Don’t aim for the trees!

I was 38 years old when I started skiing. My then husband had skied all his life, and we wanted our family ski together. So Rory (5), Jaime (3) and Susan (38) started into lessons at the Mansfield Ski Club. 7 years later, we could all ski down anything, and had skied in Utah and all over Alberta and BC. In all those years of lessons, I am pretty confident that each and every ski instructor shared this lesson: don’t look at what you want to avoid…look at where you are going, and your skis will take you there. Trust your skis and your ability.

Susan, Julie and Kira contemplating our skiing exploits!

Susan, Julie and Kira contemplating our skiing exploits!

In 2007, we were skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with my most wonderful friend Kira and her family. Second to last day, lots of powder and great weather, I (stupidly) decided to follow Jaime down some steeps through the trees. I dodged the trees successfully…until I slowed down and came out into a clearing…and managed to catch a spruce tree that I was trying to avoid with my right ski. That ski released. The left ski did not. 

3 breaks in the lower left leg, a most memorable toboggan ride, emergency surgery, a rod, a plate and lots of screws, 7 months of intensive physiotherapy and I was back to skiing the next winter. Kira and I headed to Banff and skied Lake Louise. It was as if I hadn’t broken my leg. Except, I had developed a new and irrational fear of skiing in trees. If I even got close to them, I had an immediate and visceral reaction of panic.

I still love to ski, but I always stay away from trees. Those beautiful little glades with trails that beckon? I avoid them. Even the larger open tree areas in Whistler and Big White, I stay away from those. It limits the areas I can ski, but quells my panic. 

A bit of mountain to ski down...note the lack of trees here.

A bit of mountain to ski down…note the lack of trees here.

However, last week, the most miraculous thing happened. Kira and I were in Whistler, and after the first day of heavy, wet snow (and tired legs), Kira reminded me that we just have to trust our skis and our abilities…and make sure we look at where we want to go, not what we want to avoid. In other words, don’t aim for the trees.

We ended up in Symphony Bowl one morning, and down we skied. We took different routes and before I knew it, I found myself in some tight trees. I could feel the panic start to rise as my skis were turning. I found myself staring hard at the trees, turning past them and looking for the next one to get ready for my turn.

Then it happened. I heard Kira’s voice in my head, echoed by all those other ski instructors, and I actually listened. Then instead of looking at the trees, I looked at where I wanted to go.

Holy cow. 

It really worked! 

I was turning like a  ninja (or my version of an old lady ninja), gliding between the trees like I wasn’t afraid at all.

And you know what?

I wasn’t afraid at all!

I could end my story here, celebrating my brave and skillful skiing ability; how I learned to look at where I wanted to go, and not at what I needed to avoid – the trees. But that is not the purpose of this story. As we went up the chair lift, I shared my inspiration with my two ski buddies (who love and tolerate my relative insanity). In a moment of quiet contemplation, Remy turned and said something like this:

Three skiers focusing ahead...or at least on the camera!

Three skiers focusing ahead…or at least on the camera!

“That is a metaphor for life. Trust yourself, trust your abilities, and point yourself in the direction you want to go. Don’t look at what you want to avoid…look ahead at where you want to go.”

So, my friends, whether you are skiing, traveling, writing a policy document, developing a new learning program, or just trying to live a good life, remember to focus on where you want to go. Don’t focus on what you want or need to avoid. That will lead you astray, or at least into the next tree. Look ahead.

Trust me, it works. 

 

Psychological Capital = Cold house, warm heart!

I have friends coming to visit this weekend. Like most people, I try to ensure that my house is relatively clean when guests visit. I vacuum up the dog hair, make sure there are fresh towels in the bathroom, and generally straighten things up.

But if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I moved in the summer, and I live in an old log house. It was built in the early 1800s, with dark, squared timber logs, single pane windows and a small addition that has virtually no insulation. I heat with wood, though I’ve got an oil furnace too, so it means the air is dry, often dusty (okay, always dusty) and the house is cool. Well, cold. Quite cold.

As I sat looking out the kitchen window this morning – the one with two cracks in it, covered in plastic to try to keep the heat in – I felt a bit low. I was wearing my lined flannel pants and a down vest, looking at the mis-matched drawers and badly

New drawer, different style, but at least I have more space now!

New drawer, different style, but at least I have more space now!

varathaned floor. Above me, the lack of light fixtures made the bare light bulbs look ugly and harsh. The boots and shoes that spill out from the kitchen door clutter the floor and get in the way when I want to go in or out.

Kind of Beverly Hillbilly chic without the chic.

I could feel myself wondering how I ended up living in such a ramshackle, run down place, and I was starting to feel sorry for myself.

I hate that. It’s not like me.

Thankfully, I was distracted by the birds. Well, birds and a red squirrel. You see, when you look out that window, through the plastic and past those cracks, you see my bird feeders. This morning, three cardinals (two male, one female), a few red breasted

Feeder magic!

Feeder magic!

nuthatches, a white breasted nuthatch, 10 goldfinches and countless chickadees were feasting on the seeds. A red squirrel was on the ground, while the snow was dancing all around. As I looked out, I remembered that if I stood in my living room (which by then was warm because the wood stove insert had heated it up), I could see the string of Christmas lights I’d put up the other night, ringing the room like sparkles of light. My living room was made for Christmas, with the warm logs, a stone fireplace, pine floors painted a deep, rich burgundy red and just the right distance between the couch and the chairs to be cozy.

Jamie Gruman, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Guelph, writes about psychological capital. He explains that people are familiar with intellectual capital, which is what we know; and social capital, which is who we know. Psychological capital is who we are and who we are becoming, and is made up of four personal resources: hope, optimism, confidence and resilience. It is evident to me that though my intellectual capital may need work, my stores of social capital and my psychological capital are overflowing. In fact, my capacity for hope, optimism, confidence and resilience seems to grow daily, even though I have a space heater blowing on my feet in my office!

Christmas cozy in my living room.

Christmas cozy in my living room.

I recognize that life is short, fragile and precious. I know that, despite the Senate insanities and bizarre mayoral behaviours, and despite the fact that some of my loved ones live so far away, I’m living in peace, with a roof over my head that doesn’t leak, incredible children, friends that I love and cherish, and birds outside my window.

Hope, optimism, confidence and resilience. My wish for all of us in the new year. Oh, and warm slippers and more flannel lined pants!

The feeling of home

I heard it before I could see it. A pileated woodpecker, making that silly, squawky sound they make, wuk, wuk, wuk, when they are protecting their territory. I was walking back into my driveway, and all of a sudden, that sound made me feel at home. Perched up on a tall, dead red pine behind the house, with its crest cutting into the blue sky, it was announcing that it would not put up with trespassers.

I used to have pileated woodpeckers all the time at my other house. But here was one at the new place. And as I looked over at my feeders, there were two male cardinals and one female. Two goldfinches on the niger seed feeder.

A little taste of home. For the first time, in the 2 weeks I’ve been here, I felt my heart rest a bit.

What is home anyway? I was talking to Sue Staniforth yesterday, and she had just returned from an adventure up in Algonquin Park. She loves Newfoundland, loves British Columbia, but as she explained, there was something about the Park that resonates with her soul, and feels like home.

I know that feeling, that thumping in the chest when you know you’re where you are supposed to be. I get that when I’m looking out over the sea in Nova Scotia. The salty scent that pervades the air, the feel of the wind on my face, and the very vibrations in the earth that seem to plant me ever so solidly there. Driving down the backroads, following the rivers, the rhythm of life there suits me.

Ontario is truly lovely. I’m always happy when I’m in the mountains in Alberta. The Qu’appelle Valley in Saskatchewan is breathtaking, and Newfoundland has always been the closest thing to home for me, next to Nova Scotia…but none of those places are home.

