Goodbye Christmas, Hello New Year’s & Finding my JOY (Oh, And the Best Sugar Cookies Ever)

With the Husband back at work today, it seems as though Christmas is really over in our house.  I started putting all the decorations away today, (despite the little one’s desperate pleas to leave the tree up in the living room all year long) and while I worked, New Year’s was on my mind; what my hopes, my dreams, my (gasp!) goals might be for the year ahead.  Which lead into a much deeper train of thought . . .

The coach once asked me what my worth was.  It was part of a larger conversation, and was a very valid question at the time (it clearly still is a very valid question).  I couldn’t answer him then, and I still can’t answer him.

How can I define my worth when I don’t even know who or what it is that I am.

I know that I used to be a banker.  And that I have a degree in economics and an MBA that lead me to that career.

I know that I’m the girl that went through that whole brain tumour thing.  And that I’m the girl that loves to spend time in the gym and lift heavy things.

I know that right now I’m a wife and a mom and a daughter and a friend.

But none of that answers the question “who am I”.

I’ve always had something to rely on to define who I am.  In high school, I was the “figure skater”.  In university, I was an “econ girl”.  And from there, I transitioned into my career where i was a “banker”.

As meaningful as the roles of “wife” and “mom” might be to the people to whom I am the wife and mom, anything I do in those roles is, well, expected.  Taking care of the house, making sure the kids are fed, dressed, educated . . . all part of the job.  And thus, while I may be “good” at these jobs, they don’t define me.

And so, as I stand on the precipice of the new year, I am faced with the great task of figuring out who and what it is that I want to be and from there what my worth is.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am thrilled to be freed from the shackles of the whole brain tumour thing.  And I love the idea that I have the ability to choose where it is that I want to take my life.  But I am also absolutely terrified.  Because I want what I do with my life going forward to have meaning; to be worth something to more than just my husband and my kids.  And I also want whatever it is that I choose do with my life to bring me joy; so that I may teach my kids what it’s like to truly follow your joy.  And because I know all too well that life’s just too short not to follow your joy.  And I suspect that discovering this “life” is going to take a considerable amount of thought, hard work, and time.

But, with all that being said, I know that one day, in the not too distant future, I will have figured some of this out . . . and I will be able to confidently walk up to the Coach, and with a big smile on my face, tell him just what my worth is.

In the meantime, we’ve been having an ABSOLUTELY amazing break to date – by far the best decision I ever made was to just keep the kids home with me and not to put them in any activities or camps.  In fairness, they have had some time with their grandparents so that I could get a few things done.  But by and large, we’ve just been hanging out.  And we’ve been cooking.  I think the biggest hit this year was our sugar cookies.  They are PHENOMENAL.  And I don’t mean that lightly.  I could (and perhaps did) eat a dozen of these over the course of a day.  They are totally NOT paleo, healthy or in any way good for you.  Except, they are super fun to make with the little people in your life, and I grin from ear to ear when I eat them . . . We have devolved to the point with these cookies where we don’t ice or decorate them – we just eat them plain.  And we also debate as to whether we prefer them a smidgen under-done or more well cooked.  Do with them as you please.  They certainly can take smarties or other candy decorations on them before you throw them in the oven; or you can let them cool, ice them and decorate them fully.  Just please, provided you don’t have any gluten issues, MAKE THESE COOKIES!!

Best Sugar Cookies Ever

  • Servings: about 24 cookies
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour (I have also used cake flour and it works just as well)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cups softened butter
1 cup white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and line 4 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using a hand beater, cream the butter and sugar well.  Add in the egg and beat until the mixture is light, fluffy and pale yellow in colour.
  3. Add in the vanilla, baking powder and salt and mix until just combined.
  4. Add the flour and mix well – but try not to over-mix or the dough will get a bit tough.  Basically, mix until everything is combined and then mix just a bit more to be sure!
  5. At this point, I generously flour my working surface, and get straight to rolling the dough.  The dough can be quite soft, and hard to work with – so feel free to wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for an hour or so.  If you choose to do what I do, mash all the dough into one big ball.  Flatten the ball out a bit with your hands, then flour the top of the dough, your rolling pin, and get rolling.  I like to roll till the dough is about 3/4″ thick.  Then I cut out shapes with whatever cutters the kids want . . . Just be sure to have big spatulas on hand to transfer the cookies to the cookie sheets – this can be a bit tricky when the dough hasn’t been chilled.  If you have chilled the dough, flour your work surface, and the top of the dough as well, and then roll and cut the cookies out.
  6. Place the cookies on the cookie sheets leaving some space between them – they will rise as they cook so you don’t want them to turn into one giant cookie.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes if you like them slightly under-done and closer to 20 if you like a crispier cookie.  Please note though that the larger the cookie cuter you use, the longer the cookies will take to cook.  I tend to use a range of sizes of cookie cutters, and just accept that the smaller cookies will be more done and the larger ones will be more under-done!

