Friday, March 29, 2019

Life is an Experiment...

I suppose that some people actually like Winter. Kids have fun playing in the snow. Some people enjoy skiing. (I've never been and don't really have an interest, which is good because I've heard it's very expensive and I'd probably break my leg!) Yeah, no I can't even pretend. I just detest Winter. I can't stand the cold. I HATE the snow. Of course I tolerate it for Michelle's sake. I will build a snowman (or snow woman/cat/whatever) if I have to. But if I had my way I would literally NEVER SEE SNOW AGAIN! Like EVER.

For me, Winter is just the WORST. January and February are bleak AF. At least in November and December there's the excitement of CHRISTMAS. January and February are just a frozen hopeless wasteland of death, despair, regret and failed resolutions. I guess if you're in a relationship there's Valentine's Day to look forward to but I don't think even flowers, chocolates or jewelry can pull you out of the abyss that is Winter. Of course some lucky people escape the Winter by going on a tropical holiday... Or DO they?

I tried that ONCE, back in the day. It seemed like a good idea at the time: A temporary refuge from Winter/February/all things cold and awful? Sign me up! I went to Samana, Dominican Republic for a week, for Valentine's Day with my boyfriend at the time. It was beyond beautiful. It was even better than I could have imagined. Turquoise water. Golden sand. Glorious palm trees. For a photoholic, it was HEAVEN! EVERYTHING was a photo op. Photography is like breathing to me so I was breathing deeply and basking in the glory of the most beautiful place I had ever been. To me the photos are almost the best part! I even got to pose with a parrot and a monkey!!! Right?! Yeah it cost $10 per photo but how could you NOT do that?! How often do you have the opportunity to have an adorable capuchin monkey or a colourful parrot on your shoulder?! So yes it was an AMAZING adventure and it did help me to completely escape/forget the horrors of Winter WHILE I WAS THERE. Unfortunately the problem with going to Paradise is YOU DON'T GET TO STAY!

After lying in the sun by the ocean, surrounded by gorgeous palm trees and lush tropical gardens, returning to Canada and bleak barren ugly Old Man Winter (and as luck would have it a full on BLIZZARD when we got home!) was a CRUEL slap in the face. It was devastating. After coming back I actually felt far worse and more depressed than before I left. So now I honestly don't see the point in vacations. Even if I could afford them. To me it's masochistic to have a glimpse of paradise only to return to your own personal Hell. In fact it makes Hell even more unbearable because now you know how beautiful life COULD be and the contrast is SHARP. Once you've tasted the extraordinary, how can you possibly be satisfied with the mundane? I wrote a song about it called "Glimpse of Paradise." Saddest song I ever wrote but it's one of my favourites.

I've heard of some people going on vacation and loving it so much that they actually MOVE there. That makes me SO jealous. Those people are my heroes. They are living the dream. I would have LOVED to do that but I was too chicken so instead I settled for creating a tropical themed backyard when Summer came, complete with sand and hardy tropical plants. Of course it wasn't the same without water but a pool wasn't in the budget. Now I just look forward to Summer and head to a local beach. With Climate Change, living in the tropics is just dangerous anyway. Your home could be washed away. The planet is literally falling apart and Canada is still one of the safer places to live. So I guess I can put up with the cold Winters. I just don't LIKE it.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm still glad that I went on that tropical trip, despite the painful aftermath. I am eternally grateful that I got to see Samana, even though it broke my heart beyond words to leave it. I will cherish those memories and photos for the rest of my life. This is actually why I take so many photos. You have to capture everything as it happens because each moment is precious and will never happen again. I wrote a song in Spanish about Samana called "Deseo." (I looked up the words I didn't know and had a Spanish friend proofread it.) Here's the video. It includes a bunch of photos from the trip. I'm so grateful to have this. So no I don't regret my tropical vacation once upon a time however I learned the hard way that even having an escape from Winter doesn't really help if you still have to come back. So now I just take mental vacations! They're a lot cheaper and easier. I can close my eyes and visualize a tropical beach and I don't even have to wear sunscreen!

But I'm getting a little off topic! This post is supposed to be about January and February 2019. At least now that I'm making my posts a little shorter it's somewhat easier to finish them. I can't believe it, after so many months (years?) of being several months behind I'm actually pretty much caught up! This post is about January and February and I'm actually writing it IN MARCH! Which is much more sensible! This simplifying and scaling down thing just makes blogging easier. It makes life easier too. I try to eliminate stress any way I can these days. Mind you there are always things beyond my control. I can't control the weather, upsetting events or other people, as much as I may want to sometimes...

The new year started out a little disappointing. The first week of January Michelle was home on Christmas break and I wanted to make it fun for her. Ironically while Michelle was home and WANTED it to snow, it didn't. It was just cold, bleak and awful so we mostly stayed inside. You can start to go a little stir crazy when you're cooped up too long.

Michelle had several science kits/STEM projects she'd gotten for Christmas, so we decided to work our way through them. Overall they didn't go very well. The volcano didn't erupt as expected (it was more of a fizzle.) The crystals didn't crystallize like they should have. The slime was more sticky than slimy. The bath bombs BOMBED (the instructions suggested adding more corn starch if it was too sticky/if there was too much humidity -- almost like they expect you to fail. So after a LOT of extra corn starch the bombs dried out so they weren't so wet/sticky but they still wouldn't form into shapes in the mold as they were supposed to.) This is life, I guess. It never looks like the photo on the box. It's never quite what you expect. Then Michelle wanted to try one of the misshapen bath bombs in her bath and got a terrible rash. Good Lord. I wished I hadn't bought the stupid thing. Bad enough it didn't work and now it was causing bodily harm. Michelle has such sensitive skin I shouldn't have even let her try it. It was one of the things she asked for and which I purchased against my better judgment. It was maddening.

Trying to recoup some of my losses (the recovering shopaholic in me hated the idea of throwing money away. Normally I couldn't be bothered returning anything but now I was motivated to save rather than spend money), I returned the slime kit and bath bombs to the stores for refunds but I was still annoyed with the whole experience. Can't anything go right? Can't anything do what it's supposed to? You follow all the instructions and it doesn't work. You do everything right and it's still wrong. Of course, when it comes to experiments the point is that you don't know the results. You try and see what happens. You can follow all of the instructions exactly but your results may vary. There are always unknown variables. I got a picture of Michelle out of the experience at least. She looked adorable in her little dress up doctor outfit as a lab coat. She had fun with the experiments anyway. Even if they didn't quite go as planned.

The experiment/kit that I was the most apprehensive about was the Smithsonian Prehistoric Sea Monsters (Triops) kit. The whole thing gave me the creeps! It was just bizarre to me. I couldn't imagine how you could hatch 220 million year old creatures in a jar. Part of me worried the monsters would go Jurassic Park on us and kill us. Or be like Gremlins and eat too much after midnight and multiply or turn into monsters or something. The creatures on the box were scary looking, fugly things -- like if tadpoles turned evil. Not exactly a selling point. Frankly I wasn't sure I wanted them living in a jar on my kitchen counter. Still, Michelle was psyched about it and I wanted to encourage her scientific curiosity. So one day, white knuckles and all I decided to give it a go. Per instructions we got the jar, filled it with room temperature distilled water and poured in the "eggs" which looked more like dirt. The instructions said to only use half the pack of eggs and save the rest for another time -- the creatures didn't live long and you wanted to get two chances at this hatching experience I guess. We kept the jar under a light as you're supposed to to maintain a constant temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. And we waited. After a couple of days we could see little eggs around the edge, like tiny white pearls, but none of them seemed to hatch. Then finally we had one little lonely speck moving around the jar. He got bigger until he had eyes, antennae and fins that looked almost like wings. He was sort of cute. He looked virtually NOTHING like the photos of Triops on the box (which was actually good in this instance because those things were sort of hideous and horrifying!) It was hard to get a picture of him because he was small and almost invisible and constantly moving but we managed to snap a few where you can sort of see him.

