism had died, and not at the hands of some politician or bureaucrat or police officer. It died in a church, listening to my hero. I can't help but think that that is the saddest way of all for innocence to die.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Little Treasures

A couple of days ago I was tidying up the house after my daughter had left for school. She had left her breakfast dishes downstairs on the coffee table as usual, and while I was picking them up and inwardly complaining about her messiness I found an origami flower. For a moment I was going to toss it into the trash, until I realized that not everyone just finds origami treasures hidden in various spots in their home. You see, dear friends, I do.

A few years ago a new friend came into our lives. He met my husband through work but very quickly became a family friend, and, just as quickly, became family. This friend has many wonderful qualities, but perhaps one of the most endearing is his ability to do origami, and his interest in sharing this talent with children. Almost immediately after meeting my daughter he began teaching her to fold, supplying her with paper and books. It soon became tradition that he would show up for our frequent dinner meetings with a new origami book, kit, or papers, and they would spend time in the restaurants frantically folding before our meals arrived.

Our friend was very pleased that my daughter seemed to have a knack for this art. He says she has a special gift with spatial relationships (I'm not even entirely clear what this means, but apparently it's good), and this has enabled her to master some fairly difficult origami pieces. Over the years her folding has both intensified and grown more elaborate, with flowers quickly becoming some of her favourite pieces. She has folded papers for waiters and waitresses, chefs and concierges. She has folded for teachers, friends, and, just recently, her first boyfriend. She has folded for us too, of course, and presented them to us as gifts. She folds when she is bored, or when she is happy, and, sometimes, when she is worried, she seems to fold to relax.

My favourite origami pieces, though, are the ones I just find around the house. A spare bit of paper, a post-it note, or even a bookmark can be rapidly folded into a flower or a bird and left sitting on a table or sofa. She will fold them without even thinking about it, her little hands remembering every crease and bend. Then she will just leave them behind as she goes off to her day, and I find them as I go about mine. Many times I've just put them aside or tossed them out and not even thought about it, but the other day I did. It occurred to me that one day when she has left home for good there will be no tiny origami flowers left behind for me to find, and no tiny paper birds on the floor to pick up. What I've taken for granted for years will cease to happen in my home, and she will instead fold these little treasures and leave them behind to be found by her room-mates, her partner, and perhaps, some day, her own children. Instead of tossing the origami flower into the trash that day I picked it up and placed it gently on the table for when she returned home. I realized that every single bit of folded paper is a little treasure, as is every day I have with her.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why It's Okay To Take Risks and Be A Fool

This Friday my best friend will say good-bye to one of her dearest friends, someone who has left this world far too soon and too young. A couple of days ago my friend and I were talking about this tragic event, and about what it means to those who are left behind. Having lost both my parents in recent years I've learned a few things about loss, and one of the lessons I've learned is the need to embrace life. The problem with embracing life, of course, is the risk that it involves. I'd like to share some thoughts about risk, and about life.

After my mother died I went through a very bleak time. In fact I became convinced that I was seriously ill. I would wake up every night at about 3 am with severe abdominal pain. I could not eat, and I could not sleep. Gradually the pain took over my waking hours, and I consulted emergency rooms, doctors, and specialists. It took an ultrasound, an endoscopy, two CT scans, and several vials of blood to learn that what I had was a serious case of unresolved and unaddressed grief. I had no idea what grief and loss can do, or the pain it can cause - not just emotional pain, but true physical pain (this is a good lesson to remember, too, friends, if it ever happens to you). It wasn't until I had a few sessions with a therapist that the pain ceased, and just as gradually as it had taken over my life it disappeared.

After that experience I made some decisions. The biggest was the decision to embrace life in every way I could. I have always been a person of passions (some in my life call them obsessions). I cannot like something "a little bit" - I am all in, or all out. When I discover something I love - a country, perhaps, a fast car, or a fabulous pair of shoes - I embrace it with an intensity that can overwhelm other people. Recently I realized how foolish this could make me seem, and I began to realize how very okay I am with appearing foolish. You see, the opposite end of the spectrum is feeling nothing - no passion and no intensity. I am sure there is a middle ground but that doesn't seem enough to me - why aim for mediocrity when you can embrace the far end of the pendulum? Is there a risk? Sure. You might appear foolish to others. You might seem obsessive. And sometimes it might cause you pain when you risk too much, open yourself too wide, and find yourself turned away. But what is life without risk? Perhaps there is no greater truism than "if nothing is risked then nothing is gained".

