Thursday, January 31, 2019

FALLing apart...

Happy New Year! It's 2019?! Crazy.
An ENTIRE YEAR has passed in the blink of an eye. I can't believe all that's happened. Life is on fast forward. I honestly think that time is speeding up. Enough other people have said the same thing that I think there may actually be something to it. Anyway this post is about the Fall of 2018 (September-October) but I'm just beginning to write it in JANUARY! (Now January is ending as I try to finish it!) Time gets away from me. There never seems to be enough. I fell behind in my posts and can never quite seem to catch up. For a while I thought about just not doing the blog anymore but I still feel compelled to continue it somehow. I need to hold on and this is my way...

My girls are my happy place. Some days I really need a happy place. I've never really been a fan of Fall. The long, cold, dark grey days without sunshine wear me down. This year was even more complicated. I was still going through therapy. It felt like much of my life and my future was up in the air. I knew what I couldn't go back to. The problem now was where was I going? I tried to take things one day at a time. Sometimes I actually felt better, stronger. But then it seemed like every time I began to find my footing something would pull the rug out from under me again. I still wasn't a fan of adversity. I tried to stay distracted but then unpleasant reality would sneak in and I would feel helpless again.

We went to see Alpha. Admittedly it wasn't my first choice. I'm a cat person. Watching a movie about a dog, or a myth about "the" dog -- the wolf turned dog that started the ball rolling for domesticating canines -- didn't sound overly appealing. However the previews looked pretty good and Michelle (who loves dogs as well as cats and all animals) really wanted to see it. So I thought what the heck.

Movies are escapism and to see a film on the big screen and be immersed in that world for a couple of hours is magical. Alpha was EXTRAORDINARY. I was absolutely blown away. It was a nail-biting thriller, breathtakingly beautiful historic epic, and deeply moving story of love and friendship. It was very hard to hold back the tears. It was such a touching story. It was speculative of course but it explained how the relationship between dogs and humans was mutually beneficial.

One part of the film that really hit close to home for me was the fight or flight mechanism primitive man used for survival. An evolutionary tool that we still hold onto, for better or worse to this day. It's one thing to read about the amygdala, to see the stress response in yourself, but to really understand where it came from, to see it play out in a scene right before your eyes made it palpable. Fight or flight was a survival instinct from our primitive days when threats were real and you had to be vigilant every moment, prepared to attack or to flee, depending on the threat.

There is a scene when the tribe is around a campfire and they're on high alert because a predator (jaguar) is in the area. But then it goes quiet. They think he's gone. They let their guards down and relax. Suddenly within SECONDS the cat pounces and snatches up a teenage boy like he's a piece of meat and drags him away. It happens so fast you're left breathless. The scene is jarring and is meant to be. It's a reality check. This was life back then. Relaxing wasn't an option. Those used to be the threats we dealt with. Fight or flight was necessary for survival. But now we don't live in the wild. We aren't hunter gatherers killing for our food and trying to escape creatures higher up the food chain. There aren't vicious carnivores hiding in the darkness waiting to devour us. (Hopefully!) Now we get stressed out in traffic, or at work, over a phone call, something we hear on the news. Daily nuisances, mundane stressors, dangers that are far removed from our lives or are by no means life-threatening can cause us to react (physically and behaviourally) as though they are. Because it is hard-wired into us. A threat is a threat. And when your body is exposed to constant stress, it doesn't know how to relax. Stress changes everything. Your brain, your heart, all of your physical responses. Your nerves are shot. Everything is a threat. I really had to learn to chill to undo the damage that evolution and my own experience had done. I lived so long with chronic stress, sleep deprivation. It got to the point where I was losing my humanity. I was in basic survival mode and I was barely hanging by a thread. But I can relax now. There is no real threat for the most part. I'm relatively safe. Though some bad drivers have come close to killing me, for the most part traffic is just a nuisance. Most of the things I worry about are thoughts, my own catastrophizing, rather than actual, imminent danger. A jaguar is probably not going to lunge out and devour me. (And if he did I'd be tempted to snap a killer picture of him before he got me! What a photo op!)

What do you do on a rainy day? Michelle wanted to go to the indoor playground. It always stresses me out a little because I feel like I'm not in control there. It's too big. It's too crowded. There are too many people and I hate that I can't always see her. She runs through the upper level part and disappears and it gives me the creeps. They're mostly kids playing in there but sometimes a couple of dads crawl around with the kids in those things and some of them look borderline sketchy. "Wait does that guy even have a kid?" I worry "Where is she? Is she OK?" I at least got her trained to check in with me intermittently so I know she's alright. She runs amok so much she's usually thirsty and needs to stop for a drink anyway. So she gets a sip of water and I get peace of mind for a couple of seconds. "Oh good. There she is." I need to see her at all times.

Admittedly the control freak part of me really wants to keep her locked away, safe from the world. I know that I can't. That's not living. I don't want her to be limited by fear. My Mom was governed by fear and now dealing with my own anxiety issues is a real struggle. I want Michelle to feel safe and loved and protected but still free to go out and do her thing and have fun. Even if it means I'm waiting in the wings, worrying. For a control freak, letting go is hard. I try to, for little bits here and there. It's not my favourite. "OK honey. You go have fun. I'll be over here hyperventilating into a paper bag." Some parents don't worry at all. I envy them.

My girl agrees to stop for a moment or two to snap a souvenir photo with Mama, and a giraffe looking over our shoulders.

I'm such a photoholic. I can't stop. Sometimes I feel like I'm just the paparazzi, following Michelle around, capturing every moment of her life. Once in a while I feel the need to step in front of the camera to show "I was here too!" I remember looking back at photos from my childhood and there weren't too many pictures of my Mom. She said because she was always the one taking the pictures. Very rarely does something think to say "Hey, you get in a picture too! The kids might as well see that they had a Mom with them most of the time!" Having a self-timer is a godsend to capture pictures of Michelle and I. Sometimes a kind stranger does offer to take our picture but it's rare.

I love watching Michelle play and have fun. That's the best part of taking her out on excursions, even if they are stressful for me. I love her energy and enthusiasm. I love how outgoing she is and how easily she makes friends. Kind of the opposite of her shy Mama.

I love this photo! I kept trying to get the perfect shot of her going down the slide. Either they were blurry or I was too soon or too late and then I caught this. Her smile here is priceless. Pure bliss. My happy princess. Even on a bleak, dark, grey, miserable Fall day, she is like a moving flower, bright, beautiful, colourful, full of life and energy and joy. She is my go to happy place. She is my unicorn and rainbow. As long as she is OK, then I can deal with whatever else I have to deal with. Even if I don't like it.

A local ice cream place was sponsoring a "Hero Day" with people dressed as comic book superheroes along with real life heroes -- firefighters, police and paramedics. I thought it would be a good photo op and proceeds were going to charity so I decided to go. Michelle was excited. As soon as we pulled up I regretted my decision however. It was a mad house. WAY too crowded. I had a hard time finding a parking spot. I couldn't believe how many people were there! Everyone and their brother and their brother's kids were there.

I can't resist a photo op. Michelle posed with Superman and Super Girl. They told her to do a superhero pose so she's trying to flex her muscles.

Michelle was having a ball meeting the heroes. Unfortunately there was a long line up for just about everything. Heroes. Hot dogs. And most of all, ice cream.

Finally after waiting in a line for a while Michelle got to meet (and hold hands with) Wonder Woman and Captain America. They were quite funny. Again, I love a photo op as much as the next guy (or likely much more) but I mostly just wanted to get our ice cream and go. The crowd was getting to me. My feet were tired. We bought our ice cream tickets at the hot dog stand unfortunately we had to line up for the ice cream and the line was like 100+ people deep and didn't seem to be moving. To make matters worse the sky was darkening and I worried we'd get caught in a storm.  Of course it couldn't rain on SUPERHERO DAY could it? That would be just cruel. Heroes. Charity. Little kids. God wouldn't do that to us. But it's like they say: No good deed goes unpunished...

Michelle wasn't a fan of waiting in line either. Her patience was wearing thin.
"Mama this is taking forever."
"You're right. I can't argue. It is literally taking an eternity. Should we just go?"
"No! I want my ice cream!"
"Well we have our tickets. We just have to get to the front of the line."

I snapped a souvenir picture of us waiting at least to break the monotony. The line didn't seem to be moving AT ALL. The dark clouds and distant thunder were a warning. After investing this much time waiting in line I was committed. We were not giving up. We were getting our dang ice cream!

It didn't take long for my little unicorn to perk up and find her optimism again. Soon she was having a blast with the other kids while Mama continued to stand in line...

One of the firefighters was showing kids the hose and created a puddle for them to splash around in. A bunch of kids were frolicking in the water and Michelle asked if she could join them. "Ummmmm...." The control freak/germophobe in me were screaming "OH HELL NO!" but I wanted her to have fun and I figured oh well, what's the harm? (Aside from possibly catching something from splashing in filthy parking lot water with random strangers?) She jumped around and splashed having the time of her life while I stood there with my eye twitching. Oh well. She could dry off at home. Let her have a little fun, right? At least she was running amok and having a ball while I was still stuck in the ice cream line that was NOT MOVING AT ALL! I told her not to move too far away from me. If I can't see you/reach you, I can't save you.

And then just as I was thinking how not fun and how uncomfortable it would be to be soaking wet like those crazy kids, it started to POUR rain. Lovely. You've got to be kidding me. Now it wasn't just the kids that were soaked to the skin, it was ALL OF US. I didn't have an umbrella. Of course not.

I couldn't believe it. It was a hot mess. Actually it was a cold mess. With the dark clouds overhead the temperature had dropped dramatically. And being soaking wet we were freezing. We were in Hell. A cold Hell. Hell had frozen over and we were in the ice cream line.

At least the line thinned out considerably during the torrential downpour and we made it to the front at last. I asked Deadpool if he'd pose for a picture (even though I've never even seen the movie) and he picked Michelle up which was really cute. Even soaking wet I can't resist a good photo op. We grabbed our ice cream, which was ironic at this point when were were freezing to death, and ran across the street in the pouring rain which had now even turned to HAIL?! In the car eating our ice cream, shivering, we laughed and laughed. I thought, this is what life is. Things never go as planned and sometimes they're downright disastrous but you still get to share an experience and if it makes you laugh, it's not a total waste.

I looked like a slice of Hell but I couldn't resist getting a ridiculous rain-hail ice cream selfie. Then we drove home with the heater on and were thrilled to get into the house, dry off with towels and put on some warm, dry, cozy clothes.

At the end of the day, the money was going to a good cause and it was worth it. The superheroes were fun but the real heroes are the ones who go out in any weather and deal with any situation to help others and try to make the world a better place for everyone. I'm grateful to all the brave emergency services personnel who do that and it was worth a hellish day just to pay tribute to them.  And maybe even Mama was a bit of a hero for braving the elements and getting her girl ice cream as promised, against all odds...
And then, just like that it was the First Day of School! Michelle was ready. She was excited. I love her forced slightly maniacal smile here! Michelle was eager to start school and see her friends again. 

I was neither ready nor excited. Michelle wasn't just going back to school. She was starting GRADE ONE. I was worried. It was a lot of change, which I'm never a fan of. In Kindergarten I got to take her to the Kindergarten pen (a gated area) and walk her directly to her class. It was very controlled. I always had an eye on her dropping her off or picking her up. Now she was going to be going through the main entrance with ALL THE OTHER BIG KIDS from grades 1-6. It was just too much. Too big of a crowd. Too many people. And I couldn't even see her classroom. I didn't like it. Watching her go into the school my heart sank. My little girl was growing up. It's hard to let go. I fought back tears until I got home and then I BAWLED. I just felt out of control. I was still in therapy. I was trying to hold it together. But I felt so fragile. I wanted to be strong for Michelle. Whatever else I may have failed in, I could not fail as a Mom. I wanted to give her the best life I could. I wanted her to be happy. I didn't want her to see Mama falling apart. Even if I was.

Michelle had a great first day. Some of her Kindergarten friends weren't in her class anymore but she still got to see them at recess. And she made new friends. Her first day was easier on her than it was on me. At least I got used to the idea of letting her off at the main entrance of the school. I could still see that she got safely inside. Some parents just did the drop off in the parking lot. They let the kids get out and go to the school on their own. I couldn't imagine driving away without watching that Michelle got safely inside. I would always park and walk her right to the door. But everyone is different. Some people seem to have no problem letting go. It's my instinct to want to hold on and protect her. Of course I do have to find the balance and let her go enough so that I'm not smothering her and stopping her from growing, learning, developing and living her life.

Michelle's class had a VIP table and she was excited that she earned a seat there. I liked getting to see her class. It was different than Kindergarten but still not quite what I expected a Grade One class to look like. I was glad that Michelle liked school and was excited to go because if she had been hesitant it would have been even harder on me. At least now I had a couple of hours to myself during the day to get things done. Having her home all Summer left me with very little time to myself. I'd stopped doing yoga or exercising. Maybe it was because I'd slacked off on self-care that I was feeling more stressed.

One thing that we always looked forward to in September was the Spirit Halloween store opening. It always seemed strange to me that the store was only open two months but I guess they did enough business in that time to last them the rest of the year? Or they just had the online store the rest of the year for the goths who think every day is Halloween.

Michelle and me both love Halloween. It was always fun to explore the store. We loved to look at the spooky animatronics and costumes. There was always a special theme. One year it was aliens. Then it was an insane asylum. This time they had a creepy haunted house at the back. Michelle wasn't quite as daring as she had been the year before. She was too scared to go in. Even though it was just a small room with nothing more than cutouts and screaming sounds, Michelle would not go near it. I got a picture with it at least. The screaming was pretty creepy. Even for me.
"Let's get out of here!" she said and we moved to the less horrifying section of the store for a while.

