The Day Off I Absolutely Needed

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When you only get one day off a week, you must pack as much activity as you can into an exceedingly small window of time. Yesterday, I did the opposite. I changed my regular day off from Monday to Sunday to spend a quiet day at home and watch the stream of an online concert that was both mentally and emotionally soothing. (apart from the tears because the music was SO lovely)

I have mentioned in previous blog posts that I have become slightly obsessed (in a good way) with a musical theatre boy band called Collabro, a group who won Britain’s Got Talent in 2014. These boys have gone above and beyond during the mess that is 2020 and have constantly kept in contact with their fans through social media as well as other platforms. For the first time since March 15th, these boys put together a live, socially distanced, online concert for their fans and it was brilliant.

This year can only be described as an emotional roller coaster. I feel like I have been a prisoner in the first car, slowly chugging up the track and not being able to prevent the eventual crest over the hill, the rocketing descent into utter chaos and the visceral sensation of true fear. But each day I remind myself to remember the plateaus during the ride, the moments when I can catch my breath after the turbulence and the moments of serenity before the track pulls the car up the hill for another round of torture.

Despite the state of the world right now, I seized the day yesterday and fought my way off that roller coaster for a short time. I was able to spend the day at home and not talk about, or think about, Covid-19. I did not have to wear a mask or maintain a social distance from anything. For one day, my life felt somewhat normal and it was bliss. It was the day off I absolutely needed for me to get back to me.

 

How live-streaming helped me live again

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Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on me, not physically but, mentally. After cresting the half-century mark last year, I am blessed to be able to say I had never struggled with anxiety or depression. What I would have first described as a distraction slowly burrowed into my brain and riddled me with emotions and a sadness I had never had to deal with before. Having been an extrovert by day and introvert by night, I became overwhelmed by the isolation that came with being advised to stay at home and only go out in public when necessary.

Looking back on the past few months, I should have known I had been affected more than I care to admit. The things I loved to do in my spare time became a burden and I forgot the pleasure I felt when I cooked a wonderful meal for myself or sat down at my computer and let words cascade down from the heavens to help me write the novel I am working on that has been untouched since March. The passion I once had for my hobbies became non-existent and that made my sadness feel even more powerful.

But life has a way of kicking us in the pants and it chooses interesting ways to send us compelling messages that cannot be ignored. I spent forty minutes watching a live stream on Patreon by someone I greatly admire. During his video, he emphasized how important it is to put ourselves first and to take time each day to do small things that bring us back to ourselves. His message couldn’t have been louder or clearer. I had been so focused on things that had nothing to do with me that I had all but forgotten to focus on myself and the things that are important to ME.

I have not posted on my blog since April 27th. It pains me to say that. This space has always been my sacred space. This space has let me be myself and free the words that want to be freed whenever I feel the desire to let them loose. But those words have been muted by the blanket of stress I have let weigh me down. NO MORE! Today I take back my power. Today I let the words oppress my thoughts and unleash themselves. Today I will create a spectacular meal for myself because I am the number one thing in my life. If I don’t take care of myself, how will I ever have the energy to take care of anyone else? Thank you, Jamie Lambert. Your words did not fall on deaf ears.

 

When I can’t cope, I cry and then I cook

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A lot has happened in my little world over the last three months. I won’t bore you with the details as most of those have been documented in previous posts if you want to go back and read through them. Imposed quarantine and my immense fear of the Coronavirus aside, the calendar year of 2020 has felt like a battering ram and I am the feeble wooden gate, splintering with every blow.

I have always been the person who was very quick to hatch a Plan-B. I don’t dwell on the details of what just happened. My brains kicks into overdrive and I immediately search for a plan of action to move forward. But something in the way my neurons have always fired in the past has recently changed. For the first time in my life, I feel completely overwhelmed and uncertain about where I go from here and that, for me, is the true sign of how affected I am by what is happening in the world right now.

I try my best to process all of the information presented online but when those reports become too staggering to deal with, I purge my accumulated emotion and I cry. I make no excuse and I don’t fault myself for my behaviour, I just cry. Once I have released the intensity of those feelings, my focus shifts and I want nothing more than to be in my kitchen. I have recently renamed my kitchen my “solace room” because it is the only place where I can feel a true sense of peace.

Today is no exception to that rule. My dueling crockpots and my Dutch oven will be filled with a myriad number of items that will produce the combined aromas of onion, garlic, bacon and a collection of other ingredients that will eventually become an assortment of soups and stews I will share with others. One person, in particular, will have his freezer filled with these items as a dear friend has just been diagnosed with advanced brain cancer and is awaiting the plan for his course of treatment.

So, this morning, I am shutting out the socials, and the rest of the planet, to bring my focus into a world I can control, into a world where I can be helpful even if it is on a very small scale. And as the onions caramelize and the bacon is rendered, I know I will cry more tears today because it is what I need to do. I can only hope when this pandemic is over and we are able to live our lives again, I can say I was able to recognize the best parts of myself and know that I gave everything I could to make things a bit better for the people I love when they needed it the most.

