Santa wore mascara

The tree was beautifully decorated and the sweet smell of cookies wafted from the kitchen. We were all gathered at my Mom’s house and I had planned to be Santa for the young ones.

We sat around and enjoyed each other’s company, and I quietly left the living room, making sure no one saw me. Granted, I didn’t make a tall Santa, but I was a very well dressed Santa. I stuffed a cushion to make my belly round, slipped the white wig and lifelike white beard, and sneaked out of the house by the side door.

I waited a few minutes, adjusting my bag of toys over my shoulder and in my best deep voice, practiced my Santa laugh. I noticed the kids had taken notice and ran to the front bay window to catch a glimpse of  the jolly guest.

I walked into the house, and the children gathered all around me, and others spoke so my words wouldn’t give me away. I did throw out a few loud “Ho ho” that seem to satisfy the children. So not to overstay my welcome, I waved goodbye and left the children to open their Santa presents. I noticed a few of them watching me through the window so I walked over to our neighbor to make it seem a bit more real.

After a short while, I softly crept back in, unnoticed, and went upstairs to change back into my regular clothes. I walked back down and a few of the kids told me that Santa had come by to visit. One of the youngest girls was a beautiful dark eyed dark hair little one who hardly spoke. She was a bit on the shy side, and hadn’t even spoken to me earlier during the evening. I caught her staring at me a few times, and an hour later, she approached me and sat beside me and took my hand in hers. This was quite unexpected coming from this shy little one.

After a few minutes, she motioned me to get close to her, and with her soft voice, she whispered “You know, Santa is a girl” she said quite proudly. “A girl?” I asked with a surprised tone. “Why do you say that?” She looked at me and smiled, and after a minute or so, she replied “Because Santa wore mascara”!

Did she really know I had taken on that role or was she simply sharing her discovery with me? I won’t ever be sure but she spent the rest of the evening sitting close to me.

By the way, that little girl was Anna Lee! this remains as one of my favorite Santa stories!

Merry Christmas to you all,

Santa Sylvie

A Special Camino post – honoring my sister Denise

Say not in grief thaPoppiest she is no more
But say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
But the putting out of the lamp
Because the dawn has come
– R. Tagore

This month I am photo blogging about the Camino, and at this time last year, on this very day, I said goodbye to my wonderful sister Denise, promising her that my next Camino would be in her honor. She loved poppies and she would always comment on my poppy pictures I took for her on previous Caminos.

It is said that the first year after a loved one has left, is the hardest. We live all the typical celebrations, events, moments without them and these are all different – slightly tarnished in their incompleteness. I choose to let the tears fall but ask her spirit  to help my heart be guided by the love we shared together.

I choose to let myself drift in thoughts of shared experiences, shred vacations, shared simple moments and shared quiet moments. I choose to  smile at the sight of poppies (and there have been so many these past few weeks), the symbol I have made hers and hers alone.

I choose to rejoice in the fact that we siblings are very close and we share much love among ourselves. Love is a strong thread that keeps us together regardless if our presence is physical or spiritual.

alto del perdon 1When I undertook last year’s Camino I felt her presence with me at all times. Unfortunately, I was faced with cutting my journey short but I vowed with all my heart to return and finish the trek we both undertook.

It with this plan in mind, on this special day, that I renew my commitment to walk beside the fields of poppies, to feel the wind in my hair, the sun on my face, and her presence in my heart.

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The best plans don’t always work out

well life happens and even the best laid plans don’t always work out. I am very disappointed to have to cut short my current Camino plans due to a health issue I must address at this time.

I don’t want to go into details other than the fact that all will be ok AND I will be back to resume my Camino in honor of my sister at some point in the next few years. The Camino will always be there!

My biggest disappointment and heartfelt regret is that I will not be able to fulfill my volunteering in both Moratinos with my good friend Bruno and in Santiago with my good friend Daniel.

If any of you have extra time and were considering volunteering either during the period of June 9-30th on the meseta or July 1-7 in Santiago, please let me know.

I am sad that I must change my plans but I do want to give a shout out to the great folks in Burgos who took care of me. I want to let folks know that I still stand by my original statement shared back during my first Camino in 2011 – so many people in Spain really care for us pilgrims in so many ways.

