The Deadly Stress

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There’s never a dull moment, never a down time in my life, it seems. We have been in Hilton Head, SC for about five weeks now, and as it often happens, my health takes a nosedive as soon as I stop to rest.

After a month of December with stressful events at my church I was left quite drained and unmotivated, depressed actually. I did manage to get my mojo going again a couple of days before all the family arrived for Christmas celebrations, and then I sped into high gear.

I don’t know why I still think I have to be supermom, the Christmas fairy and Martha Stewart all rolled into one, but that’s what I attempt when my grown children come home for Christmas. The food traditions, the stocking traditions, the drawing on the revered tablecloth, I did it all and barely lived to tell the tale. This, coupled with four 2 ½ hour round  trips back and forth from the airport in some intense weather, all on the heels of December’s earlier events became more than I could handle. I mean, I handled it on the outside and thought I was doing pretty well. But inside I was not handling it. Don’t get me wrong- I loved every moment with my family. I think I just need to tone things down a bit and be easier on myself.

I am 64, not 44 or 34, but I keep thinking I can do everything I always did. Was I in for a rude awakening!

We took the last bunch to the airport on December 29th and then rushed home to shut down the house, pack the suitcases and car, clean out the fridge, clean the bathrooms, change beds and in general, get ready to drive three days to Hilton Head Island for three months. At 5AM on December 30 we left, in sub zero temperatures.

Once we arrived and settled in to the condo that has become our second home, bought the first grocery order and let everyone know we had arrived safely, the two of us collapsed. And about a week later I got sick.

What do you know; I had these suspiciously familiar symptoms with accompanying rash that a trip to the doctor confirmed as shingles…again. I had shingles three years ago as a result of intense stress in my life, and I swore that it would never happen again.

Well it did.

Compounding the distress was another rash all over my body that was not shingles. Two trips to the doctor never did give me an explanation of what it was. Probably more evidence of my body just telling me to rest and stop taking on things that I’m not able to handle any more, and to stop taking myself so seriously. A series of Prednisone and cortisone cream helped to finally get things under control after several days.

This latest illness is a warning but also a signpost for me to take stock of my life and what’s left of it.

So when people ask me if Dave and I are enjoying our ‘vacation’ in South Carolina, I have to qualify that it is not a ‘vacation’. We are living in SC for three months. And then I have to say that I have been sick once again, kicking myself in the a$$ once again for letting it happen. I am finally learning that I have to pull back and say ‘no’ to things that drag me down, stress me and make me sick.

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No BLTs until Christmas

Thirteen days ago I started my Christmas baking.

Thirteen days ago I made the revered Biscuits aux Cerises de ma Tante, an annual Christmas tradition in my house. They are sweet, delectable and irresistible. With all my boys and their significant others coming home for Christmas, how could I not make their favorite treat?

One batch makes a complete cookie sheet full. When they came out of the oven the aroma was intoxicating: buttery shortbread base and cherries with cornflakes and a carmelicious topping.

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Oh my!

I usually cut them up into squares to be put away for when the family arrives on Christmas Day, and that’s what I started to do thirteen days ago.

Betcha can’t eat just one!

Right.

Before I knew what had happened, a whole row of cherry squares had disappeared! Just gone into thin air.

I thought of an old rhyme from my youth:

“Over the lips, through the gums,

look out tummy, here it comes!”

Yes, I ate a whole row. A whole row in a cookie sheet makes about ten squares. Yep that was what I ate. The first couple went down pretty good, but after that I was eating cherry squares by rote, automated, in a daze.

A little while later I felt so toxic and uncomfortable you can’t imagine. My tummy hurt, my head hurt; heck, even my feelings hurt.

I did it to myself.

The other eight rows of squares went into the freezer and I wondered how I would cope with the rest of the Christmas baking. Doing the calculation, I figured that after I made the shortbreads, soda cracker candy, Swiss cookies and chocolate chip cookies, I was in line for the most major sugar rush and weight gain imaginable if I continued to eat out of control like that.

