Things Not To Do

Don’t walk home from work through Chinatown when you are ravenously hungry and have intense cravings for Asian cuisine and dreamt about street food in Thailand the night before when you are on a very tight budget.

And 13 weeks pregnant.

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My Sweet Escape

Two Sundays ago I sat sweltering in our living room unable to escape the 44 degree Celsius weather outside.  The husband and I considered driving to a lake nearby before we remembered that our car broke down the day before two hours prior to attending a wedding. And considering we live in a boring suburb with minimal bus service we weren’t about to rely on public transportation to get us anywhere.

So I sulked.

“I want to get out of this city soooo bad!!!”

That evening I prayed one of my whimsical prayers that someone would just invite us to a cottage freeing us from the city heat.

The next day I got a text from my friend Sarah in Toronto.

“I know you’re probably both working, but my parents rented a cottage halfway between both of us and I’m up here for the week. If you have the time, feel free to come.”

“YEEEESSS!” I responded. “We will BE there!”

I work two jobs; one Mon-Wed and the other Thurs-Fri. I knew I couldn’t get out of job #1 because I had rearranged my schedule the week prior when husband’s parents came to visit. However I decided not to worry about getting time off work and considered this instead an answer to prayer. Of course it would work out! On Tuesday morning’s conference call for job #2 I began the conversation by saying I wouldn’t be in that week. As a casual employee, there’s a little more leniency when it comes to time off. Not a problem, they said. YEAH!

And so Wednesday evening Simon picked me up from work and we drove to a beautiful cottage on Oak Lake.

I told Simon on the drive down, “I just can’t wait to be buoyant!”

He put his hand on my knee and asked me lovingly, “When’s that going to happen?”

I responded with a laugh, “As soon as I get in the water!”

He looked at my quizzically.

“Buoyant.” I repeated. “Like, I just can’t wait to float.”

“Ohhhh,” he said.

“Did you think buoyant meant joyful?” I asked.

“Yeeeeah,” he replied sheepishly.

Not surprising, considering how down in the dumps I’ve been lately, and how on the same Sunday I prayed for a cottage I told Simon how much I missed my hometown friends.

We arrived at nearly 10pm and I was dying for the time in the lake. I love the lake. And I missed an entire summer last year of lake swimming. Not once did I jump of a dock or lounge around in a floaty. Thankfully Sarah and I are almost always on the same wavelength.

“Want to go swimming?!” she asked.

“Yes!!” I said. And the return to buoyancy commenced.

The next day we slept in, spent hours in the lake, went for a boat ride, ate delicious food, sat in stillness, read books, and played Settlers of Catan – twice. It was glorious.

On our drive home on Friday we talked about how necessary it is to unplug – no phone, no computer, no internet, no distractions, and ultimately, nothing to do. It’s an amazing feeling, and one I’ve gone way too long without. I don’t know if I’m just getting old and grey, but sometimes city life is just too much for me. I need a quiet, restful place. I need the lake. I need my friends – the ones who have known me for years. I look forward to settling down in a community, and gasp – we never thought we’d say this! – one outside of the city.

And that, my friends, was my sweet escape. I didn’t even take a picture – I was too busy enjoying the moments.

My Lunch Box

The following exercise is inspired by Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. In the chapter “School Lunches” Lamott tells writers if you don’t know where to start, write about school lunches. The purpose of the exercise is to take a short assignment and yield a shitty first draft of detailed memory…then see where it takes you.

Here is my shitty first draft of My Lunch Box.

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When I was a kid my mom used to make me peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches when I stayed for lunch at school – once a week tops. They were my favourite kind of sandwich because it was like eating a Reese Peanut Butter Cup melted and slathered on bread.

The thing is though, the other kids didn’t seem to have the same excited response as I did to my most amazing meal. They would look at my sandwich in shock, then look back at their own with wilted lettuce and cheese, and ask, “You’re eating that for lunch?!”

At first I didn’t understand what was so wrong with my meal. Hello! It tastes good! My mom wants me to eat my food at lunch, duh!? But after a while I started to wonder if maybe they were jealous of my chocolate bar on a bun. And then I got a little embarassed.

I’d open up my lunch bag, peer at the contents between two slices of whole wheat (never white!) bread, and exclaim, “Peanut butter and Nutella again!” And then I’d sigh, as though I’d had it up to here with eating roasted hazelnuts and skim milk with smooth and creamy peanut butter. But secretly, inwardly, I’d be filled with glee that my mom packed me my favourite lunch yet again.

Thanks, Mom.

The Impossible – Watch It

Some people know about my love affair with Thailand. I was first introduced to this beautiful country while in London, England in December 2004 when I read an article about sex tourism in Thailand. And just while Thailand was on the forefront of my mind, the tsunami hit South East Asia on December 26. Ever since then I’ve been committed to praying for Thailand.

Now on to movies. To be honest, I don’t really care for movies. I feel that more than anything they are a waste of my time. I come away from 2 hours feeling as though my life was robbed rather than enriched. Rarely does a movie stay with me after the credits have rolled. And more recently I’m noticing how sensitive I am to certain material – how often I find myself thinking, “I know that I can’t shelter my children from this world, but I sure as heck hope they’ll have the discernment to know when something is garbage for their mind and turn it off.” That’s another post.

Now on to The Impossible. Rarely do I endorse movies, because rarely do I enjoy them. But you should watch The Impossible.

The Impossible is a true story of a mom and dad and their 3 boys who were vacationing in Khao Lak, Thailand over Christmas, and who got caught in the destruction of the tsunami. I was crying the moment I saw the first wave, and I’m pretty sure I had a continuous stream of tears falling from my right eye. And I’m on the verge of tears now just thinking about it.

I don’t like movies. Most movies don’t affect me. I think most movies are garbage.

But I think that you should watch The Impossible. Rent it this weekend on iTunes and have your life enriched.

Words Are My Delight

Blogging is an interesting thing. I often feel like I should only draft up a blog and hit “post” when I believe I have something worthwhile to say.

But sometimes I don’t want to write anything revolutionary. Sometimes I just want to write. Because I’m a writer. And I need a place to do that, even if it’s not that exciting. And if you have something that you love to do, and most of the time you do it well, it doesn’t really make sense to keep it to yourself.

I like to remember Jon Acuff when I write my blog. He is presently the best-selling author of Quitter, but when he started writing his first blog, Prodigal Jon, his readership was limited. But that was actually a great thing, because his blog gave him space. It gave him a place to write in one style, and then in another. To change his theme, his tagline, and his platform without having to worry about his audience or a perceived identity crisis. He had a place where he could express his love of writing and even do it poorly sometimes, practicing now what he hoped to produce later.

I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I love this woman because she understands the beauty of books exactly the way I do, that out of “…small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world…” She says that most writers come to her workshops and all they care about is being published. “How can I find an agent?” they ask. But they fail to remember that it’s not the publication that changes us (I know because I’ve been published), it’s the act of writing. It’s the feeling you get when words flow from your mind to your fingertips to create something beautiful. And then in days or months or even years to come, you look back at your work and ask with astonishment and delight (and sometimes humiliation), “Did I write that?” Lamott emphasizes that writers need to love writing not for the external benefits (which aren’t that lucrative, even for a best-selling author) but the internal ones.

And for that reason I will keep writing in this blog, even when I have nothing worthwhile to say. Sometimes I might write something inspirational, but other times I’m going to write about what I’m cooking for dinner, or my favourite cleaning products, or the craft I just made that I’m really proud of. And I’ll do it because when I string words together like beads I feel good inside, because I know I’m doing what I was created to do.

What I Learned from 7 Weeks of Hibernation

It is January, and that means that “hibernation” is over. Simon and I are slowly emerging from our “cave” and reintegrating ourselves into social circles. But it’s different than it was pre-wedding.

This hibernation period was a suggestion made by our friends Kat and Jesse. Kat and I were roommates last year when I moved back to Ottawa. She and Jesse married December 30, 2011. One of the best pieces of advice they were given was to have no expectations of spending time with other people (save for family) right after their wedding. Take a month or so to just hang out, settle into marriage, establish routines, and enjoy one another’s company.

Simon and I talk nearly everyday about how much we loved our 7 weeks of hibernation. And our honeymoon established the foundation for this season.

Initially we dreamt of spending a week in a hot destination such as Cuba or Mexico, but the more we thought about it, the more we realized we needed rest. And how restful is it to wake up at 3am to drive to the airport and catch a flight after several emotionally charged weeks building up to a wedding? Not very. Besides, we didn’t need to start our marriage with an exciting and exotic honeymoon destination. Honeymoons are exciting and exotic on their own!

So we rented a cabin on the lake just 2 hours west of us. We were the only ones on the property besides the owners (who left midway through the week to go to Toronto and offered for us to stay longer for free. PLUS, they gave us unlimited use of the authentic Finnish sauna.) No cell phones, no computers. No people. We cooked meals, we built fires, we roasted marshmallows, we drank wine, we ate chocolate, we went for walks, we sat by the lake, we watched movies, we journalled, we talked, we prayed, and we slept – a lot! It was bliss.

Gorgeous November weather

Gorgeous November Weather

(You’re probably wondering how the heck we’re in bathing suits in November, in Canada. Well, it was a balmy 11 degrees celsius that day! AND…we just came out of a steamy sauna).

Hibernation has been amazing, because like our honeymoon, it has given us the chance to unplug.

When we removed expectations from the picture, it was easy to see how often we do things simply because we feel like we have to. Maybe we hang out with someone because we feel like we owe it to them. Or we serve somewhere just because we think we “should”. Or we say “Yes” to seemingly good opportunities when it would be far wiser to say “No”. For the last month and a half we have been justified in saying “No” to friends and activities because we just got married. They get it. But will they get it now?

Because that period is over, and “No” is winning. To clarify, we aren’t saying that we don’t want other relationships or responsibilities in our lives. We do. But we are discovering what our priorities are and not feeling bad if a person or an activity doesn’t fit into it. It’s not about “I should do this”; it’s not about cramming our schedules to prove our worth with busy, important lives; and it’s not about the fear of missing out on fun. It’s about freedom. Simon calls it “Freedom to Thrive.” And he writes an awesome blog about what that means to him right now here.

Our honeymoon was a retreat. It was a chance to hit “reset” and focus in on how we want to live our lives. It was an opportunity to dream together and write those dreams down on a list, believing in faith that they will come to pass. With this kind of clarity it’s a lot easier to begin building – to make decisions about how we invest our time based on wisdom.  (More on how that looks for each of us later).

I love what Jon Acuff writes in this post: “‘No’ is complete sentence.” We don’t have to say “No” to something and then give a long list of reasons as to why we said no. We have the freedom to just say no, because “No” is a complete sentence.

Thank you, Kat and Jesse, for passing our your best piece of advice. With it we’re learning weight of the words “Yes” and “No” and the freedom they bring when executed from a place of trust.

This Week at the Baxter’s!

One way to simplify life is to plan meals. In keeping with my last post, I’m trying to find ways to organize my life and household to create some simplicity. With Simon working more than 40 hours per week, I’m the one who is at home the most, and this trend will only continue when we have kids. So it makes sense that I become the “boss” of the household, so to speak, and see what methods of organization work for me.

When I lived with my old roommate Pip, she and I used to share groceries and plan meals for each night of the week. This lasted for about a month. With different schedules, lifestyles, and friends (and not to mention boyfriends that we wanted to eat dinner with every once in a while!) it just didn’t make sense to share food or meals. Though for the month that it lasted, it sure made life a lot simpler, and I knew at the time that it was something I would take into marriage with me.

This is what the chalkboard in our apartment looks like this week:

Eating made simple!

Eating made simple!

Every Sunday we get out our chalk and plan for the week ahead. One of the reasons that meal planning is so awesome is that is gives purpose to your grocery list. Don’t you hate it when you have a bunch of groceries, but nothing that will make more than a couple of meals? We are convinced that we save money this way. Plus, now we have generated a list of “go-to” meals – meals that are easy and that we like to eat. And when those ingredients go on sale, we stock up!

Having a meal plan doesn’t mean that we always stick to it day in a day out. Last week, for example, we swapped Friday’s homemade pizza for Saturday’s chicken pasta because I knew that by the time Simon was home from work and showered it would be 8pm, and since pizza is one of those meals we enjoy cooking together, I didn’t want to start before he got home, but we also didn’t want to eat at 9pm either. Then when Saturday rolled around, we decided to be spontaneous and spend our Christmas money from Aunt Peggy on Mucho Burrito and the new Bond movie. Great night! As you can see from our chalk board, pizza was bumped to Sunday.

Saturday night’s example of being spontaneous showed us that we don’t have to have every night of the week planned out. After all, we might have som leftovers that we want to re-heat or maybe we’ll call up some friends for a potluck. Flexibility is good.

My friend Kat just posted on Facebook that she doesn’t know what she’s doing tonight (New Year’s Eve) but who cares, because she’s boring. “#marriagemakesyouboring” she said.

I was about to dispute that comment. My life is more exiting than it’s ever been! But now I realize her point. I just wrote a blog post on meal planning. Whaaaa?!

Life isn’t boring, but the things that excite me now sure are!

Happy New Year!