Monday, April 21, 2014

The Gift and Wisdom of Mentors or: don't try to be a rose when you're really a daisy!

“If you ask an Irishman for directions, he might be quick to answer, Well if I were going there, I would not start here.” 
― Steve Stockman

I was going to post pictures of all the snow in my backyard that separates me from my Magnolia  - I sunk knee deep in it trying to make a Laura Ingalls-like-trek to the far end of the garden - but then I had other thoughts.

That is the joy of having this kind of a whirling-dervish kind of mind.


What I got to thinking about was mentors.

If we are lucky, we have mentors throughout our lives.

Fact: Mentoring positively influences productivity and job satisfaction.

They can be a friend who takes an interest in our well-being and shares a piece of what they know with us or shows us the ropes.  My friend Barbie taught me to swim the crawl at a birthday party out at the Causeway when I was a kid.

Pat Garcelon taught me early leadership through the Brownies.

Mrs. McConkey and Mrs. Garnett were two beloved teachers at St. Stephen Elementary School who never appeared to be bored when I would take them some of my writing to read, even though I am sure they often were.

My Professor and then Thesis Adviser Larry Wisniewski taught me to think critically, write better and be a smart ass.

My work colleague Gary taught me to care about the people we were working on behalf of.

Other colleagues like Martine, Jean and Geraldine shared their knowledge freely and became good personal friends.

Others further ahead gave me a hand up - Karen, Edith, Don, Dave.  And no surprise - they gave a lot of people a hand up, because that's what dyed-in-the-wool mentors do.

Some became my on-site therapists along the way, such as Roger and Michel, who stopped me from jumping more then once!

And I was mentored by many in the non-profit world who worked tirelessly on behalf of others for often very little pay.

Nowadays, I am humbled by the people mentoring me and supporting me in my new life.

Mostly, though, I would say I was mentored by the people who worked for me.  They were always so bright, so much smarter than I was, that all I pretty much had to do was set them off and then get the hell out of their way as they did whatever it was ten times better than I ever would.

What got me thinking about this today?

I was reading an article that asked: "What is the best piece of wisdom you ever got from a mentor?"

I didn't have to think very long.

It was 2001 and I had made a dreadful career mistake.  I had changed jobs for money.  My personal experience in life is that when you change jobs for money alone, you are never bringing  the "whole" you to the job, just the mercenary part of yourself.

I had decided to leave and return to my old job.  And while I knew I was making the right decision, I was embarrassed and knew that most people were thinking that not only was I taking a step backwards, I was obviously a pretty flighty person.  And probably they were right on both counts.

But lucky for me, I ran into another mentor, Madeleine.  She had recently retired and had no idea that I'd left my old job to begin with.  I told her of the change and my unhappiness and of my decision to go back to the old job.

"Well of course you're going back," she said.  "You're took a job that required the personality of a hothouse flower.  You, my dear, are a daisy in the field - you need to be out there spreading seeds and being you."

I never looked back and I was never embarrassed about my decision after she said that.

And did remember her advice when I was making my decision to leave my old job last year.  I needed to be spreading seeds all over the place again.

And when my article appeared in the Globe and Mail in late December, the illustrator, who knew nothing about me, painted me walking away in a field of daisies.

I only noticed that for the first time a moment ago when I happened to look up at the picture.  Talk about a coincidence....


.... or not.

I'd like to hope that I'd share similar wisdom if asked a similar kind of question by someone seeking my advice.  

I do know one thing - you have to pay it forward.  I owe it to the people who mentored me along the way to reach out to help others when asked.

So my question today:  have you been mentored in your life and do you serve as a mentor for others?

Have a wonderful day out there!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

It has been a long winter.

But this morning, creeping ever forward, I can see grassy patches battling mounds of snow.

Out my bedroom window, my honeysuckle vine is beginning to come to life.

Last summer

I can see magnolia buds at the far end of my garden and if I don't sink too far down in the snow en route, I will go and visit it.

