Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February is for freezing...

I am guilty of having said, on multiple occasions this winter:
When will this be over?
Followed shortly by:
Why do we live here?
 To which Graham responds a variation of:
The healthcare: I'm a kidney transplant patient. Our families. Our friends. Kris, you work for the Federal Government... No we cannot move to California tomorrow. 
I know. I know.

Cue guilt as I zip up my parka.

But we are all (at least those of us in Ottawa) guilty of having laughed at this image while dreaming of snow that is actually not snow, but in fact sand...
All of that said, we are incredibly fortunate to live the life we do; and we are incredibly fortunate to live it here.

I thought I would share a few highlights from February.
Valentine's cake for our wedding party :)
The night before Valentine's Day, we decided to plan a little get-together for our wedding party. I thought it would feel special to spend some quality time together before I transform, Animorphs-style, into a fire-breathing dragon (bridezilla)...

Kidding aside, I am much more easygoing than I imagined I would be. It just so happens that I am harder on myself about an unmade bed than I am about an unknown centrepiece. Thank goodness.

My patient bridesmaids have also made this process feel easy. They have been honest with me about colours they like, if they feel my timelines are slipping, etc., which has softened the decision-making process.

One is more candid than the others ;)...
"You cannot wear Swedish Hasbeens to your wedding. Maybe to your bridal shower. Not to your wedding."
The truth is, because we are getting married on my parent's property, I woke up one morning and was suddenly faced with 1001 decisions. Not my strong point. At first, it felt daunting to choose between one hundred types of everything imaginable.

Just when you think you've found your "dream chair", you are faced with a decision on colour. Gold vs. white vs. cognac.

It feels a little... stupid.

As a result, throughout this entire process, I have quietly reassured myself:
None of these decisions matter.
Saying yes (like there was ever any doubt) to my then-boyfriend, on bended knee, was a decision that mattered. Saying "I do" will be a decision that matters.

The rest... The rest is just fluff. And while I am a self-proclaimed perfectionist - particular to a fault! - I will not allow small details to drive me bananas.

All of that to say: we have been having a lot of fun planning. It has been both challenging and rewarding. And we wanted to thank our wedding party for supporting us.

So we brought them to laser tag...

As we entered the maze-like arena, I immediately began jogging around the black-lit space (they only said "no running" after all - yes, I am that child all grown up).

Later in the game, while running full-speed up a ramp, I came to understand the prohibition: I crashed into a wall, bashing my head and falling backwards.

But because I have lived my entire life both competitively and clumsily, I forgot the incident as soon as it happened. After all, I needed to find (hunt) Graham and try and tag him as many times as humanly possible before the end of the game.

After laser tag, we returned to our house for pizza, snacks and cake. I made a heart-shaped dessert (pictured above) and glued pictures of our wedding party to toothpicks, scattering them about.

I absent-mindedly poured an entire bottle of wine into Laura's glass... I think my collision was beginning to rear its ugly head... 

My head was pounding for most of the night, but I blamed "not having had a glass of wine in a few weeks," and continued chatting. We laughed for hours and it was a lot of fun!

But as the hours passed, the pain became increasingly worse. Before I could object, I was laying in Sam's lap as she rubbed my hair. After our guests had left, I ran upstairs and jumped into bed. Soon enough, my headache had entered territory I can only describe as "blinding."

I could not open my eyes. Graham was downstairs cleaning up the mess, and I found myself yelling at the top of my lungs (but apparently not as loud as Metallica, vibrating my skull) for him to come upstairs.

The moment I began feeling sick to my stomach, I remembered: I pictured myself crashing into a windowed-wall at laser tag.

Great. I have a concussion.

I am particularly vulnerable to head injuries on account of an accident several years ago. The pain I felt was eerily similar. Not a good sign.

