About andreaq2013

Writer. Reader. Baker. Believer in karma and The Golden Rule. What I Know For Sure: 1. There is a lesson in every experience, sometimes you just have to sit back and let it show itself. 2. Sometimes not getting what you want is the best thing for you. 3. Most of the time what people say isn't directed toward you, it's simply a reflection of their own issues, but... 4. When people show you who they are, believe them. 5. If you think you can't, you're right. 6. The more attention you pay to the outside, the less time you have to nurture the inside. 7. Whatever you put into the universe you will get back, so proceed with caution. 8. You are not your story. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you'll be able to live a life filled with joy, hope and happiness. 9. When you're at the end and everything else falls away, who you were and how you treated people will live on. 10. Anything really is possible.

what’s a mala for you?

“Mindful meditation has been discovered to foster the ability to inhibit those very quick emotional impulses.” ~ Daniel Goleman

I’ll admit to right now, I have been known to be impetuous from time to time. Alright, who am I kidding? Most of the time! When I get an idea or find something I really like, an enthusiasm comes over me and a passion consumes me. When I was younger it came in the form of creating my own crafty custom frame business (Pamena – a combination of both of my grandparents first names) and, a few years ago, it was jumping on the cupcake train with Simply Sweet Cupcakes, my home-based confection business.

Currently it’s Newfoundland culture, Downton Abbey and finding anything and everything on building your best life. So when I recently re-read the introduction to Eat, Pray, Love, which mentioned the practice of using japa malas to meditate, I immediately got to googling to learn more about this ancient practice (which was adapted by Romans after they invaded India and is today known as the rosary, FYI).

Mala beads are a traditional tool used by Hindus and Buddhists to count the number of times a mantra is recited while meditating. In addition to the 108-beaded variety, there are also wrist malas that contain 27 beads (a variation on the 108 beaded originals).

It just so happens two days later a co-worker informed our team that the biggest event of our calendar year just happened to be… you guessed it… 108 days away! And so, I replied with enthusiasm, imparting my newfound wisdom on the mala beads.

Then I thought to myself, why not go one step further? Why not make each of my teammates their very own mala to aid in providing calm and the opportunity to meditate as we approached this exciting, yet oh-so-stressful, big event?

A few nights later I found myself wandering around countless Michael’s aisles, trying to decipher between the hundreds of beads they offer. What kind of string should I use? Should I go wood or glass beads? I can’t find the right Buddha bead!

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I spent almost an hour and a half (as I found out later when I got back in the car that contained my ever-patient husband) picking up, examining, putting back and wavering on countless beads and strings.

When I got home, because I couldn’t wait until the next morning, I put a sample together. Turns out the beads were too big to fit an average wrist and the hole on the Buddha bead was way too small to be strung onto the sting I had purchased. So I did what any rational person would do, I decided to sleep on it.

The next day, I took a chance and checked out etsy, a fabulous online marketplace that sells handmade and vintage items, to see if they had a mala similar to the ones I had envisioned creating. Well, guess what? They did – hundreds in fact… I ended up purchasing seven of these simple, yet stylish Tibet Buddhist Peach-Wood Beads Prayer Japa Mala Bracelets.

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Fun fact: The coin featured on this mala is a reproduction of the Chinese old coin used in the Qin dynasty, during the time of Emperor Yong Zheng, who ruled from 1722 to 1735. A hard-working ruler, Yongzheng’s main goal was to create an effective government at minimal expense.

How perfect! I thought, as that’s what we try to do with all of our special events – try to create an effective (and, of course, entertaining) event for our sales force, on a minimal budget. I’m happy to report that the recipients loved their bracelets, along with the thought behind them.

As I learned in the end, purchasing the malas might have saved me work, but because of the purchasing and returning of my mala essentials, not the effort. You see, dear friends, I once again ignored The Universe.

Regardless of the time I had spent searching and debating, the fact that I had convinced my husband to drive me, the idea that I just had to create them for that Monday morning… all of these factors shouldn’t have mattered because the confusion and indecision I felt were signs that I should have held off on making a decision until things became clear.

The japa mala incident, as it’s now known in our house, is a great metaphor for life. When faced with a decision, and there are either too many options or you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s The Universe’s way of saying “breathe, take a step back, the answer will come”.