If New Year's Day is a chance for new beginnings, Easter Sunday is all about re-birth.

The winter and cold always does give way to spring and warmth.

I saw some green leaves poking up yesterday, so won't be long now...

Life may slumber, but it always does wake up.

I don't know about you, but I take great comfort in that.

I take great comfort in the fact that matter gets transformed.

I take great comfort in the fact that I am a mass of molecules that is not separate from the other masses of molecules around me, if only I was able to see that.

I take comfort that my two children are home this Easter Sunday, because I know that won't always be the case.

It is a beautiful sunny Easter Sunday, and I am glad.

I'll end with a poem I have always loved, Easter, by Joyce Kilmer.  For this fine day, it seems very apropos:

Easter by Joyce Kilmer
The air is like a butterfly
With frail blue wings.
The happy earth looks at the sky
And sings.

I wish you and yours a blessed day.

xoxo wendy

Saturday, April 19, 2014

KIngsbrae Gardens featured in this month's Victoria Magazine!

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.

I picked up the May/June issue of Victoria magazine, attracted as I was by the subtitle Return to France and the promise of beautiful images of one of my favourite countries.

So imagine my delight when I turned the pages and found a lovely spread on one of my favourite places to visit in New Brunswick, Kingsbrae Gardens.  I've posted on Kingsbrae before, but wanted to post again, because these gardens, and the gorgeous town in which they are located is worth a visit, and want to give you all plenty of time to plan your 2014 trip!  St. Andrews is only 6 hours from Boston, 10 from NYC, 10 from Montreal.

Some photos from the magazine:

And my own:

eating outside, looking at the gardens and the ocean in the distance:

My favourite experience ever at the Gardens was taking my kids to the live ladybug release.  Every morning at 10:30 in the summer, the staff releases live ladybugs in the rose garden and they let kids (and whoever else wants to try!) place the ladybugs on the roses.

Pick up the magazine, drool over the photos (and of course the photos from France) and then consider booking your own trip to New Brunswick!

You may recall I mentioned the Algonquin Resort in last summer's post:

Well it's re-opened and a number of us are heading there on May 3rd for a night of good food and fellowship and to check out the wonderful work they have done to bring this jewel back to its glory.
I'll have a full review of the hotel the week after.

I will say that St. Andrews rivals any resort town on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada - it is charming, safe and quiet.  Whale watching tours will take you out into the Bay of Fundy, where you will see all kinds of whales and porpoises, including giant Finback whales. The exchange rate is in the favour of all you lovely Americans and if you are coming, let me know - I might pop down for a pot o' tea with you!

There is an amazing 18 hole golf course that overlooks the ocean.  Lovely little restaurants and gift shops.

Fifteen miles down the road you can visit a chocolate factory in the town where I grew up, St. Stephen.  It is one of my favourite spots for a day trip and I can't wait to go on May 3rd, but I also plan to go later in July to visit the gardens at their peak (though to be truthful, there is no bad time to visit Kingsbrae!)

Hope you have a lovely Saturday - stay safe out there!

xoxo wendy

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday with John Donne and Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I'll be back tomorrow with some stories, including my protesting in front of our Legislature, but given the day, I'd like to continue with my tradition (well it's a tradition now) of sharing one of my favourite poems, Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward, by John Donne.

John Donne: Poems

John Donne doesn't get a lot of face time in the blogger world, but he'll always have a corner in mine.

Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc'd with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They'are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.

And one of my favourite authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has passed away at 87.  The book One Hundred Years of Solitude would have to be in my list of the top 5 books I ever read.

image - Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.

He is famously quoted as saying: Be calm. God awaits you at the door.
I am sure God, and a whole lot of other people, were indeed waiting...  RIP Mr. Marquez - and thank you!

Have a blessed Friday and stay safe out there!

xoxo wendy

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The healing power of muscari...

Hi everyone!

