To The Next Family Who Moves Into Our ‘Ghetto’ Apartment

Home-Quotes-21Dear Family,

My son and his friends often referred to our little apartment as, ‘ghetto’.

As in; not the mortgaged palace of a dual income family, decorated in the safe fashion of the day (grey/beige).

It’s the home where I raised my son.

It’s  the home where I painted his childhood room the brightest shade of lime green imaginable, and where we wandered outside into the courtyard , wearing our pajamas,  to look at the full moon.

I left our little ghetto pad to move closer to work when my kiddo launched into young, adult life. I moved to a three bedroom, townhome,  where homes sell for well over six zeros.

 

The ghetto apartment that you are about to move into is as much a home as any finer four walls that you will ever find. I daresay, that it’s likely the place where I spent the very best years of my life,  relishing every moment of motherhood.

We roasted marshmallows over real wood fires in  the fireplace, hosted full houses of friends at Christmas and Thanksgiving. We had nightly rendez-vous to the kitchen for tasty midnight snacks, and it’s where we knew we could come and close out the badness in the world when we needed refuge. By the way, I left you some dry firewood in the shed so that you can enjoy some fires this winter, when the wind whips wildly outside the patio door.

During the finer weather, we had ‘happy hour’ together; Gatorade, water, or whatever else we nursed while talking about the events of the day. It was a plain patio, but it was good therapy.

You are moving into the home where the kitchen doorway is marked in pencil with my kiddo’s growth chart. It’s small, but every night I could poke my head outside of my bedroom door into the darkness and listen to the soft sound of my kiddo sleeping safely.

Your ghetto home has some colourful neighbours; the man with dementia who hollers like the devil, the young ladies whom I think may be prostitutes, the fitness fanatic, and the little old lady who pokes her head out of her second floor patio door to let me know she appreciates the beauty of the flowers that I plant every year. Please plant some flowers for her and put up some Christmas lights – she’s lonely.

I spent some of the best years of my life in that ghetto apartment, and I think that my kiddo did too.

Not only did I pack up boxes and boxes of our stuff, but I also took the important things with me when I moved too; heart, attitude and love.  All of this so that I could make the new four walls home. Home is about heart and not place.

To the family moving into our ghetto home, my wish for you is that your time there is as deeply satisfying as it was for me. Spend time there. Sit on the edge of your child’s bed and giggle with them. Give them a cool soak in the old, worn out bathtub when they get fevered, and be sure to  run out into the courtyard in your pajamas to look at the moon.

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Blowing Out the Candles

candlesOn the eve of my 4o-plus-somethingish birthday, I cannot help but reflect upon the lessons I have learned this year. In theory I’m an expert.  In practice, however, that’s another story.

I do believe that the difference between theory and practice is the key to successful living though darlings, because bridging that gap is the difference between annoying should-sayers, and the people who shine brightly and inspire the rest of us.

Grace has been a concept I’ve wanted to put into practice  throughout the past few years. There are  times I have failed miserably; my birthday breakdown at a bar while trying to sort out my mother issues; my insecurity as a partner, my ability to maintain a positive attitude in light of the every day demands of living. Yah, I’ve failed a few times.

But I have learned a few things from all of that bluster, and I’m old enough to take the liberty of sharing them with you;

  1. I have spent way too much time on my hair.
  2. We allow ourselves to be led by a false economy and fabricated news. Does it feel right? Do it. Does it feel wrong? Don’t. The world would be a better place if we all followed the golden rule.
  3.  If you love your body, it will love back. At a certain point you realize your body feels better when you eat this and not that; when you do this and not that.  It loves water and apples and decadent butter cream chocolate from your favourite Chocolaterie. It does not like to listen to people incessantly rambling about fad diets or extreme routines. Love your body, let it gently communicate to you, and it will love you back.
  4. Kindred spirits aren’t terribly hard to find, but it’s terribly hard to be vulnerable enough to get to know one.
  5. Create things. Anything. Creativity is your human spirit making itself present in the world. Let it sing, paint, write, carve, stitch, bake….whatever! Let your mind wander and your spirit reveal itself.
  6. Do not let bitchy people ruin your day. Attitude is contagious – be sure to protect yourself.
  7. Nobody’s watching. Seriously. Just relax.
  8. Change is scary, but constant. If you can be excited through the fear, you have life licked.
  9. You need friends of all ages; older ones and younger ones, and people who transcend age. You need nurturing and affection and the awesome healing power of human touch.
  10. Flannel jammies, hot tea and a good hobby to keep you occupied are three simple things that are highly under-rated.
  11. Always, always, always buy the shoes.

