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The Christmas Cake
© Carole Fawcett

"I have a kitchen because it came with the house" reads the sign on my fridge. So you can only imagine my unabashed glee, when a beautiful Christmas Cake arrives on my doorstep pretty much every December. It is the highlight of my Christmas.

It is full of lovely fruit and is topped with marzipan icing. (my favourite) I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and supper. Sometimes I add a piece of cheese when I have a slice. (then I can call it lunch and after supper I can have it as dessert and if I push it, well, at breakfast I can call it breakfast fruit cake).

My mouth is watering as I write this. (and there is some in the fridge almost calling me - but I shall use my willpower - I've had two pieces - well, maybe three since it arrived this very day!) Yum.

I am a lover of Christmas fruit cake. Can you tell? It seems to be an either/or type of holiday fare. You either love Christmas fruit cakes or you don't. For me, it must have marzipan (and it does) and that is the piece de resistance. The fruit and the marzipan just blend together so beautifully.

I was three when my family emigrated from the United Kingdom and we brought with us traditions of both England and Ireland.

My first birthday party in Canada, where other children were invited, included a fruit cake as the birthday cake. (with icing) My Mom went to the trouble of making a fruit cake and then wrapped dimes up in wax paper and put them in the cake. (Yes, I know, the overly-cautious litigiously aware parents of today's world would be having near panic attacks, as a tooth could be chipped by inadvertently biting down on the dime, or horrors - the child might swallow it).

Actually it never came close to happening, it was thinly sliced and we could see the dime prior to actually putting the cake into our mouth. Everyone wanted a piece of cake with a dime! It made it exciting.

But the Christmas cake represents so much. First of all, it is the love put into the cake by the cake maker. It is the thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit to include me in her list of people to receive the cakes as well. It is over the top appreciated. Thank you Joan! At this writing I've managed to gobble down half the cake! Perhaps by the end of the column it will be all gone. Oink - oink!

We all get to an age where buying or giving gifts to those of our own age becomes gift giving for the sake of it. Of course, there is always something we would love to have. I would love a drone. But really, what on earth would I do with a drone - other than attach a camera and take photographs that I could not normally take. Hmmmmm..... Or there's the tablet that takes memory cards (for my writing).....hmmmm.

My point being that we always want something and it isn't difficult to turn that into a 'must have' or into something we think we 'need'.

My Christmas gift this year is to make a donation to a non-profit. After sharing a lovely meal, my Mom and I will spend the day watching a movie and relaxing. We will move forward into the year 2018 with gratitude, finding the joy in our daily living.

Oh - wait! It's lunchtime. I need to go and slice some cheese so I can have it with my Christmas Cake! It has fruit, eggs, and I'll add cheese. It screams healthy don't you think? Oh yum!

It's Sphincter Time!
© Carole Fawcett

It's been a challenge to figure out how I would write about this topic and I've been wondering how I would introduce the subject, without offending anyone who may read it. I like to write about the humorous side of getting older so I know this subject may not be foreign to Boomers. In fact, I suspect it is more common than we realize, much to our chagrin.

I have personally found it to be somewhat challenging at times. Apparently, so have my friends, because I have heard them and we have giggled like children.

Basically, what you are about to read is a 'farticle' Yep, an article about flatulence, aka: gas, wind, fluffs, puffs, toots and yes, farts.

In my efforts to be, at the very least, somewhat accurate in what I am writing, I did a bit of research. We can pass gas at least 14 times a day. Somewhere there is a young research assistant trying to explain to their parents..... "Yes, I really did do research on farts Mom, honest!"

So I guess there is an element of truth when we refer to ourselves as an "old fart".....we are older and we do fluff. Embarrassingly, our sphincter muscles are not as effective as they once were.

We have even made up silly songs..... "beans, beans, the musical fruit".....you know the rest. Back in the day, in the underground in London, England, it cost money to use the Lou. Hence this little ditty: "Here I sit, broken hearted; paid a penny and only farted!"

