Permission to feel

I was going to write about the few quiet days that I spent on the couch, convalescing after having rolled my ankle while on a beautiful trek. My ankle is better now and I am fairly certain that I have written before, numerous times, about how much we can learn about ourselves when we take a break from the world. Alas, sometimes those breaks are of our own volition, but more often, they are forced upon us.

Now that my ankle has (mostly) healed, what has been on my mind are thoughts about Christmas festivities. Joni Mitchell’s River is on repeat somewhere at the back of my head. No, it does not snow here. It tends to stay pretty green; except, with the recent lack of rain, the grass in our town is looking more like golden hay. As for making lots of money and quitting this crazy scene? Well, I do daydream of a white Christmas. But I’m starting to become tangled in my songs.

I wrote another post about the difficulties I have been experiencing settling into Kiwi summer holiday traditions in the lead-up to our first NZ Christmas, then chose to not publish it from worry that it sounds peevish. I do keep in my mind that at least a few of my friends in the northern hemisphere are already feeling tired of the cold weather. In the interest of maintaining sensitivity and not turning this blog into a platform to whine in Scrooge fashion, I will not venture any further.

What I will tell you, however, is that this year, I am letting go of my usual tendency to try to create the perfect Christmas. This year, Santa will be lucky to have just a few cookies with his glass of milk as a midnight snack on Christmas Eve. I have been staying far away from the hot oven. There are a few other corners that I have been cutting. I normally love Christmas, but this year it does not feel the same. And that is okay. I am giving myself permission to feel incomplete. I am giving myself permission to not watch Love Actually and sing Walking in a Winter Wonderland. I suspect I might end up watching my favourite holiday films and sing beloved Christmas songs in July, in the middle of a NZ winter. And that also is okay.

Dear reader, I am choosing to share this post with you because I know I am not alone in feeling slightly sad at Christmas this year. Some of you have different reasons for feeling that way this season. Whatever those reasons are, wherever in the world you might be reading these words, I hope that you can join me in giving yourself permission to hold space for your emotions and allow yourself to focus on self-care, remembering that only impermanence is here to stay.

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It always helps me, when I experience sadness or anxiety, to go outside for a walk and reconnect with Nature. These vibrant Pohutukawa trees are Nature’s Christmas gift to Kiwis. Due to their timely blooming in December, they are known as the NZ Christmas tree.

Finding Presence: The perfect avocado toast

It was a typical busy morning in the Wanderlust household as I served breakfast, packed lunches, ushered the Wanderlust Juniors out the door, then speed-walked after them as they rode their scooters to school. Later, returning home with a growling stomach, I finally had time to prepare some breakfast. I felt unsettled after a rushed morning routine that left me with no time to sit down to catch my breath. Later, as I stood in our quiet kitchen, my gaze panned over the messy floor of the adjacent family room, then returned to what was before me: two slices of toasted bread and an avocado on a wooden board atop a cluttered counter.

I chose, for the moment, to ignore the clutter. I sliced into the perfectly ripe avocado and exhaled with relief to find it ideal inside, a smooth, creamy green. I enjoyed every bite of the avocado toast in complete silence, save for the sound of the birds’ song outside the window. In this season of my life, juxtapositions abound. A noisy house in the morning gives way to silence that feels luxurious through lunchtime. The same noisy, vibrant energy returns to fill the rooms after the school day ends, then the house envelopes us in its sleepy tranquility.

I delight in those cycles and treasure the small gifts of a full day, making space to observe the transitions and creating opportunities to take breaks, to simply sit, if only for a short minute, and listen, watch, feel, breathe. Some days, the perfect avocado toast is precisely what I need to return to Presence, to feel gratitude for this ordinary day with its ebb and flow.

What steps can you take today to return to Presence? Hint: It’s in the little things.

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More about avocado… A few months ago, shortly after our move to NZ, Mr. Wanderlust saved the pit of an avocado, drilled three small holes into it, and stuck three wooden skewers inside. We immersed it in water inside a jar and kept it on the windowsill. Today, this is the result of our patient care. We have another, larger avocado tree, in our backyard. I purchased it recently from the local garden centre. It will be a while yet before this little seedling will be ready for planting, but we are starting to think of soon moving it into potted soil to allow it to continue to thrive.

