So long, September

In a nutshell, I’d say that sugarless and sober was a success. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the month was so stressful. But I think I’ve proved to myself that the discipline isn’t what I lack.

Sober was easy. In my life, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt like I “needed” a drink (unless I’m forgetting something). When I’ve been stressed or grieving, alcohol hasn’t been my vice of choice.

Sugarless was a bit more challenging, but again, the discipline was there. Even if I was going for a coffee with a friend, I’d opt for the straight milk and coffee latte, rather than the fancy one with syrups and whatnot.

But during the power outage aftermath of the tornado, I did stop being strict about it. It was just so that I wouldn’t be avoiding perfectly edible food that otherwise would be fine, except for there being sugar as one of the ingredients.

Also, I was tired. This month was a lot. There was a lot going on, and a lot of exhaustion, stress, and then having to throw out everything in my fridge and freezer after 53 hours without power. That sort of just broke it for me. I decided that Sugarless September was done last week. And I enjoyed that Blossoming Rose tea latte.

But again, funnily enough, as I’ve come to realize at the end of most every month – the change had felt good. I will probably maintain a fairly sugar free diet, focused on fresh fruit and vegs, with good protein sources, and light on the breads and pastas.

What’s on tap for October? I had been toying with the idea of Educational October, where I’d sign up for those courses I had planned on doing (and finish the one that has been languishing for years). Except I’m still tired and there are still two weeks to go on a big deadline at work. So I think I’m going to go with Optional October.

Optional October will mean that every day, I will choose one thing to do – yoga, meditation, reading, art, journaling, gratitude exercise, heavy workout, staying off social media, sugarless, sober, and yes, even working on a course or two. This way, I’ll be able to work in some of the things I’ve learned this year about what makes me feel better, and I’ll still have a goal, it just won’t be as strict.

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When darkness falls

A few annoying flickers during the Netflix show – not enough to stop it, but enough to miss a few seconds as the TV is more sensitive, apparently, to a lack of electricity than the gaming console. Outside, the wind shreds the rain and it just looks like white water pounding against the glass. A wicked storm.

The next time, the TV doesn’t come back on. We sit, making pensive humming sounds as we wait for the electrons to come back. We sit, and the storm calms somewhat outside.

Eventually, we shrug and collect up our dinner plates… okay, let’s be real, our dinner personal pizza boxes. It was Friday night, after all. We wander into the kitchen-dining room-sitting room-studio-office, with all the big windows, with the last of the light, and we sit. We sit, thinking nothing of the jarring alarum both of our cell phones had blared just a while ago. You are waiting to go to your regular Friday night get together. I am waiting to see if my night alone will be occupied with video games or something more unplugged.

We look out the window and see our street flooded. All the way up to the doorway of the garage across from us. A maelstrom swirls at one of the storm drains, and cars and trucks slow suddenly as they realize how deep the water gets. We wonder aloud at the state of the pit next door, but we can’t see from our vantage point.

Due to the weather, you start out early. I walk down the stairs to the second sub-basement – the parking garage – with you, both of us carrying our headlamps because we aren’t sure quite the extent of the emergency systems. We’re happily surprised to find that it’s rather well lit, and you drive me to the front door. I’m fortunate because someone is waiting in the lobby and has already identified the fault in the system – the key fobs “let you in” but the emergency system isn’t attached to the door unlocking mechanism.

I sit where you had been and keep reading my short story collection by Charles de Lint. I text my family to let them know we’re without power and that my mother’s emergency preparations are a good call, as the system is supposed to rake across them as well. Eventually, as an afterthought, perhaps after a brief check of Twitter to see what people were saying, I text you to ask that you let me know when you get to our friends’ house. I’m not sure I really understood at that time what had happened.

It starts to get darker now, so I assemble the three candles on display into the one softly rectangular platter, and try to read by the orange glow. After the shortest one drowns in its own beeswax, I figure I should find all my stores candles – hand rolled beeswax ones, made by me a few years ago. Then I take my headlamp and assemble our flashlights, digging out the triple A and double A batteries from their various places and refreshing them. I decide the double A battery powered flashlight will have to be my workhorse, because we have more of those.

