Where do you find comfort?

If there was ever a time in most of our lives when we craved comfort, this is probably it. The combination of the upcoming holiday season + a worldwide pandemic is bound to be stressful. For many of us, the shorter, darker days of winter add to our feelings of disquiet. It’s a universal human trait to seek comfort when life becomes difficult, but where do we find that comfort? What do we turn to?

You’ve probably heard people refer to their “Quarantine 15”. In a poll of more than 1,000 WebMD readers, nearly half of the women and almost one-quarter of the men said that they had gained weight since March. This trend is no surprise. Food is one of the most common sources of comfort that people turn to in times of stress. There’s even a physiological reason for this. Chronic or ongoing stress causes the body to produce higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which in turn triggers cravings for salty, sweet, or fried foods; foods that produce a burst of energy and pleasure.

Thankfully, this hasn’t been an issue for me. In fact, in times of distress I tend to lose my appetite. One of my main go tos for comfort is a cup of hot tea which is known to lower stress hormones. Since I drink my tea black, it has the added benefit of being calorie free.

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Soaking in a hot bath is another favourite source of comfort for me. There’s something about being surrounded by liquid warmth that soothes away anxiety and restores a sense of peace. Perhaps it’s reminiscent of returning to the womb! 

What are some other ways that you can comfort yourself, especially if you’re trying to avoid stress eating? Here are a few suggestions, but I’d love to hear your ideas in the comment section. 

  • Exercise. This one might be challenging if gyms and recreational facilities are closed in your area, but it goes hand in hand with the next suggestion. 
  • Spend time outdoors. 
  • Listen to music.
  • Do something creative… paint, sketch, knit, crochet, sew, embroider… the options are almost endless.
  • Keep a gratitude journal.
  • Practice mindfulness. Focus on whatever you’re doing at the moment. Notice the sights, sounds, and scents that surround you. 
  • Escape into fiction. Watch a movie or read a book. 
  • Work on a jigsaw, crossword, or sudoku puzzle.
  • Savour the routines in your life. If life seems chaotic, work on establishing some routines and focus on the comfort that you receive from that first cup of coffee in the morning, a regular devotional or prayer time, a few minutes of quiet reading or contemplation after work.  

We are living in tumultuous times and there seems to be no end in sight. We can’t see the big picture and have no idea how all this is going to work out for us individually or globally, but there is One who does know. Ultimately, true comfort is to be found in faith in God. Scripture is full of words of comfort. 

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How to wear a sweater dress

LogoSweater dresses are a big hit this winter, perhaps because they’re so incredibly comfortable. If there was ever a year when we craved comfort, this has to be the one! I was fortunate to find this one on sale while doing some Christmas shopping recently. I bought it in midnight blue. 

Tall boots and sweater dresses are a very trendy look. They’re often shown with bare legs, but that doesn’t work in our climate, so I’m wearing mine with leggings. Since the boots are dark brown, I chose navy blue leggings rather than adding a third colour.  

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For a slightly edgier look, I switched the tall boots for a pair of black ankle boots and added a pair of cozy knit socks in almost the same shade as the dress.

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As far as footwear is concerned, almost anything goes with a sweater dress. In the remaining photos, I’m wearing a pair of flats, but the possibilities range from stilettos to sneakers. Come spring, I might try wearing the dress with bare legs and one of these pairs that both reside in my closet.

Some knits are loose or chunky and hide your figure, so cinching them in with a belt can be flattering. The heavier the knit, the wider you can go with the belt. Mine is a finer knit, so it looks best with a narrow belt. I’m not sure that it’s my best look though as it emphasizes the fact that I don’t have a very girlish waistline!

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Today’s photos aren’t as clear as I would have liked, so it might be a bit difficult to see that my dress has a split neck. In the next photo, I’ve buttoned it up to form a turtleneck. I haven’t worn turtlenecks much since my extensive neck surgery six and a half years ago because I haven’t found them comfortable, but this one was loose enough and soft enough not to bother me.

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As always, accessories complete a look. The finer the knit, the easier it is to dress up. The V created by a long necklace is flattering and elongates your look. Scarves are another way to enhance an outfit. This worked well enough with my turtleneck, but might look even better with a crew neck or V neck. 

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With Covid numbers escalating rapidly in our province and everyone being urged to stay at home, I probably won’t be shopping again for awhile, but I definitely wouldn’t mind adding another sweater dress to my wardrobe. They’re so versatile!

Who is the enemy?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned about dealing with conflict in a relationship is the idea of standing shoulder to shoulder and attacking the problem together instead of face to face and attacking one another. If we all applied this principle to the fight against Covid-19, I think we’d have a much better chance of successfully containing the spread and minimizing the long term effects of this dreadful pandemic.

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The first step in fighting this battle together is identifying who or what is the enemy and perhaps even more important, who is NOT the enemy. The enemy is not the government, the public health authorities, or Bill Gates. The enemy is not 5G and it certainly isn’t your Facebook friend who thinks that Covid-19 is a hoax!

The enemy is a virus; a submicroscopic infectious agent that invades living cells and uses their chemical machinery to stay alive and to replicate itself. It doesn’t care whether or not we believe it’s real. It doesn’t care what our political views are, whether we’re young, old, or in-between, or if we’re good at math. It just needs an available host.

We can exhaust ourselves arguing about whether or not we should be wearing face masks and using hand sanitizer. We can wave protest signs and refuse to follow recommendations and requirements. We can spread rumours and accuse one another of all sorts of heinous things, but the virus doesn’t care! As long as we’re standing face to face and fighting with one another, it will simply continue its insidious attack. It will kill more of our elderly and vulnerable. Some of its victims will get off easy, but others will suffer long term physical and mental harm.

OR we can stop attacking one another and stand shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy. We can admit that we’re all in this together and that there are no quick fixes or easy answers. We can temporarily put aside our personal preferences and stop rebelling against every measure that is put in place to try to protect us.

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How to care for your hands and nails during Covid

LogoThe cold, dry air of a Canadian prairie winter is always hard on exposed skin, but this year we have more than that to contend with. Constant hand washing and sanitizing might protect us from Covid, but it’s wreaking havoc on our poor hands!

I spent last weekend in the city on my annual Christmas shopping trip with three of my closest girlfriends. At the entrance to every store, we had to stop and use the hand sanitizer that was provided. On Monday, I was back in the city again as my hubby had a medical appointment. Before heading for home, we stopped to do a bit more shopping and, of course, more hand sanitizing. By Tuesday, four very brittle fingernails had broken and the skin on the back of my hands was stinging! It felt like I’d burned them! 

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Alcohol-based hand sanitizers with a minimum of 60% alcohol are recommended for combatting viruses including Covid-19, but frequent use can lead to dryness, itching, cracking, and even eczema. Clearly, good hand and nail care is going to be more important than ever this winter.

Here are a few tips to help:

Wear gloves while doing anything that might irritate your skin such as washing dishes and cleaning house. 

Use hand sanitizer only when soap and water are not available. 

Stay well hydrated. In addition to other health benefits, drinking plenty of water helps prevent your skin and nails from drying out. 

Lock in the moisture. Keep your hands hydrated by gently drying them with a clean towel after washing and then, while they are still slightly damp, immediately apply a moisturizer. Work some of it into your nails to keep them from cracking, splitting, and breaking. If your hands are already irritated look for fragrance free products and ones that are formulated for sensitive skin. 

When you use hand sanitizer, apply a moisturizing cream or ointment immediately after the sanitizer dries. If you’re spending the day shopping, this may not be possible every time you enter a store, but carrying a travel sized lotion in your purse and applying it occasionally throughout the day will help prevent the distress that I suffered earlier this week. 

Rehydrate hands overnight. Apply a hand cream just before you go to bed at night and give very dry hands an overnight treatment by applying a heavy cream or petroleum jelly and wearing cotton gloves while you sleep. If you don’t have cotton gloves, a pair of socks will do. 

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With Covid numbers steadily increasing, it looks like this is going to be a winter like none other, but hopefully with a bit of extra care, we can get through it with healthy, beautiful hands. 

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Digging deeper!

LogoNow that winter has arrived, challenging myself to wear skirts and dresses to church every Sunday has resulted in me digging much deeper into my closet. Last Sunday morning, the temperature was -10ºC (14F), a strong wind was blowing, and it was snowing. Clearly, dressing warm was a priority. 

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I started with a camel coloured pencil skirt that I bought in early 2013, just before we left for a teaching term in China. Named for it’s long, slim shape, a pencil skirt is a timeless garment that never goes out of fashion. It’s a basic wardrobe piece that many different outfits can be built around. In addition to this one, I have navy and grey pencil skirts that both date back to my teaching days. 

I wore the same tall brown boots and patterned top that were part of last week’s outfit. Though only barely visible in the photo, I wore a pair of dark brown leggings under the skirt, partly for warmth, but also because the skirt wasn’t quite long enough to cover the top of my boots and I didn’t want a sliver of bare skin breaking up the look. Next, I added my cozy Checkmate Jacket from cabi’s Fall 2019 collection which you’ve seen on the blog a couple of times before. 

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Costume jewelry can be a fun and inexpensive way to finish off an outfit. The name dates back to the early 20th century and simply reflects the use of the word “costume” to refer to what we now call an “outfit”. To complete Sunday’s “costume”, I chose a pair of dangly earrings and a simple bead necklace. The beads are made from coconut shell. We spent the summer of 2011 as short term missionaries on the Pacific island of Saipan and it was there that I purchased the necklace from a Chamorro woman who made them to sell to tourists. The Chamorro are the indigenous people of the Northern Mariana Islands. 

Now that winter has arrived, I’m not sure that I’ll continue wearing skirts and dresses to church every week, but it’s been fun digging deeper into my closet and coming up with new ways to style some of my older pieces. 

 

NET Cancer Day 2020

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Once again, today is Worldwide NET Cancer Day, a day set aside to try to increase awareness of neuroendocrine (NET) cancers and to promote improved diagnostics, treatments, information, care and research. The focus of this year’s campaign is to highlight the challenges that patients and clinicians face around the early diagnosis of NETs.

A recent worldwide survey of NET patients showed that only 27% of them received a correct diagnosis the first time around. 44% of us, myself included, were misdiagnosed for several years before the correct source of our symptoms was discovered, often by accident. Globally, it has been taking 5 years on average from initial symptoms to diagnosis; 6 years here in North America which was also my experience.

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I’m part of the 36% who were initially diagnosed with gastritis, inflammation of the stomach lining. It was a GP who made that diagnosis based only on my symptom, a gnawing abdominal ache. I don’t fault him for that as NET cancer usually presents symptoms that mimic much more common ailments. Had we done a colonoscopy, however, the tiny tumour growing in my cecum would likely have been found before the cancer spread. It was several years later, when unusual spots on my liver showed up on a completely unrelated ultrasound, that suspicions were raised and I eventually learned that I had Stage 4 cancer! By that time, my symptoms had grown to include chronic diarrhea as well as occasional flushing and episodes of tachycardia (extremely rapid heart rate), all common characteristics of NET cancer.

There are 3 As that would significantly improve the outcome for many NET patients:

  1.  Awareness of symptoms  –  We need health care professionals at every level to be aware of this complex disease and to be able to recognize its symptoms. My family physician had been practicing medicine for approximately 20 years when I was diagnosed, but I was his first NET patient and he knew very little about it. I’ll never forget the locum who argued with me that neuroendocrine tumours aren’t malignant (some aren’t) and that I didn’t actually have cancer at all! 
  2.  Availability of diagnostic tools  –  The most precise tool for detecting NET cancer is the Gallium 68 PET scan, but I have never had one. In fact, only 18% of the surveyed patients worldwide have. It isn’t available at many cancer treatment centres. For the past few years, there’s been talk of one coming to the Cross Cancer Institute where I receive all my care, but as far as I know it hasn’t happened yet. 
  3.  Access to NET specialists  –  In the survey mentioned above, 24% of the patients had not even heard of a NET cancer specialist and many others travel long distances to see one. 

So, every year on November 10, and whenever I have the opportunity in between, I’ll do my bit to raise awareness, never giving up hope that eventually better diagnostics and treatments will be available to all NET patients and that ultimately a cure will be found!

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What’s the story?

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This is what I wore to church last Sunday. Before the service began, a friend who reads my blog regularly told me that she liked my skirt and asked if there was a story behind it. That got me thinking and I quickly realized that my closet is full of stories. Today I’m going to tell you how I put this outfit together and the story behind each piece.

Since our church reopened in early July, I’ve made a point of wearing dresses and skirts on Sundays so this outfit started with the skirt which has been in my closet for more than thirteen years. I don’t remember exactly when I bought it, but that’s how long I’ve been retired and I know that it dates back to my teaching days. It’s funny the things that stand out in your memory, but I distinctly remember wearing it to a district wide teachers’ event when it was new. I don’t recall where I was prior to the event or what I was doing, but I do remember arriving at the venue with my outfit for the evening in a bag and slipping into the ladies room to change!

When I decided to wear the skirt to church, I knew that I’d be wearing it with my tall, dark brown boots. They were a lucky find at our local thrift store early last winter when the pair that I’d been wearing started to leak. The closest shoe store is an hour away, so I was very fortunate to find a suitable replacement in my size in our small store.

Next, I had to decide what to wear on my upper half. I decided that the sleeveless patterned top would add a bit of visual interest. It was purchased last November while I was on my annual Christmas shopping weekend in the city with several close girlfriends. In the 18 (soon to be 19) years that we’ve been making this trip, I’ve missed only two of them. In 2008 I was living in Japan and in 2013 I was isolated in a lead lined room at the Cross Cancer Institute.

It’s chilly in Alberta at this time of year, so I clearly wasn’t going anywhere in a sleeveless top without something over it. Would you believe that I tried on five different toppers before I finally settled on this one? It was given to me by my very generous sister-in-law several years ago and is one of those well loved pieces that remains in my closet even though I don’t wear it very often anymore.

Accessories put the finishing touches on any outfit and the necklace that I chose to wear with Sunday’s outfit has a very special story.

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I was a young teenager in the 1960s when my aunt visited a friend who was teaching in Japan and brought the necklace back for me. Over 50 years later, it’s now considered vintage. (Perhaps I am too!) The back of the pendant is stamped with the name, Amita, a Kyoto company that started selling damascene jewelry like this in 1932. Damascene is made by etching an intricate design into oxidized metal and then pressing gold and/or silver metal into the chiseled design. The images on Japanese damascene are usually either pagodas or floral designs like this one. I have worn mine over and over throughout the years and it still looks as good as it did the day I received it.

Are there any stories in your closet? Why not share one of them in the comment section below.

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Hiking in November!

We usually have snow to stay by the end of October, but as we all know by now, 2020 is a rule breaker! Though we had some unusually cold weather and a few flurries in the latter half of October, when we turned the calendar page to November, the weather took an amazing turn. The average daytime temperature at this time of year is barely above 0ºC (32ºF), so when the forecast said that today’s high would be 18ºC (64ºF), we decided to go hiking! Hiking in central Alberta in November? Unheard of!

This morning, we headed for the village of Donalda, about an hour from home. The last time we hiked in that area was over five years ago. It was already 18ºC when we arrived and we hadn’t been hiking long when we started peeling off layers!

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We started off following the woodland trail that leaves from one corner of the village. With all the leaves on the ground and the trees bare, there was a peaceful beauty about the place. Before long, we passed through a gate that took us onto 129 acres of private land that’s used for grazing cattle. Signs tell hikers that they’re welcome to explore anywhere within the area. We had the option of staying on the trail along the rim of the massive coulee, the northernmost part of the Canadian Badlands, but instead we turned toward the valley and wandered wherever our feet took us. Up, down, and around the bluffs we went seeking out interesting formations and views.

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Though there weren’t any cattle grazing in the area, we had to watch our step as there was plenty of evidence that they had been there! We did see some deer. 

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The weather is so warm this week that the golf course, which has been closed since October 12, has reopened with golfers playing on temporary greens. Richard had Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections in both his shoulders a week ago to promote healing of some old sports injuries, so he can’t do much with his arms right now. Golfing is out, but he certainly could hike!

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I have no idea how far we hiked, but we were out for about three hours. We enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking the valley.  

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Eventually, we rejoined the woodland trail at it’s far end and made our way back to our starting point. Along the way, we passed this unusual sign on a fence post. We have no idea what it was trying to tell us, but it seemed very appropriate for this most unusual November day!

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