Graham drove me to the hospital immediately, where we remained from 1 o'clock until 5 o'clock in the morning. I cannot imagine I could have appeared less responsible. There I sat, in my pyjamas, crying while I admitted:
I hit my head then drank a bottle of wine.
She is a picture of grace and poise... 

Graham held my hand. He carried me into the hospital. He covered me with blankets, but made sure I didn't fall asleep. He made me laugh hysterically even though it hurt to. He never left my side.

Suddenly, I was reliving that first accident: I was transported back in time to our first apartment, looking into worried eyes, my face all stitched up and fighting to heal.

We have both changed in so many ways over the past five years, but Graham's desire to protect and take care of me is exactly as it always was. I am so lucky!

Once we arrived at home, it was early morning. While he finished cleaning up downstairs, I ate slices of white bread in bed (lol).

We woke up past noon on Valentine's Day, and all of our plans appeared "ruined" at first glance.

But I was fortunate. I felt only minor mental fog. My headache was gone.

So we relieved ourselves of all Valentine's Day-associated pressure, and enjoyed our afternoon together.
I made Graham a breakfast of heart-shaped chocolate chip pancakes, eggs, bacon and toast. He was so happy. And I was thrilled he ate all of the pancakes that sat in a bowl (outside of this picture) but looked more like blobs and less like hearts.

Next we returned to the hospital to pick up my forgotten wallet. In my concussion-induced oblivion, I had left it behind.

Graham picked up my favourite sushi as a surprise. Who wouldn't want to eat dinner on conversation heart themed plates?!
In complete honesty, I ended up feeling grateful for our quiet Valentine's Day in. And we more than made up for it this past weekend. 

We spent Saturday morning in Westboro, playing outside. We had so much fun. We trekked across the beach until we were exhausted, chasing each other with fists full for snow. 
Graham face-washed me (badly). So mid-race to a tree, I collapsed with a "twisted ankle" to try and get him back. 


Once we had deemed ourselves soaked and frozen, we went out for brunch. Graham bought me a discounted Valentine's Day candy stick... He's a keeper.

We also visited the library! Last week, I set 23 books as my goal for 2015 on Goodreads. The public library is quickly becoming one of our favourite places, which is surprising, because Graham wasn't convinced he'd enjoy it!

Later that afternoon, Graham brought me to a shady arena (sorry babe, but it was) where he played 3-on-3 hockey while I read.

Then - the highlight! - we went out for dinner at The King Eddy, which we have designated our new favourite "date night spot" and "need a cocktail spot" and... "it's Wednesday spot."

You get it. It was that good. We became a little obsessed and took it upon ourselves to make friends with the staff. 

We both commented after dinner how wonderful it felt to be "pleasantly full" instead of completely stuffed. 

So naturally we headed to Oh So Good afterwards to eat cake. Failures... 
Footlong hotdog bliss. 
Weirdly happy about my hotdog.
Bailey's cappuccino. Isn't it pretty?!
It's easy to lose sight of how lucky you are when you're amidst the daily grind (and daily cold). But this past Saturday made me pause, multiple times throughout the day and look at Graham: 
I can't believe I get to marry you. I can't believe how much you make me laugh. I can't believe we're best friends. I can't believe you make doing normal, every day things feel life-changing. I can't believe this is our life. 
Life doesn't always - or sometimes, it feels like: ever - go as planned. And sometimes there's a reason.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Our Engagement Session by AMBphoto

A few weeks ago, we had our engagement session. Our photographer, the ever-so-talented Anne-Marie Bouchard of AMBphoto, exceeded our expectations by a mile. 

I should mention: our expectations were exceptionally high to begin with. Because she is incredible. 

So, at the request of my mother (and many others), I decided to share a few of our photos here.
Now. I hesitate to call these photos "my favourites" of the bunch. In fact, I can't. I honestly adore each and every one.

For this reason, I chose fifteen photos at random for this post.

I'm not kidding. I chose randomly. Because I couldn't select a single one.

