Stars are born…

I don’t care how old you are- a birthday should be a special day for you, a day to be spoiled and appreciated and loved. And I’ve got a lot of birthday shoutouts today.

First, happy birthday Nadia, a beautiful girl I went to school with from elementary through till high school and today is a mom of two gorgeous children. Happy birthday Diodora, one of the strongest women I’ve ever met, someone who is an amazing journalist, a brave wife and now also a mom (and a great one at that, I’m sure). Happy birthday Mr. Backes, one of the best teachers I ever had, who toughened me up and was willing to give me a chance (which paid off in spades! Thanks Mr. B)

Which brings me to two of my besties- Amanda and Andrew, who are both getting old today (haha…). Amanda gives the absolute best pep talks and is always willing to listen to me to go on and on about how some editor ripped apart one of my articles. She’s one tough cookie and a terrific mom. She’s resilient and caring and fun and taller than me, which is great (lol). I feel lucky to have a woman like Amanda in my life, and I truly appreciate the countless fun times we’ve shared on vacations and pub crawls and birthdays.

Andrew I’ve known since I met my husband (they’re cousins), and other than my dad, no one makes me laugh harder than he does (I’ve saved his phone messages for weeks). Despite the fact he’s “one of the boys,” I’ve always felt a bond with Andrew. He’s always supported my schooling and career, he’s been the perfect sidekick to secretly hide out with at the bar taking shots while avoiding “certain groups” of people at the pub, and anytime I felt like talking about goats, I knew I could go to him.

Friends like Amanda and Andrew are what make ordinary dinners fun, random afternoons memorable, and birthday celebrations special. And that’s why they deserve only happiness, laughter and fun today and all year long…

On March 30th quite a few stars were born!

One of life’s greatest moments

My best friends got engaged yesterday- a surprise, out-of-the-blue proposal that gobsmacked my sweet Amanda (and made me love Ryan even more, if that’s possible). I haven’t stopped thinking about them since they called me while I was out downtown last night (and I screamed like a lunatic in the middle of St. Catherine Street, in case any of you were on the corner of St. Laurent around 7pm and heard excited “Oh my gawds!” and “Yipees!”). It’s such an incredibly special moment to know that there’s another person in the world who wants to promise to stay by your side forever. There’s something soothing and reassuring when you look down at your hand and see a ring shining back at you, a beautiful symbol of commitment and love.

An engagement is one of life’s greatest moments. And Ryan and Amanda are one of those special couples who deserves only the happiest of things!

What I control

There is one thing I can control in my life – how I choose to react to things and live my life. Sure, it’s frustrating when I let someone cut in in traffic and they don’t acknowledge my nice gesture with a smile or a wave; when that happens, I have one of two options: I could get angry and decide it’s not worth being nice anymore and stop letting people cut in, or I could just realize that I only control my actions and let it slide. What it all comes down to is this: I want to be a nice person, the type of person who does let people cut in in traffic, and I do nice gestures like that because I want to, not because I expect something in return. If people just gave up on common courtesies, well, then this would be a pretty crumby world.

I also can’t control the bad things that happen in life, however I can control the good. Tonight I took my mother-in-law out for a night on the town- we went for dinner, had coffee, and then went to see Blue Rodeo in concert (incredible, by the way). And as I listened to them belt out “till I am myself again…” I couldn’t help but think about how grateful I was for that little moment in time, while me and my mother-in-law swayed in unison and sang aloud. We blared their CD on the long congested ride home. It was just one of those all-around terrific nights.

I don’t have to wait for holidays and birthdays to find a reason to celebrate – I can email “the girls” and organize a random night out dancing, or go to a show, or host a dinner, just for the fun of it. And while we take too much obsessing about the bad things in our lives, isn’t it equally important to try and spend a little time acknowledging and relishing in the good – getting a kiss from a niece who tells you she loves you, meeting a friendly person in an elevator who makes a usually-mundane task a little more enjoyable, or being treated to a really good meal.

I can’t control externals – other people, bad things happening to good people, and so much more. But there are two things I can control – my behavior and the good I want to bring into my life. And baby, I want as much good as I can get my skinny little hands on!

There are no coincidences

I don’t think things “just” happen. I really believe everything happens for a reason. I feel like the joys and tribulations I face in my life are all part of a master plan that has been mapped out just for me.

I started thinking about this on my way home from a doctor’s appointment this afternoon- I had been walking back to my car downtown and came to a busy intersection. As I crossed the street, I had to stop to let one of those lines of kids, all holding hands in a big chain of primary colors, cross in front of me, and suddenly, there was my cousin’s son, in the middle of the cluster, just like that. And I shouted, “Hey! Wow! HI!” And he gave me a little wave and half-smiled beneath his baseball cap, and as they continued down the street he kept looking back over his shoulder at me, and I kept waving.

Now maybe this wasn’t a monumental, planned-out pit stop on my “life road map.” But it made me stop and smile after a busy afternoon of running around. And maybe he was having a crumby day and the smile helped him too.

And I do think that the people who have come into my life, the wonderful man that came into my life, the friends, the jobs, the opportunities, the disappointments, the make-me-laugh-so-hard-I-cried times, the rip-my-heart-out-in-sadness moments, were all destinations I was meant to visit. And this gives me solace. What’s better than giving up on asking “why” and just chalking it up to “it’s part of the plan”?

If I’m right about my theory- that everything is written in the stars- then great! I’ll find out when I bite the bullet and meet the big guy in the sky. And if I’m wrong (which I rarely am!) then I won’t know it because, well, I’ll be dead, right?

I don’t ignore “coincidences.” And if you stop brushing things off and start taking notice of what’s going on around you, delving a bit deeper into seemingly nonchalant moments, you may just discover a thing or two.

Yummy in my tummy

Tonight I got to experience one of the perks of being a journalist- restaurant reviews!! I mean really, what’s better than being wined and dined and fawned over? The best food I’ve ever had have come from two people: the chef at Lemeac and my mom (but there are still tons of places that would come in second).

I’m not really into “exotic” foods- I’ve tasted truffle and I don’t get it. Sushi is also strange (and frankly, I think a lot of people just say they like it because it’s so trendy to like raw fish). I’ve had beef and lamb tartar and it feels like uncooked meat in my mouth.

Lemeac was the one exception- while everything was fancy it was really delish! Their pate was out of this world, not to mention the panko-crusted goat cheese, apple and walnut salad (oh.em.gee) and their mmmarvelous creme brule- to die for!

But for the most part, I just like real comfort food that tastes goooood. There was nothing like coming home from school and smelling my mom’s meat sauce cooking- it would hit you like a wall of pure savoury goodness when you came through the door, and there would be a pot the size of a small swimming pool bubbling away on the stovetop. I also loved my mom’s palacsinta- a Hungarian dessert that’s basically a small crepe rolled up with jam inside. She always used seedless raspberry in some and orange marmalade in the rest. I could eat 100 of them in one sitting. My mom makes the best breaded pork chops, chopped cooked red cabbage, and thick gooey brownies, and don’t forget Mommy Fried Chicken (basic fried chicken, named after my mom for no reason other than she made it and it always tasted sooooo yummy) and my childhood fave- fence bread (thick slices of fresh French bread with butter and honey criss-crossed with a knife, hence it looked like a fence! Some kids need bribery to eat- apparently I needed fencing).

And finally, a few of my local faves: Extra large Tim Horton’s double-double or, if I’m feeling fancy, a Starbucks latte; m:brgr’s Kobe beef burger with apple smoked bacon; Buffalo Bills’ classic wings (slathered in that sweet tangy sauce… oh sorry, that was my stomach growling); Tomasso’s stuffed pasta shells with ricotta cheese baked in a tomato sauce and topped with bubbling mozzarella; Baton Rouge’s chicken tender salad with creamy garlic ranch dressing; and finally, I had the absolute best pecan pie while we were driving up to Canada to move here in 1998 at a hotel restaurant… it was sweet and smooth with the perfect pie crust. Boy oh boy I wish I knew where that place was…

My friend, in a nutshell…

Little girls become friends with other little girls for a number of reasons: because we like them, because we hafta, or because they have all the newest Pound Puppies and if we want a chance to play with them, well, we’ve gotta suck up.

But when you’re an adult, the women in your life become friends because of one reason: they make your life better in a special way.

Today’s is Maggie’s birthday. I met her when I worked at AskMen. And I love her for this: she really just says it like it is.

I mean that in only the nicest most sincere way- Maggie is an incredible person to me because she really and truly doesn’t worry about what others think. She’s a realist. And she’s one of the few people who is always honest with me. I appreciate that so much. I really admire that quality in Maggie, and I wish I had a little more of her in me.

I know that all the jobs I’ve had so far have helped further my career. But more than anything, they’ve given me true friends.

So happy birthday SuperMags!! xxoo

A few of my favorite things

If I can offer any advice to a budding journalist it is this: Don’t wait seven years to put your portfolio together. I spent most of Sunday (and almost all of Season 1 of The Cosby Show) sitting in my living room, surrounded by piles of newspapers and magazines, with my laptop and printer, scanning every single page of printed material with my name on it. And the minute I started getting annoyed about how long and tedious it was to scan everything, I reminded myself that the more time it took, the more published material I obviously had, so I should be grateful.

