Author

Sarah Thomson

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Lilly


Lilly, a beautiful, heroic, kind, creative, thoughtful, perfect, little girl is in MacMaster’s Children’s hospital, fighting.  I met Lilly, when she started attending The Writers’ Club, three years ago.  In a room of bright, shining stars, Lilly’s twinkle stood out.  

A sick child hits the family, just as hard.  Lilly’s younger sister, Scarlett, who is, only 10, is as brave, talented, and wonderful as her sister.  Their mother, Shelley, has been recording the family’s harrowing journey on Facebook.  The apples fell close to the tree: like her daughters, Shelley is a terrific writer.  Her prose are beautiful and gut wrenching.

https://www.facebook.com/Lillybear19/

In one of Shelley’s most uplifting Facebook posts, she shares the emotional experience of watching Scarlett and Lilly shave their heads, together.  

Sadly, visiting Lilly, at Mac, I knew the route.  My beautiful, wonderful niece, Julia, had been there, too.  Julia, who is now 18, is beyond a cousin to my daughter; they’re best friends.  The two quirky, funny, kind girls are blessed to have each other and it warms our hearts to see them, together.  Julia makes everything better.  

Words can’t express our gratitude for The McMaster Children’s Hospital and the people behind it.  Julia, my sister’s only child, is our family’s miracle.  

Julia has histiocytosis, a horrible, rare affliction, the treatments for which are in the early stages of development.  The disease was aggressive and life threatening, when Julia was a baby and small child.  Julia’s situation was bleak, so, in desperation, she was given cancer treatments and prayers were answered.  I can’t imagine parents, who deny their children the divine miracles of scientific discovery.

Unfair infliction upon an innocent, notwithstanding, David, Lilly’s father, Shelley and I talked about how fortunate we are to be right here, right now.  The people at Mac are saving one child at a time and we don’t know what the impacts will be.  Lilly might save the world.

Piggybacking on her success, Julia’s miraculous recovery enables and encourages further research.  Humans are genius and insatiably curious.  Someday, easily accessible cures and vaccines will be developed and no one will have to endure childhood disease.  Miracles happen.

Sometimes, it takes a child to raise a village.  When Julia was at Mac, the outpouring of support and sympathy was remarkable.  Friends, family, and strangers went out their way to encourage Julia and my sister.  It changed, everything.  

Lilly has had a similar experience.  One of Shelley’s post speaks to the love pouring into Lilly’s room and the impact it has on their (fighting) spirits.  Please, pray, hope, think of, or throw your arms around Lilly.

CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO

June 15, 2010

Change is never easy to bring about because most people prefer the safety of what they know to the uncertainty of what comes with change.

I’m not sure if it was the short time I spent couch surfing and sleeping on park benches as a teen, or the experiences I have had since, but I have learned that the one and only thing I can truly count on is change.

I remember hitting what I thought was rock bottom when I was just 15 years old. I was demoralized, alone, and realizing that I wasn’t the centre of the universe, and the people who passed by my huddled form in a doorway would go on despite me. It was then that I understood that change would happen with or without me, but the decisions I made would impact it. I could influence change, but I had to own the responsibility of making myself into the person I wanted to be.

I started pumping gas at the age of 16, and at 18 started my own company leasing service stations across Ontario. At 24, I won recognition as the top dealer in Canada and by the time I was 30 I had built a multi-million dollar company that focused on turning around failing service stations and making them successful.

The key to turning around each business came from changing the predominant attitude of failure to an attitude of success.

I wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo; to change the way things had always been done. I was one of the first to bring a retail component, to break from the traditional products like oil and windshield washer fluid and bring in different items like chips, chocolate bars, and juice. I was highly criticized for it and taunted by my counterparts for being a silly woman who didn’t know what I was doing.

I persisted and eventually others realized that by adding this additional retail component to my locations I was offering convenience to the local area residents and attracting them back. Combine this with cleaning up each location and motivating the staff to be friendly, and it seemed a simple recipe for success.

But the fact is that bringing about change is never simple. It is one of the most challenging tasks one can do, but also one of the most rewarding. Service stations with stores are now common and it is in part because of my desire to change the way that industry went about doing business.

I launched Women’s Post Media, a business publication – in newspaper format – designed specifically for women. I believed that businesswomen wanted and needed something to promote and unite them. I went to industry experts to get their backing, but was told that my venture was a long-shot and not likely to succeed because women were more interested in gardening and fashion.

