Loving Yourself First

It’s Valentine’s Day and it is the 9th one I have celebrated with my wife. Actually I married myself on July 20, 2012 and we /I have been deeply committed and in Love ever since.  This Valentine’s Day I fell back in love with me.  In the past 9 years, we have had heartbreaking losses, celebrated many wonderful occasions and we continue to discover and uncover and excavate who we are together. This year has been horrific – I lost my precious daughter Tovah to cancer during this pandemic. I was buried in my grief, confused, angry, heartbroken, lost, found, held, alone, not alone, supported, unsupported, scared so scared and at the same time hopeful.  

At 58, I launched my website – 60 in the City (well almost) and now I am approaching my 65th birthday.  My dream 7 years ago was to motivate womyn to believe that anything was possible, to believe that we are not our victim story, that we find Joy in the simplest things.  I wrote about marrying myself, about a staycation in this fabulous city of Toronto.  I wrote about traveling for free by working as you go.  I wrote about my home – only 400 square feet.  I wrote about my struggles with weight and with health issues, I wrote about things that confused me like people who don’t cook or older womyn who think they are invisible.  I wrote as I traveled sharing my adventures. I wrote about my grief. This past year I have been writing letters to my granddaughter Harper Rose.  I’m writing her because it fills my heart but also because I am afraid that I will forget as I age – that I will forget the fun and the stories that we are sharing together.

This weekend I found my personal beauty again – pandemic hair, a healing eye and all.  I put on red lipstick.  I put on makeup.  I polished my nails. I got dressed just for zoom.  It is a weekend Kohenet (Hebrew Priestess) retreat. It has been a long time since I saw myself in that light.  Being able to look in the mirror and smile and see me as I see me – feeling beautiful, confident and content.  I have been looking in the mirror everyday for about 10 days and saying a positive mantra and a series of things that I am blessing including my eye and my medical situation.  For 2 ½ months I have been dealing with the retina of my left eye that has detached 3 times causing significant scarring. I had to position in bed for more than 3 weeks – first on my right side, next face down and this last time face down or facing right.   “Bless my left eye, bless my medical situation and ending with I am ALREADY healed, happy, loving, wealthy, successful, confident, physically and emotionally well.  This is my affirmation.”  Every day I felt a sense of joy and well-being returning to me. 

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweetheart. I love you.

Good Morning, Bunny Rabbit

Dear Harper,

The best part of any morning is stepping into your room, turning on the light and saying Good morning Bunny Rabbit and seeing your bright and beautiful smile.  You turned 18 months on Friday – happy one and a half years. my precious one. Every morning you hand me your stuffed animals one by one.  Good morning Lion, good morning Piggy, good morning Miss Mermaid.  Each one gets two kisses – mwah, mwah and go on the change table.  Then we search for the soother somewhere in your bed or on the floor.  You pop it in your mouth until breakfast is served and then you take it out and set it on the table (where I whisk it away and out of sight until nap time).  At breakfast Bubby sips away at her coffee.  We never get tired of touching my cup and saying Ow! (cause it is hot and hilarious). After breakfast you often watch some Peppa Pig in your wee arm chair but soon you are up and at ‘em.  

You still love the Swiffer and mopping the floors (several times a day).  While at Bubby’s you picked up a new habit of shaking the mats.  Housework is so satisfying and so much fun.  Now you like to stand on a stool in the kitchen and help with cooking or washing dishes. You especially enjoy washing your hands with the movable faucet. In the morning I make your bed and if I don’t – you remind me by pointing at the blankets and you prefer they are laid out flat and not turned down at the corner.  You will straighten yourself if I try to be creative.

Swiffering in the morning. You moved the bench to get under the table.
Kitchen chores

It’s been quite a month- Bubby’s eye had a problem and I had to stay in bed for 12 days laying on my right side and I didn’t see you.  Pooh!  I missed you so much.  We were so grateful that Auntie Paula could be with you instead and Daddy took some days off too.  Grandma stepped in too coming every afternoon.  Wow!!!  What a village of love you have, Kitten.

