I Need to Explain my Search History

This story has nothing to do with anything, just a twitter thread reminded me of this hilarious saga so I thought I’d share. There’s no lesson or point other than it still makes me laugh years later 😊

My daughter Julia loves animals and always says she can’t live in a house without them. I’m a little sensitive to the idea of her not living here because of a traumatic custody battle years ago. I also carry a lot of guilt for accidentally killing one of her hamsters. So, yes, I drove ninety minutes (each way!) to buy her two baby Russian Dwarf Hamsters for her twelfth birthday. They were $10 each. Free hamsters are pretty easy to come by, but Russian Dwarf Hamsters were the only kind she wanted because they can share cages and not eat each other, unlike other hamsters. Animals that don’t eat each other seemed a reasonable birthday request.

She named the little darlings Twilight and Dawn before we even got back in our car for the drive home. I had to admit they had beautiful colouring, these baby boys from the large hamster habitat in the kijiji lady’s home (kijiji = Canadian version of craigslist). It was sad to take them from their family, but kijiji-lady assured me that they were old enough to be weaned at two weeks. It was after my daughter’s birthday already so we didn’t want to wait any longer and made the drive on their 14th day in this world. 

There’s a signal, like the bat signal but with high-pitched squeals of delight, that goes out through neighbourhoods when small animals are brought home. It’s only twelve-year old girls who respond to the squeal, though we all friggin’ hear it. They arrived in gaggles, fawned over Twilight and Dawn, and squealed some more to summon other tweens who may have been underwater or in outer space the first time. I overheard my daughter tell them, “Mom loves these ones so much more than the other ones,” which surprised me because she didn’t even know about my earlier hamster murder. But I did love them more; for some reason I felt very maternal towards them. 

To clear things up about the murder, it was an unfortunate fluke and it took at most a few hours or days off the little guy’s life. He was an elderly, lonely, ill hamster. His brother had died a couple of months prior, and he was nearing the end of his lifespan (which was approximately eighteen months, according to the stacks of hamster books that grew like weeds in Julia’s room). I struggled with the idea of paying a tiny animal vet to look at the growths taking over his body, but he was clearly in pain while also clearly staying alive, so I didn’t know what else to do. Julia understood the vet would probably ‘put him down’ so she said her goodbyes before going off to her dad’s house the day before the vet visit. She left and I picked him up to see how he was doing. His body spasmed in pain, I spasmed in surprise – my grip tightened, and that was the end of his pain. I told my daughter he died quickly but spared her the details of exactly how that happened.

Maybe that’s why I was so motherly with these little guys, maybe it was because they were so young and so very tiny. They grew quickly – their father’s name was Tank and he’d been the biggest dwarf hamster imaginable. After a few days of adjustment, they started eating and growing huge right before our eyes. We laughed about them being tanks like their dad, one of them in particular was round like a ball within weeks. We’d put him in the hamster ball and enjoy the awkwardness of this roly-poly creature trying to roll. 

I no longer have a facebook account, but when I did, this was one of my most popular posts:

Sunday, June 11, 2017 at 5:54pm EDT
Karen Lowry is celebrating baby shower.
I am now the proud grandmother (aunt? cousin twice removed?) of an undetermined number of hamster babies. Since we got our two (adorable) male hamster babies just over a month ago, I was a little surprised to find a litter of newborns (actually a week old... should clean it more often) in the cage this morning. There are so many hilarious things about this, I've been laughing all day - while finding fascinating websites like "3 Ways to Sex a Hamster"
hamster on girl's shoulder
This is a BIG dwarf hamster. Possibly pregnant.

Yes, one of our boys was a girl. At the tender age of barely-weaned she got pregnant by her brother. The weeks following were a blur of revelations: Hamsters shouldn’t be weaned until they’re three weeks old, they shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to get pregnant until about three months old, and incest is generally as frowned upon with hamsters as with other animals. Oh, and also, females are highly fertile right after they give birth. Which would be before oblivious owners even know they’re female.