He was cute in a way. We got attached to the little guy. We named him "Teenie." Every day we would go up to the jar and watch him swim around. I've always loved aquariums but wouldn't risk having one because I'd be afraid our cat Ali would attack the fish. Also they're pretty expensive. It was nice to see our little Triop (or whatever he was) swimming around. None of the other eggs ever hatched. Just our one lonely guy. At least he had a lot of room to swim. I was worried about overfeeding him because one tiny pellet is supposed to be divided between two or more Triops but there was just him so I put the one pellet in and hoped for the best. He seemed to be doing OK. They don't live very long, like a few weeks tops. The wording on the box was something like "Once all your Triops are gone (dead), put the other half of the eggs in to hatch." Kind of morbid/heartless but I guess that's scientific detachment for you.

It was an exercise in Mindfulness watching Teenie. If I was feeling stressed out I would watch him gliding gracefully through the water and it was sort of soothing. It helped me to be present. What was there to worry about after all? There is just this moment. And this moment is OK. This tiny translucent guy swimming around in distilled water wasn't worried about anything. If he could be happy in his little jar then what did I have to complain about? Sometimes Teenie would come right to the edge of the glass and appear to look me in the eyes. Of course he was probably just seeing his own reflection but I swear it seemed like he was looking right at me. I looked forward to seeing him each day. Michelle loved him too. Sometimes he was hard to find for a second or two because he was almost invisible/see-through but then there he would be darting around.

We made a series of videos but this one turned out the best as far as actually being able to SEE him. I'm so glad that I got videos and photos because he didn't last long. Not even as long as expected.

One day when I went to check on Teenie he was just gone. Vanished. I thought if he'd died I'd see him floating on the top but no. Then I thought maybe he was in the sand which was like finding a needle in a haystack because he was white/clear like the sand. Finally I saw him lying there, his little black eyes. I cried. I'd only known him a couple of weeks and I'd gotten attached. Michelle was sad when I told her but she didn't cry. She's more resilient than Mama.

So all of our experiments were disappointing but Teenie was the most heartbreaking. Losing someone or something that you've grown attached to is toughest of all. It was silly of me of course. But I couldn't help it. It's how I'm made. Sentimental fool. Impossible to be a detached scientist. Damn you, Smithsonian! I mean, I got the kit on sale but still. They should have warnings on the box:
1. Your results may vary. Out of all the eggs only one may hatch and he won't look ANYTHING like the Triops on the box. (Come to think of it he probably wasn't even a Triop at all! But what WAS he? After looking at images online I think he may actually have been a Fairy Shrimp...)
2. DO NOT GET ATTACHED to your sea monsters if one actually does hatch. They will not live very long. Maybe only 10 days. DO NOT name them. Naming them makes you even more attached.

It was a bummer. I'm still grateful for the experience even though we only got to know him for a few days. Still the last thing I needed was another heartbreak when I'm already trying to heal. And it just sounds ridiculous to say that you're crying because you started to care about your child's science experiment. Yeah, sometimes life just sucks. No unicorns. No rainbows.

We needed a little cheering up. We went to see Mary Poppins Returns. Our expectations were high and we were not disappointed. It was amazing. It did justice to the original. It was so beautiful and magical that it really helped me to forget and to escape the stresses and realities of my own life. I almost wished I could step into the world on the screen. Part of me wishes life could be like that. And sometimes, in small ways, it is. Art, music, beauty, laughter, adventure can transform your life but much of the time you are just caught up in the mundane and unpleasant aspects of life. And some days it wears you down.

I was reading books about yoga, mindfulness, meditation. I was learning about concepts like non-judgment and non-attachment, radical acceptance of life just as it is. I WANTED to live that way but it is such a struggle for me to put into practice. I judge things as pleasant or unpleasant. I get attached (even to teenie Triops after ten days). I try to be more resilient but sometimes I still feel like I'm falling apart.

Michelle was happy to be back at school. I couldn't believe the whole Christmas break had gone by without snow and then it snows when she has to go to school. Murphy's Law I guess. Whatever you don't want is EXACTLY what will happen. Michelle was happy to see the snow anyway.

I was glad that Michelle was a happy, healthy, enthusiastic, friendly girl. Mama was not doing quite so well.

January is a bit of a kick in the teeth. All the Christmas bills roll in, you make resolutions it's too hard to keep, it's cold and bleak and depressing. To make matters worse, after all my newfound financial responsibility I suffered a couple of setbacks money-wise. It didn't seem fair after I'd been doing so well. Even people who don't suffer from anxiety would be upset about a cheque (or two) not coming in when expected. I was trying to hold it together but there were things beyond my control and I'm never a fan of that. Sometimes it felt like every time I tried to feel a little bit empowered the rug would be pulled out from under me.

There was one aggravation after another but it went from bad to worse. My toilets hadn't worked properly in months which was increasingly annoying. The toilet on the upper floor wouldn't fill back up with water after you flushed so you'd have to lift the lid every single time and touch down on the little screw thingy (the gauge on the water intake valve) to make it fill with water. The toilet on the main floor was the reverse -- after you flushed it wouldn't STOP running water so you'd have to open up the lid and touch the thing to make it stop. It was a nuisance having to do it EVERY bloody time you went to the washroom, especially when you were in a hurry.

Then one day when everything was already going wrong, things went even more wrong. I reached my breaking point, literally. After going to the bathroom, I went to put the toilet lid back on for the millionth time and it almost fell out of my hands. It scared me to death (my nerves were already shot and that didn't help) and I was so angry that when I went to sit (slam?) the lid down a little overzealously, expletives flying, it SMASHED. IN HALF! "Jeez--Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME?!" I screamed. I couldn't believe it. Actually I could believe it because it was par for the course at this point. Bad enough my toilets were broken. Now this one was REALLY broken. Good Lord. Well what could I do? I thought I could just buy a new toilet lid. Then I thought maybe I could just leave the broken piece off. It would look like Hell but at least that way I could reach inside and touch the thing to make it stop running water without having to lift the whole heavy lid. Nope. Not a good idea! I reached in to try it. The edge of the broken porcelain was SHARP AF. I accidentally sliced my thumb open. Because of course I did. It was bleeding like a mo-fo. Now I had to bandage it and hurry because I had to pick up Michelle from school. I love my life.

Needing to vent about everything I called my sister in tears at one point sobbing "Everything is going wrong! Can't ONE SINGLE FUCKING THING WORK JUST ONCE?! Everything is a fail. None of the experiments worked. Teenie's dead. I smashed my toilet in half..."
My poor sister was like "Wait...What...? Smashed your toilet? Who's Teenie?"
I definitely won the sister lottery. Somehow I always feel better after talking to May. She is like this incredibly sweet, sane, wise, non-judgmental, calm voice of reason and always makes you feel better no matter what is going on. She's better than a therapist. Better than a best friend. She is an angel. Even when she has her own problems to stress about. And she always makes me laugh. She is the best sister and best friend anyone could have and I am grateful beyond words to have her in my life. I just wish I lived closer to her. Talking to May helped a lot. I wasn't the only one with failed experiments. Reggie had gotten one of those slime kits for Christmas too and the slime wasn't slimy! And nothing works the way it's supposed to and everything goes wrong. It wasn't just me. May had many other worries and stresses to contend with. And of course everyone does. Some people have it much MUCH worse. This is life. Sometimes it just sucks. It helped to vent but the bottom line was now I REALLY needed to do something about this toilet business.

