Healthy Again

Three cheers for a normal weekend and the end of the stomach flu!! I don’t know when I have ever felt so overjoyed to finally clean my bathroom. It feels GREAT to be healthy again. As horrible as it was to experience two weeks of everyone in our family taking turns getting sick with the stomach flu, there is nothing like sickness for making a person feel thankful for health! It’s so much fun to eat again! I’m a fan. Just like that, my life is complete simply because I can eat and clean things. Simple pleasures!

I woke up this snowy Monday morning with joy and anticipation in my heart, because this beautifully normal day is full of possibilities – I could clean out my fridge! Or bake something with my kids! Or get caught up on the laundry! Or all of them! Because the stomach flu is gone, and all is right in our little world. Normal has become a novelty, and I will ride that wave as long as I can, because it won’t seem quite this exciting forever.

What are you doing with your lovely Monday?

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Are You Afraid to Create?

“Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

Look, I don’t know what’s hidden within you. I have no way of knowing such a thing. You yourself may barely know, although I suspect you’ve caught glimpses. I don’t know your capacities, your aspirations, your longings, your secret talents. But surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic)

I felt creative fear this last week. I was standing in my sister’s living room, surrounded by piles of shopping bags, and I was about to start decorating her bookshelves.

And just for a moment, I had this paralyzing feeling of doubt and fear of failure. I had flown out to Ottawa for the specific purpose of decorating her house, and I knew those bookshelves were going to make it or break it. They were huge and looming, and I wanted them to look amazing, but in that moment, all I could think was, “I don’t know if it can do this.”

That probably sounds far too dramatic, but let me just say that bookshelves are hard. They need to be full, but not too full. Coordinated, but not too matchy. Heights and sizes and flow are all important, if you want to get it right. If it’s done well, they’ll look awesome. If not, they’ll look busy and cluttered, or just bare and empty, longing for someone to come make them beautiful.

I recently came across a decorating company on instagram that advertised themselves as being “experts” in bookshelves. It kinda takes an expert, because it’s just really hard to do it well.

There was nothing else to do, other than dig in and get started, or else we would have wasted a lot of time and money on all the decor items we’d just purchased. I got through the first shelf, and was feeling a bit encouraged. By the second shelf, I was starting to have fun. “I think this is working!” I was thinking to myself. “Maybe I will be able to pull it off.” I stepped back to see how it was shaping up, and that was a mistake, because suddenly all I could see again were the wide, gaping shelves which still remained empty. Again, I had those sinking, doubtful feelings, but once again, I grabbed more books and got back to work.

When I finally finished, I plopped down on a chair, and just looked. I sat and looked and looked, because I had done it, and I loved it. I didn’t know if I could do it, and then I brought something into existence which was not there before, and I’d created something I felt proud of.

I keep thinking about this because I wonder what else I’m capable of, but don’t dig in and just start trying. My sister says I should start a decorating company. Ben says I should write a book. My friend says I should start a health blog. I don’t do any of them, because I am saying I don’t have time right now, with homeschooling and a three year old, but I wonder if deep down, it’s just because I’m afraid to start, or maybe I’m afraid I’m not passionate enough to make it happen.

I don’t know what is hidden deep inside me and I don’t know what I would bring out if I dug down to discover it. I’m afraid it won’t be perfect, I’m afraid it will be rejected, I’m afraid it’s all been done before, and I’m afraid it’s much too late to get it started. I’m afraid it won’t be significant or important. I’m afraid I don’t know enough to write a book, and there’s no chance that fiction is happening here, which means it would have to be real life, but my life is pretty small. And decorating someone’s house also seems kind of small, because we really could all survive with bare walls and empty bookshelves, so I’m afraid it’s not significant enough.

But when my sister came into the room once I was finished, she said, “NOW it feels like home.” And then I realized what my driving passion really is – home. My whole life, I have just wanted to make a home for my family. A safe, peaceful, cozy place where everyone can come in and feel something – I don’t even know what, exactly. Maybe just like they belong. I spend every single day of my life doing this for my own family, but when my sister said that, I realized I was actually able to give her the same feeling in her own home, and suddenly it didn’t feel frivolous anymore.

This is not a blog post to announce that I’m starting a decorating company or anything like that!! Rather, it’s just some ramblings on that feeling you get when you create something, in spite of being afraid, and know deep down that you did something beautiful. There is a little bit more loveliness in the world, because you chose to create.