I’d forgotten about a lot of the awesome articles I got to work on- it’s funny how you can almost completely forget about some of the topics or people you’ve covered. So here are a few of my favorite things…

1- The playhouse shoot – WALL to WALL Summer 2006

I had this ingenious idea (or at least it seemed so at the time) to decorate a kid’s playhouse like an actual house, so after borrowing tons of stuff from IKEA (and, of course, assembling it), I spent hours “decorating” this teeny tiny playhouse. Then I got the greatest photographer I knew, Daniel Kudish (who shot my wedding- Daniel + Davina) to make it look pretty, and boy did he ever!

2- The international house in Hudson – WALL to WALL Spring 2006

This house in Hudson was gorgeous, and the owners were just as awesome (they refurbished old armoires). Every room was a different country- they had an English pool room, French kitchen, African home office, a Greek living room, and an Ireland-inspired dining room. It was incredible. Again, amazing pics by Daniel!

3- The Toy Tea for children of battered women

I was first introduced to this charity when I was interning at The Westmount Examiner and they sent me to cover it… I added my name to the guest list and have gone every year since (I even brought my friend Amanda and her son Mayson one year). I’ve collected toys at my various jobs, and co-workers have been so generous. I would book the afternoon off so I could go to the event and then start my Christmas shopping downtown while I sipped on a gingerbread latte from Starbucks. I love my annual Toy Tea- listening to children sing carols in Tudor Hall, noshing on the best rum balls I’ve ever had and sipping tea from china cups- it’s always my official “start” to the holidays.

Mayson and Auntie Jenn at the Toy Tea

4- Sports profiles

Despite the fact I’m not very athletic or sporty, the sports articles I’ve covered have been really fun and inspiring. I met Terry Fox’s brother at a Westmount elementary school for an Examiner article, profiled Olympian Mark Tewksbury’s eclectic home for WALL to WALL (and secretly put on his gold medal while doing the running man to get a laugh from our art director and Daniel, the photographer of the shoot- shhh don’t tell Mark!), and met Georges St-Pierre at a training demo at his downtown gym (as well as sat octagon-side for UFC 83).

UFC baby!!

Every teen needs a little RKC

Kyle & Ryan opening Shen's gifts at Christmas

Me and Cristina

I don’t think people are big fans of teenagers these days- I don’t think a lot of adults know how to interact and identify with being a teen, and it’s probably because a lot of teens don’t know how to identify with themselves. Growing up in South Florida, I was always rushing through everything to get to the good part: being a grown-up. Sometimes I didn’t really like high school- I was uncomfortable in my own skin (I was very tall and very thin) and I just wanted to graduate so I could move to Montreal and become a writer.

But the one thing that kept me grounded as a teen was having RKC- Ryan, Kyle and Cristina. I was a nanny throughout middle and high school for a few families, but mostly for The Teems’. Mary and Jeff, who lived across the street from my house, started with having twin boys, and they were the cutest, sweetest little boys in the whole wide world. I did everything with them from the time they were babies- bathed them, fed them, put them to bed. They were always dressed in matching Baby Gap, and they had this baby cologne that made them smell edible! I taught them how to bake and how to do spin art with those machines that whirl the paper around while you add drops of paint and watch it spatter across the page. When I got my license I would take them out for dinner at Burger Kings with those playlands, and people would tell me what beautiful children I had (haha). And they really were- Ryan with his bright green eyes and Kyle with his bleach-blond hair and little glasses (he used to tell me he was the kid from “Jerry Maguire”). Too cute!

And then Crissy came along, this stunning little girl with curly black hair and sparkling brown eyes, and Mary and I “had” a little girl we could dress up in lacy headbands and frilly dresses (and boy did we ever!) I went on vacations with the five of them to Sanibel Island, I was always included in their family parties for the holidays and birthdays, and Mary was like an older sister who would answer my embarrassing teenage questions while Jeff was the pesky big brother who ridiculed me until I grew thicker skin.

Every teen needs a little RKC- Ryan, Kyle and Cristina. Some teenagers play sports or take dance classes or hold part-time jobs, and I was a nanny. Those kids kept me busy and kept me out of trouble. They gave me something to look forward to every day. When Ryan would throw a temper tantrum and throw himself backwards in rebellion (YEESH!) or when Kyle decided he wasn’t going to eat his supper, they taught me patience. When me and the three kids would sit around the kitchen table and make brownies together, they taught me compassion and love. And when they called me “Shen,” they melted my heart and made me feel loved and needed.

You want to keep today’s teens out of trouble? The solution is simple- help them find their RKC.

What do you want to do before you die?

I discovered a new MTV show called “The Buried Life.” Four friends made a list of 100 things they want to do before they die, and on a cross-America roadtrip they attempt to scratch things off their list (thinks like “Make a speech at a stranger’s wedding” and “Go to a party at the Playboy Mansion”). The cool thing is, while they’re working toward crossing something off their own list, they also ask someone what they want to do before they die help them achieve it (“Get over my fear of heights” or “Reunite with my childhood friends”). It’s funny and inspiring. And of course, it got me to thinking: what do I want to do before I die?

