Tag Archives: New Year’s

Goodbye 2016 – A look back at the year

The calendar has turned over a new page to 2017, so it’s time to say “Goodbye 2016” with a look back. At the end of this year, I felt a certain mixture of dread, melancholy and cynicism. It’s hardly the thing to get into the holiday spirit. And no wonder, looking at the first list of things that brought me grief and despair. Thank goodness for the things in the following 3 sections that soothed my soul (from grief), spurred me to action (instead of cynicism), and brought me joy or wonder (instead of despair).

Grief & Despair

We’ll start with the negatives first to get it out of the way.

  • Probably the thing that dismays me most about the Brexit vote and the US Election is the triumph of populism over intelligent and rational discussion in big political outcomes. The attacks on the “intellectual elite” have been so blindly fierce that I can’t help but parallel it to China’s Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward. When you can’t debate or discuss your opposing views using facts, logic and reason, it causes me great fear. “America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny” by Andrew Sullivan in the New York Magazine applies to more than just the US, it applies around the world in many countries. Just watch the next round of elections in countries around the world.
  • The ongoing civil war in Syria, causing the displacement of millions of their citizens. The fall of Aleppo in December is the most recent terrible milestone in that crisis. I know I can’t fully understand the roots of this conflict, or all the interconnecting web of factors at play that continue to stymie attempts for resolution. This excellent piece by Mark McKinnon of the Globe at least helped me to start to understand: The Grafitti Kids Who Sparked the Syrian War
  • That there had to be a Black Lives Matter movement to bring more mainstream coverage to an issue that’s long simmering. And the inability for many with the privilege to be sheltered from this reality to acknowledge their privilege in order to continue the conversation to make forward progress.
  • Terror attacks around the world. The maniacal Philippine president in his ruthless tactics in their war against drugs. The unnecessarily harsh law enforcement reaction to the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. All the terrible things that humans do to one another.
  • The death of so many artists this year. Music can have so much power in our lives. The right combination of melody, lyrics, and rhythm can stir us to move and dance, to fall in love, to stand and fight, or to cry for our loss. Actors and personalities allow us the fantasy of other lives, where their comedy and drama entertain us, and we are glad their plot points aren’t happening *to* us. The loss of these artists this year means the loss of the art they produce. The world feels dimmer without them.

Balms that soothe the soul

  • Belatedly discovering Maria Popova’s brilliant blog Brain Pickings.  Here is a place where thoughtful, intelligent reviews and commentary on literature, writing, writers and artists, and “big ideas” matter. She celebrated the blog’s 10th anniversary this year, and her “10 Lessons from 10 Years of Brain Pickings” hit me like a splash of cold water to the face. So much so that I bought the poster that adapted the first 7 lessons (from when the blog turned 7).
    Post of Brainpickings 7 Life Learnings
    Poster of Brainpickings 7 Life Learnings
  • Tai, my loving husband, is my best friend and confidante. And the best dad I could ever dream of for my girls. He is a true parent, both doing the fun things (building kites, bottle rockets) and the mind numbing tedious things (bed time herding, making school lunches, answering unending questions). He sets a great expectation of what they should expect and demand to be treated in their relationships.
  • E1’s lively imagination in her creative play. She is rarely one to say, “I’m bored” because she’s always making something up. Her flights of fancy never cease to make me smile.
  • Nuzzling into E2’s cheek after she sneaks onto my lap. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and her sweetness warms my heart.
  • The inspiring dedication of the groups of ordinary Canadian citizens who are sponsoring Syrian refugees to settle in Canada.
  • Having a great core group of friends who consistently make the effort to connect and spend time together. We swap parenting strategies, career advice, home advice…it all goes. Whether it’s trips to Great Wolf Lodge, camping, group date nights, excursions to Canada’s Wonderland, or house / swim parties, I’m grateful for our (real) social network.
  • Working at a great company where the work is enjoyable, the mission and our clients are aligned with the type of impact I want to make in the world, and a wonderful group of colleagues that I like, respect, and enjoy spending time with.

Invigorating

These are the things that spurred me to take action in certain areas of my life.

Digital Education for my children

The book Reclaiming Conversations: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle was transformative for me. It was the first I’ve come across that really discussed what was at the root of all these multifaceted symptoms of technology use that I’ve either felt and experienced personally, or read about. And then it pointed out more that I didn’t even realize. Some criticize this book as fear-mongering, ignoring the true benefits of technology. I took this book to be eye-opening and informative so that we use these tools with the fuller understanding of the potential downsides. It’s the book I purchased my own hardcopy after reading the library’s copy, and the book I’ve most recommended.

