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Archive for March, 2011

I like love the weekly Writer’s Workshop because it gives a bit of a break from some of the more serious topics discussed on my blog. It is also fun to write… especially this week. This one is sure to make you laugh at my expense. Feel free to comment—teasing is most welcome.

I was creating a brochure and website for a long-standing client, one whom I’d been working for over the period of a few years, but had never met. Bryan always handled the photography end of the contract and with becoming new parents; I would stay at home with our son who was 4 at the time. The office manager was a lovely lady named Cheryl and she decided that this would not do. Cheryl insisted that I come to the next shoot and bring Tobias. The plan was that we would go to their home and I could download the photos onto a disc and then she would make us a lovely dinner. I didn’t want to bring him because I thought it might hinder the shoot with a little one in tow, but anyone who knows Cheryl, knows that she is one persistent lady. So, I relented and said we’d love to come for dinner.

What happened next is something that I will never live down. Never. Dinner was to be a beautiful grilled chicken and mushroom dish. The smell was incredible—mouthwatering. I helped set the table and we sat down to this wonderful meal. Tobias was next to Cheryl and she asked him if he would pass the platter of chicken and mushrooms to me. He looked at her in sheer horror. I thought at first that he might have been worried that he would drop the plate when passing it to me, but then the words sprung from his mouth with the sort of innocence that only comes from a child.

“My Mom can’t have that! Mushrooms make her fart!”

Mama’s Losin’ It

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Yesterday I wrote about an incident of adult bullying. I’m sure some of my readers wondered why I was bringing up something that was clearly painful to me. I felt that it was important that I show my own path before writing something that I hope will be of help to those of you who are dealing with adult bullies such as the “ladies” I encountered on the backpacking forum. I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health professional so this information is merely based on my personal experiences and what I’ve learned about bullying along the way. If you are having severe issues with the emotional trauma that bullying can cause, you should talk with your family doctor.

The trademark of most adult bullies is emotional abuse.

Those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of bullying know how painful it is to be emotionally attacked over and over again. Here are some points for you to think about when it becomes difficult.

  • remember that it is the bully that has the issue, not you
  • understand that the bully likely has problems in their life and is projecting their feelings onto you because it makes him or her feel better
  • bullying, simply put, is emotional abuse
  • criticisms are meant to control you and usually stem from the bully’s own jealousy or weakness
  • bullies sometimes suffer from a personality disorder such as narcissism, Munchausen syndrome, borderline personality disorder, or the like, but not always

I have heard people comment that targets of bullying are the ones who invite the abuse. This is a myth. Bullies choose to bully—it is a behavior and they make the decision to continue that behavior towards you. Bullies, of course, will not acknowledge this and will act as if they are innocent and claim that you have had a part in it, that you brought it on yourself. Know, in your heart, that no one deserves to be emotionally or physically abused.

Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are being “thin-skinned” or “overly sensitive”. Being sensitive is a positive trait, one of which most bullies lack and that is often why they act with constant aggression, criticism, nit-picking, exclusion, discrediting, and insults.

Another myth is that bullies have high self-esteem. Generally, the opposite is true but displays of superiority, narcissism, and invulnerability, can be mistaken as self-assuredness.  Bullies usually have low self-worth, which comes out in their actions. Those of us with high self-esteem nurture relationships, we do not bully.

Some say that the bullied person is isolated, a loner. There is some truth to this because one of the tactics of abusers is to isolate the person they are abusing. Targets become viewed as outcasts, mistakenly, because of having enough self-reliance and independence that they don’t need to be part of a clique for validation.

The myths abound. Another is that people who are bullied are stronger because of the bully’s actions. Bullies do not make their targets stronger. Targets of bullying are caring, independent, and innovative people that are already strong and that’s why the bully finds the need to try and quash their spirit.

dealing with adult bullying…

Aside from understanding that this is not your fault and that you did not bring it upon yourself, here are a few tips to help you take action.

Keep a record of all incidents. If it happens on an internet forum, use the Alt and Print Screen keys simultaneously on your computer to capture the incident. Then paste this image in a graphics program and save it. Report each incident to the forum moderator. If the forum moderator does not address the issue then go to the owner of the website and if that does not work see if you can find out what company hosts the website.

If the bully emails you, look at the email headers and forward the email with the headers intact to the bully’s email provider. If the bully is stupid enough to use their work email address then contact their employer and provide a copy of the email.

Do not sit back in silence. We have to start standing up and saying something about these people. If you see someone that is constantly harassed on a discussion forum, contact the moderator or perhaps say something to the bully in a private message. There is no sense in saying something publicly because this will only feed the bully.

If your child is the target of bullying at school, then talk with the teacher, school counsellor, principal, and school board. If they are over the age of 12, at least in Ontario, Canada, the police can be involved if there are incidents of physical assault or threatening.

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Bullying is usually thought of to be a school-age problem yet it never ceases to amaze me that there are adults who do the same thing.

For most of the last decade, I frequented a backpackers’ forum where I loved to chat about cooking, backpacking, paddling, and life in general. I made some great friends in that community but in 2010 I decided that I didn’t want to deal with how the negativity and sandbox antics of three particular women was making me feel.

Let’s lay the ground work so that this makes sense. When I started posting about food, several years before the incident that made me leave, a woman, we will call her Michelle for the purpose of this post, jumped right on me with an attack. I contacted the forum moderator about it and he said that he had had enough of her antics and that this was not the first time this person had done this. Michelle was self-publishing a cookbook for backpackers and I had mentioned on the forum that a well-known outdoors publisher asked me to write on the same subject. I guess I expected that the commonality would make us friends and what happened next caught me off-guard.

Michelle and her friend, Rose, put me down, discredited my ideas, and bullied me at every turn. I’m not talking simple debates or conversations where disagreements could occur, after all I adore a good debate. I’m speaking of downright rudeness and cruelty. When my cookbook came out, Rose wrote a book, and then the bullying escalated. They brought another woman into their little posse, Mona, and the attacks became more and more vile. I had to have false reviews removed from book review sites. I felt that I had to justify everything I wrote about on the forums because they would just keep putting me down.

March 2009 was rough for me. I was pregnant and very excited about it. I was beyond the 13th week, we had a strong heartbeat and I was over the moon. I was sure that this pregnancy was going to stick. Then the rug was pulled out from under me. My blood work came back with a diagnosis of diabetes, I lost the baby (according to the ultrasound tech the baby had stopped growing around 11 weeks), and the bullies started making nasty comments about what kind of mother I was to my son.

A friend posted about what was going on and asked them to stop. My friend somehow misunderstood my choosing expectant management at home rather than having a surgical procedure and thought the baby was stillborn. That could have been my fault as I was pretty distraught.  By definition, this was a miscarriage. Bryan took a screenshot of the conversation in case I wanted to do something about it after the fact. I was going to post the link to the full-size  screenshot  here but I decided it would be best to keep their names quiet, not because I care about them, but because I believe that it is the ethical thing for me to do and that their comeuppance will come from elsewhere. Instead, I will type the words here so that you can see the gravity of them…

Friend: Laurie delivered her stillborn child this afternoon so if she wanted to be venting and feeling protective of her other child, cut her some slack.

Rose: Okay, lets not be overly dramatic… she was what? 8 or 10 weeks along? Assuming she “delivered” the fetus today it was only about an inch long. Stillbirths are defined as 24 weeks along or more. Not to be crude but there wasn’t much there to cuddle. More or less a blood clot. Not that losing a much wanted child isn’t traumatic – but don’t make it our for more than what it really is. A cry for attention. Again, interesting timing, don’t you think?

Trailgoat: Quite possibly the most disturbing and cruel post I’ve ever read on these forum boards. “Michelle’s” follow-up is equally disturbing. I’m floored that someone would post such blatant cruelty and disregard for another person’s feelings. Pretty catty ladies.

The miscarriage was hard enough without such vitriol. In 2010, I was pregnant again and I posted an ultrasound picture. Then when Kaia was born, I posted a photo of her just like all the other Moms on the forum were doing. You will not find many of those posts on the backpacking website because one of the three women would go in and post something very vile and the moderator would delete the entire thread.

I tried to be strong about it and continue to share with the forum members who wanted me there. I gave up—participating in the forum became pointless because these “ladies” would do everything they could to have the topics pulled. I was tired of the constant negativity and so I left.

What shocked me about all of this, and still does, frankly, is that I have seen better-behaved children. I don’t understand the attacks but I am pretty sure it is because they see me as a pretty tenacious person and well-respected cookbook author. It’s not like I had done anything to them. When I first discovered Michelle had written a book and after when Rose wrote hers, I even offered to put their links on my wilderness cooking site and on Outdoor Adventure Canada. I can’t even repeat what was said to me. I’ve tried and tried to find out what the problem is, to no avail. Perhaps they feel threatened because I have beautiful books and a great publisher behind me. I figure the issue could be as basic as unadulterated jealousy and it makes sense.

The attempts are still happening. For the most part I ignore the comments because, frankly, they are inane. For example, the other day I posted a bean dip recipe in another backpacking discussion group. There was discussion about cans and I mentioned that cans are not always an option. I wrote “About cans. While I am not sure of the regulations south of the Canadian border, there are many parks up here, including the Ontario Parks, that have banned cans in the backcountry. So, for some of us, toting heavy cans is neither desirable nor is it an option.” Low and behold, like a vulture waiting for a scrap to feed on, there was Michelle. She posted “Thankfully in most of America we get to wear big kid pants and decide ourselves if we wish to carry cans. Thank god for freedom.” I shook my head at the pure stupidity of the response. Last time I looked, Canada was a free nation and a democracy. I also thought it interesting that someone who uses the backcountry so much couldn’t see the environmental benefit of a can and bottle ban like the one in Algonquin Provincial Park. Then I remembered the source… Michelle.

After some time to reflect I decided that, the best course of action is to ignore them. In hindsight, they certainly are not of people of substance. These people are very insular, vitriolic, and unkind. I believe that they find great pleasure in causing pain; that they put others down to make themselves feel better because they are missing something in their own lives. I have learned that people who are so cruel generally are not happy or content. I do not think that one could possibly spew such hateful and evil comments if one is truly happy.

Did I let the bullies drive me off the forum? Yes, and no. Yes, I was sick and tired of their comments but I also decided that I have more important things to do with my time. I don’t feel that I’ve lost out on anything because the people whom I respected and enjoyed speaking with through the forum now contact me in other ways.

My point of all of this… be careful what you say especially in public. Remember that what you write does not just become pixels on a screen, that there is a real, live, and feeling, person on the other end of those words. You can’t take words back. I’m not sure if Michelle, Rose, and Mona, feel regret for what they said that day in March 2009 but I do know that the universe will take care of balancing things out and karma can bring tough lessons.

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When I first clambered into a canoe, almost twenty years ago now, I never thought that it would be such a big part of who I have become. The year was 1992 and I was engaged to the love of my life. My fiancé, Bryan, took me on a romantic weekend getaway to Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park, a campground at Pog Lake on the Madawaska River. We had borrowed an old Coleman canoe made of fibreglass. It was a beast of a boat and surely weighed close to ninety pounds. We hoisted the canoe down the steep embankment on our site to the murky water of the Madawaska. This was to be my first day trip in a canoe. I remember putting on the musty old life jacket and awkwardly making my way into the canoe. I entered the stern overcome with fear. My knuckles were white as I clung desperately to the gunwales and half crawled, half walked to the bow. The boat was rocking with every movement and all I could think of was falling in and being devoured by a water snake.

The day was uneventful and next thing I knew it was late afternoon and the sun was sinking into the horizon leaving the sky with soft warm hues of pink and orange. We paddled downstream and into a series of small lakes. That was where I saw my first moose quietly enjoying his dinner of lily pads just a few yards away from us. On the return trip we encountered a loon, an interesting bird that I had only seen in books. I was so close that I could have reached out and touched his feathers. I remember the day as if it were only yesterday even though it would be another ten years before I held a paddle. I was in love, not just with Bryan but with the wilderness and peacefulness of travel on the water.

I returned from this excursion feeling unlike I had never felt before. It was a wonderful experience and now I was getting married. I was on top of the world. Time passed. The wedding was beautiful. My career was going well. Then, without warning, I lost my job because of a corporate buyout. Depression became my routine. My weight started spiralling out of control along with my self esteem. More time passed. I was now well over three hundred pounds. I felt empty and lost and didn’t know how to find myself. Getting out of bed in the morning became difficult and sleep eluded me at night. I was drowning in my own self-pity and self-loathing. Later the following year I started a business and it blossomed. My career was on the fast track again and I had the unconditional love of a wonderful man, yet I was still unhappy with myself. Something was missing.

Would this self-torment ever end? Would I ever get myself together? It was a small and loving idea that jump started my recovery although at the time I didn’t see it as kind at all. One day my knight in his shining car came charging in from the bookstore with copies of every canoe and backpacking magazine he could find. He knew I loved the outdoors and he was also aware that I had been putting off any adventure because of what I thought people would think if they saw someone my size stuffed into a backpack or sitting in a canoe. He said that he wanted to start exploring the wilderness too and asked if I would go with him. I sobbed uncontrollably. I had secretly bought a backpacking magazine. I wanted to do this more than he could have imagined but the walk to the mailbox was more than I could handle. How was I ever going to walk from camp to camp with a backpack? How would I ever find gear to fit me? We talked and I leafed through the magazines and the more I read, the more I thought that maybe I could do this, but not canoeing. I was afraid that my weight would be too much for a canoe. I thought I might break the seat. Once Bryan refuted the issue, my concern turned to the boat being too weighed down at one end, so like a spoiled brat, I refused to discuss it further and we decided backpacking was best.

I started to walk. Flat pavement at first, then day hikes that became more strenuous as time went on. I completed my first backcountry trip on the Bruce Peninsula at Georgian Bay. The pounds were being shed and my breathing had improved. We planned for several more trips that year and I was excited. I had gone from the assumption that people were thinking I had no business out there because of my size, to realizing that most people were extremely supportive. My self-esteem was on the rise and I finally started to feel good about my life, however, it was to be short lived. It was early June, four in the morning; I awoke from a restless sleep. There was fog in our backyard. That was strange, not foggy in the front yard. Suddenly I realized it was smoke. The house was on fire. Only a few moments to get to safety! Explosions! Sirens! Disbelief followed by tears. Everything gone, everyone safe, dreams shattered; homeless. Seven months of stress, unlike anything I had experienced before. Depression tried to take hold of my life again. But not this time, I vowed to get out there and explore; life is too short to waste and I was lucky to be alive.

So there we were backpacking again, just the two of us. One trip in particular was extremely hot and I was certain that I would need a blood transfusion after the blackflies and mosquitoes were done with me. Screw that. We hiked out and found a campground, Pog Lake. The memory of my first paddle came flooding back to me. I was transported back to 1992 again. Then Bryan suggested that we hop on over to Canoe Lake and rent a canoe. I wanted to explore the famous Mowat Landing area that Tom Thomson frequented. There were no thoughts of being overweight or breaking the seat. It didn’t even enter my mind. All I could think of was recreating the special moments we had shared on our first trip together.

bridge ruins

bridge ruins

We bought two over-priced ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches for a picnic lunch and set out on the lake to view the historical sites. Then we decided to head up Potters Creek. The creek is a winding one and very shallow in the summer which meant we had to wade through some parts and portage others. We paddled under the decaying timbers that had once supported a road almost 100 years before. Skeletal remains of the bridge remained and it seemed eerie yet beautiful at the same time. Then we approached a beaver dam. What now? I’d never done a lift over before. Now it is a well known fact that I am not the most graceful person on the planet and mixing this with a canoe could have been a bad move. Because of my history as a klutz, I studied the dam carefully and called back to Bryan indicating I was going to step out onto the logs and then pull the canoe broadside so that he might disembark. He couldn’t hear me but I didn’t realize that. The water at his end was seven feet deep. I had one leg on the dam and the other in the bow of the canoe. He stepped out of the stern. The water was over his head. I landed at the muddy edge of the beaver dam and was soaked to the skin. The canoe was full of water. Our lunch and my camera were floating downstream. My hat was dripping and I was speechless, which for those who know me is a pretty major event in itself.

We righted the canoe, gathered our belongings including the soggy sandwiches and headed back to the put-in at Canoe Lake. As we travelled across Canoe Lake I hit the edge of my prescription glasses with the grip of my paddle. The magnetic sunglasses popped off and sank to the bottom of the lake. I made Bryan go back hoping that I was wrong and my sunglasses would be floating on the surface. No such luck. More silence. I was never canoeing again!

nesting loon

nesting loon

Then it happened. We were turning the canoe around in a grassy bay. The canoe was less than a foot from a nesting loon. It was an incredible sight. She looked at me and our mishaps were immediately forgotten. I was in love with paddling again. I have experienced dozens of trips since then. I’ve encountered the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I continue to find new adventures and meet kindred spirits. I’ve discovered things about myself that surprise me, like being stronger and less fearful that I ever thought possible. I can do anything I set my mind to no matter what the barriers. For example losing almost half my body weight or carrying a thirty-five pound backpack over a slippery portage. I’m having fun meandering down rivers, battling waves on windy lakes, playing in waterfalls, star gazing on rock outcrops and seeing the reflections of a billion stars on a calm lake. I teach my children about the wilderness and how important it is to protect our backcountry areas. I do this by taking them out there and nurturing a love for the wilds.

Although it is technically spring, it still feels like winter in Ontario, but my thoughts are for the open water. Trips for this year are already planned, for my incredible longing to paddle has surfaced again. There is something mystical about travelling in the early morning with only the sounds of my breath, my paddle dipping in the water and the gentle wet ripples against the bow, occasionally punctuated by the call of a loon. I call this the paddle song; sweet music for a canoeist who feels at one with her surroundings and herself.

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There is a weekly Writer’s Workshop that I thought would be fun to participate in. The assignment I chose out of the suggestions, was to write about something I do that drives my significant other CRAZY. Sadly, there is not enough space or time to give you the entire list so I will just write about one thing; something current. I went to prep some food for tonight’s dinner and that’s when it hit me… what really drives Bryan batty.

she drives him crazy…

We are having company and I am making a special African Chicken soup so I thought I would get the basis for the meal started. Then when our guests arrived I would merely have to heat it up and add in a few last minute ingredients, grill some pitas and we’d be good to go.

This is where the “drives him crazy” bit comes in. I prepared my kitchen so that I could start chopping the foods. Like a good cook, I got out all of my ingredients and proceeded to gather the tools I would need. Santoku knife, check. Garbage bowl for scraps to transferred to the compost bin, check. Veggie peeler, check. Apron, check. Gloves, che… an empty box in the pantry! Crap! Anyone who has chopped habanero peppers, one of the key ingredients in this meal, knows that you must wear rubber gloves. This is crucial being a contact lens wearer and, sadly or should I say painfully, a lesson I learned the hard way.

I immediately phoned Bryan and asked if he could pick up surgical gloves on the way home from work today. It isn’t the gloves, which I need to wear to chop the very hot peppers, that are behind my driving him crazy, but rather the fact that there are not many times I don’t ask him to stop on his way home for something. I don’t mean to, but I forget to add things to my list or I assume that I have them on hand. Part of this problem is that Bryan never throws out the empty package of anything he uses up. I won’t go there because we are not speaking about what drives me crazy now are we?

No matter how hard I try, there is always something and most often, it happens when we are going to be entertaining guests or I am on the deadline crunch for a recipe article or working on a book. Some days I wonder how Bryan ever survived my writing two cookbooks. Perhaps it is the good meal at the end of the day that keeps him from getting upset with me. I do drive him crazy and I am just happy that he loves me enough to overlook my idiosyncrasies.

Mama’s Losin’ It

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time for me

Often we spend so much time concentrating on making our body physically well that we forget that it should be about mind, body, and spirit in combination. If we lose the weight but still have a poor self-esteem and are succumbing to stress then we will end up back where we started. I think of it like the hull of a canoe. If there was a hole in the bottom of the canoe and I merely put duct tape on the spot instead of making a strong repair then it would surely start taking on water again. Our mindset is the same way. If there are things that are effecting how we feel about ourselves and we do not deal with them fully and properly, they fester and that shows up in all areas of our life including our body.

