Just me

I don’t know if it is something that happens to every one, or even every woman, but at some point in this last bit of my 20’s, I’ve really grown to like me.

Just me, as I am. Right now.

I know it sounds silly, or like I am boasting, but I’m not. I have lots of demons and areas of myself that I know need a shit ton of work and things about my being that I would rather not have to face. But I do. And I am.

Constantly.

What I mean by really liking me, is that I really like who I am growing into. I really enjoy my own company and find myself craving more time alone. I am really comfortable with myself today, even more so than yesterday and even more so than the day before that.

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It’s an evolution I am enjoying the more and more I learn and understand about life from a spiritual perspective, a topic which is sometimes met with eye rolls and sighs. A few that are closest to me have started to referring to me as a hippie when I speak about being more conscious and awake or the adventures I get up to – a title I am fine with because I know what they mean and that they mean it with love. I have come to the realization that people can only meet you as far as they have grown themselves and that is okay. I have also noted on this journey that when some people cannot accept you for who you are or struggle with who you’ve grown into, it is okay to know their time in your story might be coming to an end.

I am okay with not being normal or what is expected. I am aware that I am a bit different and it feels good to me. I am enjoying being in a place where I can look back and say, I have come so far from who I was and I’m getting even closer to who I really am.

In fact, if you met me last year and then met me again today, I would bet you would say, “You’ve changed”, and I bet I would laugh and say “Thank you”. It would be even more apparent if we were close in a past life and you met me today…if you’ve not been here for the past few years, you definitely do not have a clue who I am anymore. And I am pretty cool with that.

This whole idea began spinning in my head this past holiday Monday. A last minute change in Michael’s schedule meant our plans for a few nights away were no longer an option, leaving me to find my own entertainment for what should have been a holiday Monday for him too. The let down of Michael not hanging out with me definitely bummed me out, but I was not against a day alone.

Now, early 20’s Toni, I will admit, would have panicked a bit about not having anything planned to fill my day with or people to hang out with and it would have been a scramble to try to fill the space with shenanigans with a girlfriend or sister. Late 20’s Toni though, she’s got this. Instantly I began to think of all of the places I have been wanting to explore but either hadn’t made the time or had a willing partner.

Michael started work at noon, so we spent a lazy morning together in bed, had breakfast and coffee and then off to work for him and upstairs to pack a bag for me.

I had no idea where I was going to head, so I threw in a sweater, a sports bra, shorts and extra tank, a bikini, book, towel, earphones, some water and snacks. I grabbed my hiking boots, a pair of sneakers and threw on my flip-flops.

Instead of worrying about directions or a GPS, I just got in the Runner and drove.

I drove myself straight to the coast of Lake Huron and parked there for hours. I read, wandered, laid out in the sun and grabbed a beer by myself in a small town along the way. I didn’t pay attention to my phone, I didn’t take a single picture to capture the beauty of my day and I barely spoke a word to another soul all day.

It was perfect and peaceful and my soul felt full by the end.

During the drive home I started to think of how many other people I know would do such a thing on a day of freedom. I also started to think about how much I had enjoyed my day. How much I needed my day, and my very own company.

Just me.

It made me very aware that while I do love the companionship of my man, my friends and especially my sisters, there are just some days when you need to sit alone with yourself for a bit and be comfortable with whatever you find, good or bad.

As I was finishing up with this post, the most suitable email from Elephant Journal floated across my screen and it read:

“No matter where you go or what you do you are always yourself.
There is nothing you can ever do, nothing you can wear,
no story you can tell that will change the basic fact of who you are.
Instead of running from it, accept it, trust it, embrace it,
love it because it’s all you’ve got.
” ~ Kino MacGregor

I am okay with me.

Just me, as I am. Right now.

~ Toni

I implore you

I am a bit of a fitness/overall health nut…most days.

I too, like everyone else, am human and have days where the rules or guidelines I happily adhere to normally, go out the window. Whether it is work, my social circle, my fur babies, my man, my real(ish) babies or my super busy family, I am a pretty on the go person. Sometimes this means slipping up due to lack of carved out time to prepare what’s required.

