Friday, 29 April 2016

Slow Living & Feelin' Groovy

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy.
~Simon & Garfunkel

In recent years, I have become interested in the slow living lifestyle trend. Slow living is a natural product of the changes I was making already with embracing minimalism and mindfulness. My son's autism diagnosis was helpful in eliminating any competitive feelings I may have had about parenting (and life). It also forced me to slow down for my son's well being as well as for my own. We both need time to regroup and to just be. A lot of this "being" is accomplished by simply clearing schedules and having time to connect with each other at home. This doesn't mean that we don't accomplish anything, in fact, I feel that I am more productive now than I have ever been (and I am an extreme goal setter by nature). 

Slow living is exactly as it sounds, slowing down, focusing on what is important to you, and letting go of the idea that you need to do everything. It is learning when to say, "no" and when to say, "yes." Feeling overwhelmed, disconnected, and the realization that more isn't necessarily better, are all signs that slow living might be for you. There is a misconception in the modern world that being busy is a badge of honour, although many of the most successful and creative people have learned that slowing down increases productivity and creative output. 

If this sounds like something that might interest you, the first thing to do is to analyze your days and be brave enough to make necessary changes. At the end of the day, reflect on what brought you the most joy. Take a moment to be grateful. Do this every day, and try to increase your joy bringing activities. It must be noted that a lot of joy inducing activities are work, slow living is not the avoidance of work. People are happiest when they are learning and growing. The idea is to prune your activities down to those that will bring the most meaning to your life. There seems to be a tendency to over schedule, especially with children. I have been a private music teacher for half my life, and have witnessed repeatedly the difference between an over scheduled child and a child that has more time for free play. The latter is a more successful student in most cases, not to mention a happier child.

Another important step to slow living is to let go of competition and stop comparing yourself to others. The only healthy competition is with yourself, trying to improve and be better than you were yesterday. When we are competitive with others, we are missing so many elements of the big picture. There is no way of knowing someone else's personal struggles or day to day details of their lives, so it seems an exercise in futility to be constantly comparing. Comparing to others is a recipe for unhappiness. We tend to compare our weaknesses to someone else's strengths, this leads to discouragement. If you can truly let go of comparison and competition with those in your life, an amazing thing happens, you embrace and support one another, a sense of community and friendship emerges, and you truly feel happy for the success of others. 

An easy way to slow down and enjoy life is to increase mindfulness. There are many ways to do this, meditation, or ensuring that you have time for free thought (I do this during my outdoor walks). The most simple approach, however, is to "stop and smell the roses." Take pause multiple times a day. Notice the beauty of nature, a sunset, the buds on the trees in early spring, the smell of the air after a rain shower, the feeling of a gentle breeze, the sound of the birds chirping. Look into a child's eyes, really listen and connect. Observe the good in people, make note of all the small kindnesses people do for each other, opening a door, smiling, saying hello. Put away distractions (computers, smart phones) when you are with loved ones so that you can be truly present. Take care when preparing your food, enjoy the look/smell/taste of what you are eating. Eat slower. Find a way to enjoy the mundane. Enjoy the warm water to wash your dishes, the feeling of having a clean bathroom, the landscape you observe on your commute. Feel grateful for the beauty that is all around and take the time to enjoy it. 

Life is pretty groovy. Rejoice in the imperfections of mortality (this is where humour is helpful), slow down, delight in your experiences. I promise that it is worth it. 

Friday, 22 April 2016

5 Lessons I Learned from Kimmy Schmidt (no spoilers)

A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything. 
Irish Proverb

If what you are searching for is sleep, stay far away from my house. I have a 5 year old who has been waking up at 4 am and refusing to go back to sleep. We are zombies.

If you need a good laugh, I recommend watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. Ellie Kemper is delightful as an optimistic redhead who has endured more than most (reminds me of my other loves, Anne of Green Gables and Annie). In Kimmy's case, she has suffered being kidnapped and held hostage underground (literally) as part of a doomsday cult for 15 years. Somehow, creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are able to form this dark storyline into one of the sweetest and most hilarious sitcoms I have ever seen. The supporting cast is amazing, I am especially in love with Titus Andromedon, easily one of my favourite characters ever!

Kimmy Schmidt is refreshing, positive, hilarious, naive, selfless, and kind. All she has is a good attitude, an eighth grade education, and gumption to help her navigate life in New York City. Her adventures are endlessly entertaining and I find myself learning something each episode.

5 Lessons I Learned From Kimmy Schmidt

5. Take life 10 seconds at a time. As someone who is prone to feeling overwhelmed, I think this is wonderful advice. To quote Kimmy, "I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds, then you just start on a new 10 seconds. All you've got to do is take it 10 seconds at a time."

4. Don't let your past define you. Everyone has a past, and everyone has experiences in their past that they don't care for. Perhaps you have been a victim of abuse (in whatever form), part of a cult (you would be surprised), made mistakes (this is everyone). Obviously, these experiences do not determine your behaviour and identity today... unless you let them.

3. Even though your past doesn't define you, you need to make peace with it. Season 2 of Unbreakable has Kimmy dealing with her very real PTSD and her unhealthy relationship with her mother. Kimmy has a breakthrough with her drunk therapist and realizes that she needs to work through her issues and face them in order to move forward with her life.

2. "Happy people value their needs as much as otherses."- Drunk Therapist
Kimmy is a selfless giving person, but her own life and well being were suffering as she continued to put everyone else's needs ahead of her own. Such an important lesson for us all, especially those of us who find ourselves in caretaker roles. Burn out is real.

1. There is humour and hope in all things. Kimmy Schmidt is sounding pretty heavy right? Nope. It is the most hilarious show with a joke a second. Kimmy is charmingly strange (my absolute favourite type of person). The characters grow and learn as they live their stories, especially in the second season.

P.S. Official Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt liked my mug on instagram. Nerd Alert! #hashbrownnofilter 

Friday, 15 April 2016

How to go on a date with yourself.

"Superman and Batman, more like Pooperman and Batfart."

A few days ago, I made this joke and it was met with uproarious laughter. This made me realize two things. One, I am hilarious. Two, I needed to get out. 


1. If you have kids, arrange child care. Children are many things, convenient is not one. Luckily, Husband and I are happy to give each other breaks whenever needed. 

2. Make a plan. My plan yesterday was to go to a movie. Pretty simple. Other dates I have had with myself are; a Rufus Wainwright concert (this required more planning), many trips to coffee shops, recreational shopping (Chapters is good for this), long nature walks, a trip to the spa for a haircut. Whatever fills your bucket is a good choice. 

3. Do not plan other errands around your date. This is important! It is so tempting add a trip to the bank/grocery store/drug store/whatever, but if you do, you have turned your date with yourself into a chore. We all do enough chores. 

4. Make yourself pretty. Brush your teeth, brush your hair, put on makeup, paint your nails, pluck your nose hair, put on deodorant, whatever makes you feel great! Take some selfies for proof that you freshened up.

 Check me out with my lip gloss and freshly brushed hair! Is it better to look at the camera or to look at yourself on the screen? I feel like I look slightly mad (all the best people are) either way. Really, I'm just thrilled to have my face back after weeks of looking like a swollen tomato, a tooth abscess with an allergic reaction to antibiotics is not a fun time. 

My sister has a wonderful tutorial for taking selfies. I may be older, but she teaches me so much. Check it out here.

5. Wear the comfiest clothes possible. I have a personal motto (stollen from my wise cousin) that everything I wear must be cute AND comfy. Since all of my clothes feel like pajamas, dressing for my date was pretty easy. I had some fun at Polyvore putting together date outfit ideas for when you only want to date yourself.
This is my everyday uniform. Dress, tights or leggings (unless summer), cardigans, scarves... I do not have these cat shoes though. I feel like I might need to get them.

Husband actually owns and wears everything pictured here. Cute and comfy, this describes both him and his clothing choices.

6. Eat something yummy. Food is very important to me. A date by yourself is the perfect time for an overpriced coffee or pastry! If you fancy popcorn, frozen yogurt, nachos, or a hot dog, this is your moment. If you want to order a large popcorn with the intention of sharing it with your children and then eat slightly more than you had planned, go for it!

7. Get Over Yourself (the most important item). No one cares about what you are doing. I am sorry if you thought they did care, and you are saddened by this news. Go to a movie/restaurant/concert/museum by yourself, and you will notice other people there by themselves. You will also notice that no one pays attention to anything beyond their own nose most of the time. 

Enjoying your own company is an important life skill and there are many benefits. For example, when you go to a movie by yourself, you do not have to agree with anyone on which film to see. Last night, I saw "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," which I enjoyed very much, although I realize that it probably isn't a movie for everyone. I recommend it to those who loved part 1 and who have a high tolerance for cheesiness. I may have cried twice.
The theatre was packed. 

