In the ‘hood

He’s tall, thin, and tweedy; dressed in a combination of wheat-coloured linens and wool and accented with dramatic scholarly tortoiseshell glasses and thick rumpled hair. His presence is out of sync in our little town that houses not one but two feed and tack stores and a pharmacy that has a livestock medication section. He would be better placed in Oxford or an EM Forster novel (adapted into a movie by Merchant Ivory Productions undoubtedly). I don’t get to hear his voice but I imagine he must speak with a plummy English accent and teach a corking history class. Despite his incongruity with his surrounding, he doesn’t look at all uncomfortable. He walks purposefully down the sidewalk, all angles and bones with an alert straight-ahead focus thinking his professorial thoughts. I see him hold his hand out behind his back and waggle his fingers even as he continues to look straight ahead. In a few moments a tow-headed blonde boy, dressed similarly in his Sunday best, (including a tie), trots up behind the tweedy man and grabs the extended hand. I look away momentarily and when I look back I am treated to the sight of the two of them skipping across the crosswalk.

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Dismantling the Plans

I have become inspired by the book “the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing” by marie kondo. The process marie has developed puts you back in relationship with your stuff as you go through everything in your possession by category (and if you have a lot of stuff by subcategories) and keep only what sparks joy in you (and yes, any papers that you are required to keep like taxes and insurance policies). That is it in a nutshell.

I love it because it isn’t deciding what to discard. It’s deciding what to keep. And in doing it you can discover more about who you are:

“The work of carefully considering each object I own to see whether it sparks joy inside me is like conversing with myself through the medium of my possessions” ~ marie kondo

I have been dabbling here and there into the process since the new year but have been so booked (I’ve been working more than full-time, plus produced and performed in a show in June) I didn’t have the head-space or time to dive in. But finally, in the last week of summer holidays, I took some much-needed time off to start diving into this process.

(Sidebar: Do I know how to vacation or what?  “Mom, what are we going to do today?” “Well, I’m going to #konmari the s*** out of my filing cabinet. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”)

It has been very revealing thus far.

Confession Time…

I am a collector, maker, putter-together, keeper, researcher, and let’s face it, hoarder of plans: financial, educational, meal, exercise, diets, housecleaning, house maintenance, gardening, and then the myriad of other self-help, creativity-based woo-woo, yoga-esque plans/philosophies/ways of being: feng shui, chakras, shiva nata, naturopathy and probably dozens of others I haven’t even gotten to yet. I have/had binders, folders, books, newspaper article printouts, dividers, duotangs all very neatly put together, read through and, then stashed never to be looked at again.

Here’s what I realized about having all this stuff in my space.

Realization #1

I’ve been mired in the energy of past plans. I’ve taken on the belief that it’s a personal failing that these didn’t work and keep them around for that mythological future time when I will be a better human being and be able to succeed at them.

In the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, …

*spoiler alert*

…Phillip Pullman creates a creates a world with many parallel universes. In the second book of the trilogy we’re introduced to the Subtle Knife, a knife with the power to slice through the skin of one reality and allow entry into any number of parallel universes–a great and terrible tool as it turns out; because, in the denouement in the third book it is discovered that that leaving these holes between the realities open (which has been done for perhaps millenia, as no one knew it was a problem) is draining the energy of the universe into this small space between universes. Ultimately an angel must embark on a quest to close all these open holes and save all the universes.

*End of spoiler alert*

That is what having all these plans lying around is to me–doors to other versions of me that never “took” or have outlived their usefulness or have simply gone stale. But because they were never removed from this space they remain as open possibilities and a huge drain on my energy as some part of myself still wants to incorporate all these aspects into the big Me. The energy drains out into the between of possible Mes.

And we already know that I am professional level Leaver of Doors Open.

Realization #2

The bulk of these plans come from other people–not myself. I have a habit of believing that I don’t know. Someone else is the expert. Someone else has the answer. And of course sometimes, especially for medical matters, that’s true. But often it’s not true or not completely true. Accepting a plan wholesale means that I’m continually running into a square peg-round hole situation–and that can be true even when I make some adaptations for my situation. There’s something about not being the creator or initiator that means a plan may never work in my life no matter how many adaptations I make. Maybe there’s a passivity built into it–like a choose your own adventure book. You’re still limited by the options built into it. You can choose to surprise the bad guy by hitting him on the head with a frying pan, or retreat from the room silently but you can’t choose to put on gold lame, light up the disco ball, start singing All the Single Ladies and pretend he’s just been caught on Candid Camera. Can you? I wish I could because that would be a choose your own adventure book I would buy. You’re welcome authors of choose your own adventure books.