ENJOY!!!!

It Really Is a Magical Season (Or How I Did 42 Pull Ups in a Single WOD)

Today was my crossfit gym’s Christmas party.  And when I say Christmas party, I mean we did a 12 Days of Christmas WOD (workout of the day).  There may have been some paleo treats and protein shakes after we were done, but really, we were all there to do the WOD more than we were there for the party after.  For those of you who don’t know, the way this type of WOD works is that there are 12 movements – you start by doing 1 of the first movement, then you do 2 of the second movement, 1 of the first movement, then 3 of the third, 2 of the second, one of the first . . . . until you get to the 12th movement and you work your way all the way back down to the first movement.

I knew that this would be the style of the WOD today, but I didn’t know what the movements were going to be.  Which is why the first thing I did, before checking on my kids, was to check what the WOD was going to be.  And there it was . . . movement #7 . . . pull ups.  I may not be the best at math, but when it comes to WODs and how many of a movement I have to do, I can turn into an idiot savant . . . Anyway, my heart broke a little when I saw that I was going to have to do 42 pull ups.

Fast forward a few hours, I got to the gym, the countdown started, and before I knew it, I was at the round of 7 and about to jump to to the pull up bar.  I took a deep breath, jumped up, and did 7 (kipping) pull ups.  Without dropping off the bar.  Or taking a break of any kind.  7 legitimate pull ups in a row.

And then a few minutes later, I was back at the pull up bar for my 2nd set of 7 . . . and I did those too.  Without dropping off the bar.  Or taking a break of any kind.

And so it continued . . .with each round, I was able to crank out 7 decent pull ups.  And as I entered my last round, one of the coaches looked at me and simply asked “When did that happen?”.

The truth is, it happened today.  Today was a truly magical day as I got to live the results of the hard work and amazing programming the Coach has put together for me.

As I recovered from the excitement that was the workout, enjoying a protein shake and a paleo snack, I looked over at my daughter, and there she was, in her element, swinging on the rings, having the time of her life.

Looks like I have a new goal now . . . learning a muscle up before she does!

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Let the Holidays Begin!

In just 45 minutes, both my kids will officially be on Christmas vacation.  Which gives me about 35 minutes to either write this post, or wrap presents maniacally until I have to leave to pick them up.  Clearly, I’m going with the former.

As we do in the days leading up to every major school break, I sat down with the kids a few days ago to write down what they would most like to do on this break.  I love this little ritual; from a parenting perspective, it helps me to see where the kids are, a way to check in a see what it is that is really interesting to them right now.  From a purely practical perspective, it helps me to plan our time off together.

This time around, the list is shockingly short and not one but two of the entries on the list of 6 involved eating at restaurants.

I tried to push them for more; I tried suggesting other activities that we could add to the list, but after a few minutes, they were both up from the table and back to doing whatever it was they were doing before I interrupted them.

At first I was frustrated.  I had just given my kids carte blanche to plan whatever they wanted for their vacation.  And the best they could come up with was eat out twice and open presents.  And then I stayed frustrated for quite a while.  I like Lists!  And Plans!  and Schedules!

And then it hit me like  a ton of bricks.  Maybe the kids were, in their own quiet way, asking for a LACK of Lists! and Plans! and Schedules!  over the next 2 weeks.  Maybe they just want some time to just be.

Maybe I do too.

On Tuesday I wrote about how my intention for the coming year is to find joy.  Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how exactly I’m going to go about that task.  Or put differently, about what it is exactly that brings me joy, a train of thought which was perhaps sparked by this quote I found . . .

if-you-cant-find-joy-in-the-path-you-are-on-and-what-you-are-working-toward-nowhow-do-you-expect-to-find-joy-once-you-get-three-joy-quote

Maybe, as the kids and I spend long mornings and even longer afternoons together in the house just being, I’ll be able to come up with a few ideas of just how I’ll set out to achieve my goal for the year or what path I should take that will bring me (and those around me) the most JOY!

