Tag Archives: self-care

Twelve Years

I am walking through a city park, amid melting snow and the first hints of green, when the memory hits me.

Twelve years ago, give or take a few days, I am standing in a cemetery. Melting snow and mud, the first warm day after a long and brutal winter, and my father is being buried. Fragments from the funeral: a whole pew full of Lutheran pastors in their robes, come to pay tribute to one of their own; how my stepsister cried but I could not; standing at the front of the airy, wood-beamed church and saying a few words with my siblings, words I do not remember now.

He never hated winter. Much as he loved growing vegetables and going on long bike rides in the summer, he still took winter in stride. After my parents divorced, he would take me and my siblings cross-country skiing on the small-town golf course right behind his house – long flat stretches, gentle slopes, stands of leafless prairie trees, crisp white snow and blue shadows and the sky that deep, deep blue that I still think of as Alberta blue.

That winter, he was ill for only a few months before he died. We visited him in hospital, driving back and forth in the bitter cold. Winter has never been the same for me in all the years since. I hunker down, hibernate (as much as anyone with a full-time job outside the house can), and wait for spring. He would not have shared the sentiment, but he would have understood.

(I thought of him when Terry Pratchett passed away recently. My father never read Pratchett, but I think he would have appreciated the humour – incisive but warm, with an essential core of humanism. (He was, after all, a big Robin Williams fan…and boy, was it hard when Robin Williams lost his battle.) I just reread Small Gods, particularly appropriate because my father was a pastor. What is belief? What is the relationship between the structure of the church and its god? He would have loved these questions that Pratchett explores so thoughtfully, cloaked in the guise of humour.)

When he died, I was an adult and working, but still living at home with my mother, just a few years into the relationship with the person I would later marry. I think of him sometimes now that I live in a different city and province, married, homeowner, small press editor, dancer. So many things have happened in my life since he was buried, it’s strange to contemplate.

But there are similarities. I have a vegetable garden now; the taste of real carrots takes me back to childhood. My father and his second wife, my stepmother, had a weekend ritual of going to the coffee shop at the edge of their neighbourhood. My husband and I do the same. Then we walk through a cemetery, just as I used to do with my father as a toddler.

It’s not the same cemetery, nor the one where he is buried. But I’m not sure that matters.

Spring will come to all of them.

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Post-holiday blues, amirite? Vacation is over, spring is months away, and it’s far enough into the new year to realize that maybe you’re not going to nail all your resolutions. A popular myth holds that a Monday in January (no consensus as to which one) is the most depressing day of the year. So…what to do about it?

Actually, for me the worst time is late February or early March — still very much winter here in Toronto. I usually write a post on the late-winter blues. This year I’m writing early, in the hopes that by listing some of the strategies that are working now, I — and you — will be better armed to face the rest of the winter.

(If you’re looking for an update on the writing situation, it’s at the bottom of the post.)

Park in winter

The Obvious

Just to get the obvious tips out of the way, here are the 3 most common recommendations for fighting SAD:

  • take vitamin D
  • use full-spectrum lighting
  • stay active doing something you love

The Key

Here’s what I’m focusing on this year: embrace winter. Sounds simple, but for a solar-powered, cold-blooded heat-seeker like me, it takes practice. And it’s applicable to all sorts of areas…

Hibernation

Instead of hunkering down in your home and cursing the cold, what about focusing on the enjoyable parts of staying indoors? There’s no garden calling your name, no patio, no summer festivals, no rambling through farmers’ markets or down streets of little shops. You’re free to make the most of indoor activities, whether at home or otherwise. So why not let yourself enjoy TV binges, cooking or baking, reading, crafting, drinking copious amounts of hot liquids, and so on? (Or, if you’re ambitious, go to the movies, an art gallery, the library…) Soon enough you’ll be busy outside again.

Nesting

If you’re going to hibernate, though, you need a good place to do it. Now is the time to make your living room, bedroom, or home office a truly cozy place to hang out. For example, maybe you have a disaster area organizing project to tackle (um, that would be me!), to reclaim a space that hasn’t been serving a good purpose.