I made a “bucket list” when I was a kid and kept it… it said things like “Get published” (check!), “Marry my soul mate” (corny but check!), “Meet Kirk Cameron from ‘Growing Pains'” (err, nope, not yet!) And I think if I added to it today, I would add:

1- Be a mommy

2- See Europe, especially Paris and The Eiffel Tower

3- Find the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe (tried DOZENS!! Suggestions would be appreciated!)

4- Swim with dolphins

5- See NYC with a local

6- Make a quilt

7- Go apple picking

8- Teach a class

9- Drive a convertible along the beach

10- Be a friend

Some of these may seem simple, and they are- they’re just things I’ve never gotten a chance to do and would like to some day. I don’t really have any big lofty dreams… sure, it would be great to write the great American novel or become a world-renowned columnist, but for the most part, I’m pretty content with reveling in the every-day things. I love that the birds and squirrels come to my balcony for their breakfast, that I can wake up every day and do a job I love (even if I’m not in love with my salary), and that if I’m having a bad day because I’m in agony with a migraine that I have someone who is compassionate and loving and will bring me a banana, a glass of Gatorade and my “special” pills. I’ve had great jobs (mostly) and been lucky enough to have taken great friends from each place. Despite the fact that my family is small, we’re devoted to each other, and now that I’m married, I have this HUMONGOUS wonderful extended family I can rely on.

And I think my greatest “bucket list” accomplishment is: Find true friends.  It’s only as an adult I’ve discovered what true friends are, but I have a group of the most selfless, fun-loving, caring, wise people any person could ever hope for.

I often say how I hate being a grown-up, because, really, balancing checkbooks and investing in RRSPs and having to make those big, life-changing decisions isn’t all that fun. When I used to play “house,” I wasn’t organizing bills and making doctor’s appointments- I was playing (no wonder I thought being a grown-up was so fun!) But being an adult is downright scary. However, when you know you have a foundation of family, friends, coworkers, spouses, extended family, even a landlord who gets you a wedding gift- well, it makes everything a little easier.

What do I want to do before I die? I really just want to be the type of friend that others have been to me.

And I want to try pizza in Italy.

So, what do you want to do before you die?

The simple things…

Great-grandma's 100th birthday

I’ve been volunteering at a local senior’s residence for about a year now. I realized I had a soft spot for the elderly when I moved to Montreal in ’98 and started visiting my great-grandmother, who had been in a home since her late 80s (she lived to be 102!) She only spoke Hungarian, but I loved sitting next to her, smiling at one another, giving each other kisses on the cheek- it was the simple things that bonded us. Sometimes when I arrived, she’d nod as if she were acknowledging “Oh, good, it’s you,” although I don’t think she knew we were related. I was just a visitor who was cheery and made her smile. I saw her maybe an hour or two a week. And one night, when I decided to pop by after work, she actually passed away in front of me, just like that… the timing was uncanny. I think she waited for me. It was the one thing I had always worried about- I thought that if someone lived to be 102, they shouldn’t die alone. And as strange as it sounds, I’m so glad I was there.

Today, at the residence where I volunteer, I have a soft spot for Vincent, an 80-something war vet who’s son comes in every day to shave his father’s face. There’s Edie and Gord, who have been married 68 years and hadn’t spent a day apart until recently, when his wife was moved to another home that offered better physio therapy- they talk on the phone every day. And there’s Mrs. Tate, who loves dressing up for the men “just in case,” and Molly who calls me “dahling,” and Mr. Fairweather who told me today “you gotta keep movin’ so ‘it’ doesn’t catch you” (‘it’ as in death).

Everyone loves kids- kids are never alone and always have a companion, and if kids are in trouble or are hurt, everyone puts effort into helping them. When I visit the residents at my home, there are so many of them who are lonely… they fade away quicker because of the lack of interaction. And just because they have memory loss, or get confused, they still have so much love and happiness and wisdom to share. Babies don’t comprehend words and commands for months and months, yet would we just leave them in a corner until they could? No- we nurture and encourage them. Why are the elderly any different?

We quit smoking and exercise and eat healthy so we can live longer, right? But what’s the point of living longer if we just end up holed up in a room mindlessly staring out a window?

It sounds a tad “kumbaya,” but if you’re able to give up just one afternoon a month to do some friendly visiting at an old folk’s home, I promise you’ll leave there feeling inspired. Because, although the stack of bills or the spat with your spouse was on your mind when you got there, after spending a few hours with these warm, wonderful people, you’ll leave with a renewed sense of what’s really important in life… holding someone’s hand, sharing a laugh- it’s the simple things that count.

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