I really do have a hard time sitting still though, so as a coping mechanism, it is my own damn fault that I am so busy. I try to have something planned for my day the night before – even if that is a ‘me day’ where I barely do anything with anyone else and soak up my own time with a hike or some other adventure.

Everyone knows deep down that staying active and eating nutrition-filled foods, in well balanced portions, is one of the hardest yet most rewarding ways of staying healthy. And when you start doing it consistently it becomes second nature and your body actually rejects the crappy, processed stuff and sitting still for too long and you suffer side effects like headaches and tummy troubles when you do indulge.

If you’ve ever been turned-on about something, I hope you understand that I speak from a place of passion and genuine love for this lifestyle I’ve pursued. I just want others to realize what I have come to understand about the body’s natural capabilities – no matter how limited that still may be for me in comparison to what is truly possible. Like I said, I suffer off days and harder days and days where the fastest thing is the first thing I eat because I am stressed, or have gone too long without eating, or have an insatiable craving that I just need to itch…the point is I am human too and far, far, far from perfect. So, so far.

I have a few favourite motivators for why I work out and am conscious about what I ingest – maybe they’ll kick your butt into gear, or maybe they’ll remind you why you get up and do what you do every day to stay healthy and motivated to workout/stay active. Either way, the intent is to inspire just one person to make a small change for the better and I will be the happiest girl in the entire world if that is accomplished.

1. It kinda kicks butt to be able to kick butt: I really do get a giddy high when I accomplish something regarding my health. It could be getting a handle on wheel, crow or a headstand in yoga, or running the side hills of McLennan Park in Kitchener at a faster pace each time.

Had writers block while writing this blog...so this happened for a change in perspective

Had writers block while writing this blog…so this happened for a change in perspective

Running a half-marathon or hiking steeper hills without struggle. Or, it could be the realization that I can mentally control certain parts of my brain when pushing myself through a challenging kilometer or workout set – this ability filters into everyday situations too. I feel more confident in my body’s physical abilities now more than I ever have in my life – and I can’t even imagine how that will feel when I’m 40, 50 and beyond. I love the look on Michael’s face when I clamp my legs around him on the couch a-la-monkey cling and he winces because I’m strong. Or when he trusts me to load our canoe with him because he knows I won’t drop it awkwardly resulting in injury of person or the vehicle. It really kicks butt to be a fit-chick.

2. Having a shit-ton of energy also kicks butt: Really – being up for anything because I have the energy is a huge plus for me. Needing to explore and create and exert energy physically is part of keeping me sane. Normally this might be hard on top of working 50-60 hours per week while balancing every other responsibility. Lucky for me, the circle of exertion and creation of energy is an amazing natural phenomena. PLUS, energy keeps you HAPPY and that’s good for every one, especially Michael – just ask Elle Woods.

Seriously though, if I am free and not ill and you ask me to go for a run, workout, grab a yoga class, hit up a concert after a long day of work, meet you for a beer, catch sunrise on a Saturday morning, play cards, grab dinner/lunch/breakfast/any food, any time, I am usually down.

That leads me to my next point:

3. FOOD: The majority of people really don’t know how FOOD is supposed to taste. I mean veggies – both raw and cooked, fruit, nuts, legumes, lean meat and seafood (if it’s your flavour – there is a huge movement that part of me wants to explore of vegan-ism…but I’ll save that post for another day), real fresh, filtered spring-fed water. Real, from the earth food. We live in a society that desires convenience over effort and with that comes the easy out – the microwave this, the packaged/prepared that, the greasy processed burger…you get the point. Yum, right? No. Not even close to what your food could and is supposed to taste like. On top of the DELICIOUSNESS of the whole foods, add in the perks of moving your buns and you get my most favourite reason for working out EVER – eating. I love food. Like a lot. Like there are only a handful of things that I enjoy more than eating – none of which are SFW enough to mention here. I eat to nourish my body so I enjoy the simplicity that it’s become, however this also means that I get hungry a lot and get to eat A LOT to fuel me and that’s pretty kick-ass.

4. Gettin’ down: I won’t elaborate as I know some of our readers blush easy (not to mention my mom is an avid reader…hi mom), but the increase in stamina, interest and desire when it comes to intimate things – working out and eating right do incredible things for your sex life! The added confidence when you feel good about your body and have the energy…need I say more? Seriously, try it out and thank me later.