Whether it’s a mala bracelet, what to have at your favourite tex mex restaurant (nachos or fajitas? It’s tough!) or what to do about a challenging relationship, time and space will lead to clarity – and the right decision for you… always.

It’s Time To Get Your Mala On!
Here are a few tips on the art of mindful (and effective) meditation, courtesy of yogabasics.com:

  • Sitting in a comfortable position, with the eyes closed, the mantra is repeated silently or aloud.
  • The mind is focused on the mantra, the thoughts are let go of and the breath is slow and deep.
  • Hold your mala in your right hand and use your thumb to  “count” each mantra by touching the bead during the recitation and then lightly pushing the bead away on completion and moving to the next bead.
  • The index finger is extended and should not touch the mala.
  • The large meru (mountain) bead should not be counted or touched by the thumb and is used as a starting and ending point of the recitation.
  • Continue by pulling the beads and going backwards until you again end at the meru and continue until you have done 108 repetitions, or multiples of 108. So with the 27-beaded bracelet, you would do 27 repetitions of the mantra 3 times.
  • To empower the mala and the mantra used, japa (mantra meditation) should be practiced each day for 40 continuous days.
  • When the mala becomes empowered it can be worn or lightly placed on oneself or others to transmit the energy of the mantra as well as the energetic qualities of the mala.

you should be dancing, yeah!

“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” ~ Satchel Paige

Okay, I’m all for enlightenment and the motivational quote that will spurn one into one of Oprah’s legendary A-HA Moments, but some of them (please see above, in my humble opinion) border on the clichéd so severely they’ve been banished to sarcastic mockery on such popular websites as someecards.com.

But there is something to be said about dancing and the positive effects it can have on you – and the people around you.

You see, I’ve been a dancing fool from as far back as I can remember. As a kid, my sister and I would put on “performances” in our living room… oh come on, I know we weren’t the only ones!

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Hey, I warned you!

And yet I quit the ballet lessons my cousin and I had so desperately requested after a few lessons because, as a spirited five-year-old, it was “too slow” and I wanted to do dance to the beat of my own drum.

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My cousin and I in the late 70s. The only time we’d be the same height!

In middle school, my favourite recreational activity were those dances where the girls and boys would stand awkwardly on either side of the gymnasium… that was everyone except me. As soon as I heard a song I could dance to, I hightailed it to the middle of the basketball-striped hardwoord floor to shake my milkshake… not for the boys in the yard, but for myself.

As I got older, and once I hit the legal age, I’d dance the night away with friends. While they inhaled Sex on the Beach cocktails or “picked up”, you could find me on the packed dance floor doing my thing to songs like “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison, “Mallorca” by Loft and, eventually, line dancing to songs like “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” by Kenny Chesney at the country bar.

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The famous Nashville North… y’all just follow my lead, ya hear?

Dancing was the whole reason an Italian kid (well, me at least) loved weddings. Forget the food! I’d try to contain my excitement as course after course was presented, but the ants in my pants just had one thing on their minds.

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The Tarantella: My father and I kicking it old school at a cousin’s wedding in 1995.

And really, ladies, I have two words for you – Dirty Dancing. The charismatic way that Johnny Castle taught Baby to mambo, who didn’t daydream about that happening to them?

Even today, when a good song comes on in a restaurant where my family and I are are enjoying a meal, my sister and I (fun fact: we are both in our 30s) will dance at the table, while my father chastises us because it’s not polite.

So when my husband, who was feeling a little nostalgic for his DJ days while organizing his library of over 12,000 music files this morning, asked me to lambada, I responded with a disbelieving “oh, hun”. It was 9 a.m. and I just wanted to chill out for a bit… even though I had taken a day off to relax, I had a list of “to do’s” staring back at me from iPhone notes file.

But that’s just him… always ready for a little dance – whether it’s in the kitchen or in a parking lot somewhere. If the mood grabs him, he’ll always grab me.

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At his cousin’s wedding in 2007, all the signs were there!

So what did I do? When Suavemente by Elvis Crespo came on a few seconds later and he extended a romantic hand, I got my tracked pants butt of the couch and joined him for a little salsa in our family room. Leopard print slippers, and all. Now that’s a great way to start a weekend!