I hope your week is going well!  I am busy here, both house-wise and work-wise.  I am about to undertake a small consulting job, which I am quite looking forward to.

I have not really decorated for Easter, though if truth be told, it is a pretty quick affair, as I don't put much out.

However, I did steal an idea from the wonderful blog An Anglo in Quebec, and filled a soup tureen with muscari, or grape hyacinth.  Donna got her flowers at the grocery store, I found mine at the local hardware store and they have cheered my up considerably, especially since - not a word of lie - it snowed all morning again.  I feel like I am in an endless loop of the winter in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers....

My handiwork:

Honestly, just seeing the muscari in my little sitting room is making me giddy, given how long it will likely be before I even see a crocus blossom!

And if I had planned well enough, I could have bought Barry the matching tie:


They got me all dreamy about fields of them...

River of Muscari at the Keukenhof. Also beautiful with yellows of daffodills.

Dreaming of violet-blue Muscari and the scent of sweet Phlox and Daphne x burkwoodii in May.

Spring garden ~ so ready for some pretty flowers!! Come on Spring time!!!

I think tomorrow I am going to steal Donna's idea for store bought hydrangeas....

I have never used my tureen for anything but soup, but that is all changing now...

How about you?  Are you all decorated for Easter?  Or are you celebrating Passover?  I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Arianna Huffington's Thrive

I must admit that I am a huge fan of Arianna Huffington.  I like a smart woman and she certainly fits in that category and I like a trailblazer, and she certainly fits into that category as well.

A few weeks ago I caught an interview with her about how out of whack her life had gotten a few years ago.

Arianna Huffington, Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life

It had gotten so bad that she actually fainted (and cut her head on the way down) from sheer exhaustion, prompting her to step back and make some major changes in her life.

The result is her new book Thrive, which is a nice bookend to the book I discussed a couple of weeks ago, Greg Marcus' Busting Your Corporate Idol.

Both books point to the need to create and celebrate a third metric for defining success in one's life, one that is different, though complementary, to the current societal definitions of success: power and money.  In fact, she likens success to a three-legged stool.  If we only have power or money, the stool will eventually topple over, because we will be missing our health, our spirituality and our sense of community.

Huffington divides the third metric into four pillars and discusses each in depth in the book:

  • well-being
  • wisdom
  • wonder
  • giving back

For those working long hours and who will continue to work long hours, this book is a must, as like Marcus' book, it offers practical advice to help add balance into one's life.  

The book is well written and thoughtful, and cites a myriad of research to back up her arguments.

Huffington spends a tremendous amount of the book discussing the need for sleep and critiquing the current cultural obsession within the workplace of bragging about how little sleep one gets or needs. 

The impact that lack of sleep has on one's health and one's decision-making ability is discussed at length and it should give anyone pause.

What the book really is, however, is a call to action, especially for women.  Huffington argues that the current work world simply isn't working and that it is up to us all collectively to define a new way of working that is more humane.  In a recent interview with Time magazine, Huffington discusses this:

There are lots of new books with advice for young women. How do you think young women should navigate that push and pull between starting a family and ramping up their careers?

I think a lot of young women look at my generation and say we don’t want to do it this way. They say, ‘we don’t want to burn out in the process of climbing the career ladder. We don’t want to make those sacrifices in our health and happiness. They’re prioritizing giving.’ But I have a bigger dream and wish for all women where we lead a third women’s revolution. We don’t just want to be at the top of the world, we want to change the world because it’s not working. I think it’s a stunning statistic, that women in stressful jobs have 40% increased risk of heart disease.

I think you will see the leadership for implementing this third metric begin in smaller companies and in the private sector in general, who often better understand the connection between healthy happy employees and profits and who are more likely to buy in when they see the success of other companies adopting these practices.

I also think you will see it in younger people who, as Huffington notes above, having seen their parents tied to the workplace 24-7, are choosing more and more to eschew promotions in favour of a life that allows them to go home at the end of the day without responding to email all evening or reading and writing reports.

