Monday 11 September 2023

Downshifting Again

Now that I'm back to not working again, I cancelled my Calm subscription, my FitOn subscription, and National Geographic and Canadian Geographic. I've also started cooking and baking more.

Partly, it's because I'm not making money, so I don't have extra to spend; but, partly, it's because I don't need that support any more. I am doing great without the "Daily Calm" guided meditations. I'm not stressed out from work. If I need them, I can go to YouTube. I've been able to find Tamara Levitt's Daily Calm videos and all kinds of meditation and fitness videos on YouTube, and I made playlists so that it's easy to find them again when I need them. 

I found National Geographic and Canadian Geographic on Libby, the free library app. I have read tons of books and magazines using the Libby app since the beginning of COVID (average 1 book/week). I read on my iPad, a large iPad Pro, turned sideways so that I get two pages at once. I might start going to the library to borrow real books again, and I know that they also have magazines there. Maybe I could have a big walk or bike ride there and then sit and read. I have the time to do that. 

My diet is better again because I have time to cook and bake, so we're not using ready foods or ordering in or going out. When I was working, we ate restaurant food at least once a week, often twice or more, and I used time-saving ready sauces and dressings and canned or frozen things. Now, I'm cooking and baking and freezing my own stuff. We save money and we eat better now. I cook with way less salt, fat, and sugar than restaurants do. Simpler and better. 

When I'm preparing meals, I'm not sitting. That's already something. I sit so much less now that I don't have to sit at a computer for 8 hours or more every day! I still do sit too much, and I still look at screens too much. Right now, I'm at my desktop. I often write sitting at my desk, but sometimes sitting in the family room or out on the deck using my iPad. And, while I'm there, I'll take a look at not only emails, but also Instagram or Facebook. The absolute worst time-waster is TikTok, but it was a life saver while I had COVID and couldn't concentrate enough to read or watch a show. I have set a one hour limit on social media on my phone, which is helpful. It's not perfect, since I can override the limit or just switch to my iPad, but it's good to have a little push in the right direction. 

It's September, so it's time for a restart. The cooler weather and shorter days signal a change. Kids are back at school and at after-school activities, so adult activities start too. Choir starts tomorrow! Yay! I've missed it terribly. I'll be working on the Euphonia Therapeutic Music Program soon too. Hopefully, there will be some money coming in and not too much time tied up. And, my church schedule is already building. I hope to keep things as simple and manageable as possible so that I can keep up this calmer and healthier lifestyle. 

Netflix is now showing the documentary "Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones" and I highly recommend it. I became aware of and inspired by the Blue Zones years ago. Check out the website. Here's an infographic from them that I like:

Tuesday 5 September 2023

Purpose and Positivity

Everyone deserves an occupation, deserves to be occupied by or with something to keep active and engaged in life. Everyone deserves an income which provides them with a living, for decent shelter and food at the very least. 

It's not only good to be busy and to have something to focus on, it's essential. I'm not thinking of something to fill the hours of the day, like watching Netflix or scrolling through social media, but of a career, or job, preferably a livelihood. If you have a purpose, you'll feel good being able to contribute to the community. Your contribution should be respected and you should be remunerated. Then, you will feel comfortable, confident, and happy. When we can't make a living, can't keep a job, we're at risk of suffering in many different ways from that occupational deprivation. Our community suffers with us.

Many important occupations do not provide people with a livelihood. Stay-at-home parents, caregivers of siblings or parents, grandparents who take care of their grandchildren, and their children's homes and gardens, and many other caregivers of people and places are not remunerated for their work. Their work is not even considered to be work, not a job or a career. Writers and artists, artisans, dancers, and musicians whose work isn't supported by popularity, or clever agents, often struggle to make a living, or worse, quit. Their work is often not considered work, not a job, not a viable career. Many service jobs are so poorly remunerated that workers have two or three jobs in order to piece together a living. They have jobs, but don't make a living. I'm thinking of PSWs, ECEs, cashiers, cleaners, servers, security guards, receptionists, and other low-level clerks and labourers. Imagine if these people all received a universal basic income. Imagine if they could have one job and do it well without burning out, with much less stress and worry. A universal basic income would allow these folks to make great contributions to their communities, to society, without worrying about living in poverty. 

A universal basic income would allow people to work part-time when a 40-hour work week is too taxing, physically or mentally. Not everyone has the same stamina, not everyone is capable of the same level of activity. It’s cruel to say that young people who can't keep up are lazy or unwilling to work, as I’ve heard people say. I’m sure that these “lazy” folks have limitations or disabilities that others can't see. These disabilities blind others to the abilities that they do have, abilities that are obscured or hidden because of unrealistic expectations. An element of accessibility should be reduced hours and flexible schedules. A part-time occupation could provide purpose and pride when someone is allowed to contribute what they can without worrying that they can never make a living, that they are never enough.

