Organic Love Leaving a big city in your prime dating years, peace-ing out on a career, family and friends to live alone on a farm would seem a terrible way to find love. But, love is funny that way. When you’re in the right place, it finds you.

by Brenda Hsueh

I was no spring chicken at 33 when I went to Everdale, an organic teaching farm, as a long-term volunteer in 2008, wanting to learn about organic farming. There I proved I was not just up to the task physically, but loved it. In late fall, I went shopping for farms. By Christmas, my offer on a piece of land had been accepted and I was moved in by March of 2009. In spring, ground was broken on my first vegetable field, and Black Sheep Farm was born.

The first year out here, I learned that my road was actually a busy one,  good for a roadside stand. Unlike my condo in the city, ‘town’ is an hour’s round trip away. Since then, I’ve learned to wire in a new pressure for my well switch in -20C, and then to run a heat lamp out to the pump house to defrost the now frozen pressure tank.

And, there’ve been other, harder lessons. In 2012 a drought killed all my winter squash and zucchini, about 20% of my vegetable field. I learned first hand that soils depleted of organic matter don’t retain water.

farm baby

This year, 2017, is my ninth growing season at Black Sheep Farm, and my most challenging. Why? My daughter Emma was born on May 5. I’m a new mom, with all that implies, lack of sleep, torturous breast feeding in the beginning, and the isolation of spending most of the day home with an infant.  It also meant I needed help to run the farm, so I hired a full-time employee , Michelle, and we’ve been managing a vegetable garden in the wettest and coolest year since I moved out here.

 

We were lucky, with a healthy pregnancy, birthing and baby, all despite the odds, though I’d like to credit my strong farming body with the results.”

In my pre-farming life, I  worked an office job in the financial sector in downtown Toronto, living in a condo, trying out new restaurants, and generally living the city life. But I cared deeply about the environment, social justice, and food, so when the 2007 financial crisis hit, it was a wakeup call for me to find meaning in what I do.

I learned that our global food system is broken, exploiting people’s labour and health and destroying the environment with pesticides. I wanted to be part of a better way.

That’s now what I do, I farm using agroecological principles that improve soil life, producing food in a manner that improves the environment, maximizing diversity and resilience. My goal isn’t to grow the biggest vegetables or the most pounds per acre, but to produce food at a rate that the land can support, and that can support me financially. The farm produces vegetables for its CSA (community supported agriculture) members, as well as meat and fibre from a growing flock of sheep.

Leaving Home to Find It

I was single all my years in Toronto, and was still single when I moved to the farm. I certainly didn’t expect to find anyone out here in the middle of nowhere, with a population density a fraction of Toronto’s, and mostly over 50 years old. However, I became good friends with the family next door, and started dating the oldest son in 2012. We’ve been together ever since.

All those years of wondering why I couldn’t meet anyone compatible in Toronto, it turns out I was just in the wrong place. I needed to be where I was meant to be, doing what I loved, so love could find me.

Having my daughter wasn’t a given either.

Being a first-time mom at 42 meant a ‘geriatric’ pregnancy, with all the fearsome statistics and added testing and protocols to do with my ‘advanced maternal age’. We were lucky, with a healthy pregnancy, birthing and baby, all despite the odds, though I’d like to credit my strong farming body with the results.

I’m definitely healthier and stronger now in my 40’s than when working office jobs in my 20’s. I look forward to sharing this active farm lifestyle with my daughter as she grows.

calm in the chaos

sheep lamb farmer hay organic love

Brenda Hseuh, Black Sheep Farm

At this point, it’s almost halfway through the 2017 farming season, and despite its challenges, I’m quite calm. Maybe having a new person to take care of contributes to that. After all, when Mother Nature throws another torrential rainfall at you, flooding your field yet again, now you have a child to cuddle while waiting out the storm. Next year will have its own share of farming and family challenges, and the next year, and the next.

As I strive to build a resilient farm environment, I become more resilient myself, able to problem solve and work with the circumstances I’ve been given. At the end of the day, I produce something very concrete, food, a necessity for all human life, and I do so in a way I can be proud of and believe in.

It used to be that everyone was a farmer, and now it seems no one is. I hope that changes as more people choose to join me in such an honourable endeavour.

 

Brenda Hsueh is an organic vegetable farmer, mother, and owner of Black Sheep Farm in Grey County, south western Ontario. She lives on 40 acres with her partner, her baby and the occasional black sheep.

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Boss Lady: Angie Koch, Organic Farmer Entrepreneurs are a complex bunch. Business is emotional because we are usually pursuing a dream, willingly, nervously pouring into it all of our resources. Staying levelheaded while maintaining passion is a balance that is tough, if not impossible to master. Add to that a physically daunting, weather dependent, male-dominated industry and you have to dig even deeper.

