Sunshine and Staying Inside

Today, I am having an odd reaction to self-isolation — I am feeling an intense sense of gratefulness and love which I can’t seem to shake.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t felt that way everyday, but today, the sun is out, and even if I am sitting inside, my heart feels as bright as the sky outside my window. I’m going to enjoy this feeling while it lasts. I know it might not.

My elder daughter turned 23 on February 23, and that morning  a group of us all went out for breakfast at Denny’s. My younger daughter woke up that morning with a serious headache a sore throat and no appetite. She was annoyed, because she’d been looking forward to the breakfast. We didn’t really think much of it beyond that. She’d been to a volleyball match down at the Coast and I figured she picked up the flu at the tournament. I knew she was really sick when she voluntarily stayed home from the afternoon’s practice.

She missed several days of school and another practice mid-way through the week, and I played nursemaid. Even after she got better, she was exhausted and finding it hard to keep up with the volleyball training. With her being an A-type personality, I reminded her she had been sick — she should expect to be dragging a bit until her energy fully returned. It took her over a week. Eventually, though, she was back at full-power.

Approximately two weeks later, I had an appointment to get my taxes done, and for no apparent reason, I couldn’t stop coughing all the way through that appointment. I didn’t feel sick at all, but as luck would have it, I’d been scheduled to have an interview for a promotion that afternoon before my shift at work. People had started to talk about Coronavirus — it was already significant in China and heading that way in Italy — so I called in to see if they still wanted to go ahead with the interview. She postponed.

But I wasn’t sick. So, I went to work. I kept going all that week. By Thursday, I felt like maybe I was coming down with something — achy, and my temperature regulator seemed off. But, I certainly didn’t seem to have any of the dramatic symptoms being described in the news. Friday the 13th, I woke up with a crazy headache, and nothing I threw at it helped. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that by the end of my shift that day, I knew I was sick. My throat was raw, felt a lot like strep throat. I got my shift covered for the following day.

And I really was sick. It felt like the flu — but different. I honestly don’t know what I had. But to make a long story short, I missed another shift, then another, and I was still coughing. By then, the virus had started to explode around us, and I really didn’t know what to do. Ultimately, I drove into work, then once I got there told my boss, I just don’t think I should be here. It felt socially irresponsible. She sent me home, 811 told me to stay there, and my company committed to paying two weeks of salary so I could self-isolate. Then, three days later, my store location closed completely. Which means, now instead of two weeks of salary, they have me covered for four weeks. After that, I suppose I am with the rest of unemployed Canada — thankful for Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to keeping the population cared for.

At first, I was too sick to do be anything but tired. Then, my appetite came back. Then my energy. Then I started to get productive.

My daughter’s volleyball league cancelled first one match, then another, then all of them. Season over. Her school, which is on spring break, is also on indefinite leave. The possibility exists that they might go online, but with libraries closed, this may not be a solution for everyone. Sheena is used to going mach ten at all times, and now she is home, no school, no sports, no friends — she has been amazing about it, but it is hard. Could be worse — we both recognize that — still, if I don’t find her something else to do other than bake, I am going to weigh 300 pounds before this is over.

Like everyone else, I spent way too much time watching news reports. Because of my novels, I recently joined Twitter, and that place is like a warzone — one I find myself too easily pulled into.  The Stupid Things People Say may just be my next book title, and it is going to be based on the anger all over the Internet.

I’ve kept in touch with a customer from work. I follow his photography on Instagram. He recently said to me, “I don’t think things are going to be the same after this.”

I think that might be true. I think after this, there is going to be a lot of grief and anger people are dealing with. Some people are going to lose a lot. That is going to be hard to accept. I mean, how do you get angry at a virus? Or a DNA sequencing glitch, or whatever this thing is. How do we get angry at something so small stripping us all of our facades of invulnerability, our vanity and arrogance, our beliefs in superiority and invincibility? How do we get angry at an illness when it shows us that the world is not what we thought it was and reminds us that our place in it is so insignificant?

It is so much easier to be angry at the guy who bought out all the meat, or the toilet paper hoarders, the politicians, Donald Trump. Not that there aren’t consequences to actions, not that people don’t say dumb and objectionable things on Twitter and Facebook, not that some leaders aren’t more adaptable than others, more wise than others. The thing is, as I’ve listened to the news, perused social media, stayed indoors despite the sunshine and have limited my social interactions with family to virtual ones, I keep realizing that we are all in this together. Some people are taking this more seriously than others, some are sick and some are not, some may lose and some may not, but I’ve realized, people say dumb things and do dumb things because they are human. Because underneath the bluster, they are afraid. No one knows how to handle this perfectly.

I’ve realized that underneath the hoarding, the bulk buying, the social media venting and cursing there is selfishness, yes, there is ugliness and frustration, also yes, but mostly there is fear. It is one thing we are all experiencing. It just looks differently on some of us than on others. Maybe not everyone is afraid of getting sick and dying, but everyone is wondering what it all means, what will our world look like after all of this ends.

We are the same.

There seems to have been the beginnings of a shift — or maybe today was just a good news day or I am more optimistic now that I am feeling healthy again — but I am reading more good news than bad today. People who have been fighting the illness are recovering. Others are finding creative virtual ways to connect through online arts groups, chat groups, etc. Whitespot had a drive-thru breakfast to raise funds for the food bank, someone organized a drive-by birthday party parade for children who are unable to have birthday parties — and complete strangers are parading their vehicles past birthday children with banners and balloons. Bauer is now making masks, a family run vineyard is teaching their children about business in their vineyard while they home school.

The police, other front-line workers, doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks and other essential workers seem to be getting more veneration than I’ve personally seen at any other time in history. As is right. I’m sure people will be back to hating soon enough, but right now, I feel so much deep gratitude for these people who are continuing to work to keep us all safe and healthy and fed — even while their own lives are jeopardized and their own families are experiencing all the strains the rest of us face. Perhaps Americans experienced some of what I am feeling after 9-11, but this is a greater level of awareness of all the societal elements working to improve my personal well-being than I have personally experienced before. Within these moments of stress, I feel this undercurrent of gratefulness for the country where I live, the policies we live by, the politicians and others working to get us all to the other side of this pandemic. It is a warmth of feeling that supersedes the daily worries.

