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Am I missing the bride gene?

 I’m getting married. It feels strange to be engaged. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fiancé and am over the moon that he put a ring on my finger. I just never thought this time would arrive for me. When growing up friends would share excitedly about what kind of wedding they wanted and the style of dress they liked best — but when asked, I would shrug my shoulders and simply say, “Hadn’t really thought about it.”

What I have always known is that one day I would like to marry my best friend and build a life with him. I thought when the time came, it would be like that wedding planning bug that seemingly every one of my friends had, would come out of its dormant state in me.  It’s not the case.  I’m excited for the day I put on my wedding dress, but I’ve always had the mindset that it’s just ONE day and it’s the adventure that follows which I’m most excited about.  I also hate being the centre of attention, so, of course, I am not one who has ever wanted a massive traditional wedding.

From day 1, Cody and I both admitted we wanted a stress-free, fun, destination wedding with our nearest and dearest. I’m an unconventional girl and despite the expectation to plan a massive wedding at a ornate church and a reception at a lavish ballroom, it’s just not my style. I woke up at 5 am for coverage of the Royal Wedding and loved every moment, but fascinators and Cinderella carriage rides, just aren’t me.

I have to admit it’s enjoyable witnessing my mother’s excitement since I told her Cody and I are engaged. She has waited decades for this time to arrive and as soon as I announced the engagement, she began busily planning as if it is her own wedding on the horizon. She set us up with a destination wedding coordinator, took me to find the perfect dress (which I did. it’s straight off the rack, without a need for alterations. Thank goodness. I hate extra spending on alterations.) and spread the word like wildfire to friends and family, all within 48 hours of the ring being on my finger.

Mom clearly has the wedding planning bug. Why is it missing in me? I can’t pretend to feel it when I don’t. I wear my feelings on my sleeve and my opinions on my face, so feigning excitement is not something I can do. Whenever I worry that my interest in wedding planning isn’t what it should be, I realize that my excitement triples when I think about the future Cody and I have planned after the wedding.  I think all too often we put too much emphasis on the immediate. On the one day , the one dress and the first dance. I understand that maybe I’m a bit different in many ways, but I’m not strange or missing the bride gene. I’m just looking with more excitement at the journey and the future.

Reflection: A birthday abroad

Earlier this spring, I turned 27 and for the first time in my life, I celebrated my birthday outside of Canada’s borders and thousands of kilometres away from the place I call home. My birthday came just weeks after I left Toronto to pursue a year of working and travelling in South America.

They say when it comes to birthdays, there are two types of people: those who love it and those who hate it. I’m the latter. Not dissimilar to New Year’s, birthdays, I feel, are a time for reflection and goal setting. A marker of another year past and a new age just starting, birthdays can be anxiety filled and stressful. For some, it’s a dreaded time of year when worries about getting old are at their strongest. Aging, for me, is not of a particular concern. Rather, I’m faced with asking myself the tough questions. Am I where I want to be in life at this moment? Did I make the most of the year that just passed? Is there anything I’d like to change going forward? Am I wiser or just older now? As the questions continue to pop into my mind, it’s no wonder that my anxiety levels rise.

This year though, that changed. Having set foot in Colombia in the last days of February with a teeny wardrobe squeezed into a pack and an even smaller Spanish vocabulary, I set out to live my day-to-day quite differently. Turning up in a new country where little was familiar, I set a precedent to go with the flow as much as possible because, well, given the circumstances, there just didn’t seem to be another option. Plus, having put myself far outside of my comfort zone, little seemed in my control. Worrying wasn’t going to change that. As such, when my birthday neared, I learned to give up my panic routine. I ended up booking a stay in a hostel high in the mountains an hour outside of the city where strong rays of sunshine made for the perfect day of poolside lounging next to a yard of mango trees and avocados.  

There were some things I learned during that weekend when I finally learned to just chill out and take things as they come. Below, are just a few.

Expectation management is key.

Manage expectations and everything becomes easier. In years past, my birthday bash often had to be just so. I needed every one of my friends to show up and have a great time. I wanted a new outfit and freshly done hair. The night couldn’t end too early and oftentimes, my party had at least two locations. This year though, I couldn’t have any of that. I was without my cluster of friends for one, and secondly, I wasn’t even familiar with my new home. So, I booked the mini getaway determined to have fun during my lowest key birthday yet. I went with one close friend and fussed about none of the details. We enjoyed wine, homemade tacos and a tuk-tuk ride up the mountain. I had a great time. I guess simple is better and giving up control makes for a more enjoyable experience.

Sometimes, you just can’t plan for all the details.

