the house that zen built


This is our house. We bought it in 2001, unfinished, and set out on a grand adventure of combining our family and raising the kids to the wonderful young adults they are today.

We married in the yard in 2005 among family and friends. We have three pets buried in the front corner near the road. We created lawns, gardens, memories.

In June, 2015, we decided it was time to sell, and we put it on the market. That was a grueling process all on its own, perhaps a whole other post.

Over the summer, we rented it out to holidaymakers through AirBnB, and it was a great success!

As an empty-nester (albeit very recently), I found that creating a comfortable space for strangers somehow filled the void that was created when our son moved to another city to attend college. Our daughter is still in our town, but I pretty much forced her to move in with her boyfriend when I told her I would be renting out her bedroom. She has since evolved into a self-sufficient young woman and that in itself was worth the angst of having no kids in the house. Excuse me…adults. They aren’t kids anymore at 19 and 20.

So I happily ironed pillowcases, bought locally-made individual soaps for the bathrooms, stocked the fridge with various items appropriate to the guests staying that weekend, put out a highchair if a toddler was coming…all good stuff. It was totally selfish from my point of view, money aside, as I reveled in the fact that people were able to enjoy their stay and everything was taken care of.

But all that is finished, no more guests. Now the fun begins. As Spring is officially here, it felt right to share this with you.

Over the course of a couple of weeks this February, we received an offer on the house. It was very low, so we did not counter it. They returned with a much higher offer, which we countered, and they accepted! The two weeks between acceptance and removal of conditions was gut-wrenching, but on February 26th the deal was finalized!  The family that is moving in is a mirror image of us about 10 years ago. Mom and Dad, boy and girl. They are moving to our rural community and I know they are going to love raising their kids here, as did we.

Now the real fun begins. We are building a new house from scratch, exactly the way we want to. I know, that sounds a little naive, but we are so excited to embark on this new process!

What an experience it will be. Hubby and I have worked out a plan for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom one-level of approximately 1500 sq.ft. He has created the house site by removing some trees and clearing the land with his backhoe, and on April 15th we will be out of this place and on our bare land, dogs and all, and the adventure will begin.

I want to document the build, in both words and pictures, and thought I would post about it here occasionally as milestones are met (eg. foundation poured, walls erected, roof installed, windows and doors, then the inside).

During construction, we will be living in a makeshift shelter constructed between two 20-foot storage containers we will have all our belongings stored in. That will be worth a blog post or two in itself!

In the meantime, I am packing, purging, donating and dreaming.

Spring has sprung and life is good. Let’s see how long this euphoria lasts…I am sure there are many hurdles yet to cross:)

loosen your grip

I have been doing a lot of cleaning lately. We sold our house, and that in itself is a ton of work. But I have also been cleaning a friend’s place every other week.

The fact that this blog is called Zen of Vacuuming is your first clue that cleaning is not a chore for me; it is the thing I do when I need to zone out, get out of my head, and stop thinking about all the junk that swirls around.

Today, as I was cleaning my friend’s place, a thought occurred to me. I was on my hands and knees, wiping the bathroom floor with a clean rag (my preferred floor-cleaning method). The best way to do this is to hold the cloth lightly and let it do the work. Gripping too tightly compresses the cloth and less of it can touch the floor as you swipe it around. So my thought was this: loosen the grip.

Once those words entered my head, my mind took off! What a concept! I recall a song from my teenage years called “Hold on Loosely” and that is what I am talking about here.

If you hang on to anything too tightly, (according to .38 Special) you are gonna lose control.

This is EVERYTHING. No matter what you are doing, consciously loosen your grip when it occurs to you, and you will find that everything goes more smoothly. Tension is lessened, and you are able to move more freely.

I think I will make this my new inner mantra. Lately I have been saying “it’s just the ego” whenever a worrisome thought has occurred unbidden.

Now, I will repeat “loosen the grip” and see where that takes me.

It definitely helps when you are cleaning…I wonder how beneficial it will be when bigger messes occur.


my anxiety disorder = happy ending

You would never guess, when you meet me for the first time, that I have an anxiety disorder.

I wasn’t even aware of it until my doctor explained it to me. I had gone to see him for my annual checkup in 2009, and had mentioned that I had experienced a frightening experience on a flight to Los Angeles the year before.

