To Spa or Not to Spa? When is that ever a question?

It was a busy week for me last week in the big smoke shopping for the fall line of clothes for both Stuff & Nonsense and our new store, Twang & Pearl. Though I enjoy the smorgasbord of restaurants, the abundant window-shopping inspiration, and the urban anonymity afforded even in the most bustling cafe, the city truly exhausts the crap out of me. (Sorry for saying crap, but really, it just does). I grew up in Vancouver, but have been gone from it long enough that my familiars no longer give me the sweet nostalgic pangs they used to after I first moved to the ‘country’. Instead, my nostalgia pangs have been replaced by headache tweaks, and the simple act of getting from A to B had me sincerely longing for my white mischief fueled days on Varkala Beach. Therefore, I didn’t hesitate to accept a dear friend’s invite to tag on a visit with her to Whistler for a little spa indulgence.

I’ve been meaning to try the Scandinave Spa and it definitely lived up to its enthusiastic referrals. We didn’t have time for a treatment but experiencing the Scandinavian baths left me more rejuvenated and energetic than I’ve felt in months. The design of the outdoor baths harmonizes with the landscape organically as you hop from hot (eucalyptus steam room, cedar sauna, or whirlpools) to cold (plunge pools or a outdoor showers) to rest (loungers by an outdoor fire pit or lovely even-temperature sanctuary rooms with big picture windows showing off mountain vistas that few places in the world can compete with). The only thing that would make the Scandanavian Spa at Whistler better would be if it relocated to Salt Spring Island.

Alas not all ‘spas’ are created equal, and as destinations all over the world are jumping on the big spa business bandwagon, it can sometimes be a tricky world to navigate out there. Here’s a list of 5 lessons I’ve learned while spa hopping around SE Asia to help other aspiring ‘spa whores’ everywhere. And speaking of spa whores …

Lesson #1 learned in Ubud, Bali: When you get a recommendation from a self-ascribed ‘spa whore’, spend the big bucks. It will be worth it. One afternoon while hanging out at ‘Naughty Nuris’, an expat-saturated street side restaurant in Ubud, serving up some mean BBQ and a truly wicked fall-down-drunk-after-one martini, we struck up a conversation with a clearly relaxed and happy Aussie who proclaimed to have tried every spa in town. She heartily recommended not only her favourite spa, but also the best treatment with a particular practitioner. On the way home I booked myself in for the following day. It remains one of the most delightful (albeit a tad pricey for SE Asia ~ around $50 for one and a half hours) spa treatments I’ve ever had, with a lovely jungle view, and a soothing real time jungle-chirping soundtrack (with which no North American spa background relaxation music could possibly compete). Happily sedated, I noticed the Aussie from Naughty Nuri’s on my way out getting a foot massage. She saluted me with a knowing insiders smile, which I enthusiastically returned.

Lesson #2 learned in Chiang Mai, Thailand: Expensive doesn’t always mean better (aka Friends shouldn’t let friends get plucked). Thailand is famous for its traditional massages, of which I’ve had many. It’s kind of like yoga without having to do any of the work, as a practitioner is molding your body into poses for you. In Chiang Mai where we spend most of our time in Thailand, there is an overwhelming plethora of spas: everything from street side foot masseurs to seriously posh resorts. On my first visit to Chiang Mai a friend and I decided to get waxed at a nice upscale feeling spa near the Night Market, before our trip down South to the beach. We chose a pricier spot, thinking we shouldn’t mess around where waxing is concerned. My friend went first and after almost half an hour she came out with a slight grimace and I went in. We didn’t speak, as ‘How was it?’ isn’t generally a question you ask a friend after a waxing. Half way through my half hour I finally realized what had taken so long. The ‘aestheticians’ had been using an ineffective home sugaring product and after fifteen minutes of fruitless de-fuzzing and lots of muttering, the two young girls pulled out the tweezers and began ‘plucking’ at my leg hairs. My friend and I, still mostly hairy, had a good laugh after we got over the embarrassment of how much money we’d spent.

Lesson #3 learned in Luang Prabang, Laos: Even if you’re mired in excruciatingly Canadian politeness, it’s okay to walk out of a treatment if you’re grossed out. When we were in Luang Prabang, the spa scene was just emerging. I tried two of the three spa services I tracked down – and incidentally found my most favourite natural pineapple-flavoured Thai soap in the first one, to which I am still addicted. At the second one, the young girl massaging me was clearly inexperienced, which I was okay with as she was only charging about $5 for an hour long massage. However, she also had a cold and was continually pausing to wipe her nose with her hand and then re-starting the massage afterward. I shared this story with the Aussie in Bali and she was floored on my behalf.

Lesson #4 learned in Fort Cochin, India: Always check out the room you are to be massaged in before you pay for your massage (and particularly in India try to get a recommendation from another western tourist before booking). I’ve wanted desperately to have an ayurvedic treatment in India ever since our first trip there. However, India being, well, India, the spa just didn’t ever really seem to fit with the chaos and dirt that makes up most of our days travelling in Rajasthan. So when we found ourselves in the balmy southern state of Kerala – where ayurvedic treatment centres are as plentiful as auto rickshaws – I decided to book myself in at a place recommended by our lovely homestay. After paying around $75 for a two hour treatment, I was ushered into a very small ‘room’ with dirt-smeared impermanent walls. Recycled water bottles filled with oil and an old propane heater were stacked in the corner. I was directed to strip down under a fluorescent tube light in front of my three female practitioners, and was handed a makeshift cotton thong. The treatment started with a head massage while I perched on a grimy plastic stool. I spent the next 40 minutes lying on a hard wooden table while oil was heated and poured in streams down my body. With my eyes closed to the surroundings I actually found the warm oil river enjoyable. However the wooden table was ridiculously uncomfortable, and at the one-hour mark I’d had enough. After politely saying I was not up for the massage half of my treatment, I was showed to a less than clean bathroom with a dirty bar of soap to wash up. Honestly it’s the only time in India I’ve ever felt truly ‘taken’. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t even tell Joe about it until later that night after a couple of Kingfishers. In hindsight I should have left as soon as I saw the room. However, I’d still love to go to a Keralan ayurvedic treatment centre for an extended stay sometime. I will just have to do much more research first.

Lesson #5 – learned in Thailand, Laos, Bali, Vietnam, Burma, & even India: When you find yourself in a beautiful locale where spa treatments are as affordable as they are enjoyable you should indulge as much as possible. Always tip generously where warranted. Sometimes I’ve even given a tip equal to the cost of the treatment, especially in a resort setting where I really want to reward the actual practitioner. You will be a more relaxed and happier human being as a result. I know I am.

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There’s lots of sleepless people in the tropic of crazy

Oh how I wish that quote was mine. However I have to give credit where credit is due. And credit is due to Day 6 CBC Radio host Brent Bambury, uttered as I listened on my morning ‘commute’ to Stuff & Nonsense. I also have to thank Brent for giving me my first real belly laugh out loud moment since we got back home. And as I listened on, after the the belly laugh subsided into a chuckle and finally settled into a subtle lip twitch, I began to ponder how aptly this quote sums up the week.

Brent was playing a little game of ‘Guess who said it?’ Muammar Gadhafi, Charlie Sheen or Glen Beck (of conservative Fox News infamy) – all three steeply entrenched in their own version of crazy town at the moment. With quotes such as “We are all pirates,” “They picked a fight with a warlock,” and “You can get rich making fun of me,” the game wasn’t as easy as one might think.

Here on the rock the weather (like the news) has been nothing short of schizophrenic. We’ve had snow, extreme wind, warming sun, pelting sideways rain, mist, slushing sky and often all of the above in one day. While talking about the weather is a favourite pastime for many here on our bucolic little island (right up there with BC Ferries & astrology – or both, i.e., how the latter might be affecting the former), the severe passive agressive nature of it as of late has battened down the lip flaps of even the most devout wet coast winter enthusiasts. Instead we’ve all been reduced to a dull breathless communal mumble about how much wood we’re burning through and how cold we all are.

All the constant change in pressure is stirring up the crazy pot, I can feel it, as if there’s one thing the good people of Salt Spring Island don’t like it’s change. I for one haven’t been sleeping very well with an agitation that I just can’t put my finger on (partly because my hands are so cold that I have to have them lodged under Joe’s side most of the night). It just feels like there’s a lot of un-hinged captains at the helm of the ship these days.

Thankfully there’s no shortage of sheep to count in this particular tropic of crazy.

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Redemption by Kathi Roll

Now home in Canada, after a thirty hour trip door to door, my head still feels like it’s sealed in a big tin can hurtling through the sky and my feet won’t warm up. Seriously Salt Spring Island, snow again?  Alas now safely ensconced in a duvet having a long overdue cuddle with our cat Shane, I’m finally able to report (without jinxing myself) that I actually made it through an entire month in India without at single episode of violent puking. First time in six trips. Whoot, whoot!

