Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmastime

It's supposed to be the happiest time of the year, and in a lot of ways it still is.

Two short - and yet very long - years ago, J and I were gearing up to spend our first night in our new home. Young newlyweds with a toddler, we were the picture of a happy little family. As we put the finishing touches on the walls and swept up the last of the dust leftover from construction, we discussed all the extra space in F's room for a crib - if we were lucky enough to have a second. We couldn't wait to host our family and friends for a Christmas celebration in the upcoming evening. I never imagined then that it just be F and I from there on out, but so it is. 

Christmas is so heavily wrapped in tradition for many families that it brings a sense of loss and sadness when the holiday rolls around. Five years ago, there would be as many as 20 people sitting around my Nanny's dining room table for Christmas Day dinner. This year, there will be 10. The emptiness fills the room, and there's a precarious mixture of reminiscing and avoiding mention of loved ones now gone. 

But Christmas is a time of new beginnings, right at its core: the arrival of the baby Jesus. It's a celebration of the magic of love. While I enjoyed seeing F's eyes widen at the sight of what Santa brought him and the smiles of family members as they unwrapped their gifts, I'm mostly relishing in the opportunity to just be. Just sit with F and watch snow fall. Laying on the couch watching movies with Dad. Laughing at YouTube videos with Mom. Sitting around the table with food and drink and just feeling the warmth of family, friendship and love.

In spite of the pangs of sadness that have an amazing ability to sneak up on me, I'm filled with the joy and magic of the Christmas spirit, not because it's easy but because it's the decision I have made. Wherever you are, I pray you have a safe and happy holiday. Hug your loved ones, call a friend, spread some Christmas cheer!

And if you still feel sad, watch this video

Merry Christmas! 

best, love and smiles, ashley & family

Friday, 20 December 2013

Before you open the box...

I knew going into my adoption disclosure that it wouldn't all be sunshine and rainbows. 

Life, you see, is ugly sometimes. Messy. Unexpected. And every now and again, shit hits the fan and you've gotta deal with it. Nobody is exempt from that, it's just part of the reality that is living in this big old world. There's no sense fretting about the past. It's unchangeable. It is what it is. Even if I could totally change the way things played out, I wouldn't. Thanks to a series of what some people might call "unfortunate" events, I was put up for adoption and came to have the fantastic life that I have today. 

And yet, I needed to know. 

I don't know why, but I struggled every day of my life with a sense of inadequacy. The bizarre idea that I hadn't been good enough. If I had, she wouldn't have done what she did. If I had, I wouldn't have been taken away. She was my birth mom, and the idea is as crazy as a bag of snakes. There's no reason there. No logic. Just confusion, the unknown, the unanswered. Curiosity, as it were, killed the cat.

I dreamed for years of finding out, but lacked the proverbial balls to do it until the day I put my request for disclosure in the mail and actually almost threw up on myself. I felt my heart stop when the phone rang and the voice on the other end announced that my birth mother had been found. That it had been an emotional phone call. That my letter and my photos were on their way to her. And then it unfolded faster than you can "genealogy" and the next thing I know my biological father's telling me to climb back into the hole I've been living in and I'm meeting my maternal grandfather on his deathbed. It's the stuff of soap operas and yet it's also the shit you just can't make up. It's that thing called life being unexpected and messy and unpredictable and amazing.

But there's no putting it back.

It's like when you receive a box of stuff and you take it all out to look at it, but no matter how hard you try you can't fit it all back in perfectly, the way it had been. No matter how much you try to stuff it in, not even if you sit on it and try to zip that baggage up, can you ever close it again. Because once that box is opened, it's opened forever. You can't tuck it away neatly until next time, There's no "pause" button. 

I'm not sorry I did it, but sometimes I wonder if I really understood that this was a lifelong commitment. There's no undoing it. There's no forgetting the moments that we all waited years to have. There's no wiping the slate clean, either. I can't unlearn what I've learned, un-read the social worker's reports or the doctor's notes. I can't unsee the photos. I can't undo the things I've done. I can't erase the sadness of spending time with Granddad knowing it was all I'd ever have, I'll never forget the hurt that came from the rejection of my biological father, and I'll forever cherish the opportunity to get to know my family.

If you're considering adoption disclosure, consider talking to someone first. Be it a therapist or a social worker, talk to someone so you're prepared for what you might uncover. Make sure you're ready. Once that box is opened, there's no repacking the contents. It's open forever. 

For more about my adoption, you can click here or here or here or even right here

Monday, 9 December 2013

Unbroken Family

Last week, someone "kindly" forwarded a link to my email.
(catch that? it's called sarcasm and i am dripping with it today)

The name of the article that the link was for was "How to Survive the Holidays as a Broken Family". I have an issue with the term "broken family" - though, admittedly, not nearly as big an issue as I have with the fact that someone felt it was necessary to send me that bullshit link. In case you're wondering, a "broken family" is defined as a family where parents are separated or divorced, but I'm still not really feelin' it. A "broken home" essentially mirrors that statement, except it's a house with a broken family living inside of it.

My family is not broken. It is not defective. It might not look like yours, but it's made of the exact. same. stuff. 

I had a broken family when I had a husband who didn't help me raise our child. I had a broken home when a truck meant more than a marriage, and when fun with friends was more important than family. I had a broken life when my heart ached because my relationship was empty and my dreams were in the dark. I don't have those things any more, and my son does not come from a "broken home". He comes from a home that's filled with love and support and he has a family that loves and cares about him more than anything else in the world. He might not have someone in the house who he calls "Dad", but he's got a group of great men to look up to, each of whom is more than willing to lend a hand along the way.

Terms like "broken" serves only to tell our kids that there's something wrong with their home. Their family is "bad", it's not right. It's broken, like a toy that needs to be thrown away. Isn't being a kid in a situation with only one parent hard enough, without society telling him or her that their family is wrong? Isn't being a kid in the society we're in hard enough? I know as an adult that hearing terms like "broken family" or "broken home" make me feel badly about my life, and it's bullshit because my life is pretty awesome, and perfectly imperfect in its one-piecedness.

