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Category: Family (Page 1 of 2)

O. Noir

What an incredible dining experience!

O. Noir is a restaurant that’s main feature is ‘dining in the dark’.  Each of their four seating areas are entirely without light and you are served by a member of their staff that is vision impaired. 

My ten year old son had heard about this place and wanted to give it a try, so my wife and I took him to this unique restaurant experience.

Unlike most restaurants, when you arrive at the location you go below ground to get to the entrance and as you are in the reception area you notice a distinct lack of windows of any kind letting in light. The reception and bar areas are lit and this is where you decide upon what you will order to eat and drink.  We chose the ‘main course and dessert’ option for each of our meals.

After you have turned off your cellphones and removed any glowing objects you are led to one of the seating rooms where the hostess knocks on the door. A visually impaired server then greets you and instructs you to hold his shoulder in a conga line to go into the room where you will be eating. Then you go through two sets of doors into total darkness and brought to your table.

My son freaked out a little bit and asked to be taken to the washroom almost immediately, which is back in the lit area, so our server brought him back outside. While he was gone my wife confided in me that she too was starting to panic due to the complete lack of light and the claustrophobic feeling that it brings. I assured her that if she was not acclimatized to the darkness after ten minutes that we could take our meals to go and that seemed to comfort her enough for her to continue with the meal.

We were the first ones to be seated and it was a little off-putting to not know how large a room you were in. We also didn’t know if this was a private room just for us or if there were going to be more people eventually brought in. After a few minutes more people were led in and as we were finishing our dinner it seemed like the room was fairly full. I spoke with the server when we were all finished and he let me know that the room we were in held 45 patrons, so it must have been much bigger than what it felt like.

After we were all settled at the table we were brought a basket of warm buns and told that in front of us on the table was a plate with a knife, fork, and some butter on it. It was very interesting trying to butter a roll without seeing where the butter was or how much you were putting on it. My son resorted to ‘thumb butter’, scooping the butter out with his thumb and not the knife.

The meal was lovely, my son had the penne pasta with rose sauce, Angie had the steak with green beans and mashed potatoes, and I chose the ‘vegetarian surprise’ which ended up being eggplant parmesan on a bed of rice. The challenges of eating in the dark were apparent very quickly, not knowing what each forkful of food being brought to your mouth was, how much was there (if any) and even finding out if your plate was empty or not. I had no idea what it was that I was eating. I figured out the rice (duh) but thought it was some squash/tomato/cheese thing. In hindsight it was obvious what it was, but at the time I was so captivated by the textures and flavours that I wasn’t thinking about what it was I was eating. 

The absolute best part was the dessert. I have had nice chocolate mousse before at some very expensive places, however this left them all in the dust! I don’t know if it was because we had grown accustomed to the darkness and were now relying on our other senses more, or if it truly was an amazing mousse.

Once you are ready to leave the server brings you as a group out to the reception/bar area and you settle your bill in the light. Walking out into the light again was a bit of a shock to the system, so it is really good that they have the hallway lights dimmed. We were all surprised to find out that it was 8 o’clock at night, meaning we had been in the darkness for an hour and a half. It did not feel that long at all.

My wife and son had an amazing time once they became comfortable with the sensory deprivation and it was all we could talk about during the dinner and ride home. Overall, it was a wonderful experience that gives you a greater understanding of what it means to be visually impaired and you get a wonderful meal out of it as well.

Paying attention

Image result for parents ignoring their child at table

It was hard for me to believe, but I guess I’m just naive. I was walking downtown and passed a table on the sidewalk with two parents and two children. The parents were absorbed in their devices and the two children were bored out of their skulls just sitting. 

The day before I had spent an hour drive in the car with my ten year old son and we did not stop talking the entire trip. Questions, discussions, ideas and random thoughts were bounced back and forth and I was so happy and so much richer for the interaction.  There was no music, podcasts or other distractions, it was just straight one on one conversation. It was awesome.

