Courage, my love.

Ever since I had my chakras opened, I’ve been keenly aware of a presence in my hundred year old home… So ya, that’s happening. And I’m thinking about how the same space transforms over time, depending on the energy contained in it.

For some reason this got me thinking about Kensington Market in Toronto, and this vintage shop there Courage, my love that I used to visit in high school. To me at that time the whole neighbourhood felt like freedom, escape and grown up sophistication, with racks of old leather jackets, incense, and an enticing level of grit you didn’t get in suburbia.

I remember going to look at the beads in Courage, always with no or very little money, imagining in detail the beautiful things I would buy if I had more to spend. Raised with not a lot of extas, I was always good at saving my money and getting fun out of imagining instead.

Years later I learned about a whole other side of the market when I married a second generation Canadian whose father has made his living there for some 50 years. He came from Portugal in the sixties as a teenager, barely conversant in English, and started working in a fruit and vegetable shop. The market was a hub for immigrants at that time, many financially poor but rich in spirit, hustling hard, raising livestock in tiny urban yards, engaged in a total metamorphosis, breaking away from the old back-home ways to create a new future.

Same neighbourhood, different time. And a whole different kind of grit.

This week, something shifted. It could be all the time I spent making funny noises with two tiny people. It could be Jen Sincero’s badass audiobooks. It could be the fact that I’m finally making room for some creativity in my life. Or dare I say the chakra opening?

Before, I had been thinking about fear a lot. I’ve been thinking of fear as this omnipresent obstacle that we need to power through. As in, feel the fear and do it anyway. In this narrative though, the key word is fear. It’s something to overcome – hold your breath – and endure.

And seemingly out of nowhere yesterday, the shift came: Courage. Courage is the ticket through the fear. Courage is the positive, courage is the hope, courage is the power position. Fear is no match for courage.

This is the new narrative. Having courage, feeling courage, living courage. Courage to face the unknown, do the undone. Even befriend the ghost.

A new kind of grit again.

Now go forth and be courageous.

Breathe. Shift. Breathe. Repeat.

Moving on

My family is neck deep in endings. Dismantling the homes of two grandmothers at the same time. On the English side, the condominium at Yonge and Wellesley was systematically stripped bare and decked out in fresh carpet and paint. But all I see is the ghost of its former self, comfortably worn in and smelling of lamb shanks and vigorously steamed broccoli while we gather over cherry tomatoes and beer. My grandfather’s beer stein said “Please bother me, I’m studying.” He earned a PhD in his seventies.

The place is empty now but I see the corner cabinet with the game of Othello inside and remember my grandmother’s hands so deliberate as she flipped the pieces. In my earliest memories I was curiously aware of the skin of her arms, fine and lined as tissue paper reused a third, a fourth, time. My grandfather was an engineer, apprenticed in his teens in Cornwall, and each room bore out his genius through quirky practical inventions: the homemade clock, the adjustable drafting table, the handy mechanism for storing plastic bags.

On the Portuguese side, the sidesplit in Etobicoke was well preserved until after its sale, a shrine to the family that came across the Atlantic in pieces to call it home. The fruit trees in the backyard flourished under the gentle supervision of my partner’s grandfather. His Pomeranians lovingly terrorized the neighbourhood with their puffy zing. This was a man I never met but imagine my husband to be like in many ways; I wish I had known him. The prominent family portraits on the walls proclaim the importance of family, of traditions. The recent Christmas nights I spent there, watching nature programs, chatting casually, enjoying cake and tea, I didn’t know how fondly I would remember those moments until now that they are firmly, gone.

An aspiring minimalist, I am punch drunk from witnessing the physical stuff of these flagging lives flashing before me – in bins to go to my parents’, the Salvation Army, the dump; in trucks to come to my house, or my uncle’s, or into storage.

For our part we have outfitted our current space – a rented nest in the Junction neighbourhood – with an appropriate number of our grandparents’ things. We’ve hung their art and replaced the environmentally questionable glue-and-chipboard dining set with their much nicer teak one.