I had a video chat with my co-workers this morning, and it was great. I miss them all. Today was a moment of connection I didn’t even know I needed. Yesterday, one of the members of my book club sent out an email saying let’s go virtual, and one of the technologically inclined guys in the group suggested zoom — says it is easy.

This morning I felt a degree of appreciation for being part of these social groups that I normally overlook. I mean, I always like everybody, and I’m glad to know you. This morning, I just felt like I had to restrain myself from gushing out how much I love everyone — which seems to be my mood of the day. Hey, family, hey friends, hey complete strangers I’ve never met — I love you! We are all part of the same team — team beat the virus and team human and team Earth. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced this sense of universal connectedness in quite the same way — and it took dismantling everyone’s daily lives and putting us all into isolation to make it happen.

I’ve spoken to my sister more this week than probably in the past month. Normally, we both live very busy lives. Right now, we get to check in everyday.

My eldest son’s wife called me for a soup recipe last night. They are stuck in a tiny bachelor suit apartment and there is a confirmed quarantine in their building, yet they seem happier than ever together — which is amazing to see.

My elder daughter’s boyfriend told me he loved me (you touched me, David – sob).

I learned something I didn’t even know about my younger son — he likes to do puzzles. What?? I hate puzzles, unless it is the puzzle of figuring out what happens next in the book I am writing. He does not get that from me.

He got it from my mom. She was sappily thrilled when I called her this morning to tell her about the mark she’s left on her grandson.

And my youngest? Last night when I was going to bed she was up making these amazing chocolate chip cookies. I had them for breakfast. Help. Somebody save me.

Last night I stayed up late playing on Canva and generally procrastinating on novel writing. I created a new release announcement — and seven bookmarks featuring the covers of seven different novels. They are my next series. I’ve only got one written so far, but I’ve got plans.

The night before that I was up until — well, I am not even going to tell you that. I started off researching the costs of hiring someone from Fiverr to read my books in order to create an audio book. When I realized how expensive it would be plus listened to a lot of really droning narrators, I decided, hey, I used to record songs, I have all the gear, I will just download Reaper and narrate the things myself. So, then I was up for hours recording myself narrating snipets of my novels onto my phone just to see how I sounded.

It is not the easiest thing to do, lemme just say. I speed up. I stumble over words. I add verbal stressors in places they don’t really belong — hats off all you actors! You make it look easy. And yet, after awhile, I thought, hmm, not too bad. I could do this. My favourite was the snippet I wrote for my art heist novel. Every third word was an f-bomb. Apparently, I make a decently convincing villain. Of course, then I thought, hey, why not call up my friends from the actor’s studio. Delphine. Jerome. I work with one of them. I watched the other grow up. They could do this…

I vibe on the creating. I get lost in the creating. I don’t even notice that it is two in the morning and I am still creating. I’ve informed my boss that I have reverted back to my preferred sleeping patterns and will need to be reintegrated gradually when that day comes.

I know that this pandemic fight isn’t over. There is a longer struggle ahead. I know I may not feel this cheerful tomorrow, and even by tonight I may be back to the unbearably snarky comments people who are afraid make to one another on twitter. Fear, I’ve realized, often looks a lot like hate. But right now, for today, I keep realizing another level and another of what is truly important and what is not. People are. Toys are not. Health is. A tan is not. Friendship is. Family is. Encouraging others is. Creativity — whether in innovative ways to fight this disease, in traditional ideas of writing, singing, painting, drama etc. (adapted to a virtual stage) is. Drive-by birthday parades definitely are.

Trying to love better and understand better and empathize instead of villainize — these all are. So, maybe Dan will be right.

Maybe, when this is all over we will remember what is and is not important.

And life as we know it will never be the same.

 

That was Then, This is…

 

woman wearing face mask
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

So, as of yesterday, I was convinced I was a recovering flu-victim in a Coronavirus time in history. When last we spoke, I was headed back to work today. So, here’s what went wrong…

Here are the questions which have spooled through my mind this week:

  1. Do I have Coronavirus or just your average everyday kind of bug?
  2. Do I return to work now that I am improving?
  3. Is it more irresponsible to go to work or to stay home?
  4. If I stay home, will I have a store to return to in two weeks?

So, I’m an old veteran of the flu. I know what to do to beat that bug down. I know what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like. Okay, forget I said that last part out loud. I’m no doctor, but I’m telling ya — I’ve got the flu. Except… if you put the symptoms list side by side with the Coronavirus symptoms list, there is just no way to really know I have the flu without going in and having a stick shoved down my nose. I would do it, honestly, I would. But other people need to more. Besides, from what I’ve read, in BC they have to send the swabs to a lab in Alberta and a fast estimate for results is four days. So, if I’m going to stay home four more days, I’m going to need help on my paycheck, anyway.

I work for Starbucks. They are amazing, and are paying two weeks salary for any employee affected by this pandemic. Kudos. Proud and glad to be working for you. Still, you don’t want to abuse an employer like that. You don’t want to take that money if you don’t have to. This is what was weighing on my mind last night as I contemplated the should I stay or should I go theme of my work life. Around 7 pm I called my mother for advice, but advice was absent. As of 8:30 pm, I was wrestling with, do I call my boss at home and get her advice — but since the store opener’s day begins at 4:45 am (ugh!), I am not even sure if she is still awake at 8:45, 8:47, 8:49…. make a decision already, Leigh!

I don’t want to risk waking Vanessa. I don’t want to bother her at home at night unless I must. I am a grown up. I can make this decision. I am going to work.

Tuesday, Maybe 9:30 (?) pm. Chapters and Indigo stores from around the country post to Instagram that they are closed. THE. WORLD. IS. DOOMED. Actually, all kidding aside, this kind of shakes me up. I mean, not in a scary way, but in a this truly sucks kind of way. Good thing I have a full bookcase of unread books to get through. Still, this news suggests the world as we know it just may be over. Also, it occurs to me that I have yet to collect my books from Bookland in Vernon, which was originally closing at the end of March, and I better remember to do that asap.

Wednesday, 6:45 am. Alarm on snooze.

Wednesday 7:05 am. Must. Get. Up. (shoves dog out of the way).