I don’t remember to take pleasure in that often enough. I stick it under the label of “humility” – don’t take too much pride in something you made or accomplished. But I’ve swung too far over to the side of not allowing myself to feel any pride. Those twinges are quite persistent, though – when my pantry is perfectly organized, and I want to keep opening the door to gloat over it a little. Or when I put extra effort into making an especially colourful salad for supper, and I feel just a little proud of myself for making it beautiful. Why do I insist on stamping that feeling down and resisting it?

Kaylia proudly hangs her artwork on the fridge. Everett calls me over to see the train track he built all by himself. Anika has a flush of enthusiasm on her face as she tells me about an especially good scene she just finished writing in her book. Even Ben called me over to admire the garden box he built in our yard last summer, and sent me a picture of himself receiving an award this weekend.

I love to celebrate those moments with others – why wouldn’t I do the same for myself? I want to dig deeper, and see what I find when I’m brave enough to bring out what I can do and create and share. Maybe a bookshelf won’t change anybody else’s life. But maybe it could change mine. Maybe I have no idea what could open up inside me if I would take more chances, do hard things, just dig in and get started, and then bask in the sense of pride and accomplishment I feel at the end. Maybe I’ll actually write a book. Or find some more empty bookshelves. Who knows? Maybe it’s just enough to know that when I’m not sure if it will be great, I should just try anyway.

I hope you’re too brave to have any idea what I’m talking about, but maybe not? Is there anything you’ve been dreaming of creating, but haven’t had the courage to start?

Habits

I had a wonderful thought the other day: Three weeks can be a very short period of time.

It could feel long in some situations – not eating for three weeks would be terrible. The three week mission trip Ben once went on felt very, very long.

But I was thinking about three weeks being the length of time it takes to form a habit, and that is actually a remarkably short period of time. If you could form a habit in only three weeks, and then have the willpower to maintain it, you could change the direction of the rest of your life in those three weeks. Isn’t that crazy to think about?! I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before”, and it made me think about the habits I started in 2018. As I went over them in my mind, I had this startling moment of realizing that most of my goals have actually become familiar – they don’t feel strange and uncomfortable anymore, even though we’re not very far into 2018. “But how can that be, I just started doing them!” I thought.

And then I realized – it’s been more than three weeks. If you made any new years resolutions in 2018, and you have stuck with them until now, you have formed a habit! And if you got off track, you can still totally turn things around! Isn’t that a nice thought?!

Dr. Caroline Leaf says if you do something for three rounds of three weeks, you’ve made it part of who you are. I love to think about this. It makes me feel like there’s hope for change in any situation – you just have to figure out how to hang in there for nine weeks, which sounds longer than three rounds of three, so we’ll stick with that!!

Four Types of Habit Keepers

Here’s the thing: I love habits. I think new years resolutions are exciting, but I realize that not everyone does, because I’m married to someone who doesn’t get giddy about a list of resolutions like I do.

It made a lot of sense to find out that according to Rubin, there are four different types of people when it come to habits:

Upholders – have little trouble sticking to habits on their own, and are naturally very disciplined and motivated

Questioners – can stick to habits fairly well, if they believe strongly enough that it’s worth the effort. Will always need to understand the reason behind what they’re doing in order to stick with it

Obligers – are more focused on others than themselves. Need accountability to stick with any habit

Rebels – want to do what they want, when they want. If they know what others want them to do, will often do the exact opposite Everything made sense when I read about these types.

I could think of people who fit into each of these categories. Gretchen Rubin also writes that people can be a combination of two types, depending on the situation. This also fit with my experience, because I think I’m mostly an Upholder, with a bit of the Questioner thrown in. Most of the time, I don’t have much trouble sticking with a habit. I like to do the same things consistently. I still have to work at it, but I actually enjoy the effort.

But every once in a while, the Questioner in me appears, and I can’t make a habit stick unless I understand why. My daily exercise is a great example of this. I see a muscle therapist regularly, and for years, I couldn’t make myself stick to all the exercises and stretches he gave me to do. But one day, when he was working on a particularly painful spot, I happened to ask, “What is that from?” He explained the movement which brought on that particular pain, and then reminded me which stretch would bring relief. Suddenly, I was completely motivated and convinced to keep up with the stretch – I understood the why behind it.

This worked so well that I kept asking the same questions at each appointment: “What is that pain from, and which stretch gets rid of it?” I haven’t missed doing my exercises for a couple of years now, because my actions are connected with results.

What I love about knowing the different types of habit keeping is that once you figure out what type you are, there are all kinds of ways to approach habits which will work well for you.

Even though Upholders have the easiest time with habits, it still helps to know some techniques for starting a new habit, like how to make it as convenient as possible to keep a new habit going, or recognizing what could be the stumbling blocks, and removing those ahead of time.

