My Comfortable Life
Puffy recliner. Fleecy blanket. Steamy tea. Binge television. Glowing fireplace. I ache for cozy, lazy moments when my mind and body can sink into a fog of “relaxation.” I crave time to do nothing but feel snuggly.
Furniture, clothing, shoes, food, climate–when given a choice I lean toward luxurious, convenient contentment. Ahhh…..so soothing, so delightful.
When I am most comfortable I feel deliciously numb. The pace of my life slows. Time becomes irrelevant. Just soft, warm, comfy “now-ness” reigns. On vacation or after times of big stress this is a blessing, but too much comfort during the rest of the year can slow down change, can blanket my other needs, can suffocate my life’s fizzle.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Comfort is rest, not experience. I don’t want to be defined by comfort. I want my dash to be dazzling, engaged, and purposeful.
And while I’m thinking about comfort…
Comfort is something we look forward to rather than look back on. We don’t post many selfies of coziness and hazy relaxing on social media. We are wired for action, not streaming television. Our love of entertainment isn’t what makes us human, it’s our ability to think, feel, and do.
Our heroes don’t say: “Be the sleep that you wish to see in this world.” We are inspired by experience.
We can take some time for comfort every day, but it’s equally important to make time for daring. Live with intention.
Daring and Double Daring
Kids get it. I dare you to do a handstand. I double dare you to do a handstand and a somersault. Kids challenge themselves and each other just for fun. When did I stop daring myself and daring my friends?
I need more daring in my life so I created “Daring in a Jar” as a way to push myself off the couch, out of the house, away from my screens, and into engaged living.
I gathered some scissors, coloured paper, and an empty jar. I cut the paper into small pieces and started writing down (one item per piece) all the things I wanted to do but was too scared or lazy or distracted to get to. On orange paper I wrote 50 action items that ranged in difficulty from “wash the car” to “plan a road trip” to “cook an authentic Italian meal.” On red paper I wrote 15 major life goals that ranged from “pay off credit card” to “write a novel.”
Each month I will pull a handful of slips, 4 orange and 1 red. The idea is to do one action item (orange) a week and one learning focus (red) a month. If a slip has bad timing (for example, it may be difficult to go skiing in July) I can put it back in the jar. My goal is to complete all 50 orange slips and learn about at least 12 red slip items by August 2016.
In mid-July I pulled four orange:
- Personally wash the car (and I mean really wash it inside and out without a car wash)
- Keep a gratitude journal for a week
- Ask someone for help (and choose something that makes me squirm)
- Get a massage (amazing!)
And I pulled one red:
- Be a good friend (so for a month I will reflect on and research how to be a good friend, examine my relationships to see how I can be more generous, think about what I need from my friends to feel fulfilled, and then try some new strategies out on my friends!)
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Chinese Proverb
Create Your Own Daring
I shared my “Daring in a Jar” with some friends. We decided it would be fun to get together and help each other fill our jars with dares, just to be sure no one is too hard or too soft on themselves. Someone else mentioned it would be a fun project to take on as a family. Plan a Daring Party or have a Daring Dinner.
Whether you play alone or with others, dare yourself. Live your dares out loud. Tell people what you are doing. Share your fears. Embrace vulnerability. Laugh when you’re surprised. Celebrate every mountain.
…Let’s get off the couch and step away from the electronics!
“I dare you…”
We can learn from each person we meet. Teachers are everywhere when we are willing to be students. For years I’ve been a stealthy student watching and listening and reflecting, my mind a people-powered repository. Every day I reflect on my learnings: ideas and insights from experiences, conversations, and encounters.
People can teach us valuable lessons about various aspects of life, but we need to listen well, we need to pay attention. Learning is everywhere and in everything.
For years I’ve wanted to begin a blog category that celebrates people who influence and inspire others through their example. To influence is to have the capacity to affect character, development, and behaviour. “Influential teachers” are those who change the people and culture around them. They may be famous or they may be in our family or they may be the person at the grocery store. We choose our teachers and that’s the best part: every person we meet has the potential to be a teacher and to influence us–it’s our responsibility to catch their light and to learn.
Each month I plan to feature an influential teacher, sharing with you what I’ve learned from this special person. In most cases, the person is not an educator and the learning has happened informally through events, observations, and reflections. I want to do this as a way to thank the people who influence me and to share my lessons with you.
About Felicity Sidnell Reid
I met Felicity through the Spirit of the Hills Writing Group. She is our generous leader, organizing and chairing our monthly meetings. Over the last five years our paths have crossed at writing breakfasts, book events, and library events.
