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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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#whatchagonnadoaboutit

Cirle of women

Cottage country. Here we are surrounded by vast expanses of nature, spotted like a leper with cottages, out-buildings, and ice-cream shops. The noise of a chainsaw cuts across the lake drowning out the sound of the chirping toads, trilling birds, and quiet lake water kissing the shoreline.

What better place to come and reflect on life in general? What better environment to rest, reflect and focus on the issues that are most important to me at this stage in my life; where to live and what to do? Never before have I had so much freedom to choose.  Too much choice can be overwhelming.

The land, water and air here have been stamped with our nonsense. Even now, as I type out my thoughts on a laptop from the dock, I feed into the madness. My coffee cup rests on the Saturday edition of the Globe and Mail, the traditional ‘top of the fold’ importance given to a full colour photo of Tina Fontaine, “Not in vain” reads the white font against a black backdrop. Under my coffee cup, covering my coveted weekly read of the book section.

Not in vain. Genocide. As a CBC listener, I cringed at our Prime Minister solemnly declaring the atrocities that have been going on for hundreds of years.  Patronizing, distant,distain does nothing to effect change.

I do not identify as an indigenous woman, or a woman of colour, or a woman who comes from a culture where women are not considered to be persons in their own right. I’m afraid to say that I do share a border with one. I identify as a woman; sexually abused, raped, working in a culture which boasts of being a leader when it comes to gender equality, but is still entrenched in a society where misogyny has deep, strong, still thriving roots.

My mind flips like a picture book back to when I attended my first protest. I made a banner (not just a sign), and along with two school friends, we marched, chanted and made known our intolerance for violence against women. The overwhelming emotions were rage, injustice, and anger.

As I sit here, I realize how privileged I have become. I’m a long way from the village (yes, it was technically a village) I grew up in and the single-mother struggle that dominated my adult years. But here I am with all of that rich knowledge of experience, looking down at the headline of another young girl who has been murdered. And what the hell are we really doing about it other than assigning a hashtag?

Meaningful work is where my mind goes when I think about what’s next. I have always done work that has made a difference; reporting news, helping the bereaved, comforting the dying.

As a woman, I take it upon myself to help other women. My joy now comes from giving a hand to younger professionals, sharing my experience and building their confidence. I know that whatever comes next will involve sharing my opportunities, sharing my joy, and showing up for  more marches where my pain, rage and anger have naturally taken a backseat to building a community of resilient, strong, women.

 

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Boundary Breaking Turds: Containing the Stink

toilet-paper-shoeIn my late 30’s I became acutely aware of people who drained my energy. I’m sure you can relate.

As a natural caregiver, I was feeling drained by some of my family and friends. I was the go-to for help, but not the go-to if I needed anything. So I experimented with personal boundaries. I fell in love with them. They are flexible yet firm, and they love me back.

The more you care about someone, the more it hurts when those boundaries are disrespected, and yesterday that happened to me. Not for the first time, but for the last time. Every time I interact with this individual, they tromp all over everyone else’s boundaries like a rhino in a vegetable garden, ruining a lot of good stuff, and leaving destruction and a few turds in their wake.

I’m pretty relaxed, except when it comes to holding a grudge. I can hold onto a grudge forever. Not intentionally, it kind of sticks to me like a piece of dank toilet paper that I can’t kick off my shoe. It’s disgusting. And let’s be clear – it’s not my shit in the first place, it’s theirs.

So yesterday, my garden was tromped, annihilating the plans for someone I love (for the umpteenth time). Metaphorically, I stepped into their shit and it stuck.  It’s hard to shake off, and it tracks it’s stink everywhere.

When you point it out, people are disgusted by it too, but no-one’s going to help get it off because, well, it’s shit. It stinks, and it’s sticky, and they don’t want it stuck to them.

Deal with it. Get that shit outta here!

You know what I’m saying?

The only solution is to vent to good friends who are at enough of a distance not to catch a whiff of the crap. They can empathize and help you cope. The only solution though, is to avoid the shit. To stay away from the doggy park, if you know what I mean?

Whether it’s a bad boss, an annoying social acquaintance, or a family member who bulldozes everyone. Just do not engage.  At all. Or, at the very least expose yourself to their destructive ways as little as possible to avoid being the one with their shit stuck to your shoe.  Also keep your distance from people who have little or no self-awareness with regard to how much of that particular individual’s shit they are tracking through their life. Some people are just covered in it!

Boundaries are there to keep you safe from people who have no regard to how shitty they are. Keep your boundaries firm, and your shoes clean.

