Tag Archives: Life

Sometimes Self Care is Hiding the Last Bagel

I woke up this morning at 5:15 am. Some of you may be thinking “if this post is about self-care this is not a good start”.  

But as a morning person, this actually is one of the best things I do for myself. And it’s nothing I really “do” it’s more who I am – how my internal clock is just built into me.

I’m usually always awake by 5:30 am. In good weather I come downstairs and cuddle up in my Papasan Chair on the deck and read or take photos. It’s alone time. 

But don’t get “alone time” confused with self care. It’s true there is sometimes about half an hour of self care in there – but the rest is this: my mind running non stop with the list of to dos and schedules for the day for all the people in my life (of which I am last on the list).

Today I had a busy day ahead of me – like most of us do ofcourse. It’s June – and in my house that bookends September with a ferociousness that spans the kids, their school, their activities, my work, Craig’s work, and nearly each and every aspect of our life. Time is a precious commodity at the best of times – but it’s a different beast in June and September.

It just is.

So the notion of self care kind of makes me laugh. Like out-loud laugh.

Especially the way our society “sells” the notion of self care. Our culture screams at us from every magazine cover and talk show and best selling book that self care is of utmost importance. But at the same time it is also saying “and THIS is what self care must look like”:

It’s adventures to find yourself – to places none of us can afford (unless you are the author of the book these adventures are written about and just sold 1 million copies).

It’s massages and pedicures and mountain top retreats. 

It’s going to the funky little shop where you can “be seen” buying the “right” candles or oils which are over priced because they are the flavour of the month.

It’s running half marathons and making leisurely suppers from the organic vegetable you have tended to in your own vegetable garden that you take time to weed daily as you practice the simplicity of life.

And finally it’s taking the perfect picture of the perfect simplistic day with our lululemon yoga pants on while drinking our Starbucks Coffee. 

(Please follow the instructions above in order to meet the expectations our culture has around self care.)

Isn’t there enough expectations out there in the world we are bombarded with every day?

Ugh.

Ok ok. I get it.

Taking care of yourself is good.

I believe in it. 

But my self care doesn’t come close to these visions that are planted in our society.

My self care mostly looks mostly like this:

Phone a friend at 7:30 am – the worst possible time when both sets of our kids are getting ready for school and we are getting ready for work. But need to connect if only for a few minutes. Talk about “nothing really” but “everything real” … time allotted – 4 minutes.

At lunch grab a friend or go for a walk on my own. No jogging, no taking pics and posting them. Just walking. Pretty much the same place every time. 20 minutes. Race back to work.

In the mornings give my husband a peck on the cheek before we leave for work – try to spend the rest of the day trying to remember which Province he is working in that day, and if he can help out with “kid pick ups” later that evening.

And then there are times when my self care takes a deceitful but hilarious turn like this morning. This morning as I got up, came downstairs to the quiet kitchen and saw that there was only one bagel left – in a household of 4 people.

It was 5:30 am. I wasn’t hungry for the bagel yet. Everyone was asleep. But I knew in two hours I would be. And I also knew that by then that round beautiful bagel would be gobbled up by someone in my loving little family.

So this morning my self care looked something like this: I went over to my kitchen Island, I picked up that last bagel, and I deftly hid it from my children and husband so I could defiantly enjoy having it later in the day. 

Yup. I hid the bagel. What am I? Four years old?

But really, that’s it. Self care a la Karrie-Ann. Not fancy. Not trendy. Not expensive. Sometimes deceitful. 

Whatever works I say!

I guess my point is this: Don’t get caught up in what you think self care is supposed to look like. 

Find the moments. Even if they are fleeting and imperfect and nothing you would ever take a photograph of. Even if they are things you may be embarrassed about! 

Self care isn’t about what others are doing. We do enough comparing don’t we?

It’s about what you are doing – in a way that works for you – when you can do it. 

And yes – maybe sometimes it is the perfect mornings on my verandah taking sunrise photos that I post on Facebook as I get ready to read that self help book I’ve been waiting to dive into.

That’s not wrong. I did that just a few weeks ago.

But it’s also really important to acknowledge that sometimes … sometimes … it’s simply hiding the last bagel. 

And that’s ok too.

Finding My Balance

For years now I have struggled with my relationship to social media. That fine line of enjoying it in so many ways but sometimes feeling uneasy with its use in my life.  

I have taken those feelings to the extremes of both using it too often and “searching” for something I wasn’t even sure of, and also to the other extreme of walking away from it all completely and logging off for months at a time.

Back around November I decided to take stock again with this phenomenon I’ve allowed into my life, and do a little soul searching about how I was feeling about its place in my world. What I found was that I had surprisingly come to a place of feeling more balanced than I ever had in the past about its role.

The following are some thoughts of where I have found my own personal balance and comfort level. 

I should preface this of course by saying that this is my balance. We all have different comfort levels, and your balance will be different from mine. And mine will be different itself in one months time, or one years time. I have interestingly learned that mine is fluid and changes based on a whole slew of things in my life. 

But I do strongly feel that the world can be a better place if we are all conscious of where we are on that spectrum of use and that we are choosing to be where we are.

So for me, for now, here are some things that have helped me find my balance in what I feel is an over-connected world.  

No Data

I don’t carry data on my phone. (Insert gasp here). So unless I have wiifii I cannot connect to the broader world. I made this a conscious decision when first getting a smart phone. It simply limits my ability to connect. Plus my phone bill is $15.00 per month. Literally. So, you know, I kind of love that.