In a funny way, breaking the toilet lid was actually a good thing because it lit a fire under me. I had been annoyed with the broken toilets for a long time but not enough to do anything about them. Now I was REALLY motivated to fix them. I went to Home Depot for a new toilet lid because I actually thought that was possible. Unfortunately they don't sell toilet LIDS. They only sell ENTIRE TOILETS for $200+. That was really not working for me. While I was in the store however I saw a Universal All in One Toilet Repair Kit for $35. I bought it on an impulse. It said it was easy to install. I had my doubts but I was desperate at this point. I was sick of lifting a heavy toilet lid every single friggin time I went to the bathroom (which, given my IBS was OFTEN!) Now I even had a broken lid. Online a new lid was $90. That wasn't working for me either. I decided I would just Krazy Glue the lid. At least once the toilet was fixed I wouldn't have to keep lifting the lid every time. The broken lid was kind of a metaphor for my breakdown -- I will live with a bad situation for a long time and just make do and put up with it until it becomes so unbearable that I crack and it forces me to do something to change.

I called a plumber just to see what they would charge to install this kit for me. They wanted $125+. No, I thought. I will do it myself. I'll try anyway.

I decided to adopt a new philosophy that "Life is an experiment" and to step outside my comfort zone to attempt things that I previously would have thought were impossible for me. The instructions were DAUNTING. I couldn't believe at one point you even have to hack saw through a pipe?! I didn't think I had a hack saw but when I looked through my tools, I actually DID! My Mom must have bought it for me. I had everything I needed (except a plumber's wrench which I borrowed from a neighbour.) It was so out of character for me. I am NOT handy. I was WAY outside my comfort zone. Somehow against all odds I survived fixing my first toilet and bought another kit to repair the second.

This time I decided to film it and put it on Youtube. I wanted to inspire other women like me who would normally never attempt something like this. Women like me who tend to doubt themselves. I wanted to show them "Yes you can!"

Here is the video on Youtube: "How to fix a toilet/install a Fluidmaster Universal All in One Toilet repair kit." It was enormously gratifying and empowering to make those repairs myself. There were so many things beyond my control but this was something that I could take charge of. And it wasn't easy and it wasn't fun but I got through it step by step. I was feeling stronger. I was feeling better. "I am woman, hear me roar!" Sure.

Apparently I'm not the only one who's not a fan of January. January is so friggin bleak there is even a day they call "Blue Monday:" A day that is supposed to be the most depressing of the year. The third Monday of the month. I'm not sure how you can actually calculate something like that (a formula based on weather conditions, debt level, the aftermath of Christmas, failing resolutions, lagging motivation) but it made sense to me. January and February just suck, period. Call it Seasonal Affective Disorder or just Canada Problems but to me in the bleak mid-winter they are almost all blue Mondays and Tuesdays and every day of the friggin week. Black and blue. Depressed and stressed. Perfect combo.

There were so many dark days. Days so grey you couldn't see the sun. On one particularly bleak day I looked up and there was just the faintest bit of a rainbow trying to peek through the clouds. "I need a rainbow," I thought. "I NEED unicorns and rainbows." I need something really beautiful and happy to happen because I'm so tired of the darkness and the problems and the mess.

And of course Michelle is my unicorns and rainbows. Even on the darkest day she wouldn't lose her smile. She was having fun with play dates and parties. At least one of us had a social life. I'm glad that she's outgoing. The opposite of Mama. 

I don't really mind not having a social life. As an introvert I actually prefer being alone and now that I'm a Mom there is very little time that I ever get to be alone. Of course I love being with Michelle but everyone needs a break once in a while. Being able to drop her off at a party and have a couple of hours to myself to get things done was a godsend. I was getting better at letting go. I still worry but I figure it's good for her to have some time away from me.

Generally I don't get lonely. Michelle is my world and spending time with her is all that I need. Of course it is nice to talk to other adults once in a while. My Mom calls every day. I try to see my sister regularly but in the winter, with the bad weather I didn't want to make any long trips. I'm grateful to have my therapists' support.

Live tweeting my shows on Twitter is about as close as I get to a "social" life. It is nice to connect with other people online. I still can't believe I have over 10K followers! It used to be over 11K but then many disappeared after a Twitter purge. In real life there are very few people that I feel connected with.

One day Michelle told me I was her best friend. It was so sweet to hear. "And you're mine, sweetheart. Always."

Michelle and me always love going to Auntie May's. She has a ball running amok with Reggie and I enjoy talking and laughing with May, Shannon and Mom. Somehow they always make me laugh. During a long cold winter, I really needed a laugh. Some days were very dark in more ways than one. It always amazed me how enthusiastic Michelle is. She definitely doesn't get it from me. She looks at the sunny side of life all the time. I wish I was more like that. Sometimes everything is such a mess it's tough to see the sunny side. 

 Michelle drew this adorable family portrait of herself, Ali and me. She refers to Ali as her "furry older sister." Like most older sisters, Ali can be moody. Sometimes you just have to keep your distance and let her be. Other times she can be very sweet and loving.

I love my girls so much. On the darkest of days, they keep me going. Michelle makes me smile and laugh. Her hugs and kisses and sweet love notes melt my heart. Ali reminds me to be calm. The sound of her purring is so soothing, it helps me to find my zen. I'd been reading so many books on mindfulness, meditation, finding your peace but when it came to real life, it was often hard to put it into practice. I could find my zen while I was petting the cat, or reading, or doing yoga. It was a little harder when I felt tired and frustrated and everything seemed to go wrong.

The snow that had eluded us over Christmas break was HERE, with a vengeance. During her first two years of school I think Michelle had ONE snow day total. Now, this year, we had SEVEN snow days. One right after another. Sometimes two in a row. It was crazy. Michelle loved the snow so she didn't mind. I was relieved at least not to have to rush her to school in the morning. The school would leave a message in the morning if school was cancelled due to inclement weather (because when buses were cancelled, they just closed the school.) The calls always came in around 6-6:30 am. So when I heard the phone ring, I knew. I'd crawl back into bed, turn off the alarm and hope that Michelle slept in. Sometimes she actually did and it was beautiful. She'd look at the clock and ask "Wait? Is today a school day?" and I'd tell her that no it was a snow day. The problem with snow days is that she wants to play in the snow and it's not my favourite. I also hate shoveling.

Despite my hatred of winter, snow and all things icy, I do try to be a good sport for Michelle's sake. I told her we could build a snowman together later, after I'd shoveled the driveway, chiseled out the car etc.

I even made snowman pancakes for breakfast. She loved them. I wanted to make our "Snow Day" special. It was nice having a day during the week to be together when she would normally be at school.

I was glad that the snow days weren't on days when I had my therapy appointments. I didn't want to have to drag Michelle with me. I was grateful for therapy. It helped to have someone objective to help me process what I was going through. I told her about fixing my own toilets and how empowering that was. It was a positive change. Everyone agreed I was on the right track. I was taking control of my life, dealing with issues instead of avoiding them. 

It wasn't just snowing. It was freezing rain which wasn't exactly pleasant to be in but it did make for good packing snow and we were able to build a Snow Mama, Snow Michelle and Snow Ali.

I finally had proper snow pants because I found a pair on sale at Canadian Tire (yes I have officially turned into my mother!) I used to just make do with splash pants over track pants but the snow went right through and my legs would be wet and freezing.

Despite the freezing rain it was sort of fun I guess. I mostly just couldn't wait to get back inside and warm up/dry off/have a hot chocolate but it was nice to see Michelle having fun and I'm always happy for a photo op (though I was worried about my camera getting wet!)

Then one day Michelle wanted to have
a "Fashion Show" and dress up in pretty dresses while I narrated her various fashions and took photos. It's hard to say which one of us loves this more: Michelle the girly girl LOVES dresses up and posing and I ADORE taking photographs. So it's win-win. She's growing so fast that some of her old dresses are way too small. She's already wearing girls' size 10! She was a 7 like yesterday. Now that I'm a recovering shopaholic I see how reckless it was to buy so many clothes for her when she outgrows them so fast. Some of them really are adorable though. I was so happy to have a girl. How could I resist buying her pretty dresses?! Now I'm sad that some of the best places to buy girls' dresses (like Sears) have gone out of business. The retail apocalypse keeps claiming more stores. Now Payless Shoes, my favourite shoe store is closing. At least I did my part to save the economy!

Michelle was extremely nervous about her first ballet recital coming up. She'd had piano recitals but this was different. She'd have to dance up on a stage in a real theatre (a big beautiful theatre! It was intimidating!)

I was excited for her (and a bit nervous). I knew she would do well. I made ballerina pancakes to celebrate the day and she loved them. I was worried they were a little misshapen and she might not even realize what they were supposed to be but she knew instantly.

"BALLERINAS!" she exclaimed, excited, before devouring them.

I could certainly understand stage fright. I'd been there myself many times -- from high school plays and talent shows to singing on stages before hundreds of strangers as an adult (singing at the River Run Centre and the Bluebird Cafe were a couple of the scariest and most rewarding experiences as a songwriter.) There were times I was so nervous I thought I'd throw up. But something happens to you when you get out there on stage. It's like you're home. Fear turns into excitement. I told her it's natural to feel the fear, but the desire outweighs the fear. To do what you love and share it with the world is the greatest joy. I told her that she would love it. That it would be fun and exciting and over in a few seconds so just enjoy it while it lasts. Plus I reminded her she wouldn't be alone on stage. She'd have the rest of her class there with her. And when it was over she could relax and watch the rest of the dancers do their routines.

While we were waiting for her turn to go up on stage Michelle was happy to see one of her friends and they got to sit and talk and laugh together to get over their nerves.

It was a long show with a lot of acts showcasing all kinds of dancers and Michelle would only be on stage for a couple of minutes with her ballet class. I enjoyed watching the whole show though. It wasn't often that I got to see live performances in a theatre. It was a treat to get to watch ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, such a variety of creative performances. It was beautiful. There were so many talented girls. I couldn't wait to see my little star up there. When it was time to bring her backstage I was a bit of a nervous wreck. I hurried back to my seat, anxious to see her. I was a little sad that my family couldn't be there. I didn't even invite them because I knew it was too far to go and too difficult. Maybe one day if Michelle has a dance solo I'll try to get everyone to come.

I took a video of Michelle's dance and posted it so that my family could see her. She's dancing to an instrumental of "Sky full of stars." I started to tear up watching my little girl dance on stage. She's still so young and yet my baby is such a big girl already.

The girls were told to wear black, silver and white. Michelle had her black bodysuit and skirt. I wanted her to wear stockings. We found these black ones with stars on them that I didn't even know she had and they were perfect. Legs full of stars! The video isn't that good (the lights are so bright on her face that sometimes you can't even SEE her face) but it was still nice to have captured the moment and be able to show the family. 
Another day, another party. Michelle was living the fabulous life: ballet recitals, parties, fashion shows. Mama's life was decidedly less glamorous -- dealing with stress and disappointment, breaking toilets and fixing them.

I enjoyed seeing Michelle happy because then it felt like at least I got something right. And in a way I could live vicariously through her. I was glad that she got to have all of these experiences I never had as a kid. My Mom is always saying how much Michelle is like me but she is a VAST improvement! It's like she's living my better life. The one I didn't get to live. She is a living, breathing embodiment of my precious inner child and I can encourage, nurture, support and love her to live up to her full potential. In a weird way it is healing for my own inner child. We can never go back in the past and changed what happened to us but we can give a better life to our children. We can give them the happy endings we had longed for.

Michelle is fearless!

She had a ball at the gymnastics party. She would LOVE to take gymnastics of course but it's way too expensive. I reminded her how lucky she is to have her piano and ballet lessons (which were my dream as a child and I never got to take them.) At least she got to experience gymnastics a little bit at a couple of these parties. She got to walk on a beam, hang on a bar etc. And of course jumping in the foam blocks is always a crowd pleaser.

I'm sooooo glad that Michelle isn't into sports because they are EXTREMELY expensive not to mention dangerous and I have absolutely NO interest in them so it would be even more excruciating to spend that money and then have to be a part of that community. I would support Michelle in whatever she wanted to do but I breathe a HUGE sigh of relief that she's not into sports (yet and hopefully not EVER!)

ANOTHER snow day! Michelle was actually a little bummed out that she wasn't able to toboggan down the hill that I'd painstakingly built for her (it would have been easier to shovel the driveway and scoop the snow off to the side instead of gathering it all to make a mountain that was just a disappointment anyway.)

Some days it felt like I couldn't do anything right. Some days I can just throw myself a big old pity party. I tell myself that all the things I do for Michelle are taken for granted (but really she is a very affectionate, loving and grateful girl most of the time.) Everything I try to do goes wrong. Everyone I encounter is frustrating. For a while I had been feeling empowered -- fixing things around the house gave me a sense of accomplishment, like I could take control and get things done. Now it seemed that every time I tried to feel more positive the rug was pulled out from under me, time and again. It was so discouraging.

And then, the dreaded February. The shortest and cruelest month of all. February has always been tough for me. I call if FebRUEary because it's just SAD. For me, February has a history of betrayal, heartbreak and disappointment, so why should this one be any different? It started out darkly, as expected though there were some very unpleasant surprises in store. Michelle got sick. As every parent knows there's nothing worse than when your kid is sick. It's just AWFUL. She coughed all night and I couldn't sleep. Sleep deprivation is like depression. You feel heavy, like you're dragged down by a magnified sense of gravity and everything that goes wrong feels 100 times worse. As with January, it felt like everything was a fail. I had been so disciplined tackling my shopaholic addiction, yet it felt like I was being punished when new financial setbacks surfaced. (A more positive way to look at it would have been "Well thank God I'm not spending money anymore because there isn't any coming in!" All I could think was it's not fair when I try to do the right thing and it's all for naught.) I was starting to feel empowered until I was confronted by things I couldn't fix. My freezer started leaking every day instead of every other day. My printer wasn't working. I had computer and cable issues. It's hard when it feels like nothing works and you feel broken yourself. 
The sad part was that I was just starting to feel like I was making some progress, making "functional gains" as one of my therapists put it. But just as I start to say "I got this!" there's some unforeseen slap in the face to remind me "Nope. You SO don't got this." Doubt sets in. It's crushing. Maybe I'm not doing so well. Maybe I'm still a mess. Maybe I can't handle anything. The wind was knocked out of my sails and I wondered if I was doing better at all. Some days were just so discouraging. It dragged the hope out of me. Everything seemed to go wrong. It wore me down. One day with one of my therapists I just cried and cried. I told her that when things are going well and I'm feeling good, it feels so tenuous. I kind of don't trust it. I expect it to end. But when things go badly and I feel terrible, it's so real. It feels permanent. Like I'm always going to feel that way. And the losses feel like they undo the wins. It's like any progress I thought I'd made is obliterated. "That's a really interesting insight to have. But just remember, the losses don't undo the wins. Be proud of how far you've come, the work you're doing. A bad day or experience doesn't diminish that." Of course as my other therapist had explained to me long ago, it's not just me. It's human nature. The negative sticks. We naturally pay more attention to it. You could get 10 compliments and 1 insult and guess what you're going to dwell on? I was trying to learn to undo these unhelpful thinking styles but sometimes it's hard because the negative seems true. Perception is reality. Hard to shake that. 
Some days it seemed like everyone was against me. One day I felt like literally everyone was just trying to be as rude and mean as they could be to me. Every driver cut me off. No one would let me in. Everyone was abrupt with me. Everyone scowled. Everything annoyed me. Sometimes it feels like I'm just in this negative vibration and attracting the negative. The problem is the more I notice it, the stronger the negative gets so it becomes this vicious cycle of awfulness. After a long day dealing with unpleasant people I even had a woman randomly pick a fight with me at a pizza place. Bitches be hangry, I guess. I was tired of it.

I found a doormat online that says "Hell is other people." I was almost tempted to get it! I honestly just don't understand people. I mean I always had bad luck with men but I have even worse luck with women. So many times in the past when I thought someone had my back they stabbed me in it instead. Now it happened again.