It’s particularly influencing how my husband and I are approaching the thorny issue of when to allow our daughters their own smartphones. Combined with the following particularly memorable or insightful items, my two actions were 1)putting away my phone more; and 2) refining my parenting strategy for smartphones and kids:

  • I Used to Be a Human Being” by Andrew Sullivan (again!) in New York Mag
  • 13, Right now” by Jessica Contrera in the Washington Post
  • The Binge Breaker” by Bianca Bosker in The Atlantic
  • The youtube video of Simon Sinek’s talk about Millennials in the Workplace (https://youtu.be/hER0Qp6QJNU) actually applies to all of us, both in our own personal behaviour, and in how we raise our kids.
  • The World Economic Forum published Yuhyun Park’s “8 Digital Skills all children need and a plan for teaching them“. While it’s more of a framework than a plan, it is a helpful way to categorize the different facets of Digital Citizenship (the ability to use digital technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways) so we can plan our own lessons at home.

Organizational Structure at my work

I decided to start up a book club at GrantBook, where I work, because I found many of my colleagues have a similar love of reading and discussing the ideas within. Peter, the cofounder of GrantBook, suggested this book based on a recommendation given to him — Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness by Frederic Laloux. Noone could have predicted the impact of this book on our company. We knew we had quite a unique company culture in the level of respect we had for each other, and how we operated. This book was able to articulate for us what some of our “secret sauce” factors were. And provided a vision on how to take it further so we’re operating as a “Teal” organization.

Some organizational theorists have different terms to describe similar concepts: Holacracy, Integral, Self-Management. I remember hearing about the concept of Holacracy back in 2012 or 2013 and thinking it was a crock of sh*t. But that’s a typical cynic’s reaction. I’ve dropped a lot of my cynicism in the last two years, and I’m really motivated by what our company can achieve together. Peter was a huge part of establishing our culture organically, but he is planning to start something else soon. We wanted to inoculate our company culture so it continues on being awesome regardless of what individuals are here or not. It’s been satisfying being one of the instigators to formalize what being a Teal organization means.

Joy and Wonder

Sometimes there are just things that make you stop, sit up, and take notice, because of the joy or wonder they inspire. These were the things that did it for me this year:

  • Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda deserves all the awards and accolades it receives. It is so multi-layered and dense, and yet so approachable in it’s contemporary form, that it’s a revelation. (“You want a revolution? I want a revelation!”) Ever since late 2015 I devoured the soundtrack, pored over the Hamilton Annotation Project analysis over on Genius, and watched countless Youtube videos. Watching it in Chicago in November was incredible, and made me love the musical even more.
  • OK Go’s music video for “Upside Down & Inside Out” continues their creative winning streak. Whenever I’m having a bad day, a dose of OK Go videos is a good way to kick out the grumblies.
  • Wake Up Rosetta! Who says science and astronomy doesn’t have heart? I nearly cried watching this recap story of the satellite Rosetta, which just finished a planned crash landing onto comet 67P. Sleep well, Rosetta and Philae! https://youtu.be/lVKFyFbfpOI
  • Viewing the Super Moon just above on the horizon at dusk was incredible. For those fleeting moments on November 14, the moon looked huge and golden orange against the clear eastern sky. It brought back memories of seeing a harvest full moon in Winnipeg in my teens. Looking down the flat highway to the prairie, the rising moon in the early evening light looked like it swallowed a quarter of the horizon.
  • Diving off the dock into the lake at a friend’s cottage, and then floating on my back was a real summer moment. I was so content lying in the water, the sounds of our kids muffled, while the sun filtered in and out of the clouds.
  • Watching live dance (National Ballet of Canada, La Sylphide and Cacti in particular; Fall for Dance North and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in particular) and theatre (ARC’s Pomona, Soulpepper’s Alligator Pie)
  • Finishing off our 1000 piece puzzle of candies over the holidays.
  • And finally, reading books brought me joy! Is there anything more wonderful than being transported away by great story, characters, and language? These were my reads of 2016 that rise to the top of the list:
    • The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle), Patrick Rothfuss
    • Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye
    • Carry On, Rainbow Rowell
    • The Martian, Andy Weir
    • When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Well, I have fresh hopes for 2017. May you and yours have more joy and wonder in 2017 than cause for grief and despair. Happy New Year.

~Jen

Three times crazy – doing the 2017 Polar Bear Dip

You would think that after doing the polar bear dip once, or even twice, that would be sufficient enough times to cross it off my bucket list of “things to do before I die”. And yet, I found myself agreeing once again in December to sign up for the 2017 Polar Bear Dip. Three times crazy, yes. But all the fundraising proceeds go towards Habitat For Humanity GTA, a wonderful charity helping to address the issue of affordable housing in our city. Thanks to my supporters, I raised over $485 for this cause, and that’s a downright amazing feeling I can get behind again.

Toronto Sunnyside Beach. January 1, 2017, 20 minutes to dip time (11:40am).

The sun was shining brightly. The temperature was downright balmy at +2°C, with only the slightest of wind blowing. I wasn’t nervous at all in the days and hours leading up to the event. Compared to the weather conditions of the last two years, this should be a piece of cake, right?

Unfortunately, my friend A, the instigator and leader of our team, was knocked out by a bad cold and couldn’t join us that day. Without our”Dipping in the Six” team glue, the other members and I ended up scattered through the rest of the crowd of dippers.