Wednesday, 7:35 am.  I’m headed into work, and in my car, the news has announced that P.M. Trudeau is going to speak. I listen as I drive, and he is very serious and solemn, and once again as I sputter out a cough and feel the back of my chest burn, I think, “What you are doing is irresponsible.”

And how backwards is that? When did it become irresponsible to go to work? This is a first for me. Uncharted territory. I do not know what to do. Honestly, I just want someone else to make this decision for me. Please! Someone tell me what to do!

I think that as lovely as she always is, my boss is not 100% happy with my showing up and saying, yeah, I’m not really sure I should be here. She wants to know why I didn’t call. (See above). But she gives me a kind-hearted smile (because she is awesome) when she tells they will be okay and I should go home and call the 811 health line. If they tell me to stay home, Starbucks will pay me to do so.

I dial 811 on my phone. For 15 minutes,  I continuously hit the redial button every time I get the all-circuits are busy message or the please call again message. Finally, I am connected. I am asked to hit a number if this is Coronavirus related — so I do — then I am put on hold.

person holding black smartphone near white ceramic mug on brown wooden table
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

Except, hold sounds a lot like dead air. I put my phone on speaker phone. Periodically, I hit the edge of the phone to ensure I haven’t been disconnected. Even more periodically, a disembodied voice tells me they are experiencing higher than normal call volumes and if I am having chest pain or heart pain, call 9-11. I am reasonably certain I would have figured that one out for myself, but I suppose it is good to know.

Once in a while, really bad elevator music plays in-between the disembodied voice message, but not every time. That concerns me at first. I keep thinking I’ve been disconnected, and then the same four bar song comes back on line.  After over thirty minutes of waiting, I get a real live human, and she asks how she can help me. I tell her my little story (minus the self-diagnosis) and she says, I am going to send you over to a nurse to talk to.

Wait, like, directly?

Well, not exactly. Thirty-four minutes later, another real-live human speaks in my ear. At that precise moment, I am in the middle of a coughing fit, and it becomes one of the shortest conversations on record. Oh yeah, that right there, she says. With that symptom, you are home for two weeks.

Seventy-five minutes of hold music. Two minutes of dialogue. This ratio is off. Still, she is cheerful in the midst of what I am sure will be a very long day in a longer month, and she wishes me a speedy recovery to good health. I thank her, and in the meantime, my boss has texted me with instructions on her end. I am to call another number and Starbucks will instruct me on what to do next in order to guarantee my paycheck.

After one hour, twenty-four minutes, and a bunch of seconds, I am answered by one person who forwards me to a second person, who tells me my boss must fill out the paperwork and then I will be paid. They, too, wish me health, which is nice. Everyone is being very nice. Also, the Starbucks hold music is a significant improvement over the government’s.

While I’ve been on hold, I’ve been in group Facebook chats, informed the fam about what’s up with me, listened to part of the Economic Minister’s speech, and researched what to do if you need to file for Employment Insurance. Not for me. For a self-employed customer who runs Karaoke — not so much, right now — and for my daughter, who — crap — I drove home from work two days ago. Flu or no flu, she works for Indigenous Bloom, and since they will have to throw out all their product should an infected person breathe on it, she has now just been laid off for two weeks. Oops and double oops and no good deed goes unpunished and all that. Fortunately, she works for Indigenous Bloom — she has money in the bank.

And so, just like that, I am off for ten days with pay, which HAS NEVER HAPPENED IN MY LIFE EVER, or until that day passes plus I have no symptoms for 72 hours. And with this time, I shall read, cuddle the dog, sleep so as to get healthy again, refuse to stress about the future, and the obvious. Write.

God bless you all — may you stay healthy and be well in all aspects of life. To all impacted by the Coronavirus in all its potentially devastating ways, good luck. Thoughts and prayers be with you all.

 

Stranger than Fiction

So, here’s the T — I’ve been sick. My last shift at work was Friday, although I will be going back tomorrow (Wednesday). Because of this, I’ve got some thoughts on March of 2020 and the Coronavirus world as we know it.

On Friday morning, I woke up with a nasty headache. But, I get headaches, so for me, that was nothing new. Also, on Friday, the North American continent hadn’t fully exploded yet. I headed in to work.

By about 10:30, my throat was feeling a bit raw. But, I talk all day at work, and sometimes that happens. By about noon I knew something more than that was going on. Shortly after that, my boss asked if I would be willing to cover a shift at a different store the following day. I had to tell her, unfortunately, I’m not feeling great. She gave me lozenges and asked if I would like my next shift covered. I gratefully said yes.

By two, she had pulled me off the floor to work in the back. Again, I was grateful. My throat was sore. It was hard to talk. I could feel the energy dissipation happening. By the end of my shift at 4:30, I ordered a big honey citrus mint tea, drove home, then sat in my car and tried to find enough energy to get out of the car and walk inside my house. Once in, I snagged a blanket and pillow and collapsed on my couch while feeling grateful that the day before I’d hit the grocery store and managed to purchase everything we needed except — you guessed it — toilet paper.

I slept all night. Slept until noon on Saturday. Slept on and off throughout Saturday. Slept Saturday night and into Sunday. I also fielded contradicting opinions from loved ones. You should go to get checked for the virus. You should call first and then go get checked for the virus. You shouldn’t bother calling — you won’t get thru, anyway. You should definitely not go get checked for the virus. You shouldn’t bother going to get checked for the virus because you haven’t been out of the country, and you aren’t over sixty. They wouldn’t even check you for the virus even if you went in to get checked for the virus.

What was a girl to do? By Sunday I was pretty sure I just had a seasonal something or other. I didn’t have a fever, my cough was present but mild. I felt crappy. That was my most significant symptom. Yet, that nasty word asymptomatic was circling in my head. I must have read and reread the list of Coronavirus symptoms a dozen times. And, since I was home, awake but not feeling healthy enough for the mental acuity required of novel writing, I watched the news and social media posts of a world systematically closing down — all while my teenage daughter wondered what this all would mean to her Spring Break, her Volleyball league, her grade eleven classes, her social life.

By Sunday afternoon, I had started to feel like I was improving. Say what you will about our grandparents going to war and we’re just sitting on a couch, I might not be so great at quarantine. Both my daughter and I were hugely restless after being confined to the house for only two days. We took our “quarantine” on the road — and just took the car out for a drive in the sun. By the time we got back an hour later, I was out of energy, and realizing my health might not be as improved as I had believed. Well, crap. Back to the blankets for me.

I tried to write. I tried to read. I tried to avoid social media. And while I’m on that topic, lemme just say, when there is a global pandemic going on and you are home with the flu (90% sure), stupid-ass memes about the non-lethality of Coronavirus are offensive, not funny. So stfu people. All I’m saying is… Also, a status post from my friend, Trevor, gave me the jarring bit of info that thanks to my December birthday, I have jumped the fence into a higher-risk age category. I mean, still low, but not as low as five months ago. So, yeah, thanks for that, Trev!

My boss called to see how I was feeling. I told her the truth, mostly by now I am just exhausted, but I don’t see how, given the world’s emotional climate, I can return to work quite yet. I’m still coughing, and I sound congested, and I would freak people out. Fortunately, I wasn’t meant to return to work until Tuesday, so I had another day to make that decision. She let me know there were changes at work, there was also a pledge from the company that they would pay the salary of any staff member needing to self-isolate. I love my employers. Honestly, I came from a difficult work environment. Now, I work for a big company who treats its people like gold. So thankful. Insert heart emoji here.

That still left me with a conundrum. Do I stay or do I go? With the symptoms I have, I would never normally not go back to work. I’d just power through. I mean, that first shift, yeah sure. But four days later? Get real. But, these aren’t normal times. I haven’t been tested to rule out Coronavirus. So, I don’t know that I don’t have it. But, I’m not exactly sick, either. And apparently, I am wanted back at work at my earliest convenience. Something about being a steadying and reassuring presence yadayadayada. (JK. I was touched she said that.) So, how do you decide if you should self-quarantine or not? I have no idea.

And it starts to make you a bit paranoid. Which is why, Sunday night, with my sleep schedule by now completely shot and out the window, I lay in my bed taking deep breaths and listened to the slight rattle I perceived coming from my lungs. Was that pneumonia? What about that? How about that? What does pneumonia feel like? Oh, the curse of being a generally healthy human being!

Monday. I FOUND TOILET PAPER!

Monday. All Alberta and Saskatchewan schools closing and students getting an immediate pass. How is that fair? Sheena informs me that should her classes go online, she is immediately dropping Chemistry and Spanish. Still not 100% healthy, I save that fight, slot it into the should-that-day-come category of parenting.

Monday. Restaurant closures. Neighbours reporting being laid off. Theatre closures. Pool closures. Library closures. Curling club closures. OK Corral closures. West Jet closures. Basically, if it’s fun, it’s closed. I inform work I need one more day off.

Monday, tragedy strikes: Volleyball is cancelled. Teenage depression off the charts. And then…

I send out a group email to my older children. Sheena’s volleyball just got cancelled and she is sad. Anyone wanting to console her should do so. All three siblings immediately send empathetic notes. Brian and his girlfriend come over with fast food. I go out to drive my eldest daughter home from work. We compare stories. She works for Indigenous Bloom. Even they are talking about potential closures. I tell her I feel people will really panic if even the legal pot dispensaries close. We laugh. It feels good.

I return home and the youngest child greets me at the car. This means she thinks if she produces a smile cute enough, I will take her out for a drive. I balk. The fourty minute visit with the eldest daughter has exhausted me. Sheena then informs me, I am not allowed into the house as Brian and his girlfriend are working on a surprise. I drive the youngest child to 7/11 where she buys Slurpees for them, coffee for me. We return home, and the youngest son and his girl have cleaned my kitchen. As John at work says, it sparkles. Apparently, it was even my son’s idea, and then Daelyn took the reins and things got done right — fridge and stove pulled out and mopped under and everything.

I crash back onto my couch and the dog jumps on top of my hip and settles in for her nap. Brian, Sheena, and Daelyn all go out to Dae’s house. Sheena is happier than I’ve seen her all weekend. My little extrovert daughter finally has someone to talk to other than her boring, flu-y mother. I zone out, post the thirteenth picture on my phone on people’s Facebook walls. Stumble across Keith Urban, live streaming on Instagram. He’d had a concert cancelled, and it bummed him out. It is St. Patrick’s Day, after all. So, he rigged up some background tracks and some lights in the warehouse where he keeps oh so many beautiful guitars. And with wifey Nicole Kidman dancing around audience of one style, he played a thirty minute live-stream set which absolutely lifted my spirits and reminded me that the world hasn’t ended yet.

This morning, I’m at 90ish percent healthy. I get up and ready for my day, and jump onto Castanet. American news isn’t fun right now since hating Donald Trump doesn’t seem the most productive use of my energy — despite the fact that he rates his response to this crisis as a ten. That’s cool. The world can use a good laugh right now.  And to be fair, I wouldn’t want to be the leader in charge of a country right now, so yeah, whatever, Castanet it is. Micro-news is likely the best way to go at present, anyway.

And Castanet, this morning, rises to the challenge of improving my mental health.

Apparently, Keith Urban isn’t the only musician doing free concerts. Chris Martin and John Legend did, too. Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively donated a million dollars to food banks — half in the States, half in Canada. Tom and Rita were released from hospital. An Okanagan College exchange student has decided to stay in Spain so she doesn’t risk travelling and making people at home sick. She talks about people in Spain sharing items with each other, talks about people cheering the health care workers at the end of their shifts.

And I think, we get to choose who we want to be, how we want to respond. I think, we get to celebrate the resiliency of the human spirit, we get to support those in our community who are suffering as a result of March 2020. We get to take a look at what is really important, what really matters, and hopefully, carry that reminder with us through April and May and into the future when we are all up off our couches and getting back to the work of being part of both local and global citizenry.

 

Peppermint Oil and Voxx Socks – Part One in the First Day of the Rest of My Life

athletic-socks

Sometimes you just know what you know. I know peppermint essential oil and VOXX socks have improved my quality of life.

Ten-ish years ago, I suffered a triad of athletic injuries. First, I tore all the ligaments in my shoulder during a tennis forehand. Second, I tore all the ligaments in my ankle during a tennis dash to the deep far right of the court. And a year later, I tore my hamstring while doing the splits in yoga. No irony there.

The hamstring injury hurt the most at the time, but now, years later, that is but a distant memory, while both tennis injuries have worsened over the years. They have brought both vocational and recreational changes to my life. This year, when the repetitive motion of putting stamps on envelopes at my desk job was enough to send me home with burning shoulder nerves, I decided, okay, I can’t afford it, but I’m going to look into physio therapy. Clearly, I can’t afford not to. I’m too young to live this way.

And then, by fluke, if you like, by divine intervention, if you prefer, one week after deciding this, I ended up at an outdoor artisans fair. I thought I was going to look at local art works.  Instead, I found two booths, side by side, which have both contributed to changing my quality of life. One of the tables had a big jog of cold lemon water and a bunch of essential oils on display. The table beside them had socks.

At the first table, I stopped in my browsing to read a poster labeling the parts of the foot. The literature claimed that VOXX Life technology could help with foot pain and with balance. Their tool? Socks.

This wasn’t normally a claim I would waste any time on. It turns out, I am a bit of an alternative medicine sceptic. Then the woman manning the booth invited me to remove my shoes and step up for an experiment, and because I was getting desperate for some improvement in my health, I gave a mental shrug, and shucked my flipflops.

“Okay,” I said, “But I have a bad ankle. I already know I’m going to be bad at this.”

With bare feet, I stepped onto the board she indicated, then made fists with my wrists, and placed them on top of one another underneath my breastbone. The woman then placed her hands on top of mine, and pushed down. I immediately toppled. I inadvertently pitched forwards and stepped off the board.

“Okay,” she said, bending over to place a pair of insoles on the board, “Now stand on these, and fold your hands again.”

I let her position me correctly on the insoles, placed my hands as instructed, and let her push her weight down on my hands a second time. She added enough force that my arms dropped down several inches, but I… didn’t budge. It was a startling and dramatic demonstration.

I stepped off the board, put my flipflops back on, and followed her back to a rack of socks. Where I caught my first glimpse of the price tags. Ouch. $40 for a pair of ankle socks.

Normally, I’d never pay that kind of money for socks. I raised four kids on my own, so I can be frugal. Forty bucks can fuel my car for a week. Forty bucks can pay half of my cable bill for a month. Forty bucks will send my daughter away for a weekend with her volleyball team and put food on her plate while she’s there. On the other hand, physio is going to run me a lot more than forty bucks. Even if I am throwing my money away, giving these socks a chance might be an affordable alternative.

I deliberately didn’t bring any cash with me as I perused, but I put my name down on the woman’s pre-order list, and when she contacted me by email a few days later, I charged it. Then I jumped on the VOXX Life website to see what exactly it was that Canada Post was speeding my way.

what-is-voxx-hpt-1024x394

VOXX Life is a company which spent six years developing the technology in their products. They studied “decades of research in brainstem functionality and the peripheral nervous system, and also reviewed the latest research in sensory mechano-receptor mapping,” and also a bunch of other health science stuff (https://voxxlife.com/15-2/).

At VOXX, they wanted to know how the brain’s sensory receptors, the peripheral nervous system and the brainstem interact. Then they wanted to implement what they learned into a line of products designed to increase balance, manage pain, and generally improve energy and function.

VOXX discovered that the relationship between the brainstem, peripheral nervous system and the brain’s sensory receptors are interconnected. They work together to gather sensory input and create motor output. The brainstem connects the brain to the central nervous system, relaying signals between the brain and the spinal cord. The brainstem  also “controls several important functions of the body including pain management, alertness, arousal, breathing, blood pressure, digestion, heart rate, swallowing, walking, posture, stability and sensory and motor information integration.”

VOXX developed technology with a “very specific sequence and pattern of neuroreceptor activation on the bottom of the feet that triggers a signal that aides in the brainstem reaching homeostasis.” In other words, wearing VOXX products triggers the brainstem to signal the brain in ways that induce a relatively stable equilibrium between all three elements of the body. These trigger point patterns are woven or molded into footwear products. The results people saw were significant enough that the technology was then sold to the army and to professional athletes.

The result VOXX users observed included improved posture and balance, improved mobility and energy, and generally reduced or more easily managed pain levels. VOXX says, “The concept is simple. The science is proven. The results are extraordinary.” I just say, “It works.”

When you get your socks, you are instructed to keep them on 24/7 for a week. Apparently, they come with an antibacterial ingredient which allows this. You can wash them in the machine when necessary, but hang to dry. I followed these instructions religiously. Within three days, I no longer recognized myself. The difference was undeniable, yet I tried to deny.

“This has got to be a placebo,” I said, pretty much to anyone who would listen. So, I took a day without the socks. Not, I was forced to concede, a placebo. VOXX technology is the real deal. I was so convinced, I signed up as a rep.

My job at the time was largely sedentary, but I’d also worked at a fast-food restaurant on the side briefly. I remember sitting in my car after one eight hour shift unable to drive out of the parking lot because my ankle was spasming. That feeling when your leg has gone to sleep and the circulation is returning? That was happening all at once — and was focused in my Achilles tendon to the point that I was unsafe to drive home. I’d also, on more than one occasion, had my foot simply collapse underneath me as I walked up the four steps to my patio. It’s a terrifying thing when you are a relatively young woman and with no advance warning, your foot simply crumples underneath you. All this changed.

I started taking walks. I resumed swimming. I started jogging up my stair case. I quit my sedentary job and took jobs requiring me to be on my feet for eight hours at a time. At the end of these shifts, my feet would hurt. Because, you know, feet get tired after running around on them for eight straight hours. So, my feet got tired — normal, been-standing-on-you-all-day tired. And my life changed.

Best forty dollars ever spent.

Now, I wear them all the time. I’m someone who likes big fluffy, floppy socks in winter, and bare feet all the rest of the time, but I don’t even notice these socks. They don’t make me sweat, and they feel great. Mostly, though, they make me feel healthy in them.

I don’t know that I’ll ever hit the tennis courts again. Not sure I even still want to. But the discovery of VOXX technology has gone a long way to getting me moving again. If you suffer from balance or pain issues, give VOXX a chance. It might just be the best money you ever spend, too.

For more information on VOXX, visit their website https://voxxlife.com. They’ve been a game changer for me.

My shoulder would tell you, so have essential oils, but that is part two of this story. Stay tuned for that story, coming soon!

CBC’s The Debater’s on Is Easter the Best Holiday

So, it’s been a heck of a week.

In Salmon Arm, a shooting in a church service. In Penticton, a shooter on the streets. In Kelowna, bank robberies and police takedowns at gunpoint appear to be becoming the norm, and yesterday the courthouse next to the art gallery where I work was evacuated when someone pulled the fire alarm. Local news called it a false alarm, but in the gallery we noticed the commotion not because of sirens and flashing lights and hot-bodied men in uniforms wandering the street, but rather because the gallery smelled of smoke — causing concern and an immediate investigation of our entire building. Fire is not the friend of art. And I’m not saying the news is lying to you, but…

In France, we saw Notre Dame burn. In response to Notre Dame… memes? Really people? Is nothing sacred with this generation?

In the US, the Muller report, redacted but released, and showing how depressingly immoral a government and apathetic a democratic country can become. Nixon was gone for a lot less; a poll shows that half the American people determined prior to the release of the report that its contents would not change their opinions. Look how far we’ve come, baby.

On the home front, a broken car, a repaired car, a broken car, a repaired car… and a daughter who came home from school in tears twice because of the social and academic pressure dispensed at this mandatory government institution.

Living in the 21st Century, apparently, is not for the faint of heart.

And then it’s Easter. And in a bizarre turn of events a woman with two jobs (me!) has both Good Friday and Easter Sunday off.

This year, I have found that an antidote to the stresses of life and of media immersion is laughter, and I have been turning to comedy more and more often for relief. Thus, I have become a great fan of CBC Radio’s The Debaters.

When my University profs used to speak about listening to CBC Radio in their cars on their way to class, I privately thought, I will never get that old. Turns out, I did. I even downloaded the ap on my phone. So, for those who aren’t familiar with The Debaters, two comics debate opposing sides of a given argument in a comedic fashion, and a studio audience votes for their favourite. Winners are determined by the volume of the audience’s cheers. And it is hilarious.

With topics such as Are the Toronto Maple Leafs the Worst Franchise in Hockey and Pierre versus Justin: Who was the Superior Trudeau, this show is so funny it often has tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks.

This week’s topic was Is Easter a Fun Occasion, and the debaters were Lara Rae and Derek Seguin. Once again, I find myself laughing, and crying, and I think, I should post this to Facebook in honour of Easter! I wonder which of my friends would enjoy the humour in it, as I do, which would be touched, as I am, and which would be scandalously offended, as I’m certain a portion of the faith community within my acquaintance would be. To post or not to post, this is the question.

Lara Rae, comedian, Artistic Director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, and transwoman, is given the side of the debate that Easter is a truly “hoppy” occasion. She is given two minutes to argue for her point of view.

Montreal-based Derek Seguin, a comedian who speaks about getting divorced by saying, “I got divorced…not really divorced, I think to get divorced you have to get a lawyer or file paperwork… I’m not really a paperwork kind of guy. I’m more a change the lock on the house kind of guy. But I’m also Quebecois, and I travel all over Canada, so I’m uncomfortable with the word separate, so I always just say divorce,” is given the other side of the argument.

Lara Rae opens, and it is incredible. She starts by talking about the hunger associated with Lent, then says, “Jesus was the first social justice warrior, and the best.” Continuing, she describes the Easter story in terms that would do justice to the script of an epic movie. “It’s got a rock; it’s got a roll. It’s got Golgotha, which literally means hill of skulls. Awesome. It has courage; it has betrayal. It has three women standing up to a fascist military dictatorship; feminism, and a centurion that gets Van Goghed by a hot-headed disciple with a machete.”

And it’s funny, because although I am laughing, it feels a bit like I am in a really good church service. And if more preachers paraphrased the Bible as well as Lara Rae, I’d likely attend a lot more regularly.

Seguin comes back by wondering about the math in the Bible. “Hey, Steve, if I ask you on a Friday, hey, let’s go for lunch in three days, what day are you showing up for lunch?” When Steve responds, “It seems like Monday,” Seguin agrees. “Steve,” he says, “Is very good at math. A terrible Christian, though. ‘Cuz apparently, in the Bible, Friday plus three days is Sunday. What the hell happened?” Then he goes on to say, “What Jesus did, is come back from the dead! That is so huge. What a huge message! And who did we, as parents, choose to bring this message to the kids? A frickin’ bunny rabbit? What? What?” He says, “Maybe Jesus should sneak into the house and.. hide the secret of how to come back from the dead. Maybe in a Kinder Surprise or something.”

And again, I am laughing, but I am actually thinking, that’s pretty profound, really, and some would even say, is exactly what Jesus did that first Easter, year zero (Another Seguin quote).

The debate continues into the bare knuckle round, and Lara Rae laughs that she was “this close to the priesthood! I was set to be one of Rome’s primary transgender female priests.” Even she can’t say this without laughing, and when the host gives Seguin the last word on the topic he says, “I just, I learned a lot about the Bible I didn’t know,” and he sounds serious, actually. The show moves into the firing line, where the comedians answer questions about Easter with their best guess, then finishes up with closing arguments.

Derek Seguin suggests that we are a multi-culture, multi-faith country so we could have an all-faith free 2019. In order to do that, kids should just stay in school on weekends so that parents can have fun with melted chocolate on the long-weekend while the kids are at school. He knows teachers wouldn’t enjoy this, but says, “Suck it up, you have a whole two months off.”

When Lara Rae closes, her speech is reverent, more serious than funny. I mean, she’s funny, but I could be listening to a sermon. Just, a more palatable sermon than most. She says, “You can’t taint Easter. So, they made a pagan holiday to sit alongside it with rabbits and chocolate. Whether you believe in the resurrection, or have a deep respect, it’s still the centre symbol of Christianity and contains a powerful message of forgiveness the world needs terribly today.”

Listening, the audience is hushed, and I find there are tears in my eyes, not of humour, this time, but of respect, of need. And then, in place of an altar call, she concludes with a joke, but the moment is not lost on me, and I find myself extremely thankful that before I move on with my planned day off activities of sweeping the living room floor and swishing the bathroom toilet with its brush, I have had this faith moment, laughing in the comfort of my living room, yet still reminded why I have this day off today in the first place.