My first few days in the Grange house didn’t feel like I was home at all. It felt hot, empty and dirty. But now that a bit of time has passed, I think of my first dinner here, with Michael and Jean in the kitchen, surrounded by chaos and laughter. Sitting in the living room with Rory, watching old Dr. Who episodes. Coffee on the porch with Janey, surrounded by the dogs. It will be more homey when can see Jaime sitting in her boxers watching old Seinfeld re-runs, and others I love making music in the living room. All those memories will make it home.

Music waiting to happen!

Music waiting to happen!

A strange thing has happened of late. I spend a lot of time going out to BC, to visit Marj, Andy and others. And for the first time, when I landed in Victoria and my feet hit the ground, it felt homey. It didn’t resonate “you are home” and I didn’t feel like I wanted to move there immediately. But on our travels, Marj and I headed around to Sooke, where the trees scrape the edge of the sky and the ocean pulls at the land as you drive along the West Coast Highway. The water seemed to call from the car window, and our expedition down to French Beach felt wonderful. It felt like home.Image 5

But why? I have no memories in Sooke. But I have memories of salt water, of laughter on the beach, being surrounded by people I love while I am in BC…all these together seem to create the pull of home.

Thousands of writers have contemplated the meaning of home; its subjective and relative nature suggests that a definition that suits me wouldn’t suit you, or you, or anyone else. But I’m going to put a few things down, and I hope that others will add to it, so we can generate an emergent and wonderful description of home.

Home is…

  • a place where your heart can rest and you can make dinner in your PJs and it doesn’t matter!
  • a place filled with memories that make you smile.
  • a moveable feast of people you love, wherever they gather.
  • a place that resonates in your soul, like Algonquin Park, and finds you at peace.
  • …where your heart is?

What does home mean to you? Tell me, please. Add it here.

Find the unexpected

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My tracks, the dogs, and the coyotes!

SNOW! When I looked out the doors in my room, the world looked different. The sun was just rising and it bounced off the cedars in sparkles and light. I climbed into my coveralls, got the dogs ready, and out we went to trek down driveway and get the newspaper.

Like the musician who tries to find truth in his music, or the writer who searches for a story using her words, I try to find meaning in the natural world. There are messages there that I can use for both my business and personal life. What did I notice on my walk through this new, snowy world? Paw prints, grass and worms…


My dogs follow a scent that I can’t see. They read all sorts of things in the air that I cannot experience. This morning, because of the snow, I could see what intrigued them – coyote tracks! Lots of them. The tracks told me that there had been a race across my fields between 2 animals, a bit of a tussle, and off they’d run again. Without the snow, I would have missed that entire story.

The gravel driveway had a few inches of snow covering it, but peeking out through were a few pieces of grass that seemed to stand taller and their dark brown/green colour contrasted with the white snow. I would not have seen how tall they were without the snow.

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The great Christmas snow worm?

On I trudged, head down, wanting to get to the end so I could pick up the paper and go home for coffee. But I kept seeing what I assumed were tiny, one inch sized leaves lying in the snow. I must have walked half the length of my 900 foot driveway before I stopped and picked one up, only to learn (upon close inspection) that they were tent caterpillar worms! Holy cow, I would never have expected to find them in the snow!

Then I stopped in my tracks and grinned. Because I’d found meaning in this early morning stroll that made my day:

  • Sometimes others can see and understand things you can’t, and it takes a completely different perspective for you to understand what is going on.
  • Without that different perspective, you won’t recognize things that might be bigger, taller or more important. Things may appear the same until the perspective changes.
  • We tend to assume things, because that is what we expect to find. Don’t assume; take a moment and really look at things, and you make be completely surprised by what you discover!

Quite a lot packed into a brief morning walk. I am now on the look out for more tracks, grass and worms…you know what I mean.