WiiFii Turned Off

When I do have access to wii fii (which let’s face it is almost everywhere now except my vehicle) I don’t leave it turned on. When I want to go search something – whether it’s Facebook, E-mail, Google or Instagram, I go into my settings, turn it on, and when I finish I turn it off. Sounds archaic right? I know!!! But I swear it’s where I have found my comfort zone. 

It makes me very purposeful about being connected and not passive. I find that instead of “reacting constantly” to beeps and notifications I instead “act when I choose to”.

Not Bedside 

This started as a rule when my kiddos became connected. We felt strongly it shouldn’t be the last thing they look at before bed and not the first thing they reach for in the morning. 

At first I didn’t apply this new rule to me. My phone was right there on my night table. But after awhile I realized how important it was for me to “sit in my own thoughts before I start the day.” To be quiet with myself or to actually talk to my husband before reaching for my phone to find out what everyone else is doing. Why would I want to start MY day all about someone else? Even the news is about someone else. 

It was a bit of a struggle at first. Scratch that. It was a huge struggle. Try it for a couple of days. It isn’t easy. It had become habit, reaching for that phone in the morning. But I’m glad I did it. It’s how I want to choose to start my day.  

Craig still chooses to keep his on his nighttable. That’s his choice and I’m absolutely ok with that. My choice is the right one for me.

The Share Button

I have an entire other blog post in my head about sharing in today’s world, so I won’t go into this in depth right now. Suffice to say that I love to have fun and share lots of different things – some serious and some silly – often I’ve found with no rhyme nor reason. 

But the one thing I know for sure – sharing something does not make that experience, or my life, better. At all. And when I do share I am very conscious of who else is a part of that share – especially if it involves other people.

Using FB Messenger

I didn’t understand the FB Messenger App for a long time. Why not just use the message button on FB? It’s like right there!! But now it’s one of my favourite apps. It allows me to converse with people, and often groups of people, I want to without having to be on Facebook itself and hear and see the endless posts and notifications. With Messenger I’m making a choice about who to engage with and I don’t have to deal with the white noise. 

Addressing FOMO

This is a rough one for me. I am social by nature and enjoy being out and about in the world. But I’ve learned that having these caveats in place for myself will inevitably lead to missing out on things – since I don’t carry data my iMessage group chat is very rarely on, I don’t see general posts as quickly as others do, and I’ve realized sometimes miss them entirely. That took some getting used to, but I’ve become pretty ok with it.

Modelling 

There are so many things I do a poor job modelling with my kids. But I want screen time and social media to be one I atleast TRY to walk the talk with. It is the largest influence in their world. Period. 

When they look at me I don’t want them to see a phone in my hand all the time, or hear beeps all the time, or see my face in a screen. It’s very important to me. Because I’m asking – no – I’m insisting – the same from them. So when I come home I make sure my phone is not on me or beside me all the time. It’s important what they see (or don’t see) and it’s what I want.

One Screen at a Time

This is another rule we have with the kiddos. (Yes – we are “these parents”). Not all kiddo rules apply to parents on the Bluff Road but this one makes sense to us as well. So if I am watching TV I won’t be on my phone (or tablet or laptop). Besides, my pea size brain can only process so much stimulation! 

Talking is the Priority

I love talking on the old fashioned phone. I have a friend who rarely a week goes by when we don’t call each other. Sometimes they are long deep conversations. Often they are silly 5 minute touch-bases. She will never know how much those mean to me and how connected they make me feel. And texting. Well if I can’t have the old fashioned phone I will take texting over social media. I know texting is still a screen but it’s me engaging with someone in a purposeful way. One on one. Which brings me to …

I am Not Interchangeable.  (And I will not make you interchangeable)

There seems to be a growing trend of just putting something out there in the social media world, where your 325 friends see it on your wall, with a broad leading question attached to it, about an informal or formal social gathering. From these posts come numerous responses. It seems that we are valuing “any” interaction over interaction with people of our conscious choosing. It makes for a feeling of interchangeability. “It doesn’t really matter “who” I do that activity with … the first few random people who see my post are good enough for me.  

Addiction

I left this to the last because I think it’s the one we need to talk about most in our society right now.

Addiction is real and I do believe some people may be more prone to it than others. I also believe in this social media world that that number is growing – and growing fast. 

 
If we all made a pact to be without our phones and social media for just one day a week could we do it? I think we would all say YES!!! Yes ofcourse we could!!! What a silly question! It’s only one day! 

But let’s ask ourselves … how many times – in just ONE DAY – do we check social media? How many times? How many times do we scroll and refresh that feed? How many times are we just searching for … what? 

Really. Think of a number. Say it out loud. I think the number is scary and I think it’s why I have tried to put these caveats in place for myself ….

Because I guess the bottom line for me is this:

I’ve realized that “being on my phone” isn’t “who I want to be” in the world.

The Boy and the Girl Next Door

One year ago I stood and watched my childhood home burn to the ground.

It seems like a small thing now doesn’t it?

In the midst of world events. 

I guess. Maybe. But it wasn’t small to me, and it wasn’t small to my parents then either.

It’s the eternal cliche, but time really does help heal and fade so many tragedies.

But today I’m looking back and I’m remembering that day, and it’s hard to believe sometimes that 365 days have since passed.

I could write about a million feelings and stories that spring from that day, but the one memory I always come back to – from the day itself – is the moment I turned around. Once metaphorically and once literally, to see the boy, and the girl, next door.

I was in Liverpool in the middle of a meeting when I got a phone call from my brother telling me the news.

It’s strange news to comprehend really. You’re not sure what to feel. Immediately the only thing that matters is that everyone is safe. So that is your predominant emotion the entire day/week/month. Nothing else matters.

Except. Somehow. It does. Maybe?

