Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015: Dreams, Themes and Goals

I like dreaming.
I prefer dreaming to reflecting probably about 95% of the time. I really only prefer reflecting when it’s masked with reminiscing about happy memories, and sentiments of ‘this should happen again’, ‘I loved this’, or ‘wow, what a great time’.

This preference is both exhilarating and debilitating, depending on the scenario I find myself in. Example; when thinking of all the possibilities 2015 can hold, this dreamer preference is pretty fantastic—There is no end to the things I can visualizing myself accomplishing in the New Year. I can try absolutely anything, succeed, and find a sense of self in the variety of futures I can imagine and place myself into… I’m basically living out everything on my Pinterest account.

While all this dreaming is simply marvellous, it is only when matched with reflecting on the year past I am able to pin point what it is I should actually be doing; where I should be focusing my time and energy, and creating a vision for what I want to see happen in the new year. This reflection needs to take into consideration all moments during the past year which were monumental to me; the good and the bad, every event that was life changing in some way.

These ‘life changing’ episodes are different for everyone. They can be the moment you realized, despite your best efforts, you still genuinely dislike olives, the times you realized your life isn’t going to continued as planned, and even the times you felt lively crafting a handmade card or playing with your cat. All these little moments give insight into what makes us feel alive, what fuels us and where our true passions are—which is where we need to spend more time channelling our energy. Start identifying them in your own life as I continue.

Now, yes, OK, playing with your cat is the best thing in the world, but let’s look a little deeper into that. Why is it fun? Is it because you weren’t doing anything all day? Is it because you were having a bad day and that quality cuddle time with your furry friend made you happy? Seek out the reasons behind the things you either enjoyed or disliked and you’ll find where to establish the focus for the New Year. In this hilarious (yet oh so true) cat situation, I enjoy fun times with my cat when I’ve been really busy and need a bit of a break. What I learn from this is my life needs to involve easy ways to take a few moments to recharge and re-energize after a long, busy day. Keeping some easy and creative projects around, like say knitting that winter scarf I’ve never started, leaves me an opportunity to knit a few rows which will de-clutter my mind and leaves me feeling like I am accomplishing something fun that I enjoy doing, but don’t always have time to do. Hanging with my cat fits into this same category, as well as reading a book or magazine.

Take a look at the rest of life’s moments that stand out as monumental from the past year and examine them for their deeper meaning. Write them out and soon you’ll find yourself easy themes to help navigate your goals for 2015.

When I look back at 2014 I realize I had a year of ups and downs, challenges, overcoming those challenges and, overall, making a lot of decisions that change the course of any plans that were once had. A few themes that stand out for me are how I thrive when I get to be creative, make beautiful things and capture their beauty the best I can, when I get to spend meaningful time with those who hold value in my life (even if it’s a short amount of time), intentionally growing my faith, and helping people in some sort of way whether in the form of travelling over seas, or helping friends with areas of need. 

Follow me on Instagram: @LoveInspiresChange
In shorter form, my themes for 2015 become:
- Creativity
- Relationships
- Faith
- Serving
- Health

A theme has more rooting to it. It creates an expression of following passions and living out the deeper callings of your life, embedded by God, to keep you moving in the direction to be His light to the world in all you do. My chosen themes, while somewhat vague, give me an amazing focal point for the New Year. Anything that doesn’t fit itself easily into one of the above themes is not going to serve me well. It’s kind of like creating a filter for yourself to live your best in 2015, which is pretty amazing.

My 2014 goals were accomplished, and I’m looking forward to growing on them and sifting all my dreams through the theme filters I’ve created to create an amazing 2015. I can already tell you a few of my goals:
- Blogging to take more of a lead role (which easily passes through every filter!)
- Baking to continue to be a focus, including collaborating and sharing my creations via my blogging platform and customers
- Take at least one workout classes (instead of just working out at home like I always do!) 
- More dedicated Faith pursuits (attend conferences, studies... you name it, I want in on it!)

So this year, as you dream, reflect, and visualize where you want to go in life, I challenge you to figure out the themes of where you thrive, and pursue all your goals and dreams with your themes shining brightly, guiding every step.

Cheers to an absolutely amazing 2015!