We had a Chanukah sleepover this week and got to share it with Auntie Raya, Uncle Ben and Oscar on a video chat.  We were supposed to go to London for the whole weekend but we couldn’t because of the pandemic.  Anyway – we ate latkes, oven fried chicken and coleslaw with Sufganiot for dessert.  That’s our family tradition and we had the same meal last year when Mommy was still here.  Mommy made the chicken, Auntie Raya made the sufganiot and she helped Bubby make the latkes.  We opened our presents together and lit our candles.  Not quite like being together but it made Bubby’s heart feel really good!! 

Video Chanukah with Auntie Raya, hilarious Uncle Ben and Cousin Oscar
Opening Chanuakah gifts including your first Chanukiah
Family traditions – latkes, ovenfried chicken, applesauce and sufganiot

You love my little bedroom – we sit on the bed and find so many fun things.  You especially like the back scratcher and although you enjoy a little scratch on your back you much prefer to give.  You look at me and point at my shirt and signal me to lift it up so you can get busy scratching my back.  Lucky me!!!  This time we got into all the necklaces I have hanging – many are mine and many were your Moms.  You put on a few and then kept pointing for more….more….more until you had the perfect number.  A girl needs to accessorize.  We had a hilarious game of peek a boo with you hiding behind your Chanukah Elmo book (both Daddy and I bought you one).  You laughed so hard and it makes me laugh every time I watch the video of you.

Dress up at Bubby’s. You can never have too many.

I took a lot of videos of you this month – the photos and the videos help me remember what to tell you and everyday I send them to Auntie Raya, Daddy and Grandma.  You’ve got a lot of words now and you can tell me what it is you want or don’t want by gesturing and a few words here and there. 

You love playing in your playroom and we spend a lot of time there each day.  You love to colour, to paint or to use markers.  You concentrate very hard on your work but your first love is books.  You have a good sized library already and you can sit and read on your own and when you ask me to read to you, it can easily be 6 books at time.  You know what books you want and you will point until I find the right one – nodding or shaking your head.  Fortunately most of your books are on lower shelves that give you easy access.

You also love your rocking horse, your fancy red car (getting in and out, putting on the seat belt, pretending to drive), your plastic groceries, and your little kitchen.  You cook by stirring things up and then pretending to be eating. Yummmm.

Oh Harper you love music and I know it is a big part of who you are.  Mommy loved music – she loved to sing and to dance and to lip sync and to go to concerts.  We have listened to a lot of different music this month.  You love calypso and reggae, classical, opera and ballet.  But you really love the tunes from your music class (Music Together) and you insist every bath that I play Babv Shark on the phone.  You point at the phone and holding a toy shark say Doo doo.

Classical music always makes you stop and look for a moment.  Calypso has you dancing and usually asking Bubby to pick you up to dance.

We can’t talk about this past month without mentioning the great outdoors and your first snow.  Grandma took you out and you were not too impressed.  There was even a little snowman.  You have grown to appreciate it and snow is one of your words.  You like to hold a snowball.  You love all your mittens that have ears and they make you laugh a little.  We’ve been walking in the alley with all the murals.  Wow! So many with pictures of moose, trees, flowers, butterflies and more.  You point them out to me now.   You like to collect sticks, stones and even snow balls and put them into your wagon or car (usually in the storage at the front).  In your backyard you insist on climbing (with help) to the top of your playset where you always have a big laugh and smile as you peer out the windows.  Then down the slide you go (with help).  We could probably do that repeatedly but Bubby runs out of energy pretty fast. I always say ask Daddy later (teehee).

Your street is being paved this week and Bubby couldn’t park near the house so we had to transfer things using my bundle buggy. You decided to take a ride rather than push it. When you came to sleep over you insisted on helping to carry all the bags. You also felt wearing a mask was important to being a good citizen.

Auntie Paula and I dressed you up in several of your magnificent party dresses and had a photo shoot.  You were mostly on the run but we got some good photos.  We won’t be going to many parties for a while but doesn’t mean we can’t dress up fancy!!! 