We need inspiration. We need role models who are getting up every day to do what needs to be done. There are some entrepreneurs we want to be like more than others, and that’s who will be profiled in this space. It’s fitting that a woman who is strong, determined, no-nonsense, and by all accounts “a rock star” is Fortyology’s inaugural Boss Lady.

Entrepreneur Stats

Age:  42
Boss Of:

Fertile Ground Farm, 100 acres of farmland in Waterloo County, Ontario Canada. She manages a farm that produces weekly vegetable boxes (aka Community Supported Agriculture) for 250 families, and operates the business as well as the tractor.

Number of chickens: 100

Angie Koch, Fertile Ground Farm Credit:Catherine Anne Miller

Career path:

I spent seven years in the Community Development field, and while I loved it, I was burning out fast. But, I was scared to quit my job. I was 32 and felt like I’d already invested 7 years. What the hell is 32 for if not starting something else?

That grip of expectation and feeling like you need to set yourself up, or,  you need to do  what others expect of you. I felt guilty having a good life. I was crying a lot, I saw the futility of my work. And, I was sick, I couldn’t digest food, was anxious. Doctors couldn’t diagnose me. The only thing making me feel awesome wass this work out in the garden. I did an internship at a farm, and jumped in with both feet. It was a major, major choice. Taking the risk and freeing myself from those expectations was what stopped me from being sick.

Passion Point:

My sense of integrity is affronted by the falseness of large-scale farming that passes itself off as people who have empathetic relationships with their animals. It makes me work harder. The responsibility is on me to take on education. I won’t be able to justify my prices if people don’t understand why what they’re buying is a different product than what’s at the market. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I resent it that I have to explain.

Biggest ongoing challenge:

Maintaining energy is one of the hardest things for sure. There’s the exhaustion from physical labour. There is a multitude of small decisions.

Toughest Lesson:

Five years ago I  hit a crisis point and was burning out. I’d been farming for 6-7 yrs, 16 hours a day in the field and then admin work at night, I was surviving on cream cheese bagels and summer sausage. I had this little advisory committee made up of friends, CSA members and community members who I’d meet with for feedback and bounce ideas off them. I gathered them and said how exhausted I was. I said, I need to make 50% more money and work 75% as much. If we can’t put a plan in place, I’m done. We raised the price of CSA shares, dropped the farmers market (4am-3pm every Saturday), and it totally changed things. I don’t feel burnt out any more. There’s more money going into savings. They suggested that I hire more staff so there was more bodies carrying the work.

Handy-woman skill:

Can frame a wall in a pinch, and fix a tractor

Talent Show Skill:

Plays a mean banjo

Self-care go-to:

It’s important for me to take time to eat well. Not just healthy, but, pleasurable food. The last thing at the end of the day I want to do is make food, to make a proper meal, but, I try to take time to enjoy it at the table, not in front of the computer.  And, sleep – I need to be in bed by 9:30.  Those two things take care of 80% of the crises.

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THE ONE THING YOU MIGHT BE MISSING AT YOUR FARMERS MARKET

Women may be our best hope for the future of healthy, sustainable, local food.

By Frances MacKinnon

It’s a familiar  scene every Saturday morning in cities and towns. Streams of urbanites strolling parking lots and parks, stuffing eco-friendly bags with fresh organic produce from local farms.

There is a very good chance that that food was grown (and harvested and loaded into a truck) by a woman. They’ve been there all along, but, somehow we’ve overlooked this fact.

While the farming sector as a whole (and by extension, our domestic food system) is in a worrying state of decline, with no sign of interest from the next generation, the organic farming sector is growing like a weed, and, women are at the root of it.

Wendee Kubik, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario has been studying women farmers for more than 20 years.

“The number of family farms is decreasing, and, there is not a lot of people going into farming in general . But, of the people going into it, the largest area of growth is women in organic farming.”

Organic farming makes up less than 5% of overall agriculture in Canada, but, from 2013-2015 it saw a jump of $1 billion in sales, and, and it’s not slowing down. COTA (Canadian Organic Trade Association) reports that more than half of Canadians buy organic on a weekly basis, and 80% “have maintained or increased their organic purchases in the last year.”

Overall, women make up 27.5% of farmers in Canada, with British Columbia leading the way. It’s similar in the US and UK. ( Elsewhere it’s 60-80%.)

Kubik is  quick to point out that women have been farming – doing virtually the same work as men, in addition to innumerable support and family-raising roles – since forever. But, they were what she calls “invisible farmers”, unacknowledged because they were women, or, not identified because census data only allowed for one farmer per household.  In fact, Kubik argues, it is on the backs of such traditionally undervalued female farmers that we have enjoyed agricultural bounty and lower food prices for decades.

But, in this new era of farming, borne out of necessity and changing attitudes, more females are finding a fit on the farm.