Michelle wanted to be something sweet instead of scary this year. She picked out an adorable deer costume. It was perfect because usually Halloween night is quite chilly and it sucks to have to stick a winter coat over your costume to be warm enough. A full reindeer body suit was so cozy she could get away with just wearing a long sleeved shirt underneath and wouldn't have to wear a coat. I always have a matching costume so I just got a pair of reindeer antlers so I could be the Mama deer. I wouldn't worry about the rest of me. I'd just wear a brown jacket and be done with it.

We tried on some rainbow wigs just for fun because why not? They were really cute but a little too pricey to consider. Maybe if she was going to be a unicorn or a fairy.

Sometimes I'll see a girl with pink or turquoise hair and I'll think "That's so cool, so daring!" I wish I had the nerve to do something like that although at my age I suppose I'd look a bit ridiculous. Then again, you're never too old to express yourself. For now I just draw/paint girls with turquoise and pink hair.

Most of the time I don't even think about my hair. I just stick it in a ponytail because it's easy. My already thin hair has been that much thinner since having Michelle and isn't showing any signs of thickening. Michelle was worth the sacrifice. My hair and my tummy may never be the same. Oh well.
Another thing Michelle was looking forward to in September was starting ballet. She was so excited. I was excited for her. It had been my dream as a child and I didn't get to take lessons. I had to register her in the Summer to start classes in the Fall. It was scary because I didn't know what was going to happen or what my schedule would be or anything but I just took a chance because I didn't want Michelle to miss out on the opportunity.

I was wishing I could sit in on the class to watch her and take photos but instead I had to wait outside and just watch through a small window. At least I convinced Michelle to let me get a couple of shots after her class.

She loved it. Watching my little ballerina was like watching my inner child beaming. Michelle will get to do the things I only dreamed of. I want everything for her. I want her to have everything I missed out on. It's like getting to live a second time but getting it right. It means the world to me. I want to support her in whatever she wants to do.

This would have been such a sweet photo if there wasn't a big white blob over my face. My camera was getting on my last nerve. The scratches on the lens ruined so many shots. If it was a distant shot outdoors maybe you'd get lucky and the cloud would be hidden among real clouds. A close-up shot of a face however was another story. I'm such a creature of habit and so resistant to change that I will hold onto things WAY longer than I should. Even a camera with a scratched lens when I'm a photoholic and should absolutely have a camera that works. Most people replace things like phones, computers etc every couple of years. I held on to things for 10+ years. My laptop was on its last legs and kept having issues. My 10 year old vacuum didn't work properly. My old cellphone (which was actually someone else's used cellphone) was pretty much obsolete. I just tried to make do as long as I could to save the expense and hassle of change. Of course Fall is the season of change. The leaves turn colours and fall. Summer turns into Winter. Time kept going by. I kept trying to slow it down.

It was "Grandparents' Day" so Michelle and I paid a visit to Gramma and Grampa. Michelle made them a Grandparents' Day card.

I asked my Mom what she wanted to do for the day. She wanted to go to the local Home Show. When I looked at the flyer there was a bird show there which I thought Michelle might enjoy so it didn't sound too bad and Mom had coupons so it was free to get in. Can't argue with free.

Most of the show was just home renovation and home decor displays as well as travel -- all things that I couldn't afford and had no interest in. I just wandered around aimlessly and then sat and waited for the birds of prey show to start. Michelle looked around for free stuff -- pencils, chocolates, colouring books. Grampa kept finding things for her.

It was pretty cool to see birds of prey up close. I got a photo of Michelle next to a hawk before the show started. My Mom loves birds. We have a running joke from years ago when one of my brother's friends asked Mom "Mrs. Pincivero, do you like birds?" and he gave her a bird figurine as a gift. I guess he could tell she loved birds judging by the fact that she had about 100 bird knick knacks all around the house. One guy I dated remarked that he had never seen so many birds in HALF a bird cage. We laughed and laughed. My Mom had a strange white metal decorative half bird cage on a stand for some reason and had filled it with a wide assortment of birds of various sizes. I was so used to seeing all the clutter in my Mom's house that I took no notice of it. When you really studied it closely it was absurd. My Mom is a bit of a hoarder so she collects a lot more than birds. Her house is a hodge podge of just about everything that you can think of. There isn't a square inch of space to be seen on any piece of furniture anywhere. It's all covered. I have to be careful because I'm a bit of a maximalist myself. I have a lot of things too. And, my Mom is quick to point out, she's a lot older than me. By the time I'm her age I might have 100 birds too. I probably have well over 100 stuffed bears and cats.

The coolest part of the show was when the handler had the birds fly back and forth overhead. It was amazing to be that close to these powerful birds. So close that sometimes their talons slightly grazed the top of your head as they flew by. Michelle loved it. My Mom loved it too. I was amazed. I was glad that we stuck around for the show. Even though I had to sit and wait for hours bored to tears while my Mom wandered around checking out the home improvement booths for services she would never use.

The show was pretty cool. We all enjoyed it. Afterward I took my parents and Michelle out to dinner and we headed back home.

Michelle loves her grandparents. She doesn't see them as often as she used to but I always make a point of visiting with them when we can. I was glad that we got to spend Grandparents' Day with them. Even though I don't recall there being a Grandparents' Day before. They seem to invent new "days" every day now. On Twitter it seems that just about every single day is "National This or That Day." A lot of it is just a marketing ploy.

Michelle is my unicorns and rainbows. She's my happy place. My walking Disney movie. Her world is all sweetness and light, everyone is smiling, the sun is shining. It's a world that I want to inhabit and for the most part, with her, I can.

Unfortunately the rest of the world is not all unicorns and rainbows. I tried to avoid distressing things as much as possible (not watching the news, not spending too much time online) but it seemed to catch up to me. My Mom would tell me things. I'd come across things. The world was in rough shape and everyone was feeling it to some degree. I just wanted to avoid and stay distracted from the nightmare that the world could be. My therapist(s) warned me that avoidance and distraction aren't always the best ways to deal with stress. They don't always work. The key is not to avoid all uncomfortable and distressing emotions but to be able to deal with them.

My therapist gave me homework to practice accepting distressing emotions and stepping outside my comfort zone. I hadn't watched a scary movie in a long time but I watched a thriller just to practice feeling anxiety/stress in a safe way. It was homework. I couldn't not do my homework. So I forced myself to watch "Kidnap" at my sister's place. As scary movies go I couldn't have found one more personally disturbing for me as a Mom! Losing Michelle would be my worst nightmare. In the film the mother is at the park with her child. She looks away for a moment while she's on the phone and turns back to see him being taken away, dragged to a car by a stranger. She has to chase the kidnappers. It is a non-stop action-packed white-knuckled ride from start to finish. At least it has a happy ending. But I was a wreck. This was no Disney movie. This was the kind of stress I tried to avoid. I understood the logic behind exposure therapy. But truly, if someone is afraid of scorpions is it really a good idea to throw a scorpion on them and say "Here you go! Conquer your fear!" or even to make them watch a movie about scorpions?

My heart was pounding. It was hard for me to put myself through that anxiety. But I survived it. It helped that it was just a movie. I was safe. It wasn't real. I had exposed myself to distressing emotions and lived to tell the tale. My therapist said that I was very brave to have done that. Unfortunately it felt like I'd opened a can of worms. I had invited the darkness in. More darkness would come to call...

One night I couldn't sleep. I got up to use the washroom and made the mistake of reading the paper. Aside from looking at the flyers I NEVER read the paper but for some reason on this particular night in the wee hours, I decided to read the news. (WHY THOUGH?!) Stupid. I already couldn't sleep so why not make my insomnia 100 times worse I guess? I came across a horrifying article on scientists and climate change. It basically warned we're heading toward apocalypse. We have less than 12 years to drastically change our ways or we're doomed. If the average global temperature goes up by 2 degrees, we're screwed. PS -- we're already at +1.5 and of course we're seeing the effects with some of the worst natural disasters in history occurring more and more often.

There is only so much that we as individuals can do -- reduce, reuse, recycle etc. It is the government and big business that can make the biggest changes to reduce our carbon footprint. But will they? With selfish, short-sighted imbeciles like Trump who deny climate change, who care more about profit than people or the planet and don't seem to worry that there may not be a world for their children and grandchildren in the future, it looks pretty darn bleak. He wanted to bring back COAL for crying out loud. (#ImpeachTrump by the way. But I try not to follow his stupidity online as much anymore. It's too frustrating.) Anyway, suffice it to say that after reading about the likelihood of Armageddon within my life time, not surprisingly my insomnia got worse. I was worried enough about my own life and now I was terrified for the Earth. This wasn't sci-fi conjecture, this was real science warning us what we've done to the Earth, how bad it is and how bad it could get. It was a bit of a deja-vu my sudden obsession with doomsday. Maybe it's a Fall/Winter thing. Last year I tortured myself by studying all the horrible things that had happened in 2017 and wrote a blog about it. At least I didn't do that for 2018. I did however torture myself even further by researching more about climate change and the danger we were facing watching news shows and reading articles online. I got myself into a totally stressed out state. After all the work I had done in therapy and all the progress I thought I'd made, now it felt like I was back where I started. A panic stricken mess. But things were going to get even worse. Once you go into the darkness, the darkness gets into you...

I fell on some dark days. It seemed little by little any sense of stability I thought I had was slipping away. My doctor who I had known for decades, who had delivered Michelle, who had helped me through so many rough times and knew all about my struggles, retired. It was heartbreaking to lose her. She was like a family member. Her practice was taken over by a new young doctor. I met the new doctor and she was nice enough but it was distressing to think that someone who knew nothing about me was now in charge of my medical care, part of which was red tape, forms to fill out etc. There was a lot of red tape. I felt like I was in a precarious position. I didn't know where things stood. I'm someone that likes to have my ducks in a row and now I didn't even know if I had any ducks. It seemed every day there was something else to worry about. I had a series of disturbing emails and calls. I was grateful for my therapy but unfortunately part of the process involved going through the ringer -- filling out forms, having interviews, sharing much of my life, history and health with strangers. Reliving my trauma over and over again wasn't pleasant. I didn't want to go there. I just wanted to forget about it. Not that I could. Now it felt like my life wasn't even my own. Like nothing was private. There were times I felt like I was under a microscope. It felt invasive. I stressed every time I was asked to do something -- more forms, more exposure, surrendering more and more control. I was always cooperative. As my therapist said, I was the most cooperative/obedient patient ever. I was one of the few who actually DID their homework. Any book she suggested, I read. Any exercise she asked me to try, I would do. Whatever I was asked I would complete to the nth degree but it wasn't always easy. I tried to focus on the present but it was tough. I wasn't doing yoga much anymore. There never seemed to be time to find my zen. Instead I would dwell on the past and worry about the future. I didn't know what the future held. I felt helpless. I'm someone who needs to feel in control and when I don't I sort of spiral. There were so many things beyond my control. It got to the point where I'd answer the phone or read my email and think "Good God. Now what?"

One day I checked my email and found the most disturbing one of all. One of my accounts had been hacked. Purchases had been made on my credit card. I called immediately. It was sorted out. Several accounts had been hacked. They tracked one hacker to somewhere overseas, one to the U.S. The whole thing gave me the creeps. I wouldn't be charged. It was all cancelled but I was shaking. My heart was pounding. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt invaded. I had to cancel my credit card, change the passwords on my accounts. It was a hassle and worse than that I felt threatened. I'd been told not to take it personally. This happens all the time now. This is just the world we're in. But it felt like I had lost something. For a while home had been my sanctuary. Now I didn't even feel safe at home. Even on my computer a hacker could somehow get in. When I spoke to security on the phone they said how common it is now. Even big businesses, government organizations have been hacked. Entire databases. No one is safe. It was discouraging and terrifying.

Of course it could have been even worse. I spoke to a neighbour who had their car stolen. It was recovered but they couldn't get it back anyway because it had been used for drugs and wouldn't be safe. Once fentanyl touches your car it's a write-off. It would cost $10K to gut the car inside and at that rate you might as well get a new car. I lived in a pretty safe neighbourhood but stuff happens everywhere. I tried not to think about it. I had spent months trying not to think about the ugliness of the world. No one was safe. Around the world horrors beyond our worst nightmare were unfolding every day. My Mom was always calling to tell me about terrible stories in the news -- natural disasters, freak accidents, horrific tragedies. I didn't want to hear. I didn't want to know. But was it right to bury your head in the sand? Ignore it? Pretend it wasn't happening? Shouldn't you be informed? I didn't want to be inundated. I wanted to live in a safe, beautiful rated G world with Michelle. Was there a middle ground between rainbow and unicorns and binge-watching CNN? My therapist says I tend to think in terms of black and white. You think?!

And then as if I wasn't enough of a nervous wreck, one night there was a knock at the door. It was 8:30 pm. Who the heck would come to the door at that hour? I thought it might be an emergency or something. I opened the door against my better judgment. There were two young males in their 20s. The taller thinner one did all the talking. He apologized for the late hour. "We missed you earlier." Michelle and I had been out. Then he was going on about working on water in the area. He seemed to be posing as a city worker. I instinctively knew that he wasn't with the city. Then he mentioned water filtration. I rolled my eyes. I had heard about water filtration scams. Unsuspecting elderly people had been bilked out of thousands of dollars by scam artists that would install bogus water filtration systems and then charge an insane amount of money for them. Some salesmen were so aggressive they wouldn't take no for an answer. They'd make it seem like you didn't have a choice. I knew I had a choice. I wasn't having it. My amygdala was like "Aw HELL NO!" Sometimes fight or flight is a good thing. Sometimes you're not paranoid -- they really are against you! He was aggressive. He tried to get into the house. "We just need to come in for a minute." I almost screamed "Are you OUT OF YOUR F-ING MIND A-HOLE?!" Instead I blurted "I'm NOT letting you into my house in the middle of the night! I'm not interested. Bye!" and quickly shut and locked the door.