Speaking of the weekend, for the past three weeks at work we’ve attended a very important meeting set at 4 p.m. every Thursday. The agenda only takes a few minutes to review – we choose a song and congregate outside the boss’ office to laugh, dance and release some of that stressful energy that builds up during the workweek, a la CP24.

As time has passed, people have (I hope anyway) started looking forward to it, asking “Is it time yet?”, “What song is it this week?” and, of course, the threatening exclamation of “You better not be taping this!”

What started out as a small group has since grown, with co-workers coming around the corner to see what those “crazy special events and recognition girls” are up to this time. And yet, after baring witness to the music, enthusiasm and pure joy, they often ask to be added to the meeting request.

So whether someone asks you, you’re out with your girlfriends or even if no one is around and one of your favourite beat pumpers comes on the radio, our advice? Just dance.

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Laughter might be the best medicine, but dancing does the heart and soul good!

what I am is what I am

“Don’t let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you will become.”            ~ Nick Portokalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding

When I was a kid, whether it was Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas, one of my favourite places to be was in my nonna’s basement. There, with 25 family members saddled up to long wooden tables pushed together (the kids seated at one end but within arm’s reach of an aunt or uncle, just in case), we’d gather to celebrate, eat and, most of all, laugh… oh right, and yell. We are Italian after all.

Even today, the holidays, as well as the delicious dishes prepared by the matriarch of our family, take me back to a childhood rich in tradition. In fact, Easter was a big one for us – Fiadone Con Ricotta (ricotta pastries), Pupa Con L’uova (Italian Easter Bread) and those big chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in colourful foil with a cup placed strategically at the bottom that contained a cheesy prize, are present reminders of a simpler time.

Side note: those giant Easter eggs were our favourite. Cousins – young and old – would take extreme pleasure in breaking them into bits and then dipping into a waiting jar of peanut butter. Ah, the good ole days.

So when I asked my aunt if she was making any of the famous ricotta pastries she’d so generously wrap in plastic and set aside, one for each member of our family, you can imagine my disappointment when she responded that it was time for the younger generation to take over.

Well, challenge accepted. In fact, I went out that same night (I’d like to think out of determination, rather than stubbornness) to purchase my tub of ricotta and got my utensils all ready so I could tackle this traditional recipe head on the next day.

If you know me, you know I’ve become a bake-a-holic over the past few years. First with cupcakes, then cookies and, most recently inspired by a friend’s godmother, biscotti.

One of my most well-received creations was this batch of Nutella biscotti (notice the Nonna tablecloth – plastic over crochet).

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After taking a bite, my hubby turned to me with wide-eyed wonderment to exclaim “these are the best… ever!”. And let me tell you, he takes his job as the Director of Process Improvements and Quality Control in the Kitchen very seriously.

But when it came to preparing the old world creations on which I had once reveled in at holiday celebrations, I had my doubts. Would I be able to replicate these classics? And, most important, would I have the patience?

You see, these recipes are all about the P-word. It doesn’t take much to mix the ingredients together, but then you often have to wait – anywhere from 3 to 7 hours, then follow another step and repeat. Not to mention the actual work involved. 10 minutes doesn’t sound like a long time, but when you’re kneading dough it can feel like an eternity. Rolling out the dough is an exercise in itself, working my arms and core like nobody’s business. Bless her heart, but it’s a wonder my grandmother wasn’t built more like Jillian Michaels. But I digress…

I have to say, for my first try, I did pretty well. While the proper shapes would eventually come, the taste seemed to be there – and that’s all I cared about.

First up, the Fiadone Con Rioctta (ricotta pastry), courtesy of Panorm Italia magazine. I mixed, waited, rolled, stretched and this was the end result.

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I had a taste (or two) and next time I’ll be sure to include the rind of a lemon, but the general consensus (by the empty container sitting on one of the filing cabinets at the office) was that they were good enough to eat.

Next up was taralli (which is more of an everyday indulgence), for which I found this great recipe on a fantastic website I stumbled upon called Italy Revisited. These little bite-sized bows consisted of a simple dough and a not-so-secret ingredient – fennel seeds.