Be Like Water

  Despite my Irish temper, I try to go about my daily business doing my best to help others. At the very least, I try to keep my mouth shut and mind my own business.

When I started a career based solely on service to others, I struggled with it for many reasons.

I was surrounded by trauma, suffering and sadness. Quite often those emotions were expressed as anger and frustration, and directed at me.

 Before leaving the house every day,I read a little plaque that I had hung by the front door;

The highest goodness is like water. Water benefits all things and does not compete. It stays in the lowly places which others despise. Therefore it is near the eternal.~Lao-Tzu~

Each day I read this quote, hoping that I could just make it through another day.  Be like water, I reminded myself…be like water.

As pithy as it sounds, there is beauty in the dim, dark and mundane places that we so often avoid. 

Being joyful is easy when life is fun and exciting, not so easy when tedium exists. Not so easy when stress is relentless day after day. 

One of the secrets to happiness is being in the present moment and offering gratitude, even if it’s just that the present, unpleasant, moment will be over soon.

Be like water….

Beach Life: Bathing Suits for the Rest of Us

Sennett-Bathing-Beauties-1915_thumbI bought a bathing suit today.

Yes, I know it’s the middle of Canadian winter. No, I haven’t booked a sun-holiday…yet.

I’m debating the merits of an Irish romp with my sweetheart, or a solo beach holiday.

Either way I’m taking a two-piece bathing suit with me that would have made my mother convulse.

You see, I was raised by a woman who suffered extremely low self-esteem and did her best to pass that little nugget of twisted psychology on to her youngest daughter. That’s me by the way.

I grew up in a small town and lived at the beach. Winter, spring, summer and fall. Summer was my favourite. There was nothing better than swimming in the lake all day, the smell of malt vinegar on the homemade French fries that they sold at the little snack shack that would sometimes be lifted off it’s foundation and dragged with the tide when the spring water was high.

Somewhere out there is a photograph of me grinning a grin so wild and wonderful, that I have held that image in my mind for all of these years. It’s a moment of bliss I remind myself I’m capable of, even as an adult.

There I was, white caps at my back,  standing naked, proudly holding my bathing suit at arms length. My waist-long, blonde, pig-tails tangled with lake water and sand, just daring someone to try and get that wet, sticky bathing suit back onto my body.

I may not have been skinny enough, pretty enough, or worried enough about what people thought about what I wore every day. But I was wise enough. Typical of anyone who suffered childhood trauma, I was quiet and very observant. I was constantly tuned in to the tiniest nuance of mood, just in case.

At a very young age, I came to realize that no matter how thin, how pretty, or how well-turned out they were, there were a whole lot of unhappy women out there. And that unhappiness was ugly. Like, soul-deep ugly. Their fear of not being good enough came out as anger and jealousy, and missed trips to fun places. It stopped them from smiling. IT stopped them from going to the beach, getting their hair wet, or smudging their mascara. Their insecurity overshadowed everything. They  let their tummies and their thighs hold them back.

You see, before I even reached puberty I had decided that fat would not keep me from enjoying the beach. Or the snow, or going out to eat a delicious meal. Later on in life, I decided that fat would also not keep me from making wild, passionate love to the man I loved. Some crazy idea of being not good enough would not keep me from having fun.

Being an average looking woman would not keep me from savouring all of the wonderful bits of life, and it certainly did not make me less worthy of healthy curiosity and joy. In fact, I think this joie de vivre is one of the qualities that make many of us beautiful.

I will never be solicited for the cover of Vogue, nor will I turn the heads of men because I’m the ideal beauty. But I will turn the heads of like-minded people. These are the people who buy big, bright bathing suits, get their hair wet, and laugh with every inch of their sun-soaked, skin.

Buy the bathing suit, not because it’s going to turn you into a model. Buy it because it’s a tool in your tickle-trunk of living fully.

 

 

A Night Owl’s Meditation Lesson for Morning People

no wormI’m not a morning person. Unless I’m the first one up when I’m in the great outdoors, marvelling at a sunrise, watching mist rise from a placid lake, and listening to the first call of the loons.

But that rarely happens.

So, I’m basically just not a morning person.

I am a night owl. The still darkness is rich ground to cultivate ideas and search out creative genius.

We all have a delicate balance of extroverted and introverted needs, and as a fence rider on almost every element of the Myers-Briggs assessment, I need as much time alone as I do surrounded by other fascinating human beings.

Morning people often insinuate that I’m wasting the day. They gently suggest that perhaps I’m a tad depressed, lazy, unmotivated, or accomplishing less than my potential. Morning people are wrong.

My very naïve beginnings at meditation have developed throughout the years, and my practice is now something I am aware of every day.

