A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Monday, 26 December 2016

Sending love and Christmas cheer around the world

You may recognize some of the faces and names in today's blog post. Read on to see the charm I chose to represent these friends, and you, my readers around the world - and my favourite moment of 2016. There's a contest running, asking about favourite moments in 2016 (see details below). Please add a comment and let me know what country you're from.

One of my favourite moments in 2016 was seeing my 15-year-old daughter singing with her vocal class at the European Union Christmas Concert, just 10 days ago, in front of an audience of 1200 people.

The crumpled program (which they ran out of) and my two red leathers bracelets with the bracelet I call "A Victorian Christmas."

The Nepean High School Choir
Taylor is on bottom right with the long braid.

I hadn't anticipated seeing the beautiful sight of the steeples glowing in the dark winter sky as we approached the Basilica in the evening.
(not my photo)

We live in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, so of course there are many embassies here. Every year the Embassy of the European Union hosts a Christmas Concert in the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. Apparently the concert is a very popular Christmas tradition for many people in the city - and based on the line outside the church, I'd say that's true!

My attempt to capture the interior and the standing-room-only audience.
A photo from last year's concert, showing a packed house.
(not my photo)

My daughter's vocal class and the school's Chamber Choir, as well as two other children's choirs, sang songs from all 28 member countries in the European Union, in their original language. How moving it must have been for people to hear traditional songs from their childhood, sung by children, in such a magnificent church.

The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica is across from the National Gallery of Canada and this spider sculpture called "Maman." Built between 1840 and 1870, the exterior of the Basilica is fairly reserved, especially compared to the ornate interior. (not my photos)
The extraordinary interior of the Basilica.
(not my photos)

I recently had a woman send me a long note about reading the stories on my blog. At the end she said, "Keep your chin up and keep persevering. You are stronger than you think and mean a lot to many people in the world and are making positive change in the lives of many." It means so much to me that by sharing my stories I might actually make a difference in the life of someone else - to think that I might somehow help people, somewhere in the world.

As I sat listening to all of those beautiful Christmas songs, many that I could not understand, I kept thinking of all of those people from around the world - my readers and followers, as well as the friends I've made through Pandora. And I had this wonderful warm sparkly feeling come over me. Listen to this three-minute video of "Still, still, still," a traditional Austrian lullaby and see if it touches you, as it did me. (Yes, they could have done without the squeaky clarinet solo.)

(not my photo)

As the three children's choirs entered, coming down this long centre aisle of the church, and singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," with the participation of the audience, I thought of the countless friends I now have in the UK: Mandy and Laura in England and Catrin and Mandy in Wales, to name just a few of the first UK ladies I met when I started to collect Pandora. In this three-minute video you can see Taylor as the second person to enter; and I've tried to videotape some of the interior.

The Spanish song "A La Nanita Nana" made me think of Thais and Punita and how much I've enjoyed seeing photos of their travels. When one of the choirs sang "O Tannenbaum" I thought of Riki in Germany. To represent the Czech Republic, there was "Hayek, nynej, Jesisku" (A Rocking Carol) which seemed appropriate for Veronika of Mii bracelets who has two young boys. Listening to "Nu is die roe van jesse" (A New Branch on the Christmas Tree) reminded me that my friend Ellen in Belgium showed me photos of her upside down Christmas tree. When I saw that the song "Jul, jul, stralande jul" (Christmas, Christmas, Glorious Christmas) was from Sweden it made me realize how much I missed seeing photos of Linda's kids and chatting with her about crafts and cats. Most of these ladies I've known for five years now.

I seem to have a number of friends in Portugal: Marta, Andreia, Celina, Ana, and Cristina. And I thought of them fondly when one of the choirs sang "Natal de Elvas" (Noel de Elvas). Those ladies probably have no idea how much it meant to me that they offered to help me purchase charms that were long-retired in Canada; it gave me something to look forward to and gave me hope when I needed it. As the Nepean High School choir sang the "Wexford Carol," a traditional Irish Christmas carol, I recalled meeting Geraldine on the Pandora pages. In this three minute video you can see why Taylor asked me to videotape this lovely song; it was one of her favourite pieces in their performance. When another choir sang "Quelle est cette odeur agreeable" I thought of my friend Anabela in France, one of the European Pandora fans that I got to know quite well in a photography group. I have to admit, that song had us giggling because my husband translated it directly to mean, "What is that agreeable odour?" and in English we don't usually use the word "odour" to mean anything pleasant or agreeable.

A photo I took for our photography group. The steeples of the Notre Dame Basilica are covered with tin, typical in French-Canadian churches.
We were sitting in the very last row in the pews on the sides of the church so we couldn't see the choir at all.
(not my photo)

As we sat in that enormous church, I closed my eyes, and just listened to the voices rising up and reaching out to all those people. And I imagined my love and Christmas cheer traveling across the globe. I leaned over and whispered to my husband that I had decided that I need a charm to represent those glittering hearts of my friends and readers around the world. The pink "glittering heart" charm seemed to be a good way to remember this special occasion. I hope we make this an annual tradition, even if Taylor's choir is not performing.

