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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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Who Wants to Get Laid?

fashionI’ve decided that it’s angst that’s missing from my mid-life journey.

It’s a truth that jumped up in all its 1980’s-headband-glory and slapped me in the face. I was sitting at a beer-tent table taking in the motley cast of characters who had come out to see two 80’s bands, have a few drinks in the heat of the summer sun and relive their youth.

The bad hair, neon shirts, and big hair were all there, but the angst was missing. The tension was gone.When the lead singer of Loverboy howled out, “Who wants to get laid?”, only a vague cheer went up. We all knew that getting laid now would never be the same as getting laid then.

The crowd who once thought the term making love was creepy, totally gets it now. An older man once wisely told me that some things are just better as fantasies. He was right. The fantasy of getting laid then is much different than the fantasy of getting laid now; tight schedules, middle-aged bodies and the been-there-done-that lack of sheen.

Just like spiral perms and acid washed jeans, angst has its place in my repertoire of nostalgia. After all, it was the perfect fuel for breathtaking passion. I have to thank it for the part it played in my well-spent youth, despite it’s lack of discernment. Angst carried with it a hungry awareness of mortality. That hungry awareness has turned to sated gratitude now that I’m past my best before date.

Oh, and don’t go on about there’s still so much time left to do what I dream of. I know that. Oh, boy do I know that. Don’t get me wrong, I still experience desire. I’m still the same hot-blooded soul that I ever was. I’m just ok with it all now. There’s less anxiety, more satisfaction. Less time wasted on the people and things that don’t make sense in an energy exchange involving the elements of life that I find satisfying.

I do not buy into the idea that I need to define myself with some great mid-life shift. It’s the great continuum of false goods sold to women these days – that we must reinvent ourselves rather than continue to become fully who we have always been.

Yes, Mr. Loverboy, I would like to get laid. I would also like to stretch out in a large, comfortable bed afterward, sip some bubbly and nod off rather than have to hump in uncomfortable spaces and rush to get my clothes back on. Thank you for asking.

Gratitude fills in quite nicely for angst, with it’s soft and ample settling into the hollow spaces. My own angst packed up and waddled off years ago, leaving me quite content with who I am, and less anxious about making mistakes.  I also have better hair.

 

 

 

 

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Taking My Fitness Tracker for a Walk

giphyToday during a lunch hour hot yoga class, as I was tentatively balanced with my limbs pivoting in all directions, sweat dripping from every inch of skin, my Fitbit buzzed.  Catching my breath and trying to get into the next pose without missing a beat, I pawed at the little black screen… “Take me for a walk” it said.

“Take you for a fucking walk?” Are you serious? I’ve been sweating my saggy old baggy off here for almost an hour and you want to go for a flipping walk?!

My hamstring was singing the song of snapping away from the tight pain in my ass cheek as the teacher was telling the class, “Breathe into the pose. Don’t release it. Breathe and think; ALLOW.  Allow your muscles to release.” I was imagining that whichever stretched muscle was holding my upper leg to my butt cheek, snapping and putting someone’s eye out.

My little tracker has also tracked sex as ‘riding a bike’. I’m sure you can imagine how reliable I’m convinced this damn thing is.

Sure, it gives me a baseline idea of how much I’m moving, and inspires me to move on the days I’m not running around like a mad woman in black pumps trying to save the world of the bereaved and manage a household of men. I’ve lived in my body for almost 45 years. I generally know when I’m tired, thirsty, or feeling sloth-like. I like to think that there are more fascinating things in the world than the actual number of minutes I sleep at night. Besides, I’ve left the tracker off plenty of nights, and it still tracks a fluctuating sleep pattern. I take it all with a grain of salt.

My sweetie on the other hand lives and dies by his Fit-device.  As a matter of fact, last night he was having a panic attack because he had lost contact with his synced weigh scale.  He weighs himself at least once a day, and tracks his weight on a graph like a finely tuned athlete. Don’t tell him, but he is not a finely tuned athlete.

Last week while he was sitting comfortably in his finely tailored suit doing whatever it is he does at the office that keeps me in a pretty princesses lifestyle, his fit-collar buzzed and alerted him: CONGRATULATIONS!!! You’ve lost ten pounds.  For a moment he was stunned. How was his scale at home weighing him while he was at the office???

When he figured it out, I got a text;  I just got a notice on my fit-flipper that I lost ten pounds. Those bleeping-bleepers are on my bleeping scale!

I knew exactly what he was talking about. The cleaning ladies were in, and had decided to step on his scale to weight themselves. I almost died laughing. This would surely send his graph into a mess of inaccurate weights and would surely negatively effect…..nothing.

“Take me for a walk”

 

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Na-mas-ummer-day

 

I woke up with pillow stripes imprinted on my face. Sweat had soaked through the front of my t-shirt, and pooled down the deep, fold of venus between my breasts.

No, I hadn’t been jarred from sleep from one of my recurring nightmares. Nor did I wake up disoriented, wondering where I was. I had boldly carried out a fleece blanket and old pillow from a couch that made an unlikely escape from the 80’s  and landed at the cottage. I carried my blankie down from the deck, across the broad granite that led down to the water, and pulled it across the dock like a ball gown. There are unspoken cottage rules, and this was a ginormous no-no.

I spread out the no-no blanket in a flourish, flopped the pillow just above the finished edge, and fell to my knees in a half-cat-half-collapsed-forty-four-year-old-woman-with-a-white-wine-spritzer-buzz, and collapsed onto my stomach. For two hours.

No, I did not wake up with a sore neck. I did not have a sunburn. I did not care that the neighbours likely thought I was an eyesore of a wildwoman with curly hair that set a bad example for their granddaughter.  Swayed by the rocking motion of the dock, and the clear conscience of a woman who is both tipsy and morally upstanding, I slept the sound sleep of a child. And then I drank more wine.

marshmallowThis weekend, I slept late into the first morning in the bedroom that mercifully faces northwest and is properly dark (as all bedrooms should be). I ate an entire bag of marshmallows roasted over  late night fires. The kind that snaps and crackles and leaves you mesmerized by the flames until there are only coals left, illuminating the deafening silence of the sounds of the forest.

I spent an extra-long weekend just being. I read.  I napped. I wrote. I sipped.  I watched the movie version of one of Roald Dahl’s adult novels, and I did not come anywhere near the minimum ten-thousand steps a day which are supposed to keep all of us supple and clot-free.

And then I came home to my day-to-day habits.

There are no marshmallows in my cupboard, and I’ve rid the house of  secret chocolate stashes. Don’t get me wrong, I raid my adult son’s candy stash left over from little gifties from people who still think of him as a kid. Usually I do that late at night when my anxiety flares and my imagination won’t lay down and go to sleep like a good demon.

There is energy to be nurtured and built up during these precious, lazy days of summer, when you don’t wander anywhere but through the still, muck of your own thoughts until it settles; clear. I believe our bodies recharge like our smartphone batteries when exposed to enough sunlight and very little expectation.

A regular diet of this makes maintaining good habits much easier to abide.

Let me be clear; the marshmallows also help with clarity…the singular focus required to toast it perfectly on every surface without coming too close to the flame is a meditation in itself.

As is the sugar headache I wake up with the next morning.

These are the kind of things that remind me that getting my skinny-dipping-chunking-dunking  buns back to every-day-life and yoga class isn’t so damn bad at all.  Namaste my marshmallow-loving compadres. Na-mas-ummer-day.

 

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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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The Frustration of Focus & The Benefit of Flow

giphy

This is the first time in my life that I’m focussed on doing what I love. Being my healthiest self, and focussed on focus.

I’ve never been a believer in having it all, at least not at the same time. Now more than ever I’m sure of that.

Life has stabilized after a handful of years getting settled as a nearly-empty nester, a coupled up singleton, and one of the more experienced of a great group of colleagues.  Life has finally opened up into a chapter of more breathing room to focus on what brings me joy.

