Extra-ordinary

As I was preparing to give birth and transition away from “world changing” work to maternity leave two months ago, I started thinking about what it means to be ordinary. I was a bit nervous that I would (temporarily) leave a job I really enjoy and find much fulfilment in to being woken up in the night, changing 10+ diapers a day only to find myself deeply disappointed with the repetitive ordinariness.

In preparation for this transition (because it’s me, and when do I ever just do something without preparing) I started reading a book recently released called Ordinary. It’s a bit of a response to the popular idea lately that everything/everyone needs to be extraordinary, and live lives that are epic or radical. In some ways I felt like the first part of the book spoke directly to this blog saying, “Just live your life, stop trying so hard to be something and just be.” It was a helpful reminder that ordinary isn’t necessarily bad or boring. In a culture where we’re always competing to have the most exotic vacations, the most epic weddings, the smartest kids, etc. we overlook the treasure in “regular” life.

daddy-heroRight now, my life is “extra-ordinary”, as in really-really ordinary. I’m doing what billions of women have done since the beginning of time: try to keep an infant alive and then turn them into a contributing member of society. And yet, when you think about the process of pushing a small human out of your body you can’t help but think: HOW IS THIS NORMAL? HOW IS THIS ORDINARY? But it is. Just like when I was at my University graduation. Bachelors degrees seem like a dime a dozen these days (same with Masters) and the really special people get Doctorates. My mom went on and on about how proud she was that I got my degree, something she never got to do. When I finally got in the convocation hall to receive my degree I realized: degrees may be very common these days but it doesn’t mean it isn’t special and it doesn’t mean I didn’t work really hard for four years to get that piece of paper (that is entirely in latin and I can’t read, thanks Queen’s…). This ordinary thing is still special in some respects.

Making a human is a very regular occurrence in our world, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t extraordinary. While other people are out conversing with other adults and contributing to society, I’m at home watching Gilmore Girls for hours while keeping this tiny human alive and battle his diaper rash. I’m a bit surprised that I don’t feel more disappointed by the slowness and by what the world seems to think is a very un-liberated and menial work. I’m enjoying it. I am grateful for this perspective change and the help to slow down and enjoy the ordinary.

Where the green grass grows

greengrass

I saw this quote on Pinterest a few weeks ago that caught my attention. “The grass is greener where you water it.” It’s the perfect picture of cultivating contentment. Water your grass. Water your grass. Cultivate your interests and your talents.

I was talking to a friend this week who has had a similar experience to me in the last year – related to totally different things. Mine was related to grad school. Should I do it? Is it really where my life should head? But no, it’s a bit too much and wouldn’t fit our lifestyle. Does my husband support the idea? Is it just a pipe dream? In the last year and a half I went back and forth several times. Yes, I was going to do it. No, it’s too lofty a goal. But maybe we should look into it? Yes, no, yes, no… then I get pregnant. But the answer is like yes, just not right now.

Her story was about a small personal business. Should she do it? Should she not? She really wanted to, she’d be really good at it! But no, it’s a bit too much and wouldn’t fit their lifestyle. But it would be a really great fit! Would her husband support it? She went back and forth on it until one day she realized… she just had to own the fact that it really was a good fit and she should go for it.

It was kind of fun for me to realize that we had very similar paths to two totally different ends. Never once did we look at the other’s life and think “maybe that’s what I need…” because we’re so different. But it’s not always so easy when you hang out with people who are very similar to you. They may be similar to you, but they aren’t you.

What does this mean for us?

Someone may be able to mentor you to help you get closer to where you want to be. But like Gershwin, they may only be able to mentor you to help you be more like them.

So how can we avoid trying to copy other people’s success and talent and be a better or more “true” version of ourselves?

Fall, Imminence, and Change

hello fallThere’s something about the imminence of fall that just gets my gears going (in a good way). Suddenly, I got my game face on and I’m crocheting again, and blogging, and reading, and being a contributing member to society. Why fall? Especially when fall is usually the time when my brain starts going to mush and my soul starts getting sluggish because winter is coming (you have to whisper that word). I even read an article this week about how this winter is predicted to be even worse than last winter.

Sweet Jesus, have mercy.

But let’s not think about that. Let’s go into our happy place of Pumpkin Spice Lattes (HELLO, I HAVE MISSED YOU!), spicy smelling candles, cool breezes, pants, and cozy sweaters but no need of a coat yet. Automne, je t’aime.

Imminence & Change

W and I have been thinking a lot about change and imminence lately, mostly related to becoming parents. When else in life do you have to wait a long time for a change that WILL come? Even with marriage, graduation, etc. there’s the (unfortunate) slight chance it wont happen. But at this point, I will give birth. Thanks to modern medicine there’s almost no chance we’d lose the baby in the process.

So we sit here and wait, try to expect and prepare for the inevitable. It’s kind of a mind game.