I was shaking. I felt nauseous. It just didn't feel right. I couldn't calm down. I couldn't shake the feeling. He almost had his foot in the door. It gave me the creeps. "Who was that Mama?" Michelle was in the bath upstairs. I started to think I shouldn't have opened the door at all. What was I thinking? What if he had forced his way in? Did he know I was a single Mom? That I was alone? I started to get paranoid. I have vertical blinds in the kitchen that keep falling down (they're broken and I tape them up but they don't stay.) I suddenly really wanted everything sealed up and private. I was scared. I didn't want anyone to see in. I'd heard about prowlers in the night, going through backyards, checking doors. There were break ins when people were out. There were home invasions when people were home. Suddenly I was wishing I had padlocks everywhere and a huge attack dog.

I called the police to give them a description of the suspicious males just in case. Just to have them check the area for my peace of mind. But my mind had no peace. I couldn't sleep that night. I didn't feel safe anymore. The hackers. The creeps at the door. The world going to hell in a hand basket. The horrors in the news. The impending Apocalypse. We weren't safe. None of us. Even at home. All of my months of self-care and therapy. Trying to find my zen. Trying to focus on the beautiful things. It felt like I was losing it all. I went to my therapist sobbing. Sleep deprivation never helps either. She was somewhat comforting. She tried to tell me that the losses don't undo the wins. I had made a lot of progress. But life is not all unicorns and rainbows. There would be unpleasant things to deal with. I could deal with them. When there was a problem I responded immediately. I did what I could. And in the end it was OK. I was safe.

Knowing my interest in art, my therapist sometimes incorporated it into my homework. One of my assignments was to DRAW my anxiety. What would it look like if it was a creature or a character? Immediately I thought of a scorpion -- a creepy, sinister looking insect that can sting at any moment. (I've been stung by a few Scorpios in my day.) Scorpions are to me the most horrifying-looking real life creatures there are. Unfortunately when I tried to draw it, my version did not look as scary as I had planned. Not even close. I shouldn't have given it eyes. Creatures without eyes are way more disturbing. (Think of HR Giger's Aliens.) Eyes are the windows to the soul. No eyes, no soul. So my Anxiety Scorpion was a bit of a fail. Then I thought of a dragon. I imagined my anxiety as a sharp-toothed scaly fire-breathing dragon. Once more I wasn't able to translate my vision onto paper. It turned out a bit too cutesy and cartoonish (as you can see below.) Next I envisioned a horrified face like in Edvard Munch's "The Scream" -- that was getting closer to conveying how anxiety made me feel but it wasn't exactly original. Munch's Scream was an iconic symbol of the anxiety, isolation and uncertainty facing us in modern times. And that was back in 1893.

And then one night when I couldn't sleep and my stomach was churning I started to draw a self-portrait of how I felt and I realized that THAT was the best image of my anxiety. The scorpion's sting and the dragon's sharp teeth were in my brain and my gut. Unlike my zen watercolours and portraits with soothing colours and round edges, my anxiety portraits featured harsh ugly colours -- grey, yellow, brown, black, blood red and jagged lines. When I showed my therapist my work she said that she saw more anger than anxiety in some of the drawings (the dragon and scorpion especially). Anger and anxiety are inextricably linked. When my anxiety is heightened, when I feel threatened it provokes my anger too. I become irritable. It's a vicious cycle. Anger and anxiety ARE fight or flight. It's one or the other when you're threatened. Stress and fear leads to sleep deprivation, feeling on edge which then makes me irritable. I hate feeling anger or anxiety. I hate feeling threatened and being in defense mode. I didn't want to go there again. For months I had been trying to stay in my happy places and focus on peaceful things, trying to avoid anything that made me feel angry, scared or stressed out. But sometimes I couldn't.  I would have good days where I felt relatively calm and at peace, where I found my zen but I never seemed to be able to hold onto it. And lately there were too many things disturbing my peace. Was it because I had watched that movie? Had I invited the darkness in again? Or was it just a coincidence?

One thing was certain. I REALLY needed to go to my happy place again. Literally. When there was a nice day we headed to the beach.

My therapist suggested I practice affirmations. My mind had been trained to catastrophize, to label, to focus on the negative, but I could retrain my mind to think in ways that were healthier and more helpful. My life coach was saying the same things. One day she said something that really clicked. I was always very hard on myself, negative, critical. It made me feel fragile. I didn't give myself much credit so I didn't really trust myself. One day she suggested that I talk to myself the way I would to Michelle. I would NEVER call Michelle stupid (the way I do to myself all the time.) My therapist(s) suggested I talk to myself in the gentle, compassionate, encouraging way I do to Michelle. I decided to try it and I noticed that I was feeling better and trusting myself more. Just like I said to Michelle "You got this." I would say to myself, "I got this!" and I realized I did, most of the time. I couldn't let a few bad experiences undermine my confidence. The truth was that even during the bad experiences I was able to take control and do what I needed to do. It just wasn't pleasant. At all. I had to face the fact that life would not always be pleasant.

The beach was a great idea and we pretty much had it to ourselves. It was Fall but it was still as warm as Summer and we might as well enjoy it while we still could. Listening to the seagulls overhead. Watching the calm lake, sitting under the palm tree and the sunshine I could feel some of my stress melt away. I felt like myself again. Ugliness and chaos were my triggers for anxiety. The things that I couldn't deal with. The things that I didn't want to see. Beauty and order were my zen, they helped me to breathe and to feel OK again. What I really needed to learn and practice was finding my zen amid the chaos. But we're not designed that way. Fight or flight is there because when faced with danger (real or imagined) we need to be vigilant, alert and take action for survival. What I needed then was maybe just to not overreact to situations. Take action when needed but don't let it consume me and dwell on it for hours. Deal with it and let it go. Unfortunately I had a tendency to overthink and dwell on everything ad nauseum.

I want Michelle to always feel safe and happy. I don't want her ever to worry. I try to shield her from the stressors that sometimes overwhelm me. Kids shouldn't have to worry. They should be carefree to just have fun and be kids. So I tried to restrict my tears and traumas to my therapist's office and the hours when Michelle was at school. With Michelle I tried to be the happy Disney Mom, all smiles and rainbows. Of course she knows I'm going through therapy. She sees me cry sometimes. Mama is not made of stone. Not by a long shot. Luckily for the most part being with Michelle is my happy place and she makes me smile.

Michelle wanted to put on a fashion show. I'm always game because it's an excuse to take pictures of her and she gladly poses. She wanted to try on different dresses for picture day. This was the unicorn option. A floral dress with a unicorn headband. I love her little poses: the curtsy, the hands clasped together. Honestly I could take hundreds of photos of her. I have always loved taking pictures and there is no subject on the planet that I love as much as my little girl!

I remember back when I had a film camera and went every week to get rolls developed. At one point the guy in the photo lab commented about my baby (my niece.) "She's not even mine!" I explained. I was taking hundreds of pictures and she wasn't even my own baby. At the time I couldn't have imagined I ever would have my own child. Now with digital cameras you don't have to take film in to be developed. I have tens of thousands of photos on the computer. I do want to print my faves and make albums but it will be a herculean task to say the least. I'm several years behind.

Michelle decided to go with the Princess look for photo day -- gold and ocean blue dress with a gold tiara. I love my Princess. I reminded her to smile nicely for the photo. I always get the school photo no matter what it's like. My Mom NEVER bought my school photos and I took it personally because she bought my brothers' now and then. She said mine were never good enough. Pretty much summed up how I felt most of my life -- not good enough. I always felt like the ugly duckling in my family. My sister and brothers were so attractive. At least I was smart, did well in school, of course my wisdom/judgment/intelligence in real life was another story! Like they say: book smarts vs street smarts. It was tough being the middle child and feeling like the odd one out in many ways. I always felt like the least loved or noticed and knocked myself out to get any attention at all.

Michelle never has to worry about not being good enough. I praise her constantly. She gets all of my love and attention. I try to give her everything I didn't have growing up.

Michelle wanted to do a show with the starry night light that we'd gotten. I decided to experiment with some low exposure shots. The results were sort of terrifying. Because she was moving and the shutter was so slow she looks kind of translucent, ghostly. These photos are creepy but they're so cool I am fascinated by them. Michelle found them scary too. It is amazing what you can do with movement and light. Photography is sort of magical to me. Even the shots that don't quite work out. You are freezing a moment, catching light and motion. That fleeting instant becomes a picture that will last forever. It never ceases to amaze me. I snap a lot of pictures. Many of them don't turn out very well, especially with my old camera with a scratched up lens. But sometimes I get lucky and the results are surprising. Magic.

Michelle is my light in the darkness, my magical fairy. She is a force of nature. I feel lucky to photograph her.

Michelle LOVED ballet. I was sort of jealous. As a child I had always wanted to take ballet and piano more than anything. I remember when friends would complain they had to go to piano lessons or ballet lessons as though it was such a chore. I thought they were so lucky. My Mom always said we couldn't afford it. Ballet is something you have to start when you're young. I wanted Michelle to have that. It had been my dream and it was hers too. I wanted to encourage and support her in whatever she wanted to do but I was secretly overjoyed that she preferred ballet and piano to say, sports. (Thank goodness because sports are VERY expensive and I have less than zero interest in playing or watching them. I would have faked it for her sake if I had to but it would have been difficult.)

My Mom was always saying how much Michelle was like me. Now she would get to do the things I always wanted to do. It's like getting to live a second time but getting it right.

Michelle had fun in ballet. I was disappointed I didn't get to sit in on the classes. I had to wait out in the hallway with the other Moms and we could just watch through a small window in the door. I did get to talk to a couple of other friendly Moms at least waiting for their girls.

When the class was over I told Michelle that I wanted to get some photos so she obliged me.

Michelle is far more flexible than I ever was. I always wished I could do the splits but you have to start when you're very young before you lose your flexibility. If you don't take gymnastics or ballet you wouldn't have a need for it. Yoga has given me some flexibility but not to that degree. And I was an adult before I started yoga. At least it has given me balance. I can still do a headstand all these years later.

Leaping for joy! Literally. I used to love doing flying leaps, just for fun. In my 20s I was a bit silly (well I'm still quite silly however I usually restrain myself from doing flying leaps randomly in public now). When I would go out clubbing with friends I would sometimes run and jump into the air for photos or videos. Whenever I saw a long expanse of space, a long corridor etc, I was compelled to fly. Once I even did a leap in Rome (see photo below) and my boyfriend was able to capture it in a photo. I love Michelle's leaps. I imagine that one day, if she continues to do ballet, she will be able to make the breathtaking "grand jeté" defying gravity while doing the splits in the air. My Mom always tries to put a damper on things. "She wouldn't want to be a dancer. It's a rough life and ballet ruins your feet." But it's so beautiful. Besides, Michelle doesn't have to be a dancer. She also writes and paints and she talks about being a scientist and saving animals. She can do anything she wants. The point is to let her dream and encourage her to go after her dreams. Instead of trying to poo poo everything she enjoys. My Mom was always there to poo poo on my dreams.

My therapist recommended I read "Healing the Inner Child" -- since there are issues I've been carrying since childhood, long before my breakdown. I never felt good enough. I never believed in myself. I made a few half-hearted attempts to go after my dreams and gave up. I never really felt like I deserved to be happy. I gravitated toward relationships and jobs that wouldn't meet my needs, that would hurt me, drain and deplete me. I stayed too long in situations that were toxic because I didn't respect myself enough to take care of myself. Having Michelle is like having a living embodiment of my inner child. She is a younger me, full of magic and dreams. Only she has the confidence in herself that I never had. She feels safe and unconditionally loved as I never did. The world is her oyster. Seeing her happy is the greatest healing I could ever have. Therapy is teaching me so much about myself and about life. I'm realizing so many things, seeing patterns in my life. Still, looking back, even at my mistakes, I wouldn't change a thing. It all had to happen to lead me here. I am so grateful for my girl. I am even grateful for the heartbreaks because if life hadn't unfolded just this way, if I began to unravel the tapestry of my history then it would all be different. And despite the bad things in my life I wouldn't trade the good things for the world. And it's a package deal. If I changed one thing along my path I would have ended up somewhere else. Being Michelle's Mom is the best thing that ever happened to me. So I don't regret any of it.

Our annual family trip to Wasaga Beach fell through in August due to inclement weather so Mikey suggested we do it in September to celebrate his birthday. The weather this time was perfect. We all had a blast. Even my dad got into the water for a bit (which is a rare occurrence.) Of course I had to get the group photo. We got some odd looks the whole gang of us posing on the beach. Chris couldn't make it but the rest of us were there. It's always nice to get together with family. Michelle loves it too. We are such a small family the two of us yet we are also part of this huge Pincivero tribe.

Michelle had a ball in the water. I enjoyed it too although at one point I had a bit of a panic attack. The water is usually shallow for quite a distance out. This time there were parts that were deeper when you weren't expecting it. Maybe due to storms throughout the Summer. The water levels had risen, sands had shifted. You would be up to your knees and all of a sudden there was a deep part. Then it would get shallow again. It was scary going through the deep to get to the next shallow. I was sort of terrified. I don't like when I go to step down and can't touch the bottom. The control freak in me really doesn't enjoy being in over my head. Especially literally. My Mom was a bit freaked out by it too. We can swim but we avoid deep water and we don't like to get our faces wet. I am my Mom in a few ways and that is one of them. No underwater swimming for me. I use my contact lenses and makeup as an excuse but it's more than that. Ironically I love the water but I am also deathly afraid of it. For good reason. My father drowned when he was younger and almost died. I have drowned once in my life, as a child and it was terrifying. For a control freak, losing control, being in too deep is my worst fear.
After our trip to the beach we went to a restaurant for dinner. It was nice to have the whole gang there. A waitress kindly took our photo. I was amazed that we all got in it.

I wish we could get together more often but it's hard with Mike living so far away. At least I see my Mom and May pretty often. I can't imagine not seeing them. I am glad that we're a close family. My Mom and sister have gotten me through many tough times. Of course my Mom isn't exactly comforting when I'm stressed out. May is a little better at calming me down. Still I do appreciate having my Mom there. Even if she drives me crazy sometimes! She calls me every day.