P.S.  The vocal teacher recently asked Taylor to join the Chamber Choir, without having to audition, because they needed more "strong altos." Just goes to show how wrong I was when I thought my daughter was not a good singer. (see the link to "Sing. Sing out loud..." below)

The pink enamel "glittering heart" charm (bottom right) on my latest work-in-progress Pandora Rose bracelet/bangle.

Today's blog post is an expanded version of a piece I wrote for a competition on Instagram, before I even purchased the pink glittering heart charm. I submitted the photo below from my post "Sing. Sing out loud..." (see link in Related Posts below). Please take a moment to pop over to the Facebook page to see the album of contest submissions. There are pictures and stories of special moments like vacations, engagements, birthdays and more. Have a look and vote for your favourite. The photo with the most "Likes" will win a PANDORA 2016 Club Charm. Voting ends December 31. It's not a popularity contest and I'm not asking you to vote for MY photo (I've won my share of Pandora prizes in the last few years) but I hope to support Hazel in her new endeavour.

Here is The Art of Pandora's description of the contest:
"This year has flown by and it is hard to believe we are in December already. Hopefully as you ponder over the past year you are able [to] remember some beautiful moments that you captured with PANDORA. For this month's competition we would like you to choose your favourite PANDORA moment and share it with us."

The contest is put on by a wonderful new blog called The Art of Pandora. I'm not even sure if "blog" is the right thing to call it because it's so much more than just a blog: you will find tabs for a Magazine (one article has interviews with many of the winners of the Paris Forever contest, including yours truly), Reviews of Pandora charms, and a Pinboard with the latest news on releases, sales, promos and more. There is also a gallery of photos called Inspiration, still a work-in-progress. And there is a Catalog, also a work-in-progress; the intention is to be able to find stock photos of all current and retired charms as well as country exclusives. I know I'll be using it frequently; it's much easier to search and find photos than the Pandora iPhone app. While you are on Facebook make sure to "Like" The Art of Pandora page and check out a special Christmas competition (ending December 31) where you nominate someone else to win a charm.

Related Posts:

Forever Paris Contest: the meaning of Pandora's box - a story about the ancient Greek myth and how Pandora jewellery - and my international friends - have given me the gift of hope.

Forever Paris Contest: Pandora fans are not Grinches - a story about all the fans of Pandora promotional items and my definition of a "true Pandora fan" with a little poem inspired by Dr. Seuss.

Sing. Sing out loud... - a story about how Taylor came to love singing (no thanks to me!) and an important lesson she taught me about learning to be myself.

With a little help from my-friends - a heart-warming war-time story about the Princess and the... not the pea... the tulip, and its symbolism - and how I tried to be a good friend to my international friends.

The countdown begins... on first day of Christmas - a story about how my Pandora friends helped me through the first winter of my recovery from my eating disorder and depression.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Accept where you are and start where you're at

"I did it! I did it! OMG I did it! I thought I was going to puke at the end. But still, I did it!" I stopped to write this note on my phone a few weeks ago, but you can't really get excited for me until I give you the back story and explain how I earned four wooden muranos.

My Sacred Woods bracelet and brown leather.
In the Spring I had a wake-up call. I saw my family doctor for my physical (i.e. annual medical exam). I told her that I wasn't getting much exercise because of this foot injury. The doctor looked through my file and said we should get a new x-ray since it had been two years since the last one.

Two years?!! It's been two years I've been struggling with this foot injury?! It's been two years that I've been waiting for it to get better or for someone to fix it?!

I came home from that doctor's appointment and said to my husband Mike, "Well, I guess I'd better fix this old body of mine, cause apparently they're not gonna let me trade this one in for a younger, new-and-improved model."

I'm not really sure how I injured my foot. In March of 2014 we'd been away for a week at our timeshare and were swimming every day in the pool at the lodge. At the end of the week my ankle started to get sore. I thought maybe it wasn't happy about my wearing flipflops all week instead of sneakers with orthotics. I waited to see if it would get better - probably waited too long - but it didn't. By the time I went to physiotherapy it was.. So. Incredibly. Painful.

The ankle seemed to be locked. I would try to point my toes and it wouldn't move. And then suddenly it would "give" and move - but it hurt so much! The physio thought I might have a "loose body" in the joint: a bone chip or something that was getting stuck in the joint.