Because throughout the entire hour and a half drive from Liverpool to Nicholsville other thoughts start creeping in. What are they? They seem familiar. But wait a minute. All I’m supposed to be feeling is grateful. Everyone is ok. 

But there they come again. Those thoughts. They well up in my chest and start falling out my eyes. And they are coming in the spits and spats. They are coming in between the “what will my parents do now?” question on my head. And they sneak through the logistical “what a nightmare insurance will be” questions. And also they dive right through the sense of loss I immediately feel for both of my parents and selfishly myself.  

These images and feelings and thoughts I can’t seem to name just won’t let go, even among the other 103 things whirling around my head right now. What is going on?? 

And then it hits me. Somewhere around driving through Morristown. 

Oh. I recognize them now. It’s the memories. They are pesky little memories. Particularly memories of my childhood.

And bam. All of a sudden the only thing in my head (wait, no, make that my heart) is the one mile stretch of pavement between the Palmer Road and Victoria Road and a black house that sits on a small hill. 

For the rest of the day that was all my world consisted of. Which funny enough is where the fire trucks blocked off all traffic from entering. That one mile stretch.

When you grow up in the country you have a lot of space around you. Which means that you don’t have as many neighbours as you would in town. But the neighbours you do have take on a different role. The people I grew up with were “in” my life in a way that is difficult to explain. I called their parents “Aunt” and “Uncle” even though there were no blood ties. There was a comfort there that went beyond neighboours or friendship.

But ofcourse life, and people, grow up and move on. I had long ago “moved away”. And these people on this stretch of road become fond memories but no longer really “present” in your life. 

Because that just kind of how life is.

But as my brother and I drove up to Victoria Road and hit that threshold – that one mile stretch – the waves of memories with these people came crashing back.

I drive this road all the time still to come visit my parents. Why were these flooding back so significantly now?

And then we pulled up to the house burning. And there were Mom and Dad. And I became 10 years old again. And suddenly I knew why I was feeling those memories so strongly.

Because my entire childhood was on that road, in that house. It sounds so simple, but is so true.

And so we stood there for quite a long time watching. The four of us. My Mom, Dad, brother and me.

And to anyone watching us that’s exactly what it looked like. Just the four of us.

But it wasn’t.

Not for me.

I was somehow also haunted by all of the people who touched my lives while I grew up in that house.

And as I stood there watching, all of a sudden there was a tap on my shoulder. And there she was. The girl next door. Dawne Boates. Who didn’t really live next door – but in fact a mile down the road, and whose last name is no longer Boates, but there she was, and for a moment nothing else mattered. I can’t imagine wanting to see anyone more.

She hugged me, and that hug seemed to last forever. I can’t ever explain to her what that hug meant – how much was in it.

And then she did EXACTLY what I needed. She gave us a bag of clothes (oh my god those clothes were better than gold – my feet were so cold) told us she was there for anything we needed. Hugged me again. And then she left. Left us to be alone and deal with our emotions and grief. It was one of the most respectful, most needed things that has ever happened to me. Her action in coming. Her hug. Her gift. Her respectful leaving.

In those moments I knew how much she was hurting for us – how much she wanted to help.

And the rest of the day came and went – in loss and uncertainty.

But it did so with a little gentle help from another someone else from beginning to end.

From the boy next door.

Because there he was, Tim Palmer, the entire day. Tim, who had built a home next door to his parents and across from mine. Tim, who may have spent as much of his childhood at my house as his own. There he was. The entire day doing exactly what we needed him to do. Walking that very fine line of being present but not in the forefront. Respecting our family’s time together, and never pushing. But instead ordering an entire feast for us from a local diner, giving us shelter to come and go, warming up his truck for us to sit in, lending us clothes, talking and listening, stepping up and stepping back. His presence and his actions, were everything to me.

And so there it was. Who knew that on this awful day when I morphed back into a 10 year old girl, that my two childhood friends would reappear in my life like magic? 

Ofcourse it makes perfect sense. Who could understand my loss more than these two who spent so much time in those walls with me?

The boy and the girl next door.  

There weren’t two people I wanted to see more.

And I will forever be whispering thank you for them.

Why I Still Write that Obnoxious Christmas Letter

I remember about six years ago I was sitting around a table with some colleagues in our lunch room near  Christmas time. We were talking and laughing and sharing, and one of the women mentioned her disdain for a certain trend that some of her friends and acquaintances regularly took part in: The writing, printing and subsequently sharing of the not-so-original Christmas Letter. She revealed her exasperation of this trend while others nodded, chimed in, and whole heartedly concurred. The practice of summing up you and your family’s life into one too-perfect, very-fake, succinct little 8 1/2 by 11 page. How smug these people were, with their narcissistic bragging about their perfect children, their fairytale accounts of their lives.  

And so there it was. On the inside of 10 minutes, a concise yet firm degradation of the somewhat infamous Christmas Letter.

I wanted to crawl under the table.

No really. It was one of those moments I wish the floor could have swallowed me whole.

Because “I” was one of those narcissistic women who penned those Christmas Letters every single year. Only mine weren’t one page long. Mine were three entire pages. Often in the smallest font size that I felt was plausible for reading, just so I could fit more of my bragging onto the page.  

Yes I wanted to disappear that day. Because I was one of those women.

Oh wait.

I still am.

Yes. You heard me. I still am one of those self centred authors of said Christmas letter. The only difference between then and now, is that I no longer want to crawl in a hole over this little tradition of mine – but instead whisper thank you for my consistent decision to participate in it without fail each year.

I started in 1999. We were living in New Brunswick at the time. Our children were yet to be born and it was mine and Craig’s second year of marriage. We had just come back from three weeks in Europe. It was before the existence of any social media, and before stamps cost a small fortune. That first letter was less than a page long, and I safely, and with pride, tucked it inside each Christmas card I sent. 

As the years have come and gone I have written a Christmas Letter (I began calling them “newsletters”) for each one. As the children came, and as they grew, so did the length of my letters. They developed a feel and style all their own. I took great care in choosing what paper I would use. I had different “sections” that changed over the years. In a world of immediacy and conciseness, I took the time each year to be thoughtful about what I typed.  

I adored these letters. I adored writing them and I adored sharing them. It was before the time of blogging and memes and they gave me a chance to write. They gave me a chance not only to share our year, but to do so in a creative, heartfelt and funny way.

But then, a few years back, enter Social Media. I was consciously delayed to the game of social media, but actively embraced it probably five years back. Now that I was on this platform called Facebook, what was there possibly left to share in the form of an old fashioned Christmas Letter, on actual printed paper? For a moment, a brief moment, I considered stopping.  

And then something, or rather someone(s) hit me over the head, and I realized something that is so clear to me now, it’s a wonder I didn’t connect the dots before.

These Christmas letters I write aren’t for everyone else. Not really.  

Instead they are for four people. The four people who matter most to me. Megan, Mark, Craig, and yes, even me.

A few years ago, as I was wondering what the point of them was anymore, and as I was feeling a little narcissistic about writing them, I turned around and I saw my daughter pick one up from the past year. She finished reading it, and asked me when I was going to finish the one for the current year. And it was then it hit me.

These three pages I type each year are a summary of our entire lives together. They are our history. They are carefully chosen words by me, her mother, in my own voice, detailing the highs (and yes sometimes even the lows) of our 365 days together as a family.  

And it was then I really “saw” it. Every year her and Mark wait to read the Christmas Letter. None of it is new information them – but they can’t wait to read it. They read how proud I am of them. They read what an amazing life we have together. They read about their accomplishments – and mine and Craig’s too. And I realized – my heavens – what a gift these are to them now and in the years to come. Their mothers own words about our lives together. Written with love and humour and pride. 

Our story. 

Maybe not in a book. Maybe not in APA format. Maybe a little too predictable in layout, and certainly not winning any writers guild awards.  But there it lies- our story – each year on the coffee table. Waiting for them. And they will have those forever.

This year (as the above photograph indicates) I caught Megan reading every single one. As she went back over the years I caught her laughing (and crying) and saying more than once “I didn’t know that.”

So yes. I do still write Christmas Letters. And yes, they can be narcissistic and a little ‘polished around the edges’ with a set of rose-coloured glasses sometimes. But every word is real. Every word is our lived experience as a family, a reflection of who we were, and tried to be, over the past years. And while none of it may be “news” anymore, it matters not. Because I’ve realized they weren’t really “news” letters to begin with. They are our history. And this year I am whispering thank you for every single one of them.

There’s a Pole in a Town

I live in a tiny hamlet in the countryside, and I drive to work every day to a town only ten minutes away. It’s the town I am so blessed to work in, play in and have my children go to school in.

My drive to work is one of the best parts of my day. I get the privilege of driving past some incredibly beautiful sites that fill me up as I start my morning.

Apple orchards and vineyards. Eagles soaring. Donkeys grazing. Little local cafés and Mom & Pop shops with chalkboard signs out front. Patios filled with happy people. 

And, of course, a pole.

Yes. You heard me. 

One very specific cement pole.

It’s not the pole itself per se, but more what it’s a canvas for.

On it, about four feet up from the ground, are six brightly coloured strips of tape, each one placed above the next. Purple. Blue. Green. Yellow. Orange. Red.

That’s it.

Tape on a pole.

And I love everything about it.

It is clear.

It is simple.  

It is so utterly perfect in that simplicity.

Aesthetically it is bright and bold and beautiful, on dreary days and on the sunny ones.

There were no policies involved in this tape.

There were no bylaws or hoops to jump through.

It is nothing that is scheduled to go up – or to come down. No calendar is involved for a certain day, month or week. You don’t post it or remove it.

It is ever-present.

Nobody voted and nobody debated.

There was no ceremonial raising of anything.

It just … is.

And to me its presence seems to whisper something both subtly and yet somehow boldly at the same time. 

To me it seems to say “Welcome. This is who we are.”

It seems to say it even stronger than the perfectly landscaped official-town-designated welcome sign as you enter town limits.

This pole is at the start of the downtown core and to me THIS is where I see “the proof” of a community. It’s there it seems real.

I love driving and walking past that pole. It makes me proud to work in this community. To have my child go to school in this community. To have both my children play and be present with their friends here.  

It is – for me I guess – the simplest things – the quietest things – that sometimes speak the loudest.

So yes. There is a pole in a town. That is, I will say it again, utterly perfect in its simplicity and presence.

Celebrating … Well … Me.

This past Sunday I was standing at my kitchen counter washing dishes. Dishes actually aren’t a chore I particularly mind doing. I get to stand at my sink, which has a two large windows above it, and stare out at my panoramic view. There are worse things in the world.

The windows in my home happen to have wider than average windowsills, and atop many of them sit picture frames. A LOT of picture frames. Interior designers would cringe at my home – such as it is with photos perched, placed and hung in every direction. 

Yesterday I took particular note of the ones above my sink.

Two of them are from “Birthday-Eve” celebrations. And if you looked around my house you would find three more framed from different birthday years.

Each photograph is taken in a different location – a Vineyard, my favourite Mediterranean Restaurant, my Living Room, Blueberry Acres … etc etc.

And each one has something in common – I’m surrounded by girlfriends. Sometimes almost a dozen and sometimes as few as four.