I know Felicity as a local writer, editor, and radio host. She was one of the editors for both volumes of Hill Spirits (Blue Denim Press). Some of her publishing credits include pieces of memoir in two anthologies: Family Ties (Hidden Brook Press edited by Elizabeth Kimberley Grove) and Grandfather, Father and Me (Hidden Brook Press edited by Donna Clark Goodrich). In 2014, The Ontario Poetry Society included two of her poems in their 2014 anthology Scarlet Thistles.
Here are some other interesting details about Felicity’s life, work, and writing:
- Graduate of University of London, King’s College
- Lived in New Brunswick for 7 years
- Then lived in Ontario: Peterborough, Toronto, and now Colborne
- Taught Grade 5 students to University students in Canada, England, and Thailand
- Taught English, History, Drama, and ESL
- Worked as Vice Principal at Harbord Collegiate and Northern Secondary in Toronto
- Mother of four children
- Master of Arts in Victorian Studies from the University of Toronto
- Master of Education from Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
- Education Writer (text books and resources)
- Volunteer with Cramahe Public Library
- Co-Host of “Word on the Hills” radio program 89.7 FM
Five Things I’ve Learned from Felicity:
- Fortitude: Felicity exudes a peaceful strength. Her optimism and resiliency shine through her confidence and kindness. She is assertive, but not aggressive. She teaches me to be self-reliant, strong, and connected to community.
- Humility: Felicity gently puts others first. She finds ways to share moments, to build confidence in those around her. She is a natural teacher and “invisible” leader. She teaches me the impact of using our gifts to support others.
- Patience: Everything has its time and even when her schedule is packed, Felicity is fully present. She teaches me the value of careful planning and the benefits of committing to each moment of the day and each person I meet.
- Generosity: Felicity leads our writing group with a generous spirit, making space for our diverse personalities and sometimes disparate voices. She teaches me the art of facilitation and the gift we can give others by quietly leading without expecting anything in return.
- Focus: Intentionality seems to ripple beneath the surface of my observations of Felicity. She seems to know what she wants, how she wants to spend her time, and focuses her attention on what’s most important to her. While she juggles a number of priorities, she teaches me how to attend to each ball with laser beam focus and with a clear understanding of intention.
Felicity answered three questions pulled from my 50 Questions in a Jar so we could get to know her better
Q: If you could fill a piñata with your favourite candy, what would you put inside?
Felicity: “In my pinata I’d like to find chocolate roses, sugared violets, silk flowers and butterflies.”
Q: What do you like thinking about?
Felicity: “What do I like thinking about?! Such a huge question—I like thinking about my family, walking in the woods with my dog, sitting b the sea and watching the tide come in– or out– and, of course, writing, and what I am reading, since I have been an obsessive reader all my life.”
Q: What is the greatest love song?
Felicity: “My favourite love song is Burns’ My love is like a red, red rose…”
Felicity’s Next Big Project
Alone: A Winter in the Woods by Felicity Sidnell Reid with illustrations by Jirina Marton
A story for all ages, Alone: A Winter in the Woods quickly engages the reader in thirteen year-old John Turner’s adventures. Forced to grow up quickly, while left alone on the family’s land grant in a virtually unsettled township, in the winter of 1797, John has to overcome devastating isolation and loneliness. With only a couple of oxen, a pregnant cow, a handful of chickens and his dog to keep him company, everyday tasks become ten times more difficult than they were while Pa was still with him, building their tiny cabin. Meanwhile John’s mother has adopted the orphaned Joséphine, who keeps a journal recording the life of the Turners and her own experiences. The family waits for Pa to return to Adolphustown to escort his wife and young children up the lake to the new settlement once spring allows water traffic to start up again. This tale explores the differences between family life and expectations in the eighteenth century and the present, as John and Joséphine reflect on what home, family, and friendship mean to them and struggle to find the courage, determination and faith needed to face the future.
- Published as part of Hidden Brook Press’s North Shore Series with six more books in this series.
- Launch party on October 4, 2015.
- Alone: A Winter in the Woods will be available online from: Amazon and many other e-stores around the world; Local bookstores (Northumberland); May be ordered from any bookstore in Canada by giving them the title, ISBN number and contact info for Hidden Brook Press: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m Done Waiting for Prince Charming
In March 2015 I turned 40. For five years the big 4-0 haunted me with its ominous implications. It seemed like a season change was coming and the days were about to get shorter and sadder and lonelier.
