Make that phone call: 7 tips on how to avoid awkward chats with the extended family.

10 Jan

cell phone flipped

© Jacqueline L. Scott


Challenge: Just call the extended family to say hello.

Like most extended families, mine only meet up at weddings and funerals. Many years fly by, before we face each other again. Every year, I resolve to stay in touch with the extended family. I plan to call each person on their birthdays and on the major holidays such as Thanksgiving.

Typically, before I knew it, the year was done. My resolution had slipped and splattered on the floor. Attempts to revive the resolution were half-hearted. It was so much easier to plan start afresh next year.

This year had to be different. Instead of just thinking about calling the extended family, I made the calls. This is what I learned from making those calls.

1. Glue a smile to your face. Distant family don’t need to hear your list of complaints about life. The calls are meant to be short and pleasant. A smile, even a fake one, changes the tone of the voice, making it lighter and happier.

2. Ask the caller about other members of the extended family.
This shows how connected they are to the rest of the clan. It is useful information. It lets you know the traps to avoid when sharing the family’s gossip. There was an awkward pause with one cousin. It slipped out that she was at the secret wedding that I was not invited to.

3. Remember the correct name of the spouse. I had a lovely chat with one cousin. There was a real connection between us. Then I blew it. I called her husband by the wrong name. The name belonged to husband number two. She is now married to husband number three. As I blabbered away, I kept wondering about the ugly sighs at the other end of the line. Tersely she told me the right name. My apologies were accepted and the chat ended. I wiped the proverbial egg off my face. Next time, I will write down the name of the husband before making the call.

4. Mid-week is the best time to call.
People are over the stress of starting the work week and you are not intruding on their down-time on the weekend.

5. Keep it real. There is a natural tendency to boast about the kids, the job promotion, and the trips overseas. This attempt to accentuate only the positives, can turn into a competition about who has the better life. It is not a great strategy for building a relationship. I found that talking about an issue or two, opened up the conversation. My challenge about keeping the winter blues away, led a cousin to talk about her battles with depression.

6. Have an escape plan. After a few minutes of awkward conversation with a cousin, who was about to bring up the same tired old issues again, I used my escape card. I had to go as someone was ringing the door bell. It quickly ended the chat.

7. Make plans to call again. These plans entirely depend on how the conversation went. With one cousin, I knew there would only be one call each year – that was more than enough for both us. Of course, I did not say this outright. It was more along the lines of ‘we really must keep in touch more often. We have to touch base before the year is over.’ Another cousin and I will chat every couple of months. I scheduled the calls in my calendar so that I do not forget.

Calling the extended family made me feel virtuous. I had done it! I had made and executed a plan. It was proof that action is the key to making-over a life. Change comes from doing. It does not come from wishing, and hoping and planning.

© Jacqueline L. Scott
Jacqueline L. Scott is attempting to be her own life coach. The blog charts her progress as she moves from being frustrated to being content with her life. It focuses on fun, money, work and wellness. You can leave a comment and follow her on Twitter @JabberScott.

Seven good reasons for running in the winter.

8 Jan

cityscape in winter

© Jacqueline L. Scott

Challenge: Just do it – go for a quick run.

For the last four hours I have been thinking of every excuse why I should not go running. The excuses are the usual suspects; too busy, there is a deadline to meet, and the run is not that important.
Those were the same excuses that I had the last week! This week I was determined to stop thinking about the run, planning the run and avoiding the run. Just do it!

To convince myself to go for the run, I made a deal. I had to come up with some good reasons for running. It I could not, then I did not have to run. Oh, the mental gymnastics one has to go through at times!
These are my seven reasons for running:

1. To get high. Running releases a ton of hormones that makes you feel good and believe that most things are possible if you put your mind to it.

2. To tone the butt. My plump backside will soon look as firm as a sack of mashed potatoes, due to all that sitting at the computer. Running keeps the bum perky.

3. To moisturize the eyes. Staring at the computer screen makes the eyes dry, as you forget to blink or frequently shift the focus of the eyes. Dry eyes are scratchy and uncomfortable. Running outside forces you to constantly move the eyes if only to avoid dogs and their calling cards.