To look at them you would think “What incredible friends she has – planning parties for her every year in different locations, doing different activities – wow – she is so lucky!”

And ofcourse you’d be right. About the incredible girlfriend part. Because I do and I am. Women friendships are among the most important things in my life, and I feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by the many different groups of women I get to call friends.

But you would be wrong about one thing. You would be wrong that any of these soirées or outings or birthday celebrations of my own were planned by anyone other than little old un-modest me.

Yup.

Looking around at all of these “Karrie-Ann Birthday Eve Photos” I have to say – I planned them all.

I decided what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be with.

I sent the invitations, planned the food (and asked people to bring it), made people take photos, and generally asked them to come and celebrate me, myself and I.

Can you believe that???

The nerve!

The un-modesty!

The gall!

The narcissism!

The lack of humility and grace!

Well …. maybe.

But here’s what I really think. What I really believe. 

I deserve to be celebrated on the day I was born.

Yes. I said it.

And I deserve that day to be more than some “acronym-wish” posted on Social Media site because someone received a notification on their phone.

I deserve a little “hoop” and a little “la”.

Because you know what? If I don’t celebrate me … who will?

All of my girlfriends are amazing, generous, thoughtful women. But they are busy. They are raising children and managing careers and marriages and their own interests and pursuits. Just as I am.

We talk ad nauseum about time moving too fast and the importance of simplicity and spending time with those who matter. 

Well what better time for that than my birthday?

Why NOT celebrate that? Why NOT celebrate me?

Why wait for someone else to do it?

I remember once we were camping and one of our friends daughters was celebrating her birthday while we were there. 

I remember waking up that morning and going over to give her a giant hug and wish her a Happy Birthday. She was a little coy – not shy per se, but a little unsure about the fuss I was making.

I picked her up and stood her on top of the picnic table. I said to her this was HER day and she should shout from the rooftop (or the top of the picnic table as it were) that it was her Birthday and let the world know she was a force to be reckoned with.

So she stood there, spread her arms wide apart and hollered at the top of her lungs “It’s my birthday”!! And continued to laugh and giggle until she doubled over.

It was a joyful, uninhibited, innocent and beautiful moment. 

But as grown women we don’t jump on picnic tables. It’s not particularly socially acceptable I guess and maybe there’s just no time. Our lives are centred around everyone else. Centred around children or spouses or colleagues or parents.

Too often we are trudging through to-do lists and trying just to keep it all together.

So when I sit there on my Birthday Eve, surrounded by my girlfriends, for three or four hours – once a year – celebrating the day I was born into this world – I am not thinking how pathetic it was to organize this myself – or how socially unacceptable it was to do so.

Instead I’m always thinking how incredibly blessed I was to be born into this world “x” number of years ago. How lucky I am to share the day with people who mean so much to me. To be able to raise a glass with them and silently whisper thank you for this past year.

And quite frankly I deserve nothing less than that.

And so do you and you and you.

So stand on the picnic table, shout from the rooftop. 

Celebrate YOU. Take the time. Make the time. You deserve it.

You can bet on August 29th I’ll be “celebrating me” 😉.

Raised Up the Roof

I adore the band Blue Rodeo. They represent everything I love about music. They are real; they write about things that matter to me; and they have true chops. When you go see them live they sound exactly like they do in your living room on that CD you’ve played over and over. Needless to say I have been listening to them for decades. 

One of their songs, “It Could Happen to You” starts off with six lines, that from the moment I heard them, spoke to my heart. It was like they wrote those six lines about my parents, and about the house they consciously chose to make into their home. (And by process of a little DNA and a whole lot of love, my home as well).

This past February, without warning, that house, that home, was traumatically taken from them in a fire that engulfed nearly every corner of its two thousand square feet. Nothing was salvageable.

But my parents are very clear about what is important in life. They are beyond grateful that no one was hurt, and that no one was even home when the blaze began.

They understand how lucky they were and they feel very blessed to be unharmed and here on this earth with their family and friends.

At the same time however, in amongst the “You’re so lucky”s; “Thank God”s; and the “It could have been so much worse”s; there is still enormous loss and unspoken grief. A loss I think few of us, certainly perhaps almost none of us from my generation, and few from even their generation, can truly understand. 

Today in 2016, we buy a house or hire someone to build one. We certainly do none of the manual labour ourselves and there are dozens of people behind the scenes who make the purchase, or the build, all easily come together so we can walk in to a pre existing house – and boom – call it a home. Although there is an argument to be made that we work hard for the money that buys that house, we do precious little physical work.

Those of us who do put some sweat into our abode, usually do so in an aesthetic, supplemental way. Finishing a basement here, building a closet there, laying down our own flooring, or slopping a coat of paint or two on the walls. Doing “small renovations” ourselves sometimes, but really in the grand scheme of things, not much actual physical work ever goes into the house we call home.

Instead we hand over some money, and purchase a nice little pre-packaged, matchy-matchy house that does a pretty good job of keeping up with some family called the Jones’.

Not my parents. They did nothing BUT physical work. And make no mistake they didn’t ‘renovate’ a house. They ‘rebuilt’ a house. They ‘created’ a home.

When my parents moved to Nicholsville in 1972 they were far from wealthy. Heck, they were even far from middle class. But then when I think about it, everyone was “far from” I guess … so maybe the lines of “class” we’re blurrier back then. Or maybe just no one cared. 

So forty-three years ago they scraped together enough money to purchase an old farm house on Harmony Road. When I say old, I mean old. Not heritage, not well-maintained, not just a-little-dusty. Old. Although structurally sound, it was, for all intensive purposes, abandoned, and hadn’t been cared for in a very very long time.  