My very English Father thought the word "fart" was vulgar (being brought up at the tail end of the Victorian era), so he taught his grandson to reverse it and call it 'traf'. (as in "Oh my - you traffed!!".....a verb I presume).

As we age, our digestion slows and it is suggested that we should chew our food longer to allow the enzymes in our saliva to break down the food, before it hits the stomach and digestive tract. Someone once said our bodies get noisier as we age and I think I believe them now.

Unlike cows, not all humans produce gas that contains methane. I first learned about methane after I was married and my then young (now ex) husband showed me how he lit his 'farts". I was horrified (protected childhood) but I still laugh when I think of that.

I remember being invited out for dinner where the meal would primarily consist of veggies and fruit, so I knew enzyme production was required. So off to the drugstore I went and purchased the not-so-subtly-named "Beano".

I'm not sure why, but our noisy fluffs usually bring about giggles of embarrassment or downright belly laughs! Yeah - so it's a bit juvenile, but c'mon it is funny at times.

Like the time I asked a nice young man at the grocery store a question, while at the same time (ohmygoodnessme) tooting. Hoped his hearing was compromised - but apparently not, as he got rather red in the face and I had to stifle a giggle .....ah - the joys of Boomer Bodies!

The Kalamalka Caring Klowns of Vernon, BC have been known to strategically (and respectfully) place fart machines hither, thither and yon creating great guffaaaaws of laughter wherever they go.

So, know you aren't alone and when you hear yourself beside the tomatoes in the grocery store - or even by the beans.....(how perfect).....smile and have a private giggle.

You have a healthy digestive system and despite the fact it might have become noisier as you age, well, hey, it's a gas isn't it?

Sorry, eh
© Carole Fawcett

Oh, I do love my fellow Canucks. We are just soooooooooo polite and 'nice'. I was at the movies recently - the one where you can buy your own ticket at a separate computerized kiosk or, line up forever, watching as people order huge amounts of very expensive food.

I opted for the computerized kiosk. I had cash. But it wasn't immediately obvious if it accepted cash, so I asked the young woman beside me at the other kiosk if she knew if I could use cash.

She said she didn't know and then I saw the information on the screen and it was clear that I could only use Debit or Credit. I shared with her there was no cash option. She responded with, "Oh - sorry".

It was, you might say, the most quintessential Canadian moment. She was, in fact, apologizing for something she had no control over.

Just recently I had the sorriest day of my life. Everywhere I went, people were sorry. Sorry they didn't have smaller bags, sorry if, when reaching in front of them I said "excuse me" and they said "Oh, sorry eh".

It even happened when I was driving. A young woman drove in front of me when she should not have done so (last minute through a yellow and turning left) and she mouthed an exaggerated "sorry" at me with one of those 'OMG - I shouldn't have done that' looks. (I call it the 'yikes' look.....mouth stretched side to side with teeth clenched together, brow furrowed, eyes looking worried)

Clerks apologize when I don't win the lottery - by saying "not a winner - sorry". If you are in a clothing store, they apologize..... "Oh - it didn't fit? Sorry". (which is infinitely better than "ate that extra piece of cake did you?")

"Sorry" was heard in the grocery aisle when someone was in front of me, reaching for something and momentarily held me up.

Now don't get me wrong. I love polite people. They are so much nicer than the rude ones. Being raised very British, manners, courtesy and politeness was very important in my house.

I still say 'excuse me' when I walk in front of people. Actually, a young man said that to me not that long ago and I was totally surprised. I was going to compliment him on his manners, but his long legs took him away from me faster than I could gather my shocked thoughts together.

A neighbour asked me to help out with something minor and as it turned out, I couldn't do much and guess what I said? "Sorry 'bout that".

If my dog gets in the way of my feet, I apologize to her! It really is a reflection of how kind and considerate we are as Canadians. We do care about others and we like to think we can perhaps make someone's day a wee bit better if we are respectful toward them. I believe we can.