I’ve tried bringing pro-biotics, anti viral this and vitamin that, grapefruit seed extract, homeopathic remedies, anti bacterial gel, you name it.  Last trip my ‘medical’ kit took up more room than my clothes. This trip I brought nothing but some Holy Crap cereal with a plan to eat it with curd (yogurt) for breakfast every morning and to drink a Coke a day. Joe’s a Coke addict and he never gets sick, plus a friend who travelled with us to India last year (and got sick along with me) visited her doctor when she got home and was scolded for her use of antibiotics in favour of drinking Coke to kill the bad bacteria. All pop makes my eyes water and Coke is way too sweet for me, so this was actually no easy feat – but certainly easier than the alternative of puking (out of both ends) for 12 hours straight in a less than comfortable Indian hotel room.

So when Joe suggested we try a hole in the wall street food eatery for some kebab on our last night in New Delhi, I hesitantly agreed.  Food poisoning and long plane rides home don’t mix well and ironic things happen to me all the time.  Turns out the hole in the wall in question, Nazim’s Kathi Kabab, is a New Delhi institution and serves up a mean kathi roll. We ordered up two chicken tikka kathi rolls and two Pepsis and took a seat in a booth while locals streamed in and out. The atmosphere was delightfully old school Indian charming (as opposed to the florescent lit, neon painted not so charming interiors of newer Indian ‘faster’ food restaurants – faster because nothing is actually ‘fast’ in India). When our rolls arrived I loaded up mine with the delicious minty-spicy green sauce often served with tandoori and took a tentative first bite.

Turns out, this particular kathi roll was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten (up there with Shawn W’s birthday tenderloin, my sister’s last thanksgiving feast, the stuffed lemongrass at Tamarind in Luang Prabang, Laos and the Thai fish served up at the Chiang Mai home of friends Don & Deanna – all steep competition indeed). It was definitely the best thing I’ve ever eaten in India, a tall order in and of itself. So basic – chicken tikka, a little bit of onion and some special spices wrapped in a buttery fried paratha (Indian flat bread) – yet so unbelievably tasty. It was also filling, (unfortunately as, as soon as I finished I immediately wanted another one). I actually felt sad to be leaving New Delhi as that meant I’d not be able to savour this tasty treat for at least another eight months.

Who knew the constant honking and dreadful air of New Delhi would be redeemed by a kathi roll. Certainly not I or I would have sought one out much sooner. Now if only we could find a decent hotel room there.

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Down & Out in New Delhi

After our lovely house boat cruise, we continued south for a few days of doing absolutely nothing on Varkala Beach, a somewhat tacky strip of eateries, tourist shops & internet stands perched precariously on a red earth cliff strewn with garbage and a verdant tumble of squash plants. The draw here is a small sandy enclave populated by tattered rented umbrellas, sun worshiping westerners, ogling fully clad young Indians, and the odd sari clad woman selling pineapples and coconuts. The not very friendly but deliciously warm Arabian Sea steadily rolls in, tumbling tourists about in its wake. Definitely not the best beach we’ve been to, but the sun, daily chicken tikka snacks, mocha chillers & white mischief vodka & limcas had us happily sated and yearning for more.

Alas, today we flew back to the rude awakening that is New Delhi and I find myself wishing we’d made a bigger effort to seek out the world famous Ammaji, whose ashram is somewhere in the Keralan backwaters. Bonnie, our wondrous holder down of the Stuff & Nonsense fort requested we entertain an extended Amma hug on her behalf, but sadly the closest we came to the famous ‘Hugging Saint’ was a photo tacked up in a rickshaw we took to town to visit the booze emporium. All of New Delhi could use a hug. I’ve known armpits that were friendlier, sexier and smelt considerably better.

Nothing like a dose of New Delhi in an unexpected downpour, dripping Delhi dirt down my face and washing Delhi street goop over my flip flops to shake me awake from my tropical beach reverie and make me homesick. Three more sleeps before the long haul back to Canada-land.

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There is a certain Indian mannerism and several casual expressions that Joe has picked up on in India and effortlessly mimics while we’re here, often to the amusement of the natives. He is a natural at the subtle Indian bobble-head waggle, and he easily slips “tikka” and “ah-cha” into most discussions without notice. ‘Tikka’ essentially means, “okay, then” or “yes, okay” and “ah-cha” means “ah-ha” or “oh, I get it” (Tikka incidentally is also our favourite kind of Indian chicken dish cooked in a tandoor). He also knows how to say “shoo you old goat” and “anything is possible” in Hindi, which are both useful and humorous party tricks (e.g. for persistent rickshaw drivers and negotiations with market vendors respectively).