My Princess and her friend on picture day. Some of the kids weren't quite so dressed up. I'm glad that Michelle is a girly girl and loves to dress up. Some girls won't even wear dresses. I remember going through a phase growing up when I wouldn't wear dresses. Then ironically I went through a spell where I wanted to dress up all the time. These days I want to be comfortable and casual more than anything but I do still love beautiful clothes and it is nice to dress up once in a while. Again I get to live vicariously through Michelle. I don't think in my entire life I ever had such fancy gowns and I never wore a tiara. I don't think they even made headbands like that when I was a kid. I remember wearing a flower headband made of wool that my Mom or my great Aunt made. It was pretty cheesy now that I think about it. But it was the 1970s and no one seemed to know how tacky they looked. My Mom/Aunt made "tea cozies," doll dresses and accessories out of wool. Thinking about them makes me nostalgic. I actually wish I had some of them now.

Michelle assured me that she had smiled for her school picture. I wouldn't know until the proofs came in the next month but I trusted her. I rewarded her with a Smile Cookie. Tim Hortons creates smile cookies for charity sometimes. I couldn't resist getting a couple of them. I wish they had the smile cookies all the time but I guess then they wouldn't be special.

I remember once I asked a Tim Hortons worker to make a sad face cookie for me to give a friend who was leaving. Tims actually did it and it was really cute. Why don't they do emoji cookies all the time? You could get an angry one if you're having a bad day, or a sad one, happy ones, meh ones. (If anyone uses this idea I would like royalties please! LOL) Seriously, who couldn't use an emoji cookie to help them get through the day?!

There was a new playground and it was finally finished. It seemed a shame that the whole Summer had gone by and now it was Fall and kids would barely get to use it. The kids loved it though. Every one seemed to love the spinning thing the best. Sometimes there were huge lineups of kids waiting to go on it. Michelle was thrilled when she finally got her turn. It didn't seem very practical when you're wearing a dress but she had shorts underneath.
I was getting dizzy just watching her. I was afraid she'd stumble off like a drunken sailor and bang her head but she was OK.

While we were there the designer of the park came by and asked how we liked it. Then he asked another parent and me whether we'd mind if he took some pictures of the kids playing on the equipment. We both said of course not, go ahead. He told us that some parents strongly objected to having photos taken of their kids. The other parent shook his head. "Pfft. God forbid you take pictures of kids having fun!" Being a photoholic I find it impossible NOT to take pictures of my life and since having Michelle she is the most important thing in my life. These days people photograph everything. Even their dinner and put it on Instagram. But everyone is different. I remember taking Michelle to IKEA to play in the ball area and photography is strictly forbidden. They said it was in case other kids were in the picture. Even when Michelle was alone and no kids were near her they still wouldn't let me take a picture. "Then I'll just never come here again!" I thought. Michelle was almost too tall to even go in there so we likely wouldn't be back anyway. I feel like if I don't get a picture of it it's like it never happened and there's no point! Honestly if I couldn't take photos I wouldn't enjoy myself ANYWHERE doing ANYTHING because if anything cute or beautiful happened it would KILL me that I couldn't capture it.
My Mom was always saying I shouldn't have pictures of Michelle online but I've been blogging and sharing my story and photos since before she was born. This blog was part of what helped me get through the scary months on my own. I don't see the harm in posting photos online. Michelle has even had her picture in the newspaper. I would let her be on TV if she had the opportunity. I don't want to live in fear. To me you have to live your life as you see fit and do what makes you happy. It's not fair to tell someone else how to live their lives or to make you wrong for something that is meaningful to you. I'm a photoholic. I gotta be me!

My Mom doesn't even OWN a computer. She doesn't understand my need to share things online on my blog, Twitter or Youtube. This is something I've done for years. Of course if it was up to my Mom I'd never do ANYTHING! She's always trying to talk me out of going on any excursions or anything, always telling me about this or that terrible thing in the news and trying to scare me against going anywhere. As much as I am a control freak to an extent and am fiercely protective of Michelle, I don't want to live a sheltered life and never do anything. I want to share adventures with Michelle. Taking photos and posting them is my way of celebrating our happy moments together. I wouldn't trade that for the world. If I could afford to I would love to travel. My Mom has never even been on a plane and has no desire to. She lives in a prison of her own making and fear is her master. Despite my anxiety I still want to get out and do things because you have to. Life is meant to be LIVED fully.

Michelle had fun in the yard with her sandbox and her little golf set from the dollar store. There's is nothing like being outside in the fresh air. You might as well enjoy it while it lasts since you'll be cooped up through the long cold Winter. After school she always wanted to go to the park. On a beautiful day how could I say no?

Another day, another ride on the whirling thing. It just never gets old. It's so fun when you're a kid to spin around and around. There is something spiritual about it, to spin like a whirling dervish, mystical, magical, to feel wild and free and at one with the universe. Of course it's different when it's your mind that's spinning. My thoughts would spin out of control sometimes. Anxiety could spin me to the point where I was dizzy and sick and didn't know how to stop. Until I would just stop and breathe. And try to silence the cacophony of endless thoughts.

Getting into the spirit of Halloween we went to see The House with the Clock in its Walls. The preview looked awesome and I couldn't resist an opportunity to see Jack Black and Cate Blanchett in a movie together. They were AMAZING! The movie was even better than I expected. I loved it so much. It was about magic and being authentic -- owning your inner quirkiness. It's OK to be weird. Weird is special. In the movies and in books it is always the outcast/misfit who is the hero. The ones who fit in are boring. What kind of a story would it be if everything went right and the characters were just ordinary? It is the extraordinary that makes a good story. Yet in real life we can be so hard on ourselves when we feel like we're strange or different or don't fit in.

Aside from great characters the movie had a few creepy/scary parts but nothing too drastic. It was made for kids after all. I let Michelle watch PG-13 movies as long as there doesn't seem to be anything inappropriate.

Ballerinas and bows! Michelle was in rainbow unicorn mode for ballet that day. We wanted to get a family portrait with Ali. Michelle stuck a bow on Ali's head but Ali didn't seem that enthused about it. Half the time when we tried to get pictures with Ali she would just up and leave.

Michelle calls Ali her sister. She loves her, even though Ali can be a moody furry older sister and you're never sure what she's going to do. One minute she's perfectly happy and purring, all of a sudden randomly she decides nope she's had enough and will randomly get up or even swat at you for no apparent reason.

Yes, Ali can be catty sometimes but one can hardly blame her. She is, after all, a cat. I still think cats are as close to perfection as it gets. But even they have their moments.

I absolutely love Michelle's smile here. Actually she was laughing her head off because of the few failed attempts to get Ali to look for a photo this was as close as we came. Her ears are starting to go back so she's getting angry and she's just about to run away. I must have made a sarcastic comment about it and Michelle is laughing hysterically.

I love my girls. They really are my happy place, my safe place, my unicorns and rainbows, laughing and purring, wrapped up in a sweet ball of cuteness. Even if they can be a lot to handle sometimes.

We'd taken a long break from bike riding lessons
a) because we were both getting frustrated with it and b) because it was like 40 degrees Celsius every day for a while there and we would have spontaneously combusted if we'd tried. Now that it was Fall Michelle wanted to try again. The sidewalk just wasn't working for her so I decided to change tactics and go the the school playground when it was empty. Having all that open space might make it easier for her to learn to steer -- there was no grass or road to roll onto. Also there was a slight incline so she could practice just rolling to perfect her balance. We used the smaller bike so she could step down with her feet flat on the ground if she needed. Practicing at school with all that space did the trick. She could ride for a few seconds without losing her balance. Then longer and longer until she was riding around and around no problem. Finally! Michelle LEARNED TO RIDE HER BIKE! I was so happy, proud and relieved. For a while there I kept thinking "I can't do this. I can't teach her. This is something a DAD should do. Men are better at these things. I'm no good at this. I'm a control freak & a worrier. I don't know how to balance holding on and letting go." But I did it. And SHE did it!

Michelle was thrilled. She was so proud of herself. I took about a hundred pictures of her riding around. I thought my heart would explode -- like the part in the Grinch where they say his heart grew three sizes. Watching Michelle learn and grow makes my heart feel like it's too big to fit in my chest. I love her so much. I am in awe of her. And I'm so proud of her. She is such a sweetheart. And seeing her joy and excitement is the greatest feeling in the world. It trumps everything else. Suddenly all the stuff that I worry about, all of my own problems and issues melt away. It just doesn't matter. I am in the moment with my girl and she is pure joy. Pure love.

She rode around and around. She didn't want to stop. This was a milestone. Learning to ride a bike. My girl was growing up.

It's a tricky thing, riding a bike. Like so many things in life. It takes practice and patience. It seems impossible at first, like you'll never get it. Then all of a sudden it just clicks. You find your balance. You get it. And once you get it you never lose it. It stays with you for life. You may be a little rusty after several years not doing it but still if you pick it up, you remember, your muscles remember.

Michelle was so happy. I remembered the times she fell on the sidewalk and cried. The times I cried afterward feeling like a failure. Feeling like this was something I just couldn't do, couldn't teach her. Then she got it. It was empowering for both of us. At one point I thought about having my brother in law teach her. He taught Reggie very quickly. Shane wouldn't have worried like me about her getting hurt. He would let go sooner. He wouldn't hold her back. But now I had done it. Myself! I was a good enough teacher/coach. I didn't need a guy to help. I could do it.

Of course I had to get a video of her first ride on a two wheeler. Here's the video from Youtube:

I have videos of Michelle's first time eating solid food, her first steps, first words. Now my baby was a little girl riding her bike for the first time. It all goes so fast. They grow up right before your eyes. You have to pay attention and cherish every moment. I'm a sentimental fool so I can't help but think of that song "Where are you going my little one?" and I start to tear up.

Photos and videos are my way of holding on. I NEED to hold on.
That night Michelle drew and wrote this. She was so proud. She went from being frustrated to elated. I was glad we had tried again before Winter came. At least now she'd have a little time to ride her bike while the weather was still warm. It was a shame she hadn't learned sooner and had the whole Summer but actually Summer would have been too hot anyway. Maybe it was better this way.

I had watched online videos of kids riding their bikes trying to learn tips. Some parents swore your kid could learn in 5 minutes. (I wasn't willing to remove the pedals from her bike or buy a special balance bike so that technique was out.) Some kids learned at 4 years old. Others not until 9. Everyone is different. Just like with potty training or anything else. Kids will learn at their own individual pace when they're ready and it's not fair to compare. Michelle was 6 years old now and that was the right time for her. I wasn't sure when I learned to ride a bike. I haven't ridden a bike in years and I was pretty wobbly trying to ride Michelle's when I tried to show her what to do at one point. In my defense it was too small for me.

I had always been hard on myself. In school it pushed me to try harder and get straight As (though even when I did I was happy for like a minute and then went right back to feeling worthless.) Even when I had a little success somehow I could tear myself down and say I still wasn't good enough. In many things I felt like a complete failure.

Of all the things I had ever done or accomplished in my life, none come close to being a Mom. This is more important to me than anything. I can not bear to fail at this. My therapist(s) again remind me not to be so tough on myself. No one is perfect. We're human. We make mistakes. The important thing is that you do your best and follow your heart. Michelle could not be more loved and she knows it. Her love notes mean the world to me. I never tire of hearing that I'm the "best Mama in the world!" Even if it's not true, it's true to her and that means everything.

Now that she was a pro at it and found it fun, Michelle wanted to ride her bike every day. Luckily the weather cooperated most of the time. It was sunny without being too hot. She even got the hang of riding on the sidewalk although it was a little trickier than the school playground/parking lot with the bumps, grass on either side, cars and kids, hoses and who knows what other obstacles on her path to worry about. She got better at steering and keeping her balance. It was like night and day from a month ago when she was struggling and we both got so frustrated we finally just gave up.

Sometimes she would ride with her friends after school. It was great to have a new friend right on our street.

It was definitely Fall. The leaves were changing. We took a walk on the path by the ravine. As much as I don't really like Fall even I have to admit that the leaves -- painted golden, orange and red -- are pretty. The sad part is that they fall and then the trees are bare. Winter is so grey and cold and bleak. But at least we have Autumn for a while with all its colours.

I love this photo of Michelle and me even though there is a bit of a blur on my head from the scratched lens. My camera's limitations really were getting to me but I was still too loyal/stubborn/procrastinatory (spell check is saying that's not a word but I think it should be so I'm going to invent it! Again, if it catches on, I want credit/royalties! LOL) to replace it. I would hang on to my beat up old Nikon to the bitter end. The same way I held on to my broken vacuum, ancient old laptop, obsolete used cellphone.

Might as well JUMP!

Another leap. This time Michelle had her adorable floral bunny/donkey/goat ear headband on so it's like she's an animal frolicking through the forest.

Every time Michelle had ballet I would watch her through the window and try to snap photos but they rarely turned out very well through the glass. Too often they were blurry. Between the scratches on my lens and marks on the glass it was an uphill battle to get her without smudges on her face. Being a photoholic who can't take full advantage of a cute photo op is physically painful. So I'd insist Michelle pose for me after the class emptied out. She was quite happy to dance and leap around with all that empty space. I was tempted to leap along with her but I would have been too embarrassed her teacher or the other Moms would see from the hallway.

Michelle looks so adorable here but the white smudge across our faces ruins it. Dang it. (Well the look on my face is pretty cheesy too for that matter. But Michelle is adorbs.) My camera really was getting on my last nerve. If anyone should have a good camera, of all people, considering what an extreme photoholic I was, you'd think it would be my top priority. I just kept putting it off because I am a procrastinator and loyal/attached to my things and I tend to shy away from large expenditures. (Some people think nothing of spending hundreds or thousands on a phone. I can't fathom it.) I will hold onto things way longer than anyone else would. Most people replace electronics every couple of years. They want the newest/best this or that. I'm old fashioned. I don't need fancy schmancy toys (yes spellcheck I know that's not a word. Wait a minute it's even saying photoholic is not a word. Maybe I invented that too.) I am also a creature of habit and not a fan of change.