In a week that hasn’t had a lot to laugh about, thank you, Debaters, for making me laugh. Thank you, Jesus, for your love that lead you to sacrifice. And thank you Lara Rae and Derek Seguin, for reminding me of the beauty of faith in a world which is most certainly in need of a little faith.

Breaking Bread: Kelowna’s Taste of Home

 

Breaking Bread.

According to the Urban Dictionary, “To break bread is to affirm trust, confidence, and comfort with an individual or group of people. Breaking bread has a notation of friendliness and informality, derived from the original meaning regarding sharing the loaf.”

Another, simpler definition of the term is, “To share a meal with someone.” This comes from Writing Explained, an online site for writing instruction. They go on to state:

This expression means more than just eating; it is sharing a sense of brotherhood with someone or some group of people. It is a significant event that fosters some meaningful connection and cooperation.
Perhaps you are enemies; breaking bread with someone indicates a sense of forgiveness and moving forward to the affair.

Writing Explained (https://writingexplained.org/idiom-dictionary/break-bread-with-someone) states that the term breaking bread has Biblical origins, originating with the story of Jesus blessing, then breaking 5 loaves of bread — and feeding 5000 people. Then, according to Mathew 14:20, “They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.” Considering Jesus had twelve disciples, there seems to be a moral in this number. First they fed others, then there was a basket full left over for each. Later on in his life, Jesus would refer to broken bread as his own body. Famously known as the last supper, the instruction given that day was to “eat in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Food is about so much more than simply fueling the body. That’s why, every year at Christmas, I make the same cookie recipes — they remind me of the continuity of family celebrations.

Some of my recipes were taught to me by people no longer alive. I think of them every time I cook them. My English grandmother passed on roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, my Irish grandfather passed on potato pancakes, and my German Aunt (still with us – hi Auntie Marion!) passed on borscht and plotz — a white cake topped with fruit and butter and sugar crumbles. I still have Anne’s chicken wings and Lois’ chocolate chip cookies and Grandpa’s pastry written down in the little red notebook that I started in my early twenties, when I first moved away from my parent’s home.

I remember fondly the church potlucks of my youth, and Nellie Romeyn’s (my first boyfriend’s mom) Flying Saucer Cookies. I also remember the casseroles the church ladies brought our family when my grandmother died. I was thirteen at the time. And I remember Rie Beugelink, who had a tablecloth cross-stitched with all the names of her dinner guests on it. This inspired me, and when I bought my first home, I painted a patio bench and had it signed by all my house guests that first year.

Food reminds us of who we are, of our histories, our traditions, of relatives and homes which have gone before us. It bonds us. The smells and flavours of shared culinary creations take us back, and when shared, they build our united futures. All of which is why I was thrilled to receive the invitation to attend Kelowna’s Taste of Home event, and to stop in on my way home after work on Saturday night.

The event was held in the New Life church building on Harvey, which is an interesting choice considering the building’s original purpose after construction was as a farmer’s market. The main room of the building has two levels, and flags from around the world now hang from the top floor.

The Global Citizen’s event, which is in its fourteenth year, was packed. I had to park a block away, and almost let the blustering cold wind and my post-work lag change my mind about attending. Once inside, I was so glad to be there. It cost a dollar at the door to get inside, and then I handed over five dollars for food tickets ($1 each) and wove my way in through the crowd.

Vendors representing different countries were arrayed around the edges of the room, while the centre was set up with chairs where it was possible to sit and watch entertainers in traditional costume perform dances from their corners of the globe. It had been advertised that food items would cost between one and three tickets per item, and so my first goal was to do a full pass of all the vendors and decide which foods I would sample. I stopped halfway through, though, to film the Chinese dragon dance.

On my second pass, I purchased my first item. For one ticket, I received a dinner roll sized plate heaped high with pumpkin lentil stew (on a bed of rice) from Columbia. I’d never tried this dish before, and found it to be a delicious mild curry-flavoured meal. For a dollar, it was also quite filling.

Although I wanted to try the Venezuelan pastries and the Caribbean jerked chicken, I wandered past Thailand and Venezuela and Mexico, Japan and Taiwan and the Caribbean, mostly because the lineups were long, and there was easier places to wait.

I found myself standing in Israel’s line waiting to be served a cheese Knish with berries, which also cost me $1, and tasted great — not tart, but not too sweet, either. Because Syria was located next door to Israel, I next purchased a skewer of Falafel for $2. I passed on the hummus, though, as that would have taken my last ticket. The food was delicious — far tastier than the falafel I’d purchased this summer at the Kelowna Fruit Market, although, I have to admit, my motivations for that purchase were entirely political sentimentality. Israel was next to Syria. That, to me, simply had to be honoured.

With one ticket remaining, my options were a bit limited. I could have purchased tea from Taiwan, or an energy ball from Venezuela or gone back for seconds in Columbia. Instead, I decided to support the home team, and bought two somewhat gooey maple tarts from the ladies who were looking a little bit lonely at the Canadian booth.

I’d filled my stomach – and I was, indeed, full — with an interesting assortment of cultures. I didn’t get to try the bannock from the First Nations Booth, and I’m not sure what was being sold from Greece, although I did see some Kalamata olives on one lady’s plate. I didn’t get any gelato from Italy, but I did see that the servings they were giving out were quite ample. You couldn’t get as large a dish for as small a price in an actual ice cream shop, I can vouch for that.

On one of my passes around the food booths, I ran into my boss and her husband. Ady is from France, her husband, a local chef, is from Australia. They are expecting their first child, and at work this week, she was mentioning that since their baby will be born in Canada, the child will be legally entitled to three different passport options. I am second generation Canadian — my English grandmother was one of the first war brides to arrive after World War 2. And yet, here we all were, sampling meals from other people’s homelands.

With my stomach full, I found a spot to watch and photograph the entertainment. Peru had taken the stage, followed by Ukraine, and then Japan. I heard that Mexico was dancing at 7:30, but I knew I wouldn’t be staying that long. I didn’t expect it to be tears which sent me running for the door, though.