The last movie I attended independently before last night was "Deadpool." I loved it. "Deadpool." By myself. On Valentine's Day. I am obviously very confident on my solo dates. With a little practice, you can be too!

Happy dating to all you gorgeous people!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Today I Called Sweden

Do something everyday that scares you. Most days I do this. It's a recipe for growth. Today, I called Sweden.

"Calling Sweden. You will soon be connected to a random Swede."

Within seconds of hearing this recorded message, I was chatting with a lovely girl named Amanda, who lives in Roma, Sweden. We have never met before, but we had an enjoyable 15 minute conversation discussing weather, life, and food differences and similarities between Canada and Sweden.

You can do it too, just call 46-771-793-336. I learned about this fun tourism promotion through a New York Times Article, and decided to go ahead and call before I lost my nerve.

I told Amanda that I would be in the UK shortly and would love to find a way to visit Sweden as part of my adventure. She recommended that I enjoy the natural beauty of the countryside, the mountains, the beaches, and smaller communities. That I eat pancakes, both sweet and potato. She asked me if Canada had a lot of scary bears. Is this something that comes to mind when thinking of Canada? Terrifying animals? I actually am extremely frightened of bears, and have come in contact with them a few times when camping in the rocky mountains. I told Amanda that when camping, we would hang our food or anything with scent high up in a tree to keep the bears away from our tents, and I think she is even more scared of bears now. Amanda told me that she did not start school until age 6, which is a preschool type program, with formal school beginning at age 7! I decided it best not to share my misgivings with the Ontario/North American way of beginning structured full day education earlier and earlier. Why our western culture seems obsessed with shortening childhood I will never understand. Amanda learned English in school, and I was extremely impressed with her proficiency! Amanda will be visiting Ikea tomorrow with her mother (what are the chances)! She said that Yes, Swedes do love Ikea. I told her that I love Ikea as well. I did not tell her that I have a dream of running away to a Scandinavian country and living a simpler life among my people, the pale socialists.

Isn't it fascinating, to make a connection with a stranger on the other side of the world, with no ulterior motive, on a whim? Thank you Amanda, from Sweden, for picking up your phone and taking the time to talk to a tired Mama with a toothache in Canada. It brought a little unexpected magic into my day.

Call Sweden. I dare you!

Just check the time difference first.

Photo used with permission from the Image Bank of Sweden.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

5 Ways to Celebrate Autism

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. In general, I think this is a great thing, although I fail to see how "lighting up the world blue" is really helpful for autism education, and don't even get me started on the problematic use of a puzzle piece as a symbol for autism, or the deeply flawed charity Autism Speaks (if you don't know about the issues with Autism Speaks, I urge you to educate yourself and read about them here - there are many helpful links on this page).

What the world really needs is Autism Acceptance. I look forward to a day when a teenager with Autism getting a job as a Starbucks barista is an everyday occurrence and does not warrant a special segment on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I love someone with Autism, and my life is richer for it. Statistically, you either have Autism or know someone with Autism.

Here are some ways to celebrate Autism Awareness Day and Month.

1. Be a friend. I recently read something that said, "if you don't know how to treat someone with Autism, treat them as their siblings do." My boys are brothers, friends, enemies, and playmates, as siblings should be. Autism doesn't impact their relationships and there is complete acceptance between them for all their differences and similarities.

2. Realize that everyone with Autism is different. It's nice that you know someone with Autism, but realize that Autism is a spectrum, and every person on that spectrum is very different. If you've met one person with Autism, you've met one person with Autism. Some Autistic people are extremely verbal, some are non verbal, some use augmented communication devices, some need extra supports, some can live independently, some cannot, some are sensory avoiders, some are sensory seekers... the list goes on and on.

3. Don't read or believe disproven information. Please check your sources! Autism is a neurological difference, not something to be cured. We all process information differently, and we can all learn to make our differences work for us in the world. If everyone is more aware, accommodating, and patient of differences in general, this makes the world better for us all!

4. Read books and blogs written by Autistic people! You will learn so much. One thing I have learned is that many people dislike "person first" language as it separates Autism from who they are as a person. Educate yourself, don't expect others to do this for you. I always think of, "nothing about us, without us." Reading too many books written by Autism parents or medical professionals can be damaging. These resources are not going to give you the entire picture, you will be missing out on the most important view point.

5. Talk about Autism! It is amazing. This morning I was chatting to Mr. K about his Autism, we talk about it all the time. When I asked him, "What do you think about Autism? Do you have Autism?" he had the biggest smile and gave me a high-five, because it's that awesome!