WOMEN’S WORK

“I know more women than men organic farmers,” says Ann van Der Heyden who started Wooler Dale Farm with her late husband 35 years ago.

organic food vegetables wooler dale farm wychwood barns farmers market toronto

Nicole Prins (right) and her mother Ann Van DerHayden of Wooler Dale Farm

GETTING CLOSER TO YOUR FOOD

Urbanites, women and men, are indeed trading the city vibe for the rural route.  Couples, families and singles are seeking a healthier, more fulfilling, sometimes more affordable, lifestyle. “I know several that have left stressful jobs in Toronto and did a complete turnaround and started an organic farm.”

Today, Ann with her daughter and farming partner Nicole Prins are slinging eye-popping fresh vegetables and the occasional cooking tip as fast as they can to a steady line up of health conscious urban customers at Wychwood Barns Farmers Market in Toronto.

Their farm is a two-hour trek away from their city customers; their day begins at the crack of dawn, and ends late afternoon with a tear down of their stand, and another two-hour drive.. It’s an exhausting end to an exhausting week. “Market isn’t all just fun,” says Nicole. “You’re working so hard all week, and then on the last day of the week you make your income. It’s rewarding, but, it’s hard work.” Nicole  has a bachelors degree in chemistry and math could be a poster-child for eating organic.

farmers market, wooler dale farm

Wooler Dale Farm at Wychwood Barns Farmers Market Credit: Frances MacKinnon

She’s a rare second generation farmer planning to take over what her parents started. But, it comes with a cost. A year ago she had her first child, Ava. “There is no maternity leave when you’re running a business. When you’re pregnant, or post-pregnancy, there is no time off.” Which means Ava is part of the farm chores. “Sometimes I bring her with me and she sleeps while I grade peas.”

 

Single women shouldering the entire responsibility of running a farm is an even smaller percentage of the whole farming picture, but those numbers are creeping up, too.

farmer black sheep brenda hseuh

Brenda Hsueh, Black Sheep Farm Credit:Brenda Hsueh

In 2007, Brenda Hsueh was living the dream of most young career women. A Bay St. job, a downtown Toronto condo, city life, the whole nine.

But, the version of success which she’d worked her whole life towards left her longing for a deeper purpose and meaning in life. At 33, she left it all behind, and bought a farm in Grey County, Ontario. She’s found her home. “I’ll  be here until I die,” she promises.

“It was a moral decision. I look at the world and how we treat it and I’m horrified. I grew up a suburban kid who stayed inside all summer reading books and playing piano. But, I love the physical work of farming.”

Read more about Brenda’s story and finding the love of her life here.

A CHANGING FIELD

farm female farmer

Fertile Ground Farm Credit: Angie Koch

In case your perception of farming only includes the outdated image of a weathered, middle-age man driving a tractor and throwing bales of hay, you’d be wrong on a few levels.

For starters, on many farms, 75-80% of  volunteers and interns these days are women. Sometimes even more.  “And, they’re the hardest workers,” a (male) farmer recently piped up while I was chatting up his neighbour.

Add to that the fact that 90% of farming is large scale factory farms, and even if you shop at a grocer that sells ‘locally sourced’ products, you’re still likely buying from a mass producing farm. (*Ontario does not enforce regulations for products labeled organic. Several other provinces, do.)

“A picture of a farmer with an arm around a cow gives the sense of relationship with the animals. That’s the Ontario brand. It’s false.”  In other words you’re buying what the marketers are selling, and this makes Angie Koch crazy. “It’s insulting to my sense of integrity”

If there is a rockstar in the world of organic farming, it might be Angie Koch.

Angie is 42 and sole manager of Fertile Grounds Farm just outside Waterloo, Ontario. It’s a two-hour drive and a world away from the Toronto skyline.

 

Read more about Angie Koch, Boss Lady

Photo: Angie Koch Fertile Ground Farm

Angie is talking on the phone with me while eating her lunch, one ear on the walkie for any possible emergencies.

She’s already been in the field six hours. It’s full throttle harvest time and her 250 customers are expecting their boxes of produce to be ready for pick up.

“I’m a slave to the vegetables.”

The fact that she is going stronger than ever after 10 years of back breaking, isolating and near-burn out farming is to her, a miracle. “My body won’t do this forever. Thats the flip side of 42. I have chronic back problems, I have arthritis. It’s not what it was 10 years ago. Market gardening is extremely labour intensive work. ”

As far as being a female in the farming world, there are unique challenges.

“Women on the whole are not brought up to be mechanically minded. Most daughters are not taught how to fix a pipe when its broken, or change a tire. As far as we’ve come its still the case that women aren’t mechanically minded. A lot of things break on a farm.”

Fortunately, she is not alone.

“I have staff and interns and they’re mostly women from non-farming backgrounds. You go to craft field day at a farm and it’s 75% women interning.”