Keeping these things feels right. They’re a tribute to the spaces they formerly inhabited, to the people who chose them, loved them, and lived there. And something to show our baby daughter when she asks about the great-grandparents she never got to know. She and her great-grandparents are ships passing, as the saying goes.

As for Toronto’s insane real estate market, the endless headlines that used to depress me are now amusing. I am no longer surprised when acquaintances relaunch their careers as realtors and developers. But these financial assets, these plaster, brick, wooden structures are also containers for our everything. Watching my family unload a century’s worth of history on anonymous strangers without so much as shaking hands feels, well, odd.

We’ve cleared the rooms like a film set after all the actors have gone home. But there is still something left in there. A shadow that can’t be scrubbed out. A lingering feeling, a late grandfather, left behind.

And so to the buyers of these homes I tell you: good and kind people lived here. There was a baby grand piano over there. My grandfather used to play on Sunday mornings while my grandmother went to church. His answer to religion perhaps. As you settle in with your boardgames and portraits and enmesh yourself with the wood, I tell you this: the late afternoon sunlight is glorious. Just lower your blinds if you want to protect your furniture. And don’t challenge the local ghost to Othello – she is crafty and she will win.

Cycling in the rain

I forgot how unpleasant it is to bike in the rain without a back fender.

That slice of Scot somewhere in my blood has left me with a solid attitude of making-do. As if using money and modern convenience to solve a problem is somehow too bourgeois.

Since taking the Quistic masterclass on personality type, I’m obsessed with typing everyone I know (type yourself here for free). When I’m feeding baby F, I go through the people I know and search for type patterns. For example, every member of my and J’s family is an I for introvert. Except for big old extroverted me.

It explains so much about my adolescent “behavioural issues” – convinced my parents didn’t love me when in fact they just didn’t ever feel like talking.

I get it now. Mind and heart open.

In British Columbia they have a problem with exotic birds finding good homes. This former nurse found her calling helping these birds and their adoptive humans find peace in their relationships. The birds are anxious, often bought and returned more than once by well-meaning but ignorant animal lovers. She implements simple systems rewarding good bird behaviour. When the birds scream in their cages the people leave the room. When the birds are quiet the people come back.

It works because the birds just want to be close to the people.

Social creatures, comforted by the presence of warm blood nearby. By a face and a voice and a beating heart. By the possibility of connection.

In choir we are working on this glorious piece. The first line ends with a tone cluster – notes sung together that don’t conventionally match. As singers our job is to find the heart of the dissonance and lean into it, often fighting against our instincts in order to do it correctly. But when we lock into it, it feels so right.

Only after the darkest hour, does the light emerge.

Our conductor asked us to sing those notes as if we were removing the lid from a canister containing pure light.

Un-cage-ing something unexpected, bursting forth.

This week one of my favourite podcast hosts Jonathan Fields published a manifesto. As a mother, as a carer, this jumped out: Self-care is the beating heart of other care.

That’s why this week’s yoga is about self care. Picture self massage, guided meditation and opening the heart chakra. Imagine a light shining out of your heart right now – bursting through your rib cage. Your heart cage. Are you sitting a little taller, making a little more space for it? You see, my personality type is all about inspiring people. I’m programmed to cultivate light. You know, me and Oprah (actually).  

In the coffee shop where I’m sitting all the men pick up the barista. So far they’ve talked about snowboarding, Toronto’s dashed baseball dreams, astronomy, California. The Adele concert. Butter croissants. Halloween costumes. I’ve been here for a while.

It’s time to bike home now and get back to baby F. Her hedgehog hair that looks like baby bird feathers. Born jet black and inexplicably lightening by the day, to wheat, butter or strawberry depending on the light. I love her so much. I’m the parrot that just wants to stay close.

Making do as I am with no fender in the rain, I’ll count on that ethereal light coming from inside my rib cage to carry me through all that splatter. A canister containing pure light.

It’s worth so much more than new bike parts anyways.

So long sweet summer

And just like that, the summer comes to an end. Those who will get tanned have done so. Those who will have barbecues, go waterskiing, see outdoor concerts, go to the zoo and have picnics have done so.

There’s a nip in the morning air, like clockwork. I like to think I was the first to know about the first cool morning since I poked my head out at 4:30am and felt it. What mother is sleeping at that time, really? Not this one.