Realization #3

I earn the bulk of my living from being an administrator. I know how to organize shit. I can administrate the hell out things. I can also administrate the life out of things.

It’s like I’ve become compelled to translate everything into the language of administration: binders, folders, labels, dividers, papers, lists, categories, schedules, calendars, pens, highlighters, research, notes, meetings, action items, contracts, spreadsheets, email lists, workplans, accounts, sticky notes, etc., ad nauseam.

Is that how I make things real for myself? If a folder exists for it, the energy of that label and that container make it real. Hmmmm. If that’s the case, I’m making a folder for the contract for my leading role at the Stratford Festival right now. Can you pass me my Nobel Peace Prize folder at the same time?

Sidebar: There is actually a practice of altering your relationship to money by changing the titles of your folders.  Rather than dry fiscal categories like mortgage or entertainment, they become values like Home, Nourishment, Connection. And then you can see where you’re placing your money. Is it on things you value or not?

But I don’t need to make my entire life (and by extension, my family’s lives) a huge administrative task. There are other containers, other practices, than folders and binders.

The problem is when the administrative tasks overwhelm the thing they were designed to administrate. When the filing of unnecessary paper or updating the spreadsheet becomes the thing you’re doing more than the thing itself.


I am enough. My worth isn’t measured by the gold stars (or lack of them) for following a particular plan to the letter. If the plan doesn’t work for me, out it goes.

I am a creative human. My life needs creativity just as much as administrative tasks. Be creative before I do the filing. Maybe I can even imbue my administration with creativity instead of administrating my creativity.

This is the season of Closing the Doors. Dismantle the plans. Clear the decks. Clear the shelves. Plug the holes. Wipe off the whiteboard. Unsubscribe. Recycle the sticky notes. Shred. Get to the blank page. Then see what happens next.

Pay attention to what sparks joy, inspires, is fun, makes me glow, is pleasurable. Seek it out. Repeat.

Take my iron supplement for God’s sake. It’s a medical directive and I need to do it. It takes 10 seconds and I will have the energy for all the other stuff.  < This is the part where I accept that someone else knows better than me in this instance.

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My Year of Lightening Up

I’ve been thinking about how well (or not) our brains actually handle metaphors.

For instance, there’s this study that demonstrates that individuals holding a warm beverage were more likely to rate the person that handed it to them as warm. If they were handed a cold beverage, they were more likely to rate them as cold.

It’s an interesting thought that maybe our brains aren’t as good as processing metaphors as we’d like to believe. If someone is wearing sparkly jewelry, am I more likely to describe them as having a sparkling personality? If my office is dark, am I likely to start thinking of myself as being in a dark place in my life? If I see someone sitting half on half off their chair would I also view their work as half-assed?

Well that’s the experiment. I’ve always seen myself as a person of some weight. At best I have gravitas, at worst prone to worry and catastrophizing. And although I know I can be funny on stage, in my writing and at least one of my friends describes me as impish, I view myself as heavy, weighed down, burdened.

And truth be told, there have been a lot of weighty things going on in the last few years: I lost both my parents to cancer within a year of each other. My mother had been ill for 2.5 years—2.5 years of doctors, tests, surgeries, waiting rooms, medications—heavy stuff. We lost my Dad in a brief six weeks between his first symptoms and his death—it was awful, like watching someone be hit by a train in extreme slow motion. Those were the biggest boulders in the mountain, but there were other things, like my daughter being hit by a car resulting in a broken femur and a helicopter ride to the hospital. I have 2 kids with special needs diagnoses that mean an ever present need to “deal with stuff” lest they never become contributing members of society and it will be all my fault. Plus a job loss due in the family due to a restructuring that meant I took a second part time job and went from working 3 days per week to 6 days per week. I am so lucky to be employed in the field I love and both my employers are wonderful and flexible, but the work isn’t going to be do itself and there’s a lot of it.

I want to honour these important challenges. The traumas happened and they are done now. I don’t have to live by my parent’s grave (actually their grave is less than a mile from my house – metaphor gone awry again?) or fear that every time my kids get on a bike they have a 50/50 chance of coming home alive. It’s a bit like living with a sub-clinical PTSD. I don’t end up sobbing in my bed, but I find myself triggered by everyday conflicts and challenges into feeling at that life and death crossroads of fight or flight (usually choosing flight [avoidance]).

And there are aspects of weight that I like: gravitas, power (in the sense of having personal powerful), groundedness, wisdom, strength. And I don’t think I need to give those up. But I am too weighted (ha!) in the heavy side of this ying-yang duality.

My point, and I promise I’m getting to it. My life has been heavy metaphorically and now I’m also physically heavier. And yes, I get that it’s not metaphor. That it’s behaviour. At its root, I’ve been habitually taking in more than I’ve expended. But my hypothesis is that it’s my belief and narrative about it that’s driving my behaviour. I get home and I’m fried. I’m tired. I can’t move. I feel low energy so I look for energy in food (literal energy) but I don’t have the energy to workout. I need to sleep so I don’t workout in the morning. I have too much work to do to take a break so I eat at my desk. I don’t have time to meal plan, shop and cook and blah blah blah, you’re getting the drift ya?

So, my hypothesis. What if I lighten up? What if I start building a relationship with the quality of lightness: levity, inspiration, enlightenment, energy, effervescence, humour, sparkle, glow, radiance, luminosity, exuberance, unburdening, pleasure, joy. All those qualities that are in the neighbourhood of light.

Will changing my focus to the light instead of the heavy also shift my story and shift my behaviour?

That is indeed the question.

So, starting on the Vernal Equinox (March 20th), as we start heading into the light, I’ll embark on my year of lightening up.

I don’t quite know what that means yet. I’ve made my hypothesis and now I have to create the experiment to test it.

Stay tuned.

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All the Res

I am away on retreat this week in a cabin in the woods–a long overdue few days away. I need to retreat, re-energize, reorder, reboot, renew, refill–all the res. I need them.

It’s been quite a time since I last posted here. Throat surgery in January for a benign lump on my thyroid, performing in Shrek The Musical two weeks later, fundraiser and workshop for Classic Chic in February and March. I took on a second part-time job in March changing my 3-day a week working lifestyle to 6 days a week. That was change enough right? Oh, wrong. Because we had our inaugural production of The Winter’s Tale this summer. So for a long while when I wasn’t at work, I was at rehearsals, meetings, or a performance. I’m somewhat surprised and humbled and yes, proud to say it was a great success. We’re currently plotting our second production (details soon!).

But having a schedule this full takes its toll. I guess the experts would call it conflicting priorities: 3 kids (2 with some special needs), 1 husband, 1 dog, a home, 2 jobs, a theatre company and a production plus a creative impulse and you have a recipe for one muddled Christina. Too many needs to attend to, be aware of, help facilitate, connect with. My to-do list is a constant source of anxiety and shame and accusations of procrastination and failure from my inner monsters. My life is a bit like living with 20 toddlers all pulling on my shirt and saying “Mom? Mom! Mom? Mom!” all the time. (I’m not calling my husband and kids toddlers, they are all functioning capable people, but they also have needs and potentials that I don’t want to ignore).

I can’t figure out how to make this puzzle work. Is it better habits? Is it running a better calendar? Is it simplifying things? Do I just need a personal assistant or five?

What do I know? I know I must go in the direction of creativity because that fires me up instead of drains me. I know I must build some better habits around nourishment and activity for both me and my family.  That will also energize me (us) and reduce the amount of decision-making I need to do on a daily basis because then it will be routine and I need my decision-making capacities for more important areas rather than “Shall I go to the gym? Yes or no?” I also need to make time for wandering creatively speaking. Not mindlessly watching tv, clicking on Facebook or Twitter or playing Candy Crush. I know I need to unplug, but I need to unplug a little more mindfully.

So a clearer target (living a creative life with a happy family) with better systems (habits that will support a creative life with a happy family) might be the answer.

It also might be time for some other res. Reorganizing my life. Reorganizing my thoughts. Releasing things I don’t need and that don’t work any more. Relinquishing responsibility for things I don’t need to be responsible for. Rejecting the zillion voices clamouring for my attention claiming to inspire, and have me believe they have the answer while just making me feel guilty that their answers are theirs and not mine. Relaxing my grip on it all–there’s only so much order you can bring to the chaos of life, and that’s a grand thing.

For now, I’m setting the coordinates and plotting the course.

I am returning to myself. Writing is one of the ways I do that.

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Thoughts on a Sad Anniversary

The last two weeks of my Mom’s life were very hard–for me, my Dad, my siblings, her grandkids, and I suppose hardest of all for my Mom. Not that she was very lucid anymore. What started out as breast cancer had metastasized to her brain making her appear for all intents and purposes as one who had advanced alzheimer’s.

The last few months of her life she had celebrated some milestones. She and Dad celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary on September 25th. It would be her last really good day. In October, she went to Ottawa to receive the Mother Theresa award from an organization to which she had dedicated a good part of her life. That would mark her last public address (and despite the brain cancer, she spoke without notes). In November, she got a tour of the new School Board building–a project which she had a hand in initiating in her time on that board. That tour would mark her last time leaving the house.

After that it was a quick decline to a hospital bed in the living room, visits from palliative care workers and round the clock bedside vigils. She hung on for an improbable, impossible 2 more weeks. It reminded me of the time I spent about 10 days going into false labour with my middle child. It would seem like now’s the time, and then, oh wait, it wasn’t.

We learned a few things about bad signs during that time. These are signs that things are not going well:

1) When you find yourself googling “death rattle.” (Folks, it’s a real thing, not just something in gothic novels.)

2) You become part of some mysterious lasagne/casserole chain

3) Mouth swabs make their appearance

4) The doctor gives you his cell phone number and says call anytime

5) There is a do not resuscitate order stuck to the fridge.

But there was beauty amidst that pain too. There was a care worker who was so gentle and loving with Mom as she bathed her and who we found crying as she left the house. There was the morning after a night we were sure she wouldn’t make it through. She was able to sit up, eat a boiled egg and drink some hot chocolate. When my sister tried to gently give her some more hot chocolate my Mom affectionately pointed at her and said “Bugger off.” It seemed like high comedy to us.

suet-feeder_800And then there were the birds. We placed her bed by the window and put the bird feeder and suet cage on a branch that was easily viewed. We watched the chickadees and finches in the bright cold of that winter while we listened to music and visited with each other and the people that came to pay their last respects.

And then on December 3, 2010 at about 5pm she died.

I missed the event itself, as I had gone home for some reason and then lay down for an exhausted nap. Apparently it was full of the regular chaos of family coming and going and I’m sure she wouldn’t have had it any other way than at her beloved home full of the life that she had created.

The birds have remained a beautiful reminder of her and her life. Both my Mom and Grandma were people that noticed the small things, the blooming of the crocuses, the cat that would follow at a subtle distance, the small bird hopping through the branches.

Sometimes the birds seem to have indicated her presence. For instance, there was the time I received a phone call offering me a part–a part for which I had not even auditioned. Let me set that scene for you. I was at a cabin in the woods, got a phone call on my cell, and while I was on the phone with this person trying to understand that I was being offered this incredible opportunity out of the blue, a chickadee lit on an empty suet cage that was hanging outside the cabin. The suet cage was the exact make and model of the one that hung outside the window of my parents’ house. And to top that coincidence off, rehearsals started on my parents’ anniversary. Thanks Mom.

My new company, Classic Chic Productions, has a bird theme too. We’re an all-female ensemble dedicated to performing the classics. So we’re the Classic Chicks. Get it? It’s a kind of happy accident. My Mom is a woman who made things happen, and that’s what Classic Chic is all about, making things happen.

So, today, I’m noticing the birds and all the signs of birds–feathers, wings, and eggs–and I invite you to do the same in honour of an incredible and incredibly missed woman.

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30 Things I Love Right Now

Inspired by the ongoing series by this guy, and in late tribute to Canadian Thanksgiving here are 30 things I love right now:

(1) Hot, hot, HOT baths in my new soaker tub especially when also accompanied by… (2) an entire bag of the Body Shop’s Soya Milk Bath. | (3) Salted Caramel Mochas from Starbucks. | (4)  Climbing into my bed for a mid-day nap on my days off and … (5) having my feet warmed by the early autumn sun while I do so. | (5) Returning to SFU twenty-two years after I graduated to watch my sister do the same. | (6) Remembering how much I love the architecture of SFU (even if it puts me in a minority). | (7) Intense, ridiculously sweaty workouts. (Well, at least once I’m about 10 minutes in, then I love it. Really!) | (8) Watching Downton Abbey | (9) Watching Downton Abbey when it makes me gasp out loud (GOL is the new LOL) with an unexpected plot twist. | (9) My fuzzy orange socks. | (10) My oh so soft fuzzy orange sweater. | (11) Roasted Turkey skin. | (12) Seeing my new thing being born. | (13) Realizing with not a little bit of shock, that I have community to help mid-wife my new thing being born, and it’s community I built myself (with a little bit of luck and happy coincidence thrown in). | (14) Making things happen. | (15) Pruning. | (16) Shredding. | (17) Mopping. | (18) Having a guy come and take away the ugly pile of stuff in our back yard. | (19) Emma, whose graduation photos turned out lovely. | (20) Calvin, whose brain I can see re-wiring itself daily. | (21) Lloyd, to whom I will have been married 20 years tomorrow. (Maybe he should have gone first–ah well, too late, I’m not renumbering.) | (22) Sasha, who is getting me up every morning to get walked and showing me the value of consistency. | (23)  Griffin, who loves Lego and still cries over the death of his grandparents. | (24) My large, colourful, family. | (25) Tomorrow Salad | (26) What I Wouldn’t Do by Serena Ryder. | (27) My new glasses. | (28) A return to normal of my iron levels. Ah, this is what having energy feels like. | (29) Opening nights. | (30) English muffins with butter and honey. |

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Lost and Found

Let me tell you the story of my hat.


This hat came into my life on my birthday, March 15, in 2010. The day before, on March 14, at around 8:30pm or so, my husband casually said to me “So, you should be heading off to the airport. Silvie’s flight comes in at 9:30.” He had booked one of my best friends in the world to come up from Los Angeles to Vancouver for my birthday weekend as  a total surprise to me.

The weekend was extravagant and magical. It was the Paralympics in Vancouver, so there was still lots of Olympic fever in the air. We wandered around downtown, I bought my first pair of Fluevogs. We ate cupcakes. We got caught in a flash rainstorm, as customarily happens with Silvie and me. (Sidebar: One of my best memories with Silvie is watching a lightning storm outside of Radcliffe Camera in Oxford. Probably not one of our smartest moments, but spectacular, wild, and cathartic.) And we went to Granville Island where I purchased a hat from the Rose Hip hat kiosk.


Later that year, my Mom’s cancer took a turn for the worse. It spread to her liver and then her brain. Her last real good day was her and my Dad’s 45th wedding anniversary on September 25, 2010. But in October, even though she could no longer tell time, or be certain what day of the week it was, she wanted to take one last trip to Ottawa to receive the Mother Theresa Award, a lifetime service award from an organization and a cause she was passionate about. My youngest sister accompanied her. Funds had been donated in a 48-hour window from her long-time colleagues to pay for first-class seats since she could no longer sit upright for more than an hour.

On that trip, she wore my hat on her poor chemo, radiated head. And she rocked it. She made her last public address without notes and rocked that too.


When Mom died a few months later, we talked about burying her in that hat, but, maybe selfishly, I wanted to keep the hat myself.

Fast forward to October of this year (2012), I was walking out the door to go to a rehearsal and noticing it looked like rain, I quickly jammed the hat into my bag. It was days later that I realized that the hat was no longer in my bag and I didn’t actually know where it was. I kept thinking it would just show up as these things often do. But I checked at home, the rehearsal hall, the office, my car all to no avail. I was starting to have dreams where I was looking for my hat, sometimes finding it, sometimes not. Because, of course, it wasn’t just a hat that I paid too much for. The hat had a story. A history of good times, of bad times, a connection with Silvie and my Mom.

On Monday, out of a last ditch effort, I called Granville Island administration and asked if they had a lost and found. They did. I asked if they had found a green hat with silver buttons on the rim. She checked the log. There was a green hat noted. She went and got it and described to me my beloved hat. I was at their office within 2 minutes to retrieve it. And then I came back to my office and cried on my office mate’s shoulder while I told her the story of the hat.

I don’t know who the person was that found my hat, it might have been a parking commisionaire that noticed that some idiot had dropped their boutique property without regard and handed it in as was their duty. It could have been a Granville Island shopper that thought better of keeping it for themselves. Whoever it was, I thank you so very much and am very grateful that it’s with me again. If it was just a hat I wouldn’t care. But it’s a hat with a story.

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