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Mid-Life: Sleep is like Sex – You Have to Make it a Priority

sleeping lady

 

Sleep.

It has become a very, sexy, and alluring idea.

Admittedly, I have become too busy to fall asleep with ease. I don’t find slumber as easily as I find the perfect shade for my first pedicure of autumn or the words to change a dull passage to something memorable. Usually it’s exhaustion or mother’s little helper that guides me to sleep these days.

I’m a lover of life.  A funeral director convinced that the only way to live life is to L I V E it. Full strength, embracing everything I love with abandon, and enthusiasm. My to-do piles are a little overwhelming though, and yesterday, as I pushed my chair away from my keyboard and succumbed to the warm, sunlit cushions on my couch, a strange new reality came over me.

I take on too much. What?!

I have two desks. One filled with research for novels. One I use as command central for household concerns, travel itineraries, family gathering menus and activity planning (yes, I’m very Type A, don’t judge me). I have Christmas gift making headquarters set up in the basement next to the shelves of preserves that I fussed with all summer long. My bed is upstairs, unmade, with a pile of books, ear plugs, sleep masks, and lavender linen spray beside it.  Somethin’s gotta give.

Sleep has fallen somewhere behind my piles of fabric for homemade Christmas gifts, the books piled up for ‘research’ (and count toward my 2019 reading goal which I’ve increased by 50%), the last edit of novel number two, and the outline of novel number three. Although sleep may definitely be hiding behind the piles of jars that I have filled and have yet to fill with delights of the harvest. It could also be somewhere in the pages of itineraries for the last few trips of 2019, wedged between schedules to obtain hard-to-get dinner reservations in NYC, the best cenotes near Tulum and autumn pumpkin festivals in the Ottawa valley.

Yesterday before my weekly weigh in I drank two glasses of wine and ate trail mix topped with cool whip. What can I say, I was feeling overwhelmed. How could I not question my priorities in that moment of sweet, crunchy, wine soaked loveliness? I haven’t lost a pound in 6 months. Thanks Sonoma Valley, with a special mention to anxiety. Thank you very much.

This weekend was a rare weekend at home. Even more rare, I was able to sleep in, undisturbed two mornings in a row. I awoke refreshed and relaxed with no real agenda. It was like old times.

After soothing my scale time with a healthy dinner and one more glass of wine, I came home, packed up my editing, sorted through a pile of books to be read on my upcoming getaways, meal prepped and climbed back on the couch with re-runs of 90’s sitcoms and did some critical thinking about what to do next – how on earth to accomplish everything I had set out to do.  Not the least of which is reporting to meeting number two with my writing accountability group next Tuesday after working what we fondly refer to in the business as, “Hell Weekend”.  I have half of a damn novel to edit between now and then. Gulp…

By 8:30pm I was in the bath, covered to the chin with bubbles, sipping herbal tea, and letting my body feel tired.  I slipped my freshly washed body between the  sheets, and read until my eyes felt tired. I slept. For hours and hours uninterrupted. And I woke feeling refreshed – on a work day no less!

A year ago my immune system took a holiday, and I was sick for months. For two months I was barely able to function.  This year after rounds of tests, I was asked; are you under any stress, has your sleep been disrupted? Of course the answer was yes and yes.  I have lost a significant amount of vision due to stress and lack of sleep, and goodness only knows if it’s coming back without some kind of alien probe into my eyeball. My body is screaming for rest.

As I snuggled under the covers in the peace and quiet of morning, I reflected on how much I put on my own plate to do. It’s all good stuff, but the reality is, I only have so much time to do it in, and the time I spend relaxing is just as important as the time I spend rushing through everything.

My hobbies are too joyful to rush through. Sleep allows me to slow down, savour every moment and bring my best to each interaction, whether it’s with colleagues, family, or the characters in my book.

Sleep, much like sex at this age is something that we can often let slide down the list of priorities. After a weekend of getting some (sleep)  I’m going to make it a priority again.

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Purple Jumpers & CreepyMen – A Writer’s Inspiration for Laughter & Character Development

make a girl laugh

Reality, as it occurs, has left me confused about whether I’m always surprised, or never surprised by people.