Does it suck that my family falls into the category of "broken"? No. Sure, I didn't plan on being a single parent but I'd way rather raise F alone than be miserable in a relationship where I felt just that - alone. My kid is a Hell of a lot better off having a parent who is genuinely happy than he would have been with two parents who weren't.

Families, like the people they are made up of, are unique. I explain this to F all the time. Some families have brothers or sisters, some have brothers and sisters. Some have no children, some have one child and others have all kinds of children. Sometimes they're different colours. Some families have one mom or two moms, two dads, one dad or a mom and a dad. But for all the differences, families are the exact same because they're made of love, whether they are nuclear, blended, upside down, purple, green, single-parented and triple-childed. 

And every family has hiccups and crazy Holiday stuff to deal with.

THE END.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Advise me

Kids give great advice.
Some of the best advice I've ever received and the most important life lessons I've ever been taught have come from children, especially my own. It's the little things that as grown ups, we forget or we're too busy for, and it's the things that make all the difference in the world.

Stop. Appreciate your surroundings. Doddle sometimes.

While hanging out with a friend not so very long ago, we got into a discussion about relationships. Her nine-year-old was apparently listening in, and when I said that I often thought about getting back together a little voice piped up with, "isn't it called a break up because it's broken?". And it's true. While I won't pretend to know what the future holds or how things may play out, I've learned the hard way that if it didn't work the first time, a relationship doesn't tend to work the second or the third time around, either. 

So, if it ain't broke don't fix it and it's called a break-up because it's broken. Apply those simple principles to  your relationship and you may find that you created problems where there were none, or you tried to fix something that wasn't fixable.
As we were rushing to get ready one morning, I barked at asked F to put on his jacket, perhaps little more sharply than I should have and he stood there looking at me as I continued to rush about. When I asked him why he wasn't listening, he told me I hadn't said please and he was right. Being late doesn't excuse poor manners, and who better to remind me than the child whom I'm teaching this simple rule. 

And then, I started thinking (dangerous, I know) and I came up with this little list of things that F has taught me recently, and I'd like to share it with you...

1. Hugs do not need an occasion. Hug people you love for no reason, other than that you simply love them. Receiving an unexpected, love-filled hug is the best thing in the world. I know this because it happens to me every. single. day.

2. "I love you" also doesn't need an occasion? Love someone? TELL THEM. Don't put it on Facebook. Don't tweet it. Don't beat around the bush - just say the words. And don't not say it because "they already know". Tell them anyway.


3. Celebrate the little things. F told me I had done a good job when I flushed the toilet this morning. and while it sounds a little bit silly to a grown up, it was important to F to tell me that I had done a good job. I also get "Great job!" or, my personal favourite, "You're the best!" when I make meals, put on our boots or sometimes just run a bath. Thank people for doing the things they do each day, even if it's just emptying the dishwasher.

4. Say what you feel. F tells me when he's upset. In fact, I encourage him to. He says he's happy, or he's sad or he's angry and he says when he doesn't understand or doesn't like something. Can you imagine how much easier life would be if people told one another how they actually felt? My stars! 

5. Be silly. Laughing makes you feel instantly better. If it doesn't, you need a soul because you obviously don't have one. Don't take yourself too seriously all the time. Sure, there's a time and a place for everything but don't forget to take a few minutes to watch a funny cat video or share a joke with a friend or colleague. 

6. If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. The words of Thumper's mum are repeated over and over at my house, and I'm as guilty as anyone of breaking this rule. It's extra hard when I preach "say how you feel", but you can say how you feel without making someone else feel badly. And if you don't think you can, that's one time you can keep your feelings to yourself.

7. Slow down sometimes. I often get frustrated when we're walking somewhere and F stops to look at leaves or some other random, inconsequential thing and hurry him along. But it's good to stop and smell the roses coffee. I tell him to hurry up when he's eating, as he takes a bite and then "mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm's" his satisfaction. How often do we shovel food in without appreciating the great flavours? I know I do. I've eaten entire meals without tasting them. Life moves fast enough without us hurrying it along.



Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Bedding

In my last post, I referenced co-sleeping.

I started co-sleeping with F when he was about two weeks old. There was a multitude of reasons behind this decision, the least of which being that I was too lazy to get up and walk across the room when he cried. Then there was the fact that my child absolutely despised his bassinet. And, of course, the decision maker: I had no partner to help me with things like taking the baby from the bassinet or crib to the bed, changing those middle-of-the-night, breastfed-baby-diapers or anything else. Although J and I were "together", he was away working and studying towards his welding diploma, so it was just me. And both F and I got way more sleep. To this day, I don't think I would have survived if I had to get up and deal with formula through the night.

When people started finding out about my co-sleeping arrangement, I got more backlash than I ever expected. It was around that moment that I realized how important what I do in my bed seems to be to other people, and I reckon that was the time I said "fuck it" and gave up on caring what people think about what I do in my bed or anywhere else. Parenting isn't a "one size fits all" arrangement. It's trial and error with some alterations and a lot of sleepless nights as you try to figure out what that alteration needs to be. I can still hear the "don't start that habit..." warnings, and perhaps I should have listened but I'm pretty sure most kids don't go off to university still sleeping in their mom's bed, so...

But, here we are, about to turn four and F still sleeps with me almost every night. When I say almost every night, I'm talking 29 out of 30 nights a month - unless of course he's not with me for a day or two at which point I'll get another night to myself. Sometimes that happens. He usually ends up sleeping with Grammie and Grampie in those cases. He has his own bed, and he was pretty into it back in the days when Red was part of our little family. Sure, it took a long time for him to settle and I lost the ability to fall asleep before he did but it was nice to have a sleep without a toddler beside me. Now, I rarely get him into that bed and when I do, it's often not a full night's sleep.