Our photographer is kind of the bomb...
I can't tell you exactly what it is I envisioned when it came to an engagement session. Other than, I wanted it to "feel like us."

An honest representation of our love in all of its quirkiness and imperfection. 

But... with better make-up.

Graham did not wear make-up. 

Thank you Amy Lupiano of Ottawa Makeup Artists for making me feel beautiful. Amy is also my new best friend...

Joking aside, she is the older sister to one of my close friends, Emily. And we have a strange amount in common. She is also adorable, incredibly sweet and genuine, not to mention hugely talented and intelligent. 

Another big thank you goes out to Shelby Tymchuk of Showpony Hair for styling the bouncy ringleted curls of my dreams!
So what could serve as the perfect representation of us?

What do we like to do?

In complete honesty, we're total homebodies. We like to play board games. We like to take pictures. We like to collect neat vintage trinkets (like polaroid cameras) and go out for brunch. We like to listen to our records, watch Netflix, and dance around our kitchen in our pjs (but you can't wear your pjs and your beloved Swedish Hasbeens together; one of them has to go). We like to laugh (and Graham ensures we laugh all day, every day). We like to pack picnics and play outside... in the snow... (?)

I personally prefer playing outside in the sand (or grass), but Graham loves winter.
And relationships are about compromise. 

And freezing.
(He bribed me with matching sweaters.) 
Oh, and we like to eat donuts.

Sorry. We love to eat donuts.
I insisted on not purchasing any props for our engagement session. I wanted everything included in the photos to feel like "us" (blankets we had snuggled in, candles we had lit, etc.). We insisted on building a fort out of wood from Home Depot, some of which we found in our garage (thank you previous owners!), and thrifting some lace to drape around it. We insisted on playing Mario Kart on our dirty old N64. We insisted on Scrabble, the Civil Wars (whose songs have served as the soundtrack to major milestones in our relationship), a Metallica record I can't stand, and my most treasured (and appropriate) print, by my favourite Etsy artist, Ashely G.

(Ok... I also insisted on a new dress from Urban Outfitters but you can't have everything old...) 

(Fine... When I found the "i love us" pillow at Chapters a couple weeks before our session, I didn't exactly say no. I insisted on the pillow too.) 

Our initial plan was to build a teepee. But we opted to create a structure with a little more space. Our fort now lives in our basement. Eggnog is keen on running through it and chewing on the lace (I'm thrilled...). 
 So that's what I told Anne-Marie. That's all I told Anne-Marie.
"I want it to feel like us."
Somehow, she managed to capture the most "us" moments that could ever be caught in time. I could cry looking through our photos because I can see how happy we are. I can see how much we love each other. How much we love our life together. We aren't perfect. But I would never wish for us to be.
Graham is always handsome. But I told Anne-Marie yesterday, upon receiving our photos, that I'm not someone that finds myself overly photogenic. Or even pretty, for that matter (and not for a lack of Graham telling me so).

But these photos make me feel really beautiful. And I think it's because my joy shines through.
Are you cringing yet? I promise not to be this sappy on a regular basis.

Who am I kidding? Come visit in August 2015 (after the wedding) if this is too much for you.
If you are getting married, or if you aren't but would like to document a special moment (or a regular moment!), check out Anne-Marie's website and blog. You won't regret it. Get lost in the stories her photos tell for a little while (or even for an entire afternoon, as I so often do).

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the most wonderful part of it all: She is just as sweet and kind as she is talented. We feel incredibly blessed. 


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Letting Go of Expectations: Learning to Nourish my Soul

A very happy selfie. Foreshadowing the joy at the end of this post.
Yesterday, we went to Winterlude at Confederation Park; we froze (!); we went out for brunch; it was wonderful.
Over the course of the past few weeks - notably, since I set resolutions for 2015 - I have developed a sense of anxiety. Each day, as I ponder my goals, as well as the non-negotiable expectations I have set for myself, I begin to panic. A surge of anxiety overtakes me. I am unable to remain still or calm. I complain to Graham; I feel shortness of breath. I can't sleep; I can't breath. Thankfully, I have never felt this way before.

He asks:
What is going on that head of yours?
The truth is: I long so deeply to complete all of my goals; but even eating supper at the kitchen table seems impossible sometimes. And in addition to my resolutions, I have certain deliberate expectations about the way I should be living and what I should be doing:
  • Meal planning: I feel as though the entire world has embarked upon Whole 30; while I, on the other hand, have entered a lifelong donut eating competition. I am the only competitor. 
  • Yoga: "I vow to wake at 6 am each morning to exercise before work." This dreaded promise has escaped my lips each day since January first. I have yet to follow through. I have however accomplished snoozing my alarm until I am about to miss my bus... 
  • Spotlessness. No more "big cleans." If we tidy our home for twenty minutes each day, it will remain spotless, right? Wrong. Those twenty minutes I intended to spend steam cleaning the kitchen floor are perhaps better spent training Eggnog not to pee on the floor. Maybe Graham will be overwhelmed by the sudden urge to organize our things when he arrives home from work, ravenous and tired, at 7 pm. Maybe not... 
In an ideal world, I would be perfectly fit, eating a perfectly well-balanced diet. I would feel perfectly content turning off The Bachelor and taking out my glue gun and craft supplies. I would start a new project and make something for our home; it would turn out perfectly. I would wake each morning at 6 am, granting just enough time for yoga and a load of laundry. By the time Graham returned home from work (which is approximately twenty minutes after I exit my last bus), I would have prepared a perfectly whole (whatever whole may be: Paleo? Clean? Vegan?) dinner; and it would be served at the table, which would be set perfectly. After supper, we would play a sport or volunteer as a couple. Only to arrive home by 9:30 pm and find ourselves in bed, reading our books. Perfect. 

Sometimes I feel called to write nauseating things such as the above and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is to reveal how diluted and frivolous my objectives have become. 

In describing my expectations to one of my closest friends, and in asking - Why can't I just do it all? - Cara responded, frankly: 
No one does it all. Social media is deceiving. 
She went on to suggest realistic ways for me to integrate healthier snacking and physical activity into my lifestyle, acknowledging that with a "grown up job," it is challenging to squeeze several things (let alone one thing, other than Netflix) into your evening.

I remember coming across several pins on Pinterest that contained a rendition of the following quote: "perfection is boring," and "there's nothing interesting about being perfect." 

I could not for the life of me grasp the concept. I understand that perfection is unachievable, but boring?! What could be boring about being perfect? About having it all? About doing it all? Is it monotonous to be a skilled chef, regular volunteer, preparer of well-balanced meals, advocate of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, confident artist and yogi? No, of course not. But not very many people are capable of it all...

During the recital of my "ideal world" above, I realized something groundbreaking: the yearning for perfection is not only detrimental, yielding only futility and disappointment (we already knew this), it is also to remove the spontaneity from life! 
No more take-out. No more Wes Anderson movie marathons. No more Netflix. No more (hilarious) failed crafts - that Graham kindly hangs on our walls. No more sleeping in. No more 90s chick flicks with Eggnog. No more "wasting time" on my favourite blogs. No more big cleans (okay, I could probably part with this one). No more relaxing.  
No more donuts...
I understand now. Perfection is boring because you can't have donuts (among other things).

Unexpectedly, I am no longer asking in envy: Who can live this way?

I am instead asking, in understanding: Who would want to?
How can I dream of anything other than the beautiful life I live? Last night, we went on a date with our best friends. I laughed for hours on end. I am so blessed. I am so happy. What more could I want?

Also: monthly date night was one of my resolutions. Success!
Snuggling my little family. Suddenly I feel refreshed.
Rather than to go on hopelessly pondering what - in addition to my crushing expectations - caused my feelings of anxiety in the first place (the contribution of my frenemy, Pinterest, was likely significant), I instead opt to ask the question:
What can I do to nourish my soul? 
- God. My faith nourishes me in a way that nothing else can or will. I feel refreshed during prayer. I feel cleansed after Mass. God is the centre of our lives. And my only regret is not having treated Him as such during times of questioning. There is not a piece of writing in this world - that I have read - that can make me feel more at ease than the following Biblical quote:
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. 
- Writing. I get lost in writing. But it's more than that. I once told Graham that I don't even know how I feel about a given situation until I write about it. At first, he was puzzled. I was too. At first glance, it sounds like a major short-coming. And in some ways, it is. I hate to admit it, but I have trouble remembering the way in which I felt during times in my life - younger years - when I did not journal. That said, now that I write privately all the time, I see this supposed defect as a blessing. I feel beholden that I can put pen to paper (or finger to key) and have moment after moment of sudden realization and inspiration. A series of inescapable eureka / aha moments that are as terrifying and revealing as they are beautiful. I used to fear them, which is why for several years (age 17-21, approximately), I did not write. To fully understand is to no longer be capable of feigning ignorance.

To say "I'm fine," when you aren't sure how you feel is somewhat acceptable.

To say "I'm fine," when you known exactly how you feel is impossible.

To write is to understand. To understand is - for me - to be transparent. To be transparent is to be capable of being supported. It is because of the support I received that I was able to reclaim the driver's seat in my life over the course of the past two weeks. Something that in the past, would have taken me months to do.

Over the course of my short-lived anxiety, I have learned that in addition to my journaling, I would like to write a book. Not necessarily a book that anyone will read (other than Graham and my mom) but a book nonetheless. I have also narrowed down my preferred genre (for writing, but not at all reading, interestingly). Exciting!

- Reading. I now get lost in writing because I once got lost in reading. After finishing University, and after having read many (thrilling...) textbooks, "reading" plummeted on my list of hobbies. Yesterday, Graham and I visited the library. The tremendous joy I felt as I slipped my (new) library card into my wallet was equivalent to the joy I felt after having finished writing my first story. A joy that is brimming with anticipation. A happy nervousness. What will I read first? What will I lose myself in? Which authors will change my life? Which to me, is only comparable to: What will I write first? What will I name my characters? How will I change their lives? 

- Creativity. My best friend and I, and a few others, are in the process of starting a craft club of sorts. Rather than sobbing in solitude while scrolling mindlessly through Pinterest - because I forgot to buy silver clay - I can enter an environment of other learning creatives. We can make together. We can make crafts, make memories, make mistakes and make messes. It will be joyful. And I can't wait.

- Donuts. While they do not necessarily or adequately nourish my body, they certainly nourish my soul. To eat a donut (or two, as I did on our date night yesterday evening) is to enter a sweet and happy place. Should I eat donuts each and every day? No, certainly not. But to justify turning down my favourite ring-shaped fried dough is to feign ignorance and ignore the way I feel: which is happy (about donuts). There is - obviously - greater meaning here. I don't need to feel guilty for abandoning an old expectation and adopting a new one; namely: I will indulge in what I truly love.
This book - lent to me by my best friend - inspired this post, and helped revamp my self-inflicted expectations. Because of Dominique, an author whose lifestyle I have very little in common with, I was able to slow down. I was able to take strides towards overcoming my endless stream of "you ought to be doing something more productive" thoughts. I was able to let go of unrealistic expectations and welcome new ones. And only yesterday, I was able to appreciate the slow joy that is watching an elderly couple pick produce at a market. One, holding a flimsy, cellophane bag open for the other, smiling, as he asks me: "Would you like us to move dear?"

No. Please don't move. Please stay just as you are.
This to me, and because of Dominique, is slow love. 

Less focus on what I should be doing. Less focus on what everyone else is doing (or what they appear to be doing). More focus on what nourishes my soul: what pulls me from darkness and brings me into new light.

What nourishes you?