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2016 & 2017: The Hard Years

Last year was hard. No sense putting a made-up pretty face on it, or calling a spade a diamond: physically, emotionally, and situationally, 2016 was a hard year.
I gained some of the weight I lost in 2015 back – not eating properly, not being motivated, and seeking emotional solace in food all played their own roles. I spent 6 solid months separated from my husband, which meant 6 months being a single mother. I shared a bedroom with a non-sleeping toddler for nearly 5 cumulative months of the year. I made the difficult decision to go back to work after 5 long years of recovery. I took on new volunteer positions without shedding the old ones. I began a part-time direct sales business. And honestly, travelling over the Christmas season is no way to finish an already trying year.
And this year has started in the same way. MiniSir will be deployed this year – yet another long separation for us. I have secured a job and day care for Grunt, and now we are just waiting on my official start date. We bought a new car, anticipating a future that the Army has now changed on us (again). And all those volunteer positions? I can’t seem to shake them.
So while I prepare to be a newly working single mum, dealing with what little spare time I have being eaten up by committees, I have to wonder some days if strength comes from simply doing.
I walk now because I refused to believe I couldn’t walk then. I bore a child because I refused to believe I was infertile. I have been alone, alone and pregnant, alone with a child, and I have been strong enough to do all this because I refused to give up on what needed to be done. So.
This year I will be employed, and Mummy, and alone. And I will be strong. I will do what needs to be done. And I will be here for others in the same place when they think they can’t.
Some days I will need reminded of my own strength, and some days others will be the ones needing reminded. On days when I can give of myself, I will. On days when I need you to give me a little of the strength back, I hope you will.
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Join the Rebellion Today!

In what perfectly encapsulates my 2016, this week suddenly and surprisingly has me attending 3 job interviews. That’s 150% more interviews than I’ve had during the rest of the year in a single week. 6 days before we start Christmas leave. 2 weeks before Christmas. Also, the only week where I lost my voice.

Yes – let’s do this.
In June, MiniSir and I decided it would be good for our family if I started looking for work again. No pressure; I could take my time, but we agreed it would be great if I could get some recent employment experience under my belt, get Grunt some opportunities to see kids his own age more frequently, and bring in a little extra income. Since we don’t know what’s happening after MiniSir is posted out of the Regiment, at least with some fresh job and daycare experience it might be easier to acclimate whenever we end up.
So I started applying. Had my first interview in early September. Then another right before Hallowe’en. I’ve been slow but steady about the entire thing, and I have my checklist: I want a job that I can leave at work at the end of the day so I can still focus on my family; I need something that is set hours so when MiniSir is in the field I don’t have to find additional care for Grunt; I have to make a certain amount to be able to cover Grunt’s regular care costs; and I want to make some sort of difference or give back to my community, whether it’s the military family or my city as a whole.
Not too demanding, actually. There are plenty of jobs out there that fit the bill. But I wasn’t fiercely scouring employment websites and postings, preferring to spend a little time every so often for maximum result. I still have a house to run and a family to look after, and, certainly closer to the holidays, many social events to attend or host. I wasn’t really focused on hunting. I figured maybe something would come along next year. But two weeks ago I got a heads-up about a position opening, and then last week I got an email to set up a phone interview for this Monday, so I was hopeful – maybe I would get a job after all!
On Sunday, I lost my voice after Grunt’s mild cold made a successful germ trench run on me. And since I never do anything the easy way (ever), it hit me with all the force of two proton torpedoes in a Death Star. Monday my voice had returned, at the loss of any lung capacity and self-respect I had left. So I spent the 30min phone interview slugging coffee, water, coughing, and apologizing. I aced it. And while I was on the phone, I got another email to set up an interview – this one on Wednesday. Yesterday I got a phone call: another interview for Friday.
When it rains, it pours.
I’m sleeping sitting up. I’m taking all the drugs. I’m not eating. All I want to do is lie in bed and soak up the warmies. Instead, with the windchill at a balmy -20C, I’m wondering if it’s socially acceptable to meet the RCMP wearing pants. I hope it is; my body is telling me that I’m not leaving the house in a dress because the thought of having to wear that much underwear when I’m this sick is just daunting.
I can do this. I know I can. I’m just probably going to be doing it in pants. But hey! Maybe I’ll be starting 2017 off on a high note!

My Tribe

I can’t say as I’ve ever had one; a tribe, that is. I’ve had friends, mostly a singular friend, but never a community, a family of non-blood relatives, a place amongst people in this wide crazy world where I nestled into and felt “home”.

I have one now.

Not just that, but my tribe has layers. The outer shell of community, the inner wide fleshy section of friends within that community, and the small pit where the most intimate of the bunch resides at the core. They are the hardiest folk – the human barrier around my most private and vulnerable areas. In what is usually the space reserved for your most treasured friend, I have several crammed in together.

I don’t know what to do with them all. Some days I just want to throw a big ol’ BBQ and invite people over. Then the list grows and grows and grows until I realize I’m trying to fit 40 people into my tiny house and I’m not sure where they’re going to sit. Some days I just want to lock myself in my house and never talk to anyone again, only to realize that by the end of the day I’ve sent messages to a half dozen people, easily. The tribe never goes away, and it never diminishes.

Then there are those, those select few, with whom I know exactly what I would do. And with those few, I would remove all inhibitions, break down all barriers, open my arms and let them take all I have. Those members of my tribe I would give in to, give out for, bare all with. I surround myself with them, pull them in tightly, hold onto them like fireflies in a jar. They bring me light, hope, and joy. I want my tribe to enjoy being with me, and these most of all.

So I give myself, submit to them, feel them wash over me like waves on the beach, holding me close, wrapping me up. I feel safe, secure, wanted; home. And when the world threatens to break me, they put me back together again with their love.

When I left in April, I didn’t realize how much I needed my tribe. Even if I only saw people once a month, even if we hadn’t talked in over a week, my tribe has become the ground I stand on when I think the rest of my life is shaky. And to watch over social media as all these amazing moments pass by without being able to share them with my tribe as brought me actual pain. I need to be back – to be back soon – or I fear that I may begin to lose myself by simply being by myself. I need the fruit of my experiences – my tribe –  to remind me that everything I’ve been through and accomplished has not gone unnoticed. I want to feel safe once more in the arms and hearts of the people I now let shape my world.

This is the power of my tribe.

I’m Not Gonna Cry, I’m Not…

We are leaving tomorrow. And I am running around like a crazy person trying to figure out what will expire in our fridge and our pantry while we are gone, because tomorrow is also garbage day; two birds, one stone.

It is my choice to go to Ontario for close to 5 months. It really was my choice, even though I keep walking into Grunt’s room and sighing, knowing that tonight is the last night I will be rocking him in my wooden chair, the same wooden chair my mother rocked me to sleep in, for a long while. MiniSir will be gone for close to 3 months on exercises, and then handing over and starting his new position back at the Regiment, and THEN the Regimental obligations with the Calgary Stampede and Spruce Meadows… We would never see him. It was the right choice, both financially and emotionally, to take Grunt to Ontario for an extended visit with family while he does all of this.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss my house, my friends, my familiar shops and even my (sometimes infuriating) neighbours. This morning my cat was sleeping so still and soundly in the sun I thought for sure he had died – he was fine, just in a heavy sleep, but I’m becoming paranoid that something will happen while we are away.

I also constantly feel like I’m going to forget something. Never mind the fact that we are driving across Canada, stopping in all major cities each night and will be near any store I can think of if I do, but still… I just know I’m going to forget something.

And the unspoken feelings between MiniSir and I: this is the longest we will have ever been apart, even including when we were long distance dating between Kingston and Medicine Hat. I’m a lucky military spouse in that sense – his deployment overseas was before my time with him – but any length of time that you are a separated family is difficult; both while you’re apart and when you finally come back together. Whether it is for a week or 5 months or a year, everyone’s routines collide in an epic “can’t you read my mind?!” blow-out.

So when I went grocery shopping yesterday for last-minute items, I may have purchased a lot of comfort food. I made 13 eggs worth of scrambled eggs to freeze yesterday so the eggs didn’t go bad before someone ate them. I have thrown out anything in the pantry that will expire between now and the end of July. And our freezer is jammed full of random leftovers that can be eaten as a single meal sometime down the road. This is how I am coping.

So. If you’re going to be in the Ottawa/Kingston/Toronto corridor over the next little while, let me know. I’m going to have my own vehicle and itching for distractions. Otherwise, I’ll see you all on the other side of the long, long drive.

Free Printables – True Patriot Love series

For those of you that are keeping track, yes, I did have an Etsy shop for a while, selling customized military-themed digital printables. And yes, that shop is now closed. Pity, because I enjoyed doing what I was doing.

However, do not panic! I have recycled the images I was using for that shop, and will be introducing a series of FREE printables here on my blog instead. I am excited to share them all with you!

TPL Printables Banner.jpg

There are 4 different backgrounds available for this first series (click the links below to download):

True Patriot Love – Blue

True Patriot Love – Gold

True Patriot Love – Red

True Patriot Love – Brown

Each PDF file comes with your choice of 8.5 x 11″ background with the phrase True Patriot Love on it, as well as 11 provincial images for you to cut out. You can choose your favourite province, your current province, or every province you’ve lived in! (Note that “11 Canadian Provinces” also includes Yukon Territory – these images were made with military postings in mind).

Please enjoy, tell your friends, and keep your eyes open for the next Flat-Out Whimsy printables series!

Doctor! I Smell BO!

A lot of people may not realize this, but PTSD messes with your brain. I know, I know, but give me a second to elaborate.

It re-wires it. Permanently. Again, I hear you say you knew that already. But I’m not talking about emotions or flashbacks or unexplained anxiety. I am talking about your senses.

That’s right: Sight, Smell, Taste, Hearing, Touch. The five things you rely on every day to help you determine the state of the world around you. In particular, PTSD survivors most often report a complete rewiring in their sense of Smell.

This ‘weird yet true’ fact is something I live with constantly. MiniSir endures me “do you smell that?” questions without comment, and attributes it as more evidence that I am in fact a Wolverine-esque mutant. (And since I completely healed myself without need of surgery or medical intervention after the accident, he has a point.)

But honestly, living like this sucks. Or rather, it stinks. Three days ago I had MiniSir smell the kitchen garbage can because I thought it smelled like cigarette butts. It didn’t, apparently. I swore the blind in the baby’s room smelled like really strong male body odour, and I believed it so strongly that I eventually asked that we moved the baby into the spare room instead. When we make tacos, I am grateful that I enjoy the taste because the house fills with the smell of feet.

I don’t understand why this occurs, but it does, particularly if the trauma causing the PTSD has been severe. And I wish I could at least explain why I smell the noxious odours that I do – repressed memories from the scene would make it much easier to bear. But the truth is that when we survivors smell weird things, it is probably just that: a weird thing with no reason behind it at all.

I am also sensitive to other smells: poop, vomit, etc., but I don’t smell them often like I smell the others and they are always attributable to an actual cause. Don’t know why, but living with the smell of strong body odour, feet, and snuffed out cigarettes in your home when they aren’t truly present is something I have had to get used to.

So if you visit, and the house smells just a little *too* much like vanilla candles, let me know. I will gladly tone it down – it’s just that I can’t tell over the smell of phantom cigarettes.

Another Dirty Word

Something weird happened to me yesterday. I sat down, slouching into the soft couch, to watch one of Grunt’s favourite shows with him. At one point, he climbed into my lap and I looked down to make sure he was going to get comfortable in a way that wouldn’t hurt me either.

And then I realized: I can see my legs. Not just my legs, but the tops of them. And not just the tops, but I can the rest of my body underneath my tummy. Somewhere along the way of losing weight and getting more active, I actually got thinner than I remember being in a long time.

This is an important milestone for several reasons. Since puberty, I have had this annoying large stomach that protruded over my lower abdomen, the tell-tale mark of someone with PCOS. It has only gotten more prominent since having Grunt, as I carried him very high. And since my accident, I have had a much larger behind, thanks to all that fluid that stuck around the injured areas because of the nerve damage done. So, when I look in the mirror sideways, all I see are these two problem areas; my torso gets lost somewhere in the middle.

In 2015, MiniSir and I decided we were going to get healthy – lose weight, eat better, take care of ourselves a little more. The previous 4 years had been a cluster of serious, terrible, and exciting things; a time in our lives we could not forget even if we wanted to. But 2015 we chose to start fresh, and give Grunt positive role models right at home. We purchased pedometers, started counting calories, watching portion sizes, and intensely meal planning. MiniSir started exercising right away, and his weight melted off. He has since managed to successfully lose over 50 pounds. Exercise has always left a dirty taste in my mouth, so I focused on being active with Grunt and trying to hit my 10000 steps a day. It was easier said than done, but by the end of the year, I had lost nearly 40 pounds.

We found as we got doing it that it felt good. We enjoyed it, and it helped us keep our grocery costs and food waste to a minimum. Helping ourselves and helping the planet? Okay! We decided to purchase home exercise equipment for our joint Christmas gift – we had a friend looking to off-load his and we were given a great price. So now we have a treadmill and a recumbent bike, and since MiniSir is a runner, you can guess which one was for me.

I was reluctant to start seriously exercising – what if I hurt something, what if I made it worse, what if what if. Finally, I made up my mind to try without judgment, and I got on the recumbent bike and pedalled. The next day, I got on it again. And the next. Throw in a little yoga once or twice a week, and suddenly you know how I’ve been spending my time while Grunt naps since the start of the year.

Some days I just can’t even, and I still get on the bike. Today, for example. I’m biking and writing this blog. I have no qualms about multi-tasking, and if this helps me feel better about time I spend on me, then it’s a win-win. I can only bike for about a half hour before my back and pelvis tell me I’ve done enough, but I can work up a sweat in that time which tells me I have indeed done what I came to do.

I’m hungrier, downright starving some days. Last week I ate supper and then an hour later I had a bowl of oatmeal and almond milk. But I feel good when I’m hungry – it means I need the fuel.

So maybe exercise still sounds like a dirty word to me. And maybe I hide my scale in my closet so I don’t obsess over my weight. Maybe I’m taking anti-depressants still to help me sleep.

But you know what else I am doing? I’m kicking that bulletproof, armoured bank truck right in the ass.

You can’t beat me, truck. What didn’t kill me has made me infinitely stronger: physically, mentally, emotionally.

Bring it.