After retirement, or as a transition to retirement, older workers could take on part-time roles so that their knowledge and experience can continue to support their companies and provide them with continued fulfillment along with enough income to make ends meet. If they could be guaranteed a basic income, and the employment would be whatever they can manage, they could contribute with grace and dignity for a long time. When they leave their jobs, they could support the younger generations in their families without worrying about being a burden. 

I felt untethered after I left my job. Some days I felt aimless, useless. I felt untethered in my job too somehow. The cold corporate maze and remote work during the pandemic made me fall apart. It was only 7 years, this last chapter of my life, a little less than my ESL teaching career and not as rewarding, but it was good. I was a stay-at-home mom for much longer than both, and that was my favourite career, the most rewarding career. If money hadn't been a problem, then I would have been happy to stay at home. 

When I was a stay-at-home mom, I worked all the time. I kept house, had gardens, cooked and baked for, and played with, my family, my friends, my children and their friends.  I volunteered at school and church and I had my choir. I was active and contributed to my community. 

The work that I do at choir is special. Music moves my soul. Conducting the choir, leading and facilitating, singing, interpreting music, creating a rehearsal, a performance, a concert, it all fills my soul with joy and pride, and purpose. This work I do is for my community so that the choristers also feel the joy, pride, and purpose of creating music, and for our audiences' joy and well-being. 

I have become involved more in church again, leading children's music, singing, and working on a couple of committees. The church supports the larger community in many ways.  

I wish I didn’t have to prioritize work that provides income, so that I could be free to do more volunteering. These things I do for free give me purpose, help me to feel useful and happy, and benefit the community. My worries about affording my home and groceries and supporting my children keep me from doing what I love, sharing my abilities and my passions. Imagine if I could receive a universal basic income.

Along with believing in the value of a universal basic income, we need to start believing in the value of care for the elderly, infants and children, people with disabilities, the arts, performing arts, fine art, writing, and all the services that those who work long hours need (food preparation, home and property maintenance, driving, pet care, etc). Everyone's roles would be respected and people would be able to support themselves. This could be a solution to homelessness.

Friday 1 September 2023

Boomers to Resist Becoming Marginalized

Young people seem to be a much kinder, humanistic, global thinking group than old people. Maybe it’s because of contact with individuals from all over the globe on the internet. There seems to be more understanding and acceptance of the diversity of people. At least, that’s been my experience in my contact with younger folk in person and on social media.

We should be getting closer to becoming an accepting, inclusive society (here in Canada, but also globally) now that the big baby boom generation is learning that they and their friends suddenly belong to groups that they used to marginalize.

They are old, and they’re also becoming disabled as they age. Ageism and ableism should be acknowledged, as there will be more people in power who won’t accept those “isms”. The people who say “handicap” and mean a person are either dying off or learning that this kind of label shouldn’t be used limit them personally and it can be hurtful and harmful generally. Their kids and grandkids are inventing devices, systems, ways to keep these old and no longer perfectly independent boomers active and accepted.  People with a disability are much more than the parts of them that limit them.

Boomers are slowly learning that it’s not horrible to be gay and that their gender identity doesn’t have to be a life sentence, or an actual jail sentence. (And, now that we can talk about them, sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same.) I say slow because it was 1967 when Pierre Trudeau famously said “There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”. Maybe a boomer (or a sibling) has had a late autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, with that epiphany of understanding (oh, that’s why!). They’re used to being in charge, those baby boomers, so they’re not going to let anyone hide them in the attic when they’ve been given a label from DSM-5-TR (the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). They’re going to demand accommodations for themselves, and with increasing understanding, they will extend the idea of accommodations to other marginalized groups. At least, that is my hope, that they will make big positive systemic changes while in power, before they die off. I can hope. If they don't, their children will.

Friday 4 August 2023

Ladies, Wear What You Want

The perfect woman, 

young and thin, 

is everywhere. 

Skin clear, 

hair shiny and long, 

nails manicured, 

legs long and shapely, 

and butt cheeks and breasts bulging, 

she shows off her perfection 

with skimpy clothes, 

spaghetti straps and bare legs 

even in December.

We can wear what we want

perfect or not.

We can wear 

our extra pounds, 

grey hair, 

high heels that make us taller than the men around us, 

or sensible shoes,

and comfortable clothing with pockets, 


even in December.

Older Ladies Wearing Age Proudly

The media world is different from the real world. In the movies and on TV, and in books and magazines, women are young and thin. The perfect woman, young and thin, is everywhere. Skin clear, hair shiny and long, nails manicured, legs long and shapely, and butt cheeks and breasts bulging, she shows off her perfection with skimpy clothes, spaghetti straps and bare legs even in December. Social Media is not very different. Women tend to post pictures of themselves when they're looking their best, closest to those paragons of perfection we see in the media. Some women on social media feel the need to use filters too, as if makeup and fashion along with camera savvy aren’t enough.

