Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Ugly Truth

This is the day that I dread before any trip. I like to call it "anxiety day" for lack of a more creative title. It's the day that my husband knows is coming long before it hits, my kids find things to do to be out of range of my panicky orders to bring up a suitcase or find my headlamp. I wish I could say that I've gotten better at this but for the sake of transparency, I'm going to tell you the truth here. I know there are many for whom anxiety keeps you from living the life you want. It's an incredible hurdle that I continue to struggle with regularly. So here it is...despite all my attempts to show you the beauty of living the life I do, I'm spilling it here.

Anxiety day is ugly.

I usually wake up with a to do list a mile long in my head and no pen and paper at hand. I try to settle my mind, follow the usual morning routine, knowing that there is some comfort in sitting for a coffee and walking the dog before I tackle the dreaded tasks. Halfway through my walk with the dog, I make a u-turn and shortchange her the long route. Anxiety says that she is disappointed in me. Reality says she's a lab and happy for any moment with me that she can get...even if it's following me up and down the stairs all day, searching for my passport.

I make lists and lose them. I throw things in a suitcase and then sort them out again. I pack toiletries too soon, with a week ahead of me to have to use them. I chase down converters and chargers, cursing my procrastination in not having created a designated spot for them all despite my regular schedule of travel. I begin to dread having to leave the house and drive around town to pick up malaria prescriptions, travel insurance and a photograph for an international driver's licence for which I've never been asked.

I play Candy Crush.

I look in the fridge for inspiration.

I try to calm myself by sitting outside in the autumn air for just a few moments with a pen and paper, in case I'm forgetting something.

And then, I go back to what I know. That on the far end of the to do list, is a community of friends that I can't wait to be with. While I'm running around trying to check things off my list, they are walking the dirt paths and sitting in dark homes, listening to the stories of their neighbours. They are cooking for 100 children and then going home and cooking for their own. They are organizing their stalls at the market and their siblings to man them, while I wonder about packing down the size of my sleeping bag and mosquito net.

I want to stay in the space where I remember why I go and not get caught up in the anxiety of going...but it's never easy. I'm so glad Easton is coming with me but it brings another level of obligation and anxiety as well to wonder about his needs and his experience.

It's Wednesday. A week from departure. It's anxiety day. Tomorrow is Thursday and if I get this out of the way today, I am hoping that I can set this anxiety behind me and begin to get into the proper mindset for my time in Zimbabwe. I know this....that when I'm walking the dirt paths and sitting in dark homes, listening to the stories, none of this is going to feel like anything I should have worried about in the first place.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Urgency of Autumn

I've said it before - autumn really is my favourite time of the year. I love the warmth of the sun, the chill in the wind, the colours, the spices, the nuances in the neighbourhood and the prioritizing of one last bbq and one last bike ride through the park and one last paddle on the river.

Autumn reminds me that there is an urgency to enjoy life. It's fleeting. It's beautiful. It can change at any moment to the tyranny of a prairie winter. The colours can be gone overnight if the wind and rain have their way with them. The crisp leaves can loose their scattering, rustling ramble around the sidewalks and change to slippery and slimy wallpaper pasted on your windshield. The joy of a chill wind and the first days of sweaters and scarves transition all too quickly to the necessity of a scarves and toques and gloves - light layers turning burdensome in just weeks.

As Easton and I are preparing for Zimbabwe and Zambia, we realized that we will most likely return to winter. Our departure in early October means we'll miss a lot of the glory of autumn, and so today, I took Charlie out along the river and meandered longer that we would normally. We embraced the chill in the air, the warmth of the sun when we ducked into the forested paths and the sound of the geese reverberating on the water. We walked as leaves fluttered around us, many trees already half undressed by the strength of the winds we've begun to see. The bees are lazy, the wasps ignore you and the geese are too busy practicing their formations to roost long on the sandbars. It's the urgency of autumn and it reminds me that we need to prioritize enjoying it. For all too soon, we'll be in Zimbabwe and dragging in the heat of the African sun. We'll soak it up for all its worth but we'll most likely return to either imminent snow or an already dusted landscape.