Sleeping with Mommy brings F a lot of comfort, and I expect I'm not the only parent to give in to that. He's had a lot of upheaval in his little life and if he's more secure sleeping with me most nights, so be it. I'll soon be begging him for a snuggle, why let it go to waste now? 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Raising Boys

Perhaps it's related to the fact that there are a couple of slightly older boys in F's preschool class, but my darling boy has officially decided that he can no longer sit down to pee. I'd be completely unbothered by the whole thing, but F has also decided that he needs me to show him how and without giving you a mental picture of what that attempt at a teachable moment looked like, I can tell you it's not going to happen.

It's moments like these that I find myself especially frustrated with our situation. As if being a single parent isn't hard enough by itself, the simple fact is that boys and girls sometimes need an older member of the same sex to show them things. I can't imagine how awkward it would have been to ask my father feminine questions growing up. Actually, I can but I think it would have led ol' Papa Bear to a stroke so I'm especially glad I didn't have to get into bras and tampons and all that jazz. Standing up to pee is pretty small on the list of things that F will need help with in his life, but it felt as big as a mountain when he asked me to do it.

By gently explaining that boys and girls are built differently, I managed to help him understand that I cannot show him but I said I'd be there if he needed some help. I asked what he thought he should do, and he managed OK except that he missed the toilet and somehow managed to pee on everything else in my bathroom. But, we celebrate the small victories here, too, so with a change of his clothes and a quick trip to the laundry room with my bath mats, we were ready to try again. And try again we did, with much more success and better aim. (Hooray!)

The challenges in raising a little boy as a bit of a girlie girl are just beginning, and I know that. I feel especially fortunate that F's preschool class has a male teacher - a positive male role model who he can learn from and hopefully turn to. I'm lucky to have a group of male friends who I can turn to for advice when needed, and I'm lucky in that the boy stuff is less gruesome than the girl stuff as things move forward from here.

But, challenges lie in being a single mum with a boy in other ways. It's the moments when I need a few moments to do chick stuff that F is convinced that he desperately needs to be beside me. It's as I change my clothes or put on a bra or he asks why girls have to sit down to pee that I realize we might be hitting the age where F and I just can't do those things together, and it's tricky. I can't lock the bathroom door when I head into the shower. I can't tell him to wait outside the stall as I use a public washroom. I also have to gently explain that no, he cannot paint his nails when Mommy does. It's a learning curve. (And sometimes I let him have non-shiny clear polish on his toes, just because.)

Yesterday's pee-splosion all over my bathroom taught me that, although it might get messy, letting F take the reins and taking a step or two back is the only way we can make it through some things. It's really hard to accept that F and I might be coming to the end of our baths together. Pretty soon, I'll even have to put my foot down over the whole co-sleeping thing, too. But there are some things we can't avoid, so we'll have to learn how to make them work.

And make them work, we will.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Handcrafted Christmas

Blame it on my place of work, but I've got nothing but Christmas on the brain lately!

We've been talking about Christmas since I started work with The Salvation Army back in January, and now - 10 months later - I am up to my eyeballs in Christmas from Santa Shuffle to Beary Merry and back around to Christmas Distribution and kettle kick-off and everything else under the Christmas tree sun. I've always been a keener about getting Christmas presents sorted out, but this year I had an extra kick in the arse to get me going:I challenged myself to make as much as possible.

LET THE CRAFTING BEGIN!

I started my own Christmas gifting campaign way back in October with more glitter and paint than any adult woman should ever have in her possession. It was hours spent cutting paisley shapes out of dictionary pages and scrapbook paper. It was a few hours of editing photos and designing Christmas cards and some other dandy photo-gifts for a few family members. It was a lot of burns on my hands from the glue gun (they are dangerous, people!) and it has been nothing shy of fun.

Aside from the fact that most of my presents will be totally unique, I've been able to save a lot of money by making things while also feeding my creativity a bit. I had loads of paint, paintbrushes and canvases to get me started on most of the gifts and a few trips to Michael's and Dollarama filled any gaps in my plan. F even joined in on the action, and it gave us the perfect opportunity to bond over some fun with paint and left me with a mess the size of Russia all over my dining room table.

If you're thinking about handmade Christmas gifts, let me give you a few ideas.

-- White mugs from Dollarama + a Sharpie and a steady hand = cute, personalized coffee mugs! Don't want to use a mug? Grab a plate instead. Black is my favourite (black on white is easy-to-read and chic) but you can use any colour, as long as you're OK with it changing a bit as it bakes. Some colours won't stay true. Simply write your message or draw your design and bake at 350* C for 30-45 minutes. Let cool. Be cool. 

We painted our trunk instead.
-- Canvas + paint + little hands and feet = Make a Christmas Tree paint project out of a white canvas and your child's hands and feet! Start at the bottom with a brown footprint (heel pointing the top of your tree). Allow the paint to dry. Now, with green hand prints, build your tree as a triangle. Allow all the green paint to dry. Top it with a yellow hand print for your star and get real creative by letting junior use finger and thumb prints to put ornaments on your tree and get that thing colorful and bright!

-- Wooden anything + sea shells or little beach rocks + glue gun = seashore inspired art! Take a Dollarama picture frame and make it beach-y, or build something using old wood and cover it in rocks and seashells. It's shore to impress. (The funeral for that pun will be held at 2 pm on Saturday.)

-- Bake something! Whether it be chocolate chip cookies or a delicious loaf, home baking is something few people have time for these days! Don't have time to do the actual baking? Throw all of the dry ingredients in a jar and present it with instructions. 

If you can't make it all by hand, try buying a handful of small, inexpensive things for your loved ones this year and package it artfully and uniquely for them. Personalized gifts show the recipient how important they are to you.

Still stuck? There's no shame in a gift card!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Operation: Gratitude, Part 3

I'm so glad we did this.

