Going offline like it’s 1999

knitting and cat.JPG

Or at least as much as I can. I’ve been feeling my screentime edge up even more than usual lately – not helped by working in online media, of course.

So I’ve compiled a list of things to do that don’t involve the internet. I don’t see the point of taking a complete break – people do need to contact me, and with a small business I don’t want to miss a single message. But for the foreseeable future I am going to take any chance I can to travel back to a simpler time, before laptops, smartphones and social media turned many of us into eye-strained zombies; and everything into a photo op.

My ground rules for 1999 living:

  • Streaming TV on my laptop is ok – it’s the only way we can watch TV here
  • Messaging and email are ok – when my phone rings nowadays I’m filled with wonder and/or panic
  • Podcasts are ok – modern radio, really
  • Blogging is ok – obsessively checking my stats is not

Other than that, let’s unleash our inner neo-luddites! Put that phone down, and:

  • Read a book – a real bound book, with paper pages and ink print
  • Cook something
  • Bake something
  • Make something
  • Go for a walk
  • Play board games
  • Take a bath
  • Listen to music
  • Explore your city
  • Visit a museum or art gallery
  • Go shopping
  • Watch the passing parade from the vantage point of a nice cafe
  • Write with pen, on paper
  • Try a new look, update your makeup, maybe even a new hairstyle
  • Exercise however you usually do, or try something new
  • Meet up with friends;  but once you’ve all arrived – put your phones away!
  • Get a massage, a beauty treatment; hipster dudes, get a pro to shape your beard
  • If you feel like you need to talk to someone, enlist a friend or seek out a professional
  • Go see a film at the cinema, or support local musicians or theatre
  • Meditate
  • Garden, even if it’s just some tiny potted herbs on your windowsill
  • Play with your cat, your dog, your kids. Give them your 100% undivided attention. They can tell the difference. I know it’s not possible all the time but…
  • Do the dishes. Go through your wardrobe. Organize your books. Pick a task that’s been bugging you for a while and just do it. Might be tough to get started but it’s worth it for the sense of accomplishment when you’re finished.
  • Go get ice cream
  • Become a charcoal snob. Read a book while you wait for the coals to turn that pale ashy grey, then grill vegetables, meat, whatever you fancy
  • Drink a really nice glass of wine, beer, whisky, a great cocktail

Quitting Diet Coke

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Just say no to aspartame!

Over three months ago I made a great decision.

One day, when I realised I’d run out of Diet Coke, I didn’t rush out to buy more. The next day, I simply chose to not have some. I wasn’t drinking 2 litres a day or anything, but I was starting to depend on my daily dose to get me through the afternoon. One of the world’s most socially acceptable and ubiquitous addictions.

Unlike past attempts to quit, this time I didn’t get a withdrawal headache. And rather than being dramatic and going cold turkey, I was inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret – ‘Don’t Break the Chain’. On day three I began a holiday in Scotland and planned to drink tea, sparkling water, wine or whisky to get myself over any cravings. My competitive streak kicked in – I guess I was competing against myself? and I didn’t want to break that chain.

Within a few days I felt a shift.

I had noticed it once before on a cottage weekend when I ended up blissfully day-drinking lager instead. On that road trip home, we stopped somewhere for a bite and I had my first Diet Coke in three days. Within minutes, a familiar, uncomfortable jangling rushed through my nerves that had nothing to do with the holiday Monday blahs. That should have been my warning. But no, I just went straight back to my daily fix.

This time, I wanted to see who I’d become without that nervous tingle. That was the real impetus. I was getting really tired of myself – so bloody high strung all the time. Anxiety was starting to interfere with my focus, concentration and short term memory, and I couldn’t remember the last time my neck and shoulder muscles weren’t stiff. I wasn’t having problems sleeping, but I was haunted by a summer of insomnia a few years before. Making every molehill into a mountain made it hard to do anything easily or think under pressure. And I’m in journalism and media – that’s just a day in the life.

So I kept not breaking the chain.

And I calmed down.

A lot.

It’s not the only way I combat anxiety, but it’s the latest in a toolbox that contains mindfulness meditation, therapy, long walks, staying organised, avoiding sugar, getting enough sleep, never getting too hungry, and making sure I have enough downtime.

