Life as an empty-nester

Slide1

I am officially an empty nester, just me and my pooch…okay, my daughter’s pooch, but still! When my first daughter left the homestead, I cried a lot, even though she moved a whopping 5 minutes away. Learning to deal with her daily absences was difficult at first because I was so used to her presence, even though she wasn’t the chattiest of individuals at the best of times. But her dry sense of humour, her zaniness on the daily and her direct approach were parts of her that I really missed experiencing every day.

My eldest was the second to officially and completely leave the nest last year. My wandering vagabond, she was more often than not traipsing through the wilderness through all corners of the Earth, and so her belongings that didn’t make their way into her backpack were left behind to take up a great deal of space within the confines of my humble abode. So when she moved out, taking all that was hers, I felt a twinge of sadness…and then I got over it because I now had space in a room that I was about to make into an office or reading room…or just about anything that was all mine.

But then, my youngest who has a tendency to invade any space that is already occupied suddenly found herself sleeping in her sister’s former room…or using her closet as a storage area for her art…or just finding another space to hang out and ‘chill’. So my dream of a peaceful place in my own home was put on hold for a short time, knowing that Child No. 3 would soon be heading for different pastures in the near future.

And before you know it, I was waving to this child as she boarded her flight before moving across the ocean and suddenly, my world felt quite ridiculously empty…even though I am also ridiculously busy. It’s a different world when you come home to complete silence every day and the music isn’t blaring, or somebody isn’t singing off-key, or you aren’t bombarded with whatever your children feel the need to share with you before you even get a toe in the door. Having lived like this for 28 years, it is definitely something that requires an adjustment!

But then, there are the advantages that come with being on your own without worrying about your offspring. Here are some of those happy moments:

  1. Prior to living on my own, I went grocery shopping on a weekly basis because I was feeding if not one, at least two children, and sometimes three, which also involved providing meals for their significant others. This can pack a smidge of a punch to one’s pocketbook. The beauty of the empty-nest syndrome is that I have only had to go grocery shopping once in two weeks, which means that my food bill was a delicious $73. I can see a trip to a beach in my near future with this kind of savings!
  2. Often, my offspring were often found wandering the house with their partners. Many times over the years, I have turned a corner in the house only to have the living daylights scared out of me by one of these boys who I didn’t hear enter our home. What I have learned as an empty-nester is that should I forget something in another room following a shower while getting ready for the day, I can quickly fly down the stairs to fetch said object. Now, at no time do I need to cover myself from head to toe to avoid traumatizing one of the boyfriends with a flash of my lady bits. This freedom is extraordinary!
  3. For the past 28 years, I have rarely set foot in my home without being bombarded by one, two or three children as they quickly share their day, needs, or questions with me. For somebody who has an exceptionally busy life with work, family and friends, there have been many days where I have longed for just 10 minutes to breathe once my tootsies crossed my doorstep. Now, I can take that time to unwind after a challenging day in the office and nobody will be in my business to interrupt that very appreciated quiet time. The beauty is that I can still FaceTime Child No. 3 or vice versa and chat away at times that work for both of us. At the same time, Child No. 1 and No. 2 still live in the city and reach out regularly to catch up and visit. And I love it! But I am finding that I appreciate the calmness that my home offers me, something that is a refreshing change in my life.
  4. Prior to this empty-nesting gig, I do not remember a time when I was able to use a washroom in peace, without one child flying in to borrow make-up, hair products, or jewelry…or to ask a question about the most inane subject on the planet…or to go over an essay that they were writing…or to have me edit said essay…or to get my opinion on their latest ensemble for an evening out. Can I just point out the joy that comes with walking into a washroom and leaving it without having an audience or a revolve-a-door situation where you are basically hosting the neighborhood? It is glorious!
  5. For the first time in 28 years, my music selection is not overrun by my daughters’ eclectic taste in musicians. I can play whatever I have on my playlist, dance around my house and sing at the top of my lungs in my most off-key voice possible without worrying if I am getting in the way of their study time…or their quiet time…or their social time. And when I don’t want my music to be playing, I can turn it off and revel in the quiet…without listening to the sound of a didgeridoo or some other obscure instrument that just happens to be played by an eccentric artist that my daughters have come across at some point. Having full control over the speakers brings me to a whole new level of my happy place!

These are just some of the highlights of life as an empty-nester. As it is still fairly new to me, I am learning to navigate everything that comes with it, the highs and the lows. Without question, I am thankful for Skype and FaceTime, and the joy that comes with unexpected visits from my brood. But I am also learning to appreciate things that I didn’t expect. So now, I am off to blast some tunes, sing to my heart’s content and then maybe enjoy a much-needed uninterrupted soak in the tub! Cheers!