I'd be lying if I said this whole thing was a walk in the park. Starting out, things weren't so pretty. There were some tears and anger, and it was frustrating for both F and I as he was trying to understand all that I was trying to explain to him. Around the time I was ready to throw my hands up in the air and give up, F asked me to wait "right there" before he hopped off his chair and ran down the hallway. We had been getting ready to write our letter, so I doodled on a piece of paper while I waited. 

And waited, and listened to the sound of F digging through his toy box and then to the sound of his entire toy box spilling onto the floor until he came running back with a little purple truck in his hand. I should have taken a picture of it this, but I think my emotions fogged up my brain. I want to send him one of my own toys, too, Mommy. Yup. My kid is awesome.

We talked about how special Christmas is and we talked about what Christmas looks like for us. We go to Grammy and Grampy's house and open our presents, but mostly we go home and we spend time with the people we love. That's pretty special. And then we talked about all of the homemade gifts we're working on for loved ones this year, and how love goes into everything we make and wrap and give to our friends and family. And then, we wrote this letter:

Hello.

My name is Finley and I am almost 4 years old. I live with my Mommy in a city called Halifax with our cat, Duncan. He is orange and soft. I go to preschool when my Mommy is at work. It is fun, and I make lots of friends there.

I hope you like the present we picked out for you. I have a soft bunny, too. I sleep with him at nighttime. I packed one of my trucks for you to play with. My Mommy makes Christmas special for me, and we want you to have a special Christmas, too.

The most special gift is invisible in your box of goodies, but we hope that each time you hold or play with one of your toys, you can feel the love that we packed them with.

Happy Christmas!

Love your Canadian friends,

Finley and Ashley (Mommy)

Even though the Operation Christmas Child boxes are being collected this week, you can still make a difference in a kid's life. Head on over to the Operation Christmas Child page on Samaritan's Purse website and donate, or fill a box online. 



Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Operation: Gratitude, part 2

First, I have to admit to something: I cheated.

BUT I didn't buy the two pairs of boots on Beyond The Rack that I was totally in love with and instead, went out and got all of my Operation Christmas Child goodies during my (three hours behind schedule) lunch without F. I have to admit... I chickened out on bringing him anywhere near a toy section. And I will also admit that I bought him a small treat to make sure that he's not feeling badly about this whole giving toys away thing... which he will get after everything else is finished. In case you're interested, it's a box of crayons. From Dollarama.


It hadn't really occurred to me that a 2-4 year old boy wouldn't be the easiest to shop for, and considering I only have a shoe box worth of stuff to choose from, I had to really put on my thinking cap. I picked up some socks, a storybook, crayons, a notebook, a t-shirt, and a canvas bag which this little boy can decorate and carry his things in. I also got him toothbrushes, soap and a stuffed animal. I tried to find candy that was individually wrapped, but then I realized that when F was two years old I wouldn't have given him any candy at all, so I decided to give up. I may change my mind yet.

Finley with our OCC box!

Now that the present itself is taken care of, it's time to start writing a letter so I asked F to tell me what he'd like to say to a little boy at Christmas. We started working on our letter but didn't finish it, so you'll have to wait until tonight or tomorrow for the final draft.

Christmas is such a commercial holiday for us here in North America that even the best of us get wrapped up in the excitement of shopping for and wrapping and opening gifts that we forget what Christmas is supposed to be about. Even a family who doesn't observe Christmas as a religious occasion can agree that Christmas is about love and family.  


I am guilty of making Christmas about Santa Claus for F, and while I don't think that's a crime in itself, I believe that I'm robbing F of the true meaning of Christmas by letting Santa and his elves have all the glory. As we get closer and closer to the most wonderful time of the year, I look forward to reading The Christmas Story as much as The Night Before Christmas. I'll look forward to telling F about Baby Jesus and the miracle of love, and you better believe I'll love using "the elves are watching!" as a method of modifying his behavior. In addition to the toys and the movies and the fun that F will be getting this Christmas, I want to give him more.


I'm giving him the gift of gratitude. Of love. Of sharing. And, most of all, of giving.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Operation: Gratitude

I was a spoiled kid.

In fact, I am still spoiled. My parents bought me a dozen roses and my entire family showered me with gifts and love and awesomeness and a disgusting amount of delicious, delicious food last weekend as we celebrated my graduation a year after starting PR school. If you were near me right now, you'd be able to see the drool dripping down my chinny-chin-chin because the food was that awesome. Broccoli salad should be illegal, you guys. 

But I digress. Spoiled rotten I was, and remain to be so I guess it won't come as a surprise that my sweet little guy is also spoiled.

F has so many toys that he has a full collection at my mom's house and a full collection at my house. He's got movies, books, an iPod Touch and all kinds of cool gadgets that didn't exist when I was a kid. I take full responsibility for spoiling my child. I want him to have all of the nice things I had growing up, and more. I want to give him these things, and when I can't it breaks my heart. And, admittedly, I've been giving him things to try to compensate for his dad not being here.

But it's time I give him more. I'm going to give him compassion. I'm going to give him understanding. I'm going to give him more love. And today, he's going to give toys to someone else as we fill a box full of items for a child in need this Christmas. 

My parents gave me toys and clothes and stuff, but they also gave me morals and values and a desire to make the world a better place. Now, I work for one of the biggest, most recognizable charities in the world and I help people day in and day out. It's time F learns how amazing it is to give. It's time F realizes how lucky we are. It's time he learns what gratitude is.

Will it be easy? Probably not. But it will be worth it. Stay tuned for photos, videos and a copy of the letter we send to a 2-4 year old boy in need this Christmas.  

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Helping and Helped

I hate asking for help.

I hate it. Blame it on my perfectionism or my pride, but help is my least favourite thing to ask anyone for. I can fundraise for any cause, and I dole out help to others before helping myself a lot of the time. When I'm offered help, I often decline. I realized how stubborn I was not so long ago when, on a date, I dropped my sweater and refused to let my date pick it up. He called me out on it and he was right. In everything from picking up sweaters to getting ahead on my work load, asking for help is the last thing I do so you can imagine how hard it was for me to ask for help paying for F's daycare.