However, the tide seems to be turning. Women are changing this situation. We are finding ourselves capable of creating new standards. Even the new Barbie movie (produced in part by women and written and directed by a woman) is surprising folks with its Barbieland and table-turning themes. We can be more than our looks. We can be more than side-kicks,  mothers, wives, assistants, somebody’s something. We have always existed, doctors, pilots, business leaders, adventurers, powerful protagonists in our own stories and heroes in our communities. Those stories are ready to be told. We can wear our extra pounds, grey hair, high heels that make us taller than the men around us, or sensible shoes and comfortable clothing with pockets proudly. Finally, we can see ourselves represented in the media more and more. 

There is a lot to read on this topic. One very positive thing that has been happening is that women’s representation in movies and television is being studied and quantified by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. I encourage you to check them out, and support them if you can.

The Geena Davis Institute is very active on social media (follow them) where their audience and focus extends beyond gender:
Our research examines intersectional onscreen representation of six identities: gender, race, LGBTQ+, disability, age, and body size.

From the research they do, with the data they compile, they show the issues, call out the industries, support inclusive media, and they are getting results, positive change. Here is something about older adults on the Geena Davis Institute website: 
Older adults are enjoying the inclusion of people in leading roles that look like them on the screen doing interesting and inspiring things. 

We are aware of the disconnect between the real world and what we see in the media, but it's hard not to be affected. I identify as female, older, and large-sized- three out of six of those under-represented types. And, I can relate to all the rest. We feel invisible sometimes, and often feel as though we’re just not good enough to be seen and appreciated the way we are. 

Shows like Schitt’s Creek, Grace and Frankie, and Queer Eye, and movies like the Book Club give me hope, but a quick overview of what’s on Netflix provides the usual made-for-boys/men posters with sexy young women and a huge number of and better variety of men.  At least some side-kick men are average-looking and pudgy and sometimes gay. There has always been a place for older men in lead roles. Soon, we’ll see more diversity, and more magnificent older women will be showing up on our screens. 

On Instagram, I follow several popular older women with natural grey or white hair, many of them with lines and wrinkles. A small number carry a little extra weight. Some of them have huge followings and are recognized as “influencers”. We are showing others, especially other older women, that older women are as diverse as any other group and as interesting and admirable, beautiful too. 

Here’s a link to a fun music video that came out when I turned 50. Older Ladies “We’re divine”, indeed.

Wednesday 28 June 2023

Music Therapy for Seniors' Wellbeing

I've been reading quite a bit about music and memory, about music programs for seniors living in retirement residences and care homes, and music programs designed especially for seniors dealing with dementia and hearing loss. 

I'm hoping to join a couple friends providing a music therapy program in local retirement residences and care homes. It's such a great program! Participants wear wireless headphones and listen together to music from their youth, transmitted with a range of frequencies that compensates for hearing loss. It's a gentle and effective way to ignite feelings, reminisce, create bonds through shared experience, and boost self-esteem. 

I am certain that music has therapeutic powers. Music's power is wonderful, awe-inspiring, and mysterious. I have felt music effect my well-being and I've seen its effects on others. It's been my experience, and it's backed up by science. I'm learning that music's therapeutic powers are being proven by research.

It's remarkable how our brains process music. The medical and scientific communities are still learning about how it works and how it works differently for different people, but it works wonderfully and mysteriously. Google "music and the brain" and you'll see so many interesting articles from universities and scientific journals. Our brains and our whole bodies are fascinating; we humans are marvelous, miraculous beings. 

Music moves us. Music can evoke emotions, right, like the soundtracks in movies making us cry, or feel euphoric, or frightened. Music can make us want to dance or move in certain ways, clap or sway, for example. We can be transported back to a different time and place when we hear songs from our youth, remembering people and places, and even the feel of clothing, and smell of cologne, or campfire smoke. Music has been shown to activate some of the broadest and most diverse networks of the brain. Even if you didn't study music, myriad brain pathways and networks are activated when you listen to music. If you did study music and played an instrument or sang in a choir, you've got lots of lights going on, sparks flying all over your brain, just from listening to music. Moving to music and making music add even more as more motor neurons are stimulated.

You might have come across a story of a person with dementia who could play piano pieces perfectly but could not remember much else. Or, an elderly person who had been unresponsive would suddenly sing along to a beloved old song. Dr. Oliver Sacks, a renowned neurologist, professor, and author, famously stated:

"The past which is not recoverable in any other way is embedded, as if in amber, in the music (that shaped their past), and people can regain a sense of identity." 

The research is simply supporting what I feel very strongly, that singing and dancing are important activities that all of us should be encouraged to do. They are the easiest way, the universal, basic, human way to make music. None of us should be discouraged from singing or dancing because our voices or bodies don't measure up to a particular standard. Everyone should have opportunities to sing and dance, especially seniors. 