I hope this column made you smile and reflect on times when you have said 'sorry' for something you were not responsible for.

If it didn't, well, sorry eh.

The Psychology of a Smile
© Carole Fawcett

We read about it in quotes on social media, we hear about it from therapists, we see it in action and perhaps we practice it ourselves for that matter. I'm talking about the power of a smile, or the power of positive psychology, or the power of laughter. It can be magical.

It sets the tone for the day. Have you ever come across someone early in the morning who passes on their good feelings with a smile? A few mornings each week, I drive through that well known Canadian (Tim Horton's) to pick up my cup of java on the way to work.

Frequently, I am welcomed by the smiling face of Berle, who always has a positive and upbeat way of saying good morning. It is wonderful gift to pass on to others. A smile can create a positive psychological shift in someone's morning. It is an empowering shift-gift, so thank you Berle for your positive energy.

Neurally speaking, we may have taken our own brain on a private journey. Sometimes that journey is full of anxiety, or fear, or depression, or many other forms of psychological angst. Our repeated re-visiting of the journey has made a pattern of neural connections. Much like a pathway in a forest, our thoughts have become well-worn and habituated.

We might become stuck there, fixated on our own unhappy thoughts until we come across someone or something that helps us to bump into a more positive state. That's where people like Berle make a difference.

As a Laughter Teacher I tell people to "fake it 'til you make it", and I believe that for those of us who do not suffer from Clinical issues, we can do that with our minds too. We can control the thoughts, we can disallow our brain to get on the train of negativity and then insist it gets onto a different train.

Smiling and Laughing will change the chemistry within our brain by releasing happy hormones - serotonin, dopamine, endorphins as well as boosting neuropeptides (more feel good stuff in our brain) It helps to lower cortisol (aka stress) levels, assists in creating higher pain thresholds, releases tension and encourages our entire body to relax with joy. Laughing helps our lungs to release residual air and brings in more oxygen, which is important for our blood as well.

It is absolutely brilliant for de-stressing at the work place.

Be mindful of how you can contribute to your own sense of well being.

Bless 'em all
© 2012 Carole Fawcett

It happened almost nightly, just before dark. The whine of sirens pierced the air as a woman and her two daughters gathered up their blankets and pillows and walked quickly to the nearest air raid shelter. Air Raid Wardens would go door to door, making sure no one was left in their homes during this time. It was 1940 and the location was Belfast, Northern Ireland. The woman and her two daughters were my Grandmother, my Mom and my Aunt. They would spend the night propped up against a wall in the shelter, or curled up on the hard floor trying to sleep, hoping that when they returned the next morning, their house would still be standing. My Grandfather had died in 1938, so the onset of WW II came as yet another troubling event in this young family's life. One night the bombs felt like they were falling frighteningly close. The next morning everyone hurried out of the shelter, exhausted and fearful at what they may find. Sadly and traumatically, my family found only rubble where a warm and welcoming home had once stood. They lost everything, with nothing left to salvage. The combined experiences of losing a husband and father one year and their house the next year, had a long lasting effect on my Grandmother and her two daughters.

At age 17 my Dad had been eager to join the British Army. He showed up at the recruitment office and was told he was too young. But he was encouraged to come back again the next day when he would be "older", wink-wink-nudge-nudge. He signed on in 1937 and proudly served in Field Marshall "Monty" Montgomery's 8th Army. When he first joined up, he learned how to take care of horses, which were once a necessity in any battle. But things quickly changed and soon he was driving tanks and other army vehicles. In June of 1940 he was on the beaches of Dunkirk, where two of his childhood friends were blown up beside him. He was wounded in that battle and was fortunate to be rescued by a British naval boat. Dad was also involved in the Battle of Normandy, a battle that went on for 3 months in 1944. His physical and mental reserves were challenged on a second to second basis during his time in WW II.

