Sunday, December 29, 2013

Call me Lisa Douglas


No sooner have I booted up my computer and sat down to write this blog, I can hear a loud croaking sound coming from the dining room fireplace. What the hell is that?, I think to myself and I get up and pad down the hallway to investigate the sound. It grows louder as I approach and seems to be coming from somewhere to the left of the hearth but I am not sure and so rather than find myself having to confront some large slimy reptile, I turn back and try to ignore the racket it is making. Maybe if I just pretend and hope it is actually outside the fireplace wall, I can relax.

Call me bloody Lisa Douglas. It is not far off. And right now, my Oliver (who is actually more like Mick Dundee) is not home to rescue me from what is surely a killer frog with a croak that loud. Is there a such thing?, I actually wonder to myself. I suppose if it were to ambush me in the hallway by jumping near me it could be considered a death threat as I would surely have a heart attack if any bit of it's slimy body scathed past my skin.  It has quieted down now for which I am grateful.

I am living in Green Acres. No joke. Spiders as big as my palm, geckos surprising me when I least expect it, the moan of cows in the paddock, cane toads as big as small rats, skinks (there is a new one for ya) that are apparently snake food which means snakes are surely hovering in the grass and I am on constant alert for any slithering around me as I walk across the lawn. I have not come face to fork-tongued face with one yet, but I am ready.

Just a few short months ago, the closest I ever came to a snake was in the handbag department at Holt Renfrew and the hardest part about that was swallowing the price tags. My, my, how life has changed.  I have since learned that if I do get bitten by a snake, I am to apply pressure to the wound, then wrap above and below it with a tensor bandage or some facsimile. If I am faced with an angry farm dog, I am supposed to face it, not run from it, and if I ever encounter a wild boar or pig, I am to climb a tree...they are not very good climbers apparently. 

Now, armed with all this new found knowledge, I feel prepared for anything. Yeah, right! I have however braved whacking and killing a March fly with my bare hand...better than being bitten I concluded and I now acknowledge that gecko poops are something that commonly appear on the kitchen windowsill in the  morning and sometimes even in your clean dishes in the cupboard, so I never use any plate or bowl without examining it first and giving it a cursory wipe just in case. 

Country living is new to me. And country living in the semi-tropics is even newer. The other day as I stood at the kitchen sink, a large goanna slowly made his way across the drive along the Bromeliad garden log edging. Just a few minutes ago, as I poured myself a glass of ice cold green tea, a spectacular Australian King Parrot did a low fly by past the kitchen window and across the front yard, a blaze of red and green so vivid against the overcast sky and drought burnished lawn, it took my breath away. It is as though there is a price to pay for the moments of awe.

Like yesterday when the mercury rose to 38 degrees and I wondered if I could stand it any longer. But, a drive to the ocean and a frolic in the waves at Rainbow Beach for some relief created a similar contrast. A cold seaside outdoor shower awaited as we scurried across the hot sand and again found something pleasurable to extinguish the heat and wash away the drying coating of salt on our skin.

This is Australia. A land of harsh contrasts. Not unlike my own personal contrasts. City gal to country gal. Holt Renfrew to Big W. (don't ask!) Dry cleaners to clotheslines. High heels to wellies. CBC to ABC...not all that different!  

There is one difference between me and Lisa Douglas though. I don't really long for Park Avenue, or Bloor Street or Rodeo Drive or The Magnificent Mile or any of those streets any more.  

You don't need designer clothes or shoes or handbags here. 

Just balls. And I am working on growing a set of those. 

Got one of these Kangaroo Scrotum pouches for Christmas! 
Fair Dinkum!
Try finding one of these beauties at Holts!







Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Cracked Open


If someone had told me I would be driving past a signpost that reads Jumpo Creek on my way home everyday a year ago, I would have laughed and said, "yeah, right, very funny", so when I see this now familiar marker along the roadside as I cruise past on what still feels like the "wrong" side of the road,  I still shake my head in disbelief.

I think back to just one short year ago, living in Toronto, working in the interior design world, wondering where my  life was headed and the internal angst that had a grip on me as I knew change was coming but was still uncertain as to exactly which path I was going to take and now as things have begun to fall into place, I feel a tremendous sense of relief that I chose this new road that allows me to pass Jumpo Creek each day.

So many people thought I was crazy. It was hard to block out the naysayers at times. They could not imagine me living in the country. I was a city gal. No way could I do it they said. It's not you Deb. I often wondered if maybe they were right. Maybe they knew me better than I knew myself. But a little voice inside me kept telling me they were wrong. I had longed my whole life for this sort of peaceful simple existence. The city was wonderful in many ways, but it never offered me the serenity of country life. There was an anxiety attached to city living that was like a constant underlying current I could not turn off. 