Through my work with the York Region Community Choir and at my church, I've figured out that I feel the happiest and most capable and purposeful when I'm getting people to sing, and singing and dancing with people, young and old. This might be the purpose for me. I hope to provide more opportunites for singing and moving to music to seniors living in retirement residences and care homes in my neighbourhood in this next stage of my life.

Music Therapy Program

Wednesday 15 March 2023

Dancing and Singing with Joy: Go ahead and let loose

Context: your friends are singing and dancing at a party or at a concert or at a bar. 

You don't feel that you can join in. You stand still and smile with your mouth closed. 

At some time in the past, you were told that you have no rhythm or that you don't have a good voice, can't sing.



You are begged to join in. 

But no, you laugh and say "Oh, you don't want to hear me sing!"

You say "I have two left feet."



Of course your friends do want to hear you sing and see you dance; they love you and your voice and your body and they want you to feel good.

Of course you can sing and dance. You walk, you talk; you can dance and sing. Even if you have difficulty walking and talking, you can probably do some dancing and singing. (I've seen and heard severly disabled people enjoy moving their bodies to music and singing, singing in a choir with physical and developmental disabilities-yes, they did and it was beautiful!) 

Go ahead and let loose!

Sing loud, or soft, belt or hum. Hum or sing nonsense, because you don't have to know all the words. Just sing the chorus, sing the guitar solo, just sing.

Move your body any way you want, any way you can. You don't have to know choreography or any dance moves that have names. Just sway, or bounce, or wiggle. Just don't hurt anyone, or yourself. 

Delight in the sound of your voice because it belongs to you-it's beautiful, unique in its beauty!

Delight in the movement of your body because it belongs to you, and it's magnificent, wonderful, and like you it's beautiful and unique! 

Do it for yourself, for health and enjoyment. 

Do it for your friends who want to see you happy, who want you to join them in their happiness. You will share your energy with them, increasing their joy, instead of potentially dragging them down with your negativity. 

Go ahead and just sing like you walk or talk, without thinking whether you can do it exactly the same again (for a recording or so you can get paid? You're a professional and this is a gig? No! Nonsense.). Sing without having to be accurate, consistent, in control. Dance without having to be accurate, consistent, in control. Let loose. 

Go ahead. 



Delight in the music, delight in your friends.

We all need more opportunities to sing and dance for fun. Seek them out, create them, help your friends, your children, your grandparents, and their friends, to experience more singing and dancing together. 

Me, at my disco dance at church.

~ Don't let me catch you telling anyone they can't dance or sing, even yourself! 

Saturday 31 December 2022

Renate's Book Recommendations 2022

I keep track of what I read on Goodreads, because otherwise I forget everything. I forget the name of the author, the name of the book, the main characters names, the plot, everything. (This isn't dementia; I've never had a good memory for this kind of detail, or anything really, ask Max.)

With Goodreads, I can go back and remember, sometimes with no peeking at the synopsis, but mostly with the help of that and the reader reviews. 

Also, Goodreads keeps track of what I read each year, so I know that I read 56 books this year. 

I don't know what you're interested in for non-fiction recommendations. We can talk about those things another time in another context. So, this is just novels, fiction. 

I always recommend Louise Penny and her Armand Gamache series. I love her and almost never forget her name. I love the village of Three Pines she created and all the characters there. I haven't read the latest one, but I would recommend it anyway. I will read it as soon as I can. I didn't read them in order, but I've read them all. 

Here's a list of things I especially enjoyed this year. Some of them were just fun, but the first 6 are exceptionally good. 

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan

The Ten Thousand Doors of January  by Alix E. Harrow

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

The Wanderer by Robyn Carr (author of Virgin River Netflix series)

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Wednesday 4 May 2022

Staying Positive- It's Not Easy, but I Have Choir

It's not easy to stay positive sometimes. 

Yesterday, there were so many upsetting posts on Twitter, Facebook, everywhere! Everywhere I looked, I was reminded of awful things. It got me down. I had to stop looking! But, sometimes it's hard to stop. The pull of negativity is strong. 

Roe vs Wade. It's not really Pro Choice or Pro Life. Choice or no choice; life or no life? No. The US Supreme Court is talking about taking away abortion rights, women's rights. People are divided, and angry, and often cruel. I find it hard to believe that we're going backwards here, regressing when we should be progressing (I say we and here because Canadians are not very different from our American neighbours.). I saw several wonderful posts supporting my own position, expressing my own thoughts, and that was good. But, it was still disturbing.

I finally counted my blessings, turned off the world, and headed to choir. 

It took a few minutes to shake off my day, and then I was in my happy place, my blissful hours of choir. Choir night is not just an escape from life, but it's also an embracing of life, a reminder of all the good things. We sing about love and harmony, peace, family, friendship, community, sunshine and stars. We celebrate each other's victories, health, babies, grandbabies, and when we need it we get a comforting hug, a shoulder to lean on.