No Regrets in the 16th Second

No regrets

While perusing a few videos as I lazed around on a Saturday morning, I came across a young man’s valedictorian speech with a message about regret. It sounded somewhat Debbie Downer-ish initially as he talked about his path to being chosen valedictorian for his graduating class. Something that he had worked towards with tenacity and intensity for an entire year finally came to fruition when his name was called as the ‘chosen one’. In most cases, when we achieve our goals, there is a certain level of satisfaction that comes with doing so. In this young man’s case, the euphoria that he felt when he realized that he had won lasted all of 15 seconds. And then…there was nothing. No jubilation…no excitement…no overwhelming joy. Just nothing…nadda…zip…zilch. Until he recognized that what had replaced this joy was a nagging feeling of regret…regret over missed experiences, missed relationships, missed opportunities, all because his entire focus for 365 days was winning the title of valedictorian.

Pretty profound introspection for an 18 year-old! During his speech, he spoke about the importance of living our lives so that when that 16th second rolls around, we aren’t wallowing in regret. His message, among other things, was the need to focus on the relationships that matter in our lives, because without those connections, celebratory moments have less meaning. He also stressed the importance of not becoming so consumed with an idea that all other opportunities and experiences pass you by, because let’s face it, we don’t get a second chance to recreate time that has passed.

Fortunately, I was raised by a man who didn’t hold a great deal of stock in the idea of regret…which is rather ironic, given a few of his life choices as a young boy and young man. Courtesy of his friend’s desire to share stories of their wild youth and that of his brothers, we learned early on that Dad made his fair share of bad decisions as a teenager and as a young man, ones that I am sure gave his parents a copious amount of grey hair. But his philosophy in life was that rather than regret what was done, it was better to look back on those decisions as life lessons and learn from them so that you did better the next time around. It may have taken him a while to come to this revelation, but once he did, he became a life-long learner! I think because of Dad’s philosophy on life, when I am elated about an accomplishment, meeting a goal or rising to the challenge of something on my bucket list, my 16th second is often more of that plain old joy. And when it isn’t, it is never about regretting what I could have or should have done. Instead, it is about what I would do differently if put in the same situation the next time so that I do better.  

When I think about this young man’s message, he was so right. Live your life so that you continue to build relationships with those who matter… seize opportunities and life experiences as they come up…and when everything isn’t as you had hoped, learn from the lessons that life has dropped in your lap, so that your 16th second isn’t about regret, and more about appreciating what got you there.

 

Planning for Joy

Slide1

I woke up this morning to the blissful knowledge that other than some snow shovelling…okay, alot of snow shovelling, I didn’t have any pressing matters that needed my attention. I had done my grocery shopping and meal planning the night before, the dishes were stacked and put away and due to said snow that requires removal, my daughter’s hockey games were cancelled. As quiet time isn’t really a part of my every day life, this brought me some kind of joy.

So, as I relaxed in bed this fine morning, I listened to a few podcasts. This is when Michelle Obama crossed my screen, talking to a group of university students about planning for joy…not a concept that we think of very often. But what she said made sense.

« We plan work. That’s what we’re taught to do. We’re not taught to plan our joy and it takes practice to plan it out. »

This is sooooo me! For the better part of my life, I have planned EVERYTHING. I am the queen of note-taking and planning, complete with a calendar on my fridge, in my purse, and on my desk. I organize my life so that I won’t miss out on anything, so much so that I rarely have free time to myself with work and social commitments. Although I love my life, sometimes the ‘have-to-do’s’ can become overwhelming, so that ability to be able to sit in my comfy chair with my softest blanket, a cup of tea by my side and my journal in front of me brings me some kind of happiness.

Mrs. Obama also went on to say, « In order to be vital in this work, you have to plan joy. Otherwise, you will burn yourself out and you won’t be good to anyone.» Say what??? Plan joy??? Doesn’t it just happen…when it happens??? So of course, this had me thinking about my own life and the joy that I experience…or don’t. I’d like to think that I’m a fairly optimistic person and I do have a propensity for laughter…sometimes at the most inopportune times, but I’ll blame that on genetics! But as far as planning for joy, what she said struck a chord with me. I don’t think she means that at exactly 6:10 p.m. on any given evening, because you’ve marked « joy » down in your calendar that you are going to suddenly experience a sense of euphoria. I think she means that you have to work at feeling the joy around you, noticing it and taking it all in…and it takes work!

On a personal level, as I’ve mentioned many times in my posts, the past close to six years have been very difficult for my sisters and I, children included…losing our parents, divorce, illness, and the fallout from an attempted suicide have made many of our days pretty dark. When I said goodbye to my father in 2014, my world was absolutely shattered. This man was my go-to, my rock, my everything and not having his physical presence in my life took a huge toll on me. And while I was dealing with my grief, I was also going through the process of divorcing my husband. That year was not one of sunshine and rainbows, let me tell you. It was then that I decided to do something about my own attitude and how I reacted to events in my life that were absolutely out of my control.

