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Stockpiling Joy

Surviving a pandemic is about more than physical health, it’s also about mental health.

If you live alone, how do you get through the challenges of isolation? And what if you live in a climate where winter is long, dark, and bone-chillingly cold?

Winter is a predictable part of life in Canada, but pandemic + winter is a combination most of us have never had to deal with before. Usually winter just creeps up on me, before I’ve even swapped my drawers of T-shirts and summer shorts for the cozy sweaters in storage bins.

But not this year. Given the exceptional circumstances, I decided in late summer to start consciously thinking about how I could make this winter more bearable, while not spending every moment glued to an electronic device. This article about how Norwegians not only get through winter – but thrive – helped me reframe and get inspired to start stockpiling some joy I can call on a bit further down the road.

First I started thinking about my physical space. I’m lucky to live in a cozy apartment with enough space not to feel hemmed in or trapped. But what could I do to make it feel even cozier? I had some cute fairy lights that I hadn’t ever done much with, and asked a friend adept at home decor if she had any ideas about what I might do with them. “Why not put them in a glass bowl,” she said. That could look really cute.

I didn’t have a bowl, but I remembered a large glass vase. Not big enough to fit all the lights, but after gazing around my flat I realized the plant stand could be a perfect home for the setup.

I did other things too. I got a couple more plants. I bought a patio heater, to extend the period in which I can host visitors outdoors. (My plans were thwarted by the province’s new lockdown restrictions, but I’m hoping to use it later this fall if Québec shapes up.)

While I’m out on the patio by myself, I fantasize about what sort of gardening I might do next year: I’ll try to grow some herbs again, hopefully figuring out why I killed two cilantro plants this year. Maybe try to replicate my friend Victoria’s great success with balcony basil and tomatoes.

What about crafts? Working with your hands can be meditative, plus you usually end up with something to show for it. I decided to try cross-stitching and ordered a cute beginner kit from a seller on Etsy. I’m looking forward to working on it, with a cat on my legs and fairy lights glowing.

Sea to sky cross-stitch kit. Trees and ocean abstract design in a circle.

I’ve also pondered trying a jigsaw puzzle, which a lot of people have gotten into, or rediscovered. I’m still contemplating these gorgeous wooden creations based on Canadian artwork, and in the meantime, a kind friend dropped off a couple of puzzles I can try out, to see if I enjoy the pastime.

One of the parts of travel I actually miss is spending all the time on planes and waiting at airports reading articles I’ve loaded up on Instapaper. I’ve still been saving them to read “later,” but I’m going to try to make a point to actually peruse them, even if it’s sitting on my couch at home.

I’ve also reserved some books from the library instead of buying them, and am excited to get that email, informing me they’re ready to be picked up. I’m thankful that even though our libraries are once again closed to browsing, reservations and inter-library loans are still available. After experimenting with some ebooks during the last lockdown, I’ve come to the conclusion that I still like reading on paper best.

I’ll still be cooking and baking a lot – check out some of the goodies I made during the first wave – and am planning to try some new recipes. (Scallion pancakes, here I come!)

One thing I need to make a point to do is get outside into nature. It always invigorates me, and I don’t do it enough. I’d like to get back to the Botanical Gardens, and go for a walk on the mountain (aka Mont-Royal). I’ve even toyed with the idea of getting showshoes, even if none have been procured so far. I can find it hard to get motivated to do these types of activities by myself, so friends will be pinged.

There are also a wealth of online activities these days, and I’m always keeping my eye out for these. I’ve taken part in online book launches, comedy festivals, and even a mixed media art class. I love seeing what my friends around the world are up to; for all its evils, Facebook is great for that, and I often partake in events I wouldn’t have been able to attend in person.


As I was writing this post, I got an email informing me that it’s World Mental Health Day today, featuring a video with Dr. Laurie Santos’s five favourite evidence-based coping strategies: exercise, gratitude, sleep, getting social, and being with your emotions.

Sounds good to me. Let’s see how it goes. Bon courage, everyone.

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Weird Words and Intriguing Idioms

I spend a lot of time around people whose mother tongue is something other than English. And as a native English speaker who’s admittedly taken my language way too much for granted for most of my life, I have come to the undeniable conclusion that English is weird.

Attempting to explain the difference in pronunciation between sucks and socks to a Spanish speaker is challenging for both of us… not to mention navigating the vowel shift between ship and sheep with a Portuguese speaker. Let’s not even tread upon the precarious minefield of bitch vs. beach!

“English is hard, OK?! I’m sorry!!!” I’ve been known to exclaim, throwing up my hands in defeat.