I went with the flow and enjoyed a low-key weekend in a tranquil spot and met a lovely group of people also exploring the area. I chose not to fuss over every single detail and things turned out for the best. You can’t plan every single thing to a tee so it’s best not to try and just enjoy things as they happen. That goes for things like a birthday party but it also applies to travel, work or entering a new phase in life.

You heard it before… don’t take yourself too seriously.

I’m not the best Spanish speaker or salsa dancer but on the night when I turned 27, I did both. I joined the party going on a the pool soon after midnight again, determined just to have a good time and be in the moment. I doubt anyone noticed my amateur dance steps and as for the Spanish, I managed to get my points across through broken phrases. Others were encouraging, not judgmental and it was certainly better than hanging back and being a wallflower all night. I didn’t take myself seriously and it was for the best. Duly noted for my year of travels ahead…

Worrying just makes the problem bigger.

As mentioned, with so much out of my control this year, I just gave up the stressing altogether. I did myself a major favour. Instead of entertaining that birag of self-reflection questions, I opted not to bother. In doing so, the pressure came off and I had a surprisingly awesome time. The lead-up to my birthday was a much less stressful event than it had been in years past. I realized that worrying is a problem in and of itself and I had the power to quash that all along.  

Solo Travel: Here’s what I’ve learned from being extremely vulnerable

When I told people of my plans to live abroad in South America for a year, the most common response I got was: “I wish I did that when I was your age.” I’m in my mid-twenties and as my departure date got closer and closer, this response became more and more normal for me to hear from those ten or twenty years my senior. In the months leading up to this adventure, I became accustomed to hearing “I wish” over and over again and though I never asked, I usually silently thought to myself: “Well, why didn’t you?” That question was one I genuinely wanted the answer to. By the time I was headed to the gate with my boarding pass in hand, I had a good feeling I already knew the answer. I had just said goodbye to my family, friends, job and home and it felt like I had gone through several breakups in a condensed period of time. Six weeks later, I still suspect that many of those people didn’t bother because hitting pause on life and travelling away from home is so damn uncomfortable.

This is the first time I’m giving the whole living abroad thing a shot and I’ve never felt more vulnerable in my life. The past month and a half has been great yet at the same time, I’ve been well outside my comfort zone almost every time I’ve left my apartment. I see why many opt not to do this, but after  spending weeks fumbling through conversations, getting lost and feeling very, very new in town, I’ve noticed a few things that are likely true for those who do book that one-way ticket. Below, a few realizations I’ve had through the chaotic times.

Many people will genuinely want to help.

My first assumption was that Spanish speakers and Colombian people would surely think of me as an idiot tourist. I expected looks of judgement or for locals to simply overlook my struggles when, say, ordering a coffee or navigating the subway. That has not been the case. Rather than judging, most people want to see others thrive. Here, locals are quick to switch to English if they speak it and when I got lost during my second week, more than one person on my bus kept an eye out for my stop.

The definition of intimidating changes.

A great way to make small problems go away is to replace them with larger ones. I’ve noticed that my definition of intimidating has changed immensely since arriving in Medellin in late February. Before I left, intimidating would have meant going out for dinner alone in Toronto on a Friday evening. Now, that pales in comparison to last Friday’s plans which were to navigate the metro system to get across the city to meet up with strangers to then go on the most exhausting hike way up in the mountains. Afterwards, I then went out for dinner alone… and had to order in a different language. Dining alone in Toronto? Yeah, not so bad…

Small gains become victories.

I had no idea about all the small things I took for granted back home. Basic conversational skills, being aware of my surroundings and having many friends willing to meet up for a spur-of-the-moment beer are all examples. Once in a totally unfamiliar place, the smallest accomplishments seem massive. During my first week, that meant being able to successfully buy three empanadas. Now, I’m still happy with minor things like making a new friend or constructing basic sentences in Spanish.

Consider lifelong interests a fallback plan.

While I’m away from family, friends and all things familiar, I’m finding that my hobbies and interests have been my way of feeling grounded. For example, I write almost every day and as an active and outdoorsy person, I’m enjoying mountain terrain and working out regularly. Knowing your interests and committing to the things you actually like certainly enrich the travel experience.

Personal comforts are way too easy to come by.

It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that the secret to acquiring a cozy household is to first blow hundreds of dollars at Bed Bath and Beyond and consult with hygge gurus to get everything just so. I arrived to my new home with nothing but a (very stuffed) MEC duffle bag and have found that I’m able to find comfort in the objects I have. Like the cards from my mom, sister and best friend, my favourite sweater, a bottle of mint essential oil and a calendar of prints from an artist local to my hometown. I’m making do without favourite beers and comfort foods and all the items that made my bedroom the perfect chillout zone. Surprisingly though, that hasn’t been that hard.