But this. This simple change just blew me away with its immediate results.

I began to do some research to find why exactly this was happening. And found all the information that had always been available online, except I wasn’t ready to hear it before.

Along with less anxiety, I noticed other huge changes. For the first time in years, I’d gone days and days without a migraine. My embarrassing runaway appetite calmed down and I found myself not being able to finish my plate, had fewer cravings for snacks and could go longer between meals. How Artificial Sweeteners Confuse Your Body…

It’s hard to say whether one of my migraine triggers is aspartame itself, or if blood sugar fluctuations caused some of them, but either way it’s a win-win for me.

Spending each day worried that you’re about to have another migraine is not a fun way to live, and one of the ways I tried to stave them off was to make sure I never got hungry. My unofficial mantra became ‘better to overeat than undereat’, and of course I gained weight. But hey – at least I was drinking Diet Coke with my meal, instead of something filled with sugar, right? Do you see how circular this is?

Ironically, I switched from Coke to Diet Coke years ago in a bid to reduce my sugar intake and get healthier. I feel so completely and utterly duped, and had to forgive myself for my stupidity. And because migraines run in my family, I never made the connection when I started to have them more often.

So now that I’ve replaced Diet Coke with water, one huge migraine trigger is just… gone. I still have a few others; hormonal fluctuations, sudden barometric pressure changes, and travel of all things (the universe certainly has a twisted sense of humour), but I can anticipate and deal with them.

When it comes to health, everything is everything, and quitting aspartame has improved my physical and mental health in a beautiful upward spiral. It’s hard to see where one benefit stops and another begins. I don’t really care, and it would take way too long to list each physiological explanation in this blog post.

I’m just happy to have my life back. I have more energy. I can think more clearly – much less ‘brain fog’. I’m more creative. I’m more productive and prolific. With fewer migraines come fewer days I have to deal with the stupefying, exhausting fallout from each attack.

I may not be a vegan marathoner, but I am proud that I’ve stopped putting a nasty chemical into my body – one big step closer to treating it like a temple. Like our Begbie says,

 

On being jealous of my younger self

wedding guest.jpgI was just chugging away, deep in my work the other morning, feeling happy and fulfilled, when I was tagged in an old photo on Facebook.

There I was, in a slightly blurry wedding group shot, not quite looking directly into the camera. Great hair (I’d had an elegant updo done at the salon), porcelain skin, thin arms, one chin. A brownish pink lipstick. Bright eyes. I am wearing an extremely pretty sleeveless dress in a wonderful pale yellow with blue flowers. I’m not quite smiling, and I’m looking elsewhere. I admit I’m curious as to what I might have been thinking – that half smile definitely looks a bit pasted on. It could be that this was the end of a long wedding photo session. I remember I had flown in early that morning. I know I was happy to be at the marriage of two amazing friends. I was happy to see Jeff, who I hadn’t seen for over a week.

The surge of jealousy that ran through me the other day was alarming. I wanted to look like that again. I pictured the lean, clean diet of salad, poached chicken and water I would have to live on.

But then I remembered who she was, what she was going through, what she hadn’t even been through yet.

She was extremely unhappy. The adjustment to working full time after university was rough. That was the second August that she wouldn’t be returning to school in September and she longed to be back in academia. Maybe not for the studies, but definitely for the lifestyle, flexible schedule and intelligent late-night conversations. Trying to find work without office experience in a new city that favoured Francophones had been difficult, so she ended up relying on her retail background to get a full-time job in a shoe store. A job she hated so much that she cried the whole way back to Ottawa the day after that wedding. It would be another year before she would be able to quit. She was embarrassed to work there, but it paid the bills. She was glad that she was nowhere near her hometown and Toronto, thankful that she wouldn’t have to run into more successful former classmates, or – horrors – have to sell them shoes.

She had already started to have anxiety issues, attacks that seized her throat in a vice-like grip, especially when she thought about money.

She ate like shit – fast food, candy, popcorn for dinner, and was deeply ashamed but couldn’t stop. Her high metabolism made it feel like a victimless crime, but she knew she should eat better anyway. Thankfully, she wasn’t much of a drinker – she didn’t like the way it made her feel.

She didn’t know how to cook. Or, at very least, not very well. And Jeff, studying for his degree in music, wasn’t home for dinner most nights anyway.

She dreamed of writing, but didn’t write. There is no written record of those years.

The only thing (she thought) she had going for her was what the mirror showed her. And let it be said, she did revel in it, just a little, in private. But she was also afraid to shine too brightly, for fear of being the centre of attention, for fear that other women wouldn’t like her, for fear of the unwanted male gaze. She wanted to be taken seriously and rarely was. Bold glasses helped a little. She even dyed her hair brown once, and thrilled in the temporary chestnut tones.

She started to shop a lot. Working next to a mall where she whiled away each lunch hour meant she knew all the clothes in her favourite stores, and could capitalize on sales. Still, she slipped into buying more than she could afford, rationalizing that she needed to dress properly for her job. Buying something would lift her spirits briefly. It became a spiral.

Her doctor’s diagnosis of depression was still months and months in the future. She thought it was just that she hated Ottawa, her job and lack of good friends. She was tired all the time. Moving closer to home in Toronto ended up being the watershed moment – she should be happy now, right? Why wasn’t she?

Cut to the present.

I wish so badly that I could go back in time and hug her. Tell her it’s all going to be ok. It’s going to take a while (maybe I won’t tell her how long, or that it’s going to get worse before it gets better) but things are going to get awesome, and be even more awesome because of hard work, patience and learning how to believe in myself. That while I do make an effort to look nice and take care of myself, my body is ultimately what carries my brain around, to paraphrase the late, great Carrie Fisher. I’m revelling in the creeping invisibility with an edgier look.

But god she was so pretty that day.

My guide to boss travel: Step 6 – Your trip, your way

Edi Portobello Beach

Portobello Beach, Edinburgh. Yes, Edinburgh.

Relax.

Are you relaxed?

Good.

 

First, I’m going to lay down some truth. You’re not going to have fun 100% of the time.

Sometimes you’re going to be bored. Sometimes you’re going to be tired. Sometimes you’re going to have a headache. Sometimes you’re going to have a hangover. Sometimes things will go wrong. Sometimes you might disagree or argue with your travel mates. Sometimes, no matter how carefully you’ve picked good restaurants and cafes, you’re going to end up ‘hangry’ and eating at a fast food chain.

You might even have a bit of a meltdown. Mine were related to my anxiety issues and tended to be closely tied to the magnitude of what we were doing: how long I was planning the trip, how much it cost, how much I’d been looking forward to it, and whether I thought I’d ever make it back to that place again.

I don’t have them anymore since we’ve shifted our lives to England, and one reason was to make short, breezy trips much easier to take. But you’d better believe I had the mother of all meltdowns about 10 days after we moved here from Canada. ‘What did we just do?!?’

If you struggle to relax while travelling, I’ve got a few tips for that too.

My list of absolutions

  • It’s ok if you don’t like or want to taste that country’s must-try food or drink.
  • It’s ok to go off the beaten track. That’s how we once ended up at a chill pub overlooking Portobello Beach on a sunny day in Edinburgh instead of joining the crowds walking up the Royal Mile.
  • It’s ok to sleep in if you want.
  • It’s ok if you don’t see everything. Our first time in Paris coincided with a city-wide museum and gallery workers’ strike. It was a blessing in disguise – the weather was great, we wandered the streets, explored the parks and cathedrals and felt way less pressure.
  • It’s ok to set foot in McDonald’s. They have toilets, wifi, coffee and bottled water. I won’t notice if you end up getting a Big Mac too.
  • It’s ok to ride a hop-on-hop-off bus. I can’t think of an easier way to cover a lot of territory in a short time, get tons of interesting facts and find out which neighborhoods seem the coolest. They are great in huge cities. Not really necessary in smaller, more compact ones, obviously.

So worth it

  • Hire a professional tour guide, especially if you have a special interest.
  • Take the tours on offer at museums, galleries and cathedrals.
  • Take taxis.
  • Take public transit.
  • Ask for a quiet room.
  • If you’re heading straight to your hotel to store your luggage ahead of check-in, ask nicely if you can check in early. Might be possible on a slower day.
  • Ask locals for restaurant recommendations.
  • Duck into stores for toiletries and groceries – make your errands fascinating.
  • See what’s around that corner and get a little lost.
  • Use your hotel’s concierge if it has one, or
  • Ask the front desk for help with general stuff or quick recommendations.