It takes effort to walk down a different street

I have been thinking about this poem as I move through my day, teaching classes, preparing meals, vacuuming my home, or picking up the Wanderlust Juniors from school. In my practice of mindfulness, I would like to be able to confidently say that I remain aware of each step along the way. Some days, however, I find myself distracted, or tired, my thoughts scattered as I attempt to multitask.

I know I am not alone in feeling this way. We all have pitfalls. We all sometimes feel tempted to take the easy way out. It’s easy to reach for a second slice of cake when others around are doing it, without questioning whether we truly do feel hungry. It’s easier to give in to the myriad other age-old habits that do not serve us than to work consciously to form new habits.

What is it, then, that can facilitate our awareness? What can make us succeed on this path and remain consistent in our day-to-day practice? Gretchen Rubin’s research on the four tendencies certainly helps to bring us closer to forming new habits and meeting expectations that we set for ourselves. However, the real grit of the work is in daily intention to move, sit, speak, eat, and act with mindful integrity. Some days, this takes a great effort, and at the end of some days, we may feel that we are far from having met our intentions. On this journey, each day provides a new opportunity to let go of the old and dare, gently, to make different decisions. Eventually, we might find ourselves walking down that others street, avoiding the hole in the sidewalk.

As of late, my intention is simple: to feel good, physiologically, mentally, and spiritually. I want to feel whole, grounded, and at peace, particularly amid the inevitable chaos that often accompanies the life of a mother of two school-aged boys. That intention reminds me to make choices that bring me closer to feeling the way I want to feel and, in turn, avoid doing that which likely would take me farther from that goal.

What is your intention today? Please leave a comment below, and share this blog with a friend who might enjoy its content.

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Four things that are saving me these days

Photo: View from the Kaimai Ranges, by Mr. Wanderlust

On Wednesday morning, I turned the calendar leaf to reveal the first day of a new month. It dawned on me that, although this new month doesn’t feel remotely like the Novembers I have come to know, with their cold gray rain-drenched streets and trees that shed their cover in preparation for a blanket of snow, it’s nevertheless the second-last month of the year. And oh, how time does fly. That same day, I walked through the local shopping centre, where tall artificial Christmas trees had popped up overnight, to the sound of Christmas songs playing. November has always been my least favourite month in the northern hemisphere, and although it feels different in NZ, where sunny days are interspersed with warm springtime rainfall, I remain vigilant of the state of my thoughts and emotions. The reason I prioritise self-care and consistently work to improve my wellness habits is precisely because it’s much too easy for me to slip.

These days, here are four things that are saving me and helping me to stay well:

1. Walks in nature

On most mornings, after I take the Wanderlust Juniors to school, I walk to the beach or through the reserve. Some days, I drive to the local hills or the Mount for a more challenging walk to the summit, where I stand in awe, gazing from above upon our spectacular city. From time to time, whenever Mr. Wanderlust is able to steal away from his work for an hour, he joins me. Sometimes, we ride our bicycles in lieu of walking. I wrote previously about the resistance I have been feeling, as of late, toward more formal forms of cardio. Of course, yoga is a necessary daily practice, but I also crave fresh air and outdoor movement. Once outside, I often feel I could walk for hours. Some days, I listen to music or a podcast, but I prefer to tune into the sounds of the ocean’s waves or birds around me and take it all in, observing the ornate seashells as I pass them on the sand, the sheep that graze on the hillside. I walk briskly, but my mind remains in a state of meditative flow. If I’m lucky, from time to time I’m able to eavesdrop inconspicuously on an interesting conversation that I file away as possible material for a story.

2. Healthy routines

About two months after our move to NZ, I began to feel particularly homesick. I went through what immigration experts term the ‘fight or flight’ phase, during which I compared everything in NZ to what I had come to love in Canada. Then, I would nitpick at everything that did not appeal to me as much as I had hoped it would. At the same time, I began to drown my emotions in jars of Nutella late in the evening. Believe me, dear reader, that for me to admit to this feels shameful. I have always prided myself on being a careful eater and I have always had a difficult relationship with sugar. I know that it’s best for me to avoid it altogether. These days, I am picking up the pieces of me that I misplaced during that challenging phase. One day at a time, I plan carefully, eating three healthy solid meals, and avoid snacking after dinner. I brush my teeth, slip into my pajamas, and unwind with some Yin or restorative yoga, followed by reading a few pages from a book before turning off the light. I myself have often felt that this routine sounds rigid, but it helps me to feel my best, and for Vata, consistent healthy routines are key.