Or maybe you could let your inner decorator out to play. This winter, my partner and I had a lot of fun decorating the house for Christmas. It was our third Christmas since becoming homeowners, but last year we were away, and the year before we were still recovering from having gotten married! So this was the first year we had the time and energy to devote to dressing up the place.

Our efforts made the living room in particular feel SO cozy and welcoming, we just wanted to hang out there all the time. (New problem: now we don’t want to take down the Christmas decor! Sadly, most of it can’t pass for “winter seasonal”…though we will leave the bowl of pine cones, the pillar candles, and maybe the fake garland on the mantelpiece.)

Outdoor fun

“Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” (“My country is not a country, it is winter”) — Gilles Vigneault, Québécois poet and singer-songwriter

Of course, you can’t stay indoors all the time. That’s where winter sports come in. I won’t linger on this one because you get the idea. Personally, I don’t downhill ski, snowboard, or skate, but I do love cross-country skiing and snowshoeing when I can. When that fails, there’s always going for a walk. As long as the weather is not truly crappy, it still feels good.

On that note, I’m practising gratitude. Sure, it’s winter, but the weather isn’t always terrible. When it snows, or when it’s cold but sunny, I try and take a moment to stop and enjoy it. If I have to shovel or spread salt, I make a point of being thankful that I’m taking care of (a) my house, and (b) the neighbourhood. Yes, it does take practice, but it really does help.

Winter fashion

Quick preamble: In the last few years, I’ve developed an interest in clothes that I never really had before. I was (and am) a geek who lives very much in my head. But I never knew how to dress in a way that would make me happy. Now I’m finally figuring it out (with fits and starts, of course), and, surprise, it’s actually fun! (Quick plug for Missus Smarty Pants here. And no, I’m not an affiliate or anything, just a happy customer.)

Anyway…I’m enjoying wearing things that only work in cold/cooler weather. Right now that includes the prettiest sweaters I can find, plus fleece-lined footless tights (best thing ever, I swear). When it’s a bit warmer I wear opaque nylons and riding boots. I’ve got skirts and dresses in heavier, winter fabrics and colours, and (mostly costume) jewellery to go with them. I can’t wear this stuff in summer, so I’m trying to remember to enjoy it now…and mix it up so I don’t get bored.

Caveat: I do not sacrifice warmth for style. If it’s more than a little below freezing, I’m ditching my cute pea jacket for my parka, my cute wool hat and gloves for a toque and puffy mittens, my riding boots for lined and grippy winter boots. I’ll be stylish when I get to my destination and shed layers, but until then, I’ll be snug and not miserably cold.

Anticipation

If all of the above fails, look ahead. Don’t think too hard about spring yet, that’s too far away. A better idea is to plan something special to look forward to — mid-February is a good time. No, I’m not talking about V-Day necessarily. Throw a party. Plan a girls’ night out, or a weekend away if you can swing it. Think up a special, out-of-the-ordinary outing, with someone else or on your own. It doesn’t have to be fancy or cost much (or anything at all, if you’re resourceful) — it just has to be something to draw you onward, through the cold and the dark towards the promise of spring.

Writing

As promised, here’s what’s going on with writing: nothing. Well, nothing on the surface, anyway. I’m reading more than usual, taking in “story” through movies and TV, tentatively poking through some books on writing. Went on a couple of Pinterest sprees, some of which were writing-related.

I still have no urge to actually write fiction…but then, it is winter. Gardens need time to rest; animals hibernate; trees look like they’re dead, until suddenly they’re not.

I’m trying to remember these things, and hope.

Your turn! What do you do to get through winter?

Looking Back on 2014

Hi, guys, did you miss me? I’m resurrecting the blog because I can never resist a yearly recap!

It’s that time of year again…time to reflect, regroup, and ponder.

Last year, I declared my intention to make more space for my writing (after a very busy 2012 and 2013, where lots of good things happened but writing fell by the wayside). 2014 was going to be the Year of Priorities, AKA Project: Making Space.

What I learned: Be careful how you word your resolutions!