We heard about a Firefighter Day coming up when we were at the Home Show and decided to check it out. At least it was a beautiful day (unlike the Hero Day rain/hail fiasco!) I loved finding new adventures and outings to share with Michelle and if they were free, so much the better. Other people talked about going away on vacation or renting a cottage. That wasn't an option for me but we could at least enjoy day trips here and there. Especially free ones! The best things in life are free.

There were many cute photo ops so I was all over them. Here Michelle poses with an adorable dalmatian mascot, Sparky.

Michelle had a ball while also learning about fire safety. She went through obstacle courses, got to shoot a fire hose and she was excited they had bouncy castles and slides.

I LOVE this picture of Michelle smiling in the sunshine and hugging her teddy bear. She insisted on bringing a bear (wearing a floral print dress no less!) Of course the bear wound up being cumbersome while she was running amok and playing and I wound up having to carry him... I mean my purse.
"Next time no stuffies! It's just one more thing for Mama to carry and my purse is heavy/full enough!"

Michelle got to put out a fire in a mini model house.

The hose was so powerful it could probably have knocked her over but they didn't turn it on full blast. Michelle loved pointing the hose.

It was such a fun day we were both really glad that we went. I wanted to share as many adventures as I could with my girl. My Mom tried to say "She won't remember all these things you did when she's older."
"Yes she will!" I said "I have the photos to remind her!"

On top of the world! Or at least the town.

We climbed up on the tower for an aerial view. Michelle is not afraid of heights at all. She loves it. A stranger kindly took our photo which was great because my selfies were awkward and just didn't work at all, especially since the sun was directly in front of us and cast the shadow of my camera right onto Michelle's face.

I love my girl. I am so grateful for these moments I get to share with her. Sunshine, blue skies and new adventures to face together.

And then Michelle was even excited to take a ride on the shuttle bus back to our car. It was so crowded it was standing room only but Michelle was thrilled she got to stand at the very front of the bus beside the driver. She thought that was the coolest thing ever. I realized she had never been on a bus aside from school buses when she went on school trips. This was her first time on public transit and she was definitely a fan.

Seeing the world through Michelle's eyes makes everything a fun adventure. In my mind I was thinking "Oh brother. It's so crowded we don't even get to sit." And to Michelle it was "Wow! We get to stand RIGHT AT THE FRONT! That's SO COOL! This is fun!"

Sometimes it isn't what happens to you, it's your reaction to it. Your perspective on it. I had a lot to learn from Michelle about positive thinking and being in the moment.

This is so random. We were visiting at my Mom's. I took my Mom shopping. I found a teddy bear head mask and thought it would be cute but it's mostly just creepy and sad. It almost looks like something a bank robber would wear in a movie. Even Michelle said "Mama please don't ever wear that or you'll give me nightmares." It was good for a laugh anyway. I was tempted to get one of the huge Halloween animal mascot heads that I saw at Walmart (cats, bears, unicorns) but I couldn't justify it either financially or storage-wise. This bear mask was much cheaper and smaller. Not that I needed it anyway. We were going to be deer for Halloween. I just thought it would be fun to have. Maybe I could wear it at the Teddy Bear Picnic next year (and scare all her friends to death! LOL) On second thought, maybe not. "If you go down in the woods today, you're in for a big surprise!"

Blink and it's October. Time was still accelerated. I couldn't keep up.

Michelle had an active social life -- parties and play dates. I just tagged along. I liked sticking around for her friends' birthday parties, especially if they were in a public place -- 1) because I don't like leaving her. I'd worry too much. 2) I like watching her have fun and getting photos of her with her friends. I am a photoholic after all. Thankfully her friends' Moms are usually quite welcoming and extend the invitation to stay.

It's hard to round up the kids to actually pose for a photo. They all want to run amok. You ask them to say cheese and some are frowning and some aren't even looking. What can you do? You just snap and hope that Michelle is looking and smiling at least.

This party was at an indoor beach where the kids can run in the sand. I love sand too though I'm not always keen on bringing it back with us in our shoes and clothes. And a beach just isn't the same without water.

I managed to get one souvenir shot of us to show that I was there. I spend a lot more time behind the camera than in front of it but I do feel compelled to get in a few shots just because I know that looking back I will want to remember being there.

A lot of parents just drop of their kids and go. I like spending time with Michelle and I don't feel comfortable about her being out in public without me. Too many unknowns. What if there are strangers there from off the street etc? No one would ever watch her as carefully and closely as I would. No one could love her as much as I do.

Michelle wanted a play date with her friend after school. "Isn't it enough that you saw her all day at school?" I wanted to say but I went along with it.

The weather was still nice so we might as well enjoy it while it lasted and her new friends had a swingset/slide in the backyard. And a pool. If only we had known them in the Summer! I joked. Of course we made many trips to the beach anyway. I would love to have a pool someday if I won the lottery.

The problem with Michelle having play dates or going to parties is that she never wants to leave! It's always hard to tear her away.
"You can see her at school tomorrow!" I'd remind her.

I was happy with Michelle's school photo! She did smile. It was a little forced but still very cute. I was relieved that her hair wasn't a total disaster either.

That was one mistake my Mom always made with my school photos. She insisted I curl my hair but it never worked out and just looked lumpy and awkward. By the time I got the photo taken it was in shambles. That and the fact that I was an ugly duckling anyway didn't help. No wonder she never bought my school photos. All we had were the proofs with "Jostens" or whatever the company name at the time was, written across my face.

I'd never do that to Michelle. I would ALWAYS buy at least one of her photos.
"But you didn't have FOUR kids!" my Mom says.

Michelle loved her piano lessons too. Lucky girl. She gets to take piano and ballet which had always been my dream as a kid.

One day Michelle started giving me piano lessons at home. She liked that she knew something Mama didn't even know -- how to read music. I could strum chords on the guitar but I had never actually learned how to read musical notes. Now Michelle could play teacher and go over some of the lessons and songs in her book. She joked with me about my hand position. "You don't want to have your arms stretched out like a zombie. But you don't want to be scrunched up like a T-Rex either!" she laughed. She had been paying close attention to her teacher during lessons and picking up these kinds of tips.

I was a dance Mom. I had seen shows about dance classes and dance Moms. Some of them were a little...intense. I didn't ever want to be one of THOSE dance Moms. I did want to support and encourage Michelle any way I could. I was so proud of her. Her teacher asked me if I'd be interested in Michelle taking her ballet exams in the Spring. I said sure if she's up for it. It's so cute watching little girls dance ballet. Michelle is the oldest and tallest in her class. She got a later start than most. I'd wanted to put her into ballet sooner but my insane schedule prevented it. I was grateful to have the opportunity to do this for her. Even though it was a risk signing her up when I didn't know for sure what my schedule would be in the future, I was glad I had done it. It meant the world to give her this.

I found us matching shirts again. You can't see but it says "Mama and me twinning" on them. It's just too cute. If there is an adorable t-shirt that comes in a size 7 and a children's 16 I am all over it! I'm glad that Michelle enjoys dressing alike. I know that the day will come when she would be mortified to dress like Mom. The day may come when she won't even want to be seen with me. I hope not. I know the teen years can be iffy but I hope we'll always be close. Michelle says she'll always want to be with me. "You don't know sweetheart. You don't know how you'll feel in the future. You might get married." "But couldn't my husband and me still live with you?"
"Of course sweetheart. But he might not agree!" I laughed at the thought of being someone's mother in law. We never know what the future holds. Que sera sera...

One day when I took my Mom shopping we were near a travel agent. I could see a big mural of a beach inside and thought it would be cool to get a photo standing in front of it. I was looking for somewhere to sit the camera for a self-timed photo but one of the staff offered to take our picture. I should have set the timer. The well meaning stranger focused in on us but what I really wanted was to get the whole scene and especially THE PALM TREE in the shot. Some people just don't get it. Even at the beach when we went I was shocked to see people getting pictures and not even getting the palm trees (the most scenic part of the whole beach) in their shots.

Thanksgiving! We were thankful to be able to share it with family at Auntie May's. Michelle, my little unicorn got a big hug from her Uncle Chris. And a flying pig. (Somehow she had talked me into getting her a big pink furry flying pig.)

Pigs would have to fly before Uncle Chris would ever have children but the kids always loved to see him. He's so funny and animated. He's like a big Disney character. He'd be a great dad. It's kind of sad that he'll never have kids but I get it. I used to be there too. I couldn't imagine me as a Mom. I didn't realize that the love you have for your child is the most profound and rewarding experience of your entire life. I feel bad for people who don't get to experience that. Even though it's not easy of course. It involves a lot of work and sacrifice but it's totally worth it.

Michelle loves her Uncle Chris. She's always happy to see him at family events though it isn't as often as it used to be.

I love these cute filters on Shannon's i-phone. I love the doe eyes and the cute halo of Fall leaves. It was a bit too hectic and crowded and I wasn't able to corral everyone for a group Thanksgiving photo but at least I got a portrait of our little family, Michelle and me.

We had a lovely turkey dinner thanks to Uncle Shane and Auntie May. I am always thankful to have time with family. Michelle loves being at May's too. She got to play with her cousin and cousins in law. Shane's family was there as well. It can be chaotic with the house full of people but it's nice. And then when it's over we're back home where it's just Michelle and me and Ali makes three. Once in a while Michelle mentions not having a daddy but for the most part she doesn't think about it. I try not to either. A man in my life would be a complication. I wouldn't want to risk the heartbreak anyway. Life is simpler without them.

Getting a photo of a Blue Morpho butterfly with its wings open was like the Holy Grail of photographs. Years ago it seemed impossible. Now here I was. Michelle smiling, with a Blue Morpho on her hand and the waterfall in the background! And if it wasn't for that annoying white ghost of a blur around her head it would have been perfect. I REALLY needed to get a new camera one of these days. For now, I just tried to work around the scratch/blur as much as possible. Sometimes it wasn't possible, especially if sunlight bounced off of it.

The Butterfly Conservatory is my happy place, like the beach but even more so. It is like being transported to another world, an amazing tropical paradise filled with beautiful plants and breathtaking butterflies. To me, beauty is a necessity. It soothes the soul. Ugliness (chaos, pain and problems) triggers my anxiety. Beauty dissolves it. Beauty is calm, peaceful perfection. I believe world peace would be possible if people focused more on beauty than ugliness.

My little girl with a friendly butterfly. It didn't want to leave her. It stayed on her hand a long time.

The staff warned people not to touch the butterflies because you could hurt their wings and also butterflies taste with their feet. But if a butterfly wanted to sit on you, if it stayed there quite happily perched on your hand or your arm then what was the harm? Michelle was very careful never to touch their delicate wings. I always worried when I saw little kids carelessly grabbing at them. Luckily butterflies were usually quick enough to fly away from danger. Fight or flight literally. I don't think butterflies are fighters. It's all flight with them!

Michelle making friends with yet another butterfly. They seemed to like her. Like she was a walking flower. Other kids would sometimes glance enviously over as Michelle walked around casually with one butterfly or another perched on her finger, arm or head. She was wearing a colourful dress and a floral headband.

Less often a butterfly would light on my arm but I was never able to get a picture in time or it was an awkward too close up selfie. Michelle was a much cuter subject anyway. I took photo after photo with Michelle and her butterflies. It's like Lay's potato chips. You can't have just one. I always make sure my memory card is full and batteries are new when I go to the Butterfly Conservatory. I can't help but take hundreds of pictures of Michelle and the butterflies.

It took some careful timing and quick reflexes but I was able to dodge the crowd and stay out of the blur spot and get a couple of self-timed shots of Michelle and I.

At one point a stranger seeing my struggles with the timer offered to take our picture as well which was even better.

"Do you want me to take your picture?" Some people are so kind. Of course I still remember the well-meaning guy in Montreal years ago who offered to take a photo of my boyfriend and I and dropped the camera on concrete, breaking it. At least now my Nikon was scratched if someone dropped it it would give me an even better reason to replace it.

It was almost too good to be true. TWO Blue Morpho butterflies on Michelle's head. I couldn't even believe it and they STAYED there long enough for me to snap several photos. It was like elf ears or something. I couldn't believe it. I was in my glory. This was photo gold. If only they could have opened their beautiful blue wings. Instead you just see the brown underside with the camouflage eyes meant to scare away predators. Almost like there was an owl on her head.
"Stay very still!" I told her. Michelle was afraid to move in case they flew away but then she relaxed when it seemed like they were quite comfortable there. They must have thought the flowers on her headband were real or something. It was the cutest thing ever. Michelle was like a forest Princess with a crown made of flowers and living butterflies... naturally I couldn't resist getting into a shot with her. The butterflies were perfectly perched on her head now. They almost looked like donkey ears on her head. I was loving it but Michelle was actually over it. Like "OK. That's enough.You can fly away now." Only they didn't.
"Are they gone?"
"Nope. Still there."
"How about now?"
"Still there."
"Mama can you make them go."
"Just a few more pictures."

All the times we'd been to the Butterfly Conservatory we had never posed with the huge framed shadow box collection of Blue Morphos in the vestibule. Usually there was someone sitting on the bench in front of it so it wasn't an option. Today it was clear so I seized the opportunity.

I was thankful for another lovely day at the Butterfly Conservatory with my girl.

From one happy place to another! The weather wouldn't stay this warm. Fall would grow colder and colder and it would be Winter all too soon. So we made our way to the beach for one last visit while we still could. The beach in October is bittersweet. The palm tree fronds were beginning to yellow. The beach was almost empty. It was hard to believe there had been hundreds of people on the sand a month or two before. Some people have the luxury of going away on tropical vacations even in the dead of winter. I only did that once years ago. (The Dominican Republic in February with my boyfriend at the time.) In a way it just made the Winter worse when I had to return home. A temporary escape only makes it harder to go back. It's depressing. The cold bleak blizzardy weather is a cruel slap in the face when you get back from Paradise. Having four seasons in Canada at least you get a gradual change from one to the next rather than a jarring plane ride from one climate to its complete opposite.