Exactly why women seem attracted to organic farming is up for debate.

“Is it community connections?,” she wonders out loud. “Small scale diversified farming is emebedded in relationships. Women are still more the ones who do the cooking and food tasks -is there more passion in what type of food we’re putting into our children’s bodies? All I can guess is there is a care-taking mindset to do things in a thoughtful, respectful way.”

In speaking with a handful of women farmers at the market, one leaves me with this thought:

“You’ll find most female farmers are feminists.”

Wendee Kubik says research has shown that stress on female farmers is great, and historically, there has been little support for their unique issues. “They do a lot of community work to keep community going.  Some women do farm work, child work, household work and a ‘real’ job off the farm.

Her advice, if you farm, call yourself a farmer. Push for policy changes that benefit women. Join associations. “If you’re invisible nothing is going to happen.”

“The numbers are very small right now, but this is the wave of the future.”

To find out more about organic farming in Canada click here.

 

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Vacay Splurge: 13 Tips From A Luxury Travel Pro – Pt 2 Traveling in itself is a luxury, as travel blogger Carol Perehudoff noted in Part 1 of our interview and, it’s true. Irrespective of your budget, seeing another culture, experiencing new art forms, and learning a language are gifts that keep on giving for the rest of your life. Traveling is often stressful, though, and, a spoil-yourself trip is an exciting prospect. Click here to read what she had to say about traveling in your 40s vs your 20s, and how set your priorities when choosing a 5-star destination.

In Part 2, Wandering Carol, dishes on her top 3 destinations for, say,  a big birthday, advice for a fast but fancy girls weekend getaway, and, buying the perfect souvenir.  Leave a comment if you have any advice for a travel splurge.

IF YOU HAD TO NARROW IT DOWN, WHAT ARE THREE PLACES (city, hotel, etc) YOU’D SUGGEST TO MARK YOUR FORTIETH?

For Canada, the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel is my top choice for a luxury getaway. The town of Banff has the freshest air imaginable, stunning mountain scenery and the hotel has a to-die-for spa. To make the trip complete, you could take the Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury train through the Rockies, from Vancouver to Banff then stay in Banff for a few days to hike and soak in the hot springs. (And eat fudge. Banff has the best fudge shops.) I’m a Rocky Mountaineer brand ambassador so you’ll find a lot of articles about them on my blog.

For Europe, go to Paris! I wanted to spend my fortieth birthday at the Hemingway bar in the Ritz in Paris, buy a bottle of champagne and share it with everyone in the intimate bar. Sadly, I got felled by mysterious spider bites a few days before my birthday and ended up back in Canada. But, I’d still recommend Paris to anyone. If you want something a little more on trend in Paris I’d suggest Le Bar at the Plaza Athénée hotel.

If you want something beyond, Thailand is a favourite. You could stay at one of the chic resorts in Phuket such as Keemala Phuket, an amazingly stylish wonderland where you wouldn’t be surprised if a Hobbit strolled by, or get adventurous at Elephant Hills, a luxury camping resort that combines the lush outdoors with the ethical treatment of elephants.

paris, france Splurge Vacay

Paris at night

WHAT’S A MUST HAVE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS PLANNING A SPLURGE TRIP – Y’KNOW, BEYOND THE PLUSH BATHROBE?

A big souvenir. On our honeymoon in Europe my husband and I bought a Murano glass chandelier. Then again, there is always that Chanel Boy Bag, or a cashmere sweater from Milan.

WHERE’VE YOU HAD THE BEST SERVICE, FOOD, AND AMENITIES?

I’ve had so many great travel experiences, it’s almost impossible to narrow it down. A stay at the historic Brenners Park in Baden-Baden, a gorgeous spa town in Germany, comes to mind. That is one seriously romantic hotel in one of the sexiest most elegant towns in Europe. Don’t be surprised if you run into royalty. It’s a quiet town, though, so don’t expect to be partying every night.

WHAT IF YOU WANT TO GO BIG FOR JUST A WEEKEND – WHAT ARE SOME TIPS.

Pack some high heels. (Unless you’re going hiking. Then take a rain jacket.) If you’re only going away for a weekend, you don’t have to worry about your budget as much as if you were going away for a long vacation, so splash out on a great meal, a fabulous hotel and a couple of craft cocktails.

A 40th BIRTHDAY GIRLS GETAWAY WOULD BE FUN. TO HAVE MAXIMUM FUN, WHERE SHOULD THE BIRTHDAY GIRL AND HER SQUAD GO TO CELEBRATE?

This seems obvious but Vegas. Not for the nightclubs or the gambling. I like Las Vegas for its world-class spas and high-end restaurants. The spas at Bellagio or Caesars Palace make a great girls getaway, and the spa scene tends to be more sophisticated than hectic. For restaurants I love Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand and Picasso at Bellagio – where else can you dine surrounded by genuine Picassos?