*Interested in setting goals? Check out my post last year on Positive Goal Setting

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Front Of The Bus

I spend two hours of my day commuting to and from school. I walk down to the end of my street, flag down the trusty 16 GO Bus, and head to Union Station in Toronto. When I arrive at Union Station I walk, on average, 13 minutes until I arrive at school where I spend hours learning about baking to then reverse the journey back home. While embarking on my commuting adventure I’ve made a point to make mental notes about the wonderfully interesting individuals I’ve had the pleasure of observing and interacting with.

On days I travel back to Hamilton alone, I generally choose to sit at the font of the bus. It’s easy to get on and off, and since I tend to have a lot of stuff with me from my baking lab, the very front is a seat with the most space for all my baked goods and schoolbooks. As soon as I ask if I can sit beside the individual who also chose to sit at the front, and we cease our general chit-chat about having a lot of stuff and how it’s easier to sit up front instead of wander to the back of the bus, I expect the pleasantries of small-talk to subside and for each of us to go about our own activities— which for me, is sleeping.

While this may be the end of small talk, my expectancy of sleep is often met with the reality of conversations extending the length of the bus ride, with snacks shared and adventures revealed. 

One of my first experiences sitting at the front of the bus led me to meet a lovely older lady who shared her vegetable tray with me. It was funny—she opened up her snack and just offered me some. She told me how she didn’t like celery (which was perfect as I love celery) and there we sat—eating vegetables on the bus while she shared with me how she was going to Hamilton to meet with some immediate family before they all headed south to visit extended family. While my first thought was ‘I wanted to sleep’ (wow, how ungrateful!), it changed to ‘Man these are good veggies’, then finally transitioned to where I was genuinely surprised this kind lady would want to share her food with me—just a random girl sitting beside her.

One recent experience in particular I found to be the most amazing.

I sat down next to a lady at the front of the bus and after the generic small talk I offered her a freshly baked cookie. She retrieved a piece of Kleenex from her purse, took a chocolate dipped vanilla shortbread cookie from the box, and very politely started eating it. We briefly chatted about how I am in school and began to discuss her: her life and her recent life-changing experience with her daughter. She is a children’s book author who moved to Hamilton after living in Pennsylvania for a while after she fled from Afghanistan with her family. She moved with her husband, who has a heart condition, and her daughter. The most random detail of our conversation was how we share the same name. I found out, where she is from, Aelea means ‘a woman of great distinction’.

Being a refugee, fleeing from Afghanistan due to the war, her life has been full of unbelievable trials. Being an author, she has a way with words, and was asked to share her story at McMaster University about immigrating to Canada—the challenges she faced and the ones she still encounters. While speaking with no emotions held back, she looked out into the audience and found a face she recognized—her teenage daughter was sitting in the audience with tears in her eyes.  As a mother, she hadn’t shared her struggles with her daughter—she has been strong for her child, never letting on things were hard, never showing her personal battles to keep her daughter feeling safe, secure and welcomed into this new country and new place they decided to call home.

Her daughters’ words to her after the presentation were simply that she didn’t know. She had no idea her mother was going through these things, how she faced challenges, and how she was continually overcoming them in the countless ways she was.

I don’t know why she chose to share this story but I’m glad she did. It’s eye opening, inspiring and challenging when anyone shares a personal story with the glamour stripped away and naked honesty standing there speaking every word. The conversation shifted to how her daughter loves baking, and she asked if she could buy a box of my cookies. I gave her all I had and the bag I was carrying them in and when I left she said, if it were God’s will, perhaps we would meet again.

Sometimes I don’t have the opportunity to have in depth conversations—the bus driver who see’s me standing under the tree and pulls over without me having to wave the bus down can leave the same impact as the person I’m sitting next to who shares mints. The observation of the lady who gets off a bus and gives her transfer pass to a young mother waiting with her child at the stop says more in her brief actions than any words I would imagine uttering to her or her to I. The lady getting onto the bus to audition for a gospel choir elective at University is someone who shared with me one piece of her unique story.

All these people, whose interactions are small in the grand scheme of my day, week and semester, make the commute worthwhile. Everyone can leave an impact, even without words, and it’s important we look for those moments, listen with intent to those who are speaking, and always sit near the front of the bus—because it’s those little moments I don’t want to miss.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

iPhone? Ethics in Electronics

Generic mirror selfie with my new iPhone 5c
Almost as bad as jean shopping and swimsuit shopping, shopping for a new cell phone can be quite the daunting experience.