I told him that I had always enjoyed flying, and my husband and I were really excited to be taking this trip without the kids. We chose to take a float plane to the big city and then board our flight to LA. I was seated behind the pilot in the float plane, and all went well until he shut the door and started taxiing in the water to get enough speed to ascend. The door shutting triggered something in me that I had only experienced as a young child. My older brothers had once put me in a sleeping bag, zipped it up, and tossed me around like a piece of Shake ‘N Bake chicken. I was hysterical and crying and panicking to be let out. They did let me out, but of course that memory was so traumatic that it stayed within me.

On the plane, I was feeling completely trapped. The only thought was I HAD TO GET OFF THE PLANE and I almost ripped the headphones off the pilot so I could scream at him to TURN AROUND. But of course I didn’t do that. I was a highly-functioning, intelligent woman of 43! I just had to get through this; the flight was only 15 minutes and it would be over soon enough.

I explained my panic to my husband once we got off the float plane. He had no idea of course, as he was sitting behind me during the flight, and the noise of the engines prevented any talking. We laughed about it a little, and then boarded the flight to LA. We were seated at the very back of the plane, both on the aisle, me in front of him, in the last two rows of seats, right before the rear cabin’s washrooms. I had no feelings of anxiety until the seat belt sign was turned off and passengers starting lining up for the washroom. The plane was filled with families going to Disneyland, so lots of kids needed to use the facilities, and the aisle beside me was crammed with people. I started to get uncomfortable, and recognized the same feeling of panic I had had in the float plane that morning. I turned around with eyes as big as plates at my husband, unbolted by own seatbelt, and pushed past all the waiting passengers and nearly ran to the front of the plane. Once I reached the cockpit door, I stopped. I was in the first class galley, and a steward was there. He looked at me, and without skipping a beat said “Hey hon, what can I get you?” in a voice so soothing I could have cried from relief. Instead I said “Um, I am having a bit of an issue.”

He said “Can I make you a coffee?”

Moving from one foot to the other, wringing my hands, and clearly looking deranged didn’t seem to phase him at all. I am sure he is well-versed in passenger anxiety and odd behavior.

I accepted the coffee and stood there chatting with him for a few minutes. Apparently all I needed to do was get out of my seat and move around, converse a little, for the panic to subside.

I returned to my seat and we flew the rest of the way without any difficulty.

When my doctor heard this story, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. Okay, I thought, here we go…get on board the crazy train! I said sure, and he asked me the standard depression scale questionnaire.

It revealed that I had a mild chronic depression. I asked him if this was a big deal, and he said “I have been waiting for you to bring this to my attention. I am surprised it took you so long.”

Wait, what?!? I wasn’t depressed. I was a highly-functioning, intelligent woman of 43 years of age! I had a successful marriage, two wonderful teenagers, a beautiful home and a great job selling newspaper advertising.

He explained that oftentimes, chronic depression is undetected in people who are good at ‘dealing with life’. Just because I could make it through crisis after crisis (both large and small), did not preclude me from chronic depression, nor indeed from anxiety.

He went on to say that in fact, depression and anxiety are closely related, and manifest in similar ways.

It was a lot to take in, but after discussing my options, he and I decided that I would start a course of Sertraline (generic form of Zoloft), on a trial basis. He prescribed 100 mg, and I had the prescription filled and started it the next day. I immediately felt ‘weird’. My heart was beating too fast, and I felt woozy, like I had just drunk five beers in five minutes. I called the doctor and he suggested I reduce the dose to 50 mg.

After that, I took my daily dose of ‘happy’. Actually, Sertraline is a serotonin-uptake inhibitor. For people who need it, it prevents serotonin from dumping all at once in the system, and instead doles it out in a sort of time-release pattern.

I continued on the 50 mg and felt that I was ‘cured’. I have since flown, and not had any issues. Voila! Sertraline to the rescue!

At my yearly checkup last summer, the doctor asked how my ‘anxiety’ was going. I said “Great! I only feel anxious just before I fall asleep, but I talk myself down, and then it’s fine.”

He looked at me as though he were dealing with a very small child, and explained “That is not good. Your anxiety is still there, and by pushing it down, you are making it worse.” He went on, “Let’s put you up to an adult dose and see how you feel.”

