A New Season of Grief

A friend recently shared the idea that grief is like the seasons - ever present, but always changing. I know I've mentioned this idea before, but it has deeply resonated with me this month as I approached the 18th anniversary of my mom's death.

Ashley and Debbie Gibson

February usually haunts me. It's the whole reason why I started the Life is Sweet series and performed 2 shows in my mom's honour. Those projects gave me a place to focus my energy and remember my mom in a cold, bleak, grey month that always felt like it was hanging over me like a dark cloud. In 18 years, I've figured out that I need to practice great self care in February, ask for help and give myself things to look forward to. 

I realized that this year was a different season for me about 2 weeks into February. 

I felt calmer. 
Sadness wasn't my predominant emotion.
I was in control of my feelings. 

As I've reflected on this change in my February demeanour, I've come to attribute it to a few things in my life right now:
  • I feel really happy and fulfilled in the work that I'm doing and in my relationships
  • I've been practicing good self care by working out each morning, nourishing my body with delicious food, drinking lots of water and getting a good amount of sleep
  • I've developed a daily practice of gratitude and spend a few minutes doing positive visualization each night
  • I'm going on a cruise in less than 3 weeks and I'm really excited for the downtime, time with Corbin and friends, sunshine and the opportunity to swim with dolphins
  • The weather in Toronto hasn't been entirely miserable this year - it was 10 degrees on Saturday!
Corbin said to me last week that he felt like this had been my best February since we had been together and I have to agree. I think it's actually been my best February in a very long time, maybe ever. Perhaps this is a new season? Maybe February doesn't have to hit me like a tonne of bricks every year? Right now I need to get through today. 

My amazing friends and family have been a huge support to me this month. My Nan called last week to ask me how I was doing because she "knows February is hard for me". I woke up to a text message from my sweet aunt sending her love. Corbin made plans to take me out for dinner tonight. A friend (who has known me since the 8th grade when my mom died) just messaged me as I was finishing this post to say that she was thinking of me. I expressed my gratitude for her thoughtful message and she said "I wouldn't let today go by without one". Other friends have sent their love and offered to support me in any way I needed. Asking for help can be really tough, especially when you're an independent, self-sufficient person, but I'm very blessed to have beautiful people in my life who have my back. 

Sometimes it feels like I'm grasping at thin air for a memory of my mom. I have photos, stories, anecdotes, some mementos and her journal, but I wish I had more. Over the years I realize how far away I truly am from her, and that time is only going to increase as I get older. 

Grief is always changing

This morning I pulled out my mom's journal and read a few pages. I stopped at the letter she added on the very last page for my brother and I in December of 1993:

To Ashley & Cory:

I always knew I wanted to be a mother even before I had you both. You're more than I ever dreamed. 
Each of you is a very special gift from God. I hope I've been the best mother I could be. I hope to always be a positive influence in your lives. 
I know the importance of your individuality and independence. 
I want the best for both of you always. 
I love you both with all my heart. 
I hope to be here with you both for a very long time. 

My love for you both forever. Love Mom

I could re-read that second last line over and over again. I wish I could tell her the impact her life and death has truly had on my life. 

This is what grief looks like for me today, February 24th, 2016. 

In 18 years I've come to learn that grief is always changing. Tomorrow, next month or next year could be entirely different. I don't know because I haven't gotten there yet; I do my best to figure it out along the way.

Five Minute Journal

A little while back, Corbin sent me the link to a great Tim Ferriss podcast all about cultivating mindfulness. I listened to it while getting groceries one night and Corbin listened to it on his own. After hearing the podcast, he was inspired to pick up a copy of the Five Minute Journal. As soon as his copy arrived in the mail and he told me a bit more about it, I knew I wanted to get a Five Minute Journal too!


What is the Five Minute Journal?

It's a simple way to work towards being feeling happier every day. In just five minutes, you can work towards a positive pattern of thinking and cultivate some great feelings of gratitude, positivity, accomplishment and joy. 

It starts in the morning - each day you start by sharing 3 things you are grateful for, 3 things that could make the day great and a daily affirmation. In the introduction to the book, it gives you some insight on the ins and outs of these practices, but day-to-day it's fairly simple. In the evening you write 3 amazing things that happened in your day and a way you could have made your day better. 

That's it. 

There is a page for each day and each book covers half a year. The introduction has you write a contract to yourself to commit to writing in the journal for five days in a row, to help you build this new habit and feel accomplished when you hit the five day mark!