Aging wasn’t the issue, it was all about the story that wasn’t working out the way I’d planned–a large stone tied to my ankle slowing me down, making things harder. For 20 years I searched and waited for Prince Charming and a little baby “cute-as-a-button” to enter stage right. Well dear Prince, I’m done. I will ride my own white horse into my 40s!
I would still love to go to the ball–but the waiting is over. It’s time to make plans, to claim a place for myself because I deserve one.
I’m letting go of not feeling like a grown up because I haven’t had a wedding. I’m letting go of not feeling like a woman because I haven’t had a child. I am writing a new story, changing the mythology that has hurt me and so many other women who feel like they aren’t enough because they are single.
And it’s not the Prince’s fault–the whole kingdom (including me) is to blame for keeping the story alive, for suggesting that single life can be shameful, for thinking that just because we want it all we should be able to have it all. We can still want partners and children, but if they don’t come on schedule we need to carry on and live our lives…really live them–and without apology, without compromise.
Maybe this is a story about learning patience, about releasing entitlement, about accepting the present, about being grateful for what I have, instead of longing for what you have.
“Some days you just have to create your own sunshine.”
Once Upon a Time…
…There was a girl who loved the outdoors, hiking, and camping. She was fearless and strong and happy. So for my 40th birthday I wanted to go to Presqu’ile Provincial Park to reconnect with the woman I was twenty years ago.
When I couldn’t find a friend to join me, I gave up on my birthday wish. I let the fairytale into my head and its characters confirmed I was indeed a spinster now.
“So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun.” Margaret Atwood
And she lives happily…
I didn’t like being a sad spinster–the beige fleece slipper didn’t fit. So I changed–I made a decision to write a new story. I like this 40-year-old woman a lot and she deserves a good life. In July 2015 I took control of the plot, banished the sad subtext, and planned the epic birthday trip that was becoming more than an excursion: a symbol of my future.
So I shed my spinster cloak and summoned my inner dragon.
I couldn’t sleep the night before Presqu’ile! I was too excited. I woke up early and packed the car. I arrived at 8:30 am. The park was quiet. I spent four glorious hours hiking along some of the trails, walking along the beach, and picnicking on the shore of Lake Ontario. It was better than I’d dreamed.
“There is new life in the soil for every man. There is healing in the trees for tired minds and for our overburdened spirits, there is strength in the hills, if only we will lift up our eyes. Remember that nature is your great restorer.” Calvin Coolidge
Top Five Learnings:
- I am brave. I only screamed once (but to be fair the two chipmunks nearly ran across my bare feet).
- I am connected. The hardest thing about being single is that sometimes I feel disconnected. Alone on the trails, on the beach, or by Lake Ontario I felt deeply connected to my sense of self, to nature, to God, and surprisingly to all the people in my life. This amazed me. I expected to feel anxious, not peaceful and calm and grounded–and oh so happy! I was beaming the whole time.
- Remember to bring bathing suit!
- I belong. Usually when I go places on my own I feel out of place. People don’t even realize the faces they make when they see me at plays or in restaurants. But whenever I passed others in the park they said hello and smiled. There was no question in their expressions that I was misplaced. There was no pity, no curiosity. Just hello. Good morning. What a gorgeous day. We all belong here.
- I will be back. Oh yes. And I will be going to more parks and on more hikes. Forty truly has become an awesome beginning! (Cue Katy Perry anthem of your choice.)
I can create my own sunshine.
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” George Eliot
And the moral of the story…
We need to change the conversation. We need to move the focus away from the ballroom and the dance cards and the gowns–rather, let’s talk about the woods, the lake, and if we need to, climb mountains (alone or with others). Celebrate every woman for who she is as an individual. Ask about her next adventure. Encourage her to take risks. Listen to her feisty spirit. Find a place for her in your ideology if her life looks different than yours. Take a moment to put on her shoes…(and realize it’s likely she has many pairs!)
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Maya Angelou
July 2015 marks my fifth summer of living in Cobourg and working in Colborne and Brighton. My city friends often ask about what life is like outside of the GTA. The landscape is different. The culture is different. The days unfold with a lot less noise and a lot more beauty. Life in the city has its benefits too–but living in a place where the natural world is so much a part of the human world grounds me in a way that the city can’t.
What Hooked Me
Years ago I had visited Spirit of the Hills as a guest to speak at a breakfast meeting. After the breakfast meeting a friend in the group asked if I’d like to go for lunch in Cobourg. Absolutely!
