New Year, Who Dis?

Every year I write out a list of resolutions, goals, things I want to accomplish and places I want to go. From December 31st to January 15th I push myself to eat better, work out every day, journal every day, go to sleep early and hydrate. By the 16th of January I’ve lost all momentum and suddenly I’m spending hours scrolling through Instagram with my 5th coffee in one hand and a bag of chocolate covered almonds in the other. I know a lot of people go through this too. They start the year with the best of intentions but the goals are too much, too drastic, too vain or too unrealistic when it comes to their lifestyle. Before they’ve even begun, their subconscious has already given up.

Before bed on December 31st, 2020, I wrote out 12 resolutions for this year. There’s one about writing and self-publishing, one about drinking more water, one about working out, one about eating better, and one about celebrating small moments. Reading them back this morning, I noticed that a lot of them were about my weight (because even when I write I will work out to be healthy I know I mean I will work out to get skinnier). Why do I feel the need to start each year with losing weight? Why do I feel the need to be smaller? What is wrong with my big hips, thick thighs, cellulite-infused ass?

From Gloria Steinem‘s THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE, BUT FIRST IT WILL PISS YOU OFF!

The short answer is NOTHING. Nothing is wrong with the woman I was last year, nothing is wrong with my weight or pant size. Over the last few years, I’ve written a lot about my relationship with food and body image on She Does the City and Healthy is Hot. It seems like no matter how many times I write about this subject, I always end up less than impressed with myself. Some days I love myself, I love my fucking body and I am proud of how it looks, how strong and healthy it is. Other days I can’t even look in the mirror.

So yes, I should drink more water because all of the coffee I drink worsens my anxiety. Yes, I should move my body more because when I don’t, I feel unhappy and restless. I should eat less processed and sugary foods because they aren’t good for anyone. I should get outside more because nature makes my soul feel free.

BUT, what I need more than anything in 2021 is to unlearn. Unlearn all of the things that I believe about the way a woman’s body should look. Unlearn the idea that women should be small and quiet. Unlearn fear. Unlearn the idea that I can’t do it (whatever it is) even though I’ve never tried. Unlearn the idea that perfection is the ultimate goal. Unlearn all of the negative ways that I talk to myself.

My first step in unlearning is asking why. Why do I feel guilty about not wanting to have children? Why do I think there is something wrong with my body? Why have I been taught that sex is secret and taboo? What else have I been taught (either by society or by my family) that I don’t agree with or want to live by?

The next step is to relearn. Read about other women who have chosen a childless life, look at myself in the mirror and point out what I love rather than that I’ve been told to hate, and stop my judgements of others before they hatch in my mind. Continue to ask myself questions about anything that doesn’t sit right with my soul. Read about them. Place myself in uncomfortable situations. Take risks. Try. Question. Repeat.

So here’s to 2021 – my year of unlearning and relearning.

My Brand of Happiness

I wake up to the sound of the Nespresso brewing rather than the sing-song of my alarm. My eyes open slowly, allowing the sun to kiss my eyelashes. I stretch my arms and legs; the side of the bed where my husband sleeps is still warm. The scent of coffee reaches my nostrils and I exhale with a smile. I flip onto my back and look around our bedroom. It’s cozy and safe. I pick up the notebook from my nightstand and write. Even a line or two feels right…

that’s my brand of happiness

It’s Saturday morning and we’re on the way to my parents’ house. Alex is driving, the windows are down, we have coffee in our cup holders, and we have 90’s music blaring as we sing along. We’re holding hands and cracking jokes. We arrive and I open the front door. It smells like pasta sauce. I hear my seven-year-old niece scream TIA’S HEREEEEEEE, while my five-year-old niece screams ZIOOOOOO!! They stomp their way to the front door and we’re wrapped in tiny arms. A moment later we hear the tiny bell around the dog’s neck as he waddles over requesting a belly rub.

that’s my brand of happiness

It’s Saturday evening and we’ve just finished dinner. We’re all sitting at the table, chatting, laughing, arguing. My mom tells a joke while my dad fills up the wine glasses. My sister washes the dishes we catch up. My brother helps clear the table and finds endearing ways to tease me at the same time.

that’s my brand of happiness

My phone buzzes – there’s a new message in the Family Group containing my in-laws (cousins, aunt, uncle and mother-in-law). There’s a video of the latest addition to our family, plus the regular ongoing banter, plan-making etc.

that’s my brand of happiness

As I sit in my family room and think about all of the things and people that make me happy, I’m also flooded with how much of 2020 didn’t include happiness. I’ve felt afraid, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, anxious, depressed, sad, and exhausted. There have been months of ongoing dread and instead of pretending that they didn’t exist, I let myself feel it.