One (little) Word: Joy

Despite wanting a quieter holiday season this year, we have still managed to get swept up in the whirlwind that is this time of year.  We’ve bounced from holiday concerts to holiday recitals, to holiday parties.  There have been dinners and brunches.  And of course, there’s been lots of shopping.  And with all that’s been going on, there simply hasn’t been time for much writing, cooking (at least not any new blog-worthy recipes), or much time at all to just be.

During my training session today, as the Coach and I were discussing my training schedule, the concept of just waiting it out the end of the month, keeping things simple, and just working on building strength came up; with the underlying idea that come January, a period of more intensive training would get underway.

After my workout, as I ate my lunch and got caught up on emails and a few blogs, I came across a few other interesting concepts.  The first was an Elephant Journal piece about the Winter Solstice from an astrological point of view.  What struck me in this piece was all the questions the author poses to help the reader plan for the new year ahead.  The second came via Ali Edwards and the kick off for her 2016 One Little Word workshop; it was an encouragement to start thinking about choosing a word to guide you through the next year.

And then I got thinking . . . the next few weeks are an absolute gift.  I will have time to sit, to just be, and to plan on what I want for the year ahead.  I don’t have to have all the answers right now . . . like in the gym, I can wait out the next little bit, keep things simple, and work on building on the strengths I have developed this year.  When I have larger blocks of quiet time, I can look to answering some of the questions posed in the Elephant Journal article; I can start to think about what I want to focus on, where I want to take my life, and what means I want to get there.

And then the concept of One Little Word entered this thought process.  I want this coming year, more than any other year, to follow through with the concept of One Little Word.  And while my outlook on life, and what I have been espousing on the blog has been all about “happy” . . . . more than anything for next year, I want more than just happy . . . I want to choose “JOY”.

Choose Joy

(PS . . . the site where I got the above image from is pretty neat!  The DIY Mommy)

An Epiphany of Sorts (in the gym and in life)

I haven’t been writing much lately.  Partly because the last 10 days have been a merry-go-round of commitments both for the kids and the adults. Partly because I’ve been feeling the pressure of the season to go out and BUY!  And partly because I’ve been busy mentally filing away and letting go (once and for all) of the craziness of the last decade or so . . .

Last Wednesday, I had my quarterly checkup with my endocrinologist.  These appointments, as I may have mentioned about a million times before, terrify me.  Whether it’s the doctor’s demeanour, the fact that I feel like a human science experiment to him (I get it, having 2 unrelated tumours in my head in a span of 5 years may be medically inexplicable, but sometimes, we just have bad luck), or the fact that he tends to be very negative about my prospects (“Well, you’re fine for now.  Let’s check again in another 3 months”) . . .it all sets me on edge.

But at my appointment last Wednesday, the doctor was positively .  . . well, positive.  I got sent away with instructions not to come back for 6 months and after my MRI in June, confirmation that I don’t need another MRI for 3 years.

In other words . . . I am really and truly tumour free.

But then on Sunday morning, the epiphany hit me.  And by epiphany, I mean it in the truest sense of the word:

“An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance”) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.”
-Wikipedia

I AM REALLY AND TRULY TUMOUR FREE.

And then I started to cry.  And I don’t think I stopped for about an hour.  And did it ever feel good to get it out.

I’m sure I’d been building to this moment over the last year or so . . . but something about that appointment on Wednesday really and truly signalled to me that this journey was really and truly over.

And then on Monday, I went to the gym.  And the strength part of the workout had us doing 7 Toes to Bar every minute for 7 minutes.  Toes to bar rank right up there with Pull Ups for me . . .I can maybe do them 1 at a time . . . . but FORTY NINE of them . . . in sets of SEVEN???  Not just one at a time?????

So I hopped up to the bar and with a new movement cue in my head, I gave it a go . . .and I did one . . .and another . . .and another . . . until I had done all SEVEN.  IN A ROW.

A fluke I thought.  But then in minute 2, I did the SAME THING.

And in minute 3 I did 5 and then 2.  And so on until I had done all FORTY NINE.

