A letter from Santa, 1977

On Christmas Eve 1977,  when I had many, many nine-year old questions, my parents encouraged me to write a letter to Santa to ask him these questions. We put the letter I wrote out with the Christmas cookies, milk and reindeer snacks.

I went to bed and in the morning, to my extreme wonder, a letter had arrived from Santa during the night!

The envelope and my address on it. The return address was the North Pole, and the post mark said “North Pole 1 AM Special” in real ink.  I was a-m-a-z-e-d.

The letter inside had handwriting that looked nothing like either Mom’s or Dad’s.  It read:

North Pole, 1977

Dear Paula, 

Thank you for the pictures, and the drink.  Mrs. Claus likes it too.  You ask if my reindeer fly, and if I am real.

When you believe in something in your heart, anything is real.  Yes, Paula, reindeer fly, and I am real!   Does the wind blow the leaves on the tree? Does spring grass smell?

I am the spirit of Xmas.  I am as real as you want me to be. I am as real as your best friend, as real as your mother and father’s love for you.  I am the spirit of love for all mankind, Paula.   Yes, Paula, I am real. Because you believe, I am real.

Merry Christmas Paula.





Optimism Bias: Good, bad, indifferent?

As you may have picked up from the About section of this blog, I’m typically an optimistic person.  I always have regarded this as a good thing, but I recently watched a TED Talk by Tali Sharot that explored facets of optimistic bias in people and it has given me food for thought on both the benefits and pitfalls of optimism.

Interestingly, Sharot notes that those with optimism bias continue to seek to succeed, even after facing a failure, because they attribute failure as something unique to that situation and if some some condition were to change, they would save succeeded and they would definitely succeed if they tried it again.

It seems that optimism makes you try harder.

The TED Talk is worth a watch (link below), it’s about 17 minutes long.  Take a few minutes to watch it and let me know are you inflicted with optimistic bias as described in Sharot’s research? If you are, is that a good, bad, or indifferent as you think about how  how you live life?

Understanding and challenging bias

I recently was fortunate enough to have the experience of completing an eighteen-month program in corporate social responsibility (CSR) at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.

The full program covered a vast array of CSR topics, but one subject that I reflected on a great deal is diversity and inclusion.  The theme came up in a variety of ways as we explored or were exposed to theoretical frameworks, best practice cases, and both literature and personal testimony.

A key takeaway for me came in learning how, even though we may not realize it, we as individuals carry our own biases about age, skin colour, nationality, ethnicity, cultural and religions origins and traditions, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, political affiliation and many other dimensions of diversity.

Even the most enlightened individuals carry these biases.  Unknowingly in many cases, and perhaps because it is what is most comfortable, we often seek to align ourselves with people who think like us and look like us.

Part of an exercise we took part in during our course was to do a few of the Harvard Implicit Association Tests (bias tests) and reflect on our findings.  An important part of overcoming bias is to accept that it exists.  The next most important thing to do is to work on mitigating these biases by exposing yourself to experiences that challenge them .  In doing so you become more aware and familiar of your own biases, and more accepting of differences in people.

If you’re ready for the challenge, I encourage everyone to check out the resources available for businesses at Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion(CCDI).  CCDI is an international leader in developing and delivering diversity and inclusions programs and resources.

In Canada, I also encourage individuals and businesses to check the resources at Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and particularly their Progressive Aboriginal Relations program.

Together we can all do our part to ensure all humans have the same rights and freedoms.


Growing up in an artist’s house

My father’s birthday is Sunday; he would have been 78.

In 1980, on the Easter long-weekend, my parents told me he had cancer, and that he would be getting treatment but it was a terminal.  Over the next several months he tried to fight it but he became sicker and sicker.  The last time I saw him was later that year in the hospital was on his 40th birthday, November 11.  Three weeks later he was gone.

Prior to my father’s death, I had an unconventional upbringing compared to most of my peers.  Once I started school, for the majority of time my Mom worked outside the home, and often my Dad was home with me.  This was still about a decade before the movie Mr. Mom made having your Dad at home part of popular culture. What it meant for me was plenty of one-on-one time with my Dad and many memories of him creating art.

Here are 3 things I learned in that decade of life with Dad:

Being an artist is part of your soul, and it’s a frugal life

From time to time Dad would take a job outside our home, usually when times were financially tight.   Those short bursts when Dad worked outside our home were challenging. You could tell he was not as happy.   The happiest times were when he could create. Of course this meant he also had to sell, either on consignment or by commissions.  For a brief period, we had a business at our house, ‘The Brush and Knife”.  We even had a sign cut in the shape of a palette at the end of our driveway.  I have fond memories of those times, we didn’t have much but living in creative household was wonderful in so many other ways.

