A tribute to Stuart McLean – Canada’s cheerleader

Gosh. Where to start? I was so heartbroken this week to hear that CBC radio host and author Stuart McLean had passed away.

I knew something was up when they decided to take a break and stop airing episodes on Sunday afternoons. To be honest, while there hadn’t been new material posted for a while, I hadn’t been missing it. Let me explain – it wasn’t that I didn’t like new material or didn’t want new material, but rather that I felt as long as there was Stuart and the Vinyl Café on at 12 p.m. EST, then I was fine. It was a staple in my Sunday mornings for as long as I can remember. Truth is I can’t remember when my family or I as an adult didn’t list to the Vinyl Café on a Sunday. So while I knew they were playing repeats, and knew something must be up, I was comforted by the fact that I could still listen to stories and music as selected by Stuart and his band of merry-men (or in this case, ladies).

But when it was announced that they would take a break as, as I remember Stuart saying something about us deserving more than repeats; I thought to myself that he must clearly be sicker than we’ve been led to believe. The last few months however didn’t feel right. While I enjoy so many shows on CBC Radio, I really felt like something was missing without hearing Stuart’s voice.

And now, as I have listened to the tributes on Q, As It Happens and the one-hour Tribute special with Michael Enright, I feel the gravity of Stuart’s passing. I’m not ready for this!

As soon as I heard the news that he had passed, I posted on Facebook and Twitter the following:

 

Never was there a truer statement. He was a city boy with a small town heart. Not often do city folk (especially those born and raised in cities) have a true appreciation for what happens in small towns and villages. Stuart got this. And he understood that a show about Canadians for Canadians needed to include these stories and people. The CBC (of which I am a diehard fan…but also a friendly critic) often presents a view that is very city-centric and has been known to lose itself in the excitement and spark of cities like Toronto and Vancouver. But Canada is so much more than just it’s incredibly diverse and rich cities – we are a large country with roots in the back-woods and small towns that line our lakes and rail stations (or…used-to-be-rail stations).

I lived in one of these small towns for seven years. The birth place of the Canada’s nuclear science program and the home of some of the most talented trades’ people and academics and down-right quirky buggers I’ve ever met. I always thought Stuart should visit Deep River (and Chalk River), Ontario as he’d have had a hay day learning about the eccentric towns folks and the wacky and important science that came out of that town that in fact has shaped so much of Canada’s contributions to the scientific world.

I can’t even begin to recount the times I’ve stayed in the car just a little bit longer to hear the end of a story. Or the music I’ve bought after hearing a great concert on the show.

I was lucky to see the Vinyl Café live three times and in three different cities. The first time I saw him was in University in Fredericton at the Playhouse. My parents bought me tickets to see him for me and one of my best university pals. I can’t remember exactly our seats…but if they weren’t front row, they were somewhere very close. I was mesmerized. Having grown up listening to Stuart and the Vinyl Café all of my life, I was riveted with seeing the show live.

My second trip to the Vinyl Café was in North Bay. There I went with a new friend to see the show at the Capitol Centre. I remember this friend telling me that he had fond memories of hearing me laugh so hard and out loud. It’s very true – being in the theatre in the dark, I felt like I was at a show just for me and my pal and could just embrace the moment fully.

The last time I saw Stuart and the Vinyl Café – and gosh, now it will always be the last time – was in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre. This show was very special though as my husband surprised me with tickets for the Christmas show in 2011. The show was special for two reasons. The first was that it was a surprise! The second was that my husband, who at this stage had not yet grown to really love the Vinyl Café, had bought the tickets to the show. You know how Stuart opens his show and welcomes the three types of people in the crowd – the fans, the people who sorta might know about it and the people who have no idea what the show is about? Well, I’d add that night there was also a fourth type – the husband there under duress.