You tell me that it was hell trying to drive anywhere. All the traffic lights were out and it took so long to get there. But you were playing a board game, everyone present and accounted for, the house lights powered by our friend’s generator.

I read, occasionally checking Twitter, and beginning to see the destruction wrought across my city. I’m aghast at the screenshot I take from a video of a white delivery truck toppled onto a red hatchback, surrounded by toothpick-snapped telephone poles. I can’t even recognize where on the street it’s taken, and I have a mind for images. I send it to my family, and to you. I read about Dunrobin and wonder if the house I visited a week earlier is still standing. I wonder if I should text my friend but then reason she probably wouldn’t know yet either. I look for the emergency check in on Facebook but only find three other catastrophes on the other side of the world, so I wonder if ours isn’t big enough. I’ll end up finding it later and marking myself safe after I post a short statement to that effect just in my own words.

Eventually, I decide to crawl into bed so that I can just lay down when I feel like stopping reading. Surely the power will come back on.

It doesn’t. You get home sometime around 2am, and I wake up when I hear you come in. The city is unrecognizable in the dark, you tell me. None of the traffic lights were lit on your drive back in. You’re sure you blew through intersections you didn’t even see. South Keys was a gaping abyss of shocking darkness. Only one small enclave of power on the south edge of town was the aberration in your inky drive home. Surreal.

We wake the next morning to no power. Cold showers later, we are more or less presentable when we eat a cold breakfast of what’s on hand and I convince you to brave the streets again since our phones don’t have reception. We must check on our people. Intersection after intersection is a four way stop, until we weirdly find one with power. Our people are in the same boat as we – no damage but no power. All is well-ish. We return to our cave and wait.

Cold dinner of vegetables and meat and cheese from the fridge before another evening of reading. I’m now on my short stories collection of Frank Herbert. It seems appropriate to have such an intimate experience with the night as it rises to prominence again in the seasonal cycle. The equinox passes with hundreds of thousands of my fellow city-zens incapable of missing the equal share of night with day. We call it a night, possibly early, but who can tell when you live in a black hole.

The next day, I insist we go in search of warm food and coffee. I’ll pay for that later with two massive blisters on my Achilles tendons from my first foray out in shoes rather than my comfortable sandals. But we cram into the first open diner we find walking east. An air of desperation and a strange mix of friendliness and hostility colours everyone’s body language and words. I mention that my edict on sugar is not being observed while this emergency is happening, but I avoid using the catsup on my eggs anyway. It’s because I have already planned on the vegetarian food I was going to pull from the still-frozen freezer that we can have cold, and I know it has sugar added. I’ll later allow myself a blooming rose tea latte from a Starbucks in Kanata we stop at to charge our phones simultaneously instead of taking turns charging them off of the car.

A second candle sputters out that evening, as we cuddle on the couch to read by flashlight together. We’ve already read on Twitter that police are asking folks to stay home, off the roads, since so many traffic lights are still out. My boss tells me the same via an improvised phone tree.

Then beeps and air being forced through vents after another return to bed is considered. I flick a switch and the light is intrusive, almost brash in comparison with the gentle honeyed glow, but it is joyous as well. We’re not sure if this is the full return, and indeed I am awoken that night as the beeps sound again, another flicker of the grid, but we now have our regular past times back. And I wonder if we won’t remember how life was without the power.

September midway point

With the documentary The Truth About Alcohol on, I thought I’d do my midway report on Sober and Sugarless September.

Not drinking has been really easy. So far, I’ve done our usual weekend away in Stratford and I didn’t want a beer or glass of wine. Also it made our dinner bills a bit lighter than usual. Then, this weekend has been a family get together with multiple dinners where I have been drinking water or sparkling water instead of the beer or wine everyone else has been having. I haven’t felt deprived or left out.

The sugarless aspect has been eye opening though. I didn’t realize how much of my daily diet had sugar in it.

For my morning meal, I’ve been using oatmeal, overnight oats (with unsweetened hemp milk or almond milk, and stevia-sweetened vegan protein powder) or a thawed-frozen blueberry/chia and hemp seed/plain yogurt mix with homemade muesli topping. My usual earl grey tea with milk and honey has been replaced with green tea or coffee with cream. That hasn’t been disruptive, except for the noticeable lack of sweetness.

For dinners (and therefore leftovers for lunch), I’ve been focusing on very plain, whole food – fish fillets, specific vegetarian protein analogues that don’t have added sugar. I was happily surprised by my favourite veggie patty (La Soyarie miso burgers) being sugar free, and unhappily surprised by how many veggie sausages had sugar as an ingredient. I was able to find one – Tofurkey spinach pesto sausages – that didn’t in my local produce store. I haven’t been making legume dishes yet but I might do a spicy chickpeas dish this week. Sides have been vegetables or salads. I was able to find three salad dressings without added sugar (one uses figs for sweetness). I also found a pre-packaged tomato sauce at my local store that was made without sugar so I might do a pasta night this week.

The condiments issue has been interesting. We’ve only been using Dijon mustard or homemade mayonnaise, as most everything else has added sugars! I’m thankful my second round of mayo tasted good, so that hasn’t been catastrophic (the first one was too sour and didn’t have that familiar tang that I wanted). Also, burgers have been topped with cheese, which has helped.

However, my body has been missing and, dare I say, craving that sweet flavour note. Desserts have been “local” peaches (potentially from southern Ontario) with plain yogurt, sometimes with blackberries. I haven’t cut out fruit because that’s at least a whole food with actual nutrients and fibre, despite the sugar content. But I’ve had to be aware of getting any sort of flavoured drink (no iced tea, lemonade, fancy frappés or lattes). I’ve politely declined getting dessert, or having a cookie or brownie at a gathering.

One of the major changes I’ve noticed is a distinct decline in my hunger. I’m not getting ravenous during the day, and I eat smaller portions of the food I have. That in itself has been worth the avoidance.

Unfortunately, this month was actually poorly timed because I’m also testing out sleeping with a CPAP machine and my sleep has been disrupted. As you may know, getting bad sleep is associated with changes your ghrelin and leptin levels (here, here, and here). Ghrelin, among other things, controls your appetite. And I find when I’m sleep deprived, I often crave the worst sorts of foods – chips and sugary things. Making this month much more of a feat of strength than I had originally expected. Add to that a work deadline and some elevated stress, to which I usually respond with emotional/comfort/treat eating (also focused on chips and sugary things), I’m kind of surprised I’ve done as well as I have. There are only a couple of instances of eating out that I expect I probably got some sugar, but otherwise I’m pretty confident that I’ve been avoiding it.

I’m determined to see it through as far as I can. I have a decision to make of whether to cut it short at the end, because a friend’s birthday is the end of the month and I’ve been invited to the party and bourbon tasting. I will also be finishing the month with a requested cake baking of the famous chocolate stout cake with mocha buttercream icing. But the aim of that is to have the cake in October, at least. We’ll see how it goes.

And to finish my update, here’s a picture of one of the morning glories outside the Stratford Festival Theatre. They were such a delicate creamy blue colour. Gorgeous. :)

Ah, September

Reading August is done, and while I got some books read, I didn’t get as many finished as I wanted to. I think I was pretty successful at making time to read daily. I probably missed only a couple of days that were especially busy. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to keep reading this month, though it’s looking quite busy. I still have quite a pile of books that I would like to get through.

So, on to September. I have been wanting to do a nutrition/diet related month about eating healthy and cutting out a lot of junk.

Presenting Sober *and* Sugarless September.

Why both?