They’re expensive, they tend to always break (perhaps from dropping them one too many times without a fancy case), they don’t do water well (unless a really fancy case exists around it), and yet they are so necessary to the life I lead. Currently my phone provides me with the resources to check my class schedule and see where all my classes are, find out when the bus is coming so I can get to Toronto and back to Hamilton, I can read the Bible, snap fun photos, edit them, then post them to share with friends and family as a little peek into my life since a majority of them live at least 2,000 kilometers away.

While the pros definitely outweigh the cons of owning a cellular device—especially one of the ‘smart phone’ variety, the idea of buying a new one always comes with the added thought of ‘how can I purchase one of these things ethically?’

A while back I had found online the FairPhone. My heart leaped for joy when I discovered there was an ethically sourced phone actually available for the world to use! Unfortunately, the phone is currently only available in Europe and doesn’t ship to Canada. Even if it did, the capabilities are slightly less, as it wasn’t designed for use here.

Does this make me sad?
Of course! The opportunity to buy a phone created by using conflict-free minerals from the DRC that support families, factories that support safe conditions, a company who gives fair wages and worker representation, who finds smart ways to use, reuse and recycle phones… This is a company who lives out the ideals I so desperately want to be part of my every day life—that we need to make informed decisions about the products we purchase so we can part of bringing people up and not dragging them down.

Let’s be honest, I bought an iPhone. The 5c, to be exact. I got an epic deal (free, thanks Rogers) and it is compatible with my MacBook Pro, my husbands phone (yay for FaceTime, since we both travel somewhat often and not always together) and good ol’ iMessenger. In terms of usefulness, the iPhone wins in my books. So here I am, sitting at my laptop while my iPhone 5c sits beside me notifying me of a recent text message while I long for it to the FairPhone (with all the capabilities of my iPhone that make it so darn convenient). I can’t help but think of all the people in the massive lineups just last week who, without a second thought, purchased the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus. People don’t even flinch when it comes to dropping large sums of cash to purchase the latest phones and other tech products—especially those from the world’s beloved Apple.

But what if people did consider what they were supporting with their money before they spent it? According to the Canadian Apple store, the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus range in price from $749 to $1079. As shockingly large these numbers are to me (the idea of paying even $129 for an iPhone 5s was too much for me to handle), I know there are enough people in the world who look at those prices and don’t even flinch or think about if that’s where their money should be going. But the question is, what if they did? What if they did take a moment, and before swiping their credit card they thought, ‘who actually makes this thing?’

I was the most pumped, as someone who knows there isn’t a lot of information out there on ethics on the electronics world, to find that my treasured Free2Work has recently released an Electronics Industry Trends 2014 report. What I love about these reports is, if you take the time to actually read through them, you are presented with so much information on slavery in the different parts of makeup of electronics from mining the minerals to putting together the final pieces in factories. Information like this had previously been unknown to most people and now, the information is readily available at the click of mouse.

Click the image to enlarge!
As a society whose basic functions are interwoven with the electronics we can’t imagine being parted from, it is important and vital to our ever-deepening relationship with them to be educated on how they are produced. The worlds cherished Apple has an overall score of B+ and does not provide a living wage to those who make their products. Society will pay $749 for a phone whose makers don’t even make a living wage. If that statement doesn’t make you question the phone sitting beside you or the phone you are reading this on, perhaps read it again and really think about what that looks like. Do you think the individuals working in the Foxconn Factory in China realize it would take over 3 months of their salary* to purchase the least expensive version of the latest released phone? While I’m not trying to bash Apple (honestly, their B+ grade is one of the better ones by an electronics company, comparatively), for myself, it’s hard to set these facts aside, especially when I was looking for a new phone to purchase.

I want to continually live a lifestyle where I practice what I preach. When people question me about what I own, I want to be able to stand up for my decision in the company I have chosen to support. Knowing options like the FairPhone exist is exciting based on my expectancy that if one company can do it and is doing it, others will follow suit. What we need now is for individuals like you and I to say to Apple 'we care and want an option, like the Fair Phone, to purchase with our hard earned dollars!' It’s not just Apple we need to approach, so many other companies are doing worse than Apple and to them we need to say the same thing. If one company is doing it, they all can. Perhaps I’ll find the $749 worth it for a phone that is ethically produced and save my money to purchase a phone I can use with confidence knowing the impact of the product is positive and not destructive to all those involved.