The sun was setting, our extended Summer was ending. I was grateful to have had this, one more trip to the beach with my girl. I would hold onto these memories during the long cold Winter days. The scratch on the lens caught the sunlight and made a big white blob in the photo but at least it wasn't covered Michelle and me.

I shed a tear as we drove back home. I knew it would be the last time we'd see the beach this year.

I was so grateful for this and all of my Summer memories with Michelle. What a gift to have this time with her. Though it was a very rough path to get here and I wouldn't want to relive it for anything at least it brought me to where I need to be. So I'm grateful for all of it. The past is painful and the future is uncertain but the present is a gift and I have to cherish every moment of it.

They had an official opening ceremony for the new park with treats and activities for the kids. Michelle did pretty well with her "stilt walking." First the kids practice on upside down buckets with strings and then they get to try out the real thing. Michelle got a red ribbon for participating. She actually managed to walk on real stilts for a little bit. Between that and the bouncy castle/slide (always a hit with kids!) she was having a ball. Of course I was just happy to have so many colourful photo ops. The crowd was a bit daunting. Especially when we had to line up for a piece of cake and one strange lady tried to cut ahead of me in line. "Oh no she didn't!" I thought, picturing memes in my head. I was going to say something. Instead I just shot her a confused/disgusted look that must have conveyed more than any words could have because she sheepishly backed off and walked away. Sometimes it's fight and not flight. Especially if cake is on the line!

Michelle got to meet legendary hockey dad, Walter Gretzky and he was kind enough to pose for a photograph. Michelle didn't even know who Wayne Gretzky was, much less his dad but I thought it was pretty cool. Not that I'm a sports fan either by any stretch of the imagination. Still, I don't think you can be Canadian without knowing who Wayne Gretzky is.

"Wayne is a really famous hockey player and Walter is his dad."
She would have been much more excited if it had been SpongeBob Squarepants but you can't have everything.

Everywhere we go Michelle meets friends or makes friends. She ran into one of her friends from school. It seemed like everyone in town was there. Mention free cake and pizza and people will line up by the thousands. They'll even try to cut ahead in line. Of course we had lined up for ice cream in the rain that wasn't even free. It seemed like everywhere we went was too crowded. Like there were just too many people period or that everyone had the same idea we did. Sometimes I would think "How do people even KNOW about this stuff?" Like they just happened to see the ad in the paper or the flyer like I did. More likely people are connected on social networks where community events are advertised as well. I hadn't done Facebook in a decade. I was never going back. Twitter was my jam but I was even trying to spend less time on it. Spending any time online meant coming across disturbing current events I did not want to know about. I didn't want to hear whatever stupid things Trump had done or how the world was falling apart anymore.

Michelle ran into another friend. And yes, Michelle insisted on bringing her flying pig to the park. And guess who had to stuff the giant fuzzy pig in her purse like an imbecile when Michelle wanted to play mini golf or go on the rides? Yes, yours truly. A little girl carrying a flying pig is cute. A grown woman with a stuffed flying pig is a cry for help. If anyone had said anything to me at least I could calmly explain "I'm in therapy." And I am totally owned. Even after telling Michelle she's never bringing a stuffie with her to a park or event ever again, there she was with an even bigger one. Sigh. But I ask you: How on Earth could I possibly say no to that face?! She's my angel(/devil.)

I don't know what her friend is pointing at. Maybe there really was a flying pig in the sky too.

Every day after school now it was "I want to ride my bike!"
I still made her wear her elbow and knee pads every time even though she was in much less danger of falling now. She was really getting the hang of it. It is such a beautiful feeling to stand back and watch your child master something. When you can just breathe a sigh of relief and relax because you don't have to hover and wait to catch her. You don't have to chase her with your heart in your throat, killing your back, poised to grab her at any moment. It feels good to watch her do it on her own and to know she's got this. I wish you could skip to that part and not go through the struggles and scrapes and tears. But that's just the way it is. Potty training was one of the worst experiences ever and took years off my life but we got through it. Learning to ride a two wheeler was right up there with stressful, frustrating, heart-wrenching lessons but once she got it it was thrilling. Helping Michelle to meet these milestones as a single Mom without help is empowering. She's got this. I've got this. Even though sometimes I <so> don't got this.

We went to see Goosebumps 2. I found the first Goosebumps movie on sale on DVD and we loved it. It was funny and clever with a few scary parts but mostly just fun. It's made for kids so there's nothing too disturbing. I used to love horror movies but anything too frightening would be traumatic now. Kid's horror movies were better. Nothing too gory or disturbing. Just fun. And it helped to put us in the Halloween mood. Halloween was coming up so soon I couldn't believe it. Then it would be November. Life on fast forward as usual.

Goosebumps 2 was great. A little scarier than the first but we still got through it. There was just one scene, where Halloween costumes and decorations were coming to life, that creeped Michelle out a little but she was OK.

On our way back from ballet one day we saw a huge inflatable bouncy castle slide in a parking lot. We weren't sure what was going on so we went to check it out. It was another firefighter event for kids. They were pretty much wrapping things up when we arrived but at least Michelle got to go down the slide. The weather had turned REALLY cold. It was hard to believe we'd been at the beach a week before and now we were shivering in our Winter coats. Sometimes Canada is like that. So much for a slow transition from one season to the next. Now it was like we just skipped Fall altogether and went straight from Summer into Winter.

After we left we headed to another free event I'd seen advertised. A store opening with free hot dogs and face painting. They had me at free hot dogs. They had Michelle at face painting.

You can't say no to face painting, especially if it's free! So cute. Great photo op.

Michelle wanted to be a kitty. The makeup artist painted her with pinks and purples to match her outfit and headband. What a pretty kitty! I loved it.

People passing by commented how cute Michelle looked. A couple of people asked if they could take pictures of her. She was like a little celebrity. My little star. She was still wearing her ballet outfit because we kept going from one thing to the next before heading home. I was worried she was going to get cold. It was a bitterly cold day compared to what we had been used to.
The only thing more adorable than seeing Michelle with her cat makeup was seeing her SEE HERSELF in the mirror for the first time. She was positively BEAMING!
"I LOVE IT!" she said, excitedly. I was wishing she could do a dance on stage now that she was all dressed up with makeup to match. She should have been performing in the musical "Cats." Instead we just ate our hot dogs and went to look around the new store for a bit. Not exactly glamorous.

Michelle talked me into getting her a little teddy bear and I couldn't resist. Even though she already has a collection of them. Hundreds possibly. I've never counted them. A lot of them were mine before I even had her. I always loved teddy bears myself even before I had children. So now that I had a little girl, how could I not spoil her? I have a weakness for cute and beautiful things.

Someone offered to take our picture. This photo would have been so sweet without the friggin blur on my face from the scratched lens. It was really making my teeth itch. I had to get a new camera. But I was afraid to. I wasn't even sure what kind of cameras they had now. Did they even still make digital cameras or did everyone just use the camera in their cellphone? I was a bit of a dinosaur. I didn't even know what was on the market anymore. I was scared to look. I would hold on to that camera to the bitter end. Just like my computer and my vacuum and everything else that seemed to fall apart. Forced obsolescence at work. Manufacturers don't want their products to last forever or you'd never have to replace them. Though some people would anyway. Some people love getting fancy new toys, electronics and appliances, all the time. Some people thrive on change. I am not those people.

Shannon's phone had a Goosebumps 2 filter when the movie came out. We couldn't resist playing with it and laughing our heads off. Although I thought it would be cool to have a fancy phone where you could use silly apps and filters, it wasn't quite enough to make me buy one. I'd rather just borrow someone else's now and then.

This was my favourite shot, Michelle and me trying to stare Slappy down. There is something creepy about a ventriloquist's dummy. You always do kind of worry it's just going to come to life on its own when no one is near it. Horror movies prey on our fears and phobias. At least kids' movies do it in a way that's playful and fun. Adult horror goes too far, too ugly, too real. I can't believe that I used to watch them. It was different before, when I was in a relationship and felt like I had someone to protect me from demons when I had the post-movie heebee jeebees. Now after all of my anxiety issues and being single, alone with a child, the protector rather than the protected, I didn't want to subject myself to that. I still have a large collection of horror movies collecting dust in my basement. Maybe I will sell them someday. I still feel somewhat nostalgic about the goth phase of my life. But I'm definitely in Disney mode now.

I was disappointed I wasn't able to go along on Michelle's class trip to the farm as a volunteer but at least her teacher took a picture of Michelle's experience and shared it with me. I love this shot of Michelle and her friend with the baby piglets. So cute. I wished I had been there.

Michelle loves animals. All kinds of animals. She says she wants to save the animals when she grows up. She read about Jane Goodall and thought it would be amazing to go live among the animals. Michelle wanted to live with wild cats. I told her that may not be the best idea. Of course Michelle is a little lion herself, my Leo girl. Queen of the Jungle!

Michelle was disappointed I didn't get to go to the farm with her so I told her we would go to another farm ourselves. And we still had our annual trip to Springridge with Auntie May to look forward to.

Michelle wanted to do all the fun activities. I just wanted to take pictures. I didn't want to get too carried away spending our tickets. I only had a limited amount. Originally Michelle had wanted to go into the Haunted House. We had been through it the year before and had chosen the "little scares"  (as opposed to medium or big scares apparently.) This year however they had more than just teenage girls to scare you inside the house. This time they had a creepy Leatherface psycho dude to chase you around. He looked like REALLY BIG SCARES! Michelle was not into it.
"Me neither!" I said.
But as a photo op it was just too good to pass up. Michelle consented to posing for the photo at least. I was kind of relieved we could skip the haunted house. It saved me spending 4 tickets anyway.

A pony ride! That was non-negotiable. I don't know who was more excited -- Michelle to actually ride the pony or me to get pictures of her doing it. It is just the cutest thing ever. Honestly if I could just take photos of cute things all day long I would never feel anxiety again. Beauty and cuteness are my magic talisman against negative emotions. I can not be sad, angry or scared when in the presence of beauty or a cutie. It's like when I'm around the nice things, God is there. When I'm surrounded by ugliness, Satan is. The devil has been having a field day with the world lately. But it is still a beautiful world if you know where to look.

Somehow the appeal of jumping on hay bales is universal among kids. Michelle was so excited to run and jump off of hay bales. I was worried about her colliding with another kid but she managed not to get hurt. (Unlike last year where some careless kid booted her in the head.)

As a worrier sometimes it is hard for me to watch Michelle running amok. Part of me wants to intervene, to protect her in case she gets hurt. But I try to let her be, to give her freedom to be a kid. I want her to be happy and free. I just cross my fingers that she survives the experience.

Michelle with her silly green Medusa streamers blocking her face. It was actually supposed to be a St. Patrick's Day headband but it works for Halloween too because there is some orange in it as well and even the green makes a good stem to go with her pumpkin dress.

Several people admired Michelle's pumpkin outfit. When we dress on theme we REALLY go for it. We were super excited about Halloween and it was coming up really fast. It seemed like October had barely started and now just like that it was half over.

We used a couple of tickets to take a ride on the little train that winds around the farm. The train was another non-negotiable. It's just too cute. You've got to do it. The compartments are so small they just barely fit Michelle and me.

That's the ticket!

Face painting again. How could you say no? You couldn't. I couldn't anyway. Michelle wanted to be a cat again. This time a Halloween kitty. So cute. I love her smile here.

It had been a long exhausting afternoon and I was looking forward to heading home. I had run out of tickets anyway and I wasn't buying more (despite her pleading) so there wasn't much more we could do anyway.

She wanted to take a look in the Storybook Barn. I told the girl we didn't have any tickets left. It was close to closing time anyway and no one was there so she let us in for free which was really nice.

Room on the Broom is one of our favourite Halloween stories. We posed for a photo with the characters -- the witch, dog, cat, frog, bird and dragon. It's such a sweet story. Michelle has the book and we've seen the movie as well.

At least the blur isn't covering our faces in any of the shots. I didn't know it at the time but I soon wasn't going to have to worry about my scratched lens anymore. There were changes coming. As much as I don't like change, sometimes you have no choice. Life forces your hand.

My computer died. My old laptop had been on its last leg for years. The battery didn't work anymore so I had to keep it plugged in all the time and even with the cord it had problems. The screen was always freezing or going black or it would shut down. It was beyond frustrating but I just kept making do until one night it just went black. No signs of life and I couldn't bring it back. Other times turning it off and on, plugging and unplugging it, taking the battery out and putting it back in magically did the trick. This time, nothing. I panicked. I couldn't be without a computer. Michelle needed it sometimes for school. I needed to check my email etc. It was not an option to NOT have a computer! I would have to buy a new one. I was terrified.
In the past any time I had to get a new computer I had a guy, a tech expert to help me. A couple of them even built their own computers. I am decidedly NOT a techie. I started looking at flyers for a while anyway just getting an idea of what was out there for laptops. You could spend anywhere from $300-$3000. I wanted to get another ASUS. It was what I was used to. Plus I figured if I can get 10 years out of it like my last one, that's a good computer. And it's not too expensive.

I went to a big box electronics store that shall remain nameless to buy a new computer. When I wasn't ready to buy it seemed sales people were always hounding me and I had to say no thanks, just looking. Now that I WASN'T just looking, now that I actually HAD to buy one I couldn't find a sales guy to help me for the life of me. There was only one guy in the section. He was short, unattractive, unfriendly, sort of smelly and was already busy with an older couple. "I'll be with you in a minute" he promised. But it was more like a football minute. My palms were sweating. I felt nauseous. I really didn't want to do this but I had no choice. "I should bite the bullet and get a new camera while I'm here," I thought. "Kill two birds with one stone." But I was stressed enough about purchasing a computer. Buying a computer and a camera in one day would be sheer madness. Even though I would likely spend less on both than a lot of people spend on a phone or tablet. I'm a bargain hunter.