What happened: “Making Space” came to pass in a much more literal way than I had intended. My partner and I started renovating our house (to be clear, we weren’t doing the work ourselves, but it did take up a LOT of brain cycles). We ended up with:

Refinished attic

  • a newly finished room (and revamped hallway and staircase) in the attic, which became an exercise room that’s getting used at least once a week, and also converts to a guest room
  • a functional second-floor kitchen (my partner’s parents live with us and do most of the cooking, but we wanted our own space for weekend food prep…there was already a second kitchen when we bought the house, but it needed appliances and more storage)
  • a landscaped backyard (to replace the former field of weeds), meaning we could enjoy our vegetable garden, add a couple of flower/shrub gardens, and spend time on our new back deck
  • a central air-conditioning system (which, among many other benefits, made the attic usable in summer!)
Deck, shed, Japanese maple to the left...all new! (Lilac to the right is not new.)

Deck, shed, Japanese maple to the left…all new. (Lilac to the right is not new.)

See? Making Space! :-P

This turned out to be good for the soul. We bought a nice set of patio furniture and it’s been wonderful to sit out on the deck — it needs some decor and privacy touches, but already it makes me feel a bit like I’ve got a country cottage in the city. Since I crave nature, the wilder the better, this is an excellent start.

Patio retreat in the making...

Patio retreat in the making…

I’ve also had fun adding flowers and shrubs to my repertoire after three years of vegetable gardening (details here and here). And between the deck and the second kitchen, we’ve been able to throw a couple of house parties — new territory for us, and an area we’re not very comfortable in yet, but hey, growth requires stretching, right?

Old-fashioned hydrangea, in memory of my grandmother.

Old-fashioned hydrangea, in memory of my grandmother.

What did not happen: Writing.

Okay, some writing did happen, but nowhere near as much as I’d hoped.

  • Wrote somewhere around 35K words, and almost all of it got edited and/or either published with Turtleduck Press or submitted elsewhere (with no results…yet)
  • Wrote and published the last two installments of Still Waters Run Deep (a fantasy serial) as TDP freebies, and started tweaking the serial to turn it into a coherent 10K story but did not finish
  • Wrote and published “The Raja and the Madman” (a longish fantasy short story) in the Under Her Protection anthology from TDP
  • Wrote 15K on draft 2 of a YA SF novel for NaNoWriMo (but had to quit because of wrist problems — see below) and tried to continue draft 2 of a YA fantasy novel but didn’t get very far
  • Wrote 2 more short stories (one historical fantasy, one Gothic) that haven’t appeared anywhere…yet…and 3 flash fiction pieces — the third of which is now up at TDP
  • Edited two TDP releases, Under Her Protection and Even the Score by KD Sarge

Under Her Protection edited by Siri Paulson

In part, the lack of writing was due to a health scare, with tendonitis in both wrists in September and cropping up again in November. I’ve been doing some preventative stuff, but I have a feeling that’s going to need more focus in January.

In travel/vacation news, I had:

  • a trip to India (again — but just for two weeks this time)
  • a trip to the Canadian Rockies (to go hiking with my siblings, which was fabulous)
  • a couple of lovely staycations
  • some weekends out of town to go contra dancing (as dancing expanded to take on a bigger role in my life…we’ll see where it goes from here!)

Looking ahead…

I’m wondering if the wrist issues are trying to tell me something about writing. More about that in a future post. More about that here (tl;dr I’m thinking very hard about what I want out of writing, because it’s been a struggle for a while). I’m not one for hard deadlines, so I’m still mulling over my intentions for 2015.

Also coming up on the blog: reading roundup for 2014…and maybe an SF&F movie recap, if there’s interest.

Your turn! How did your 2014 go? What’s ahead for you in 2015?

Late Winter Blues

Right about this time of year, I always start to feel really ground down by winter. Christmas holidays are a distant memory, the February long weekend (Family Day in most of Canada) is over, and the Easter long weekend isn’t for another month or two. Post-holiday optimism and resolve have been dulled by the pressures of reality. The cold grey weather seems like it’ll never end, and I’m more than ready for some warmth and sunshine.

