Monday, November 30, 2015

C'mon in

Cozy up with me on December Eve, the last day of the month before the last month of the year. Try listening to this if you need help getting in the zone. I'll pour some Christmas tea and lend you some slippers; our wood floors can be cold. The sun is supposed to set at 4:17 tomorrow, can you believe it? Countdowns to the solstice, Christmas, the last weekends of the year leave me feeling a little frenzied. Before we go making any plans, let's just chill together.

The girls remind me of why I am so lucky to be a mother this time of year. Their excitement is infectious, but their natural proclivity to sit for longer stretches and do a craft, or curl up with picture books, or work on a puzzle centres me. We are slowing down. I follow their lead and they follow mine. Summer playtime centred around water, shovels and pails, toys with wheels and blowing bubbles, but now our imaginary play scenes evolve from unfolded quilts, dress-up clothes, stuffed animals and made-up songs.

Unlike years past, I am setting up for the holidays slowly this year. We started with the dishes and tea set. Then it was the mantle and doorknob hangers. Today it was the movies and we all sat to watch a version of the book Abby read at school today. The kids get excited for the magic of Santa, so we discuss wish gifts from the big guy. We are preparing our hearts slowly as well. I make sure we talk about ways to spread cheer and help others, a big part of the holidays for me. I have a few small gestures planned, but we haven't yet decided what 'big' donation to do this year. Have you?

Thanks for joining me. Now, I am going to go eat a wheel of brie. If you're lucky, I'll share.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

First Snow

We never know when the first snowfall will come. Some years it has waited until right before Christmas, which left us hanging lights and decorations, shopping and baking all in warm, damp weather, which feels wrong. Sometimes it arrives before Halloween, which is a bummer, because then we are kind of over snow by the time the holidays arrive. This year, it fell splendidly in between both, and we embrace the transition into wintertime. 

We're a month away from Christmas, and with this first snowfall, I feel ready to start slowly wading into the holidays. We've played some music, started using our Christmas dishes, and hung our outdoor lights. I admit, I have done a lot of my Christmas shopping, but that stems more from an interest in budget-conscious spending spread across two months than it does and early jump on festivities.

Before we open the Christmas chest and start decorating, crafting and baking in earnest, I'm happy to start transitioning our lifestyle from fall to winter. This means the rain gear goes downstairs, the snow pants come up, and mitts are drying on the warmer over the vent. It means wearing slippers and warm socks, because the floors are cold, and lighting candles as ambient lighting in the evenings. Walking home from school at just about 4:00 yesterday, Abby and I noted that the sun was setting. Darker days, colder winds, cozy homes (for us, lucky folk that we are).

I am reminded of lessons learned in years past not to go too big this time of year. Everything in our natural surroundings and in our own biorhythms tell us to slow down. We will attend a few parties, and enjoy a few holiday activities, because those are important ways to connect with those we love. For the most part, though, we will honour this pull to stay home, hibernate, eat well, and snuggle up together. I look forward to nothing as much as a night drinking hot chocolate, watching a Christmas movie, and wrapping gifts alongside my family members who come to visit. 

In the meantime, we'll be making snow angels, because the novelty hasn't worn off and there are enthusiastic, excited little girls in this house ready to go explore their new winter wonderland!

Shameless plug: Check out this piece I wrote for ParentsCanada magazine about using mindfulness techniques to help quell temper tantrums.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sick Day

The girls and I enjoyed a relatively illness-free summer and fall, so I knew our card would be drawn soon enough. We may have been coasting on the old wives' tale of getting lots of fresh air to stave off sickness. Perhaps my penchant for forgetting to wash hands, our that the girls only use soap in the bath maybe once a week, (thus strengthening our immune systems?) has kept colds at bay. I made sure to stock up on our homemade pantry essential, ready for the inevitable onslaught of a cold that infiltrates everyone in our household. (That is: lemons, honey, ginger, and oranges, plus some homemade bone broth).

We got out for a few walks this week, and while the fresh air felt good, a seasonal cold crept into our house anyway. 

It came, and went, like a lamb, I'm happy to say. Our illness-free streak has been broken, but it was also, dare I say, fun? Our symptoms were few: sniffles, dry coughs, aches, general tiredness. We brought each girls' quilt downstairs to the couch, set up camp with Kleenexes, garbage pail, water bottles and a damp cloth and a few drops of eucalyptus oil to clear our sinuses. (I straight up took Advil cold and sinus, because someone had to be the grownup taking care of everyone). I put on Kids CBC all morning long and sat reading my book, (a real page-turner). 

