7 Simple Tips to Help You Start Your Morning Off Right

There is this viral video where a little boy is seen walking merrily down a street, a bounce in his step and waving as he starts shouting, very enthusiastically, “Good morning! Good morning! Good morning!” at passersby. Have you seen it? The video leaves me smiling every single time I watch it.

How awesome would it be to wake up with that kind of boundless enthusiasm and good energy? Ok, maybe for me, I’d probably dial down the peppiness by about 10 and I might need a triple shot of espresso, but still, it would be nice to feel that energized, wouldn’t it? Since I have no idea what that child eats for breakfast that’s doing it for him, I can only share with you dear reader, these simple tips for setting a morning routine to improve your mood and get your day off to a good start. Yelling ‘Good morning!’ to strangers is optional.

7 Simple Tips for a Better Morning Routine

#1. Evaluate how you are waking up by checking your sleep habit.

If you repeatedly hit the ‘snooze’ button on your alarm and you feel sluggish when the alarm sounds, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate how your sleep habits.

  • Are you going to bed early enough to ensure you’re getting a decent amount of sleep and good quality sleep?
  • Is there anything you can do in your day to increase your sleep time so that when the alarm goes off you are less likely to groan and be annoyed?

Those first few seconds you open your eyes can help set the tone for your day. Make them count.

#2. Wake up a little more slowly.

Instead of jumping out of bed and rushing to get your day started, set aside a few minutes to allow yourself time to ease into your morning.

If you’ve adjusted your sleep schedule to meet your needs, then maybe instead of jumping out of bed, you take a moment to breathe deeply or give your body a nice big stretch and be in the moment.

Use these few moments as a calming way to start your day even if you don’t have a ton of time in the morning.

#3. Pause and give thanks.

As the song goes, “the sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar there’ll be sun.” True enough. The trouble is that there is no guarantee that we’ll be around to see it. 

Some people see a new day as a gift to be appreciated every day. So, before getting out of bed, take a few seconds for gratitude. Give thanks for another chance to start over and do better, do different, do more. 

#4. Make your bed.

Making your bed each morning can be an easy and effective way of intentionally training in mindfulness. Don’t just toss the duvet and pillows on but slow down. Think about this as just one way to create order and calm and to set yourself for a successful start to your day. Plus, who doesn’t appreciate a nicely made bed with pretty sheets and pillows?

#5. Make sure you moisturize, protect and hydrate (your skin). 

Want to look alert and refreshed in the morning without makeup? Apply a good moisturizer and the right sunscreen. Take your time and enjoy the feel of the products on your skin, then step back and admire that fresh-faced glow up! 

Now, if you want to be extra, channel your inner Lizzo, look in the mirror, do a hair toss and say, “Hey there beautiful, you’re lookin’ good as hell!” 

#6. Find a few moments of stillness.

If you have more time or want to cultivate a calmer, more grounded start to your day, you can take time for a 5 – 15-minute meditation practice. 

If you don’t have the time for this, consider ways you might incorporate some elements of stillness into your day, you can engage in walking meditation, breathwork or mindful eating. Anything that will give you a moment to pause, be still and try to be present in the moment.

#7. Move your body, even if it’s for a few minutes.

Moving your body by doing gentle stretching, dancing to your fave song while you shower or make coffee or a more vigorous workout session. 

It’s so easy to spend most of our day seated and not realize it – from getting out to bed, sitting for breakfast, to sitting at our desk, then sitting to have lunch, then sitting on the sofa to sitting for dinner. 

Taking time to move your body in the morning (and thorough the day) in any way you can based on your schedule, ability, and commitment, is better than remaining mostly sedentary. It can be as little as a few minutes of short full body stretching, a short walk, or mini workouts. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated. 

This post first appeared on the Swell Life Blog.

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5 Reasons Meditation Should be a Part of Your Selfcare

Cassandra sitting on a burgundy velvet sofa, legs crossed and eyes closed in meditation.

When you think about meditation, what comes to mind? Is it the image of someone sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, hands resting on the lap and wearing a very serene look on their face? Are they surrounded by nature?

Up until about three years ago, when I thought about meditation these were the types of images that it would be called to mind. Meditation was, in my mind, something that was not accessible to someone like me and was something that was on a very unattainable spiritual level. Then I experienced a case of burnout that left me searching desperately for something to bring some calm to the anxiety and other stressful feelings I was experiencing daily. Along with seeking support from health professionals, I decided to give meditation a try. 

Now nearly three years later, I’ve completed over 440 hours (900 sessions) of meditation at just 10-15 minutes daily. It hasn’t been easy. It’s taken a serious commitment to show up consistently every day and, just as importantly, to trust the process. I’ve missed some days, but those times have been few. Meditation is now part of my daily wellness routine because the benefits have helped me through an incredibly challenging time and find a calmer way to start each day.