Questioners need to know the why. If they don’t care, they won’t do it. And if they can’t make themselves care, they either need to research more or ask a lot of questions, or they might need to acknowledge that they don’t care enough to change, and let the desire for a new habit go, and focus on something else.

Obligers need to find ways to be kept accountable. There are many different ways of doing this, and I enjoyed reading the suggestions in the book, because it was clear that there are creative, positive solutions for most obstacles when it comes to new habits. There’s hope for everyone!

And Rebels just don’t care – it seems they don’t concern themselves with habits very much, and they aren’t bothered by the fact that they can’t keep good habits, because they don’t really want to. It almost seems that it’s harder part for the people around them to accept that Rebels just don’t desire habits, than for Rebels themselves. If they really want to do something, they will find a way, and no one will be able to stop them. So it’s possible for all of us to successfully stick to habits, if we want to.

Abstainers and Moderaters

The other extremely helpful information from the book was Gretchen Rubin’s explanation of abstainers and moderators. I had read the information a few years ago in a blog post she wrote, and it is one of the biggest reasons I am where I am today, so I enjoyed reading the full version in her book.

Her research shows that people are either abstainers, meaning they are all or nothing kind of people, or moderaters, which means they can handle things in moderation. If abstainers are on a diet, but are confronted with a bag of Oreos, they can’t eat just one – if they start, they will finish, and eat the whole bag. It is actually easier for them to eat nothing than to eat only one Oreo.

Moderaters, on the other hand, have no problem only eating one Oreo. It is easier for them to stick to a diet if they know they have the freedom to treat themselves every once in a while.

I am an abstainer, but for years, I acted like a moderater, and it made me frustrated and miserable. My health requires me to stick to a very clean, natural diet, and if I eat any junk food, I feel terrible. But I kept allowing myself a little bit of junk food, which always turned into the entire bag of chips. I couldn’t stop myself until the food was gone. The day I learned about abstainers and moderaters, everything made sense. I’ve learned to embrace the fact that I’m an all or nothing kind of person. I don’t eat sweets, ever. I will not touch a bag of corn chips. I exercise every single day, because every other day quickly becomes never. Habits are much easier to keep when I make the decision once, and stick with it.

Moderaters are not able to understand how this approach could possibly be easier, but it just is. It’s knowing that I’m an Upholder and an Abstainer, and I’ve found my groove. But everybody has their own groove, and from my experience, quality of life greatly improves once you figure out what works for you.

It’s been a very interesting, helpful read so far, and if you’re wanting to strengthen any habits in your life, I would highly recommend this book!

So what do you think you are – Upholder, Questioner, Obligers, or Rebel? Abstained or moderater? Any tips you’ve found helpful for sticking with new habits?

Secret Lives and Artistic Endeavours

If you’ve been in my house, or even just seen pictures of it, you will probably recognize that a plastic bear in polka dot pajamas is not usually the sort of decor I naturally go for.

We keep things pretty neutral around here, and I discovered a long time ago that the only colour I can live with is soothing blue. I like things to be organized, routine, and predictable, and although I’m always interested in seeing the artistic, whimsical creations of other people, I don’t go down that road much myself. But I recently picked up a book that is shaking things up. It’s called The Artist’s Way, and it’s a 12 week course to rediscover creativity. I was drawn to it because a number of authors I admire have referred to it, and I was hoping it might give me some fresh ideas for blogging and stuff to write about. Turns out, I’m getting a bit more than I bargained for….

Writing a few pages first thing each morning is within my comfort zone, but suddenly, I’m being asked to look for creative impulses that were stuffed down inside me years ago – things like five secret lives I wish I could live.

  • interior designer
  • photographer
  • professional organizer
  • author
  • trapeze artist

That was a fun little exercise. Step Two involved thinking of two ways to live out those fantasies. Luckily, I’m visiting my sister in Ottawa next week to decorate her new house, and play “interior decorator” for a few days. But the next week, I was asked to return to the list, and add five more! Now I was really having to push myself!

  • naturopathic doctor
  • Broadway actor
  • yoga instructor
  • personal coach
  • artist

I also had to think of three times I was criticized for my creativity, and three people who praised and encouraged me. One of my assignments was to go on an “Artist’s Date” to a dollar store to buy some little toys or art supplies, just for fun. One of the suggestions was “plastic animals”. When I read that, I thought to myself with disgust, “That’s a useless suggestion – what on earth would I do with plastic animals?!”