Again I challenged the status quo, and despite having no experience in the industry, I managed to build a successful company turning the newspaper into a magazine and building a large online community of businesswomen. Today it is a highly sought after community and I am glad I did not listen to the “industry experts” and those who told me I wouldn’t succeed.

And yet, despite my desire to constantly challenge the status quo, in my early twenties I took up the hobby of restoring old homes and have never given up. Maybe it is the stability of returning an old home to its original beauty that attracts me to this hobby. The reassurance of knowing that despite the changes, what lies underneath – the strong foundations – will always remain. Having solid foundations is the key to navigating through the inevitable changes that life entails.

Moments of Beauty

I can hear the wind rustling the palm trees above me. The frogs whistle to each other and for a brief moment I understand the language of the palm trees and the frogs. The outline of the palm trees are dark in contrast to the moonlit sky. I feel as if everything is suddenly connected and right, and I understand the language of the wind. The world is perfectly in line – with what, I don’t know – and then the moment ends, vanishing as quickly as it came. I try to remember what the wind in the trees and frogs were saying, but their conversation is lost to me once more.

Is this what meditation is all about? I’ve had these sorts of moments before, but not often. Some people describe them as religious experiences, but to me they seem to come when I get outside myself, away from my thoughts, my reason, and let my instincts connect with the natural world around me. 

I feel lucky to have had a few of these beautiful moments in my life, and I realize that it takes a little bit of luck and my own determination to let go, be still, listen, and soak in everything.

I remember my first meeting with beauty. I was quite young, and skating with my family at night on an ice rink we had made earlier that day. A sudden drop in temperature over the evening had frozen the rink quickly, making it perfectly smooth, and the cold seemed to cast a stillness over the fields around us.

The night sky was filled with stars and I could hear a farm dog barking far off in the distance. I glided over the surface and for a brief moment I felt as if there was nothing below me, and I was suspended with the stars, held in the beauty of the moment. I was overwhelmed by a universal understanding, and then it was gone. No matter how many times I skated around and around that rink I couldn’t get back to that beautiful spot.

Beauty touched me again in my early 20s, just after seeing a concert. I had spent an hour or so listening to a string quartet play while watching the afternoon sun filter through the trees outside the stained-glass window of the concert hall, making patterns on the floor that seemed to dance to the music.

As I walked home on that warm fall afternoon, I could hear leaves rustling in the breeze, and honking geese flying far overhead. Suddenly the world aligned. It all made sense – the music spoke the same language as the geese and the wind rustling the leaves. My mind knew everything for one brief moment. But when I tried to hold on, it slipped through my fingers like water.

The moon leaves long shadows across the landscape. A dog bark echos over Speightstown another in the distance answers him.

I’ll lie here a little longer but my mind is already filling with other things – the meeting next week, the emails I need to write. The moment of beauty floats further out of reach. Like an old friend I hope it will visit again.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca.

Travelin’ with Traveler

If you don’t know Colin James’s work (and unless you’re a blues diehard, you probably don’t; he doesn’t get the radio play he deserves) you’re missing one of Canada’s too-little-sung musical treasures. James is a superb blues guitarist, a fine, gritty vocalist, often an inventive songwriter, and a musician unafraid to venture in new directions.

 

The Saskatchewan native was a high-school dropout; he heard the call of the blues early, moved to Winnipeg to form the HoodDoo Men and opened for the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan who, legend has it, had Colin James Munn shorten his stage name because it sounded as if they were saying “mud” every time they announced his name over the P.A. system.

 

His first two albums, the eponymous Colin James (1988) and Sudden Stop

(1990) were hits in Canada. Then James became an early convert to the swing revival with the brilliant neo-swing-blues-jazz Colin James & the Little Big Band (1993), six years later, after two more albums, following it up with a second retro-swing sortie that may have been even better.

 

I’m not disappointed by Traveler but was expecting more. It is, in some ways, a return to the blues, with a bit of power funk and Motown-inflected grooves punching up the thoughtful mellowness in many of the 11 tracks.

 

Most of the tunes are written by James, ballads such as I Know What Love Is and up-tempo, but somehow slightly subdued, rockers like She Can’t Do No

Wrong (the literate James showing off his drop-out status?). Throughout, his voice is in fine rasp and his axework, as always, is superb. Maybe I find the energy a bit low.

