Great Escape – we need a team! (#15: Go to an escape room)

escapologyA couple weeks ago, I went to Escapology, a wonderful escape room in London.  I went with my partner, in an attempt to try something we would have to do as a team.  Don’t get me wrong, we have to work as a team all the time.  Any relationship of 20 years, building a family and raising two kids who are awesome but who can, at times, make us question our sanity, requires teamwork.  But we have struggled a lot lately with communicating what we need and what we want.  I think most relationships go through that.

The escape room was really fun.  We opted for the “Budapest Express” room.  The premise is that someone has died on the train and our job was to determine who the murderer was while solving puzzles and collecting clues.  We had one hour to get the clues, solve the crime and get out of the room.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time.  We were so close, but could not get to that last clue which would lead us out of the room.

On reflection, however, I learned a lot from this experience, even if we didn’t escape.  There is no way I could have done this on my own.  We had to work together, using our strengths and relying on one another to fill in the gaps when our knowledge and understanding fell short.  I missed things she found, and she missed things I found.

Those who know me well know that I have a bad habit of not asking for help.  I want to do everything on my own.  Not only that, I believe I can do everything on my own.  And to make matters worse, I really hate failure.  Not in others.  I celebrate First Attempts In Learning in my students and my staff and in my family members and friends.  But for me, to even consider the emotional turmoil I know I will feel if I don’t do things perfectly is terrifying.  I am working on this. This kind of perfectionism has robbed me of joy, and has kept me from having some amazing experiences.  ask for helpA year ago I would never admit to anyone that I need help.  Today, however, because I have a team of wonderful people who love and respect me enough to call me on my BS, I am beginning to be brave enough to ask for help when I need it.  And once in a while, I can even ask for help, even when I don’t believe I need it.

The escape room is like our lives.  We are there.  We are in it.  We have a task, a purpose.  And we only have a limited amount of time to do what we are meant to do. To do it alone is not only hard, it isn’t possible. We can certainly try.  And we will fail.  We will fail and we will miss stuff, and we will lose the joy that comes from doing life together.  I have a friend who has encouraged me to build a team, a small group of trusted people with whom I can share my real self, failures and all, and who will continue to encourage me to show up, to try, to fail and then to pick myself up and try again.  These are the people who don’t let me give up.  These are the people who can see me – like REALLY see me – and who will not judge. These are the people who will tell me to check my black and white thinking, to stop trying to fix everything and instead to experience and feel.  These are the people who will call me out when I try to do life alone.

Who is on your team?  Who has given you the gift of being on their team? My team consists of my closest family, a few earnest friends, trusted colleagues, my wonderful therapist, my doctor and that’s about it.  Not too many.  But the ones who are there really matter.  They check in.  They let me fall on my face because they know I need to learn that I will be ok and I will get back up.  They don’t let me give up.  They don’t let me compare myself to others.  They do encourage me to see things differently.  Like in the escape room.  I can get stuck in one way of seeing something and occasionally need someone to challenge my way of thinking.

I am so grateful for having this team of trusted people who push me and support me, who hold space for me to work out my thinking and feeling and who, on occasion, just let me vent and process and reflect without any judgement.  We all need people like this in our lives.  We never have to walk through life alone.

Oil and Vinegar

The other day I was enjoying a salad at work (ok…I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I was tolerating it) with a balsamic dressing. Admittedly I was annoyed because I would have preferred ranch, but I am trying to watch what I eat a little more.  As I shook the dressing and watched the olive oil mix with the balsamic vinegar, herbs and spices, I began to truly understand something about human nature, about my nature, and I have been thinking about this ever since. Ah, oil and vinegar – two wonderful and contrasting flavours that both work together and oppose one another. Related image There is the vinegar, in my mind it is a strong balsamic vinegar – acidic and sour and biting.  There is the oil, which I imagine is a golden and delicious extra-virgin olive oil – thick and rich and healing.  Both are needed, and without both, we do not get to experience the fullness of flavour.  I can’t help thinking about how much we require both, and how much these two elements correspond to something big in my life.