4. To escape danger. My head can be a dangerous place, when thoughts are trapped inside, swirling around in circles and getting nowhere. After a run, it is usually safe to enter my head again.

5. To solve problems. There are many pressing problems at this time of year, such as how to cull the ghastly Christmas gifts without offending the givers. The solution came on a run – hide them under the bed until the spring. Then give them to the charity store. By then the givers will have forgotten their presents.

6. To practice winning.
Making new year’s resolutions was the easy part. Sticking to them is so much harder. If I ran around the block, I could prove to myself that I had what it takes to commit to and accomplish goals.

7. To spy on the neighbours. Canadians hibernate in winter. You have a better chance of seeing a drunken angel, than spotting a neighbour. On a run around the block, you notice which neighbours cleared their snow, decorated their homes for the holidays, or put their house up for sale. All this useful information comes in handy for gossiping later on.

I went for the run. It took an hour to change, run, shower and re-dress again. Yet, it had taken four hours to persuade myself to go for the run. Lesson learned – sometimes it takes less energy just to it.

© Jacqueline L. Scott
Jacqueline L. Scott is attempting to be her own life coach. The blog charts her progress as she moves from being frustrated to being content with her life. It focuses on fun, money, work and wellness. You can leave a comment and follow her on Twitter @JabberScott.

What I learned about relationships from a winter’s walk by the lake.

4 Jan

winter trees by the lake

© Jacqueline L. Scott

Challenge: Take an hour to walk by the lake.

A weekly walk by the lake is one of my new year’s resolutions. To get a head start, I took a stroll yesterday. It was a cool winter’s day. The good people of the city had cleared their patch of pavement of snow. The less good had left it to be trampled by heavy boots and stained by dogs.

Down by the lake, virgin show covered the sand. It glittered and gleamed in the bright sunlight. Sun glasses were a must. I realized I forgot mine at home. Squinting would have to get me through this walk.

The footpaths by the lake were cleared of snow. In winter, there was room for all on the path. The cyclists, runners and those with strollers kept a respectful distance from each other. There were no roller-bladers today. Those on snow-shoes and skis carved their own path over the deep packed snow.

By a clump of shrubs, a couple fed the mallard ducks with stale bread. She was a chic Eastern-European. Black hair and burgundy lips framed her large eyes. She wore thigh-high boots and a fake fur jacket.

The man was nondescript, save for the large round glasses misting up on his small nose. He hung onto her words, smiling sweet encouragement when she fumbled to find the right English phrase. They shared the nervous laughter of a couple on those awkward second dates.

Another couple I espied. From a distance, it was clear that they were in another stage of their relationship. It was filled with rage.

She stomped ahead, once in a while turning to curse. His angry arms poked the air. His unsmiling mouth hurled a shout. Caught up in this bitter dance, the couple was indifferent to the stares of passersby.

Three men – black, brown and beige in skin colour – sunned themselves on a bench. They were at ease, doing nothing but shooting the winter breeze.

A flock of Canada geese flew overhead. Their loud honking shattered the silence of the lake. The birds fly with their long necks extended into the wind. They are graceful in flight, keeping a tight V-formation. The geese must have great spacial awareness, as less than a wing tip separated each bird. Yet, they never crashed into each other.

The hour flew by and my walk was done. I went back to home as the sun went down. My new year’s resolution was still shiny and new. And I had taken the first steps to make it ring true.

© Jacqueline L. Scott
Jacqueline L. Scott is attempting to be her own life coach. The blog charts her progress as she moves from being frustrated to being content with her life. It focuses on fun, money, work and wellness. You can leave a comment and follow her on Twitter @JabberScott.

Skiing in the park is a great winter’s lark.

3 Jan

couple skiing

Jacqueline L. Scott

Challenge: Work up the courage to go skiing, after a gap of many years.

The first storm of winter covered the land in deep fluffy snow. Gazing through the window, the winter wonderland was enticing, but only because I was warm and stuffed with rice and peas, chicken and eggnog.

Two hours later, I was still at the window. I had to go outside. It was time to suck in some fresh air, after spending too many hours indoors with the family during the holidays. I love my family. Well, most of the time, I do. Like many families, mine do best when we have some time apart from each other.