When I wrote about someone recently I decided to contact them and tell them what I had written. I did it with trepidation and some fear about appearing foolish, especially since this is someone I had not seen in about 30 years. The response was incredibly gratifying, as they said my words had made their day, and given them great pleasure. They went  away from that exchange happy, and so did I. It could have gone badly. They could have responded poorly, or not at all. The point, though, isn't how it ended up but rather that I took the step at all - that leap of faith, that risk that could go either way, that opportunity to appear foolish. I took that chance and let someone else see my words, my thoughts, and my heart, and I am so very glad I did. I would have been glad even if the end result had been different.

There have been days in recent months when I beat myself up pretty good about appearing foolish, and about being embarrassed for things I'd said or done (you know, like telling the guy at the body shop where my car is being repaired that the car is my baby and that I cried when she was damaged). As of this Friday, though, I am absolving myself of all this and forgiving myself. As my friend says good bye to her beloved friend I will embrace life just a bit more, forgive my own passionate and obsessive nature, and continue to take those risks as they come into my life, even if in the end I appear to be a fool. Because that's what life is, dear friends - it's all just a big gamble, and you may as well go big - or go home.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Falconry, Flight, and Fantasy At Ashford Castle

When we chose to stay at Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ireland, we knew it would be a spectacular place to spend New Year's Eve 2010. We knew the castle offered many activities, but it wasn't until our driver Kevin suggested falconry that we considered it. I'm now eternally grateful to Kevin for this idea as it became one of the most unforgettable moments of our holiday, and I suspect it's one my daughter will treasure forever.

It was on the morning of January 2nd, 2011 that we left the castle for the short walk to Ireland's School of Falconry . Falconry is a sport rich in history, having been in existence since at least 2000 BC. In medieval Europe falconry was a sport of the nobles, and was a very popular leisure pursuit. It's truly one of those things that has a very old-world feel to it as it's never really caught on in North America, and frankly, after experiencing it, I have no idea why.

The falconer we met with was a young woman from America. She came to Ireland to train in falconry because falconry is not an easy career to pursue in North America. She gave us an introduction to the facility, showed us the birds, and after some explanation introduced us to our hawks. My husband had decided to be the official photographer, so my 11-year old daughter and I would fly the hawks. I thought it would be interesting - but I had no idea how amazing an experience it would be.

Our hawks were young Harris hawks named Samhradh (Gaelic for summer) and Fomhar (Gaelic for autumn). The falconer had given us leather gloves and a quick lesson in holding the hawks, but it wasn't until the hawk was actually placed on your hand that you realized that this might well be an experience unlike any other.

As humans we are used to our bond with certain animals, particularly mammals like cats and dogs. One look in a hawk's eyes, though, and you see a sort of canny intelligence that seems very unlike our own. These are creatures who are obviously very clever - and very, very focused. I thought we'd be flying the hawks inside the falconry school, but the joy is that you are able to fly the hawks in the forest - like walking a dog, but so much better. The hawks launch from your hand at your command and flap through the sky. In the forest they dive bomb through the trees, occasionally landing on a tree to await your command to return (and the reward of a bit of raw chicken, of course - clever animals don't work for free). It was astonishing to see them maneuver through the dense forest, and to see them on occasion consider whether returning to your hand was worthwhile or if the forest held better offers (the falconer said that sometimes they do take off, leading to a merry chase and larger enticements to return).

The hawks seem so large and yet are so very light on your hand, as if they are all feathers and beady eyes. Their claws and beaks are formidable, and yet these Harris hawks seem so very trustworthy and calm. My daughter was absolutely taken with them, and she performed her duties as a falconer even better than I, reacting calmly when her hawk would begin to bate (which means a furious flapping of the wings while trying to escape your clutches). She took to the hawks like some children take to dogs, and I could see a light in her eyes as she communed with a species very different from our own.

The flight and walk take about an hour, and what a joyous hour it is. All you hear is the flapping of wings and laughter as the hawks cast off and return, occasionally choosing to return to different people, meaning that at times we would find ourselves with each other's hawks. My daughter learned that if she cast her hawk off just right it would fly right by my head, ruffling my hair with it's wing tips and making me duck every time. This led to raucous laughter, of course, and repeated attempts to fly her hawk right at my head. Her hawk complied to a point and seemed in on the joke, often coming close enough for me to feel feathers on my face before diverting off in another direction.

At the end of the hour we walked and flew our hawks back to the falconry school where they would enjoy a well-deserved rest. Our falconer allowed me to hold the resident owl, an astonishingly beautiful bird named Dingle. He makes the hawks seem especially light as he is a phenomenally heavy bird. Dingle is not all feathers and amber-coloured round eyes, but rather a very solid creature. He was raised by a woman and as such sees women as other owls. He does not recognize men and children as equals, and thus only I, as the sole woman in our party, could hold him. It was truly an honour, but not one I could maintain for long as his weight made my arm hurt, and to be quite  honest the look in his eyes was a bit unnerving as it was just a bit more predatory than the hawks'.