I need to remember to live life like this. For every day has the colour and the beauty and the ability to make us feel just a little renewed and a little more alive, if only we take the time to enjoy it. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Righting the Inbalance

It's that time again, where I need to shut off the news and just concentrate on some of the beautiful things in this world. This morning, the news began with refugees being water cannoned along the Hungarian border, the body of a toddler being discovered after her father's body was found in their shared home, and a barrage of stories that led Aidan to comment that it is no wonder that old people live in fear  watching the news can make you think the worst of the world.

It's true. So, the news is off. There's nothing that will come out of these stories that will assuage the despair and grief for now. I'm okay to feel the grief, I just don't need to pile more information on top of it all that doesn't do anything but compound it.

So, I watch my boys drive off together to school and I'm smiling that there's an '84 Firebird reverberating across the neighbourhood that they think is so cool. And, in case you've been in the neighbourhood lately, it's only coincidence that the two houses across the street are up for sale  in close proximity to the timing of bringing that car home.

There's a dog on her bed, happily snoring because there's nothing threatening her happiness today other than the fact that no one leaves the pantry door open for her to rummage through while we're gone.

There's rain showers sweeping through the province today and though it may delay the harvest, there's a freshness in the air that compels you to breathe a little more deeply.

And there's corn pops. A big bowl of my favourite cereal from when I was a kid, reminding me of waking up on cool mornings while camping and being treated to sugary cereal and hot chocolate for breakfast.

Some days, you have to let go of the flags you're carrying in the fight against injustice, just long enough to recover your grip on your own well being. The news will be there tomorrow. The fight will go on for much longer than that. There needs to be some balance between all that is wrong and depraved and unjust in this world and the good you're going to bring into it. You can only do that if you're able to fight despair with hope. And sometimes, you need to nurture that in yourself, even at the cost of a few calories and a mid morning sugar crash.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Worry and Anticipation

In just about three weeks, Easton and I are heading back to Zimbabwe and Zambia for the first time together since 2012. He was 10 the last time we were there, this time he'll have just turned 14. I always feel like it's such a privilege to travel with my kids, especially because I think that regardless of how much fun we can have at Harry Potter World (which indeed WAS fun...) that the things that are going to shape who he is as a man are the things we encounter when we're engaged with others and learning from them.

No offence to J.K. Rowling, but the stories we hear and remember from our first trip to Zimbabwe, are still the types of character and development that I want my boys to emulate. When we sit in the dirt and listen to a father whose name means "Happy" tell us the story of struggling to feed his children, despite the pressure to leave them with his dead wife's family and get on with his life, we learn about the tenacity of character that compels him to stay when the exit door is brightly lit and beckoning. Instead, he's growing tomatoes in his garden and selling them by the roadside, to enable his children to stay and grow up together.

No human author could deepen the character of three grandmothers, sisters from birth, who trek miles into the bush each day to carry loads of wood on their backs to sell, so that their young granddaughters can get an education and have a future. The strength of these women's resolve to provide a better life for their granddaughters while they are able, is astonishing and quite honestly, humbling to the point of shame for me. I've never been asked to dig as deep as these women for the basic necessities of life...and yet, they welcomed me as if I had something to teach them.

I'm looking forward to catching up on the chapters we've missed while we've been apart and I know that for many of these families, the struggles have stayed the same. For some, there have been losses suffered and painful processes of losing loved ones and trying to stay afloat at the same time.

For some reason, this trip, while I look forward to it, is the first time where I feel like I'm walking into someone's grief. Knowing that when I meet up with friends like Angeline, that her son Dylan is now gone, and that will be more real when we sit face to face than what we could convey through text messages and distance. I know too, that some of the children that we love and care for have been struggling to stay the course that quite simply, can sometimes be difficult to follow when your life around you is crumbling. I guess the fact that there are such heartbreaking stories that we are wading into is overshadowing the hope and the joy that we will also bear witness to. There will be new babies to welcome and new holes in families we love. I don't want to be an Eeyore about these opportunities, but I do want to convey that although we love our time in the communities we volunteer in, that there is an emotional cost that far outweighs the financial costs of going. This time, I think that although the financial costs are doubled with Easton and I both going, it is the emotional costs that are weighing on me because I know that Easton will experience those as well.  As his mom I want to protect him from some of these but I also know that he can handle much more than I anticipate.

