Sunday, March 27, 2016

a little bit of sugar rush

The cake wasn't even out of the oven and Carm and I were both having a sugar rush. Was it the molecules of sugar floating in the air? No, like children we clammered around the beaters and bowl to eek every last bit of pleasure from the batter. When we add the icing tomorrow, we'll be dancing around like crazed monkeys, one of us wearing a birthday hat.

Baking the cakes was a trial of patience. My oven thermometer showed it getting hotter and hotter but we were resetting the oven temp lower and lower. It turns out the thermometer probe had come off its little mount and was jammed against the door. Baking a cake is a challenge.

Saturday, the day after Good Friday, we stupidly went into the city to visit Costco. Even the overflow parking lot was a zoo. We got a shopping bag full of produce, 800 dog poo bags, and a large bag of sunflower for the birds outside. We were just going for bananas and green beans!

Our next stop was Mermaid pools. We weren't thinking clearly and had forgotten that the Spring Yard Show was on so there was only 1 salesperson. We waited patiently for our turn and then sat down for the bad news… Once that quote was in our pocket we drove to our local village pool place. The numbers were a little more friendly.

Oh… our annual trip to Presquile is not to be. We couldn't get into a site even though we tried really hard. It will be a good year to have a new pool.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

My Little Dog Spike

This is my story that was published in the Stigma Stories book and on their website.


My Little Dog Spike

I glanced down at the little dog beside me and my lips curved into a smile, despite my nervousness.  Spike looked back up at me, his tail wagging a bit of encouragement.  This was our first time going into a store and my dog, with his 'service dog' insignia, was doing just fine and so was I - I was ready.  As we entered the store all eyes turned our way and I met them with a smile.

A few months earlier things were not going well for me.  Bipolar symptoms were threatening to over-run my life again and I knew if I didn't do something, they would.  A memory of a website I'd seen wound its way into my consciousness and with excitement mounting I started an Internet search.  Sure enough, there was site after site of using Service Dogs for mental illness.  This was right up my alley and I knew just the dog to take on the job. My miniature poodle, Spike, was a quick study and loved to work; he was small and could be picked up in tight spots; he didn't shed.  He already had much of the groundwork done.

It wasn't just a simple matter of deciding and then having him by my side - there were months of intense public access training, conferences with doctors, meetings with the accommodations people at work and of course getting the approval of my manager.

There was one other thing, a rather big thing.  Apprehension could have been the word of the day.  Having a dog by my side would open me up to all sorts of questions - how honest would I be?  What would happen by putting myself 'out there'?  Having a dog at my side would almost be the same thing as having a giant flashing arrow pointing my way.  I thought long and hard about my path and in the end decided that being open and honest would be my policy, and that in my own small way I'd take on the fight against Stigma.

To get ready for our first official outing, Spike and I practiced the skills needed to present a professional image.  He couldn't be pulling on the leash, sniffing every lamp post or jumping up on people.  We took classes with a professional trainer to help get us ready.  Meeting service dog legal requirements means the dog must do three tasks related to the owner's illness.  Two of Spike's tasks were to bring me medication and interrupt anxiety behaviours.  During training I always had a pocketful of treats ready to reward the right thing.  I wanted him to bring no criticism to us, but rather to leave a smile on people's faces.

I picked up a basket and continued into the store.  I had a few things to pick up but also wanted to practice my ‘lines’ to see how well we'd be received.  As I watched the first person approach, butterflies fluttered in my stomach (they didn't actually flutter, they flew like crazed fiery dragons).  Keeping a friendly look on my face I said “Hello”.  The questions started about Spike. I could see that they wanted to ask the obvious question, but were too polite.  So, I volunteered the information … "I have bipolar disorder and Spike is my Service dog. He helps me stay in a normal mood state”.  Understanding dawned in the person's eyes and they mentioned a loved one with a mental illness of some type.  They were thrilled to see me functioning so well (I could see a sliver of hope glimmer on their faces) and wondered what they could do for their loved one.  The dragons transformed back to more easily managed butterflies.

When the day came to bring Spike to work, we had a similar reaction.  My immediate co-workers already knew, but people in other sections did not.  If there were any negative reactions, I did not hear them.  All I heard was acceptance.  I don't think many of them knew much about bipolar disorder, but they were open to learning more, and all worked with me regardless of my illness.

Often, conversations would bring up family members or friends that suffered from the same illness.  It seemed that many were touched by the scepter of mental illness, and most seemed to be relieved to be talking about it.  The dark closets doors had chinked open just an inch to let in some light.

Spike worked with me for seven months before stress caused me to retire him. He didn't like wearing the vest and I wasn't going to force him to do something that made him so uncomfortable.  He still waited by the door for me every morning hoping to go to work, as he did enjoy his job, just not the uniform.

In my months with Spike at work, interaction after interaction occurred in much the same way as the first one - questions, surprise and understanding.  Instead of facing Stigma, I felt embraced by the acceptance of so many people.  No doubt having a cute dog at my side helped to smooth some interactions.  Plus, I think that my positive outlook that didn't leave any room for negativity, helped too.  I wasn't looking for signs of Stigma either - I was just looking to get along.

During those months that I actively interacted with people, I was in a good emotional state and wasn't often showing signs of depression or mania.  My normal facade may have helped people to realize that mental illness isn't always about being sick and that there are times of wellness.  They would have seen that it can be an invisible illness.  They may have seen that I was just the same as they were, a regular person trying to get along in life.  Hopefully they learned that help is available for their family, friends, or even themselves and that opening up to others does make a positive difference.  We can't fight Stigma by hiding behind closed doors!

By Laura S.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Stigma Stories

Last night we almost didn't leave the house… snow with a forecast for more freezing rain threatened to ruin our evening. We didn't want to miss out on the book release though so we trundled into the car. Slippery roads and horrendous rush hour traffic slowed our pace to a crawl. Even with our Subaru we couldn't race along. An hour and a half later we were there.

We snuck into the back of the room to catch the last of the presentations by people from the 'Client Advisory Council of Champlain', an organization dedicated to mental health and addiction services. It was finally time for Cathey to unveil the new website and the Stigma stories book. She went around the room mentioning people who helped her and suddenly my face and shaky voice were on a huge screen. I could have hid behind my chair as we watched the video. The editor in me wondered why I said things one why when another would have been better. Why did I say that at all? Well, you know - who is your worst critic? Usually yourself.

The dogs got lots of oohs and aahs, as did Grace. After Cathey's presentation, we filed into the room that was laden with sandwiches of all types, salads, and desserts. I talked to many people, most introducing themselves with comments about my lovely dogs. It's too bad I didn't bring Spike as he would have been a huge hit, but as it turns out it was the right decision. The meeting room was cramped with rolling chairs and people with plates on their laps. Spike's refresher course had not had enough time to cover those distractions. I thought back to the days when he was a 'working dog' and marvelled that he would have navigated his way through an event like this like a pro.

This event reminded me of how much I have to be grateful for. Many of the authors that I spoke to are unable to work and without a partner to support them. They live in assisted housing on limited incomes. Many struggle with their illness on a daily basis, although many were stable and functioning well. I am so grateful that I’ve had support from friends, coworkers, family, and especially Carm.  I am blessed.

my video:

the stigma stories website - all stories are available for download -

My story can be found on the website as "My Little Dog Spike, by Laura S.". I'll post my story onto my blog tomorrow. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

old winds that blew

Yesterday we woke up to a return to winter. Large flakes of snow had fallen from a quiet sky, gathering in larger and larger clumps until they formed pillows on every horizontal surface. The resulting landscape was beautiful and inspired me to go outside with my camera. The dogs ran through the snow joyfully, as excited as they are with the first snow of the season. The winter's snow had long gone, and maybe there is a special quality to Spring snow, maybe there is a temporary feel to it.

By mid afternoon all traces had melted and dried up, leaving a beautiful sunny day with brown grasses full of hope. We knew better though - the forecast for today was dire. With 10-15cm, high winds, all topped off with a glaze of freezing rain, we lived in the moment and enjoyed the day for what it was.

Tonight is the 'book release party' all the way in the city. On top of the snow, freezing rain is predicted this evening. I started getting stressed out yesterday. I'm a nervous passenger at the best of time; add precipitation and I am a wreck. I'm trying to keep positive and not think about it, and hoping that the weather system suddenly veers south so that the worst will miss us.

I'm going back in time now, seeing as I'm not keeping up with my blog. I like to read back and see what we did when so bear with me.

Saturday morning we arranged a meeting with Jo Ellen and Don. A trip to liquidation was topped off with breakfast at the Country Kitchen - their company is just what I needed. Later in the afternoon Olaf came and picked me up for a night at my parents. I stayed overnight, and Carm joined us on Sunday, after Olaf and I made a run for Cinnabon… talk about a sugar rush! Mom whipped together a roast beef dinner (how does she do that so easily? I need a step by step plan to get through making anything more than grilled cheese sandwiches).

We were extremely unproductive the next few days, but did get into the basement to wash some walls. We also went out looking at pools and got a quote from our local store. Hard to imagine swimming today with the snow being driven sideways.

So there you have it: the days march on, not so much marching but melding into one another. If you were to do a pastel picture of the week it would be a smudge of time with the colours blending so that it was one washed out colour. Or perhaps it would be an absence of colour with just a hint of grey delineating each day.

"The old
Old winds that blew
When chaos was, what do
They tell the clattered trees that I
Should weep?”
~Adelaide Crapsey

Friday, March 18, 2016


Last Sunday to today have been days of brain fog that has disabled writing ability. Not much has been going on other than lots of family visits and time with Kirsten's sister-in-law, Kenda. I have been happy to be able to spend the time with everyone and feel blessed.

My brother Olaf even came for a visit one evening. I sat back watching and listening to him and marveled at the delightful man he has become. He's 14 years younger than me and I still think of him as a little boy, so I am always surprised to find that he has grown up. The same thing with Kirsten. We spend lots of time on the phone, but it is the serious conversations that highlight that she is a capable woman.

The summer birds are coming back in droves. Of course there are the geese forming their neat "V's" in the sky, but also red-winged blackbirds and grackles. Two robins showed up a few days ago, and a pair of ducks has been seen in the pond. Most of the snow has melted and the big flood is over. Now we have to wait for the temperatures to rise for the grass to start greening up.

Yesterday Carm got new tires for the truck. They are giant hunks of rubber with deep tread that should keep us safe on our travels this summer.

Bad news: the pool liner has split, letting all of the water out and the metal sides have crumpled and ripped. After all that angst and trouble last summer to get the new liner in, we now have to get a whole new pool. We are seriously sad about this.

Camping reservations at Presquile have proved elusive. We have another try on Monday; after that we aren't sure what we'll do. Maybe we'll be at home enjoying our new pool…

We needed an escape from everything today so drove to Morrisburg for their famous club sandwich. It was worth the drive. Liquidation was on the route so I picked up 2 dups of a t-shirt that I really like - $5 each. After lunch the bargain store had a top for $4 and a raspberry vest for another $4. A bit of cheap retail therapy.

“That's what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you're not so lovable.”  ~Deb Caletti

Sunday, March 13, 2016

honking geese

The honking of geese filled the air as I opened my eyes this morning (Sunday). A slow shuffle to the kitchen for some coffee and a glance out the window confirmed it. The Canada Geese were coming back. A flock floated on the flooded creek while others flew overhead, looking for a place to land. We've had some lovely days, but there is still snow on the ground blocking the access to corn fields.

Other birds have been showing up at the feeder: a red-wing blackbird hops around the bottom of the tree the feeder is hanging from; an unknown sparrow and other winter birds vie for the seed. Robins have been sporting their red vests around the property. Spring is definitely on its way.

Carm left in the early afternoon to visit his mom, and I am SHOCKED to tell you that I didn't change the channel from CNN's Fareed Zakaria… among other things, he talked about the history of debating, the Ides of March.

It has been a busy week which is why I haven't posted anything. I can't recall when I last posted, but I'll start this tale on Wednesday when Carm and I took a short trip into town with Spike to PetSmart. Our visit went well, or as well as can be expected. His head was spinning with all the smells - he was distracted and almost overwhelmed just walking down the aisle. A few stops and starts with rewards for moving his attention onto me and we could walk down the main aisle without too much difficulty. Enter another dog and we were right back at the beginning again and had to work at getting attention. Eventually it was okay, and by that time both Spike and I were exhausted. It takes a lot of mental energy to keep focus for that long.

Thursday the writing class was cancelled as too many people had other commitments, so I met Diane for breakfast instead. The little Cafe in the village served up the best western sandwich imaginable. Diane served up interesting conversation. It was a lovely way to spend the morning.

Later on Thursday, Carm helped me get ready for our dinner guest, doing much of the preparation. Carm's an excellent 'sous chef', and I couldn't have gotten supper done without his help. Dave got lost getting here again, but eventually arrived safe and sound. We had a wonderful night, although, since Dave was Carm's WORK friend, I went to bed to escape the work talk. Come on guys! You've been retired for over 5 years - it's time to get some new interests.

Friday we went to Liquidation - more depression trying on clothes - but I tried not to focus on it. Whenever we go there I end up with anxiety - there is something about that place, either the lighting, all the piles of stuff or something else, that screws with my brain. The trip is still worth it though as Costco clothes are 50% off. We usually treat ourselves to lunch at the Country Kitchen, a greasy spoon owned by Greeks that is not far down the highway. The food is great (we had gyros), and the service is outstanding. The waitresses are always cheerful and helpful, making the lunch even more enjoyable.

Saturday was dog meat day - we raced the 45 minutes to the pickup spot; stood in line to get our 200lbs; raced back home; lugged the bags down to the basement and stuffed them in the freezer. A quick change of clothes and rush the dogs outside, and finally out the door to friends across the city. Whew. We found their place (thankyou GPS), and spent an enjoyable afternoon/evening with them before making the return trip home. The dogs were ecstatic that we were home (in time for a bathroom break and supper); Grace was saying 'are you hungry'; we were exhausted.

It feels strange, but there's no quote for today.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

when he was good he was very very good

One sure way to feeling down is to get a haircut, see all the grey hair on the floor, and then go immediately shopping to try on clothes in those awful change rooms with the horrible lights and the ghastly mirrors. I went from feeling okay, even good, to near tears for the rest of the afternoon. It’s not that gaining weight and getting older that is upsetting, it is the departure from youthful good looks that agonizes. Thankfully it is a rare collision of events that had me moping around the house. The good news: even though I felt rotten I didn’t indulge myself with a trip to the bakery.

So that was Monday. But today is better:  it is 11C; the snow is that granular texture that reminds me of sno cones, all it needs is some raspberry syrup and a paper cup - except there are yellow spots around the yard, and I know from the past that small flying bugs emerge from the snow when it is like this; the sun is trying to burn its way through the gauzy clouds; supper is already cooking in the crockpot; the dogs are bathed and as fresh smelling as a dog can be; and we had toasted bacon and tomato sandwiches for lunch - it could have been an August afternoon.

I’ve started working with Spike to see if we can get him ready for public access, in case he comes to the upcoming book release party. I started yesterday with some bones on the laneway that he wasn’t to sniff. Oh yeah, right. It took a long time before we could walk around them with no pulling. It was a good distraction and one that we worked on again today. It didn’t take as long for us to walk politely around the meaty distractions, but it didn’t happen right away either. More work required.

I need to line up a couple of volunteers to practice greetings. (maybe eventually even Jo Ellen, but that is far too exciting at this point).