My challenge to you: Take just 5 minutes of your time and take a look at Free2Works Electronics Industry Trends report and see where the company of your mobile phone and computer sit.  Share this information with someone and start a conversation on how you can use your purchasing power to change the way companies produce their products.

* $238 monthly salary found here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Guest Post: Why I Stopped Trying to Save the World

As I've mentioned before, I simply love the idea of collaboration. There are people everywhere equipped with amazing skills which, when joined together with your own skill set, can create some amazing things. 

Christal is an absolutely amazing lady! Her bio reads as follows:
Christal Earle is an author, speaker, life coach and social entrepreneur. You can find her at www.yourbrillianceunlimited.com and for a limited time, she is offering a free 30 Day E-course called 30 Days to Change Your Ways.

This little blurb just doesn't do her justice! We've shared life changing experiences, been side by side on extremely long flights with limited water, and we've had to figure out wifi in foreign airports where we painted with quills near a babbling, fogging pond. Needless to say, our history is quite random, full of adventure, and many moments sharing stories and encouragement. I was honoured when she approached me with the idea of sharing blogs with our various audiences and I am SO looking forward to you lovely folks being able to experience Christal's writing! She is an amazing lady and I know you'll love what she has to say! Be sure to sign up for the FREE e-course! I know I am!

I once had a friend give me a t-shirt that said, "Little Miss Save the World". I wish I still had it. I donated it to the Salvation Army so it's probably on a 12 year old boy riding a bike somewhere in the mountains of Ecuador right now. I hope it gets him as many compliments as I got from it. He will probably be taken just as seriously as me in that shirt and because it's in another language, probably just as many people will take it's message to heart. 

When I first woke up to what was going on in the world around me, I was like a tornado of altruism. I wanted to change the world, I wanted to save everything and I wanted to have the deep down, feel good warmth that came from knowing I was doing the right thing.
Fifteen years later, after starting a successful youth empowerment charity focused on humanitarianism, I still do. I am not involved with that charity on a day to day level anymore, but I still believe in the power of the message that it carries and the people that give their passion and energy to make it happen. Live Different, you are my first born and I will always love you with a mother's heart.

However, along the way, something finally woke up inside of me that I had successfully managed to put back to sleep many times over the years. After a roller coaster of loss and relationship failures and a five year monkey wrench into my plans of moving on with my life, I had nothing left to sacrifice. Literally. I had no money, no time, no resources, and no emotional strength left to keep on frantically giving 101% while laying myself on the alter for the sake of changing the world and keeping up with the world's most unrealistic person: me.

It was a painful, humbling realization to face, let alone embrace. I had thought I was being backed into a corner by other people's expectations of who I should be, what I should do, and how relentlessly altruistic my head space should be. But here's the underlying irony of it all: the only expectations that were there were the ones I had heaped upon myself, time and again. 
That's it. I had created this idea of what it meant to truly make a difference and to make my life count. But those ideas never answered one burning question that was continually poking and prodding at my heart:

Was I ever going to feel 'enough'? 

Was I ever going to feel like I was doing enough or that I was being enough? If everything was stripped away, would there even be anything left of Christal that the world wanted and that I was ok with?
At first I couldn't answer those questions; they were too big, too scary. Too real.
But courage had to start with the first step of remembering why answering those questions is important to me: because I am important.  I have to be ok with embracing that foundational truth in everything I do. I am here to fulfill a greater purpose and to bring my passion for hope and change to the world, but not at the cost of me. 
And in the end, that is the most unselfish choice I can bring to a world that welcomes what I bring: the best version of me possible.

Do you struggle with the emotional pull between wanting to feel like you are making a difference in the world and still able to live your life without guilt or regret? Me too. I think that to acknowledge the struggle is to acknowledge the depth of our passion for hope and love and is proof to each of us that we are on the right path. But just because the struggle might always be there doesn't mean we are left powerless in light of it. 
On the contrary, we hold the power to make the decision about who we are going to be. 

Here's what I found out that changed everything for me:

1. Being a voice for hope and change is not a competition. There is no shiny cup waiting at the end, nor is there any reason that there should be. We make our decisions based on honouring ourselves because we are worth making the right choices and adding dignity to the world around us. The competitor nemesis inside of us will try from time to time to tell us that we are now in the lead or better pick up our pace so that we can look good. Don't listen. Do what is within your power and conviction to do. 