I find happiness in a great cup of coffee, in a book, in writing down words, in time spent with my husband and family members, in conversations with my best Buddy, in sleeping in, and dancing around like fools.

Happiness is like success, we all have our own definitions and versions of it. Whatever your brand of happy, hold onto it and let if fill you up.

Gratitude is a better attitude

The physiotherapy office smells like Lysol and disappointment. The brand of hand sanitizer they require you to use burns your hands, as well as, your nostrils (even through my mask). I should be used to this by now, after a nine months of sanitizing my hands every minute of every day but I’m not.

The room that my mom and I sit in needs a paint job. The owners of the building opted for a greyish-blue rather than the usual beige or off-white that I’ve seen in other offices. It’s both interesting and off-putting. There are marks all over the walls and the baseboards are screaming to be dusted.

Thankfully it’s not long until we’re escorted to the back of the building. There is a bed for my mom to lay down on and a few very-well used pieces of equipment surrounding her. There’s also several fold up chairs and make-shift desks sitting against the walls.

They’ve asked my mom to try a new exercise. She’s given a long strap, kind of like a seatbelt. She places her foot in the middle and holds both sides of the strap, straightens her legs and pulls it up. Her legs flies up and I feel and intense amount of pride for the woman who not only carried three and birthed three children, but was limping around the house mere days ago from her knee-replacement surgery.

The physiotherapist is not as impressed as I am with my mom’s straight leg and speed. She asks her to slow down, a lot. You need to feel the muscles and you can’t feel them if you move too quickly. Mom deflates a bit but obeys, lifting her leg as high as she can and as slowly as she can. The physiotherapist asks for two sets of ten. Slowly, she repeats.

The first two are easy peasy lemony squeezy. The next 18 reps bring tears to her eyes. She grips the strap so hard that her hands turn white. Her leg shakes from the stress. Her breathing becomes heavy and laboured (the mask is not making things easier) but she pushes through – she always does. I grab her hand as she lets go of the strap, Great job, Mama!

After her appointment we stop at Tim Horton’s for our usual – two-medium-French-Vanillas-please. We do this after every appointment, it’s become a little tradition and one that I look forward to every week. On the drive home we sip our overly-sweet coffees and talk about nothing. I turn up the music as Mom rolls down her window and sparks up a cigarette. It’s a warm November day and my heart is full of gratitude and hope.

Unplanned

I don’t know about you but I can’t think about the future anymore. I was once the kind of woman who would go to bed thinking about all the things I had to do the next day. I would plan my outfits, my meals, my evening and weekend plans. I would have lists about lists and then, come up with more lists about lists.

A typical thought sequence before bed went something like this:

Okay tomorrow is Monday, so I’ll wake up at 5:30 and make my coffee and have a muffin. Then I’ll poop and shower, do my hair and make up and get dressed. I’ll wear my black pants and new shirt and boots. Then I’ll leave the house, grab a coffee and work. For dinner I’ll make pizza with Alex but before that I’ll work out, maybe a 30 minute Pop Sugar work out. After dinner I’ll shower, have a tea and get in some reading.

That is not an exaggeration. This is how I LIVED, always planning the next moment, the next meal, the next cleaning day. Every time someone would ask me so what are you up to this weekend? I would have many words to reply with. Since March, my answer has generally been the same. WFH, fitness, make dinner, read or Netflix, sleep. That is the general plan for all days and all weekends. I’ll throw in a stop at a coffee shop or a visit to my parent’s house but that’s it.

Honestly, I find that I can’t think past the next hour, let alone the next day. I don’t know what I’ll have for lunch or breakfast or what I’ll read next. Some days I find it insanely frustrating that I don’t have a plan but most of the time I love it. It’s added a level of calm to my life. For the first time I am taking life one moment at a time. Sitting in my feelings, stewing in my thoughts, marinating in the moments. Also, it would appear that I’m hungry, I think I’ll have some fruit.

To all the books I’ve read this year…

To all the books I’ve read this year…

I LOVE YOU. You’ve gotten me through the long months of quarantine and held my hand during the warm summer months. I’ve borrowed you and shared you, I’ve ordered you online and picked you up at my favourite local stores (A Novel Spot & TYPE Books). I’ve downloaded you on my Kobo, spilled coffee on you and marked up your pages. I’ve stayed up late because of you and have fallen asleep with you on my lap.

You’ve been my mirror, my confidant, and my one constant.

Thank you!

Thanks to quarantine I’ve had a lot of time to read this year. Here’s a list of all of the books I’ve read so far. I’ve given them each a rating out of five stars. Please note that this rating is purely based on whether or not I liked the book. I am not going into plot or character development or writing, the stars are simply my overall feelings. My mood at the time that I read the book could have very well informed the star rating.

  1. Ariel Levy – The Rules Do Not Apply 🌟🌟
  2. Ann Napolitano- Dear Edward 🌟🌟
  3. Patti Smith – M Train 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  4. Julia Armfield – Salt Slow 🌟🌟
  5. Patti Smith – Just Kids 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  6. Karma Brown – Recipe for a Perfect Wife 🌟🌟🌟
  7. Jia Tolentino – Trick Mirror 🌟🌟🌟
  8. Kiley Reid – Such a fun Age 🌟🌟
  9. Victoria James – Wine Girl 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  10. Joan Didion – The Year of Magical Thinking 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  11. Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  12. Samantha Irby – Wow, No Thank You 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  13. Emily St. John Mandel – The Glass Hotel 🌟🌟
  14. Joan Didion – Blue Nights 🌟🌟
  15. Jen Gotch – The Upside of Down 🌟🌟
  16. Julia Alvarez – Afterlife 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  17. Rachel Matlow – Dead Mom Walking 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  18. Desmond Cole – The Skin We’re In 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  19. Jacqueline Woodson – Red At The Bone 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  20. Maya Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  21. Celeste Ng – Little Fires Everywhere 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  22. Julian Barnes – The Only Story 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  23. Erin Morgenstern – The Starless Sea 🌟🌟🌟
  24. Zoe Whittall – Holding Still For As Long As Possible 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  25. J.D. Salinger – Franny and Zooey 🌟🌟🌟
  26. Souvankham Thammavongsa – How to Pronounce Knife 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  27. Fredrik Backman – Anxious People 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  28. Teri Vlassopoulos – Escape Plans 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  29. Zadie Smith – On Beauty 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  30. Heather Morris – The Tattooist of Auschwitz 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  31. David Chang – Eat A Peach πŸ‘ πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

through the fog (a pandemic diary of sorts)

How is it already mid-October? How have we lived through ten months of the year and I barely remember any of it? January and February, in my mind they didn’t happen. March, April, May and parts of June flew by in an instant. I was busy getting used to working from home, to staying home, and not seeing my family or friends. I was busy getting used to spending every moment with my husband in a condo that didn’t seem as small when we first moved in.

Every morning I would wake with a fire burning in my chest. I felt tired all of the time. I felt afraid. I worried constantly about my loved ones and their health. I’d FaceTime my parents and nieces, then cry after we got off of the phone because I missed them so much.

I didn’t think I could get through another day of walking from my bed, to my den for work, to my couch and then back to bed. I didn’t think I could go another weekend without seeing and hugging my family. My anxiety got so bad that I called the doctor and start taking my anxiety medication again. I wrote about this on She Does the City so I won’t dwell on these feelings but I won’t forget them either.

My sister caught me tearing up on one of our daily calls…

Without a my normal routines I became a ghost of myself during those earlier months. If I couldn’t see anyone in person or go out for coffee or even go into the office, then what was I to do? Well, I read a lot of books, watched ALL of the Netflix shows, and allowed myself to do nothing. I watched as my life became very quiet. I slowed right down and looked inside. I thought about what I wanted out of life and now, I’m slowly working toward it.

I know we’re not out of the woods yet but seeing my family, returning to work, driving, getting outside; it’s as if I’ve woken up from a dream.

I’ve been walking for months through thick fog and somehow, some way still ended up back home.

Yes, this year has been full of tears, fears, and sleepless nights but it has also been full of growth and reflection.

So, there’s that.

Homesick Adult

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Mom answers the FaceTime call with a smile and a smirk as if she knew I’d be calling her for help. She’s holding her phone too low, all I can see is her chin and up her nose, and yet I feel cozy as a newborn being swaddled. She’s making dinner at her house, so we have to be quick. My husband runs over and grabs my phone so he can show my mom what I’m doing. I follow her instructions as she yells them out: Β Throw everything into the pan. Get a beer. Get the white wine. Poor them in, more. More. In all of the corners. Grab the salt, pepper, seasoned salt, garlic, and dried parsley. Add them in. More Vanessa, IT’S NOT GOING TO TASTE LIKE ANYTHING IF YOU DON’T ADD ENOUGH SPICES. No, that’s not enough, keep going. Okay. Wash your hands and mix it all together. You missed a corner. Okay now try it. The JUICE that you created with the wine and beer, Vanessa. I think it needs more salt, I know I can’t taste it but I can tell. Okay. You’re good. Now get it in the oven.