Apparently 50 mg is a tiny dose, and I was now ready to graduate to a real, adult dose.

After putting me back up to 100 mg, I can say that my nightly episodes of needing to push down any anxiety are gone, and I truly do feel that I am managing without any underlying depression or angst.

But the point is not that I am ‘cured’. For me, I need to know ‘why’. Why do I have to take a drug at all? What caused me to be this way? Genetics? Environment? Both?

After many discussions with friends, surfing the net, and reading whatever I could get my hands on, I have come to this conclusion.

I learned to live in crisis mode at a very young age. My parents were combative with each other and we kids learned to keep quiet to avoid conflicts. We were never allowed to argue or have an opinion if it conflicted with theirs. This was not a great recipe for self-confidence and carefree living.

But my point is this: I talked about my feelings with my friends and their parents, and by doing so, I was able to understand that I was not to blame for my parents’ behaviour.

There is no moral to this story. The only piece of advice I want to offer is this: mental wellness is paramount. Make it your goal to dig deep, truly get in there, and dissect whatever it is that you may harboring or at the very least, not dealing with.

Then, if you are lucky enough to discover something, or things, then seek the help of a counsellor, doctor, or friend, and just let it all out.

The act of speaking about your demons releases some of the power they hold over you, and only then can you tackle them.

I am not prescribing drugs, or psychotherapy, or anything really. I am just telling you my story.

If it helps you in any way to live a better life, then that really does make me ‘happy’. But I will keep taking the Sertraline too. No shame in it at all.

chapter 4…what could possibly go wrong

After I texted Kim to hightail it to work, I busied myself with sorting through my inbox and reviewing this week’s features. I had already finished my coffee, but could smell a new pot brewing, and was about to get up and grab a refill, when my phone rang. During the call, I heard Kim arrive and speak to Marion and then heard Gerald’s door close. I was replacing the receiver when Kim came in and put her coat on the rack. I looked over the top of my screen and she offered “Are you ready for a doozy?”. She switched on her own monitor and grabbed her mug.

I looked over my shoulder at the sliding window separating us from Sandy’s office. It was closed, keeping our conversation private.

“I’ll get it, I need a refill anyhow.”

I left the sales office and walked down the hall to the kitchen. The coffee machine was still burbling, so I leaned against the fridge to wait. The kitchen was next to the production office, and I could hear Sandy’s voice through the open door. I heard “Its true!” and then a sound like a champagne cork hitting the wall brought my attention back to the coffee machine. Brown liquid was spilling over the carafe and onto the counter. I ripped off a handful of paper towels and slopped up the mess into the sink.

By the time I had cleaned up the mess and poured the coffee, I no longer heard Sandy’s phone conversation, so I returned to the sales office and handed Kim her mug.

“Okay, spill!”

Kim knew that I meant Gerald’s news, and replied “He wanted to know if I was interested in being the publisher! He said his wife isn’t well, and John agreed to give him a leave of absence. He said I could think about it for a day or two, but he needed to know by Friday at the latest.”

I had swigged my coffee and had to choke it down before replying, “Really? I can’t believe it! So I guess the dress wasn’t needed after all”, my laughing tone changed to concern, “but what about our plan?”

“I know. The first thing I thought was that we would have to hold off. But that place is a gold mine, and they want a quick sale. Gawwwwd! Why did he have to offer this to me NOW?!?”

I waved my hand to shush her and walked over and sat on the edge of her desk.

“Listen, this might work. You wait a couple days to talk to Gerald, and in the meantime, we come up with a plan. It’s not like we both have to be there to make this work. You might be able to stay here and I could do the daily stuff over there.”

Kim took a sip of coffee, held the cup to her chest, and pondered my suggestion.

“Hmmm, I don’t know. That is pretty risky. And who would sell our ads? The whole point was getting out of this racket, not make more work for ourselves.”

“Okay, I admit I don’t have all the answers. Yet. But let’s get together later, say my place at 7:30, and we can try to figure something out.”

My desk phone rang so I jumped off Kim’s desk and ran over to answer it. I picked up the receiver and as I was getting settled, I noticed the sliding window. It was now open a crack, which meant only one thing.

San had been listening to our entire conversation.