What a month as 2020 comes to an end. I don’t think we can ever really explain this year and all that has happened but we know we love you. Kisses sweet love.

Finding My Way at Christmas

The holidays loom ahead for many.  I totally understand this and I remember the first Christmas after my divorce.  We had agreed that the children would spend it with their Dad – Christmas eve until Boxing Day.  I remember how we both spent too much money on presents that year.

I had already celebrated Chanukah for 8 days with my daughters.  I had invited people over for a latke dinner. I gave the girls a little gift each night and we lit the candles.  It didn’t compete with the Christmas hype but it was a tradition that I was determined to grow in my home. I decided that I would no longer celebrate Christmas.  I was going to leave Christmas and all the traditions with their father. We had always celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays in our home. In my house, we would only have Jewish traditions. I had to learn to accept that and let the rest go.

Light the Chanukah lights

I was genuinely tired – working full-time as a retail manager in a large chain store and raising two young children.  I had custody and their father had them every other Thursday and every other weekend. Those Christmas breaks were times when I could just be at home with only myself to think of.  The world around was closed and there was no where I had to go. I wanted to eat turkey so I bought delicious turkey wings, sweet potatoes, green beans and whatever else caught my fancy.  A simple meal cooked in a roasting pan. I watched Christmas movies on tv, walked our dog and really rested.  

Home cooked 1 pan chicken roast. Dinner for one,

Over the years, sometimes others were around but I always kept Christmas day as low key as possible.  35 years later, it has become a tradition, my tradition……..I am at home, I am alone and I am delighting in my own company and indulging myself in rest and relaxation.  It feels holy and sacred and it is mine.

I moved to London at 20 years old with my new husband.  My brother was in university there when we arrived but left for good just a few months later.  We made new friends through our work and we celebrated every holiday Jewish and Christian. We invited new friends for meals and we were happy with whoever came.  We made our own traditions and this continued to be my way long after we divorced. I never felt cheated that we didn’t have family or whatever else people say is missing.  I, we, made the best with what we had. 

Great words to live by

I encourage people to do the same – gather up other holiday orphans and celebrate.  Maybe everyone is busy on Christmas day so have a dinner on a different day. Create your own traditions or like me celebrate you!  My own children still celebrate Christmas with their partners and with their in-laws as well as their father. Chanukah this year fell over the busy days of Christmas so we celebrated Chanukah early.  A gathering with people who love you anytime is more than enough for me. Like we say at Passover, Dayenu – it is enough. No matter what you do- be kind and patient with you. You deserve it.

Must Love Dogs: Pet sitting is Awesome

For the past 5 days I have been pet sitting in a beautiful home in Puerto Penasco.  This is the kind of home you just move into – fall in love with the dog, then the house and the lifestyle.  I have enjoyed every minute here and it’s hard to believe that I got paid for the experience.  Yup, pet sitting is awesome.

First you have to meet Kaiser – he is an adorable, loving and gentle German Shepherd.  His hip hurts and he and I both take our time on the stairs.  I usually put my hand on his hip as he struggles up the stairs.  He patiently waits for me on the landing on the way down.  I have fallen in love. No matter where I am, he is nearby and it is the most amazing feeling.  When he’s bored, he comes over and gives me a nudge.  He might just want a pat and a little scratch, sometimes we go outside and walk around the property, sometimes I refill his water bowl (he drinks about 2 litres a day) – he just needs a little reassurance that he is loved and cared for or – maybe he thinks that I do. 

Kaiser was a rescue and he does get anxious sometimes.  Neighbours have been shooting off fireworks and there was also a big display over the water this past weekend.  I am not a fan of fireworks either.  He gets as close as he can when this happens and his parents also give him  a prescribed tincture of CBD oil.

I am starting to think that I would enjoy fostering a dog when I am back in Toronto.  Every house I have been in since September has had a dog or dogs and I find that I absolutely love being around them.  I drew an angel card the other day that told me to find my spirit animal – I am pretty sure it’s dogs.  They are so loving and loyal.  I am going to miss Kaiser the most and I am hoping his Mom and Dad will keep me abreast of what he is up to.

