A Few Small Thoughts on Renewal

The word “renewal” always held big connotations for me; renewal always seemed to go hand in hand with major life events, like renewing your vows, or renewing the house (via renovations and redecorating, neither of which usually end up being small undertakings), renewing one’s outlook on life, and so on. 

But then I came across this quote, which got me thinking about renewal on a decidedly smaller scale.  

Since the start of the new year, I have been playing with Gretchen Rubin’s #rest22in22 year-long challenge (in which you rest in some way for 22 minutes each day), along with other new rituals meant to help me refocus each day, week, month, on what is really important to me.

Perhaps these small acts that have been helping me come back to myself and allow me to start again each day, week, month, are actually my daily, weekly, monthly acts are in fact self-renewal.  And perhaps, by thinking of these little things as little bursts of renewal, I will feel even better when I’ve done them.  

What We Do Today…

Do you ever do something and then immediately wish you could undo it?  That happened to me this past weekend – when in my excitement of downloading all of our photos from our vacation last week, I decided to compare them to photos taken on previous vacations to the same resort. 

Let me clarify.  In previous years (aka pre-COVID), I worked out a lot.  During COVID, I didn’t workout a lot.  In fact, I barely worked out.  At least not the way I had before.  I did lots of yoga.  And pilates.  And sometimes I ran.  And sometimes I lifted a few weights. And never did a single one of those workouts remotely resemble anything I had done and loved before.  

And, not surprisingly, I stopped looking the way I did before COVID.  While I understood this intellectually, the photographic proof of the results of my choices were startling.

Of course, my immediate reaction was to create complex and detailed plans for how I was going to find my way back to that smaller, fitter me.  But somewhere down the path of trying to decide between a ½ marathon or full marathon training plan, if I could work in a weight training program amongst all the running, and where the yoga and pilates I’ve come to really love could also fit in, I gave up and decided that maybe I was going to just be ok with how I had come to do things over these past few years.

But, with the dawn of this sunny Monday morning, with spring in the air, and the promise of better days ahead, giving up doesn’t seem like the right answer. I can’t un-do the choices I made over the past two years. And I can’t leap back right to where I left off (if that’s even what I want to do). Rather, today seems like the perfect day to re-awaken and renew the joy I found from my daily workouts, because, after all, what I do today is what matters most. 

I Ran runDisney Virtually This Year . . . and LOVED It!

So many beloved athletic events have had to change in order to implement COVID restrictions — but don’t let these changes stop you from participating!

I’ll never forget the first time I learned about runDisney. We had just arrived in Orlando and were aboard the Magical Express, making our way to our hotel, when I saw the signs down the side of the highway warning about traffic and road closures for the “Princess Half Marathon Weekend”. The idea that you could run a race IN DisneyWorld filled me with more joy and excitement than you can imagine. 

As soon as we got home from our trip, I began to research these magical races and figure out how I could participate.

It was a few years more (while I recovered from a brain tumour surgery and regained my physical fitness) before I took the leap and signed up for my very first event — the Tinkerbell 10K in Disneyland. While I journeyed to DisneyLand with my family, I was the only one who was going to be running. I will admit, I was a bit nervous, heading to the starting line all by myself. But as I slowly made my way from my hotel to the corrals, I was stunned by the sheer number of people running — and the COSTUMES they were wearing! There was so much to look at that I was kind of glad I was by myself so I could take my time and really look around and soak in the atmosphere.

As the race began and the course took us through backstage areas that guests wouldn’t normally get to see, and then past some amazing scenery (running through Cars Land as the sun rose is something I will never forget), all the while being able to stop and take photos with characters along the way, I was hooked!

Next up was my first Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. This time, I ran with a friend, and we only ran the 1/2 marathon portion. Again, I was blown away by the costumes that everyone was wearing and amazing scenery and characters that we got to see was we ran. But as I crossed the finish line and made my way to the spectator stands to meet my family, I realized that some people were receiving an extra medal! That’s right — for running both the 10K and the 1/2, you also received a Fairy Tale Challenge medal.

The only obvious thing to do was to sign up for the Fairy Tale Challenge the following year. And then, the year after, the 5K as well as the Fairy Tale Challenge. I completed all 3 races in February of 2020.

And then . . . COVID. 

In 2021, the Princess races went virutal. I was preparing to complete all the runs by myself, sad that I wouldn’t be running around Epcot, or through the Castle, that I wouldn’t get see so many amazing runners in their amazing costumes, and that there would be no character sightings. 

But then it hit me. I was home. With my family. Who had never had a chance to experience the fun of actually running a runDisney race (although they were experts at spectating).

And so we all took on the challenge. For the kids, it meant breaking the race up into smaller, achievable distances. But for the Husband and I, it meant powering through the full distances in one go. We cheered each other on, and celebrated our big finishes with a special Disney-themed dinner, while watching our favourite Disney shows.

A few weeks later, the medals arrived in the mail — the kids were so proud to receive tangible evidence of their accomplishment. And to commemorate the achievement, I purchased a medal hanger to display all our new hardware!

D

From this, a new family COVID tradition was born.

We completed the Wine and Dine Challenge in the fall, the Dopey Challenge this month, and we’re looking forward to the Princess Weekend next month, and the Springtime Surprise Weekend in April.

To be clear, running these events at home is no where near as fun as being in Disney. But running these events, with my whole family, being able to cheer each other on, and share in the excitement of finishing, is certainly something wonderful! And this is why I’m loving these virtual races this year!

Spreading Joy In a Time of Crazy (Or how baking a new kind of cookie was a recipe for family happiness.)

Given what we have all lived through these past two years, I can’t honestly believe I’m writing this but . . . these first few weeks of January have been some of the craziest yet. We have had completely mixed up weather – from having warmer than normal temperatures and now snow, to freezing temperatures and now snow, to freezing temperatures and more snow that we’ve had in a decade – it feels like every day has been an environmental guessing game. But it’s not just the weather that’s making us all scratch our heads. We’ve had two weeks of online school following the Christmas break, and a full month with all activities shuttered due to COVID. Now the kids are back in school, but have to quarantine for 5 days if they, or any of us in the house, have any COVID symptoms, so online school remains a distinct possibility.

All of this uncertainty has been hard for all of us. Well, maybe not so much for the husband who heads down to his office in the basement, a schedule that is unaffected by weather, or stay at home mandates. But the rest of us haven’t been such big fans of it all.

So, as a mom who found herself tied to the house these past few weeks to assist in the running of online school, there was only one thing I could do . . . cook. Besides, in my post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s cleanup of the pantry, I uncovered a not insubstantial amount of baking supplies that really did need to get used up (I excel in over-buying in the event of catastrophes and am currently trying very hard not to overbuy anything right now in the case of a 5 day mandatory quarantine for us all).

And what is more quintessentially motherly than whipping up a fresh batch of homemade cookies?

Well, I couldn’t think of anything, so I got to looking up new recipes. Ok, not so new recipes. I got to looking at every recipe I have saved over the past however many years on Instagram (maybe this should be one of my monthly challenges this year – to cook all the recipes I have saved). But I digress. I looked over the cookie recipes and decided I could wing it, base a new recipe off of tried and true cookie recipes and see what came of it.

The result was a cookie that EVERYONE loved. They loved them as a homework snack, as a post-shovelling refuelling snack, apparently even as a post-breakfast snack (I need to stop storing them on the kitchen counter evidently). Anyway, my point is, these cookies were such a hit that I have been asked to make them weekly, and have also been asked to make them for their teachers and their friends.

I hope you have a chance to make these cookies – and if you can, make them with your kids, your husband, your dog . . . there is NOTHING happier in this whole world than being in the kitchen creating something wonderful with someone you love.


”Family

  • Servings: ”45
  • Difficulty: ”easy”</p>
  • Print

These cookies are a real family favourite in our house. We prefer to use Smarties, but feel free to use M&M’s or any other candy coated chocolate treat – I’m sure they would be delicious with Reese Pieces too!
[/recipe-notes]

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks / 1 cup butter (salted or unsalted)
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if you used salted butter)
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats (not quick cook oats)
  • 1 1/4 cup Smarties
  • 1 bag (just over 1 cup) mini semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (we use the Enjoy Life brand)
  • 1 bag (just over 1 cup) white chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown and granulated sugar on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add in the vanilla and the eggs and egg yolk and beat again until everything is well combined. Scrape down the bowl once or twice during this process.
  3. Add in the baking soda, baking powder, flour and oats. Mix again on slow and then medium until these have all been combined. Scrape down the bowl and mix again to ensure everything is well mixed.
  4. Add in the Smarties and chocolate chips and mix again slowly until they are well mixed into the batter.
  5. Using an ice cream scoop or your hands, divide the batter into balls about 1/4cup in size. Place cookies about 2″ apart on a cookie sheet and using the palm of your hand, flatten the balls slightly.
  6. Bake for 8 minutes, then turn the pan and bake for an additional 4 minutes.
  7. ENJOY!

My family’s new favourite cookies!

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.

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