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For me it’s all three, but this is funny

5. Life in your years, years in your life: The two go hand-in-hand perfectly when you are in control of your nutrition and exercise regime. If you add in an all around lifestyle geared to being health-conscious, the chances you’ll have a better life and longer one, increase tremendously. I truly believe with the right lifestyle, nutrition, meditation/prayer life and diet, an insane amount of the diseases that we are plagued with can be cured. Our lifestyles and diets are killing us – it’s a fact, not just my opinion. Google ‘Lifestyle Disease’ and see the numerous medical publications regarding the study. The more educated you become, the easier the choices become too.

I would not say I am afraid of not being healthy, but I definitely do not take my abilities or my health for granted – I know first hand those things can change at the blink of an eye, and if you don’t take advantage while you can I feel like you might be wasting a bit of your life. It is a definite motivating factor for me and probably an all around driver for the lifestyle changes I am slowly making.

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What are your main motivators for keeping active and eating right? I’m always looking for motivation and my inspiration comes from you too.

I’d like to leave you with this: if you’re considering working on you, stumbling through or are well on your way, I implore you – keep working on you. I promise you won’t regret it.

~ Toni

Hiking Ontario

If you know me personally, you know that it is quite hard for me to stay still. And by this I do not mean that I fidget and fuss, but that I crave adventure and movement on a scale that most people just don’t understand.

While up to and including this point in my life, travel on a grandeur scale has not been possible – whether monetary tightness or family obligations or school requirements, or, or, or, there has always been something trumping my wild heart’s need to run.

That being said, I have not let that stop me from getting my fix when I can and instead, has made me quite the well-rounded guide for trails and destinations within our beautiful province that just have to be tackled. On a weekend or day off I am often up before the sun and off – solo or with company – hitting the open road with a destination in mind, ready to feed my soul the nourishment she craves of nature, adventure and exploration.

Wanting to get your feet wet with some of the best treasures I’ve found so far? Here are a few to get you started:

1. Spencer Gorge Conservation Area: This location contains some of the best hiking within a 30 minute drive of Cambridge, Ontario and boasts gorgeous views of the escarpment.

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Overlooking the gorge toward Tews Falls side

There are well traveled paths already available for the less crazy than me type (which lead up to the peak, featured in the above photo), or if you are willing to be a little more daring, (and slightly…illegal), then you should prepare for a 6 hour hike down the basin into the gorge itself where you can meander your way to the bottom of both sets of falls. This area can be reached through a gated off access point on the Webster’s Falls side of the trail, or near the rail way tracks at the bottom of the hill heading into Dundas. Come prepared with proper, sturdy footwear, some water, snacks and enjoy a day playing at the base of waterfall giants. Michael and I did this hike last in the winter and while incredibly challenging in full snow gear, totally worth it to stand in awe of this:

Feeling so small at Tews base January 2015

Feeling so small at Tews base January 2015

2. Beamer Memorial Conservation Area: This beauty of a spot was first visited on a fall day where I was feeling particularly restless and needed a new perspective. Not knowing where I wanted to head, I Googled ‘best Escarpment vantage points’ and this beauty popped up in the search results. It really is something to take in.

Lake Ontario for days

Lake Ontario for days

Roughly an hour’s drive from Cambridge, this trail is located in Grimsby Ontario and is part of the Bruce Trail system that runs along the Niagara Escarpment. There are multiple access points (I have found 3 so far) boasting views of the escarpment cliffs, terraces, Lake Ontario as well as the upper and lower falls. If you’re a bird fanatic, try to visit during the spring Hawk migration (roughly March 1 – May 15) where you can catch these stunning birds of prey on warm sunny days between 10:00am and 3:00pm.
New to hiking? From the main gate the trail is fairly flat, roughly 1.9km and easy to navigate for even the most novice hikers. With multiple lookout points and even more challenging trails leading into the basin, this area needs a whole day’s dedication if you can manage. If you’re able and wanting a little more challenge, climb your way down from the back entrance or end of the top trail from the front; here you will find the upper and lower falls just waiting for you to explore them.