Thursday 14 April 2022

Serious Fun With Serious Music

I am very grateful for my childhood experiences with music, with classical music in particular. I hope that young people are getting some good musical experiences these days. 

The amount of classical music I was exposed to by rabbits and other creatures in Muppet or animated form is amazing. What a fun way to broaden children's musical experiences! 

Video games and movie soundtracks continue to provide serious music for all ages, wonderful symphonic orchestral works that play on the "classical" radio stations. Sesame Street is still at it (currently in season 52), introducing classical music to children and their parents along with lots of fun.

When I was teaching English as a Second Language to adults in North York, I had a workshop that I conducted for other teachers called "Serious Fun". I shared games that I used successfully in class to teach and to practise grammar, idioms and other vocabulary, spelling, all kinds of serious things.  The games added much-needed moments of silliness and respite from all of the pressures of being a newcomer to Canada and an adult returning to a classroom. Some of the serious fun included singing. 

Serious Fun is still my thing. I love to have fun with my choir, the YRCC, making sure to have at least one song in every performance that makes people laugh, something cute, something silly and fun. I pepper my commentary with dashes of silliness. We often deal with big, serious themes, and sing grand, moving pieces of music, so everyone needs these moments of release. 

When we rehearse, we need to have fun every week. We work hard learning music that's often in 4-part harmony and challenging. It's important for us to be able to laugh at ourselves, and to release the stress of the difficult passages in the music we're learning. Even more important for our weekly rehearsals is the need to release the stresses of the day, the stresses of life. My choir is Serious Fun like my grammar games!

Serious music, classical music, orchestral works, don't have to be heavy and challenging. Yesterday, Lauren (my friend and YRCC's lovely president) gifted me with an afternoon at the Symphony with her. The TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra) presented a concert called Totally 1980s. It was so much fun! We laughed and sang along (Don't worry: the audience was invited to sing and even dance along.) and we were also fascinated and impressed by all the wonderful musicians in the orchestra and the vocalists who performed a super mix of pop, rock, disco, and soundtracks from our youth. What joy; totally my thing!

I recently posted (on Musical Empathy: about my early memories of serious music, entitled "Sesame Street and Cartoons: Iconic Music Memories". I've spoken about the Muppets quite a bit lately, and because they were such a big influence on me, we're doing a Muppet-like version of Good Morning, Starshine rather than a Hair-like version.

One thing I love about Donna, our new accompanist, is that she happily recounts being told by her students that she sounded like Kermit the Frog. I love Kermit and had a Kermit stuffy when I was little. Donna shares my playfulness, and she is seriously trained and seriously talented. I love that she laughs at my silly jokes. I think Serious Fun is Donna's thing too. 

I think everyone should have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument, and to play that instrument in a large ensemble. I so much enjoyed my band experiences in school! It was a lot of work but so much fun! Any kind of musical performance is a great part of an education. Music should be learned with lots of fun and less judgement, less competition and more silliness. Serious music with serious fun should be compulsory. 

When I watch musicians, I feel great respect for their skills and the investment they've put into making music for us. I'm also grateful for the production, the sound, the staging, the theatre.

I wish every child could also be given experiences at the symphony, the opera, the ballet, and live musical theatre. All of these and big rock concerts, jazz festivals, all kinds of live music mean so much more when you have an understanding of how it works. 

Friday 4 March 2022

Face the Negatives to Be Positive

"If you know how to handle your pain, your sorrow, and your fear, you know how to create happiness."

*Breathing in, I am aware of a painful feeling arising.
Breathing out, I release the painful feeling.*

I recently read Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society by Thích Nhất Hạnh. There were so many quotable moments! I wanted to write everything down, wanted to highlight most of every page in yellow. Those two quotes above are the things that stood out to me at this reading. I've written a couple of times about feeling the opposite of Pollyanna lately. I've had my positivity challenged a lot in the past couple years, in the past weeks and the past couple days. 

Here's how Amazon describes the book:

In Good Citizens, Thich Nhat Hanh lays out the foundation for an international solidarity movement based on a shared sense of compassion, mindful consumption, and right action. Following these principles, he believes, is the path to world peace. The book is based on our increased global interconnectedness and subsequent need for harmonious communication and a shared ethic to make our increasingly globalized world a more peaceful place. The book will be appreciated by people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds.

World peace can seem to be an impossible goal when individuals and nations are selfish and cruel, attacking innocent strangers, attacking neighbours, and even their own kin, destroying property and lives. Yet, here is a path to world peace. Look around and see the writers, musicians, artists, protesters, groups and individuals, sharing messages of peace and support in response to the attacks on Ukraine. There is hope for all of us, international solidarity is possible, and there is a path for me to take to achieve inner peace right here and now.  Breathe in; breathe out. 

Friday 18 February 2022

Another Snow Storm- Windrow Positivity

Windrows are the piles of snow that the street plow leaves at the end of your driveway. People get so mad at the plows for these! Nonsense! 

The plows are just doing what plows do. I'm grateful for the plows and grateful for my strong body and snow moving strategies. I'll share some of my strategies for staying positive and dealing with the snow.

Let the storm rage on.  The windrows never bothered me anyway. Sing that like Elsa.

Here's a picture of Dexter. He's our beautiful German Shorthaired Pointer. I'm there behind him, in my blue puffy jacket with my big snow scooper. It's actually called a sleigh shovel. I looked it up. I highly recommend this kind of snow shovel. But, you'll also need a good small ergonomic lifting one. We regularly use 3 different shovels. 

Don't worry, we're on a little court, no traffic

When you need to shovel the driveway after a snow storm, make a plan, have your tools handy, and listen to your body. Don't wear your heaviest gear. You'll work yourself warm. If possible, have a buddy to help. If you don't have a helper, consider doing half now and half later, after a rest and some tea. 

Push straight ahead as much as possible. Try not to twist your body. Clear a track straight down the middle first. This opens up the way for you, and the dog, to get to the road. More importantly, it divides the task into two smaller ones. I use the scoop for that. You can drag scoopfuls of snow down the road a ways (don't leave it on the road) so that it's not all right by your driveway. Get the snow to the edges and dump/push it up first, and then do lifting later if necessary. 

When you have to lift, don't lift too much at once, and don't repeat the same motion too often. Don't lift with the big scooper! Use a smallish shovel with an ergonomic handle. Keep your knees loose, legs strong. Listen to your body, and if it complains, change your movements. Maybe walk to the other end of the driveway, do a little stretching and start from a different angle. You'll want to lift straight as much as possible, but you'll end up leading with one side. Switch sides every few strokes. Don't worry if you're not doing it systematically or beautifully. At the end, you can clean it up so it looks perfect if you want. Pay attention to your body. 

IMPORTANT: If you're smiling and loving the snow, you'll have less tension in your neck and shoulders, and generally better use of all of your muscles. 

Sing while you shovel. 

Send out some grateful love to the snow plow operators who work so hard! 

Send out gratitude and love to the waste collectors who have to navigate through all the snow and find, pick up, empty, and put back everyone's recycling boxes and green bins. 

When you're done, look at what you've accomplished and feel strong, skillful, and successful. Reward yourself with hot chocolate or tea and maybe a little chocolate, and some dog cuddles inside on the couch.

Thursday 27 January 2022

Not Giving up My Shovel for a Snow Blower

We've had lots of snow this year but I still don't want a snow blower. Our neighbours who have snow blowers have already used them a few times this winter and I guess they're feeling pretty good. 

I've been spending time on the Blue Zones website,, getting inspiration and support for my healthy long life. One of the things they recommend to improve your life and longevity is to use hand tools and equipment more. Clearing the driveway with a snow shovel, they say, gives you a healthy and productive outdoor workout. For me, that's just part of it.

We're having a very cold and snowy winter (it's January 27th, 2022) and I'm happy, one of the few people you know who loves snow and cold. No, I'm not a skier and I don't like snowmobiles. I just think snow is beautiful. It's exciting when it's falling and peaceful afterwards. I walked Dexter this morning and I loved the sound of the snow crunching under my boots, which I could hear because it's so quiet, the world muffled by snow. I have good boots, a good coat, hats, mitts, all the gear I need. When it's minus 20 degrees Celsius, I'm fine. The world looks shiny and clean and the air is crisp. 

I'm lucky to live in a suburban neighbourhood where the streets and sidewalks are excellently cleared by the town. (Newmarket, Ontario) We just have to clear our walkways and driveways on our properties. Many of the driveways fit four cars comfortably. When I'm done clearing the snow from my driveway, I feel really good: exhausted and accomplished. It's a good workout. When the snow is heavy and there's a lot of it, it's also a good puzzle, figuring out were to put it all and how to push more than lift and how to make sure I don't hurt myself. The windrow that the snowplow makes at the end of the driveway is especially challenging and can take more time to shovel than the whole driveway sometimes. I like to see how good my driveway and walkway look when I'm done. 

When I'm done, I just hang the shovel up. It takes up little space and I have room in my garage for my car. I don't have to store a snowblower or worry about servicing it. My shovel is quiet and clean, very environmentally friendly. As long as I can, I will use a snow shovel.  

snowy scene outside my window

Saturday 22 January 2022

Giving up: Sometimes the show does not go on, and it's okay

 Don't give up! We're not quitters! 

Keep going! The show must go on!

We've had enough of this. 

It's time to take a break and say, "Stop it! I just can't!"