At that time, a friend of mine talked to me about Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. After copious amounts of research, Ms. Rubin decided to conduct a year-long research project into finding her own happiness. It sounded like something right in my wheelhouse…I mean, how hard could it be? So, in 2017, I began my yearlong quest to discover happiness. I started the year with a goal to boost my energy, because let’s face it, all the emotional turmoil that I had experienced in the years prior had done a serious number on my mo-jo! Sticking to my goals, as lofty as they were, was difficult at times, and I wasn’t always successful each month, but I felt much better after 31 days of taking part in activities that energized me. I then worked on starting a blog…this isn’t a major success by any means, but it definitely gives me an outlet to share my thoughts and continue to write, something that I love to do.

April saw me cultivating friendships, reaching out to people that I hadn’t talked to in years and developing relationships with new people in my life. As my friends are a major source of joy in my life, this was a great month for me! I challenged myself in May with activities that took me outside my comfort zone. There were a few guffaws to be had as I put myself in situations that didn’t make me comfortable, including slack lining (I can tell you that I do not have a future in acrobatics).

June had me spending money on items that would bring me joy. Not a huge fan of shopping, I opted to start my reno plans, and this did bring me to a whole different level of happiness. In July, I delved into my spirituality and gratitude and from there, started a journal that I have kept up daily with at least five things that I am grateful for each day. August had me following my dreams…that said, I don’t have a published book, nor is my blog rocking the planet with followers. Truthfully, though, it wasn’t a bust, and I learned alot along the way.

In September, I focused on being mindful…this is still very much a work in progress, because my mind goes 1000 miles a minute, but with my focus on short stints of meditation, I am getting there. I can’t deny that I still have the odd ‘squirrel’ moment where my thoughts jump from A to Z in a nanosecond, but these ‘episodes’ come less and less frequently.

October and November were more of the same with slight twists here and there, but the idea was to center on gratefulness and find reasons to lift others. That has been a highlight, because there is nothing more satisfying to me than accomplishing a ‘Pay It Forward’ gesture without the recipient being aware that I had done anything. In December, I brought all the months together and did my best to live in that mindset.

What I learned in following Gretchen Rubin’s book is that not everything worked for me…because I’m not Gretchen. However, a lot did. I still blog because it is an amazing de-stressor for me. I write in my gratitude journal daily and when it isn’t with me, I jot down my thoughts in my Notes on my iPhone. I continue to challenge myself with activities that take me outside my comfort zone and I find more often than not that I fall in love with those activities because of the euphoric high that comes with accomplishing a task that isn’t particularly easy. I have continued to maintain friendships with the most extraordinary people who push me to be a better human every day. I can honestly say that this journey helped me to focus on what brings me joy in my life, and how I can spread it with those around me.

This year, I am on round three of my Happiness Project. My goals aren’t as lofty as they were in 2017…there are fewer of them and they are definitely more specific because I have a much better idea of what brings me joy. I will continue to work on boosting my energy, creating, delving in photography, being outside in nature, cultivating friendships and building our family, continuing with random acts of kindness and decluttering my life so that I am surrounded by things that bring me joy. So far, January has seen its fair share of the flu and cold season, so my body isn’t particularly enthralled with my plan so far. But I’m pushing through it and allowing myself to heal, which is on a whole new level of being energized.

What I’ve learned through this experience is that I do need to work at bringing joy into my life. When I completed my first year, things seemed to fall into place and I could breathe easier for the first time in years. Michelle Obama was right when she said the following:

‘It doesn’t mean that the dark day didn’t happen…If you have been thoughtful in your life and you understand how to bring yourself joy, that’s what gets you through it.’

The ability to focus on the joy around me has helped me get through some really dark times and I’ve come through it whole and still laughing. It just took that first intention to get out there and plan my joy! And I’m much better for it! Happy Saturday, everyone!

 

A Reason To Celebrate

Slide1

I’m sitting in my favorite chair, my feet up, my puppy by my side and the sun is shining. Life is good. And I am reminded of that today, despite the curveballs that we were thrown over the past 12 months.

It has been a year since my Mom’s diagnosis and 9 months since her passing. It has been a brutally difficult year for the family, one that was peppered with illness, trauma and goodbyes. But there have also been great times and memories made, and this is what I choose to celebrate today.

I celebrate my sister’s graduation and new career. She chose to retire a number of years ago, and then returned to school to get another degree so that she could start a new career as a palliative care social worker. Despite the insanity of her life, she graduated in June and started her new job the next day…how amazing is that!

I celebrate that after six years of travelling every corner of the globe, one daughter returned home to Canada…permanently. Cue the angels singing here!

I also celebrate that this same daughter was accepted into her program of choice to become a nurse…and rocked her first semester! Bring out the noisemakers.

I celebrate that my youngest daughter will soon be moving to Portugal for her final semester of her degree. Okay, not only will I have the house to myself for the first time in 30 years (toss in a couple of handsprings and a backflip here!), but how incredible is it that our children have these opportunities to experience other cultures and see some of the world?! And even more amazing is that I get to cross this country off my bucket list when I head there in March!

I celebrate my trip to Vegas with friends in July, spending the better part of my time there doubled over in laughter. These memories are priceless and I know that I will never look at another mojito in the same way!