 

 

Yesterday was that day

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Once a week, in the midst of our current global situation, I prepare myself for a full-on ugly cry because I know it always lurks in the shadows. I embrace the reality of what we are all going through and become a victim to its weight, enough so that I let it bring me down and send me into wracking sobs to purge the emotion I feel. It is the release I need to climb out of the darkness and allow myself to see the immense light that keeps us all going. And there is so much light.

Yesterday was that day, for me. It wasn’t planned. I wasn’t counting down the minutes until I could cry, I just cried, and it came at the most unexpected moment. I had just watched such a joyful live-stream on Facebook and I cried tears that were filled with more happiness than sadness because I realized that all of us are struggling and trying to make the best of an unprecedented situation. We are all just doing the best we can to make it through, one day at a time.

Life, online, is our new reality. My recent presence on social media has increased at an alarming rate, but this is our now. Social media is our way of holding tight to the people who bring us joy and keep us grasping at snippets of a life we once knew and, one day, we will know again.

Life after Covid-19 will eventually return. It will be a very slow process and one that we will venture into with distrust, at first, but it will return. I’m sure most of us will be wary of shaking hands or giving hugs, but life will slowly evolve back to where we were and we have to have faith in that truth.

I send so much gratitude for those on the front lines, from medical staff to essential services. I send my undying appreciation for those who are self-isolating to flatten the curve. And I send my plea for those who take this situation lightly to rethink your actions and embrace this pandemic seriously. This virus is unforgiving. It is severe. And I would hate to think, one day, you could look back and think yesterday was that day, the day I could have stayed home and really made a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

My house is a very, very, very fine house

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Crosby, Stills and Nash permeate my brain as I write this post. In April of this year, I will have lived in my little house for twenty years. Twenty years. The walls surrounding the six-hundred square feet I call home have protected me from the elements, shrouded me from the realities I wanted to avoid and comforted me in my greatest moments of sadness.

These walls have listened to me converse with the numerous characters I have created in my stories, they have reaped the benefits of my good times and they have absorbed the many tears I have cried while facing the catastrophic losses in my life, and there have been several since I have been a resident here.

I dealt with the loss of my grandmother in this house. I came home and sobbed for the loss of my best college friend in this house. I spent many sleepless nights in this house after the loss of my father. I awoke in this house to the early morning phone call that my mother had passed. I conquered my divorce in this house. And most recently, I came home to this empty house after saying goodbye to my dog, who was my child and who lived here with me for twelve and a half years.

These walls are not just walls, they are my asylum. This home is my retreat, my security. There have been many moments when I thought my home wasn’t enough but, when I consider everything it has given to me during the past two decades, I know this home is everything I needed it to be. It will never make the cover of any magazine but it covers me in ways I could never have imagined. It will never be featured in Architectural Digest, but the bones of its structure, to me, are more formidable and more hospitable than any million dollar mansion ever could be. This is my protection. This is my refuge. This is my home.

 

 

Pay it backwards

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I am not a frequent visitor to our local Tim Horton’s coffee shop. I have my favorite Hazelnut Vanilla coffee beans that I grind daily so my house can be infused by the rich fragrance of my morning java, but lately that has changed.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been visiting Tim’s more often than I usually do and each time I have gone, I have paid for the order for the car behind me in line. It’s like a Pay It Forward, but in reverse. Some days, it’s as simple as one coffee. Other days, it has been an order of six coffees and donuts for a work crew. Regardless of the size of the order, I drive away with a smile knowing the person in the vehicle behind me is most likely smiling as well.

Simple acts of kindness have a ripple effect. This post is not being written to pat myself on the back for doing a good deed. In light of all the anger and arguing on social media about current events, this simple gesture helps bring back a sense of peace to my brain. It makes me forget the ugliness in the world and focus on small ways to inject a bit of happiness into someone else’s day.

Jennifer Dukes Lee summed it up best when she said, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

 

A visit from an Angel

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For the past few weeks, my driving could have been compared to a young recruit at a police academy on a tactical driving course. The biggest difference is, I had been strategically steering my car to avoid running over fuzzy orange and black caterpillars, not trying to narrowly miss clipping each cone in a line of orange traffic pylons.

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar has been attributed with the gift of predicting the length and fierceness of the upcoming winter. I’m not sure if I would put money on those predictions, but The Farmer’s Almanac has historically used these furry little creatures to forecast the severity of the snowy season.

When I came home from work yesterday, I was greeted by two beautiful butterflies in my entrance way. I have had the pleasure of seeing many Monarch butterflies this year but these were unlike any butterfly I have ever seen. When their wings were open, the combination of colors was stunning. When their wings were closed, the mottled blend of grey and brown would be envied by any living being trying to camouflage themselves to find shelter in the forest.

I thought these butterflies were a product of the orange and black caterpillars I had so carefully been trying to protect, but these winged beauties are Compton Tortoiseshell Butterflies, also referred to as Angel Wing Butterflies. I immediately thought of my mother and the tattoo that has secured a permanent place on my forearm.

