Sunday, May 21, 2017

That Time We Went Camping

It's the 24th of May weekend, and here in Newfoundland, that marks the unofficial start of Summer! We have come to learn not to get too excited about the weather just yet, as "Summer" typically doesn't show itself around here for another few weeks.

We woke up this morning to snow on the ground, and Andrew reminded me of the time we went camping on May 24th and it snowed on our tent. No joke. Here is a throwback to six years ago, when Andrew and I went camping for the May 24th long weekend!

We drove out to Terra Nova National Park, where we had a campsite reserved at Newman Sound Campground, right in the heart of the park. We had a hilariously small two-person tent that was the perfect size for us to cuddle up and keep warm in the single-digit temperatures. We weren't bothered by the cold, and we had a fabulous weekend!


We took some time to explore the surrounding area, including a visit to the old mill in Glovertown. This pulp and paper mill was built almost 100 years ago on the banks of the Terra Nova River, but was never completed. The concrete structure stands abandoned there now in the forest near Glovertown, untouched since the 1920's.


Andrew and I enjoy camping, but one night of 'roughing it' is enough for us, so we headed to a bed & breakfast for the second night! We stayed at Freshwater Inn in Gambo, and this was absolutely the highlight of our weekend. We hiked the trails nearby, had a campfire by the water, and had a beautiful night's sleep in our own cozy cabin. We've talked about that place so many times since, and we look forward to getting back there again someday soon!


Since this time, we have upgraded our tent but we have been camping closer to home (ie. last year, in my parents' backyard! - see HERE). This year, we are at home snuggling our babies and planning more of life's adventures. Wherever you spend your 24th of May weekend, I hope you are enjoying it to the fullest!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

This Mother's Day

This Mother's Day is a special one for me. I wrote last year about being a Mom to a child with special needs, and I didn't think my heart could be any more full, but this year we opened our home to two precious foster babies, and our world has forever changed.

I cannot let this Mother's Day go by without acknowledging just how grateful and proud I feel to be the mother of these three children. Brennen made me a mother twelve years ago, and it has been a crazy journey ever since, but I feel like I've entered the world of motherhood all over again with these two little ones. We are in full-on baby mode over here! It is exhausting and messy and hard, and I can't wait to sleep a full eight hours straight again someday (hopefully), but it is all so very worth it. The joy these little ones have brought into our lives in such a short time has been incredible, and we love them deeply.

As prepared as Andrew and I were for the task of caring for these children, I don't think we were prepared for how quickly we would become attached to these babies and truly love them like our own. It surprised me, I'll be honest. We were used to caring for children in a professional child care role, and I guess I thought that fostering would feel a lot like that, but I was wrong. I am not just caring for these children. I am not just fostering them. I am mothering them, and with that comes the universal feelings of motherhood: Love. Joy. Worry. Fear. Guilt. Grief. Gratitude. All of the emotions of being a Mom.

 "Children aren’t a distraction from more important work, they are the most important work." - C.S. Lewis 


My journey of motherhood isn't what I ever expected it to look like, but my eyes are widening and my heart is expanding to ways of mothering that I had not previously considered.

While I am immensely thankful for the joy I have in being a mother, I know that others are not so fortunate. Mother's Day is a hard, hard day for so many. I can't help but think about the mother who has lost a child. Or the child who has lost their mother. I think about the many women who want nothing more than to be a Mom, but are unable to have children, and I think about the birth mothers who, for whatever reason, have been separated from their little ones. My heart goes out to anyone who might be struggling on this day.

*****

There are so many ways to honour the journey of motherhood. Paperless Post offers ways to celebrate all of the Moms in your life with Mother's Day cards and invitations. Browse hundreds of designs and customize your favourite one to reflect your personal style. Their cards are available on paper - with engraving, letterpress, thermography, foil-stamping and flat printing - and online.

They even have a scheduling tool that lets you choose a card and have it sent to your desired recipient in time for Mother's Day. So go ahead. Send your Mom a card to let her know she is loved and appreciated. Call your Grandma. Spend the day with your besties. In whatever way that feels right for you, join me in reaching out and celebrating the incredible women who touch our lives in such beautiful and powerful ways.



Visit Paperless Post at www.paperlesspost.com

This post was published in cooperation with Anagram Interactive.

