Just a Reminder to come on over to my new blog!

Although I have really liked living in this neighbourhood, I have moved across town due to commuting issues:)

Please join us over here:

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Cheers and Happy Tuesday!



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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Uncategorized



Hello World! Happy Tuesday. My new website, is up and running. We are still working out a lot of bugs, but this is me! 

For those of you following me here, please come on over and join me at my new blog spot:

All the good stuff and a whole lot more! 

Check it out and sign up for the updates!

Have a great week and thanks for all of your support and, most importantly, thanks for all that you do to make the world a better place. 

We work good together – and we look amazing while we do it!

Have a great week!




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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Uncategorized


Letter to My Former Teenage Self on the First Day of High School

Dear teenage Christal, 


You are going to go into a building today that intimidates you. You will be tempted to look for the lowest common denominator of types of people to gravitate towards. Don’t do it. You are worth more. Be cool with who you are because that is what everyone else is ultimately wishing you would do anyways.

I know high school is tough. First all, you are probably wondering what on earth are you going to wear over these next few years that won’t make you feel ugly, out of step, or awkward. Get over it, because you will inevitably feel those things. Find your style by what you feel confident in, and just rock it. Some days you will succeed, other days (it pains me to tell you this) are going to be an epic fail. You will be the only one who will remember, so you are in the clear on that.

Second of all, the first guy you notice is not necessarily the one you should be banking everything on. He may look cute now eating that processed food at lunchtime, but ‘that’ will not be cute when he is 30. It will be the beginning of the end. In fact, just forget about guys for a few days (ha-like that will happen!)

ImageThat teacher that makes you feel like they don’t care about you might not care a whole lot – today . But it’s not necessarily their fault. They have a lot going on in the background of their lives right now, too, and they are just doing their best to hold their crap together.  You will understand this when you get older, but the truth is, you are not the centre of the universe. So if they don’t treat you the way you wish they would, connect with the teachers that will. They are in that school and they are awesome. They became teachers to invest in you, so let them do their job :)

And on that note, just so we are clear on this, you definitely need strong adult role models in your life. They are going to be a lifeline in the days ahead. I can’t tell you why, you just have to trust me on that one.

Drugs…forget it. So not worth it. 

Alcohol. Yep, you are definitely going to enjoy it. Just don’t make a big deal out of it. Life is a journey and not a high speed race. However, don’t hang out with people who make you feel like you need to  be into anything. (The truth is that they don’t really know what they are into either, they are just putting up the same front as you.)

You are going to meet some really amazing people over the next few days. They are going to change your life and make you want to be a better person. You won’t know why you want to be around them, but don’t stop hanging out with them. They are authentic, even if they are struggling just like you. 

The cafeteria is going to be a bit of a gong show, so don’t stress about it. Everyone is feeling the same anxiety around the lunch bell, so just go with it and try to forego the french fries (you will totally understand why in 20 years!).

Volleyball tryouts are coming up. You are going to do good, but not as good as junior high. Don’t worry about it. The “B” team has way better female bonding anyways, as they don’t have as much pressure.

You are going to try to skip as much Driver’s Ed as possible, but let me warn you, you are going to get busted. The teacher you thought you don’t know is good friends with your mom. That will take a bit of explaining when the time comes and she calls to bust you on how much you have been skipping out.

You are going to make mistakes. Dear God, they are going to be colossal. But you are also going to do some really great things like make friends with those exchange students who huddle together in the corner at lunch time. They are a lot of fun and they are going to feed your desire to travel and change the world. Hang out with them as much as possible.

The bus ride will be painful, but on those long rides home you are going to be reminded of some of the really great friends from your childhood who are still really great now. 


Above all, you are going to be tempted to forget who you are and try to fit in at all costs. Don’t be scared. You are going to be just fine. 


Besides, there are really great cinnamon buns in the cafeteria that you can embrace and cry into when you really need them the most. 


I believe in you. 




ps…in a couple of weeks there is going to be a really inspiring motivational speaker in the theatre. Take careful notes…they might come in handy for you some day :)



Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Uncategorized


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My Friend, Vito – The Man Who Changed My Life Forever

ImageLast night I went to see Mumford and Sons at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto. It was a fantastic concert. We were out under the stars, surrounded by thousands of happy, singing people. Across from us was the CNE grounds, and as we were singing our hearts out, you could see the midway rides moving and swaying, their electric colours lighting up the night sky. Overhead, the sky was clear and it was warm enough to enjoy being out without a jacket or sweater. It really was the summer night out that you dream of having in Canada.