Meditation is more accessible to you than you think

You might also be saying, meditation is just a little too ‘hippy-dippy’, or “I don’t have the time to just sit there and try not to think about anything for hours.” Or maybe you’ve tried it once or twice and gave up because you kept getting lost in your thoughts and found it too difficult to maintain focus. For many people, including myself, meditation is something that seems inaccessible on several levels.

Here’s what I’ve learned about meditation as a result of my wellness journey and experience with doing a daily guided meditation practice using Headspace for nearly three years:

  • Meditation is more accessible now than ever with access to free apps, videos and social media.
  • Meditation is both easy and challenging at the same time. Sitting still and paying attention to your breath sounds easy enough but when you bring your thoughts and feelings into the mix, well then it becomes a little trickier.
  • You can meditate just about anywhere. Ideally, you want to find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed.
  • Meditation doesn’t require that you sit cross-legged on a special mat or cushion. You can meditate while sitting, standing, walking, writing, repeating a mantra, or laying down. 
  • If you only have a few minutes in your day, you can meditate.
Cassandra, sitting on a bed, meditation with headphones

5 Reasons to Make Meditation Part of Your Selfcare Routine

With so many daily distractions in our lives, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can slow down, even for a few minutes or learn to focus our attention with fewer distractions? Meditation is about training in awareness. Awareness of your breath, of your body, of your thoughts and how you relate to others. It’s about learning to be more focused and pay closer attention to your daily life. 

Meditation can help you relax and find a sense of calm, but it can help you to listen better, pay more attention and be present with your loved ones with less distraction. In one of the lessons from Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace says, “meditation is an opportunity to let go of that idea of trying to influence the result in some way, of trying to achieve something.” Meditation, rather, is an opportunity for you to take time out for yourself. It is an opportunity for you to “simply be ok, at ease, with the moment as it is, right now.”

Here are just five reasons mindfulness meditation is beneficial and should be a part of your wellness routine:

1. Reduce brain chatter, including negative thoughtsAccording to research, we have over 6000 thoughts a day. Meditation is about training the mind to become more aware of distracting thoughts about the future or past events and then letting them go so that you can focus on the present moment, which helps to reduce the noise and busyness of our minds.

2. Improve focus: Learning mindfulness meditation requires that you practice improving your ability to focus. You are required to focus on your breath, bodily sensations, your thoughts and your emotions as soon as they arise. This, of course, sounds easier than it is given how our minds tend to wander and we get easily caught up in thinking without realizing it.  

However, improving your ability to focus, realize when you’re distracted and then coming back to the task at hand can be applied to tasks in your daily life (for example, while at work, in your relationships or doing leisure activities). 

3. Improves your connection with others: Meditation teaches you about kindness and self-compassion. If you begin with being kinder and more compassionate with yourself then you will be able to be kinder and more compassionate towards others – you bring a different, more positive perspective to your interactions. Meditation is beneficial for our relationships

4. Helps you gain insight: With meditation, there is an opportunity for you to pay closer attention to your thoughts and explore more deeply how you are feeling and what might be causing feelings of anxiety or mental stress you’re experiencing. 

5. Lower stress: Some studies show that meditation can help decrease stress and feelings of anxiety by helping to calm the mind and put you in a more relaxed state, which improves your ability to cope better.

There are many other benefits to mediation on our emotional well-being such as sleep, pain management and physiological health.

Final thoughts – The Daily Meditation Struggle is Real

I still struggle with my meditation sessions on most days. At times I hear myself saying, “you suck at this!” or when my mind is particularly active, “that was a terrible practice this morning”. At other times I simply want to give up partway through for whatever reason. During these times, I remind myself of the teachings from my meditation sessions; meditation is a skill that takes time before you can get to a place where you experience a feeling of ease and calm and be kind to yourself and less critical of yourself while you practice. 

I hope you found this helpful if you were thinking about trying meditation as part of your self-care practice or wellness routine. All the good feelings won’t happen immediately but when they do, it will be worth it. So, give it a try!

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14 Books to Read for Black History Month

February is Black History Month and to mark the occasion, I thought I would share a reading list to take some of the guess work out of what to read for Black History Month and to encourage you to continue to support Black writers (and diverse voices). 

The 14 books on this list are stories of diverse Black experiences that include explorations of identity, culture, family, love, sexism, colourism and racism. Of course, I’ve included popular titles from the literary greats, Morrison, Neale Hurston, Angelou, hook, and Lorde along, with several exciting newer voices.

The books are mostly works of fiction and memoirs. If you want to go deeper with more educational reading, you can take a look at the anti-racism resource list for additional books, articles and movies. You can also find a list of resources specific to Black History Month in Canada created by The CBC and Being Black in Canada.