I celebrate the fact that I was able to experience different parts of Canada, as I hiked through Manitoba and some of Ontario this summer and was reminded each time just how lucky I am to be able to live in this country.

I celebrate that each hike was entertaining, offering an abundance of life lessons and laughter, as I surrounded myself with people with a great sense of humour and adventure. How fortunate am I to have experienced these hikes with friends and family while checking fifteen hikes off my bucket list!

I celebrate that I was able to experience my favorite hike with one of my daughters and am ever so grateful for her patience as I trudged my way through a very difficult part of this trek. These memories that we created on this three-day excursion will stay with me forever, not only because I was successful in completing the hike, but because of all the ridiculous errors that I made along the way. And yet, we laughed!

I celebrate that I was able to finish my Marie Kondo-ing project, decluttering my home from top to bottom, and surrounding myself with things that bring me joy! It may have taken me over a year to complete, but it is a definite indication that less is more!

I celebrate all the amazing students who meet me each morning and afternoon with their big smiles, high fives and hugs, little people who definitely make my day every day!

I celebrate my daughter’s dog who meets me at the door at the end of each day, as she climbs into my arms and gives me the best welcoming hug. Despite the day I may have had, her presence is always uplifting!

I celebrate my friendships with people who have been in my life for years, some for 50, others for 27, 10 and 5, while some are more recent acquaintances. Their kindness, graciousness, ability to laugh, vent when necessary and experience life with me in all its craziness makes me an exceptionally lucky individual.

So, yes, this year has seen its share of tears and heartache. But as I am surrounded by the warmth of the sun today, I am reminded that I have also been blessed with an extraordinary family, great friends, laughter and life experiences and just a whole lot of joy. So, yes, life is good!

Reflections on 2019

Slide1

As I look back on 2019, I can say without hesitation that this was one ‘kick you when you’re down’ kinda year. At the same time, there were a few highs as well, and I’m choosing to focus on those moments, because they are definitely what got me through the less than stellar ones.

Sometimes, it’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe. ~ Yumi Sakugawa

For the better part of the first half of this year, I lived on autopilot, in a total state of shellshock after learning in January that Mom had an aggressive form of cancer that took her from us far too soon. There were many…and I mean many times that I was not able to remember the simplest things. I simply coasted through each day, going between my Mom’s place and my work, and then her room at the hospital and home. The frustration would definitely build, because I am the organized one. Yet, I couldn’t remember half the time if I had combed my hair and brushed my teeth, never mind which report needed to be filed nor which meeting was coming up on my agenda. And finding space to breathe so that I could come up for air during a time that was absolutely heart-crushing and mind-numbing was next to impossible. Trying to right myself and get my footing wasn’t happening, and it was evident. Then one of Mom’s friend’s wrapped me up in a big hug and just whispered that all I needed to do was breathe. The rest could wait. And so, I learned to breathe, and let go of this worry that I was letting everybody down with my inability to do 1000 things at a time. I found a great deal of peace in this, something that carried me through a very difficult time.

Lesson learned : Give yourself permission to let go…to focus on the here and now…to breathe. You’ll get to the ‘other’ stuff when you’re ready.

Life is a blend of laughter and tears, a combination of rain and sunshine. ~ Norman Vincent Peale

We shed the equivalent of a torrential downpour in tears this year with the loss of Mom and my niece’s near-death experience. Yet, we also shared our fair share of laughter. By allowing ourselves to laugh, to not be crushed by the grief that we were feeling, to remember our parents in a way that would have made their day, this was a healing gift for all of us. Were they always appropriate moments when we were splitting a gut? Highly unlikely. But this shared laughter allowed our hearts to feel a little less lost as we honoured a woman who was the center of our family.

Lesson learned : Let the tears fall. Let the laughter roll. And it’s okay if both happen at the same time because it’s all part of the healing. And when you’re holding your sides as you guffaw yourself into a seizure while the tears are rolling down your face, the chances are seriously good that you will only laugh that much harder. At the same time, enjoying yourself is not a sign of disrespect to the person mourned. Rather, this honours them with the knowledge that you can still delight in what the world has to offer. So laugh away!

The most challenging times bring us the most empowering lessons. ~ Karen Salmansohn

We really thought that Mom would be with us well into her 90s. Everything about her spoke to a long life. And then, she wasn’t. And this was very much a wake-up call that I needed to be very conscientious about living my life to the fullest because there is absolutely no guarantee that I have another 30 years left in my bank. So, a long-time bucket list enthusiast, I began to set up challenges for myself and stick to them. 10 new hikes…10 new areas explored in my hometown…10 sunrises and sunsets (okay, I’m not a morning person, so I may have missed a few in the wee hours at dawn)…10 random acts of kindness…30 days of meditation…the list is long. But I worked through the challenges and for the most part, was successful in completing them. This was exhilarating and mind-blowing at the same time, especially when I got to the peak of a very difficult climb, or I saw the expression on the person’s face when they had no idea who the giver was. At the same time, I honoured my Mom and Dad at each time, taking time to remember their gifts to me over the years. This felt…well, wonderful!

Lesson learned : Life circumstances can kick you hard and keep kicking even when you are down. Yet, you are resilient. You are strong. You are capable of picking yourself up and living your life, despite the loss, the challenges or the grief. And when you live your life, it doesn’t mean that you are forgetting those who aren’t with you. Instead, you honour them by working at being the best version of yourself.

On the last day of the year, this is what I know to be true. 2019 was brutal and invigorating…crushing and uplifting…sad and joyful, sometimes separately and other times, simultaneously. That is life. Would I change anything? I’d still have my parents with me…that goes without saying. But the gifts of giving, of family and friends’ support during a brutal time in our lives, of challenges that were met and crushed, of beautiful sunsets, of tears shed, and of so much laughter…these made this year one of loss, but also lessons learned and memories made. So, as I let go of these past 12 months, I look forward to 2020 and hopefully, amazing experiences ahead. Cheers, everyone!

Freeing Up Space à la Marie Kondo

Tidying Marie Kondo

A friend of mine gave me a book last year, The life changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo. I read through it because I do that with every book that finds its way into my hands, but I didn’t really put much thought into it. Her ideas seemed logical, although I found it to be a tad on the quirky side. In my lifetime, I couldn’t imagine holding each object in my hand and giving gratitude for its presence in my life before I gave it away, because well, a) I’m a tad on the overly practical side and b) who has the time?

But this year, I was a woman on a mission, as it was high time that I started to cull through 26 years of living in our home…and there has been a lot of living. So, I went back through Marie’s book, following the steps as she laid them out so that I could get started on the entire ‘less is more’ process. The idea behind her tidying method is to keep things in your home that spark joy. It sounds like an easy task, but it takes practice to actually go through items and choose them because you feel that connection, rather than hanging on to them because you can’t let go. The process that she sets out allows you to work up your understanding of what brings you joy, and it really works.

As per her KonMari method, I started with my clothes. This was a fairly easy step for me, as I tend to give away clothes that haven’t graced my frame in over six months. At the same time, I am not one to hang on to an outfit in case it will fit at some point when I lose that magic 10 lbs, because let’s face it, the chances of that happening at this point in my life are slim to non-existent. And so, I went through my ensembles and quickly culled what I still loved and what I couldn’t part with from things that held little to no value in my life. The transformation in my closet and dresser drawers was almost magical and I was walking on Cloud 9 after that.

Then, I made my way through my books. This was tougher because many of my books hold sentimental value…and reading is also one of my passions. But I stuck with it, keeping the books that brought back significant memories and then giving away absolutely every other book that I had spilling over in every corner of my home. My music room now looks less like a room that has been on the receiving end of an apocalypse and more like an area where you would actually enjoy sitting to read a good book.

From here, I went through all my papers. What a task! Although I know that we should be hanging on to important documents for a seven-year period, I was more of the mindset that you should hang on to them because you never know when certain information might come in handy. So basically, I had documents in my filing cabinet dating back to when the Earth began cooling…old bills, receipts, taxes…you name it, I kept it. This took me approximately three weeks to complete as every file was time consuming, but not as time consuming as it took to shred the documents. Fortunately, a neighbor was having a bonfire, so these excess papers came in handy that evening as we enjoyed a beverage or two. All that said, I am now down to one drawer in one filing cabinet…so, yeah, me!

The next step in the process is referred to as Komono, or the miscellaneous parts of your life, everything from your garage to your kitchen and your bathrooms. The garage was interesting, because although it had technically been cleaned at various times over 26 years, the reality of the cleaning is that items were simply moved from one corner to another to give it a fresh look. So, another three weeks was invested in this undertaking. For whatever reason, this space carried the most baggage for me, so much so that when I entered it after a neighbor had hauled away the last load of items for recycling and the dump (and had also power washed my floors), the tears fell in a steady stream as I marveled at its cleanliness. I can honestly say at that point that I felt free for the first time in years. And while I cried, I thanked my lucky stars that nobody was around to see me sobbing over a clean garage…and then I heard my neighbor backing his truck up along the laneway. Trying to explain that you are really overjoyed while blubbering away takes some expertise, but he understood…eventually…that I wasn’t losing my mind!

Following this, I tackled both bathrooms. This wasn’t an onerous task, as they are fairly small spaces. So, with some creative organization, complete with small baskets and boxes to reorganize each drawer, I was doing a pirouette or two once done. I then moved on to the kitchen. Again, not a painful process until I came to the Tupperware drawer, which isn’t really a Tupperware drawer at all because I don’t own one piece of Tupperware, but it’s what my mother used to call it, so the label has stuck! But seriously, who eats the lids off these containers? And how do people actually develop a system that remains organized for more than 5 minutes? This particular drawer will be my nemesis, although I did get rid of many containers that had seen better days or were minus a lid. I just have to remain on top of it on a fairly regular basis. That said, I can see that it may be less of a challenge when my last child moves out in the near future.

