A Multitude of Small Delights

For the past several years I have chosen a “word of the year”. I started this tradition when I first enrolled in Ali Edward’s “One Little Word” class and have kept up the tradition of choosing the word ever since. This year, I noticed more and more chatter on social media about choosing a word of the year. It seemed everyone from The New York Times to Gretchen Rubin were choosing words. No matter the source, though, it seemed that that everyone who chose a word did so as a way to guide them through the year, which is precisely why I love having a word of the year.

My word last year was “Believe”. I wanted to believe that COVID would come to an end, that life would go back to normal. I wanted to believe in my health, and that I would gracefully cross the 10-year anniversary of my tumour without any recurrences. I wanted to believe in lots of things. But as COVID raged on, I found it harder and harder to connect to my word. Put differently, I found it harder and harder to believe that good things were coming, when every day seemed to bring, if not more bad news, certainly not any good news.

And so, this year, I wanted to find a word that could inspire me to feel good; to “spark joy”. And while I was folding my 1,000th load of laundry late in December, the word came to me: “Delight”.

A multitude of small delights constitute happiness

-Charles Beaudelaire

No matter how bad a day may be going, there is always a way to find some small delight. And the idea that stringing together small delights can create happiness – well, that spoke to me on so many levels given the uncertainty over what 2022 will bring.

Over the past two weeks, I have applied my word in so many different ways. I have found delight in purchasing fresh flowers for myself each Sunday, so I have something beautiful to look at while I work. I have found delight in trying new recipes for the family (sometimes the kids have delighted in these new meals, and sometimes not). I have delighted in reading more, and especially in reading more of the books the kids have been reading. I have delighted in having everyone home, and even in having morning coffee during the work week with the Husband when he would normally be at work. Reminding myself to look for the small delights when I start to feel down about all that is not normal in our lives right now has made a big difference in my outlook on life!

And while I will never be able to eradicate the foreboding I have over what this year will bring (thanks to all things COVID), I am optimistic about the multitude of small delights I know this year will deliver.

What I Read This Week:

  1. LA Weather by Maria Amparo Escandón
  2. How Crafting Saved my Life by Sutton Foster
  3. The Last Super Chef by Chris Negron
  4. The Babysitter’s Club #18: Stacey’s Mistake by Ann M. Martin

What I Cooked This Week:

  1. Roasted Cod and Potatoes – everyone ate this, but no one loved it
  2. Cheesy White Bean Bake – 3/4 of us loved this – will definitely make again
  3. Tomato and White Bean Soup – 3/4 of us loved this as well and will keep this in the soup rotation this winter
Two of my biggest delights in one of the most delightful spots in the world – Mount Cadillac, Maine – watching the sun rise.

Don’t Stop Believing

I started the year with the idea that this was the year I was going to believe. Believe, after all, was what I had chosen as my “word of the year” for 2021. I wanted to believe in goodness and kindness in the world, in myself, and, I guess, in the fact that COVID would end and life would go back to some semblance of “normal”. But about a month into the new year, I lost sight of my word, and shifted from wanting to believe, to, well, to enduring; enduring lockdowns and homeschool, and isolation from friends and family, and the things we most love to do.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that last year felt less like a year for dreaming and believing and more like a “keep your head down and keep putting one foot in front of the other and be glad for the happiness you find along the way” kind of year.

I got dragged down more times than I’d like to admit when things didn’t go the way I had hoped and dreamed they would this year. And as I wallowed in what couldn’t/shouldn’t happen, I forgot to do lots of the things that I could/should have done. Instead of working out, I talked to my friends about COVID. Instead of reading and working on projects, I read articles about COVID. Instead of making healthy meals, I spun in circles with worry over COVID. And the more I talked and read and worried about COVID, the further down I got dragged.