When the unhelpful unpleasant dude was finally ready to help me he was very discouraging. I told him that I was leaning toward an ASUS. He tried to tell me that they weren't any good. He tried to talk me into another model I had never heard of. I explained that my old ASUS laptop had lasted me a decade and that considering most laptops only last a couple of years, that seems pretty reliable to me. He said they don't make them the same way anymore. I was getting frustrated. I didn't like this guy. I didn't like the computers he was showing me.

I told him I needed to take a breather. I went over to look at cameras instead, for fun. Well it wasn't fun. It was stressful too because I DID need a camera and I'm not a fan of change and I felt sick to my stomach thinking about making two major purchases in one day or even one. At least it was a change of scenery anyway. They did have digital cameras. How would I choose? As if reading my mind, suddenly a sales guy came over to help me. This one was actually cute, charming and didn't smell. Score.

I explained my situation. My scratched lens Nikon camera. My phobia of change. My resistance to technology. My laptop dying. He was very supportive/sympathetic. He helped me pick out a little Canon camera. He gave me a discount on the camera case. My first camera decades ago (the one that got dropped by a stranger in Montreal) had been a Canon. The wheel had come full circle. It was small and light and 20 megapixels. It would take me a while to get the hang of using it but it would be a treat not to have a big white blob in all my photos. It had a rechargeable battery so I wouldn't have to spend a fortune on double A Energizer lithium batteries anymore. One decision made. One to go. I told him I was discouraged by the other sales guy in computers. I had my heart set on an ASUS and the other guy had tried to talk me out of it. This sales guy was basically the opposite of the other guy in every conceivable way. "Here. Come with me," he said and led me over to the computer section. I would have followed him anywhere. Cute young thing. I felt like asking if he could do me a favour and be 10 years older and single. He agreed with me that ASUS was a good brand. He showed me a nice silver one that was on sale. Unfortunately they were out of stock. He called another store to hold one for me. I drove there and got it. Just like that. Decisions made. I didn't take them out of the box until the next day. I was scared. I was intimidated. I didn't have a techie to help me. I was on my own to try to figure everything out. Change. Technology. All the stuff I didn't like was waiting for me in a box. I would wait until Michelle was in school to open it.

At least I figured out the camera. This was the first photo I took with my new Canon camera. And no white blobs to be seen! What a treat to have a clear picture/no scratched lens. I still wasn't sure how to use all the features and it took some getting used to but I adapted.

Stay calm and adapt.

I managed to get my new computer sorted out on my own aside from one call to tech support. There were fancy features on the new computer, like it could talk to me with an Alexa type voice. Nope. I didn't like that. Too Brave New World. I turned the talking thing off. And I put a sticker over the camera hole just in case. I'd heard of Big Brother watching through smart TVs and security cameras, computer cams. Strangers could see right into their lives. No thank you. I wanted my new computer to be as much like the old one as possible. I wanted what felt safe and familiar. Once I set a desktop background and added some icons it started to feel more like home. And it was a treat to have a computer that worked without constantly crashing, freezing or shutting down. Maybe change was a good thing.

My therapist and life coach were proud of me, for someone who doesn't like change I had taken on a lot of it all at once. Not that I had much choice. "You took charge," my coach said. I didn't just curl into a ball and cry (part of me wanted to.) I went out and got a new one right away. I figured it all out by myself. I used to think I needed a guy around to help me with things like technology but now that I had to I could manage on my own. She said that the more I trust myself the more I will be able to do. I have to give myself more credit.

Technology isn't my thing but I was able to muddle through with my new computer and camera. Math wasn't my thing but I took Michelle to Math Night at her school because I want her to be well-rounded. It's such a stereotype that girls don't like math. I'd like Michelle to challenge that. 

We went to Math Night last year and it was actually kind of interesting. A math teacher talked to us about ways to incorporate math into games with your kids. He tested the grown ups with math questions and we realized how rusty we are. We use calculators so much that we don't do math in our head. Most people have special programs on their computer to do their taxes. I still do mine on paper. It's my one chance to do math and it is a struggle but I do manage. I figure it's good to exercise that part of my brain once in a while. 

Like me Michelle prefers words to numbers but she does like math too. 

With some of the games I couldn't see what on Earth it even had to do with math (like Twister) but one of the teachers explained that math is more than just adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing numbers. Some of it is spacial reasoning, problem solving, communication and connections, patterns, probability and relationships. Michelle was having fun playing the various games in any event. Watching her work together with her friend was adorable. They cooperated quite well together. It was really sweet. And they laughed their heads off.

One day Michelle drew an adorable Mama cat with a whole rainbow of kittens. She was inspired by her set of rainbow heart markers that she'd gotten at school. Her class had a Home Read list and every time you read 20 books you got a prize. Michelle is an avid reader so she kept going through another 20 books in no time. She even read chapter books. She got a variety of prizes -- stickers, balls. I was glad that Michelle loved books and reading. I did too. Michelle was so much like me in so many ways. Luckily she was the younger, happier, stronger and better version.

Michelle and me in matching blue shirts. I love the beautiful tie dye design with muted tones of pale blue and steel blue. I know it's kind of cheesy but I can't resist dressing us alike when I find matching shirts in our two sizes. Michelle enjoys it too. She likes to be like Mama. For now, anyway. I'll cherish it as long as it lasts. I'm sure as a teenager she wouldn't find it cute to dress alike. At all.

I want to be a good role model for Michelle. Being able to handle things on my own (like getting a new computer) made me feel in control. I feel like I need to be on top of things so that Michelle will feel safe, like Mama's got this. If I appear scared and uncertain that might make Michelle feel fearful. I want her to feel like everything is OK. Whatever happens, Mama can handle it. Falling apart is not an option when I have to hold it together for my girl and be her rock.
One day we went to the Country Windmill Market for something fun to do indoors on a cold day. They have so many cute and pretty things and it's fun exploring the many little rooms filled with knick knacks. It's like a home converted into a store with bedrooms filled with furniture and ornaments. There are so many things to see.

My Mom would have a field day in that place! I did pick up a couple of things (birds) for my Mom. Not that I should be encouraging her to accumulate any more stuff. But there's always room for a cute little bird. Or two.

Michelle always finds things that she likes as well. They have a Children's section filled with toys. She always picks something out. Again, Michelle needs another stuffie like she needs another hole in the head but I have a hard time saying no to her.

Michelle was doing well with her piano lessons. There was one song that she was having a really hard time with at first because she had to play two completely different things with each hand. "I'll NEVER be able to do it!" she exclaimed, frustrated.
"Yes you will," I assured her. "Just like with your bike. Practice makes perfect. You keep trying and it gets easier and easier."
So she did and all of a sudden she got it.
"Mama LISTEN! I can do it! I LOVE this song now!" and she would play it over and over until she even had it memorized and could transpose it into another key. I was proud of her. Her teacher was too.

As I got more practice with my camera I learned that it had some really cool features. There was a setting that allowed you to take multiple shots at once and the camera would randomly choose different filters and finishes -- so you could see the same shots in different ways and choose which you liked the best. I usually wound up keeping all of them. This photo of Michelle has a soft vignette quality. It was so cool. You just press the button down to take the picture and you hear click click click as the computer takes a couple of shots and adds various filters to them. It doesn't always work out. Sometimes it would focus in on a foot or something instead of the person's face but some of the random effects were really cool.

This finish/filter makes it look like a drawing. It's so neat. You never know what it's going to do. You can't control how it comes out. You just leave it to chance. It's very cool for doing portraits because you could experiment with different finishes -- one in black and white, one vignette, one artistic. Again, it didn't always work but sometimes magic happened and it was worth the gamble. You could always delete the mishaps. I was starting to like my new little camera. Maybe change isn't such a bad thing. Sometimes it's a change for the better. The thing with me is that I avoid change until something forces me to change. I am loyal to a fault. I will hold on longer than I should. I need that push to make a move. If my computer hadn't completely died I never would have bought a new computer and camera. I still couldn't believe that I had. At least I got them on sale and spent a lot less than I could have.
Finally, taking a selfie, close up without a ghost on my forehead. It was also a nice treat not to have to keep replacing batteries. I would just charge the camera battery and it would last quite a while before I'd have to charge it again. Definitely a change for the better. I did feel kind of sad for my old Nikon and my old computer. I get attached to things. Especially things that I spent so much time with and that were a big part of my life and my memories. My camera goes with me everywhere and my computer is where I share my thoughts and experiences on sites like Twitter and this blog. They are not just objects. They help me to hold on to the best moments of my life. I am grateful for them.

I was glad that I had my new camera in time for our trip to Springridge Farm. It is always a huge photo op.

Cute photo ops abound at Springridge Farm. It was crowded as it always is with people like us who want to share a fun Fall day with their kids. I made Michelle pose with the pumpkins and props. We could barely go a few feet without me saying "Stop here for a picture. Just a second. One more picture. One more."

Michelle just wanted to run and have fun. But she knows me well enough by now to know, just smile for the picture and get it over with so you can go and play. When Mama's happy, everyone's happy.

It was a little cold but at least it wasn't raining.

Even with the crowd I managed to find a safe spot to sit the camera so we could all be in a group photo. May and I were like twins in our grey winter coats with fur.

It was quite chilly but we were motivated to explore all the parts of the farm. It was a tradition every year. We had to see the Haunted House (Boo Barn), do the hay ride, walk the corn maze, go to the slides, visit the animals and of course stop for every cute or cheesy photo op along the way. And at the end we always warm up in the gift shop, get a bite to eat and relax. (Even though the line up is usually enormous and winds all through the store. Everywhere you go there are crowds and line-ups. No matter what we do it's like everyone else has the same idea.)

Most of the shots in the Boo Barn turn out blurry. If you don't use a flash then the shutter speed is slow and any slight movement of the camera will make it blurry (you really need a tripod for those.) If you use the flash then it just washes everything out and destroys the glow in the dark effects. Once in a while you get lucky though. At least this shot of the kids wasn't too blurry. It's also really hard to get a picture because the crowd is never ending and pushes you along so you can't really stop to take a picture or you hold everyone up. Like at mini golf. Not that I've done that in years. This Haunted House is meant for little kids so there were no Leatherface maniacs chasing us around with chainsaws. We definitely did not want that.

The kids on the hay ride/tractor pull heading to the Corn Maze. I sat across from the kids so I could take photos of them during the trip.

It was a nice ride, albeit a little bumpy and cold. The farm is beautiful with all the Fall leaves changing colour in the background. I thought how nice it would be to live on a farm like that. Maybe not one that was open to the public and swarmed with hundreds of strangers. But they only did that on weekends and only at certain times of the year. It seems like it would be a peaceful way to live but it would be a lot of work to maintain a farm.
I called it a Corn Maze but it wasn't really a maze, just a long trail. I got a picture of the kids before they headed in.

We stopped for so many photos along the trail that we were way behind the rest of the group from our hay ride. As we emerged from the exit they were just pulling away without us! "Don't worry. Another one is coming in a minute." I thought they'd abandoned us there.

The children of the corn. It took a couple of failed attempts but I managed to snap a selfie that fit all of us in there. So cute. It was a fun day. It's always fun spending time with May and the kids. She always makes me laugh. No one on Earth gets me like May does. Michelle always has a ball with Reggie too. Michelle was wanting to run through the trail but I didn't want her to slip and fall in the mud and I also didn't want to miss out on getting photos of her along the way. Throughout the trail they had quizzes about corn. They gave the answers at the end. Corn is used for so many things other than just eating corn and popcorn:  High fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, it's even used in ethanol, plastics.

My girl and me on the corn trail. Sometimes the camera would blur the background and leave us in focus. Other times everything in the frame was clear. I would just click and hope for the best. It is much easier to take a selfie with a cellphone where you can see the screen and know what you're taking. Selfies with a regular camera are always just an educated guess. You hold it up in front of you and assume you're in the shot but you never really know until you turn it around afterward and see the screen. I got lucky with this one. And Michelle is even smiling. I thought she'd be complaining about how many pictures I was taking but she was having fun anyway.

Cuddling with my girl on the ride back. As promised another tractor did come around to pick us up.

May took our picture. I like this shot of Michelle and me with the forest of Fall trees in the background. I set it to the multiple shots setting so May just had to press the button and it would create 6 different images. I wound up liking all of them. Each one was cool in its own way.

Another group shot before we headed inside to warm up. I couldn't wait to look in the gift shop. They always had so many cute and pretty things and I was getting really cold. It was also a treat to sit down and have lunch after all of that walking. It's a huge place to explore. The kids seem to have boundless energy but my energy is definitely limited.

After the farm we were heading back to May's for our traditional Halloween dress rehearsal -- taking pictures of the kids in their costumes. I couldn't wait to see Shannon's. She's so artistic she always does something amazing with her Halloween makeup.

I didn't do much for Michelle's makeup for the dress rehearsal. We just drew a little nose on her. I loved Shannon's broken/haunted doll costume. Her makeup was gorgeous. Reggie was some sort of a ninja character from a book or movie or comic I wasn't sure but it looked cool. I just stuck my Mama deer antlers on. Michelle had her new little reindeer from the gift shop to go with her reindeer outfit. I had a hard time getting the zipper undone for her costume. Shane was able to get it down for me.
"This better not happen on Halloween!" I said. I was counting on her wearing her deer outfit to stay warm outside. It had to be able to zip up and down.

We posed outside for a minute even though it was cold. I love seeing the kids dressed up for Halloween. That's one of my favourite things about Halloween -- seeing kids, even strangers, dressed up and coming to the door saying "Trick or treat." It was hard because I needed to be in two places at once -- at the door giving out treats and walking around with Michelle trick or treating. It's times like that that having a partner in the picture would come in handy. Someone to man the door. The way I handled it was to take Michelle out extra early and leave a bowl on the porch until we got back. A few other people had done the same thing. Even families that had a Mom and Dad in the picture, they BOTH wanted to go trick or treating with the kids. That would be sweet.

I love this artistic vignette shot of Shannon! It has an antique feel to it -- like a creepy circus/clown doll possessed by a demon. Shannon looks so beautiful and scary. She's an amazing artist. Her makeup is always a masterpiece. She's so talented. She liked the multiple shot setting on the new camera. My sister was impressed with it too. She wanted copies of all the pictures. I usually put all the photos of us and family events on a CD or thumb drive for her at the end of the year. So many pictures to go through.