Going back to basics with Spike has reminded me of the amount of work required to get him ready to be my service dog all those years ago (2009/2010). Carm calls him a ‘performance dog’ and for good reason. He is a quick study and loves to learn, but is very reactive. He’s not like the other dogs who don’t bother with other dogs or a myriad of other distractions. No, everything is hard work with him, but when he is ‘running well’, he is fantastic. He has a spark that the others are lacking. I’m not always sure if this is a good thing.

“when he was good he was very, very, good, but  when he was bad he was horrid” ~nursery rhyme

I started a training log to keep track of what we are doing and how things are going. Seeing progress will help on the dark days when it seems like it is an impossible task. Once it is all over I’ll post it here so I have a permanent record.

There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”  ~Sophia Loren

Sunday, March 6, 2016

sun shines hot wind blows cold

My plastic cap crinkles when I move my head and it traps in the heat from my scalp. Hints of pink blush at the edge. One hour to wait then we'll see if it covered up the grey, and then days to see how long it lasts this time. The bottle says 6 weeks, but since it didn't even last 1 the first time I tried, I'm not holding much hope. I didn't give much thought ahead of time though, I could have gotten my snowshoes out for a little jaunt around the field before submitting myself to such ridiculousness.

It is a gorgeous day - the nicest of the year so far and one could even say we are on the cusp of spring - the stronger sun germinates the seeds of hope. We had to get out of the house for a drive and headed to a nearby town to their grocery store. I had checked the sale flyer ahead of time but sadly the store was out of everything that we wanted. boo hiss.

We drove around a bit more, picking up the missing items at a local store (at a greater price I might add), then came home to enjoy the rest of the afternoon poking around outside and doing things to my hair. The dogs have been crazy when we bring them outside - a winter of being cooped up has driven them mad. Even Kabira was leaping and running, which scares the crap out of me because the snow is so variable she could rip an ACL or something horrible like that. But I digress… we were all happy to linger outside this afternoon.

Now the dogs are stretched out on the futon, soaking up the rays in the biggest sunspot of the day. Except Bella, she's in the shade.

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”  ~Charles Dickens

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spike's trip to town

Hi, it's Spike. I'm very tired, but I have to write to tell you about my exciting day. I thought it was going to be a regular day and that Laura and Carm would go out without me, but then Laura said we'd go for a car ride and see my Nona (that's the Italian word for grandmother). I could hardly wait to go and cried to make sure Laura didn't forget me.

After a long car ride - there were so many cars to see - we parked at a building. Carm went inside but I had to stay outside till I didn't pull on the leash so much. I could hardly wait to go inside and kept forgetting that I'm not to run ahead. We finally went inside and I couldn't believe the place. It was so big and there were lots of people sitting on sofas wanting to see me. I pulled and jumped, Laura said I was naughty and got mad at me till I remembered not to jump. I was so happy to see all those people, and they were happy to see me too. Everyone wanted a turn petting me, and they all said how handsome I was and that my hair was nice.

I got to meet Roci, a girl black poodle smaller than me that lives there, but I didn't like her much, at least at first. Maybe she's alright but I don't want to waste my time playing when I could be getting petted.

After we left Nona's place we drove so that Laura and Carm could have some lunch. I'd had lots of treats already so didn't need a snack but I didn't like staying in the car by myself - what if someone came and stole me? After Laura had finished eating she came and got me so we could go to PetSmart! Hurrah. There were so many things to see and sniff that my head was spinning. Laura kept interrupting my sniffing and we'd  have to go back and forth past the good smell until I didn't sniff anymore. I couldn't see the point of that.

One time we turned around the corner and there was a giant black dog with huge teeth that got really mad when it saw me. I was happy that Laura and I ran around the corner to get away from it. I saw some other dogs but only from a long way away.

Laura says I have to have a nap now, that I'm too tired from all the excitement.

Ever yours,

p.s. Laura says she didn’t get any pictures because I was a handful. Is that a bad thing?