Earlier yesterday, however, I received news of something that broke my heart. I found out that early in the morning, in a quiet part of the north coast of Dominican Republic, someone very special to had been sick, and that he had died. I didn’t know he was sick, and he had looked fine when I had seen him a couple of weeks earlier at work. 

The last place I had seen him was in his village, surrounded by his neighbours and friends, waving at me as I drove away. His name was Vito, and he was my friend.

He had lived in DR for 25 years, raising his family there. He had come from Haiti and I don’t even know if he had ever been back since making it across the border so long ago. He spoke three languages and had numerous friends, talents and ideas. He was an interesting character, and he stood out in every crowd. 

He worked in a nearby garbage dump, daily sifting through other people’s refuse, collecting recyclable materials such as plastics and aluminums, and he eked out a living doing what he could with what he had in front of him. 

ImageHe was a community leader and people naturally followed him. They didn’t all naturally agree with him, but they followed his lead. His was a style of getting something done when there were no other options. Often he would have a message sent to me to ask if I could help out with school books for the kids in the community, or to check in to see if I was going to come out and see them soon. Always, when I showed up, I was welcomed with a kiss on the cheek and wrapped up in a warm hug of friendship. Without realizing it, I marked the passing of time by counting when I was out there and when I saw Vito and the community. 

We had a special bond because there was something that he and I shared, that no one else in that community ever had. Vito was the man who helped to start my adoption of my daughter, Widlene. ImageWhen I was looking for her four summers ago, I came to his village, with a picture of her and me in my hand. I came looking for someone who could help me find her, and I knew whose door to knock on. Within moments of finding Vito, I found myself  inside a dimly lit hut in that village, sitting across from the woman who I had never dreamed of finding: my daughter’s biological grandma. The one person left on earth who could help start the adoption and create a different future for Widlene. As we sat in that tiny, bare house, Vito kept his hand on my shoulder, giving me the confidence to speak about my dreams and hopes of being able to raise Widlene. He gave endorsement of my character and intentions to her and he showed proof of how much he trusted me and believed in me. 

He was a voice for me when I couldn’t be a voice for myself. 

I have made it my life mission to return the favour to him and others around the world who find themselves at the same place in life: stateless, poor, and misunderstood. He showed me how easy it was to speak up for someone, and I will do the same. 

When I received the news yesterday of his death, I was in the middle of working with our Live Different road teams, helping to prepare them to go back into the schools this year. Last night, as I stood under the clear Canadian night sky and sang along with thousands of happy and carefree concert goers, I thought about how very different our worlds were – and yet, how very much the same. He never got on a plane, like I do almost every week, and he never had the chance to do a fraction of the ‘rich people’ things that I get to do without a second thought on many days, but still he lived life in a rich and full way I have always admired. He embraced who he was and he responded to needs that he saw in front of him. He took in orphans and helped to give vision and leadership to his community. Vito was painfully imperfect, as am I. Despite his shortcomings, he saw the need for a leader to rise up and be a voice for someone who is not able to use their own. I will do the same. 


Vito, you have been a true friend. I owe you more than I could have ever repaid you, and I will always, always be deeply grateful for that day in that small house, in a quiet Haitian neighbourhood in Dominican Republic, where you stood with your hand on my shoulder and reminded me that you believed in me and you believed in who I was capable of becoming. I cannot be there for your burial, but today, my words will accompany you into eternity. 

Thank you for being my friend. 

You changed my life and I will be forever grateful. It is I who is honoured to be your voice now, as yours has been silenced.

Sleep well, my friend.

Sleep well. 





Lend me your hand and we’ll conquer them all
But lend me your heart and I’ll just let you fall
Lend me your eyes I can change what you see
But your soul you must keep, totally free…

In these bodies we will live, 
in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, 
you invest your life.

~ from the song,  “Awake My Soul”, Mumford and Sons


Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Letting Go of Bad Hair

I recently saw Facebook photos from a high school reunion I was unable to attend. It was interesting seeing faces and friends that I have not seen for a long time. Even more interesting was trying to remember what we all looked like and how we all felt when we were in high school.Image

I remember my graduation and how it felt like life would never be the same after that. I was excited, but more than a little scared to think of trying to find my way in the world outside of the constructs of that which I had known for so long. I didn’t know how I would re-orientate myself to build new relationships and let go of life as I had known it.