I then jumped in with both feet to clean out the laundry room. Who knew that I actually had a countertop? Or that I didn’t need every craft supply known to the human race…because a) they too had been around since the Earth began cooling and b) I don’t spend copious amounts of time doing crafts. So, these supplies found a great home in my school and have been used multiple times since I cleared out my cupboards. When all was done, walking into this space without the mounds of adult children’s clothes strewn about on the floor or on the countertop…without every cupboard crammed with items that needed hiding or that I thought I might make use of before my 90th birthday…well, I was not only doing a few pirouettes, I was throwing in a couple of dabs and the odd floss, much to my daughter’s entertainment.

My next and final project will be to go through my sentimental items, and those are my photographs. I have over 60 albums of everything from my childhood to my adult life, and many, if not most, are precious to me. I know that this may be a difficult task as I reorganize these memories in my life so that I am not storing so many albums, which seems just a bit excessive. So I will tackle it during the holidays when I have time to breathe, curled up with a hot chocolate in my comfiest of pyjamas.

What I know is that Marie Kondo’s method, although quirky and not something that I followed to the letter, because let’s face it, I’d still be giving thanks to items in my closet in my bedroom, never mind completing the last of my komono rooms, it was definitely a liberating process. We can become bogged down with work, children, our own personal baggage and that of those close to us. Being able to free up some space in your life, whether it is your closet, drawer or your garage, gives you some much needed breathing room to take back some of that control that you feel might be spiraling away and will leave the craziness of your life a lot less overwhelming. The beauty in this is that I could take my time doing it…there were no deadlines other than the goals that I set for myself, and I was generous with my timelines. And when it was all said and done, I sat back in my livingroom, looked around my wonderful, clean, bright space, and was then able to say thank you for all that my home and the life that I have lived in it has given me over the years. But now, it’s on to the next chapter, and I can wait to get going with its pages!

Navigating Christmas Without Mom

Slide1

This is the first year that my sisters and I are ‘parentless’…and the first year that we celebrate Christmas without our mother. Celebrating holidays after you lose somebody is tough, but this holiday season is exceptionally difficult simply because Christmas was definitely Mom’s thing. She would get so excited for the holiday season and begin baking weeks in advance for family and friends, everything from perogies to cabbage rolls, butter tarts to sugar cookies. There was no end to the goodies that she prepared for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day…and well into the New Year. And I reaped the benefits of her passion for years. When her freezer was full to overflowing, she would move from her kitchen to spend a few days in mine, with the Christmas music playing in the background, grooving away to Silent Night or Jingle Bells in the most off-pitch voice imaginable. When Dad was still with us, she would send him back to the grocery store for more of this, that and the other thing, and he went willingly…in large part because he knew that fresh buns would be waiting for him straight out of the oven! And as she worked, she used every inch of countertop available to her to come up with a truckload of baked goods so that when I arrived home, there would be loads of dainties, tarts and cookies lining every inch of my kitchen. It smelled so good!

And then, true to form, she gave away as much of her baking as she kept for us. I can’t come close to describing just how much food there was, as not only were her friends the beneficiaries of many plates of dainties every year, she would also cook and bake for my entire staff just because she could. The amounts were insane…and she was in her glory. And in all that time, I did very little baking because it wasn’t my thing…until this year, when I find myself wanting to keep up with a bit of her traditions.

Now, I’m sure that this is the case for many people who are avid bakers…much of what happens in a kitchen is done by memory, feel or some insanely psychic ability to make the perfect pie, tart or cake, none of which was ever passed on down to me through the gene pool that is my family. Unlike my need for organization, however, Mom kept her recipes organized…in a brown envelope with scattered directions on pieces of paper here and there. That changed in February of this year, about four weeks before she passed away, when she woke me up in the wee hours of the morning because it was suddenly important to her that I get those recipes down in a more formal manner.

And so I began typing away, while she dozed on and off in her hospital bed. Keeping in mind that she didn’t really look at her recipes in any detail as she had been baking them for the better part of her life, her directions were scant at the best of times. And so, I would ask her to clarify a few (or many) things as I went along. Now, it could be that I was exhausted while working through them, or that she wasn’t firing on all cylinders due to the brain tumour, but I’m guessing that the finished product may be riddled with an error or two. There may have been the odd direction to add vinegar when it should have been vanilla (my mistake, not hers) or the importance of baking the cream cheese tarts at 350F for exactly 10 minutes. The problem is that Mom didn’t specify that we should only have put the tart shells in the oven, minus the cream cheese filling (something that one sister discovered during one of her practice sessions!). At the same time, many of the recipes were peppered with comments such as ‘Mom insists that…’ or ‘Mom is adamant that…’ based on her commentary as I worked through them, even though this wasn’t exactly how she did them (something that we also discovered during our practice runs!).

And now, as we attempt to carry on our own version of this family tradition, my sisters and I have been spending a fair bit of time Facetiming each other to share our gaffs so that they aren’t repeated as we try to navigate Mom’s recipes. The kicker is when something is pulled out of the oven and a friend pipes up with, ‘These don’t taste like your Mom’s!’ And so, we go back to the drawing board!