14 Books to Read for Black History Month

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God was first published in 1937.  It is Janie Crawford’s coming-of-age story and a love story.

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison passed away in 2019 but is celebrated as one of the best writers of our time. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved (she’s also held Nobel Prize in Literature and other accolades).

Beloved is the story of “Sethe, an escaped slave who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has withstood savagery and not gone mad. Sethe, who now lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing apparition who calls herself Beloved.” It is a complex story that can be a challenging read at times. 

Beloved was turned into a movie in the late 1990s starring Oprah, Thandie Newton and Danny Glover. You can read what Toni Morrison says about the origins of Beloved here.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by writer and poet Dr. Angelou, is one of the few books that I’ve kept on my bookshelf for over 25 years now. It left its mark on me for the storytelling and the story of Angelou’s early years as a young girl growing up in the south as set out in this 1969 memoir. Dr. Maya Angelou was ahead of her time and has led an extraordinary life until her death in 2014 at age 86. Caged Bird Sings is one of several books in Angelou’s autobiography series and is a classic. It was also turned into a movie in the 70s.

All About Love: New Visions – bell hooks

Feminist writer and professor bell hooks recently passed away. I read her work in my early 20s while an undergrad student. She is still as relevant today as she ever was in her writings on the intersection of race, gender and society. All About Love: New Visions, is a short book that examines the foundation of love and how cultural norms have shaped how we love one another. 

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – Audre Lorde

Writer, activist, and mother, Audre Lorde’s memoir or as she refers to it, a ‘biomythography’, is about growing up Black and queer in Harlem in the 1950s. The memoir is a blend of biography, history and mythology. This is about identity, community, connection and the love for all the women who shaped her life.

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is a story that follows the lives of the bi-racial Vignes identical twin sister who escape their small rural, southern town. The sisters go on to live very different lives spanning from the 1950s to the 90s. One sister passes as a white woman and marries a white man while the other marries a Black man. This is a story about, among other things, family secrets, racial identity, gender identity, racism, classism, love and loss. 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent  Isabel Wilkerson

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wilkerson’s novel was an Oprah’s Book Club pick. This novel examines America’s unspoken caste system, how it has impacted and continues to have an impact on, our lives today.

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More – Janet Mock

This New York Times bestseller by Janet Mock is a memoir of their experience growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America. “There is no universal women’s experience. We all have stories, and this is one personal narrative out of untold thousands, and I am aware of the privilege I hold in telling my story.”

Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging – Tessa McWatt

Tessa McWatt’s Shame on Me seeks to answer: “How do you tick a box on a census form or job application when your ancestry is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese? How do you finally answer a question first posed to you in grade school: “What are you?” And where do you find a sense of belonging in a supposedly “post-racial” world where shadism, fear of blackness, identity politics and call-out culture vie with each other noisily, relentlessly and still lethally?”

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

This is a debut novel by Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Gyasi. Homegoing is a story that spans two continents over eight generations carrying with it the details intergenerational impact of the slave trade. It is the story of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi born in two different villages in Ghana in the 18th century and who live two very different lives; one of comfort and the other as a slave. The story follows the lives of their descendants in Africa and America.

Sing, Unburied, Sing  Jesmyn Ward

A National Book Award winner in 2017, Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is about a family’s struggle with drug addiction, poverty, racism and hope in Mississippi.

Luster – Raven Leilani

This is a multiple literary prize-winning debut novel (2020-2021) by Leilani. 20-something-year-old, aspiring artist and temp, Edie lives in an apartment in New York, when she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey. Eric is in an open marriage – with rules. When Edie finds herself unemployed, she gets an offer to live with Eric and his family. Despite the unconventional circumstances she finds herself in, Edie slowly forms a friendship with Eric’s wife and becomes a role model to Eric’s adopted daughter. Adulting is hard.

What We Lose – Zinzi Clemmons

What We Lose is a debut award-winning novel. It is a coming-of-age story about Thandi, a young bi-racial woman growing up and always feeling like an outsider. Thandi must learn to deal with loss, grief, love, race, identity, sex, family, and country.

Black Girl, Call Home – Jasmine Mans

Jasmine Mans is a Spoken Word Poet. Black Girl, Call Home is a collection of poetry about race, feminism, and queer identity.

Final Thoughts

I hope you found a title or two to add to your reading list this Black History Month. You can also check out my other reading lists that include stories by and about BIPOC, LGBTQ2S and people with disabilities’ communities right here on the Swell Life blog.

As always, remember to support local bookstores and small businesses when you can. They need our support now more than ever.

This post first appeared on the Swell Life Blog.

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10 Ways To Optimize Your Mental Health During Winter

With the transition into the fall/winter season, I’ve been noticing some changes in my mood. Lately, I’ve been slower to rise in the mornings, and I’ve not been as motivated to mediate, workout or take afternoon walks. I haven’t felt like I have the energy and I’m not in the mood for any of the things that I now make me feel good. I simply want to spend all my time curled up with a cozy blanket, a cup of tea and read a good book . I want to hibernate like a bear and not emerge from under the covers until springtime.

The winter months can be particularly challenging when you’re dealing with the winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD is a type of depression related to changes in the season), or other mental health issues. The reduced sunlight due to shorter days and colder temperatures can throw off our circadian rhythms. It can push us out of synch with our daily routines, lowering our energy and messing with our mood. 

Since we can’t all behave like bears (except maybe when it comes to packing on the extra pounds for the winter), it might be the right time to press pause and check in on your mental health.

10 Ways To Optimize Your Mental Health During Winter

1. Give yourself permission to rest. It’s ok to rest and recharge. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy nor, does it mean you need to take large blocks of time. Setting aside some dedicated time to rest guilt-free is a powerful form of self-care. As they say, you can’t take of others if you don’t care of yourself first. Prioritizing rest is a great place to start when trying to combat the winter blues.

2. Assess what you’re eating. Have you been eating a lot more carbs (homemade sourdough bread, anyone?), sweets or consuming more caffeine or alcohol than usual? It’s been a very challenging and stressful time for most of us, and our relationship with food may have changed as a way of helping us cope. 

Take some time to assess your diet and think about ways to make positive changes to improve your mood and overall health.

3. Set some boundaries. This might mean learning to say “no” more often. This may especially be true for work or during the holiday season. Figure out what you’re willing to take on or put up with and what you are not. Then set your boundaries, let go of feelings of guilt, and do your best to protect your peace.

4. Check up on your relationships. Speaking of setting boundaries, when was the last time you evaluated the company you keep. Reach out and connect with the people whose company you enjoy. Maybe check-in and see how they are coping. Consider limiting the amount of time you spend with the friends or family members who drain your energy. Again, do your best to protect your peace.

5. Be Still. You don’t have to be productive or busy every minute of the day. If you allow yourself some time to simply sit and just be still, you can reflect on what’s really going on with you. Ask yourself, how am I doing? What am I feeling right now? And see what comes up for you. Don’t run from the feelings. Instead, try to be curious about it. 

A bit of self-awareness about where you’re at can go a long way in helping you identify whether you need to make changes and if you need some help doing so.

6. Talk with an expert. Speaking of needing help, you don’t have to wait until you’re in crisis mode to seek the support of a licensed therapist or medical practitioner. Having a few therapy sessions can help you work through and process some of your emotions and top-of-mind issues in ways that may be incredibly beneficial.  

A doctor (not Dr. Google but a real person) can help to determine whether you’re experiencing winter blues or something more serious, like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and suggest the right course of action. 

7. Be patient with yourself. Depending on where you are at, feeling like yourself again may take some time. Try to be aware of the negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations you may have set for yourself (see “Be Still” above). Then let all of that go. Give yourself some space, some grace and celebrate the small wins daily. 

Say it with me, “This will take time and, that’s ok. I will be ok!” If that fails, just play some Beyonce and dance. Bey makes everything better.

8. Get more sunlight and movement in your day. Moving your body, soaking up the natural goodness of the sun and connecting with nature can help boost your mood and contribute positively to your overall wellbeing. Put on some layer, create a playlist of energy boosting songs, of cue your fave podcast and get outside for a walk. 

9. Reassess your sleep routine. Your sleep can get disrupted with the change in seasons and having to set your clocks back an hour depending on where you are in the world. If you’re feeling a little blah, more anxious or depressed, this can impact the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting. Check your sleep routine and make any necessary adjustments.

10. Stop doom scrolling. Try to be more mindful of how often you are scrolling on social media. Pay attention to how often you are picking up your phone and opening the apps. How are you feeling when you see the curated feeds? How are you feeling when you stop scrolling? No matter how self-aware and grounded you are, you may be surprised to find that you’re not immune from the negative impacts that social media can have on your mental health. 

Putting the phone away a couple hours before bed can also help improve your sleep quality.

Final Thoughts

A lot of people struggle with their mental health during the winter months, so you are not alone. You don’t need to deal with these issues alone. You can be proactive now and take steps to improve our mood, energy levels and mental health and wellbeing, not only during the winter months but all year round.

This post first appeared on the Swell Life Blog.

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These Are All The Books I’ve Read This Year!

This was a good year for me with my book reading goals. I like to get through about two books per month – I honestly wish I was a speed reader but I’m more the tortoise than the hare when it comes to reading speed. However, this year I managed to get through a few more books than I normally would and I’m obviously feeling pretty chuffed about it! (I don’t why I just used the word ‘chuffed’ as if I’m British but I’m leaving it in because I can.) 

