The weather today was classic Ontario Fall: crisp air, bright sunshine (great for photography, I sighed to myself, pining for a good camera), and a fresh cool breeze coming off the lake. There were autumn colours everywhere, with pumpkins, gourds and mums on my neighbours’ front porches. I love this kind of weather and I enjoyed a nice long walk along the shore of Lake Ontario this morning, taking in the colours and the light.
With all the travelling that I had to do this Fall, this was my first quiet weekend at home since August – unbelievable! On Friday, as I was mapping out the coming days, I made the conscious decision to accomplish as little as possible on the weekend. Here is a sampling of the things I did not do this weekend. I did not: rake leaves, clean up my garden for the upcoming frost, declutter my house, do a big grocery shop, cook ahead for the week, clean anything, catch up on emails or do any work, I also did not work out, or do piles of laundry. In fact, I set out to get one single thing done this weekend: to change one hard-to-reach lightbulb in my house (that, I must confess, has been out for weeks.) That’s right, my goal for this weekend was to change one solitary lightbulb. Oh, and I went to see the new Bullock/Clooney movie “Gravity” which was visually stunning and a total nail-biter. That’s it. Lightbulb, movie, and some time on the sofa reading and watching TV.
With the left foot in the Pacific…
and the right foot in the Atlantic!
Fall is a time when I travel a lot - and this year is no different. So far, since July, I have been to Vancouver, NYC, Los Angeles, Bermuda and am now in Connecticut. I have dipped my toes in both the Pacific and the Atlantic ocean two weeks apart which is pretty incredible! In the coming weeks, I will be going to Vancouver again, and to San Diego, along with a few more local hops to Toronto and Montreal.
I love to travel. I have been on the road pretty regularly now for the past seven years offering compassion fatigue training and consulting and I get asked the following three questions ALL THE TIME so I thought I would answer them here, on the blog, in case anyone else wants to know. The latest person to quiz me was my Bermudian cab driver last week, who gave me the third degree (in a most lovely, kind way) about being away from my kids for a week. So here goes, a little Q&A with a road warrior:
Q: ”Isn’t it tiring?”
A: No, not really! When you travel a lot, you get into a groove and you develop a system for packing and for the home front. Almost every person I know who travels regularly for work has a suitcase that they keep packed and ready to go, they wear the same clothes on every trip so there is no big dilemma as to what to wear – when you get home, you just wash your duds and put them back in the bag for the next trip. And, let’s be honest, travelling alone without a screaming toddler (or two, which I have done many times), is not what I would call tiring: I get to read when I want, eat when I want and watch movies without having to worry about anyone else. When I finish a work day, I get to go to my hotel and work out, then have a hot cooked meal without having to clean up, drive anyone to basketball practice or do laundry. So, no, not too bad! I also get a lot of work done without constant interruptions.
I try to stay healthy on the road by bringing power bars, protein powder for green shakes and other health foods. I stay away from fast food and the minibar. I have found some great yoga downloads and meditation apps. It might be harder on people who hate being alone. I greatly value solitude, and given that the work that I do is highly social and rather intense, the downtime of trips is very rejuvenating.
Q: “Isn’t it hard on your family?”
A: Well, yes and no. First of all, I find it interesting that men rarely get asked that question. My husband travelled a great deal for the first decade of our children’s lives, and no one ever asked him that, not even once, not even the time when he went to Japan-England-Sweden and wasn’t home for weeks, leaving me with a 5 month old who never slept and having accidentally locked the stroller to his bike, before he left. No, I’m not still bitter about that, why do you ask? :-)
I’m pretty sure a taxi driver has never asked my hubby how his family manages back at home without him. Right? Would my kids prefer that I was home 24/7 with baked cookies waiting for them after school? Yes, of course. But they enjoy the benefits of the job – the fact that I get to work from home, take the entire summer off, am home for most of the winter, and the fact that they get to come on some of my trips (Hawaii!). I also think that they have learned to be more independent than if I were always home, as I tend to be a bit of an overfunctioner. At their ages now, they mostly ignore me when I am there, to be honest (although that’s nice too – to be able to ignore your mom but to know that she’s there, I totally get that). It’s been harder at some times than others. I think that anyone who is a parent and a road warrior will confess to moments of terrible homesickness when on the road. That’s also true for me. But overall, I actually think it’s been good for my family. My partner has learned to be the main parent when I am away, and we now make a good team. I know that I’m a big personality, and it was probably very healthy for me to be out of the picture at times so he could get his place as a dad, if that makes sense.
Of course, the only reason I am able to do any of this is because I have amazing support back at the ranch from my honey and my friends. And, if my kids get sick or get hurt, all of my zenitude goes by the wayside and I am one unhappy camper who just wants to get home asap. I also try to have long stretches at home in between hectic times. I know I’ve been there too long when my kids start asking me “isn’t time you went on a trip, mom?”
Q: “Why do you do it?”
A: Ah! Because I have the best job in the world! Meeting new folks, in new places, and getting to understand them, their community, its challenges, what works for them, how their system as a whole is coping with cutbacks and change and being able to offer some solutions or perhaps even inspire one person in each town to explore their self care, their relationship to compassion fatigue and secondary trauma and their compassion satisfaction is the most rewarding work that I have ever done. From the Yukon to downtown Los Angeles, to the Caribbean to Newfoundland to the Midwest, I have met helpers of all stripes: nurses, judges, lawyers, police officers, social workers, foster parents, paramedics, doctors, chaplains, the list goes on and on. And every time I meet a new group, and have the privilege of getting to learn more about what challenges they are facing, what strategies they have tried, I grow a little wiser and a whole hell of a lot humbler. I am very privileged to get to do this work.
So, if you are reading this while on the road, I raise a toast to you too.
Hi dear readers! I’ve been on summer hiatus for the past month. Every year, I take some time off after the annual conference. That means taking a break from writing and non-essential work in order to refuel and take stock. Don’t go imagining that this means that I am not working – far from it – there is always a lot to do, but I do deliberately shift gears from the Winter/Spring pace which can be frenetic at times, in spite of all of my best efforts. It’s a funny problem, really, to have a job I love! What I have also found is that busy times do not always allow for creative flow – when I am knee-deep in logistics, such as planning the annual conference, I don’t feel particularly filled with great new ideas, you know? But I have learned, now, because it’s the same every year, that if I give myself some time to slow down, by August, the writing muse comes galloping back.
A few “ungoals”
This year, I was a bit more deliberate in planning my writing break: I set some “ungoals” if you will, a few things that I wanted to integrate more regularly into my life, without being too dogmatic about them, and I also planned a retreat. Here are some of the “ungoals” I set:
This will be a short post as it’s “family day” here in Ontario and it’s a day off for nearly everyone. I must say that although I love the fact that we now have a stat holiday in February, I find the name of it a bit unfortunate. I know many wonderful people who, for all sorts of reasons, live alone and do not have family – is it really necessary to rub it in their face that they are alone today “happy family day! oh, wait, you don’t have a family…” Could we not have called it something a bit more inclusive? I also think that the term “family” is very loaded for many people, not always a source of comfort and love. I believe that family is composed of whomever forms your inner circle of love and support. My Kingston “family” extends far beyond bloodlines and includes a delightful child who was adopted from Siberia whom I consider to be my niece, even though she isn’t, and her mother, who was present at both of my children’s birth, and who is like my sister, although she isn’t, and so on…
Many of you who have attended my workshops know that I am a big fan of the concept of 1% change. In fact, when it comes to implementing change, my motto is “Keep it Small, Realistic and Achievable.” Good for you if you ran a marathon last year, awesome if you lost 70 lbs and kept it off, or quit smoking and never looked back, but the truth is that for most of us, change is hard, and we fall down over and over again. New Year’s resolutions? They are usually long gone by Valentine’s day, right? The problem is often that we set ourselves up to fail – our goals are simply too big, and we lose steam early into the change process. A way to set yourself up for success is to establish what Sark calls “micromovements” tiny little steps in the right direction: want to improve your eating? Add one apple per week to your diet. Start small, and keep it small.
Now, clearly great minds think alike because my favourite blogger Leo has written about micromovements too. Check out his great post on making small changes and go floss that one tooth! Happy V day to all of you. xoxo Françoise
I don’t know about you, but no matter how responsible I aim to be with money, I always have somewhat of a financial hangover after the Christmas holiday – I tend to go a little overboard in December, especially with stocking stuffers (you can spend a lot of money on very tiny things – just because they are small doesn’t mean they aren’t expensive!), food, wine, baked goods, chocolate – all these nice things that I want to contribute to the holiday experience for my loved ones. SO, I thought it was very timely to hear the wonderful Gail Vaz-Oxlade on a recent noon hour show. Gail, if you don’t know her (really, you don’t know her? How is that possible? She is everywhere! Ok, everywhere in Ontario) is a no b.s. financial expert who helps everyday folk to get out of debt. She has two very popular TV shows and several books. Her most recent book Money Rules offers 261 rules on money smarts. I have written about Gail in several prior posts such as here and here and here too.
Listen to Gail Vaz-Oxlade on CBC Radio One’s Ontario Today
Read my 3 post series: Money Matters
Money Matters – Resources to Get your Finances in Order
Money Matters Part Two: A blogful of Resources
Money Matters Part Three: Becoming an Entrepreneur
One of the things I have done in the recent years to help with the Christmas shock, is to open a separate savings account called “Xmas” in which I deposit a small amount each month. That way, I have a clear sense of what I am working with. My mistake was to create an account called “Xmas/Kids’ Summer Camps” which I now realise doesn’t work for our new reality and simply means that I don’t actually have a clear sense of how much money I am working with. But that’s an easy fix. With most big banks nowadays, you can open savings account in a matter of minutes online, providing you already have a main account with them. Scotiabank, certainly, is very user-friendly about this. I have 6 savings accounts in which I dole out a certain amount at the start of every single month. That way, I have a very clear visual of where the money is going and how fast it’s going. It’s sort of a virtual version of Gail’s Money Jars.
Now can you tell my 12 year old son to stop growing? Buying shoes every three months is throwing a very large wrench in this well laid-out plan.
Coming soon: A feature interview with a professor in a Child and Youth Worker program who will share with us how she incorporated the Compassion Fatigue Workbook in her practicum course.
Hi, I’m back! It’s been a while since I have had the chance to write a post. The Fall turned into a bit of a whirlwind and time ran away from me. I have a lot of things to share with you in terms of upcoming events and training resources but I will let you know about these in a couple of days as I am waiting for one event registration to go live on the website before I make the announcement – so please come back in a few days. As always, I welcome your feedback and comments, so don’t be shy to email me a note or post a comment on the blog.
This was a very rewarding Fall for me professionally and a challenging one on the personal front: I had the chance to travel to Los Angeles twice to work with some wonderful people in the field of child welfare (and make some new friends along the way),
A friend of mine who works in a very busy children’s mental health centre came to work one day to find this life sized Power Ranger guarding her office. If I got the story straight, some of her staff thought she could put him in front of her door to let people know to leave her alone when she needs time to work on stuff. He is her guard. Isn’t that fantastic? Now, of course, only in Los Angeles would you be able to find a full sized action hero mannequin, right? (that’s me on the right, giving him a little squeeze, for those who have never met me).
So here is my question for you, dear reader, on this beautiful Sunday morning, before I dash off to yoga: Who guards your time? Who protects you from unwanted incursions? Do you have a clear sign (or a big red guy) that lets the world that you need to be left alone? How would I know, if I was your friend or your work colleague, that you do not want to be disturbed? Do you answer your phone at all hours of the night and day, or are you comfortable setting limits on calls, texts and emails? Can people drop in on you unannounced any time or are you clear on what works and what does not work for you?
There are ways to set boundaries where you can still be kind and warm to others. Then there are days where I just feel like wearing a t-shirt that says **** off! What are your best strategies?
I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a feast or famine type of schedule. Well, never really famine, but my work tends to follow seasonal peaks and valleys – December tends to be a quieter month on the workshop front, which gives me a chance to regroup from the Fall months and prepare for the holidays, and the end of June marks the end of my training season until the Fall rolls around again. Once the Compassion Fatigue Conference is done, I tend to spend a week in recovery mode (napping, dealing with email backlog, reading novels and taking time to smell the peonies in my garden). Then after about a week, I start getting a surge of a different kind of energy – not the workshop development vibe, but the “let’s chip away at the piles” type of groove. This is quickly followed by “holy s***! There is so much to do! Which could then easily be followed by feeling discouraged and going back to the couch to read more of Tilda Shalof’s new book and eat more cherries. But here’s what I do instead, and it works every time: I trick myself into getting through the piles. Take my freezer, for example:
As someone who travels quite a bit (in the next few weeks I am going to Philadelphia, Toronto, Ottawa, Cuba, Mississauga, Thunder Bay and Newfoundland, in that order), I often find it a struggle to eat healthily and exercise when I’m on the road. It’s not just a matter of willpower, it’s also the fact that healthy food is always harder to get your hands on than refined carbs when you’re away from home. We know it’s cheaper to put danishes on a table than a fruit tray, so conference organisers with tight budgets opt for the danishes and muffins. Thankfully, this is improving gradually – I was thrilled to find a juicer in the last hotel I stayed at: in the buffet line, next to the sausages and pancakes was a tray full of fresh cut up vegetables and fruit and a juicer! Heaven. The Toronto Eaton Centre has a new vegan fast food outlet in their “urban eatery.” I now try to pack a cooler before I leave home, when that is possible. I pack fresh fruit, cut up vegetables, almonds, nut butter, hummus, healthy crackers, herbal tea, water, Lara bars, an avocado and some dark chocolate (you gotta live a little!). Sometimes I make a quinoa salad to eat on the road. I try to eat protein and vegetables and skip the refined carbs. If I don’t have time to pack food or if I’m crossing the border, I bring nuts and seeds and Lara bars and try to eat sushi and find some juice bars along the way.
I may not have the time or energy for a full workout, but I try to do pushups, planks and squats in my hotel room, if I’m too tired to go down to the hotel gym (and some of those “fitness rooms” are seriously awful – rattly treadmill in a broom closet, anyone?). If you only travel once in a while, you can get in the mode of “this is special – let’s treat ourselves” but at some point, those special exceptions turn into regular habits and pretty soon you’re a bloated, tired, out of shape road warrior.
Whether you travel or not, you may find that you struggle with sticking to healthy habits. Many people say “I don’t have time to exercise” or “I’m too out of shape, I don’t even know where to start”. Just for you, here’s a good read from Leo Babauta’s website Zen Habits: “5 excuses that keep you unhealthy.”
Let me know if you have any strategies to battle the inertia of healthy eating and exercise when you are on the road!
(Image from gameanna)