We did our wedding a little non-traditionally. We had a morning service, lunch reception, no dancing party or anything. When the MCs invited my parents up to give their parental speeches, my mother shot me surprised look and a glare and mouthed the words, “You didn’t tell me I was doing a speech!”

She was right. I had assumed. She knows convention and tradition. I had confirmed with my dad, but not my mom. Later, mom explained that because we had done enough things differently, she didn’t assume anything would be the same. Oops.

But no one at the wedding had any idea my mom composed her Mother of the Bride speech on the spot. I wish I had it on video because that was the best speech that has ever been winged.

A year later, my older brother was about to get married and I get a text from my mom thanking me for forgetting to tell her about the speech part of my wedding. The imminence of her delivering a speech at her first-born son’s wedding was eating her alive. She had been up at 4AM most nights trying to think of what she would say.

I can adapt pretty easily; I think it’s one of the positive sides of having moved so many times as a kid. But staring down the barrel of a proverbial gun to watch change come at you is a bit of a different animal.

So now, I’m trying to enjoy the things that have not yet changed: like being able to get 8h of sleep, do what I want (mostly) whenever I want, and not having someone depend on me for their entire existence.

The Pinnacle

Yesterday I think I had the best saturday of my life. Let me give you a run down of what happened:

  • I “woke up” early with Willy’s alarm (6:45) and got out of bed shortly after
  • I read a Psalm
  • I was at the grocery store by 9am
  • I came back, helped tidy the kitchen, prepped lunch
  • I started a load of laundry
  • (Accidentally?) Cleaned the bathroom
  • Ate lunch
  • Evaluated the status of how on-top of our Picture a Week project we are
  • Headed off to a baby shower
  • Came back, baked bread for spelt hamburger buns
  • Made one of W’s favourite meals: Chicken Piquant
  • Cleaned up, read some of Anne of Avonlea, and headed off to a movie with W.

If you don’t immediately understand why this was so great, let me help you understand.

I did laundry, cleaned the bathroom and groceries ALL IN THE SAME DAY. I do not really like groceries or cleaning and laundry can feel like a nuisance. Often when I spend my Saturdays on these activities it feels like it’s all I’ve done and I’m annoyed that I didn’t get to relax or do nice things that I like (I know… this will be parenthood and the rest of my life, right?)

I did some hobby-type things instead of watching more Netflix. I filled 20 minutes here and there with reading, keeping on top of our annual scrapbook and baking.

I was selectively social and left before I had had too much. I love this term because it describes how I feel after a week filled with people. I will always been an extravert, but sometimes I need  time with certain people or anybody but certain people. It was an enjoyable afternoon celebrating the baby of a friend a few weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy.

I made good food for the man I love. I listened to CBC Radio 2 and made a heart-warming supper. I forgot how I do like to cook when I feel confident about what I’m doing and I’m not stressed for time. It felt good.

Unplanned

I think part of what made this day the best was that I had some key things in place that I needed to do but I hadn’t planned out my day to the point that it felt stressful. They were all executed at a leisurely pace and wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t do them. But the most important thing was getting up early so I felt I had time to do everything without feeling like everything was rushed and terrible.

I’m writing this out mostly because I will always need a reminder of

  1. why getting up early is good, and;
  2. why staying on top of things like groceries, laundry and cleaning will always feel better when it’s done.

I’m sure I’ve written about this before – how I have selective memory. I forget that things I don’t like to do actually feel good when it’s done. It’s like playing certain boardgames with people. I will NEVER want to. But I’ve learned that if I agree despite my zero interest or desire, I may actually still have fun and enjoy my time.

I said to W at supper, “I think I have reached the peak of my life today, and I will never have this perfect a Saturday ever again. I think I’m ok with that, because at least I know it happened.”

Kind of sad, but I’m anticipating my life to be totally upside down once baby comes. Part of me wants to try to make Saturdays like this (flexibly?) regimented and habitual. The other part of me is afraid that if I try to do that I will add all kinds of pressure and expectation and it will culminate in epic failure and disappointment.

This day reminds me that I do need more order and structure in my life to help me manage everything, and I’m still trying to figure out how to do that as painlessly as possible.

My continued adventures in Pie baking

There are two things in the world that make me erupt in explosive rage: people getting rich from oppressing others, and failed pie crusts. I know, they’re not exactly equal in terms of global importance.

Around this time last year I wrote about how bad I am at making pie crusts from scratch and wondering, maybe I should just give up? When do we realize we’re just not cut out for something and give up, and when do we keep going because we just need practice? “Giving up and moving on are two different things,” was the image I had front and center on that post. I didn’t give up, mostly because I’m pretty limited in my (yummy) dessert options with being wheat and sugar free. So I persevered in pie crust making, becoming sensitized to my bad pie crust shame. I tried a few different recipes and was slowly making progress. One indicator of my progress was my lack of cursing under my breath and SERIOUS anger. I thought maybe I was just becoming a more patient person (ha!), but really I was actually just getting better at it, and the changes in recipes actually helped.