A few of the books that I really enjoyed – for the writing and because they made me laugh include, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, Selfcare: A Novel and Under the Rainbow Bridge.

Sadly, there were a few books on this list that I did not enjoy (I feel bad about it, but it happens): The Other Black Girl (I really wanted too love this one, I really did… but I didn’t. I did love the cover though, so I guess that’s something); Can Your Hear Me Know, the Celina Caesar Chaveannes memoir; and Frying Plantain.

There were a few professional development titles that I also enjoyed. Professional Troublemaker brought a different, humorous flavour to the space of self help/career advice books that I quite enjoyed. While a few other books were hard to read at various points but in a good way, like Butter, Honey, Pig, Bread and How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House.

Of course, my reading list for the year would not be complete without light-hearted fun reads including detective novels and even a few YA titles thrown in the mix.

Overall, it was a good year and I enjoyed most of the titles on this list. Here are the titles not ranked in any order.

You can also check out my other reading list posts for details on various reads.

My Complete 2021 Reading List

1. Hana Khan Carries On – Ozma Jalaluddin

2. Her Majesty the Queen Investigates the Windsor Knot – S. J. Bennett

3. Butter, Honey, Pig, Bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

4. The Adventures of Isabel – Candas Jane Dorsey

5. One, Two, Three – Laurie Frankel

6. So Lucky – Nicola Griffith

7. The Firekeeper’s Daughter – Angeline Boulley

8. Professional Troublemaker – Luvie Ajay Jones 

9. When Katie Met Cassidy – Camille Perri

10. Think Like a Monk – Jay Shetty

11. Under the Rainbow – Celia Laskey

12. Can Your Hear Me Now? – Celina Caesar Chavannes

13. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House – Cherie Jone

14. How to Pronounce Knife – Souvankham Thammavongsa

15. Honey Girl – Morgan Rogers

16. Frying Plantain – Zalika Reid-Benta

17. The Promised Land – Barack Obama

18. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – Lori Gottlieb

19. Untamed – Glennon Doyle

20. Selfcare – A Novel – Leigh Stein

21. The Secret Keeper of Jaipur – Alka Joshi

22. Ace of Spades – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

23. Selfcare – A Novel – Leigh Stein

24. A Holly Jolly Diwali – Sonya Lalli

25. The Holiday Swap – Maggie Knox

Hope you enjoyed this list and wishing you a very Happy Holidays!

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5 Ways to Protect Your Peace During the Holidays

I know the holiday season is in full swing for most of us what with Diwali, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, or other important holidays we celebrate this time of the year.  For some of us, it’s an exciting time but, for others, well, it can be a time filled with dread, sadness, and unavoidable family drama. Holidays can come with a lot of emotional and mental stress. Even if we love the holidays, it can still be physically taxing and get overwhelming at times. 

If you struggle with getting through this time of year, as I do, one of the ways you might find some peace during the holidays is to think about embracing new traditions. One of these traditions might include continuing much smaller, more intimate family/friends gatherings (given the current climate, going smaller for health and safety reasons is an easier argument to make than in the past).

That being said, I want to share a few more tips for how you can plan to have a more satisfying, less stressful holiday season.

5 Ways to Protect your Peace During the Holidays

#1 Know Your Triggers

Number one know your own triggers are there are certain people or topics of conversations that get you worked up. Learn what you might say to shut down triggering conversations during the holidays according to therapists. 

You might also try to excuse yourself and spend a minute in the bathroom or, if weather permits, take a walk to avoid that person pressing your buttons and ruining your mood and the evening.

#2 Say No To That Invite

It can be hard to say “no” during the holidays. It can be heart-pounding scary to decline an invitation or decide to not extend an invite to certain family members. It may cause some tension and maybe even a lot of drama. But if someone is abusive you literally don’t have to spend time with them even if their family remember this is your holiday too. 

Saying yes to something that you don’t really want to do can also leave you feeling resentful and angry with yourself and others.

#3 Let Go of the Guilt

Whether it’s saying ‘no’, especially to the family during the holidays or deciding to scale back on gift-giving or the size of the family gatherings this year, it can be incredibly hard. Guilt is a difficult emotion to let go of. It can be incredibly difficult, but not impossible.

Reflect on why you’re feeling guilty – where is that coming from? What are you afraid of? What do you have to gain and lose by saying no? Will you survive it? Then, make peace with your decision.

Just remember to be kind and gentle with yourself as you would with a friend or family member.

#4 Don’t Engage in Family Gossip

Not all gossip is bad. There can be ‘juicy’ news about someone that’s positive or helpful. But then there’s negative gossip that isn’t centred around concern for someone else or being helpful. It’s gossip for personal gain and where you question the motivation of the person sharing the information. 