X-rays were taken from different angles but showed no loose body - or other explanation for the injury. They referred me to a sports med doctor who diagnosed "cuboid syndrome" (the cuboid is a small bone below the ankle). A little research on my part - I am an anatomy teacher after all - led me to understand that cuboid syndrome in athletes is a common cause for pain on the outside of the ankle. It sometimes occurs with an ankle sprain but it's often misdiagnosed. I did have some bad ankle sprains in university but in this case it's a dislocation of this cuboid bone that limits the movements of the foot and is probably better described as "locked cuboid." It seems that, like mine, it can have a gradual onset with no apparent trauma. It presents with non-specific symptoms like mine. Standing was painful. Walking was painful. Even shifting my weight to my injured foot was painful. And I couldn't do the complete movement of walking, from heel strike and rolling to push-off with the toes.

I am wearing the Aircast in this photo from the summer of 2014.
The prescription was rest and an air cast (aka "the boot"). The sports med doctor felt the injury would calm down if supported by a cast, but she warned me that I may experience flare-ups. By September, when I entered the Day Hospital, I was still wearing the cast daily. When people asked why I was wearing a cast I told them how I'd had a really bad ankle sprain when I played volleyball in university and it seemed to throw off the mechanics of my foot, causing pain. The athletic therapist at the university did say I'd have problems with my foot when I was forty or fifty. And, right on schedule, I turned 50 that fall.

The sports med doctor felt that the tendons around my ankle were inflamed from trying to control the movements of the loose ankle and wearing the boot would give them a rest. And it did work. Over time it seemed to settle down.
My Aircast decorated by my daughter and my nieces.
By the winter of 2015 I tried to build up my endurance for walking but it flared up again and it would seize up after walking for only 10 minutes. I was so discouraged. And of course the less active I was, the more de-conditioned I got. (De-conditioned is what us Personal Trainers call being "out-of-shape.")

I was really frustrated with this body and this foot! But, in looking back, I have to say, I shouldn't be too hard on myself because the year 2015 was all about doing serious work on my mental health - and I had made huge improvements. Nevertheless, I was determined that 2016 was going to be all about working on my physical health.

So when I came home from seeing my family doctor, while we waited to get x-rays and see the sports med doc, Mike suggested I start by just doing more stairs. In case you've never been in a cast, let me tell you, it is a royal pain climbing up and down stairs when you're in a cast. So I had gotten used to asking Mike or the kids to bring me a bottle of water rather than take the stairs. And usually you have to walk down stairs bending only one knee, making one leg stronger than the other. Wearing the cast had also thrown off the mechanics of walking because the boot adds length to one leg, affecting my hips and low back. I wore that darn cast for over eight months!

Mike also suggested if I couldn't walk 10 minutes, I could do 5 minutes, maybe twice a day. It doesn't sound like much but in the Spring it was hard for me to just walk to the corner and back - really hard!

Mike's suggestions reminded me of this quote by Arthur Ashe: "To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have and do what you can."

It also reminded me of some Principles of Fitness Training that I used to teach to my fitness students at the Y. First there is the Principle of Adaptation: the body will adapt to the stress (exercise) you put on it. The Principle of Overload: in order for the body to adapt and grow stronger, the stress needs to be more than you normally do i.e. an "overload" - even if that overload is simply to walk up and down the stairs more than twice a day. And finally, the Principle of Progressive Overload: as your body adapts to the stress it will become accustomed to it and you must progressively increase the stress to continue to see adaptation and improvement. The body responds to stress by getting stronger, whether that stress is muscular or cardiovascular. In order for my body to get stronger I needed to add stress. It did not take much "stress" before my muscles would fatigue and my breathing and heart rate would go up.

We always feel that we have to do a prescribed exercise program, like 20 minutes of cardio, 3 times a week, in the correct training heart rate zone. But really, all we have to do is more... do more than we're used to, more than we could last year, more than we could last week, more than we could yesterday.

I needed to stop beating myself up for being out-of-shape - stop should-ing all over myself. With friends who are running half-marathons it was hard to accept that, for me, at that time, a flight of stairs or a walk to the corner was in fact exercise, an overload. I can't compare myself to anyone else. When I came to accept my current limitations then - and only then - was I was able to make progress. I had to just start. And the only place I can start is where I'm at.

A temporary design using the first two of my wooden muranos.

My doctor did send me for another x-ray and all it showed was some minor arthritic changes - I am over fifty after all. I saw a different sports med doctor who sent me for an MRI. While we waited for that appointment and results, she prescribed physio because my ankle muscles had become de-conditioned from being inactive and being in the cast. The physio also felt there was some nerve irritations going on so I had a specific set of exercises to do this past summer.

Finally, this fall, we had the results from the MRI. They only showed some ligaments that weren't healed properly. She said that what the MRI did show was that there was nothing she could do surgically. She recommended I keep up with the exercises and wear supportive shoes - no flip-flops for this chicka.