I am so grateful for this delicious experience in Puerto Penasco, Mexico.  This is what semi-retirement looks like.

On Route to Mexcio: Must Love Horses

 

My only full day in Athens, Georgia included a visit from the farrier.  A farrier is a specialist in equine hoof care, including the trimming and balancing of horses’ hooves and the placing of shoes on their hooves, if necessary.  I was fascinated at his work having never seen a horses hoof up close and had no idea what trimming or putting on horse shoes would entail.  I was also fascinated and appalled at his running racist commentary – a view into southern, conservative America.  Quite an education for me. It was election day in the USA and I didn’t remind him or encourage him to vote.  Erev, my mentor in no way reflects this type of thinking – she is an amazing woman with the most generous spirit I have ever witnessed.  She is a champion mounted archer. How cool is that!?!?!?!?!?

Erev
Erev on a galloping horse

I haven’t been on or even near horses since I was a teenager.  I love horses and dogs and this new adventure has me surrounded by both.  My host in Mexico has horses in Phoenix and in Puerta Penasco.  I visited with Erev in Athens, Georgia for a few days on route to Mexico and we spent a half day with her horses.

I spent a morning in Phoenix at the ranch observing Jorge training 3 of the 4 horses.  Jorge is a volunteer from Spain staying in Phoenix for a while as he travels in the United States.  He is a real horse whisperer and it was fascinating to watch him.  He spoke gently in a soothing, soft voice to the horses.  He continually explained to me what he was doing and why.  It was mesmerizing to watch and a lesson for sure in patience.

horse training.jpg
Volunteer from Spain, Jorge training horse

Why all this talk and time with horses?  Many of you may know that I am studying now to become a Kohenet, a Hebrew Priestess.   This past spring my cohort and I were initiated and this summer we will be ordained.  I am very excited about the whole process. Kohenet is a training program in spiritual leadership for women on a Jewish path. It is also a movement, a sisterhood, and a network of communities. It is creating a paradigm of earth-based, embodied, feminist, Judaism. I am now working with a Kohenet mentor who uses horses and archery to teach energy-work.  The archery helps with my ability to concentrate and to focus.  Horses are known for their incredible sensitivity.After a day in Phoenix my host drove me to Puerto Penasco in Mexico.  It is a small fishing village located on the Sea of Cortes in Mexico. Commonly referred to by American visitors as Rocky Point, this small fishing town has blossomed into a popular modern day vacation destination. Rocky Point is a little over 60 miles from the USA border which makes the seaside city a popular drive to destination by visitors from the USA.  It is here that I will be managing 10 AirBnb properties.  Check it out.

Sandra Laya Puerta Penasco
SandraLaya in Las Conchas, Puerta Penasco, Mexico

 

 

Quite the Adventure: My Bags are Packed and I’m Ready to Go.

I have been planning this trip for quite sometime now and it has just come to fruition. The dream was a winter out of the snow and somewhere near salt water, sand and sunshine.  I am only semi-retired and not independently wealthy so there was a financial challenge to overcome.  Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…..how to have it all????

I questioned my friends and acquaintances, scoured websites, and sent my prayers out to the Universe.  I’ve been very intrigued with the concept of Workaway. Take a look at  their website – so many opportunities around the world.  In the end, I found an opportunity through a good friend of my mine with her sister in Mexico.  For the next 4 months, I will be volunteering in Rocky Point, Mexico helping with their AirBnb business.  Check it out here.

The first hurdle was to get there without spending a lot of money.  Travelling across the USA for free.  There had to be a way.  I found it with Toronto Drive-Away Service.  I applied online in September and heard back from them promptly.  Early in October they gave me my assignment.  I drove a brand new Honda CRV to Fort Myers, Florida for a couple of elderly snow birds.