So, another day, another unexpected litter of hamster babies. This poor little mother was still nursing her first litter when the second was born. Luckily, we hadn’t put her in the hamster ball to roll around during this pregnancy, small mercy. 

tiny hamster bodies in their nest
babies!

We also knew how young females can get pregnant and I got a bit frantic about separating out the boys from the girls. For the first time, I appreciated the elaborate set up of cages and tubes we had (we called it Hamsterdam) because it made it easy to create segregated living arrangements.

I would like to point out that telling the difference in genitals on baby dwarf hamsters is a near-impossible task, and is how we ended up in this predicament in the first place. I turned to the internet for help. For the love of all you hold dear, please don’t ever google “hamster sex” without a few other words – “differentiation” would’ve been a good idea, or “determining” at the start, wise. I had revelations I can’t unsee. Why on earth would so many people think to put a hamster there?!? And why would they post pictures of it? 

There may be a difference in the squeal emitted when there are extra baby hamsters, but it’s been too long since I was a twelve-year old for me to tell. The gaggles congregated again, this time doing their own googling (Supervised! So supervised!) but they’ve been raised right, they didn’t care about gender. They were looking up “ways to convince your parents to let you have a hamster”. Some were successful, despite our now fourteen young critters being a bit of a warning to most rational adults. 

We were also saved by a reply to my desperate-to-give-away-hamsters kijiji ad. A woman who does small animal rescue offered to take the mother and her new litter of babies. It was such a relief. This stressed-out young mother was exhausted and the noise/smell/gawking gaggles were getting to be too much. Did I mention that Hamsterdam was in the dining room of our small hundred-year old house? That room is our main living space and our hamster village was consuming our lives. 

Before we got back home from dropping off Dawn and her newborns, the small animal rescue lady texted to tell us that one of the babies only had three legs. We weren’t sure if she was asking us if we had the missing one? But she found a special home with a friend for the three-legged babe, she just wanted us to know about it. She wanted to know the mother’s name, too. ❤️

We gradually gave away all but four males. Their lives were not without drama, but they were indeed all males and there were no further litters. Two of them lived long lives – one maybe setting a record for Russian Dwarf Hamsters, but we don’t know for sure because we never could figure out which was the father and which the sons, so we didn’t know the exact age of the father-brother-son who lived the longest. Anyway, by that time we had a firmly ingrained household ban on googling anything remotely related to hamsters.

We now live with two wonderful, male, fixed cats and have a whole lot of hamster cages and tubes available if you’re interested.

Dear New York City

My passion for the outdoors, for the truth of nature, is matched by my love for a city where the truth of people is on full display, vivid and syncopated. I was disappointed to cancel my upcoming trip there, but it was a small sadness, an excuse to rebook for a longer visit another time. “The city will still be there,” I said to my travelling companion when we made the decision a month ago, “it’s not going anywhere.” I watch now in horror as the city contracts, pulls into itself, trying to hide from this deadly virus. This is my love letter to a place I’ve never lived where I feel completely at home.

I’m writing to you both: The people who live in New York and the city itself, you’re inseparable. I miss you. I’ve been there amid the chaos of Christmas preparations and on hot days doing nothing more than laying in the grass in Central Park. I’ve been caught in rain (often!) and surprise snowstorms. Even with all the serious ways our lives are disrupted by the pandemic, I struggle to accept the insignificant fact that this will be the first year in many that I’m not with you for Easter weekend.

I crumple in pain when I hear details about the nightmare you’re living. Fear and death fill your small spaces that were never meant to be your only living space. The city that was your living room, library, playground, and kitchen lies empty, coming alive with noise at 7 each evening to acknowledge your heroes. I cry for the healthcare workers everywhere facing unimaginable trauma while worrying about their own health and their families’. I want to hug the parents of small children in tiny apartments, losing their sanity from the noise, the emotions, the never-ending needs for entertainment, movement, reassurance, and food. I want to say, it’s going to be okay, somehow.

New York, you changed my life in so many ways, so many times. My travel journals are filled with personal revelations. There is such joy in being fully myself while surrounded by others expressing themselves in their own magical (bizarre, entertaining, scary, fabulous) ways. Your energy is contagious. Every trip I hit a wall of exhaustion and then find myself walking around for another few hours, each step powered by the architecture, chaos, art, music, and the people.  Thank you.

Where is all the energy now? What happens to the electricity in the air from performance art, or the hushed exhilaration in each luminous room in each stunning museum? The phone conversations and arguments filling the sidewalks, or the press of a crowd to get into a reading at a bookstore? Are men bellowing out catcalls into the echo chambers of their four walls? Who warms the green chairs in the park? Who can hear the music? Is the Rose Room truly silent now, no comforting shush of pages being turned?

When alone there, I am invigorated and brave in ways I carry with me through the rest of my life. The first time in the city on my own I went to a dance show in Brooklyn, disoriented and apprehensive because of minor confusions, and I saw a sign advertising the event as being for “Adventurous Audiences” which filled me with both pride and a bit more fear. I never once regretted the risks I took.

With others, I ran a race around Central Park (in a kilt, though a friend suggested the underwear run was more my speed), ate food and drinks in fancy restaurants and tiny diners, tourist traps and holes in the wall. It must be true love I feel for the city, because every memory brings a smile to my face. I have nothing but fondness for even the smelliest alleyway where I had a juicy kiss. The kisser is long gone from my life, but I could show you the alley in a heartbeat. I don’t have to tell you you’re special, New York, you know it well. I just thought you might want to hear how much you matter to others.

What have I learned from you about the nature of people? The value of community in facing adversity: You look out for your neighbours. That everyone has struggles, they’re just tucked away inside homes in other places while yours are played out in the subway cars and on the streets. Now that you’re tucked away inside, please don’t forget that you’re not alone, whatever you’re feeling. You also taught me that while we’re all imperfect, we can always grow and change in unexpected – sometimes adventurous – ways. Thank you for that too.

I am devastated for you and looking forward to when we will be together again. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with the place. ❤️

van with sign saying Interesting Items
Seems legit.

Social Distancing, Yurt Edition

Like many, I was heartbroken to cancel upcoming trips, while also grateful that we got the lead time here in Canada to cancel things before it was too late (hopefully). Because it seemed ideal for the times, we did go on our planned March Break adventure: We stayed in the middle of the forest, in an isolated yurt at a MacGregor Point Park a few hours north of home. (If you’re just here for the photos, scroll to the bottom 😊)

yurt in the forest
home sweet home

It was me, my two teenagers, and my son’s friend who joined us on the same trip last year. We’d had so much fun then that we booked a longer stay this time. On our drive up, they interrupted me belting along with my oldies on the radio to tell us about a woman in our home city testing positive, and she hadn’t been travelling so it might be the first evidence of community transmission. We felt lucky to be getting out just in time.

3 teenagers
the gang

Being immersed in nature is like living in a dream. I’d step out of the yurt early in the morning… and marvel at the stars and moon still sparkling. All through the day, we were one with the wind and sky and sun and trees and water. Even inside the air was filled with the clutter of geese honking in the evenings and bird calls in the morning. We chased sunrises and sunsets, spent hours on the shore of Lake Huron, hiked endless trails, and my daughter was welcomed into a family of red squirrels (though re-joined her original family for card games and meal times…).

But.

We shared the outhouses and a central full washroom with many other campers. I don’t know how many there were, maybe twenty, maybe forty, sixty? There were many more people around than last year, when the weather was icy. Or maybe the increase was that others also felt safer away from cities. The washroom had two small sinks and three stalls, and there were almost always other people in there. It’s hard to practice social distancing when you’re elbow-to-elbow brushing teeth with a family of four.

What had seemed like the epitome of isolation started to feel like a breeding ground for a new outbreak. We used lots of hand sanitizer and had a tub with water and dish soap in the yurt, but I cringed every time someone went to the shared space. Our last full day, I talked with a friend back home and heard panic and exhaustion in their voice. People panic-shopping, hard decisions to be made about what to close, chaos of setting up work- and learn-from home options, and general fear of others – the anxiety was overwhelming and it infected me too. I was in paradise and couldn’t truly relax. What tipped me over was the noise of kids playing in the forest by our yurt (and their parents yelling at them). I realized they’d just arrived. I remembered noticing a group getting set up at a site we passed on a hike earlier too. How much turnover was there each day? How many new dozens of people would be washing their faces in my sink?