No one wanted to go skiing. The familiar eye rolls said it all. Maybe they were right. I had not skied in years. What if I fell broke an important bone like the toe and tailbone? Bones, that like so much in life, are taken for granted, and only appreciated when absent or not working.

For half an hour, I trampled by the city streets with skis and a backpack slung across my shoulders. Joy bubbled in my heart. The afternoon was warm and sunny. It was only zero degrees. This is warm by Canadian standards when the temperature can drop to -40 degrees.

Courage fell when I reached the park. I felt too old to be out skiing for a lark. The hills were filled with people on toboggans and snow-boards. They were young. In mid-life one gains perspective. There was no shame in deciding that skiing was for the young and reckless.

Then I saw some slim parallel tracks in the snow. They were a bit of encouragement when I needed it. The tracks proved that I was not the only idiot skiing in the city park. Out came the skis. Out went the thoughts and fear of falling.

I skied along the flat areas in a twisted loop. My body quickly remembered the basics of skiing. Just pretend that you are walking, only with two six-foot boards attached to your feet. It was a perfectly normal thing to do!

An old couple passed by with skis from the dinosaur era. They were wooden and the poles were made from bamboo. The duo was relaxed as they glided along. We shouted encouragement to each other. When I am old, I want to be like them – fit and confident enough to have fun in the snow. But, minus the ancient skis.

Wisdom banged on my head. It is not a good idea to ski straight down the hill when you are not sure of how to stop. A semi-frozen pond was at the bottom of the hill. I did not want to make that kind of splash. I focused on mastering control of the skis. It took about two hours. Only then, was I confident enough to go a quarter of the way up the hill, and ski down very slowly.

I want to ski from the top of the hill. And stop at the bottom. Not flat on my face. Stop, using a perfectly executed snow-plough. There are three months of snow ahead. Time enough to master the ski hill and the art of stopping.

© Jacqueline L. Scott
Jacqueline L. Scott is attempting to be her own life coach. The blog charts her progress as she moves from being frustrated to being content with her life. It focuses on fun, money, work and wellness. You can leave a comment and follow her on Twitter @JabberScott.

2013: Make this the year of wine, laughter and music.

2 Jan
steps in the snow

Jacqueline L. Scott

Challenge: Commit to achieving the new year’s resolutions.

Ring the bells, ring them loud, ring them strong. The new year is here. It is time for the rituals. Take some paper and a pen, make your resolutions for the year.

Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Dream big and dream strong. The world is your cheese-cake, all you have to do is open wide and take a big bite.

OK. Back to reality. I don’t like cheese-cake. The richness of it upsets my stomach. That second glass of white wine was now fluttering and blustering through my head. Good thing I was drinking it in bed!

Making new year’s resolutions is part of the joy of the holiday season. I was very good at making resolutions. Each one had a clear goal, measurable results, and a timetable for completion. My friends used to cheer for me when I shared my detailed plans with them.

Reality had the unfortunate habit of jeering at my resolutions. Planning was easy. Doing was harder. Usually, by March I abandoned my resolutions. In the cold light of winter, they seem silly, impossible to reach or became empty of meaning.

It was so much easier to fall back into the comfortable routine of wishing, hoping and praying that change would happen all by itself. Of course, that never worked. And with spring just around the corner it was easier to give up rather than re-group.

This year I will do something different. My resolutions focus only on fun things to do. If I can laugh, especially at myself, maybe I will succeed. Here are ten things I plan to do for 2013:

1. Learn to tell three jokes. Without having to explain why they are funny.

2. Take in more culture. Eat yoghurt every week, go to a concert each month.

3. Play the piano. Learn five tunes by heart, this does not include scales. Give a recital for the dog.

4. Always wear polished shoes. You never know where your feet will take you.

5. Walk down by the lake. The weekly stroll is the time for meditation and daydreaming.

6. Listen well. Offer no advice unless begged to do so.

7. Forgive myself. There will be many screw ups and setback in the year. Forgive. Start again.

8. Eat more vegetables at every meal. Wash them down with wine at dinner time.

9. Play the hand that life has given me. And stop wishing for another.

10. Listen to my heart. Let it guide me through the year.

© Jacqueline L. Scott

Jacqueline L. Scott is attempting to be her own life coach. The blog charts her progress as she moves from being frustrated to being content with her life. It focuses on fun, money, work and wellness. You can leave a comment and follow her on Twitter @JabberScott.

2012: Success came from perspiration.

1 Jan

theatre mask brownChallenge: What I learned from blogging in 2012.

I started this blog to get me out of my head and back into the world. The world as it is, and not the world as I wish it would be. Based on that criteria alone the blog has been a success.

Each week I was forced to write and to take photographs. I found that I could write a story in two hours. It was not polished, but it could be done.

Prior to the blog, I needed an entire day just to think about what to write, to draft and redraft the title, never mind actually writing two paragraphs. I guess I was waiting for inspiration.

The blog proved that perspiration is a better at getting results.

theatre mask whiteThe photography surprised me. I did not expect to become so fascinated by graffiti.

Walking through the back alleys of Toronto, the dead end streets and the lane-ways, I discovered many hidden murals. Many of the street artists were as talented as those in art galleries.

I wrote 31 blog posts in 2012. Based on the number of eyeballs reading the blog, these were the top five posts:

1. Farm lessons: When the kids find out that pigs turn into sausages, crayons and chewing gum.

2. A yoga virgin making out in the park.

3. Meet the neighbours, the Hells Angels bikers.

4. What does your financial freedom look like?

5. Entrepreneur: success means having a business plan and a family plan.

So, goodbye 2012. You got me started on the long road to making over my life. Thanks.

© Jacqueline L. Scott

Jacqueline L. Scott is attempting to be her own life coach. The blog charts her progress as she moves from being frustrated to being content with her life. It focuses on fun, money, work and wellness. You can leave a comment and follow her on Twitter @JabberScott.

Paper chase: It is like a jungle sometimes in the office

3 Dec
jungle graffiti

© Jacqueline L. Scott

Challenge: Reduce the paper clutter in the office.

Many times I have tried to reduce the piles of papers in my office. The usual pattern was to start, get overwhelmed by it all, and then give up. Each piece of paper was carefully examined as if it were an ancient papyrus detailing how to build a civilization.  Soon I was swamped by the memories triggered by the papers. To toss one, felt like parting with a fragment of myself.

Some papers were reminders of my plans, dreams and the hopes of living the life that I want. Trashing them felt like I was letting go of the dreams. Yet, holding on them also meant being stuck. I am tired of feeling that I am in a dingy basement running a marathon on a treadmill. The papers have to go – one pile at a time.

First, were the many heaps of newspaper clippings that once meant something. Now I can’t figure out what it was. Out they go. They are joined by the magazines, brochures and annual reports that I read or was meant to read long ago. There is no point reading them now as the information is out-dated.

Tax papers must be kept for six years. They were placed in the top hard-to-reach filing cabinet. Out went the business plans, stationery and client files from shuttered businesses. There is no need to keep these trophies of my entrepreneurial mishaps.

Next were the folders of academic essays that I no longer understand. Was I keeping them for the grades or because I was still interested in the subject? Their level of English is now over my head. I need a dictionary just to get through the first few paragraphs! To think I once wrote like this! Into the trash they go. My dream of teaching at a university was partially realized and then abandoned. I don’t need the reminder.

What to do with the children’s report cards from kindergarten, birthday cards from friends that they can’t remember and tons of their art work?  All are now gone. I was careful to dispose of them when the kids were not at home. They were buried under newspapers in the recycling bin. The kids have heaps of such stuff hidden under their beds.

Then there were the coupons for things that we rarely used or for restaurant that we don’t patronize. Most had expired. I still had the manuals for phones, microwave ovens and televisions that were replaced long ago. All were tossed into the paper recycling bin.

It felt good starting and finishing clearing one area of my office. For the next month, I will spend an hour each week clearing another stack of papers. I know that if I leave it, the papers will start reproducing again.

The cleared office looked prettier and more spacious. Most important, the paper tossing felt like I was giving myself a second chance. Leave the past alone, I cannot change it. I can look to the future; there are no regrets in that direction.

© Jacqueline L. Scott

Jacqueline L. Scott is attempting to be her own life coach. The blog charts her progress as she moves from being frustrated to being content with her life. It focuses on fun, money, work and wellness. You can leave a comment and follow her on Twitter @JabberScott.

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