3. Community

Community is another major factor in adjusting to our new life in NZ. It’s easy for me to be a hermit, to stay at home all day and avoid any social interaction. However, when I do start speaking with our neighbours or the members of the fitness club who attend my classes, the conversation often ventures beyond small talk and leaves me feeling fulfilled. Moreover, online interaction via the blog also brings its delights. Yesterday, I received an email from a friend who told me about how much this blog helped her friend when he was going through a challenging time. As a writer, I enjoy putting my work out there, but I often wonder about who actually reads it and whether anyone cares about the content I produce. Similarly, as a yoga teacher, I want to know whether I deliver the type of class that other expect to attend and whether, in my classes, I am able to effectively address issues that others often struggle with. That feedback is invaluable to me and helps to connect me to the greater community, both online and offline.

4. Small celebrations

Earlier this week, our children celebrated their first Hallowe’en in NZ. Hallowe’en is a new holiday here and was not celebrated traditionally the way it’s celebrated in North America and some parts of Europe. With the longer daylight hours, the Wanderlust Juniors trick-or-treated when it was still light out, and stopped at only one spooky house among the non-ornate ones. Nevertheless, they enjoyed every moment of their outing and were particularly delighted that they did not need to wear winter jackets over their costumes the way they used to have to do in Canada. Seeing their excitement reminded me that every day is to be celebrated and that dressing up is fun. When I shared this article on my personal Facebook page, about one of my favourite fictional characters and films, lamenting over the casual dress in NZ, a friend commented to remind me that I should feel free to dress up and express my style any day. She’s right, of course, and I intend to do just that. I feel better when I put more effort into my outfit, even on days when I don’t have anywhere special to go. We should not need to wait for an occasion. Instead, every day can be a special occasion if we make it so.

Your turn: What is saving you right now? If you live in the northern hemisphere where November is the cold month in-between fall and winter, what do you do to turn up the hygge and make this time of year more enjoyable? Please leave a comment below. 

In the spirit of community-building, thank you for sharing this blog with a friend. 

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Open to Wonder

When the days seem dark and bleak, shrouded in misery, seek out sunlight.

In a storm, light a candle, sip tea from your favourite mug, or call a friend whose brilliant smile will warm your heart.

When the noises around threaten to overwhelm us as they grow increasingly louder and create conflict, seek a quiet corner, even if that corner is inside a small closet.

When doubts are menacing and everyone around knows everything about what we should do next, where we should plan to go, and how we should behave, seek stillness.

Often, the answer is to do nothing at all.

When we have grown weary of chasing after solutions and have researched potential outcomes to no end, what more is there left to do?

Nothing. Nothing can be great sometimes.

When we feel lonely, may we seek out other footprints in the sand.

May we open our eyes, minds, and hearts to Wonder.

As I stepped onto the path between the dunes leading to the beach, I felt the pull of the ocean’s tide, heard its gentle whisper to be silent and let it do all the talking.

We have not always been friends, the ocean and I, but these days, I am letting it share its secrets with me. I remain forever a humble student in search of Wonder.

It’s here. It has always been here.

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Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend who might find resonance in these words.

I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, or how I keep myself accountable

The title of this post might suggest that I am about to divulge to you a few naughty secrets. In part, that’s true, but it’s likely not what you would expect. Instead, I will share with you how I meet outer expectations, resist inner expectations, and the tactics I use to trick myself into following through on a self-imposed task.