Probably the safest way to avoid engaging in negative gossip is to avoid family gossip altogether. One way to not engage in family gossip is to set the intention that you will not talk about anyone who isn’t in the room with you. This will also require being aware of your own tendencies to get caught up in the gossip game. 

#5 Set realistic expectations

Let go of unrealistic expectations and the Hallmark Christmas movie version of what the holidays should look like. Find a way to celebrate healthily and happily for you and your family. Find what brings you joy and do more of that this season.

I hope that you find these tips helpful and that you can make the most of this holiday season with a heart full of gratitude and hope for a brighter New Year.

This post first appeared on The Swell Life Blog (Swell Made Co.)

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Embracing New Holiday Traditions: 4 Lessons Learned

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” as the song goes. There’s an energy in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Airports are busy with people flying home for the holidays, malls filled with holiday shoppers, countless holiday parties, Secret Santas, and the Santa Claus parade.

It’s a bit magical to watch the city transform, even if you’re not into Christmas. The spectacle of giant holiday trees, holiday-themed storefronts and ice skating under the twinkle of holiday lights. Hot chocolate, eggnog, gingerbread houses and Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas‘ blaring through speakers in just about every store. Don’t forget the hours of driving as people go from house to house visiting loved ones and delivering presents. And it isn’t the holidays without the big family gathering on Christmas day with people all dressed in our holiday best and filled with merriment and good cheer.

Most people seem happier and in the festive spirit this time of year and, it’s hard not to get caught up in it at some point. I can do without crowded malls and the expense and excess that can be symbolic of the holidays but, I’m a sucker for a beautifully decorated tree, and I’m all in when it comes to binge-watching holiday movies and having a holiday playlist on repeat. 

Traditionally, that’s what Christmas might look like for most of us – some variation of that. And this year, I was hoping we’d bring back those old traditions and celebrate like the worst of the pandemic era was finally behind us. 

Sadly, that isn’t the case. The pandemic is once again making the holidays complicated. We are left wondering if we can keep our holiday traditions alive and the people we love safe. 

Keeping Some Traditions and Finding New Ones

There are, of course, some traditions that can still be maintained like, decorating the tree, hanging a wreath and stockings and gift-giving.

Some of us might still have small gatherings and enjoy outdoor activities like ice-skating and checking out holiday decorations and activities in and around the community. Yet, many of us will have to find new ways to mark this time of year. We have to create new traditions to replace the old ones that are no longer feasible because so much has changed. There is a great sadness in that, but also an opportunity too. 

A couple of years ago, I had one of the best Christmas holidays I’d had in a long time. It was not the traditional dinner at my mom’s place with family, a ton of food, and lots of leftovers in what always seemed like endless amounts of Tupperware that could probably take up a lot of self-space in Walmart. This time around, my mother opted to spend the holidays in Jamaica with my sister while my niece and I accepted an invitation to stay with my aunt and cousins. 

I spent three days stuffing my face (my aunt, like my mother, loves to cook and I appreciate that so much!), laughing out loud and enjoying the low-key vibe of the holidays with my fam. 

That was a new way to do Christmas for my family. After years of everyone gathering in one place, we celebrated in smaller groups. My mother and sister spent Christmas with family and friends in Jamaica and I spent the holidays with my aunt and cousins at their home. It was not traditional but as an introvert, having a smaller, more intimate gathering was more comfortable and left me feeling energized instead of exhausted as I typically am this time of year.

Did I miss aspects of our traditional dinners, like seeing my four aunties and mom in the kitchen and hearing stories of when they were younger? Absolutely. But experiencing this new way of doing Christmas also had its benefits like, spending a lot of quality time with people I love in a way that I wouldn’t have done. 

I had no idea that would be the last time I would be around family members like that. Three months later, Covid-19 changed everything. 

Letting Go of the Past by Embracing Gratitude

The following Christmas, it was clear that my mother was hoping to have a small gathering for dinner, but she soon realized that everyone’s health and safety, including her own, mattered more than turkey and stuffing.

She was able to cook and bake for pick-up/drop-off, yes very much like UberEats, because it’s not Christmas if she doesn’t get to prepare a big meal for folks to enjoy, even if that meant not enjoying it together. It kept her busy and provided her with whatever comfort she needed to help get through a pandemic Christmas and to make the holidays a little brighter after months of daily heartbreaking news and days filled with panic and anxiety. 

This new version of the holidays was different, not as fun, but we were all so very grateful to be healthy and well, alive, given the circumstances that it didn’t matter that we weren’t able to be together in person. 

I want to share a few things I’ve learned from adjusting my holiday traditions because of the pandemic and why it wasn’t a bad thing.

4 Lessons from Embracing New Holiday Traditions

Placing gratitude at the heart of it all is the way to go.

