The summer it rained caterpillars

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I had a fortunate childhood. I was born in the city and each summer we would pack our station wagon as full as it could get and we would drive North to our cottage in Muskoka to spend two glorious months at the lake. I was a water baby and could not get into my bathing suit fast enough in the morning so I could run, bare-footed, down to the dock to jump in the water. I would spend hours in that lake, eventually swimming to the point of land between our family cottages where our extended family members would come from their cottages for cookouts to fry the fish we had caught that morning.

In the afternoon, I was back in the water with my diving mask looking for undiscovered treasures or coming up for air in the open space under the dock to marvel at the number, and size, of the dock spiders inhabiting the space they begrudgingly allowed me to share. The recollections I have of being a child at that cottage continue to resurface and I hold each of those memories close to my heart.

Although I am blessed with a good memory, I could never forget one summer if I tried. I was still in single digits and the summer began as a normal summer. I was on my way to the dock when I noticed the tent webs starting to form in the V-branches of many of the trees surrounding our cottage. As the mornings progressed, the webs became bigger, they took over more of the branches and they began to assume ownership of the trees.  The larvae that had been birthed in those webs had grown and soon the foliage around our cottage was infested with Forest Tent Caterpillars. I can only describe the days that followed as something you would see in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

(the branch I removed from one of my trees this summer)

When the caterpillars reached maturity, they began to drop from their nests. The days of me running to the dock in bare feet was a thing of the past as I donned my running shoes and held an opened umbrella to avoid caterpillars landing on me as I slowly made my way along the tree-lined path to the open sky over the dock. I can still recall the sound of the caterpillars bouncing from the woven fabric of the umbrella and it gives me chills. The infestation was so brutal that cars slid into ditches because the roads were so slick after being covered by these furry little creatures and car tires could get no traction on the pavement.

The webs are back in the trees again this year, but their presence is nothing like it was that summer. Like the smell of spearmint gum in my mom’s purse, the sound of caterpillars pinging off my umbrella will live with me for the rest of my life.

 

 

 

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.

 

Filling my cup

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This is the high season in the hospitality world for resort operators. While the start of the season was extremely stressful having to have so many safety procedures in place, we are succeeding on a daily basis and giving those who had been isolating in the larger urban areas a chance to socially distance while relaxing and unwinding in cottage country.

For most of the month of July, I have spent my energy filling cups that did not belong to me. My cup had a small reserve, enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other and do my job to the best of my ability, but it waited to be filled with the things I needed to bring me back to me.

During the busy season, I get one day off a week. Yesterday was that day. Instead of going out for socially-distanced visits, I chose to stay home and fill MY cup. I allowed myself to sleep in. I cranked show tunes while I cleaned my house and I got back into my kitchen for the first time in a long time. I love to cook, but Covid-19 had all but squeezed the life out of every molecule that gave me the desire to create food, until yesterday. It was a small step making Vegetable Soup, but it was a step in the right direction.

Each day I make an effort to fill my cup is a day I am headed on the path back to myself. Each moment I choose to find the beauty and the fun in the things I did before the coronavirus took over the world is an achievement I find worthy of celebrating. Life may not be normal for a long time, but those moments I can bring as much normal and joy back to me is a small victory.

As I type this post you are reading this morning, several hummingbirds visited my feeder and my juvenile groundhog friend, Chunk, munched on the quarter of a watermelon I left out for him. Life really is about the small things and those little moments filled my cup. I’m ready to start another week and face the challenges that may loom in the distance.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s okay

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I know myself. I know I will feel this global crisis at a molecular level because that’s how I feel everything. I’ve been called an empath but, regardless of labels, I can only say I suffer from the human condition very deeply. I am a minuscule fragment of the blanket that covers us all and that blanket seems to be unraveling when it should be binding itself tighter than ever.

Over the last week, I have done my best to follow the guidelines of social distancing and self-isolation. Sadly, the one thing I did not do was to ignore social media. Although there are so many positive posts and people sending uplifting messages of hope, there are countless people who Just. Don’t. Get it. This is MY forum and, for those who DO get it, I want to tell you it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. The world is closing down around us and the sudden onset of panic is inevitable. Those who embrace the steps we need to take to flatten the curve will welcome the closure of all non-essential services. Those who don’t grasp the significance of those steps will continue to spew nonsense and put the rest of us in jeopardy.

It’s okay to feel emotional. I went for a forty-minute walk today, with musical theatre tunes blaring in my ears (thank you, Collabro), and I cried for the duration of my walk. I cried for those who have already succumbed to Covid-19. I cried for those who will still fall victim to this new pandemic. And I cried for the people who think those of us who are taking this so seriously are misinformed.

It’s okay to be scared. I’m petrified. I’m not so scared about the disease itself, but I’m truly frightened for the result that will come because of the ones who choose to believe that their actions will not have a harmful effect on others. They will. Your inability to see the larger picture is utterly disheartening and inevitably harmful.

It’s okay to be mad at people who just don’t get it. Not everyone thinks the same way but, as my mother used to say, we need to take the higher road. For all of you who choose to think this is nothing, think again. Communities, cities and provinces are shutting down to thwart the spread of this disease. Put yourself aside and think of the bigger picture. You could prevent dozens of people getting sick by staying home. By simply not going out in public and potentially spreading this virus, you can prevent the influx of people gathering in our hospital waiting rooms and reducing the number of fatalities by lessening the amount of human contact. Sure, you think you may not be infected but what if you are asymptomatic and spreading the virus without even knowing.

It’s okay to be silly. I’ve put my Christmas lights back on. It may be a ridiculous gesture but, to me, it’s a symbol of happiness. This small, albeit frivolous act gives me a ray of hope that everything, one day, will really be okay.

When you just have to sing show tunes

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Musical theatre was a big part of my childhood. Once upon a time, our tiny community centre was host to many fantastic productions of popular musicals and, in my teens, my friends and I could be found in the front row, hanging on every word and every note of those shows. We became such a part of the production that we were welcomed into the rooms below the theatre each night after the show had ended to hang out with the performers we came to know and love.

Music has always been a focal point in my life. My dad had a wonderful voice and my mom, although she admittedly could not carry much of a tune, also embraced the sounds that were able to transport her into another world. I easily followed in their footsteps. There is nothing more magical than being able to lose yourself in the arrangements of a musical soundtrack that can send you to a place where simple words have no meaning unless they are delivered in a four-part harmony.

This year did not start well for me. Every creative outlet I had turned its back on me and I struggled to return to a place of happiness after suffering a devastating loss. The light that held out its hand to me, the light that pulled me out of the darkness, was music. I began to listen to familiar songs that held a special place in my heart. Musicals that had long-since buried themselves in my past came rushing back and made me remember the joy I felt when those notes awakened my senses.

After spending many hours on YouTube, replaying songs from musicals I could sing in my sleep, I found Collabro. Five, now four, very talented young British voices that echo my love of musical theatre took me from a place of innate sadness to a place where joy still lives, and that joy has now cultivated a seed that has been given a chance to grow and thrive. Songs I knew so well, and songs I am now discovering, are taking me from the depth of despair to a place where life has been given new breath all because I am, once again, finding myself in a place where I found such great comfort.

Cradle your contentment. Sing show tunes. Embrace those things that may make others look at you sideways but bring you joy. Judgement is subjective. Happiness should be indestructible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories

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Our lives consist of many moving parts. New experiences pummel our daily lives but nothing can keep us attached to our true selves as much as our memories. As I write this post, I am eating a piece of rye toast for dinner, one that has been crusted with a few pieces of processed cheese toasted on top of that rye bread in a toaster oven. This is not a meal I make on a regular basis but one that takes me back to a place that makes me happy.

I love to look back on the stages of my life that have had a significant impact on me, to reflect on the moments that have helped shape the person I am today. Those snippets of my past that have woven their way into the blanket of my reality are the threads of my true soul. Each chapter of my life has helped to create a strong connection from the person I was to the person I have become.

To ignore my past would be a great injustice to the person I am now. Every phase of my life, every triumph, every failure, has brought me to my here and now. I could not express my sentiments about grief and pain if I had not felt those feelings with every fiber of my being. And I could not expound on my successes if I devalued my achievements in any way. Every bit of my past has brought me to where I am now and, although I think about how things could have been different, I would not change a single thing.

I am who I am because of my past. Good or bad, I am where I need to be. I have learned many lessons from my achievements as well as my deficiencies. I have become well-versed on striving for success but I am able to accept the worst if it presents itself. And I have become extremely proficient at quickly moving on to Plan B at a moment’s notice.

These memories, these blueprints of my original design, have sculpted the mold for the formidable structure I am today. And while many of my tender memories lay exposed in the foundation of my life, I protect the bricks of that foundation with the impassioned determination to defend the sanctity of my history while I am embroiled in my current reality.

My past is a rudimentary sketch of who I am now. It is the mere stick figure of the three-dimensional character I am able to call me.  And today, my memories are as much a part of me as the things that happen in my day-to-day reality and I hope that will never change.

Memories are the things that shape us and give us an anchor in the churning sea of our existence. I just hope we can all have faith in that anchor to hold us in the present but never forget the past.

 

 

 

I knew the day would come

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One of my worst memories after the death of each of my parents was gathering the strength to go through their belongings and decide what to keep and what to donate to charity. It is hard to discard anything that once belonged to someone we loved so much. It felt like a betrayal, throwing out the things, even the ugly 80’s sweaters, that were so much a part of our every day life.

For the first time since saying goodbye to Callaway, I vacuumed my house on Saturday. It may sound like a strange thing to struggle with but I couldn’t bear to not see her hair on my floor. It didn’t matter what the season, my dog could shed like an Olympic champion if shedding were a category, and I had moments where my grief was so raw that I thought I might leave that hair on my floor forever.

But grief is a fickle thing. It can be debilitating and then one day it becomes different, not easier just different. I still greet her when I come home and say goodbye to her and tell her I love her when I leave. I’m sure that, too, will change over time but I find comfort in knowing wherever she is on the other side of that rainbow bridge, she can still hear me.

Before I vacuumed, I rolled up the three runner carpets I had put down in my kitchen when she began to have difficulty on hardwood and linoleum floors. Her golf-themed dog dish that had always claimed its place on that same kitchen floor has been carefully stored away but her dog bed will stay in its fixed spot in my living room. The pieces of carpet that were picked loose when she stretched in the morning will remain tattered strings to remind me of the best and funniest parts of her.

The window in my bedroom will be the last chore. It was the place she loved to spend her time while I was gone and those nose prints are going to be a hard thing to wash away. Every day I take more steps without her and every day I try to change my habits so my day-to-day life isn’t saturated with her absence. It will eventually get easier, but embracing the overwhelming sense of loss only reminds me of how special she was.

When I find myself in times of trouble

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I love to be in my kitchen. On occasion, I still make cakes and each time I bake a chocolate cake from scratch, the smell from the oven eventually permeates my home and I always say out loud, “it smells like my house”. It is a strange thing to do, but a habit I cannot seem to break, nor do I want to.

I have always loved to be fixed comfortably in front of a mixing bowl or a cutting board. This is my refuge and a place I find the most contentment when I am dealing with emotions that are too big for me to process. I lose myself in the pleasure of chopping and blending, mixing and pouring, and it gives me a sense of peace I have not been able to find anywhere else, with the exception of my writing.

I remember the moment twenty years ago when I was looking for a place to rent after returning from out of province. I had been told about a house that had not yet been advertised and my parents and I drove to this house, parked at the end of the driveway and awkwardly trudged through snow up to our mid-thighs to get a better look. The snow was piled so high around the house that it was easy to peer into the windows to see the layout. The kitchen was the biggest room in the six-hundred square foot home and I knew it was meant to be mine. Before the house had even been advertised as being for rent, I had signed a lease with the landlady and moved in on April first.

Even though I was only renting, I knew this was my forever place. Four years after being a tenant, I ultimately wore my landlady down and convinced her to sell me the property I called home. This haven I am able to call my own will never make the cover of any magazines, but it is mine and it is the place that cradles the memories, good and bad, I have made over the past twenty years.

I have been single, married and divorced while living here. I have lost my best college friend, both of my parents and my furry companion of twelve and a half years while living here. And while nervously standing on the batter’s box staring down the many curve balls life has thrown at me, I have been living here. The roof and the walls of this home wrap me in a protective shield and I am indestructible here.

So, when I find myself in times of trouble, I will seek asylum in this tiny shelter with my feet firmly planted in my kitchen. I am afforded the dignity of dealing with my reality while being protected by this small fortress in the middle of nowhere and I can’t, in the foreseeable future, picture myself anywhere else. I am going to let my kitchen work its magic, embrace the words of wisdom these walls have to offer and just let it be.