So, despite that laughter that we have shared through all the practice runs that we have taken with these recipes over the past few weeks, I would give anything to have her here with us to give us a few pointers…and then maybe move me out of the way so that she could get her hands in the dough! Today, as I take another batch of tarts out of the oven, more than anything, I find myself missing that tradition and wishing that maybe I had one more year to soak in the smells of her freshly baked buns, cookies and apple cider. Because really, these butter tarts just aren’t the same without her.

 

Give Them Wings…Just Don’t Expect Them to Fly in Formation!

Slide1

As a parent, my goal was to raise strong-willed, independent, adventurous and life-loving children, giving them wings to be their authentic and true selves…and I believe that I have done that. Through multiple parenting classes that allowed for voice (How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk) and choice (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, Sibling Rivalry and anything Barbara Coloroso), opportunities for adventure (no cable) and a lot of luck and hard work, my three adult daughters are just that. They took those wings and have just soared in life, standing up for what they believe in, making choices in life that allow them to grow and living their lives in the best way possible…for themselves.

And there’s the catch…the idea that they would be making choices that are right ‘for them’! When I imagined these independent, powerful women, I didn’t take into account that the choices they would make or the opinions they would have wouldn’t necessarily be mine. Who dathunk that ‘independent’ meant just that, particularly when all three are so very different, one from the other?

Over the years, I may have cringed a time or two when my children walked across the threshold on their way to school or an evening out in an ensemble that rivalled something best worn by Phyllis Diller or Ru Paul in a nightclub or the Cat in the Hat in one of Dr. Seuss’s many children’s novels. Yet, they wore them with flair and a whole lot of pride!

I may not have loved that one traipsed literally across all corners of the Earth, hitchhiking her way through many countries with little more than a toothbrush. Yet, this child has had so many incredible life experiences that continue to astound and amaze me!

I definitely wasn’t overly enthused when another chose to drive through the night to get to her destination because…well, she could. Yet, crazily enough, she made it in one piece and was there to celebrate her friend’s birthday with their many friends, creating memories that she will cherish for a lifetime.

I can guarantee you that I was not impressed when one ended up in my bed after an evening of festivities, smelling much like the remnants of beverages that would be best left on the barroom floor. Yet, she learned albeit it the hard way that perhaps less is more!

I may not have been grateful for every one of their significant others who have graced our home with their presence, and although I bonded with a number of them, there were others who caused to me to rethink my tactics to avoid becoming that crazy mother-in-law that everybody dreads. Oh, did I bite my tongue! Yet today, my daughters are with wonderful, loving partners who treat them with incredible grace and kindness.

So no, I didn’t love every decision that they made, as some made my hair stand on end and others just added to the lustrous gray that I so carefully cover with my dye jobs. But…and here’s the kicker…they are kind, gracious, loving women with amazing partners, strong opinions and a carefree independence that makes my heart sing. Do they think like I do? Not always…and sometimes, not often. Does it matter? No…because they get to live their own experiences…their own mistakes…and their own life lessons.

And what have I learned through my own experiences as a mother. Give your children the wings that they need to soar…just don’t expect them to fly in formation with you! The beauty in this is that you get to go along for this crazy ride that is their life…and every once in a while, you will find yourself laughing hysterically at some of their decisions because…well, karma’s a bitch and sometimes, it’s so very well played!

Remembering Those Left Behind

Slide1

When somebody passes away, the initial couple of weeks following a death are filled with the craziness of planning a funeral or a celebration of life, attending to visiting family members and finalizing the remaining tasks that need some attending to as we say goodbye to a loved one. And then life begins to get back to normal and it is then when people tend to be hit the hardest by their loss, when they no longer have the hectic pace to keep them focused on anything other than their pain. I was reminded of this on Saturday.

I attended yet another Celebration of Life last weekend for a woman in her 40s who fought valiantly for nearly four years after being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2015, a parent of former students at a school where I work. The room was packed with family, colleagues, neighbors and close friends as people paid tribute to a life well-lived and well-loved. At her request, there was a great deal of laughter, although more than a few tears were shed during the speeches as those closest to her honored her life and her impact on them.

Throughout this celebration, however, what drew me in most during the celebration were her two teenage children. They handled themselves with dignity and an extraordinary amount of courage throughout the day, although I can only imagine that their hearts were breaking with each memory shared. And I wondered how they will fare as time goes on?

I know from personal experience that when we say goodbye to somebody that we love, the impact can be devastating, and more often than not, it is. During the initial few weeks, our friends rally around us to provide support, and they are there to hold us up when we aren’t able to do so ourselves. This helps more than we could possibly express, because sometimes we don’t even know what it is that we need, so overwhelmed are we by our pain.

Then life begins to go on, and friends pick up with their lives…as they should. And those who are left to navigate their loss do so in whatever way works for them. This is challenging, but we learn to function without the person that we love because we have commitments and obligations that require our presence and our focus. It doesn’t make it any easier, but we take one step forward on a daily basis until we get to a point where that pain is manageable.