When I read Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before, I became fascinated with her concept of the four tendencies. I rushed to pick up a copy of her latest book, The Four Tendencies, on its release date in Canada. As the title suggests, this book focuses specifically on the four tendencies — Upholder, Obliger, Rebel, and Questioner — and examines how each of the tendencies meets or resists inner and outer expectations. I had taken the quiz previously to learn about the category into which I fit. However, I must have done what many Obligers do, according to Rubin, by running off with the idea that I was not an Obliger at all. This was followed shortly by a dismissal of the entire four tendencies framework because I rebel at the mere thought of categorising myself or other people. Still, I kept coming back to the framework, just as I continue to study the Myers-Briggs framework. I’m actually a sucker for personality psychology; it helps me to understand myself and those around me. Yet, I also remind myself to refrain from making generalisations and fitting myself and others into prescribed boxes.

This time, while reading the book, it was time to be honest with myself and delve deeper. Mr. Wanderlust, after taking the quiz, immediately declared that I am an Obliger, and somewhere at the back of my mind I wanted to protest. Then, I sighed and continued reading, only to discover that although I am most certainly an Obliger, I also veer toward the Rebel tendency, a common scenario which Rubin explains as a variation within a tendency. This variation makes sense to me and helps to explain why I also am inclined to agree with a few attributes assigned to a Rebel. As an OBLIGER/Rebel, I do meet outer expectations more readily than I do my inner expectations, but I often resent being told what to do. I have always resisted the idea of someone else keeping tabs on me. Although it might be easier for me to meet external expectations, I do not enjoy working out with friend who helps to keep me on track. At the end of the day, I prefer to do things alone and to set my own goals. So, what is an OBLIGER/Rebel to do to keep herself accountable?

Here is my dirty little secret. Although slightly embarrassing, it works for me. I keep myself accountable by pretending that I am on camera, whether the camera is hidden or one that overtly follows me around, filming my every move. To some, it might sound creepy or downright ridiculous. For me, it is a way to ensure that I can hold my actions to the highest standard. When I pretend that someone else is watching me, I am not as likely to reach for a second square of dark chocolate. I am more likely to go to sleep and get out of bed early in order to exercise. Some might choose to use social media to keep themselves accountable, posting status updates from the gym and taking photos of their daily meals. I like to play pretend. Interestingly, in the book, Rubin quotes a Rebel doing something similar to keep her/himself on track. And here I thought I was doing something unusual.

Another method that I often use, and one which Rubin attributes to Rebels, is to set intentions for my day and make resolutions based on how I want to feel, rather than what I think I should do. This allows me to connect with my identity, making choices that are aligned with my perception of my present and future self.

All this self-exploration leads me to wonder about how others keep themselves accountable. It also makes me wonder how others feel about personality psychology. Please leave a comment below to join the conversation.

Thanksgiving, and keeping traditions alive

Mr. Wanderlust and I are wishing all our Canadian family members and friends a very happy Thanksgiving! We hope that you are enjoying a wonderful celebration in the company of your dearest people.

Our own Thanksgiving celebration is belated. For today’s early dinner, prior to my 6:30 p.m. yoga class, on the menu is chicken schnitzel and roasted vegetables. Our little family of four will not have turkey, cranberry sauce, butternut squash, or apple pie, because I realised too late on Saturday morning, after having planned our meals for the coming week and purchased groceries, that this past weekend was, in fact, Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Thanksgiving is not celebrated in NZ, and likewise there is no widely acknowledged harvest festival. I can blame my memory lapse on seasonal confusion, which often leaves me thinking that since it’s currently springtime, it must be April or May. Then I remind myself that it’s actually October.

And so, we let the weekend go by without a special celebration, but this did not sit well with me. I want to keep our beloved family traditions alive in any way I can, regardless where in the world we might be. To me, Thanksgiving is a grounding reminder to mindfully acknowledge our loved ones and all else for which we are grateful. And so, although belatedly, I made the decision to have an intentional celebratory Thanksgiving dinner today, in-between teaching classes. We might not have the traditional pumpkins or squash, because  they are not currently in season in NZ, and that’s okay. After all, what make a celebration special are the intention behind it and the people with whom we share it. As for the apple pie, I just might bake one in a few days — you know, to extend the celebration. Here’s a photo of a cranberry-apple pie I baked for Thanksgiving two years ago.

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What special Thanksgiving traditions are in your family? If you are currently living far away from family, do you continue to celebrate Thanksgiving?

If we are making ourselves too busy, what are we trying to escape?

