44 and 28

As we were getting suited up to spend a luxurious day bouncing from hot tub to hot tub, vegging in different saunas, relaxing at fire pits and sitting in lounge chairs in a toasty room overlooking ponds and trees I turned to my friend and said, “see, even in my bathing suit on you can tell the difference!”  She took a step back to get a better angle in which to see my chest, and as her eyes darted back and forth trying to make sense of it all she burst out laughing, “totally!”  It was impossible to stifle our girlish giggles in the calm quiet change room and we were grateful that the in house ‘shh-er’ wasn’t wandering through.

The night before, when stepping out of the shower, I caught a glimpse of myself naked in the mirror and instead of my eyes doing the usual scar, polka dot tattoos, port inspection, I was struck by something I’d never noticed before.  I stood up straighter, squaring my shoulders and tilting my head sideways as I attempted to get a better look.  Interesting…

I raised one hand to cover my left breast so I could just concentrate on the right one, then switched hands to cover my right breast so I could see the left one clearer.  After a number of hand switches inspecting my ladies in isolation I stopped to see them as a pair once again and declared it official; my ladies are different ages. Although the left side looks like its proper 44 year old self having just begun making friends with gravity, the right side, the side that has endured surgery, and direct blasts radiation is looking like a breast of a 28 year old, all firm, perky and ready to take on the world. 

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I wondered if my radiologist would mind firing up the old radiation machine for some cosmetic radiation for my left side to make them a matching pair.   Seriously, is that too much to ask?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish my thighs wouldn’t rub together, or that my nose wasn’t permanently broken, but the truth is, even with adding lopsided breasts to my list of attributes, I’ve no reason not to just love my body exactly the way it is. Each scar, bump, birthmark, roll and wrinkle I’ve accumulated are uniquely mine, well earned, and I’m proud of each and every one of them.   Beauty has nothing to do with perfection, it’s knowing I’m beautiful because I’m perfectly one of a kind.

 
Arriving at the Scandinave Spa, lopsided breasts and all!

Arriving at the Scandinave Spa, lopsided breasts and all!

 

Exposed!

It might just be the teacher in me that tingles at the mere thought of a committee, but when it was suggested I interview for the Patient and Family Advisory Council at the Juravinski hospital I was all over it. A way to give back and feel supported all at the same time? Sign me up!

Turns out this group is made up of incredible people and with the hospital launching its new website, the Cancer Centre was eager to show off what we do. It was decided that a veteran of the group would be interviewed and then they would film the rest of us during a meeting to splice through the original interview.

Dressed up in polka dots, streetwalker red lipstick and a sparkly headband, I arrived the day of filming feelin’ fancy and good to go. All that was really expected of us, was to be ourselves as we addressed everything on our agenda and ignored the person with a camera roaming around room catching different angles and facial expressions.

Still basking in the after math of another great meeting when I got home, I began to get a feeling that something just wasn’t right. I reached up to the back of my neck in order to undo the little button holding my top together when my heart sunk. It wasn’t done up. Could it have been open the entire day?

The slit of my shirt extends half way down my back and without long hair as a distraction, this was truly alarming. I paused in wonderment, “did I forget to fasten my top closed?” I then laughed, “noooo, it must have come undone on my way home.” If my top was spread eagle wide open, someone one would have told me… right? After all, I’ve stopped strangers in public to tuck in tags, fixed hems caught in coats, picked off wandering lint and pointed out things that I would expect someone to graciously point out to me. So no, there was no way this was undone during the entire meeting. Crisis averted.

The big day finally arrived, time for the grand reveal of hours of interviewing, touching up and editing. We all watched with eager anticipation as the masterpiece was projected on two large screens simultaneously. Smiles were lighting up the room as we showed off our pride for how well they had captured the essence of our mighty little group.

And then I froze. Ice ran through my veins as the screen cut to a shot that showed off my back side; I mean, literally, half of my back was exposed.

If the flaps of the shirt had both folded outwards I could see why someone would think it was the style, as inappropriate as it was for a board meeting, a style none-the-less. But one flap was up, and the other dramatically wide open, showing off my haven’t seen the sun in years skin. Really? A full hour of filming, only minutes used and they chose footage that showed my chemo braininess at its finest?

When regaling this tale of embarrassment to a friend over tea in Starbucks, she laughed heartily as I emphatically emphasized that this video was going to be available for the world to see for many a year to come. I was officially the harlot of the Cancer Centre! Attempting to catch her breath mid-hysterics, she kindly stated that it was my duty to show the world the realities of chemo fog, and applauded me for once again giving 110% to what I do.

Laughing at myself has turned out to be a special kind of medicine over this past year and a half. I’m grateful for every seemingly embarrassing moment, from hairy legs with hot doctors, to wearing two bras to yoga, then the time I showed up for a funeral and the director thought I was there to set up my own funeral instead of attend one for someone else. The awkward, mortifying moments will always be my favorite and I heartily agree with Claire from Letters to Juliet, when she says “life is the messy bits.”

Cancer, you may force me to wear ugly, comfortable shoes because I can’t feel my feet, be the most painful bikini wax I’ve ever received, screw with my taste buds, zap me of all energy and forced me to make special friends with a porcelain bowl, but…you will never get my sense of humour.

T'ome on Auntie!

My first visit to the chemo suite was supposed to be a simple toodle around, get a sense of the vibe and leave feeling informed and raring to go.  What I actually felt like, was a dog being yanked by its owner to the car to go to the vet;  all four legs fiercely digging into the ground, body leaning back in complete panic and fully determined to avoid getting in that car at any cost. 

Now after 22 sittings in the chemo chair, being hooked up to bags of witches brew through a surgically implanted port in my chest with no complaint, and having 4 more visits to go, I’m back to feeling like that stubborn dog again. 

I’m done.

I’m like that marathon runner who has felt focused and optimistic throughout the race, but the second they can see the finish line their body stops making adrenaline and all of a sudden 600 metres feels like a bigger challenge than the 40 some odd kilometres they’ve just covered.

Knowing that stopping isn’t an option, I knew it was time to give myself some form of break.  I tried a day at the spa, laughing with friends, playing the piano, editing my book, indulging in chocolate and binge knitting, but nothing would help me relax against the invisible leash hauling me back to the hospital.

So I pulled out the big guns and asked myself ‘why’ I was doing all of this in the first place? 
What is that ‘thing’ driving my determination and positivity?

It’s never been enough for me to say that I’m doing this insanity because it’s what the doctor said needs to happen and I don’t have a bucket-list as motivation because I’ve always shamelessly said ‘yes’ to adventures no matter how wacky.  Not even the threats made by my family to toss me over their shoulders, shove me in the trunk of their cars, and hook me up personally to the IV drip if I attempted to skip out is enough motivation to get me back in that confounded chair. No, I needed something that truly emotionally motivates me to my core.  And as it turns out, I have three; Elena, Ethan and Gracie Rae.

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The reason why I chose to do as many treatments my oncologist is willing to give me, drag myself to the hospital when it’s the last thing I want to do, and endure this wild chemo fog is all because of my babies. No part of my cancer story involves me not being there with them as they grow, graduate schools, go on their first date, learn the joys of travel and become who they’re meant to be. I won’t miss a single piano recital, school dance, or cross-country meet and I fully intend to give them plenty an opportunity to roll their eyes at me. They are the reason for my non-negotiable happy ending to this craziness.