Two days later, I attended an art party with Kaylia at the art studio where she is taking lessons this year, and was very amused to discover that our project was painting plastic animals and creating backstories to explain the reasons behind their flashy outfits. It seemed as though plastic animals were meant to be part of my creative journey, so I chose a bear, and sat there blankly as I tried to think of what kind of clothes to dress my bear in. Obviously, the down to earth, realistic side of me was still hanging on strong, because all I could think was that my poor bear should be hibernating in the middle of winter, and so a pair of jammies formed in my mind, and from that point, there was no other option.

Suddenly I found myself the ridiculously proud owner of a plastic bear in polka dot pajamas. I feel myself opening up to other places possibilities.

Anika often asks me for ideas when she’s writing stories, but my answer is always the same: “Ask Dad – I’m not creative with stuff like that.”

But the other day when she came to me, and I was opening my mouth to give my usual answer, I suddenly thought to myself, “No. That’s not true. I AM creative, and I DO have good ideas.” Soon we were deep in discussion about Mirror Lake and Goblin Pass, and what strange enchantments could be encountered there.

Once again, I felt oddly proud of myself creating something – even just an idea. I produce ideas all the time, but usually much more practical than this, and it just feels different.

The next day, Anika said, “Our ideas have added so much to my story! I’m so excited about the direction it’s taking.”

We make something where there was nothing. We share ideas, and bravely open up the corners of our minds and imaginations, and something comes out that wasn’t there before – new stories to enjoy, and plastic bears to love, and suddenly I’m hungry to create, because it’s something we were made to do, in one way or another.

So tell me: What would be your five secret lives? Any plastic animals in your near future? What do you do to be creative?

40 Things You Might Not Know About Ben

Today is Ben’s 40th birthday! He’s not a big fan of aging, but fortunately, he’ll be young at heart forever, because that’s just the kind of person he is. He brings such a light, joyful feeling of fun wherever he goes, and every day, I feel so thankful I get to spend life with him. In honour of his 40th birthday, the girls and I put together a list of 40 facts about Ben that others may not know:

1) He brought the “Lord of the Rings” books along on our honeymoon for me to read. He was okay with marrying me before I’d read them, but it was understood that I would need to read them as soon as possible after our wedding!

2) He’s been told many times that he has a great “radio voice”.

3) He eats fruit, yogurt, and homemade granola for breakfast every single day, except on Saturdays, when he makes pancakes for everyone, ending with a couple of cheese pancakes for himself (which looks as gross as it sounds, but he has the most satisfied look on his face as he sits down to enjoy them!)

4) He has endless plots in his head for all the books he’s going to write someday.

5) Ben juggles whenever we need our kids to sit still to have their nails trimmed.

6) He is very easy-going and will eat whatever I make. We were married for five years before I found out that mushrooms are one of his favourite things to eat.

7) He almost died when he was born. He was all blue, but was able to be revived.

8) Decided 10 years ago that he didn’t need to take a second helping at meal times, and has stuck to it ever since.

9) He never remembers lyrics to songs, but just makes up his own.

10) He has a scar on the back of his head from when he pulled a highchair on top of himself when he was little, and a scar on his ear from when a girl bit him during a college soccer game.

11) He has been banned from donating blood because he passed out afterwards too many times. (He always likes to clarify that it’s not because he’s bothered by needles, it’s just the way his body responds each time.)

12) He loves eating jam/cheese/ham sandwiches.

13) He started drinking coffee when he did his Masters eight years ago, and has never stopped.

14) Has always been proud of having three names and winning the longest name contest in college. It was his goal to name our kids very long names, as well.

15) He collects sports jerseys from other countries.

16) Is much more nostalgic than I am, and has a very hard time getting rid of anything.

17) Is very active in his sleep, and woke me up in the middle of the night by punching me in the head on our honeymoon. He has tidied up the room while sleeping, but my favorite will forever be the time he leapt out of bed, crouched by the door in a Spiderman pose, peeked out into the hallway, and whisper-yelled, “There’s someone in the house!!!”

18) He will never tell us when he’s not feeling well – I’ll just hear the Advil container rattling in the far corner of the house.`

19) Is the best gravy and mashed potatoes maker ever.

20) Most common expressions included: “We’ll worry about it when the time comes”, “Stop stressing Mom out”, and “You can never show someone too much grace.”

21) Loves watching Star Wars or Star Trek, but will also happily watch and sing along to all the songs on High School Musical or Phantom of the Opera.

22) Dreams of being on The Amazing Race Canada, as soon as he can figure out how to make his backstory sound emotional/controversial enough.

23) Has an uncontrollable, extremely contagious giggle whenever he is highly amused by something.

