My journey to a healthier me

Tales of my life

Belonging

I’ve been thinking a lot about belonging lately.

When I was a kid, I struggled with belonging. I never felt like I really fit in anywhere. I was very shy and overweight, and I didn’t have many friends. I usually felt like the odd one out or a third wheel, no matter what size the group was that I was with.

In my teens, it was even worse.

Things started to get a little better in my early 20s. I began to open up more and it was a little easier to make friends, but I still didn’t have that many. And I still struggled with fitting in and belonging.

I got married in my late 20s and moved to Canada. Almost immediately, I noticed was I finally starting to feel like I belonged.  I was welcomed with open arms by husband’s family, friends, and co-workers.  That was HUGE, especially for someone who’d felt like an outsider most of her life.

As my life in Canada progressed, I found places where I fit in and people to connect with. It was wonderful. There were still occasions where I didn’t feel like I belonged, but they were fewer and fewer.

When I received my cancer diagnosis in 2009, I once again struggled. I struggled with defining myself as a cancer survivor. I was lucky and it was caught very early. I had surgery to remove it and did not require chemo or radiation. I didn’t feel like I belonged in that group of people who weren’t as lucky. It took me a long time to release I was wrong.

When I began running a few years ago, I struggled with defining myself as a runner. I didn’t feel like I was a “real” runner because I was so much slower than everyone else. But here’s the thing I quickly discovered: It didn’t matter if I was fast or slow. A runner is a runner.

And I also realized that running helped me feel like I belonged.  Just like when I first moved to Canada, I was welcomed into the running community with open arms. The running community is awesome! When I’m struggling with my running, I can always count on other runners for encouragement. And I think that’s the biggest reason I’ve kept at it.

A year ago today, my favourite coffee shop closed down. It was a very sad day. Not because they had great coffee, which they did, but because of the people. From the first day I walked into the place, I felt welcome. Someone was always there to offer a smile and a kind word. One of the things I noticed early on was everyone was welcome there.  It felt like home. I quickly became friends with the owner, Juliet. She is truly one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Once I overcame my initial shyness, I started sitting with the regulars. We’d push tables together to make one large table. And everyone was welcome. And oh the conversations we had at the big table! We talked about everything. We did crossword puzzles and sudoku puzzles, we’d discuss world events, we share the good and the bad about our lives. We became friends at that table.  Once again, I felt like I belonged. It’s been a year since the place closed, and I still miss it.

While I sometimes still struggle with feeling like I don’t belong in some places, I’ve learned that you don’t just belong in one place. You belong with those who support you, who love you, who make you feel welcome and appreciated. It could be the family you were born into or the family you chose for yourself. It could be your friends, those you socialize with, or those you work with.  And if you ever feel like you don’t belong, just stop and look around you. Find those you connect with and you’ll find where you belong.

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Why I love Urban Escape Cafe

I spent a wonderful few hours at the cafe today, which is what inspired this post.

I’ve been going to the Cafe for about two and a half years now. I liked it as soon as I walked in.  And it’s only gotten better.

I go there as often as I can, but sometimes wish I could go more.  I love being there.  I always leave feeling better, no matter how I felt when I got there.

The first time I went there, it was to meet someone to discuss a job.  And as I said, I liked it as soon as I walked in.

I continued going whenever I got the chance.

Fabulous coffee, good food, great atmosphere. What’s not to love?

But it was more than that.

It was the people.

People having conversations with each other.

People sharing a part of their day with people they may have just met.

They have undergone a few changes since I started going there. New owner, new location. But those changes have only helped it become even better.

The new location is perfect. Exposed brick walls. Hardwood floors. It’s warm and inviting. It feels a bit like home.

The food is still delicious.

And most importantly, the coffee is still fabulous!

The people. Oh my goodness, the people.

Juliet, the owner, who is one of the nicest people I have ever met. Truly a beautiful person.

Sara, who works there too. Such a sweetheart.

The regulars: Steve and Cathy, Peter, Jim, Fred, Rick, Peter, Junior. And others I’ve seen there, but don’t remember their names.

We sit around, often sharing a large table, drinking our coffees (or tea or whatever), and talking.  Talking about anything and everything. Sharing stories, comparing notes, making each other laugh.  We pause occasionally to order a refill or get some food, but then continue.  We work on crossword and sudoku puzzles. Occasionally answering messages on our phones or tablets. But always talking.

A seemingly random group of people, who may not have met otherwise, sitting in a coffee shop sharing part of their lives with each other, creating friendships.

And I always, always leave there with a smile on my face and a warm glow in my heart.

