Archives for April 2013

That Moment

living in the past broken

 

When things go sideways, I have a moment. It happens in the split-second when the dawning realization that something bad has happened crosses my consciousness. It’s the instant I hear the plate break, see the earring go down the drain, or catch sight of my kid taking a Sharpie to the wall out of the corner of my eye. In that moment, I almost believe that if I concentrate hard enough, I can back things up to just half a second before, when everything was still good.

Of course, we can’t change the past. Everyone knows that. Or, at least, everyone knows that except the version of me that inhabits that moment. That person really believes that maybe, with enough mental energy, I can back things up just the tiniest bit.

That moment where I’m trying to back things up and change reality actually provides a fair bit of insight into my personality. I’m a person who spends a lot of time dwelling in the past. I think about what happened, how it happened, why it happened, what I said, what I did, and what I could have done differently. I re-play conversations, try to recall details that will provide me with clues about what other people were thinking, and lament the things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to go. Even my subconscious dwells in the past. My father died more than 20 years ago, for instance, but he appears in my dreams more often than my children.

I’m fairly optimistic when it comes to the future. I tend to believe that things will all work themselves out, and that at some point my problems will diminish and my life will be more serene. I’m not afraid of what lies ahead. What lies in the past, however, scares the pants off of me. And so, the not-so-rational part of my brain experiences that moment, when I try to change something that cannot be changed.

No matter how hard I concentrate, the plate will stay broken, the earring will make its merry way to the sewage treatment plant, and the wall will bear the Sharpie marks. I can close my eyes and focus all I want. The past simply cannot be changed.

I’ve been thinking about my penchant for living in the past rather a lot lately, for a few reasons. The one conclusion I’ve reached is that it isn’t serving me well. As long as I’m living in that moment when I’m trying to change something that cannot be changed, I can’t actually deal with the present and do what needs to be done to move forward. I need to move beyond all the things I said or did in the past, and forgive the version of myself who was doing her best at the time if she made any mistakes.

At the beginning of the year I chose Presence as my word for 2013. By definition, that means living in the present. To do that, I need to let go of the past. I need to stop living in that moment where I’m trying to change things, and offer myself compassion instead. Compassion because sometimes things go sideways, and that sucks. Compassion because I rarely have all the information when I’m acting, and therefore I’m going to make mistakes. And compassion because we all deserve it.

Here’s to letting go of those things that we can’t change, and living in the moment when things are actually not so bad after all.

Just Write

just write writing

For the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling that lost feeling when I sit down to write. The cursor on my screen just blinks at me, exuding impatience, while I struggle to come up with something to say. Nothing brilliant comes to me, though. The cursor blinks, I feel progressively more lost, and I wonder if I should just cut myself some slack and take a break.

After all, we all need a break sometimes, right?

While I don’t dispute that taking time off can be beneficial, the truth is that when it comes to myself, I’m pretty much a tiger mom. For my kids, I’m fairly easy-going. After all, they’re only kids. I’m an adult. I believe that if I want to get better, I have to do the work. That means showing up and writing whether I want to or not; whether I have brilliant ideas or not; whether Game of Thrones is waiting for me on my PVR or not. I need to sit in the chair, put in my 10,000 hours, and just write. It’s not easy, though, and the results aren’t always brilliant.

I know that if I look around, there’s inspiration. I see little plants in my garden growing bigger every day. I see Canada geese flying in giant V-shaped formations overhead, reminding me of childhood lessons about cooperation and perseverance and the rhythm of the seasons. I see my children learning and growing and becoming increasingly awesome every day. I see the routines of my life that nurture me and stifle me simultaneously, shaping my days and my experiences. I see opportunities to say yes, and opportunities to say no, and the ways that both of those answers can be either soul-killing or life-affirming. I hear jokes and read news stories and run my hands over stones warmed by the sun. I think about how a rock is formed and how it’s so strange that this particular rock should make the journey from prehistoric molten magma to a small object I can hold in my hand.

Sometimes, though, the inspiration doesn’t take hold. I can’t easily transform that wisp of a thought into a coherent piece of writing. I try and try, typing and back-spacing and copying and pasting, but my words are like clay that is too dry, crumbling to bits before I can create anything meaningful and solid out of it. The muse isn’t with me, no matter how much I try to conjure her through sheer force of will.