But here’s where I digress for just a little bit . . . over the past few days I put all the Christmas decorations away, and started a good cleaning up/out of the house. In doing so, I realized that it was really time to update some of the photos I had on display and between ordering new picture frames deciding what frames needed new photos, I got to looking at all the pictures from the past twelve months. And it turns out . . . that despite feeling like I somehow worried the year away . . . we did have some pretty great times. From family movie nights, to an extended stay at the cottage, and even a stint “Glamping”, there was a lot of happiness that we had this year, and some of it that we maybe wouldn’t have had in the absence of the disruption that was COVID. For all my being dragged down into the pit of COVID anxiety, it was actually a year filled with wonderful moments – including many with our new pal Rosé – the giant inflatable flamingo – complete with glitter in her wings!

Rather than being dragged down by the less than wonderful parts of the year, I could just as easily have been uplifted by the fantastical things that happened.

And so, as I finish reflecting on the past year, and start look to the new year, I can conclude that I should have used a whole quote to guide me these past 12 months, and not just one word . . . and that quote should have been:

Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.

On that note, Happy New Year – may 2022 be a year of wonderful things for us all. xo

You Just Need…

I read a great quote over the weekend on the Project Happiness Instagram feed. It read:

It’s so funny how so much of ‘finding yourself’ in adulthood is simply getting back to who you were and what you loved as a child

-Project Happiness

Now that the kids are back in school full time, and with one already vaccinated, and the other hopefully able to be vaccinated soon, the risk of lengthly quarantines seems to be diminishing by the day. But diminishing right along side this is my role as teacher, lunch lady, recess supervisor, and technical support. While the last almost two years have been challenging, as my friend wisely said, they also postponed the inevitable decision on what to do when the kids are self-sufficient and I am no longer so needed to attend to the kids.

Like so many other women I know, I stopped working when I became a mom. It was the right decision for our family. At the time it seemed like the job of full-time mom would last forever. But now it seems like the years are flying by an an ever-increasing clip, and my job of full-time mom is going to come to an end sooner than I’d like. Knowing that I am no longer qualified to go back to the job I held before kids, the idea of re-examining who I was and what I loved as a child seems like a very logical way to start my journey to finding out how to start out on this new phase of my life.

But knowing what it is you love isn’t much use if you don’t have the self-confidence to allow yourself to pursue what it is that you love. And this brings me to my quote of the day:

So . . . you can find true happiness in your life if you just remember what it is that you loved as a child, have the courage to pursue whatever it is that delights you, and you believe in yourself and what you’re doing wholeheartedly. Seems simple enough . . .

On Grief, Fear and What No One Ever Told Me

I have been more emotional in the past few weeks than I have been in a long time.  As it seems we are slowly inching our way out of the COVID crisis, with the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter every day, I am also barreling headlong into the ten year anniversary of my tumor surgery.  Both of these things should be reasons to celebrate.  I know deep down there is a part of me that wants to be throwing confetti and popping champagne.  But that part of me is buried way deep down under a boulder of emotion so big it sometimes feels like I can’t breathe.  

In my quest to clear away this boulder, to find a way to let that part of me that wants to celebrate life and all it has to offer, I have been reading more than ever, and in the process, I came across this quote:

No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.

C. S. Lewis

Suddenly I had a name for what I was feeling; grief.  

I feel grief over the fact that my daughter’s first year of life is enmeshed with all ofl the awfulness of my diagnosis, surgery, and recovery.  I feel grief over my damaged facial nerves that make half my face constantly feel like it’s fallen asleep.  And I feel grief for the fact that I can’t go back and not be that person who’s faced a health crisis; that the certainty in believing that my body wouldn’t, or couldn’t fail me at such a young age was taken from me.

I have grief for all that has transpired over these past 18 months as well.  Like everyone else on the planet, I am grieving all that we didn’t get to do, all the family and friends we didn’t get to see, all the celebrations we didn’t get to have.  And most of all, I have grief for the fact that my kids now know what it’s like not to be able to have certainty in their lives.  