See, at this point in our relationship, my husband and I had a love/hate relationship with the Vinyl Café. I loved it. He hated it. LOL Well, maybe hate was a strong word. He couldn’t believe all of the stories Stuart wrote about meeting garbage men and gardeners and people at the café were true. I would argue they were all true. He thought it was the cheesiest thing he had ever heard in his life. And well, he wasn’t necessarily wrong about that. The Vinyl Café and Stuart McLean could be incredibly cheesy. But it was Canadian cheese. It was heartwarming. And it was wonderful.

Since that time, my husband grew to also enjoy the stories and music and it became part of our married family’s Sunday routines. This week after learning of Stuart’s passing, he said to me that “while I still don’t believe any of those stories are true, I’m sad about Stuart’s passing and I’m going to miss him.” Me too sweetpete, me too.

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Lastly, I’ll leave you with one story that will never leave me and will always be the essence of why Stuart McLean and his show were just so very special. It was October and I was at our family’s cottage in St. George New Brunswick. We had lots of family visiting as we were celebrating Thanksgiving.  I was in the car with my younger cousin (of about 10 years) and we were driving to St. Andrews. That episode was when Stuart was making calls for the Arthur awards. But when he called one person he had the wrong number and ended up speaking to a teenage boy. Stuart asked him about what was happening in his life and this boy talked about how his parents were separating and going through a divorce. Clearly not what Stuart was expecting to hear. Neither was it what we were expecting. See, my cousin’s parents were also going through the very same thing at that time and I knew that it was a hard time for him and his siblings, and heck for his parents too. In that moment, as Stuart spoke to this young man about what was happening, I truly felt that this story was placed here for my cousin and me. It was real, honest, a bit sad, but mostly comforting. Like all Dave and Morley stories, Stuart reassured the boy on the phone, as well as us, that it would work out and be ok. I’ll never forget that moment in my life.

It has been so nice to see that all of Canada is mourning the loss of Stuart McLean. It has really demonstrated that he was someone who understood our country including its issues and the people who live here. Whether you were from Moose Jaw, Toronto, Saint John (I’ll remember that the Imperial Theatre was one of his all-time favs) or Big Narrows, we could all relate to the stories and music from the Vinyl Café and how it made us feel  – like however big or small we were we could be kind and make an impact.

 

*Photo credits:

  1. Photo of Stuart from https://www.vinylcafe.com/
  2. Photo from 2011 Christmas Concert from the vinyl cafe facebook page, taken by James Dean Photography

Thank you to my friends who marched

Thank you to my friends who marched all over the country today. I saw friends’ posts from Halifax, Fredericton, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

I didn’t march….spent the day sick on the couch. But now I wish I had.

When Trump was first elected I thought, why protest? This is how democracy works, the people have spoken. But as we neared closer to inauguration it was clear that there are still reasons to speak up and out. And today, Day 2 of this Presidency and words like climate change and LGBT have been wiped from the White House’s website… I believe we are seeing the true colours and intentions of this President and his colleagues. I am now more aware that this American administration is more dangerous than I had imagined.

Two of my favourite speeches from the Women’s March on Washington came from American actresses / activists America Ferrera and Ashley Judd.

America Ferrera’s speech at “Women’s March” In Washington DC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrQt0J4hWj4

Ashley Judd passionately recites Nina Donovan’s “I Am A Nasty Woman” poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffb_5X59_DA

By marching in solidarity across the world, women today sent strong and clear messages to our own political parties and administrators. I was moved and motivated as I followed from home. Next time however, I promise I too will be there to march with you.

 

*illustration by Audrey Malo

How reading Random Passage motivated me to make turkey soup

I read the book Random Passage by Bernice Morgan a while ago now. It was given to me by one of my favourite people, who just so happens to have a complicated (love/hate?) relationship with his homeland of Newfoundland. This novel was his favourite book about his famed province and he gifted it to me for my library.

For those of you who haven’t read it, Random Passage is about a family who flees England to start a new life in a faraway country – the Colony of Newfoundland. They arrive in in this rural coastal area between 1850-1900 (I’m guessing because I can’t find any actually year associated with the novel!). As the publisher notes in several online sources, “the Andrews family books passage to a fresh start in a distant country, only to discover a barren, inhospitable land at the end of their crossing.” Random Passage tells the story of not only the Andrews family, but a teenage woman coming of age and a small community learning, working and living together in a very remote part of the world.