24) Is a far better cook than me because he just makes everything up and doesn’t follow a recipe.

25) Does the best accents and voices, although he refuses to do a repeat performance of “Poonja”, a lady he made up one night when he was exceptionally overtired and wrapped himself up in bed sheets. But “Five Little Monkeys” is always read with a Russian accent.

26) Once gave someone a fake phone number, rather than tell them he didn’t actually want to keep in touch.

27) Is allergic to antibiotics, and turned a lovely shade of fuschia for a week the last time he took some.

28) Has written a 50,000 word novel, but hasn’t gotten around to editing it yet.

29) Loves trying any kind of unusual sauce, dressings, dips, or seasonings, and potlucks are his favourite way to try many different foods all at once.

30) He’s always in the middle of a book, preferably fantasy, but he also enjoys reading anything about leadership or mentoring.

31) Even though he’s over six feet tall, he has short legs, and gets most of his height from his torso.

32) Is a light sleeper, and gets up every time one of the kids calls during the night, while I sleep through everything.

33) Makes up “Pete Stories” every weekend morning when Everett wakes him up, just as he did for our girls when they were little.

34) Enjoys every kind of sport, from hockey (his favourite) to yoga (to humour me!)

35) Enjoys any music with acoustic guitar, but is always ready for a kitchen dance party to the girls’ favorites, including anything Disney or Taylor Swift.

36) Will never set his alarm at an even number – it always has to be some random number like 6:43.

37) Was an extra in a movie when he was a kid, which happened to be one of my favourite movies when I was a kid!

38) Enjoys hot baths with his Kindle reader in a Ziploc bag.

39) Loves trying adventurous things like sky diving or repelling down cliffs.

40) Won an Elvis impersonation contest. As I was making this list, it struck me how all these things seem so normal to me, and yet they’re just all the funny little things that make Ben who he is, and I want our kids to know them and remember them. I also realized that most of them could be summed up by saying Ben loves to try anything fun, new, and unusual. He doesn’t get set in his ways, and is able to have such a cheerful, easy-going attitude because he stays flexible, and is always open to trying something new, while still valuing the old, if it’s worth valuing.

He is balanced, wise, slow to speak, but quick to cheer up and encourage. Every time he walks in the door, the whole atmosphere of our home changes. I’m so proud of him for all he’s experienced in the 40 years he’s enjoyed so far, and I anticipate many great things in his future – either because they will come to him, or because he will create them.

Mother Daughter Camp 

What a weekend! We had such a fantastic time at the Mother Daughter retreat at Red Rock Bible Camp this last weekend. The weather was insanely beautiful, and it was so good to be back there! A bunch of our friends attended the retreat with us, and my girls had tons of fun doing camp activities with their friends. 

Everett was in his glory. The skating rink! The camp dog! The snowmobiles! He couldn’t stop talking about his “adventures”, and when it was time to leave, he told Ben to take the girls home, and he would stay at camp with Mommy. 🙂

The sessions went great, as well. I’ve never felt as little stress about speaking at a retreat before, partly because I was able to tell stories and speak on a topic I love, and partly because I brought my fan club with me. Now I just want to take them everywhere! I would pour out everything in me at a session, and then my wonderful friends would fill me back up with all the encouragement,  feedback, and words of blessing I needed to go back and do it all over again the next time.

It was such a beautiful mix of doing something I love, in a place I love, with the people I love! There were so many familiar faces, and it was great to spend time catching up with people. There was a hay ride around Turtle Island, which I’ve never done before, even after all these years of enjoying camp, and it was so much fun. Walking in the sunset down the camp road was another highlight – the smell in the air, the trees, every familiar bend in the road made me feel so happy to be back. 

And then it was suddenly over and time to go home, with that full, satisfied feeling which comes on the last day of a retreat, and everything I’ve been thinking about and planning for over the last few months is suddenly finished. I opened up my Bible this morning and said, “What’s next?!” to God. I’m ready for the next challenge, going forward with lessons learned and beautiful memories stored up from this fantastic weekend. 

Year in Review Video

Good morning, everyone! Or whatever time of day you happen to be reading this….

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you may know that every year, our family puts together a video with all our favourite pictures, along with our “song of the year” – the song everyone wanted to hear when we’d turn on music to listen to while we cleaned up the kitchen after supper every day. We’ve been making these videos for six years or something like that, and the kids love to go back and watch all the old videos repeatedly. It’s such a fun thing to have to look back on.:)

Anika has taken over the job of putting this project together, and it makes me so happy to watch it! Here’s the best of our year: