Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Saying goodbye...

“To shine your brightest light is to be who you truly are.” ― Roy T. Bennett

I have always felt different and out of sorts in my life. As a child I swore for the longest time that I was adopted. I just felt out of place...I struggled and frankly still struggle to feel understood and accepted. I have also lived a lot of my life with regret and following someone else's rules. 

My mom's extended family lives overseas in Netherlands and Belgium. I had a strained relationship with my maternal grandmother, Oma, to say the least. So when I was 12 and we visited Belgium and Netherlands to meet my mom's extended family and visit with them it was an amazing time. Some of the family would come to visit Canada and it was always special when they came and I was excited to grow up so I could visit overseas again. But that didn't happen for nearly 14 years because I followed someone else's rules. 

In 2013 I had been planning and contemplating a trip around the world by myself. However, fate intervened and I met my husband. as luck would have it he was planning a trip home to England to see his parents and daughters. We decided to change our plans slightly and spend a month in Europe visiting his family and mine. My family in Belgium and Netherlands made arrangements for us to come and stay with them and look after us while we were there. In Netherlands it was Annie and Frank who jumped at the opportunity for us to stay with them for most of the trip. My mom said we were one of the first ones from the family who were going to stay with Annie and Frank so I was excited and nervous. I remember the day we arrived at their house after the drive from Belgium. Annie had cooked an amazing supper for us and the family that drove us from Belgium. After supper and the other family left we sat in their living room just talking - I don't even remember entirely what we were talking about but I do remember the feeling that for the first time in a very long time I felt understood and accepted. I felt loved. Annie was like a second mom from that moment on. 

When we made the decision to go back to England in 2017 we also took my daughter, the monkey. While planning the trip we had a large discussion about the plan and itinerary for the trip because there were so many things we wanted to do in such a short period of time. We ultimately made the decision that Monkey and I would travel to Netherlands and Belgium and the husband would stay at home to visit with his family. Again we were fortunate enough to be able to stay with Annie and Frank and it was like being home again. Louise and Richard feel like a brother and sister to me. Our time with them was some of the best parts of our trip as we just were at home with them. We visited the market, Annie would cook of course and we would eat and play games. If you have ever been on a long trip away from your home - especially one with lots of unexpected adventures - you know how wonderful it came be to come home to your own home and bed. That's what it was like arriving at Annie and Franks I was home again.

 Unfortunately, we got news last year that Annie was sick - she had cancer - pancreatic cancer. Annie fought long and hard over the last 18 months and at the start of the summer we were told it could be any day but she fought and enjoyed the summer with her family, children and grandchildren. Unfortunately we got a call last night from the family to let us know that she wasn't doing well and they were expecting her to pass at any time. We were able to video chat with Frank and say our goodbyes to Annie and as Frank said she was stubborn until the end. 
Annie - I love you more than words can say and I will carry the memories of our time together, that was too short, for the rest of my life. You will always be an inspiration in my life.

Frank, Louise, Jowie, Richard, Chloe and Sam - I love you all more than words could say and I would give anything to be there with you right now. My heart breaks for you. The sky is a little brighter now that she is among the stars.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Getting to the Lake - one sunflower seed at a time

East Blue Lake
So as I said the monkey and I headed out to Child's Lake in the Duck Mountain Provincial Park - and let me say if you are in Canada (or anywhere else for that matter) and are looking for some paradise you must Duck Mountain Provincial Park it is truly magical!

The drive out to the lake was interesting to say the least. I have been dreading the drive and almost cancelled the trip because of the seemingly daunting task of driving out to the Park (it's about a 5 to 6 hour drive depending on the number of stops you make along the way and the route you take). Normally I would say it would have taken closer to 8 hours to drive there because we would normally stop at some of the abandoned houses and farms and take pictures but with the husband missing out on the trip and my anxiety I just wanted to get the trip over with.

Now - I should clarify that the thought of long drives normally wouldn't bother me - I have been going on road trips since I was a little kid; however, I am normally a passenger and I'm either able to listen to music, watch a movie or... let's be real sleep during the drive. On longer drives (12+ hours I have done the driving) and I have driven to Victoria, BC just myself and monkey at 18 months old but this was different and I couldn't explain why. The people I travel for work with even make fun of the fact that I will sleep on the road even though it is only a 2 hour highway drive....