I made a mistake. I made the mistake of making myself too busy. A few weeks later, when I came down with a bad cold due to burnout, I understood that I had filled my schedule to the brim because I was too afraid to face a tumultuous issue that was brewing under the surface.

As always, the irony of the situation dawned on me when I felt I had nothing more to give. There, on the couch, feeling too weak to move, I was forced to pay attention to the signs that were before me all along. Instead of sweeping the proverbial dust under the rug, I held it in the palms of my hands, breathed it in and made myself sneeze a few times, blaming it on the virus, before allowing myself to face the big elephant. By doing too much, by constantly moving forward, we often keep ourselves from thinking about what makes us vulnerable. It’s easy to get up in the morning and get to work, to tackle the grit without asking ourselves why we tackle it and whether it serves an ultimate purpose. In making myself busier than I needed to be, I avoided the big question of how I was actually feeling and what I truly wanted to do.

If we are making ourselves too busy, what are we trying to escape?

We must slow down. We must slow down to allow creativity to flow. We must slow down and give ourselves permission to feel the emotions that will arise, instead of attempting to deny them. We must be honest with ourselves about what we truly want to do, why we resist certain projects, and whether we are actually meant to undertake any of those projects in the first place.

When I’m quiet, I hear an inner voice that asks me to simplify, to allow myself to tune into the creative flow. That voice begs me to pay attention to the signs that are before me. After that, I gently nudge myself to take just one step in the direction that feels right to me at this time.

What signs are before you? Have you been paying close attention to them and heeding them?

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Favourites from around the web:

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Three questions to ask yourself before buying something – I follow a similar approach.

How to enjoy exercising without making it feel like a chore – For me, it’s all about moving my body in a way that allows me to feel healthy, strong, and energised but grounded.

Community, and the importance of getting to know our neighbours, is a subject that has been on my mind often as of late.

Life through a phone screen

Today’s installment of the blog is a result of a technical issue. Two weeks ago, I recorded a live talk on Facebook, only to discover later that the audio of the recording was less than ideal. I had initially planned to re-record the video but decided, typically, to write about the subject instead. It’s my medium of choice. Without further ado, allow me to delve straight into it.

I enjoy watching people. I am fascinated by how different people walk, stand, eat, and interact. I have always been a people-watcher. On that particular Sunday when this story takes place, I was paying close attention to Mr. Wanderlust and the Wanderlust Juniors, seated with me at a small squared bistro table at a restaurant where we were eating brunch prior to a Cirque du Soleil show. I had shown the Wanderlust Juniors a video that their aunt had posted on social media, then put my phone into my purse to enjoy our lunch free of distractions. We were chatting about something when a man seated at a nearby table stood up to leave the restaurant. He approached and said to us, “It’s nice to see a family that talks to one another instead of staring at phones.”

After he left, I looked around us to see that at many tables surrounding us, families similar to ours were slumped over their telephones, barely looking up at the cutlery and food placed before them.

Later, at the show, I was somewhat surprised to learn that an app had been created for use during the show with the promise to enhance the experience for the audience. My initial reaction was to ask, Whatever happened to asking the audience members to turn off their phones? From the screens of those seated near us, I did not spot anything impressive about the app they had downloaded. I suppose that the app could not be made to be all that amazing, so as to prevent distracting the audience.

The reason I did not download the app is twofold:

  1. I am discerning about what I download onto my phone.
  2. I believe in, first and foremost, enjoying live events with the naked eye, instead of through a screen.

Lest you might think that I am writing this post to sound holier-than-thou, rest assured that I often share content on social media. Those who follow me on Instagram or Facebook hopefully enjoy the photographs I share on an almost daily basis. I enjoy the interaction that is facilitated by the advances of technology. However, I don’t believe that social media can or should attempt to replace real good old-fashioned human interaction and likewise, I believe that, save for a quick snap or video, phones should be put away during live concerts.

If you were born in the early 1980s or earlier, you might remember a time when people used to go to concerts and tell their friends about it later. Perhaps, like me, you remember how excited you felt about returning home after the event and picking up the phone to tell your best friend about how fabulous the show was. During your lunch hour on Monday at school or at work, you enjoyed catching up with your classmates or colleagues to share your story and learn about their weekend outings. Those opportunities are lost amid the ubiquitous content thrown our way via social media.