Have you ever felt betrayed?  Have you ever been so hurt in a relationship that you can’t sleep properly, you don’t know how to forgive and move forward? Maybe you are angry with yourself, or God, or your spouse.  Maybe you are holding on to something that just happened, or to a harming that happened years ago.  This is the kind of hurt that crushes your soul, that makes you question your ability to make choices and feels like it will never stop.  I have been experiencing this kind of hurt lately, and while I may not like this truth, I am responsible – solely responsible – for the healing and forgiveness that must take place.  I want to experience the healing, but I am not too fond of having to feel all the hurt and pain and betrayal.  In other words, I want the oil without first pouring out all the vinegar.  Sure, I may let a little out here and there.  I may cry for a few minutes but how quickly I dry those tears and get back to the work of healing.  I don’t like the vinegar.  I don’t want to pour out all my pain.  I don’t want to burden anyone with it or hurt the one who hurt me.  I just want to move into the healing and richness of that beautiful oil.

But it doesn’t work like that.  Ever.  Real healing will never happen until we pour out all the acid, until we let go of all the emotion, until we allow ourselves to feel and taste the sting of betrayal.

broken heart love sad

It’s ok to do so. Not only ok – it’s absolutely necessary.  We need to open our heart wound, look inside, and let out all the emotion, all the words, all the primal screams, all the physical feelings that come with being hurt and sad – you know the ones…the lump in your throat, the tightness in your chest, the feeling like someone punched you in the gut.  Once we let it all out and we are sure there is no more, then, and only then, can we let that flavourful and rich healing ointment pour over us and begin that journey to forgiveness, trust and reconciliation and wholeness.

Being in the second half of my life means a lot of things, including eating more salads and recognizing that holding on to pain, and holding in my emotions does not serve me well.  This half of my life is all about keeping the tools that serve me, and letting go of all the things that don’t. It’s about both healing and feeling.

adult art artist artistic

Cozy, Comforting Spaces

When you consider your favourite place, how does it feel?  Is it comfortable?  Is it energizing?  Do you go there to recharge or to get introspective?  Is it a solitary place or is it filled with laughter and the love of others?  The spaces in which we live, work and play really can affect our mood, our outlook and even our physical and mental health.  How do we create an environment that nourishes our body and our mind?

Recently I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and its sequel Spark Joy.  Many of you will be familiar with these books as they are the inspiration for the Netflix series Tidying Up that everyone seems to be watching.

apartment architecture carpet chair

The premise is simple.  In tidying, one decides what items bring them joy, and anything else receives thanks for its usefulness but ultimately is moved along.  There is a very prescribed and precise method – the KonMari method, named after the author and series’ host Marie Kondo – for decluttering clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items and even sentimental ones.

After reading the books, I was inspired to declutter and to arrange what remained in a way that brings me joy.  But there is something about this method of decluttering that feels a little cold and impersonal.  Maybe that is the point.  However, when I consider what I want my space to feel like, cold and impersonal do not accurately describe it.  Yes, I know, the point is to keep only the things that bring you joy. But sometimes it isn’t the things that bring the joy, but the feeling you get when you enter a space.

Enter the notion of hygge (pronounced Hoo-Gah), that beautiful Danish concept of cropped-food-tank-winter-book-list-1.jpgcomfort, coziness, connection and warmth which I long for in my home and in my life.  After reading Kondo’s books, I enjoyed The Book of Hygge in audio book form.  This is exactly what I was looking for!  Ideas for creating that feeling of comfort in my home and in my office. Cozy blankets, games and puzzles that bring people together, candles, netflix on the couch, a steaming cup of hot chocolate after playing with the kids outside in the snow.  All of these bring comfort, draw us together and create that cozy sense of safety many of us crave, particularly in our high stress jobs and in a society that praises working ourselves to death while criticizing rest and down-time.