My mother’s family questioned her sanity but she would hear nothing of it. My parents had a vision. No money. Few resources. But they had a dream.

They lived in one room at a time working every second they had free to make the rest of the house liveable. In the walls that they tore down they found wooden knitting needles and butter prints. In old attics they found spinning wheels and wooden washboards. They uncovered fireplaces and bake ovens. They levelled, straightened, sawed, cut, hammered, tore down and built up.

They converted old kitchens into woodsheds. They moved doors and windows. Mom would literally pound nails out of old boards, so Dad could re-use those same nails in other parts of the house. They painted. The sewed curtains. They put in wood. They shingled. They poured cement. All by themselves. They worked side by side. Day and night. And when my brother and I came along they just kept working. 

There are endless stories of what they did to the house. What they did to make it liveable. What they did to make it a home. Every story they used to tell me was told with a pride that I now see comes from working hard – for yourself and for your family. For your dream.

And that dream came true for them – because they made it come true.

So when we (including me) try to put things in perspective after the fire, and think well-meaning things, like “it was just a house” … I don’t know if we can truly understand the enormity of what went into that house to make it a home. How they reclaimed it. I don’t know if we can put ourselves in their shoes, because they literally brought four walls back to life. And the fact is – no one does that anymore. No one really has to. The concept is somewhat foreign to us.  

But I do know – if I had to work for something that hard – if I put that much blood, sweat, tears and love into something – it would ‘matter’. Those four walls certainly wouldn’t be “everything”. But they would matter.

And while I do know in my head it was “just a house” – I think only my Mom and Dad may really know the truth – that maybe ‘that house’ was just a little bit more.

——

Here are the first six lines of that Blue Rodeo Song. To me, every single word always felt like it was written for them.

“They broke off the locks and they opened the doors. Pushed out the windows and painted the floors. Grew a little garden outside in the western sand.

Raised up the roof till it touched the sky. Picked up the pieces that were left to die. Brought this building back with healing hands.”

Hmmmmmmm …

Wow.

Raised up the Roof ‘Til it Touched the Sky.  

Yup. 

They sure as hell did.

Beyond Safety. Some Not-So-Random-Thoughts for my Daughter on Social Media.

I’m so proud of you, kid. I see you managing all of this social media and digital world better than I ever could have at your age. Better than I do sometimes at my age! Keep it up. You are doing great! 

But because you got stuck sharing my DNA, I wanted to share a few not-so-random thoughts with you on the subject. Thoughts that go beyond the long safety-orientated talks you have suffered through the past years.

I know, I know. Just bear with me for five minutes. Here goes.

You are growing up in a world where you are being taught that ‘sharing everything’ makes your experiences better. It doesn’t. At least not how ‘sharing’ is now defined. What makes things better is being present in the moment. Not always sharing ‘each and every’ moment.

Having a connection with people has nothing to do with being connected. I know we have heard that many times before, but I don’t think we as a society are listening. I don’t think we are walking the talk. So I think it warrants saying again. The greatest connections you will find are when you are unplugged. Don’t let people convince you otherwise. I think this may be the hardest thing for your generation to realize. It’s even hard for my generation as we look around and we all have phones stuck to our hands. And when we do realize it … the difference between connecting and being connected … it is even harder to put that phone down and put that knowledge into action. 

Hiding behind a screen is easy. It’s easy in the middle of school when your friends haven’t arrived at your table yet and you are alone for those two minutes that can seem like two hours. It’s easy when you are in a place where you are uncomfortable. It’s easy when you are bored. And it’s ok to hide sometimes. It’s ok to use your screen to seem busy sometimes or to get through that awkward moment. It’s ok. SOME TIMES. But make those times few and far between kid. Choose those times. Choose them infrequently. Have the confidence in yourself to be alone sometimes. Learn to be alone. You happen to be great company!

The number of likes you have has nothing to do with your worth. That goes for when you have a lot or a little. The ego can be just as funny a thing as self esteem. Don’t let things go to your head either way. I know you know this. I just have to say it. 

I am so proud you don’t have a tonne more ‘followers’ than people you are following. This shows me you are kind and inclusive and don’t see yourself as better than others. It can be rare.

Take selfies. Post them. Have fun! But please don’t post them every day all the time. Don’t ever be that self important or self centred. 

Thank you for not asking for a phone or social media while you were still in single digits. Thank you even more for waiting until you were a teenager. It just made my life as a Mom much easier.

You know the people who make you laugh? Keep them. And I don’t mean the people who put smiley faces on your account. The people who you find yourself laughing outward with. In real life. In real time. Keep THEM.

Always opt for quality over quantity. Your world is not set up for this anymore. But remember that this social media platform isn’t always the real world. One real true friend outweighs the 200 on your social media account. I know that’s sometimes hard to remember. But I know it to be true from personal experience.

You know how everyone uses the acronym ‘ilysm’? You know the little hearts and ‘baes’ and I love yous that float around every day on your Instagram and Snapchat? That’s great! You have so many wonderful friends. And as a Mom I’d rather see these acronyms than insults any day. But when you step back, please know and remember that real love is much rarer than that. Even between friends. Deep down you know the friends who really care for you. Real love is felt … not typed.

Go look up the words friend and like and hangout and chat and share in the dictionary. The old fashioned Webster Dictionary. These terms are being used in a different context now. They really are. Find out where their roots come from.

Take some pictures you don’t post. Take some for the memories you will want to cherish later. Not for the showing off aspect of today. 

Once you hit the send button it’s gone. Learn to type, then pause and count to ten first when you are feeling emotional about something before sending it.

