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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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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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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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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!

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Air Travel for the Commoner

AirTravel CaribbeanThere are few things better than being cramped in a flying-death-trap with a gaggle of strangers who lack common sense and manners.  A PAP test and  mammogram are much less uncomfortable, and take a fraction of the time.

Most recently I witnessed an individual wearing a, “WORK IS FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T DIVE”, shirt waltz down the aisle of a package-vacation aircraft with every imaginable piece of kitchen survival clipped to their camo-pants. There was a phone, a travel mug, travel pillow and an assortment of acoutrements jangling. We were all coming from a beach vacation for crying out loud. Chill out MacGyver. Another person followed, travel pillow, purse, iPad, hat and carry on in tow. As she swung around looking for space in the overhead, she clobbered someone in the head with her purse.

This delicate ballet continued as people kept boarding. I was fascinated by the lack of decorum, and complete disregard for other passengers. This has become a typical experience when it comes to package vacation carriers.

As a teenager sitting in my boyfriend’s living room, his very proper Irish father reacted to a belch or some other such masculine roar by calmly telling us that as we aged, we would appreciate small manners that added up to civilized society. I’ve aged. I appreciate it.

During my last experience with a trans-atlantic flight, I experienced the most absurd rushing to board I have ever seen, with a line-up forming an hour prior to boarding. What resulted was an irritated mob of unorganized boarding-a lovely way to begin an eight hour forced confinement. I’m convinced it was because people were vying for overhead compartment space.

airplaneMy most recent experience with air travel have been interesting to say the least. No, I cannot boast surviving a terrifying emergency landing like a friend and colleague.  I have never been privileged enough to witness a mid-flight take down of an irate passenger, and on the other end of the spectrum, I have also have never been graciously upgraded because I’m an obedient, no fuss traveller.

I did however witness the trio of women who swung their luggage around like a cat by the tail, spill red wine on themselves and the passengers behind them while laughing loud enough to keep everyone awake on the plane. Combined with the guy behind us who coughed up snot throughout the entire journey, it was a five hour exercise in patience.

Alas, I have been around long enough to witness the complete decline in etiquette and common sense when it comes to air travel. Perhaps it’s because the real estate inside aircraft has become more valuable. Overhead bins have become kind of like the condo market in Toronto – you know, people throwing money at 400 square feet like it’s an estate home on five acres. It’s all getting smaller and demand is exponentially rising.

Please, I beg of you, the next time you arrive at the gate, leave your ego behind, get in, sit down, and don’t be an asshole.

 

 

 

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Misery Loves Company

complaining

I was at a workshop this weekend (yah, you know, the kind that privileged middle-aged-middle-class women attend to re-energize their lives). Our warm-up was to introduce ourselves one-on-one and tell the other person what our dream was.

For a split second I faltered. What was my dream? I knew what it was, but would that sound foolish???

Yah, that was my saboteur talking, so I gave her the finger and a shove, and repeated myself over and over until everyone in the room knew what my dream was, and I believed it could happen.  Worth the money and the time, thank you very much.

Although we were focussing on realigning our lives, there was a lot of misery in the room.  I supposed that’s why we all went – to banish it to the realm of 80’s hairspray and baby oil sun-tanning.

My mother, whom I relied on to teach me how not to be in the world, imparted  two solid pieces of wisdom upon me;

  1. Time goes by faster as you get older.
  2. There will always be assholes.

She was right about both of those things.

What I also learned from observing her was that misery loves company. And what I’m learning at this ripe old age of mid-forty-something is that not only does it love company, it absolutely requires it to survive.

There seems to be something entirely blasé about this time in life for most people. Whether they are in the throes of child-rearing, stale marriages, or realizing that their prowess now gives up the occasional purr rather than a ferocious growl, people in general connect via the lack in their lives rather than the abundance and joy. Cool has become the preferred carnival mask of middle age.

giphyI’m too old for cool.

I’m middle aged,(don’t argue with me about what middle-aged is, I’m a mortician, and mid-forties is way past middle aged for most of us, so get with the program), I want to be cool about nothing. I want to be passionately engaged about what gets me excited, and dismiss what drains my energy.

Misery invites company, it’s a seducer. It loves to lock it’s lips on our sexy, positive energy and suck the last breath from it.  Leaving it limp and impotent.

Misery is easy. Being miserable means you don’t have to invest or commit to anything.  And that’s so fucking easy to get away with. Misery sucks the life out of everything around it, in order to stay above water.

Joy, unlike misery is so busy smelling the flowers and investing in more joyful interactions that it generates enough energy to keep itself afloat.

If you are lonely go out join something. If you are bored at work, take a class and learn something new. If you’re fat, go for a walk. If you’re sex starved, trust me ladies, it’s out there to be had. If you don’t have enough time to do what you love, set boundaries….You get the picture.  Oh, and quit making excuses, that’s misery wrestling you to the ground, and not in the sweaty, sexy, one-garter-came-loose kind of way.

If you were to step into the room that I did on the weekend and were asked to everyone what your dream was, and you don’t know…you absolutely need to know. Misery has kept you company for far too long.

 

 

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What You Need to Know About Paris

 

First of all, you need to know that I love Paris. Like: Love as-in-I-would-move-there-tonight-with-nothing-but-a-carry-on-kind-of-love. Looooooove…..

giphy-1

 

Recently I was asked by an acquaintance to send some information about my most recent holiday in the City of Light. It took me forever to get back to her. Mainly because I knew just how into it I would get, and therefor how much time it would take me to compose an email as full of useful information as I could muster with all of the enthusiasm I have for the city. I enjoyed every.single.second.

I went on about my favourite places, included links and maps, tips and tricks, and loads of my very own opinion. Which, of course, the world needs more of.

paris cafeYes, I adore all of the idiosyncrisies of the French. This includes terrible and rude (if not also terribly rude) service and their casual sense of elegance.  I love the tiny streets of Montmartre with the colourful shops squeezed together like hippies on a road trip. I love the billionaire-on-a-budget attitude of St. Germain, the connection to great artists I feel when I sink into the reading nooks on the second floor of Shakespeare and Company, and the thrum of those places where new worlds collide and your footsteps become unsure.

Had I only been able to make one suggestion to her though about getting a feel for what to expect, it would be this;

Find a lovely scarf which is slightly too long to wield delicately, and get thee to a crowded outdoor patio in the spring time. Order wine or coffee and a tiny glass of water, and no matter what the menu, expect an exquisite presentation of deliciously prepared food. All of this served to you by the most disinterested and apathetic server that you can imagine while your scarf blows in the wind like a prop from an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Welcome to Paris.