I had to do something.

Thirteen days ago I decided to have no more sugar until Christmas.

And I haven’t had any.

Since the ‘cherry square day’ I have been to three pot lucks, an open house, two other gatherings of friends and two family dinners. Not only that, all my baking is done.

I did not have so much as one BLT (Bite, Lick or Taste) of sugar in all that time and I am so proud of myself.

Not only that, my digestion has been perfect.

Not only that, I feel focused and determined.

In addition, I have a little more energy.

And I’m finding my mood is more stable. That’s a lot of benefits from abstaining from sugar for 13 days, don’t you think?

But that’s not all. I have actually lost a couple of pounds at a time of year when most folk, myself included, usually gain seven pounds. I had to white knuckle it the first couple of days but after that it got easier. It became like a game to me.

In one more day it will be Christmas and you can rest assured I will have some dessert and a couple of sweets, but after that I think I will continue my sugar fast until Valentine’s Day.

Would you like to join me?

 

V.O.M.I.T.

 

The other day I was sitting at the computer planning Christmas things while listening to some easy music on the radio. The sun was shining for the first time in ten days here in Nova Scotia and I was thinking that right now life’s pretty good. My children are all coming home for Christmas, we’re heading South for a couple of months and we’re both healthy. What more could a person ask for?

The incessant ringing of the phone interrupted my reverie. Who would be calling on the house phone at this time of day? Most of our callers use the cell phone number.

I checked the call display to make sure it was a legitimate call and not a telemarketer.

Oh! It was the IWK hospital in Halifax. There is only one reason anyone from the IWK would be calling our house. And my mind flashed back to a couple of years ago…

It was January 2015 when I ended up in hospital with Bell’s palsy. The doctors weren’t satisfied that it was just Bell’s palsy because of a few other symptoms I was presenting. I languished four days in hospital while waiting to have an MRI of my brain, with dye.

Pure joy.

Finally my big day arrived and I was wheeled to the X-ray department. Darn MRI machines give me claustrophobia so they dosed me with Ativan and put a cloth over my eyes. I wrote a blog in my mind while in that tube, with all its attendant noises.

Finally it was over.

The result was that I ‘just’ had Bell’s palsy BUT “We noticed a lesion on your brain.”

Saywhat?

I said, “Calling it a lesion is just a gentle way of saying tumor, right?”

And they affirmed that was correct. And now because we have seen this tumor/lesion, you will have to be followed by a neurosurgeon. So now, in addition to having a doctor, chiropractor, massage therapist, dentist, gynecologist and gastroenterologist, I will also have a neurosurgeon.

When I visited my neurosurgeon a couple of months later, he told me that there was indeed a lesion/tumor on my brain, but it was small and there was nothing to do about it, save to monitor it by MRI every year to make sure it was not growing. Then he showed me a picture of my brain! It looked something like this:

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He told me I could live my whole life and never have known about the tumor, unless, that is, if I started having wicked headaches and other nasty symptoms. It was only because of the MRI for my Bell’s palsy that they found it, and now that they know about it they have to monitor it. He said that in medical circles I was what they called VOMIT

Hello?

                               Victim Of Medical Imaging Technology

                                                       V.O.M.I.T.               

To date I have had two MRIs and each time I wait anxiously for the results. So when I saw IWK on the call display I knew what was coming.

Bravely picking up the phone I said, “Hello”

It was Dr Walling, my neurosurgeon. After exchanging the requisite pleasantries about impending Christmas and the weather while my heart pounded louder and louder, he said, “There has been no change!”

Breathe.

Done for another year with my V.O.M.I.T.

Yay!