I talked with the kids about it. Was I in a spiral of irrational fear, or was I right to be concerned? There was no obvious answer. The park is in a fairly rural area, and they’d just had two cases confirmed there as well – a couple coming back from a cruise, who had no symptoms but were checked because of their contact with someone with the virus. Had they spread it to others before they knew?

We came home a bit early, after sunset on the night before we planned to leave in the morning. One last sunrise missed, though it turned cloudy and snowy as we left so it was probably for the best. We’re happily hunkered down at home now, with fewer trees around but our own bathroom, and all sorts of places we can hike here. We have oodles of pictures and I hold the stars inside me. We’ll get laundry done and see how we can help others struggling through these strange times. Be well, friends.

Ease

In yoga the Sanskrit word sukha is used to talk about the sense of ease. Sukhasana – easy pose – is sitting cross-legged. When I came back to yoga practice after years away, the gentle, kind instructor of our beginner class shocked us one day by saying we wouldn’t start the class lying on our backs on our mats (soooo much sukha), rather we would sit in sukhasana. More shocking to my mid-40s body was that easy pose was anything but. My legs quivered, my hips ached, and I had to use my hands to hold myself in anything resembling crisscross applesauce. Many years later, I find it a soothing, relaxing pose. How did that change happen? Through practice, of course, but what kind of practice? I did not improve by pushing through pain or forcing it. I improved by finding what ease I could in the pose and relaxing into that. I sent my breath to my hips and legs, and they let me in a little bit more each time.

When you face difficulties in your day, how does your body react? What parts call out to you, quiver or ache?

When you hear those calls, send your breath there and ask yourself, what can I soften here?

What can I soften here?

It won’t fix your annoying colleague (not that I would know anything about that … *waves* at coworkers reading this …), give you more time before the impending deadline, or bring justice to the unfairness of life. It will give you a chance to think and choose your next action. Here’s the magic part: Choose an action that will soften the situation.

The challenging colleague? Maybe the ease comes from letting it go, walking away, and focusing on your own work. Perhaps you breathe kindness into the situation.

Deadline pressure? Pushing through the pain or forcing things will lead to mistakes and more pain. Find the balance between effort and ease, work near your edge, then back off when you feel the tension rising again.

As for injustice, well, I struggle most with that. What relaxes my frustration and angst is acceptance – radical acceptance, as per Tara Brach (mentioned in Welcome, 2020! and Self-Improvement and probably other posts too!)  – and a mission to overcome evil (and simple bad luck) with good.

If you’re arguing with me in your mind, telling me that these ideas won’t work, you’re making it harder than it needs to be. Ignore my specific suggestions, close your eyes (after you finish reading this…) and say, “soften” in your head. What pops up? Do that.

Ease isn’t something you make happen, you find it. You clear away the complications and overthinking and tightness you’re bringing to the situation, and behind the temporary mess, is ease.

Namaste.

Self-Care, Self-Soothing and More

Does the term self-care feel a bit icky to you? It’s used so broadly it had no meaning to me and conjured up images of Instagram ads for skin products. The idea behind it makes perfect sense: I care for my children, pets, friends, home … and for myself. But are skin products or having wine and popcorn for dinner while watching Netflix really caring for myself? Sort of. Sort of not. I was stuck on that ambivalence for a long time.

Along came this brilliant piece by Deanna Zandt (https://blog.usejournal.com/the-unspoken-complexity-of-self-care-8c9f30233467), shared by a friend who wanted to talk about the importance it puts on community and structural care as parts of the puzzle. [Zandt’s ideas about that are spot on – have a read, and we can chat about it if you like; it influenced my work in a non-profit and made me realize the limits of my own self-care.] AND, the article solved my sort of / sort of not dilemma, with the simple distinction between self-soothing and self-care.

These are both vital parts of staying healthy and happy, but the main difference (to me) is that it’s only self-care that leads to growth. It’s self-care that moves me forward to a place where I don’t need as much self-soothing.