After the war, when my parents met and married, they were both working in Germany for the Intelligence Branch of the British Control Commission. The work they did during that time was full of tension and high risk, but they were young and their life seemed to be romantically exciting. The fact that the work was highly stressful didn't even enter their minds.

The experiences that many people had during WW II and shortly thereafter redefines the word that we all over-use on a daily basis. Stress. Their stressors were life and death situations as opposed to the sometimes self-created stressful lifestyles we have chosen in generations since. Yet, with the unique type of stress that only war can trigger, came some good times, as everyone made sure to celebrate the important things in their lives. The small daily annoyances of life became unimportant in the light of trying to survive another day, or week, or month. People were forced to focus on the things that really mattered. I think there is a lesson here.

I am in awe of anyone who has fought in a war. I am so very proud of my parents and their individual contributions in helping to keep their country safe and free. They both sacrificed a lot in the war, as did many others like them. My heartfelt thanks to all who have taken part in any conflict that has assured the freedom of others.

Bless 'em all, bless 'em all
The long and the short and the tall
Bless all the sergeants and W.O. Ones
Bless all the corp'rals and their blinking sons
For we're saying good-bye to them all
As back to the barracks we crawl
You'll get no promotion this side of the ocean
So cheer up my lads Bless 'em all,

Do You Hear My Secret Calling
...a true love story

© 2012 Carole Fawcett

"So, was it an eyes-meet-across-the-room-thing and you knew you were destined for each other instantly?" I asked my Mom. "No," she laughed, "it was a swinging-door-thing and once we met, then we knew it was destiny."

It was 1946 when my parents met in postwar Oldenburg, Germany while working for British Intelligence. Dad (a.k.a. Peter Russell) had survived WW II after being in many challenging battles. He was a "frightfully English chap" who grew up in Brighton, England. Mom (Blanche Moore - a.k.a. Pat Russell) had experienced the war in a different way. One of the many bombing raids on Belfast, Northern Ireland had demolished her family home.

It only took Dad one week after he saw Mom going through the now infamous swinging door into the Intelligence Offices, to make sure he was introduced to her. Once they met, they were inseparable and spent many hours dancing at the Officers Club in Oldenburg. Mom and Dad were known for being fabulous ballroom dancers and other dance participants would frequently stand aside and watch them together as they swirled around the dance floor, eyes locked on one another. Dad was a tall, lean, and handsome in his British Intelligence Uniform. Mom was and still is a petite 5' 2" pretty Irish woman with twinkly eyes with a penchant for laughing a lot.

As they danced together, Dad would sing (in German):

"Do you remember the precious time when we came together for life,
My heart sang a little melody for you day and night.
Do you remember that beautiful time?
Even though youth will fade, songs of love will always stay.
Should fate ever darken your happiness,
My song will always light it up for you."

They were the first British couple to be married in Oldenburg after the war. They were transferred to the village of Brake on the Weser River in Germany as a husband/wife team with British Intelligence specializing in political and counter intelligence. Dad had a network of agents under his supervision. He and his agents contributed to the break up of the Communist party in that area of Germany. "Peter and Pat's" cover for being in post war Germany was the interrogation of returning prisoners of war from Russia.

But it was at night that their real work would begin. Dad would direct and rendezvous with various agents in the field. Another agent, would cautiously make his way back to Mom with stolen documents. This home rendezvous would usually happen after midnight, Mom waiting nervously for the agent to arrive. She would then translate and type the information immediately, so that it could be sent to the head office of British Intelligence in London, England. It was a tense and nerve wracking time.

"Do you hear my secret calling
Open up your sweet loving heart,
When you have longingly thought of me tonight.
Then I will be with you in your dream
Let me look at you once again
Show me your much loved face
Then turn off the light
My heart will not forget you
Please go to sleep"

Dad died in 1989 in Salmon Arm, BC, seven years after retiring as a Special Agent for the Canadian National Railroad Police in Prince George. As well as being named Citizen of the Year in 1972, he was also the recipient of the Governor General's award for his contribution to the youth of that city.