All this grief has been tumbling around inside me for so long, it’s grown and morphed from tiny little pebbles into one giant boulder.  The aforementioned boulder of emotion that sometimes makes me feel like I can’t breathe.

Now that I have a name for my feelings, I can also start to work on dealing with all those feelings and emotions.  I can find a place and a space to grieve.  But I can also find a place and a space to remember all the good that has happened over the last ten years.  The good that has come from the tumor, and the good that has come from our seemingly never ending lockdowns over the past eighteen months.  And I’m certain that as I start to see more of the good and less of the grief, the fear and the sadness will start to ebb and the part of me that wants to celebrate this glorious messy life will dawn anew.

What Is the Silver Lining?

It’s hard when things don’t turn out the way you’d hoped they would; when you face defeat, be it big or small, not to feel defeated.  My son faced, what felt like to him, a few big defeating moments one day at the start of the school year this year.  In the grand scheme of things, these defeats were neither defining, nor were really that big at all.  But in his pre-teen, post-COVID, new-normal world, these little bumps on the road seemed like major roadblocks.  

While I employed all the usual parenting tactics with him – we talked about why the events had gone the way they had, if there was anything he could have done to prepare himself better, if there was anything he could do to prevent these sorts of things from happening again – it turned out that this wasn’t what he was looking for from me.

That night, as I was saying goodnight, he asked me to sit in his room with him; he wasn’t ready to put these events behind him and he wanted, not platitudes from me, but for me to listen to him as he wallowed in his feelings. And so we sat and talked about how bad it feels when we face defeat, and how it can be hard to move on.  But then I asked him:

What is the silver lining?

This is a little trick I’ve been trying to use myself of late; when things don’t go the way I’d hoped, I try to find the silver lining in the situation.  So I thought I’d try it out with my son.  At first, he told me that there were no silver linings.  That the situation, and his feelings about it, were all so bad, that there was no good to be found.  But as we kept talking, funnily enough, we did manage to come up with a few little pieces of good, and slowly, the silver lining started to take shape.

Facing defeat is never easy.  And whether those defeats are big, or small, it’s hard not to feel defeated and deflated.  But perhaps if we start to look for the shreds of good in these defeats, and try to slowly knit these shreds of good together, we can create our very own silver lining.

Postscript

As the school year has progressed, it’s safe to say that my motto has become “but what’s the silver lining”.  It’s a catchphrase I think my kids are getting sick of hearing (as indicated by their eye rolls and other facial expressions).  But I’m not!  And If there’s one thing I’ll be glad to have taught them it’s that defeats will happen, and they don’t feel great, but that you can always, always, look for the good in the situation; you can always look for the silver lining.

It’s All Possible

Almost ten years ago, I sat in a doctor’s office with my five month old in her little bucket car seat at my feet and heard the words “They found something. You have a brain tumour”. It’s funny what I don’t remember from that day; I have no idea how or any recollection of how I drove home from the doctor’s office for example. But what I do remember vividly were the cryptic words of the doctor after I pressed her on what my likely outcomes would be: “It’s all possible” she said.

With a prognosis that ranged from you’ll be back to normal in no time to the possibility of paralysis, brain death, or even death, I was sent home to await an appointment with a specialist and eventually a surgery. Unfortunately, in the intervening three weeks it took for me to see the specialist, and four months it took to have the surgery, each day I was forced to face the vast uncertainty of how my life would unfold.

I remember several epic meltdowns during this period in which, through streaming tears and clenched jaws and fists, declaring that I just did not want to go through this. I didn’t want to have to face the surgery, the recovery, ad all that that might entail. That I wanted to go back in time to when I could wake up each morning and not contemplate my own mortality. That simply put, I wanted my OLD life back.

Fortunately, and with more gratitude than I can express in words for our healthcare system, I was placed in the the care of the most talented neurosurgeon, and after a gruelling 12 hour surgery, my tumour was removed, I didn’t suffer any of the “worst case” scenarios, and my healing journey began.

Fast forward to last weekend, when through streaming tears I declared, “I want my OLD life back”.