All rooms in the house pale in comparison to the space allotted for art

The studio space in our house was always of prime importance, and a spot I knew not to play in.  The most interesting thing about the art studio is that it moved around the house, as though Dad was trying to find the perfect spot.  There was one area of the house between the kitchen and bathroom that he decided would be the new studio space. This may have been alright but the space must have been too small to suit his needs once he moved there because he moved the wall between the studio and the bathroom, to increase the size of the studio. Naturally, it made the bathroom narrower.  My aunts, who often came to visit from Ontario in the summer, had great fun teasing my Dad about how the bathroom dimension changed between visits and that in the end or our time in that house you had to slide along the bathroom wall to get to the toilet.  I still can recall one aunt reenacting this by the campfire to the hilarity of all assembled.

Explore your world

Dad and I would spend all day, out with a picnic lunch, walking in fields, by streams, and down old country roads. He looking for some new subject to draw or paint, me just tagging along.  These walks and drives in all seasons took us to many places in Southern New Brunswick that I still explore today. I often think of him, particularly in areas around Sussex’s covered bridges and homesteads, and along the Fundy coast in Alma, Martins Head, Big Salmon River, St. Martin’s, Hopewell Rocks, Chance Harbour, Dipper Harbour, and Maces Bay.

When I’m in these places, he is still with me.

Happy birthday Dad.


#SavourySunday: Seafood Casserole

#SavourySunday will be a new weekly feature of 50 Rules Life.   This week I’m sharing a recipe for a seafood casserole I found online at Saveur (see Seafood Bubbly Bake).

One of the best things about the recipe is you can adapt it to whatever seafood you have on hand, or what you can buy in store or at the market.

I don’t own ramekins so I used a 9 x 12 shallow Corelle casserole dish.  Because of the change of dish, I altered the time in the oven.  In the original version the ramekins were IMG_9080to cook for 20 mins at 400° F, I added another 10 minutes at 300° F.  I didn’t want to over cook the crust on top but wanted to ensure the whole dish was bubbly.

In my version I picked up a whole cooked lobster and shelled it (the advantages of living in New Brunswick).  I ended up with about 6 oz of fresh lobster meat and I couldn’t find just 4 oz of fresh haddock so I picked up a seafood chowder mix which also included shrimp and scallops. We’d had a feed of mussels a few weeks back and had left overs that we had frozen so I thawed these and added them in, along with some more scallops I had on hand.

I had it loaded down with so much seafood that I was worried about having too much for the casserole dish, but it turned out to be just the right amount.

I put some parchment paper on a baking sheet and set the casserole dish on the sheet, topped it with the breadcrumb, cheese and paprika mixture and put in the ovenIMG_9081

I served the meal with a sesame ginger chopped salad and flaky cheese rolls.

Although the recipe says it serves 6, I had enough for 8 servings, undoubtedly due to the added seafood.

We don’t eat this rich every day but given the number of ingredients I already had on hand, and the fact we had an out of town guest, this dish was the perfect choice.

Today I turn 50

Today I turn 50 and I celebrate it with every fibre in my body.

I’m a no regrets kind of person and keeping my eye on a goal and a future plan, only looking back to reminisce or learn a lesson, is how I keep positive and focused.

Reaching 50 is a celebration for me—a milestone at which to take time to pause, reflect, and refocus.

I often hear from those who know me, ‘you’re so lucky’.  My reaction to those people is often to smile, nod, and agree.

I agree because I do feel lucky. I am happy and comfortable with who I am, where I am, and get to spend my life with the best husband and kids I could ever hope to have.

What may not always be apparent about my first first 50 years, however, is that they have been more about perseverance, overcoming obstacles, assimilating disappointments, and roll-up-your-sleeves hard work than they have been about luck.

Will life 50+ be any different?

Likely not. But what I have learned along the way is how important it is to find the balance to make it all ‘sing’.  To be positive in the moment, to learn from others, and to be true to myself.

This blog is my latest personal challenge: 53 blog posts for my 50th year, one a week + one to reflect on the year. I’ll share some stories about the past 50 years as well as what’s going on in the ‘here and now’.   I’ll throw in the odd recipe, favourite places to visit, or top 5 list.

My hope is that through the blog, you’ll get a glimpse into the life of a Gen Xer who found midlife happiness and balance.

You’re welcome to join me on my journey of being 50.

Let’s do this 50 thing.