Linda and I reaching the top of the lower fall deck

Linda and I reaching the top of the lower fall deck

3. The Bruce Peninsula National Park: While the furthest of my favourites, clocking in the drive at just over 3 hours from Cambridge, this breathtaking wonder located in Georgian Bay is well worth the drive. A part of the 885km of Bruce Trail, this section offers hikers the unique Northern landscape, incredible turquoise waters and four trails within the park to choose from.

That really is the colour of the water

That really is the colour of the water

As it’s located in the heart of a biosphere reserve, you’re sure to see your fair share of wildlife and interesting vegetation, massive rugged cliffs and limestone barrens. Make sure you make your way down to the Grotto – a natural cave on the shoreline that was formed from the waves from the Bay washing in over thousands of years.

Dancers pose over the Grotto #yogaeverydamnday

Dancers pose over the Grotto #yogaeverydamnday

If you’re feeling extra adventurous and the park just isn’t enough for you (ha, yeah right), head over to Flowerpot island via boat and spend the day on an additional 6.5 km of trail, admiring the natural sea stacks, navigating massive caves and touring the historic light station.

Kelso: Located in Milton, just a 40 minute drive from Cambridge and easily accessable from the 401, Kelso is a location I would consider when I am looking for a slower pace, less challenging climb.

From the mid-point, overlooking the top

From the mid-point, overlooking the top

Still providing great heights for views, it also houses 22 km of hiking terrain which is also suitable for mountain bikers looking for a challenge, 396 hectares of camping, and a network of incredible caves to explore. With the perfect Western views, Kelso is a great place to head with a picnic, your favourite person and find a spot to perch while the sky gives you an incredible show at sunset.

Sunset at Kelso

Sunset at Kelso

If you’re wanting the same proximity to home as Kelso but a little more adventure, on the alternate side of the escarpment you’ll find Rattlesnake Point, accessible from Kelso or a short drive, which hosts three rock-climbing areas and an additional 12.7 km of looping trails.

These are just a few of my favourite spots in our gorgeous province of Ontario – I’ll have to write a few posts to fit them all in as there are still plenty of places in Muskoka, Niagara, through Huron and Bruce Counties, Sarnia, etc. to be shared. What are some of yours? Any different ones you might recommend for me?

~ Toni

 

Should I leave the lights on?

Recently in the New York times they had a piece on the light pollution in New York City, and about a bill that seems to have caused a bit of discussion on light pollution. On one hand, having fewer lights in the New York skyline would be more beneficial to the environment, and the migratory and mating habits of birds and animals. Another upside to having dimmer lights would be a greater possibility to see what is actually up in the sky in the middle of the night in NYC.

This photo is by Thierry Cohen, and awesome artist, click the photo to be taken to his page!

This photo is by Thierry Cohen, an awesome artist.

However, New York is big and it is filled with crime – fewer lights would mean more cover for unseemly and horrible stuff to take place. It is a good idea, but in they end, they should take a deeper look into the different possibilities and scenarios surrounding the bill in question.

This photo is by Thierry Cohen, and awesome artist, click the photo to be taken to his page!

This photo is by Thierry Cohen, an awesome artist.

The reason that this story caught my eye was because it made me think of a road trip Joe, Elena, and I took up north to Sudbury and down and through Manitoulin Island. After about four to six hours of driving in the middle of the night, Elena told me to pull off to the side, we woke up Joe and stepped outside the car just to stare at the naked sky.

This photo is by Thierry Cohen, and awesome artist, click the photo to be taken to his page!

This photo is by Thierry Cohen, an awesome artist.

Now, I have lived in the country and have gotten some pretty epic views in my life of the night sky, including one birthday of mine in which the Northern Lights appeared above our house.

I have also seen beautiful pictures depicting the night sky without light pollution, and, let me tell you, the real thing…it is even better than you could have imagined.

I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t need lights on all the time and that we could look up at any moment and just see the Milky Way. I wish that everyone would get to experience the ethereal beauty of the night sky unpolluted, with the lights that we have deemed so necessary. I ultimately wish that we could have a world so full of peace and love that lights weren’t so necessary.

This photo is by Thierry Cohen, and awesome artist, click the photo to be taken to his page!

This photo is by Thierry Cohen, an awesome artist.

It is something to work towards, and something to aspire to. Hopefully it will be so…one day.

~ Andreah

You don’t want kids!? But…

Every time I say, “I don’t think I want to have children”, I tend to brace myself for the response and reaction I’m going to get. The responses are more times than not less than desirable. The statement is usually met with negativity, judgement, or the instinctive reaction of trying to convince me differently.

Over the course of my long-term relationship with Michael, I have compiled a list of the most common responses I hear – we call them ‘but-responses’ – and they generally sound something like this:

1. But, having children makes your life fulfilling!

Firstly, saying something like this makes it seem as though a woman who chooses not to reproduce leads a life that is lacking something…well, really, that’s exactly what you’re saying. Yes, the choice is non-traditional; however, it should be accepted that it is a choice and not a requirement to create life – something I think should be explained to more women. I do not need to give birth to know that I have an incredible life and on top of that, I am going to experience so many different opportunities that some who choose children as their adventure might never get to experience.

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2. But, you’ll change your mind one day, trust me.

Well, trust me then. I’ve felt this way for the better part of my adulthood and for as long as I can remember to be honest. I have never had the burning desire to make mini-me versions of Toni and I feel more strongly about this choice now, with where I am as a person, the life I forsee myself living, than I ever have. It seems to get stronger the more birthdays I see, the more Michael and I grow together as a team, and our blended-family grows more in love. It’s not necessarily my mind that I’ve made up, so much as listening to the silent pull in my heart.

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3. But, what will you do when you’re older?

This one irks me a bit…and then makes me wonder if that is really a reason people have children – as a retirement/old age plan. I have a hard time with this one usually, and I have to really force my filter to stay in place and be kinder than I would like to be. I usually point out that there is no guarantee that your children will be there for you in your old age as it is all in how you get along and treat each other that matters – not just that you’re family.

4. But, you would make such a great mom!

Thank you! And not to toot my own horn, but that’s what makes me such a kick ass step-mama and auntie. I’m a mama bear for anyone I love, and it seems to come pretty naturally. I also love being an influential person to the children in my life, but not having it rest completely on my shoulders. You know, that whole “it takes a village” mentality? I’m one of the villagers that will always be there as a support for my babies from other mamas. I love being that person for my sister’s babies, my step-babies, and my friends’ babies – the person who shows up for them all the time as a teacher, mentor, guide and friend.

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5. But, it’s what’s natural!

So is nudity, but it’s illegal. In all seriousness though, just stop judging what you don’t know. Statistics prove that even if I did want kids, there are still a ton of chances that I might not be able to conceive, carry to term, survive the birth, and have a fully healthy baby, etc. etc. the list can go on and on. Determining what is right for my body and my life is what is natural to me. Let’s all remember too: at the end of the day, I’m the only person who has to live with and answer for my choices.

I know many women who are choosing not to have children of their own, each armed with their own reasoning, each reason as personal as the next. Please try to remember to support each other in our right to choose our own path for this life – what is right for you is not what us right for everyone. So next time you hear a woman express her choice not to have children of her own,  instead of one of the above cringeworthy but-responses, celebrate her choice, thank her for being true to herself and maybe ask “why?” without judgement – the answer just might surprise you.

~ Toni

New directions?

I had an appointment today.

It was a semi life changing appointment.

It was about my career options. I have been mulling the idea over and over in my mind about whether I should stick to photography, or try something new, and believe it or not I was considering a switch from photography to welding.

Welding is a pretty awesome profession, it’s a good respectable trade in which I had a fascination with recently. It was the creating something new, the starting something new, the brand new adventure.

So I went to a career counsellor. We talked for over an hour and came to a renewed decision.

I am sticking with photography. I had a plan when I came to this new town.

Source: Eclectica Photo

Source: Eclectica Photo

I was planning on going further with my photography. I was going to start something new, and although I can’t do my own photography right now, I am looking and searching for companies to be apart of.

Source: Eclectica Photo

Source: Eclectica Photo

Talking to the career counsellor was enlightening. It allowed to me really think about what would be right for me, and what I actually want for my future.

I want to be happy, I want to get on my feet and do what I love.

What I love is photography.

Source: Eclectica Photo

Source: Eclectica Photo

I love the moments, the clients, and the experiences.

I feel like I got lost, but now I’m on my way back in the right direction…thankfully

~ Andreah

Two down, one to go

I am a step-mother.