The end of summer in this town is bittersweet. We’re season people so we like the change. We cheer: cozy sweaters! pumpkin spice lattes! Plus this summer was especially hot, especially humid, especially heat warning and UV index “Very High” and all that dangerous stuff. Hard to enjoy your spiked lemonade when you’re busy trying to shade yourself so you don’t get a third degree burn. Ah, my pale English roots.

But summer is the universally fun season and everyone knows it. It’s loud and extroverted, untamed. The childhood thrill of no school leaves a hangover for life. Only now as adults we mix in finding entertainment for our kids (computer camp – woo!) and battling weekend traffic to cottage country. But a cold beer by the lake? Just beautiful.

Summer 2016 was the second season of transformation in motherhood – coming out of the haze of birthing, awestruck in the presence of newborn life, and settling into the new normal. A twosome come threesome. A mother first. A wife and daughter, distant second. Somewhere a friend. Somewhere, way down there, everything else.

So long sweet summer. Wow, that song is from 2000. A sobering reminder of the speed of life. The speed of light.

Breathe and savour this moment. It’s unlike any other in your past or future. Happy Fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to be present

The house is full of blankets, most of them small. They are strewn about and grabbed up at random, for tucking tiny feet into car seats and strollers, mopping milk and tiny faces, for keeping cozy while we peak outside in the early morning. The neighbours are gardening, proud and strong. Gardening is such a wholesome habit. Earthy, creative, vibrant, cyclical.

At yoga teacher training in 2008 we all got Karma yoga positions. A chance to give back to the retreat centre where we stayed. My friend worked in the kitchen and became romantically involved with the chef. The same chef who borrowed an acoustic guitar on my behalf during the course and hid it under the table in the front hallway for me to find like a kid on Christmas. They made a cute couple, I think they actually toured tea festivals in Europe afterwards. Oh, to be twenty-two again…

I had the best job – in the garden. Every day for two hours I dug in the earth.

The manager of the gardens was a middle aged Buddhist woman who was wiry and frank and knew the garden intimately. There were three yogi trainees on the team – an unlikely crew including myself, a young male Berliner who was smallish but strong, blonde and remote, and a middle aged Scottish chap, a bit round for what you might expect from a yogi, open and trusting and kind. We all found our own brand of joy in the dirt. In the fresh air of the impossible Scottish North. An old fishing village turned hippie town, where the tide came in and out at a crawl and left the little sail boats teetering on their keels like beached gravestones.

Are these the stories that I’ll tell baby F when she’s older? When we’re done with the blankets and on to shoes with soled feet and solid food and bicycles and then car keys and eventually no evidence at all in the old family house but for a box of report cards in the crawl space? Photos on the wall. The old family house we haven’t bought yet.

We are in the process of losing my grandmother. She’s moved from the large apartment where she and my grandfather lived for twenty-five years to a smaller apartment inside a residence where she can have meals and activities with other people. Where she can find the company and care she needs now. My parents have started to dismantle her life in things. A sterling silver cup won in a running race in 1912 – R.W.Theobald, boys under 15. My great uncle. A sterling silver cup much more permanent than he was, he having died some fifteen years ago.

I look at these blankets that are everywhere. I smell them, I smell baby F. I am a sensitive person with time on my hands, caring for this ten week old baby whose needs still come in unpredictable waves. I wonder about this trail of things we’re all creating behind us. It inspires me to live minimally, acquire less. Meanwhile outside the people garden and the birds sing. Earthy, creative, vibrant, cyclical. No longing for the past, no fear for the future, just the dirt and sun and rain.

The baby wakes up, makes tiny adorable noises and looks at me from her little plush rainforest seat. With intense violet eyes and strong fists stretching up over her head. Feathery dark hair, tongue out, fleeting smiles. Tucked under a flannel blanket. This is how to be present.

 

And so it begins (a birth story)

Note: this is a real birth story. Some may find it graphic.

First off, I am no longer pregnant. Now I am a mother. Which means I have a birth story. As my pregnancy went on, I heard a lot of birth stories. Many women process their birthing experiences by sharing their stories with other women. Sometimes they gave me advice, sometimes they didn’t, but everyone who shared their story had been through a life altering event – childbirth. Moving, painful, gratifying, frightening, divine – whatever it was, it altered their lives.

My life altering event started at 5am on March 28 2016 and ended at 10:35pm when my daughter came into the world. We were in a suite at the Toronto Birth Centre, the only light coming from a wide gas fireplace, and I was seated on a birthing stool. My husband J sat on the bed behind me with his knees supporting me. Three midwives sat on little stools facing me and encouraging me. D – my primary midwife – calmly provided updates on the baby’s head as it gradually appeared. Z – whose role was to care for the baby once it arrived- was quietly encouraging me with “you’re amazing” and “beautiful” and “perfect”. And N – our student midwife and baby catcher – waited with gentle firm hands to be the first to touch our child.

That’s how the birth story ended. It started in a much more pedestrian way, when I woke up at 5am with mild cramping. I had been experiencing surges sporadically in the past few weeks, but this felt different, like something was getting started. One thing I felt sure about in approaching the labour was the importance of the set up – I felt that my state of mind in early labour would set the tone for the whole thing. A midwife friend had told me that preserving energy – mental and physical – in early labour was often the distinguishing factor for coping well towards the end. So when I woke with these surges, I started listening to some of my childbirthjoy recordings from the hypnobirthing class we had taken. I started with “pregnancy relaxation sleep” which sets up a meditative state and  positive view of birth and “birth suggestions” which establishes a strong mind-body connection for birthing. I listened to these in bed, breathing deeply, as close to sleep as I could get.

At around 6:30am I decided to get into a warm bath where I stayed for about half an hour, continuing to breathe deeply and trying not to get too excited that this could be the day when we would finally meet our baby. When I came back to bed I downloaded a contraction timing app and started tracking the surges. To my surprise, they were following a consistent pattern of about 45 seconds each, every 5-6 minutes. This went on for over an hour. The intensity of the surges varied at this point but even the stronger ones were numbed by the very calm meditative state which I had created (thank you hypnobirthing!). Our midwives had told us to check in with them when contractions reached 1 minute each every 5 minutes. They also said to alert them as to any labour activity if it started in the daytime. At 8:45am I paged N and gave her a full report of the last 3.5 hours. I also ate a bagel because as usual I had woken up ravenous. N suggested I take half a gravol and try to get some more rest. She also warned me these contractions could fade away to nothing.

The idea that this might not be “it” was a bit of a blow, because at this point I was feeling overjoyed and grateful to be in labour and nearing the end of the pregnancy journey. I was ready to give birth. I somewhat reluctantly took the half gravol, stopped timing surges altogether, and continued to listen to the “pregnancy relaxation sleep” recording in bed for the next hour or so, cuddled up next to J. The surges did slow down – sometimes 10 or 15 minutes apart – but they didn’t stop completely. By 10:30-11am I was up again and sitting on my exercise ball during the surges because when they did come, they were more intense than before. I had started listening to the “deepening for birth” recording which is meant for labour and encourages a deeper meditative state specifically for labour and birth.

At around 1:45pm I checked in with N again to give her an update. We were trying to figure out whether my waters had broken. I hadn’t experienced the “big gush” that you see in movies, but I was definitely experiencing smaller gushes. Because I had tested positive  for GBS, the timing of the waters breaking was a factor in how we managed the birth. With a GBS positive mother, the midwives advised that the baby should be born within 18 hours of waters breaking to reduce risk of the baby contracting GBS (we had also decided to have an antibiotic IV for me during active labour to reduce the risk of the baby contracting GBS). I had been told that smaller gushes could constitute waters breaking via a leak if they were happening every time I changed positions. This wasn’t quite happening, although they were becoming more consistent. The midwives suggested we meet at their clinic, the Midwives Collective at 3:30pm to do a test to determine whether my waters had actually broken.