ANY APPS YOU CAN RECOMMEND FOR THE LUXURY TRAVELER?

I’m app challenged. Although I am addicted to Instagram (so follow me @WanderingCarol).

Wandering Carol Keemala Phuket Hotel

Wandering Carol Keemala Phuket Hotel

 

 

Carol Perehudoff is the mastermind behind WanderingCarol.com – a luxury travel blog for those who love to laugh. Her travel articles have appeared in a number of publications including enRoute Magazine, the Chicago Tribune and the Toronto Star. Based in Toronto, her passions are slow travel, hot springs and the South of France – and she is often gripped with the desire to be elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram or visit her Facebook

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Vacay Splurge: 13 Tips From a Luxury Travel Pro – Pt. 1 It might not happen every year, but once in a while, you need to splurgeREALLY splurge – on a vacation. A trip where you fly first class,  where everything about your experience  is beautiful, delicious and stress free. This is how the A-listers, the Royals, the 1% roll all the time.

If you’re not familiar with the travel habits of the Kardashians or goop and her relations, you might need a primer.

In a 2-part series, I hit up  luxury travel blogger extraordinaire Wandering Carol  ( Voted a Top 10 Luxury Travel Blogger by the readers of USA Today)for a two-part interview to get all the expert tips on traveling in style.   Be warned, you might get hooked.  Here’s Part I.  (We’ll share Part 2 next week)

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LUXURY TRAVEL?

I think luxury travel is ‘experience.’ It can be a splurge, a moment, a perfect hotel, a new destination, beautiful finishings in a hotel room … even a walk in the woods. I’m so grateful to be able to travel at all when so many around the world don’t have the opportunity, so I think travel itself is a luxury.

WAS THERE ONE PARTICULAR TRIP WHERE YOU REALISED, “HEY, 1000 THREAD COUNT SHEETS > BUDGET HOTEL”

For me it’s been a gradual process. When I was in my twenties I thought a 3-star hotel was luxury – it was certainly a step up from a hostel. Even on a slim budget, though, I was fascinated by the world of luxury hotels, so I might step into a hotel bar for a drink. Now I want to sleep there as well.

hotel pool vacation palm trees luxury travel

Poolside luxury

 

 

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LUXURY AND NON-LUXURY TRAVEL?

The biggest difference between luxury and non-luxury travel is probably convenience. Not having to seek out public transportation from an airport when you’re jet-lagged is total luxury in my mind. Taking taxis, eating at an expensive restaurant, but, best convenience with luxury travel is being able to travel business class. It’s a gracious way of getting from point A to point B with better service, better meals and much more comfortable seating. That said, I’m not lucky enough to always travel business class.

WHAT SHOULD WE BE FOCUSING ON WHEN WE WANT TO SPLURGE ON OURSELVES FOR A WEEK (OR TWO) AWAY?

Everyone is different so you need to pick your priorities. For many people a hotel room is just a place to sleep. Not me. My splurge is a fabulous hotel with a beautiful lobby, maybe some old world elegance and great facilities such as a pool and a sauna. I also like a great bar where I can have a glass of champagne.

For many people, a splurge equals good cuisine. In that case, you’ll want to do some research before you leave as to what the best new eateries are, or what are some iconic restaurants such as Le Louis XV – Alain Ducasse à l’Hôtel de Paris in Monaco. Now that’s a splurge.

Monte Carlo Monaco travel Europe luxury

Monaco skyline

 

PRICE DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN QUALITY, SO WHAT ADVICE COULD YOU GIVE TO MAKE SURE YOU GET TRUE VALUE FOR YOUR $?

Again, I think it comes down to deciding what it is that is meaningful to you. If you’re not a wine lover, then ordering a Château Lafite Rothschild with your steak might not be value for your money. If you’re not into designer bags (I love designer bags) then spending thousands on a Chanel Boy Bag in Paris won’t be true value for you. (But it would be for me.)

When it comes to hotels, comparison shopping is a must. Check out different sites such as tripadvisor and booking.com before booking, but also check the hotel’s own website for specials. The same goes for airfares. And check dates. It might be worth your while to travel a day earlier or later if the price is drastically different.

When it comes to fine restaurants, consider going for lunch instead of dinner, or ordering the set menu.

OUR TASTES CHANGE AS WE GET OLDER. ANY ADVICE FOR TRAVELING IN YOUR 40S VS YOUR 20S OR 30S?

Go at your own speed. You don’t need to party all night and sightsee all day. You’ve done that. (Or was that just me?) I find that I’m much more interested in getting away from big centres now, and find more pleasure in a slower pace of travel. And I really appreciate going to a good spa, especially to a wonderful spa town in Europe with hot springs and grand old hotels.

bodrum travel luxury travel hotel moon vacation

Bodrum, Luxury hotel at night

YOU TRAVEL A LOT – WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL PACKING COMMANDMENTS ?