The truth is that the travel arrangements and budgets and itineraries are complex in travelling to places such as these, but they seem simple in comparison to the mental and emotional preparation that needs to be examined in advance of these visits as well. As we build deeper relationships with the people in the communities we spend time in, we open ourselves up as well to deeper feelings on both ends of the spectrum. The balance of the joy and the sadness of the stories we step into often is a deterrent to those who "have always wanted to do that..." or "could never do that..." but it isn't for me.  Thats's not the legacy I want to pass on to my boys. I'll gladly exchange a life of "I wish I could have's" for the "I'm glad I did in spite of's" if they'll surpass me in courage and compassion.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Summer We've Had

It's a grey fall day here, the rain is falling and even the dog is content to lay around on the couch. The house has dipped to 19 degrees and I have put on the first pair of socks of the season and a sweatshirt, looking at the basket of apples I picked yesterday and thinking about all the treats that can be made and stored up for the winter ahead.

I didn't turn on the news this morning. I just need a little insulation against what I've seen in the past week. I wanted to guard my Saturday a little against the stories of small boys washed up on shores, of devastating days of desperate people, walking, walking, walking ...only to be met with zipties of arrest, barbed wire welcomes and the realization that the promise of open doors is an empty one.

I lay in bed this morning, Easton in his room, reading the last of the Harry Potter series since we've returned from our adventure at Universal Studios. I thought that the line ups and crowds, the heat and the expense, were all worth it for this Saturday morning peace of my son reading in his bed and the quiet warmth of the blankets before I have to roll out and really accomplish nothing today.

It's a summer that probably many on our side of the ocean have their own memorable version of. Camping. Spending time outdoors with our kids. Boating. Swimming at the lake. Spending time with those we love. We put a lot of preparation and time into planning our summers and our time away from work, so that we can enjoy it to the fullest.  It's easier now that my boys are older, but I remember the days of making sure that you had everything imaginable for a peaceful journey...the car ride entertainment, the snacks, the diaper bag essentials...all in anticipation of avoiding discomfort. It's probably the same the world over.   Does any of this look familiar to you? You can probably picture yourselves in some of these photos.

Packed up the van and headed out on a road trip

The diaper bag "essentials" 

The stroller with everything packed neatly underneath

A day out on the water with the kids
Everyone having fun out on the water
And we can't forget the dog...they need to be safe on the water too.
Even at the pool, it's important for the kids to be safe

The home away from home may not feel like "camping"

Or maybe you chose to "rough it" a little more this year
Listened to the kids giggle around the campfire

Hiking with friends in new territories

But can you imagine yourselves in these? Same summer. Different experiences.

Hiking with friends in new territories
Listening to the kids giggle around the campfire

Choosing to "rough it" it a little more this year
The home away from home may not feel much like "camping" 
A day out on the water with the kids
A stroller packed with all the essentials

I'm sorry....I can't even go on in this way. Obviously, the summer we've had can not compare to the summer that those fleeing violence and fear in the middle east. I'll leave you with these images. Not because I want to inflict hurt or cause despair, but because if we continue to turn the news off and plug our ears, it doesn't erase what's happening in the lives of others - it just makes us ignorant in every sense of the word.

A migrant struggles on to the beach while tourists sunbathe nearby.

*for those of you wondering how to help....

Call your Member of Parliament and your Member of the Legislative Assembly. Tell them that you want our doors opened to immigration as a humanitarian response.

Consider your vote this election. October 19th is quickly approaching. Educate yourself. Vote accordingly.

Attend rallies and sign petitions and add your voice to the collective voice saying that this is not okay and that we will not close our eyes and let it go on.

Consider sponsoring a family. You can do this, though it's not an overnight solution as many would believe, by contacting your local immigration branch and following up. Gather three to five friends or families to join with you in sponsoring families to come to Canada (or wherever you are) to live in safety with a group of people who have stood up to say, "We're with you" and "Welcome".

It's okay to be overwhelmed with these images and the news. Take a breather when you need to, that's not turning a blind eye, but come back with resolve and continue to speak up on behalf of those who have no voice.