Along with a new expression or two, each successive trip to India also comes with at least one ‘ah-cha’ moment, as I like to call them. As in, ohhhhhhh that’s why that strange or random situation has been happening. Usually it has to do with some form of Indian bureaucratic minutia around shipping. Mercifully, it also usually eliminates at least one of many reoccurring and seemingly endless conversations in hindi which inexplicably take place after asking what to us was a simple yes or no question.

This year was no exception, with a record number of “ah-cha” moments happening while reading a book called “The Fabric of Our Lives: The Story of Fabindia,” purchased at the Fort Kochi branch of Fabindia during our first visit to the nationally famous chain. The company was conceived by an American in the 1960′s to support the Indian cottage hand loom industry by adapting their designs for a western export market. It continues to do that today as well as operate over 100 retail stores across the country. An inspiring read for me indeed.

Interestingly, however, it was the recounting of another kind of moment in the book that both the founder of Fabindia and Joe and I have shared that struck me the most. It’s a special kind of random moment that happens daily if not hourly in these parts, a moment we have dubbed the ‘WTF’ moment. Our favorite WTF moment is the day we saw a hand-cranked ferris wheel on the side of a busy road we travel every day while in Jaipur, complete with kiddies in the wheel buckets. The founder of Fabindia witnessed a similar scene in rural Rajasthan and regretted later not bringing the ferris wheel back home to Delhi. Joe and I only regretted not stopping our taxi to get a better picture.

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The Sultry South

After a whirlwind four days of shopping in Pushkar and Jodhpur, our go go go pace afforded us a whole ten days off before having to be in Helli (as we not so affectionally call New Delhi) for a gift fair and our plane ride home. It seems we’re getting slightly better at navigating the murky shopping waters in India. Since ten days is a little long even for us for a beach stop in Goa, we decided to head farther south to the beckoning swaying-palm lined coastal state of Kerala.

We spent our first couple of days idling about historic Fort Kochi, wandering along the seashore and the charming lanes fronted with pleasing colonial tiled-roof buildings. We started each day with delicious Keralan treats prepared by our home stay host Diana, my favorite of which was a thin crepe with delectable coconut, cardamum and peanuts rolled inside. Kerala feels to me like a soothing balm to the intensity of Rajasthan. It appears more affluent, there’s considerably less obvious poverty, and the women wear the most strikingly beautiful silk saris (polyester is definitely not king in the south). Even rickshaw drivers are more friendly in their persistence. But most surprising to me is that it actually smells good here – and not good as in an occasional wafting chai or samosa frying scent masking the dirt and pee smells, but good as in warm sea salted air perfumed with sultry sweet spice and tropical flowers.

Alas along with the sublime comes the hoards of tourists, and with the hoards of tourists comes streets overtaken with tourist shops (filled with treasures from Rajasthan mostly), and expensive high season accommodation. Yet again, I feel a twinge of sadness for not being able to experience a place before it was ‘discovered’. Alas, despite the hoards we decided to spend the next afternoon and evening on a houseboat in the Keralan backwaters (with hundreds of other tourists, we estimated) around Alappuzha, which all guidebooks list as the one ‘must do’ experience in Kerala. This had me more skeptical than excited, as with the exception of the tour of Inle Lake in Burma, any boat tour we’ve been on in South East Asia has at best been moderately interesting and at worst been tediously boring and obnoxiously loud.

As it turns out, our experience on the “Angel Queen” houseboat with only us, our captain and a cook was one of the most relaxing and memorable tourist experiences we’ve ever had. No earplugs required, puttering quietly down narrow channels watching rice paddies gleam their dazzling green in the sun, while locals went about their daily business. The fish fry lunch and Keralan curry dinner were fantastic and the Kingfisher was cold. We finished off the tour with a sunset cruise through the smaller canals in a hand dug canoe paddled by two seventeen year old boys who occasionally quizzed Joe about his hobbies, which sport teams he liked and what he did back in Canada.

Happy times indeed.

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Contemplations Over Many Cups of Chai

This is now my sixth trip to Rajasthan and still I can’t quite figure this country out. India is like Christmas: gaudy yet beautiful and rife with contradictions. There is crushing poverty set against a backdrop of incredible riches. There’s hair-pulling inefficiencies, coupled with mind-blowing bureaucracy, yet most Indians I’ve met posses a tenacity of spirit found in very few Westerners I know. The scenery is visually stunning but strewn with garbage, and chocked with diesel fumes. It’s considered fair play to lie and take advantage of tourists to every extent they will allow it, yet Indians can be more gracious and giving than any culture I’ve encountered. I could go on and on.

Take our friend Raja for instance. We first met him on our first trip to India the way most tourists do, taken by a rickshaw driver to his shop (for a commission of course) on a day we were too exhausted by India to say ‘no’. We are now welcomed every year to Jaipur as honored guests with flower garlands, picked up every morning, taken out or to his home every evening for dinner and we truly look forward to seeing him every year. This despite the fact that after three years of doing business with him, he admitted that the ‘silk’ bedcovers we were buying from him were not 100% silk as he claimed the first year, nor 60% silk as he claimed the second year, but in fact they were 100% polyester. Raja is now apparently 100% honest with us and to his credit we have learned A LOT about the inner workings of various things we had no clue about when we started out, as well as how to tell the difference between silk and polyester. Needless to say, though we still buy some beautiful one of a kind hand-work cotton bedcovers from him each year, we have moved the majority of our business elsewhere to small companies engaged primarily in export rather than the tourist racket.

On the one hand we accept that in the tourist markets rickshaw driver commissions are simply a cost of doing business in India, kind of similar to low cost social media advertising at home, i.e. if you use it effectively it can provide a lot of business for little cost. On the other hand, we can’t respect the practice of duping tourists as to the quality and fabric content of items, which Raja does without hesitation every day. It’s one thing to get the highest price possible for a given item, it’s entirely another to get that price based on false information.

Raja says he can’t be wholly honest as it gives him more problems since everyone else is dishonest (and truth be told, I’ve actually witnessed tourists getting mad when told something they’d already purchased as silk elsewhere wasn’t silk). I say Raja could make more money with less hassle selling quality over quantity with integrity. Either way, despite all the contradictions, I’m always happy to sip chai in Raja’s textile shop.

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Rajasthani Raga

After a week of go go go through the haze of Delhi, the congestion of Moradabad and the hum of Jaipur, yesterday we landed in placid holy Pushkar, after a bumpy three hour ride in a shockless Ambassador taxi. I find myself with a dread head cold (again), blithely adding my own horking to the ‘honk & hork’ din of India outside bits. Unfortunately, no amount of tulsi tea, nor the sinus horse pills bought from the hole in the cement wall chemist in Jaipur seems to be curing me. So instead of rushing off to our shawl wallah, Joe proposed we have a day of rest (it was Saturday after all).

At the Paramount View guest house, a hovelly, novelly tall thin old repurposed Haveli set back and above the main bazar, we have our own tiny balcony with a view over rooftops towards the ghats. When we arrived, the chipmunks were darting, the birds were chirping and the temple speakers in the bazar were literally wailing. Conjure about a dozen people banging a fast beat on tabla drums while a dozen more bang sticks on metal, while a dozen more screech out a chant in Hindi all amplified through cheap speakers cranked to the max and you’ll have a fair idea of the soundtrack at lunch at our favorite snack spot here, the Rainbow Rooftop.

Fast forward to our anticipated lazy restful night’s sleep after an illegal nip of duty free Glenmorangie (it is illegal to eat meat or drink alcohol in this holy place). Just as we tucked in, the town bells started clanging and didn’t stop for half an hour (conjure several large church bells with a small man dangling from each one vigorously going for it). The clanging bells were followed by more drumming and chanting (as above), then what sounded like a full marching band parade. This three part clamour repeated continuously until 4 am. Seriously?

A raving hippie’s nirvana no doubt. Though I’m not sure even the most devout twirling hippie would appreciate the marching band starting up again at 9:00 am followed by some kind of amplified accordion like noise. Welcome to wedding season in Rajasthan.

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Bringing Our A Game

Joe and I just passed the five year post of our marriage this weekend (thank you, thank you, curtsey, curtsey). To celebrate we brought our A – for Anniversary – game up to Squampton in the mountains to pop a special cork with some special friends (who, by the by, recently celebrated their own fifth anniversary). I was given a bottle of Dom Perignon 2000 for another milestone this summer and have been waiting for the right time to savour its bubbly goodness. Well I’m here to report that expensive champagne is indeed very very very good, and this is coming from a champagne avoider (as generally my impression of champagne ever since the Baby Duck fuelled New Years Eves of yore has been ‘headache in a flute’). And yes, I do realise that Baby Duck is not actually champagne and therefore shouldn’t even be uttered in the same paragraph as Dom Perignon, let alone Dom Perignon 2000. Anyway, Lislemon who gave me the fancy pants bubbly would be happy to learn that though it was not drunk on a random Tuesday ‘just because’, it did result in some naked snow angel making.

And speaking of A games . . . we’re also about to embark on our yearly sojourn to the land of chaos and colour, the whirling dervish of a country known as India. India definitely requires bringing your A game. To psyche myself up I’ve been playing a little game in my head that Joe and I started one starry night in a tent on the Ashnola Forest Service Road. It’s called “Ten Things I Love About You.”

So, India, here’s my list in no particular order:
1) the head bob
2) tandori chicken tikka
3) a chicklet box of colour everywhere I turn my head
4) dosa … mmmm dosa
5) the Cozy Nook
6) butter mushroom masala
7) the hilarity of the traffic circle in Jaipur
8) daily, sometimes hourly, WTF moments
9) emailing about WTF moments
10) drinking chai in Raja’s shop

Here we go. India 2011.

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Christmas is a Coming …

And the turkey’s getting fat. Or so the song goes. It’s a song that my Mom has sung every December as long as I can remember. It goes on to encourage folks to give what they can to those who are less fortunate. Funny thing is I don’t even like turkey, but as soon as I turn the calendar page over to the yuletide month, the song invariably pops into my head and I smile despite the turkey reference. I have a similar nostalgic reverence for the ‘Bye Baby Bunting’ ditty, even though at the end it would find me wrapped in a freshly killed bunny skin . . . but I digress.

So it seems, just like it did last year and the year before that, Christmas is indeed coming in all its awful wonderfulness. This time of year is a glorious feast for the senses. There’s an abundance of pretty shiny sparkly bits about, the air is crisp and fresh, there’s cheese and chocolate everywhere you go, you’re allowed (nay, encouraged) to drink alcohol in your morning coffee, and there’s sporadic blankets of snow that cover up all the drab infrastructure of daily life and make nature look its most breathtakingly beautiful. But then there’s the inconvenient reality of the same sporadic blankets of snow (that makes it stressful to get to work and – worse yet in my case – keeps the merry shoppers at home). There’s also the inevitable weight gain from all those cheese plates, chocolates and liqueur for breakfast indulgences, and of course there’s the crazed holiday pace of packing a year’s worth of present buying, partying and family time into three weeks (and that’s if you’re organized).

Having just gotten back from a trip to a country where the people are lucky to be able to feed their family protein once a week, let alone eat their weight in chocolate in one month, I’m finding myself facing a big ol’ case of what I call North American guilt – basically the guilt of having and consuming so much when so many others in the world have so little. Whenever I get too mired in it, I remind myself that though I can choose how I live my life and therefore in some small measure help shape my culture and country, I didn’t choose to be born into it. And furthermore, as I often suspect and am occasionally reminded, perhaps a lot of people in less ‘affluent’ parts of the world (if their basic needs are being met that is) are actually happier than we are. As a Nepalese Sherpa once said to Sir Edmond Hillary, “We don’t envy you your restless spirits.”

Mercifully, there’s something about the season that encourages many of the restless spirit types to go all Dalai Lama on the world. Somehow amongst all the glitter and bows, Christmas makes most of us get, at least for a few moments, that happiness is achieved through compassion and kindness and not stuff. When I witness these moments, it brings me back to that feeling of overwhelming jittery excitement that I experienced in the wee hours of Christmas mornings as a little girl. It was the kind of joyful anticipation that compelled me to sit up and wrap my arms around my knees, for fear my dancing legs would jump out of bed on their own and run down stairs to the tree before it was time. I somehow inherently knew that the specialness of the day would only be properly launched with a measure of patience. I partially attribute this reverence to the rituals my Mom cleverly instilled to assure she got eight hours of sleep and a mug of tea in her hand in order to more fully enjoy the day herself. But I also believe that as children we are more open to seeing the good and beautiful in the world in general, and at Christmastime in particular. Indeed it’s the feelings of magical wonderment that I remember most from childhood Christmases, and not the presents I received.

So, thanks Mom (and by the way, it’s the ‘goose’ is getting fat – I googled it). And thanks to the Dalai Lama for, well, being the Dalai Lama. In his words, “Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life.” And, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Fine words indeed, for this third day of Advent.

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