I’m wearing an apron from my first part-time job. It is faded black and reaches just above my knees. Across the chest is the familiar threaded white block letters that read CARUSO with a red and white line underneath.

I have a sink full of potatoes and defrosted sausage. The mushrooms, yellow, red, and orange peppers are already chopped and sitting hazardous close to the edge of my tiny kitchen counter. Every light in our condo is on and every blind is open as if the brightness will shed some light on what I should be doing with the ingredients in front of me. I know that they can be turned into something delicious. I know that with the addition of a few spices, our 600 square foot condo can smell exactly like my parent’s house. I just don’t know how.

This is the second meal I am making in our condo and if the first one is any indication, this too will be a tasteless nightmare. I’m not sure what happened with meal one. I did everything exactly how my mother would do it. I marinated the chicken early on in the day so the juices would make the big white breasts moist and succulent. I cut and boiled the broccoli for the same amount of time as my mother would AND I even bought the same microwave-minute rice that she does. But, when we sat down to eat the meal that took me all day to create it did not taste like anything. I’ve actually belched things with more flavour.

Over the 29 years I lived with my parents, I watched my mom cook meal number 2 numerous times. I should know how to throw sausages, potatoes, peppers and mushrooms into a pan and make it taste good. But the horror from the previous night was too much to bare so, of course, I had no choice but to call my mom. Apart from taking over an hour to cook in our condo-sized-easy-bake-oven, the meal was perfect. All plates were empty, all stomachs full.

It wasn’t until a few days laterΒ that I realized making a delicious meal was more about creating the same environment that my mom did at home than impressing my husband or my friends. Every meal made in our condo will be more about being homesick than about adding fuel to my body.

My husband and I got married two years ago and since we had to wait for our condo to be built, we lived with my parents. There were many a thing that got on my nerves: it seemed like there was always someone around, the basement was too cold and dark to read or feel creative enough to write (honestly, where does my brain come up with this stuff?), the family dog barking all of the time, and limited privacy. By year two of living as a married woman in my parents’ basement, I was itching to get out. I counted down the days, hours, and minutes until move-in day. I was depressed when it had gotten delayed by a few months, and I found any reason I could to get out of the house.

We got very close to my parents during those two years. We had dinner with them every night and spent weekends lounging around the house with them because we had to save money. My husband would always join my parents for a nightcap and would stay up into the wee hours of the morning talking about Donald Trump, stocks, life, and whatever else came to mind. The moment we got our official move-in date, my husband and I started to feel sad. Yes, we were excited to get our own place but something just didn’t sit right. My mom helped me pack, move, and painted out entire condo over three days to ensure we would settle in quickly. She went shopping with me and spent two weeks forgetting whatever she had to do in her home to make my transition easier.

Our first weekend in the condo was easy because my husband and I were both at home. The second week, not so much. I would jolt awake every morning at 5:00 AM after my husband said goodbye and left for the day. The quiet of the condo invaded my ears; realizing that my dog wasn’t going to come to wake me up, or my mom wouldn’t be sitting in the backyard having her cigarette not only made me feel lonely but spun me into a panic.

Every. Single. Morning.

We went to my parents’ house for dinner the other night. I felt more at home there than in our condo. I felt safe. The house was filled with people and the scent of pasta sauce cooked lovingly for eight hours wafted through the house. We were only there for a few hours and we didn’t want to leave. When we got in the car and drove away we both sighed and looked at each other. I was already crying and my husband’s eyes were a little wet as well. We immediately began listing the things we missed about living with my parents:

  1. Someone was always there to talk to

  2. Family dinners (both delicious and fun)

  3. The cool dark basement that was ours

  4. Waffles – the family dog who is as cute as he is annoying

  5. My nieces – who always seem to be at my parents’ house

  6. Hanging out with my parents – learning from them, laughing with them

I, honestly, didn’t want to go home (to the condo) and the homesickness ate away at us the entire drive home. I know that there is a point where you have to be independent and grow the fuck up and I want to. I do. I just never thought I would feel this homesick. Some people, including my parents, would say that they babied us too much (my sister, brother, and husband included). Some people would say that we’re spoiled and need to cut the cord. I would agree if I didn’t feel homesick as fuck. My parents created a home that was free of judgement, full of safety, and EVEN when we were all annoyed by each other, overflowing with love. They created a home that their kids don’t want to leave and I am so thankful for that.

