Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Thinking Like My Grandparents

These are my parents and grandparents, on my parents' wedding day in 1957.

I'm very fortunate to have grown up knowing all four of my grandparents, and some of my great-grandparents too.  That's a rare thing these days.

I was thinking about my grandparents while I was out on my walk this morning.  

My morning walks are part of an ongoing attempt to regain better health after a long term illness, and to strike a healthier life/work balance.  It occurred to me that my grandparents' examples could provide some good tools for moving towards those goals.

On the surface of things, my grandparents didn't have a lot in common. They came from different upbringings and had very different outlooks on life but, when you look deeper, there are a lot of commonalities between them too.  

My grandfathers were both "working men," spending most of their lives in jobs that required physical labour.  Neither earned a great deal of money.

Neither of my grandmothers had paid work outside their homes, though both did volunteer their time to various causes.

Both of my grandfathers were enthusiastic gardeners, producing a good percentage of the fruit and vegetables that were consumed in their homes.  

My grandmothers were accomplished plain cooks.  They cooked from scratch, put food by when it was abundant, and were rarely willing to pay the extra money needed to purchase convenience foods.

Restaurant meals were treats, not regular events, and outings with the car were carefully planned.  There was no driving four blocks to the grocery store and then popping out an hour later to go somewhere else.  Errands within walking distance were planned for and done - on foot whenever possible - in a single trip.  Visits to nearby friends were made on foot too.

Phone calls were for business, for making appointments, and for emergencies.  Long phone conversations were not part of their social lives.  Visits were made face to face and friends communicated over distances by writing letters.

If you went into either of my grandparents homes, you didn't find a lot of "stuff." Resources were carefully managed.  Things were cared for and mended and used up completely before they were discarded.

All four of my grandparents lived long lives.  Even my mom's mom, who had Alzheimers, remained physically strong until she was in her 80's.

Despite their comparatively modest means, my grandparents owned their homes and died with no debts, and even a little money in the bank.

Admittedly, a lot has changed since my grandparents' day:  Most women work outside the home for at least part of their lives.  We all seem to have demands upon our time that our grandparents didn't, and we certainly have access to a broader range of choices, foods, information, and education than was available back then.  

Some of these modern changes are good and some of them not but - good or bad - we can't turn back the clock.  We exist in the here and now and have to find our way forward as best we can.  

Much of the "simplicity" we hark back to in my grandparents' time involved a considerable investment of both time and hard labour. In order to emulate that "simple" life, a person must be willing to give up some things that are common currency within our modern lifestyle.  

For me (and I'm sure for many others), the giving up portion of the exercise would involve less time connected to technology. I'm not willing to give up my modern toys completely, but here are some choices that I am willing to make:

I can spend less time on line and more time on my feet, walking, doing errands, filling my pantry, and making, maintaining, or repairing household items.  

I can do more visiting face to face - having conversations with my friends in person rather than on the phone or on line - and I can write letters.  Real ones.  That go in the mail.  (So much more fun to receive than bills and pizza flyers, don't you think?)

I can buy fewer things, use up the things I have, and clear out some of the excess.

I can remember that, through the all the challenges and joys their long lives brought them, thrift and good management were second nature to my grandparents.  

Perhaps, if I work at it, they can become second nature to me too.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Learning By Doing

I've been wanting to share craft projects on my blogs for some time now but I've been debating about how to go about it.
I love the blogosphere and all I learn from it, but I have a problem with it too:  All that perfection can be daunting.  

The materials for each project are laid out in perfect order and the projects proceed logically, step-by-step - without any mistakes along the way - to a perfect conclusion.  The flawless finished project is then beautifully photographed and artfully displayed somewhere within the blogger's house-and-garden-magazine-perfect home.

I'm saddened by how many people see projects on line that they'd like to make, or are inspired with their own wonderful, creative ideas and yet never even attempt to follow through.  They're afraid that their finished project will be imperfect; that it won't measure up to the near-impossible standards demonstrated in those perfect photos seen on line.  
In making those comparisons between what we do and what craft bloggers share, I think we're missing the whole point of crafting.  

In real life, the creative process is messy, confusing, and almost always flawed, but it is also a process growth, and discovery, and learning.  The act of making something, however flawed, has the potential to bring us great joy.  
Who cares if there's a dropped stitch somewhere in that sweater, or that the batting in your first crib quilt doesn't lie perfectly flat? Who cares that your drop cookies are all different shapes and sizes? Who cares if the first bookshelf you build is crooked and a little homely, or that those colours that looked so great in your mind but look less than great on the wall?

No one but you.  

And I'm here to tell you that you're being too hard on yourself.
A failed project will not cause the world to end.

The project police won't come to get you. 

Even if your project fails completely, you've still benefitted from the joy found in the creative process and you've learned a few lessons along the way.  Those lessons - about both the craft and yourself - are invaluable.
In my world, the creative process often looks something like this:    
  • I look at an object or a piece of raw material and thing "Hey!  I could make this into a..."
  • I look through the other materials I have on hand to see if any of them can be used to make my project.
  • I go to the store and buy any additional materials I think I might need.
  • I form a hazy plan that I think may work, then roll up my sleeves and - without further ado - dive right in.
  • Some parts of my plan don't work out as planned, so I change my approach as I move along.
  • I return some things to the store, having discovered I don't need them after all, and end up buying other things I hadn't thought I needed at the start.
  • Sometimes things go so badly awry that I set the project aside, intending to rethink it.
  • Very often, the projects I set aside eventually end up in the trash.
  • Sometimes I find a project really boring and decide it's not worth pursuing to the end.  
  • Mostly, I finish my projects and find that, while they do approximate my original idea, they are riddled with imperfections and flaws. 
  • I take the lessons I've learned from one imperfect project and apply them to the next.
  • Without even realizing it, I get better and better at what I'm doing and - although I still see imperfections and flaws in my work - others notice an on-going improvement.

I've decided that when I blog my craft projects, I'll show you the mistakes, the re-thinking, and the flaws just as they really happen - with as many photos and as few words as I can manage. At the end of each post, I'll tell you what I might do differently next time.  
Hopefully, as I share these imperfect projects and the fun I have making them, you'll be inspired to put aside your worries about imperfect results and discover joy in the process too.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Sitting By The River

Every neighbourhood has its special places; places that the residents gravitate to year-round, drawn by community or scenery or quiet - some particular attribute that is valued on a personal level and that adds value to the quality of life of the neighbourhood as a whole.

In my neighbourhood, one of those places is the park by the river. 

I'm sure it has an official name but in all my years of knowing that park - and I've known it for nearly half a century - I've never learned what that name is.  For me it doesn't matter.  The name of the park is not at all what the essence of the place is about.

The park by the river  has tennis courts, a couple of soccer fields and lots of benches.  It has interpretive signs explaining the watershed and wildlife. It has trails, huge cottonwood trees, lots of wildlife, abundant blackberries that we forage late summer each year, and - of course and best of all - it has the river itself.

The river is broad where it runs through the park, and the water fast-moving.  Brown trout live in its waters and people travel from around the world to fish them. 

In winter and in spring the waters climb high up the banks and the river stretches its green-brown fingers out to touch the hollows in grasslands not sheltered by the dyke. 

In summer the waters drop and change their mood, running clear and chuckling over boulders, resting still and green in shallow pools and back eddies along the river bank.

This is the time when I like the river best. 

On hot, humid days, its shaded banks are call to me.  I pack up my chair, a book, and perhaps some food and drink, and head for our favourite swimming hole.

The water in the swimming hole is always flat calm and clear, cleansed by the flow of the river and stilled by a manmade weir of stones that has been there as long as I can remember.  It is no elaborate structure; just a half circle of river rocks, piled one atop the other to form a barrier that slows the current enough to allow the waters to rest in a natural hollow formed by the river's motion. 

There is still current here, but it is greatly slowed in comparison to the quicker waters just beyond, and the cottonwoods reach out their sheltering branches to shade a small strip of sandy beach.

I love it there.

It's often a busy place.  The swimming hole is visited by children and dogs, by walkers and families, by ducks and gulls and noisy crows whose constant conversations are shouted down at us from the branches above.  And yet, despite all its business, this place speaks calm to me.

So, I set up my chair in the shallow water at the edge of the pool, and open my book.  Sometimes I read.  Sometimes I gaze about me and enjoy the scene.  Often I give thanks for the cooling shade and the simple comfort of dabbling my feet in the water.

The swimming hole at the park beside the river is a gift; a treasure, a blessing.  It's my special neighbourhood place.

Do you have a favourite neighbourhood place too?  I'd love to hear about it.  Please stop by my Facebook page or Twitter feed to share your stories and photos. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Why I Walk

In the day-to-day course of things I'm  more given to practicality than fuss, affordability than luxury, durability than show.  

If people were analogous to cars, I'd be a family sedan: practical and kind of boxy, with not a lot of chrome or fancy bits, mostly reliable but no speed-mobile.  

Like my grandparents' car back in the day, this family sedan would rarely leave the garage if not specifically required to do so.  I'd prefer to keep the mileage low.  No gadding around town for me.  

I'm no fan of exercise, but I know that if I am to maintain even a reasonable level of good health I need to move about.  

So I walk.

I actually enjoy it.  

(Never thought I'd say that about any form of exercise, but I do.)

Here are some reasons why walking works for me:

Walking requires no training. I need no coaching and I need not pay for expensive classes.

There are no rules.  There is no sports association telling me I must walk in a certain way, at a certain time, or with certain people.  I need not compete with other walkers.

Walking requires little in the way of special equipment.  A durable, well fitting pair of shoes and clothing appropriate to the weather are really the only requirements.    

Walking is gentle to my body. Even with balance problems and limited depth perception walking has a slow enough pace that I rarely sustain any sort of injury. I also know that I can walk without fear that my jiggly bits, improperly restrained, will move about enough to cause me discomfort.  

There are lots of places to go walking.  There are, quite literally, hundreds of kilometers of trail readily available to walkers in our valley. Even when I'm away from home, I can always find somewhere to go walking.  There are parks, streets, sidewalks, running tracks, beaches...Even shopping malls or long hallways will do in a pinch.

I can easily carry things with me while I walk.  A backpack affords me the opportunity to take my camera along on my walks, along with drinking water and any other small items I might need.  I can fit walking in around my other chores, stopping in at the library or grocery store along the way.
I notice my surroundings when walking. I have time to look around me and appreciate the small details in the landscape, to enjoy the scents of fresh air and flora, to hear birdsong, the chuckling of water over stone in a nearby creak, or the rustling of pebbles on the beach as they roll to follow the receding waves. I have an opportunity to see  and appreciate the wild creatures that are sharing the space with me.

Perhaps most important to me, walking provides quiet time.  It allows me time for reflection and requires little enough of my attention that I can let my mind wander.  My attention shifts away from the concerns of the day.  I do some of my best creative thinking while walking.
Walking makes me happy.  

Are you a walker too?  

Would a Facebook forum about walking be of interest to you?  

Please stop by my Facebook page or visit me on Twitter with your comments.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Here I Am

My grandson took this picture at my request and, when I saw it, I almost reconsidered my idea of sharing it. 
Here's the thing though:  Part of moving forward and finding a more balanced path for my future is accepting who and where I am now.
So this is me:  Bad posture, pot belly, funny clothes, and all.
There are lots of things a photo can tell you about a person and even more that it can't but, flattering or not, a picture can be a useful tool both in setting goals and tracking progress.
My goal right now is to work towards a healthier me, both mentally and physically.  It's a really big goal and, to attain it, I'll need to break it down into smaller components. 
My first small steps along the way to achieving a healthier me are simple:
  • Encourage positive thinking in myself and in others.
  • Perform at least one small, anonymous act of kindness every day.
  • Move.  Do some sort of exercise every day.
  • Be mindful of what I eat.
  • Drink lots of water.

Weight loss is not a specific goal for me, and a fashion makeover is not even on my list (however beneficial it might be), but I won't be surprised if my shape and posture change as I make my way toward a healthier life balance.
Just to benchmark so I know where I've started: I am 5'1" tall and today I weigh 142 pounds.  I walked (at a leisurely pace) for an hour this morning and I plan to spend 30 minutes swimming this evening.
I'll keep you posted on my progress and I'll share a new photo every month or so.

If you are pursuing a goal and would like some encouragement as you work towards it, please stop by my FB page and join the conversation there.  I'm all about positive reinforcement. 

Imagine how well we'll do if we all help each other along the way!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Slow Learner, Me

About three years ago, I began to feel poorly:  Fatigue, headaches, hand tremours, sore throat, sore eyes, sleeplessness.  I figured it was just time-of-life stuff so I did my best to ignore it and keep plugging along until, one day, my heart rate shot up to well over 200 beats per minute and refused to slow down again.  

I couldn't ignore it any more.

My fella took me to emergency, where they sought to lower my heart rate by giving me a large dose of beta blockers.  My body liked beta blockers even less than it liked my elevated heart rate.  I nearly died.

The heart thing (atrial fibrillation) led to a diagnosis of Graves Disease, an autoimmune disorder that - among other things - causes your thyroid to produce many times more thyroid hormone that it would normally do.

I'd probably have continued just to tough things out, but my heart problem scared the bejeebers out of me and my reaction to beta blockers meant I couldn't follow the usual course of treatment.

My GP, an endocrinologist, an internist, and a cardiologist collaborated on my diagnosis and plans for my care. Because of the urgency of my symptoms, they recommended that I be given radiation to kill my thyroid, and then be given synthetic thyroid hormone to return my levels to something approximating normal function.

I did some research and read things both positive and negative about this course of action, but my doctors were the ones with the training - not me - so I trusted them. I followed their recommendation and took the treatment.

I wish I could tell you that I lived happily ever after following my radiation treatment, with no further evidence of health problems, but it wouldn't be true.  There are still lots of problems remaining, ranging from minor annoyances to serious complaints. 

For me, the very worst of my post-thyroid-treatment problems is how little is known about the way medications interact with an impaired endocrine system. 

When I'm prescribed medications I often experience frightening side effects.  My GP rarely has any idea about how to address them. My endocrinologist offers few suggestions either.  He seems to feel that "now that my thyroid journey is over" (his exact words) everything should be peachy keen.

My take, now, on the treatment I received?

At the time it seemed the best of several unpleasant choices, and I'm still alive.  I might not be had the heart problem continued.  

Would I do it again?

Perhaps, but not without exploring a much wider range of alternative treatments first.

Should've taught me something, right?

Ahem.  *Insert eye rolls and embarrassed blush here.*

Fast forward to a couple of months ago when I found myself in my GP's office seeking help with depression.  

My doctor recommended that I take Paxil - an antidepressant believed to be effective in dealing with the combined symptoms of menopause and clinical depression - and I accepted her advice, taking the Paxil in a gradually increasing dosage as prescribed.

At first the medication did seem to help.  My insomnia subsided and I could feel my depression loosening its hold.  As the levels of drug stored in my body increased though, some very bad things began to happen:  I was so tired I couldn't stand up and I was obsessed with thoughts of suicide.

When those symptoms were joined by acute joint pain, dizziness, excessive sweating, ringing in my ears, spontaneous bruising, and nausea, I stopped taking Paxil.

The intense fatigue disappeared almost immediately, as did any thoughts of suicide, but I had no idea how physically addictive Paxil is. My withdrawal from it has been both unpleasant and prolonged.  I know I'll survive it, but it's really, truly awful.  I wouldn't wish it on anyone!

What did I learn from this most recent experience?

Before I accept another prescription of any sort from my doctor, I'll explore a much wider range of alternative treatments.

Hey!  Didn't I say that somewhere before?

Apparently I needed to make the same mistake twice in order to properly learn my lesson.

Slow learner, me, but I've got it now: I'm moving forward, seeking non-medicinal ways to achieve better health, and a better overall balance in my life.

I'm starting a new Facebook page, intended to provide me with some accountability, so I'll stay on the path to my goal. 
I know that everyone's best balance is different, but I'm hoping this new page will encourage some of you along the way achieving to your goals too.  

Please do join the conversation. 

image adapted from a photo sourced at http://www.sitcomsonline.com/