For me, the answer lies in a combination of both of these books’ ideas.  How do I create a comforting and restful home, complete with the things that bring warmth and togetherness into the space, while ridding myself of all that does not bring the joy and the feeling I am looking for in my space?  I am not entirely sure but I am working on it.  My spaces will, I hope, be a reflection of the peace, the warmth, the comfort and safety I long for in my life.  They will help me to nourish my body, my mind and my soul, so when the world around me turns chaotic – and it will – I can come home, wrapped in the feeling of safety and warmth I desperately need.

What do you want your living and working spaces to feel like?  Do you want them to inspire focus and accomplishments?  To reflect your sense of fun and whimsy?  Do you want a place to decompress or a space to get energized?  Whatever you are hoping to do, I would love to hear how you create the feeling you desire in your home, your office or anywhere you spend your time.

Sunrise, Sunset – Finding the Rhythms of Life (#41 and #42)

leafless tree on grass field

Every morning I drive the 45 minutes east from my home to the school where I am a Principal.  It is a beautiful drive along a quiet country road.  As the sun rises, the silhouette of the forest becomes darker, the pastures where cows lazily graze become brighter and the fields, white with snow or green with crops are illuminated once again.  It is the best part of having such a commute.  I love having the time to reflect, to consider how I want my day to go, and to mentally prepare for whatever is going to happen…after all, I am a high school principal – we need to be ready for anything.

I love sunrises, but I also am in awe of the beauty of a sunset.  I don’t know what it is about dusk that I find both beautiful and sad, but seeing the world glowing in the various colours of the sky and then going dark reminds me of the shortness of each day, and the relative short span of our lives.

Items #41 and #42 are to watch a sunrise and a sunset.  Specifically it was to do so with my spouse, which is easy to say, but not so easy to do when your spouse is NOT an early riser.  So, I did watch both the sunrise and the sunset in the same day, and at some point will do so with Nancee.  As I watched the sunrise, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of newness, of promise.  The world wakes up, and anything is possible.  The promise of a new day is that no matter what yesterday brought, today is a fresh start.  Maybe that is why I love the sunrise so much.  However, watching the sunset, that time I have often felt sad about the end of the day, I was hit with a huge feeling of hope.  The sunset marks the end of day.  It marks the letting go of whatever happened in that day.  How amazing is that?!  The world lets go of the events of the day.  And so can I.  No matter what has happened, I can set it down, let it go, and hold to the promise of new opportunities tomorrow.

Thinking about this rhythm of sunrise and sunset has led me to think about other rhythms of life.  Seasons change, and nature adapts.

snow covered pine trees

Animals and plants rest in winter, when they need to rest.  They awaken in spring and thrive in summer, having found a renewed energy.  We, too, frequently feel like we need to rest in winter.  Yet often we ignore the signals our bodies, we who are part of the natural world, are sending us.  We push through the times we should rest.  We don’t play when we need to play.  We work too hard.  We don’t feed ourselves lovingly.  Ignoring these patterns of life keeps us holding on to feelings of inadequacy and the need for perfection.  It keeps us tied to relationships that do not serve us well, and in some cases, relationships that actually harm us.  It keeps us doing work we do not love, instead of seeking work that is our calling, that gives us a sense of purpose in the world.

Instead, let’s consider how our lives might work if we were willing to let go – of the day’s events, of the expectations we have for ourselves and others, of the relationships we desperately keep trying to fix, of the job that drains us and does not feed us.  What would happen if we cared for our bodies the way the trees and animals do?  What if we rested when we were tired?  What if we fed ourselves to nourish ourselves?  What if we flourished and fought when we were ready and filled with the energy we needed?  And what if we stopped beating ourselves up for being human?

I have been reading a few books that appear contrary but I believe work well together.  The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up and The Book of Hygge are both about how we create the kind of home and environment we want to live in.  In my next post, I will share how I believe we need to create the kind of environment that allows us to live, rest, nourish ourselves, connect with others and find peace within ourselves.  I look forward to sharing that with you.

#OneWord2019

For the past three years, I have chosen not to make a New Year’s Resolution.  Not only does it feel inauthentic to declare huge changes on this particular day, and not only do I feel like a failure when, inevitably I fail, but I am also very aware that I am making huge life changes every single day.  This blog and my 45 things project has shown me that when I try something out of my comfort zone, I learn and grow and change, and these changes last.  They are not arbitrary.  They are intentional.

So, in 2017 I began the new year with a word.  The #oneword challenge is to choose a word that can inform how we choose to live, not what we will do.  My first word in 2017 was courage.  It reminded me to live bravely.  When faced with something I fear, I can feel the fear (courage is not fearlessness), and do the thing anyway.  In 2018 I chose the word be. I wanted to appreciate who I am in the world, and not just what I do in it.  That was tough, but I learned that who I am is enough.  I learned that I don’t always have to be the hero of the story.  Maybe I am the author.  And sometimes, maybe I am the reader.

For my #oneword2019 challenge, I am choosing the word fierce.  This very intentional word reminds me to show up, to live fiercely, to love fiercely, to give my all to the people I cherish, and most of all, to show myself the same fierce love, kindness, compassion and wholeheartedness I show to others.
fierce

2019 is going to be a great year.  I already know that.  I can feel it.  I have been courageous.  I have been present.  I am still intentional.  I have overcome challenges and been on the hero’s journey.  I am a warrior.  I am fierce.

What will your #oneword be?  I encourage you to take some time as 2018 closes, to reflect on your own journey.  Where has the year taken you?  Who has supported and edified you? What choices have you made to get you closer to where you want to be in your life?  And then consider where you are going?  How do you want to show up in the world?

Happy-New-Year-2019-Photos

I want to thank those who have walked with me on my journey in 2018.  May 2019 bring peace, prosperity and tremendous joy to you.  Happy New Year!

Putting the Pieces Together (#5 on the List)

puzzle on tableA year ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine, sharing with her that I felt like I needed to find myself, to seek out joy and wholeness and belonging.  I told her that I felt like my life was in chaos and nothing made any sense.  Her response to me was that I don’t need to find any of those things – that Joy and Wholeness and Belonging were already there.  The problem was that I could not see them.

As I have been enjoying some down-time, I have worked on item #5 – completing a 1000 piece puzzle.  Generally, I enjoy turning chaos into order…I love folding laundry as an example.  But I also lack patience.  I want to see the problem, find the solution, do the things I need to do and see the beauty of order.  So the challenge in this challenge was to have the patience to see it through.  It took a full week, working a little each day.  I nearly quit three times and got super excited when I could begin to see all the pieces coming together.

One of the happy consequences of spending time like this is that I can see the metaphor in the activity.  When I began the puzzle, the pieces looked like this…

box of puzzle pieces A scattered mess.  Pieces with different colours and patterns and functions.  Corners, edges, middle pieces.  This is sort of how I felt my life looked.  Just chaos.

Here is the beautiful thing, though.  As my friend pointed out, all the pieces are there.  The entire, perfect picture exists already.  I just can’t see it yet. My job is to take the time and all the pieces, and make order out of them.

So, for the past year, I have been working on trying to see the pieces of the puzzle of my life.  I have invested in myself, in my learning, in my personal development and growth.  I have read books, seen a therapist, created a team of connection.

(*trigger warning*)

Just like my experience with the puzzle, I have wanted to quit sometimes.  This is not something I find easy to talk about.  This is not something I am proud of but I also don’t think we should be silent about mental health.  Too often the shame we feel comes from a belief that there is something about ourselves that we should hide.  Over the past year I have had several deep dives into depression.  These are not just days of feeling sad.  I am talking about debilitating emotional pain, not wanting to get out of bed, feeling overwhelmed with life, caring about nothing, and on a few occasions, desperately not wanting to live.  There are a few people who know just how serious this became, and I am careful about how much detail I share.  But through medications, therapy, yoga and meditation, and understanding how my thoughts, feelings and beliefs are all connected, I have been able to change some of those thoughts that led me down that dark path.  And like the puzzle, I didn’t quit.  I kept going.unfinished puzzle

Even though I couldn’t see the big picture, I did the work and slowly was able to see the picture coming together.