I’m not talking about my child or my lovely partner, or the beautiful friendships that I’ve nurtured throughout the years. I’m talking about what brings ME joy; nurturing a healthier, more active body, and carving out time and space (have you seen my awesome little writing space?!), to focus on writing.

I’m SO focussed. I spent an entire afternoon plotting 12 months of writing submissions. I dug out all of my old writing and put it in one of the drawers in the two desks I need to keep all of my scribbling organized. I consulted with a life coach. I became accountable to myself. I took a project on my winter beach vacation. I give a shit about letting my precious, wild, creative ideas get away from me without nurturing them.

“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

It’s spring, so I had to take a break away to plan and plant my garden, welcome my baby boy home from uni, and spend more time at the yoga studio. All this joyful living has made me jolly. Trying to focus on family, health and the garden has made my writing suffer. So frustrating!

How fortunate am I to be frustrated that I don’t have enough time between my good job, spoiling my adult son, being a loving partner, and keeping up with the people who have buoyed me up all of those tough years, to write all day, every day? Very. I’m very fortunate.

Focus is wonderful, but so is a blessed life. And I don’t want to forget that as I scroll through my insta-feed of minimalist works spaces and uber-achievers.  My big, messy, patchwork life of love and vitality is more than a lot of people ever dream of having. And I intend to go with it. To flow. To savour every second. Nothing lasts forever.

Focus is something I can come back to again and again. So here I am, in a window seat at the coffee shop, keyboard and second draft of my novel ready for a serious workout.

If you haven’t quite made it to this place in life where you can see your blessing manifest and you feel like a suffocated artist, buy yourself  Big Magic . It saved my creative spirit, and kept me plodding away when I had too many bills and not enough time or space to feel justified in spending the extra time to create.  Just keep going. Just keep telling the universe what you need, and somehow you will pass from survival to thriving. I promise.

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When to Retreat

This is itSpiritual care retreats aren’t for everyone. The longer I go between breaks, the more I wonder if they’re for me, if I’ve got anything left in me to nurture and to bring to the world other than a curmudgeonly attitude requisite for being a veteran mortician.

Today, I plowed my way through the two-lane-traffic-corridor from hell that takes you out of the GTA and to Kingston. It’s an exercise in patience and dreaming of creative ways to free our highways of transport trucks and drivers who do not obey the left-lane-is-for-passing rule.

I muttered through traffic, rolled my eyes at the lack of parking signage at the retreat location, and cursed the universe in general for having the rain start just as I was wrestling my basket of yoga mat, meditation cushion and blanket for deep relaxation out of my trunk.  I have under-packed for retreats before, and I was determined that based on the wet forecast, this was not going to be one of those soggy times. I looked like a 44 year old-yoga-pant-and-pink-sweater-wearing-mule trying to get all three bags  inside on one trip.

I was appalled at the woman who let me struggle with the door to the registration lounge without helping me, and the lack of smile on the face of the registrar. This is not Buddhism! Buddhism smiles for crying out loud! I could not get to my little room fast enough so I could dump my suitcase, prep for the mediation hall and ensure my precious bottle of South Australian plonk was safely stored next to the second draft of my novel.

This is how I entered my retreat space; frustrated, exhausted, and ready to give the world not a single, but a double salute using my middle fingers.

And then I entered the retreat space. I hastily set out my mat and cushion in the middle of the room and plopped myself down to breathe. Ha! To breathe…think about that one. Just taking a single, deep, focussed breath can do so much. For a veteran with this particular group, my entrance was anything but mindful. I did not bow. I did not do all of the small, but mindful ritual requirements of coming into such a sacred space. That was my first wake-up call. I needed to be exactly where I was.

I changed course, focussed on the minutiae of what I was doing, and in doing so,  I found myself at home. In observing my breath, the bell, the noble silence at the dinner hour, nourished by lip-smacking vegetarian food, in the dharma group listening, and finally back in my room (with a glass of contraband wine), alone with my thoughts.

Again I am reminded how precious these times are. I’m reminded how they crystallize my intentions, and help me manifest the kind of person I try to be.

I raise a glass to that…after all, nobody is perfect!