When we left the school of falconry the falconer commended us both on our abilities, but was especially pleased with my daughter. She said many children find the hawks frightening or overwhelming, but was amazed at how my daughter communicated with the hawks and remained calm regardless of their behaviour. I could have told her this. My daughter truly seems to have an ability to connect with animals that is beyond explanation, and it seems species is not a barrier to this talent. The falconer gave my daughter two feathers from the hawks to remember the experience, and the feathers came home with us from Ireland, of course.

As I said at the beginning of this post I don't understand why falconry has never caught on in North America. It's an incredible experience, with an almost fantasy-like quality, and if it was more widely available here I think many people would find it as exhilarating as we did. It seems, though, that this just may be another of those experiences that you need to travel to find. If you want to try it then I can think of no better place to do so than at Ashford Castle, Cong, County Mayo. If you do go then please give Samhradh and Fomhar a bit of chicken for us, and tell them we miss those beady little eyes. And be wary of Samhradh as he may have developed a taste for flying at people's heads...

Monday, April 4, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favourite (Canadian) Things

I am always surprised by which of my blog entries seem to attract the most readers. The ones I've posted about music I listen to have always seemed so absolutely self-indulgent, and yet get an incredible number of people reading them. You can only imagine my shock when I discovered that one of my most popular blog entries ever was the one about my favourite new things. It seems that I'm not the only one out there who appreciates fabulous shoes, bags, and jewelry. That entry was written shortly after my return from England and Ireland and as such focused exclusively on things I found there and loved. It seems only fair to give equal treatment to some of my Canadian favourites. Some of these you will already know if you are Canadian but I've attracted some international readers who haven't been introduced to these things yet, so it is my pleasure to do so!

Let's start with a Canadian standard of recent years - Lululemon. I was skeptical of Lululemon initially, but a couple of years ago they won me over completely. I bought some of their yoga-inspired crop pants and tops to wear to the gym and realized I'd never before worn something so comfortable and yet looked so good! Lululemon began in Vancouver but has become an international phenomenon. I was shocked when in London my daughter was wearing one of the ubiquitous Lulu hoodies but no one there recognized it. I think there will be some orders from London flying into Lululemon, though, as the personal shopper we used loved the hoodie and wanted to know where she could get one for her daughter. If you are Canadian, you know Lululemon, and I bet you own some. If you aren't Canadian, you'll learn about them soon enough - and trust me, you'll want some, too!

Okay, moving on to another Canadian favourite. There is a clothing store and website that I suspect many people overlook, but their clothing is reasonably priced, decent quality, and pretty darn hip, too. That place is Suzy Shier. I know a lot of women will protest their clothing lines are too young - except that I've found things that would suit almost any age range. I happen to find some of their stuff pretty fab!

And now Plum - another clothing store, but this one doesn't sell much of their stuff online. You have to actually go into their store. I know, how old school, eh? But that kind of makes it cool since you can only find them in a few cities so it's something to look forward to if you head to those places. A little more expensive than Suzy Shier, but amazing clothes, and most are made and designed in Canada!

And here we have Second Denim. This is a denim company out of Montreal, and I thank god for them daily. Well, not literally, I'm an atheist, but I thank whoever is the genius that invented yoga jeans. They fit like a glove, make me look skinny, and when I'm wearing them I've even had people comment on my long legs. I'm 5'3",  people, and long legs are not one of my physical attributes. It's all due to these amazing jeans, which are reasonably priced and the most wonderful denim I've ever purchased. You can even do yoga in them (well, not me, I don't do yoga, and never will, but I could). Don't ask how many pairs I own. I'm not telling you.

Last, but most definitely not least, Fluevog Shoes. This is another company started in Vancouver, and it's been around for decades. Why two examples of their shoes? Because I own both of these, my friends, and just seeing pictures of them makes me feel a bit quivery all over. Imagine what wearing the actual shoes does to me. Not cheap but not as ridiculously expensive as some "designer" shoes, fabulous quality, attention to detail, and a website that a girl could drool over for days. What more could you want?!?

So, there you go. Once again I have shared my incredibly shallow love of clothing and shoes. I'm getting pretty shameless about it, though, since it seems many of you reading this blog share those feelings. Either I'm not as shallow as I thought, or we are all pretty darn shallow - you decide. Any way you look at it, you can find some pretty fabulous clothing in Canada - so get out there and get yourself some!