Apparently feeling homesick is natural, especially for those who’ve never been away from home. It just means that you miss the place you felt safe and secure. I am a basketcase full of insecurities so it only makes sense that I miss home. I cringe with slight embarrassment when I think about the cry-fest I had during that drive home. My mom keeps telling me that I’ll adjust and get used to not living with them and even though that might be true, I’ll always think of their house as my home.

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Out of Focus

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The snow is falling without fear, without apprehension. My morning commute is becoming an hour longer than it has to be. My hands grip the wheel as my shoulders hunch up toward my ears. My mind is racing a mile a minute in spite of my car’s snail pace. The flashing break lights in front of me are no longer in focus – I force myself to blink.

If you’re like me, doing one thing at a time isn’t enough. I like to feel busy, to use my time wisely. I like to have a lot different projects on the go. Recently I have been writing for my Writing Group, trying to revamp my blog and pump out a few posts, spending loads of time on social media, looking into the job market to see what else is out there, reading whatever book I can get my hands on, and trying to purchase the necessities for our condo.

The problem is that nothing is getting finished. Everything is started and each time I go back to a new task I’m left frustrated, confused, and cannot seem to focus. I come home from work a stressed out, tired mess and spend my evenings and weekends watching Netflix or making excuses to spend time with my family just to avoid my long-winded to-do list.

Simply put, I cannot do it all. Not all at once.Β Β As much as I’d like to re-brand and revamp my blog, I know that I won’t be able to dedicate myself to the blogging world like I did when I was in my early twenties. So, I’ve chosen to focus on writing for my Writing Group (which I hope leads to the writing of a novel) and reading. I can buy things for the condo closer to our move-in date, I will spend less time on social media, and I’ve signed up for Indeed’s emails to keep me in the loop when it comes to jobs.

It’s time to switch focus and get rid of the blur.

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You Don’t Blog Anymore (what was all of it for?)

I didn’t consciously decide to take a break from writing blog posts, it just happened. I’ve been writing a lot (well some days) thanks to my editing/writing meetings with Amanda (from Be the Next Her) but that’s for a different project. It’s not that I’ve been too busy to blog, I just haven’t felt like it. My mind is focused on other things and my time is being dispersed in very calculated ways.

And now, after an insanely eye-opening conversation with a few of my high-school besties, my time is going to be spent in even more calculated ways. As my friend so eloquently put it:

When struggling with a decision you have to ask yourself:Β  Is this going to help get me to where I want to be in my life? Is this going to affect my friendship/relationship positively or negatively? Is this adding value to my life?

Based on your answer to these fundamental questions, making decisions will be a helluva lot easier. The only thing left to do is figure out what I want for my life. I know that I want to work in Toronto (with a career rooted in writing and social media), I want to have honest and nurturing friendships, and I want to have a love-filled marriage based on communication and trust. Now that I’ve narrowed down what I want out of life, making decisions might be a little easier.

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Thoughts from a loft in Old Montreal

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This is not a travel diary. I’m not going to tell you what to pack when you go to Montreal, or where to stay because I’m not that kind of blogger and there are LOADS of blogs about that out there. I will tell you where to eat in another post because my trips are generally remembered by what I ate, not what I wore or what I brought with me.

But I digress…

When I travel, I tend to come back a different person. Of course no trip has been able to cure my anxiety, OCD, or desire to stick to a schedule but they do open my eyes and heart to new ways of being.

Anyone who knows me (or reads my blog) knows that I struggle when it comes to making decisions. I struggle with self-confidence and I am constantly questioning who I am and what I want out of life.Β  I compare myself to others and just want to be liked!

As I sit here in the loft we booked months ago, with my husband asleep by my side, the one thought that keeps running through my mind is LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE. The energy, the vibe, the people in Old Montreal appear to be living their best lives. There is a happiness in the air, a calmness, a I am who I am and I ain’t sorry about it feeling. It’s addictive. I want it.

I want to wake up almost every morning and feel as though I am living up to my potential. That I am taking on new challenges and failing or succeeding with poise and grace. That’s the feeling that you get when you spend a few days in this place. Like you are obligated to do what you want in life and not be sorry for it.

P.S. I also want to learn how to speak French.

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