Friendship turned out to be yet another failed experiment. There was an acquaintance who wanted to hang out with me, started texting regularly etc. (I'm always baffled when someone wants to spend time with me but it was kind of nice. She told me I was funny.) I almost thought of her as a friend for like 2 minutes... And then she turned on me. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. It was hurtful. And then I wished I hadn't even bothered. I was better off alone.

It's like I opened a can of worms or Pandora's box. I wish I didn't let things get to me. I'm sensitive and take things to heart. I shouldn't let people steal my peace but I often do. I don't get close to many people. Michelle is my world, May is my best friend and I talk to my Mom every day. Aside from that I don't interact with a lot of people. When you let someone in, when they get to know you you run the risk that they will reject or ridicule you. They may judge rather than accept you. It's hard when you're already critical of yourself, when you're already going through therapy and trying to heal, to have someone else tear you down.

As a Single Mom I often feel like no one can relate to me. I don't fit in with the Real Housewives of Suburbia. Though we were very different it seemed my new "friend" and I had some things in common at least. It wasn't long before I learned the hard way that we had some drastic differences and opposing views. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. It is futile to argue. You'll never convert an atheist or awaken a Trump supporter. Some things can't be fixed or controlled and you just have to let go. I'm not a fan of confrontation. I'd prefer to avoid it when possible. In parenting, as in most things there are strong opinions and various camps that will NEVER see eye to eye. But it isn't fair to "Mom shame" someone that you don't agree with, to force your opinions down their throats, to make them wrong for doing things their own way. I've seen it so many times: Attachment parents vs Detachment/dictator parents (you can tell which side I'm on! LOL). Career moms vs stay at home moms. I've listened to Moms bully and berate other Moms and talk behind their backs. "She can't even CONTROL her kids! She lets them do ANYTHING!" Women can be so judgmental and cruel with each other. Let me just say "STAY IN YOUR OWN LANE MOMS! I don't give a damn how you raise your kids. Don't tell me how to raise mine. I happen to think I've got an awesome kid and I'm doing a pretty good job without your unsolicited advice."

It's tough. The thing is most of us carry so much Mom guilt as it is, the last thing we need is someone trying to insinuate we're doing something wrong as a mother. It's like you can do no right. No matter what you do someone will find fault with it. And this is a sensitive subject for me. I can fail at everything else but being a Mom is the most important thing to me. NOTHING matters more to me than Michelle so I don't take kindly to criticism of my parenting skills. Don't get me wrong. I'm the first to admit I'm not perfect. I'm human and I make mistakes. If I inadvertently wrong someone I am more than willing to apologize and make amends. But if someone just wants to attack me and tear me down, that's not OK. I will not apologize or ask permission to be who I am, to do what I love. I will not compromise my values or beliefs to suit someone else. I know I'm a little different and not everyone's cup of tea but if you don't like me, just let me be. Dear Haters: (I'll speak up for those in the back) IF YOU CAN'T SAY SOMETHING NICE, SAY NOTHING. IF YOU DON'T LIKE ME THEN JUST LEAVE ME ALONE! I look forward to NEVER hearing from you again. It should be sort of obvious but you are not required to be in my life. If you don't like me, then let me be.

It's happened to me time and again -- girls who seem to want to befriend me but then turn on me. It baffles me. I will NEVER understand the whole frenemy thing. Someone gets close to you and earns your trust just to turn around and sabotage you in some way. I know there's a saying "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer." Frankly I don't want to be anywhere near my enemies. I am admittedly not a very good Christian. I find it hard to forgive. I've never been good at "turning the other cheek." Once someone hurts me I will NOT give them the opportunity to strike me again. I loved the movie Mean Girls but I don't want to live in it. I don't need frenemies in my life -- deceptive, two-faced, passive-aggressive, pot-stirring, underhanded snakes who will smile to your face then stab you in the back. No thank you.

My new frenemy deeply offended me on many levels. The worst part was she knew that I'd had a breakdown and was in therapy and she mocked me for it. Until and unless you have been diagnosed with a mental illness and are going through therapy don't presume that someone else's reactions to things should be exactly the same as yours. Some people feel more deeply. Some people struggle more. You can't tell a depressed person to just "get over it," or someone gripped by anxiety that they're "blowing things out of proportion" when you HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE GOING THROUGH AND WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE THEM. If you thoughtlessly lash out at someone who is fragile, it may not seem like much to you but it may shatter them. Especially at a point when they are already broken and trying to heal. My frenemy was dismissive, insulting, condescending (at one point she even said "Well I'm no therapist but..." That's right. You're not a therapist so don't talk about things you don't understand. Don't invalidate my feelings. Don't diminish and discount my experience. And don't presume to tell me how to live my life. I'm not you and I never will be.) I'm not sure if she was just clueless or deliberately cruel, it didn't matter. The damage was done. I just wanted her to go away. She finally backed off. I told her that I needed my peace and arguing with her (she was sending me 20 hostile texts a day at one point) was the opposite of peace.

I was never a fan of criticism. Of course there is "constructive criticism" which is meant to gently encourage improvement rather than just harshly discourage someone. Unfortunately, to me most criticism is DESTRUCTIVE. It drags you down and when your self-esteem isn't terribly strong to start with, it can be crushing. My own inner critic is pretty scathing and I've been trying to work on being more kind to myself. When random haters attack me on Twitter I just block them. I don't have time for that. Of course my mother has never had a filter and she insults me just about every time I talk to her but she's my MOM and I love her unconditionally so I put up with it (though sometimes I do hang up on her after a real zinger! She's a Scorpio. They can sting.) When it comes to family, there is nothing they could do or say that could make me stop loving them. When it comes to anyone else however, especially a stranger or an acquaintance who was barely even a friend, if you are toxic and are just going to hurt me, I don't want or need that in my life. No fucking thank you. I would rather be alone than around someone who doesn't care about my well-being. So just go away. You can hate me from a distance. Or maybe get a life of your own so you don't have to waste time hating me.

I don't generally feel the need to surround myself with people anyway. As an introvert I need time alone. Extroverts derive their energy from others and love being surrounded by people. Introverts derive their energy within, often from creative pursuits. Being surrounded by others can actually drain their energy. The good thing to come out of the whole ridiculous experience was that I realized the one person I can count on to always have my back is ME. It's liberating to be self-sufficient and independent because no one can take that from you. No one can let you down. It's much better that way.

I was kind of relieved that Michelle was the opposite of me -- an extrovert who made friends easily and got along with everyone. But even Michelle had her disappointments. There was one friend who used to be really close who seemed to be growing distant and kept letting her down. I hate to see Michelle hurt or disappointed but I know that it's part of growing up and helps to build resilience. I told her to just give the friend their space. People change and grow apart. It's a fact of life. Sometimes you have to let go. Luckily she was able to take it in stride. She had so many other friends she didn't have to worry about losing one. Later she told me that she and her friend were playing together at school again. So it was OK. Michelle was much more forgiving than Mama. She would give people second, third, fourth and fifth chances. I was pretty much done after one. But then Michelle loves to be surrounded by people and I'd rather keep to myself so I guess it makes sense. I'm glad that my girl is kind and loving, even to people who aren't nice to her. I really suck at that. I love you, Jesus but "loving my enemies" and "praying for my persecutors" is my Kryptonite. I literally can't even.

I really wish I didn't let things get to me. I'm passionate and intense. I feel deeply. I wear my heart on my sleeve. It makes me an easy target unfortunately. I was reading about mindfulness and meditation, concepts like "non-attachment" where you just let things be. You accept things and people as they are without labeling them as pleasant or unpleasant. Even if someone insults you you just say "Is that so?" No matter what happens "Is that so?" Like you just don't give a shit. It takes the power away from anyone who tries to hurt you. (I guess it's like Jesus turning the other cheek in a way.)

It would be incredibly liberating and powerful to reach a point where you just don't care what anyone says or does, to remain detached, to have this unshakable sense of inner peace and nothing gets to you. But I am not a wise, all-seeing, patient, self-actualized monk meditating on a mountaintop. I'm a stressed out Single Mom in therapy. I WANT to learn to find inner peace. A peace that no one and nothing can hijack from me. It's just hard as hell! I've been reading and studying so many books on mindfulness, meditation, zen. The thing is you can't learn to swim by reading a book about it. You have to dive in and try and fail and practice until you get it. Reading about mindfulness and meditation would only get me so far. I had to practice. This was an experiment worth doing. I started to meditate and practice mindfulness techniques. It worked for a few minutes at least. I could find my zen, just as I could during yoga, but I couldn't seem to hold onto it. I found this meme "Let that shit go" and loved it. I really wish I could just smile and shrug when faced with adversity but it's tough.

My therapist pointed out that mindfulness doesn't mean not having any negative emotions. Mindfulness is being present, open, non-judgmental and accepting of whatever feelings come up. And we have a right to be angry sometimes. Or sad or anxious. We can observe these feelings and reactions without beating ourselves up over it. We can learn to be compassionate with ourselves, to practice radical acceptance. We are human. We are not perfect. And some days just suck. And sometimes we are just tired and frustrated and angry and hurt. It's OK. And it's OK to cry. It's not a sign of weakness. It doesn't mean I'm not strong. It means I am able to feel and express my emotions. It is cathartic. I needed to trust myself more. I got this. It's OK.

After fixing my toilets I figured anything else would be a cake walk so I decided to tackle another home improvement project -- installing a new shower head. I found one that was regularly $40 for $13 so I went for it. It only took about 5 minutes. It was a treat to look at the instructions -- pretty much just THREE steps as opposed to TEN with the toilets. I made a video of it as well to post on Youtube because I wanted to inspire other women, especially single Moms like me. For so long I never would have attempted doing anything like that myself. I just always told myself I wasn't handy. Life is an experiment and sometimes you try things and they actually work out. That is incredibly empowering.

Though I don't generally get to take photos DURING Michelle's ballet class (which KILLS me, let me tell you! I'd love to be right in there, snapping away rather than outside a door trying to catch a glimpse through the little window) I usually insist on getting some after class. Michelle loves to have the wide open space to practice her grand jétés. A lot of the action shots turn out blurry but I managed to catch a couple of shots where she pretty much NAILED IT! Michelle can do the splits, even flying in mid-air. It's amazing. As a little girl it was my dream to be a ballerina and I never got to take lessons. It melts my heart to see Michelle getting to live out her dreams. To watch her literally take a leap and fly.

Whenever I am feeling down I remember how lucky I am to have my girl. She is such a miracle. I am grateful for every detour and bump in the road that led me to her. And I am grateful for every winding twist and turn on our journey. Even on my worst day, I am blessed.

Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. You can't take yourself so seriously. I think as women, and especially as mothers, we can be so hard on ourselves. We stress ourselves out trying to be perfect when no one can be. And even the ones who appear to be perfect and have it all together (those shiny happy Instagram worthy lives) are grappling with their own issues. Everyone has their struggles. Some people are just better at hiding it. So don't stress yourself out, worrying that you're not good enough. Just take each day as it comes and roll with it. And for God's sake find a way to laugh because it is absolutely a survival mechanism.

Being at my sister May's ALWAYS makes me laugh. It is my happy place. I am so grateful for that. I was always surprised when I'd hear women complain that they hated their sisters. Some were estranged and didn't speak for years. My sister is my best friend. The bottom line is though if someone is hurting you, if you have irreconcilable differences, sometimes it's best to let go. No matter who it is. Sibling rivalry seems to be more common than not. I guess some sisters can be like frenemies, jealous and competitive. I always wish nothing but the best for May and she for me. I can't imagine it any other way. But it seems to be the exception rather than the rule. The great thing about having a sister who's your best friend is that she's been there all along. She knows and understands you better than anyone. She's seen you through everything. There are so many memories, so many inside jokes, so many things you couldn't share with anyone else. Yeah, May is THE BEST.

So it was another great visit at May's. It was the first time I'd seen May or my Mom since Michelle's ballet recital. May set up the big screen so we could watch the recital video on it. The search had a fancy voice recognition feature but when they tried saying my name -- Ann Marie Pincivero -- the search came up with some hilarious interpretations/suggestions:

Sometimes for fun I would set up the self-timer with my Canon camera's built in creative multi-shot feature. Once in a while it came up with some cool random effects like this black and white shot with a rainbow vignette filter. I am such a photoholic. Of all the things in my life two that give me the most joy are Michelle and photography. It's largely why I continue to do this blog. This is my celebration of our moments. I am so grateful to have this. I'm tired of people telling me (my mother included!) that I shouldn't reveal so much, that it's too personal, that I post too many photos, blah blah blah. Please let me have this. This makes me happy. If you don't like it you don't have to read it. In this god forsaken world if you find something that makes you happy then do it, enjoy it. And don't let anyone make you wrong for it.

Michelle wants to save the world. She wanted to join the Earth Rangers. She'd seen the commercials and wanted to be involved. So we got her registered online. She was excited to get her official Earth Rangers card. Earth Rangers gives you missions to try to save the planet in small ways. We turned the thermostat down a few degrees to save energy. We unplugged appliances that weren't in use. We always recycle. I don't use much energy as far as lighting because I rarely put my overhead lights on. In the day the daylight is enough and at night I just use a small light by the bed for reading.

Michelle loves animals and wanted to do whatever she could to help. She wanted to be an "animal saving hero" like in the commercials. At school she started picking up litter on the school grounds during her lunch breaks. She was always doing her part to help.

She made this adorable poster to "Save the seals." She raised money for her first fund-raising campaign. Contributed comments to the Earth Rangers blog and enjoyed playing the games.

Michelle's generation will have to care about the environment and will hopefully work to reduce the damage caused by previous generations. Already the effects of Climate Change have been catastrophic. I worry about the world in Michelle's future. Meanwhile irresponsible and selfish leaders like Trump who care more about profits than people would continue to rape, pillage and pollute the planet without worrying about the consequences. He wanted to bring back COAL for crying out loud. #ImpeachTrump. (I can't believe it hasn't happened yet.)
We went to see the new Lego Movie: Lego Movie 2: The Second Part in 3D. It was AMAZING. We LOVED it! One of my favourite parts was a song "Everything's not awesome." It's an antidote to the original, much more positive and upbeat "Everything is Awesome!" The song pretty much summed up what I'd been feeling in January and February -- life isn't all unicorns and rainbows. I so WANT it to be but sometimes it just SUCKS. But that doesn't mean you have to lose all hope and see the world as an Apocalyptic Hell. You just deal with things. Try to have more realistic expectations. Realize that shit happens. I loved it so much. It's like they read my mind. Or maybe this is what everyone is feeling. You want to find your happy place. You want things to be good and it's so crushing when they're not. But that's life and you have to go with it. Life is yin and yang. There is positive and negative in everything. You have to accept that.

It isn't healthy to be a pessimist and always focusing on the dark side of life but neither is it healthy to be overly idealistic, to live in a dream world of illusion. To just paint glitter over everything and pretend it's perfect when it's a complete mess. The key to life is to take the good with the bad. To realize it's never going to be perfect but there is still so much that's good and THAT'S what you need to focus on.

It's so cute I wanted to share it. So here is the song/video for "Everything's Not Awesome" if you haven't heard it yet:

And here's a video of one of my own songs "Girl you're the rainbow." I wanted to post it in honour of Valentine's Day. My girl is the love of my life and she is the rainbow in my grey skies. I am so grateful for her. I wanted her to be in the video with me. She made a few drawings to go with my lyrics. It was her idea to hide behind me and just show the pictures to go with the song. Then she pops out at the end. My little rainbow unicorn. She is such a sweetheart. I am glad that she is such a loving, affectionate, caring girl. Of all her beautiful qualities, it is her kindness that makes me the most proud. In some ways she has found the sort of wisdom and peace that I aspire to.

For their 100th day of school the kids had to design their own t-shirt decorated with 100 things. Michelle chose to paint 100 stars on a t-shirt. It was so cute.

To celebrate the 100th day one of her friends invited her over for a play date. It was nice. Michelle hadn't seen her in a while because they're in different classes and her friend's schedule is so busy. Michelle is fortunate to have so many different friends. Her joy and energy are infectious. It was helpful to me too to have a little extra time to myself to get things done. The hours when she is in school fly by in the blink of an eye. There never seems to be enough time. When Michelle is home she wants my attention, wants me to play with her and I usually feel too guilty to set boundaries and say "Mama is busy." As a single Mom you have to do everything yourself without help. So you can't always just sit and play. I know that sometimes Michelle wishes she had siblings, another parent. She loves to be surrounded by people.

When I went to pick her up Michelle after her play date she and her friend showed me the acrobatic and musical routine they'd been working on.

Michelle played the drums while her friend did gymnastics. It was adorable, if a little loud and chaotic!

Michelle would probably love to have her own drum set. I don't think I could bring myself to do that even if I could afford it. I prefer the piano! Much more soothing! Still it's fun for kids to bang and boom on a drum now and then. Drums are like something that's nice to visit but you wouldn't want to live there. Growing up I'm sure my brothers would have loved a drum set. Chris used to drum on anything he could get his hands on -- the table, counter etc. My brothers were loud enough WITHOUT drums!

Yet another snow day. It was kind of ridiculous. In two years Michelle had maybe had ONE snow day total. This year there were SEVEN. Climate change was wreaking havoc. Global warming doesn't just mean the planet getting warmer. It means everything is thrown out of whack. Even CALIFORNIA had snow. Seven feet of it in some places. HAWAII had snow! In places it had NEVER snowed in the history of the earth. This is not normal. But it's the new normal. It's kind of scary. I try not to watch the news but my Mom was always telling me about the latest tragedies and natural disasters. Every day there was something else. I had a hard enough time just trying to handle the stress in my own life without worrying about the world in general. I'd been there before. I had to just focus on the good things -- Michelle is my heart and she keeps me going no matter what.

Michelle and our snow ladies (and snow kitty.) Though I may grumble about it I am always willing to play in the snow with Michelle. I don't remember my Mom EVER playing with us when we were kids. She would say that she didn't need to because we had each other or say that she was too busy with FOUR kids and I only have one. I know not all parents play with their kids. Being an attachment parent I just want to spend as much time with her as I can. I know everyone is different. Some people don't spend much time with their kids at all. I remember hearing a quote like "At the end of your life, no one ever thinks I wish I'd spent more time at the office." Sharing these moments with your kids is more important and more precious than anything.
For Valentine's Day Michelle made me a lovely card saying "You are the best" and she made little stand up cut-outs of our little family -- Michelle, Ali and me.

Every time Michelle hugs me and says "I love you Mama" or "You're the best Mama in the world" it really is as good as it gets. I've made so many mistakes in my life but I did one thing right. I have the sweetest little girl.

Valentine's Day used to be a romantic day. Now that part of my life is over. I did have an old boyfriend randomly call up the week of Valentine's Day. I almost thought he was going to suggest getting together for V day. Instead he just told me to call him to go for a coffee "whenever" which will literally never happen. He said I sounded different than the last time he spoke to me. "The panic is gone from your voice." He'd called last year, shortly after my breakdown. I told him that I was trying to take more control of my life, that I was feeling empowered. I told him that I'd fixed my toilets myself and he laughed. I really don't know what his intentions were. He was so unreliable when we were dating and I am definitely not interested in an ambiguous relationship or any drama. I prefer to just keep to myself for the most part. No one can hurt me that way. If he doesn't call me again I will never call him. That's the way I usually am. If they don't make the effort to reach out, we will just never see each other. Aside from my sister and my Mom I don't call anyone. I've lost touch with many friends over the years because they just stopped calling.

My girls. We usually can't get Ali to pose with us. At least she is looking at the camera in this picture. I used to take photos of us every single day. I am trying to cut down a little but as you can see I still take a TON of photos. It's just what I do. Life is so short and my girl is growing so fast. I will capture every moment I can to try to slow it all down.

Michelle almost looks like a little Flamenco dancer here in black and red. She wanted to dress up for ballet and our next adventure...
Out of the blue Michelle told me she wanted to get her ears pierced. I wanted to say no. I tried at least to talk her out of it. I told her that she was too young. I was 12 years old when I got my ears pierced and that seemed like the right age to me.
"But Mama other girls younger than me have their ears pierced! Some are only FOUR years old! I've even seen BABIES with their ears pierced!" "That doesn't make it right!" I said. To me, it doesn't seem appropriate to pierce a baby's ears because the baby doesn't get a say in it. What if she didn't WANT her ears pierced? Also, you're inflicting pain unnecessarily. Just for vanity's sake. It's bad enough boys get circumcised (which is sort of horrifying to me and I don't know HOW on Earth I would have dealt with THAT so thank God I had a girl!) but at least there are religious and health/hygienic reasons for it. A girl does not have to have her ears pierced. To me, she should be old enough to decide for herself. Still, I would never go "Mom shaming" and tell a woman that she's irresponsible for piercing her baby's ears. You have to do what YOU feel is right. YOU are the parent and you make choices as you see fit. I can understand the reasoning behind it -- it does look very cute and maybe the parents think it's easier when you're a baby because you'll forget the experience whereas when you're older you can psych yourself out? I fainted when I got my ears pierced. Every parent is different. Just as every child is different. It's not fair to compare.

Though I was hesitant, Michelle insisted she was ready. I called my Mom, May and Shannon for their advice. Of course my Mom was against it. She tried to scare Michelle with horror stories of how she got her ears pierced by an old doctor who did a lousy job and she got a bad infection. May and Shannon both said that it was ultimately up to Michelle if she wanted to do it or not. I made Michelle write out a list of pros and cons (complete with diagrams -- one of a big swollen infected ear as a possible con!) to weigh the rewards against the risks. In the end, Michelle decided she still wanted to go through with it. So we planned to go to the mall and get her ears pierced at Claire's. She was a little nervous but mostly excited. I was just a basket case worrying about the whole thing.
I decided to take a video of the whole experience. I still can't believe how brave Michelle was. She didn't even cry! Things have come a long way since I got my ears done. Now you can have TWO girls doing it at once so you get both ears done all in one shot. It's much faster and easier that way because after getting one ear done you psych yourself out about the second one. I couldn't even hear it but Michelle said she let out a tiny little squeal when the earrings went in. When we turned the volume up full blast we could just barely hear it. 

I was so proud of Michelle. She was a tough little lady. She knew what she wanted and was willing to go for it, even knowing the risks. I had to respect that. She was so brave and was thrilled with her earrings afterward. She looked so grown up. Beforehand I told her it would be HER responsibility to clean her ears but the reality was I am way to much of a control freak to take a chance on her getting an infection. The woman at Claire's was REALLY nice. She assured me that she'd been doing this for over a decade and was an expert which made me feel better. She gave me detailed instructions for after care. We had to clean her ears three time a day with the special solution and turn the studs around so the hole wouldn't close up or get infected. 

After it went so well I was glad that I let her go through with it. I want Michelle to be happy and to the degree that I can I would like to give her everything she wants.

I was inspired by my brave girl and re-pierced my own ear. I hadn't worn earrings in years because one of my holes had closed up. I almost thought of having Claire's pierce my ear too but I didn't want to spend the money so I just gritted my teeth and did it myself at home. It hurt like HELL and it bled quite a bit but I did it. I figured if my six year old was brave enough to go through it then I could too. And now we could go shopping for cute earrings together! I had missed wearing earrings. 

Michelle was so thrilled with her little diamond earrings. She was definitely happy with her decision. After so much agonizing and worrying over it I was relieved that it had gone so well. Now we could relax.

The next day we decided to pay a visit to one of our favourite places -- The Butterfly Conservatory. It is such a treat, especially in the middle of winter, to step into a tropical jungle and be surrounded by gorgeous butterflies, lush plants and flowers for a couple of hours. Michelle wore one of her butterfly dresses. I wore a bat wing kimono that was almost like a pair of butterfly wings. Being surrounded by beauty is good for the soul. And it is HEAVEN for a photoholic like me. I take hundreds of photos whenever we go.

Michelle was happy every time a butterfly would light on her hand or randomly land on her dress. Sometimes she had several of them on her at once. Strangers made such a fuss of her. "Wow! Look at that! They really like you! I love your dress!" Some of them even asked if they could take her picture. I guess some people would get creeped out if a random stranger wanted to take pictures of their kid but I don't see the harm. Michelle was happy to pose for her fans. It's not every day you get to see real butterflies on a butterfly dress. Michelle loved the attention too. I post a gazillion photos of her online anyway so what's one more? (Even though naysayers like my Mom keep warning "You shouldn't post pictures online!") Unless you're part of a tribe that actually thinks photographs steal your soul, shut up and stop poo pooing one of my favourite things. She is my girl and she's growing up too fast and I'll take a million pictures and post them online if I want to! So there!

From a tropical jungle to the snowy arctic. It is kind of surreal when you leave the Butterfly Conservatory and step back outside into winter. We had yet another snow day and made the best of it. Michelle loved me pulling her around on her sled even though it was killing my arms and back. "One more time Mama!" she laugh. "Easy for you to say! I'm dying here!" but like a sucker I would huff and puff and pull her around the yard for one more ride. Or two. Until I couldn't breathe. I had a flashback to the year I had pneumonia and was still stupid enough to play with Michelle in the snow. The things I do for my girl!

Photos are memories. Simple. It's like doing a painting of every happy moment of your life. Like the impressionists who painstakingly captured the light onto their canvases dot by dot, you hold on to life every way you can because it is precious. And photos are an instant way to hold on to that beauty, those perfect moments. There is so much of life that is mundane, dark, disappointing, broken, hurtful. I don't want to remember those times. I want to hold on to the good stuff. Being a photoholic is my way of paying tribute to that. I will never apologize for that. I will never stop doing that. Some people never take pictures. Some people don't hold on to things. Some people just aren't sentimental. You have to be true to yourself. Be who you are. Even if people don't understand it. Even if they think you're weird or try to make you wrong for it. You do you.

My happy girl! I love this shot.

I remember there was a day at the beach she had almost this same exact pose, this same silly open mouthed smile. Pure bliss. Michelle loves it all. Winter or Summer. Sunshine or rain. The beautiful and the broken. She takes it all in and sees the good in it. She has fun no matter what. She is my hero. You can not bring her down. I wish that I was more like her. I sometimes focus too much on the negative. I complain. I worry. I don't like Winter or grey skies. I let things drag me down. I love Michelle's irrepressible spirit. I love her boundless energy (even though sometimes it completely exhausts me trying to keep up with her! I'm getting old after all!) This picture sums Michelle up -- a heart full of joy and arms wide open to embrace life, all of it, with a generous heart.

Michelle wanted to put little "windows" in her "Snow Castle."
"Ummm.... honey...Now it looks like you're being EATEN BY A SNOW SHARK!" It's all in your perspective. Whether it was a castle or a shark it was cute nonetheless. I love Michelle's playfulness and imagination. We lose a lot of that as we grow older. We become so serious. We say that we don't have time to play. We focus on the business of life, the things we have to do and get through and sometimes miss the beautiful things along the way. You have to stop and smell the roses. You have to stop and build a snowman once in a while. Even if it's not your favourite. Because you can still have these moments of magic. It is still a beautiful world after all. If you know how to look at it.

One day I saw a cat out in a blizzard, walking along the fence. Poor kitty. But maybe she didn't mind it. She probably wanted to go outside. Maybe I shouldn't hate Winter. Maybe I should be grateful to be in a country with four seasons (though sometimes it feels like we're down to TWO -- harsh cold Winters and too hot Summers without much of a break from Spring and Fall.) Maybe I need to be grateful for each day and learn to accept it as it is. I can't change things like the weather and other people. Wishing they were different just makes me feel frustrated. Accepting things as they are is the key to mindfulness, acceptance and peace.

Music is therapeutic for me. For a long time I wasn't writing or playing music. One day I was thinking about my life -- how I had these moments, amidst all the disappointments and heartache and self-loathing, I had these moments where I followed my heart, was true to myself, lived with passion. I caught these glimpses of my inner child, my true bliss, the real me. I was grateful for them. We can lose our authentic self, our inner child. We can get so lost and so angry and wrapped up in ego that we forget to just be. To see the magic of life, to feel like a kid again. To be open to the beauty of the world. Here is the video for "Glimpses" --
And one day I just needed flowers. I went into a garden centre to be surrounded by them. Flowers seem holy to me. They are like a connection to the divine. A glimpse of Heaven on Earth. I guess that's why I love the Spring after Winter. When you see that burst of colour and life after so much dark and grey. Flowers are so graceful and delicate, other-worldly almost. They are perfect zen. They don't worry about anything. They don't have to. They are perfect as they are. I remember the quote "Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you that even Solomon was not arrayed like these." Flowers are a reminder to us to take a moment to be still and just BE. We are human BEINGS after all. Not human DOINGS. Why do we feel we always have to be doing something? We need to take a break now and then.

Michelle believes in Fairy Magic. And why not? She had another visit from the Tooth Fairy when she lost a second tooth. She received another gold bag with a shiny toony and gold fairy dust. Michelle drew a picture of the tooth fairy and once again wrote her a letter asking to please let Michelle keep her tooth.

Seeing Michelle's face light up with wonder is the greatest moment of my life. Beyond any trip I've taken, any accomplishment or accolade I've received. Seeing her happy is my life's greatest joy. Sometimes my heart feels like it might explode I love her so much. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

I love my girls. Ali really wasn't feeling it with this family portrait. She was trying to make an exit but Michelle held on. I love Michelle's gap-toothed smile here. I love these photographic moments. You never know what you're going to get when you set the self-timer. Sometimes it's a total fail. Sometimes you get lucky. You press the button and hope for the best. And sometimes even the bad shots are good because they make you laugh and a good laugh is always worth it.

We decided to go to a local home show/fair because it was something to do and it was free. There was going to be a Bird of Prey show, much like the one we'd seen with my Mom and Dad on grandparents day. Being so close to those magnificent birds was awesome and a total photo op so I was psyched. We got a seat early so we had some time to kill. Michelle made friends (as she does everywhere we go!) with a group of girls and was chasing them around before the show. I am in awe of how friendly she is. She will literally talk to anyone. Pretty much the opposite of me. I rarely speak to a stranger unless spoken to. Michelle is a social butterfly. I have social anxiety. We're a bit of an odd couple! I am glad Michelle is not like me though. It's a lot easier for her. I've always struggled, as a child and as an adult, with feeling like an outsider while needing time alone.

After the show, the guy was standing with a big golden eagle on his arm and I couldn't resist the photo op. How often would I get to be that close to a bird of prey? (And live to tell the tale!) I set the timer to creative multi-shot and was thrilled with the results. The eagle, God love him, actually opened up his magnificent wings just in time! Awesome! I couldn't ask for better than that. Perfect! I'm grateful for moments like this.
January and February had more than their share of bad days, but they also had these surprisingly wonderful moments. Life is an experiment and sometimes the results are disappointing and sometimes they're better than you ever imagined. I guess it would be boring if we always knew exactly how things were going to turn out...