Waking slowly, at my own pace allows me to be quiet with the thoughts that come and go from my mind.

It’s easy to be aware of all of the thoughts that come to mind as your head is on the pillow waiting for sleep to wrap her arms around you. Unless you’re dog-tired, thoughts come fast. You can’t help but be aware of their presence in the quiet darkness of night-time.

Morning thoughts are different. These are the thoughts that come out quietly, like a hungry stray hoping for a leftover morsel. They slink quietly into consciousness and scatter as soon as you turn to thoughts of preparing for the day.

be the awarenessThis morning as I woke,I listened to the heart-breaking howl of the neighbours oft neglected dog.  The irony is that if some of my thoughts were sounds, they would have sounded like that baleful howling.

In the silence of my fluffy duvets, snuggled warm and safe, I had time to reach out and hold each of those thoughts gently, examine them, and then let them go.  At peace with my own self, I felt prepared to face the day, and share it with whatever the world had prepared for me.

My not-a-morning-person mornings are a simple pleasure, and a quality of life indulgence.  I have the peace to let my emotions and thoughts speak their truth, and the time to gently make peace with everything, both good and not so good. This is the value of meditation, practice, and the awareness of personal presence.

 

Well Hello There Anger, You Curious Beast

rozSubtlety has never been one of my shining qualities, nor do I wish it to be. It makes for hearty discussions that can be uncomfortable yet rich. Being with people who can admit that they are afraid of the dark,  yet have the courage to explore it are the best kind of people.

I’m a fiery gal. There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. I am not for the faint of heart or the timid.

But I’m also soft-hearted to a fault, and love nothing more than to take people in, feed them, make sure they’re safe, and take care of them.

For many years, like many women, anger was not my friend. It’s ugly, and doesn’t accessorize well. It chewed me up from the inside out, and boy oh boy, did I suffer for ignoring it. Once my practice matured, I was able to let it in, give it room to breathe it’s fire, and finally burn off the dangerous edges.

This post was inspired by my incorrect perception. Some might even say, I was wrong. But let’s not get carried away now my sweet little peaches. Being wrong is such a bitch and entirely not sexy.

The human smorgasbord of emotion is fascinating, with a little of this and a dash of that sprinkled through the entire menu. What I’ve discovered, and I believe to be true, is that the  plethora of negative emotions are all rooted in the muck of fear. To be fearless about exploring those negative emotions, well, that my darlings, is interesting stuff.

I will be the first to admit that relationships scare the hell out of me. Commitment is a word I actually had an issue saying ( it made me stutter).  Yet, I’m a devoted, loyal, stick-with-you-to-the-end friend and colleague. What gives?

Well, after years of learning and practicing, I came to understand just how healthy it is not to deny myself all of the ugly-step-sister emotions; anger, jealousy, shame. They are all rooted in fear, and we, as human beings all experience fear and the offshoots of fear every day.

After a thoughtful discussion with my sweetie last night about anger, communication, and perception, I came back to an article by Jules Shuzen Harris, Sensei; Uprooting the Seeds of Anger, (Tricycle, Summer 2012 p44-47);

We’re going to keep getting angry. It’s going to come up. It has come up in our lives before, and it will come up again. This practice is about becoming more mindful, becoming aware of how we are getting stuck. With care and work, we find ways to get unstuck. But we also know that the moment we get unstuck, we’re going to get stuck again. That’s why it is called a practice – we never arrive. So when you find yourself upset or angry, use the moment as apart of your practice, as an opportunity to notice and uproot the seeds of anger and move into the heart of genuine compassion.

This passage speaks to me of impermanence, the Five Skandhas, and the importance of self-compassion as we practice mindful living/self-awareness.

When I first sought out meditation practice and the wisdom of the monastic teachings at a local monastery, what I really was doing, was running away from fear. I thought that I was doing something wrong, and that being happy all of the time was what being a spiritual being was all about. But, surprise, surprise, the Goddess-of-Everything-Delightful was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Ick.

Denying oneself the full-spectrum of emotion is like plastering concealer over a nasty pimple. Eventually it wears off, and it just makes the problem worse.

Our daily practice consists in running away…We are afraid of the suffering that is inside us, afraid of war and conflits…But we do not want this fear to manifest, because it hurts, and so we repress it.  We try to repress our suffering and we invite other energies into our ‘lving room’ to fill it up so that the negative energies will not be able to make their appearance there…We should not adopt this boycott policy. On the contrary we should open our door so that our suffering can come out.  (Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love)

I have committed to my practice, and I feel it slip when fear enters uninvited, tracking mud through my heart. But I won’t pretend it’s not there. I will not kick it out, or wash away the dirty footprints without taking a good look at how it got in, and what I might do lovingly acknowledge it.

 

 

 

Empaths; Diluted Spiritual Practice

pink tulipsWhen I’m sad I buy flowers.

Today I bought a bouquet of pink tulips.

I wasn’t sad for myself, or suffering any great loss. But I have been the strong shoulder on which to lean for a few of my friends lately, and it got me to thinking.

There’s been a lot of talk about ’empaths’ lately. It’s the hip catch-word for empathy, and kind of an annoying one at that. Heaven forbid we feel empathy for one another any more. It’s so fucking depressing and inconvenient after all.

Who needs that?! Aren’t we all supposed to be hap-hap-fucking-happy all of the time? Isn’t it best to dilute our suffering so we can ignore it a little easier and be productive? Maybe a new purse would help? Oooh! And the matching shoes!

Empathy has long been trickling out of our culture like a slow leak in a milk bag. The only thing  that it leaves behind is a disgusting sour mess.

Self-awareness has somehow eclipsed the sacred and ancient practice of being present. Fully present. As in, being as fully aware of your own actions and reactions in relation to the rest of the world.

I was sad today because I woke up to two phone calls from people  who are suffering. I also woke up to a text message from someone rather new in my life. I knew it was thoughtfully composed, and I knew why, and that made me sad too.  The collective ‘we’  complicate things unnecessarily, and all it really does is hurt.

“I’m an empath,” someone recently confided to me at a party. “I see,” I replied. It’s my standard response when someone’s utter oblivion catches me off-guard.

What I really wanted to say was, “We’re all empaths honey”.

We’re all human and we all feel a full spectrum of emotion. Remember that the next time you hold back. Whether you’re trying to play it cool in a romantic relationship, not break boundaries as a friend or colleague, or wondering whether you should defend someone in their absence.

Remember that we all feel deeply, this wild and wonderful bittersweet life.

Empath, schmempath! Enough pop-psychology drivel. Practice being fully present, and I promise, your heart will thank you for it.

 

Sink Or Swim; Nostalgia & a Little Shove

mylifeHolidays tend to make us nostalgic. Thank goodness that they’re officially over for 2015.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard, “2015 was a terrible year“. Wow.

I prefer to frame my year as a deli sandwich. The bread was delicious, but the meat of it was a little sour. In other words, the first and last thirds were great (as in; good enough), but the middle really blew.

How often as children did we say a year was terrible? We didn’t darlings. We just did the 10 second countdown to the new year and moved forward with joyful, curious abandon.

sufferingNow we yearn for the days when life was simple and  we still believed in magic. Friendships and family were taken for granted, and happiness was just on the other side of the screen door.

As adults, we tend to overcomplicate things. ‘Be kind and play fair’, seem to have gotten lost in the big, adult personal ethics playbook. And that just stinks. Because it hurts. Yes, people can be selfish and cruel, but they can also be kind, giving, and lovely to snuggle up with. Naked.

As human beings, we all want to be loved. We all need and want strong friendships, a true love with whom we can  share our most intimate selves , and bourbon. Ok, maybe the last bit is all about me, but whatever.

When we lose ourselves in the fray of losing the one person we fell in love with, we feel broken. I’ve been there. It hurts. It’s scary, and it puts a pretty harsh filter on our vision of the future.

Just this summer, I sat, sobbing on my friend’s front step, while she nursed my broken heart and damaged pride. I felt empty, hopeless, afraid and lost.

We live in a world that prizes the individual and yet makes it impossible to live without the safety net of community, family and friends. Yes, the great Western-way-of-life has unfolded into a wonderful cock-up of psychological dissonance. But what do I know? I’m just a girl after all.

I do know this. The holiday season has seen a lot of falling in and out of love; happy hearts and hearts that have been broken and need time to heal, relationships that are worn thin, or worn out altogether.

The beautifully terrifying part of it all, is that the only way to heal a heart is to live life. The very life that has tossed you like a small boat on a big, angry, ocean, leaving you feeling washed up and broken beyond repair.

Cling to curiosity. Let your friends lead you when you are  blinded by tears. Be wary of the seductive pull of too much sleep, lack of self care, and try to remember how good it feels to laugh after you decide to, ‘fuck it’.

As a quasi-Buddhist-lover-of-Christian-ritual, this speaks to me. You have two choices; get up, dive back into that same unpredictable ocean to wash yourself clean, or wallow in the sand getting burned by the sun and possibly gnawed to death by vicious, exotic fauna.

Sometimes you need a friend to role you back into the ocean. In some cases, you need a friend to drag you, kicking and screaming, back to life. It’s called tough love, and we all need it once in a while.