That’s not the case, though, on the opening and closing cover numbers, they are almost leisurely, but smouldering, covers of John Lennon’s I’m Losing You and Jimi Hendrix’s Rainy Day, Dream Away, in which James gets to make his guitar gently sweep.

A lot of people will like this album, and they should. Me, I’m going to do some swinging to Cha Shooky Doo a classic from his 93 album.

 

Passion and curiosity

First published in January 2004

We decided to spend a week in Vermont skiing with our family, but today my muscles are sore and the wind is bitter cold. Last night we listened to the wind whip down the mountainside, shaking the house as it rushed past. Just before midnight we turned out the lights and watched as it swayed the trees under the moonlight. The sky was filled with stars and the half moon shone bright, casting dark shadows across the snow.

I thought of wolves that might be hiding in the woods beyond the field, but the only sound we could hear was the wind. This morning the wind still blows, but the house is warm and smells of hot coffee. I’m not sure where the idea came that the New Year is a time for reflection, for casting one’s mind both back and forward, but that’s exactly what I feel like doing today.

There is one New Year’s in particular that stands out from my childhood. It was just after we lost our farm and had moved into an old stone farmhouse that our neighbours (who used it as their summer home) had offered us when they heard the bad news. I was almost 11-years-old. That Christmas was quiet and the rain forced us inside. After Christmas the rain turned to snow and hail.

By New Year’s Eve a thick layer of ice had formed over the surface of the snow and as the day wore on, the sky cleared and the temperature dropped. We all stayed up until midnight playing board games while my parents talked with friends in front of a roaring fire. I’m guessing they consumed many bottles of wine because just before midnight someone suggested howling at the moon. We bundled up and went out into the cold night, the snow crunching under our feet. The old apple trees around us, with withered branches reaching to the stars, looked like witches frozen in the moonlight. We climbed to the top of a hill, following quietly in single file, the men breaking a trail until we reached the crest. From there we looked down on the farm where we’d spent 10 years of our lives. It was the only home my brother and I had known.

The wall of stone that we’d all worked to build carved a straight path beside the fields we had cleared of stones each summer. We could see the woods where my brother and I had built dozens of forts. We could see the house our parents had built with their own hands, every wall and cement block they had set. But the lights in the windows reminded us of the other family now living there. Suddenly my father began to howl and we all joined in like wolves. We howled for our home, our land and our loss.

But then someone began to laugh and we were all laughing. I remember it so clearly, a reflection of how we learned to deal with life. At that moment we all decided to let go of our home. We took one last look at our farm, turned and trudged back down that moonlit field. Each of us broke our own path through the ice-crusted snow. We spoke of our dreams for the future.

I was going to marry Prince Charming and live on a farm in the country. I was going to spend my life raising our six children and writing books. I planned on making huge dinners where our family would all be together forever and always. Life hasn’t turned out quite the way I’d pictured it. Although I did find my Prince Charming and I’ve done a bit of scribbling.

Getting my sisters and brothers all together is harder than I could ever have imagined as a child. But back then, I never thought our family would be scattered across the country. When I think of my future I don’t envision it with the same clarity I had as a child. Time has taught me that circumstance is part of life and that I can’t know with any accuracy where I might be in one year, let alone 10 years. And it’s also taught me to live each moment to its fullest, to have passion for all that I do and to keep my curiosity alive.

I’ve come to believe that passion drives our imagination and that curiosity leads us out into the world. In the year ahead I want to wake the passion that has been lulled by my busy life. I want to untangle myself from the distractions our society has created, like television, movies and sporting events.  Instead of producing beauty in the world, they get used up in consuming various things. There are so many things that could distract me from accomplishing something with my life – spas, shopping centers and outlet malls, dance clubs, casinos, golf, Bingo and bowling – the list seems endless. The world is filled with distractions.

There are pills to numb our pains and barrels of alcohol to put us to sleep. They can fill the empty spaces in a passionless solitary life. But do all these distractions hinder the passion and imagination in a life that isn’t solitary? Could they be interfering in my life with my husband? We don’t get drugged up, go to dance clubs or play much Bingo, although we do enjoy skiing and tennis and movies and a host of other entertainments. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find moments that really count, moments that help us focus, enhancing our curiosity and stirring our dreams, like dusk at the cottage, a walk in the woods, an early morning kayak or a winter evening in front of a roaring fire, but something tells me that those are the times we must reach for.