As the afternoon went on I was feeling more and more confident that this wasn’t a false alarm. We decided to time some of the surges and they were longer and more frequent than they had been in the morning when they had first come in a pattern. Partly given the positive meditative state I had managed to cultivate so far at home, I wasn’t excited about leaving to visit the clinic. I was also quite certain my waters had broken at this point because the gushes were now coming each time I changed positions. I spoke with D at 3pm and shared this with her. She said she and N would come over at 4pm.

Around this time it hit me that we were really doing this – I was in labour, we were going to have a baby, and we were on track to do this delivery unmedicated. I had a moment where I felt scared of what was coming next, all of which I had read about but none of which I had experienced before.  J held and comforted me beautifully.

Happy to not be leaving my house and feeling confident again about navigating this very new experience, I settled into a comfortable place leaning over my couch and bouncing on the birthing ball to manage the surges. I was still listening to “deepening for the birth” off and on. A mantra had surfaced for me that I hadn’t practiced or anticipated: with each surge I breathed deeply and slowly, opened my chest to the sky and repeated “surrender. send anesthesia” in my mind. Both were concepts from hypnobirthing that seemed to work well together for me.

When D and N arrived we went upstairs to my bedroom and they checked my cervix. They discovered I was 3-4cm dilated, signalling that we were now in active labour. It was 4:30pm. We went back downstairs and they suggested I eat something but before I could do that I started vomiting. This actually felt like a relief because I’d been feeling nauseous on and off all day. Now that we were in active labour it was time to put in the IV for the GBS prevention. Hilariously, it took five pokes to get it in, including calling in Z for backup support, all in all taking over an hour. In between tries we took breaks for surges. I managed a few bites of pizza but ended up vomiting a few more times.

Once I was properly IV’d, I decided to try sitting in the bath. N ran a deep warm tub for me and J came into the bathroom with me. The bath is usually my happy place and it was very relaxing in between surges, but not a good place for me to experience surges. Through the labour it felt good to be upright and forward during the surges and it was hard to do that in the tub. It felt unwieldy to change positions in there.  My body felt different and much less mobile, probably because the baby was descending deep into my pelvis. There was more vomiting and eventually I got out and we moved to the bedroom.

I’m generally not a fan of getting out of the tub – going from being warm in the water to wet and cold out of the water and having to dry off and get clothes back on feels daunting. This is on a good day. In advanced active labour, leaving the bath and going into my bedroom and managing surges along the way as I figured out how to get dry and warm again wasn’t pleasant. The surges were also intensifying and I had trouble finding a good position to manage them in my bedroom. The midwives said they generally check the cervix every four hours, which meant we would check at 8:30pm, but we were coming on for 8pm and they decided to check me early. Between N checking and then D double checking I had at least three intense surges. It crossed my mind then: if their fingers checking my cervix feels uncomfortable, HOW is a baby going to come out of there in a few hours?? I tried to put this thought of my mind and regain composure. They told me I was 9cm dilated and in transition.

Around this time I believe a lot of my conscious training left the building – and the subconscious training took over. Hypnobirthing is all about training the subconscious mind in preparation for this moment. It was comforting and natural for me to have my conscious mind along for the ride when learning and practicing comfort techniques leading up to the birth, but for me there was no room for the conscious mind in the late stage labour and birth. This manifested in two ways – time distortion – the surges were flying by – and a move from consciously working with my mantra to simply breathing deeply.

It was time to go to the birth centre. J got my bag and prepared the car – towels, bucket. I was nervous about getting into the car because of the intensity of the surges and the limited positions available to me in the car – but I soldiered on. I got in the back seat and straddled my vomit bucket facing out the back window, clinging to the headrest with my eyes shut tightly – for me this felt like the only rational way to transfer to the birth centre at 9cm dilated and getting ready to give birth. The car ride was 15-20 minutes and felt like a roller coaster ride but I didn’t experience a major surge until the moment we walked into the birth centre and I breathed through it leaning over the lobby couch.

