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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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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.

 

 

 

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A Beautiful Messy Life

  

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Ghost Whisperer; Listening to Our Angels

waiting for a signI woke up at 6:23 this morning, assessed the snuggling situation with my big, duvet covered bed, and made the executive decision to roll over and relax just a little bit more.

Four hours later I made my bleary-eyed debut in front of the coffee maker, pressed the magic button, and stumbled around opening blinds and welcoming in the day. I would say I welcomed the sun, but alas, it is overcast. It’s the perfect, grey, fall, day to snuggle in and nest.

These are the fall days I’m most fond of. The ones where you can throw on a pair of jeans, sneakers and a sweater and take a stroll without being scorched by the sun, or blown away by a blizzard.

Grey days though, at the beginning of fall (not the nasty bleakness of late November) are the best for baking and cooking.

As a little girl, I was attached at the hip to my maternal grandmother. She taught me to roll pastry dough, to iron, and best of all, during days like today, she would sneak me to the top of the stairs, and read poetry with me.

My paternal grandmother was a woman who lived her life without apology; strong, independent, and fiercely protective of her family. She could also cook and bake like nobody’s business.

I gave her a journal for Christmas one year, and she faithfully wrote in it every day. She gave me the journal when she got sick, and I read it. Her September 13 entry reads,

Babysitting again. Scott slept until noon. Paula got home about 4 o’clock. Nancy came to watch our show. Jake was here. Patricia called. Called Carol later.

(names have been changed to protect the multiple identities of my wacky relatives)

I read her every-day notes, and know that life is just a series of weaving these days together; good and bad, full and lonely, happy and sad. A life is made up of  a series of seemingly insignificant moments that, when stitched together make a beautiful tapestry.

This morning as I stumbled in my half-awake-stupor, back to my writing desk, I had a sudden grief wash over me. I had a deep desire to pick up the phone and talk with her. I missed her with the same intensity I did when she died 15 years ago. More than anything I wanted to connect, to hear her voice, seek her advice, and most of all, do what we so often did when we were together; laugh. My phone rang….

bake a cakeI do believe this to be her way of answering a question I’ve had in my heart for some time. Yah, it may just be coincidence, but since it was an atypical call, I’m going to go with, “Thanks granny you old wise woman you, I really needed that.

Most of the messages I tend to notice are likely just my conscience calming down my anxious nature. Others are; Stay the course. Be patient, screw this and get the hell outta there.

So this morning, I felt lonely, that hollow pit of grief that always remains regardless of time or space when you lose someone you love, and I was given a conversation with someone I love very much to help soothe the ache.

Life is a continuous season of change; friendship, career, life and death.

Although our loved ones die, they remain with us as part of our conscience, whispering to our selves. They remind us of our dreams, reassure us when we are fearful, and once in a while, if we’re really quiet in our minds, shine a little light in the darkness when we’re unsure of which path to take.

Baking and cooking is one of the ways I quiet my mind enough to hear those whispers from the women who loved me the most. I’m sure that both of my granny’s will be with me today in the kitchen. But first…one more coffee…