I’m the worst packer ever. I never seem to get better. I can’t seem to travel with fewer than four pairs of shoes. (Actually, it’s five. I was trying to sound practical.) That said, the one thing that helps is to have your wardrobe accessories based on one colour. Black purse, black shoes. Then your wardrobe kind of falls into place.

 


Click here to read Part 2. Carol wraps her advice on traveling in luxury and answers more questions, including her top three places around the world, and, and her where she almost spent her 40th birthday!

Carol Perehudoff is the mastermind behind WanderingCarol.com – a luxury travel blog for those who love to laugh. Her travel articles have appeared in a number of publications including enRoute Magazine, the Chicago Tribune and the Toronto Star. Based in Toronto, her passions are slow travel, hot springs and the South of France – and she is often gripped with the desire to be elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram or visit her Facebook

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How To Be 40: Beginner Lessons For Women Turning  Forty I took my first breath in the arms of woman on the cusp of forty; my formative years were shaped as she navigated her forties. And, I suppose, in turn, her forties were shaped in part by me.

That woman was my mother. And, it was the ’70s.

Portrait of A Woman Turning Forty

There is a picture etched in my memory more vivid than any other picture from my childhood. I am three years old, grinning, leaning back over my highchair, craning to look at my mother who is sitting beside my father at my grandparents house.

My mother is what I remember most. She, and my father wearing a brown cardigan and stylish trousers, sit side-by-side, opening gifts. It’s their Silver wedding anniversary. My mother is naturally beautiful. Slim and trim and modest in a simple and stylish shift dress of the early ’70’s. Her skin is sunkissed. She’s smiling her shy smile.

She is 43 years old.

Looking back what is remarkable about that picture is not simply that she looks great at 43, unlike how we think most parents look, but, her life experience up until that point was so …epic.

I was three years old, and I was her youngest. There were eight who came before me. I was child-number-nine, born when she was 39 years old.

She’d gotten married at 18, had her first kid by 19, raised a baseball team of babies, including twins, lost a child to a swift and cruel illness, and was temporarily raising five of us and my father in a campground while he looked for work, having just relocated half-way across Canada on a wing and a prayer in the back of ’62 Ford cube van.

Struggle was her companion. Yet, bitterness never was.

Her persona is capped by her detached bemusement about aging. Her standard quip is ‘it’s better than the alternative.’

I, however, am not that zen.  Here are five lessons I learned the hard way.

1: Don’t Look Back

Looking for some guidance when I was approaching 40, I tried to tap into her zeitgeist. She pointed out the obvious: at 40 she was too busy raising a family to remember her age half the time let alone worry about how old she looked. Besides, what did it matter?

Could it be that simple? I’ve thought a lot about this over the years and I’ve concluded that, yep, it’s quite likely that simple. For her. For some. My mother was (is) beautiful and beloved and unburdened by vanity and for the most part, the opinions of others.  But, her life experience was nothing like mine. At 39 I was single with no kids, a career woman, traveling the world in an exciting job, meeting incredible people. I had a busy social life, and, an apartment in the middle of a big city.

Not only did our trajectories look radically different, the choices available to us during our lifetimes differed, the pressures and expectations weren’t the same. In 39 years since I was born, the world itself was in some ways virtually unrecognizable, for better or worse.

As much as I wanted advice, I would have to look elsewhere.

2: Freaking Out Is Totally Acceptable

I remember the day I started freaking out about turning forty. It was the day after my 39th birthday. In my mind it was the beginning of the end.

In fact, it wouldn’t really be an exaggeration to say I’d been mildly dreading it since I turned 30. With that kind of anticipation, what chance did I have of being anything but traumatized by this…this number? With October marching closer, I started a Being Forty journal. It was a safe place to vent and fret and dream; it led to my research. Later, it drew other women like a moth to a flame.

For years, I wished for a mentor, someone I could trust,  who would assuage – heck, even diagnose -my neuroses; to inspire me about life-post forty, talk me off the ledge. My friends younger than me, just seemed to make it worse, confirming my advanced age with their flawless skin and tight bodies and endless energy. I was (and am) lucky to have friendships with women who are older than me whom I could at least inquire about their approach to this milestone, and, when needed, whine about my own perceived trials. But, for the most part, I wrung my hands in silence.

3: Don’t Compare Yourself to Halle Berry

Like any busy, misguided female in the 21st century I turned to the most obvious place to medicate my anxiety: the internet. I found women who were, like me, hitting this milestone age, and, they managed to look fantastic. Except these peers had personal chefs, personal trainers, stylists, air brushing, botox and had won the genetic lottery. Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Jenifer Aniston. These were my homegirls.  Somehow, knowing even the most beautiful women in the world were also facing forty made me feel less of a pariah.