I was hoping the camera would randomly do the drawing feature and it did. This was so neat. It's like a drawing/painting of Shannon. I never imagined when I got a new camera that it could do things like this. It's amazing what they can do now. I guess I shouldn't be resistant to technology. Sometimes it's really cool. I just don't like change.

One aggravating thing about the camera and computer was that the camera didn't come with a cord to upload pictures to the computer. It was supposed to be done wirelessly through wifi. It didn't work very well. It was very slow and frustrating. Sometimes the computer couldn't "find" the camera or vice versa. I was getting frustrated that I couldn't even upload my photos. I liked the old way where you just plugged the camera in and uploaded the pictures in seconds.

I decided to try getting a cord to fit. I found one at the dollar store that fit into my camera. Success! Instead of wasting an hour trying to upload a few pictures they were transferred effortlessly in seconds! The old way was so much better! Why do they make things more complicated than they have to be? Were they just too cheap to give you a cord? Why did everything have to be wireless?

Anyway I was happy with my new camera and relieved that I could upload photos easily again which was good because there were a LOT of them.

I love this shot of my little deer and me. Portraits come out so clear now. You can see the difference that extra megapixels make. And a clear lens for a change.

Michelle's expression here is SO SWEET. I adore this shot. Sometimes the multiple shots are magic. Even though it's just random how the camera applies filters and composes the picture, sometimes it gets it just right and it's pure magic.

I was grateful for my new camera. Grateful for a fun day with Auntie May and for all the amazing and adorable photo ops. We were ready for Halloween.

And when she's not a deer, she's a kitty. Michelle has headbands for any and every theme and occasion. This adorable Halloween kitty one was perfect for a Halloween celebration day.

We were excited for Halloween. It would be here before we knew it.

Time kept flying. Sometimes I would see the year, the Spring, Summer and now the Fall whizzing by like photos in a slideshow set to fast forward. So many memories. As a kid it feels like you wait and wait for special occasions to come and it takes forever. Then you grow up and they're here and gone in the blink of an eye.

There was a clothing collection coming up for the Kidney Foundation. I hadn't gone through my closets for years so I took the opportunity to do a huge clear out of things that no longer fit me or I didn't like. I managed to fill 35 bags. It felt good to get rid of things especially for a good cause. Now I had the clearing out and de-cluttering bug I couldn't stop. I decided to keep clearing out -- closets, cupboards, drawers. I organized my linen closet where things had been so crowded they were just shoved in. I could just punch my towels and sheets onto the shelves as they were packed and spilling over. Now I sorted through them and only kept what I really needed. Everything was folded perfectly.

I organized my bathroom cupboards, getting rid of and organizing makeup and accessories and my kitchen cupboards, stacking tupperware perfectly, recycling containers without lids, old pots etc. I filled more and more bags for charity and dropped them off at thrift stores and local charities. I even cleared out boxes from the garage that had been sitting there unopened since the move. I figured if I went years not using these things I was never going to want or need them. I went through them and aside from a couple of things I fished out, it all went to charity. It was cleansing to get rid of things. I felt empowered and in control. There were a lot of things that I couldn't control but I could at least put my home in order. It was exhausting work though and I found myself getting emotional. These clothes and items weren't just objects they were part of my former life and it was somewhat painful to let them go. Things that I had avoided dealing with for so long and tried to ignore I was finally acknowledging and dealing with. It was a lot to go through. My therapist wasn't surprised it was taking a toll on me emotionally.

She found my clearing out symbolic and compared it to therapy. My home, like my mind, had a lot of clutter (mind full rather than mindful) that no longer served me. It was time to release it and focus on the present, the things that I love and that do serve me. It's hard when you spend most of your time trying to stay distracted and to avoid uncomfortable emotions to finally address the skeletons in your closet and clear out what you didn't need. Just as I was trying to let go of unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviours. I had so much stuff. Each item had to pass the test -- do I use this/need this/love this? If it was none of the above it was gone.

Having my home de-cluttered, tidy and organized felt really good. I made a commitment to try to keep it that way. I had to stop shopping and accumulating things. I would be a more discriminating shopper. I would only buy what I really loved or really needed. If something wasn't going to be adding anything to my life then it was taking away from my life, stealing space and energy. I really do believe there is something to feng shui. With my home in order I was more calm, at peace. I could breathe better. I started doing yoga again.

Michelle's last ballet class before Halloween they were allowed to wear their costumes to class. I told her it was a bad idea, that she'd be too hot and sweaty dancing around in that heavy thing. Sure enough she was sweating buckets. I also didn't want it getting wrecked because she was still going to wear it to the Halloween party at school and then out on Halloween. I was worried about the zipper which was pretty tricky to get up and down. She looked so cute in her little deer costume though and at least she would be warm enough for trick or treating. She wouldn't even have to wear a coat over it. I tried to find something brown for me to wear but even after going through my whole closet I didn't find much brown aside from a light Fall pleather jacket. It would have to do. I'd just wear black pants on the bottom.

Another birthday party. Michelle was a popular girl. It seemed like she had a party or play date just about every week. I was trying to let go a little more and actually left her at the party rather than sticking around. That gave me a couple of hours to myself anyway which I spent continuing my clear out project. I couldn't seem to stop. I went through Michelle's old clothes. I sold some on Kijiji. I gave some to charity. She was growing so fast. She had not only outgrown her size 6 clothes. She was now starting to outgrow size 7. A lot of her pants were too tight. I had to start getting size 10-12 instead of 7-8. It was crazy to think she could fit in size 10 now. Everyone always commented how tall she was. At least her father gave her something. Her name and her height.
Michelle was excited to carve the pumpkins. I always find it a bit of a chore but it was kind of fun. At least Michelle wasn't as squeamish about touching the pumpkin guts so she actually helped me to scoop them out this year. She designed two of the pumpkins -- a witch and a ghost and I did my favourite cat themed pumpkin, this time with an extra wide grin. The actual scooping out is the part that I hate because it takes so long and is such a mess but I love putting the lights in at the end. At the dollar store I got little artificial tea lights that light up without a flame and look just like the real thing -- such a great invention.

I got a picture of us with our carved pumpkins and did the multiple shot setting to see what filters the camera would come up with.

Our ghoul head didn't light up any more but he was still creepy. On Halloween day I always set up a body to sit in the chair on the veranda using an old coat and pants of mine stuffed with pillows and bags and then I stick the ghoul head on top. We got out our old zombie babies and other Halloween decorations too. I got more than enough Halloween treats and managed to (mostly) restrain myself from eating them all before Halloween.

We did a little last minute shopping (some habits die hard) and got a little unicorn costume for Ali. It was too cute not to get it.

Ali simply hated her new unicorn costume but it was adorable and the way that it made Michelle smile and laugh was more than worth it. Ali was not happy and wanted to get out of it.

I managed to get a few photos of her in it at least before she made her escape. We laughed our heads off. Cats really are hilarious when you try to get them to do something they really don't like. If I'm ever feeling really down I can always go to Youtube and watch "Cats afraid of cucumbers" and manage to laugh in spite of myself. I still don't understand what makes cats afraid of cucumbers. (I tried it on Ali and she couldn't have cared less. I guess every cat is different.)

I even got in on the family unicorn portrait with another unicorn headband (also Michelle's).

It would have been great if Michelle had been smiling and Ali had been looking but you can't have everything. Ali was mostly just angry at me for putting the costume on her. I guess I should be grateful she didn't just run away. She was waiting for the right moment. Cats do NOT like wearing clothes. I don't think dogs do either for that matter. As much as they hate it their owners love it because it's just so darn cute.

And then Ali was like "F%^$ this sh#@! I'm outta here!"

I caught her as she started to walk away. I love Michelle's smile here. I finally put Ali out of her misery and took the unicorn costume off of her. I really shouldn't have bought it I suppose. It did pass my new shopping test though: Do I need it? No. Is it useful? No. Do I love it? Hell YES! And even if she only wore it for a few seconds for a few photographs it's worth it. And if I ever really need a laugh or a smile I can take it out again, put it on Ali and let the hilarity ensue.

This shot is priceless. Michelle was riding her bike with her friend when suddenly her brother came out in a creepy mask.

I love Michelle's laugh. Every day Michelle wanted to ride her bike. I didn't even argue with her. I felt like she was making up for lost time. We had gone a month without even trying and then she finally got it once school had started and the cold weather was coming and she wouldn't have that long to enjoy it. Of course Spring and Summer will come again. And maybe by then she'll be on the bigger bike. For now it's still easier to be able to step down on flat feet rather than tippy toes.

Oh deer! My sales resistance was even lower when Michelle was with me. She somehow talked me into getting her this enormous, adorable squishmallow (or whatever it's called) deer pillow. I couldn't say no. Yes I do love it and she loves it. I wasn't supposed to be buying things. I wasn't supposed to be spending money and adding to the clutter after I spent so much time and energy clearing things out. When I was on my own I was pretty disciplined. Just stick to necessities -- groceries, housewares. Things you need. Maybe a small item or two if I really loved it and it was on sale. I hadn't fully acknowledged what a shopoholic I was (a trait inherited from Mom no doubt.) Clearing out the skeletons in my closet forced me to confront and deal with my addictions. Some addictions -- to things like food and shopping are insidious because they don't seem like addictions. It's not like you're doing drugs or drinking. But anything that you carry to excess. Anything that is depleting your resources and hurting rather than helping you in some way. Anything that you do somewhat unconsciously and can't seem to stop and can never get enough of, is an addiction. Addictions are not healthy. They can be very difficult to give up. I was working on it. As in most things I was a work in progress.

And then the big day arrived! Halloween! Michelle went to school in her deer costume. I was worried she'd wreck it before we even got to go out that night.

I picked Michelle up wearing my Mama deer antlers but I hadn't done my full makeup yet. I'd save that for the evening. Michelle was so excited to go trick or treating. She wanted to go right after school. I told her we had to at least wait until dinner time, around 5:30. Even at that some people wouldn't be home from work yet. I did want to get out early though so we could be back in time to answer the door to the trick or treaters. I liked that part too.

And then we were off. It wasn't even dark out yet. Michelle wanted to do her own makeup. She did pretty well. I had fun with my makeup. I had looked online for ideas/suggestions.

We got a lot of compliments on our costumes/makeups. One person mistook Michelle for a giraffe though! I couldn't help but laugh. I guess brown and spotted could be confusing. But she didn't have a long neck! She was nice and toasty warm in her deer outfit with a long sleeved t-shirt and pants underneath. It was great not to have to wear a coat and ruin it like you do with many Halloween costumes. I was glad it didn't rain this year like it has for almost EVERY Halloween for the past six years.


Of all the doors we visited, this Super Bunny was by far the SWEETEST costume EVER! So adorable! I couldn't resist getting a picture. He or she was much more cooperative than my Ali unicorn. She really was a super bunny!

Bunnies are so cute it almost makes me want them until I remember hearing how they chew all the cords in the house if you let them out so you have to keep them in a cage and it's a lot of poo to clean up. Yeah, no. All things considered cats are still the best pets for so many reasons. Even if you can't dress them up or take them anywhere.

What Halloween would be complete without running into an emoji and rainbow poops? Too cute! It was starting to get dark. We had been out for a while and were making our way back home. I was exhausted. Thankfully even Michelle had had enough. Plus she was anxious to give candy to the kids. Yes SHE wanted to do it. I let her even though that was one of my favourite things. It was cute watching her answer the door and give candy to all the kids. She seemed so grown up. Like she was the lady of the house. I wanted to take pictures of her with all the kids at the door but managed to restrain myself. Plus I was busy sorting through her candy. Taking out pieces that were suspect or that I knew she didn't like. She doesn't like anything with peanut butter so those were mine!

Poor Ali. Rainbow unicorn was NOT happy.

Yes we couldn't resist another attempt to get Ali cat into costume. It was Halloween after all. She simply was not having it. This time it lasted about two seconds before she bolted. At least I got one picture. Or two. Or three...

"You know there's a Super Bunny down the street that wears her costume all night! But OK. You do you!"

I restrained myself from photographing every tricker treater at the door but this one I just HAD to get a picture of! This costume was sheer genius! A box made to look like a washing machine, complete with a window and detergent inside and a laundry basket on top for the head with clothes in it! This Mom deserves an A++ for this homemade costume. Very inventive. I absolutely loved it. I wish that I was that ambitious or crafty but it's 1000 times easier to just buy a costume at Spirit Halloween. Of course now that I'm tackling my shopping addiction maybe I won't do that anymore. Maybe next year we'll get more creative and MAKE our costume... Sure. Or just re-purpose the many that we already have! I could be a creepy bear. And Michelle could be...Goldilocks? She already has the hair for it. I'll run it by her. But something tells me she'll pick out another expensive costume and like a sucker I'll get it for her. I thought she could at least use the reindeer outfit again for Christmas time but when we went to take it off Halloween night the zipper broke right off. Sigh. It wasn't cheap either. At least we got through Halloween.

So Halloween was over. After months of waiting and preparing for it, it was gone. Poof. Just like that. Before we knew it November was over, then Christmas, New Year's. It all went so fast.

Now my post is done. Finally. I wanted to finish it in January at least. It seems ridiculous enough to be writing about September and October in January. I couldn't let it go to February. At some point I'd like to catch up somewhat and not be so far behind. I don't know why I worry. It's not as though I have a deadline or anything. No one is asking me to do this! I do this for me. I need to somehow. It is still another way for me to feel that I am in control of my life. Putting this blog together helps me to relive my experiences. To think about what I went through, good and bad, and see where I am now. It helps me. And it's nice to check my stats and know that readers around the globe are following my journey. So if you're one of them, thank you for reading.

Now here I am at the last minute on JANUARY 31st scrambling to get this in on time! Please excuse any typos etc. Editing will have to come later...It's a work in progress, like me.