 

A Busy Writing Crafting Autumn

Have you noticed that I haven’t written anything here for the past couple of months? I’ve been busy writing, but not here. The Valley Harvester, a small local paper that is a part of the Halifax Chronicle Herald has asked me to write an article every month for them. Since they have the rights to the articles that I send them, I cannot post them here. But I can give you a link to them. Here are a couple:

http://thechronicleherald.ca/valleyharvester/1502106-put-yourself-in-another’s-shoes

 

http://thechronicleherald.ca/valleyharvester/1494383-the-joy-of-living-through-facebook

It has been interesting writing about something and then actually seeing it in the newspaper, with my name attached! You could say it makes me more aware of the wider audience than here in the blog, and so I’m editing more and trying harder.

Imagine my surprise when I started getting emails from friends in Newfoundland congratulating me on getting published in The Evening Telegram in St. John’s and The Western Star in Corner Brook! Apparently that’s what they meant when they said they have the ‘rights’ to my articles- they can be picked up by an affiliate newspaper. A humbling but exciting experience to be sure.

But I miss writing here!

Also I have been taking a writing course the past couple of months, Jeff Brown’s Writing Your Way Home, and I’ve been doing a lot more writing for it. It’s mostly been learning to find my ‘writer’s voice’ and to get more into the nitty gritty of my sometimes messy life. It has actually changed the way I see myself as a writer, which is not a bad thing.

In the meantime I have been doing the usual Autumn craft shows with my lavender wares front and center. I did a great show in Antigonish in September, a two day juried show. After much fear and trepidation, I showed up and had the best show of my life! I will go back next year, if they will have me. It was called Windfall Fine Art and Handcraft Market, and was well organized, well publicized and well attended. People loved my lavender things, but in particular the Lavender Body Butter and Lavender and Wheat Eye Pillows.

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Then I’ve had a couple more shows in October and November, one left in December and that will be it for another year. I have to say, it’s been rewarding as people call for repeat orders of body butter and I’m quickly selling out.

I hope you’re having a great fall!

Christine

Home Alone…

I don’t know about you, but I need, no I crave alone time. It seems that the busier life gets and the more I am around people, the greater the need for some serious quiet time. Until a few days ago I did not have a day to myself since last December; that was eight months ago.

When I find myself getting edgy, annoyed, reclusive and tired I know its time for a little self imposed retreat. But how do you get a retreat when you don’t live alone? Do you go away somewhere? Do you hide in your office for three days? That’s not much fun.

There was a great need for me to be alone for a few days at home, not having to talk, answer the phone, go out or make plans. I felt that if I didn’t get that time I would explode. Thank God I have a husband who, even though he does not have this need, he understands.

So three days ago Dave left to spend a few days with family while I stayed home alone. The calendar was cleared, there were no appointments, engagements, obligations or plans of any sort.

The first day I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I didn’t do anything. I didn’t make the bed, didn’t get dressed, washed or any of the usual routines. I sat on the couch and knit. Then I made a shake and prepared some food for one. I read, wrote, and binge watched a series on the benefits of a ketogenic diet. For the longest time I listened to the birds singing, dogs barking in the distance and the sound of the fridge cutting in. Before calling it a night, I got dressed and went out for a long walk.

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On day two I did more of the same and finished an article I was writing for a local newspaper. Yes, someone thought enough of my writing to ask me to submit a monthly article for the Valley Harvester. It was wonderful to have a long quiet time to gather thoughts and put them to paper.

In the afternoon a friend dropped over for an order of my Lavender Body Butter and we chatted for a few minutes. And in the evening I did go out with friends to a local restaurant, had a few laughs, and a great meal with wonderful company. My normal self would have just declined the invitation because Dave was out of town, but I decided that I could handle this outing, and was glad I did.

I think I was starting to relax and decompress.

Day three saw me picking blueberries that have ripened on my jealously guarded bushes in the front yard and trimming a row of lavender bushes in preparation for a small autumn flowering. I got into a book I was reading in the afternoon and then promptly fell asleep on the couch- an unusual occurrence for me. I thought that by now I would be feeling lonely but I was doing just fine and totally enjoying the lack of scheduling and planning.

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Later on I worked on a few lavender crafts for the upcoming Fall shows. I have a big one in September- the Windfall Fine Art and Handicraft Market in Antigonish, NS. It seemed that I was just meandering from one activity to another in total bliss.

 

Today is my last day alone and I find myself sitting on the couch coloring- – yes, coloring! The few days alone have done their work; I am relaxed, mentally clearer and ready for Dave’s return.

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Have you ever done a little retreat like that? Or not like that? What do you do when life gets too busy?

 

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A Busy Lavender Week

With all the lavender harvesting, drying and wreath making going on around here, things are in full swing for what’s coming up next: my first juried craft show! Up to this point I have only participated in craft shows at schools and community centers, but this year I have decided to do something different.

The Windfall Fine Art and Handcraft Market takes place in Antigonish NS in September at the Keating Center on St FX campus. It is a juried show, which means that you apply to have a spot and then your work is judged on its merit, originality and suitability for the show. I applied and was accepted! Yay me!

So now I have to make sure I have enough merchandise to sell at this well advertised two day show. I have been making my products in larger quantities than before for the past few weeks and I’ll give you a sneak peek at a couple of my most popular items.

I make this whipped Lavender Body Butter that is becoming more and more popular each year. Most of my customers are looking for natural products and this really fits the bill without additives or chemicals. It contains shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil and lavender essential oil. That’s it. I as well as several of my customers use this body butter as a facial foundation cream. It takes a few minutes for the skin to absorb; its well worth the wait because you’re using pure food grade cream. After several months of use, people agree that their complexion has never been smoother and more nourished.

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Filling jars with body butter in my kitchen.

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An afternoon’s work ready to be capped and boxed.

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All set to go!

One other item I have been making the past week is wreaths. They have to be made while the lavender is fresh and then it dries right on the wreath. Dried lavender is too fragile for all the manipulation required for wreath making. People ask me all the time if the dried lavender smells good and I have to tell them that no, it has no smell. In order to have that wonderful lavender scent, the flower has to be squeezed or crushed, releasing the essential oil that is contained therein. You can’t really do that with a dried lavender wreath or bouquet because you would destroy it. So these things are purely ornamental.

The wreaths you see here are still in the process of drying. Once they are completely dry I will embellish them with dried miniature roses and some grasses.

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First the fresh lavender is put into little bundles.

 

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Then it is wired onto a grapevine wreath form.

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Et voila! One finished wreath.

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Here are some of the wreaths, almost dry now, and soon will be ready to embellish with dried mini roses and some grasses.

There are several other items in the works: lavender and wheat eye pillows, sachets, tub tea and a few more. I’ll keep you posted.

What a busy week it’s been!

After the Pruning Comes the Harvest

People around here who know me know that I love lavender. It all started in 2009 when I went out looking for my first job in 20 years and ended up working at a lavender farm in St Eustache, Quebec. It was a rough time in my life, post-divorce, and I couldn’t imagine anything better than working with lavender to calm me down. I loved my job so much that when I moved to Nova Scotia the next year, having a lavender farm of my own was the logical next step.

Well, it is actually a lavender hobby farm, as there are about 80 mature plants that cover the front lawn. These plants have gone through maturing and pruning over the past seven years, just as I have- – and we both have grown stronger as a result.

Growing lavender has been a calming, maturing, learning, patience-practicing and beautiful part of my life and I am grateful. After the rough winter of 2015 when it just did not stop snowing, the plants took a beating. Did you know that the biggest enemy of growing lavender is having its roots sit in water? That’s what happened after that winter. So last year I noticed a lot of old wood and dead branches on many of the plants and decided to give them a ruthless pruning.

As Spring came on this year I was anxious to see what would result from that pruning…and I wasn’t disappointed.

Here are a few pics taken this past week as I harvested the lavender for some special projects coming up.

I will share them with you in the coming weeks!

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Ahh…lavender!

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Oh Yeah!

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Lavender tied in bundles and ready to dry.

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Lavender drying in the basement, with fans working overtime to circulate the air.

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Happy Canada Day!

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Cutting, bundling, tying…