My mother loved butterflies. I always knew when she left this Earth she would find ways to come back and visit. Every time I see a butterfly, I know she has made that journey and my heart feels as full as it did when she was still a daily, physical presence in my life.

Never doubt our loved ones who have passed come back to visit. You just have to be willing to recognize the signs.

 

 

 

The symphony of silence

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Everyone feels the need to belong to something or to be connected to someone. It is a normal human desire to be accepted by others and we strive for that feeling of belonging. But there are times when we wish to pull ourselves away from society, bask in the glory of our own company and leave the rest of the world behind for a few blissful hours.

The state of solitude disengages us from the immediate demands of other people and, for a short time, we put our own needs and pleasures above all else. There is a fine line between solitude and loneliness but solitude is a conscious choice to remove ourselves from the whirlwind outside of our private sanctum and relish in the down time we can create in those moments alone.

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Solitude can bring healing, bliss and a sense of abandon but you must be truly comfortable in your own skin to be able to fully appreciate the pleasure of being alone. Being able to let your mind wander in a myriad number of directions, having an inner dialogue with yourself or just enjoying the serenity of your company is a rare gift.

Everyone needs to occasionally give themselves the gift of guilt-free isolation, the permission to do nothing except for the things that you never give yourself time to do. Forget the needs of others for a brief period of time and read a book, take a bubble bath, cook a fabulous dinner for one, watch the show that is your secret guilty pleasure and kick back with a glass of wine. Whatever your vice of quietude is – seize the opportunity to revel in it.

The moments we have alone to reflect are the rare gifts we are able to give ourselves. Enjoy your own company once in a while and give yourself a chance to really breathe in your life. Solitude does not mean isolation. Solitude is merely silencing the outside world for a moment and obtaining that inner peace that we all crave.

One foot in front of the other

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I am in awe of how quickly new habits can be formed. As my fiftieth birthday approached at the end of March, I made a few monumental decisions. I got a tattoo, I had a small, intimate dinner with friends and family to celebrate the day and I made a promise to myself to eat better and move more.

It’s easy to make promises to yourself and it’s even easier to break them but I have held myself accountable and have been keeping those promises to myself. Gone are the days when I would skip breakfast and unintentionally miss lunch as well. When I don’t add fuel to my body in the morning, it stops reminding me I’m hungry and I can go for extended periods of time without feeling the urge to eat. All of that has changed.

I am now setting my alarm an hour earlier than usual to walk a minimum of three kilometers before I get ready for work. I am back to making breakfast smoothies every morning with healthy, and somewhat unique, ingredients. Super foods like spinach, beets and cinnamon are mixed with yogurt, bananas and frozen fruit to create a tasty morning treat. And I am very cognizant of filling and emptying my water glass many times during the day.

As I continue to put one foot in front of the other, not only on the road but in my eating patterns, I have noticed a difference. The scales may not completely share my enthusiasm and they seem to report numbers I feel are incorrect but I feel different. I feel better. And my clothes are feeling looser than they used to feel. That means much more to me than a number on a scale.

It is just after 11:00 pm and, as I finish this post, I am setting my alarm for 5:45 am so I can try to get in the four kilometer walk that seems to be my new morning habit. I will return from my walk, have my coffee, make my smoothie and feed off the energy I gain from my walks. I will replay the compliments from friends who see a difference in me. And I will quite possibly put one foot in front of the other to walk back into the kitchen to throw my scales in the garbage!

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz

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Most people have a favorite time of year and there are meaningful arguments for each of the seasons we are fortunate enough to witness. While I can pinpoint many things I love about each of the seasons we have in Canada, I can not only choose my favorite one but I can narrow it down to a more specific time. While it may be fraught with predictable end-of-winter perils, mid-April to early May is, by far, my favorite time of the year.

I got home from work yesterday, slightly after 5:00 pm, and the sun still held the world in its warm embrace. I sat on my deck, glass of wine in hand, and soaked in everything around me. The new blades of grass were pushing aside the oak leaves that I had purposely left for the small eco-systems that help to create a healthier lawn (good information for someone like me who isn’t particularly fond of raking), those pesky Day Lilies I had attempted to vanquish were winning me over with their fresh green sprouts and the world around me was saturated with newness. The trees were proud to show off the promise of new leaves with their bright red buds, highlighted by the crisp hue of the blue sky in the background, and the Spring Peepers were singing their greeting after a very long winter. For those of you who have never heard Peepers, these small amphibians are the truest sign that Spring has finally arrived. This sound is the best way to welcome the new season and a sure way to be lured into a peaceful slumber.

Casting aside the fact that the bugs are still comfortably ensconced in their winter phase called diapause, this time of year could not be more perfect. The air is not weighed down by humidity, the sun’s warmth and strength are just as effective as a mid-July day and the streets are free from the overwhelming increase in population from the summer residents. It’s a win, win, win.

Spring is the beginning of a new chapter. Spring allows me to enjoy all the parts of summer I miss because I work in the service industry. And Spring affords me the time to bask in all of the sights and sounds of a new life waiting to be discovered. It is hope. It is growth. It is a promise of what is to come.