2. There is nothing to prove. Do nothing out of obligation, do everything out of love. Love wins every time. Obligation is looking for a loser to beat up.

3. Do it because it is congruent with who you are, never for any other reason. 

4. Honour your word once you decide you are going to do something. Honour it because you are worth keeping the commitment to -- and if you can keep your commitments to yourself than you will have clarity to see where your time, energy and love is best directed.

5. Never, ever forget that no matter what happens, no matter where you go or how much you accomplish in this life, your worth will never, ever be attached to it. Because you added value to this world the moment you took your first breath. The rest is just icing for us to appreciate about you. 

You are enough and that enough-ness doesn't need to be proven or can't ever be taken from you. 

We need you to be best version of you that is possible, and the only way we will get that from you is if you allow yourself to accept that you are enough. From that place is where the inspiration and ideas can flow and we will all reap the benefits.

Thanks for being enough.

And if you ever see that kid wearing my shirt when you are out there in the world….tell him I miss it :)


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Love Is Sweet

One of my closest friends, Bridget, was married to her best friend Jay this past June. During an extremely hot ‘first day of summer’ in rural Manitoba, they pledged their commitment to each other in front of their closest friends and family. It was a perfect summer wedding—outdoor ceremony with lawn games and iced tea before the tented BBQ style reception. The property where the wedding took place simply blew my mind—the house was the epitome of Pinterest gorgeousness and the yard had enough various landscaping areas to create nothing but flawless pictures. 

The lovely couple was married on top of a bridge with a heart shaped pond under them, iced tea was served in mason jars with chalkboard labels so you could keep your glass all night, and custom printed wine bottles and uniquely potted succulents created a simple focus at each table. This picture-perfect outdoors summer wedding was exactly what the bride and groom wanted and they couldn’t feel more joyful in how everything worked out.

As favours for the wedding, and as for snacks for guests between the ceremony and reception, Bridget requested a Cookie Bar! As a lady who loves to bake I couldn’t help but say yes and immediately start to brainstorm cookie flavours and set up options. One of the reasons it was cookie bar, and not something more generic like a candy bar, has a lot to do with Bridget and Jays relationship. Since the beginning of their relationship, Bridget has always baked Jay chocolate chip cookies for his lunch kit. Every week she would make a big batch and by the end of the week they were always all gone! To this very day, Bridget still bakes Jay chocolate chip cookies every week. It’s such a cute story so it’s no surprise cookies were going to be a feature!

For the guests to enjoy and take home were over 6oo cookies with the appropriately named Jays Chocolate Chip being the main attraction (and largest cookie jar!). The classic chocolate chip cookie was joined on the table with Ginger Crinkles, heart-shaped Sugar cookies filled with sprinkles, Peanut Butter cookies, Oreo Chocolate Chip cookies and Lemon Coconut Crinkles. It was so fun to bake such an exciting variety specifically picked to please the taste of every sweet tooth in attendance. The cookie bags themselves were incredible adorable—hand stamped with the name of the happy couple, their wedding date and the extremely fitting sentiment of ‘Love is Sweet’. The great thing about the stamp, it can be used for Thank-You cards!

The Cookie Bar featured hand-painted signs letting guests know it’s a cookie bar and, of course, “All you need is Love… and a few cookies!” Decorated with heart sprinkles, dashes of coconut, lemon slices in one jar and chocolate chips in another, and vintage crates for visual interest. All the cookie jars were decorated with lace-tape around them (so much harder to put on than you would expect—just ask a fellow bridesmaid and I) and hand-written chalkboard labels. Of course, a frame with the story of Jays Chocolate Chip Cookie was there for guests to read to explain the cookie bar and share a little insight into one of the couple’s special moments.

Seeing folks enjoying the cookies was like icing on the cake to an already flawless wedding day for one of my best friends. It was an honour to be in her bridal party, give the ‘toast to the bride’, and contribute to her special day using one of my passions. I pray for their growing love to be as perfect as freshly baked chocolate chip cookies- soft and sweet on the inside when they share their intimate moments together and crisp on the outside, to shelter their love from the harshness of the world and to keep each other safe and strong.

*All images courtesy of the always gorgeous Steph Schulz Photography