In the year ahead I plan to slow down and explore the world with the curiosity I had as a child. I’ll re-kindle my passion, awaken my imagination and once again burst with excitement over the sight of a fresh snowfall or the smell of spring in the air.

No dissing this

Where We Live

A compilation of Various Artists

I’m not usually a fan of music made for occasions. And you’d think that a compilation of 16 artists lending their voices and instruments to Earthjustice, an organization devoted to “the universal right to clean air and clean water,” would drip drip drip with sanctimony. Or be slapdash, piecemeal, tossed off.

 

But no! Benefit album it may be, but Where We Live is full of musical delight, of pop performers finding the inner gospel singer who’s been struggling to get out all these years. For what we get is largely churchy in feel, but it’s been secularized in the smithy of the ecological soul.

There’s not really a bad turn on the CD, but a few tracks particularly stand out: Pop divas Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt collaborate on the Southern-gospelly It’s a Blessing; the still smouldering Tina Turner does a supercharged version of  A Change Is Gonna Come (Robert Cray on guitar) which almost matches that of its great originator, Sam Cooke;  Karen Savoca’s Two Little Feet is purringly innocent but sexy; Pop Staples takes the 1960s protest chestnut I Shall Not Be Moved and really makes you feel as if he is going to glory on the wings of his own perfect pitch and Ry Cooder’s slide guitar. Bob Dylan revives a 1971 tune that never should have died; Watching the River Flow must be about the Mississippi, for it has an infectious Professor Longhair New Orleans piano-roll .

Then there are Nora Jones’s sultry-sweet Peace, Los Lobos’s credibly passionate version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Willie Nelson’s laconically touching Living in the Promised Land and the Neville Brothers funkified chug-chug, Sister Rosa. Dan Zanes and Friends, with the help of Lou Reed (taking a walk on the sweet side), do a post-hippyish version of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World; Mose Allison gives us a jazz hipster Getting There; John Hammond (witnessed by Tom Waits) testifies that I Know I’ve Been There; the lovely harmonies of the activist group Sweet Honey in the Rock turns More Than a Paycheck into an environmental protest; Michael Franti and Spearhead offer a folk-reggae Yes I Will, while Ruben Blades’s Estampa lends a latinate stamp to the enterprise. As a truly weird coda, the one and only Captain Beefheart croaks out Happy Earthday.

This one warrants repeated listens and it’ll be a while before I automatically diss a project like this again.

http://www.allmusic.com/album/where-we-live-mw0000318745

Barbados Journal Nov 2018

I now have a rooster. Our gardener brought him to us to protect our hens. But he doesn’t give the normal cock-a-doodle-doo when the sun rises, instead he crows at 3am and it sounds more like err-accck-er- errr.  Although scrawny, he is a proud and ambitious rooster. He is scared of just about everything in the yard, but chases the young hens incessantly and pecks at them if they get too close to his food. I’ve tried to tell him to be gentle with them, but he is consumed with the arrogance and vigour of his youth.

The hens are maturing nicely, no longer cute little chicks they are growing feathers and their own personalities. There is a natural leader I’ve named Delilah, she is always first out of the hen-house in the morning. For fun she chases the mourning doves around the yard, and when the rooster (I’ve named Doug) gets too aggressive with the other hens, she will come to their rescue and get a few good pecks in at him.  The others hens tolerate Delilah because they need a leader, but her exuberance for life upsets their conventionalism.

I bought my first car with a right-hand side steering wheel.  It’s a pea-green Kia Soul and there are only a handful on the island. We discovered that one belongs to the math teacher at our kids school .   We call him Captain Holt because he reminds us of the character on the t.v. show Brooklyn99. He likes things just so and always parks his car perfectly between the lines on the tarmac. For some reason my husband and I have had the same desire to park our car directly beside his whenever we come into the school parking lot. They look so cute together and I’m trying to think of ways to amp it up a bit. Thinking of getting them matching outfits, maybe a bow for one and tie for the other. I’m a bit worried I’ll run out of ideas, but the kids are a great help. 