Contrast that with the couple at the table ignoring their children. There was no acknowledgement of the other people at the table, both parents were focused on the little screen in their hands as opposed to the little faces and minds across the table.

Mealtimes are a wealth of opportunity to discuss future plans, current events, their days or even just what shows you want to watch when you get home. With children, as with everything in life, you get out of them what you put in. Make the effort to be interested and engaged with them and they will be interesting and engaging. 

Too often we are focused on the potential of interesting things happening far away from us, the latest celebrity gossip, the Lamebook update from some friend we haven’t seen in 5 years, or someone else showing off what a wonderful time they are having on InstaSham. 

Part of mindfulness is acknowledging and accepting this moment, being here now. Enjoy those around you, the sights and sounds, the smells, and them. I learned a lot about my son on that car ride, he’s more interested in space than I had thought, and I’m so happy I did. It was more enjoyable and interesting than sitting side by side silently listening to music.

Great thought experiment

When I was younger, and without a family of my own, I took some time between jobs and toured Europe. I flew into England and spent some time there, then I took the Eurostar Chunnel train to Paris. There I purchased a car, which was better than a daily rental, and drove to Luxembourg, France, Andorra, Spain and Italy. It was a great experience.

Today I was speaking with a friend at lunch and he mentioned that one of his goals was to work at a contract position and make enough money to take a year off and travel with his family. I don’t know why it didn’t strike me to do this before! What a great idea! I’ve always talked about taking my wife and son for vacations to see the places where I have been, and to go to places I haven’t. But how much time do we have to do that? A week or two at a time per year at most. Why not take advantage of the time and money we have while we can and go on a trip?

It’s a great thought experiment. Where would we go and for how long? Is a week enough time in Paris, or should it be three? I loved the Loire Valley in France, maybe we go there for 2 weeks before going further south. How much time in Germany or Italy? I’ve never been to Switzerland and would love to see the Alps, but what about New Zealand? How about a driving tour of the United States?

My career (or lack thereof) is simply a mechanism to allow me to enjoy a great life, and spending time with them is what makes my life great.

Trying a new thing

I’m going to try an experiment. I’m going to see if I can update my blogs ( and on a weekly or more frequent basis.

I like to write. My wife was published in the Globe and Mail and it inspired me. Not because she was getting all kinds of recognition, compliments and notoriety, but because she was doing something that she enjoyed. To try and challenge myself I submitted two articles to the Globe, neither one was good enough to publish.  However it is a start, and I intend to try and write more, to become better at this craft and hopefully get as good as my wife was in May (she’s even better now!).

So expect more in the coming days, weeks and month(s). I’m going to try.

I don’t get it

I coach my son’s recreational basketball team. He’s 9, the kids on the team are all 8-10 and play the way kids that age play.  Today was the last day and it really bugged me that not one parent thanked me for coaching, for helping their kids, for the encouragement and support.  Hell, even for simply babysitting their whiny butts.

One kid in particular was a whiny little suck. “I haven’t made any baskets.”, “I suck”, and “I don’t want to play” came out of his mouth virtually every week, and this week was no exception. He actually took himself out of the game and sat dejected on the sidelines. I stopped the game, went over to him and gave him a pep-talk, getting him back on the floor and putting him in a position to score, which he did. His dad watched the whole thing. Nothing. No wonder the kid is the way he is based on the inaction of the father.

Then there are the other coaches. They do NOTHING. I’m the only one that called fouls, that coached both the teams, that played with the kids and tried to teach them something. I hate to even be considered a ‘coach’ if what they were doing was considered to be coaching. It’s not hard. Call a foul. Tell them what they did wrong and help them understand how to do it right.

Finally the parents. We were presenting the awards, photos and talking to the kids about how far they have progressed and they were all chatting and talking above what we were trying to do with THEIR KIDS. I yelled at them. I hate that I had to, but no one else was speaking up.

All of this bugs the crap out of me. Makes me not want to ever coach a team again. Dealing with the little shit kids, the big shit parents and the don’t care a shit coaches.

But I will, because I get to spend more time with my son. I would walk through fire for him, so a whole bunch of me feeling like crap once a week is nothing. I love him.

Parenting Through Panic – by Angie Elliott

Four ER visits. Two by ambulance.  All four times I was convinced I was having a heart attack.

The sensations came without warning: the heat that permeated my insides; intestinal spasms that paralyzed me; a racing heart, pounding heart; nausea; dizziness; crushing chest pain. All culminating with the very real fear that I was slipping away and was going to die.

After a slew of cardiac tests came up negative, one ER doctor asked “do you suffer from anxiety?” My answer? No! Of course not! My life has never been better!

The attacks started coming with more frequency and intensity. In the middle of the night. During playdates. While having supper.

While driving.

I felt I was endangering my son’s life and the lives of others. I stopped going out. I stopped getting out of bed. I was terrified of being left alone.

When every medical test came up negative my husband recalled the question from the last ER visit: “Do you suffer from anxiety?”

So, one day after dropping our son off at school, my husband bundled me up and brought me to the hospital that changed my life: CAMH. The diagnosis: Severe Panic Disorder caused by untreated Generalized Anxiety Disorder. A panic disorder is most often a by-product of life-long, traumatic stressors. Severe anxiety is a by-product of the fast-paced world we live in. There is no magic cure for having a panic disorder and anxious people are usually going to be anxious forever, however, it is possible to lead a full life in spite of all this. After months of therapy, I am back to being a fully-functioning parent.

These strategies helped me. I hope they help you too.

Don’t be reluctant to seek help and take the medicines prescribed by your doctor religiously.

Don’t stop them when you feel better. Sure, there are side effects, but they are usually mild and can be managed by your doctor and pharmacist. Breastfeeding? Talk to MotherRisk. They stay on top of the latest research and have the best interest of you and your baby at heart.

The secret to living with a panic disorder and severe anxiety is to get comfortable being uncomfortable. The sensations will come and go but if you can stop the attacks quickly, they will not paralyze you. Quite often the anxiety cycle starts with a “what if” thought. The key to anxiety reduction is to stop that thought in it’s tracks. As soon as one of those thoughts pop up in your head, mentally say “STOP”. This takes practice. Say it out loud if you have to. “What if” thinking is the most dangerous kind of thinking. It raises our blood pressure and heart rate. Again, stick to the facts and learn that THOUGHTS ARE NOT REALITY. They feel real, but they’re not.

Repetition is the key.

After “STOP”, take 5 deep breaths. In for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, out for a count of 7.

The anxious mind is searching for danger, searching for something to panic about. Use the 5,4,3,2,1 method of re-directing the mind. While breathing slowly, name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

Between breathing and this, the mind has a lot to do.

Go to a sink and run the water as cold as you can get it. Cup your hands and fill them with water until it is uncomfortable. Splash your face. The sensation of extreme cold is often enough to stop a panic attack. Your brain can only handle one emergency at a time; your cold hands will distract your brain from the imaginary danger causing your panic attack.

Now, how to stop these thoughts from forming in the first place…repeat this phrase multiple times a day: “I can handle it”. In the face of a new situation, a scary situation, at the start of each day “I CAN HANDLE IT”.

Increase your protein intake. Protein at every meal. Lots of veggies too. Eliminate caffeine and sugar (Ha! ask me how I’m doing with this one…). Exercise, too, is absolutely essential.

ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it. Anxiety wants to keep you paralyzed in bed. Don’t let it win.

Finally, anxiety is the most contagious emotion. I need to check myself multiple times a day. If our son starts on the path I’m on, well, that would break my heart. When anxiety and panic get the better of me, though, I let him help me through it. I tell him that my brain is getting really worried about (blank). Then I say, it’s a silly worry, because I know I can handle it. We don’t want to pretend anxiety and panic don’t happen, we just want to give them the tools to not be afraid of it.

And the tools to help them when the mind DOES control the body, instead of the other way around (which is the way it should be).

By Angie Elliott

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