I don’t really drink that much, so avoiding my not-even-once-a-week taste of beer or cider or wine didn’t seem like a huge challenge. Sugar, however…

I usually sweeten my tea in the morning with honey. My milk analogues are sweetened. Baked goods, dessert, yogurt, condiments… hell, I just looked at the chips I picked up for entertaining two nights ago and both of the bags have sugar in their list of ingredients. Dammit.

Cutting out sugar will be more challenging, and may make a bigger difference in my diet than just skipping a few beers.

Although to ring in September last night, my husband and I, and our friend J hit the pub. I regret that this morning… Not drinking for a month sounds like a really good idea right now… bleh.

Literary/Reading August

Gratitude July concluded with a reflection on how wonderful my life is, really, despite the sadnesses and hardships. It was a good month, with great people and essential challenges. I finished it off with face prickles because I have a lot of engaging work to do.

But I escaped the city this weekend and got to float in a lake for a couple of days, hang out with wonderful people, eat great food, and relax. And enjoy snuggles from a sincere and loving little boy.

I am reading daily this month, at least 30 minutes a day, so I hope to significantly add to my reading list page. I also hope to get through a lot of the books I have and clear some shelf space. I’ve started to give away the books I finish reading that I probably won’t read again, so that others can experience the stories I’ve enjoyed. Also to try to prevent myself from hoarding so much stuff that my house is packed to the gills. I do keep some things, but they have to meet a pretty high bar to be kept (i.e., acting as a reference, being a story I would re-read over and over, or being really difficult to find).

Towards the end of the month, I’m planning on sitting down and evaluating the books I’m keeping to pare them down a bit. Ideally, I will pass along 15-20 books to their next owners this month.

I’ll also be heading on vacation shortly to a place with no wifi, so my next update will be later than mid-month, so I might just do my end of month wrap up. Not unlike this post being late for end of month/beginning of month post.

Then, next month is Sober September, and my husband said he would do it with me too. I don’t think it will be too difficult, but I might mix in cutting out other junk, empty calories as well as the alcohol ones. Like sugar and chips. That will make it more of a challenge. ;)

Happy still summer! Stay cool and hydrated out there!

Gratitude July

Well, I had planned on introducing July previously but, life, y’know? :)

So, since this month contains the birthday that inspired this year’s approach, I decided that doing a gratitude practice every day would be a good way to cultivate the attitude I want to have about this milestone. I know that aging isn’t for the faint of heart, as pain and bodily breakdown seem to overtake any feelings of accomplishment and capability that should be front and centre for someone with a goodly number of adulting years under their belt.

But I do find that the in-your-face activity of day to day living often overshadows the opportunities to stand back and marvel at how you’re *actually* doing it. We joke about giving up on adulting and sitting around in pajamas all day eating a tub of ice cream, but believe it or not, that is a completely adult decision brought on by executing your adult duties otherwise. You are paying bills, managing money, managing your time, standing up to meet your responsibilities and you’re ending up with a moment where you can do what you thought being an adult was all about when you were 12 (or at least I did) – being able to stay up as late as you want and eat as much junk food as you can handle. The 12 year old just thought you’d always have the constitution of a 12 year old, and that Oreos and Doritos were always going to be no problem to digest. But that was because at 12, you didn’t know that much about nutrition, and healthy lifestyle, *and* you didn’t hang on to the negativity as much so you don’t remember that you always got a tummy ache after stuffing yourself with junk food.

I think that adults focus far too much on problems and negativity. And that’s why we get bogged down in bad knees and delicate stomachs and left versus right and the automatic terrified “No!” to any suggestion of doing something other than what’s safe and secure and predictable. Which leads you to stay in unhappy secure and predictable spots because change is uncomfortable.

Studies are suggesting that a gratitude practice helps in a similar way to meditation – it reorients your perspective to look for the positive rather than focusing on the negative. It helps to reduce blood pressure and other stress related health issues. And it might go as far as changing your brain connections. Meditation has been shown to help rewire your brain, building up the ability to the serenely observe what’s occurring around you from a non-attached state rather than “running out into the traffic of your ideas”. That’s an image from the Headspace app that really resonated with me in May. And gratitude might rewire you to connect with positivity.