Friday, May 5, 2017

What The Heck Is Lupus, Anyway?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. It is not known exactly what causes lupus, but we do know that the immune system is unable to tell the difference between intruders and the body’s own tissues. Trying to do its job, it attacks parts of the body, causing inflammation and creating the symptoms of lupus. It is difficult to diagnose, a challenge to treat, and there is no cure.

It is estimated that lupus affects over 1 in 1000 Canadians.

My friend (and 'blogging megastar', as she likes to call herself), Lisa Walters is one of those people, and she writes about her experiences living with lupus in her blog - Damsel in a Dress. Lisa is hilarious, and she writes in a very funny way about a not so funny topic. Lupus sucks, there is no denying it.

May is Lupus Awareness Month, and so I wanted to help shine some light on this little-known disease. Lisa says, spreading awareness "allows for those of us with the disease to focus more energy on feeling better and less energy on having to explain what lupus is to everyone in the world whose only knowledge of the disease is from an episode of House."

Here is a post that was originally published by Lisa on her blog earlier this year:


How To Explain Lupus To People With Functioning Immune Systems

A question I get asked a dizzying amount is “but what is lupus, Lisa?” Followed sometimes by “and how does it affect you?” It’s not like I go around wearing a sandwich board that says “ASK ME ABOUT MY LUPUS TODAY,” but I am often in social situations where someone hears that I have lupus or I’m being interviewed BECAUSE I have lupus and I write about it, or I have to take out a giant bag of pills because it’s one of three pill times during the day and people notice these things. I also get a lot of emails asking me to explain the disease. Honestly, I probably get asked these questions as much or more than I get asked “will that be eat in or take out?” which I can promise you is a lot.

When I was first diagnosed with lupus I didn’t really know how to explain it to others. I kind of wanted to carry around a set of those little dinky cars in my pocket so when someone inevitably said “Oh, you have lupus? What is lupus?” I could just take the dinky cars out of my pocket and enact some sort of minuscule car crash with a bunch of flips and a car ending up in a ditch and then maybe depending on how I was feeling at a particular moment I would then use a bic lighter to light that car on fire. But that’s not always practical, because some of my dresses don’t have pockets and some people don’t appreciate me lighting toys on fire on their coffee tables. So I’ve become better at using my words to explain what lupus is, what it does to me, and how it makes me feel. And I guess I should share those words with you, the internet, in hopes that more people will understand at a quicker rate so I can go back to not having to explain it in person so often.

WHAT IS LUPUS?

Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease. What does that mean exactly? It means that my immune system randomly decides to attack my body because hey, why not? Some weird switch went off that made my immune system mix up its signals. Now it thinks that healthy parts of my body are foreign invaders that are trying to kill me. So my lungs could just be hanging out doing their normal breathing thing and my immune system will wake up from a nap and be all like “what the hell is THIS thing? Why is it so big and how did it get in here?! We must kill it!” And I’m like “no please, you’re being super irrational right now. Let’s just sit down and talk this through. This is called a lung and it is meant to be there to keep me alive.” But my immune system won’t have any of it. It shushes me like I’m a na├»ve child and starts punching the crap out of my lungs. Thinks it’s for my own good. And when it’s finished doing that it turns around and sees my stomach and goes “Okay holy shit! I swear that wasn’t here the last time we looked! What is happening?! We need to kill this too! Kill it with acid or something!” And I tell it to calm down and just breathe but it’s too worked up at this point. It just wants to beat the life out of everything. And when I say everything I really do mean everything. Systemic means whole body. You name it and my immune system will randomly try to kill it with fire.


My immune system is so busy hulking out on the good parts of my body that it has no time or energy to stop the bad stuff from getting in, which gives me a thousand infections. And I use medications like steroids to knock it down a peg and remind it what it’s supposed to be destroying and what it isn’t. And that works for a little while and I have some good days. But my immune system has the memory of a gold fish so out of nowhere it will turn around, see a healthy organ, and freak out all over again.

I guess my immune system is kind of like the Avengers. It tries really hard to protect the world and we all know it means well, but usually by the end of the fight everything is reduced to rubble and a lot of innocent people have had cars thrown at them. Okay maybe that metaphor doesn’t translate perfectly. But you get the point. It’s a shit show.

