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Summer in Canada

I’m in Canada right now for the summer. Every year Loch and I come for six weeks or so to enjoy the best the Great White North has to offer in terms of weather, and to make sure he knows he is, in part, half Canadian. I want him to know his roots. I want him to know my roots. I want to see my friends, and we both want to go to the cottage. Summers in Canada are a magical time. I thought perhaps living in Los Angeles I would eventually lose the appreciation for the beauty and warmth of the Canadian summer since I no longer have to deal with Canadian winter, but I was wrong. Summer in Canada still holds a special place in my heart that no amount of time in California’s sunshine can replace. Personally I love humidity. My PH isn’t so crazy about it, and I have days that breathing is difficult, but I love a summer where I can tangibly feel the season on my skin. A time when the heat physically hits you in the face. I know most people hate humidity – it’s sticky and gross and uncomfortable – but I’ve always enjoyed it. My grandmother was the same way so maybe it’s just a genetic anomaly, but to me it’s a wonderful and tactile feeling of the summer.

The sunset from the cottage.

Summers north of the 49th parallel also mean going to my cottage. My parents bought it before I was born and I’ve spent every summer of my life on Georgian Bay. When I was younger we used to go for weekends from May 24th through Canadian Thanksgiving and for 3 weeks in July. As I got older I spent almost 3 months at camp but would still go for days off and early and late in the season. From ages 15-21 I hosted an annual girl’s weekend at the bay with my closest friends and now am able to spend 4 or 5 long weekends a summer as well as 10 days straight whenever Sean can join us. The beauty of the place that started as a one room cabin and has since expanded to a lovely family cottage, is that it rarely changes.

The view from the living room. Very old school cottage-y. Not much different than it was 30 years ago.

Sure we add things here and there and talk endlessly about things we “could” do, but the feeling, the essence of the place remains the same. It’s a place of calm, a retreat from the world and it’s ever progressing aggression. It’s quiet and serene in a world full of noise. There’s no TV or internet and loon calls and bull frog croaks still fill the night. Though we aspire to a cool new wakeboard boat or a zippy Whaler runabout, our old boats – aptly, though not creatively, named Red and Blue – suit us just fine. We play games and go swimming, read books and nap. As I age, I’ve come to realize there’s also a heck of lot of work that comes with it, but to me it still seems worth it. My parents running joke is you can always tell the renters and the guests because they’re the ones actually sitting on the dock enjoying themselves. I personally, think my parents could do with more downtime, but they’ve established their routines of puttering around and fixing things or gardening, and I think it makes them happy. I can tell you who the cottage makes the most happy, and that’s Loch. His love for the place feels innate, like he was born with it. I have him in day camp in Toronto right now and although he’s having fun, he’s just counting the days till we go back. It’s truly his favorite place in the world.

Lochie on the Toronto Island at my cousin Cindy’s wedding 2 years ago.

The cottage aside, it’s also just nice coming home. Toronto’s a wonderful city that’s rapidly becoming so cool I sometimes can’t believe I’m from here. There are so many boutique hotels, hip restaurants and stores that it’s truly become a fabulous metropolitan city, not just for Canada, but for anywhere. Between the Distillary district and the cool, young family neighborhoods of the Danforth and the beaches in the East, to the restaurant and gallery row of Ossington in the West and everything in between, Toronto really has become one happening city. It’s also a wonderful place to bring a child. I truly believe the Toronot Zoo is the best there is, and I’ve been to zoo’s everywhere, including the famed San Diego Zoo that doesn’t hold a candle to the nature infused openness of what they have here. We took Loch down to the beautiful Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and spent hours, after a spectacular meal at their restaurant Frank, in the children’s learning center and exhibits. The Musuem (ROM) is awesome with it’s new interactive dinosaur exhibit. The Science Center has an entire floor devoted to children and so much to see elsewhere. We loved seeing the CN Tower last year but might wait a couple of years till we brave the lines again, and there is an entire amusement park for the under 8 set on the Toronto Island that I’m really hoping we find time to get over too because Loch loves it – and the ferry ride over – so much.