You could absolutely take this concept and do it in your own notebook, but the book is laid out beautifully with quotes or weekly challenges at the top of each page. 


You're encouraged to keep your journal near your bedside so that it's the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you do before you go to sleep. The idea is that by starting your day with gratitude and positive thinking, you can set an uplifting tone for your day. Finishing off with your journal each day is a lovely way to invest in yourself and establish a great routine before heading into dream land. (And a great way to ditch the Facebook-scrolling-on-your-phone habit that far too many of us are guilty of - myself included)

It's been three solid weeks of journalling and it's becoming a wonderful part of my life. I aim to start my days with my journal, rather than reach for my phone. In Tim's podcast, he shared some helpful guidelines to vary your gratitude list each day by committing to writing down new things each day. His suggestions included: something simple near you (an object or thing), an old relationship that helped you a lot, an opportunity that you have today and something great that happened yesterday. When writing my list, I find myself reflecting on many positive aspects of my life which truly sets a positive tone for my day. Some things on my list have included:

  • naps
  • library books
  • relationships with many great friends
  • yummy lunches packed by Corbin
  • beautiful photos of my mom
  • snuggles
  • homemade granola
  • Skype dates with my bestie who is overseas
There have been times when writing in my journal has helped me to get out of a funk or see where I could have done something differently to make my day better. It encourages me to improve myself every day and enables me to see even the smallest wins in my day, when it hasn't felt super. 

I also really love the daily affirmation, because I've been focusing on a practice of visualization in 2016. Sharing one of my affirmations to start each day is the perfect reminder of that. 

It has also become a lovely way for Corbin and I to connect. We often share things that we've written down and encourage one another to make our journal a priority before we go to bed. It is cool to have that accountability, but I also think that it strengthens our relationship as a couple and a sweet thing that we share. 

The Five Minute Journal has been a welcome addition to my routine this year and I am proud to be going into my fourth consecutive week of journal-writing consistency! This is a great practice, even for folks who don't consider themselves journal writers. It's so easy, brightens my days, strengthens my visualization / affirmation practice and helps to bring me closer to my partner. I'm a big fan. 

How do you cultivate mindfulness and gratitude into your daily life?






22 Minute Hard Corps

22 Minute Hard Corps is a new boot-camp style, military-inspired workout from Tony Horton. If you're looking to get an intense workout at home in just 22 minutes a day (really!) then 22 Minute Hard Corps is for you!

I got to try out a sneak peek of one of the 22 Minute Hard Corps cardio workouts this weekend and it was intense!


22 Minute Hard Corps is an 8 week program with minimal equipment required. It is fast paced, with basic moves and patterns and minimal rest. It is a quick, no-nonsense workout that is designed to help you get into great shape. There is an easy to follow nutrition plan to accompany the workouts. 

I liked how straight-forward it was - you really make the most of 22 minutes! And if your workout is just 22 minutes of your day, what excuse do you have to not do it?? I pushed myself to get it done and was a sweaty mess by the end. The moves are simple but effective and Tony Horton is his charming, goofy self. It would be a great workout for anyone who loves a boot camp style workout, and who would benefit from being able to do their workout in just 22 minutes. 

This program is launching on March 1 - be the first to know when it's available and enter to win your very own copy!

And you if you think this would be the right program for you and would like to have me as your coach to help you get the best results, be sure to save a spot in my next challenge group

From Scratch Cooking: 2016 Edition


From Scratch Cooking is an awesome yearly initiative from the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. It is a digital cookbook for a cause, and this year's edition is benefitting Pencils of Promise. I am so proud of the work that all of the graduates of the CNE Program do, and this digital cookbook puts together 44 of their amazing recipes. The cookbook is available with a donation of your choice and all money raised will go towards Pencils of Promise.

Since I was on the team who helped to put together the book, I had the pleasure of pouring over all of the recipes and photos extensively. The recipes are gluten free, nourishing and delicious with awesome photos. So far I have made Robyn's breakfast cookies and Sondi's halvah oatmeal. (I was on an oat kick it seems)



Both were awesome!! I'm looking forward to making my way through the book and trying some more of the recipes. (These veggie burrito bowls and chocolate almond butter cups are definitely on my list!)

While the recipes are wonderful, this digital cookbook is about so much more than that. Pencils of Promise does amazing work helping to provide education, educational tools and schools to children in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos. Through their programs, they're working to change learning experiences for children in need and it's incredible to play a role in that. 

Since launching From Scratch last Monday we've raised more than $5,000, which is enough to send 200 kids to school for a year. It's been a very exciting week in the kitchen as we've seen the orders come in! We would love to increase that number to make an even bigger donation to help even more children have access to education. 


And to give you a sneak peek into the awesome recipes that have been included, I'm happy to share this Mediterranean Frittata from Vanessa Gilic! It makes for a great breakfast (and can be prepped in advance to enjoy throughout the week) or you can enjoy it as a protein-rich dish at any meal. 


Mediterranean Frittata

Recipe + Photo Credit: Vanessa Gilic
Prep Time:  5 minutes
Cook Time:  7-10 minutes
Number of Servings: 4

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp olive oil or ghee
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 handfuls baby spinach
¼ cup chopped Kalamata olives
½ red pepper, diced
4 large pastured eggs
1 tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
¼ cup crumbled goat feta cheese, optional
Handful torn basil for garnish

Recipe Directions:
1. Preheat the oven broiler to high.
2. Heat olive oil or ghee in an 8-inch cast iron pan (or other oven-safe pan) over medium heat.  Add the red onion and cook until it begins to colour (add some water if it starts to stick).
3. Add the spinach, olives and red pepper and cook for 1-2 minutes until the spinach is cooked down.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a bowl with the oregano and pepper. Pour into the pan over the veggies. Sprinkle over the feta cheese, if using, and cook over low heat for 4-5 minutes or until the frittata begins to set.
5. Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes or until the frittata is golden and cooked through.
6. Let it sit for 5 minutes before garnishing with torn basil and slicing into thick wedges.




Life is (still) Sweet

Life is sweet.
I want you to remember that.
It's something that I have believed for as long as I can remember. And it all started with my mom, Debbie.

Life is sweet month - Ashley Gibson's blog

My mom committed suicide when I was 13, and her life (and death) have greatly impacted my life. I've always been very open about my mom's death and opening up a dialogue about suicide and mental health, because I truly believe that it is something we don't talk about enough in our society.

For the last 3 years, every February I have hosted 'Life is Sweet' month here on my blog. It started with a show that I did to honour my mom's memory and then I thought that hosting a series of guest blog posts would be an incredible way to open up an even bigger conversation about mental health, loss and grief.

From 2013-2015 more than 50 people shared their stories candidly. Their bravery had a huge ripple effect on those who read the posts and the dialogue that followed. I shared posts from friends, family members, former lovers, internet acquaintances and complete strangers, of all ages, backgrounds and life stories. I was continually inspired, moved, and often brought to tears by their stories and their willingness to share.

Some participants told me things they had never shared publicly. Others told me how thankful they were for the opportunity to write about their experience and how it greatly impacted their life. In sharing these posts and my story through this blog series and my Life is Sweet shows, many other people told me their own stories of mental health, mental illness, grief and loss. 

Year after year, the Life is Sweet series has taught me that we need to keep the conversation going - it's not about one day, one week or one month - it needs to be happening year round, because mental illness is a thing that is happening every day in the lives of those around us. All of these people are a reminder that the conversation doesn't end and that it's up to all of us to end the negative stigma around mental illness. 

This project has brought me closer to my mom. Since 1999, February has always filled me with dread - it's cold, dark and dreary here in Canada and to make matters worse, I've always had to contend with my mom's death anniversary at the end of it. It's been 18 years since my mom died and over the last few years I've been so grateful to not only share her story, but to bring a positive light to her death. My blog posts and show have been an opportunity for new people to get to know my mom, and in a way, for me to spend time with her too. I continue to miss her every day. 

These are all of the stories that have been shared from 2013-2015. In the future I hope to categorize them by topic, but wanted to start by sharing them all in one place. I encourage you to read them, share them and keep the conversation going.

February 2013

A Little More Time - Part One / Part Two


February 2014


Debbie Gibson and Ashley Gibson

February 2015


Debbie Gibson - Life is Sweet month

Other Posts About My Mom, Mental Health and Grief


Oh they told you life is hard, misery from the start, it's dull, it's slow, it's painful 
But I tell you life is sweet, in spite of misery, there's so much more, be grateful

- Natalie Merchant

Life is sweet.
I want you to remember that.

Life is Sweet month - stories of mental illness, mental health, grief and loss