And then I got it . . .movements like pull ups and toes to bar require the entire body to work together; brute strength in just one part of your body won’t help you . . .

And there it was.  My second epiphany in as many days.  In order to succeed in the gym OR in life, I need my entire body to work together.  I can’t let just my brain or any other part of my body take over.

So.  What did I “do” after having these epiphanies . . . well . . . I went on to my week.  Thoroughly.

We’ve had simple meals.  There have been no recipes.  I’ve stuck to my general eating plan during the day, but at night, after the kids have gone to bed, there has been some wine.  And some chocolate.  There’s been longer sleep-ins (today was my first 4:30 wake up in a while).  And there’s even been less time in the gym as I chose watching a 2nd performance of my son’s Christmas concert over a workout.   Sure, I’ll get back to my normal routine soon.  But for now, this is what feels good.

In Praise of the “Good Enough Holiday”

“Good enough may not only be good enough, but actually best”
-Deborah Needleman (in reference to Holiday gatherings and decorating)

This weekend, I read a wonderfully thought-provoking article in the New York Times.  No, it wasn’t the op-ed piece featured on the first page of the paper yesterday, although that was phenomenal.  It was the personal essay at the beginning of the Times Style Magazine, “The Good Enough Holiday”.

This year, as stories that have dominated my life for years draw to a close (how freeing it is to have a respite from the fear of bad blood tests, re-growth of tumours, or worse yet, the growth of new tumours), and as I realize the kids are getting older, I’ve found myself wanting a quieter holiday.  An escape from the maniacal pace of years past; the frantic acquisition of presents for the kids, the pressure to make every day of December extra magical or extra fun, and the desire to document it all in a scrapbook.  I simply want to enjoy all that this time of year has to offer; and relish those little traditions that the kids are slowly growing out of (not sure how many more years the kids are going to want to watch a Curious George Christmas!).

And ironically, as I’ve let go of the preconceived notions of what I want this month to look like, to feel like, to be for me, the kids, the family, we’ve ended up having the best December yet.  We’ve actually done a Christmas-y thing every day this month.  We’re actually making our way through the mountain of Christmas crafts that I’ve amassed over the last few years, and we’ve been having FUN doing them.  And in the slower pace we’ve set this month, I’m learning what it is about this season that my kids love, what they treasure, and what they want to keep doing each year.

IMG_8096

I think it’s because of this new mindset that the Times article resonated so deeply with me today, and especially the concluding line of the piece:

“That which is recorded on the heart is, alas, not Instagrammable”

And so, as I spend some time this afternoon planning out what we’ll be up to this week, I will do so mindfully of what we all enjoy most and how we can get the most out of this wonderful time of year; not what will look best in photos.

 

 

 

Choice Part II (Choosing Happy over Fear)

Choose Happy

So I woke up yesterday morning absolutely terrified.  I had a sense things weren’t going to go well, and I was scared.  I was so scared, that I even, through tears, asked the Husband to meet me at the doctor’s appointment, which I try NEVER to do (handling these appointment on my own is my feeble attempt at bravery).

 

As I was making my way through my morning routine, whirling around the house in a nervous tizzy, I stopped long enough to check on the news and see what new articles had popped up in my blog reader over night.

Which is when the universe stepped in . . . I came across this amazing article on Understanding Fear  . . .and in it was this quote:

“Regardless if you’re a fatalist or into free will, the reasoning is still the same: either all outcomes have already happened and you’re just catching up to the choice you’ve already made or, nothing’s happened yet, there’s plenty of time to make a sound choice and you’re getting worked up over nothing!”.

I fully accept that this same sentiment has been relayed to me over the years; I just wasn’t ready to really hear it  . . . until yesterday.

And as this message slowly sunk in, my outlook on the day slowly started to change.

And I ended up having a spectacularly amazing day.

The appointment with my doctor went better than I could have ever imagined . . . I am overjoyed to report that I all my results came back perfectly normal.  In fact, they were all so normal, that after I have one more round of testing in June coupled with my annual MRI . . . I’ll be freed from MRI’s for THREE years.  Which pretty much means I’m cured . . . It’s now time to really leave all of this “tumour stuff” firmly in the past . . . and move full steam ahead with our lives.