WHAT CAUSES LUPUS?

Beats me.

No seriously, scientists haven’t really figured that one out yet. We’ll be living on the moon soon but our immune systems are still a complete mystery. They know something has triggered this weird autoimmune response in lupus patients but they don’t know exactly what. Could be genetic. Could be environmental. Could be magic. Could be all three. I am in no way a professional scientist but I honestly think my lupus stems from a really bad bout of scarlet fever I had when I was in grade nine. My immune system has never been the same since then. But again, I’m not good at science. I just know I’ve felt more or less shitty ever since then. Yay!

WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF HAVING LUPUS, LISA?

For me, I think the hardest part of having lupus is the fact that I look really healthy on the outside so it’s hard for people to understand just how sick it can make me.

Lupus is considered an invisible illness. Which means that while the Avengers are destroying New York City inside of my body I probably look perfectly fine on the outside. Some might even say beautiful. Those some would probably be me and my mom. Having a disease with its own built in invisibility cloak can make it pretty challenging for people to believe that you are as sick as you actually are. And even though I would be the first person to tell you to stop giving a crap what other people think of you, it can be really hard to be called lazy or to worry that your employer assumes you’re just a slacker if you call in sick. A disease like lupus forces you to spend a lot of time in your head wondering how you are perceived by the outside world.

For example, after having to take a break from working due to an awful flare up, whenever I took a picture of myself smiling or out in public looking like I was having a good time, I always hesitated before sharing it on social media. I know that when someone sees these pictures they will just assume that I’m healthy and faking it, because society seems to have this perception that if you are sick you have to be sick every moment of every day. You can’t have fun and be sick. You can’t smile and be sick. You can’t have any colour in your cheeks (it’s called blush, people) and still be sick. And society says that to me so often that I actually have days when I wake up feeling okay-ish and then immediately feel guilty for not being at work. Even though I know that the reason I feel at all like a functioning human being is because I have been resting. I know that I’m really sick. I know that lupus is really hard on me and that I’m always tired and in pain. I know that I spend way too many nights sleeping in the emergency room hooked up to an iv of morphine to try to keep me from vomiting for just a few hours. Yet if I have half a day of feeling decent I worry that someone will find out and point at me and say “faker!” It’s a really weird place to be. I hesitate before hitting the share buttons on those photos of me living my life but then I upload them anyway, because I remind myself that I am sick and will be sick every day for the rest of my life, regardless of whether or not I’m in bed or out to see a movie with my boyfriend. But I wish I didn’t have to hesitate at all. I wish I didn’t have to keep hearing over and over again all the well-meaning people saying “oh but you don’t look sick.”


So that’s lupus, in a nutshell. I never know how it’s really going to affect me, and it causes more than just physical problems. When you have a rather strange, unpredictable illness it affects way more than just your immune system. It affects your mood, your mental health, your ability to be social and carry on normal friendships and relationships, your career, your finances, and how you see yourself as a member of society. Lupus is a lot of things. It’s really confusing, often scary, and almost always misunderstood. So thanks for reading this far and taking a few minutes to better understand how lupus affects those of us who live with it. And sorry for all of the Avengers metaphors.

 *****

Thank you, Lisa, for allowing me to share your voice here in this space today. I hope that this post helps to inform people about what it is like to live with a chronic autoimmune disease like lupus. We all benefit when we take the time to support each other and learn a little bit about something that people struggle with on a daily basis.

I encourage you all to check out Lisa's blog - Damsel in a Dress. She writes raw and honest accounts of her life and her health struggles, revealing details that not everyone would be brave enough to admit. What I love most about Lisa is that she is as kind as she is funny. She tells it like it is, and whether you have a chronic illness or not, she is downright relatable. 


Follow Lisa at www.damselinadress.ca and find out more about lupus at http://www.lupuscanada.org/

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Little Time Out

So, I posted a little thing on my Instagram the other day about 'Family' and how I have been struggling a bit lately with how to write without sharing too much or breaking any rules. "I will find a way.. I am sure of it. Until then, know that while I post updates that include Brennen and Andrew and I, we have two other precious babies at home bringing us incredible amounts of joy!"