Five minutes to dip time

I start peeling off the layers of coats and clothes covering my skin from the elements. Suddenly the day doesn’t feel so balmy after all. There is no fooling your body about being in the Caribbean when you are standing in your bathing suit in +2°C temperature. Shivering commences and your butt cheeks and thighs clench in a failed attempt to save some of the heat escaping. I make my way to the dip entrance area.

Waiting for the countdown. With the sun it almost looks tropical!

Then after a couple of minutes, my body seems to be confused about whether it needs to shiver, or whether it actually is a nice day. There’s not a lot of time to contemplate, however, because I hear over the loudspeaker the countdown.

12 o’clock noon

And suddenly people are charging forward into the lake. I follow at a modest pace behind, until suddenly *splash* my feet are in the water.

IT FEELS JUST AS COLD AS THE PAST 2 YEARS!

My brain is urging  body to go in further. My body is trying to rebel, as it’s hard-wired self-preservation instincts go into overload. Icy pricks are stabbing up my legs as I splash in deeper. I get to waist deep, turn to look at my dear hubby on the shoreline taking pictures, and dunk into the water to my shoulders.

It must have been the fastest dunk ever as he missed getting pictures of me more fully submerged. At this point, my body won the fight of self preservation over my brain’s desire for photographic preservation. GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!! I hoofed it out of the water to where my kids were holding down our square patch of beach. Numb hands sought out my fuzzy bathrobe, and clumsily pried the water shoes off my numb feet.

Post-dip euphoria

And then a couple of minutes after that, a sense of euphoria settles in. The day does actually feel quite balmy after all. It’s like the dip caused a physical reset. I’m hoping it lasts, to clear away this unsettled feeling of melancholy I’ve had in the last several weeks.

As always, many thanks to my dear husband who is my main support crew and photographer. He is supportive each year of this endeavor. Also thanks to my kids for putting up with this each New Year’s Day, and doing their part being cute. Will I do it again next year? I would be surprised if I didn’t. It seems like this is a part of who I am now, a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Dipper, for better or for worse. Look what you’ve done, my friend A, look what you’ve done.

~Jen

Some Tips for Polar Bear Dipping

  • Have a support person (or crew) to help you get changed, especially if it’s really cold out because your hands will stop working. And they can hold up towels for a screen for you to change.
  • I’m a proponent of wearing what ever is the easiest to get off your body afterwards. For me, that’s a bikini. Sure it exposes a bit more skin than a 1-piece, but really in those brief minutes before the dip and in the water, the extra coverage isn’t actually going to keep you any warmer. The importance is being able to take it off easily with numb hands.
  • I recommend wearing water shoes. Crocs and sports sandals do have a tendency to come off under the water, and it’s not fun trying to fish around the churning water with your numb hands. I would suspect running shoes get bogged down really easily too, and be harder to take off.
  • A nice fuzzy robe for just before and afterwards is soooo nice. Makes it easier to change under too.
  • Bring your own hot chocolate or coffee. Even if the event provides some, it sucks if it runs out and you were hoping for some. (like my first year)

Welcome to 2016! Happy New Year!

Yes, it is now more than a week since the new year started, but we do not need to be technical about that. The sentiment of hope and optimism for this year still holds true. So Happy New Year! Welcome to 2016!

And in the spirit of optimism, here are some of my goals for this year to resolutely work towards:

  • less Facebook lurking, more actual face time talking (via coffee dates, Skype, group outings, and what not). Because I want to model the behaviour I want for my girls to follow and expect from their friends.
  • make exercise a standard part of my weekly schedule again. It’s been over 9 months since I started working, so I can’t use the excuse of “waiting until my schedule is stabilized” anymore. I’ve definitely noticed a loss of strength.
  • volunteer more: at my girls’ school and in my community
  • read more offline materials. Reading articles online is fine, but the ease in which I can switch to yet another article of completely different context means i often don’t ponder over what I just read, the ideas don’t simmer and percolate as it should.
  • keep writing: aim for at least a blog post every two weeks
  • preserve the memories: finish our family 2015 photobooks before Victoria Day
  • keep pushing myself to grow my experiences and my team contributions in my job, but still holding onto my reduced hours schedule
  • set up the basement office properly. Poor T has to suffer through boxes of random crap strewn about while he gingerly navigates to his office chair.

Sorry for succumbing to the cliche of publicly announcing my resolutions, but I feel the potential for shame and humiliation from my peers is an extra motivator. It worked for Anne of Green Gables, didn’t it? Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to hold you to the fire for at the end of this year, we can press forward to our goals with the fear of mutual shame. 😉 Happy New Year folks!

~Jen

I did the 2015 Toronto Polar bear dip, and lived to tell this tale

I had missed hearing the countdown. The people in front of me just started charging into the waters of Lake Ontario. In the chaos of excited participants, wind, bare skin, and a belated realization that we should move closer to where T would be trying to take photographs, the countdown didn’t even register with me. My buddy A and I exchanged a look, and followed on in. The Toronto polar bear dip of 2015 was on. Continue reading I did the 2015 Toronto Polar bear dip, and lived to tell this tale