If you can take some time to look around, undistracted and reflect on all the things you are grateful for this holiday season, you may surprise yourself with how much meaning and joy you can find with what you still have instead of focusing on what you longer have. Hang on to that feeling and let it fill you up and, carry you through the holidays.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better.  

Sometimes it’s in the smaller gatherings that are significant. It’s an opportunity for you, especially if you’re hosting, to slow down and scale down all the things. With less fuss and busyness involved in preparing for large gatherings, you have more time to focus and be present in the moment. 

With smaller gatherings you get to fully enjoy the time you spend with loved ones without the overwhelm, exhaustion and massive pile of dirty dishes.

Also, a smaller gathering may be beneficial if you have extended family members who routinely annoy you during the holidays.

Meaningful connections can still happen remotely.

Last year I had very minimal contact with family members. I’m talking a saw my cousins for a few minutes outside to exchange gifts. The holidays were all about phone calls and video chats. 

I taught my mother how to FaceTime and my aunties how to use Zoom for the first time and, they had a group chat with cousins in the UK that lasted hours. I stay more connected to my family now than I did before the pandemic. Even by phone or video, the connection is still real and, it’s still meaningful. 

Giving back makes you merrier. 

This time of year we can spend a lot on gifts for our loved ones (and dare I say, on ourselves because holiday sales are irresistible!). However, the holiday is also a time for giving back. And since giving back helps others and has the added benefit of making you feel good, it’s a perfect way to help make the most out of a not-so-traditional holiday season. 

Giving back can lift your spirits, knowing that you are making a difference in the lives of others, even when the pandemic has put a damper on our moods. 

Final Thoughts

It’s been a rough, sometimes depressing period for most of us. The holidays are typically a time for celebration and joy but also a time for reflection and gratitude. So, if you find yourself having to adjust your holiday plans and break once again with tradition, it’s ok. Our holiday traditions are wonderful, and necessary in many ways, but they don’t have to be fixed (the past year has proven that). 

Be flexible and open to finding ways to create new traditions or adjust old ones and still make meaningful memories grounded in gratitude for all that you have.

 

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My Diverse Picks for the November Reading List

November Books To Be Read – TBR

We’re almost in the middle of the month and I’m clearly off to a slow start in sharing what’s in my TBR (to be read) pile this month.

I’ve decided to be a bit ambitious and try for four books this month; a YA indigenous novel I’m excited about, one about a person with a multiple sclerosis (MS), one about a small town and an encounter with an LGBTQ+ task force, and one about triplets in a small town. I mean, talk about a variety of diverse stories! It’s looking like November’s reading list is going to be one worth saving!

Let’s check out the titles, shall we?

Fire Keeper’s Daughter – Angeline Boulley

This is a debut YA novel by Boulley about 18-year-old Daunis Fontaine who decides defer going away to college so she could be close to home and take care of her mother. This decision to stay sets off a series of events; a murder or three, a handsome love interest for Daunis who she doesn’t know if she can fully trust and Daunis going undercover in an FBI investigation of a drug ring on the reservation.

It will leave Daunis’s world turned upside down, torn between finding those responsible and protecting her community. It will also be a time of personal discovery as Daunis spends more time with the elders in her Ojibwe community, learns about her family’s past, and learns what it means to “a strong Anishinaabe kwe” (Ojibwe woman).

Under the Rainbow – Celia Laskey

An LGBTQ+ task force called Acceptance for America lands in Big Burr, Kansas, a place identified by a national nonprofit as the most homophobic town in America. As you can imagine, things get interesting really fast for the residents of Big Burr and the volunteers of the task force who have to live and work together in the community for two years.

In Under the Rainbow you get to meet a collection of characters both from the task force and residents from Big Burr, each with their own issues, secrets, fears, desires and dreams.

It’s a smart and funny novel that brings out the question about our shared experiences and common humanity even in the face of what may seem like two extreme ways of being and seeing the world.

So Lucky – Nicola Griffith

“So Lucky” is about Mara Tagarelli, the head of a multi-million dollar AIDS foundation and an experienced martial artist, who is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) the same week her wife leaves her for someone else and she has to say goodbye to her best friend and new love interest who is heading off the the other side of the world for work.

Mara finds herself in a new reality, grappling not only with the changes to her mind and body from MS, but also with what it really means to be strong and to face your fears. She soon realizes this is a battle she may lose because how do you fight back against this particularly enemy? What do you do when your attempts at fighting back gets people with MS killed? How do you not become a victim when your body and the medication you are taking trying to kill you?

It’s fiction but it also highlights not only Mara’s experience whit MS but how people with disabilities and of chronically illnesses often treated.

One, Two, Three – Laurie Frankel

This story is about the small town called Bourne, the Mitchell triplets and teenagers, Mirabel, Monday and Mabs and buried secrets being uncovered.