Asking the simple word ‘why’ has always helped me solider on, pepped me up with motivation or helped me realize that yes, it’s time to let something go. I know if I get frustrated there is a reason, and these three letters always seem to have the magical solution for me.

So, I’ve let go of that image of the dog  fighting against her leash and replaced it with a vision of three and a half year old Elena taking my finger as she often does and saying “t’ome on Auntie.”

Yup, I’ve got this.

 
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Write On!

I did it.

I cashed in on some bravery and read through all the notes, journals and scribbles of paper that I have been writing on ever since the great lump discovery. I had scribbles on the backs of cereal boxes penned while grocery shopping, jottings captured on different restaurant napkins, perspectives scrawled out on a rainbow of various post-it notes, and multiple journals full of stories, observations and frustrations. March became a month saturated in organizing and writing. And what was the result?

I wrote a book.

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She’s in its fullest roughest form right now, desperate for copious amounts of editing and really can’t be finished until I’m done with the chemo chair, but… I did it.  I’ve emptied my head of all the many wacky stories, and painful experiences, taking the time to be truly honest with myself about this adventure. Writing has acted like a form of therapy for me. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the job of cancer; the appointments, the treatments, the recovering just to get knocked down again, and the emotions hopping up and down like ignored children get shoved aside.  Although it’s natural after a trauma to be desperate to move forward, away from the painful memories, I knew I needed to give every hidden emotion that has been sitting patiently on the sidelines an opportunity to be acknowledged and released. And writing has been the best tool for me to do just that.

If you asked me in high school if I fancied myself a writer, I would have laughed.  After all, I had a sorted history with the written word:

  • in elementary school I received extra phonics help during the ‘hooked on phonics’ push,

  • in high school I kept a spelling calculator in my pencil case hoping to catch my pesky spelling errors before they revealed the truth about my backwards thinking,

  • I suffered through many a grammar lesson with my dad, King Grammarian, while he annihilated my essays with the flaming red pen,

  • I have avoided playing Scrabble my entire life, embarrassed at my creative spelling skills,

  • and I actually did a happy dance at the end of first year University when it was no longer mandatory to take English. I was finally free from the humiliation!

Nope, writing was the last thing I saw myself doing. 

It’s so easy to assume things I’ve always enjoyed or didn’t like at all in my past, remain true today. Hard not to wonder how many other things I claim I’m not good at, are really things I would enjoy exploring now?

Fast forward 21 years and as it turns out, I’m having a real hoot writing. I’m now the person who walks around with a blank journal in her purse and q-cards in her yoga bag to ensure to catch random ideas, whims, unique phrases or wonderings before they leave as quickly as they appear. 

Ultimately, the book is something I am doing for me.  It’s the book I wish existed at the beginning of this journey offering wise tidbits not shared by doctors and heads ups about things I never saw coming until they were right in front of me. 

Reliving this experience that 'I’m still knee deep in’ is allowing me to:

  • celebrate getting through the good, bad, and ugly…. not to mention the uglier.

  • laugh at things that happened that could really only happen to me.

  • forgive hurtful comments and moments I have been treated with ignorance.

  • see and appreciate my own strength.

  • swim in gratitude for the kindnesses that has been shown to me by so many people.

  • begin to see just the tip of mountain of lessons and blessings that are all part of this journey.

I’ve said from the beginning I was going to love cancer out of me, because when it’s finally gone, I would much rather be left with some good old fashioned love than victimized anger or resentment.  It hasn’t been easy to chose love, and I continue to navigate around rabbit holes, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth the work.

Getting to this point with my writing I’m certain of one thing, when I tell myself I can’t do something, I’m always right. Time to release old assumptions, and no longer use ‘what has always been’, as a reason to avoid trying something a first or even third time.

So for now, I will write on… to the editing table!

Finger Foibles & Losing My Mind

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I sat there holding up my sad little index finger to show off its deep blood red colouring and impressive puss bubble that sat on the edge of the nail. The triage nurse at the emergency room looked at me and asked the obvious simple question, “what happened?”

My response? I burst into tears and blubbered out that I had no clue.  I remember jamming it at one point, it involved wicked pain and creative cussing, but I couldn’t tell her when, where, what, why, or how. And now I was sitting there with an oozing finger, and having to face a truth I’ve been trying to avoid admitting to myself; I think I may be losing my mind. 

For awhile now, I’ve found myself forgetting the simplest of words part way through a sentence, stopping mid-sentence to ask, “what am I talking about” and having pockets of complete blanks polka dotted throughout my memory.  It was much more than average absentmindedness I was experiencing. I told myself that if I just left this concern alone, and didn’t voice it out loud, it would take care of itself. A classic from my wheelhouse of denial tactics.  

But here I sat, unable to explain why my finger was growing a poltergeist realizing it was something I no longer could avoid addressing.

The nurse was kind and reassuring as I blubbered out my apologies, blamed cancer meds and admitted how foolish I felt being there puffed up with pus when I was dealing with the bigger issue of cancer. I had worked hard to keep myself out of the emergency ward ever since the beginning of treatment, only to end up being dragged in now by a finger that had developed its own heartbeat!

After reassuring me that I needed to be there because I have no immune system and that my family doctor was wise to send me directly to them, she asked me for a list of the medications I was on. I didn’t miss a beat jumping into my purse to grab the calendar that runs my world and then my heart dropped.  I’m never without my calendar, but this one time I had left it in my car when checking other appointments before arriving there.  My head fell into my hands as I once again had a mini melt down.  Could I do anything right?

I did my best to remember the medication I could, but lets be honest, if I couldn’t remember how I hurt myself I wasn’t going to be able to pick words like Bisoprolol or Candesartan Cilexetil out of the recesses of my mind. I started to play a kind of verbal charades with her telling her what the different meds do, hoping that she could guess the list of drugs from my dramatic portrayal. She cut me off mid-theatrics to tell me they would access all of my medications through my hospital records and once again tried to reassure me that I was normal.  Although I didn’t believe her, it was felt good to at least hear.

It took 4.5 hours,

  • two excruciatingly painful freezing needles into my finger joint,

  • listening to a doctor ‘man-splane’ to me that I didn’t understand my freezing abilities only for my body to confirm the warnings I gave him and contradict his pompous lecture,

  • a scalpel to slice me open so he could clean out all the gunk,

before I left with my finger wrapped up in a fancy bandage and having to forge my way to my car in an unexpected down pour.

Driving home I realized I needed to look at this with a logical lens; my brain is a muscle, and the best way to strengthen any muscle is to use it. And this would allow me to do one of my favorite things… study!

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First, I began making lists words I read that I loved, were new to me, or were oldies but goodies, being sure to include a definition and synonyms for each.

Next, I’ve become a connoisseur of the crossword puzzle. Not caring if I needed a dictionary, thesaurus or my cell phone to help me find the answers; after all, the point is to strengthen, not judge.

And finally, I’ve returned to my roots, music. I decided to take violin lessons, allowing me to learn something new in an extremely familiar world. It’s freeing learning for the sole purpose of learning and enjoying for enjoyments sake. 