Sitting on the patio of the Oasis Restaurant on a perfect summer’s day I thought I could do this. I could live here. A few months later when I was thinking about applying for a new job, I applied in this region–and voila! Here I am!! Now I’ve bought a house and I feel like this is home–I will be here for a long time.
Things I love most about living in Northumberland
1. People know how to relax.
There is an easiness here. My first summer in Cobourg I walked down to the Harbour and Victoria Park Beach from the West Beach. After years of working so hard I was stunned to see so many people out for a walk, cycling along the lake, sitting on a bench with ice cream. Although it’s cliché–I literally felt like I had landed on another planet. Everyone was having fun, relaxing, enjoying the day and each other. No one was working! (I also realized in that moment how much I needed a break!)
From Port Hope to Brighton, there is a quiet easiness within the towns and within the people who live here. Drivers are respectful. Strangers are chatty. Beauty pops from the diverse landscape.
It’s a blessing to live in a place where the majority of the residents are retired–the 55+ crowd know important stuff about slowing down, appreciating each day, and taking time to drive out the pier and gaze at the lake.
Everyone I meet is a volunteer for something and the lists of volunteer work they do are astonishing! Volunteers make our communities kinder, more beautiful, and provide more opportunities for residents and travellers. From social justice organizations to dynamic arts groups to outdoors clubs, there is something for everyone. In our communities, most people contribute more than their taxes. Our communities are made up of generous, hardworking, heartfelt people who want street festivals and affordable housing and flourishing schools.
3. Sense of home. Peace.
Northumberland is not a sleeper community. People LIVE here. In fact, it hasn’t taken me long to make excuses to avoid the city. When I moved here I thought I would continue going into Toronto once a month to see friends, attend events. As the years have gone by the need to drive toward the city has slowly evaporated. Now I tend to get to the city once a season–and only in off-peak traffic!
It feels like home here. It has the peace of cottage country but with the convenience of a 20 minute drive to work and all amenities in town. Housing prices are better than the GTA so I was able to buy my dream house a few blocks from Lake Ontario.
We are proud of our communities. We feel a sense of connection because we are in this place. It’s important where we are from and how we came to be here, but it’s also important that we are all here. We are important because we exist here. My experience of Northumberland has been as a welcoming place.
4. Food is delicious!
The culture of food in Northumberland is the best surprise! Surrounded by farms we have access to outstanding local produce. Everything tastes better. The 100-mile diet is rich and glorious! (And oh the baking!!!!)
Restaurants and coffee shops have character. Independent eateries are more popular than the suburban chains. As a friend told me, “There isn’t a bad restaurant in Port Hope.” Port Hope certainly has a number of tasty places to go but I’ve enjoyed amazing meals throughout the whole region too!
5. “You can’t walk a block without bumping into an artist or creative person.”
From galleries to theatre to concerts, there is always somewhere to go or something to do. Creative people are everywhere. I can’t keep up with the arts events in Northumberland–in fact, I can’t even keep up with the arts in Cobourg! I’m an arts junkie and try to do something 3-4 times a month to support the local arts culture but I’m often faced with tough decisions as there are so many great options.
My Top Ten Favourite Things to Do in Cobourg/Port Hope
(in no particular order)
- MillStone Bakery in Cobourg. Amazing bread and baking. Try one of their ‘handwiches’ to go!
- Dreamers Cafe in Port Hope. Crazy Cookie–try one. Wowzer. (Also a lovely spot for lunch–or writing!)
- Cobourg Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. The most amazing honey and maple syrup you’ll ever try–among other delights.
- Capitol Theatre in Port Hope. Lots of great shows all year long.
- Avid Reader Bookstore in Cobourg. Friendly staff, good selection, a book lovers’ paradise!
- Corfu Grill in Cobourg–the food tastes just like it did when I visited Corfu.
- Cobourg Harbour and Victoria Beach. The opportunity to be on vacation any day or every day.
- Ten Thousand Villages in Cobourg. So many treasures.
- Victoria Hall, Cobourg–lots of great shows. Fascinating history. Stunning building.
- Burnham Family Market and Moore Orchards–love them both!!
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault.
From Sunshine to Spirals
Metaphors are good teachers. For nearly fifteen years I learned from the metaphor “sunshine in a jar” by exploring it in my writing and thinking. When I started work on The Writing Spiral, another metaphor landed on my page with lessons to share.
My Crush on Fibonacci
When I began my research into spirals last spring I started with obvious choices like DNA and nautili shells. Then the list grew. I learned about Fibonacci and the golden spiral—a simple looking curved line that moves and expands in logical proportions. I started seeing spirals everywhere.