What’s the difference?

Some definitions, though there are soft, permeable gray lines around all of this, no need to overthink the details:

Self-Soothing

Self-soothing describes activities that distract me or make me feel better in the moment. Examples (for me, this is one big ‘you do you’ exercise) are: scrolling down random internet rabbit holes, washing dishes in a big sink full of warm sudsy water, drinking, spending the day in pyjamas, crossword puzzles, writing with a juicy fountain pen. I could go on and on.

In fact, that’s what I learned from reading and reflecting on Zandt’s article. I do a LOT of self-soothing. Sometimes, I’m flustered or overwhelmed or hurt or irritated. I need to soothe myself. Often those situations are temporary or unsolvable, so my actions aren’t about the issue at hand, they’re simply about noticing my own state and working more gently through the feelings I’m having.

Other times, it’s a first step towards productive action – my vision of the way forward is cloudy and soothing my nerves will bring me to calm clarity, and I will see where I want to go.

And sometimes the soothing is saying f*ck it and doing something I know is ‘bad’ for me. I used to do a lot more of this: I think it came out of insecurity, not knowing who I was and rebelling against who my family and society was telling I was supposed to be. I wanted to be the kind of person who doesn’t take herself too seriously – drinks too much, eats crap, parties hard. Except I do rather like going to bed early, so the partying stopped a long time ago. And the drinking messed with my sleep, not to mention my wallet. So now I’m a person who gets great sleep and still eats crap more than I’d like. I’m bingeing less on food (shout out to Julie deRohan) and I still don’t take myself seriously.

Anyway, whether it’s curling up under a purring cat and re-watching Legally Blonde, staring out a window at work (my god I wish I had a window at work), or drinking, there’s a place for self-soothing. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that.

Self-Care

Self-care moves me forward. It underlies everything else. It’s not just something to do in response to a passing mood – it’s the habits, routines, and activities I build into my everyday life to feed the inner glow of my body and soul. It’s yoga each morning, eating food to energize me, sleeping lots, chatting with my kids, walking alone in the woods, saying no to things I don’t want to do, appreciating the sky each morning. It’s writing.

All of these things, and many more, help me feel solid and help me grow from that base, blossoming into the most delicious version of myself.

I come out of self-care activities not only feeling better, but also feeling better about myself. I’ve taken a step in an intentional direction, living the life I want to lead. It contrasts with when I’m acting out of rebellion, firing off in all directions, scattered and not getting anywhere. There’s a sense of future to self-care. What can I do now, today, to help me be where I want to be tomorrow?

canoe on calm lake
soothing self-care

And More

The point of Zandt’s article was that self-soothing and self-care aren’t enough on their own, we need to take care of each other, too.

I’ve had times where I thought I was taking good care of myself, but I also felt stuck – maybe it was self-indulgence, or constant self-soothing I was doing, and nothing deeper was changing.

A year or two ago, I developed a taste for non-alcohol beer and thought it was perfect. I’d get home from work, *need* a beer and be satisfied by cracking open a cold one. I’d enjoy it, then get on with my evening with a clear head, so clever. Except it didn’t feel all that much different than coming home and having a real beer – it didn’t affect my sleep the way real booze does, but otherwise, there was still a sense of dissatisfaction. I didn’t know why.

When I read the article, it became obvious. I was soothing myself, every single day, with my clever fake beer. Maybe … I could care for myself differently so that I didn’t need soothing every time I walked in the door from work. Needing a beer, fake or not, was a sign to attend to, to notice. Now when I leave work, I eat an apple on my walk home and my body feels less needy when I walk in the door, nice bit of self-care.

But I’m still usually in a crummy frame of mind after work, and an apple a day isn’t going to keep that away. So, I also made plans to move on from my demanding job in the years ahead, with supports from the world around me. The part about my job (ironically) that I enjoy the most is that I can help put supports in place to help others as well.

Noticing and addressing the underlying issues is the best care of all. (Though staying in pyjamas all day is a close second.)