Capturing strength, confidence and beauty: Why every woman deserves to step in front of the camera

Taking photographs has become a customary part of daily life – from selfies to photos of the kids, day trips and vacations, interesting architecture, fancy meals, the list goes on. But how often do we go back and look at these through our phone, computer or social media channels? How many photos of ourselves do we print off and place on display?

My family has a photo shoot done every couple of years where we have family portraits done as well as various staged and candid shots of the kids, the pup, and my husband and I together. These photos are always printed and put out on display, then dated and put away in an album when the new ones are ready to be framed.

We have fun as a family doing these shoots, coming up with ideas and spending time together. These photos reflect where we are in life, our interests and show how we are growing.

I have thousands of photos of my family on my phone and computer, they aren’t organized in folders; there are hundreds of duplicates to sort through, some are complete duds, and only a handful include me or my husband.

That is why we have a photographer – so we can be with our children in photos that we love and are proud to display around our home.

It was these family photos that led me to a personal photo shoot. This isn’t an idea I would have come up with on my own, however the opportunity arose to have my hair and makeup done, wardrobe styled and photos taken. I jumped at the chance.

I’ll admit, at first I felt a little awkward about getting dressed up and being in front of the camera. After all, there was no special occasion and no exact purpose for these photos. But, my goodness, it was a breath of fresh air. As a mother I have no issue setting up elaborate newborn shoots and cake smashes, arranging portraits of our children to hang on the wall. The kids get all the glory, and you know what? I deserve a bit of the same.

Participating in this photo shoot was lively, fun, and honestly, empowering. I felt beautiful, confident and successful as the photos were being taken. Those feelings stayed with me for days afterwards, and came back even stronger when I received the images.

That shoot was a wonderful reminder of who I was prior to becoming a mother, and who I could still be outside of motherhood, my career, and other responsibilities.

Every woman deserves to feel the way I felt and continue to feel whenever I look at those photos. It isn’t just about the cosmetic or outward beauty that is captured. With the right photographer your personality shines through; you will see strength, perseverance, confidence, and the beauty within.

These photos can extend to your professional life as well, be it on your LinkedIn profile, business website or blog. Having quality pictures that reflect who you are and what you do will set you apart. They show that you’ve invested in yourself and that others should too.

When hiring a photographer their price and portfolio are often the main considerations. However, if you don’t jive with the photographer, the photos will reflect that. You want to work with someone you feel comfortable with and can even be vulnerable with. Ensure they are good with kids and pets if they will be in the photos as well.

Have a plan in place for what you want to accomplish, and ask if they can honestly offer what you are looking for. Are they available to come to your home? Can you have multiple set-ups? What kind of packages can they offer?

With any profession there are varying degrees of experience and price points. This is not something that should break the bank, however it isn’t something to skimp on either. Once you decide how much you want to spend, take time to speak with different photographers and get an idea of who will be the best fit.

Finding a photographer and having professional photos taken of yourself and your family is worth the investment. Even if you only do it once, you have the images forever.

 

Love will conquer all

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary and my husband, Greg Thomson, started our day by playing a video on his Iphone of the Flintstones singing “Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary.”  Like our wedding day, today started with reckless giggling.

My husband is an amazing man. In that quiet time just before we get up in the morning, I sometimes feel as if there is an angel beside me.  He is man who has made it his goal to balance compassion, tenderness, strength, wisdom and grace — and he has succeeded.  Greg has never chased after power or fame, and he doesn’t need social status or wealth to define him – but he makes allowances for those who do.

Greg is rarely critical of people or ideas, he doesn’t possess the arrogance that too often develops in men who achieve success. Greg believes in human potential – in that ability people have to achieve things that others think impossible.

Greg would never hurt anyone and he would never try to limit or undermine someones confidence. He is wise and knows that those who think they know best are fools (although he’d never say that to them). He is a man who feels a duty to give back the world, to tackle mediocrity, and conventional thinking. In his work, he studies the social impact of charities hoping that he can help the small charities who have a large social impact. He gets frustrated over the amount of funds that get wasted by charities that have little social impact, but are filled with influential board members.

When I think about our marriage, I believe our happiness rests on our willingness to give up our individual selves to become part of something bigger. I remember when we were just married, I used to write about my love for him; about the things he did that inspired me, about the awe that I had over this man who chose to share his life with me. Today, I realize that my love is now weaved together with the love Greg has for me. It is constantly expanding. It encompasses our children, and, like a warm breeze, it spreads out over our family and friends. I think our love grows with the choices we make, with the friendships we have, and the experiences we gain. By living up to the people we want to be we are able to feel more deeply, and experience things more richly.