While I shaped them like the ones my father used to bring home Saturday mornings from our local Italian bakery…

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They rose more than I thought and turned into little piles of fennel-seeded love.

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No worries. I just know that next time I’ll have to roll them out more… and isn’t that what’s it all about? Whether it’s in the kitchen or in life, learning as you go and practicing so you can make perfect?

Although she was the Master of the Kitchen, I’m sure that’s how my nonna learned… even though my father would have us believe she came out of the womb being able to cook and bake like she did. She was a saint, after all.

Which brings me back to our second annual Easter celebration, which is now a fond, but distant memory. Hubby and I host a somewhat traditional lunch at our house (we eat at 1 p.m. in our dining room at one of the three tables pushed together), and I couldn’t be happier.

While pasta and a few desserts are my contribution, I’m lucky to have our family bring other favourites (porchetta and piri piri chicken completing the P-Easter trifecta), to the table. But the best part is understanding and appreciating the joy of hosting 15 family members in our home.

It warmed my heart to have the same laughter, love and, yes, yelling, fill our home. Just because I’m on my own journey toward inner peace, spiritual connection and a life filled with joy, doesn’t mean I can’t take my family traditions with me.

A Canadian girl with an Italian background who loves the Newfie life? Funziona per me (it works for me)!

batten down the hatches, there’s a storm a comin’

“This too shall pass.” ~ I Corinthians 10:12

If you read last week’s blog post, you know I’m all about acceptance… or at least I think I am. Isn’t it funny that as soon as say something (both verbal and written apply), The Universe takes it as a silent challenge to put you to the test?

Now I’m not saying anything catastrophic happened to me this week, it was just the usual work-is-overwhelming-is-it-ever-going-to-end-are-we-there-yet type of week. I have absolutely nothing to complain about. In fact, I am writing this as I give thanks and appreciate everything that has been given to me, as I know others at this very moment are not so lucky.

Have I been through my own hardships? Yes sir. But we all have. There’s nothing really special about mine, just the fact that they’re mine makes them special to me. Some haven’t had it as bad, yet others have had it 100 times worse. And so I got to thinking about life’s storms.

It’s great to say there is a rainbow after the storm (and while I truly believe there is) there can also be a hell of a lot of thunder and lightning to endure to get there.

There are those storms that bestow bright lightning and thunder in your life, which make you jump with fright and perhaps a little exhilaration. Those are the ones you can almost enjoy a bit because you know in the end everything will be okay.

Then there are those that force you to bare the brunt of whipping, angry rain, while you white knuckle your way through it praying you’ll be okay. These are the ones you just want to get through, the ones that you know will either take a piece of you or leave you wondering if you’re going to make it out okay, if not changed forever.

When I share my heart “story” with people, they’re surprised that I’m so upbeat. Wow, how are you so positive? Easy – I have a lot to for which to be thankful. I have my health, I beat the odds, I am living my life – every day.

And although it doesn’t play on my mind 24-7, I know how lucky I am. Yes, I’ve had my share of losses – both grandparents, an uncle and a godfather are the most noticeable absences in my everyday life – but I’ve never lost a parent or had to sit by a spouse’s bedside praying that he’ll be okay. I’ve been spared… so far.

Yet over the years I’ve met my share of people. People who, once you discover their real “story”, you wonder how they made it out alive… never mind in one piece. The 16-year-old who found his mom after she suffered a fatal heart attack, the young woman who fought cancer while planning a wedding to the love of her life, a wife who lost her husband of 25 years in just six short months to cancer.

I know these people, I care about these people, my heart goes out to these people. These are the storms in life that matter – the ones we should give our full attention. And while it might not seem like a good enough reason – and might take years from which to recover – they are there to teach us… to give us insight into ourselves, our character, and the strength we never knew we had. They are also there to show us an incredible outpouring of love through the wonderful people who come to our rescue, stand by our sides and weather the storm right along with us.

So when the rain whips at your face, the lightning stings your eyes and the thunder threatens to uproot your whole world, just hold on. Even if that’s the only thing you can do, it’s something. And take comfort in the fact that there are others who have either survived the same storm or are there to throw you a life preserver so you can make it through as unscathed as humanly possible.