Nostalgia and wishing for a happily-ever-after is a waste of time.

havetimeYou and I both know that more than anything else, this is true; life is short and precious.

Take the time you need to sit quietly with your broken heart. Don’t run away from it, or deny it what it needs to tell you.  Take your sadness and swaddle it like a helpless infant. As difficult as this may seem, you will see that soon enough, you will be at peace with it.

Weep. Cry. Scream into your pillow…and as you take your last gasp of sobbing breath, get ready for a shove back into the ocean of life.

You’ve always been a beautiful swimmer darling. Always.

 

 

 

Advice for the New Year

IrishBlessing8x10It’s time for the old year to retire.

He’s lounging in a smoking jacket with his slippered feet up, and a tumbler of bourbon to help clear the path of reflection.

New Year’s resolutions have always seemed a little silly, and a lot naïve to me. It’s the same with people who say they’re, ‘finding themselves’ or trying to figure out ‘who they are’.

I don’t make resolutions any more. Not even secret ones just for myself. I simply try to find joy and silliness in every aspect of my life; work, parenting, friendship, love and yes, even housework.

If you are joyful, you become friends with yourself pretty damn quickly. Your body enjoys the kindness and you start eating and exercising  naturally. Your work becomes a calling, and your relationships are a calm ocean where you can relax and refresh yourself.

We are born knowing ourselves. We tend to allow expectation and adulthood fog the landscape. During adolescence we seek approval from people who value meaningless things, and often never grow out of it.

If you’re busy looking for the next ego fix, you certainly can lose track of who you are and what makes your soul smile.

Ah, but not I. I’m one of the lucky ones. Life has rocked my boat and I’ve sprung a few leaks over the years, but I’ve held fast to my convictions and personal ethic.

Being a better person means being  true to yourself, having the courage to do what’s right and not what’s cool.

Wishing you a joyful and peaceful transition into another calendar year. Be good to yourself, and choose joy.

Let the old year finish the bourbon and welcome the beautiful new year as the gracious, happy, loving lady that she is.

 

Decking the Halls & Trimming The Tree

Our tree has changed throughout the years, but not the tradition.

We play Christmas carols, and put the Velcro and felt antlers on the cat.  Every year I give a special ornament to my kiddo, and I never move the ornaments he places on the tree.

When I grew up the closest thing to spirituality and grace fostered during the Christmas season was that the name of  Jesus was frequently spoken. Often emphatically. Usually it was at the beginning of a sentence.

For instance, when trimming the tree, my mother could be heard screaming, “Jesus Christ! Are you f-ing blind? Can’t you see that looks awful!” …not a creature stirred, not even her spouse…

Since I’ve had my own home and my own tree, the hall-decking and tree-trimming has taken on a new flavour.

Being a single parent, it was always really easy to feel less-than. For years we had a theme tree; baseball, candy, under-the-sea. I bought ornaments and decorations, and went overboard. I Christmased with the best of them.

I’m so over that.

I’ve officially entered the if-it’s-not-useful-or-really-damn-sentimental-I-don’t-want-it-weighing-me-down phase of life. I also have a strong preference for silliness, laughter and feeling at ease.

Decking the halls and trimming the tree is meaningful because of who you share it with; whether they’re the ones trimming the tree with you, or the ones you’re remembering as you hang ornaments they gave to you.

Trimming the tree was never meaningful when I hung  over-priced au currant ornaments void of meaning.

This year I truly did some trimming. I decluttered a bunch of ornaments I just don’t, and won’t use any more. We are down two Christmas boxes, and it feels good.

This year our tree was trimmed simply, with a few shiny red Christmas balls (because I like shiny things, and red makes me feel festive) and the ornaments we’ve been gifted throughout the years;  handmade snowmen and kitties from my mumster, a colleague’s signature, hand-painted snowflake, great-granny’s quilted hearts, the Beatrix Potter ornament I bought when the kiddo was three and I thought that perhaps he was really the offspring of satan, loads of personalized ornaments from our now-in-Newfoundland-neighbours, the candy-cane carrying Mr. Potato Head my kiddo gave me years ago, the star that was stolen for me from a tree in Venezuela on New Year’s Eve, the rubber gingerbread man the kiddo squirted with sparkly glue when he was 4, and  the Eiffel Tower ornament I bought for myself in Paris….

Life has been a struggle this year, and hanging ornaments reminiscent of more light-hearted, silly times was bittersweet.

As the season of Advent approaches, I know that I will sit quietly in the stillness of the midnight hour,  wondering by the light of this Christmas tree what mystery might unfold in my life this Christmas season.