Now I’m talking about my experience as an adult. But what happens with the children that have to find their way after losing a parent, a sibling or a friend? Just like us, they will eventually find themselves in a place where the support isn’t as immediate because those who currently have their backs find themselves busy with their own lives. This is a normal course of events in life. But children don’t necessarily have the tools or the life experiences to know how to move their feet forward when it feels like everything is crashing down around them.

So, while watching this woman’s children during an extremely difficult time for them, I was reminded that this is only the beginning for them, and that once all the craziness begins to subside, they will sometimes be absolutely lost…and hurting…and way above their heads with grief. And each of them will handle this pain differently. As I watched them, I worried that those who mean the most to them will forget that this is going to happen…not because they are being callous or cruel or thoughtless, but perhaps they too will be struggling with their own grief over this loss or simply because life has to go on for them as well. And when that happens, there won’t be the same support there to help guide them through their pain.

As I tell everybody who will listen, the hardest part in dealing with the loss of a loved one isn’t the funeral. It is those moments, weeks and months that follow laying a person to rest, when we are alone with our thoughts. My hope is that those closest to her children will take the time to check in, to include them in not only their festivities, but the day-to-day activities that take place in their lives, to talk or to listen, to laugh and to cry, and that they are there to celebrate those moments that meant so much to these children over the years. And eventually, with the love and support of their friends and family, the two of them will find their own rhythm, albeit different, one that will guide them on a path that allows them to find some peace along the way. As I watched them on the weekend, that was my hope for them.

 

When Stuff Happens…

Slide1

Being on time for appointments or soirées may not prove difficult for some. These people are organized, pre-planned and on the ball. However, trying to get anywhere when you have multiple children requires an exercise in military precision in the execution of all things necessary to get out the door, in the car, and on your merry way. I have learned this the hard way. Three daughters of the spirited variety can prove challenging. Motivating them to be ready for any outing at a specific time is an endeavour not for the faint of heart.

This is one of those times. We spent a considerable amount of time at doctors’ appointments for our second child for the better part of her first five years. Suffering from a severe case of GERD, she saw her fair share of specialists and waiting rooms. On one particular morning, we had an important 11 a.m. appointment with a specialist. Thinking ahead, I got my girls ready a little earlier than usual, because this involved being decked in ski suits and snow boots. Welcome to my world in January.

With everybody ready to go, we headed out the door. Then, just as we got to the car, she (for whom we were going to see the specialist) let out a fart that rivalled a sonic boom. As I was fairly confident that this would require a diaper change, I hurried back in the house, my brood in tow, yelling that Mommy would just be a ‘few minutes’ as I made my way towards her bedroom. As I quickly peeled off her layers, I discovered that this required much more than a quick diaper change as the child had literally shat herself from head to toe. The most pressing question at that moment was how a baby that small could hold that much in her tiny body…seriously! And then, what would I do for another winter coat for her?

That aside, not a stranger to speed under pressure, I quickly washed, rinsed, dried and changed her in under eight minutes, no easy feat, I might add, while she cooed and giggled. I quickly shoved her into another of my eldest’s hand-me-downs, a little worse for wear, and off we went. Then, as we were literally just out the door, she stopped us with another wet fart of ridiculous proportions. My five-year-old actually rolled her eyes, and back in the house we went. I completed this wash and rinse cycle in under six minutes this time, although I dropped a few pounds, perspiration dripping through my winter coat. Had I mentioned that to save time, I kept on my winter gear both times? Not my best move!

So, once back in her snowsuit that had seen better days, we hurried out the door for attempt #3. Just as I was getting her into her car seat, guess what? Yup….sooooo, back in we ran for another round of ‘Clean the klitch’ out of every crevice on her tiny frame. While she was trying to play with her toes, giggling away, I was certainly breathing heavy, my hair plastered to my head. To say that I was flushed would be an understatement. But, my discomfort aside, I had to make due with a huge blanket as a makeshift ski suit, wrapping her up in mummy-like fashion. Her new ensemble in place, we made it out the door, three kids in tow, tossing them into their car seats at break neck speed and making it safely to the doctor’s office with one minute to spare…10 lbs lighter, I might add, but on time!

This was one of many experiences with my daughters that taught me a few valuable lessons. The upside is that it still makes me laugh…and question my sanity! What did I learn from this little gem?

  1. If you need to be somewhere, give yourself ample time to get there in case of emergencies that tend to pop up ever so unexpectedly…because as you may have noted in this story, sh*t happens…like children with ridiculously loose bowels!
  2. Don’t panic if everything isn’t going according to plan! Going back to Point #1, sh*t happens that is sometimes out of your control. So just roll with it…get creative…and keep moving!
  3. What I also learned is that you’ll get where you’re supposed to be eventually, even if sh*t happens…so breathe! It will all likely work out and you’ll definitely have an entertaining story to tell at some point. And if it doesn’t, go back to Point #2.