Me, by Abby.

We took a break to drink some herbal tea, colour pictures, and then return to the couch for more TV. It was glorious. Everyone ate up my chicken noodle soup for lunch, napped, came downstairs for feel-better popsicles (a frozen blend of plain Greek yogurt, pumpkin puree, ginger, lemon juice and honey), a screening of Bambi, dinner, a lavender bath, and then into bed for a good night's rest. It felt very autumnal to turn inward, stay inside, cozy up and eat warm things on a rainy day.

We awoke feeling much better, Still a little stuffed up, but rested, ready to get back outside to burn off pent-up energy. It has been cold, but as the saying goes, there is no bad weather, just bad gear. So, we have broken out our winter jackets and boots, paired them with splash pants, light mitts and neck warmers (the real key to warmth, I say) and returned to the waterfront, into the woods and out for neighbourhood walks, taking in what sun we can in these shortened days. (One month until the shortest day of the year!)

Monday, November 16, 2015

When it's Quiet

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to focus, think like yourself, act like yourself when there is quiet? It gives me a cushion to stop and regroup, to evaluate, to think before I act or speak. When there is quiet, as in the early morning before every one awakes, it is so much easier to be the person I want to be. I set goals, make daily promises to be gentler, plan my day. I can hear myself think, in the quiet, so I can easily access those nuggets of wisdom that are floating around my mind. 

It is when things are decidedly not quiet that I fall away. There are people talking to me, more than one at a time. There is loud music and even louder fighting. The sound of the aluminum play pots and pans hitting the linoleum for the hundredth time and there is absolutely no cushion to gather my thoughts. I react. I create quiet by running into a bathroom, or stepping outside, or barking orders that give me silence for a brief moment. 

So, I need to give myself some quiet to check in and see what my internal dialogue really sounds like. I can have very nice, constructive conversations with myself to gear up the resolve to press through the chaotic loud moments coming soon. In the quiet, senses are heightened and I am that much closer to being the better version of me.  This weekend, to celebrate our anniversary, Rich and I road-tripped to the Laurentians for some much needed quiet together.

My best friends watched my girls for me (which is a really big deal, hardly anyone wants to watch them all overnight!), and we hit the road. We had good talks with long pauses and time to quietly reflect before answering questions or proposing ideas. We reconnected in ways we have not been able to at home. We celebrated eight years of marriage by clinking glasses of wine from the vineyard we visited on our honeymoon in Kelowna. We relaxed together, and deepened our bond. This was luxurious, to me.

Our destination was equally lux. We stayed at an auberge with a nordic spa system, in-room jacuzzis and fireplaces, all set back in the woods with a beautiful brook running through. Our balcony went right over the water, filling our quiet space with the most tranquil sound I'd heard in months. We could hear ourselves think again. Instead of having broken conversations over clearing the dishes or bathing little bodies, we could just sit, float, smile serenely and exhale. Getting to do just one thing at a time (or absolutely nothing!) without another demand placed on me in immediate succession was such a reprieve.

We enjoyed our getaway and our picturesque trip back through the mountains and into Ottawa, back to our girls who had been so well taken care of. We found a new desk for Abby's room, so she can do her homework, art pieces and (swoon!) writing in peace and quiet. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cold Weather Perks

I read an article this week about how coping with dark and cold of winter need not be an enterprise of suffering. My time in the Yukon certainly taught me to find the light in the darkest days, so that an eight-month winter wasn't something I endured to arrive at the four-month warm weather. Spending two-thirds of my time in misery, cold and subdued quiet was math that didn't make sense, but the solutions weren't readily apparent. I wondered if I was doing it wrong by not embracing cross-country skiing, or skijoring, even though they didn't appeal to me in the slightest.

I have learned not to interpret my instincts as wrong. I am more tired, I have a more inward focus, I shy away from busy group activities, I crave comfort food, I give in to nights on the cough under blankets watching movies. These aren't wrong, I have learned, but rather the perks of cold weather, my favourite winter activities. I don't give into these callings all the time, just like in summer I can't spend all my time lounging in a floatie in the pool. These little luxuries (hot chocolate by the fire, movie nights, creamy casseroles, reading chapter after chapter by lamplight) are things I get to do because it is cold out.