The main theme of Random Passage is survival. Together the characters must survive many things: growing up, loneliness, starvation and the elements.

I loved this book. So much so, that now that I’m writing about it, I think I should probably read it again. But I digress…

After reading this book, I felt compelled to be better equipped to ensure I knew how to feed my family. Now…let’s be real, I don’t live in rural pre-electricity Newfoundland. I’m likely never going to have to worry about where to find my next meal. But after reading this book, I was moved to be able to cook a turkey and then use every last piece of said turkey for meals, such as stew and soup. I remember clearly thinking to myself after I finished this novel that I needed to know how to boil turkey bones so that I would not waste any food.

This brings me to one of my favourite things to do post-Thanksgiving – make soup out of the leftover turkey!

It really is much easier than I had first imagined lo these many years ago.

First off – you clean the carcass of the turkey of any leftover meat. If you have lots of meat left, then you don’t need to skin it dry. Leaving some around the bone will add to flavour. But if you have scarce meat left, you want to ensure you have enough for adding to the broth for eating.

I will admit I never have the energy to want to make my soup right after the meal that I have made said turkey for. I typically separate meat from bone, and then freeze both the carcass and meat (separately) until I’m ready to cook.

When that time comes, usually about a month later, I take the carcass and I boil it in a large full pot of water. The last time I did this, I boiled it for ~three hours. After bringing to a boil, I keep the lid of the pot on halfway so that the water doesn’t all evaporate.

Next step is to strain the bones, foam and any other things that may be floating around (like remnants of stuffing).

The leftover water will be the base of your soup (or stew).

Next – add whatever veggies you’d like. Most recently I added carrots, parsnips, leeks, onions, potatoes and of course turkey meat.

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I actually sautéed the leeks in butter and garlic before adding the broth and veggies.

Finally – spices like salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, parsley – depending on my mood and what I have in my kitchen.

I then cook this for another hour or so until the vegetables are soft.

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And there you go – a big pot of soup for family and friends!

Honestly, there is nothing more satisfying to me than knowing I have fed my family with a hearty, home cooked meal. It also brings me comfort in knowing that the turkey who gave his life for our family wasn’t wasted and eaten in vain. I credit Bernice Morgan’s beautifully honest writing about life in remote winter communities before grocery stores and automobiles brought us everything we needed right to our fingertips.

 

Must-have Meatloaf

For me, fall and winter means a lot of cooking. While summer has beautiful fruit and veggies, I find that when the sun is bright and warm I am itching to be outside ordering fun food on a patio, instead of cooking healthy meals in front of my stove. But now that the weather has turned cooler and darker, I’m very happy to be home cooking and experimenting with food.

Recently, my husband and I were itching for ground beef. Instead of making the usual hamburgers, I opted to make a meatloaf. Now, I have to say, I’ve not always been a fan of meatloaf. Unlike many friends of mine, it’s not something that was a regular around our family table. Many times when I’ve eaten it, I’ve felt like I was eating a very big blah hamburger without any of the fixings.

So, as I sat down to prepare a meatloaf for our dinner, I wanted it to be as flavourful as possible without going overboard. And – I wanted to use up some things in my fridge.

The result was a very yummy meatloaf. Two thumbs up from Dr. Meatlover (a.k.a. my husband).

Here’s the recipe – I hope that it inspires you to throw together a flavourful hunk of meat of your own!

Porland Must-Meatloaf

1.5 pounds of lean ground beef

3 eggs

1/2 cup bread crumbs

2/3 cup fresh parsley

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (we had unusually large shallots from the market – if you’re using a normal onion, you’d probably want a full cup)

2 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 tbsp. mustard

2-3 tbsp. BBQ sauce

Instructions

Mix together all ingredients, except the BBQ sauce and ~tbsp. parsley, with your hands in a big bowl.