I didn’t yet realize that life would be full of many times where I felt just like that.

Every summer camp counsellor that loves being a counsellor knows the feeling of saying good bye to an amazing group of campers and wondering if you will ever feel as great about another group again.

Every leader who has ever dealt with transition of people knows the feeling of wondering if there will be ever the same calibre of people that come along.

Every team leader on Live Different’s Hero Holiday is acutely aware of the emotional upheaval it can cause to have to say good bye to an exceptional group of volunteers that you connected with in a unique and beautiful way.

It’s the push and pull of connection and letting go.

Our first Hero Holiday was in 2005 in Dominican Republic. The first week of that time in the life of our organization was possibly one of the most vision inducing times of my entire life. I was so alive. I felt like I was keenly aware of every breath I took, every decision, every interaction with one of our team, and I wanted it to last forever. I wanted to make the moment, the sensation of being alive to never stop. I couldn’t imagine ever not feeling that alive again.

But it did come to an end. On that last day, as the first group of volunteers got on the bus to the airport, I turned around to look at our summer staff and saw that many of them had tear-streaked faces and they were not ready to face the next group that would be coming in later that evening. They were attached to the people that had just left and they didn’t want to let go of the connection. I knew we had to fall back and regroup.

We sat down and discussed how it felt to say good bye to such an incredible group of humans. It was hard to imagine ever connecting so closely with another group again. But we also began to shake ourselves into realizing that the next group coming in was going to be just as awesome, just as full of potential and just as passionate about joining us in the adventure of a lifetime. Whether we liked it or not, the next group showed up a few hours later, and they deserved to have the same love, passion and excitement that the first group just experienced under our leadership.

And they did show up and they were awesome.

But sometimes it’s hard to let go of something, isn’t it? We have an idea, a system, a way of doing things that we get attached to, and we can’t imagine not using it, not being connected to it, and not being defined by our relationship to it.

I know. I have been there.

Over and over and over again. I dream it, I do it, I have to let go whether or not I feel I am ready to loosen my hold or shift directions.

It seems like change is the one thing that is unchanging.

How do you live in the present, while somehow protecting your heart and peace of mind for a future time when you will have to let go?

ImageAfter many times, over and over again of experiencing it, I don’t think there is an answer. I truly believe that the best part of life is throwing ourselves into it. A life lived in defence mode is a life not lived to the fullest. Why rob yourself of the pleasure and gift of embracing relationships and people for what they are, rather than what they might become in the future? Why make assumptions that something will eventually end and change and lose out on what that something can be today, on how you can grow through it, and on who you can become as a result.

People love, people laugh, people betray, people disappoint. It’s called life. But there is so much to wrap our arms and hearts around today, that we can’t wait for the right time or for everything to be the way we wish it to look. We need to live today and we need to connect today. We need to dream and laugh. It’s a gift to be alive, so why not let it be like opening a Christmas gift every day? There is so much to live for and to breathe in, right in front of us.

But when it is over, let go of your tight-fisted grip. When you know that life is taking you in a new direction, don’t be that 50 year old high school football star that still re-lives the last game of his senior season. Don’t be that cheerleader that has had way too much “after market adjustments” done because she just wishes she could look like she did back then in her glory days. You had terrible fashion sense back then – and even worse hair, so why try to re-live that?

Don’t park there or try to drum up the feelings of what it used to be like.

It’s done.

But so was dinner last night.

And breakfast still tasted amazing when I woke up this morning, because it means that today is full of limitless possibilities.


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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


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What Lies Beneath is the Most Dangerous

Warning: May Be Offensive To Some Lazy Asses…

Have you ever been up close to an iceberg? Me neither, but according to extensive research, only one ninth of the volume of any iceberg is sitting above sea level. If you think about it for a moment, you realize how completely insane some people are, in their attempts to get close up to them, to touch them and to explore them. They are massive, unforgiving chunks of ice that can turn over at any given moment, creating dangerous currents of their own as they float out at sea. If you can only see one ninth of the whole picture, how can you know what dangers and unforeseen movements are going on beneath? 

You can’t. 

What you see when you snuggle up to an iceberg isn’t the real deal, it’s only a part of the whole. It may look give you the impression that you can understand it and wrap your mind around it, but there is no way you could ever possibly take it at face value.

Sometimes, we each have a lot more in common with icebergs than we realize. We put up a brave front, throw out an offhand remark, make quick, feel-good commitments we don’t intend to keep, and hand out niceties when we don’t feel like taking the time to be gently honest. 

We are like icebergs, only the 8/9ths of us that is under the surface isn’t hiding more ice, it’s hiding fear behind excuses.Image

We have an excuse for everything, and we are really, really good for dreaming them up to suit whatever is needed. 

We have excuses for why we are late, why we can’t lose weight, why we don’t have enough time to exercise, why we didn’t make the deadline, why we didn’t get more done ahead of time, why we drank so much, why we keep on eating poorly, why, why, why.

I think one of my personal favourites is, “He isn’t a bad kid, he just hangs around with the wrong crowd.” But shouldn’t the next question be, “If he is hanging out with that crowd, who is perceived as being ‘bad’, how do you figure out which ones in there are ‘good’ and which ones are ‘bad’? (Hint, probably every one else’s parents are saying the same thing!)

We make excuses with our time, telling ourselves that we don’t have enough time to stop and do something and we will do it later (note to future people living on their own: this will happen with the bed covers every time, unless you just make the freaking bed when you get up!). The list goes on, and on and on.

Sometimes it is humorous, other times our excuses become more than that.

They become a crutch.

And then, along the way, we actually start to believe them to be true. And when we allow ourselves to believe them to be true, we somehow start to tell ourselves we are justified to hide behind them. 

That’s where they become like a dangerous iceberg.

The little excuse that suited our situation the moment we needed it becomes the very thing that can turn on us, robbing us of opportunities that we might never take. Because that’s just the way excuses operate. They have a mission, and that mission is to take us on a short and quick adventure, called the Path of Least Resistance.

They start out seeming to be so benign, but they can truly become insidious in how they work to take over our thought processes, our dreams and our future. 

Yep, I truly believe that excuses can become that dangerous. Follow me here for a minute, and if you get angry or uncomfortable, I am totally not sorry:) You know you should take better care of yourself, but every day there is a new excuse as to why you can’t take a few minutes out of your day to do something that will help your body and your mind, rather than continue to add to its demise. We joke about it, yet we live every day as if the accumulated effects of our self-abuse won’t eventually come calling at our door. They will. My excuses today, tomorrow and the next day will eventually stop being excuses and start showing up as health problems that I could have stopped with such comparatively small, consistent actions all along the way.

We all do it, and I am no exception. For me, (in a standing-in-front-of-the-crowd-naked sort of confessional way) excuses come in the form of managing my time and resources. I always think I will have more than I do, and I make excuses for how I use them. I think I will somehow make up for lost sleep, misspent money, and wasted time. I won’t. Especially time. It’s not a renewable resource, yet I keep on making excuses and pretending that I am unaware of the obvious. It took me a long time to just nail my butt to the chair and create a simple system for myself to embrace my long, never ending lists of projects and commitments, rather than pretend that I can deal with them on an ‘as needed’ basis. It’s a daily struggle, but it is so empowering to feel like I am working with myself to get things done rather than pretending I will somehow magically create more hours in the day. ImageLast time I checked, there was no magic carpet hiding under these 4 inch platform sandals, so I might as well embrace my humanness and move on.

What’s your excuse? Have you pretended that you didn’t have enough time or energy to volunteer or reach out to someone? Stop doing it now and call it what it is – maybe you are just too self-consumed to care. It’s ugly, but at least it might be more accurate than the excuse. 

Or maybe you are scared of committing to something. Fear loves excuses. The fear of commitment can be the most life-sucking predator. It gives you a million and one reasons why you can’t commit to someone or something, and all of them are ridiculous, and underneath all the bullsh*t, you know it to be true. So you are scared of committing to something – get over it, stop making excuses, and give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen? The sun will still rise tomorrow and you will figure out how to fit it into your life. And you just might realize what you have been missing out on as you discover a richness to meeting new people and widening your circle. 

Excuses are constructs of our own making, and we control them. It’s never the other way around.

It’s time to get over ourselves and get control of ourselves.