Thank you for not fighting our family’s screen boundaries too much. Thank you for bringing your phone downstairs every night so it is not the first thing you reach for in the morning. Thank you for keeping the door open when you Facetime with a boy. Thank you for paying half of your own phone bill and never complaining about it. I know rules like these aren’t always the norm with your friends and I know it does affect you. I know it’s not always easy being a part of our family and our beliefs that accompany that. I do know that, and I appreciate your respect of that more than you know.

‘Be bigger than the fear of missing out’. Ok. I stole that one. But it’s important. It’s one that I’m still working on even at 43 years old in this social media world. Don’t worry about missing out on things because you aren’t on line 24/7. Be bigger than that feeling. Be stronger. 

Turn off the screen. Close your eyes. Be still. Use your mind and imagination independent of the online world sometimes.

Be thankful for what this digital world offers you. It offers a lot of opportunity and potential for growth. Especially for a bright kid like you. Use it. Explore. Discover. Have fun. 

Everything you type or post is public domain. Forever. Period. I know we’ve talked ad nausium about that one but it warrants a reminder. 

Keep reading real books with real pages. I love that you still do this. Never stop. I love that you adore your Kobo too, but the feel of a real book in your hand – the way it opens the first time you hesitate to crease its spine – the way a bookmark lays in it – there is an appreciation there for the written word that you can’t replace on a screen. I sense you feel this too. Don’t ever lose that feeling.

Thank you thank you thank you for not having two separate social media accounts for everything. One for your ‘friends’ and another for your ‘real’ friends. I think this is awful and elitist and mean and I am proud you are not that kid. I know you are probably shocked I even know about this practice and you would probably defend them and their reasoning … but you drew the short straw in the ‘Mom with strong opinions’ department. Sorry kid.

And finally, above all, very simply, just ‘check in’ with yourself every once in a while. You are a wise, thoughtful knowledgeable kid. You know if your life is balanced in a real way. You know in your heart what is real, what matters, and what is just distraction. Listen to yourself. And then have the courage to put away the white noise for a little while until you can feel balanced again.  

So that’s it kid. Thanks for listening to your old Mom.

I do happen to think you rock … in every aspect of this teenage thing! You are already living so much of this and the balance you choose to have in every part of your life makes me burst with pride. 

I also recognize you have so much more insight into this online world than I do. But you know me …. I just can’t help sharing an opinion or two with my favourite girl.

xoxo Ilysm … 😘 😍😀😛Bahahahaha!!

Mom

Anticipation, Preparation and the Journey

I love to travel. This is by no means a staggering admission to anyone who has ever met me, nor is it surprising as we slowly accumulate a small library of places we have been as a family over the years. And while nothing can compare to the new moments and experiences that immersing ourselves in a new place can bring, I almost equally enjoy all of the preparation that goes into the planning of these excursions.

We are sometimes different in the fact that we never choose an all inclusive option for travel and never go through a travel agent, so planning our vacations can be a full time job, which I know can seem daunting and overwhelming to some. But I must say, it’s this part of journey that I really do relish. I think the real joy in life is appreciating every moment of it, even the commonplace ordinary things like preparation. So while I hope an upcoming 19 days on the road will be amazing, the 60 days prior to that have been pretty damn amazing themselves as we dream of what is to come. It’s like that saying “Life isn’t about the destination but the journey that gets us there”.

And when I say I love everything about preparing to travel, I do mean everything. The anticipation is always palpable in my house as we talk about the places we will see and the things we will do. We make our endless lists. They begin with the big picture things. Where will we go this year, how will we narrow it down, how long will we plan to be gone, what are the new experiences we can have there (because if we can’t come home with new life experiences, it’s not a place worth going for us). Then we wittle our way down to the specifics and the logistics. What needs to be packed, hotels we have booked, tickets we have purchased, and all the freebies we have found to do there (this is one of my favourite parts). Lists after lists accumulate. And they are no longer made just by me, my children are very well showing up their mother now with their organizational travel and planning skills. Lists on electronic devices, on loose leaf , on post its. They are everywhere.

And I love the really small things too. The seemingly mundane things about getting ready to go on a trip. I love picking out the right books and magazines to read. I do. I love this. Not too thick. There won’t be time to read all of that. Certainly not hardcover. Too heavy. Sigh …. I guess that Jim Henson biography I’m in the middle of will have to stay home. So it’s down to the basement I go. I take a look at bookshelves to see what’s there. It never disappoints. I pick up an Anne Tyler called “Back When We Were Grown Ups” that I bought at Value Village, many a moon ago. Who can resist that title? It’s perfect. Into my carry on it goes.

It’s become ritualistic really … this packing and preparing and anticipating travel. Pouring liquids into tiny bottles, gathering all the chargers, creating folders full of our tickets and plans, the kids getting their backpacks ready, filling them with all the important things they have come to rely on when on the road. I see their passion for it, I see them owning it, these little pieces that are all a part of the experience.

There’s even anticipation as we go to the grocery store and pick out the snacks we will take on the plane. It sounds so silly doesn’t it? But it’s these things that are all part of it for us. Which flavour sucker do they want so their ears will pop easier on the plane? What snacks won’t melt in their bags and have some good protein? Heaven knows we aren’t buying a meal on the plane. We may travel a lot, but we do it cheaply and on our terms, saving our money for experiences and not things.

My kids have come to count on these traditions. They have come to appreciate them. These small rituals. And so have I. I love that. It extends the joy. It makes us appreciate the small things. And all this work we put into it makes it so much sweeter on the other end.

Our dining room table is full of these lists and items to pack at the last minute. The two weeks before a trip we can never eat in there and are always relegated to the kitchen for suppers. The dining room has always been trip central, and stays that way until the day we leave.