The day also brought some lovely moments with the kids, the opportunity to meet new friend while waiting for my appointment (we were having such a great time chatting, when the Husband arrived, I couldn’t remember why I had asked him to come), and a chance meet-up and dinner with my dearest friend.

When I chose to slowly let go of choosing to give into the fear, and instead chose to look for the good, for the happy, well, shockingly (hah!), I found the good, the happy.

And so I will end this with my favourite refrain.  There is ALWAYS a choice.  We can choose how we live our lives; from what we do with our days to how we care for and feed ourselves and our loved ones.  And we can choose how we respond to the situations we are presented with.  No matter what we do, how “good” we are, or how much “good” we try to do, bad things will happen . . . but we ALWAYS have the choice in how we respond.

Have a great day and I hope you too can choose happy today, regardless of what gets thrown at you.

The Weight We Carry

Nope, this isn’t an article about post-thanksgiving weight management strategies (I may be Canadian, but we celebrate American thanksgiving which meant this was a weekend of family and food for us!).

Rather, it’s a note about the stories we tell ourselves; the stories we hold on to; the stories we assume without question to be true.

I was hit by this today as I was giving a radio interview this morning.  The backstory (are you starting to clue into the fact that there’s always a backstory with me?????) is this: Since my surgery, I have been very involved with the University Health Network, and specifically, the Brian Campaign at Toronto Western Hospital.  You see, the surgeon that removed my tumour is the top surgeon in his field.  In the world.  He in fact travels the world teaching other neurosurgeons how to perform a type of endo-nasal surgery to remove skull base tumours that eliminates the need for full crainiotomies (this is especially important in the developing world where there simply aren’t the resources for things like anesthesia to keep patients asleep for 12 hours like i had to be for my surgery – unfortunately my tumour was too large and complex for this type of surgery, so I had to have the full craniotomy).  And by raising money through the Brain Campaign and the other fundraising campaigns at the hospital, we can be assured that there will also be surgeons like mine at the hospital, ready to help us, in addition to helping these doctors with the amazing research that they are doing.  As today is Giving Tuesday, Toronto General and Toronto Western Hospitals were having a radio-thon today on Classical 96.3fm and I was asked to come and share my story on air.

The first question the interviewers asked me had to do with how I felt about my initial diagnosis.  With tears in my eyes (I’ve been told you could hear my voice crack a bit), I recounted just how hard it was to sit in a doctor’s office with a four month old baby sitting in a bucket car seat at your feet while being told you have a brain tumour.  But as I was talking, I looked up, and could see my beautiful four year old daughter skipping around the atrium (the radio-thon was held in the main atrium of Toronto General Hospital).  And then I looked to my son who was proudly sitting beside his dad, the Husband, smiling and giving me the thumbs up.

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Where am I going with this exactly?  Well, while I have been slowly letting go of how the tumour affected me, I’ve NEVER been able to let go of how the tumour affected my family.  I had to wean my baby when she was just four months so I could be ready for surgery; I spent over four months planning for the worst while trying to parent (those weren’t the best of times), and I had to leave my kids for a few days while I had the surgery and recovered in hospital.  And then there was the recovery at home after . . .

I have been holding onto these stories, these thoughts in my head for so long (well, four years to be exact); that somehow, I, through this journey, had caused irreparable damage (that’s maybe too strong a word, but it’s definitely how I’ve felt at times) to my kids, my family.

But today I realized, I have been carrying the weight of this for far too long.  My kids were perfectly happy today; and so was the Husband.  What we all went through wasn’t fun by any means.  It was a brutal phase in our lives that we have gotten through.  And there will be more unpleasant and nasty times in our lives that we will have to go through again as time marches on.

But we got through it.

We’re all better people for it.

And carrying around the weight of the thoughts that damage had somehow been done through that time in our lives was . . . well . . . that’s just carrying around a whole lot of dead weight.

And so . . . we all have difficult times that we have to get through.  Be kind to yourself when you’re going through them, and know that you will come out stronger.  And if someone you know is going through a tough time, support them and show them love and kindness; if you can, help to share their load, or unburden them of any dead weight that they might be carrying.

And of course, if you can, please remember to donate to the charity that is nearest and dearest to your heart, as it is Giving Tuesday.  (and if you’re looking for a cause, here’s a great one . . . please help support my fundraising efforts for the Brain Campaign)!

 

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