We no longer need to wait for Monday to learn about what our friends did during the weekend. It’s on social media. But it doesn’t have to be.

Lately, I have been relishing the almost-naughty idea of going on an adventure without telling anyone about it — okay, maybe I tell only my mum about it during our Skype chats. It feels good to create secret memories in an age when so much — arguably too much — is shared for the world to see.

During the second act of the show, from the corner of my eye I noticed that an audience member seated near us was checking his phone, scrolling through comments left below his photos and browsing the updates of his friends. All the while, my family and I were riveted by the show and refused to look away.

I like technology. I expect technology to continue to evolve fast. However, I believe that we should continue to discern, to make healthy choices about how we use technology for our benefit, rather than giving it permission to control us. For that reason I put away my phone at mealtimes and usually leave it in a different room two hours before bedtime. When I attend a live entertainment event, I might take a photo or video and share it later, or not at all. Usually, my phone stays in my purse, giving me the freedom to fully immerse myself in the special — and privileged — experience of watching and listening to something beautiful taking place on the stage before me. I don’t want to let life pass me by while I attempt to capture it through the screen of my phone.

How do you feel about the use of phones during live concerts? Do you share my thoughts or do you disagree? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below. 

Let me tell you something about courage

When Mr. Wanderlust and I officially announced to a small number of close friends our intention to relocate from Canada to New Zealand, many expressed admiration at our courage.

“I must say,” one friend told us over brunch last December in Toronto, “many people dream and speak of someday moving to and starting a new life in a different country. You guys are actually going through with it. That takes guts.”

Others told us how nervous they would be about the mere thought of making such a move.

Here is something that I don’t often share when talking about our Big Move. It was relatively smooth from conception. We say our thanks every night for how fortunate we feel to have had everything go as well as it has thus far. However, that does not mean that we did not sometimes have second thoughts related to career changes and the change to a different educational system for our children. Similarly, we considered carefully the implications of leaving behind our family and friends and having to start building a new social circle in a new home. The question of social interactions, in particular, sometimes brings on a fair amount of anxiety.

There are days when I feel vulnerable and homesick. On those days, one obscure harsh word from a stranger — in yesterday’s case a woman at the supermarket who yelled at me for blocking her way — is enough to make me want to lock myself in the walk-in closet with a whole bar of dark chocolate and a giant pot of tea. As a HSP and INFP, I work hard to read others, especially if they are not open with me. I replay conversations in my mind that I had the day before with other school mums, wondering whether I might have said something that was misunderstood or committed another faux pas. The cultures in NZ and Canada don’t clash in a blatant way, but sometimes the differences are apparent.

And then, on other days, I enjoy a pleasant chat with another mum over peppermint tea while our children play in her backyard, leaving me feeling lighthearted and at peace.

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the choice to pick ourselves up and move forward, regardless of those pangs of fear. We all feel nervous about certain changes. Some of us have also had to learn to be good at hiding that nervousness. However, there are three other lessons that have always kept me moving forward through various challenges that I have faced: Curiosity, Equanimity, and Faith. I give myself permission to sit with the experience, to feel the myriad emotions. I allow the thoughts to swirl. Then, I work to detach myself from them. I am not my thoughts. I am not my emotions. They do not define me. I remind myself that all those experiences and challenges are fleeting and every day brings new surprises. I remind myself of the challenges I have faced in the past and how they have made me stronger. I have been reminding myself, as of late, of the time when, as a teenager, I worked to make friends at a new school, in a new country, while learning a new language. Everything worked out for the best. It always does, especially when we remember to let go of concerns about the outcome.

Yesterday, I spent some time on the floor of the closet, eating 70% chocolate, drinking rooibos tea, and journaling to sort through my jumbled thoughts. This morning, I am ready to be the best version of myself and that, my friends, takes courage. As for change? It takes time, patience, and a fair amount of guts. One day at a time.

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If you are enjoying this blog, please take a moment to share it with a friend who might find its content interesting. 

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Spotted at a Starbucks in Dundas, Ontario two weeks ago, which means there are now fewer than 15 Fridays left to shop before Christmas. That’s great, but let’s focus on the here and now, folks. Wishing you a Mindful Monday.