It’s all about the timing

  • Find out when restaurants are actually serving food. Many places close their kitchens, if not shut down and lock up, between lunch and dinner.
  • Relatedly, do some research on what time most people eat dinner in that part of the world. It might be later than you’re used to in North America.
  • In Spain and Italy, many businesses observe siesta or riposo. Not much, if anything, will be open during that time in smaller towns. Best to stay poolside or take a nap yourself. It’s hot out.
  • Find out when attractions aren’t as busy – usually first thing in the morning or right before they close.

And that’s it! Be safe and have a wonderful holiday.

Previous posts in this series
My guide to boss travel: Introduction
My guide to boss travel: Step 1 – Deciding where to go, and when
My guide to boss travel: Step 2 – Who’s joining you?
My guide to boss travel: Step 3 – Time to dream
My guide to boss travel: Step 4 – Sorting out the boring stuff
My guide to boss travel: Step 5 – In transit

#myguidetobosstravel

 

Happy Yorkshire Day!

Ilkley Moor

It’s been almost two years since we arrived and fell in love with Yorkshire. Here are a few of my favourite things.

The countryside

All I can say is that the Dales seized me like a helpless infatuation when I first saw them and will not let me go. Partly I suppose, it is the exhilarating contrast between the high fells, with their endless views, and the relative lushness of the valley floors, with their clustered villages and green farms. – Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

Trips out of Leeds, especially in a car, are hilly adventures of sweeping vistas, grazing sheep, drystone walls, and green fields separated by hedgerows, even if it’s just a cab ride to the local airport. Every time I go on a walk, my throat seizes up with happiness at the beauty that surrounds me, stirring something deep within. We are still scratching the surface on this one, working on finding walks that are do-able from rail stations and begging people to take us with them whenever possible.

The weather

I still have the same small bottle of sun cream I bought in spring 2016. This is a feature, not a bug. We do get sunny days here, made all the more special by their rareness, but the sky in the above photo is pretty typical. Nothing a good raincoat with a hood, a pocket umbrella and water resistant shoes can’t handle. Winters are green and gentle, spring arrives fitfully around February, and the mood becomes downright festive when the days start stretching out in their approach to summer solstice. I’ll take the trade-off of shorter winter days for being able to walk home at 10:30 pm in the late June dusk.

The people

‘Where are you from?’ is the question I now anticipate after I’ve greeted a shopkeeper, ordered something in a restaurant, or asked someone if I’m waiting for the correct train. Leeds doesn’t get very many international visitors, and people who choose to move here fascinate locals in a charming way that just doesn’t happen in more touristy places like York. Whether I’ve been making new friends at temp jobs, going to Meetup.com events or hanging out with musicians, everyone here is friendly, happy to answer questions, make recommendations and always up for a good chat. I might get the occasional dour taxi driver with interesting views on Canada’s French population or why London sucks, but hey life is life.

The accent(s)

For the rest of my days, I will always have a swell of affection when I hear a Yorkshire accent.

Just don’t ask me to speak Yorkshire. I can’t. Stop asking.

The food

Sorry to anyone who is somehow holding on to 1980s stereotypes of British food…it’s 2017 here too. I’m working on a post all about Leeds’ amazing food scene, but in the meantime, let Amy convince you to eat here.

The music

Jeff really should guest post this section, but in his absence I will say that people of all ages are devoted fans of, and actually go see, live jazz all year round, not just during the 10 days of the Toronto Jazz Festival.

The shopping

Ah, back on my native heath. Leeds is the centre of shopping nirvana in The North, but I often dub York, ‘Sex and the City meets Harry Potter’, for its streets filled with luxury brands displayed in diminutive medieval shop windows and hen parties chatting excitedly while drinking cosmopolitans and prosecco in pub gardens. I may be biased but I think the shopping is better still in Leeds, with everything from the recently opened branch of the department store John Lewis, to high-end stores in a stunning glass-roofed set of Victorian arcades aptly called Victoria Leeds, to normal stuff I can actually afford at Trinity. If you can think of it, and it’s in Britain, it’s probably in Leeds. The only exceptions that I have been able to determine so far are Uniqlo and Flying Tiger. Get on that, guys.

The village – Chapel Allerton

It’s probably more accurate to call Chapel Allerton an inner suburb of Leeds, but I have fallen completely in love with this village. Equal parts Stars Hollow and the decorative hamlet in Hot Fuzz (minus the mysterious murders), we live smack dab in the very centre of it and I am grateful every day that we do. It’s so well appointed that we often go days without ‘going into town’. Five pubs, ranging from hipster chic to frumpy Wetherspoons, lots of restaurants, two grocery stores, a butcher, a fishmonger, a cheesemonger, salons, a travel agent, a pet food store, bakeries, a burger joint, a pizza place, it’s pretty great.

The trains

Brits will laugh at this, be slightly stunned by the revelation, or wonder just how backward Canada is, but the rail network here is amazing. Leeds rail station is a busy hub that’s connected to pretty much everywhere. The only disappointment is how damn expensive it is to try and go anywhere at the last minute. But, with a bit of forethought and a practiced hand on National Rail Enquiries, travelling around Great Britain is a dream. Unless there’s a delay. Or a hen party. Or a bunch of drunken louts. Or all three at once.

So if you want me to visit you while you’re in London, I’m going to need a few weeks’ notice – unless you’re paying.

The rebirth of Yorkshire

You have to be pretty thick to not be aware of Yorkshire’s recent past, especially during The Thatcher Years. Films like The Full Monty, Brassed Off and Billy Elliot all portray a bleak time in the region’s history.

Even this 80s music video, filmed in Hebden Bridge, shows how grim Northern towns were back then, not helped by what looks like a wet winter day. Hebden Bridge today is a vibrant destination, filled with boutiques, cafes and pubs that cater to residents, visitors and walkers. Nearby Haworth has the Brontë Parsonage Museum and one of the steepest high streets I’ve ever staggered up.

I’ll take any chance to link to one of my favourite songs of all time, with stunning examples of Yorkshire hills, architecture and stonework appearing throughout the video.

My guide to boss travel: Step 5 – In transit

Flying

Flying over the Alps

Finally! The big day has arrived! 

  • Give yourself lots of time to get to – and be at – the airport. Most of the time you won’t need it, but there will be that one time that you’ll be glad you did. That chunk of hurry up and wait, do-nothing time is why books and airport shops exist.
  • Cutting it close is a great way to create drama and possibly even ruin your trip before it’s begun. 
  • Take advantage of online check-in.
  • When checking in online, find out if you need to print anything out. Some airlines flying within Europe have fiddly rules, like RyanAir and Jet2, and require travellers with NON-EU ID to have your PRINTED boarding pass stamped after an airline staff member inspects your travel documents and passport. It’s confusing and the rules keep changing, best to just confirm with a member of that airline’s staff when you first arrive at the airport, even if you’ve checked in online in advance. Don’t find out the hard way at the gate right before you board that you should have done that. They will not let you on the flight and you will be shit out of luck. I’ve read forum threads, people.
  • Remember to make sure liquids either comply with carry-on standards or are safely stowed in your checked bag before you go through security.
  • Relax when you’re going through security. Wear unfussy shoes or boots in case you have to take them off, and don’t pin your hair up with a metal clip – that is an easy thing for everyone to overlook, including security, and will slow you down. Ask me how I know.
  • Even if you’re flying within Europe you’ll probably have to go through passport control after security. Always best to assume that it’s necessary and make time for it.
  • Bring a pen on your flight and fill out the landing card handed to you by a flight attendant (when necessary) while you’re in the air. It will give you something to do for a few minutes. Have the address of where you will be staying handy, as well as your passport number. You can google images of landing cards for the country you’re visiting so you can see what information they’ll be asking for. Completing it ahead of time means you can breeze past all the dummies who didn’t bother when it comes time to queue for passport control.
  • And if ever this travel nugget was ever more worth mentioning – never pass a toilet without using it, especially if you’re part of the tiny bladder club like me.
  • Bring a travel scarf – with airlines cutting down on perks like pillows and blankets, a large, thin scarf can serve as either.
  • Those donut-shaped pillows are cumbersome, but they do work. I had the best airport nap of my life using an inflatable one – sat down at an empty gate, put my feet up on my suitcase, and the donut pillow kept my head from lolling.
  • This awesome post just showed up in my world this week : 10 Things I Do To Survive Airplane Travel. I have a feeling that Joy and I would get along well on a flight. We’d exchange pleasantries and then just get down to the business of ignoring each other unless one of us needed to get out of our row.
  • Before you’re all jet-lagged and bleary, figure out how you’re going to get into town from the airport. It might be as simple as getting into a taxi and telling the driver the address (write it down if that’s easier), but consider finding out the best way locals use, whether it’s a rail line or bus combined with un peu voyage à pied. If you’re heading somewhere remote, ask your contact person for specific driving directions.

 

Previous posts in this series
My guide to boss travel: Introduction
My guide to boss travel: Step 1 – Deciding where to go, and when
My guide to boss travel: Step 2 – Who’s joining you?
My guide to boss travel: Step 3 – Time to dream
My guide to boss travel: Step 4 – Sorting out the boring stuff

Upcoming posts in this series – published on Fridays 
My guide to boss travel: Step 6 – Your trip, your way

#myguidetobosstravel

To hell with the uber-cheerful facade

I’m finding the returns on that investment grow smaller every year.

It’s a deeply ingrained pattern, a coping mechanism, a wall.

It’s helped me work with horrible bosses. It’s helped me advance my career. It’s helped me pretend I like people that I really don’t and tell them what they want to hear so that I can just be a normal, functioning part of a team. I will probably employ the cheerful facade in my business dealings until the day I retire. Don’t most people?

But I’ve noticed in my circle that this facade isn’t always helpful. People feel like they can say stupid things to me, patronising things to me, nasty things to me, and I’ll just take it on the chin. Newsflash – that’s not what just happened. I’m just surprised and baffled by what you just said, because after all, I’ve never been anything but nice to you. I won’t come up with the perfect retort until 3 am. But I will steam over it, oh yes.

And if I get angry, I’m adorable. Great. Just what every adult woman wants to hear.

I don’t know – have I done such a good job of fooling everyone that everything is awesome all the time that some people forget I’m real?

That I have feelings, character flaws I’m sensitive about, parts of my face and body I don’t like but have been trying to learn to love, problems I’m struggling with, bad days, creative wobbles, career woes, health concerns…

I could go on, and with some friends I do, in the right context and space. But in general, I try not to complain and moan, not because I don’t want to, but because people who do it all the time are deeply boring and draining. I also believe that keeping positive is the key to a happy, vital life, and the more positive and filled with gratitude I am, the more ‘luck’ I seem to have.

Yes, my life is pretty great. I’m very thankful for that. I’ve worked my ass off to make it great. But I’m sorry if my cheerfulness has given you the wrong idea.

I’m serious.

me

I posted this profile photo very briefly on my Facebook page last night. I was just so thrilled that I’d finally taken a selfie containing one chin instead of three, and realised my overseas friends and family hadn’t seen my face for ages – I tend to hide behind the camera.

I was surprised at the reaction some people had to my non-smiling face. One good friend quickly qualified his comment on my seriousness with a compliment, which I really needed to hear. Another person said I looked ‘angry’ and ‘upset’.

I dislike most photos of myself, and can ruin a group selfie with the best of ’em. I get sad when I see the disconnect between the fabulous woman I think I am, striding around feeling badass and wonderful, and the photographic (albeit slightly distorted) evidence that I’m not 23 anymore and those pints of Ben and Jerry’s don’t do me any favours.

So when I was playing around with my phone last night after a haircut, I was surprised and pleased with this image. It feels like the real me, when I’m on my own and not trying to people please. Which thank god for Yorkshire, and its down-to-earth straightforwardness, I feel less and less like I have to do. And before you think this outburst has anything to do with my new friends here, it doesn’t. Everyone is lovely and kind, in a much calmer, less forced sort of way.

So unless you have something positive to say about someone’s appearance, or it’s something they can fix easily – something caught in their teeth, a tag is sticking out, they forgot to zip up their pencil skirt all the way – shut the hell up.

I’m serious.