The Ukrainian dancers were part of a local dance club, and as a result, they had sets of dancers of various ages performing. This extended their time on stage a bit, and at some point as I watched, my eyes strayed from the performers to the crowd. At New Life church, the stage is accessible by a set of carpeted stairs which run across the front of the podium, and my attention was suddenly captured by the scene there. Children with various skin and hair colours, with various ethnic backgrounds and in various different traditional costumes had stationed themselves in an undulating line along the staircase. Sitting together, seemingly oblivious to exterior differences, or historical animosities, or cultural variation, they watched the performers. This, I thought, as I felt myself choking up, is the world as it is meant to be. This is a picture of my country, of my global community.

And I am very proud to call myself Canadian, eh.

 

Kindness

At the start of 2019, I find myself in the position of needing to increase my income level. In October, the company I work for reduced the hours of everyone with my job description, and that same month my daughter, who had been paying rent, moved out. So, as of this week, I have begun the process of revamping my resume and shopping it out. Job hunting, as most would agree, is not the gentlest experience in life. Perhaps that is why I have had the concept of kindness so much on my mind this week.

kind·ness
[ˈkīn(d)nəs]

NOUN
the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
synonyms:
kindliness · kind-heartedness · warm-heartedness · tender-heartedness · goodwill · affectionateness · affection · warmth · gentleness · tenderness · concern · care · [more]
a kind act.
“it is a kindness I shall never forget”
synonyms:
kind act · good deed · act of kindness · good turn · favor · act of assistance · service · help · aid

When I was dating my now ex-husband, we once had a conversation where he suggested I might be ‘too nice’ to parent children. (Ha! I raised four of ’em). Although I never asked for clarification (something I’ve since learned is important to do), I understood him to mean I would not be able to discipline well, nor would I be able to stand up to protect them. Whether that was his actual message or not, I can’t say — and I no longer have any need to know — but I did carry his words with me for a long time. Although I have proven him wrong, I never forgot this conversation, and I pondered it at times as I went through life being ‘nice.’

For a long time, I despised the idea that I was ‘nice’ — it seems such a lukewarm, lame quality, the ultimate in blasé descriptors. At some point, though, I embraced the idea, because, quite frankly, I’m not actually always that nice (our little secret), and also I have observed that being nice, being kind, can so uplift a person. Living a life of demonstrated kindness, I have decided, is a beautiful way to live.

In 2010, I graduated from UBCO with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. I’d been in a car accident which had extended my post-secondary education by a year, and over the span of that extra year, my city entered a recession. For six weeks I handed out resumes without so much as a call back, while watching my savings dwindle. Finally, I was hired at Perkins Family Restaurant, where I would work for the next seven years of my life.

I still remember that first shift, standing in the kitchen pass through rolling napkins around cutlery and feeling both deja vu and a shell-shocked, disbelief-ridden kind of despair. How was it possible that after seven years of post-secondary education, I found myself back in the restaurant industry?

And not even back in the industry, but in a family restaurant. My pre-childbirth resume had waitressing experience, but the company names I’d worked for in my twenties were significantly more upscale.

I hated where I’d landed, and I blamed my ex (because, you know, it’s not kosher to blame the kids and not fun blaming your own lack of foresight), and those feelings showed up in the service I gave. Well, okay, maybe not to the customer’s face — I have been gifted with my parent’s dimples and I learned early in life that my smile can hide a multitude of sins — but back in the kitchen with the other servers? I bitched. That’s the truth of it.

I didn’t approach my work as anything more than a way to pay the bills. What I did, I did for the tips. I learned quickly to flirt with the children and the older men, to admire tattoos and hair styles and manicures, even if I was lying through my teeth on all accounts. Waitressing (allow me to enlighten any of you who have never done it) can be the highest form of insincerity; waitressing makes insincerity an art form.

While working at the restaurant, three things happened which changed me. One day while I was not at work, I engaged in a conversation with a woman for whom I have great respect. I was describing for her all the ways in which I hated my job. To my surprise, she told me she had also waitressed, and it had been one of her favourite jobs because she made it a personal challenge to make the crankiest of customers smile. Huh.

I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. What if, instead of ranting in the dish pit whenever someone rubbed me the wrong way, I reframed the interaction, turned defeating unhappiness into my own personal mission? What if, instead of checking what each table tipped, I refused to let myself check my tip tally until day’s end, eliminating payment from my immediate motivations when offering thoughtful care to my guests?

One afternoon, I served lunch to a group of ten businessmen. The check came to roughly $150, and when it was time to deliver it, the man with the Visa card asked me what he should tip.

“I can’t answer that for you,” I replied. “Most people tip around fifteen percent.”

“Is that all you think you are worth?” He asked, laughing, so I jived off his mood.

“Oh! What I’m worth? I’m worth one hundred percent!”

The table laughed, and I left then returned later to retrieve his signed credit slip. When I looked at my tip, I was floored to see he had matched the bill — he had left me a one hundred percent tip. I took the paper to my manager.

“Um,” I said, “Maybe you should go double check that this isn’t a mistake?” Instead, she instructed me to go clarify. I went back to the table. Continue reading “Kindness”

Falling

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** I wrote this years ago as part of a lyric essay class at UBCO.                                                        Posting now in honour of Halloween.

You took me to your beach lot that night last summer when it rained and thundered, and the orange and red spokes of the bonfire hissed and sizzled and smoked and spat at us from where we sat in the lawn chairs underneath the trailer’s awning. I got soaked, anyway, because I never have been able to resist the rain. I got drunk, too, because I never have had a head for beer. And when the clouds finally parted, and the moon was full, I could have sworn that perfect round orb of wonder was hung in the sky deliberately, just for me and you. I felt the heat of your body standing behind me in mute observation. If I had closed my eyes I imagine I would have felt your breath skimming down the back of my neck.

I didn’t want to go, that night in September at your house, but I left. I left that night when the sky exploded around us as we stood on your patio beside the scent of the gardenias in your hanging baskets. That night when flicking off the outdoor lights meant flicking on the show in billions of tiny twinkling stars. I left. I just didn’t leave in time. My hands gripped the balcony railing as you stood there beside me, but even so, with my neck cricked upwards to see the show and with my brain tilting heavy like rocks away from the centre of my skull, my heart swayed.

“I remember what I wanted to tell you,” you said to me Halloween night, when we were trick-or-treating together, one big happy family. “I wanted to tell you I watched a program and it said there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world.” Continue reading “Falling”

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