This is the way that life works, I think. Sometimes you have to just sit down and write (or paint, or sew, or map out an event, or draw up plans), even when it isn’t easy. There will be struggle. But in the struggle you have a choice. You can focus on the pain and the difficulty, or you can focus on the meaning of what you’re doing. By showing up even when it’s hard, and enduring the impatient blinking of the cursor, you’re wading into the murky waters of life itself. Sometimes, your feet get stuck in the quagmire, and the going is slow and difficult. But still, the important thing is that you’re going. The only way to get there is to go through it, even if you’re not entirely sure where there is.

And so, I sit here in this chair, feeling lost. But still, I write. Because I am a writer, and that’s just what we do.

Seeking a Not-so-Sweet Breakfast

sugar breakfastI am currently a little more than halfway through Michael Moss’s fascinating book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. If you’re at all interested in food issues, this one is worth checking out.

The first third of the book – and the one part I’ve completely finished so far – deals with sugar. One of the concepts that Moss discusses is the “bliss point” for sugar. This is the point where the sugar level in a food is perfect for you. Take sugar out, and it won’t taste as good. Add more sugar, and it won’t taste as good. The bliss point is, well, blissful, and it varies from person to person. I can pretty much tell you, without even subjecting myself to any testing, that my bliss point is very, very high. I am the sort of person who will eat a sugar cube straight up, and then still want more.

I’m somewhat concerned about my gigantic sweet tooth, because I don’t believe sugar is all that good for you. If you’re eating it in moderation, that’s one thing. But given studies that show a link between drinking sugary beverages and diabetes, and added sugars and heart disease, for example, I’d rather not be eating it in excess. And yet, the truth is that I do. I know this for sure because some time ago I signed up for My Fitness Pal, a free app that tracks food and exercise. While I come in below the recommended amounts of fat and salt, I regularly consume two to three times my personal daily recommended allowance of sugar.

In fact, I generally consume my entire daily allowance of sugar with my first meal of the day – a bowl of cereal and a banana. Breakfast cereals are high in sugar. Plain milk is surprisingly high in sugar. And banana, being a fruit, has rather a lot of sugar. When you add it all up, my day is off to a really sweet start. But it’s not just my day that’s super-sugary – my kids are eating the same sorts of food that I do.

I’ve given up sugar before, and didn’t notice any particular difference in how I felt. But the truth is that I only gave up sugary treats, like candy, ice cream and baked goods. I didn’t stop eating fruit or all breakfast cereal. Knowing what I know now, after reading Salt Sugar Fat and tracking my own sugar consumption, it’s a pretty safe bet that I was still getting plenty of sugar in my diet. Probably more than I needed, in fact.

I’m not about to go completely sugar-free. I love carbs entirely too much for that. However, I really would rather not eat so much. I’d really rather that my kids didn’t eat so much. But I’m also torn. Our mornings are not exactly what you would call leisurely. Cereal or granola is just so easy. And my go-to easy alternative of sweetened yogurt with fruit is really high in sugar, as well. I know lots of people swear by smoothies, but smoothies gross me out, so I’m not going there, especially not early in the day. The only non-sugary breakfast my family regularly enjoys is scrambled eggs, but I just can’t see making those every day. And so, I’m facing a conundrum.

I’d like to reduce the amount of unintentional sugar I consume, but I’m not sure how to do it in a way that won’t make my mornings difficult. I’m hoping that you can help. Do you have any easy breakfast options that are low in sugar, and that your kids will happily eat? I need suggestions.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on sugar. Are you concerned about how much you – and your kids – consume? Have you ever tried to give it up? I’d love to hear!

A Perfect Moment

I’m sitting at my computer right now on Monday evening. Tuesday is garbage day in my neighbourhood. While the compost and trash have to stay inside until the morning lest the smell attract the local bear population, the recycling is now out beside the curb awaiting collection. I guess bears just aren’t that interested in well-cleaned tin cans and last week’s newspapers.

As I finished cleaning out the kitchen this evening, I gathered up some recycling that hadn’t made its way into the bin before the bin made its way to the curb. I headed out the front door to drop off the empty cans, so they wouldn’t have to hang around my house for another week. As I did, I experienced a perfect moment.

My feet were bare, and the pavement of my driveway felt surprisingly cold beneath my feet. It was a warm spring day today, but as the darkness descended there was an undeniable chill in the air. The cold had a grounding effect on me, drawing me out of my head and into my body, reminding me of where I was and what I was doing. As my awareness shifted from the to-do list I was running through in my head to the world around me, I took a deep lungful of air. The world right now smells of springtime – a heady mix of flowers, sweet green grass, rich earth and resiny sap seeping out of newly-awakened branches. It’s the clean smell of a world made new, and I love it.

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The sky overhead was deepening to a purple-blue, still lighter around the edges. The last remnants of the sunset had almost completely died away, but the light hadn’t all disappeared. The streetlamp that stands directly over the spot where we leave the recycling bin glowed yellow in brilliant contrast to the colour of the sky. Taken together, the two shades spoke of light and darkness, and that magical time of day that is neither day nor night, and yet both at the same time.

While I dropped my cans in the bin, I took it all in. The colours, the smells, the cool air, the sound of a bird singing out its good night. And just for one moment, I forgot about all the millions of little thoughts that normally fill my head. The things I have to do. The things I regret not doing. The plans I make and the shopping lists I compile. Those things that normally jostle around all together, reminding me that I am never fully done. For a moment they were gone, and it was perfect. Standing there, bare feet on cool pavement, feeling the spring evening all around me, full of life and beauty and something bigger than all my petty cares.

And then I headed back inside, and the thoughts encroached again. But somehow, having had that moment eased my burden, even if only a little. And it reminded me that really, that perfection is always there, just out of reach. Even in the most mundane moments, as I run the recycling out to the curb on a Monday evening.

What’s the Point of Earth Day?

earth dayAccording to Wikipedia, Earth Day got its start on April 22, 1970 when United States Senator Gaylord Nelson organized an environmental teach-in. Some 20 million Americans from colleges, universities, and primary and secondary schools got involved. It didn’t really go global until 1990, though, when Earth Day 20 was celebrated in 141 countries. I was in grade eight in 1990, and I remember it felt like a very big deal. That was when I became aware that April 22 was Earth Day – a day set aside to do something special for the planet.

Today, Earth Day has become Earth Month, as all April long the public discourse takes on a green hue. You can’t turn on the TV, it seems, without someone talking about the environment. This theme touches even the youngest among us, as the Earth Day Canada website points out, “Nearly every school child in Canada takes part in an Earth Day activity.” My own daughter is certainly no exception. I have to wonder, though – does all this green talk actually make any difference?

On the one hand, I certainly believe that the more attention we pay to the state of the planet, the better. I can’t think that it’s bad or wrong to raise awareness around environmental issues, encourage school children not to litter, or make a commitment to live more sustainably. These are all good things. I firmly believe that even small steps can make a big difference, when you add them all up. If Earth Day is the catalyst that inspires positive change, that’s fabulous.

On the other hand, part of me wonders if Earth Day is really just so much greenwashing. Consider, for example, this press release from Coca-Cola about how the company is partnering with River Network to donate over 1000 of its syrup drums for reuse as rain barrels in communities across the United States. The headline says that, in honour of Earth Month, the company is raising awareness around water stewardship. This is all well and good, but let’s not forget that Coca-Cola bottling plants have been charged with depleting groundwater resources in drought-stricken areas in the developing world. Let’s also not forget that all those plastic bottles that their beverages come in have a significant environmental impact on our rives, lakes and oceans.

It’s great if a company takes on environmental projects in honour of Earth Day. However, I don’t think that a good deed today can compensate for all the harm caused every day of the year. I resent it when a company uses a day like Earth Day as a marketing ploy. And let’s be clear – Coca-Cola is not alone in this. They’re just one example.

I suppose my point is this: one day is not enough. If we really want to protect (and improve) the health of the planet, we need to take steps every day. We need to think about how our actions impact the world at large all the time, and how we can do better. This doesn’t mean we need to sell all our worldly possessions and live in the woods. It also doesn’t mean that we need to take the weight of the whole world on our shoulders. We all got into this mess together, and we need to work together to get out of it. But that’s just what we have to do – work together to get out of it, contributing what we can, each and every day.

I’m seriously considering doing some kind of family project today with my kids in honour of Earth Day. But I also know that what really drives the message home is what they see me doing all the time. I don’t have to tell them to recycle or carry reusable bags, because these things have just always been a part of their lives. It’s those little things that might not seem big or sexy or exciting that show our commitment to the planet. So I’ll seize this opportunity to open the conversation, but I won’t let it end once Earth Day is over.

What do you think? Do you celebrate Earth Day? Or do you think it’s just so much hype? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Hopeful Thoughts

The world can always use more hope. When you have hope, you have the ability to imagine and create a better world. But hope can feel very rare and fragile, sometimes. Big, terrible things – and small, annoying things, too – have a way of eating away at it. Everything from acts of terror to bad traffic has its way with hope, until you are left feeling crumpled and small, like a piece of paper someone dropped on the floor and forgot about. And this week, especially, I’ve felt a dearth of hope.

I like to believe we don’t have to accept hopelessness. With effort, we can cultivate hope. To do that, we need to seek it out and nurture it. One of the easiest ways to do that, in my experience, is by thinking hopeful thoughts. It’s a little bit Pollyanna-ish, perhaps, but it works for me. What’s more, in some situations when the bad-ness feels too big, it’s the only cogent response that I can form. So, today, thinking hopeful thoughts is just what I’m doing.

hopeful thoughts chocolate chip cookies

My Hopeful Thoughts

1. Seeing plants grow from seed. It’s like a mini-miracle.
2. The way the whole world smells so fresh and clean after it rains.
3. A cupboard full of fabric, just waiting for me to do some sewing.
4. The perfect combination of gooiness and crumble in a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie.
5. The way dandelions look, dotting a farmers’ field. They’re weeds, but they’re very cheerful weeds.
6. Kittens – full stop.
7. Wearing socks you knit yourself … or that someone very special knit for you.
8. Dreaming vacation dreams.
9. The way it feels to dance around my kitchen with my kids.
10. Cherry blossoms.
11. Watching a toddler fall down and get back up again (and again and again) on wobbly little legs.
12. A fuzzy, warm sweater on a chilly afternoon.
13. Watching my babies sleep.
14. A cupboard full of tea.
15. Days that are long enough, and warm enough, to head to the playground after dinner.

What are your hopeful thoughts? Let’s kick off the weekend on an up note!

On (Not) Easing Into Things

Earlier this month, I explained that my One Green Thing for April is trying out a loaner bicycle, to see how cycling can fit into my life. I’m happy to say that, as promised, the loaner bike arrived on Monday. It’s the Ivanna from Opus Bikes, and it’s truly a thing of beauty. I am thoroughly and utterly smitten with it. I want to keep it forever, just so that I can go out to my garage and look at it. Unfortunately that’s not an option, but I can dream.

opus bikes ivanna
My (temporary) ride

Given how much I love the bicycle, I decided to just leap right in. I had a coffee date with a friend, and I consulted Google Maps to get cycling directions. Google said it was about 3.6km from my house to the cafe, and it would take me about 15 minutes. So, about 15 minutes before I was due, I mounted my trusty steed and started pedaling.

Almost right away, I could feel it in my legs. However, as I hit my first uphill stretch I managed to make it to the top without having to get off and walk. I may have been huffing and puffing, but I was proud of myself. I was doing well. I was using a carbon-neutral form of transportation, and getting some exercise at the same time. I rocked.

Things started to look up on my first downhill stretch. Zooming downhill with the wind in your face is a great feeling. It reminds me of freedom and childhood. Cycling is fun.

When I hit the bicycle / pedestrian overpass that marked the approximate halfway point in my journey, doubts started to set in. It felt like I had been at it for a while already. Surely, it just felt like a long time, because I wasn’t used to it and I was working hard. Time was just dragging because I was huffing and puffing, right? I couldn’t know for sure, though, because my phone was safely stored while I cycled. Plus, it was too late to turn back now.

As I neared the end, I was really feeling it. There was a very gentle uphill stretch over the last block. So gentle, in fact, that I never would have noticed it if I had been in a car. But now that I had been cycling for, I assumed, almost 15 minutes, it was very evident. I almost didn’t think I’d make it, but my goal was in sight so I pushed myself forward.

After safely securing my bicycle to the adorable picket fence at the front of the cafe, I finally checked the time. It had taken me some 27 minutes to cycle less than four kilometers. It turns out that I’m faster on a bicycle than on foot … but not much. But the worst part is that my legs almost gave way as I walked up the stairs to meet my friend, and I realized I was only halfway there. I would have to ride back home again. Clearly, I was overly cocky about my abilities, given that I haven’t actually owned a bike in nearly 20 years. They may say that something is just like riding a bike, but they don’t mention the muscle fatigue and pain.

As I write this post, some 12 hours after my bicycle trip, my legs are still nowhere near recovered, and I know I’ll be feeling it tomorrow. So, consider this a public service announcement: if you’re taking your first bicycle ride in two decades, start small. Ease into it. Let those muscles you haven’t used in living memory get used to the exercise slowly. Because cycling may be fun, and you may rock, but crying when you walk downstairs is just not a good time.

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