In the years since his death, Mom had searched for their special song. She wrote to CBC radio, and she had asked people she met who were of German descent if they had heard of the song. She was nearly ready to give up until the Spring of 2004. She was in the hair salon having her hair done, when a gentleman came in to have his hair cut. As he had a German accent, Mom struck up a conversation with him and asked him if he had heard of the song. He said he hadn't, but promised to look into it for her.

One month later, Mom went to her weekly hair appointment. As she sat down, the hairdresser turned to her friend, who happened to be the German gentleman Mom had asked about the song and said, "I forgot to turn on the radio today. Would you turn it on for me please?"

Soon the beautiful words of the song "Do You Hear My Secret Calling" were being played throughout the salon. Through contact with friends in Germany and with the help of a popular newspaper columnist the song had been found on a CD of hit songs from 1934 to 1943. Mom was completely overwhelmed with happiness when she heard the song again after 50 years.

My parents shared the special kind of intense and enduring love alluded to in this lovely song. It was their heart song. Now she can close her eyes as she listens to the music and from her memory bank, imagine that she is back on the dance floor, being tenderly held in the arms of her beloved as he sang to her.

"Just as autumn and spring will always be,
So will sorrow and joy forever change the earth.
Every hour of sadness is followed by a day of sunshine,
Every parting is followed by a new embrace.
Storms in life will pass as long as we will understand each other.
When your heart fills with sorrow, quietly sing my song again."

How To Do Self Hypnosis
© 2012 Carole Fawcett

"Can you teach me how to relax Carole?" was the question a client asked me not too long ago. Yes, as a matter of fact I can and if you'd like to give yourself the gift of relaxation, keep reading.

You can help your body to slow down and totally relax. It's important to do this at least once per day. So I'm going to teach you how to do self hypnosis.
  1. Find a quiet comfortable spot where you know you will not be disturbed for ½ hour - 45 minutes. Turn off your cell phone. Get nice and comfy. Sometimes it is helpful to have meditation music playing in the background.

  2. Close your eyes and become mindful of your feelings. Identify any feelings of stress, anxiety or other issues. (see if they are affecting any parts of your body - sore shoulders, achy bits, tension headaches, etc.) Visualize these feelings leaving. See yourself waving good-bye to them.

  3. Identify the tension in your body. Starting with your head, concentrate on relaxing your skull, your forehead, all the little muscles around your eyes, your cheeks, your mouth, your nose, jaw and work all the way down your body, finishing with the feet. Visualize each part of your body as you do this and consciously relax to the point you feel like you may be floating. Try to become as relaxed as a rag-doll.

  4. Take nice deep breaths in and out. Breathe in calmness and peace and breathe out tension and negative emotion.

  5. Once you have completely relaxed your body, imagine yourself stepping into an elevator that has 10 floors that go down. Seen the elevator and notice that the inside of the elevator is surrounded by a beautiful aquarium. In your minds eye, push the DOWN button. Visualize the word "DOWN". As you are going down - 10 - 9 - 8 - feel yourself becoming lighter and more relaxed. Do this slowly and really 'see' the numbers. When you finally arrive at floor number one, imagine the elevator doors opening and see yourself stepping out into a beautiful garden, filled with your favourite flowers, or shrubbery or animals. (you can imagine anything you like at this point. If you'd prefer a beach, or a lake, you can use that as a visual instead of a garden)

  6. In your minds eye, visualize five steps that go down into your special place (garden, beach, lake, etc.), so counting the steps down to the scene, becoming aware that when you get to the bottom, you will feel the surface that you are stepping onto (grass, sand, etc.) Concentrate on this feeling and allow peace and calmness to wash over you. Really feel it.

  7. As you become aware of the grass/sand, etc., you will know that you are very relaxed. This is a good time to give yourself some positive messages. i.e. I am very relaxed and calm; I am confident; I am healthy; I am happy and content.......

  8. When you feel nice and relaxed, you can begin to return slowly to the room. Step onto the elevator and push the button that says "UP".............and slowly counting from one to ten, start to come up.

  9. Once you get off the elevator on floor 10, become more aware of being in the chair or couch you are seated in and begin to bring yourself back into awareness. Once you have opened your eyes and are back in the room, say, out loud, "I am now awake" and this will bring your mind back to the conscious state. (or if you are doing this at night - just drift off to sleep if you haven't already done so)
This is an excellent exercise to do at night if you have sleep issues, or after a stressful day at work. It helps to slow down your brain waves and is mentally and physically very beneficial.

But like anything that is good for our body and minds, only doing it once will not make a huge difference. It is something you need to incorporate into your life.

If you have chronic pain issues, self hypnosis can help to ease the pain, because pain causes tension in the body and it becomes a cycle of tension and pain. Self Hypnosis can help to ease this.

It will take some practice to become deeply relaxed, but don't give up. And don't worry if you don't remember all the steps - make up your own steps. The more you practice encouraging your mind to quiet and slow down, the happier your body will be.


Monkey Mind
© 2012 Carole Fawcett

Monkey mind ~ comes from a Buddhist term that means unsettled. Like a little monkey in our heads, our thoughts swing from one neuron to another and we are fussing and worrying and over-thinking and feeling anxious - just when we should be going to sleep or trying to wind down and it really does make us feel unsettled. Sound familiar?

Keep reading, as I'm going to give you a technique that may help to stop your personal monkey and allow you to relax and/or head to the land of nod.

There have been all sorts of suggestions and solutions offered up over the years..... from counting sheep for help with going to sleep, to progressive relaxation (relaxing your body consciously from the toes up to the head) for help with stress. Then, of course, there's self hypnosis, meditation and yoga. All of these techniques are beneficial.

But, the fact is, we are all unique and different techniques work differently on each of us. (Plus, we need to be consistent with some of these things, and this can be challenging, as life can get in the way.) Perhaps we've even become habituated in how we deal with stressors. I like a quick little technique called "square breathing" (and I don't know who came up with this idea - but it's quite effective). You could do this sitting at your desk at work.

Here's what you do. Close your eyes and visualize or imagine a square. If you have a hard time visualizing, then assign a favourite colour to the square. Then, in your minds eye, go along the top of the square and breathe in to the count of four. When you get to the top right hand corner, go down the side, holding your breath to the count of four, then left along the bottom, exhaling to the count of four, and up the left side, inhaling for a count of four and so on.

It's great for calming your nerves when you feel anxious, stopping worrying thoughts in their tracks, or when you just can't seem to let go and relax.

So here is the short version of square breathing: (easy to clip out)
Imagine a square and colour it - then following the lines of the square
  1. Breathe in to the count of four
  2. Hold for the count of four
  3. Exhale to the count of four
  4. Inhale to the count of four
  5. Repeat............
This little exercise keeps several crucial parts of your mind busy at the same time, and therefore helps stops the "Monkey Mind" in its tracks and helps you to relax.

The person who knows how to relax will likely live a longer and happier life. Being able to relax is the best way to deal with stress, because as we all know, stress is one of the primary culprits for illness. Our body is more vulnerable if it belongs to an individual who is stressed all the time.

As a Clinical Hypnotherapist I regularly help people to achieve deep levels of relaxation. Simplistically stated, this is what hypnosis is - a deepened state of relaxation, a slowing down of your brain waves. It can be likened to day dreaming. A lot of you have likely experienced driving somewhere and not being aware of the drive when you arrive at your destination. This is called 'waking hypnosis'.

Deep relaxation allows access to the subconscious mind and can help with many issues..........fears, phobias, anxiety, pain management, calm birthing, smoking cessation, weight loss and stress management.

A hypnotherapy colleague in the U.S. (Michael Ellner) says that our lives would be enhanced if we had a happy heart, a peaceful mind and a playful spirit.

I agree, but we need to work on getting rid of that monkey first.

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