And yes, I’m taking Vitamin D and I’ve tried full-spectrum lights in the past. Last year I even contrived to run away to a hot climate for three months, but that’s not an option this year.

(Funny thing is, when I was younger I thought snowbirds — in Canuck-speak, that’s retirees who head south for the winter — were wimps. Now I totally get the appeal! Alas, I’m a looong way from being able to do that regularly, even if I did swing it once.)

Here’s something I wrote almost exactly two years ago: Surviving the End of Winter. Unfortunately, those strategies aren’t working so well this time. (Even the copious amounts of chocolate.) Mental health is a moving target, I swear.

So I’m turning the platform over to you. How do you cope with the late-winter blues?

#ROW80 Update

Despite the above, I’ve already hit 2.25 hours of novel revision this week — thanks in part to the aforementioned long weekend, and in part to having to prep pages for my critique group. Only another 1.25 hours to go! Jury’s still out on whether I’m actually making progress or stalled, though. Maybe the rest of the week will see things start to move along.

 

Cruel Self-Talk and ROW80 Check-In

Just a quick post today, because I’m going to send you over to a post I wrote yesterday at Turtleduck Press. It’s about New Year’s resolutions, changing goals, and how we talk to ourselves.

Here’s a snippet:

I’m doing a writing challenge that involves twice-weekly check-ins on my blog. If you read those posts, you might notice a lot of what sound like rationalizations or excuses. I’m busy with Real Life. I’m not writing a lot but it’s quality over quantity. Renovations also relate to my goal of “making space”.

But all of that is deliberate.

You see, I tend to be very hard on myself. There’s a little voice in my head that says I’m not working hard enough, I should be doing more, that story I’m working on sucks, look at how much those people on Twitter are writing, I only work 40 hours a week so there’s no reason I can’t write 10 hours a week, what the hell am I doing on the Internet, etc., etc. (And that’s just the parts that relate to writing.)

To be honest, I’ve struggled for a long time with this voice. It seeps into all aspects of life. It can find so many ways to say “You suck. You’re not good enough — you’re not like those other people — and you never will be.” And that’s not motivating; it’s paralyzing.

Even now as I type, I don’t want to write too much about it because I’m afraid to give it free rein, to let it gain a toehold in my mind.

Check out the rest of my post to find out how I’m fighting back. And please do leave a comment — I’d love to hear how you fight back, too.

ROW80 stats: only half an hour so far this week, as renovations are still eating my life. But I have high hopes for getting more words down on Thursday night and Saturday.

 

Making Space for Writing: ROW80 Goals

Last year, I was very busy with Life — not in a bad way, but it meant I didn’t do a whole lot of writing. This year, Life has settled down (knock wood). So I’m taking a step back, refocusing and recommitting to what it is I really want to do with myself. Which is write.

Specifically, I want to make more space for my writing. I hear myself constantly complaining about how busy I am. My house is cluttered so there’s no room to think. The Internet is an ever-present demon. And the writing I am getting done feels like it has stagnated because I’m not sinking into it as deeply as I could be.

So I am declaring this the Year of Priorities, AKA Project: Making Space.

It’s a multi-pronged problem, so I’ll be making a multi-pronged attack.

ROW80

First step: ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days). This is a writing challenge where, unlike NaNoWriMo, each participant declares his or her own goal. It runs for 80 days, then takes a break and starts again. That means it’s not a mad coffee-fueled dash like NaNo. As I understand it, you’re supposed to take ROW80 a little slower, integrate your goal into your normal life, and work towards building habits.

My ROW80 goal: To spend 5 hours a week writing and/or editing.

(A week is counted as Monday to Sunday. Related tasks such as researching, brainstorming, and outlining may or may not count, or I may count them as half time, or something.)

I’m tempted to talk about gradually raising the goal, or about how much I hope to accomplish by the end of the 80 days, but I won’t. I have a long history of setting unrealistic goals, or “product” goals that don’t take into account the length of the process, and then beating myself up when I miss them. So this time I’m starting simple.