Honda CRV

It was a great adventure – driving across country on my own with the radio cranked high singing to the Beatles and a variety of 60’s music and other pop era’s.  Yowza!!!  This is not for the faint of heart.  I hit every type of weather – lots of rain on and off, snow in West Virginia for a few kilometers, bright and blinding sunshine and then absolutely torrential rain on I-75 just a half hour from my hotel.  It was terrifying as traffic slowed to nothing and no one could see.  I quickly exited the highway and waited it out in a parking lot.

I drove 12 hours on day one and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Suites in Beckley, West Virginia that I easily booked on Hotwire and left a 5 star review on Yelp.    I slept well and was up and on my way to Athens, Georgia very early the next morning.  I arrived there 6 hours later.  I spent a lovely day with my friend and mentor, left my luggage and drove another 12 hours to Fort Myers the next morning. Spent the night at the Hyatt Suites, met the couple (whose car I was) delivering at an airport shuttle office, took the shuttle over to Southwest’s Terminal and flew to Athens an hour and half later.  Read my reviews of the Hyatt Suites and Southwest Airlines on Yelp.

Choosing what to pack and how to limit my luggage took lots of my brain power.  I need warm clothes for the drive down and for my stay in March in Connecticut, boots and water shoes, clothes for being around the stables and clothes for fun, clothes for meeting clients………….I love my clothes.  I had to limit myself to luggage I could manage solo and also the limitations of the airlines.

Bags are packed

I know this is the time for me – time to get healthier, face my fears head on, ramp up the adventure meter and experience something new everyday.  There’s no stopping me now.

My Closet Bedroom

I’ve been in my element these past few weeks.  I created a bedroom in my closet.  The closet is about 6 feet by 7 feet and I have loved having all that storage space!  I had an abundance of items organized in that closet – my clothes and everything else.  The apartment is only 400 square feet in total.  It’s small but more than enough space for me to live very happily. I often have friends and family over and can comfortably entertain a dozen or more guests.  I frequently have overnight guests too.

A few weeks ago I was scrolling Pinterest when I found this photo.  I was so inspired.  I went to my closet, took a look went back to the sofa, got up and looked again.  I repeated that scenario at least 3 times until I just couldn’t help myself. I started hauling everything out of my closet – clothing, suitcases, shoes, boots, boxes, jewellery, coats and so on and so on and so on.  A lot of stuff.

Pinterest

After washing the floors and the shelving, I moved the single bed into the room.  Now what to do with all the “stuff”.  Of course,  a quick trip to Ikea would have quickly solved all my problems but I didn’t have that amount of extra cash and I also prefer to use recycled products whenever possible.  Ol, I admit, I am very frugal and I hate waste more than anything.

That same week I found a dresser in the parking lot of my daughter’s condo. I am so lucky when it comes to finding things that I need.  Looking around my place right now there are many great finds.

the dresser
The dresser (free)

Then I started scouring Marketplace on Facebook.  I was hoping to find something cheap, in my neighbourhood  and that someone might deliver. No small wish list.  Here’s what I found this week.

 

 

The storage box
The storage box $15 picked up

The wardrobe
The wardrobe $40 delivered

 

The clothes are in the dresser, the wardrobe and the storage box.  I emptied a few shelves in my linen closet moving all the towels into the bathroom and all the bedding into the storage box of my Ikea Beddinge sofa.  Before the move, I had the beautiful quilts that my Grandmother made there but now I am showing them off in my new bedroom. I moved the shoe shelf into the entrance way and gave it a beachy look.

Beachy shoe rack
Shoes and boots

I love my new room.  I love the bold red accents.  I am surrounded by my favourite things.  I now have more living and dining room space and having a private bedroom is fabulous.  My rent is the same but now I have a one bedroom apartment.  This is the best of tiny space living!

Bedroom
My new bedroom

 

 

Passover Liberation Sedars

This was undoubtedly my busiest Passover EVER!!!  My colleagues and I at the Jewish Liberation Theology Institute held 3 sedars in 3 different cities – Toronto, Hamilton and London.