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Just Say No

grocery storeI’ve spent the better part of my 40’s scouring the grocery store for Shake’n Bake and marjoram, figuring out that flannel jimmies stick like velcro to flannel sheets, and annoyed at how closely hostility boils at the surface of every-single-freaking retail transaction I make. Hey sweetheart, I’ve worked retail too, so please, save me the passive aggressive bullshit and bag my groceries already.

By all accounts, I’ve achieved an acceptable definition of success; I have had a career most people find fascinating, I married, produced offspring, and divorced. I am in a socially acceptable relationship. Despite the lively shenanigans in my second and third decades of existence, I have remained alive and don’t have a prison record. Success!

I now have nothing to prove to anyone but myself. So I  can finally work on my own definition of success, writing, creating, and spending my time off imparting my hard won wisdom onto my child whilst sipping copious amounts of gin and wearing the grooviest muumuus I can find.

Oh, and I need to shed some of this joy-weight. You know, the kind that comes from trying to be the best mom, gal-pal out for drinks, and stress eating (because a lot of people are selfish assholes). The rest of the people are cool, and should be considered kindred spirits. Good luck figuring out which are which.

If you are a young woman reading this, skip directly to where middle age has positioned me emotionally.  Do not give a shit what others think.  Speed immediately past GO and tear up your Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Cards. Screw it…just keep doing what you feel you must do, and save yourself a tidy little nest egg while you’re at it. If you can’t save, cultivate your charm. You’ll need it.

This rant comes courtesy of telling myself not to take my own self care seriously, giving up my yoga and writing time until my routine at home becomes somewhat normal again.

As I wandered down a grocery store aisle (for the second time) in search of Shake’n Bake, I realized that what I was feeling was not frustration. Just an aside, Shake’n Bake should be sold above the meat cooler like the wise old grocer did in my childhood village. What I was feeling was not frustration, but resentment. Resentment that it was my precious time being wasted searching for the solution to someone else’s craving for baked chicken.

But the thing is ladies, no one holds a gun to our heads while we frantically search grocery store aisles for 1970’s chicken coating. No. We take it on all by ourselves, and wear our tidy, well-stocked homes as a badge of honour.  I am the only one in my house who ventures to Costco because they know what a colossal time-sucking-black-hole the entire expedition is, same goes for restocking grocery trips and big-box store runs.

As I was finishing my errands today ( on my day off when I should have just ran away with my laptop to some wonderful cafe for four hours) I received a text;

Hey, can you stop by Costco and pick up a couple of boxes?

 

Which begs the question; Seriousfuckingly???

Seriousfuckingly ladies. Just say no.

 

 

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An Ode to Younger Women

women circle

Let me clarify. This is not a perverted rant from an saggy-testicled male poet. This is a rant from one woman to another.

This afternoon on my way to a photoshoot to update my online identity, I made a quick phone call.

This essentially makes me vintage. As in; I prefer a phone call to a text or any other kind of message.

I called a young lady with whom I work, and consider a pal. She’s younger than me, educated, capable, and way more in touch with how the world works. I am that friend to my older friends, and so it goes.

At one time, I was the younger-more-in-touch-with-reality-and-technology friends. I considered myself fortunate to be present with these ladies. I was deeply grateful to them for sharing their experience and their well-intentioned advice. I learned about becoming the woman I always wanted to be; professional, funny, sensual, and confident. Thanks to these older women I learned to live my life intentionally.

giphy-5

I still need women in my life who have been-there-done-that, and know how to order a proper cocktail in order to tell their story effectively.  I also find myself now admiring the  younger women in my circles for their enthusiasm, unrestrained hopes and dreams and even their naivety.

To all of the young women out there who are now just exploring their identity as grown-up, professional, artist, or mother, we need you. We need your voice, your ideas, and your participation in all parts of life. You are valuable and loved. You’re part of a community of women, ever-evolving, ever-aging, and always, always, always in need of one another.

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Change the Pronoun – Change the Outcome

A child was raped and assaulted over and over. He was terrified to tell anyone, and so remained silent his entire childhood, growing into a young man wounded so deeply that he would bear the scars the rest of his life.

As an adult he could no longer stand the guilt of thinking that other children would suffer the same horror.  He spoke up. It was emotional, he felt ashamed for something he did not provoke, and at the end of it all, because he was believed, he began the real work of healing.

Does anyone remember the Penn State sexual abuse scandal? If not, refresh your memory.  Young men came forward reporting  sexual abuse, resulting in the prosecution of the perpetrator.