Like putting the pieces of the puzzle together, sometimes I have had to make changes. Sometimes I thought a piece fit somewhere, because it felt right or it looked right, but as the picture became more clear, I could see that was the wrong piece to place in a particular part of the puzzle. and that I would have to wait to find out where it goes.  I think that is like my life.  I may have believed there were pieces that fit into my life in a particular way, but have learned that some of those pieces no longer fit the way I thought they did.

Ultimately, with time, with patience, with placing pieces one at a time, the full picture comes into view.  It is completely worth it.  I feel proud that I have had the patience to complete number 5 on my list – to complete a 1000 piece puzzle.  I am more proud that I had the patience and the strength and the wisdom to seek help when I needed it.

If you are struggling with putting the pieces of your beautiful life together, please talk to someone.  Talk to a friend, a counsellor, a doctor.  If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, get help today.  It will be worth the feeling of embarrassment you may initially feel.  Not sure who to call?  Reach out to REACH Out by phone at 519-433-2023 or 1-866-933-2023.  You can also contact them by text or chat. If you have a plan or you are concerned that you may act on your suicidal thoughts, call 911 or go to your nearest ER. Your life matters.

At the end of this year, I have completed my puzzle, and I am working on revealing the beauty of my life.  The puzzle looks like this…finished puzzle and how my life will look remains to be seen.  But I am sure going to enjoy the time and the slow reveal.

Goodbyes, Grief and New Love!

Spice was just a pup when she came into our lives ten years ago.  She was a ball of energy, always loving (except for that one time with the dog who tried to dominate her) and she lived each day with joy.  I loved getting up every morning at 5:00 to share some time drinking coffee (me, not her) and getting belly rubs (her, not me).

Last Sunday, December 2, Spice died.  She was fine, and then she wasn’t.  The vet is sure it was a brain tumour which caused her to have a massive seizure.  After rushing her to the emergency vet clinic, I was given the terrible news that there was nothing good that could be done and any intervention would only be prolonging her suffering.  So, I chose to say goodbye to my beautiful lab.  She died hearing the words, “Good girl.  We love you” while getting her belly rubbed…her favourite thing.  I have been very sad about losing her, but I have absolute peace knowing I did what I believe was best for her, that I never left her alone and I didn’t let her suffer.

Santa Spice

Spice

The rest of the week was tough.  It was too quiet at 5:00.  It was too lonely watching the news in the morning, and drinking coffee alone.  Walter, our young basset-beagle hound, had stopped eating, stopped playing, and was truly depressed.

On Tuesday, we received a call from Allison, the leader of a rescue organization (from which we adopted Walter) to ask if we were interested in meeting a new rescue they had.  He is the same breed as Walter and has a lovely temperament.  While I was reluctant, we agreed that a meeting on Saturday couldn’t hurt.  On Saturday we packed up Walter, and headed to Fergus to meet Winston.

Walter in a hat

Walter

Yes, we had already named him and were referring to him as Winston in our emails with Allison. When we met Winston, he was energetic and happy.  He and Walter spent some time getting to know one another.  We decided to bring him home to foster him…but here we are three days into our time with Winston and I sent in the adoption paperwork yesterday.  He has brought a joy back into our home.  He has lifted Walter’s spirits.  He gets up for coffee with me in the morning.  He plays.  He loves the kids.  He is becoming less afraid of the cat.

 

I will always miss Spice and the special love she gave.  But I know that she would not want us to keep our love away from another dog.  She would want us to share that love with another friend and give him a warm bed, food, couch snuggles, treats and a family to call his own. So…meet Winston…

Winston

Winston