My current projects are:

  • Writing, editing, and posting a serial story for Turtleduck Press (I’m just finishing up Part 4 of a planned 5)
  • Editing a novel (I’m about 1/3 of the way through an intensively edited second draft)

But again, I’m only setting “process” goals for now.

I will say, though, that I intend to do those 5 hours a week in bigger chunks. In the past I’ve sometimes written in sprints of 10 or 15 minutes, which is great as far as it goes, but it’s not conducive to sinking deeper into the story. So I’m going to aim for an hour at a time, but again, that’s not an official part of the goal.

One of the Life things I’m doing is working on Turtleduck Press. As a member, part of my duties involves writing short stories, which will count towards my goal. Another part of my duties is editing other members’ novels, which will not count — I like doing it, but it doesn’t get my own writing out there any faster. Writing blog posts also will not count — only fiction.

Wednesday Check-In

I’ve done 2 hours so far this week — an hour each of writing and editing. It might have been more, but I had to skip Monday because of wrist problems. Still, I’m on track to hit 5 hours.

Other #ROW80 Members

I’m doing #ROW80 with a couple of fellow Turtleduck Press authors:

Erin Kendall

Kit Campbell

You can see the rest of the ROW80 participants here.

Go show them some love!

In future posts I’ll be talking more about my 2013 (because I did accomplish a fair bit, even if it wasn’t writing, and I’d like to celebrate that) and my plans and reasons for refocusing in 2014. In the meantime…

Your turn! Are you feeling too busy? What are your priorities for 2014?

7 Tips for Mental Health and Lower Stress During the Holidays

Christmas treeThe holidays can be a tough time for many of us. Whether it’s the pressure to be perfect, the tension of navigating family relationships, the weight of memories, or the sheer length of the to-do list, there are many reasons to feel like Scrooge or the Grinch at this time of year.

Here, then, are some tips for retaining your mental health.

7. Don’t try to do everything. Pick your projects and your battles. I don’t bake or send cards, but I do decorate my home and put lots of thought into my gifts. If you’re trying to make Christmas amazing for a small person in your life, for example, pick and choose the things to focus on — the ones they’ll remember. Years later, they won’t remember how many kinds of cookies you made, but they’ll remember a tradition of making gingerbread together. If you’re a writer, maybe December is the time to scale waaaaay back on your goals or writing schedule — the words will still be there in January.

6. Resist the pressure, both internal and external. You’re inundated with messages about using your dollars to make your loved ones happy. You want to find the best gift ever this year. Maybe your in-laws and your step-family both want you with them for Christmas dinner. Resist. You can do this.

5. Do focus on what you love about the season. This is where family traditions can come in handy. A particular holiday music album that you always put on? A visit to Santa? Decorating the tree together? Curling up on the sofa to watch holiday movies? None of those things are expensive or time-consuming or stressful — they’re just fun, or if they’re not, they should be. Linger on them, and enjoy.

4. Make time for you. If you’re an introvert, for example, you’ll still need me-time — that won’t change just because it’s the holidays. Stick to your exercise routine if you can, or your weekly ritual of going out for coffee on Sundays, or whatever else you ordinarily do that you love.

3. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Your tree might not look like it came out of a magazine (unless doing it that way causes you more happiness than stress), but it looks like you trimmed it your way. Your cookie-decorating skills might be lacking, but if they taste good, who cares? I promise your family and friends won’t notice, or if they do, they won’t care.

2. Plan something to look forward to in the new year. One reason the holidays get so much pressure is that after they’re over, there’s a long, dark slog until spring (at least in this part of the world). My significant other and I have started a tradition of a weekend getaway for mid-February, and let me tell you, it makes January go much faster. If a trip isn’t in the cards for you, try a concert, a party, or any special event that you can get excited about.

1. Do what you need to do. Above all, your mental health is the top priority. If that means skipping things, letting other things slide, staying home sometimes…well, so be it, and don’t let anyone (including your own Inner Critic) tell you otherwise. You’re worth taking care of.

Your turn! What are your best tips for staying sane during the holidays?