Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Embracing Winter

This is one of the nice things about winter

I broke down a couple days ago and turned the heat on in my house. It’s that time again...fall is letting go as winter begins to crush us all.

Seriously, though, I really did not enjoy last winter at all. Even though I was fully aware that yes, we’re in Canada, and part of Canadian life is surviving winter year after year, I still honestly don’t think we had suffered through a winter as bad as last year’s in a long time. 

The fluctuations in temperature combined with other stressors, and I had a series of migraines (which I hadn’t had in years), from January through to March. My hands got so dry that cracks appeared around my fingertips and throbbed at night. We decided against going tobogganing several times because it was just too cold. I wondered, Did the wind have something against me personally?  because it attacked me with ferocity every time I left my house. We started running out of ideas for what to do to keep the kids entertained inside, and then indoor hockey with small sticks in the basement it was (and our basement walls really suffered, plus, I’m not good at hockey). We looked, but could not find our marbles—those pretty, shiny, happy sanity marbles we had lost amidst toys, slippers and scarves and desperate attempts to kill some time by throwing the kids in the car and driving around with a coffee for an hour before dinner. We just could not find our marbles.

Last winter, Joel said to me, “You just have to embrace it! Embrace the cold and the snow! Embrace winter!” I fully and completely decided against embracing winter last winter, but this winter, since I have a little bit of time here to anticipate and brace for the storm (and because resisting winter didn't make it go away), I am thinking that I will try the “embrace it” tactic this year. 

This does make sense. If you repel something that is imminent, you are exerting stress and effort against something you can’t change, which results in exhaustion and frustration, right? I mean, we can’t control winter here. The best we could do is get away somewhere warm for a while, but unless you migrate to Florida from now until next April, that would still only be a temporary reprieve.

So...here are a few of my ideas for embracing winter this year...yes, accepting it with slightly hesitant chicken arms into an awkward embrace, during which me and winter both move our heads to the same side and kind of bump up against each other’s shoulders—awkward but with good intentions.

1.       Buy a parka.  For years, I have survived with dressier wool-blend coats because I’m just not the sporty type and I generally avoid “warm weather” coats because I prefer the trench coat/pea coat kind of style. That, however, won’t cut it if this upcoming winter is anything like the last. So to Sport Chek or something like it I go! Maybe I’ll even get some snowpants so I can trudge through the snow like a clumsy toddler. When in Canada!

2.       Force myself to get out in the sun. Someone pointed out to me that while last winter was snowy and cold, it was still quite sunny. I missed that, but I could have capitalized on at least the sun last winter. This past summer, every time I was in the sun, I relished the happy and calm feeling that the Vitamin D infusion gave me. I don’t want to miss any happy Vitamin D opportunities this winter. Whenever I can, whenever it’s sunny, I’m going to do my best to get out there and expose as much skin as possible, even if it’s just a square inch of my face, for like even ten minutes at a time, to absorb some of that goodness, so that I can stay “level” instead of falling into the icy clutches of Mr. Winter Blues. He’s mean.

3.       Remember all the good things about winter. This is a short list, but hey, I’ll keep repeating it and maybe even add to it! For me and Joel, it’s the few months off because we are both in the seasonal business and the free time it affords to do some relaxing and some home improvements, the quiet stillness outside (even though it’s because most living things have booked it out of here or died and because nobody works outside when it's -30C), the snow activities (OK, I don’t really do any of them except sometimes tobogganing, but anyway)...the warm, soft sweaters? The hot drinks? The crispness of freshly fallen snow? ummm... Hmmm. I might have to work on this, but I plan to keep reminding myself of the positives of winter!

4.       Keep planning things to look forward to. January through March can be pretty depressing because there never seems to be much to look forward to, especially compared to all the events and things that fill up spring through fall. Last year, once Christmas was over, I found myself flailing around in a figurative pile of snow (not a real pile because I didn’t have a parka and snowpants), not sure if it was Monday or Friday, January or February, cold or ridiculously cold. Planning some fun things every couple of weeks or once at month at least would be really helpful to orient myself to the calendar and keep the spirits up.

5.       Oh, speaking of spirits, spirits. Let's be real here. A drink goes a long way to warm up a chilled body and brighten one’s outlook.

6.       When all else fails, give up and run away down south for a short vacation. I really want to go away this winter. We’ll see how that works out, but thawing out on a beach getting massive doses of sunshine would be blissfully awesome.

When I started out writing this post, I kind of thought I would end up with a sizable list of really great ideas, but this list is kind of lacking. Old man Winter sure is a tough guy to embrace.

If you have any ideas (other than skiing or snowboarding), please let me know - I'm desperate! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Just a Migraine

The only warning it spares me is a slight jolt of imbalance. My centre of gravity is thrown off a fraction of a very little bit because a penny-sized space on the vista of my vision has gone blank. I have to glance here and there and here and there to see if the blankness remains. My hands—I always go to my reliable, familiar hands to see if parts of them are missing—to see if I am seeing the aura.

Aura...what a beautiful word, and what a mysterious word, and what a fearful word.

My heart rolls over and then quickly gets back to pumping, a bit faster now. I never know how to announce it, in order to excuse myself from whatever I'm doing. Words can never describe the foreboding intensity. “Oh no, I’m getting a migraine” are just flat words in comparison to the havoc my brain is starting to contend with.

The blank spot moves as my eyes move. In the mirror, half of my face fades away, so I look away. Everything I look at slowly fades away. To see something in its fullness, I need to look all the way around it instead of directly at it.

My fragmented reflection in the mirror is a fairly accurate representation of the fracture in my thoughts, the fissure in my sense of existence. Now the aura has become a distressingly-beautiful streak across all I sort-of-see, a streak altogether full of black and white and sharp bits of moving light and nothing. A slice of silent sound, a sunset of disconcerting incapacity.

The aura denies me both thought and action. It has stopped me in my tracks, leaving me with no choice but to turn myself off and expect nothing of myself for a little while. Sometimes the aura recedes behind my peripheral vision, idling there, only to throw her sparkling, silent, violent streak of blankness across my vision once again, and again, as though I did something to anger her and she is lashing out at me in a personal, vindictive way.

Is Aura a mystic? Surely there’s something more to it than just constricted blood vessels and a sensation spreading across my brain causing sensory confusion. Surely there’s something more than just the science of it. What is she trying to tell me? What is she trying to do to me? As much as I try to contemplate these complexities, she cripples my powers of reasoning. The aura always eventually dissolves, but though I know this, she always delivers a dose of panic from the edges of her glimmer.

When that sharp, jagged streak of the aura’s horizon recedes, I am left with the dust and ashes of her mysterious fury. The aftermath that the aura leaves me with varies, but it can range from a shiny, golden box with a nail inside, which is figuratively hammered into my temple, shattering my thoughts with exploding pain, or an assorted basket filled with blurred vision, unclear thoughts and difficulty articulating words (which delivers a fresh dose of panic because these types of symptoms are consistent with those of a stroke), or perhaps she decides to leave me with a small bag that when opened, reveals a blinding light that my eyes are so sensitive to that I can’t help but hate the sun. The aura may even migrate the visual streak of black-and-white-and-light-filled nothing to my teeth and tongue, my hands, my ears, my left thigh—the nothingness feeling numb and the sharp bits of moving light tingling my skin.

I am spent, I do not fully know how these constricted brain blood vessels have affected my overall health, I have lost time, it will take some time to recover back into myself, I do not know when this aura will blot out a spot of my sight again, or where I will be when it happens, or exactly why, and now for some time, my heart will do a somersault whenever I look at a bright car headlight and then look away and see a flash of nothing, mimicking the aura, and my blood will run cold whenever a dividing line such as a cell in Excel or a line on the pavement fades or comes to an abrupt stop, and my stomach will lurch whenever the light starts to divide objects in my sight into dark and bright momentarily, and I will feel a punch of panic when my balance has the tiniest of hiccups—all because of the debilitating mystery of migraine and his most dangerous offensive attacker, Aura.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Yay for Yay! (and some thoughts on fashion and style)

Dear Clothes in my Closet: Thanks for pulling me through this experience! 

Today is the last day of my six-month fast from buying clothes.


Not buying clothes for half a year* was challenging, but it was doable. I missed retail therapy, but I survived without it—here I remain, craving a trip to the mall, yet completely unscathed! Having the luxury of starting off with a closet full of clothes to choose from, even without being able to add to it for six months, is much more than what so many people have, so this six-month fast from buying clothes can really be summed up as a “first world inconvenience.”

I’ve also realized that while having a sizable clothing budget and a lot of time to spend shopping would be a dream come true—oh it would be so very awesome—it’s actually quite rewarding, in its own way, to piece together a functional and interesting closet of collections by being more cost-conscious. (This is where my Dutch heritage mingles with the passion-for-fashion platelets in my blood.)

Here are some examples of how the cost-conscious collecting mindset developed through this fast:
Before the fast started, I made a list of items that I needed (and wanted, let’s be honest) to “get me through six months,” and I had a lot of fun finding things during the fall seasonal promotions and through searching online—I really thrive on the hunt. My sister hosted a clothing swap about a month into the fast, and so I acquired a few things that way, and I also scored several really great items from a friend who cleaned out her closet—so all in all, I managed to add to my wardrobe (and was also inspired to subtract items that I wasn’t making good use of) without spending too much money before this whole thing started, and I even continued to add to my wardrobe while into the fast without actually buying anything (which was legit, right?).

I have also found myself really anticipating doing some thrift shopping again—just as much as I’m anticipating doing any on-line, in-mall or a-la-boutique shopping. I love to hunt through racks of pre-owned stuff, checking labels and material make-up, envisioning outfits, and then paying a fraction of the original price. Seriously, some of the pieces of clothing that have brought me the greatest number of compliments over the years, the nicest quality and the staying power season after season, were thrifted. I absolutely love bringing home those interesting treasures, and I have missed hunting them down! Honestly, thrift stores are an inspiring alternative where you can find things that are different from the usual fare, have been broken in to achieve the highest comfort level, can be of very high quality, and make a Dutch heart happily and excitedly pump Dutch blood through Dutch veins at the price (especially when compared to the value—the “Dutch inquiry,” as a friend dubbed it). You just need some time and patience, and you need to know how to identify a well-made item (like knowing your brands).

All in all, fashion doesn’t always come at a high price. Yes, the best quality items are obviously more expensive, and they should be because you are paying for high-quality craftsmanship and materials (and those big names, which are generally big because of their quality), and I definitely think that wardrobe basics should be regarded as investments, and I definitely agree with “quality over quantity,” but I’ve also learned that you can have a lot of fun compiling an interesting wardrobe that reflects your personal flair by swapping clothes with friends or shopping at secondhand stores, and you can modify existing pieces and switch up things you already have to freshen up your look.

Anyway, through all of this, my thoughts and observations have continually been faithful in leading me to the same truth: The essence of a great outfit is in the confidence of the wearer. Confidence is so incredibly magnetic. When you wear something you love, something that makes you feel like “you,” something that compliments you—that satisfaction and confidence is like an attractive light that warms you up and transcends the trends. Whatever the piece of clothing, however much you paid for it, wherever you bought it, whatever kind of a treasure hunt you went through to find it, however old it is—while these facts may be interesting—none of it essentially determines the awesomeness of an outfit.

I have just recently come to love that essence of fashion—that opportunity to wear something you think is just great and the tingly feeling of blissful satisfaction you feel when it slips on like a second skin, expressing something about you, making a statement, telling a story. Whatever it is, the confidence that emulates from “that jacket” or “those heels” or “that dress” or “those jeans and a t-shirt” is the intangible quality that any piece of clothing can bring you, whether it cost you $500, $100 or nothing—whether you bought it yesterday or over six months ago—it’s the way you combine the pieces, the way the clothes reflect you, and how it all makes you feel, that form the foundation of style.

*Let me come clean here and get this one teeny thing off my conscience: I had one slip-up a couple weeks ago. I bought a pair of pants and a t shirt. The t shirt came free with the pants. I haven't worn the pants or the t shirt yet.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Nice to Meet You!

Have you ever met someone who, immediately after the introductions, has said to you, “I’ve heard so much about you”? Even when said with the most legitimate, innocent intentions, there’s a slight edge of creepiness there, right? Maybe it just feels kind of weird or uncomfortable or awkward for someone to know more about you than you know about him or her, especially if you’ve never met before. 

I wonder if maybe that uncomfortable feeling arises from an imbalance. Person A knows all about Person B, but none of the information was directly from Person B, and Person B knows essentially nothing about Person A. What you know of each other is unequal.

After watching the Oscars last night, I wondered what it would be like to meet someone famous. (OK; confession: I have wondered about this a lot—especially meeting all of the musicians out there whom I admire.) This would be the ultimate “I’ve heard so much about you!” situation—a non-famous person meeting a really famous person. Fans of celebrities and even people who aren’t big fans, just follow media, would know quite a lot about these people quite easily. Many of us have probably come to the point where we recognize their voices, have seen them close up on the big screen so much that we can’t help but know all the minute details of their faces, and have watched interviews and read articles about them so that we know what they like, what they do in their spare time, what they wear, where they go, what they are passionate about. (And this is not considered creepy, since it’s basically common knowledge: it’s information released to the general public).

I further wondered what it would be like to be the famous person being met by a non-famous person. Regardless of how the conversation went, there would always be this underlying imbalance in the sense that the famous person knows nothing about the non-famous person, while the non-famous person has been over a period of time, privy to many details about the famous person. What would that be like? What would that imbalance feel like? If I were the famous person, would I feel like I should ask several questions about the person I know nothing about to help level the scales off?

I realize that this sort of dynamic comes with the territory of being famous. But it has to be kind of strange, right? Could a conversation between non-famous Person A and famous Person B ever be completely “normal”—i.e. comparable to a conversation between two non-famous people? I kind of hope it would (although by my own experience, I know that I can get a teeny bit star-struck in these types of situations).

What about two famous people who meet each other in person for the first time? I wonder what that would be like. I mean, those two people conceivably know a lot about each other, especially if they are fans of each other/each other's work, but to still just be meeting for the first time after knowing a lot (albeit, the media’s filtered output of the information) about each other—what would that feel like? Would they skip a lot of the typical introductory questions that non-famous people ask other non-famous people (asking about family/who they’re dating, what do they do, whereabouts do they live, pastimes, etc.)? I guess they probably would, right? Would it be weird to skip to other stuff? Would it be weird to not talk about certain topics under the assumption they already know all of those introductory details?

You could even take this a step further and figure that even if two people who meet for the first time and know relatively nothing about each other, we can very easily, within moments, build a preconception about that person, which could affect the way we talk with that person, almost as if those preconceptions are a way that we trick ourselves into thinking that we know that person, when in fact we do not.

Anyway, it’s interesting to think about the little nuances that flavor the conversations we have with the people we meet, flavours that differ based on how much each person actually knows about the person they are meeting, and how those nuances can affect the underlying tone of a conversation.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Candid Camera, Where Were You?

As readily available as video cameras are these days, there are still many memorable moments that pass by uncaptured. I was thinking about some of those moments in my life recently, and I came up with several that I thought were worth sharing, some even at my expense. Some of these moments seem nigh impossible to capture because the thought to want to capture it comes way too late, or the moment itself is so unexpected that a camera could never be whipped out in time. Some of these moments I think actually happen quite often, and may even have happened to you. Some are big, some are small, but I find them all entertaining.

Thankfully, the fact that these moments were not caught on tape I think solidifies them in my memory bank way more than if I had actually recorded them. When we record something, do we make less of an effort to remember the details, the experience, the emotions because we can just look at the video or the picture later? Do we get lazy about drinking in and savouring an experience when we can rely on technology instead? How does that affect our memories of the experiences? I wonder about that.


When Joel proposed to me, we were in Tobermory and had hiked for what felt like forever until we came out to an outcropping overlooking Gorgeous Georgian Bay. I was not expecting him to propose while we were away camping because I didn’t think it was very romantic to have not showered for a couple days. He knelt down, as is custom, but ditzy me just looked at him and said, with a teeny bit of valley girl attitude (yuck!), “What are you doing? Are you sitting down?” Then he asked me to marry him. I wish we had a photo or video of that moment. However, if we did have video of the proposal, we probably wouldn’t have started taking photos of us re-enacting the proposal every year when we go to Tobermory and hike out to that outcropping (which is now nicknamed Holy Ground).



How anyone manages to get footage of their baby taking his or her first steps is really impressive. I didn’t, and sometimes I wish I had because of, you know, the significance and everything. Seriously, though, unless you have a video recorder poised and at the ready at all times, how do you know when your baby is going to give it a go? By the time they take a step and you’ve fiddled with the camera and have it ready, they’ve probably fallen over, the magical moment wiped out forever. In my experience with my kids, they could not say the words “walk” or “step” or “look at me,” not to mention lacked the general wherewithal to give me time to get the video camera ready before they started walking. It’s impossible, right? It’s a Catch-22 – by the time they can tell you to watch them walk, they are already walking. So if you have footage of your baby’s first steps, then wow, I’m impressed, and I also don’t really believe you.


This is technically a milestone moment because it was the first and last time I ever brought my car to one of those drive-in and sit-in-your-car-while-you-wait oil change places: Oil Changers, I think it’s called. Joel was like, “Hey, you should go! Here’s a coupon! It’s easy; just drive in and sit in your car while you wait! They’ll do it in like 10 or 15 minutes!”

Yes, that all sounds great—if you know where everything is in your car and you don’t get flustered when you are put on the spot.

I pull in, and the guy tells me to keep going. I keep going. Then he tells me to “stop” with eyes wide and gestures frantic. Oh, crap, I almost hit him, but I slammed on my brakes just in time. He asks me to put my left and right blinker on, no problem. Then he asks me to put my hazards on. Um, right, the haaazards—that triangular icon somewhere. But where? I go embarrassment-blind and it takes me a good 7 seconds to locate it. Bingo! There you are, you elusive triangle! Hit the hazards, no problem. Then he tells me to pop my hood. Oh crap. Where’s that lever? I look around, but he locates it before I do. OK, no problem, my cheeks are a little flushed but that’s fine. Big deal. I’m just a customer, with really nothing to prove, right?

Then I get to sit there for 10 minutes, embarrassed, totally “the blonde who didn’t know how to pop her hood” to all the guys working, afraid of what they might ask me next, and not really sure of what to expect next but like heck I was going to ask any questions whatsoever and make myself look a fool once again! I vowed to never show my face there again.

The Look on Your Face

One second after carefully applying a coat of mascara, I feel the urge to sneeze violently. Oh gosh. Wait; how am I going to do this? In a panic, I try to sneeze with my eyes open wide enough that my top and bottom lashes don’t squish together and smudge mascara everywhere, but also try not to sneeze with my eyes totally open (because everyone knows your eyeballs will come out of the sockets if you do that). I imagine myself looking like a squinting lemur (with pretty eyelashes),  the lower part of the eye squinted up, eyebrows raised and forehead furrowed, with a general expression like that of someone saying, “Whaaaa?” During the sneeze, the lemur invariably phases into a raccoon.


Trying to brush a small child’s teeth – When he opens his mouth (victory!), I open mine. When he moves his mouth around to accommodate the toothbrush, I move my mouth around. When he bares his front teeth, I bare mine. I look like a feral dog with a completely contorted face doing vocal exercises without making any sounds. Why have I never thought to set up a camera?


This isn’t one specific moment because there have been oh so many like this: Any time anyone tries to get a baby/babies/children to smile for a photo, there should be someone specifically assigned to take video or photos of the adults who are gesturing and making weird faces trying to get the kids to look and smile for the camera because those pictures of the adults would be the real gems. Who cares about the smiling children? I want to see pictures of adults making funny faces and acting like idiots!


On the night of my bachelorette party, I went dancing with friends. I was getting frustrated, but in a happy sort of way, at all the guys who were moseying in to our circle trying to dance with us, so I would yell at them and dance them away—dance with them, while pushing them away. I kind of felt like the “mama bear” of the group. Then, I fell on the dance floor. Right on my behind. I erupted in laughter so that I had difficulty getting up. As it turns out, I was definitely the sloppy Bambi of the group. (Yep, I was wearing heels.)


One summer in Tobermory, back when we used to camp instead of rent a cottage, we were sitting at a picnic table outside. Joel had a knife and was messing around a little: with his hand palm-down on the picnic table, fingers spread wide, he was very slowly poking the knife in the table in the spaces between his fingers. Then somehow a bet materialized—“Ten bucks says I could drop the knife from up here (the tip about 8” from the table) and get it to land in the gap between my fingers.”

Yeah, the knife landed just to the side of the fingernail of his left middle finger. The knife just stood there. The look on his face—hmmm, how do I describe it: frozen into a perfect blend of genuine shock and sharp pain—was hilarious. We couldn’t speak for about five minutes, we were laughing so hard. One of our friends stumbled into the woods, doubled over. We couldn’t even help him with the injury, we were laughing so hard.


At a friend’s wedding about 4 years ago, I was helping Joel carry his gear into the reception room (his band was playing), and all I had to bring in was the smallest speaker he had (which was still awkward and heavy for a dainty person like me!) It’s redundant to the story, but again, I was wearing heels, and my left ankle gave out, but when I tried to recover by putting all my weight (plus the weight of the speaker) on my right ankle, that one gave out too, and so I put all my weight back on my left ankle, which gave out again. I continued across the room in this fashion, the weight of the speaker finally flinging me right into a nice group of people chatting quietly.

(On the plus side, now Joel never asks me to help him carry anything!)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Six-Month Fast From Buying Clothes: Three-Month Progress Report

As of January 1, it’s been three months since I’ve bought any clothes—apart from a few minor exceptions (socks and some clothing I bought for myself but were technically gifts).

The period of time since just after Christmas has been challenging. Usually, Christmas events, Boxing Day sales and Christmas money all converge in the form of new items hanging in my closet. This year was very different. To go shopping with my husband after Christmas and not buy any clothes for myself was a foreign situation. I even found several justifications surfacing into my thoughts:

“I could buy something right now—who would really care?”

“I’ve done this for three months now, which is pretty good; I could stop now if I want—nobody is really stopping me from stopping!”

“I could technically ask Joel to buy me something, which would constitute a ‘gift,’ not me buying something myself, right?”

Does that sound desperate to you? Maybe a little.

I have, as I mentioned in my One-Month Progress Report, still been shifting my attention from buying new clothing to other areas. Last month, I focused on hair and beauty, and invested in a set of new makeup brushes, a really great eyeshadow palette (Stila – In the Light) and the best mascara I’ve ever owned (Benefit – They’re Real!) and lastly, had my hair cut to a long bob and purchased a great flat iron (to replace the under $30 Conair one that was given to me and I’ve had for at least 7 years). You could say that I have a problem with shopping in general, and to nix that habit, I’d have to refrain from buying anything for six months, or you could say that I’m rounding out my shopping to some areas that have been neglected in favour of buying clothes (such as home d├ęcor and hair/beauty tools and supplies). I’ll leave that up to you to decide!

In my initial post about this clothing fast, I described the sword fight of opposing feelings that I felt about not buying clothes. I’m still feeling those swords clanging. As challenging as it has been not buying clothes, even when I’ve really wanted to, the worse I feel about not being able to go shopping, the worse I ultimately feel about myself for so desperately wanting to buy something. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not the end of the world; I ought to keep going and break through the fast’s finish line (and then sprint right into my favourite clothing stores). I mean, sure, I could just start buying things and just give up, but then where would I be? How can I better myself if I can’t overcome a challenge as “first-world-problem-y” as not buying clothes for six months when I really do have plenty of clothes to wear during this period of time? By March 31st, I want to be able to say that I "did it" - I didn't buy clothes for myself for six months.

So the months continue, I spend just as much time on Pinterest looking at outfits, but maybe a little less time actually on clothing store sites and in stores (because what’s the point)—just enough to keep up with what is going on out there, to get new outfit ideas and to stay inspired about style. That’s the major idea here: I’m not going to keep recycling the same looks all the time; I’m going to keep switching things up to make it interesting, which is a more significant feat when I am using what I already own instead of buying something new to create a new outfit.

There you have it—the facts, thoughts and feelings I’ve been experiencing at the three-month mark of this six-month fast from buying clothes.