The facts to me look a little different than the facts look to others, and while there was a time I would have been offended (and honestly, it wasn't very long ago) by someone suggesting I seek help in covering my costs as a single parent. I look at my life as this: I have a job that pays pretty well, given my entry-level status and the state of our economy. I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge and a family who would (and have) do anything for F and I. I have a deadbeat ex who doesn't pay support, and while it would make my life eons easier I do OK.

Until I realized that I wasn't doing as OK was I thought. And that's when I did it. I asked for help.

Within a week, I went from losing sleep and being unable to eat (AKA Mom Stress Diet - it's very effective) to having a huge weight lifted off my chest. And guess what? I'm glad I asked for help. I'm glad that we have a program in our (horribly, horribly flawed) system that gives families a chance to make a better life for themselves. I'm glad that, after referring tons of people to these programs and services, I can have a little bit of the help I want to see others get.

Accepting help doesn't make me a failure, it just means that I'm human. Asking for help doesn't mean I'm weak, but that I'm brave enough to do it, that I'm willing to do what it takes to give my child the future that he deserves and that I so want for him. For me. For both of us. I help people every day. It's my job, it's my passion and I love it. But I realized something really important.

I can't take care of others if I don't take care of myself.

I can't help others if I don't help myself.

Where ever you are on your path today, whatever obstacles you face, know that there are programs and services that can help you. If you're in the Maritimes, you can contact me directly and I can actually help you get help. If you're in Nova Scotia, you can contact 211 Nova Scotia to be hooked up with the community and social services nearest you.

There is help. There are people who want to help.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

NeoStrata Anti-Wrinkle Complex (night) Review

After a lot of research, I decided to start using a retinol cream.

The initial response I received from people older than I am sounded something like "You're much too young for that!", but the experts disagree. In fact, every dermatologist I spoke to recommended introducing an over-the-counter Retinol creaming meaning I didn't even need to walk into their offices OR pay for a consultation. Why? Most twentysomethings have experienced some level of sun damage and using a cream containing retinol can reverse that.

I did a bit of research and decided that I wanted to go with NeoStrata's Anti-Wrinkle Complex for night based on the fact that I have never used a NeoStrata product that I wasn't totally head-over-heels for. A great bonus was that it was hella on sale, and girlfriend loves a sale. Combined with my heavy-duty new cleansing routine and an equally heavy-duty nighttime moisturizer, this product has found itself a new home in my skincare routine.


photo: NeoStrata.com

I started using the product on a Wednesday night - the night before my CTV News promo shoot actually - and didn't use it again until Saturday night. I now use it 5 nights a week and will soon make the switch to every night. The key to retinol creams is to allow your skin to adjust. For those of you who don't know, Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A which has the unique ability to get deep into your skin and provide antioxidants. It causes increased cellular growth in the outer layers of skin - this is what causes dryness and peeling - so that fresh, new skin can be exposed. Adding a moisturizer on top of your retinol cream can help with this. If your skin is really dry, try to get it in better shape before you introduce a retinol cream - you'll be glad you did.

Because Retinol makes your skin incredibly susceptible to sunburns, it's important to use sunscreen daily. I now use SPF 45 on my hands, neck and face each morning. I also put a little bit of NeoStrata Anti-Wrinkle Complex on the backs of my hands at night time before covering them with a heavy hand cream. Other than my face, my hands probably see the most sunlight as they are always exposed.

My thoughts?

My skin feels much smoother and is a lot clearer since I started using the night complex. It takes about 12 weeks to see true results from any new regime, from exercise to diet to skincare, so I'll be anxious to see what the next few months bring! In the meantime, I'm enjoying the fact that my freckles have actually lightened and my skin is really bright and fresh looking! The most important part of my regime is making sure that my practices and products are complementing each other, and not working against one another.

Tune in next week when I review my Neutragena "Pore Minimizing" trio - two cleansers and one exfoliating scrub, compliments of Klout!

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Happiest of Hallowe'ens

Two posts in one day! Yay for you, my beloved readers!

F didn't want to trick-or-treat last night (he decided this on Wednesday after his Halloween party at preschool), so we decided to lay low - thank goodness! I was up before 5 am to bake a blueberry croissant puff for our office Hallowe'en breakfast AND I wore a tutu and my excitement over this really took a lot out of me. That and F was a real ghoul all day and I had to carry him kicking and screaming into his daycare provider's home, where she then had to peel him off of me so I could actually go to work.

Sigh. Parenthood is so, so, SO unglamorous - even when you're wearing a tutu.

I got the idea in my head about halfway through making my tutu last weekend that I should start making them and selling them. One of my good friends pointed out that I'm probably the only adult who'd be into wearing tutus every day, but there may just be a market for little ones. We'll see where that goes. I really enjoyed making this one!

I think it turned out pretty well and I was especially impressed with my hair - considering it was day 3, after sleeping on it two nights in a row and I managed it at 5:30 am in only a few minutes. Hooray me. It was significantly less pretty this morning when I woke up on day 4, with a bird's nest that an osprey could have homed in.

Here's a couple of photos of my get-up!

The tutu, before tights!
My hair!

Legs and nude heels!

In my old pointe shoes!

Hair - from the front!


I realized yesterday, while standing in my office lunchroom just how amazing the people I work with are. I had the warm and fuzzies all day, after laughing and sharing in some good times with everyone. The awesomeness of the day was only improved by snuggling with F last night while we watched the Magic School Bus in bed! I somehow doubt this is how we'll be spending our next Hallowe'en.

Happy November, friends!


Thursday, 31 October 2013

fifty three weeks

A year ago, I was packing the last of my things for my move.