The irony of my words yesterday is not lost on me.

The “old” life I crave so much is the one I was so terrified of ten years ago.

As our lockdown has been extended for another 2 weeks, and we have been given no promises on when we may regain pieces of our lives as we knew them, the direction our lives will take over the next weeks, months, years, are clouded with uncertainty. Or, to quote my neurologist, “It’s all possible”.

Just like ten years ago, it is so easy to get drawn into the negative possibilities of what could happen over the next few weeks, months, and even years. But instead, perhaps it’s time to start focusing on the good. We’ve had twelve months to slow down. To discover what we really can’t live without (haircuts), and what we can live without (all that business that came in the from of extra activities for the kids and meetings for the adults).

Hopefully as we come out of this season of lockdown and look towards a brighter future as vaccines are rolled out and infection rates come down, we can distill from this past year that which is most essential and build a new, better “normal” for ourselves and our families instead of running back to our old ways of doing things.

Maybe then, ten years from now, we will look back and realize that this “new normal” that we’re all so scared of, isn’t quite as bad as we’re imagining it to be.

Think of the Happiest Things

If you were to ask me to list my happiest things, after family and friends, of course, my first reaction would be to list the “big” things in life. Travel, whether it’s to a beach two hours from my house, or to a beach that’s a five hour plane ride away, makes me happy. Excursions with the kids, whether it’s to a new part of our city, or to a new city all together makes me happy. And celebrations with family and friends make me happy too. And under the gloom of COVID, thinking about these things seems like a torturous double-edged sword; not only can we not do any of them, we aren’t even sure when we can hope to do them again.

It’s easy then, to fall into the trap of focusing on the doom and gloom. And not at looking at the millions of tiny little happy things that happen every day.

While revelling in, or at least stopping to notice, the small bits of joy in a day aren’t going to do much about the absence of the big happy things we have taken for granted in the past, it does help lift some of the feelings of doom and gloom. And if nothing else, it helps to make the day pass in a slightly more pleasant manner.

If You Keep On Believing

As the end of December loomed, and we were placed into yet another lockdown, with school and sports and even outdoor visits taken away from us yet again, my word for the year came to me: Believe. With so much of my “normal” everyday life stripped away, more than ever I needed a word as a touchstone this year, something to ground me in the hope that things will get better.

Be•lieve

1. Accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth of, without absolute certainty.

2. Hold (something) as an opinion; think or suppose.

3. To have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy or ability of something.

With today being the last day of January, I’ve had a month to live with my word. And it hasn’t been easy. Little beliefs that I had been clinging to were gradually dispelled of as case counts of the virus increased and restrictions on our movement and activities were correspondingly increased. And it all came to a head yesterday when I felt truly overwhelmed by the sadness of the reality to which we keep waking up. The irony that it is Groundhog day here on Tuesday is not lost on me.

But I digress. This morning, I woke up to an email announcing the start of the #The100DayProject. It was just what I needed to read this morning; I needed a call to action; something to stir me out of my doldrums and get me excited about what is to come when lockdown will inevitably come to an end and some form of normalcy will resume.

And so, welcome to Day 1 of my 100 Days of Disney quotes:

Why Disney quotes for 100 days? Well . . . I have been working on a project with the kids since the start of the year – every school day, we start the day by copying a quote into a notebook and illustrating the quote with chalk pastels while we talk about the quote. I started this project so that the kids could have a tangible record of the kinds of words and ideas and people that are most important to me. My hope is that they can refer back to their books when they need words of comfort, or inspiration, or wisdom. And that they will remember the cozy mornings we spent together in lockdown creating these books.

Anyway, this little project with the kids has reinforced for me my belief in the power of words. And that power, combined with the magic of Disney, surely will be the light and inspiration I need to climb out of the darkness of this particular winter and into a new season, in every sense of the word.