And no, not in the Disney way.

Evil-step-mother

Evil step-mother

But in the kind of way I would want my own children treated by another woman if they ever had to raise them with or for me.

More appropriately, I am a step-mom.

M, myself and J ♥

M, myself and J ♥

I am an incredibly blessed and lucky step-mom.

Seriously.

When Michael and I first began dating a million years ago, we both thought it best to hold off with meeting his then young children until we were sure our relationship was a long-term thing. He wanted to make sure I was the kind of woman he would want loving and helping raise his children, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t get sucked into a life that, to be honest, I was not exactly sure was made for me. I had a gripping fear of falling in love with such little people, with such tender hearts, that could be terribly hurt if we were to break up.

This is a decision I am so thankful we made.

Finally, when we were both ready, and we felt the children would be ready, Michael introduced his two beautiful babies to his ‘friend’ Toni. (Side note: my step-kids are incredibly smart, perceptive, and other than J adorably informing his father of his intentions to one day marry me, they saw through this ‘friend’ label faster than we thought.) Nothing could have prepared me for this moment or the million amazing and rewarding moments that would follow.

I had heard horror story, after horror story of hard, terrorizing, wicked and evil step-children/step-parent situations, and to say I was apprehensive about the whole thing would have been and understatement.

But I hit the freaking JACKPOT of step-children.

J was outgoing, loud, funny and attached himself to me quite comfortably, quite quickly. Always making sure to put a smile on my face, J’s heart is bigger than most full-grown men I have met and for that I am forever thankful.

Date night with J at the movies

Date night with J at the movies

M was a different story. When I met her, she was roughly 9 going on 40, wise beyond her years with view of the world that was a little bit different than J’s.

Saying goodbye to M before her flight to France

Saying goodbye to M before her flight to France

Slow to let in, M is an introvert by nature. Quiet, sweet, and observant, she slowly warmed to me. As I am an extrovert (SHOCKER!) by nature, and grew up in very big and loud family, this was a bit of a learning curve for me, but over time we found our groove.

Fast-forward to present day where M is my partner-in-crime and go-to girl for all things from car-ride singalongs to balancing out the testosterone/estrogen levels in our home. We share secrets, the latest gossip, nail polish and a love for shopping. More intricate than sisters, much different than mother-daughter, more fulfilling than I could have imagined, I wouldn’t trade what we have for anything.

A few years ago, my brilliant, intelligent and driven M was approached to participate in a European student-exchange program that would grant her the opportunity to host a student here and then spend three months in France. While the trip was a few years off yet, her early acceptance into the program (THAT’S how brilliant she is!) was cause for excitement, commotion, and tears of both joy and worry. We were so proud.

Our exchange student arrived this past August and fit right into our beautifully-blended family without missing a step. C was loud, loving, happy and most of all fabulous. We laughed (A LOT), shared tears of anxiety about her having to leave us, and grew together as a family with the experience.

Our last night with our C  <3

Our last night with our C ❤

In the days approaching M’s departure, I found it hard to sleep, hard to talk about her trip without tearing up, and my nerves, frankly, were shot. The drive to the airport was no different, and neither were the moments leading up to us having to let her go through her gate. I’m not quite sure which one of us was struggling with the reality of THREE whole months apart from our normal lives more – M or I – but watching her say goodbye to her two closest girlfriends, her boyfriend, dad, brother, step-dad and mom, made me want to grab her and make a run for the car, James Bond style. My inner monologue kept reminding me how amazing this experience was going to be for her, that she would be reunited with C, that she would never have this opportunity again, that it’s FRANCE…no amount of reasoning calmed me down, but it did allow me to hug her tightly, remind her how proud of her I was, tell her I loved her and then let her go.

While my composure only lasted until I was tightly strapped in for the return home, my pride in her bravery definitely has. I’m not sure high school me would have had the guts to take such a trip.

Yesterday we celebrated our M’s two month anniversary in France and it being only a few short weeks away from her return. I’ve already begun planning that week’s shopping trip to include all of her favourites and fully anticipate a request for dinner at Ye’s Sushi.

M, we can’t wait to hug you. We miss you a ridiculous amount.

~ Toni