My experience in the public sector was that there is lip-service paid to wellness programs, but the combination of workplace attrition and the pressure to produce results in short periods of time makes balance nearly impossible.  

For myself personally, the section that really spoke to me was wisdom.  During my career, I would see experienced workers retire or be replaced by younger employees, who were under tremendous pressure to produce results and advice.  Bosses would expect information to be pulled together rapidly - wasn't it all available online anyway? - and synthesized into quality results within hours.

But reading data, and having the experience to understand that the data might not tell the whole story are two different things.  I saw more and more bad decision-making, typically the result of rushed or flawed logic.  We have become instantaneous workplaces and just because we have information does not make us masters of it.  I think as more individuals retire we will see an increase in these bad decisions for awhile, not because the younger people are not as smart as their retiring counterparts, but because they will face increasing pressures from their CEOs to provide instant advice.

She also talks about digital detoxes and i think I may increase my time away from the computer, as my friend Naomi has recently decided.

I really recommend this book, and I also recommend checking out the third metric section on Huffington Post

As I said when I reviewed Greg's book, had I read this or Huffington's book, I might have implemented some changes that would have averted burn out and one of those things I would have implemented was saying no.

Have a great Tuesday and stay safe out there!

xoxo wendy

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is the internet impacting our ability to read books?

Hi everyone - hope you had fabulous weekend!  We went to see Captain America on Friday afternoon, cooked and cleaned yesterday and had our good friends Ben and Geraldine over for supper last night.

Today will be a quiet day: a walk I hope if the weather holds, some more spring cleaning, revisions on my book.

And reading.

One of the greatest joys of my new life has been the luxury (and yes, for those of you who are working so hard, I am well aware it is a luxury!) of reading for pleasure again.

For the past ten years, I was working so hard that I really only had time to read work-related material and email (ack!); I was lucky if I was able to find time to get through 10 books a year.

When I started to read again for pleasure, I discovered that it was a muscle that had atrophied; I struggled to stay focused on what I was reading and not get up and run around and do ten other things.  I also felt guilty when I read, as if it was some naughty pleasure that had to be justified because I was always so behind in my work reading.  And not only that, I found I was so used to flitting around online that it seemed difficult to read linear text.

I'm not alone.

I read with interest an article in the Sydney Morning Herald: How the internet is making it harder to read books.

It turns out that our online world is impacting our brains' ability to read deeply.

The skimming and skipping about of digital reading is making it more difficult to read traditionally, despite evidence that demonstrates that we learn and retain more from reading materials in print, not online.

There is great alarm that if we do not help children to master both types of reading - online and traditional - we may create a generation of people who are in many ways incapable of wrapping their brains around complex text, creating what the article calls "twitter brains".

Attention Spans are declining - titles count

Instead, strategies need to be developed to help people have "bi-literate brains".

This is intriguing to me.  My daughter is an English literature major at university; though she is online constantly, she has developed the ability to read dense 18th and 19th century literature, although she concedes that is often easier to do if she is in a room without a computer calling to her (which, by the way, is no different than how the TV or local pub used to call my name when I was at university!).

My son, on the other hand, struggles with this.  He likes to read, but reads less and less unless he is really sucked into the story (and when he is he can get through some pretty dense stuff such as Tolkien).  My advice to him would be to read  5 pages a day of traditional text, to not let the muscle atrophy any further.

I recently read that Egmont Press has apparently abridged Winnie the Pooh for its story app in order to make it more action-oriented and shorter for today's children who don't have the attention span to get through the classic.

The story of Winnie-the-Pooh has been abridged for a new app because today's children have shorter attention spans

What would Pooh say to this?  "Oh Bother!"

This is an interesting topic and it has certainly given me food for thought.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this.

Are you seeing the effects of the online world in your ability to read and concentrate?

Are you seeing it with your children?

If yes, how are you combating it?

Have a great Sunday and stay safe out there!