**the photos used in this blog are not my own. You can follow the links to google images where they are credited. Thank you. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ageless Wisdom from the Birthday Girl

 Just about 6 years ago, my friend Helen Vanderkooi mischievously invited me to come and "just have a look" at the puppies she had on her farm. So, we took a little ride out to the farm just to have a look and then shockingly, we were hooked. I mean, it's lucky we didn't end up with four. Thankfully, they weren't ready to come home so we left the farm without one. But, as the boys' birthdays approached in October and the time for these little ones to find homes was falling in line with that, Helen offered us a free female because she was able to sell the males easily. So, we drove out to the farm, just Jason and I and picked up our little fur ball, who promptly nosed her way into my elbow and fell asleep on the way home.

How can you choose just one?

She's grown into the loveliest, goofiest, laziest, most loyal friend (unless offered a snack or a car ride by a perfect stranger...) that we could have imagined for our household. She's taught us a lot about family and love and life...and in honour of her birthday today, we give you the best lessons of a 6 year old (or a 42 year old...) starting with the fact that age really is only a number.  She has taught me a lot about living with depression and been the best medicine for the worst days. 

There's no reason to feel shame in caring for yourself. 

Good health requires sacrifice. Good self care is essential but sometimes you have to let those around you who you love and trust, make good decisions on your behalf. 

Some days are just hard.

There are days when you can only get out of bed to make it to the couch. This too shall pass.

Some days are much better and you feel nearly normal again.

There will be those days that you feel like yourself again...nearly. You wake up early, you go outside, you find joy in the beauty around you. Take advantage of those days. Store them up in your memory for the days that don't feel so good.
Sunlight, pillows and a long morning stretching out is sometimes the best medicine.
Get rest when you need it. Healing takes time. 

Sometimes there are things that make you feel alive, that maybe aren't SO good for catching those in moderation. 
Don't put off the things you really enjoy doing. 
And there are things that bring consistent comfort, like the company of a quiet companion and a good book. Do those things in abundance. 

Take time for quiet reflection, whether in the beauty of the outdoors...

...or in the comfort of your favourite spot at home. 

Allow those who love you to show you...even if sometimes it feels a little smothering. You need this. 

Good nutrition plays an important role in staying healthy and energized. Sometimes you have to rely on those around you to care for you in this way. Sometimes they need reminding that this is a great way to show that they care.

Sometimes, even when you don't feel like it, it's good to get outside and engage in exercise. 
Find people you love that make you feel good about yourself and spend time with them. 

Find activities in every season that you enjoy so that you have a something to look forward to as the seasons change.

And remember, there will be days where just getting your feet wet is all you can muster. 
Do it anyways. 

It doesn't have to be an organized sports team...just choose your teammates well and show up, they're counting on you!
Sometimes you just have to show up for the sake of others. Being selfless can combat the feelings of depression and sadness. 

Even if you have to make an extra effort that feels enormous, sometimes it's worth going the extra mile so that others know you love them. 

Even from the sidelines, you can show your love. You may not be on the sled but they'll remember that you cheered them on every step of the way. 

Cousin Eito from Japan is great at taking me on walks

Remember that new friendships can bring new enthusiasm and discovery - differences in language and culture can enhance your desire for learning new things! 

And when there are days where you just can't seem to pull it together, 

...remember that your very presence is often enough to warm someone's heart. (or feet.)

Take time to yourself when you need it...but don't withdraw from life. 

A dear friend now gone on to doggy're not forgotten.

Share your best with others, for you never know how long you'll have them in your life. 
Zany and I resting up from a long day at the lake.

Play hard together and get plenty of rest in between.
This old man, Remington,  and I shared a great friendship. RIP buddy.

Celebrate friendships with those younger and older than you, for they bring wisdom and energy you 
can learn from. Even a short time with a wise friend is better than having lived without him. 

Play hard and rest well. Life is about balance. 
This bull seemed very happy to meet me. If I'd listened to all the BS,
I'd have never met him. 
Take chances and veer off the path once in a while. You never know who you might meet.

And remember you have an extended family who loves you nearly as much as your own family does. 

In position for apple season. 

Wait for the next good thing to fall into place. Patience is a discipline.

Remember the dreams of your youth. 

Stay true to who you are and never forget how far you've come.