Friday, March 4, 2016


The smooth, white surface lay at my feet, stretching around the field from fence line to fence line. It was smooth, but not flat, the contours of the land were highlighted by the blanket which blurred the features and added a few of its own. Patterns in the snowdrifts caught my eye. My snowshoes sunk a bit more in the snow but still supported my weight where I would otherwise  be past my knees, my boots filling up with cold crystals, at one with the deep snow rather than on top like a conquering hero. The sun shone with all its might trying to vanquish the cold. Wind dropped at the sun's insistence.

It was glorious.

Each step brought me deeper into the photograph, my footsteps maring the perfect scene. Other footprints crossed in front of me, I turned to Christina for her opinion. Fox. She would know, living as she does close to nature on her farm. I pulled off my gloves and opened my coat a bit more; I was warm with exertion and the radiant heat from the sun. I tipped my head to the sky and smiled. This, every moment of this, would be in my list of things to be grateful for. I glanced at Christina - did she know she'd also be in my list, especially because she shook me out of my lazy afternoon and encouraged this trip into Eden.

I've been playing the 70s music channel on the satellite - the familiar music is a salve for overexposure to American politics. It's like I've been frozen in time and am unable to escape the chords of Johnny Nash's 'I can see clearly now', which has become a bit of an earworm…

Thursday, March 3, 2016

an uncomfortable grimace

We got to see a draft of the video today… the videographers did a really good job putting together the audio and the b-roll background, but I will admit to squirming as I watched myself stumble over words and say the wrong thing. Some might have thought I was grinning as I watched, but it was an uncomfortable grimace that almost brought tears to my eyes - you know when you laugh but it isn't funny. Oh my, it is hard to watch myself on film…

Grace will be pleased with her appearance and the dogs should be ecstatic over their role, even Carm can be pleased.

Cathey (our friend who is the producer of the book, video and website), took Spike's old, much too small, Service Dog vest for some alterations. He is expected at the book signing party in his old uniform. Gulp. He hasn't been in public for quite a number of years, I hope we can pull this off. I wish there was a good place to practice.

Writing group was enjoyable this morning, although I will admit to having to struggle to get out of bed - when the time changes in a few weeks I'll start getting up a little earlier every day.

Here are a few pleasures in my day: waking up to the sun; going outside to scrape the truck and finding no ice; better still, Carm deciding that he'd take the truck today so I could take the car; the smell of sweet potato, red pepper and tomato soup simmering on the stove; visiting with Cathey; delicious chicken shwarma sandwiches; being outside in the late afternoon enjoying the strong sun; listening to 'I can see clearly now'.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

much ado about nothing

Tuesday we battened up the hatches for another winter storm, shorter this time and 'only' 25 cm of snow forecast, but thankfully on 10 ended up on the ground. I wonder where the rest ended up? Needless to say it was another snowblower day for Carm, while I cleared off the decks.

We settled in for a cosy night with neighbors Trudie & Leo, to share the evening. I actually fed them - it is usually Trudie feeding us. One of the last times they came for dinner she suggested that we have potluck in the future, and she'd bring the meat. She must have forgotten that we don't cook meat here ;-)

Saturday night we went to my parents for supper and got to see my brother, Olaf, and his family again - it is great that they live so close! My parents are over the moon happy at the opportunity to see more of their granddaughter, Freya. I'm happy to see her too. They are in the middle of trying to find a house, so that's very exciting for all of us - it makes their move real.

It is amazing that two people could do so little in 2 days that I have nothing to write about except clearing snow and what other people are doing with their lives. I could write about trying to write a story for tomorrow's WYL meeting, and how the words just didn't flow - it was hard work and I'm not happy with the result, but what am I gonna do about it. It's not like I can channel Stephen Leacock.

Our big excitement Tuesday morning was getting up at 6:40 to try to make a reservation at Presquile. We weren't lucky though so will try for another site on Saturday (better double check that as now I'm thinking it might be another day - too stunned at 7am to get the details right). In the olden days, I used to be at work by 6:40am and practically a full day's worth of work done by 7am. Those days are lost in the mist of time.

This is a terribly written post that jumps around in time like a pogo stick...