When I was in the midst of my struggles with the unknown facial prickling, I was very much stuck in a negative and unhappy state. How could I not focus on what was happening in my face? I couldn’t find the energy to sit down and meditate, because I felt I was always in a gravity well, needing a certain amount of energy to get over the barrier to do any activity.

Contrast that with this year and I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to do yoga and weightlifting and other activities that I wouldn’t have expected. I’m still experiencing some prickles, but they are more warnings now than what my everyday life consists of. They let me know that my posture is terrible or that I’m tensing my jaw. And usually a change of position or activity or a little walk, stretch and shrug are enough to work me out of them.

So as I hurtle towards a milestone that many people mourn, I’m going to be grateful every day of small and big things, of strangers and friends and family, because I have made it this far and it is worth celebrating. Look for the light, as Chookooloonks says.

And yes, I’m still working on the journaling from last month. I’m at the vision page exercise, where you put together a collage of what you want the next twelve months to be or to bring you. That activity is day 16 of 21 so I’m almost done, but I’m taking my time to put together my pictures and to consider what it is I want in this next year.

So far, I have at least one (and sometimes more) gratitude points per day in July. My journal from last month is almost full, but that’s okay because I have a ton of empty books on my shelf, waiting for all sorts of interesting things to be written in them.

I’m also starting to pull together the books I’ll be reading next month. I was happy to tear through Neuromancer the way I did. I have a bunch of sci-fi books that I bought alongside it, one of which I’ve already assigned a bookmark.

I’m on a staycation this week so I’ll probably spend some time reading. I have a lot of magazines to flip through before they become vision page images too.

Sunset pansies on a rooftop patio to start my vacation. :)

Norway first

I know, it’s the first week of July and I started a new theme, but I also just had a week-ish long trip to Norway that I’d like to write up. I’ll write about this month this weekend.

So, Norway! It’s a bit of a haul to get there, at least according to the flight plan that I ended up getting. About ten hours of flight time, with a couple of layovers, so another couple of all nighters to get there and back. But I happily had pretty good seats. The only leg that was a little awkward was the short hop from Copenhagen to Oslo where I was sitting next to a man with broad shoulders. I’m not exactly a shrinking violet myself, and often have trouble sitting next to people who also have shoulders… or hips… but he was very considerate and I think we collectively tried not to infringe on each other too much.

Once I bobble-headed my way to my hotel via a (very expensive) taxi, I dropped my things and headed to the Viking Ship Museum, following my usual routine of forcing myself to stay awake at my destination until a reasonable bedtime. And wouldn’t you know it that my “oh, that’s only like 4.5km from my hotel” turned into “oh dear, I may have bitten off more than I can chew…” as my body made me realize that, yes, I had just been sitting still for eight hours on a transAtlantic flight and been pressurized and why was I putting myself through this?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the warm, fresh air, finding the Royal farm on the outskirts of Oslo, and the adventure of following my map and making my way around an inlet of the Oslofjord to get to the museum. I made it to the museum with a whole 45 minutes before closing time! And it was entirely worth it.

Thank goodness that the Vikings buried these ships in such a way that they were preserved. They were awesome. It was really cool to see how big the ship was and some of the things that were buried with the people whose grave it was.

I was also hoping to get to the History Museum during this trip but alas my timing didn’t line up. I was there for a conference, after all, which also took place during working hours.

I stayed until the museum closed and stopped to have a waffle with jam at the little café outside. Then I walked (slowly and painfully) back to my hotel area, after stopping at a roadside fruit stand and getting myself some nectarines and green apples for my room, for snacks. I needed to have dinner though, and the restaurant in my hotel was sadly a chicken and ribs place, so I popped into a tapas restaurant around the corner called Delicatessen for dinner. I had a lovely little dinner of green beans, grilled shrimp and bread with aioli. Then I slept for 12 hours…

The next morning, I had breakfast at the somewhat typical (in my small experience) and delicious Scandinavian breakfast buffet. Basically any kind of breakfast you could want, they offered. Delicious amazing oatmeal, eggs three different ways (scrambled, sunny side up or soft boiled), various breakfast meats, pancakes, cheeses, cold cuts, pickled herring (yum), fresh veggies, fruit, yogurt, granola, muesli, cereal, breads, juices, coffee, tea or hot chocolate… it was great. I found I was able to eat heartily and not be starving by the time lunch rolled around. And to even question if I needed lunch.