Line a bread pan with parchment paper.

Mould the meatloaf into the pan like you would bread dough.

Cover the top of the meatloaf with the BBQ sauce and then sprinkle the remaining parsley.

Bake, no cover, for 50-60 minutes at 350F.

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Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

My husband and I quite like to cook. We really like to eat too. We are what I’d like to call mid-grade-gourmet chefs. We definitely like to spend time in the kitchen, but we aren’t over the top fancy. However we do pride ourselves in making meals from scratch and very rarely eating out of a box. (Unless it is pizza and then I love ordering in boxed food!!)

The internet is made for people like us. So many delicious recipes, food blogs and lots and lots of easy options are posted for all to see, and use, for meals.

This evening is a great example. While at the grocery store this weekend I picked up two big bags of carrots that were on sale and some sweet potatoes. I didn’t have a particular recipe in mind, but I knew that carrots and sweet potatoes would go well together and I was confident I’d find a recipe for soup.

And I was right!

A very quick google search brought up a recipe from http://www.onceuponachef.com for Autumn Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup. The recipe and site is c/o a woman named Jenn Segal. I don’t know her and I’ve never seen her recipes before, so this was a first.

And well, it was a hit!

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I did however make a few tweaks.

Here’s how I changed the recipe:

  • Instead of 8 cups of chicken broth, I used 3 cups of chicken broth and 4 cups of water.
  • Instead of 4 tbsp. of unsalted butter, I used about 3.
  • Instead of 1 tbsp. of curry, I used 1 tbsp. and 1 tsp.
  • Instead of 1-3/4 tsp. salt, I used 1 ½ tsp.
  • I didn’t use any pepper. With the extra curry it was spicy enough.

And…the sign of a good soup? An empty bowl!

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Thank you snapchat and other stuff

Thanksgiving.

One word but two meanings:  to be thankful for what you have received and to actively give thanks.

This year, amidst a whole bunch of challenges, I still find myself thankful for so much.

After a very busy month at work and at home, I find myself thoughtful on this quiet Thanksgiving weekend. Perhaps it’s that I’ve finally sat and allowed my mind to wander a bit.

At this very moment I am in the midst of baking something to bring to our good friends’ home for dinner tonight. That is something I am very thankful for – good friends to spend holidays and birthdays and special moments with.

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Last weekend I celebrated my birthday with 20 or so friends, including my parents. It was a super fun night – we went axe throwing at a local establishment. It was quite special for me as it was the first time since moving to Ottawa that my husband and I had brought together our friends. How thankful I am to now have family and friends living in the same place as us. I’ve said this before, so bear with me: while moving to Ottawa was full of challenges it was 100% worth it.

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Regularly I now receive fun snapchat messages from my brother. Since the summer when we both joined we’ve been sharing crazy silly snaps with each other. The best part for me is that I get to see my nieces and nephew at home and in the moment. This is a great blessing seeing as we live three provinces apart.

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Earlier this week I was asked to contribute once again to the magazine Plenty. This time I wrote about something a little more personal than usual – managing and living with psoriasis. I am so thankful for the opportunity to contribute to this online publication. I somehow feel a bit like I’ve fooled them into thinking I’m witty and smart enough for their site…so it is indeed nice that they have invited me back on more than one occasion.

There are times when we all feel that there is more bad than good happening around us. Thanksgiving seems to always be a great time to reflect on this. Taking stock of what I am thankful for helps to keep all of the other stuff more balanced.

Happy thanksgiving to you – and may you have a moment where you too can reflect on the good in your life.

The year of the adult

This time last year I was sitting down to write my first blog entry. Little did I know it would write so few over this past year! (Note to self – get your butt to the computer more often!)

On the eve of my 38th birthday, I am reminiscing about all of the things that happened this past year. As most years, it was full of ups and downs. However, what is clearer now than ever before, is that this life stuff is getting real.