We were taken into the birthing suite and the midwives arrived shortly after us. They turned off the overhead lights and turned on the gas fireplace. The birth centre attendant brought me the most delicious berry juice ever, but I didn’t have much time to savour it. I could tell we were getting close to the birth but I didn’t know how close. Z arrived and started preparing an area where the baby would be examined – I remember seeing her do this and it felt surreal. D said “soon we’re going to have this baby”. This final stage of surges was challenging – but again, time flew. D offered the tub and I declined. She offered gas but I declined that too – the mask was too cumbersome for me to coordinate. All I needed was for my body to feel free. At one point I ended up on my back and remember saying “move me!” when I couldn’t get upright myself before a surge came over me. Firm midwives’ hands responded and got me to where I needed to be. J later affectionately compared me in that moment to a flipped turtle.

The “urge to push” that people talk about was just that. It came over me and there was no stopping it. D asked if I wanted to try the birthing stool and I said yes. It appeared beside the bed and I sat on it. It was the perfect place to bear down and use my whole body to push. J sat on the bed behind me and supported me. He was a completely non-judgmental presence, accepting the experience and supporting me fully. The baby heartbeat checks that had been going on all day every 15 minutes were now more frequent – and I could tell from where she positioned the stethoscope to hear the heartbeat that we were literally inches from birth. I needed to make noise – from low rumbling to all-out yelling. To my surprise, vocalizing really helped.

A lot of birth stories I had read presented pushing as the gratifying, energizing part of labour and birth, but I was nervous about injury. We had brought olive oil for the midwives to use on me at this point and I asked them for it. Before I knew it, I felt the head being born- it felt like an instant release of pressure. The shoulders came next but I was hardly aware of them or the body as it slid out. I remember pulling up the t-shirt I was still wearing – an old one of J’s – thick, and drenched in sweat.

And then there was a baby on my chest. I literally sprang up off the birthing stool and lay back against the pillows on the bed. J was there behind my right shoulder peering over. Time slowed right down. We both just looked down at this beautiful mess of dark hair. I could see there were tears in J’s eyes. I touched the baby – warm and slippery, helpless, and crying now, loud and strong. I thought I would be balling my eyes out at this moment but I just kept looking from J to the baby and back again. I was taking it all in – processing the birth, processing the newborn baby, our baby, on my chest. Then Z came over and asked “what did you get?” – she opened the baby’s legs a little and I could see it was a girl. We had a baby girl!

The next hour and a half passed more slowly – I delivered the placenta (a non issue, it felt like it just slid out), drank my berry juice, held my baby. The midwives monitored my bleeding and then weighed and measured the baby. 8lb 5oz of perfect. We tried latching her but mostly just cuddled. I was physically and mentally exhausted but wired with adrenaline and overwhelming love. I would bond deeply with my baby over the next few days, but in that moment I was aware of feeling closer to J than ever before and it was a beautiful feeling. From that moment on we would be partners in life and in parenting.

I am no longer pregnant. Now I am a mother. This is my birth story – mine and J’s and our daughter’s. Childbirth was a life altering event – it was everything in 18 hours. Moving, gratifying, divine, otherworldly, unexpected. And so it begins.

Special thanks to: the Midwives Collective, the Toronto Birth Centre, and Childbirthjoy.

 

 

Traditions of trees and seasons

The Toronto Library has twenty-four copies of Positive Discipline, the first three years by Nelson, Erwin and Duffy. All of the copies are out there on the bedside tables of parents and parents-to-be across the city, and three more are waiting on the hold list. Make that four. I’m amazed there are so many people in this city who (a) use the library and (b) are as nerdy, conscientious and / or lacking in confidence as I am to warrant such a stampede of enthusiasm over such a book.

Evidently, gone are the days of just doing what we have know, generation after generation.

Actually, the introduction to the book (I could access a preview only) explains that we’re in a child rearing black hole largely because we abandoned long held traditions in parenting somewhere between WWII ending and the 20th century wave of immigration and the proliferation of the extended, multi-generational family unit into the much more independent two-parents-and-their-kids-doing-their-it-their way model.

The author also explains why before this seismic shift in the family structure, children understood respect for authority in part because they had one parent modeling authority (Dad) and another modeling respect for authority (Mum). Luckily, the author doesn’t suggest we should move backwards from equality of the sexes, but rather, is making an interesting point.

Outside the front window of the new house there is a Japanese maple. One day this week, after a month of gradually brightening its leaves into what can only be described as flaming crimson, the big fall happened. Essentially overnight, all the leaves were on the lawn, or rather, square of dirt, where they now lie in wait for a useful attitude and a rake to step in.

This tree, it gave the world its most intense beauty right before everything came apart. And come Spring, it will be back again. Its traditions are deeply, scientifically, intact.

Meanwhile, a friend emailed me his cover letter for comments. Why does it bring me so much joy to articulate the unique gifts a person brings to a potential job? Because I’m a career coach and a writer. And because I want the best for my friend.

Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, the make believe graveyards and pumpkins that came in packs of four and five are giving way to tentative suggestions of Christmas – a wreath, a red flood light on the front door. Soon Santa’s sleigh and reindeer will be inflated and installed on roofs, and strings of lights will appear on the eaves and we’ll all rush home in the dark after work to bake and watch Elf and Love Actually. You know, the classics.

After that there will be a long period of cold. Crunchy snow underfoot and flushed cheeks and long work days. We’ll make soup and wear cozy slippers and tuck into bed early. And on some weekend in February I will purchase a crib and a car seat as regulated, and clear away the clutter that has gathered in The Second Bedroom and it will become The Baby’s Room.

And then, in March, there will be a baby. And we’ll step into our new job – which is to nurture and support this little person in finding his or her way in the world.

Loving and nurturing and coaching and evolving. Strong traditions in parenting and humanity, generation after generation. Just re-imagined now and then.

Hence why we read the parenting books. And attempt to honour traditions where we can, incorporating healthy feminism and other modern phenomena where appropriate. And participate in seasonal lawn display like ghosts in hedges and Disney themed jack-o-lanterns. And carefully, thoughtfully, review each others’ cover letters in hopes of contributing to each others’ successes.

And why we, eventually, rake up the carnage of fall – all those breathtaking flaming crimson leaves – and bundle them up and send them away.

Such is the importance of human traditions.

Thank you, trees and seasons.

Warming up

We know that admitting you have a problem is the first step. To everything. What about admitting that you don’t have a problem, or that you used to have a problem and now you don’t. What about admitting that you’re awesome. Watch this TED talk if you want to know how to become awesome at anything.

Now that the clocks have rolled forward and the snow is melting and there’s an Easter lily on my windowsill and a fruity beer six inches from my hand, I can admit that I used to have a problem and now I don’t. Winter 2015 brought me, like many Canadians, seasonal affective disorder. It was often a time of emotional vulnerability and low energy – there was unexplained crying, unexplained plummeting self esteem, unexplained eating caramel popcorn in the bathtub (love the bathtub references in this song by the way). A lot of things unexplained. And negative. But thanks to improved lighting and daily Vitamin D drops, all this is in the past.

Now, it’s officially spring and I am the proud owner of a recently procured white spring coat and several pairs of stylish sunglasses. I’m applying daily face moisturizer and it isn’t even a chore. Life has improved immensely. Things are warming up.

Just having returned from a week in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico doesn’t hurt either. With all the lazy indulgent rest and relaxation that implies. But even a week in paradise reminded me that changing seasons are a miracle. All of Toronto is breathing a sigh of relief together these last few weeks. We are members of a cult – its leader – COLD – sucked us in and brainwashed us back in November and we walked around, reluctant zombies for months, not taking care of ourselves like we should, not growing with the help of the sun. And now we are snapping out of hypnosis, all wide eyed awe, and wobbling on the edge of something we know is beautiful. Is summer in Toronto idealized? Yes of course. It is also a time of joy, sunburns, outside tennis and park picnics that secretly involve wine. And brunches, lunches, dinners and drinks all on packed patios with quirky furniture and twinkly lighting cobbled together under the big beautiful sky. All while wearing sunglasses. And boat shoes, sockless. Or long skirts and flip flops. All while enjoying a perceived freedom reminiscent of adolescence.

Things are warming up and it feels like a new start. Be awesome! Wear sunglasses! Happy spring!

Being well today

Yoga today is about finding your foundation. This involves focusing on contact with the mat, those pieces of the body that are touching the earth (or the second floor studio floor, as the case may be).

Work today is about staying with a task, and not indulging that twitch to switch tasks when you hit the end of the maze. Today is for pushing forward, turning around and moving back again, re-directing – not towards distractions, but towards some other productive place.

Health today is about doing the best you can, even though it will never be perfect. Walking home with the groceries isn’t quite a bicep workout, but it’s close. Six hours of sleep isn’t quite eight, but it’s not four either.

Responsibility today is about walking downtown Toronto in the sunshine, going to The Healthy Butcher and Lush and buying things that feel good and are, in fact, Good.

Perspective today is wider than it sometimes is. It is being grateful for loved ones. It is being in awe of the world, which opens its big heart and mourns a special actor that many of us grew up with. This world surprises us in beautiful ways, now and then.

Today is pulling out a favourite record and listening to music that moved you once, and will move you again.

Listening to Rent… and signing off now to make breakfast cookies for the family 🙂

Skin Deep: Take the Animal Test

Tonight it was yoga or groceries. I chose groceries. I swear there were four hundred people in the Loblaws at Queen and Portland in downtown Toronto at 8pm tonight. Monday and Tuesday evenings are big in the summer for groceries and laundry – on the weekends people have better things to do.

It was a diverse crowd at Loblaws. And the walk home was an adventure, like usual. I thought of the people who don’t live in big cities, some whose grocery stores are even closed at that time. I thought of how we humans are evolving at what feels like an unmanageable pace. Well, in some parts.

I recently read an article about pace, which asserted that our culture values speed. You can see take a look for yourself by clicking here. When I visit my aunt and uncle on their cattle farm outside of Orangeville though, they don’t value speed. There, we value good food and conversation, and we sit among my aunt’s paintings and gradually unknot the day’s hours, like working on a nice little puzzle. We have a lingering lunch and then harvest their plentiful rhubarb with kitchen knives. In other words, life on the farm points to clear healthy, skin and a big smile. Really, it’s our URBAN culture that values speed – all two thirds of us Canadians, plus the global (and plentiful) urbanites outside our borders.

So, what if we slowed down?

One way to do it would be to move out of an urban area. Penelope Trunk did that after she studied happiness research. Now she runs her empire including this great blog from a farm in Wisconsin while homeschooling her children. I think I can understand that.

Meanwhile, back in the heart of Toronto, I’ve been reading the book my naturopath recommended for skin health. It’s about the link between psychological patterns and skin problems. Of course I’m on board to at least consider it, as a loyal fan of Louise Hay and her work.

So far it’s been an interesting journey. We covered a powerful and simple animal test – which three do you most want to be and which three do you least want to be? Any why? The answers reveal themes. For example, I want to be an eagle and I don’t want to be an amoeba. My themes: I want the freedom of flight and the fearlessness of a predator. As a disclaimer, that example is part of my real answer and interpretation, who knows what Dr. Grossbart would say about it?

The book also covers stress levels associated with life events. For example, death of a spouse is 100 stress points, moving to a new house might be 20. Major life events can have a cumulative effect on the body, and in this case, potentially the skin.

Today I was thinking about another part of the book: the timeline. Dr. Grossbart asks readers to set out their personal timelines from the moment they were literally conceived to the present, including major life events, and of course skin issues along the way. He says sexual and relationship events are particularly insightful, as are major accomplishments and setbacks. Then came the micro timeline: the fact that (if studied), you may find that your skin acts up in a completely predictable way, by lagging the same stressful trigger events occuring over and over again in your life.It is amazing to me that most people would never track their patterns and the toll they are taking on their physical and mental health.

This morning my skin looked clear but tonight, not so much. What micro event occurred during the last 24 or 48 hours could have caused this step backwards? I can see that such thinking could easily bypass the road to helpful and land on the road to insanity.

So I am slowing down the pace and focusing on thinking positive thoughts, and practicing good skin care and a healthy skin diet. I may not be on a farm right now, but today the art college across the street is my barn and I will gaze up over it at the gaping, starless, urban night sky. And I will feel both free and fearless.

If you’re interested in the free e-book Skin Deep by Dr. Grossbart, you can find it here.