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In the Kitchen With Granny

Today I woke up and took a good look in the mirror; Fingers padding lightly across my skin, as I lean in to really see myself. I look into my tired blue eyes and know that I look like both of my grandmothers.  I have the round, kind face of my Granny Dorothy, and the body of my Granny Eileen. It’ll just have to do.

The two of them were as different as night and day. Granny Dorothy was an educated woman who married late in life to a sour, strict, everyone’s-going-to-burn-in-hell-baptist.  Her wits and grit kept the bills paid, and her sense of humour kept her alive. Had she been born today, she likely never would have married. She would have worked her way around the world. Alas, the 1930’s had other plans for her.

Granny Eileen on the other hand, was on husband number three when I came along. She’d raised six kids on her own. She was a resourceful woman with a heart of gold who didn’t take a lick of shit from anyone, especially her husband.

Both of these women taught me to make something from nothing.  Whether it was in the kitchen, or out in the world at large. They taught me how a woman could be both strong and kind.

Every year, I keep them close as I plant my garden, and every harvest season, as I take to the kitchen. These rituals keep me close to them. I’m a sentimental traditionalist when it comes to my kitchen. During the summer, I find myself preserving the same things with the same recipes that they did all those years ago.  I throw in a few more odds and ends, just because I find comfort in the routine of being in the kitchen during harvest season.

This morning I slipped on a jersey knit dress that put me in mind of Granny Dorothy. She knew what she was doing with those old house dresses. Simple, tidy, and most importantly when you’re preserving; cool. I listened to interviews with authors as I sterilized jars, peeled and chopped fruit, remembering how my Granny Eileen’s gnarled up hands seemed to be able to create anything.

During the summer months, I yearn for the slow, simple days of childhood summers. I recall the flavour of each stage of the harvest; radish, carrots, and beans snapped straight from the plant and tossed directly into our mouths.  No garden was immune to kids raiding it for a snack. We sucked on sour rhubarb stalks, and cringed at the bitterness of currents. We raided the ditches and gullies, picking raspberries and blackberries when we were lucky enough to find them. Each ripening carried back to the kitchens of our grannies where it was made into something wonderful.

 

Except pastry. I learned how not to make pastry from both of my Grandmothers. Kind of like how not to choose a mate. As it turns out, Granny Eileen  insisted that if I followed the recipe on the box of Tenderflake, my pastry would be just fine. She also lied. Years later my aunt laughted at me so hard tears streamed down her face; Granny used pre-made pastry and was full of shit. Granny Dorothy on the other hand was honest with me but produced pastry with a texture so fearsome that the dog wouldn’t even eat it.  From this I learned that sometimes we don’t always get what we need from family. Sometimes we have to reach out to become wiser and better.

 

The quiet stretches in my kitchen necessary for the process of preserving and canning gives me time to commune with the spirit of these two women. They are with me here in the steam and heat, and smell of cooked fruit. They are with me when I take a jar of something I preserved from the pantry and serve it to my family and friends. My grannies are always with me at my table.

 

 

 

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Loss of Hearing at Mid-Life – Is it such a bad thing?

batBolstering overall  health remains a top priority as I cruise into middle age. Not just for myself, but for my friends as well.

Last night, over a high-decibel ‘relaxing’  night watching the political madness south of the border unfold, I asked for the zillionth time for my sweety to stop yelling. You see, his hearing isn’t what it used to be before he killed it with Teenage Head concerts and annoying b-side early 80’s punk.

Despite knowing he needs some hearing assistance, I’m not sure if I really want him to go for help. And every single person out there who lives with someone who is selectively hearing impaired knows why…because we get away with a lot of mumbling when they can’t hear us, and that mumbling is incredibly therapeutic.

There are certain changes that happen in our bodies that make this stage of life more pleasant, in my new life as a couple, I’ve decided that one partner with decreased hearing capability is one of those changes.

For example, calling our partner a jack-ass without them being able to hear it. What? Being able to muck around after they’ve gone to sleep without waking them, and having a full conversation in the next room about what  you’re buying them for Christmas without having to lower your voice are both, very wonderful things. Another fine example; Toots. Yes, who really needs to hear that?  No one.

So, if your sweetie is refusing to go for a hearing test and is annoyingly loud, think about the consequences of bat-like hearing. You may consider choosing a healthier opportunity for your relationship; ear plugs.

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How to Know When You’re Old

You know you’re getting old when…

You’ve become the person you used to look to for guidance. No where is this more evident than in my career.

I began a second career in my late twenties. Yah, I know that sounds outrageous, but it’s true. I was passionate, interested, engaged and enthusiastic.

If aging has taught me anything about the above qualities, it’s that I miss my enthusiasm the most.

growing older but not up

 

Don’t get me wrong, I get excited about things, but they’re different than they once were. After all, just this morning I actually uttered the words, ” I almost fell over when I met him. He looks just like a guy I used to date. Turned out he was a murderer.”

How much enthusiasm can you have for anything when you’ve had that kind of experience? I mean really, that kind of over-the-top-outrageousness wears thin after a while. Coming home to a cat, and  reheated take-out becomes heavenly.

And that’s how you know you’re getting old.

Yesterday my shift partner (whom has worked with me through a company change and six years) asked if the noise of our younger colleagues got to me. I had to admit that it did. I asked him, ” You know why it bothers us”?

“No,” he said.

“It’s because we’re old” I said with a little grin. “We’re the old ones now, and we used to be exactly like them.”

He nodded as he laughed and walked away muttering something about it being true.

And that’s how you know you’re getting old.

Last week I had an evening planned with one of my best gal-pals. I bought her tickets to see Jerusalem. The day-of, I received an email which I considered a warning. The gist of it was that running time of the play was three hours, so prepare to sit for a loooooong time. I was pissed. PISSED! Three hours?! What on earth could possibly be so good that I needed three hours to experience it. Goodness knows I didn’t want to be out all night. What I wanted was to go home, put on jeans and a sweater, and have some god-damned peace and quiet.

What I got instead was a very pleasant and unexpected reminder of just how amazing getting out really is for my creative spirit.

I thought I was so over the  restaurant and theatre thing in Toronto. Seen it. Done it. Don’t need to do it again.

When you start thinking like that, well, that’s how you know you’re getting old.  What makes it true is to continue to think that way and to act on it.

So yes my lovelies, we are all aging, but old really cuts to the bone.

As I age, I realize that I have to make an effort not to poo-poo what I assume I already know. That’s what makes us old from the inside out. Pushing back against this resistance of futility will keep me youthful, vibrant and creative, even if my outsides don’t look like it so much any more.

 

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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.
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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….

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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.