And what about the baffling verbal and written shortcuts many English-speakers take. Some of my faves [favourites] are thx [thanks] and the minimalist k [OK].

“But why bother shortening a two-letter word? Why is that necessary? I don’t understand,” says a Colombian-born Canadian.

Sadly, I have no answers.

Then there are the silent letters. Useless. Taunting. Unexplainable.

A comb for your hair… but don’t pronounce the “b.”

Night and knight – yes, they mean totally different things. Yes, they’re pronounced exactly the same. No, I don’t know why.

So. I freely admit it. English is often weird and frustrating to those who learned it later in life. I feel lucky to be a native speaker who has never had to think about its oddities… until now.


But all is not bad. We also have some funky expressions and words that I love sharing. Here are some of my faves.

  • Whatever floats your boat (“You like to put ketchup on your pancakes? Why not, whatever floats your boat!”)
  • Let’s blow this popsicle stand (“I’m ready to go, let’s blow this popsicle stand!”)
  • In one fell swoop (“In one fell swoop, the pandemic changed the lives of everyone around the world.”)
  • Better than a kick in the pants (“You only got a $3.00 tax refund? Well, I guess it’s better than a kick in the pants.”)
  • Discombobulated (“I woke up in the middle of the night and had no idea where I was or what time it was. I was completely discombobulated.”
  • Rigamarole (“It was a massive rigamarole to gather all the paperwork I needed to apply for that program, including reference letters from five former professors.”)
  • Kerfuffle (“The roaming street performers caused quite a kerfuffle by doing acrobatics in the middle of the road while dressed in creepy clown costumes.”)
  • Keener* (“He had already finished all the assignments by the time classes started – what a keener!”)
  • Hole in the wall,** mom and pop, and greasy spoon (“Cosmos diner is a tiny greasy spoon with less than a dozen seats. It’s a legendary hole in the wall that doesn’t look like much, but it’s got the best home fries in Montreal. I really hope it doesn’t lose its mom-and-pop charm now that it’s been bought out!”)

*One of my all-time favourite Canadianisms
**Interestingly, this one means something completely different in the UK, where it refers to an automated teller machine (ATM), aka bank machine… a more literal hole in the wall, to be sure.

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Pandemic Playlist

If I’d asked you in 2019 what this collection of things had in common, would you have been able to guess?

Anything to add to the roster of in-demand items from the last few months? Any predictions about what’s next?

  • Toilet paper

  • Jarred pasta sauce

  • Flour

  • Baker’s yeast

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Latex gloves

  • Computer monitor

  • Jigsaw puzzles

  • Face-mask pattern

  • Elastic

  • Sewing-machine needles

  • Sourdough starter

  • Weights

  • Bike

  • Seedlings

Photo by Jeffrey Zzum – Pexels

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Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids

Along with the home baking phenomenon I’ve noticed during the pandemic, I’ve observed another trend among those of us privileged to be staying home. There’s been an explosion of nostalgia, whether it’s digging up and scanning old photos, or reconnecting with older memories in other ways.

Thinking about this gave me the idea to share a memory of my own.

In 2019, I took a big break from public speaking at conferences. I’d decided that outside of my job itself, the entire year of my sabbatical would focus on taking care of personal things. While a lot of what needed to be done wasn’t fun at all, I was determined to get on stage at least once for something that was unequivocally fun. And I did.

Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids logo

In October I was thrilled to nab a spot in the Montreal edition of a show called Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids. It’s a super entertaining event and podcast, in which people read stuff they wrote as young people, whether a journal, a song, a poem, or in my case, a teenage diary. Here’s the podcast version of the show, in which I recount my high school grad-night antics. In case you want to skip ahead, I’m on at 24:00.

Making Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids host Dan Misener laugh with some of my teenage silliness
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Empathy

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately.

You can express empathy in different ways – with words, gestures, or even a caring look in your eyes, as your brow furrows while listening intently.

You can share the password to an online streaming service so I can veg out on TV, when I’m not in any shape to do much else.

You can reach out to take my hand, while riding in a taxi that you let take me home after dropping you off, “Don’t worry, it’ll just go on my account automatically.”

You can say kinds words like “I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling” or “Sending hugs. I hope it gets better.”

You can send an emoji. 💜🤗😿

You can invite me over for dinner and a movie. Or sweets and adult beverages. I know we wouldn’t have to say much, just being together would be enough.

Expressing empathy is not hard to do, but it’s not something that comes naturally to everyone.

For some people, empathy is a deep part of their soul. Sometimes it feels so intense that another person’s pain can leave you aching inside. I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing.