How do we find solace these days when so many of us are in such need of it?

By employing self-care? I’m not sure what that term means, actually, we use it so often. But surely we can all agree that it means taking time to look after ourselves physically and mentally. Eating properly, getting exercise, slowing down when we are tired and stressed. And, I guess, doing whatever else works for you. But what that “whatever else” looks like is anybody’s guess.

Instagram seems to think that self-care means scented baths and romantic candles, luxurious robes and pedicures. And I guess if that works for you, then that’s what self-care means for you. For me it sometimes means escaping to the wilderness with Hubby. Paddling our canoe. Sitting around a campfire looking up at the stars.

But more often it means alone time. Walking by myself. Or drinking tea and reading a good book. I remember when Hubby was recovering from his heart surgery, the discharge team at the Heart Institute met with the families of soon-to-be-discharged patients and advised us to take care of ourselves as assiduously as we took care of our loved one. They said that if our “tank” was empty, we’d not have strength left to draw upon to care for the recovering patient. That really helped me; it gave me permission to make a cup of tea and read my book when I needed, and to not feel selfish about doing so. Of course tea and a good book does not cure all ills. Even I have to admit that.

Harvest moon over the Rideau this week.

If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you’ll know that “bibliotherapy,” retreating into a book, is my preferred form of solace. I’ve written many times about my love of gentle books, and how they’ve helped me in times of sadness or fear about the future. As I said in a post back in 2017, I look for books which celebrate the small moments in life, in which “the plot, the characters, the setting and, in particular, the style make me feel that, no matter what, life can be absorbing, interesting, engaging, beautiful.” Books like that always make me feel hopeful again.

In a fascinating 2015 article in The New Yorker called “Can Reading Make You Happier?” Ceridwen Dovey explores the idea of reading fiction as therapy: how it works, how it began, and the many, many benefits. Of course those of us who have been, as Dovey puts it, “self-medicating with great books” for years are not surprised by the evidence that reading has restorative powers. Apparently in study after study scientists and psychologists have proven that reading “puts our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm.”

“Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,” the author Jeanette Winterson has written. “What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.”

So reading can be a form of self-care. A way of restoring our faith in the universe. A balm for hurt minds, to slightly misquote Shakespeare.

But I am also a big believer that other, less intellectual, and more shallow pursuits are a form of self care too. Like walking, meeting caring friends for coffee or lunch, making a special meal, toasting marshmallows on a campfire and eating more of them than is good for me.

And even shopping. Yep, in a kind of way, beyond the instant gratification thing, shopping can be a form of solace.

Let me explain. My sister has been going through a difficult couple of years. A hellish couple of years, if I’m honest. I’m not going to go into any detail, because that’s her story and I don’t want to invade her privacy too, too much. Except to say that when one cares for a loved one for a long time, one’s “tank” becomes empty no matter what.

So my sister Carolyn and I had a sisters’ shopping day earlier this week which she sorely needed. And which I think did her a world of good.

We shopped. And shopped. We laughed. We got lost in the mall. At a shoe store, we entertained the two young sales assistants with tales of the time we both bought the same Stuart Weitzman boots, with smooth leather soles, and took our life in our hands every time we wore them that winter. We had an amazing lunch at Nordstrom, followed by a delicious latté. And, with my help, Carolyn found some beautiful pieces to buy. A fall capsule wardrobe in its entirety, actually. Good, basic pieces which she needed and which all work together and will work with what she already had in her closet. She hasn’t had the time or the energy to go shopping for a couple of years, but we made up for it on Tuesday.

At Nordstrom, she tried on at least a hundred pairs of jeans, which is only a slight exaggeration. And she found a pair that look great on her. And while she was pulling jeans on and off, I did a couple of spins around the department with the help of a lovely sales assistant. We chose a selection of soft cashmere sweaters and long-sleeve tee shirts, and she bought one of each. As well as the jeans.

When we left Nordstrom and lost our way in the mall, we stumbled upon a store that was new to both of us and she bought a pair of black leather ankle boots. On sale. Then we visited Fossil and she bought the same Jolie Hobo bag that I have, except in black. And finally as we headed, footsore but replete, back to the car, I spied a beautiful scarf in Talbots that would be just the ticket to update an old blazer she owns. And before we’d left Talbot’s, I’d persuaded her to shell out for a pink, long-sleeve tee shirt, and a navy quilted vest as well. Perfect to go with the scarf and her new jeans.

When we finally piled all the bags in the car and drove off, we were happy with our day. And with her purchases. We felt, as she said, fulfilled.

And not just because we’d spent money on clothes, either. Even though that was the object of the day. But because we’d been out together doing something we both love. Shopping, laughing, eating, talking, just being together. Away from family worries. And in finding jeans and a sweater or two that fit well and looked great, her faith in her ability to look good, and feel good again in her clothes was restored. At least I think it was. I hope it was.

My sister texted me when she arrived home to thank me for her day. I said I couldn’t wait to see photos of all the outfits she could put together with the pieces we chose. She said she was excited about that. Excited. Which means hopeful, doesn’t it? Looking forward with anticipation.

Now don’t tell me that shopping isn’t a form of self-care. I don’t mean just in the actual purchases, but in the act of shopping with someone you love and with whom you enjoy spending time. That’s where the solace comes in, I think. With that and with the renewed positive self-image that new clothes can bring.

And for me? Well, I had the wonderful role of chief stylist, bossy organizer, runner, chooser, fashion consultant. I had the chance to help someone I love in my own way. I mean when sisters go through tough times we can’t always do much to help. But this… this I CAN do, my friends.

So what does solace look like? Well, I think for some it comes from family and friends. That kind of goes without saying. Sometimes it comes in the form of a wonderful book which lifts your spirits and makes you feel that the world is full of sensible, smart, and caring people. A book which reaffirms your belief that life is, after all, absorbing, engaging, beautiful.

And sometimes it comes in the form of a new pair of jeans. I mean it…. a new pair of jeans that make you feel like you again. Jeans acquired during a glorious shopping day with an entertaining, if somewhat shallow, younger sister. Ha.

And before you ask, I bought two pairs of socks and some tights.

Now it’s your turn my friends. What does solace look like to you? Does self-care involve the kinds of things that worked for Carolyn and me? Perhaps a seemingly superficial, but maybe not quite so superficial when you look a bit more closely, kind of activity?


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46 thoughts on “What Does Solace Look Like?”

  1. This post resonated with me because my twin sister and I LOVE shopping with each other. We live in different provinces, so we don’t get to do this very often (especially during Covid), but we always have a blast. We laugh, we have lunch, we shop some more, and we talk non stop. How lovely that you got to do this with your sister at a time when she really needed it.

  2. Wonderful that you got to spend time with your sister and were able to add useful and needed items to her wardrobe. Such a lovely, kind and helpful thing to do. Gentle books, movies and favourite music are part of my self-care package, as are guided meditation, tai chi, yoga, walks in green places, art gallery visits and spending relaxing time with loved ones. Like you, I also value time alone. Being able to indulge in exactly what I want without reference to others’ needs or external stimuli I don’t choose, really replenishes me.

  3. You read my mind. Only this morning, as I sat in the kitchen with my cup of tea at 6.30am, I mused on the ability of a hot cup of tea to both soothe the spirits and raise them at the same time. Then I went out into the darkness and strolled (no need to thrash it) through the village in the unseasonably balmy air, looking at the lights coming on in people’s houses. Just thinking of them all – putting on the kettle, waking the kids, making toast, running the shower – made me feel incredibly comforted. I don’t ask for much after the past couple of years, but that will do. So many of the accepted norms of our mad lives have slipped away like wraiths, revealing what really matters. I knew I was right all along – another reason to be reassured. Glad you enjoyed your day together.

    1. Such a lovely comment. This blog is proof that readers make great writers. “So many of the accepted norms of our mad lives have slipped away like wraiths, revealing what really matters.” Gorgeous.

    2. Annie, I too love the sight of lights coming on in houses, and the cosy light that emanates outwards. And also imagine the daily rituals that go on inside. Although I don’t see it in the morning very often. Only when we are driving down east, and leave before dawn. You are right about how some of the norms of “our mad lives” have slipped away. I don’t miss the madness. Although there is still plenty of it out there.

  4. Sister’s day together-what a treat! You both look so happy!
    For me: apsolutely some time alone every day,reading ,meditation,praying,walking,having a cup of coffee…..I love to shop for somebody else,but shopping for me,not any more,I get tired very quickly! I love to have beautiful things but at a slow pace

    1. We had such a wonderful day. We were focused, but not hurried, and the lunch and coffee were the icing on the cake. Almost all of the shopping was for her. Over the years, I’ve found that if we are each wanting to look for our own stuff, we get nothing accomplished. Except when Liz was still working and then we could relax and put ourselves into her hands.

  5. I just adore your writing. You should write a book – or compile your posts into a book. You put your thoughts down in such a “thoughtful” way. It means a lot to me.

  6. Oh Sue – a perfect post. YES I had a shopping solace day with my daughter a couple of weekends ago. At Indigo – books and a bath soak and candles (fer her) and christmas shopping and new reading glasses for me. lol. And I am over a hump of grief that has been my burden for a couple of years, and refinding books and yoga and walking for health. How did you know??

    1. You have had a big hump of grief in the past few years, haven’t you, my friend. And what a good way to put it. The sheer climbing of that hump is exhausting, isn’t it? I’m glad things have moved onwards somewhat for you.

  7. Such a timely and beautifully written post. How wonderful that you got to spend time together when she really needed it, and the outcome was perfect too. Timely because just this week I met two friends for coffee in the food court of a mall an hour away for me. Just the chatting and laughter was a tonic for my soul, but after we did stroll around the mall looking at stores and did a bit of shopping as well. For me underwear and an advent calander from Shoppers Drugmart full of 25 wonderful little makeup and skincare items for a grown granddaughter. (I would love one of those too). This was such a fun and restorative trip that I felt soothed for the rest of the day.
    Books are definately solace these past months and I do lose myself in them late into the night at times and there are times that the feeling of being in that story stays with me for a day or so after.
    Just last night I made plans with a friend to go boot shopping next week and I am already looking forward to that….. small pleasures work for me lately.
    I really enjoy your detailed writing that has me following right along with you, the getting lost in the mall, the laughter in the halls. Thanks for reminding me that the small things can be the best things for the soul.

  8. Lucky you! My sister alas died a couple of years ago. She was quite a bit older than me, and we hadn’t been able to meet up for some time. But we did speak on the phone regularly and every now and then the years pared back and we could gossip and laugh as we had twenty years before.

    Your post took me back to those happier days. Thank you!

    1. Sometimes the years do fall away don’t they? That happens for my sister and me when we are shopping. Makes me think of when I was nine and proudly shopping with my beautiful sixteen-year-old sister.

  9. I so enjoyed this post! I don’t have a sister, but have had wonderful times shopping with friends! I must say, my favorite shopping partner is myself!
    Consignments and Thrift stores are a thrill for me because it feels like a treasure hunt. My Mom taught me to look for quality, and we often found it in consignment shops for a fraction of retail costs.
    The smells, the small scale, the textures, and the surprise of finding a beautiful item still gives me goose bumps….one of my favorite forms of self care.

    1. When I am shopping for myself, I prefer to do it alone too. Too much chat when I am trying on clothes can force me into bad decisions. I have learned this from experience.

  10. Hi Sue,
    What a wonderful sister story you have shared and a beautiful day that you shared together.
    I am sorry to hear that your sister has gone through such a rough two years. It sounds like it was what you both needed, a day together shopping. You both must have been thrilled that sissy found some great things that she needed thanks to you.
    My down time that I find relaxing and meditative is crafting cards. I too read, but nothing like you. I admire how much you read.
    You are a gifted writer.

    1. Thanks, Katherine. I used to love to do crafts, and can’t think why I stopped. I spent many happy hours up to my elbows in grape vines wielding my glue gun.

  11. It’s interesting to have the experts confirm reading is good therapy for our ills . Every life has bad patches we need to get through . A good book has always been my alternative to meditation , massage , beauty treatments etc . Even better with a sleeping dog snuggled up next to me . Then there’s country walks – with a happy dog . Or snipping & clipping in the garden followed by a warm bath in a sun filled bathroom . Shopping with sisters is good , though yours seem to take your advice better than mine do ! But we always laugh a lot . Laughter is a very important stress reducer in our family . If I am feeling really down then it’s time to dig out some old dvds guaranteed to make us laugh .

    1. I could have predicted the sleeping dog part of your reading therapy. For me it was always a cat in my lap. My sister does take shopping advice very well. But then again, I’m a bossy helper. Even curt sometimes. “What about this jacket?” says she. “No.” I reply moving on. I can get quite dictatorial. 🙂

  12. Another terrific post!
    Some time ago I took care of my dying husband for seven years. Thinking back on that time, I realize the only way I survived was through work. I had a demanding and somewhat interesting job, which was a daily escape from grim reality. Not long after he died, I retired. I was exhausted, used up, simply unable to do anything but grieve. It took about three years, but I recovered. When I feel sad now, I think about how much worse things can be and feel grateful for having survived.
    While I was grieving, I lost the ability to escape into a better world through reading. Fortunately that ability came back. Now reading for my book club and also just for enjoyment is my greatest pleasure.

    1. I think my sister would say something similar. She worked through the first several years of her husband’s illness. Only retiring a year ago. He passed away this fall, and I think her relief was as palpable as her sadness. I’m glad for you that you are back reading. 🙂

  13. I can agree with finding solace in solitary walks and reading. Shopping, not so much for me. And when I do shop, I prefer to do it alone. I even shopped alone for my wedding gown; no “entourage”! But spending time with family and friends is something special, no matter what you’re doing!

    1. Me too, actually. I prefer to shop for my own clothes when I am alone. That’s because I always know what I want and I find it too distracting to be with someone else. Unless we are just out for a browse and lunch.

  14. A couple years ago, I stopped reading fiction, though I dearly love reading stories. I began reading about race, both history I never learned, and books about faith and how it feels to be Black in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. This reading called to me in an urgent way that caused me to set aside all other books. I have sometimes had to push myself, the pages don’t turn as fast as with novels. This is about learning, rather than sheer entertainment. But I pushed on, and while I’m taking a break this past couple weeks, I’ll return to other titles waiting on the shelf. Isabel Wilkerson is an amazing author whose work doesn’t make me feel that I’m reading a textbook for class!
    I’m not criticizing reading for entertainment, for the pure joy of the escape into a story. It’s just different and I’m glad I detoured for my own learning.
    Thanks for an insightful post Sue!

  15. Solace for me is escaping into a book. When I was working it was very difficult to fit reading for pleasure in but once I retired, I rediscovered the joy of reading. Spending time with my Sister is also good for my soul. She lives in N.S. and I live in Ontario. We ‘zoom’ weekly but we have not physically been together since 2018. That will change next June as we are planning a trip to Newfoundland. Just the two of us and we are already quite excited! The day with your Sister would have been so special Sue. There’s nothing quite like ‘Sister time’.

  16. I love escaping into a good book. I also love long walks and easy digging in the garden (when I’m not feeling rushed and can daydream).
    A dear friend and I go to craft fairs and the annual local garden show. We usually have lunch and make a day of it. It is such a great time together. Because of Covid, we haven’t been able to do that for two years and I miss our shopping trips and our walks through garden exhibits. I’m hoping that we might be able to do it again next year.

  17. Now to me shopping at Rideau ( or anywhere) is the ultimate hell, so no solace there! I will take you up on lunch at Nordstrom’s as it is excellent or tea at the Chateau but shopping, be it clothes, groceries, Costco etc. is possibly fulfilling but so draining! No my solace is gallivanting with my grand children. We were in the post deluge muck at Miller’s the other day picking pumpkins and took the wagon out to the mud fields where the pumpkins grow. Except for the shot guns going off nearby in the woods scaring the two year old (what on earth are they hunting in Manotick? No moose there and deer season opens in November)we had a great time in the country air. In our BOGs and knee deep in the mire and rotting gourds. When those tads get bored of granny I take myself off to a spa on Wellington St for a pedicure, a full on hot rocks and paraffin number or I enjoy a nice cocktail or two with a couple close friends. Books and tea are lovely but too much escaping over the past eighteen months, time to get out!! Glad to see that your sister wears her mask like me, under her chin…I do that so it won’t be misplaced or forgotten. I was frantically looking for it while perusing the treats at Miller’s and was getting anxious until my DIL discreetly pointed to her chin…hahaha
    Glad you enjoyed the day with your sister, it’s not what we do, it’s the company we do it with that makes the day memorable!

    1. We drove by Millers last weekend and were amazed at the cars! Hubby says that he thinks the gun shots are bird hunters in the farm fields. Apparently the farmers allow hunting clubs onto their cut fields.

  18. Like you, I find solace in books and now have a sort of bad habit of watching something on Netflix on my iPad in bed. Maybe not finding solace but relaxing. My sister was here for 18 months because she left NYC due to Covid and came home. While she was here she often came over for tea and toast in the morning. We took jaunts to various thrift stores we love and that was finding solace going through the racks and talking to each other about what we found to try on. That was a way to find solace. I cried when she went back home to her NY life. This was a special year we never had before and will likely never repeat. I think I found solace often with her. She was here as a buddy when I retired and really didn’t have good friends to pal around with. I think all of these things —books, music, time alone and time with family or friends help you find solace and reenergize.

    1. I started watching YouTube videos in bed when I was sick with a terrible cold. That began a habit which I noticed was keeping me from sleeping. Now I leave my headphones in the den when I have my iPad in bed. So I just read my book. This has really helped. All that screen video was too stimulating… even if it wasn’t intellectually stimulating. Ha.

  19. A very thought provoking post. I am sorry your sister has had such a tough time but I am sure the shopping trip was a special time for her.
    I also find my happy place in books, especially a series of books with the same characters. It feels like greeting old friends. The garden was a place of solace, nothing like attacking a few weeds energetically to sooth the soul or vent the spleen. This activity has been somewhat curtailed by spinal surgery as some bits don’t bend quite as well these days.
    My mother was my partner in crime when it came to shopping trips in my younger days. She is no longer with us but my eldest daughter has taken that place. We have wonderful, hilarious times together and both return home feeling much refreshed mentally, although perhaps not physically. Alas, the dreaded virus has put paid to that for the time being. We livd in different countries and they are slowly coming out of lockdown while we are now in our 12th week with no sign of improvement. Much solace might be needed I fear.

    1. You guys are still going through the wringer (as mu grandmother used to say) with respect to Covid. As are parts of Canada. Although thankfully not here. It is so wearying to see the fall and then the rise of cases all over again.

  20. You have described solace and self-care absolutely perfectly! Escaping into a good book with a cup of tea, sitting by a campfire in the woods, paddling our kayak on peaceful water, shopping with someone I love and that I enjoy spending time with all work wonders for me and sometimes it’s as simple as soaking in a hot bath. Doing something for someone else can also be restorative. So glad you had such a special time with your sister!

    1. Thanks, Elaine. Too bad the paddling and campfires are over for the next several months. Still, indoor fires, with a book and a cup of tea, are nice too.

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