Dinner with some of my oldest friends this summer.

Toronto is just a great place to be, and when you add to it that most of my old friends still live here or have recently moved back, it’s really a treat to be able to come home at this time every year. I love being from Toronto. I love the trees and the neighborhoods. I love the beautiful old houses and how you can be in a gorgeous residential neighborhood (of which there are many) and then be downtown in 5-25 minutes. I love the subway. I love the access to taxis. I LOVE the radio. In LA, I think the radio stations are too specialized musically and too polarized politically. There’s no general pop rock channel, no just the issues or news talk radio. Everything in the States is laser focused to a specific demographic. Canada is more mutually pleasing, more ‘what’s best for everyone’. Personally, I love it. I can listen to the radio all day here. Television is a bit of different story as the commercials are pretty lame, the DVR technology is behind the times and the amount of programming is limited, but I don’t watch a lot of television in the summer so I tend not to notice. What I do notice is the politeness. It’s not a gross generalization to say Canadian’s are crazy polite. Lots of please’s and thank you’s, excuse me’s and the always classic “I’m sorry”. I’m sorry is a big one. There’s a saying that when a Canadian bumps into a door, she apologizes to the door. I’ve totally done that, so the joke always makes me laugh.  I had pedicure just after I arrived and the lady beside me must have apologized 10 times in the first 5 minutes she was there. I think it’d be fair to say Canadian’s aren’t as outrightly friendly as American’s, but polite, they have in spades.

My parents and I on the dock at the cottage. No photoshop. The sunset was actually like this.

There are drawbacks to coming home of course, the first being my instant regression to child when I’m in my parent’s house. I think it’d be different if I stayed in a rental or (in my dreams) had my own condo here, but as it stands, I come home and sleep in the same room I had as a child, eat in the same kitchen, drive the same routes, and have the same tiffs with my parents I did as a teenager. They are extremely generous to host us and for the most part we all have an amazing time, but there’s a part of me that always appreciates returning to LA where I’m the adult again. Secondly, the prices here astound me. My pretentious grande non-fat half-caf vanilla latte costs a dollar more here than it does in the States . Every magazine and book is significantly more expensive, and the booze, don’t even get me started on the price of the booze! I can see why that was necessary when our dollar’s value was so far off, but now with the Canadian dollar being just about par with the US, it’s a bit taxing. Speaking of taxing, I find that a bit different now too. Maybe it’s because I’ve had the luxury of visiting my in-laws in Oregon where there’s no sales tax AT ALL, but I think it’s also because I also no longer profit from the uses of Canadian taxes – the health care system, the roads, infrastructure or schools – that makes it harder to swallow. I think it would also be fair to say that Toronto has a significant traffic problem. Yes, the traffic in LA is horrendous, but it’s a town built around cars and driving. The roads are bigger with room for someone to say, pull to the side for a passager to jump out without blocking an entire lane of traffic or highways with multiple carpool lanes. Toronto on the other hand, has pretty much the same roads and highways it did 30 years ago but with a zillion more cars. Add the running joke that Canada has two seasons, Winter and Construction, and you get a serious problem. I feel bad for Torontoians. It’s a struggle to get anywhere.

The only other big difference I notice between the two cities, aside from the obvious like season changes (which I miss), the general attractiveness of the city (I think Toronto is far prettier) and the fact that one place holds all my old memories and the other I’ve chosen to hold my new ones, is the shallow and relatively insignificant detail of how people dress. Overall Toronto is probably one of the most conservative fashion places I’ve lived. Montreal was out there, NYC is clearly a fashion mecca, and LA is, at the same time, super laid back (think flip flops being acceptable almost anywhere), strategically casual ($300 jeans and $200 tank tops paired with $400 sunglasses and $1000 worth of bangles and layered necklaces just too look like you weren’t trying) AND the home of the million dollar movie star red carpet dress. My home town however is very much a pulled together, preppy, moderate place. I’ve always been a jeans kind of girl which seems to work for both locations, but when I read my beloved Hello Canada! or talk to my friends who have moved back here from NYC or see the business “look” of the downtown core, I notice how buttoned up and traditional this country is. Maybe I’ve been spoiled living in LA, land of the high powered stylist but I wonder if Toronto couldn’t afford to have a little more fun…

Happy Canadian Summer baby.

Overall my summers are a wonderful walk down memory lane and an amazing break from my life without family in Los Angeles. I am able to see and catch up with my friends. Hang out with their kids. Go out at night and not worry about getting a sitter. Spend quality time with my parents and let my son do the same. Sit on a dock and watch the sun set into the trees. Have the moon light up my room at the cottage. Drive a boat. Drink on patios with people I wouldn’t otherwise see and enjoy the occasional movie. Yes, I have to work while I’m here. Yes, I miss my husband. Yes, I squabble with my parents. But I am a blessed and lucky girl, grateful for all the happy summer memories I’ve had here, and all the ones I’m still planning to make.

Oh Canada! Thank you for always welcoming me home.

xo Leigh

My parents, Sean & Loch at the cottage

Don’t be a Victim

Dear Lochie,

The other day I was talking with someone I know, someone I love and appreciate, but who drives me crazy with their behavior. When I hung up the phone I was so irritated I did something I don’t often do, I gave you a piece of advice that is, for all intents and purposes, completely worthless to you right now. I usually try and keep our conversations kid themed but this situation had crawled so far under my skin that I felt the need to explain it to you despite the fact it’s really a grown up piece of advice. I bent down, looked you right in the eyes, and said,

Me: “Loch, whatever you do, don’t be a victim.”

You: “What’s a victim?”

Me: “A victim is someone who chooses not to stand up for themselves. Someone who lets people walk over them and does nothing about it. It’s like when someone is bothering you, and doing something you don’t like, you can go sit all by yourself and feel sad or you can say, “Hey that’s bothering me. I don’t like it.”

You: “And then they’ll stop?”

Me: “They might or they might not, but the point is you stood up for yourself and spoke your mind.”

You: “Or I could just come and tell you.”

Me: “You could. But I would try and handle it yourself first. The worst thing you can do is nothing and then be upset about it.”

Yes, I had that conversation with the 4-year-old version of you, but I feel so strongly about this issue I felt it just couldn’t wait.

I think I should clarify that when I say victim, I’m not talking about actual victims of real crimes. Those type of victims have (and deserve) the right to be angry, afraid, nervous, and hesitant. Nor am I speaking to people with mental diseases like clinical depression who need doctors or medications to help sort out their feelings. I’m talking about people who find themselves in a situation in which they are unhappy and shlump around doing nothing about it. “Whoa is me, the world is out to get me”, bulls*^#. The world is not out to get you. Bad things happen. They do. I’m living proof they do. It’s how you live that defines you, and my advice here is not to live like a victim. Stand up for yourself. Speak your mind. Confront problems head on. If you aren’t happy, do something about it.

I believe there are two kinds of victims:

Victim Type One: People who can find a problem with anything, who are always have something to complain about, who can make an issue out of nothing.

These are your classic “victim mentality” people. Those with a victim mentality can range from highly functioning successful people to sad sacks who accomplish nothing. The common thread between these people is the ability to find the negative in any situation and/or that things are always someone else’s fault.

You were invited to a party? Well, there was that other one you weren’t so….

You introduce two people and they get along great? Great, now, you’re the odd man out…

You were included in a dinner? It was just a cc so you were probably an afterthought…

You didn’t get that promotion? No one notices anything you do, what’s the point…

Your relationship isn’t working out? They’re probably bi-polar or having an affair….

You aren’t succeeding the way you want at work? The boss hates you, so what’s the point…

You never get the girl? No one gets me anyway so why take the chance….

Ugh! Get over yourself. Nothing ventured is nothing gained. If something good happens, enjoy it. Don’t look for the one bad thing to fixate on. If you aren’t happy with a situation, figure out what steps you can take to change it and then TAKE THEM! Transformation is impossible if you keep doing the same thing.

Man up. Stop the bitching and make a concerted effort to adjust your circumstances. Will everything work out? No, but at least you’re a player in your own destiny and not some hapless passenger waiting to see how it turns out and being miserable in the process.

Victim Type Two: People who refuse to acknowledge their problems and for whom everything is always “fine”.

Look, everything is not always fine. I could be trite and quote the oft used phrase that fine really means: F*^#ed up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional but I think it’s simpler than that. People who say they’re fine are either A: avoiding their real feelings and caught in some self imposed safe zone where being “fine” means they don’t really have to deal. B: lying because they don’t want to get into it or C: truly neither good nor bad and fine is truly the best and most appropriate answer at the time.

For the most part though, it’s A: avoidance. In my opinion avoiders are victims because in their refusal to acknowledge their real situation, they remain sacrificed to it.

I hate my spouse but I don’t want a divorce so I’ll pretend I’m fine. For ever. 

I hate my job but I don’t want to be unemployed so I’ll just keep doing it until they fire me. 

I’ve made the wrong choices in my life but there’s nothing I can do about it now so I’ll just keep living with them. 

One foot in front of the other stoicism doesn’t always work. Sometimes you have to stop and see where you are in order to figure out which way to go. Only then can you keep walking.

Listen, life can be hard. It can be frustrating. People can be out to get you and change is difficult, but to function within a state you can’t tolerate, that makes you miserable and – let’s not kid ourselves – makes you miserable to be around? That’s not better.  Dealing with things can be hard. It can be painful. It can be messy. But changing a circumstance you loathe, being your own advocate, there’s power in that, strength, worth. You’ll respect yourself more and other’s can’t help but concur.

You’re unhappy in your relationship? What changes can you make that might alter the situation? Deal with yourself first. What can you adjust? What can you make better? Still unhappy? Talk to your partner/friend/boss. Be honest. Be forthcoming. They can’t fix something they don’t know is broken. If you can’t do it alone, find an outside source to help – a councilor or a mediator. Listen and understand it’s never all one sided. It’s not all you and it’s not all them. Take the steps required to mend the situation. Put in the effort.  Still unhappy? The good doesn’t outweigh the bad? End it. You’re not doing anyone any favors by hanging on.

Don’t like your job? Are you in the right industry? If you aren’t then change. You’ll never be happy if you don’t like what you do. If you’re in the right industry, do you like what you do? Would you like it if you moved up? Have you asked for a raise? Have you worked harder to get noticed? Have you gone above and beyond? Have you been a team player? Are you friends with people at work? Have you made your ambition known?  If you have, be patient and wait for the opportunities, be vocal about your aspirations, and be focused on what you want. Still unhappy? The problem isn’t work. Something else is bothering you. Look into that.

Got yourself into a situation you don’t like? Made a series of bad choices and now feel stuck living with them? You’re not. Everything can change. For better or for worse, everything is fluid, but real change takes effort. You’re an addict? Admit it. Get help. Dedicate yourself to recovery. You’re overweight? Decide not to be. Chose to make smarter food and exercise choices. Commit to a being a better, stronger you. Every situation has an exit if you’re willing to take it. Do you necessarily want to do it? No. But if you’re unhappy or making others unhappy, then stop pretending it’s fine and adapt.

I’m not saying it’s simple, I’m saying it’s worth it. Bad things happen. It’s awful. My point is to not let it define you. Let’s say, God forbid, I die. It’ll take a major toll on you and your Dad, but I don’t want you to become the boy who’s mom died, or Dad to become the sad man who lost his wife. I want you to be Lochlan and Sean. You first, your circumstances second. If I die, I’m the victim. I don’t want you to be too.

Be the driver in your own life. Make the decisions. Make the calls. Don’t let life run you over. Don’t let people take advantage of you. Don’t let your circumstances define you. Look, I’m no saint, I can throw down when it comes to complaining. Some things aren’t fair, they suck, and you have to bitch. That’s life kiddo. My advice isn’t to power through everything. If you have to throw a pity party by all means throw it, just make it a short affair. Take the time to be upset, then pull it together. Make a plan to be happy and execute it. Handle your business. Don’t be powerless and wish you weren’t.

You hold the cards. You just have to decide how to play them.

xo Mommy