And by real, I mean it is getting harder. Decisions are harder, consequences to decisions are harder and life events taking place are way harder. It’s not to say that these things aren’t good, or well worth it, but they are definitely a big smack of adult.

If I think about what year 37 was most like, it was very grown-up. There were the usual nuptials of loved ones and the birth of beautiful brand spanking new humans. But it also included the unexpected passing of loved ones, some close to me and others dear to friends and family. There was fear of illness and unexpected job loss, the stress and relief of finally selling our home, and the excitement of new jobs and opportunity.

All in all, 37 was a good year. But it was a definitely a move in the direction of indeterminate grown-up.

Below is a collection of some of my favourite memories from the past year – twelve pictures to sum up a year that was full of love, loss and great big challenges. Ok 38 – I’m ready for what’s next!

  1. My cousin’s wedding
  2. A visit with a long-time friend
  3. Celebration of life event with by BFF
  4. Selling our home (after 33 months…)
  5. Reading a Christmas book to my nephew and nieces over Skype
  6. A weekend away just for me in Toronto (including two days of being sick on another BFF’s couch…)
  7. Surprise birthday tickets to see what ended up being the worst concert ever (Meatloaf!)
  8. Becoming a God-Mother to a very special little man
  9. Finally seeing my first Pearl Jam concert
  10. Passing the torch – stepping down from the Renfrew County United Way BOD and joining the Ottawa one
  11. Reconnecting with a friend that I met at a conference almost 9 years later
  12. Two wonderful weeks of vacation with family and friends in NB

Seaside Vacation = Happy Heart

Vacation.

Ah, sweet, sweet vacation.

I just got back from 14 days of vacation at our family’s cottage. I actually haven’t had a two-week vacation in probably three years. For various reasons, I wasn’t able to get/take that sort of time off. But I was definitely due for a break.

Two weeks are, in my opinion, the right amount of time to really have a break. One week just isn’t enough. It usually takes me anywhere from 2-3 days to unwind and stop thinking/worrying about work and home stress, and then as you get ready to end your time off, you start to let your mind wander back to those same thoughts. If you are only off for a week, then you barely have a few days to actually relax stress free.

But it wasn’t just the vacation time that I needed; I was also long overdue for some dedicated time at our family’s seaside home. It had been almost three years since I had been to the cottage for a good visit. As cheesy as this sounds, my soul was void and needed to be replenished with all that would fill it from a visit to what our family lovingly calls The West Bay House.

Now, for any of you reading this that have a special place that is in your family, you will understand what I’m talking about. This is a property that has been passed through the family for well over 150 years. I’ve spent every summer but a few over my almost 40 (!!) years of life visiting this area. My parents, my brother, our families and our family friends have all made special memories here. When we talk about the West Bay House (or the other loving family homes on the property – the Upper House, the Bay House and the Lower House) we utter these words with a familiarity and affection that can only come from a home and place that emits the warmth and love of a sunny summer day.

I have been wondering what it is that makes this place so special. No doubt there is the familiarity that exists from having spent so much time there.

There is also the fact that it is located off of the Bay of Fundy and that it is truly a beautiful place. Daily we watch the ocean’s tide come in and out upon the beach.

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And yes, the beach – so many adventures have taken place in the search for treasures like beach glass and shells, and even live crabs.

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Of course, there are also the people. So many memories with friends and family have happened there – meals shared, cards played, long talks by the warmth of a fire. There is a comradery that occurs when unwinding and relaxing among loved ones. A shared experience of not needing to be anywhere and letting each other see the real you – sunburnt, freckled and all.

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So I as I gear up and get ready to go back to work (which for the record, I am actually looking forward to!), I’m happy to have had two glorious weeks away at the cottage. I am reminded why it is important to spend time with family and friends. I also know that I will not let so much time go by before I get back. I already miss the sound of the waves…

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What would your sibling say about you?

