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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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A Beautiful Messy Life

  

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Lay Your Body Down;What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

faintingI’m not the kind of gal who runs from trouble. What I mean is, when the going gets tough, I stick in there. Always have, and likely always will.

You see, for the people out there who don’t know what it’s like to be ‘free’, I direct you to a line made famous by Janis Joplin but written by Kris Kristofferson;

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose

In other words, I’ve never had anyone who’s had my back and the only ‘thing’ I have to lose is my sense of self. Even though I come from a long history of a-holes (that’s French for lunatics and weirdos),  I’m the woman who always shows up, smiles and does what needs to be done.

Some days I hate it. I hate that people have so much damn faith in me. Some days I’d like to be the southern-belle who swoons and takes to her bed until the villain knuckles and offers her an icy mint julep and the keys to happily-ever-after.

Anyone who knows me knows that I would never do that. I’d be the southern-belle with mud on her skirts and a villain by the balls short and curlies with a shot of bourbon at the ready, and a poetry salon going on all the while in the parlour.

I live and love in a fiercely loyal way. It can be heartbreaking and it can be beautiful. As my darling cousin reminded me, “When you love, you love BIG, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” In other words, I fall completely head over heels and give 100% of myself. If I’d only invested in a tissue company, I might be able to stop my nine-to-five and open my home to artists and their muses…alas my sweet peaches, I digress…

Coming from a painful upbringing, I value ideals more than I do material things: friendship, honesty, loyalty, and stick-to-it-ness. I fight for what is good and right. I fight for the ideals and people whom I love.

Lately I’ve lost a lot. A lifetime of lost hope, and maybe even a future I was so looking forward to.

A wise grief therapist, in a Southern Baptist drawl reminiscent of an old-time, passionate, protestant preacher once said,

You will need to lay your body down

Walking up the stairs to my office a couple of weeks ago, those words came to me.  I realized that I have not had the opportunity to do this. More importantly, I’m out of practice and I’m not very good at it. But I try.

You see, when you’re ordained with the heavy knowledge of the human soul and its suffering, it’s not a job you can retire from, or hand to anyone else. It is simply yours to hold with all of the suffering and joy that comes along with it.

But you can rest. You can lay your body down; for ten minutes while you try to calm your mind, or two hours while your physical self recovers from being at battle with your anxiety. You can take time to feel the pain that you had no control over coming into your life, and you can release it. You can choose not to carry what is not yours and to replenish your own self in order that you may continue to love those whom have earned a place in such a completely loving heart.

There have been many, many tears lately. Years ago I thought that I didn’t have any left. I was wrong, but as I allow my emotions to wash over me, I remember my Sifu’s story of a woman weeping in meditation. She said nothing, simply rubbed the woman’s back until she stopped sobbing. This kind of emotional release is exhausting, and soon wears us out. Like meditation, we are aware of the rise, the expression, the pain and the release of these things that remind us we are fully human, just as we notice joy and laughter and love. The painful things suck though, and we’d be more than happy to avoid them. But this is life darlings, in all of it’s stunning and frightening mystery.

So, just a little note from an old gal who feels like she’s had her heart and soul ripped out, don’t ever give up on what you believe in. Don’t stop making wishes on old dandelions that are waiting to be blown out into a universe waiting to answer your prayers.  Don’t give up on love, on friendship or on bringing something good to the world every day, even if it’s just having the courage not to quit.

But do lay your body down, and please, remind me it’s ok to do the same.