I WILL be back, healthy and able to continue my pilgrim trek.
I have lots of gratitude in my heart…

Unspoken compassion and understanding

I knew this Camino would be an emotional rollercoaster but I really didn’t know the extent of even the first few days. I personally have a very strong belief that life on earth is but a step in a longer journey. This is not everyone’s belief and I appreciate this as I always try to revalidate my thinking every so often.
On the Camino, I don’t question my belief as I constantly feel many
things that tend to reaffirm my belief. Whether this is the ultimate truth or not, it is the truth that I need in my life. I also believe that everyone has the freedom to their beliefs and I will always respect this.

This morning I set out for my first “official” walk day. I was looking forward to reaching the challenging climb leading to Alto del Perdon, an iconic set of metal cutouts Representing various pilgrims. When I arrived there, I took off my pack and pulled out the fabric case that holds some of Denise’s ashes. This was her first stop. With strong emotions and tears running down my face, I said a prayer and released some to the wind. I stood there silently for a few minutes, oblivious to the sound of the incredibly strong wind and the wind turbines near by. I turned around to see 4 pilgrims standing there with their heads bowed down.

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Seeing me walked towards them to get to my backpack all four of them walked to me and one by one hugged me. Not a word was spoken, nor were any needed. They then proceeded to offer to take my picture with my camera and then, and only then did they ask in whose memory was I walking my Camino.

Those kind gestures will likely be one of the most impactful memory of this Camino. This was a true sign of compassion and empathy!what a way to start this journey!
Cheers from the Camino
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Making a difference in the world

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Do you ever wonder if you can make a difference in this world? Do you think it needs to be a big project, or a simple smile? Either one can make a world of difference, even if it is to ONE person. A smile, a hug, a shoulder to cry on, two ears to listen, a hand – – all of this can brighten someone’s day.

And then, there are those who undertake BIG projects. Yesterday I met a group of individuals who collectively have raised awareness of the strength, ability, determination and focus of those who live in a world that is not easily accessible to them.

Today, on the Camino de Santiago a young man is turning heads as he and his team ride through Spain on a specially made bike. Pietro, a 34 year old paraplegic is an amazing example of someone who is taking life by storm. I had the pleasure of his company and I learned a wee bit about his life and projects.

His biggest wish is to one day, see the world as an accessible place for all people. He is on his second Camino and he is surrounded by supportive people who love and admire him. This Camino he is making with his father Bart, and two friends, Manolo and Andrea. Spending time with the four of them really allowed me to see how cohesive they are.

Pietro speaks to many groups as well as conducts many interviews during his treks. He is a gentle person who is quick in acknowledging everyone he sees. He speaks many languages and works in the information technology field when he is not traversing entire countries.

People like Pietro are many; just look around and seek those who are fighting for justice, for equality, for freedom of speech, for kindness, for humanitarian causes and such. But not all of us can or choose to be as visible yet we all can make a difference in the world.

I know that I have been touched by Pietro and his group and I feel very privileged to have spent an evening with them. I am to connect with them again when they arrive in Santiago in a few days and I look forward to celebrating the completion of another of their project.

And I will remember that no matter how small the gesture may be, how short the encounter may be, how fleeting the connection may be, we all impact one another every single day. It is our choosing to make the impact a positive one, a goal I will strive to always keep in mind.
Cheers from the Camino
Sylvie
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Update – mid point to Santiago

Update May 13  – halfway point to Santiago

It’s been a few days since my last update since these last locations had limited WIFI. It’s hard to believe I am halfway to Santiago already!

I cannot say it’s been a breeze, believe me! Before Marie-Jo and Patrick went back to France, we talked about the fact the first Camino was as difficult but we likely forgot about the hard parts!

I personally know I have a lot more challenges this time. First with my bronchitis then my knee problem. The bronchitis has disappeared and now that Jean has taped my  knee I can walk without knee pain. 

My feet still are sore each night but that’s par for the course – that never really goes away… Even on the last day!

The Camino has also been challenging due to the amount of pilgrims this year. Many of the albergues are full early on. This results in many pilgrims getting up very early (5 am) trying to beat the rush. There were some last Camino but they got up quietly and tried to be prepared as to cause the least amount of disturbance to all the other pilgrims.

Well, this seems to have gone out the window this year! People are turning on lights, packing their entire bags or talking to each other – quite frustrating for those who aren’t  playing the get to the albergue first game.

There have been a few times Daniele and Jean had to use the tent, and I get a room somewhere, but we still opt to take our time and enjoy each moment.

I’ve met many Canadians this time around and even today I met a Mom and daughter from Gatineau. We’ve formed a larger group of a mix of French and Quebec folks with whom we regularly meet for dinner.

This will change tomorrow as we plan on spending the day in Moratinos at my friend Bruno’s albergue which is only 13 km away. Most of our new friends will walk to the next logical step which is typically 18 – 22 km away. Such is often the case as people follow their set schedules.

It was great having Marie-Jo and Patrick with us but their time was limited and they are missed.

It”s also very strange walking the familiar road. I am remembering so many experiences past. On one hand it makes me look forward to the fun experiences AND makes me dread the challenging ones. Yet I am still able to discover new things and of course meet a whole new set of people! That is a true highlight of doing the Camino!

I look forward to sharing more pictures next time I have access to a computer and I’m able to transfer my camera pictures to my blog. 

Until then I am sending you good thoughts from the Camino
Cheers
Sylvie

Week 8 – Day 1

stirfryThe mighty Stir-fry!

I make stir-fry at least twice a week. It allows me to incorporate many different vegetables in one meal, as well as add lean meats such as turkey or chicken. I also now add brown rice to it, adding a rich taste and by itself, my stir-fry is a complete meal.

Why is stir-frying such a good way to cook your vegetables? It’s the way in which the food is cooked that makes a stir-fry healthier than most other forms of cooking. Because the food is cooked so quickly, nutrients like vitamin C and folic acid are preserved. If you microwave or boil vegetables, these benefits will be lost.

I first add the vegetables that take longer to cook such as onions, broccoli, carrots, celery, peppers. Mid way through, I add lean meats, and at the end I add mushrooms, spinach and vegetables that required very little cooking time. I also add my herbs near the end, as I find they tend to wilt and get bitter if overcooked. My favorite herbs to add are cilantro or basic. Since I have a strong intolerance to garlic, I don’t typically add it to the stir-fry but many do. If I have them handy, I will also toast some sesame seeds and add them to the rice. I add the rice last (I precook the rice in my rice cooker) and mix everything together, add a dash of soya sauce, and let it sit for 5 minutes to let everything settle and the tastes to mix together.

Stir-frying is a fast and easy way to make use of all those little leftover veggies you may have, although for us, stir-fry is just a regular meal that we enjoy.

Week 1 – Day 4

Tip: Macadamia Nuts
Macadamia nuts are a perfect remedy for when you’re feeling anxious throughout the day. They’re rich in omega-3s, which can help reduce anxiety by keeping stress-causing hormones cortisol and adrenaline in check. Macadamia nuts make a great snack when you need a lift at work or when you have kids in the car. They’re so big and filling, you only need to eat 8 nuts a day!

When we first visited Hawaii back in 2000, this was my first time to truly taste macadamia nuts and I was sold on them. I don’t think there is any nut as soft and flavourful out there. Of course, the ones we got in Hawaii typically were covered in chocolate although a few times we did go for the natural ones.

I stayed away from them thinking that they were too high in fats – and wouldn’t you know, they have the good fat your body needs. And since it only takes 8 for its benefit to affect the body, you can be sure this will be on my snack list from now on. I buy a lot of my spices and specialty couscous and nuts at Bulk Barn, so I save on the otherwise higher cost of grocery suppliers. This will be an easy change to adopt !!

Week 1 – Day 3

TIP – Trim your tummy by packing your grocery cart with monounsaturated fats, easily remembered as MUFAS. Found in nuts, olive oil and seeds, MUFAS are healthy sources of energy to keep you going all day long. Other fat burners include avocados, green tea and whole grains.

I’ve always enjoyed eating avocados, not so much in guacamole but mostly in salads or in this case, in my lunch wrap. To a whole wheat wrap I added half an avocado, 4 slices of lean ham (no preservatives type) and loads of mesclun salad. Absolutely delicious!