About a month ago, I made this pie with this crust. It is by far my favourite and THE BEST gf pie crust I have made to date. I have to admit, there was this crescendo of triumph when I rolled out that dough and then placed it in the pie plate WITHOUT THE THING TEARING. WITHOUT IT CRACKING. I yelled and then called Willy into the room. I will admit, there were tears in my eyes because OH MY GOODNESS, I AM NOT HOPELESS. While my successes and failures at pie crust have not been as important to my husband as they have been to me, I could see on his face that he recognized how important this was to me. I still have far to go to rival my mother-in-law’s gorgeous/effortless pie crusts with the nice crimped sides, but dangit, I’m glad I didn’t give up.

successpie

What helped

Honestly, if I had stuck to that same original pie crust, I’m confident I would still be having problems. The key thing that I’ve found is for gluten-free pie crusts, you need to have an egg and you basically need to use half shortening/lard and half butter. I just cannot make a pie crust without crumbling into an evil, cussing wretch unless the there is an egg and half shortening/butter. My takeaway from this (since when can I do anything without taking away a life principle?) is that before quitting something, I need to vary my methods to be sure that the problem is ME and not the methods. This is a lot like the time I was having trouble getting up in the morning and going for runs.

Here’s a of my baby bump for good measure:

 23weeks

A New Kind of Therapy

springbloomThe last six weeks have been really great. May and June in Montreal are fantastic. We rarely get to spend any length of time in our own city during the summer due to travelling for work. It’s quite strange to see leaves on tree sand to smell the flower-perfumed air. The city undergoes a transformation as everyone exhales a sigh of relief as the sun comes out and les terraces open on the street.

Last week Willy pointed something out that made me think: “You’re laughing a lot more lately.”

“You’re just funnier,” I replied.

“No,” he commented, “My jokes are the same. You just laugh more.”

I’ve been thinking about that since then. We had been laughing a lot more lately. We’ll laugh into near hysterics, tears welling in our eyes because we were so funny. There is so much laughter in our house and in our relationship especially lately. Humour has been a key part of our relationship — I’ve always found his wit hilarious — but apparently, I just hadn’t been finding things as funny.

Life has just been a lot easier in the last 6 weeks. Things have been more low-key, no stressful deadlines or decisions to make.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad sometime during my first semester at University. I was driving home from school with him and I was stressed, although I didn’t realize that I was. I just felt rattled and not very happy. He said something that made me laugh and I couldn’t even describe how good it felt. It was then that I realized that I hadn’t laughed in a lot in awhile. I made it my goal that weekend to do just that: laugh.

When YouTube is the prescription

You’ve heard people say “laughter is the best medicine” but did you know that there’s actually such a thing as laughter therapy? It sounds a bit ridiculous at first, but when you think about it — why the heck not?

This HowStuffWorks article points out that all kinds of studies have been done on how laughter impacts our mental and physical health, many of which were instigated by this one guy Norman Cousins:

When Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, he was given very slim odds of recovery. He was unable to move and in constant pain. However, in the midst of this dire situation, Cousins didn’t lose his sense of humor. He credits his recovery to a prescription of “Candid Camera” episodes, Marx Brothers movies and funny stories read by nurses. With 10 minutes of laughter, he wrote, two hours of pain-free sleep could be procured. [Source]

Here’s what some of the studies found:

  • Watching funny shows increased children’s tolerance for pain, which could be helpful when tiny patients have to undergo big procedures [Source]

  • “Positive” humour styles build resiliency in life [Source]
  • It reduces stress (we all know that!) and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease [Source]
  • It can help your bottom line in businesses [Source]
  • Elevations in natural killer cell activity consistently appeared in quantitative experimental studies and now some nurses are being trained in ‘laughter therapy’ to help their patients reduce pain, tension etc. [Source]
  • Humour can increase hope [Source]

Laugh or Cry

My husband has a saying he says frequently when things are kind of crappy: “Well, you can either laugh or cry.” We do our best to try to laugh about things instead of cry, which isn’t always easy (but easier when you’re like me and find irony and have a “dark” sense of humour). A few weeks ago we spent a few hours in the ER because I had passed out on the metro. Despite being there 5 hours, it didn’t feel painful and terrible even though there were people moaning and groaning in pain and the whole atmosphere was pretty depressing. Willy can’t help but be funny and crack jokes a lot. So there we were busting our guts, guffawing for a solid 5 hours. It turned out one of the funnest evenings we had had in awhile!

So what about you? What makes you laugh? Do you have a TV show, a YouTube series, or a favourite comedian that you turn to when you need a good laugh? Have you ever tried to “force” yourself to laugh when you were feeling down?