Setting up in London, Ontario

Our founding Rabbi Lucia Pizarro led the sedars in both Toronto and London, Ontario. Lucia was born in Mexico City, where she became qualified to practice law. She completed an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Essex in the UK. She followed her academic passion for Jewish thought with four years working for social justice in Palestine. She recently became a mother and a Rabbi.  Our guest was Rabbi David Mivisair officiating in Hamilton. Rabbi David Mivasair is motivated by the commandments “justice, justice you shall pursue” and “seek peace and pursue it”.  For over 25 years, David served as the spiritual leader of synagogues in the US and in Vancouver, where he lives.  David is active in the leadership of Independent Jewish Voices in Canada and Jewish Voice for Peace in the US.  He lived in Israel for four years and in May went with 130 other Jews to support Palestinian activists defending their communities from destruction.

 

 

I was very excited to be the song and prayer leader in both Hamilton and London this year.

 

In London our guest speaker was Tarek Loubani. Tarek is a Palestinian physician and humanitarian. He is an Associate professor at the University of Western Ontario where he works as an emergency physician. He runs the Glia Project, which provides low-cost open-source medical equipment to impoverished locations, and EmPower Gaza, which puts solar panels for electricity on hospitals in Gaza. He will talk about his work at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, in the context of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba.

tarik loubani

In Hamilton, our guest speaker was Robert Massoud. Robert is a Palestinian-Canadian. In 2004, he founded Zatoun to build bridges between Palestine and North America through the sale of cultural and symbolic products from Palestine. The main offering is fair trade extra virgin olive oil to serve as a symbol of light, hope and peace.  Zatoun is available through the fair trade network, activist and faith communities. He believes that appreciating the enormity and wide-ranging impacts of the Israel-Palestine situation creates interest for people to self-educate which is the best path to commitment and effective civil society.

Robert Massoud

In Toronto we had a speaker from the Palestinian community who asks people to support the Indigenous Land Defence Across Borders (ILDAB) project.

Recipient of the Absolutely Fabulous Women over 40 Award

What an honour to be nominated and then chosen to receive the Absolutely Fabulous Women over 40 award.  The corporate sponsor was Mary Kay.  It was an amazing night with over 400 guests and 40 fabulous women receiving the award.

This is the 5th annual extravaganza and it is organized by a dynamic group of women.  Rosanna Penilla-Bharucha is the founder of the event. Rosanna is an entrepreneur and believes in giving back to the community. She is the Executive Director of The Boomerpreneur and Boomerpreneurs Network, Regional Director for Asia-Pacific at Ed2All and Managing Director of the Host Students Network.

Reach-out-logoReach Out, an organization that helps to break the silence on sexual abuse benefited from the event.

The gala was held at the Grand Victorian Convention Centre in Mississauga.  Magnificent venue and the buffet meal was delicious.

Be Mine Valentine (committed to me)

 

I am no relationship expert.  Although, I have had many – I have had more failures than successes.  Well, I suppose many would sum it in that way.  I, however, look at back them as experiences, learning opportunities and mostly, a lot of fun.

Just days away from Valentine’s Day and I am getting excited.  My beloved and I have been making plans for weeks.  We’ve been married since the summer of 2012.  We?  Me and me.  I and I. Self-love.  I married myself and I highly recommend it.

I planned a lovely, simple wedding on the beach (my favourite place) in the evening.  The whole day was leading up to my ceremony was fun with a bit of shopping and a delicious meal.

July 2012 I promised to love myself.  I promised to honour and protect me.  Now as Valentine’s day approaches I see it as a day to recommit.  I want to have a day to honour Love, in general , and to honour a commitment to the one person who  will be with me until I die.  The one person who I want to love and take the best possi ble care of.   I am proud to say I love me. My commitment to my health, my safety, my well being and contentment is all part of my “marriage”.

I am also blessed to have wonderful people in life that I love,  my grandson, my daughters, their partners and my amazing friends.  However, my life changed the day I married myself.  Something flipped in me and a new contentment washed over me.  It has stayed with me over the years.  There was a moment when I realized I really wasn’t alone.

Whether you are in relationship or not, I invite you to explore making this personal commitment – to love, honour and respect YOU.