You’d have to have had your head buried in the sand if you haven’t heard of the reports of child abuse (overwhelmingly of boys)  reported in the Catholic Church and the  incredibly powerful conspiracy to cover that up. Overwhelmingly these young men came forward because they trusted that they would be believed.

Now read my first paragraph again with a different pronoun;

A child was raped and assaulted over and over. She was terrified to tell anyone, and so remained silent her entire childhood, growing into a young woman wounded so deeply that she would bear the scars the rest of her life. 

I was one of those girls. When I wanted to come forward (years later after much counselling and thought), to help other children who were exposed to this man’s reign of terror, I was told (by professional lawyers and psychologists) that despite my record of years of counselling ,  that it would be my word against his. Without any real physical proof (all those years later), he would not be prosecuted. Not only would he walk away without any repercussion for being a rapist and abuser, getting away with it would only reinforce his perversion.

I was told that should I break my silence in order to help the other kids at risk,  he would become bolder and continue to abuse and rape. This is the kind of support women of my generation had; none.  Not likely what those Penn State men were told.

men speak

The ‘Me Too’ movement has exposed the dirty underbelly of western misogyny. It has highlighted the history of fear-mongering and abuse of power. The frustrating and sad reality of it all is that because these victims are women, they are being poo-pooed, and condescended to by the very systems and people in power who have orchestrated silence of the vulnerable for centuries.

The common opposition about coming forward after years and years, and false accusations are non-arguments. Coming forward years later often happens after much difficult and heart-wrenching work, and with the hope of stopping the horror.

As for false accusations, I take that seriously. After all, I’m the mother of a son. It would break my heart to see his name dragged through the mud if he did not hurt someone.

Most women that you know have been sexually abused and raped. It’s a fact of life that we all know, yet our global culture shrugs it off. As North American women we set a standard for the rest of the women in the world.

In my own sphere, men often shrug it off by saying, I don’t know. It never happened to me. Well, lads, imagine being sexually assaulted and raped and then emotionally abused into being humiliated and shamed by the man or woman who did it. Would you think that they were capable of doing it again to someone else?

Remember that women (and men) report not out of vindictiveness, they report because they want to stop the cycle of abuse.

The problem is that society rallies behind sexually abused men and boys, while, by silence, apathy and blatant denial of the female voice, condoning the continued abuse of women and girls.

maya angelou quotes.jpg

Finally our voices are uniting, and are becoming stronger and louder than the din of the historical patriarchy.

 

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Are You There God? It’s Me. Where’s Margaret?

itsmemargaretFinding your father’s copy of Playboy. Playing two-minutes-in-the-closet. Wearing a bra for the first time. Buying your first maxi-pads.

Those were all of the things that made 11 year old Margaret Simon’s  character so relatabel in Judy Blume’s  ‘Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret’.

I can’t remember who lent me the book, but I do remember hiding it from my parents and older sister.  Although the book was a decade behind (those girls had to wear belts with their pads),  it was as a staple in my generation’s pre-teen reading diet.  It was our porn.

Wanting to know about my changing body and emotions wasn’t easy. I was shy, a bookworm and a tomboy who was raised in a body-shaming-Baptist family.  Ballsy Margaret who crushed on Phillip and bought her own pads  from a boy cashier, was my hero.

How things have changed.

After having spent my adult years fully loaded up on contraception, today was the day that I would have my Mirena removed. This morning I stood in the drugstore looking at a wall of pads, tampons, and Diva Cups wondering just what the hell I was going to need. I would have loved to have had Margaret’s advice.

croneI no longer need birth control. What I need is to return to my feminine body. To experience the shift from motherhood to new-cronehood with some modicum of respect for the awesome female form that I inhabit.

I am from a generation of women who have been convinced that our natural cycles should be stunted. We are being convinced that unless we want to get pregnant, we need to saddle up on hormones and keep a constant, obedient level of functioning that does not include paying attention to the natural rhythm of our bodies to stop, rest, rage, weep and rejoice. We have been twisted into she-men.

If I could do it all over again, I would do it like a woman, and not try to be the she-man that our you-can-have-it-all-girl-boss-culture would like me to buy into. I would get pregnant again and rejoice in my body. I would revel in my sexuality. I would do so many things differently with regard to my divine feminine.

Much like young Margaret’s character, I’m wondering about what will happen next. Except I’m in my mid-forties.

I’m noticing changes in my body; less firm, more round, a greater comfort with my own self when I look in the mirror after I slip out of my clothes and into the hot bathwater.

I wonder what happened to ballsy, Margaret when she hit forty? I’d sure like to hear from her now.