We're tired and we can't do it all. We can't do it all when everything we do is a struggle. Our teams are tired, our support systems are tired, the back-up singers, back-up drivers, back-up shift workers are all sick, and tired, and can't.

I'm tired of looking for the bright side and smiling in the hopes that the smile will turn real. 

We're two years in to the pandemic and we're all tired of this. We've reached our limits.

It's okay if you decide to go to bed early (and sleep in late too).

It's okay if you miss the video call, or call in sick.

Leave the task unfinished; do the rest after some rest.

Thank you, Adele, for postponing your Vegas show a couple of days ago! I'm grateful to you for showing your very real and understandable level of stress, and for showing your gratitude to your fans for understanding. Of course they get it. There's grace in letting go.

Thank you, everyone, for your moments of grace in these difficult times. We will try when we can. When we're feeling up to it, we'll smile and we'll do all the things!

But, we can't be expected to keep it up all the time. 

Forgive yourself and forgive others when we fail to meet expectations. 

Lower your expectations a little for now. It's not forever and it's not always. 

Adele announcing Vegas show not going on

Friday 7 January 2022

Feeling the Opposite of Pollyanna

Is the opposite of a Pollyanna a curmudgeon? Whatever you call it, that's how I'm feeling.

I'm done playing the glad game. I'm not trying to find something to be glad about these days. I'm sitting deep in my grouchy couch feeling only like crying or cussing. 

Since Christmas, I've been experiencing something like the post-show blues I get after a choir performance. It's happened before. There were years when I'd be sick in bed for a week after Christmas. Once all the hoopla was over, a virus would hit and I'd be forced to stop. 

This year, the hoopla was cancelled again. It was worse this year because I had hoped to have a real Christmas. I had hopes and plans for Christmas 2021. I planned to host my side, a dinner for 12 for Christmas Day, and my best friend's family, a dinner for 8, on Boxing Day. Christmas Eve was supposed to be church at church and then out to my husband's side. Church was the best ever, a service planned and led by my talented Vix with her guitar, Christmas dinner was wonderful, even if it was just 4 of us. Zoom calls were lovely. I was fine, but now I'm not.

Usually, I'm a sunny person, but these days, I'm feeling overwhelmed with negative emotions. Here is my current "top 10": sadness, anger, disappointment, shame, frustration, impatience, repulsion, fear, worry, and despair.

I've had good moments, even good days. It will flip back again. I'll have bad days and bad moments. This too will pass. 

This too shall pass.

from Wikipedia:

Curmudgeon: a person (especially an old man) who is easily annoyed or angered and who often complains.

Synonyms for curmudgeon: bear, bellyacher, complainer, crab, crank, croaker, crosspatch, fusser, griper, grouch, grouser, growler, grumbler, grump, murmurer, mutterer, sourpuss, whiner.

Monday 13 December 2021

Selective Hearing and Selective Memory: Survival

My selective memory is a natural survival mechanism that I thought I had no control over. I became aware that my memory has selected to delete some things when I tried to remember something about a bad time in my life. I've blocked whole chunks of my life from access. I have only the smallest snippet of a memory of my father's funeral, and a tiny fragment of the drive to his burial. It's selective amnesia, actually, isn't it?

What I've come to understand is that I might not have been aware of it in the past, might not have considered it, but I do have some control over what I remember. I can control my selective listening and watching. I can tune things out. And, I think that's what happened with those past things that I can't retrieve. I shut my eyes, walked away and shut out the world. I put the music on loud, sang along, danced, and forgot. I do that now quite frequently. When I have the choice, I select and deselect.

When one pays careful attention to something, mindful of all one's senses in the moment, strong memories are made which can be retrieved easily. A small thing can trigger those memories, a smell, a taste, a melody, the fabric of your dress or maybe the colour. Drink in the good stuff, sniff and taste, feel with attention, and fill yourself with all the sensations of a happy moment. Trigger that.

I have to pay more and better attention to all the good stuff. I feel some regret for not paying enough attention to wonderful things in the past. I have forgotten too much. I'm lucky that I do avoid spending time on negative things, and I have ways of redirecting myself towards positivity. During this pandemic, however, I've spent much more time than ever before dwelling in feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, shame, frustration, impatience, repulsion, regret, fear, worry, and despair. 

Twice though, in difficult circumstances this past year, I was very much comforted, and able to comfort others, with the knowledge that in time we would forget. The emotional and physical pain and the details of the current predicament would not only end in the near future but would also be difficult, maybe even impossible, to remember in the more distant future. We are counting our blessings.

On a light note (pun intended), I think that people who think that the best music was made in their formative years forget all the music that was considered simple, shocking, or just ugly back then. They also choose not to hear all the good new music that is being made now. Their parents did the same thing. Every generation has parents saying, "What is this horrible stuff you're listening to?" They don't really pay attention to current music. The things that are shocking to their ears stick out and offend. There are always comfortable "oldies" stations for them, old hits or "classic" rock.  I find it funny when I'm listening to an oldies station and they play what was considered an edgy song when I was younger. Looking back, it is so tame! I'm glad that I understand this and I am open to enjoying and appreciating (most of) the music my children love. 

Thursday 2 December 2021

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve

I wear my heart on my sleeve. I don't have a poker face, can't play those games.

My feelings are often stronger than my self-control. I'm lucky I can hold my tongue, mostly, but I blush and I cry and I laugh out loud. I occasionally blurt out a four-letter-word, but I also have been heard yelling: "Four-Letter-Word!" It's rarely a problem. 

I wish some people would be nicer, or would at least hold their tongues, and refrain from plastering negativity on stickers on their cars, on social media, or on their shirts. 

There are kind and supportive messages to be found. I recently did a little "window shopping" at Torrid (a plus size clothing store that I like), you know, where you just click around and add things to the shopping cart that you wish you could buy, but can't, or wouldn't? There were lots of nice t-shirts and sweatshirts with really fun stuff on them. I would wear this one, that says EVERY BODY IS BEAUTIFUL.

There was another one that I really wanted. It said PSST! YOU'RE DOING GREAT! 

It's coming on Christmas, so one of the seasonal tops said ALL MAMA NEEDS IS A SILENT NIGHT.

I'm happy to see that we can share our love and support for each other with our clothing, wearing our hearts on our sleeves, or chests, I guess.

These shirts reminded me of those kiosks in the malls that sell t-shirts with sports or band themes and pictures of skeletons and poop. I try to avoid them. When I was young, they had nicer kiosks where they would put your name on the back while you walked around window shopping (the kind where you're actually going into the store, but not putting anything in a cart. "No, thanks. I'm just looking."). I think they used the Cooper Black font. I remember lots of yellow smiley faces and Have a Nice Day. But, that might be my weird selective memory (another subject for another time). 

Monday 22 November 2021

Good Attitude Extends Life

Research shows that Positive Thinking prevents heart attacks. A good attitude extends your life. And, if you're not an old Pollyanna like me, you can turn things around; you don't have to be born this way. You can become a happier, more positive person by building relationships, expressing gratitude, practicing kindness, dropping grudges, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep, according to The Greater Good Science Center*. 

    “Happiness takes work,” as Lyubomirsky says in a Greater Good video. “The good news is that the activities that foster happiness and well-being can become habitual over time, and so once they become habitual, the effort decreases.”

There is a lot of advice for increasing happiness on the internet, not just here on my blog. Here's what Cleveland Heart Lab** says:

Negative thinking is often just a bad habit that you can change. Here are some ways to develop a sunnier outlook:

Practice gratitude.
Counting your blessings helps you have more positive thoughts. Some people keep a notebook and jot down the things they are grateful for. Others say thanks to others as they go about their daily lives.

Hang out with positive people.
Optimism rubs off. Being around optimists can help you think like they do.

Review what went right at the end of the day.
What did you enjoy? What made you feel appreciated? This practice can help you have positive thoughts before you sleep, which affects your first thoughts in the morning.

Turn off the news.
The current climate of politics can make it hard to be optimistic. Being informed is important, but try to limit the amount of time you spend getting news.

Just smile.
It can change your mood and also helps you connect with others. Plus, smiling can lower your blood pressure and stress hormones, which are also good for your heart.

Learning to think like an optimist takes practice. But it’s well worth it for your heart and well-being!

Here's a short list (with links) of some of the numerous posts and articles on this subject.  

Monday 15 November 2021

The Glad Game - Today’s Version

Today's version of Pollyanna's Glad Game is an Attitude of Gratitude.

In any negative situation, if you look hard enough, you can find something to be glad about. Pollyanna was taught this coping strategy by her father before he died. They called it the Glad Game. 

This Psychology Today article* from 2019 looks at research on gratitude's effects on wellbeing. Keeping a gratitude journal, or writing a daily list of things that you're thankful for, or performing some kind of regular gratitude exercise, has been shown to improve mental and physical health. The author suggests that Pollyanna is misunderstood, that this kind of positivity is very healthy and should not be seen as unrealistic or negative. Yes! I'm happy I found someone who so clearly agrees with me.

Here's a quote from that article:

    See if you can find something to be glad about and grateful for in every situation, no matter how bad things seem, and if someone dares to call you a Pollyanna, smile and say thank you.

I do see how going too far with this can become toxic positivity. If you don't give space for other people to feel their negativity, and insist that they find a good side to their terrible circumstances, then you might be called names, and, Pollyanna wouldn't be the worst of them. We always want to be gentle with people who are suffering. 

Make this practice about you, about your own way of processing things that happen, to you or to others. 

*The Real Story of Pollyanna and Her Secret Happiness Game
 by Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. 
June 30, 2019