Barbados is filled with so many stories and so much beauty. When you turn a corner you never know what you might find. To date we’ve come across: a huge pit in the middle of the road that was later filled with a mound of rocks; a goat; a breathtaking view of the Atlantic ocean, a drunken man wielding a machete getting slapped in the head by an old man who took away the large knife and sent him on his way, oh and some adorable puppies.  In the parking lot of the grocery store I stood in awe while watching  the magnificent frigate birds soar and diving into the ocean. 

 

The beauty of the morning sun on a field glistening with dew can take your breath away. And the sunsets that stretch over the sky, painting it shades of red and orange that move over the clouds has become our evening television.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to get away from Toronto politics. The pecking order there reminds me of the hens in my yard – those who challenge the status quo are natural leaders in turbulent times, and they withdraw when times are calm. But there are always predators who circle in the shadows feeding off the droppings. Going 2000 miles away has put things into perspective, from a distance Toronto is much smaller.

The tourists have started to come to the island. The main beach highway is now busy and the grocery store is filled with people wearing bathing suits and flip flops. They seem so incongruous in a country where sleeveless blouses aren’t allowed in government buildings. The radio ads that promote the tourism industry repeatedly telling people that roads, water and yes even the air we breath “is tourism” have, thankfully, stopped. I was hoping the grocery stores might get a bit more consistent in what they offer, one week you can buy lettuce but then it’s gone for the next two.  I haven’t found green beans in 2 weeks but did find some President’s Choice salsa this week. Although with Tostito’s scoops priced at $23.95 a bag, it’ll have to stay in the jar until the local nachos appear on the shelves again.   I’m hoping there might be real cranberry juice instead of the sugar filled juice blends – but I know that might be a stretch.

The art-eco centre boutique hotel project I’m working on is being met with so much support and positive feedback that I was a bit surprised. One large plantation owner offered to give his 400-acre plantation as an investment in the project – but alas it has not ocean views!   I have found that the people here are well educated and want to build their community. Like Canada there is a mix of many cultures and the local Bajans embrace them all. Although people recognize the economic importance of tourism there is a desire to push Barbados beyond being completely dependent on it. 

I’m learning what it is like to be an “expat.” You become part of a community of people all adjusting to a way of life that is quite unique and different than what many are accustomed to. Everything here is slower, and some people let that frustrate them. The rural lifestyle blends into the urban areas – so that you can drive down the main highway  and see a cow feeding in the ditch between the warehouse and the road. Or walk along a busy street among people – and chickens.  Expats choose to be here, and unlike living where you were born that choice inspires more commitment. I’ve also found that expats are in the most part friendly, positive and adventurous people.

Every Tuesday there is a party at the local rum shop just down the hill from us. We sit by the pool listening to the crickets and whistling frogs, and can hear the music wafting up to us. They play old 70s songs, Rupert Holmes – If you like Pina Colodas, and now John Denver – Take me Home Country Roads. The words make me think about all the roads I have travelled and I realize that home isn’t one place, it is the space that Greg and I create with our family and friends.

Barbados Journal Oct 2018

I have spent the past month learning a great deal about Barbados, and myself. This month I discovered that selecting “allow dirt roads” on your GPS is a big mistake in Barbados.

It all came about on a beautiful sunny morning. I was driving the kids to school and a house fire on the main road had traffic backed up for miles. It gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the island and I’d grown fond of discovering new sights around every turn.

On a small island like Barbados one would think it hard to get lost… but the island is filled with roads and cart paths that run over all kinds of terrain. And in the wet season (September to November) they fill with mud and clay. The problem is that the cart paths show up on GPS apps as dirt roads, even when they are little more than tractor paths through banana fields. Combine this with a glorious sunny morning, an open road in front of you, and the kids singing “Country Roads” in the back seat and it’s easy to feel invincible.

As I drove along the heavily pot-holed pavement, the road turned into a dirt cart path, and I didn’t listen to that small voice in my head whispering – ‘STOP!’. The view was amazing; we were driving along the edge of a mountain with a steep cliff edge to our left and the mountain rising up on our right.

It had rained the night before and I began to worry when the car started sliding. The road was narrow and the drop steep. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the wheel. The car rounded a corner and I could see that a few meters ahead the steep cliff turned into a gently sloping hill, but the car starting sliding towards the edge of the cliff just as I rounded the corner, and I nervously gunned it along the path praying we’d make it to the hill. Luckily we got there and I thought about turning around but didn’t want to face that slippery corner again. So I kept going and drove the car straight into almost 3 feet of clay that had filled a dip in the cart path.