Gifts for a (wannabe) Minimalist

I used to have a wish list on Amazon, but I couldn’t add the things I truly want. They can’t deliver on world peace or solutions to the climate crisis, and don’t seem to have any products to eliminate racism and sexism and ableism and ageism and all the other ways people are told they’re not worthy. They do have books that can change your heart, so does the library. There are some products that bring ease and joy into my life (hello, stationery), and I’ve received many lovely gifts to cherish in my life. I’ve also received clutter, and, frankly, gifts that were downright insulting (yes, an ex-partner did give me a book on how to improve a specific sex technique, I’m not sure that reflected well on either of us!)

I’m a big fan of Valentines / Galentines ❤️ What’s not to enjoy about telling people they matter to you? If you or your beloved don’t enjoy hallmark cards or jewellery, and flowers are overpriced, here is a list of gifts for any occasion, for all occasions*.

  • poetry
  • undivided attention
  • laughter
  • hugs
  • sunrises and sunsets and stargazing
  • a walk or a paddle or a bike ride
  • candlelight
  • music and dancing
  • plants
  • art

*please note that all occasions are enhanced by chocolate and wine, or peanuts and beer, or cookies and tea, fruit and coffee, you get the idea.

ALSO, it may be too late to get it delivered by Valentine’s day, but I can’t recommend enough: Peace by Chocolate. Learn the story, support the causes, savour the treats, and maybe you can buy a bit of world peace after all.

Resolutions and Setbacks

clashing clothing with pj pants
pj’s at work are the best

Blue Monday!? There’s a tradition at my workplace for Blue Monday, where people wear their brightest, clashing-est clothing to fight off the darkness and cold of winter in Canada. I’m not sure the science behind it is solid, but it does mean I get to wear purple polka dot pajama pants all day so I don’t quibble. (Okay, I did quibble the first year we did it, because everyone else forgot – including the woman who suggested it in the first place – and as the only one dressed ridiculously, I did get more than my fair share of curious stares from the public waiting area outside my office.)

One reason people can feel down in January is that they aren’t meeting their expectations for their New Year’s resolutions. Did you stop bringing lunch from home and end up getting fast food? Maybe you’re not going to the gym every morning at 5 a.m. like you promised yourself you would.

Common resolutions I hear about in my line of work are getting through all emails before leaving the office, or doing daily work on a big project rather than leaving it to a panicked rush at the last minute. One client went back and retroactively put her project into her calendar so it would look like she’d worked on it each day – not to lie about it to anyone, more as an aspiration, “I want to become the kind of person my calendar says I am.”

When you don’t meet the resolution you made, what story do you tell yourself?

The only true story is: Setbacks are part of the process of change. They’re a healthy, expected part of forming any new habit. There’s no need to over-interpret them, or interpret them at all.

When you aren’t following your plan, ask yourself, what do I want? What can I do today to move towards that?

If you want an empty email box, stop reading this post and go deal with some emails. If you want to eat healthier lunches, pack a healthy lunch for tomorrow – go, get the food ready, we’ll wait. If you don’t do those things, the same thing applies the next day: Ask yourself what you want and what you can do for yourself that day to move towards it.

Small steps, big steps, no steps, they’re all part of the journey. Steps backward are too – I think of them as my inner rebel, telling myself, “You’re not the boss of me!” They don’t mean I failed or that I’m a failure, they don’t mean anything at all. The next day, I get to choose again what step to take.

The client who back-dated work in her calendar? When she felt the urge to do that again, she simply saw it as sign that she was thinking / worrying about the project. Rather than fall down the rabbit-hole of tying it to her whole identity, she noticed the thought and jotted down a few notes about the project while it was on her mind. Sometimes, that turned into a longer, productive session, sometimes it didn’t.

Changing habits is like walking through familiar woods. You’ve already worn a clear path along that ridge and down to the pond. When you decide you’d rather go over to the meadow now, it’s hard to get through the untamed brush. From time to time, you’ll step back onto the well-worn path because its familiarity and ease are soothing. You may find yourself at the pond and not even know how it happened. It’s okay – the meadow is still there, and you can take a step or two towards it, each step making the new path easier to follow.