When we were first married we talked about what we wanted in our future. Greg wanted to feel more, to do more and to make a difference in the world. Back then I couldn’t understand what Greg meant by ‘feel more” because I had been raised to put both my heart and mind into everything I do. At the beginning of our marriage I realized that Greg put his head and thoughts into what he did, but not his heart.  He learned to be cerebral, to hide his feelings, but part of him knew he was missing out on something. Over time as our love weaved together Greg let himself feel more, he put his heart and not just his head into everything he did. He allowed himself to go beyond just thinking about the world to sensing it. I learned to see the world through Greg’s eyes just as he learned to see it through mine. Our world became much bigger, more vibrant, sensual, and beautiful. We are soaring above the ground we walked as individuals.

A few months ago a man told me that I should be much more afraid of failing than I am. I’ve thought about his words a lot since then; about what he thinks is failure, and about the limitations his kind of thinking has placed on him. In the world of keeping up the Joneses he’s succeeded, but in the world that Greg and I live in, he seems shackled by fear, limiting his involvement in things that might expand his world because he fears failure.

The love that Greg and I have has allowed us to embrace the world. Together we can take on any challenge. And the only true failure that either of us could have is to fail to live up to the moral code that guides our lives. Our love has made us free, and has given us confidence. Together we experience life, we set out to achieve our dreams and we live every moment to the fullest.

When our eldest son was born, I remember sharing that moment when we both realized that our duty extended beyond just what we could give to the world, but to provide our children with love, compassion and a value system that will allow them to find the love we have managed to build.

Everyday I wake up and I know how lucky I am to have such an amazing man in my life. Greg is the strongest man I have ever met. He would never compromise himself for gain, or use “business” as an excuse for hurting someone. I think he would actually be physically sick if he thought his words had hurt someone. He is kind, compassionate and every day he defines what it means to be a gentleman.

The vision of who Greg wants to be captures all the qualities that go into making a true hero.  He is a part of how I define myself, the pulse inside me that drives me forward and makes me want to put everything I have into everything that I do —  so that one day I just might be good enough for him.

Time to get naked and comfortable with your partner

Do you find yourself trying to cover up when naked in bed with your partner? Are you racing to put clothes on after the shower? Is being in the nude nearly un-‘bare’-able? You aren’t alone.

Many women dislike being unclothed in front of their partners, and this is ultimately damaging to confidence in a relationship. Women are surrounded by air-brushed lingerie ads of women who are perfect looking, and this leads to damaging self-criticism. This discomfort needs to be destroyed. It is time to throw off the clothes and learn to love that naked body for exactly how beautiful it is. Feeling comfortable being naked in front of your partner will not only strengthen your relationship, it will ultimately make you feel better about yourself.

Embracing the nude isn’t a process that will happen overnight. It takes consistent effort and, if you work at it, slowly but surely it will become completely natural to hang out in the nude with your partner. Start by confronting your fear head-on, the dreaded mirror. After a shower, instead of avoiding your reflection, take a look. Instead of glancing at yourself with critical eyes, try to see what your partner sees. What is beautiful about your sexy body? What makes your feminine self desirable? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and self-criticism is not helpful. High self-esteem starts with yourself, and meeting that beautiful woman in the mirror for a post-shower ego-boost will adjust you to being naked and increase confidence.

Taking care of your body will promote a healthier relationship with your body. This does not mean develop a punishing regiment for daily exercise, but instead should inspire you to learn how to love your body without being fixated on trying to change it. How about a massage or even treating yourself to a manicure and pedicure? Treating your body as a temple will promote a sense of much-needed self-love. Exercise is important and creates a healthy self-image, so challenge yourself to move your body in ways that feel sexy and fun. Do you like to dance? Put on some music and bust a move! Do you enjoy hula hooping or swimming? Grab a hoop or jump in the pool! Moving the body in a fun way makes exercise enjoyable and will make being naked even more fun.

After some serious self-love exercises, it is time to test the waters and try to get naked with your partner. If you are still feeling nervous, enact a ritual to feel more confident like putting a bit of mascara on or putting coconut lotion on your body. If the lighting feels too bright, use a lamp, candles or softer lighting. It creates sexy mood lighting and will make your partner very excited. Remember, your partner wants to be there with you and your beautiful naked self. Men aren’t critically assessing your stretch marks or blemishes, but are simply excited to be with a naked woman they love. Good men are not looking at the flaws, but instead are looking at the woman beneath them. Try and see yourself through the eyes of desire, you will look pretty dang good.
Being naked with a partner will ultimately forge a more intimate relationship, with the added bonus of shaking up your sex life. Be brave, and love your naked body. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and that is precisely what makes women so beautiful. Embrace the body you were given and make it your temple — if only for your own benefit.