Lucky me – I recently had the chance to contribute to Plenty again! This time however it was with my brother. They did a month-long feature regarding siblings – pieces about people who had lots of kids, twins, why some couples chose not to have more than one kid and some very fun features about siblings talking about their siblings. This is where my brother Gavin and I come in.

They gave us each three questions to answer. We both answered the questions completely independently from each other.

Just before submitting our answers to the team at Plenty, Gav and I shared our answers with each other. I started to get a bit nervous and thought to myself “what if what I wrote offends him?” We shared our answers with each other over email.

I was driving back with my husband from a weekend away at our friends’. I read Gav’s answers in the car. Oh my gosh, did I ever like what he wrote. I laughed and I cried while reading his responses. I don’t know why – but I was both so moved and completely shocked with how well he characterized me and us. I read it to my husband after which I said, “I want this to be read at my funeral!”

The three questions we answered were the following:

  1. What do you love most about your sibling?
  2. What irritates you most about your sibling?
  3. No holds barred: What is the one thing that you wish you could do together?

If you have a sibling, I really recommend that you also participate in this exercise. It made me feel really close to Gav as it reminded me that even though we live far apart and we don’t get to see each other very often, we will always be siblings and he will always know me better than so many other people.

You can read our piece here: Siblings Talk About Each Other

Take the plunge – hang out with yourself

Do you ever spend time alone? Do you cherish the thought of an evening by yourself or does it scare you to be by yourself with your thoughts?

For anyone who knows me, it is safe to say that we all know that I am an extrovert. I love being with friends and meeting new people, I get a thrill presenting in front of groups and I have no problem leading an event or activity. After leaving my first job, my colleagues bestowed upon me my very own microphone – so you get the picture. 😉

But I also love me time. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate just how important it is for me to get time alone and decompress.

This winter I had planned a two part girl’s getaway with some friends. I was going away to spend the weekend with one girlfriend, but planned to come early so I could see another friend and her baby before the weekend. Unfortunately though, days leading up to the mini-trip, I caught a cold. Seeing as the baby was just wee, it wasn’t a good time to go see mom or baby being sick. But instead of cancelling that part of my trip, I decided to spend two days by myself.

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Yep. I stayed in a hotel all by myself and it wasn’t for work.

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I walked around the city and had lunch, and dinner; all at tables for one.

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I even got rush tickets and went to the Opera, alone.

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It was great. I didn’t have to plan my day around anyone else’s schedule. I could choose where and when I wanted to eat. I could explore and just be with my thoughts. Detours were welcome and naps in the afternoon were a gift. I truly felt more relaxed and at peace after those couple days. I had taken time to really reflect on what was really going on in my life.

Now, I know some might be thinking “must be nice. I have X kids, X commitments, a partner/boyfriend/ wife/husband/sick parent/cat who needs daily meds… etc. etc. and I can never find time for myself.” The thing is though, we all have other commitments. And there is never a good time to take time out for “me time.”

So today, I’m writing to say – try a little “me time.” It doesn’t have to be a weekend getaway or an expensive spa day. Have you ever gone to the movies alone? I remember thinking that people would know I’m by myself and would think I was weird. And then, when I finally went, I realized it was no big deal. No one was watching me. It was fun to be enveloped by the sights and sounds of the movie and the theatre.

When I first started working and had to travel for work, I found I had no choice but to eat alone. The first few times I did so, I thought the same thing as with the movies – people will think something is wrong with me for being out by myself. Au contraire! I’ve had some very nice conversations with other patrons and staff when I have had dinner alone. I remember a Sex and the City episode where Carrie ends the show having coffee on a terrace all by herself; I believe she said something to the effect about embracing being by herself and her not hiding behind a book. Hear, hear!

There is something to be said for making your own decisions and not relying on someone else or having to have a cooperation talk whenever you want to go out for supper. It is a confidence builder to know that you can find your way around a city or new town. Getting dressed up and going out doesn’t have to be for something or someone; it can also just be for YOU, to feel like the fine human that you are.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said “Do one thing every day that scares you”, to which I’ll add, even if it is just being alone with yourself for a bit.