In the meantime I'd been working on my standing tolerance, often in ten-minute increments, like I did while redoing our sunporch: standing while I washed dishes, or did laundry, or did food prep. And with more trips up and down the stairs I was feeling stronger. I could finally do stairs without knee pain!

On Thanksgiving weekend, we had our traditional Thanksgiving Day visit to the McKenzie King Estate in the Gatineau Park. Mike and the kids did a hike down to a waterfall but I stayed behind and sat on a bench, knowing I couldn't hike that far, especially up hill. And it sucked! I thought, "I want to hike with my family!" And so, the next weekend... drum roll please... I completed a 1.9 km hike! I'm not really a selfie person but I had to take a selfie on this momentous occasion!

Yes it was rainy and drizzling but I didn't care!
It was hard! I took my time. I rested frequently during the walk. But I did it! And "I did it" for four weekends in a row. Four hikes. Four wooden beads for my Sacred Woods bracelet.

The last week was the hardest. We were planning an easy walk along the side of a lake with look-offs for bird-watching. But we missed a turn and ended up doing a hike with A LOT of elevation changes. Boy it was hard! My legs were like Jello at the end. Now you see why I'm so excited? I did it! And this was what I wrote on my phone:

"I did it! I did it! OMG I did it! I thought I was going to puke at the end. But still, I did it!"

The four wooden Pandora beads I earned for my hikes.

My brown Sacred Woods bracelet has some colour from the Wildflower muranos as well as green and yellow cz and peridot pieces.

Photo Gallery

Take a stroll through these photos and videos to see the colours of Autumn on my hikes.

Thanksgiving Weekend, McKenzie King Estate, Gatineau Park, October 8, 2016
You can see more photos from our traditional Thanksgiving Day visit to the estate in this post from last fall.

The kids checking the time.

One of the ruins on the King Estate.

Even the forest floor is pretty.

Mitchell wanted me to take a photo of him in the tree.

Mitchell was using his new iPhone to take photos and was photo-bombed by his sister and father.

Check out this YouTube video I made with Boomerang:
"Playing among the ruins at McKenzie King Estate"

Thanksgiving Weekend, Monday October 10, 2016

My brother Thomas and his son Theo visited us from Montreal

We went for a walk at the Arboretum, part of Ottawa's Central Experimental Farm

Hike #1: Sugarbush Trail, Gatineau Park, October 16, 2016

Not many orange and red leaves remaining but still very pretty.

A trail through the woods always makes you wonder what's around the next corner.

Despite the rain and drizzle there was still some beauty to be found.

Hike #2: Dunlop Trail,Gatineau Park, October 23, 2016

Don't these stairs look inviting? Little did we know this was actually the end of the trail.
It was such a delightful surprise to discover this creek next to a picnic area. This is the bottom of Fortune Creek which flows down from the ski hill at Camp Fortune.

I was so pleased to see the colours of leaves and sky reflecting in this creek.

A short YouTube video from when I discovered there was a waterfall
"There's nothing more soothing than the sound of running water"


Now we knew why this trail looks so short on the map; it was all uphill.

Another short YouTube video taken from the bridge at the top of the hike
"Looking further up the creek"

Some lovely colours inviting us to cross the bridge and down the other side of the trail.

Hike #3: Pioneer Trail, Gatineau Park, October 30, 2016

We managed to drag these two along on our weekend walk.

Yellow leaves always seem to be the last to fall.

Not much colour in the trees any more but plenty to the ground.

Mike showing what a big heart he has with this large heart-shaped leaf.

Hike #4: Lac des Fees, Gatineau Park, November 6, 2016

Despite being November it was a beautiful sunny day.

Still a little colour with the yellow standing out against the evergreens.

My husband, the former Boy Scout, telling me that a cluster of needles with 5 needles is a white pine (as in the photo); two needles would be a red pine. Who knew?

Oak trees seem to be the last to lose their leaves after they turn this rusty colour.

When we hit this intersection we realized we'd gone the wrong way.

Hike #5: Lac des Fees, Gatineau Park, second attempt November 13, 2016

The uneven ground on this hike was particularly challenging on the recovering ankle.

I was having so much muscle fatigue and was so happy to finally see the end of this trail!

Hike #6: Chelsea Trail, Gatineau Park, November 20, 2016

The only colour now comes from the dried leaves on the ground and the green moss on the rocks.

These leaves look like they could be pounded out of copper.

The ground on this part of the trail was really soft from all the fallen pine needles.

We stopped to take a photo on the bridge over this brook. Not much colour left but it was still nice to be outside. .

Hike #7: Chelsea Trail, Gatineau Park, November 26, 2016
After our first snow-fall we revisited the same trail as the previous week to see what it might be like for snowshoeing later in the winter.

Same bridge as above, looking a little different after our first snow fall.
Bushes, water, snow, ice, and a little sunshine