From fingerprints to sunflowers to whirlpools, spirals surround us. Last week a friend (and art teacher) was visiting. Toward the end of the afternoon we spoke about Fibonacci. She teaches Fibonacci in her art classes. I learned that the golden spiral’s proportions are even in our bodies, the distance from my hand to my elbow, my knee to my foot. It’s in architecture too, known as Phi–an angle made up of numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. Most of the greatest structures in the world use phi.
I can finally see the poetry in Math and Science. It is all connected. We are all connected—humanity and nature.
If spirals are in so many things that we can see, then spirals must also shape things we cannot see. I believe our collective mission is to learn. So how do our life’s lessons move like a spiral?
I’ve read in psychology books that we repeat patterns in our lives, often repeating the same mistakes. But what if the lessons only appeared the same? What if the lessons repeating in our lives are following a similar shape, but we are different each time? Changed—even a little.
I want to use the spiral metaphor as a framework for thinking about life. What can spirals teach us about relationships? Self? Purpose?
What can we learn from spirals about love, courage, respect, spirituality, and creativity?
To begin this work of making connections, I made a collage using the Fibonacci spiral as a template–much harder than I imagined!
In March 2013, I travelled to New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii as a chaperone on a school trip. Here are some of my treasures I bought on vacation or just before I departed:
1. TimTams. Oh please stop me now. I can’t just eat one. Or two. How can something so simple taste so good? Our Australian guide told us we needed to try biting off alternate ends of a TimTam, dipping it into tea, and sucking the tea through the TimTam until it reaches our mouths, and then quickly biting into the now tea-filled TimTam.
2. Apicare. I bought a night serum at the recommendation of a sales clerk at the Polynesian Spa in New Zealand. Every time I use it, I wake up looking younger and more fabulous! In fact after using it for a week, I was mistaken 4 times as a teenager (and I’m 38)!! Three women from our group bought this and we are all enjoying it–although we are not big fans of the smell.
3. TS14. Australian designed, colourful plus-sized clothing brand. It captured my artsy-fartsy heart. I am now a card-carrying member and they deliver internationally. Yay!
5. MindFood. Stylish, intelligent Australian magazine for women. Sadly, it’s very expensive for an international subscription. But the good news is the iPad subscription is much, much lower. Check it out. I was impressed by the scope of the content and quality of the writing. For all the magazines in North America, why can’t there be one like this?
6. Pineapple. I used to think pineapple was too sweet and decadent. It tasted like candy. It still does, but one juicy bite brings me back to the beaches of Hawaii. After some research into the health benefits, I learned it’s not candy at all.
7. Compression socks. By wearing compression socks on my many long flights I felt no leg pain. I had no swelling. I could easily walk for long distances when we arrived. I will never travel without them. Tip: Be sure you buy the correct size.
8. Collapsible water bottle. Since I was in safe drinking water countries, this bottle saved me a lot of money. It was easy to find places to refill throughout the day and easy to tuck into my purse when it was emptied.
9. New Zealand sunscreen. On my flight to Australia from NZ my Canadian sunscreen was confiscated so I bought this brand in the airport. Amazing stuff. And proceeds go to the New Zealand Cancer Society. Brilliant fundraising idea. If the Canadian Cancer Society sold its own brand of sunscreen at Shoppers Drug Mart, I would buy it!
10. BurgerFuel. Best chicken burger ever. And they have clever cardboard burger holders so you don’t make a mess while you eat.
Stories have a way of finding us when we need them.
Fall, 2010. I sit in the board room at York Catholic District School Board. It is the first day of the Barrie Region Aboriginal Education Professional Learning Community (PLC). David Bouchard is our guest speaker.
Since I was a teenager I have felt a connection to First Nation and Metis culture. One summer in the early 1990s I bought a copy of Michael Robinson’s poetry at the French River Trading Post, The Freedom of Silence. The next summer I bought another, Touching the Serpent’s Tale. I read the books many times. Robinson’s words and pictures were treasures of my adolescence. Robinson’s poetry inspired me to feel connected to something greater than myself.
By the mid-nineties I was reading Tomson Highway’s plays The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing. Highway’s work is my greatest influence as a playwright. At Trent University I served on the Otonabee Council for a couple of years. One of my positions was Cultural Representative. The best perk of this position was that I was invited to amazing events. In about 1996 I attended a dinner (with 30 or so other people from the university) with Tomson Highway. I remember it was a magical evening. It was one of my first encounters with a real writer, one of my heroes.