So much has happened in the past year that I can feel my head begin to spin just thinking about thinking about it all. I remember my own rush to get things packed before supper - I didn't want to worry about anything on Hallowe'en. I just wanted to enjoy trick-or-treating with F. I can still feel the ache in my heart knowing I had to leave him behind for a while. I don't have words to describe that, even today.

I remember waking up on November 1 and packing the "big stuff" onto the back of Dad's truck, and sharing the drive to Halifax. I remember discovering my apartment door unlocked - and furiously looking for new apartments on the drive back to Cape Breton that night. You don't need to ask how angry I was when I found that same door unlocked shortly afterwards, though both episodes pale in comparison to the hissy fit I threw when I discovered that every single thing I owned was missing from my apartment the week I was due to start classes - just one week later. Sometimes, I honestly don't know how I stuck it out. And by sometimes, I mean all the time. I really must be crazy.

"It's just a year," everyone said.  "It'll fly by. A year is nothing."

In many ways, they were right. It was just a year that flew by. But it wasn't nothing. It was two broken hearts and months and months of heartache. It was tears and sorry and it was laughter and joy and excitement and pride. I didn't think this much could be packed into one year. It was wiping tears from the end of Mom and Dad's driveway to the ferry once a month, and sobbing in the parking lot of the apartment the following week after saying goodbye to F.

The last year has been pretty crazy. A year ago today, F and I dressed as a James the Tank Engine and a Fire Fighter respectively, and we had a fun night. He's not so into dressing up this year, but he rocked his costume at his Hallowe'en party yesterday but told me he's already done all the trick-or-treating he wants to do. Today - one year later - I'm wearing a tutu at the best job I've ever had and he's probably eating a bowl of fruit at daycare with his friends. A year can be huge. It can be life changing.

And it was.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Twentysomethinghood

Oh, being a twentysomething.

I'm about to cross the line of just mid-twenties to upper mid-twenties and I'm kind of freaking out, man because this whole growing up this is bologna. Seriously. Who invented this shit? I've got bills on top of bills on top of some cellulite and a handful of wrinkles and WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN? I'm about 90 per cent sure that I spotted a grey hair last week, but my eyesight's so bad I couldn't quite manage to find it to rip it out. There was a time - perhaps not so very long ago - when I thought being a twentysomething was the most glamorous thing in the world. Pfft.

I'm drinking tea, writing this blog with Nair all over my legs and a facemask on. This is so not what I expected the fabulosity of twentysomethighood to be.

A kid YOUNG LADY I used to babysit turned 18 today. WHAT THE WHAT? Is that even possible? Someone stop the world, I need to get off for a minute. I can remember packing up my old Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets - the ones that actually fit in your pocket - to give to this girl when she was preschool-aged. I remember giving her boy advice when I was post-highschool-grad and she was getting ready to enter junior high school. She tweeted a goodbye to her 17th year last night. She has no idea how gone it is.

Because, my gorgeous, young friend... there comes a time in your early adult life when you will find yourself sitting on your bathroom floor attempting an at-home bikini wax (which, FYI, is the dumbest thing you will ever try to do at home, by yourself) and you will also find yourself eating dinner in the bathtub sometimes because you actually don't have enough time to eat and bathe. You will put on a great show of being a grownup, only to call your Mom later because you just totally effed something up and nobody knows how to fix things like a Mom does. And you will undoubtedly sacrifice food that is actually real food with taste so you can buy that fabulous pair of boots and then try to lie to your mother by saying they were on sale. She'll know better.

I think it's a generational thing, this idea that your twenties will be this golden time in your life when everything is roses and everything will just play out magically. It doesn't, and it's not.

But it's amazing and it's worth it. And when all else fails, there is nail polish.



Friday, 25 October 2013

Tanda Zap (review)

I can honestly count on one hand the number of breakouts I had as a teenager.

Seriously. I was blessed with clear skin that rarely broke out throughout junior high and high school, with one "real" breakout in grade 10 which I remember vividly because I was terrified that it was going to last. Figuring I was just lucky, I delved into the world of my 20's without so much as a thought that I might have more than the occasional pimple once a month. 

Then I had F.

I've had more acne in the past two years than I've had in my entire life. I spend most of my time with a series of little blemishes just to the right of my chin between my jawline and the corner of my mouth. I tried the oil cleansing method. I cut pop out of my diet. I even reduced my caffeine intake. I switched moisturizers, multiple times. I changed cleansers. I bought OTC acne products, and I spent a lot of time looking up natural methods of clearing up breakouts. Fact: cinnamon and honey does work, but it's a bitch to get out of your pillowcase if you consider doing the whole overnight treatment mask thing. 

One of the benefits of tanning is that it clears up my acne in about three sessions. The downside is that my acne decides to come back about a week or two after I stop soaking up the UV rays. The truth is a little cluster of blemishes is a pretty tiny deal in comparison to, you know, skin cancer and advanced photoaging of my skin. But the blemishes bother me nevertheless, and while I can photoshop the heck out them in portraits I can't always do the same in real life. When my mom mentioned seeing a blue light machine at Shopper's Drug Mart, I expected it to be outrageously overpriced but I went in to check it out anyway.

Spoiler alert: The Tanda Zap is totally reasonable! Yay!



At $49 CAD plus taxes, the Tanda Zap is cheaper than visiting a dermatologist and considerably cheaper than purchasing an acne treatment collection such as Pro-Activ (which I have never used, so I can't speak to its effectiveness). Most reviewers say that they had to replace their Tanda about once a year - which seems more than reasonable to me. Supposing I had to replace it twice a year, it would still cost me less than ten dollars a month to use. 

But the real question remained: will it work?

After purchasing the Zap, I realized (while laying in the bathtub reading the instructional pamphlet) that I had no AAA batteries. Dang. So I stole some from F's toys. They didn't have *quite* enough juice, so I had to wait one whole day to test it out. Horrors. Once I had the batteries in, I followed the extremely simple directions and pressed the round head to my blemishes and pressed the little triangle "on" button.