I’m looking forward to this one because Frankel’s book, “This is How it Always Is” is a favourite of mine

Hope you enjoyed the titles this month! Book recommendations are always welcome. You can drop at comment with your suggestions on Instagram @swaggerandgreys

Cheers!


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Check Out The Books On My October Reading List!

I’m sharing a roundup of my October book picks – two novels by BIPOC women, one a YA novel and the other the second book in a series, and one personal development book that might just spark your interest too (pun intended).

#1 Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

McMillain press describes the book as “Gossip Girl meets Get Out in Ace of Spades, a YA contemporary thriller”

Devon & Chiamaka are two Black students attending a private school with an interesting legacy.

Chiamaka is ambitious and has plotted her way to success in senior year with hopes of getting into Yale. Devon is a loner whose love for music and the possibility of applying to Julliard is keeping him at the school. Both have dreams that someone is trying to crush.

Their final year is interrupted when they encounter anonymous bully who seems relentless about ruining their lives. Will they find out who and will they survive to make those dreams come true?

#2 The Secret Keeper Of Jaipur – Alka Joshi

I enjoyed The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi so much that I bought her second book, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur.

First, the book cover, though! Love it! The story picks up 12 years later, Lakshmi and Dr. Jay Kumar are happily running the community clinic in Shimla. Malik, now 20 with private school education lots of potential to do great things. But, he soon falls in love Nimmi, a young tribal woman who is a widow with two young children.

Lakshmi sends Malik to Jaipur to apprentice in accounting and construction at the Jaipur Palace just as the palace is about to open a grand, state-of-the-art movie theatre to rival the ones in America. At the open, something goes terribly wrong, and people die. Malik senses something doesn’t add up with the explanation for the disaster and must try to get to the truth, with the help of Lakshmi, to save their good friend’s reputation, job, and his family from ruin.

#3 Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work that Makes You Come Alive – Jonathan Fields

“Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work that Makes You Come Alive” – Jonathan Fields is a book designed to provide you with some insight into what makes you come alive in work and life.

There’s a quick online assessment tool you take to identify what your Sparketypes are. You can also buy the book for more deep dive into the research and case studies.

I was curious about what my Sparketype was so I did both. Turns out my primary Sparketype is the “Essentialist” and it says in a nutshell “I create order from chaos”. Which, I feel is spot on in describing my impulses to make sense of things and organize chaos. It’s how my brain works and I’ve often said I can’t function in chaos, I need to stop and make sense of it.

The Scientist is my “shadow Sparketype”; it’s really close to the primary one. The Scientist likes to figure it out. That’s so me.

I’ve only done a cursory read and will sit down with the book to see what other insights I can glean about my career. It was definitely interesting and for me, quite accurate.

This might be of interest if you’re thinking about your career and trying to hike in on what activities motivate you in how you work and that you enjoy doing.

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And there you have it! What I’m getting into this month. Hope you enjoyed this post. Following me on Instagram for more!

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Reading List: Two Books I’ve Recently Read – Hint – it’s all about the Honey

I recently read two novels that I wanted to share with you in case you’re looking for some new books to add to your reading list. These titles are by Black women (one is Canadian) and both have the word ‘honey’ in the title. So let’s check out these sweet reads together, shall we!

#1. Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Butter Honey Pig Bread tells the stories of mother, Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye who have left Nigeria to study and live, one in England and the other in Montreal, and returned to look after their mother and deal with some unresolved family issues.

The mother believes she’s not of the human world- that because she survived as a child (her mother had a number of miscarriages before her) that the spirits have been set to torment her and punish her because she choose to live, to get married and to have her babies. This torment is a lifelong struggle for her and worsens when her husband dies in a tragic accident. A consequence she believes for choosing to stay in this world and not return to the other.

Kehinde and her twin become estranged after when Kehinde experiences a traumatic event. Taiye is guilt-ridden about not being there to help her sister and struggles with reckless behaviour and failed relationships.

They move to different counties and live separate lives, not speaking to each for years, except for letters Taiye writes but doesn’t send to Kehinde.

After more than 10 years living apart, the family reunites and tries to find their back to each other.

#2. Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers is about 28-year old high-achiever Grace Porter who recently got her PhD in astronomy and to celebrate goes to Vegas and gets drunk married to a woman who’s name she doesn’t know and who’s face she barely remembers. 

Grace’s dad is ex-military and he has high expectations for his only child. But, after spending 11 years pursuing her doctorate, Grace finds herself questioning her future and filled with doubt. This stress is too much for Grace and she heads to New York to finally meet and get to know her secret wife, Yuki Yamamoto.

Eventually, Grace will have to stop running away from her fears and deal with her strained relationship with her dad, absentee mother, friends and new wife. Who said adulting would be easy?

For more of books and what I’m currently reading (along with more lifestyle content) follow me on Instagram @swaggerandgreys

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