This is just one of the reasons why I love Urban Escape Cafe.

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The Run for Food (2014) race recap

Yesterday, I did my 7th race of the year.  And it was another new one for me.  And it was a course I was unfamiliar with.

It was local race in a nearby town, and put on by the local running store.  It was another free entry, but they were asking for donations for the local food bank.  Hard to say no to that!

This one was called The Run for Food, a fitting name.

It was also a little bit longer than most of the races I’ve done – 7.3km.  I’ve only done one race that was longer, a 10k early last year.

This was the first time I raced this late in the year.  We had some snow recently, so I was concerned about the road/sidewalk conditions.  And if I would be warm enough.

I made a stop for coffee before I got to the store.  I figured it would help warm me up and give me some energy.  Love my coffee!

I was the first participant to arrive and get signed in.  I didn’t mind, though, because, as usual, I was nervous, so it gave me a chance to calm my nerves a bit.  Or at least try.

People slowly trickled in for the race, bringing with them lots and lots of stuff for the food bank.  It made my heart happy to see such generosity.

As it got closer to race time, I decided to grab one of the available maps just in case I got lost.  I knew I’d be at the back of the pack, and I wanted to make sure I made it back to the store.  They said there were markers, but I didn’t want to take the chance I wouldn’t see them.

So we headed out to the start line.  Some people brought their dogs and the dogs were anxious to run!  It was pretty cute.  One of them looked like the dog from the show Frasier.

Off we went, and I noticed right away that the sidewalk was a little slick.  I had been training myself most of the summer to NOT look down at the ground, but I had no choice.  I didn’t want to slip and fall.  I wish I had had those grippy things for my shoes.  It was very lightly drizzling.  Was not happy about that, but at least it wasn’t pouring rain or snowing.

I was pretty sure I had not worn enough layers either.  I had on one pair of pants, and two shirts with a hoodie over top.  I definitely need warmer clothes to run outside this winter!

Anyway, once we got past a certain point, we were running/walking on the road which was much better.  The pack left me long behind, but I didn’t really care.  I was running/walking my own pace.  I did try to keep some of the walkers in my sight, but soon they were gone too.

As I was running along the road, several cars passed me and waved.  I like when they do that.  One even honked.  And I got a couple of thumbs up too.

I made the second turn just fine, but when I got closer to the third turn, I wasn’t sure which way to go.  I had not seen any markers so I was really glad I had thought to grab the map.  After a brief look at the map, I made what I was pretty sure was the turn.  A little farther along and I was able to get back on the sidewalk, but they were still a bit slick in places.

I had to consult the map several more times to be sure I was going the right way.  I still had not seen any markers.  I was afraid I had made a wrong turn or something.  But I kept going.  A few more people waved, and one even asked about the race.

The race went through an area of the town I was not familiar with at all, and that had me nervous.  I’m pretty sure I pulled out the map at least a dozen times.  I just didn’t want to get lost.

Finally, I got to an area I was familiar with.  And I knew I wouldn’t need the map any more.

I hadn’t bothered checking the time.  The time didn’t really matter to me.  I just wanted to finish.  I had also been running/walking without my music.  Not something I’m used to doing, but because my phone had been dying quickly lately, I didn’t want to take the chance it would die before I finished.

When I made the last turn, I knew I was very close to the store, only about 1/2 a kilometre to the finish.  I was pretty excited.  The sidewalk was still slick, but I tried picking up my pace a little.  As I got closer, I could see people walking to their cars.  As I entered the store, the few people that had stayed cheered for me.

I was tired and sore and very cold.  But very happy that I finished.  I took my phone out of my pocket to stop my running app, and as I did, my phone decided to die.  Perfect timing.

According to their calculations, it was 7.3km.  According to my running app, it was almost 8km.  Not sure why the difference.  Doesn’t really matter I guess.  I finished in 1:51:47.  Not too bad for a race I’d never done before, on a route I had never done before, and having to go slower because of slick sidewalks. I’d quite pleased with that actually.  Hopefully I’ll do better next year.

It was a good race for a great cause.

And I’m happy I did it.

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My Community: Christmas shopping in Downtown Belleville

This year I’ve been making a conscience effort to support the local shops, restaurants, etc in my town. I’ve been visiting our farmers’ market more often. I’ve been trying new restaurants and coffee shops. I’ve checked out new stores. And I plan to continue to do so. We all need to support local businesses or they will disappear.

So since it’s Christmas time, I decided I would make an extra effort to do some of my shopping locally. So one afternoon I walked downtown to get started. I’ve seen several stores downtown that I’d always wanted to go into, so I decided this would be the perfect time.

First, I stopped in at Sweet Escape Cafe for a candy cane hot chocolate. It was so good and totally hit the spot. It has become one of my favourite places in town.

Next I stopped in Fusion Gifts. It’s actually 3 shops in 1 – Fusion Gifts, Glamour Junkie, and Glass Art Designs. I was cheerfully greeted by the lady behind the counter. I happily walked through the shop admiring the wonderful assortment of items for sale. There was scarves and jewelry, candles, beautiful glass work items, paintings and other items by local artists, and much more. Definitely worth checking out. I made my purchase and continued on.

Next up was That Special Touch. A lovely little shop with clothing and accessories. I chatted with the owner, Darla, as I browsed the selection.

Next I went into a new store called Hello Gorgeous. I’d heard a lot about the store and I was anxious to see what they had. I was greeted by Erin. We happily chatted as I browsed the wonderful selection of clothing and accessories. I was excited to see such beautiful items. I saw several things I would love to get for myself, but I was shopping for others, so I decided to save that for another time. Again, I made my purchase and continued on.

Next door is Richard Davis, a store that sells mainly men’s wear. They have a nice selection of items like shirts, ties, sweaters, and accessories.

I finished my shopping day with a stop at the dollar store. I love dollar stores. You can find stocking stuffers, decorations, craft supplies, pet items, kitchen accessories, and much more.

There are several other stores as well. There is Richelle’s, Pure Honey Boutique, La Maison D’Eva, Pinnacle Music Studio, Roluf’s Travels, Scalliwag Toys, and much more.

There’s a lot more than just shops. There are also several wonderful restaurants and cafés, including Capers, The Old Firehouse, and Cafe E, Bourbon Street Pizza Company. There is also The Empire Theatre, the library, and several other wonderful businesses. Do yourself a favour and check out Downtown Belleville for yourself.

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My community: the 3rd annual Right Fit Santa Run

A few years ago, Ashton Calnan was looking for a way to support a local charity. As a personal trainer and owner of  The Right Fit , she decided organizing a 5k run/walk would be perfect. Because she loves Christmas, she decided to hold it in November and call it The Santa Run. She invites participants to dress in Santa suits, hats, and other festive gear, although it’s not a requirement. This year’s event will be held on November 17th.

The first year, the run had over 100 participants and raised close to $1000 for the firefighters toy drive.
The second year, there was around 60 participants, and over $500 and 120lbs of food was collected for the food bank.
This year, they hope to once again have over 100 people take part and help raise money for the Adopt A Child program.

Asked why she chose the Adopt A Child program to support this year, Ashton said “I read an article in the paper saying how much Adopt A Child was in need of help, and wanted to do something for kids – I thought it would be a perfect fit!”

If you would like to take part in this year’s event, you can contact The Right Fit through email info@therightfittraining.com or on their website therightfittraining.com. You can also register the morning of the event.

Participants are asked to meet at The Right Fit studio at 268 Front Street in downtown Belleville. Registration begins at 9:30am; and the race is scheduled to start at 10am. Get there early to make sure you’re registered. The registration fee is $20 or a donation to the Adopt A Child program. The race will start at the footbridge, continue up to Riverside Park, and back. There will refreshments and treats after the race. You are also invited to help decorate their float for the city’s Santa Claus Parade, which will be held later that day.

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My community – Belleville’s Farmers’ Market

One of the best things about my community (and just about any community for that matter) is our local farmers’ market.  Located in downtown Belleville, behind City Hall, the farmers market is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, all year long.

I love to buy local whenever I can, and the farmers’ market is the perfect place for it.  But it’s not just fruits and veggies.  You can get local maple syrup and honey, homemade jams and jellies, organic cereals and granolas, meats, and even crafts items, just to name a few.

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When the weather is nice, I love to walk down with my reuseable shopping bags to see what I can find.  Sometimes I have an idea what I want, sometimes I wait to see what looks good when I get there.  On a recent trip, I bought honeycrisp apples and red peppers from one stand; some apple cinnamon granola from another; a peanut butter granola bar from another; and some challah bread and whole wheat rolls from yet another.

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What could be better than getting fresh in-season fruits and vegetables, and in the process, helping local farmers?  Or getting locally made maple syrup?  You should check out the farmers market for yourself.  You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

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Mission: Post-it

Each week, my friends over at Celebrate the Hero put out weekly missions for people to do to help make the world a better place.   This week’s mission is:

“Post- it!
On a Post-it note or small piece of paper, write a positive message and leave it for someone else to find. It can be anything you find inspirational, or moving. Lyrics to a song, a quote, a poem, an excerpt from a book, or even just a compliment! All you have to do is write it out and put it in a place where someone will find it. This could be a library book, left on your desk for the next student, put it into someone’s locker, stuck to a vending machine, pay phone, around the food court at the mall, or cafeteria at school! You never know what’s going on in someone’s life and sometimes the smallest gestures can mean the most.”

So I’ve been going around this week leaving little notes in different places — the gym, the bus, the bus station, a park bench, the coffee shop.  It’s been fun thinking of things to write.  As I left each note, I took a picture of it with my phone.  Here are a few I’ve left:

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It brings a smile to my face wondering what the people who have found my little notes thought about them.  I hope they brought a smile to their face too.  I hope my notes made their day better.  It did mine.

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My community – Sweet Escape Cafe

Have you ever walked into a place and immediately felt comfortable? That’s how I felt the first time I walked into Sweet Escape Cafe, located in downtown Belleville. I had seen it many times, but never seemed to have the chance to stop in. I always seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere else. But a few weeks ago, I finally got my chance when a friend suggested we meet there for coffee. I got there early and was taken with the place as soon as I walked in. It’s casual and charming and beckons you to sit down and relax for a while. And while doing so, you can enjoy a great cup of coffee, a sweet treat, or even breakfast or lunch. The staff always greets you with a smile and a kind word. As you look around, you can see flyers and notices for local events. They even have poetry nights. A local shop promoting local happenings, gotta love it.

I usually stop in the morning on my way to the gym, but the other day I stopped in the afternoon on my way home. I was struck by the eclectic mix of customers. Everyone seemed to be happily mingling together. I placed my order, which on this day was pumpkin spice hot chocolate and a turkey bacon club wrap, and found a seat. I just sat there, watching and listening and taking it all in. Many seemed to be regulars, as they said a quick Hi to someone or stopped to have a brief conversation. I watched as groups of people, who seemingly had nothing in common, happily sat together and chatted away. A young man sat quietly playing his guitar and no one seemed to mind. As I sat watching and listening, he came over to me and asked if he could sit by me and play. I said “yes, please do.” He sat and played, and we chatted between songs. He played several songs for me. He did seem to be playing just for me. When he finished and got up to leave, he introduced himself to me and shook my hand. I introduced myself back and thanked him for playing, telling him he was very good. And then he said “thanks for smiling while I played.” That little comment made my entire week. I sat a little longer, then made my way home. And as I left, I got the feeling I was leaving friends. What a great feeling that is. What a great place this is. Belleville is lucky to have a place like Sweet Escape. You should check it out for yourself.

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My community – Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. I first met her in July 2012 when I did my first 5k race. It was her race, the one she organizes in memory of her son.

Karen, a transplant from England, met her husband Craig while visiting the area in 2003. After going back and forth for a few years, she finally moved to Belleville in 2010 when she was pregnant with her son, Reece. Reece was born July 20, 2010, on her daughter Daisy’s 3rd birthday. Almost immediately, they noticed something was wrong. Reece seemed to have very low muscle tone, he was sort of “floppy”. After several tests and waiting more than a month, the results finally came in — Reece had Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA. Karen and her family had never heard of it before. SMA is caused by a genetic defect, and is the most common genetic cause of infant death. There is currently no cure for it. Reece was just 7 weeks old when he passed away. After her son’s diagnosis, Karen and her husband were both tested and it was discovered that both are carriers of the gene, although neither has the disease. It is estimated that approximately 1-in-40 people is a carrier of the gene; and approximately 1-in-6000 babies is born with the disease. And yet, it is not very well known. You can visit http://www.curesma.org/ to get more information. I, personally, had never heard of it until I met Karen.

After Reece’s death, Karen felt like she needed to do something. Something to bring awareness to the disease. Something to help raise money. Karen is an avid runner, so it seemed natural to her to organize a race. She decided to hold it in July, around Reece’s birthday, each year. She got in touch with The Running Room, who helped her with the organization of it. The monies raised are divided equally between the pediatric ward of Belleville General Hospital, and Families of SMA Canada. In the three years the race has been run, nearly $12,000 has been raised. The first year of the race, there was 44 racers; this year, it’s third, there was 73. She plans on organizing the race for years to come, and hopes it will continue to grow.

I met Karen at the second race. It was my very first race ever. When I heard her story, I was amazed. We’ve become good friends since then. When I was given the task to find the good things in our community, my first thought was Karen. Karen has taken something very sad and very personal, and is turning it into something positive.  If you would like more information on SMA or the Run for Reece, you can contact Karen at Karenwalsh62@hotmail.com

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