Two weeks later I was back with my oncologist who with a confused partial laugh asked why her notes now included a visit to the emergency room.  I filled her in on the unexpected sidetrack and followed it with the real concerns that lay underneath.   She looked at me amused after I listed all I was doing to try to help myself as she informed me that the concern of having blackouts after chemotherapy has only ever been a concern pointed out by high functioning women.  She paused to let the label of ‘high functioning’ woman attach itself to me, then simply said, “you’re doing great”. 

And that’s all I needed to hear.

Avoid things only causes me stress; when I tackle something head on, no matter the outcome I always have the reassurance I did the best I could, and that is enough for me. 

 

Why Yes, I'll Have Fries With That!

I arrived at my cardiologists overly prepared like usual.  Ever since Dr. Delicious explored my legs for swelling through the great forest of hair, I’ve made sure to take extra care before leaving my house for a heart appointment.  It involves a full body scan for any rogue hair and remaining grateful that I can once again wear an underwire bra.

The door opened to the little waiting room and I lost part of my smile when it was explained to me that I wouldn’t be getting Dr. Delicious that day, or any other of the handsome doctors I’d seen before.  Although the female doctor I worked with was quite lovely, I’d grown fond of my cardiologists dates. They are, after all, the only dates I’m currently experiencing.

Left alone with the doctors assistant, we went through the usual checklist which involves making sure the meds are doing their job and being told to stop pushing myself; I get winded climbing up stairs, so doing laps in the pool to the point of almost drowning wasn’t helping me. She once again told me to simmer down and be kinder to myself.

Then she caught me by surprise by asking, “do you have salt in your diet?”

I was quick to defend my eating habits which have been continually altered because of chemo, then morphing again with radiation, then changing with the never ending surprise side effects and then finally modifying them again with heart failure.  Honestly, I take one look at a shaker of salt and I feel guilty, longing to be the type of girl that believes in cheating.  She was amused by my theatrics and eagerness to get a gold star but interrupted my defensive rambling by telling me she would like me to consciously add a little salt into my diet.  Well I’ll be jitterbugged.

Normally people with heart issues have high blood pressure so yes, they need to set aside the salt and eat more leafy greens.  But my blood pressure’s low, so eating salt would help my body retain some fluid and boost my blood pressure.  I happily quote her exact words, “so once in a while enjoy some chips or French Fries”. 

Finally, a medication and recommendation I could get into.  My ‘follow the rules come hell or high water’ personality was thrilled that for once, I didn’t have to second guess my instructions, or research for clarity, I just wanted to bolt out of that office and get my hands on some Swiss Chalet fries.  After all, it was the doctors orders. 

The moment the doctors assistant left the room I texted a bestie to tell her of my newest mandate.  We both agreed.  This was the best news I’d received since finding that lump of smutz in my chest.  And since she is a fellow connoisseur of the salty delicacy, appreciated my elation.  It was the first time I’ve left that hospital thrilled to follow orders.

Practically skipping away, I reflected back on what a colossal pain in the tuchus figuring out food has been since the very beginning and noticed how much stress I myself was adding to the mix. I was being a warden about food, judging myself if I ordered a donut to go with my green tea, or feeling like a failure if I had a larger than normal slice of cake at Sunday dinner. I was contributing to sucking the fun out of eating and I needed to let it go. So, along with being less less tyrannical over my salt consumption, I gave myself permission to enjoy the food I can actually eat. It doesn’t mean I’ll start having fries and lava cake with every meal (ah, cake for breakfast really does start a day off right), but when I decide to satisfy a craving, I’m removing shame from my plate along with the feeling that I’m destroying all the hard work I’m putting into fighting cancer just because I have a small package of M&M peanuts at a movie.

So with a tin of Pringles in hand and a smile on my face, I took my medicine like a every good patient should.

 
At the pharmacy.

At the pharmacy.

 

Hot Tub Honey's

I have finally answered the age old question, “if one is over 75, where do they go to pick up?” and the answer is, the local community pool!

In an attempt to get some strength back into my overly drugged, beat-up body, I hot tailed my sweet patootie to the local indoor pool with my goggles and racing suit in hand.  I prefer the methodical all body work out of doing mindless laps over being at a gym shamelessly pretending I know how to use the machines and worrying about what bacteria is living on the handles of anything I touch.

It’s been years since I’ve used a public pool and never before during the day, so I wasn’t quite prepared for what I would see the moment I stepped into the pool area… it was hopping.  The hot-tub was elbow to elbow with lounging pensioners, retirees dominated the swimming lanes and the leisure pool looked like a geriatric night club. Even the music playing overhead sounded like it was plucked from an old speakeasy… well, until it changed to Madonna circa 1980’s then onto retro Pearl Jam.

It was like an adult water version of high school where everyone has their chosen hang out spot, the women move around in pairs giggling over the recently heard gossip, not all clothing being worn is appropriate and when this new girl walked in, she got the stank eye.  It’s awesome. 

Because I was so memorized by all that was going on around me, I couldn’t resist lifting my head a little higher between laps to take a gander.  The lanes weren’t exciting to observe, except for the frequent gray hair pile ups that happen in the slow lane when someone stops randomly to chat over the rope to a friend. The ‘slower-than-slow-and-laps-are-optional’ lane was more amusing to observe with smiling women sporting perfectly set hair, men holding up the pool walls as they continually scope the area for I’m not sure what and circles of people hanging out and laughing all the while balancing on pool noodles. I actually even witnessed one sparky lady coyly look at a handsome gentleman, bat her eyelashes and say “fancy meeting you here”. 

At one point I realized that if I didn’t want to drown I needed to take a quick break from the back and forth. At my condos pool, I’m used to having Dad Cairns watching over me making sure if my heart gives out I don’t spontaneously go under, but here I actually have to pay attention myself.  I gladly took to the wall at the end of the lane where I found myself beside a woman who all of a sudden with amusement and in a sing-song tone announced, “uh oh, somebodies going to get in trouble”.  Because I couldn’t resist learning some of the local gossip I asked her what misdemeanor she’d spotted.  She explained that at any given time the hot-tub maximum is 14 people and 2 rogue retirees just attempted to sneak in undetected.  Apparently the hot-tub is the bane of existence for the lifeguards who can’t keep up with the spunky seniors determined to challenge the rules. Moments later, a life guards voice soared over the masses from across the room falling on the ears of suspecting adults who all of a sudden decided they were deaf and continued with their gabbing. Needless to say this did not go over well with the already exasperated lifeguard.

Now, after having observed this criminal act over a few visits, it’s become a game to guess the response the lifeguard is going to receive. It tends to be one of the following:

  • a causal blow off involving a wave of the hand and the phrase, “don’t worry about it, it’s fine”,

  • a blank “you can’t be talking to me” stare followed by making themselves comfortable,

  • or, on the rare occasion, quick compliance from the person who actually didn’t know the rule. 

I found myself oddly inspired by these rebellious teenagers at heart for their tenacity and daring. I’ve been a staunch rule follower my entire life but I admire these free spirits ability to push the limits without apology. I myself apologize to the cashier at Fortinos for drinking my freshly pressed orange juice before reaching the counter, use my cruise control to get used to the new speed limit on the service road and actually took a moment to ask the life guard on my first visit what rules I needed to know before even getting wet.