Then you just hold it to your face and wait. Easy, right? I know.

The whole process takes around 2 minutes. The light is super bright (it does come with a warning not to look into it. I did. I don't recommend this.) and I really appreciate that it's not a hot light, because my skin would be way too sensitive. You can feel a gentle vibration against your skin and if you're a mom and able to do almost everything with only one-hand anyway, it's really not much of an inconvenience. In case you're wondering, I'm impatient and the thought of not doing something I want to do for 2 whole minutes is pretty much my idea of torture. The pamphlet indicated that you should treat the affected area(s) three times a day, in conjunction with proper cleansing and skincare. By day two of using the product, I could see a huge difference in my skin.

I'm now over a week into the Tanda Zap regime and while my skin hasn't totally cleared up, it has improved enough that just a dusting of makeup completely covers my blemishes. When I feel anything stirring up, I treat it immediately and in two cases, it stopped the blemish before it was visible. Who doesn't love that?

I will admit that I've also drastically changed my skincare regime in the past two weeks to also include Retinoid creams and a more ahem, diligent cleansing routine so this could also have a profound effect on my skin. Bottom line? My skin looks good and that's what I was going for. I love the Tanda and would highly recommend it.

I also noticed that you can purchase another Tanda machine which comes with some anti-aging heads also. While I wasn't really in the market for a nearly $200 product on that particular shopping trip, I would likely consider it in the future. The Tanda Zap comes in a few colours (mine is white), and batteries are sold separately. You can read more about the Tanda Zap on their website.


This post is in no way sponsored or endorsed by Tanda or any other company. My opinions are just that: mine. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Breaking Bad (Habits)

I have a confession to make: I take absolutely terrible care of my skin. 

Or, at least, I have been taking terrible care of my skin. I'm trying really hard to better myself, but there are some habits that are just so hard to break. With summer now far behind me (according to the temperatures, anyway), the days of lounging in the sun and sweating in the humid air have been replaced with dark mornings and cold, dry winds. My skin started to feel the difference before I had really clued in, and with my new, heavy moisturizer comes the turning of a new leaf. It's time to take better care of my skin. In just over two weeks since completely overhauling the way I treat my skin, I see a huge difference.


First up on my list of things to do was quit tanning. Quit. Gone. Bye-bye. After years of chasing a golden glow, I've decided that the only glow I'm getting has to come from a bottle. My pale, freckle-covered skin was beginning to show my bad habit a little too much, with clusters of freckles that looked like dark spots and a few more laugh lines than I wanted cropping up. Defense is the best offence here, people, and I don't want the skin of a 40-year-old before I hit 30. I quit tanning 3 weeks ago. I'm now looking pale and loving it.

Yes, I consider this "tanned".
Next, I had to stop going to sleep with makeup on. This was going to be harder. Although my initial thought was to rush out and grab some make-up removing wipes, I had not one, not two but three full-sized bottles of Neutragena face cleansers that needed some attention, so I've been using those instead. In practice, my new night-time regime takes all of 5 minutes. Twice a week I use a gentle scrub to remove all the dead skin. Stay tuned for a review on my Neutragena Pore-Minimizing products - they're ahhh-mazing.

Pale is the new tan.
Then after reading oodles of reviews and speaking directly to a dermatologist, I decided to start using a Retinol cream, beginning with twice a week, in conjunction with a heavy nighttime moisturizer and eye cream. I'm not quite ready to move on to a third time per week, but I've noticed my skin has become much brighter and smoother already. I'll be reviewing my Neostrata Anti-Wrinkle Night Complex soon!

One of my worst skin-care habits is picking at blemishes. I can't. stop. touching. them. AHH! As soon as a pimple begins, I'm on it with tweezers or fingers. One of the bonuses of tanning was that my acne completely disappeared, but I picked up a Tanda Zap and I'm having really great results so far. I'm sorry to say you'll have to wait for that review, too!

Between now and December, I'll be reviewing a beauty product a week! I'll also take some additional photos to show you the progress in my skin, from the blemishes to the fading of my tan and "dark spots". I don't know what kind of damage my skin has already suffered, but I know that I'm going to be more aware and more conscientious in the future... and will look 30 forever. 

... Or something like that.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Best

You only accept the love you think you deserve.

I read this line over and over and realized how true those words have been in my own life, and in the lives of some of those closest to me. It's been a journey of learning and understanding for me to be able to recognize that I have often deserved more than I demanded from myself and others. I spent years as the pushover. I gave up on myself again and again, and I have nothing but a lot of wasted time to show for that. I've accomplished more in the last year than I did in the four preceding it. Why? Because I demanded it of myself.

While there are certainly times that I'm sorry things didn't turn out the way I had expected, first with J and then with Red, the truth is that I'm totally OK without them. Better than OK, actually. Much better. Talking about the issues with J is much like flogging a dead horse at this point, and things with Red are as complicated as they are raw. But, there comes a time when you must accept that you cannot change things and there is so much healing in just letting go

I won't pretend to have it all figured out - I don't. I don't even have half of it figured out, and I won't pretend that my life is always in harmony. There are days when I wish I had something I don't, or I feel a pang of jealousy towards someone else's fortunes. I won't dare admit the number of days I begrudge J and his carefree existence. But is it carefree? I don't know. I do know he's not helping raise his child in any way, shape or form, and sometimes that hurts. But mostly, it doesn't. I decided a long time ago that he was no longer my problem.

Giving ourselves what we deserve can be difficult. Recognizing our worth is often impossible, as we are so clouded by our own harsh criticisms that we cannot see past them. We must learn to give ourselves credit where credit is due, and perhaps most importantly, we have to give ourselves a break every now and again. We can only accept the love we think we deserve. 

What if we all decided we deserve the best?

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Thirteen Days

It's been almost two weeks since I've written. 