Since I had a little bit of time before the conference started, I headed to Vigeland Park to do some journaling and see the sculptures. It was a lovely place bustling with people strolling and touristing, and children having outdoor education classes (I think?) I sat on a bench in a shady spot and journaled for a bit and then had to move when I was very nearly the unfortunate receiving surface of some sparrow poo. There were a lot of sparrows taking little dust baths in the fine gravel of the pathway along the benches, and other birds flying around. What I roughly identified as a European robin species (?) landed in the garden next to my bench and seemed to put on some sort of display, ruffling up the feathers on its back, fanning its wings cup-like towards the ground on either side of its body, flaring its tail and opening its beak. I wasn’t sure if it was alright or suffering from the heat, but it eventually left, so I guess it didn’t get the response it wanted.

Oh yeah, and I think Oslo was experiencing a bit of a heat wave when I was there.

But back to the sculptures. So apparently, Oslo gave Gustav Vigeland this area so he could create his legacy there, so the park and everything in it as exactly as he wanted to present his work. It was lovely.

I didn’t get to see all 200 of the sculptures here, but I did get a sunburn, because me.

After this little adventure, I had to go to the opening of my conference! The conference was small but really great. I’m really glad that I was able to attend it.

I tried to pay attention to my surroundings to see more of Oslo while I was there working. I noticed a lot of Teslas driving around, but I also noticed the gas prices on my last day being about 16kr per litre, which is about $2.52 Canadian (which is much better than the 164kr I thought it was which is $26 per litre…)

I was there quite close to the summer solstice so I was experiencing some of southern Norway’s longest days. This was a shot of 11:09 pm on June 26th from my hotel window. Unfortunately, my hotel didn’t have air conditioning so I had to try to balance having my window open all night to get cooler air into my room with also needing my blackout curtains pulled, and that my room overlooked the street with the tram line. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last week.

I was delighted by their downtown corvids. I kept an ear out for the rough calls of ravens, and I was not disappointed. I found one hanging around a little strip of park that was on my way to the metro every day, and one day, a raven was also taking a bath at a little sidewalk fountain. They were lovely. This one was calling from the tram lines, just before the park.

I was also there for Oslo Pride week, so on our conference dinner evening, which took place down at the Oslo Opera House, I walked past the big street party that was going on in the downtown core near one of the universities. It sounded pretty fun.

I did walk up the opera house, twice, that evening. The first time on my own when I arrived down there, just because one of the conference organizers suggested it as a fun thing to do (it was). Although there is a ton of construction going on down by the water so the skyline is kind of interrupted by cranes.

The clearest shot I could make, but very interesting building designs going up.

And the second time was after dinner with a few people I had sat with at dinner. It was much cooler the second time since the sun was going down.

There are even cranes in that one!

The rest of the conference went by quickly and then it was time to return home. I set my alarm for 3am on Friday (which was 9pm the day before back home) and took another (more expensive because it was “overnight”) taxi to the airport (complete with detour around the closed offramp for the airport). Luckily the fare for the taxis is agreed upon before your trip starts so that sort of thing doesn’t hugely increase your costs.

3:05am, June 29, Oslo.

The trip home was a bit long – 22 hours or so in transit. But the flights were again fairly smooth and easy. And I came back to Canada and another heat wave. Hello summer!

I definitely want to go back and do a tourist thing. Maybe head up along the coast, and get as far as Lofoten. My friend highly recommended it. Heck, maybe I could even get up to Tromsø. :)

Farewell, Norway! Until next time!