And boy do I love the feel as the day of departure gets closer. It does have a feel. It’s indescribable but it’s there. And the morning we leave … because we always seem to leave in the dark of the morning (can’t be burning daylight, right Dad?) … the morning we leave almost feels sacred. As the four of us embark on new adventure. The excitement in my kids eyes is irreplaceable.

We have been fortunate enough to have taken 13 family trips together. Each one has a different feel … but they all have one thing in common … joy and anticipation.

Some would add up the money we have spent over the years and think what a waste that was … how we have nothing to “show” for it. But I would argue that the most important things in life can never be seen … you can never “show” the most important things. And when I die, I will never look back saying boy I wish I had bought that “xyz” instead of the truly countless adventures we have had as a family together on our travels.

Soon we will be on the road again. And I can’t wait. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I also wouldn’t trade the months leading up to it and all the work that has gone into it. Some may see a dining room full of suitcases and a table full of papers and research. I don’t. It’s all part of the journey … all part of the joy … all part of who we are as a family and one of many common bonds that holds us together.

It’s something I whisper thank you for all the time.

“My Last Best Place”

It’s snowing. Again.

I live in the Maritimes, most specifically Nova Scotia, and more specific than that in the beautiful Annapolis Valley, on the Bluff.

It’s February 19th today … smack dab in the middle of winter … so the fact that it’s snowing shouldn’t come as any great revelation.

The thing is, is that it’s been snowing for pretty much 14 days straight now. The kids went to school only two days this week, and in one of those days we got 52cm of the fluffy white stuff.

We are slowing getting to a point where I’m not sure where we are going to put any more of it.

People are on Facebook complaining and huffing and puffing. They are posting pictures trying to seemingly outdo one another about the amount of snow each one has had to clear from their driveways or road ways … all the time complaining and somehow bragging all at once. And although the complaining sometimes wears thin, I do love seeing all the unbelievable photos.

None of this is new really. This snow thing. It may be a little bit bigger than recent years, but I clearly remember years when it started snowing in November and didn’t end until late April. I remember growing up with many a blizzard.

And yes … there is a part of me come this time of year that wonders if I will ever be warm … I mean really honest to goodness warm … ever again.

But here’s the thing. I would rather shiver in the cold … here … in Nova Scotia … in the Annapolis valley … on the Bluff … than be lying in the warm sun anywhere else in the entire world. Because you see here … here is … well … my “Last Best Place”.

When I was a “displaced Bluenoser” living in Ontario I remember I clung to all things Nova Scotian. I don’t want you to think I didn’t love my time in Ontario. I did. It is a wonderful big beautiful province that provided me much opportunity. The same goes for Alberta and New Brunswick when I had the privilege to lay down both roots and wings in those provinces.

But my heart clearly belonged in Nova Scotia.

I remember while I was in Guelph I read a book that always stayed with me. It was written by John Demont and it was entitled “The Last Best Place”. The author himself was a displaced Nova Scotian and he had a theory that we all have one “last best place”. A place that calls to us. A place where we feel at home and at peace.

My friend and I will often say how much we enjoy going on vacation because we get to leave behind all the things that “have to be done” … the long list of logistical things like laundry and errands and packing lunches. And boy do I enjoy travel. I have long suffered from a serious case of wanderlust of which I indulge at least twice a year. And I would argue that I don’t think one can find their last best place until one has done a little travelling. Until you really know what else is out there, because your last best place isn’t necessarily the home you grew up in … for a variety of reasons.

But it is the place that you would rather be … when everything falls out of whack, or falls into place …. when all is said and done … when you are at your lowest point, or by contrast at your highest peak … when you settle into your soul … into yourself … your last best place is the place you would most want to be … even when doing the laundry and mundane chores. Forever.

And this place. This place on the Bluff, in the Valley, in Nova Scotia, the Maritimes and in Canada. This is, without doubt, my “Last Best Place”.

This place with its tree at the end of the road where four eagles sit waiting for me to see them soar, on my way to work each day. This place where I can walk out my front door and decide whether to take a stroll to blue beach or miles back into the woods. This place with the most stunning view of the water and green fields filled with hay as I sit on my front porch.

This place of kind, good, down to earth people. The type of people who care little about what you do, but so much about who you are. This place where it matters not how much money you make, but how much you can be of service to your neighbours. This place with roots so deep you feel like the ground itself is a part of you.

This three and a half acres of land that feels like we were ‘meant to find’ on that day back in July 2005. This place where we stop the car for guinea hens to cross the road, and for donkeys who have escaped to meander back to their pen.

This place where I can be part of university life and energy and opportunity just moments down the road. This place where I can work in my chosen field only 10 minutes from my home and where, for lunch, I can walk through campus to town and find my choice of coffee shops or restaurants second to none.

This place where my kids can roam and feel safe, both at the same time. This place so accessible to a big vibrant city, but that still maintains and celebrates its rural roots. This place of wide open spaces; of skies so crisp and clear you feel you can see every star there is.

This place of community hall dances and down home music. This place where I can be 15 minutes late not because of a traffic jam, but because I got behind a tractor or a school bus. This place of traditional orchards, and new luscious vineyards.

And yes, this place where I get to experience all four seasons. The sparkle of winter snow on the fir trees, the smell of Apple blossoms as I walk down my road in springtime, the sound of the waves and the heat of our favourite beach in summer, and the extraordinary beauty of Fall as I take a hike back behind our house.

I find myself constantly stopping and whispering thank you for this place.

Because this place will forever be MY “Last Best Place” … and I wouldn’t want to raise our family, live our lives, grow old together, or be still with myself, anywhere in the world but here.

Even when it happens to be snowing … again.