Anyways - in preparation for the drive I spent nearly three hours just looking at google maps and investigating all of the different routes and options for getting to Child's Lake considering which was the best entrance to the park, how much gravel road I had to travel on etc. so when we started the drive I didn't have a set plan in mind and figured I would see how it went. I got to Neepawa which is about a 2 hour drive and I was a complete bundle of nerves. I finally had to stop at a gas station, get out and try to calm myself a little. Monkey obviously knew that something was up so I told her that I was having anxiety on the drive - I didn't really talk to her about why I was anxious but being the wonderful kid she was she asked what I needed and suggested we "watch" a movie - meaning we play a movie on my phone she could watch and I could listen to. I thought it was a great idea. We stopped into the Co-op grabbed a drink and some sunflower seeds (and when someone suggests you should get the extra bag because it's only $0.75 more for two bags you really should listen). We spent the rest of the drive listening to Harry Potter Movies and talking about our previous trips, different Harry Potter movies and eating sunflower seeds. It was exactly the distraction from the thoughts in my head that I needed. 

A real turning point came when we got to Russell, Manitoba. I love this little town and we drove into it almost every day last year during our camping trip up to Assessippi. It was a calming type experience because I knew once we made it here we were almost up to Child's Lake and that I had come very close to ... not over coming my fear and anxiety but not letting it stop me in this instance. Monkey and I saw a sign at the gas station about Arthur, the local bull statue and the stuff version of him. We stopped in and got one because ... well we hate having our picture taken especially on a camping trip, especially where the plan likely does not involve washing our hair for a period of time - the perfect solution? Stuff animal stand ins! So Arthur joined the family and was included in some of our pictures.  We got to the lake about an hour later and once we had unloaded and I took a minute to look at the view - I knew that all of the anxiety and freaking out in the weeks leading up to the trip and during the drive were worth it. Little did I know how transformative of a week the trip would be for me starting just the next day on the Copernicus Hill Hiking Trail and Look Out.

For now - here was the view from the deck, and the Hammock set up along the tree line: 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Simplicity - maybe?

So I have been struggling for a long time with Anxiety and depression. I am also fairly sure it is safe to say PTSD but I haven’t been “officially” diagnosed (meaning that everyone who is working with me believes that is what we are dealing with but … I digress). I don’t know how long I have been struggling with my mental health but I have been doing a lot more reading lately and I am fairly certain that it is has been a lot longer than I actually realize. Best analogy I have is to relate this to our puppy. I am with our puppy, Halley, every single day and time goes by and you look back on a picture and you go “Wow she’s grown” where someone like my parents don’t see her every day will suddenly say “Wow she’s twice her size, she’s grown so much” and I’m sitting there going “Nah she’s the same size as when we got her…” (actual conversation happened). 

As we (me and my developing mental health team) start to wade through the very top layers of what is going on – it is almost like we are just skimming the top of the soup right now… it is interesting as we talk to look back and realize the symptoms or holds that anxiety had on me that I never grasped. There was this meme I saw the other day someone posted from Twitter

“Anxiety: I don’t want to eat anything
Me: let’s at least eat a bit of dinner.
Stomach: Ok, folks. Good Job! I’m getting pretty full now, though.
PMS: Hello Friends I’m here whats up
Anxiety: *sigh* I’ll go get the ice cream
PMS: Guys smash a chocolate bar over that shit”

I don’t know why by that meme spoke so much to me. When it comes to food sometimes in my head the conversation will be overwhelming. I have such a complicated history with food yet it has been such a passion for me. In the last year I have been working on my food journey in search of answers to the following basic questions:
-      Who am I?
-      Where do I come from?
-      What did I eat growing up?

These are such simple questions but the answer are so incredibly complicated and intertwined with my issues that we are working through. So what does this have to do with simplicity? I am not known for doing simple things – I actual find simple very hard to do especially when it comes to food lately. My thoughts will race through a million possibilities of like: things I can make; things I have read up on by haven’t made yet; things I want to learn to make but haven’t studied yet; and things that I have somewhat heard one time but I have no idea what it really is and I could learn more about. Like if we are going to have chicken and potatoes it won’t just been chicken and potatoes – it will be a three-hour journey to learn about the history and different methods for making potato pancakes because my husband once said he would like to have some. For the chicken, it won’t just be a simple chicken breast – I will research different breading, seasoning and cooking techniques to find something that is interesting and write down various versions of recipes in my book until I have some smattering of an idea of how I want to combine the different techniques. Then because you have to have some sort of sauce I will research different ways to make aioli’s until I find a lemon garlic aioli recipe I like before I start cooking. I often fail at simplicity but yet at the same time I can master simplicity in certain situations. 

My daughter and I headed up camping to Child’s Lake Yurts in the Duck Mountain Provincial Park for a week – just the two of us as husband couldn’t get time off work and bringing the puppy gave me too much anxiety. My parents were also up here staying at Wellman Lake so they are close by to lend a hand if (more when) I need it. But camping definitely forces you to go simple and back to basics. We have to boil water to wash dishes which means the less dishes the better. We have to keep the food in coolers with ice which is a 30-minute drive away to get 1 bag for… way too much money for frozen water. Lastly, I love camp fires so cooking over a camp fire is such an amazing experience. Planning the cooking for the week was an exercise in planning and preparing for simplicity. The menu:
-      Roasted cheddar sausages with beans;
-      Chili;
-      Chicken, potatoes, veggies with gravy;
-      Hot dogs; and,
-       Left over chili and cheddar sausages.

All cooked over the campfire (or in the coals for the potatoes) using cast iron pans. We also pack some mushrooms, onions and ramen in case we get a rainy day. So here is to keeping it simple. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Opening up...

What started it all? I don't know but here I am and there are so many thoughts running through my heads at all times and I''m just trying to sort some of them out. So let's start with where I currently am - sitting at my dining room table which is covered now in painting supplies, paint, and a mix of baking and cooking items. Under the table there is a puppy gently licking my toes - upstairs my husband is sleeping. He will be up in the next hour or two to get ready to work and here I sit completely awake and unable to sleep. It is 4:07 am and I'm completely awake. I am here in depression and anxiety-ville looking onto the PTSD ocean. 

I am seeing a counsellor and doctor, I'm going through the process of finding a long term support system and proper medication to help me and the words that keep cycling through my head are trauma - my counsellor likes to refer to my past generally as the trauma I have been through and there has been a bit of it and I'm not in a situation or place to currently delve into my past trauma right now. As counsellor says I'm working on my baby steps of basic survival, he says that there are four parts to human life: sleep, eating, social interaction and exercise. We are currently working on the first two - sleep and eating. Sleep has been an interesting experience - I have switched from sleeping a total of 18 hours in a week to now being able to get a total of between 6 to 12 hours in a day but definitely not at normal times and not continuous. I'm not so much worried about this right now (or let's not kid anyone I'm trying not to worry about it because the more I stress about it the worse time I have trying to sleep.) This bring me back to food.

I have an interesting and dynamic relationship with food and right now the thing that keeps circling in my head centres from my for journey and trying to figure out who I am. in watching a lot of my favourite cooking shows the chefs and cooks talk about cooking and the inspiration they had as a child, the food that they had cooked for them while they were growing up. I have circled over this question of my cooking roots for many months trying to figure out my future cooking path and processing and understanding the passing of my last grandparent, Memere who I desperately wish I had more time with. 

I have been trying to figure it out but honestly I draw a blank on a lot of my youth, I think a large part in thanks to the trauma. This has lead to to a difficult situation for me. Food has been such a relaxing, calming and integral part of my life for oh gosh at least the past decade (or two... I feel old now). There is so much I want to explore and experience when it comes to food but I feel such a need go back and understand my roots with food. Food has now become an overwhelming experience - so many things I want to try, experience, cook and bake and I get overwhelmed. When I try to calm myself and go back to my roots I get lost and overwhelmed. I sometimes feel like a failure because making a simple grilled cheese sandwich is the most I can muster while other nights I make beignets, because it is something that I have wanted to try since seeing the movie Chef (and more so since watching the Chef Show on Netflix). 

So where does this leave me? right now covered in paint (never really been artistic but I'm inspired by my daughter) contemplating when I will get to make the Lemon Meringue pie I have wanted since I bought Myer lemons more than a few days ago and thinking that I really should be going to sleep.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Climbing Everest - or just surviving life

So this morning on the way to work I was listening to CBC Radio about a Manitoba Teacher that just returned from climbing mount Everest. (News Story Here) and something about this story hit me profoundly and it has been something I have been frankly struggling with lately. I would expect the feeling of finally reaching the top of Everest to bring this immense sense of achievement and to be standing literally on top of the world that you would want to take time and savour the experience (as much as you can at some of the coldest temperatures and in a low oxygen situation) but when asked what it was like to be at the top Dalip Shekhawat said:

"I didn't see what was around — just to reach the top and when I get back, I'll see what was there," he said.
"Not enjoying, actually; just to reach the top, to make sure that I'm safe and secure."
As I have said before my husband has been struggling with mental health and has been off work since early October. From October to even the end of April life has consisted of putting my head down and getting through it. Life hasn't been about going out and doing things or enjoying things with family. It has been worrying about bills being paid, insurance claims, doctors appointments, specialist visits, dealing with work, family and all the other commitments in life. If you know me at all you know that cooking and exploring food is a passion of mine but cooking for last while has been about surviving rather than anything else.

At the family gathering after my grandmother's funeral my cousins (love you guys!) asked if I was happy and how I was doing and if I was happy. Frankly in the last couple of months overall have there been happy moments - yes - but have I been happy? No, I have been personally struggling and depressed. Living with someone who has a mental illness is hard and I am going to say especially when they have finally hit their rock bottom it takes a lot and there have been times where I just didn't want to do it anymore not because I didn't love my husband - but because I didn't have anymore of me to give. I pushed myself because in times where the love is hard to see I hoped it was still there. I also thought about the times where I have struggled and didn't have support.  I wouldn't want someone to leave me or give up on me just because I was at my bottom and needed help.  Now I can say that I am starting to see my the man I married, my husband again and it's like I can start to breath again.

This and the journey that auditioning for MasterChef Canada has sent me on has made me start to think about me - who I am, where I have been, the life I have lead to this point and has lead me that I need a constant reminder that I need to remember who I am - so much so I got a new tattoo on my arm. I am starting down the path *again* of remember who I am, where I have come from and where I am going. One of the things I need to remember is that I don't want to just come back from the top and see what was there after - I want to look at the view as I am climbing and take some time when I get to my top and be happy to reflect on the path and journey I have taken.

- Life has to be more than just running a marathon.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Failing and making mistakes

It sucks to be in a position where you feel like you are failing in life at all things you are working on but moreover to feel like you are failing your family and in my case my daughter - the stress of that is unspeakable. I has left me feeling completely overwhelmed and lost in who I am.  I have been swallowed by the mere concept of just trying to survive and make it to the next moment where I can breath. It is like being swallowed up in the ocean trying to grasp for air between the breaking waves. 
"You said 'we make it through things well together.'.. that doesn't sound very fun, you don't want to look back on your life and say 'I made it through my life' we want to enjoy our projects, enjoy our workweek, we want to enjoy our lives, celebrate our lives..." - Couples Retreat Bulldozing Session
Like I said in my last post there have been the these moments - moments of clarity and brightness in amongst the crashing waves that have pushed me to some realizations in life. It is these moments of sunlight that I have been trying to hold on.

Some of the best moments I have had in the past while centre around two things: my monkey and the newest addition to the family Halley S. Commet (our dog). I try to be very mindful of the experience and example that I am setting for my daughter. I try to be mindful of making sure that she is protected from things that could harm her but also making sure that she can see what is like to be an adult without overwhelming her. This means that I talk with her and I try to be open and honest with her about what is going on without putting too much on her shoulders. Some of the best times I have with my daughters are driving in the car - this where we often have our deepest conversations and our loudest sing along. One of the best things that we do is put on one of "our songs" in the morning on the way to wherever and sing at the top of our lungs. We have special songs with special meanings and one of the ones that has always been important to us is Life of the Party by Shaw Mendes
"We don't have to be ordinary make your best mistakes" 
... the realization that I keep front of mind:
  • I don't need to be "ordinary" - following the 'rules' and expectations of others has often lead me down a path that has lead me to places I didn't want to be
  • I have learned more from my mistakes and failures that I have from my successes.
  • most valuable and simplest thing I ever learned in law school but the hardest to follow the K.I.S.S principle - Keep it Simple Stupid.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Since Mid-January

Sometimes it takes a lot of little things to make you realize something very huge in your life. I have a number of those little things add up to a large realization just yesterday evening. 

It has been since mid-January since I last post and honestly it feels like this is the first time I am coming up for air since that time. It has felt like the last few months have been about keeping my head down and moving through one major event onto the next major event with the scenes from Finding Nemo going through my head of "just keep swimming just keep swimming."

This all started in October when Husband went off work. My first reaction internally was sheer panic - how are we going to manage how are things going to work. He had some sick time (about a month) but honestly at that point I already had a pretty good feeling this would be something longer. Plus there was a realization that Husband was to have surgery that was also going to need a month post-op recovery before he could be back to work. Read absolute panic but I had to put those feelings aside and deal with the practicalities of getting him sorted out with doctors, dealing with his union, work, insurance claims, medical forms. I knew he needed help and I needed help to support him so I called his parents - that brought us to Mid-January were it felt like things were starting to be a mucked-up level of ok-ness - I knew that things were going to take a while to figure out but at least the uncertainty was a known quantity if that made sense. 

Lucille Loiselle
1924 - 2019
I was getting ready to leave for a short night trip when I got a call from my Mom saying I needed to come get them that minute as they got a call that my grandmother wasn't doing well. We rushed to see her and she was sitting there perfectly fine and very confused about why we had rushed to see her but she said she was ready. So I went on a work trip out of town for just two nights away - it was the first time I was leaving husband since he went off work and I was concerned and worried about how he would do - but I had a plan in place and I was confident in that plan. Snap to the second night of the trip I get back to the hotel from supper and the pain set in - sheer agony. I ended up in the hospital and had to call a co-worker in the middle of the night to come out to finish the work trip and bring the husband to drive me home. Less than two days after getting back from the work trip we got another urgent call from my mom again that they needed a ride to see my Memere and this time I knew it would be different. 

I picked up my parents and off we went - I dropped them and husband off at the front door and found a place to park. I knew - I knew before we left the house, before we got to the home where she had been living, before I got off the elevator that she had gone. She had said less than a week before she was ready and it was her time. It's funny the things you remember about a person but from her I remember her determination and strength. When something was to be done it was done so when she said she was ready and it was her time I knew that she would have her way. (I also remember having Christmas presents wrapped up inside old milk cartons; her kitchen; learning to eat tomatoes just like apples; being in the garden at the farm).  We set about the business of calling and notifying family, packing her possessions. Much like when my other grandparents passed I focused on putting my head down and getting through the things that needed to be done.

Before you knew it January was over and we were into February which brings us into the months of Birthdays. First badly planning my daughter's 13th birthday. Ok - well I feel bad but apparently they kids thought it was a hit - but on my end I felt like a failure because I was emailing or texting parents literally days before the date to say please let your kid come so I don't feel like a failure. The monkey the effervescent creature she is never blinked an eye and had no doubt that her party would be amazing - I still feel like a crappy mom. 

This was all while helping plan and execute my Dad's surprise 65th Birthday (which of course means getting to make fantastic cupcakes - Dark Chocolate Raspberry; Lemon meringue Pie and a GF Spice cake with cream cheese frosting). The party was held on my husband's birthday as the decoy for what was actually going on. 

All of this is going on while I am under significant pressure at work and we are still working through the process of husband going through sick leave, short term disability, long term disability and insurance claims. He has had doctors appointments every two weeks on top of counsellor appointments and specialist appointments. He has been in such a bad spot that to say it was like having another child in the house is accurate. I had to ensure that he was eating, taking his medication, changing his clothes, showering and taking basic care of himself. 

Unfortunately this meant that in the shuffle I literally had to run to the store with the husband and monkey in tow to buy husband's birthday card because I had forgotten - it is hard to know and feel like you have failed your family because you are so terribly overwhelmed that you have forgotten to get our husband and daughter birthday cards. Their presents were handled with them in tow as well and I still feel like crap over it (I still have my Mom's birthday present from January 1st at home to give her... sorry Mom) 

On the way home from buying a birthday card for my husband we decided to stop for fun to see the animals at the Winnipeg Humane Society - never really thinking that we would actually find one, fall in love and adopt.  nevertheless that is exactly what happened - we went into just look at two dogs that were cute but we weren't set on when a worker walks by holding this wiggling pile of fur! That was it we were done for. When I heard her story I was heart broken but also felt an instant connection. She had been adopted out several weeks before by a couple who had had another dog and they returned her that very day, the day we happened to randomly go in, because they were moving and couldn't keep *her* anymore. She had been rejected and returned. 

To say that she saved my husband is a complete and total understatement. It would be like saying that the universe isn't really that much bigger than Winnipeg. The change in him has been significant. I still find myself completely overwhelmed though with my commitments and I often have felt like I am failing at everything that I am doing. Between feeling like a failure at work, trying to not let anything else fall between the cracks at home, and my other personal commitments where I likewise feel like I am feeling it has been a hard run and I am facing at least another month of of the same feeling that "this month is just a marathon - I just have to get to the end of the month" 

this has lead me to have a number of thoughts and a major realization this week - but more on that tomorrow - for now a few cute puppy pictures. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


It is a New Year and it seems that my word of the day for the past while has been "surviving."


See more synonyms for survive on

verb (used without object), sur·vived, sur·viv·ing.

  1. to remain alive after the death of someone, the cessation of something, or the occurrence of some event; continue to live: Few survived after the holocaust.
  2. to remain or continue in existence or use: Ancient farming methods still survive in the Middle East.
  3. to get along or remain healthy, happy, and unaffected in spite of some occurrence: She's surviving after the divorce.

This has been a pretty apt description for my life over the past couple of months. In September it was a really exciting time for me - I got to audition for MasterChef Canada - such an amazing and wonderful experience with truly amazing people! (I will have to write about that later).

Things seems to be moving in a generally positive direction for me. However, my husband had been struggling for a while and then finally at the start of October he couldn't keep going the way he was and he had a break down at work. He has been off work since the start of October as a result of a major depressive episode and anxiety. I can't tell you what it does when you realize that the person you love, the other half of you is far worse than you imagined.

I got a text one day at work simply saying:
"Just so you don't panic or get annoyed. I am at home. Went off sick. I have an appointment with Dr. F tomorrow." 

Now for context my husband works split shifts and sometimes when I don't here from him in the afternoon but see he is still at home I get panicked that he slept and missed his second shift. Alternatively, I get busy at work and because he finished later than me I will stay at work later and then go to pick him up only to find out he was home early and I could have left work.

But this is odd it's different why would he have made an appointment and for the next day, something must be really wrong especially because he was waiting for a surgery date. So you call worried and upset to find out why he went home and what happened.

The next few weeks of my life became about learning all I could about insurance claims; EI Sickness benefits; short-term disability; long-term disability; ISO hearings and rearranging life. We asked to move up his surgery in hopes that it wouldn't prolong he has been off work if things 'magically' got better overnight (they didn't).

So much of our life got flipped on its head. This time has been about making it just to the next day, solving one issue only to move on to another issue. Learning that its ok to need help and like a lot of help. Learning that it is ok for me also to not be ok to be struggling with everything.

There have been a few people who have reached out and been offering support and I am truly grateful and blessed to have these people in my life - they have done more for me than they will ever know.

So far up to now life has been about surviving and making the next step. Through all of this one song has spoke to me and has been a beacon. I have been trying to write this post for a while now. The next post will be about my view and outlook for the New Year.