As a writer, people-watching is something that I consider research. How I will use the woman in the sparkly,-velour-grape-purple-jumpsuit with the fanny pack who took each and every article out of her cart in the Cosco parking lot while traffic jammed behind her, has yet to be determined.

I do know where I’ll use the selfish, immature beaut who thinks the world revolves around them. As do I know where to use the classically, sexually-repressed, straight-laced perv. White trash and neurotics are always a great supporting cast to people who obliviously flaunt their own style.

This week I’ve been cornered by two over-sharers. Both male. Both blissfully thinking that their fascination with the minutiae of their immediate environment is worthy of highjacking the attention of a complete stranger. Both the sort of fellows that made me want to hold my breath to stave off breathing in what I thought for certain would be a thick, musty, I-wash-my-clothes-every-three-weeks scent. Creepy men.  Both classic characters whom I’m quite happy with leaving on the page and never having to encounter in real life.

I take in the world around me, and find myself laughing at most things that render others gobsmacked.  My go-to response is laughter and often times, curiosity. What on earth makes these people tick? How can we all be so different when it comes to how we normalize the treatment of others?

WTF is a regular thought that goes through my head with each and every interaction with most people. Followed by laughter. After all, most things are fixable. For everything else, there’s gin.

As I get back into my writing routine for fall, I hope to maintain my own playful response to the madness around me. I challenge you to do the same.

 

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In the Kitchen With Granny

Today I woke up and took a good look in the mirror; Fingers padding lightly across my skin, as I lean in to really see myself. I look into my tired blue eyes and know that I look like both of my grandmothers.  I have the round, kind face of my Granny Dorothy, and the body of my Granny Eileen. It’ll just have to do.

The two of them were as different as night and day. Granny Dorothy was an educated woman who married late in life to a sour, strict, everyone’s-going-to-burn-in-hell-baptist.  Her wits and grit kept the bills paid, and her sense of humour kept her alive. Had she been born today, she likely never would have married. She would have worked her way around the world. Alas, the 1930’s had other plans for her.

Granny Eileen on the other hand, was on husband number three when I came along. She’d raised six kids on her own. She was a resourceful woman with a heart of gold who didn’t take a lick of shit from anyone, especially her husband.

Both of these women taught me to make something from nothing.  Whether it was in the kitchen, or out in the world at large. They taught me how a woman could be both strong and kind.

Every year, I keep them close as I plant my garden, and every harvest season, as I take to the kitchen. These rituals keep me close to them. I’m a sentimental traditionalist when it comes to my kitchen. During the summer, I find myself preserving the same things with the same recipes that they did all those years ago.  I throw in a few more odds and ends, just because I find comfort in the routine of being in the kitchen during harvest season.

This morning I slipped on a jersey knit dress that put me in mind of Granny Dorothy. She knew what she was doing with those old house dresses. Simple, tidy, and most importantly when you’re preserving; cool. I listened to interviews with authors as I sterilized jars, peeled and chopped fruit, remembering how my Granny Eileen’s gnarled up hands seemed to be able to create anything.

During the summer months, I yearn for the slow, simple days of childhood summers. I recall the flavour of each stage of the harvest; radish, carrots, and beans snapped straight from the plant and tossed directly into our mouths.  No garden was immune to kids raiding it for a snack. We sucked on sour rhubarb stalks, and cringed at the bitterness of currents. We raided the ditches and gullies, picking raspberries and blackberries when we were lucky enough to find them. Each ripening carried back to the kitchens of our grannies where it was made into something wonderful.

 

Except pastry. I learned how not to make pastry from both of my Grandmothers. Kind of like how not to choose a mate. As it turns out, Granny Eileen  insisted that if I followed the recipe on the box of Tenderflake, my pastry would be just fine. She also lied. Years later my aunt laughted at me so hard tears streamed down her face; Granny used pre-made pastry and was full of shit. Granny Dorothy on the other hand was honest with me but produced pastry with a texture so fearsome that the dog wouldn’t even eat it.  From this I learned that sometimes we don’t always get what we need from family. Sometimes we have to reach out to become wiser and better.

 

The quiet stretches in my kitchen necessary for the process of preserving and canning gives me time to commune with the spirit of these two women. They are with me here in the steam and heat, and smell of cooked fruit. They are with me when I take a jar of something I preserved from the pantry and serve it to my family and friends. My grannies are always with me at my table.

 

 

 

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When to Retreat

This is itSpiritual care retreats aren’t for everyone. The longer I go between breaks, the more I wonder if they’re for me, if I’ve got anything left in me to nurture and to bring to the world other than a curmudgeonly attitude requisite for being a veteran mortician.

Today, I plowed my way through the two-lane-traffic-corridor from hell that takes you out of the GTA and to Kingston. It’s an exercise in patience and dreaming of creative ways to free our highways of transport trucks and drivers who do not obey the left-lane-is-for-passing rule.

I muttered through traffic, rolled my eyes at the lack of parking signage at the retreat location, and cursed the universe in general for having the rain start just as I was wrestling my basket of yoga mat, meditation cushion and blanket for deep relaxation out of my trunk.  I have under-packed for retreats before, and I was determined that based on the wet forecast, this was not going to be one of those soggy times. I looked like a 44 year old-yoga-pant-and-pink-sweater-wearing-mule trying to get all three bags  inside on one trip.

I was appalled at the woman who let me struggle with the door to the registration lounge without helping me, and the lack of smile on the face of the registrar. This is not Buddhism! Buddhism smiles for crying out loud! I could not get to my little room fast enough so I could dump my suitcase, prep for the mediation hall and ensure my precious bottle of South Australian plonk was safely stored next to the second draft of my novel.

This is how I entered my retreat space; frustrated, exhausted, and ready to give the world not a single, but a double salute using my middle fingers.

And then I entered the retreat space. I hastily set out my mat and cushion in the middle of the room and plopped myself down to breathe. Ha! To breathe…think about that one. Just taking a single, deep, focussed breath can do so much. For a veteran with this particular group, my entrance was anything but mindful. I did not bow. I did not do all of the small, but mindful ritual requirements of coming into such a sacred space. That was my first wake-up call. I needed to be exactly where I was.

I changed course, focussed on the minutiae of what I was doing, and in doing so,  I found myself at home. In observing my breath, the bell, the noble silence at the dinner hour, nourished by lip-smacking vegetarian food, in the dharma group listening, and finally back in my room (with a glass of contraband wine), alone with my thoughts.

Again I am reminded how precious these times are. I’m reminded how they crystallize my intentions, and help me manifest the kind of person I try to be.

I raise a glass to that…after all, nobody is perfect!

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February is For Love Stories – Not Just Fairytales

Aggie the cat was stretched out on the roof, just past the glass of the window that was tipped open to allow her coming and going. Taped to the glass was the vintage orange, cover of Tennessee Williams’, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. You would have had to be a complete idiot to have missed the pun.

It was tucked up in the reading room of Shakespeare and Company that I read, in its’ entirety, Neil Gaiman’s, Art Matters. Amongst all of the old, hard cover, well-bound books that had possibly been in the hands of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway or even Gertrude Stein, I soaked up the love of storytelling written by one of our contemporary masters.

 

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Valentine’s day is the one day a year that we set aside to tell our love stories. There are very few of us who have lifetime love stories to tell, about meeting, marrying, raising children, and living into our twilight years hand in hand with our soul mate.  But this isn’t the only love story. Love does not follow a script. It follows the heart, and hopefully, if you are lucky enough, you have, by mid-life ,a small collection of stories that continue to inspire you.

Spending time in Paris, tucked up on the old daybeds of Shakespeare and Company will always be one of those stories. The syncronicity of how I met my late, angel-to-artists friend Nick Beat is another.

Stories are the thread that binds the fabric of our collective experience. Sharing them should be treated as a sacred honour, worthy of our full attention. Worthy of dedicated time to gather and share.

February is mostly past. Valentine’s day is over. Our love stories involve more than romance and fairy tales. Don’t forget that. Celebrate all of those things that make you vibrant; tell your stories.

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Wonder: As a Verb

wonderEven if it’s just holding space while you let yourself remember what it feels like to actively wonder, I hope this post is a gift to you…to reignite your sense of wonder.

The first time I went to Paris, I spent an entire afternoon, from lunch time to the beginning of the dinner rush, sitting at a cafe table at Les Deux Magots in wonder.

 

wonder.won·der
/ˈwəndər/Submit
noun
1.
a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
“he had stood in front of it, observing the intricacy of the ironwork with the wonder of a child”
synonyms: awe, admiration, wonderment, fascination

I marvelled at St. Germain Church across the street, and the way that the french could grow such perfect red geraniums in those iron window enclosures.  How did they water them? Dead head them?

My intention that day was to treat myself to a piece of cake and a cup of coffee and do a little bit of writing like Hemingway and the great writers of the last century.  There were so many things to see from that little cafe chair though! I felt like I needed to stay, to observe, to figure out how the French made everything so, well, French. After the cake I ordered an entree. The waiter, in his black clothes and calf length crisp, white apron, was not impressed. It just made the entire experience that much more enjoyable for me. For kicks, I had him pose for a picture with me…and then I ordered an hors d’heurve and a glass of wine. The second shift of waiters came on, and the new waiter was lovely. He took great joy from my own, and we had a few laughs at the expense of my mediocre, but very enthusiastic french vocabulary.

That afternoon, and many others while I was in my 20’s, I wondered.

won·der
/ˈwəndər/Submitverb
1.
desire or be curious to know something.
“how many times have I written that, I wonder?”
synonyms: ponder, think about, meditate on, reflect on, muse on, puzzle over, speculate about, conjecture; be curious about
“I wondered what was on her mind”

I love that we have a  verb in the English language such as wonder.  Speculate, think, conjecture, disbelieve, inquire, meditate, puzzle, query, question; all synonyms, and yet none have the positive connotation of wonder.

To wonder is to stay young at heart. It does not judge like disbelieve, query or question. It is not out to unveil deliberately hidden truths like inquire or disbelieve.

Wonder is innocent. It is about wonder as a noun carrying over into developing an understanding of; no judgement or tinkering. Just wonder.

This year I hope to exercise my wonder. I think there is a dangerous den to be avoided at mid-life and in old age that looks comfortable, warm and safe. It has a radius of what is familiar.  I’m not attracted to that den at all, or the people in it.

This year I am wondering about;

img_0143-1.jpgFun, new, wine reviewers. For years I followed Billy’s Best Bottles, bought the annual book that reviewed primarily LCBO wines, and sought out the bottles that were highly recommended. Especially the bargain wines. I wondered at his knowledge and the way he incorporated fun and wonder into his work.  I admired him for it. It inspired me. I am loyal if nothing else, and I still follow Billy, and I want to add something new as well.

Writing meet-ups, new restaurants, travel destinations, new friends of every age, these are all things that I will actively wonder about in 2019.

Most of all I’m wondering about what I don’t already wonder about. Those are the things that will be the most important for all of us.  Those are the things that will keep us young at heart.

 

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The Longest Night: How To

First of all, let go of all expectations.

The theme is the Longest Night: Finding Light in the Darkness, and is always, always, always held on the eve of winter solstice (December 21).

1)Send out invitations however you like – I use social media and the occasional email.

Given the theme, invite friends whom you feel you can be spiritually naked with.  The more the merrier, or not. It’s up to you. Personally I love having an eclectic group of friends who are intelligent and kind.

2)Each person is encouraged to bring a piece of writing, poetry, artwork, music or visual art to share with the group.  Have them bring copies to give out if they can.

3) Pot-freaking-luck – this not only takes the pressure off of the host, but it offers everyone a chance to bring a special dish that honours the spirit of the evening. Sharing food is an intimate act of friendship.

4)Offer a place to sleep should anyone be enjoying a few beverages or, if you’re in Canada, cannabis.

5)Offer all of the seating you can; couches, chairs, cushions, stools. Basically, form a cozy circle where people can relax.

6) Draw numbers to see who shares first, second and so forth.

7)Begin the evening with a toast, or reading appropriate to the theme. Light a candle as a symbol of the season of mystery and hope.  The joy of the evening is to share, discuss and share some more, taking everything at a leisurely pace.

8)Enjoy one another’s company.