Different Doesn’t Mean “Bad”

Everything about this year has been “different”. My kids remind me of this last least once day day. Usually in the form of a series of groans and grumbles followed by “But everything is just so . . . different”, where the word different is most definitely being used as a synonym for “bad”.

Yesterday, as both kids participated in virtual school, I decorated the house for Christmas. When they came down the stairs for their lunch break both kids were at first filled with excitement with their first real signs of Christmas.

It took a few minutes.

And then I heard it.

“Christmas is going to be so different this year”.

My reaction was swift and snappy: “DIFFERENT DOESN’T MEAN BAD”.

Since then I’ve been thinking about my reaction. As we entered a new round of lockdown where we live, different has meant my skating with my little one in the morning before school at the rink we created in our backyard instead of ferrying her to the actual rink for 7am each day. Different has meant family dinners followed by movies each night because homework is done right after school since there are no after school activities. Different has meant long family walks on the weekend, exploring trails and parks near our home that we’ve never had time to fully enjoy before since there are no weekend activities to rush out to. As far as I’m concerned, different this month has been quite enjoyable.

Of course, different has also meant visiting family is either virtual or outdoors and socially distanced – which isn’t the most fun in as we enter winter. And different is going to mean changing some of our Christmas traditions.

But none of these changes are inherently bad. They’re just . . . different.

What I hope, after this month when the differences in our current COVID-controlled lives are more starkly apparent than at any other time in the year as compared to our pre-COVID lives, is that my kids develop, if not a love for things being different, at least a deep understanding that different doesn’t mean bad.

Different just means different.

Musings On Perfection

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”

– John Stienbeck

I have always been drawn to the concept of perfection; the idea that something can be so good it is beyond reproach or criticism. Which is somewhat ironic as my fear never being able to achieve perfection in my life has lead me to spent a good portion of my life in, shall we say, less than perfect states.

The single clearest example of this is my “office” space in our house. When we renovated the basement, years ago now, I created a tiny office space for myself. This was meant to be a place for me to “create” – aka indulge in my crafty tendencies in a way that wouldn’t create a giant mess in a more visible area of the house. What my office actually became was a sort of dumping ground / graveyard for the detritus of our daily lives. My desk is generally scattered with old invoices, random items of clothing that need repair, a half finished sewing project of mine, the drawers filled with old tech that will certainly never be touched again . . . you get the idea.

However, the one critical item that does reside in my office is our desktop computer. The big screen, which takes up significant real estate on my desk, a modern relic of days gone past, when the idea of everyone in house having their own laptops was a laughable idea.

And then came COVID.

And with it the disappearance of all our available laptops into kids rooms and the Husband’s desk, forcing me to do all my “work” from the hoarder’s haven that my office had become. I have lived amongst the mess for months now. While there had been a few half hearted attempts to clean up along the way, for the most part, things remained, well, a mess.

Until last weekend. When I decided that I wanted to feel good when I came to get my work done. That I wanted to be surrounded by things that I love. And that I no longer wanted to live in mess. And that maybe my mindset would shift just a little bit if this little room of my own was in order.

And so I got to work. I actually put photos in the picture frames that have been stacked on the floor for years. And I even went so far as to hang them all on the wall. Having visual reminders of the things that make me happiest – family photos from our most loved trips and landscape photos of the places I love most – puts a smile on my face every time I come in this room. I cleaned everything up and I cleaned out everything that needed to go. And in this process, I came across a poster I had purchased years ago at the One of a Kind Craft Sale. When I saw it, I knew I HAD to have it. And then promptly shoved it away, forgotten about until now, as it is prominently hung beside my computer where I have no option other than to have it constantly in my peripheral vision:

These past few months have been a crash course in learning to let go of all of my delusions of perfection. I’ve been learning that my true joy doesn’t come from striving to be beyond reproach or criticism from others. It comes from doing what I love and creating a life that I love. And this was made oh so evident to me as I undertook this little office cleaning project. So now that I don’t have to be perfect, I can be good. And that feels a WHOLE lot better.

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