Stop making excuses for your excuses :)



PS…this message was brought to you by all the people, animals and ecosystems of the earth looking for people like you to reach out and help them. And by the letter “I” (for iceberg) and the number 189 (which represents how many excuses you may try to use over the next 48 hours).

 Pss….watch for my new blog and website coming soon (because I had many excuses for a long time as to why I just didn’t get it done, and now I am finally going to get ‘er done!)


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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


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How Cockroaches and Sawdust Motivated Me

It is early morning in Dominican Republic. The sun is just starting to peek out over the Atlantic ocean from my window, and it is casting a beautiful promising pink and golden glow over everything. Believe it or not, despite the beauty of the moment, this isn’t Imagewhere I would choose to be right now if I could change it. I want my own way, and I want life to cooperate. But for some reason, life is not lending itself to what I want, so instead I choose to focus on the day ahead.

My first initial thought is to take inventory of what I have to do today and to get overwhelmed by it all. My second is to just take a deep breath and think of it as one moment at a time.

This morning I had an early call back home. I was recounting what had happened yesterday with Widlene and me, as we drove back here from Puerto Plata. As we were leaving a store after buying her school supplies, I opened the truck door. A startled cockroach jumped out of the truck and scurried away. A startled Christal almost screamed and then chose to just get in and hope that he didn’t have friends. We leave to come home and five minutes later, Widlene said, in a calm voice, “Uh oh, Mommy, there is another cockroach in here. It just ran over my foot.” We pull over the truck and she herds it out the door, nonchalantly, and we keep driving. 

All the while, I am having a hard time focusing on the road because I am thinking of how many other crunchy cockroaches are sitting under my seat or around me. Image

A cockroach in my truck overwhelmed my thoughts and made me stop thinking about the other stuff that threatens to consume me at times. It almost made me drive off the road, yet it is a fraction of the size of me. When we finally jumped out of the truck, I felt an odd sense of relief and freedom at not having to worry about it for a while. And then, as I walked away from the truck, I felt foolish. I should have just been happy I had a vehicle to get around in, rather than complaining to myself about the things I wished were different.

I am more worried than my 8 year old daughter. To her, a cockroach is just the small stuff. But when we get home, get things put away and she wants more time to finish colouring before bed, the big stuff happens. She wants her own way and the battle of wills begins. And for me, in that moment, it is hard to understand how colouring can be the big stuff. But it is to her. 

Small things are only small according to how we measure them or value them. We are the ones that choose to give them significance.

Isn’t it funny how perspective can shift and change in an instant? As humans, we have this incredible capacity to shift our thoughts and focus, all day long, between countless ideas, thoughts, worries, fears and expectations. Yet despite that, we can easily get hung up on the things that we can’t control, and those things become a stumbling block to focusing on what really matters. In our drive to make our world do what we want it to, we sometimes miss the forest for the trees. 

And there is a whole lot of forest to appreciate, don’t you think?

Where is your focus? Do you get up and dread the day ahead, or do you stop and take a moment to be grateful that there is a day ahead of you to focus on? Do you get frustrated at the people in your life that you can’t change, or are you grateful that you have them in your life in the first place? Do you complain about your job, or stop and say thanks that you have one? Perspective changes everything. 

We want to do significant things, yet we forget that every big thing starts with the first steps, the first moments, the little decisions we make every day about who we choose to be.

I think many of us have had days where we have felt like our lives are systematically falling apart. I have. At least it felt that way when I gave it permission to do so. But in reality, my life wasn’t really ‘falling apart’ – it just wasn’t doing what I wanted it to. There is a big difference. I came to a place where I realized that it wasn’t about what was wrong with my life or the people in it that I couldn’t control. It was about what I was capable of choosing to be in the middle of it all. 

And it starts small. The world may not even notice the difference at first. But you will, and that is what counts. When we change our assessment of a situation from what’s wrong with it all to what is a blessing and gift through it all, we change. And nothing is going to change without you and me deciding that we want to lead the way.


Last night , my friend, Rose Friesen posted a great Facebook status that made me laugh:


Anyone that feels like they are too small to make a difference has never had sawdust scratch their eyeball so badly they couldn’t keep their eye open.


Thanks, Rose – and thanks, life, for making me be grateful for the truck full of cockroaches but that still transports me to where I need to go, the sawdust that reminds me I have eyes to see, and the sunrise that reminds me that the sun is going to keep on rising no matter where I am.



ps…feel free to share the love :)


Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


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