Happy January 😃

boy in forest, mouth full of raspberries
make your own path, you’ll find the best raspberry bushes there

Clowning Around on YouTube

I started a YouTube channel!(?!) It’s here: Karen Lowry youtube and before you go looking for exciting content … the two short videos I uploaded are just testimonials about that presentation I gave last November on privacy.

I did it because it was the easiest way to add videos to my site here, in terms of adding captions for accessibility and formatting for different browsers, etc. My daughter got a video-making accessory for christmas that she’s eager to use, so who knows if we’ll play around and add more. You should subscribe so I feel some pressure to actually make more videos, or at least upload ones of my cats playing. 😊

The best part? YouTube used my google ‘avatar’ which is me wearing a clown costume, which makes me laugh every time I see it, so that’s now my professional brand.

Any tips on using YouTube? Let me know about your experiences!

Welcome, 2020!

Welcome! is my theme this year

It already led me down a happy path of coincidence: Adriene Mischler tweeted out “Welcome Home” for her newest yoga series on youtube, an obvious sign for me to join in. I haven’t done thirty days of yoga before so we’ll see how my body reacts, but for years I’ve considered a daily yoga practice so here I am, living the dream.

“Use the poses to make discoveries,” she said in her Day 1 video, which seems like solid life advice. I am welcoming changes in my year ahead and will use the new situations to make discoveries. How is mothering a son away at university different than here at home? What jedi mind tricks will help me be a source of positive energy at work, as the government takes shaky steps to rebuild a program it destroyed? How will it feel to limit our travel adventures?

The yoga will help with one of the things I’m welcoming: Physical strength. I’m fine with the obvious changes in my body with menopause – they’re normal, and the whole package conveniently includes freedom from caring about nonsense (seriously, soooo much freedom), so hello, rolls of fat in odd places. BUT. I’m shocked at how weak my muscles are becoming. I’m fit and active, so why is climbing stairs now difficult? I need strong legs to carry me on all my adventures! I’ve done strength training before at gyms, but yoga with my cats each morning suits me and my life best right now.

What else to welcome? Challenging work. This can apply to my full-time job, but mostly I think of the climate crisis. We’re gradually doing more at home to lessen the harm we do to the planet and to date, it hasn’t really been difficult. To speed up the pace, we’re going to have to make bigger changes and that won’t be easy. It’s not really a challenge we can ignore.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi

My recent emotional development grew from the buddhist idea of acceptance, of welcoming all thoughts. Rather than avoid, numb, or dismiss strong feelings, I learned to notice them and let them sit with me. Just a few years ago, the thought of feeling bad feelings on purpose terrified me, and now doing it daily in meditation gives me a stable base to (usually) keep my peace as life swirls around. An example: Hi, Injustice. Welcome to my life. You’ve walked by my side throughout, unnoticed when you worked to my advantage and the source of bitter tears when you pushed things off track. I notice you dancing around me, and instead of railing against your very existence, I look you in the eyes and name you. I use the energy I used to expend fighting you to calmly call you out, limit your impact, and heal those you harm.

At Lake Huron last week, I had a waterfront ceremony to welcome all the above, and more, into my heart. I called out invitations into the waves, and let each word come crashing to the shore at my feet. One invite was to welcome more patience, and when I’m feeling restless, I picture that wave I saw, so very, very far out on the blue horizon. I followed it as it shifted and swelled all the way to shore. It travelled a long way to reach me, and was worth the wait.

Welcome 2020, let’s go!

water with wave-shaped clouds on horizon
waves in the clouds

A Simple “Winter” Getaway

So still and grey, it could’ve been the sky, but the lake’s small waves lapping on the shore whispered hello. I always feel at home by the water.

boardwalk over dunes with water in the distance
Hello, Lake Huron

The campground was full of people and my yurt had little privacy, but I had miles of shoreline to myself. I was confused by the solitude. While I appreciated it (so. much.) I wondered if I’d missed some notice to stay away from the lake. Why wouldn’t everyone be here? But they weren’t, and I enjoyed hours of wandering along the calm beach until the sun started setting – I’d feel foolish if I got caught in the dark on unfamiliar trails.

The Pinery

I came to the Pinery provincial park to spend time outdoors. I’d pictured a winter wonderland, but a recent stretch of unseasonable warmth sent us in a time warp back to fall. The only nod to earlier snowfalls was that some of the beach turned out to be a sand-snow mix, which only became obvious when I – oops – stepped on a ledge near the water and it caved in. Back up near the yurts there was a thin hint of ice on the river’s edge, but since it was already 8 degrees (!) when I saw that on a pre-dawn walk, I didn’t think it would last long.

dock and river
Old Ausable channel

Last March, the kids and I stayed at a yurt at McGregor Point park and I knew this one would be busier. It’s popular for the same reason I chose it: Only an hour’s drive from London (Ontario) and minutes from Grand Bend, it’s the easiest way to get away from it all without going far away. Maybe I had the lakefront to myself because it’s a fair walk from the yurts, about 20 minutes if you take the most direct route and don’t get distracted by the views along the way 😊. There are great hiking trails all over the park, so I guess that’s where everyone was – there was no skiing or snowshoeing going on, that’s for sure!

Simple, and Not

woman in winter hat
dressed warmly for star-gazing … why do I look so young in the dark?

I did not pack light for this short trip. Isn’t it ironic (🎶) that I can go for a week’s vacation with just a carryon bag but for a couple of days outside the city, I packed my trunk full? I needed bedding, water, food, dishes, utensils, toiletries, and clothing … and a beach chair and blankets for star-gazing. I don’t always enjoy the scanty hours of daylight in December, but long evenings of looking up at the night sky did their best to make up for it.

When I watched youtube videos about people living the ‘simple life’ in off-grid cabins, I used to (i.e., last week) think smugly, there’s nothing simple about having to figure out logistics of water and power and food. It seems like so much complicated effort … BUT … I’ve realized how urgent it is to stop taking those things for granted. I enjoy living in comfort, and a bit of time in a yurt now and then reminds me when I get home to be conscious of where my clean water is coming from, how I’m cooking our food, and where that food came from in the first place. I don’t know how we’re going to avoid worse climate crisis, but I won’t be so proud of packing light when that just means all the complicated issues are being hidden. I’m still proud of packing light as a sign of focusing on what’s really important, not on things (says the woman who carried a mug to the beach for a photo shoot).

The Mug

mug with colours of water and sky
Christmas gift that fits right in

A friend broke our no-gift rule this Christmas. She saw a couple of mugs she knew I’d love and then struggled to choose the best one. She did what any good (and ingenious) friend would do: A word search of my blog. It turns out I use the word “simple” really often, and the word “mindful” not so much. But … it’s the mindful part that’s really important, so here we are ❤️.

Back to the Water

I set out for a hike in the dark wee hours of the morning – well, not too wee, it was almost 7 am, I just waited until there was enough hint of dawn light that I could make out the path. I wandered dark forests until suddenly they changed to dunes and there I was at the lake for the sunrise. It faces the wrong way to see the actual sunrise but that early light is still magical, slowly bringing the world to life.

As I approached the lake this time it roared cheers of welcome, wind and waves exploding with energy. I wrote before about my ritual of release, where I stood by the ocean letting go of all sorts of emotional clutter. Well, being me, I had a ritual of welcome this time. I’ll write about it soon, but for now be assured I stood, arms outstretched as I called out above the noise of the surf, naming the things I’m welcoming into my life, as the waves carrying those things crashed onto the stony shore. Some combination of laughter and tears turned into exhilaration and all the weather’s raw energy filled my heart (while damp sandy air filled my eyes and hair).

I smiled the whole walk back, even feeling kindness toward a flock of Canadian Geese. If you don’t know these loathsome birds, consider yourself lucky: Legend has it that the reason Canadians are so nice is because all our nastiness was absorbed into the geese. To not feel contempt for them is a sign of deep joy indeed.

I’ll keep these warm feelings with me as the kids and I head up north to Mom’s soon, where it is (hopefully) still winter!

selfie on beach
my happy place