I looked down at my silk pants, white top and high heels and realized I might not make it to my morning meeting and the kids would miss school.

My son and I put sticks and branches under the tires and after about an hour of trying we rocked the car out of the big mud pit (with half of it all over us). I found a small promontory to turn the car around and slowly headed back to the main road. Getting out of the mud was satisfying, but I was taking it too slow and became stuck again. This time we were on an upward slope and there was no way that my son and I could rock the car out. Luckily some men had arrived to work in the fields and immediately offered to help. They easily pushed the car out and around the corner to the paved road.

The whole time this fiasco was going on my daughter was sitting in the back seat, taking picture and pointing out how beautiful the view was. When finally arrived back at the main road she commented “Mum you always find a way to make a perfectly ordinary day turn into an adventure.” And that is how I hope they view every stupid thing that I do!

I have noticed that I am beginning to lose some of the terribly selfish driving habits I picked up in Toronto. Here ‘Bajans’ drive slow and easy, if they see a car wanting to cross the highway, they will stop to let them pass. They are kind. It’s unsettling if you’re from Toronto and driving far too quickly behind them, but over time you slow down and start to realize that being kind, and offering that public gesture, is important. I used to think that people are drawn to Barbados because of the slow pace, but I realize there is much more to it. The people here have grace and they cherish it. I hope a little of that grace rubs off on me.

Barbados is a beautiful country but it is the people that make it a terrific place to live.

The slug, the chicken, and the monkey

It is the rainy season in Barbados – which means an hour or so of rain until the sun comes out. And everyone watches the long-term weather forecasts to see if a hurricane might develop off the coast of Africa. We’ve had rain on and off everyday sometimes a brief shower in the afternoon and other times there is a heavy downpour during the night.  This morning there are huge snails and slugs that littler the paths around the house. The slugs are about 4 inches long and the snails are the size of tennis balls and I’m getting used to treading carefully.

Between the plantation house and the carriage house is a small courtyard, in the sunny afternoons it fills with white butterflies. There is a surreal almost magical feel to it, but the plants around it are being decimated by all the caterpillars. So I’ve been thinking of ways to get the caterpillars off the plants without killing them.

Last week I picked up a book titled “The Right way to keep Chickens.” I thought it would be a funny read. But I’m now totally getting into it. I’ve learned that there are the broiler chickens (the ones you kill to eat – which the city girl in me just can’t do) and the laying chickens (which would provide us with fresh eggs).  The free run chickens are the healthiest and happiest, but they need a safe place to sleep at night. This has me thinking about the chickens in the park in Speightstown – they sleep in the trees at night and walking along the board walk you can hear them cluck above your head. The roosters strut around acting like their protectors, but the minute there is any danger they are the first to run for the trees.

I’m thinking that if we want our eggs in tact we’ll need to build a hen house.  

I find myself doing the weirdest web searches. This morning I searched “Do chickens eat snails?” The answer is yes. And the added bonus is that they also eat slugs.

I’m thinking it’s time we buy some chickens.

I find myself doing the weirdest web searches. This morning I searched “Do chickens eat snails?” The answer is yes. And the added bonus is that they also eat slugs. 

Slugs can be predators

There are huge slugs in the garden and my web search found that some are predators and they eat other slugs, snails and worms.

I wonder what the monkeys in our yard will do about the chickens – and yet another web search begins. The first thing to pop up is an old Chinese idiom ‘Kill the chicken to scare the monkey.” Which means to make an example of someone in order to threaten others. I think of the power plays that go on in the world of politics. And the ugly type of people who would actually use this tactic. I can’t help reflecting on a man who tried to destroy my credibility last year. He reminds me of slug, he’s a slimy predator who pretends to be meek. But he goes after women wanting access to his television show. He has groomed his audience and those around him to think that he’s pure and innocent, but in fact off camera he chases after married women collecting his conquests as trophies.  He tried to destroy my credibility in order to scare other women from stepping forward. But I know that eventually the truth gets out. The world is changing and these old political strategies are beginning to fail.

The Chinese zodiac reads that I was born in the year of the monkey and that people born in this year are “lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile. In addition, their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love life.” This has me hooked and reading on: “They may achieve success and earn a lot if leaving their hometown; but they may also spend a lot.” Wow this seems to have been written for me today! It also reads that those born in the year of the monkey can be selfish and arrogant.” I must watch myself and guard against this. Okay enough web surfing.