That's right.. two babies! Since I posted this update letting you know about the recent (and BIG) changes in our lives, we have added another precious little one to our family! I know that people are curious (and confused even), and I want to be able to share our adventures here but I do have to respect the privacy of the children in our care.

Brennen has been doing really well since his surgery. He is settling back into a bit of a routine, and he started going back to school last week. Andrew and I are fostering two beautiful babies who are loved more than words. Our home is busy and our lives are full, and it can be overwhelming at times, but we really are managing quite well! We are fortunate to have the love and support of our families, and we are ever so grateful for all of their help. They understand our need for a little time out on our own - just the two of us - to regroup and recharge and to process all that has been happening in our home these last few months. We need that. There are days when we are so busy meeting the needs of our children that we barely have time to sit and eat dinner together, so we need to be mindful of that and try to make time for ourselves.

Knowing that the little ones were in good hands, Andrew and I took a day to get out and explore some nearby communities and enjoy the fresh air. Though the sun was shining, it was still pretty cold (just one degree above freezing), but we made the most of it and had an awesome day!

The crocuses are out! That's a sure sign of Spring!

 We were freezing, but loving it!

Petty Harbour has to be one of our favourite little towns. It is such a beauty!


In almost every bay and cove we passed, the ice was drifting in and you could pick up 'bergy bits' right off the rocks. It is amazing to think that this ice likely came from a glacier near Greenland and could be over 10,000 years old! When it comes to viewing icebergs, the eastern coast of Newfoundland (our home!) is one of the best places in the world. There are loads of bergs around already, so it looks like this is going to be a good year for them!


Andrew and I had a wonderful day exploring and soaking up the sunshine. We tackle the task of caring for our family by first caring for ourselves. We know that spending time alone together, on purpose, is essential in maintaining our relationship as well as our sanity. There will always be too much to do and not enough time to do it, and the reality of life with kids means that our 'free' time will always be limited, but caring for ourselves means that we are better able to care for our children, and at the end of the day, that is what is most important. There will never be enough hours in the day to fit it all in, but we make choices that reflect our undying love for our family, and everyone is happier for it!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Stella's Circle Sings for Canada

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew surprised me with plans for a date night that included tickets to see Stella’s Circle Inclusion Choir, together with Amelia Curran, celebrating inclusion and community for Canada’s 150th birthday at Stella’s Circle Sings for Canada! 

It's like he knows me!!


And so we headed to the LSPU Hall on Tuesday evening to enjoy a night of fabulous music with an even more fabulous message of social justice and inclusion.

With performances by the Inclusion Choir and Juno Award-winning Amelia Curran, this event showcased an original song written in collaboration with Amelia. The audience was also treated to a screening of a short video by Newfoundland filmmaker Roger Maunder, documenting this remarkable project.

Stella's Circle Inclusion Choir is more than just a choir. It was formed ten years ago in an attempt to bring people together to encourage belonging, empowerment, and acceptance through the power of song. There is no audition process, no prerequisite for singing ability, and no competition. With open arms, the choir provides a unique opportunity for people who want to sing and experience a sense of community and belonging.

"The Inclusion philosophy is that the choir is a place of acceptance and an opportunity to be a part of something bigger; it increases social connections for people and can be a great first step to engaging in other community activities."

Most of the choir's members have overcome or are living with significant struggles, such as homelessness, mental health issues, poverty, addictions, or are reintegrating in the community after a period of incarceration. They are motivated by the desire to share the joy of singing with as many people as possible, with the understanding that singing in a choir makes you feel good and helps combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. They are a diverse group of people brought together by music and bound together through shared experiences.


"It's really important to have people be included in their communities, and a lot of the individuals that avail of the services of Stella's Circle sometimes feel as though they're excluded, so it's really special, what's happening in the Inclusion Choir."

Choir Director, Helen Murphy says, "Everybody needs to feel connected. And it doesn't matter if it's a small group in St. John's, Newfoundland, it's everywhere. We're all the same that way. We flourish, we grow, we change. We can be our best selves when we're connected to other people - when we feel accepted and respected and certainly not judged."

Amelia Curran, who just released her eighth studio album, is also a strong mental health advocate. Through her organization, It's Mental, she works to improve treatment for people with mental illness and erase the stigma associated with it. A couple of years ago, she and Maunder created This Video with a powerful message that started the conversation about Newfoundland's mental health problem and how poorly our system supports people suffering from mental illness. Amelia has big and brave ideas. She believes in them and she works hard for change, and because of that, a new path is being paved.

The evening was an emotional one, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. There was so much gorgeous intimacy and honesty, and I fell in love with every member of the choir and every impactful word that was sung. (And I fell in love with Andrew all over again for knowing that I would want to be there, for wanting to be there with me, and for appreciating it all as much as I did.)

Inclusion is a simple but powerful concept. It is not just about being in the same physical space as someone else, it means actually caring about the people around us. My amazing little boy has changed what 'inclusion' means to me. He has opened my eyes to the incredible strength and courage that it takes to navigate a world that doesn't always make it easy for people. I want to help make it easier for my son and for everyone else who has challenges of some kind. I want to live in a world where everyone matters, and where everyone is valued for who they truly are.

The thing is, everyone is going through something. Everyone has their thing. Some are more obvious, while others are hidden, but we all have our struggles. Finding connection and community and celebrating life together is the key to reminding ourselves that we are not alone on this journey. We all need to feel like we belong to something that is bigger than we are alone.

Choir member, George Walsh summed it up beautifully when he said, "Maybe some people are not as vocally strong, but when we come together we are one voice."


For me, this performance by this choir was a demonstration of hope in its purest essence. Hope that every one of us may live in a world where we love and take care of each other.

The evening closed with a surprise appearance by Geraldine Hollett, Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale of The Once, who presented the Inclusion Choir with a Music NL Award for ten years of positive community empowerment!

Geraldine held back tears when she said, "Stella's Circle Inclusion Choir, you bring light to darkness. You offer hope for a better world for us all. You let people know that they do not have to feel alone. You inspire, and you have touched countless lives, including all of us tonight, and continue to do so every time you collectively open your mouths."

Congratulations to the Stella's Circle Inclusion Choir! And thank you for the joyful reminder that Hope Lives Here!

*I will post the link to the documentary as soon as it's available!


Monday, April 3, 2017

Maple Syrup Festival

On Sunday, Andrew and I went to the Pippy Park Maple Syrup Festival!
This was the 3rd year for the festival, but our first time attending.. and we had a ball!


Making your own maple syrup has become a hot hobby here in Newfoundland over the past few years, but it was all new to us. You would think we would be more familiar with the process, as Canada produces about 85 per cent of the world's maple syrup, but I had never actually seen it happen in real life until this weekend!

Prime maple-tapping season is late winter / early spring, when the nights are still cold but the daytime temperatures are above freezing. (It still seems pretty freezing to me, but they have been able to collect over 1,000 litres of sap so far this season in Pippy Park!)

Friends of Pippy Park upped their game this year, offering maple tapping tutorials in the park, and developing a new Community Maple Grove! They had demonstrations of how to insert the spile (tap), and we were able to taste the fresh sap that came out of the tree. It's amazing that it is so clear, like water, and with very little taste. They were cooking the sap down to syrup over a fire outside, and it was sweet and oh so delicious!

Here are some photos from our time at the Maple Syrup Festival!


We met the Mobile Goats - Maple (the Mom), and her three babies, Percy, Summer and Honey.
Oh my heart. I am working on Andrew to let me have a goat.


Andrew and I took a walk around the park to see the maples in action, with buckets hanging and sap dripping. It was pretty awesome, I have to say. This winter feels like it's been dragging on forever, but finding new ways to enjoy it helps immensely. We gave our mental health a good boost this weekend, and getting out to appreciate the beauty of nature played a big part in that. I love the exaggerated sound of snow crunching under our boots, and as we slid on slippery spots and sank down in deeper places, I wished I had thought to bring our snowshoes. These trails are perfect for winter activities!


We discovered that Newfoundland has a growing community of DIY maple-makers, and we want to be a part of it! The two little maple trees on our front lawn are far too small to be tapped, but I think my parents might have some good ones on their property. I am going to find out!

Maple tapping spiles are available at the Pippy Park Headquarters, while supplies last. Purchases and donations support the initiatives of the Friends of Pippy Park, including this annual festival, and their family community garden.

I hope you are all enjoying "Spring". Whatever it looks like where you are, there are so many ways to appreciate it!