15-minutes a day…

One of the exercises I use in achieving a good balance in my life js not a physical one but a mental one. I had a friend from Montreal, Martin Beaulieu, and he said to me, “Laurie, you are wearing yourself out, you need some downtime.” I replied that I did not have time and we went back and forth about it. At the end of the conversation, he had me convinced that I could spare 15 minutes a day. Every day, Martin would send me a text message asking if I had taken my “me-time” yet. If I had not then he would remind me how important it was. He was correct and to this day, I still take 15 minutes just for me.

Some days are harder than others are when it comes to finding the time. Having a 9-month old daughter who is currently teething, a 9-year old boy, a husband (Bryan) who travels extensively, and a career as a web-zine owner and book author makes it tricky but I still seem to manage it. In those times, the overwhelming days where it just seems like I have too much going on, it is even more important to have some time to myself, so I take my “me-time” after the children are in bed. There is so much to do but I find if I take these moments for myself I am more relaxed, productive, and I do not sweat the small things as much. This time helps me feel good about myself, keeps me grounded and enables me to be a better mother, wife, and friend.

What I do for my 15-minutes varies greatly. Sometimes I read a book, other times I meditate or cuddle up and watch some television or I soak in the bathtub, undisturbed. Other times I play. For example, last night I played a few rounds of Scrabble and a game of Zuma Blitz on Facebook while the baby played on the floor beside me. What I do really depends on the day and almost always involves a cup of my favourite herbal tea.

Who knows what my 15-minutes will bring today, but it will be mine. So now, I ask you, in the words of my French friend Martin, “Have you taken your 15-minutes today?”

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As you have read in my previous blog postings, I took on the task of changing my lifestyle in a big way. I did not do this without thinking it through or consulting a doctor or in this case two.

I went to my family doctor whom I had been seeing since I was 13. My Mom always thought Dr. S. was a quack but I liked her. That is, I liked her until a particular day in mid-1998 when I asked her about losing weight because I had hit a wall. I had a hormonal imbalance that was affecting my weight loss and it was contributing to the obesity—a catch 22. I did not feel that it was something that I wouldn’t be able to overcome, so I asked Dr. S. for some advice on how I could move the scale in the right direction. After having waited over an hour in her waiting room the response I received was, “you won’t be able to lose it with the hormonal imbalance.” I was frustrated because I was asking how to sort out this issue. She hurried me out of the office. I never went back. That was a Friday afternoon.

On Monday morning, I called Bryan’s doctor, Dr. H. She was an older woman and a friend of his family. Even though we have a doctor shortage, she agreed to take me on as a patient when I told her about my experience with Dr. S. I was in tears on the phone. I went to see her the next day and when I stepped on the scale, I weighed 350 pounds. I told her about the hormonal issues and asked her about a specific medication to help me get the weight loss moving again. She bluntly said, “All those pills will do is give you the runs if you eat too much fat. What you need to do is get off your ass and move. Watch what you eat and increase your activity every week. It will be slower with the hormonal problem but that will start to sort out as your weight comes down. You didn’t become 350 pounds overnight and it will not be something you can fix overnight if you expect permanent results.” There I had it. The cold, hard, truth and I loved her for it.

I went back to see her several times. The first time she quizzed me about how I was losing the weight. When I told her that I had done exactly what she told me and was working on being a bit better at staying on the right lifestyle path, she smiled. I saw her again in early 2001 and for the first time in a decade, I was below the 300-pound mark.

Since then, I have moved to Brant County and switched doctors. I had not been to a doctor since a miscarriage in 2007. In early 2009, I started to see the new doctor. When she looked at my file she was impressed with how far I had come and we discovered something from the records. It showed that I am diabetic, which, while a hard blow, keeps me on the path to wellness.

Now let us get to the point of my post before I veer off into a long story about being diabetic (I’ll save that for another time). It is so important to check with your doctor before and during a drastic lifestyle change. Frequent check-ups are important to keep you on track and to find out about other underlying conditions that you may have. If a doctor tells you that you cannot lose weight and brushes you off—get a second opinion, as I did. If I can lose the weight I have which is over 160 pounds, without drastic measures like surgery, then anyone can!

Like Dr. H. said, “Get off your ass and move!”

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