I’ve always been more like Monica from Friends who believes that “rules make things fun”, but for those times I do play with them a little, I am giving myself permission to be kinder to myself. If I get called out, there’s no need to go over the top apologizing, awkwardly back tracking or punishing myself for being a horrible person; I just need to smile and get out of the hot-tub.

After her explanation about the rebellious hot tub honey’s, I turned to the sweet lady and said “the world thinks it’s teenagers they have to keep their eyes on, but you guys are particularly wily”.  She smiled and replied with a great sense of pride, “you bet we are”.  Love it.

My favorite swimming partner.

My favorite swimming partner.

Love That Gran

Late 2017 I wrote a blog entitled, Gumption Filled Gran that describes the tenacious, fearless account of a woman who may not be a blood relative, but calls me her granddaughter all the same.  I soaked in her wisdom and appreciated her subtle brilliant sense of humour with each visit and always left our tete-a-tetes challenged and inspired. 

I would often find her sitting surrounded by a pile of crocheted squares waiting to become a blanket, multiple genre’s of books and crossword puzzles that were way beyond my skill set. Always the fashion statement, Gran sported brightly coloured scarfs tied perfectly on her head and rocked bold prints, never discriminating between leopard, floral or wild random patterns. Our chats often made her late for dinner but she was bursting with life stories and we would both be reluctant to end our conversation. I love that she knew the importance of fine china for a real cup of tea and could see beauty in the most unsuspecting of places taking nothing for granted.

Passion was a serious subject for Gran, as she began her love affair with watercolour painting at the ripe young age of 62 and inspiration never stopped flowing from her paint brushes.  Every time I think I’m too old for something or simply just don’t have the energy, I can feel her stare me down and I see the number 62 flashing before my eyes. She has stripped me of any excuse I could ever muster up to dodge a challenge, avoid change or sidestep possibility.  The only option as far as this savvy, astute Granny was concerned is to jump when opportunity presents itself and tackle a challenge with guts and guile; and if you have people in your life who don’t support you during your leaps, her solution was simple, get new people.

No matter how hard I tried, I could never suppress a smile when Gran rolled her eyes if the topic of fear came up; she had no patience for it. After all, she felt if she wasn’t uncomfortable she wasn’t growing. She was living proof that everything indeed is figure-out-able. 

My darling Gran has now joined the entourage of angels I’m blessed to have looking out for me. I’m grateful for each heart filled conversation, every nugget of wisdom, and her rich unforgettable stories.  Thank you Gran for sharing your heart and teaching me what is means to live strong.

One of the hundreds of watercolours painted by my brilliant Gran (the photograph doesn’t do it justice). It is aptly titled,  Love That Red.

One of the hundreds of watercolours painted by my brilliant Gran (the photograph doesn’t do it justice). It is aptly titled, Love That Red.

Dudes & Waffles

Once again I’m distracted in a yoga class, but this time it’s not over a rogue wardrobe malfunction, rather a random out of the blue desperate need for a waffle!  My yoga studio is on Ottawa street in Hamilton where people come from far and wide to fabric shop, do some antiquing and indulge in the many unique nibbles offered.  Just a hop skip and a jump up the road from my yoga haven is, The Canon, who in my humble opinion, serves the best waffles in the city. 

Since it was Valentine’s day, I had no choice but to give into my sudden desperate craving. My mouth watered for a perfect golden waffle dusted in icing sugar I could accost with real Canadian maple syrup; the right maple syrup of course, being the key to taking the status of a waffle from great to epic… am I right Doris?

I bolted off my mat the moment the Yoga teacher said ‘namaste’ and scooted down the street to the quaint bistro to discover I wasn’t the only one with a hankering for a waffle that day.  It took some patience, but I eventually secured a table that placed me between two women who were excitedly exchanging gossip and a pair of teenagers who had actually held my attention from the moment I’d arrived.  I didn’t even hide the fact I was staring, I was too preoccupied with trying to figure them out.

They sat opposite each other and between them was a waffle thoughtfully and romantically designed with whip-cream, strawberries, and chocolate sauce. Strangely, there were only a few bites taken from this Valentine delicacy.  The couple were seated there the entire 15 minutes I waited for a seat with no progress being made on the eating of that perfectly crafted piece of mouth-watering art.  Why you ask? Because they both had their heads down and were completely engrossed in their cell phones.  Not once did I see them look at each other or engage in conversation.  The girl eventually did take a few pictures of the waffle which was followed by a couple of quick bites and all the while gripping her phone like her life depended on it.  For a fleeting second I thought she would attempt to join the real world as she awkwardly looked up at the hairline of her preoccupied date. But unlike the groundhog this year, she was quickly pulled back into the hole of cyberspace, no doubt eager to plaster the food pictures all over multiple social media platforms giving the impression she was being romanced and having the time of her life.

I continued to observe in disbelief and then finally while I was inhaling my own simple yet immaculate waffle, the dude looked up and said, “I have 10 minutes to get back” and with that they left.  That was it.  I had shared the space with them for about 25 minutes in total, and if I had to pick them out from a criminal line up I would’ve had to ask them to look down, because all I could identify them by were the random freckles they each had on their foreheads.

Outside of the obvious questions which included, “why bother even going out at all”, and being deeply saddened by the state of the world as we know it, a small part of me wanted to jump in and ask, “hey, if you aren’t going to eat that…”

That waffle was the most alive exciting thing that was happening at that table and it deserved to be enjoyed. Needless to say I refrained, but was still left awestruck at how these two were just going through the motions of life, ignoring the possibilities right in front of them and not relishing the time they had stolen out of their day to give each other.

It made me want to take full advantage of this unexpected outing, to soak in the energy of the hustle and bustle around me, observe the buildings the sun was decorating outside the window and taking my time to enjoy people watching people who were actually engaging with each other.

Instead of focusing on how disheartening it was to watch the erosion of communication and the predictions of the movie WALL-E come to life, I looked at it as a reminder to:

  • always value my time.

  • be present and engaged when spending time with others.

  • treat my ideas and curiosities with a more focused attention than they were giving that desperate little waffle.

I smiled gleefully to myself because I may have been there alone, but I was on a much better date then they were.

 
My Little Piece of Heaven… and the only 2 seconds I had my phone out the entire time.

My Little Piece of Heaven… and the only 2 seconds I had my phone out the entire time.

 

Regrets?

For some reason, I only appreciate the snow when I’m visiting it up North.  It isn’t a hassle to put on layers, it doesn’t get in the way of me having to go somewhere and it’s therapeutic to watch through a window while holding a cup of hot chocolate that is equally heavy on the chocolate as it is the whip cream. And in my well nurtured delusional mind, the whip cream cancels out the calories of the chocolate and visa versa, so both are always necessary. 

 
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My brother from another mother and I decided to get bundled up and take a walk through the forest to observe the tree art designed by falling snow the night before.  And like most of our walks, we ended up in a conversation that you can only have with someone who has known you for over 20 years.  It began with an innocent question from him… do you have any regrets? 

Simple enough question if it’s being applied to a single experience, fashion choice or if you are rethinking your food order at a restaurant; but without having to elaborate, I knew that he meant it as a retrospective on my life.   Do I have any regrets? 

I gave the question the pause for consideration it deserved before answering; after all, he knows me well enough to know whether I’m answering honestly or with forced sugar-coated optimism.  And my answer was simply… no. Which was quickly followed by a laugh at my own bluntness.

Do I wish at some points in my life I had said ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’?  Absolutely.

Do I wish at other points I was more courageous, fearless or daring?  You betcha.

Are there situations I’m embarrassed over how I conducted myself?  On going!

But regret?  No. 

I could take the easy cheesy approach and say that all of my decisions up until now have made me into who I am today, and although that’s true, it isn’t the reason for my assured answer. The truth of the matter is,

Regret helps me be brave.

After spending way too much head space examining the past and holding it against myself, I began seeing regret akin to driving a car that only moves in reverse and began recognizing the value in regret. Past actions, responses and replies are simply research into how I want to behave and react in the present. It’s how I’m learning to be ‘me’.

Brene Brown sums it up…

“No regrets” doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living without reflection.  To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life.

It’s hard not to wonder what my life would look like if I zigged instead of zagged on a number of occasions, but every experience is another opportunity to reflect and grow, challenging me to be braver and more curious with each new adventure. I’ve discovered that often the most uncomfortable learning is the most powerful, and regret challenges me to take it all on with a lot more gusto.

 
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The Bar Wench & Yogini

Just another typical yoga class… or at least that is what I expected when I showed up with my mat in tow ready to treat my body like a bendy straw. From the moment I claimed my space and set up camp on the less than comfortable hardwood floor, I could sense something wasn’t right.  My spidey senses were tingling but I just couldn’t put an immediate finger on it.  Class began and I couldn’t ignore my internal rumblings, so while the rest of the class was focusing on working through their chaturanga to get to their bhujangasana, I was mentally going through my ‘am I appropriate for yoga class’ checklist hoping to figure out what was alluding me before having a possibly embarrassing scene:

  • legs covered, shaved and lotion-ed… so no need to worry about repeating the Dr. Delicious moment.

  • before leaving the house, I shaved the peach fuzz I call armpit hair… radiation turned out to have one bonus, it’s now much easier to maintain the pits!

  • the seams of my pants were intact… so my purple flowered undies remained my secret.

  • I was gas free… so no cliché baby pose yoga farts on my horizon.

Why did I feel like something was completely off?  All I had to go on was my intuition and the fact I was extra toasty and extremely uncomfortable.  Then, I reached up to readjust my shifting tank top and discovered it… I was wearing two bras!  If I wasn’t in a ‘thread the needle’ pose, the palm of my hand would have met my forehead.  Yup, this morning I got up, made myself nice and cozy to do some reading from a poorly written romance novel, then, when it was yoga time, changed out of my clothing, and for some reason put my sports bra over top of my every day bra. 

We moved into puppy dog pose (well, the class moved into downward dog, but it makes my head explode, so I go puppy all the way) and took the opportunity to take a glance at my décolletage and the ladies were being pushed up by my every day ‘appear like my breasts are bigger than they are’ bra and then girdled in by my sports bra that really felt more like a corset at this point.  I had to admit, they looked great (in a bar wench kind of way), but I was sweating beyond a glisten, and it was a challenge to breathe.

Meanwhile, in her overly calm soothing voice the yoga instructor was asking us to relax our shoulders, and raise our hearts to the ceiling; at least that is what I think she was saying because frankly, all I could think about was that yes the girls looked great, but man was I overly anxious to get both of these blessed undergarments off of me. 

Yogini: … and breath, let go of any outside thoughts…

Bar Wench: I wonder if I could at least slip one bra off as I put my coat on after class?

Yogini: … focus on your body and be present with what it needs…

Bar Wench: I could just slip it off now; after all, people’s eyes are closed during our final resting pose of shevasina. It would be like the time while I was teaching and my front clasped bra popped open mid-Romeo & Juliet lesson and I had to ever so discreetly reach for a binder to cover chest and make a lame excuse to go out into the hallway to put the cattle back in the barns.

I finally gave up trying to figure out how to get myself out of this bind (literally) and since I wasn’t listening to the instructions anyway, I figured I might as well see if I could find the metaphor in all of this.

And it was simple… no matter what I’m going through, or how I am feeling, I always have more than enough support to get me through… whether it’s obvious or not. 

Waterlogged

I stood there standing at my kitchen sink washing pots and pans, looking out onto the beautiful sugar coated house tops while water gushed out onto my feet. My head instantly responded by checking off all the damaging water adventures I’ve experienced lately:

  1. August 2018…Bathroom flooded due to negligence from five floors above me.
    -A quarter of my bathroom gets torn out and put back together again.
    Check.

  2. September 2018… the mass air conditioner debacle of 2018 that had me packing up my entire house, living without a bathroom, kitchen & all around sanity for the last quarter of the year.
    -Home back together, but I continue to wait for the last bits of trim to be installed. Check.

  3. November 2018… wall around bedroom window cracks open revealing massive water damage, rust and general disgusting-ness due to the breakdown of trim around the outside of the old, and very much needing to be replaced, window.
    -Fixed.
    Check.

  4. Two days before Christmas… water starts to seep through my kitchen ceiling and quickly turned into a romantic waterfall that cascaded onto my newly installed floor. Yet another negligent neighbour from above causing havoc on my home.
    -Five days ago kitchen ceiling replaced.
    Check.

  5. January 2018… I have to empty my busting storage unit of all my Christmas bliss due to water pipes that need replacing.
    -Project still in progress, and I look forward to removing the festive contents from my den and returning it the basement unit where it belongs.
    Check.

My head returned to the present and the only phrase that came to mind was… about right.  This was followed by an eye roll and the second thought which was, “just another day”. I took a deep breath and then opened the cabinet door to unleash the mini-tsunami that was anxious to be released. 

And I saw it there, mocking me; a gaping hole in my my pipes that had given out under my sink.  Foiled again by water.

 
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It’s official, I’m feeling waterlogged and a personal target of this transparent liquid. 

Yet, I couldn’t help but notice that I didn’t respond in my usual, ‘drop everything, rush to Home Depot as I cursed every other word and bulldoze my way into fixing it before really losing my marbles’ familiar way.  Instead, I experienced a simple calm.  I turned off my water, cleaned up the mess it created with my recycling bins and kitchen floor, then took a step back.  I decided to finish eating my dinner that I was only half way through before discovering this mess and just marinate with the question, ‘now what?’.  And my answer didn’t involve anger, or to irrationally call my real-estate agent to put my house up for sale; it was to just wait. 

Space allows me to see situations with a clearer lens and keeps the creative part of my brain open so I can problem solve instead of shutting down and storming around like a three year old.

And in this case, space helped me to realize that I had no idea what I was dealing with; so I knocked on the door of my wonderful neighbour to get his two cents on the matter.  I just needed to know whether this was something I could fix (I love an excuse to play with tools) or do I need to call ‘the guy’.  Funny enough, he ended up being ‘the guy’.   He fixed my pipe without breaking a sweat and and I instantly started baking him fresh ‘thank you’ scones to have with his evening tea. 

After he left, I started to appreciate the power of space and how asking for help made this situation more quickly remedied than if I had driven over to Home Depot in attempt to find someone who actually knew what they were talking about to possibly help me.   Over-reacting and making something bigger than it needs to be used to be my first course of action, and most times ended up making my life more complicated.

I believe that I have no control of what happens to me, but I sure as shooting can control how I react and how I feel about it all. And giving myself space to choose what that will look like, makes everything much more figure-out-able.

Heart over Head

My head tried to convince me that I didn’t need to write the blog my heart was asking to write. That I could let this significant day breeze by and instead just write about yet another bizarre experience I’d had this week. But each time I went to write about about one of my outlandish adventures my fingers went on strike and my head went blank. Nothing. There was only one thing my heart wanted to explore and it wouldn’t allow me to justify myself out of it or do a creative dance to avoid it.

So, I am writing the blog my heart wants to write.

Exactly one year ago today, I was in surgery to have the lump removed that’s had me on a roller coaster ever since November 13, 2017. 

From the moment I found it, I knew that although this lump was full of cancer and aggressively working to take over my body, I didn’t want to be angry with it, and I didn’t want to gird myself for a fight; all I could see was the fact that it was part of me. To fight it was to fight against myself. 

Without a doubt, it wouldn’t get the shot gun seat in my life, and by no means was it going to be in charge of my personal GPS, but I remained aware of the fact that with surgery, I was loosing a little piece of myself. So the question I asked was, how do I want to feel after the surgery? And the answer was a no brainer, I wanted to feel joy. So, I did the only thing I could think of to help myself work towards that end goal. I decided to love it out of me.

I only had two weeks to prepare all aspects of my life before the real journey of dealing with cancer would begin; but between writing report cards, marking essays, shopping for essentials for my home, I would pause for a few seconds, put my hand over the lump and, corny as it may sound, I told it I loved it, but I needed to let it go.  I figured the only way to be left with love was to release it with love. To release it with anger, would’ve only left me feeling victimized and bullied. 

It was the most bizarre breakup I’ve ever been part of.

Then, on January 22, 2018 a nurse wheeled me in a hydraulic bed down the long daunting hallway to the doors of the surgery as I watched the figures of my mom and brother get smaller and smaller.  With the combined realization of what as I was about to do and my brother just telling me that his daughter was going to be named after me, I was truly primed with emotion, and there was no amount of inappropriate jokes I could tell to avoid the rush of emotion that had taken over. The scene was much more dramatic than I would have liked, and that hallway became the longest ride I have ever taken.  The space between the known and unknown.  The beginning of a new adventure.

I had done all I could to prepare myself to let go of the lump, the fear, and the need to know ‘why’. All I had left was gratitude.

A year later, I’m still in the mist of the crazy, but look forward to the day I can look back and appreciate all there’s to learn from this topsy-turvy escapade. Because as much as this type A overachiever would like to see everything there is for me learn right now, I can’t expect to see clearly when I’m still in the mess of it all; it’s a ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ situation.

So in the mean time, I focus on gratitude for catching the cancer before it took over my lymph system, gratitude for the care I receive at the cancer centre and am grateful for the friends and family who cheer me on, keep an eye out for me, and know when to tell me to just calm down. 

Why did my head fight so hard against my heart to avoid writing this blog? Because this year was steeped in so much emotion and fear decided I didn’t need to look back at it and feel overwhelmed; fear thought it was protecting me. But looking back doesn’t mean I need to dwell on what’s happened, it’s just what I need to do to appreciate how far I have come, and get the motivation to keep pressing forward.

The journey of loving it out of me continues…

You Got It!

While picking up my mail I ran into my wonderful neighbour who took one look at me in my large wild hat and Sweetleg tights covered in bright rock n’ roll roses and said, “Well, you don’t care what anyone thinks, do you?”

Without a hitch I replied, “you got it; not even one little bit.”

With an approving nod and a ‘you go get’em girl’ smirk he simply said, “good for you.”

I made my way up to my condo picking through my newly acquired mail and stopped with a laugh as I realized that it’s actually true.  I honestly don’t care what people think.  Which is a tremendous deal for this redhead who grew up working for the approval of others like it was an Olympic sport.  Being worried if I wore something that wouldn’t let me blend into the crowd, or doing something that may be deemed strange, was just a natural part of my day. But it took away from me feeling joy and frankly, wasn’t any fun. So to realize that all of work I was putting into releasing my comfort blanket of others approval felt like a great accomplishment.

Then, the following day while walking out of one of the cute boutique shops in Burlington a man walking past me gave a caustic laugh and called out, “nice hat”.  Although his comment was oozing judgmental sarcasm, I smiled, said “thanks” and kept moving.  I wasn’t about to waste my time returning his twisted compliment by mentioning his desperate need for a haircut or fashionable reflector vest he was wearing as a coat.  I simply heard his comment the way I wanted to; he may have been playing a bully card, but I only heard cheer.

Because no matter the intentions behind someone’s words,
I have the power to interpret them any way I choose.

It’s not good enough for me to work at not worrying about getting the approval of others, I need to know how to navigate through the crazy that is chucked in my direction that challenges my decision to let me truly be me.  I need to,

  • not just let mean comments bounce off of me, but recycle them into something useful.

  • compliment myself and therefore giving myself my own stamp of approval instead of looking for it outside of myself.

  • have FUN letting my freak flag fly!

After all, the goal isn’t to fit in, it’s to continue giving myself the freedom to know and understand this person I call, ‘me’.

Inconceivable

I’m a loud and proud Princess Bride fan! From each inconceivable, to every as you wish (accompanied by Cary Elwes devilish smile of course) I’m easily sucked into the innocent, love steeped journey of these delightful fairy-tale characters. I love being whisked away to another world by the swashbuckling pirates, misguided thieves, a hunchback lackey, and disgruntled fired castle employees. I admit, I rarely avoid the temptation to quote iconic delicious one liners from this movie:

-Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.
-Anybody want a peanut?
-Death cannot stop true love.  All it can do it delay it for a while.
-Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
-Have fun storming the castle!
-I’m not a witch, I’m your wife!
-Mawidge.  That bwessed awangement.

And a year ago, when I was sitting with the surgeon discussing how they were going to proceed with my lumpectomy, I could actually hear the line, “there’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world, it would be a pity to damage yoursbeing recited in the back of my head.

In Cary Elwes’ book As You Wish, where he tells the tale of how the iconic movie came to be, he takes a brief moment to wonder what his life would’ve been like if he’d said ‘yes’ to the generous offer from a theatre company before discovering the available role of the dreamy Westley.  The theatre offer was a prestigious one that other actors would slip iocaine powder in the drink of a competitor to have, but it wasn’t exactly what he wanted so he graciously passed on the offer. Amazingly enough, if he had said ‘yes’ to this esteemed position, he would’ve never even been considered for the part in The Princess Bride. Turns out saying ‘no’ to an opportunity other actors would kill for, put him in the right place at the right time to be looked at for this legendary role.

It struck me how powerful the word ‘no’ can be.  I have always liked trying new things and saying ‘yes’ to crazy escapades, but I need to remind myself that just because an opportunity presents itself doesn’t mean ‘yes’ is always the right answer in response to it. 

Often saying ‘no’ is the brave and adventurous thing to say.

I used to believe that saying ‘yes’ was the only courageous answer to an adventure, but the truth is, saying ‘yes’ can leave me feeling overwhelmed, spread thin, or taken advantage of when it’s attached to something that my heart isn’t into. If there’s guilt or fear attached to my choice of answer, then it isn’t the right one for me.

With January being the obvious month to look at intentions for the upcoming year, I’m reminding myself that I’m allowed to make decisions that bring me joy, and need to remember that the world is just one big… as you wish.

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Squirrel Hunting

It all started with the need to wrap a birthday gift for my yummy little nephew. All I had to do was go into my handy dandy utility closet to get some wrapping paper; but what happened, was a bizarre expedition of great proportions. Because…

  • When I open the utility closet, all I could see was everything in complete disarray. So, I jumped into hyper organizer mode, ripped everything out of the closet and put it all back in a way that made much better sense.

  • Which led to… finding the perfect size box to pack away the crystals that used to hang from my bathroom vanity light that no longer works.

  • So… I go to my laundry room where I have the crystals to pack them in this perfect box.

  • Which leads to… going back to the original, now newly organized, closet to get some bubble wrap.

  • Which takes me to… a drawer to get scissors to cut the bubble wrap, only to find that I am missing some events on my calendar that is looking up at me from the counter.

  • Which takes me to… my calendar with a pen from the drawer and that somehow reminds me that I need to order more medication before I run out.

  • Which has me… making a call to the pharmacy all the while packing the crystals in the bubble wrap and then in that perfect box.

  • Then… going back to the laundry room to store the box of crystals only to find it also needs some organizing love.

  • Then while delving into yet another re-organization extravaganza… I find hooks and tassels from my old curtains that I’m not sure I’m going to use one day but want to hold onto, so I go back to that original utility closet to store them in the appropriate spot.

  • Which has me… seeing wrapping paper, and then takes me back to wrapping the gift that started this entire adventure.

And somewhere in there I also managed to frame and hang a picture in my bathroom, re-arrange other art throughout my home, tossed in a load of laundry, starting a new box for Value Village items, and moving cupcakes from the fridge to my front door so I didn’t forget them on the way out of my house that night.

Yowza!

I call this my Squirrel effect; where I become distracted easily from any task, action or train of thought to random infinite other ones. I’ve become just like that lovable dog, Dug from UP, who stops mid-sentence distracted, calls out “squirrel”, then forgets what he was originally doing.

“My master made me this collar; he is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may talk…”

“My master made me this collar; he is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may talk…”

SQUIRREL!

SQUIRREL!

I consider myself lucky with this particular squirrel sequence because I actually ended up at the job I originally wanted to do. Too often I stop mid-squirrel expedition and wonder how I got there, why I’m now holding a hammer and clueless to what my original mission was.

It could be the fact that I am now in my mid-40’s, it could be the result of the multiple medications I’m taking, or I could simply be the butt of a cosmic joke; but, no matter the cause, the truth is, the squirrel effect is a real and strong force in my life. And it’s hard to tell if it is allowing me to get more done, or keeping me from accomplishing as much as I could! All I really know, is that life become easier when I stopped fighting the magnetic pull of the squirrel that continues to take me in different directions.

And although not all of my squirrel adventures are successful ones, I’m amazed at what I’ve learned from the wacky nonsensical domino effect:

  •  life takes me on twists and turns, but ultimately I end up exactly where I need to be.

  • trust the journey & go with the flow.

  • really… it’s all good.

  • going directly from point A to point B is over rated, I learn so much more about me and this wonderful life during my side steps.

  • gratitude makes every ride a smoother one… that, and a good sense of humour!

So, though I will never understand my squirrel journeys, I continue to embrace them; after all, an adventure is an adventure no matter how small!

Comedy of Errors

I love quotations.  I have them on post-it notes throughout my home, highlighted and underlined in books and yelling back at me from the home page of my computer.  I like being surrounded by reminders of the attitudes I want to have. 

Have Courage & Be Kind

is one of my favorites by the lovely glass shoe wearing Cinderella and simply sums up who I want to be; someone who chooses the brave route over the easy one and sets aside the need to be right in order to show compassion.  On a whim I decided I would like to hang this quote in my bathroom… should be an easy, quick and inexpensive undertaking, right?

It began with finding an artist on Etsy who was two steps ahead of me and had already designed the quotation to my liking. After getting the confirmation from him that he could change the sizing of the quotation to fit my oddly shaped IKEA frame, I purchased it and waited with joyful anticipation for my wonderful resized version to arrive. But the moment the seller had my money… crickets. Well, at least on his end, I was emailing frequently like a desperate ignored girlfriend reminding him of my existence.

In the meantime, this determined redhead attempted to play with the original file to make it work. But after five different printing attempts, even Staples couldn’t force this file to be what I needed it to be.  And even more frustrating, was that after these experimental printings, I noticed the file was incomplete and cutting off all the edges of the words so I couldn’t even print the original sizing right. Gadzooks!

I’m sad to say that this was just the beginning of the comedy of errors that has been this ‘simple’ project;

  • next, I found another artist with even nicer writing and ordered the quote from her.

  • when I attempted to pick up this printed version, I ended up at the wrong Staples because my computer switched my ‘home store’ when I ordered it; so I had to go across the city to hunt it down.

  • somehow, no clue how or when, chipped the frame… thankfully nothing so dramatic a black Sharpie couldn’t fix!

  • it printed in the wrong size and now also the wrong colour (in no universe is charcoal gray a substitute for black!)

  • this new artist happily resized and changed the colour… for another fee of course.

  • printed it off again… a dramatic serif was cut off.

  • another print… the elastics Staples used on it crushed it.

  • the artist had to resend me the file… she was of course baffled because ‘this never happens’.

And I will be honest, I was so embarrassed that I needed to take so many trips to Staples that I started going out of my way to sent it to random locations I was driving through. I hit most of the Hamilton locations, another in Burlington, one in St. Catharines, and then I was set to pick up, what I was hoping was the final copy in Belleville. It wasn’t until I cut it perfectly to fit the frame, positioned the command strips with painstaking precision on the back, did I turn it over to see the fold lines up the side of the print.  Seriously?  It acquired folds from the walk from my car up to my home? I struggled to get it out of the frame past the perfectly placed command strips and attempted to iron it flat… but alas, once a folded paper, always a folded paper.

It has taken me years to fully appreciate the phrase, ‘done is better than perfect’, and I kept asking myself after each ridiculous setback if I was at that point yet… but nope, I continue to push on.  There sits in my local Staples the 11th and hopefully glorious final printing of this Shakespearean comedic experience. How did a simple $15 idea become such a hulk of a job?

As I attempt to see the lesson behind the madness, I can’t help but wonder if there’s actually a lesson to be had at all. Maybe when it’s hanging on my wall, each time I look at it I will see it as a testament to my determination, strength and as proof that I’m worth the struggle.  It’s often hard to know when determination ends and stubbornness begins, and when to let go instead of pushing through, but I’m grateful for these bizarre experiences that show me how far I have come in my ability to see that line more clearly.

Shakespeare believes that “every why hath a wherefore”, that there is an explanation for everything, but in this case, I’m simply embracing the comedy of errors for what it is, yet another adventure.

That's the Best Ya Got?

It’s that time of year, the time where I have to put to rest my open toed, backless shoes and wear hosiery that covers my entire feet. But after months of wearing sandals and being barefoot as often as possible, my heels needed to be made ‘sock worthy’ so that when I put on a pair of pantyhose I wasn’t catching fibers and making unfix-able runs or slicing through my socks with the razor edged pads of my feet. So I hopped on over to my, sometimes friendly, neighbourhood Dollerama to see if I could get my hands on a cheap pumice stone.

As I wandered aimlessly up and down aisles I quickly realized my search for heel relief was a bit futile, as I found myself drowning in random products over stuffing the shelves prepared for the Christmas rush.  I thought I hit the jackpot of employees to ask for help because when I approached, I overheard her say cheerfully to her fellow co-worker what a great productive day she was having and how happy she was.  This I thought, showed potential to receive service with a smile.  After politely waiting for their conversation to come to an interrupt-able moment, I asked if she knew where the foot pumice stones were kept.  She replied, “I’m not sure, but if we have them, they are down that aisle there.”  I followed her pointed finger to the large sign that said aisle 5 and looked at the dauntingly long aisle full of soaps, shower curtains and adhesive rubber ducks for bathtubs.  Before she even finished her sentence or I could ask anything further, she frantically went back to stocking the shelf and said with an overly chipper tone, “good luck”, making it clear that she was done helping and wishing me her best on my quest to find my treasure. I was officially dismissed.

Good Luck?  I started down the immense aisle a bit shell shocked.  She sends me off with good luck?  Not even a, “let me help you find it” or “I can ask the fellow co-worker I am talking with if they know where you can find them.”  Nadda.  Zippo.  Niet.  Even the disgruntled employees I usually encounter will at least begrudgingly take me to the product I can’t find. But the merry self-proclaimed happy employee only had good cheer and well wishes to give me? Huh.

Like most things that happen to me in a day, the encounter with the cheerful unhelpful Dollerama employee was well timed.  I had just finished reading a chapter in a Brene Brown book that I was trying to think my way through and this situation was helping me test what I really thought about what I had read.  Brene asks the simple, yet loaded question,

What if we assume everyone is doing the best they can?

The teacher in me quickly gives a dramatic eye roll, since working with teenagers all day makes this question a no brainer to answer.  But, my curiosity always trumps my inner meter stick wheedling cynical teacher.  Really, what would this mean if I assumed everyone, even this dismissive employee, was doing the best they could? 

Or what if I asked this question of myself?  What if instead of beating myself up for not getting as many things checked off my ‘to do’ list as I want in a day, or condemning myself for failing at something I try, instead I show myself some compassion and reassure myself by saying,

I’m doing the best I can.

After all, that is all I can really expect of myself at any given time.  It also means that I need to accept that ‘my best’ changes from day to day depending on what life has tossed my way. Being able to do this for myself feels like a genuinely kind act because I naturally remove the ‘should’s’ from my judgement.

My quick judgmental conclusion was that Ms. Dollerama could have taken a moment to help me find what I was looking for; she should be sharing her good mood not hording it.  But the reality is, I have no idea what she was really feeling or experiencing, and thinking that her wishing me luck was the best she could do in that moment, feels a lot kinder than condemning her for it.

And it turns out her good luck was really all I needed… I left the store with a pumice stone and the hope of happy heels. 

Burning Barns to See the Moon

After a yoga class, I fell into a conversation with a woman who was brilliantly sporting a ‘flock of seagulls meets pixie wonderland’ haircut that I’m positive would make me look like someone trying to recapture the glory days of the 80’s. We were getting along famously when mid-sentence she erupted with excitement explaining how she feels an instant bond with women who have short gutsy hair.  As I tried to explain to her that she’s really the brave one and that my hair was thrust upon me, she launched into the joys of showering whenever, loving driving with her windows down and the marvels of not having to do hair math at the beginning of the week… which I have to admit, is also my favorite thing about my hair!

After this wee chat, I realized that this is almost a daily occurrence now, being stopped by a fellow short haired woman wanting to wax poetic about the glories and freedoms of having short locks. Sometimes it’s as simple as being given a knowing smile accompanied by bright eyes appearing like they are giving me the thumbs up or a discreet undercover lean in followed by, “it’s great, isn’t it?”  No matter how it happens, there is a connection made that only those of us with a short Audrey Hepburn cut can appreciate. It’s like I belong to a secret society where there’s no mysterious hand shake, just courageous quaffs. 

What I find interesting is, now that my hair is looking less cancer inspired and more like an intentional finger waved 1920’s marcel shaped cut, I feel more like ‘me’ than I ever did before. Losing my hair was an adventure onto itself, and for me was like a proverbial burning barn…

 
Does it bring you JOY_.jpg
 

The moon for me is still covered with a bit of fog and partially hiding behind a cloud, but I’m definitely beginning to see it more clearly and appreciate that there’s a lot for me to learn beyond the confusion of what has been going on.

Although sometimes it feels like I’m spending more time dealing with burning barns and less moments enjoying the view of the moon, I am aware that it is hard to see clearly when in the middle of the mess. So while I’m waiting for the dust to settle, I will appreciate the light that does comes through and enjoy the anticipation of the lessons and new perspectives waiting for me on the other side.

Lump-iversary

On the evening of Monday November 13, 2017 I discovered the lump that has made this year the whirling dervish that it is.

The morning after I found my lump, there was only one thing I could do that made sense to me… I needed to write about it. I never published this blog. I knew one day I would, but never dreamed I would be sharing it a while receiving treatment for cancer.

From the second I found that piece of foreign schmutz in my body, the goal has been to love it out of me and focus on eating the metaphoric elephant in front of me, one bite at a time. It has been one giant lesson on ‘staying in the moment’.

Below is the blog I wrote one year ago, 14 hours after finding my lump.
I can honestly say 2018 hasn’t been my favorite year, but… I wouldn’t change a thing.

Things Aren’t Always As They Seem…

It began like any other stretch; I opened my arms out to the side, dropped my head back and allowed my day to fall off of me.  As I began to move my way back to a regular standing position, I simply gave my upper chest a wee scratch and froze.  My hand stopped dead as it palpated the lump it had just discovered.

I quickly felt around, comparing both sides of my chest, but there was no mistaking it, I have a lump a little larger than a Cadbury’s mini egg in my upper chest.  

I instantly broke into tears and doubled over in shock. 

After I let myself spin for  couple of minutes I just stopped.  There were a number of truths waving frantically in front of me:

  • I have NO idea what I have actually found.

  • I have had a cyst on my face and polyps in my colon, why not another lump in my chest?

  • It could simply be an angry inflamed lymph node.  

I became calm.  There was no reason to assume the worst when I don't have the information.  Instead, I chose to enjoy my evening, and I couldn't help but laugh that an hour earlier I had posted a blog about ‘staying in the moment’.  So I decided THIS was indeed a moment I needed to stay in and not allow my head to make up stories that didn’t exist... after all, this girl has knitting to do for nieces & a nephew!

When I called my Doctor this morning the nurse asked me some routine questions, one being whether I am currently breast feeding.  I’m sad to admit that my answer to her was,

"I'm not using them for anything right now.  Not even for entertainment purposes."

I tend to call on my ‘go go gadget sense of humour’ when I know I need to avoid over thinking a situation. Thankfully the nurse appreciated my twisted whit and it was helpful being able to laugh while booking the appointment for my Doctor to explore my newly found lumpiness.

This moment I am sitting in, is all I can understand. And right now, I know that I am well.
Whatever my following moments hold, I plan on bringing joy with me and continuing to remind myself that everything is figure-out-able.