Thirteen days, to be exact, since I last felt my fingers glide across the keyboard to write for me. A full week passed without a single log in, a single glance at my blog. That never happens. In the year since beginning this blog, I can count on my fingers the number of days I haven't at least checked in, and on fingers and toes the number of days I haven't taken the time to write something, anything - even if I never hit publish.

But that anonymous comment kind of took the wind out of my sails. It hurt. It made me want to walk away from my blog and not look back. It made me re-evaluate whether I want to continue this journey, whether I'm as willing as I once was to put myself out there. I spent so much of my life hiding my true self that it's been both liberating and terrifying to let the world in, but these past two weeks I wondered if I was really willing to pay the price that comes with it.

After writing and posting my response to the comment, I thought I'd let it go but it nagged at me. It made me question myself. It evoked thought. It forced me to take a step back, and as I gingerly step forward again I must admit that it has inspired me.

It inspired me to spend more time with F. It inspired this little video, and the entire day that surrounded it - maybe even the whole weekend. It's inspired me to raise a little boy who will face the type of person who says hurtful, hateful words with strength and courage. 

And after a lot of reflection, it's inspired me to keep going. This journey is mine and no amount of hateful comments will take it away from me.




Friday, 4 October 2013

Dear Anonymous Comment-Leaver

A few months ago, I began moderating the comments on my blog for a number of reasons. The first, was some of the comments were spam, but the greatest reason was I feel no need to have trolls leaving hateful messages on my blog - though the number of times this has happened has been fairly low. This morning, I received one of the ugliest messages I have ever received. Ordinarily, I simply delete comments such as these but today I decided to publish it in my own way. Below is the iPhone screen shot of the email notification I received.




Hi there, Anonymous.

Thanks for stopping by. I genuinely appreciate that you took the time to drop by my blog and read my words. I'd like to be able to appreciate your comment, too, so in an effort to be a better person today, I'll focus on the fact that you took time out of your (no doubt busy) day to actually write a comment.

I'm sorry if my last blog post upset or offended you. That was not the intent. I wrote that with a smile on my face, while F played with his trucks at my feet. That post was a tongue-in-cheek, giggle and move on kind of mindless post that fits into the day that your head feels like it might explode. Raising kids is hard. I suspect you may not have one, otherwise you might have laughed at that post instead of being filled with the kind of rage you obviously were.

I'm sorry for whatever you have going on in your life today that has led you to spreading hateful, hurtful words. While I don't think I've done anything to deserve this, I sure hope mine is the only blog you've trolled with your anger and unkindness. While I'm sure your words were supposed to hurt me, they didn't. Jokes on you, I guess.

Now, before I go on any further I'd like to offer you a very sincere invitation to introduce yourself to me. If you're so convinced of your words, how about say them to my face? Better yet, why don't you come and stay with F and I for a few days and then tell me that I'm a terrible parent? I'd love to host you, and let you get up at 5:15 am and join me in making breakfast for F and I, cleaning our home and then getting everything ready for another long day. I invite you to stay up until 10 pm getting the cleaning done.

While you're calling me a terrible parent, I'd like you to consider that I do this every day by myself. I put myself through school last year so that I could give the kid I "don't deserve" and "don't take care of right" a better life - one where college can be in his future. I bust my ass every week so that we can live in a safe neighbourhood, keep our car on the road, eat healthy foods and enjoy some of the finer things in life. Am I perfect? No. I sincerely hope I never am. Do I screw up? Yep. It's called being human.

I'd like to invite you to work 40 hours a week in-office, taking your work laptop home many evenings and weekends to get stuff done. I invite you to spend your "down time" exercising, so that you can be healthy and strong to support your family. I invite you to try to find time to write because you're trying to show your child the importance of practice, following your passions and pushing yourself. And then, I invite you to call me a terrible parent again.

After you've spent a few days with F and I, I invite you to look me in the eye and tell me that I don't love my child and that I don't take care of him. While you're here, you'll see that I occasionally raise my voice, lose my patience and that I often remain calm and logical while he's completely losing his shit. You'll see that the occasional swear word slips, and that I tell him how special he is and how much I love him approximately 4.3 times per hour. You'll also see that he kicks me, tells me he doesn't love me, throws stuff on the floor and occasionally kicks the cat. It's called toddlerdom, and while it's been known to drive me crazy, I wouldn't trade a minute of it.

Finally, I ask you to do me just one little favour. Go look in the mirror. Now, go look outside. Go to a public place, and watch strangers go by. Do you know their stories? Nope. I don't either. I don't know yours, and you only know a little bit of mine. You don't know the stories of the people in my life or the people who come by my blog every day. For that reason, your comment which was aimed to hurt me could have hurt hundreds of other people and you were too careless or too callous to even consider that.

Did you know that about 1 in 5 women suffer a miscarriage in their first trimester? How about that one woman in 100 will experience a "late miscarriage", one after 14 weeks? Did you know that I had an appointment to have an abortion? Nope, I bet you didn't. I bet you also didn't know that the woman who raised me suffered miscarriages, and that I lost my own son's twin during my first trimester, or that I refused the D&C offered by multiple doctors when I landed in the ER for the second time in as many weeks with serious complications. I loved my baby from the moment I knew I had one, and I have cherished him every minute of every day since I was blessed to have him. Does he drive me crazy? Yup, but that doesn't mean I don't love him or that I neglect him.

 If you want to attack me for being a shitty parent who doesn't give a damn, you go right ahead but check your facts first, and don't you dare tell me that I should have had a miscarriage or abortion. You know that line "walk a mile in someone's shoes"? You wouldn't make it out of the parking lot.

I know you won't identify yourself, and I'm equally as confident that you won't comment on this post, but I hope that you do know that I'm not angry or hurt by your comment, and I invite you to comment again. If you want to troll around the world spreading anger and hate, I suggest you prepare for a very sad, lonely existence. Let it go. Life is too short.

Sincerely,

Ashley