During this entire year I awkwardly avoided any jokes of being ‘old’, choosing instead to feel oddly ashamed and adopted the ‘lie about your age’ approach. Some of my closest friends were planning BIG 40th birthday celebrations. The very thought horrified me. What was wrong with these people? They should not be drawing attention to this terrible event.A  full six months after  I turned 40 I resigned myself to ’come out’ about my age, i.e. get over it. I’d call it more an act of surrender, borne of exhaustion from keeping up some imaginary ruse (I was kidding no one) than it was a peaceful and joyful embrace.

It was like my spirit had been waiting for me to figure this out. It made room for self-acceptance which is oxygen to self-confidence and empowerment. That freed up my psychic energy to pour into a creativity, to find true love and to be brave in my career pursuits. Things were looking up.

4: Reject Invisibility For Women Over Forty

Age is a delicate subject, even to the most courageous, feminist among us. Perhaps now, more than ever, we are pounded with the message that to age is to lose worth.

Psychologists have been telling us for decades that this – feeling unvalued, ignored, irrelevant- is one of the biggest triggers to anxiety and depression.

The secret, I’ve learned, in part from the dozens of women I’ve had the privilege of interviewing, is to not pay any heed to that feeling, whether it is self-induced or projected upon you by another. The truth is, invisibility can happen at any age and for many reasons. If you ask around, or think back to your own memories, invisibility happens because you’re too young, too short, female, male, old, timid, immigrant, don’t speak the language, not in the clique.

There will always be people who are invisible to you; not necessarily because of prejudice or willful rejection, but simply because we are not aware at all times. The same is true for those times when you feel invisible.

There’s a way to turn off the invisibility switch – you hold that power, your finger is on the switch. Stare down anyone who dares to consider you less visible.

5. Redefine Forty on Your Terms

If you’re turning 40 in the next few years your parents were Baby Boomers. You were shaped by their philosophies, but, also by the world you grew up in, which was a much different world than the one they grew up in.  We are redefining what it means to be 40, and beyond. Embrace yourself. Put on blinders that force you to focus on your bliss, and, see what happens.

 

“There are far, far better things ahead than we leave behind.”

– C.S. Lewis

women woman forty age how to be forty beginner lessons

Bugging my parents on their 25th wedding anniversary

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Destination Metanoia Don’t you love it when you can share with (*cough* one-up *cough*) someone you know has been everywhere, a NEW place to go.  I’ve got one for you:  Have you ever been to Metanoia?

I’m sure the true travel nerds have. And, more than likely, so has most anyone who’s dragged their bags off of an airplane and walked into an unknown territory; or, had to rely on the kindness of strangers in a foreign land. Until recently I’d never heard of it. But, I’ve definitely been there.

Metanoia, I think is the Universe’s choice of destination for every trip we take.

“Metanoia (n) a profound… transformation conversion, Change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion, a change of mind, change in the inner man”

The travel industry is booming. From discount websites, to airlines to gadgets and accessories, satisfying that wanderlust has never been more popular or accessible; and, at the same time it’s become a major hassle – and that’s just getting through airport security. Along with long lines, strict rules, canceled and oversold flights, the sober reality is that traveling to places we once considered the safest of havens, have experienced the kind of violence that gives us pause.

After the giddy rush of independent travel in our teens and twenties – family trips, a gap year to back pack through Europe, an overseas internship –  some of us are lucky enough to get paid to see other parts of the country, or other parts of the world. You might even call it the dream gig. At first. Anyone who travels regularly, even for a job they love, will tell you that the bloom falls off the travel rose all too soon.  It can be exhausting.

Yet, we persist. We have such a longing to experience another vista; another culture; to see the beauty of another way of living. It is one of the most sure things in life, that travel and exposure to other lands will change us deeply.

Related: Top Travel Destinations of 2017

 

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Love In The Time of Ageism Remember dating in your twenties? It sucked, right?  All the insecurity, bad decisions and ‘what if I never meet anyone?!’ panic. Now, in your late thirties and beyond, things are different. You are different. You know yourself better, you know what your priorities are, you’re done pretending, and you know what bulls**t looks like.  Which means, it can be a heck of a lot of fun, if you have the right headspace, and have done the healing required to be whole.

step one: don’t be ageist.