Stay with me here. I still exercise until I sweat, like hiking and running, daily yoga, and pulling the kids on the sled to school through the snow twice a day. I still eat healthy, and try to get some good nutrients from frozen fruits in smoothies, and good hearty soups. I still get up, do my hair and get dressed (although my kids have noticed that my outfits have morphed into pyjama-clothing hybrids). I still make a point to get out to the woods, or to the river, to notice the effects of changing seasons and to refill my soul cup. 

When the time comes, and I get to ask myself what feels right, what do I really want to do, the answers come to me like gifts I am about to unwrap: apple crisp for a surprise dessert, making a baked brie just for me, coming in from the cold and making a no-holds-barred fancy hot chocolate with all the fixings, getting into my flannel jammies and reading a real page-turner with no plans for the whole evening. This is rich living just as much as was gardening, swimming, beach road trips and ice cream trips in summer. (Also, yes, a lot of my happy moments are tied to delicious food. Aren't everyone's?)

The weather outside is cold and damp, our trips to the woods are short. My body clock is slower-moving and my energy metre reads a little low. This is the way things are in the darker days, during the colder months. I am not indoors waiting for something better, for warmer days. I am in here, sipping something warm, saying no to social invitations, and happily so. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

What I Learned in Toronto

1. Road trips without any music, or kids, or set schedule, are refreshingly fun ways to connect deeper with a friend.
2. Turning 30 means I'm a big girl now, no excuses for not knowing, and plenty of confidence (with a strut to show it).
3. Dom Perginon's price tag is mighty high but oh, there is nothing in the world quite like it.

4. Shared hotel rooms with my best friends is a fast-track to a measure of intense laughter that leaves me crying, grabbing my stomach in pain, gasping for breath.
5. Those girls really do know me.
6. Beyonce must have crazy strong neck muscles, because one Beyography class lasting two hours left us all with a killer case of whiplash (but our hair flips were fierce).

7. A $40 way to feel like a celebrity is to get a blowout, put on red lipstick, your best heels, and walk through a fancy hotel lobby to dinner.
8. The best clubs are the ones without signs, clear entrances or public listings.
9. I still got it. 

10. The most desired way to endure a hangover may be to curl up on the couch watching a movie, but we're 30 now, real life calls. (Brunch at the Drake is a close second0
11. My friends are always ready to answer the call for an epic adventure.
12. Some drag queens are really, really good at the tuck.
13. Toronto people walk everywhere.
14. And really love Drake songs.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


I've had a hard time coming up with something I felt was interesting to write in this space. Since about the beginning of October, I have returned to a more committed, steady writing practice, and paired it with daily meditation and yoga. I have, for the most part, stuck with this and kept it up each day. Taking snippets of time here and there to steal away and get to these things has been difficult some days, wedged sometimes between dressing in the morning and getting everyone out the door to walk Abby to school, or meditating quickly while dinner simmers on the stove.

My writing has been really loosely structured: sometimes a short essay, or a poem, a funny story or a character profile. This yoga-meditation-writing trifecta of making time for myself and settling into the business of being in the present (instead of preparing for what's next) has meant that I am pretty short on time to write here. And when I do, I feel empty of worthwhile content.

My efforts have been fruitful and have started getting some wheels in motion. I have noticed that I am a lot more positive and optimistic knowing that I am not under any deadlines, with no lofty goals ahead of me. I have nothing to do but be present, and this freedom has lightened my spirit. This makes it a lot easier to be present. Being present, for me, has manifested as a warmth that builds inside of me when I pause to notice something beautiful: the morning sun coming through an umbrella of fiery fall leaves in an oak tree, observing the joy in Summer's run as she chases Skylar, the comfort and joy of a kitchen warmed by dinner cooking in the oven. I am really pausing inside these moments and sitting as long as I can before moving on. 

I am listening better, looking people in the eye, measuring my responses (instead of feeling guilty for reactions) more often. I am feeling inspired to write a quick little ditty in my notebook when I notice something worth recording. I am feeling stronger, longer and more spacious in my body with daily yoga. 

I am practicing being here, and letting myself falter. I still yell more than I'd like, my back and/or neck are usually sore after a day with the girls, my writing is pretty aimless and unstructured, I have no freelancing projects on the go. I have a long list of ways to improve. But these days I am looking at that list and choosing to be a little more tender with myself, instead of feeling like I don't measure up to my own impossibly high standards. I am learning more about what it means to carpe diem in the smallest, most beautiful ways my days allow.

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