The roosters are crowing, it’s time to start the day.

Sarah’s journal: September 11, 2018

My family and I are now living in Barbados. We are getting used to the heat, and after a few weeks we’ve started to settle in, waking every morning at 5:30 with the sun. The whistling frogs that start calling at dusk fade out as the sun comes up and the birds start to sing. Our house is high up on a ridge that looks over the west coast. We have a fantastic view of the Caribbean and the sunsets are spectacular. In the early mornings you can hear the roosters crow and the monkeys out in the garden playing. There is life all around us and, as my son says, it’s hard to sleep through all the noise.

I’m discovering that the ocean and sky are a lot bigger here than in Toronto. The sea is constantly changing, this morning it is still, looking like glass reflecting the blue sky above. A goat bleats from the farm below and a rooster calls from a tree in the park down in Speightstown. We’re expecting Hurricane Isaac to pass by Barbados in a few days, but you wouldn’t know it, like the sea today the people are calm. The cars on the main road below give a double beep that is more a cheerful salutation than the angry horn blasts that seem to fill the streets in Toronto.

The first couple of weeks here have been a whirlwind of activity. From mistakenly not realizing our kids needed student visas (yes even if it is a private secondary school) and being detained when we landed — to finding the local (less expensive) hardware and grocery stores. The price of food seems staggering because it’s easy to forget that the Barbadian (Bajan) dollar is worth 2/3rds of a Canadian dollar. After paying $28 Bajan for some scoop nacho chips, I’ve inspired my family to eat more local foods, with the caveat that I’ll bake fresh bread at least once a week. So far my home-made bagels are a success.

In the past two weeks I’ve driven all over the island. I’ve learned to give a happy toot when going around a tight blind corner (the sugar cane grows too high to see over). Yesterday I discovered a shortcut that took me north along the western ridge of the island. I could see the coastline with fields of sugar cane rolling down to the sea. I turned west taking a road that suddenly dipped into a gully and found myself in a cool dense jungle that seemed almost magical. At this time of year, the flamboyant trees are all in bloom and the island seems painted with colourful orange and red blossoms.

There is a natural beauty here that I’m just beginning to understand. The people are gentle but also passionate — like the island itself.

I began thinking about moving to the Caribbean a few years ago when I realized that my actions could actually have a positive impact on the world. Keeping active and finding a way to contribute by building something drives me forward every day.

A few years ago, I started researching tourism in the Caribbean. While it has brought positive economic growth, it has also had some negative side effects. Local agriculture and manufacturing have dwindled to the point where most of the islands import most of their food and supplies. This makes living on the islands extremely expensive and feeds into the cycle of poverty that tourism was supposed to eliminate. I began thinking about ways to inspire local communities to become more self-sufficient and found that the self-sufficiency of a community relies on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I studied ways to inspire entrepreneurs. Government and community support play a large role, but so too do the level of arts and culture available in the society. Coming from a family of artists, this opportunity intrigued me, and as I did more research, I found that most of the islands lack what communities in Canada all seem to have — arts and cultural centres. Instead, the islands have theatres and art galleries designed to cater to tourists, but nothing geared at educating local communities.

This discovery shocked me and sparked the idea of creating arts and cultural centres across the Caribbean. But then the real challenge arose — how do we sustain them?

As I did more research, I discovered a unique anomaly in the hospitality industry. Affluent travellers were changing their habits, looking for more ‘experiential’ type of vacations rather than the all-inclusive gated resorts that once attracted them. Although the all-inclusive type of resort still attracts tourists looking for great deals, affluent millennials and baby boomers want to experience the local culture more intimately, and they support environmental initiatives.

Combine this discovery with the goal of building arts and cultural centres across the Caribbean and our business model for Canvas and Cave was born. I’m living in Barbados now to steer the development of our first unique arts and culture centre fused with an environmental resort. It will cater to affluent travellers, offer a gorgeous view of the Caribbean, with an organic garden to supply our restaurant, and an arts centre where local communities and affluent travellers can connect, create, and share ideas.

Greg and I have developed the habit of sitting out on the deck to watch the sun set and the stars come out. We’ve found the planets, and this time of year Venus sits bright in the western sky. A sliver of a moon is just setting and the whistling frogs at dusk signal that the end of the day. I find that I can hardly wait for what the next day will bring.