So much of how we define ourselves , and thus end up silo’d, is determined by which age-box we tick off on a form. It’s a gravitational pull towards the norms. When we’re in the market for a relationship, one of the first questions friends ask is ‘what is your age range’. Typically, it’s within a few years either side of our own age.  Unless, you’re a man, in which case, no matter what your age, you prefer 24 year olds.  (To be fair, that only reflects men on OkCupid.)  Truth is- and, ask any woman over 35 and they’ll have the stories to back it up  – men are not afraid of dating older women, not as a weird fetish, but because they recognize what they bring to the table – strength, experience, wisdom, perspective. Don’t rule out the younger man, that would be ageist.

step 2: Think, don’t overthink

Finding love after you’ve had some serious life and relationship drama is different than it was fifteen or twenty years ago, when you didn’t know what you know now. So, don’t expect to approach it the same way. It might be a more serious consideration, involving kids, or strict boundaries, or some trust issues you’ve acquired. On the other hand, it might be a post-divorce taste of freedom that has you YOLO-ing all over town. Regardless of what you tell anyone else, be honest with yourself.

“But – and, ask any woman over 35 and they’ll have the stories to back it up  – men are not afraid of dating older women, not as a weird fetish, but because they recognize what they bring to the table – strength, experience, wisdom, perspective.”

step 3: remove the deadline

Shockingly (to me, at least) is that the average time for remarriage after a split is three years. That doesn’t seem a like a huge amount of time for healing, regrouping and figuring yourself out. Maybe not surprisingly, the second-marriage divorce-rate is higher than the first timers. The lesson? Take all the time you need. Meditate, reconnect with girlfriends, make a life-list or a vision board and focus on what you really want for your life with or without a partner.  For many women, this is a time in life when they pivot; they find their true north and put their own happiness back at the top of the list. This is incredibly important. As flight attendants have taught us, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you help anyone else.

Remarriage by Age

According to the Pew Research Center remarriage is still very popular, despite it’s very bad track record. The average age of divorce (erm, the first one) is 30, but that doesn’t make everyone gun shy. There’s a glut of couples on their second marriage between 35-54, and how about the huge number of couples 55+ tying the knot. The wedding industrial complex is alive and well.

step 4: remember, you’ll be fine

I’m not sure I’d call dating at any age ‘glamorous‘ (shout out to goop, but, no) considering the very high chance of endless first-date small talk, and, mismatched ideals, but, one thing I know is true, many women meet their soul mates in their forties, and have fulfilling, rich and rewarding relationships because they know themselves a lot better than they did when they were 24, and the ‘happy ending’ we’re looking for is centred on realistic goals and authentic connection, which may or may not include marriage. Either way, you’ll be good.

What has your experience been dating in your forties? Spill!

 

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The Diver Every summer when I was a kid, the rugged east coast village where I lived with my four brothers and our parents, would announce what to me was the most exciting news of the year:  the opening date of the town’s one and only outdoor community swimming pool.

It signalled the end of the school year, the promise of warmer weather, and well, swimming lessons. It also meant the return of what a 9-year-old palette craves – piping hot salt-and-vinegar french fries,  fresh from the canteen and inhaled after hours of play in frigid water. The pool was a 15 minute walk from my house, and sat in the shadow of the brick school that I attended from kindergarten through graduation.

Waiting for the Whistle

So it began. Every year, on the first day of Pool Season, kids in bathing suits would push to the front of the queue  to claim bragging rights to being the first to plunge into the deep end of the ice cold water, pumped in courtesy of the volunteer fire department. It would be days, even weeks before the capricious summer sun would start to warm it.

The doors would open and we’d file in, speed walking along the rough concrete deck to get into position.

There I stood, punier, paler and younger than the rest, staring into the highly chlorinated shimmering water in nervous anticipation; silently wondering if I’d forgotten how to swim in the last 10 months. We waited, shivering pre-teens,  lined up along the edge, legs cocked for push off; impatient for the the lifeguard to blow the first whistle of the season.

Before the whistle had finished we’d throw ourselves from the ledge, head first into the water, and emerge screaming from the cold water and the excitement.

Summer had begun.

How Not to Lie About Your Age

By the time I was 38 I was already obsessing about turning 40.  Like many others, my notion of middle-age, especially for women, pointed to a loss of relevance, impending social invisibility and fading sexiness. I knew women in their 40s, 50s 60s and beyond who were relevant, brilliant and sexy. But, I was convinced they were outliers. It was that number, and a lifetime of unconscious judgments that I projected onto it that left me crippled with fear. If I couldn’t figure it out before forty, surely, I was doomed.

Blinded with determination, I devised a solid plan. I would throw a huge party for my 39th birthday. This would divert attention, so no one would notice when I turned 40 the following year (because, everyone was paying close attention to my age, obviously). The party fell on a warm October Friday night; a band played under a tent, there was dancing, a cocktail (the “Frantini”) was launched in my honour. I was surrounded by friends and, aglow on the love of friends and a few Frantinis.

Of course, I’d failed to see the hole in my master plan. Everyone  assumed it we were celebrating my fortieth and that I was joking about still being 39. To this day friends who went to that party think I’m a year older than I am.

What followed in the next inspired soul searching, research, interviews and now, this blog.

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