Out here now, as I drive out of town along the winding country road, past sugar cane farms and modest country homes. up and over the rise in the road that reveals Bauple Mountain off in the distance, a calm and peace flows over me like a deep breath of fresh air filling my lungs and leaves me knowing I am on the right road. The current is switched off.




Yesterday, Christmas Day, as I squatted down, hammer in hand, taking aim at a rock hard freshly picked macadamia nut on the concrete patio, after three good hits on the sweet spot, I watched the hard shell crack and break away. The goal is to do this without breaking the nut inside and peeling off the shell to reveal the most perfect creamy white, buttery tasting treat. I disposed of the bits of shell and examined the prize inside each time before popping it in my mouth and marveling at the texture and subtle sweet taste of this unaltered nut. No salt added, no sugary coating, just fresh, raw, nut meat. 

Funny I thought, this macadamia metaphor. I too have been cracked open. The life I held on to so tight for so long is gone and what has emerged is a fresh new version. 

And it tastes delicious.  




Wednesday, December 11, 2013

This Old House...she ain't what she used to be...

Montgomery House Renovated

On October 10 of this year, I wrote a blog about saying goodbye and leaving Toronto and revisiting my old house and how I reckoned the house was a metaphor for my life. I returned from a week of island bliss this past weekend to a note from an old friend who sent me a current photo of the house. 

On the drive home from my holiday, I had been contemplating my new life here down under and felt an obvious shift in myself. It felt like it had taken a few weeks to settle here, and like a mixing bowl full of batter being poured into a new cake tin, I had finally filled all the crevices and leveled out.  It was a peaceful satisfied feeling. All traces of anxiety had vanished. Any lingering doubts had evaporated. It was astonishing really. So, it almost came as no surprise at all when I saw the transformed house photo. 

Yes, I thought to myself, there it is. Here I am. We had both been reconstructed. And we were both better than before. Since no house project is ever 100% finished, no human evolution is ever complete either. The house still needs some final touches, a bit of landscaping and likely the interior needs some decorating as well. Similarly, I too am imperfect.  There is and always will be some room for improvement. To state otherwise would be untrue. There has been some clear progress made however, perhaps inside a little more than out in my case, but I am OK with that as I find the internal changes generally lead the way to the external ones. 

I am happy that the house did not fall into disrepair after my departure. It could have gone that way, for the house or for me. There is always a risk involved with change. The leap requires you to trust your intuition even when so many outside influences are distracting your vision.  Just as I could not see the destination of the old house last October, I was grappling with my own life vision at that time. The house has turned out way better than I imagined it would as the photos here can attest. I present three photos of the house. One is from pre-construction.  One is mid-construction. The third is present day. 

Montgomery House Pre-Construction

Montgomery House Under Construction



Like me, the pre-construction looked OK on the outside and I spent a lot of time maintaining the gardens and at times it felt I could barely keep up. As I was busy trying to keep up the outside appearance of the house, the inside was deteriorating faster than I could keep up with it. At times it felt like the house was eating me alive. I knew I had to leave it behind. It meant walking away from the life I once lived and knew without knowing where I was going or how I would get there. It was the most frightening and difficult journey of my life so far. There were obstacles at every juncture, negative voices all around me, agonizing decisions and as many mis-steps as there were victories, but I survived it all and life moved on.

My new life has begun. The old house is new again. 

And this time the focus for the new house is starting with the inside.

Ain't that kinda apropos? 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Go Ahead and Jump!


Unlike many of my clients over the years, I am fairly quick to make design decisions. I have learned that over time, we grow tired of colours or fabrics and end up changing our decor eventually anyway, so why lament and fret over the choice as though it were a life and death decision? If you like it, and it fits with your current scheme and tastes, go for it. This is also why I no longer choose crazy expensive things when it comes to accessorizing as I know that one day, I will want to replace it with something new and different.  

Trends come and go and there is a school of thought that avoiding trends and sticking with classic patterns and neutral colours is the way to go, but it still comes down to our inherent need for change.  So I generally advice my clients to stick with neutrals for the big ticket items in a room, like sofas, large case goods and custom draperies and then have some fun with the accessories as these are the way to add a current punch to your space. Art, pillows, throws, lamps, bowls, funky lighting, sculptural elements. These are the fun and interesting things to shop for and incorporate into your rooms that will reflect your personality.  

They are the easy come, easy go bits that can also be the jump off point for your decorating scheme. I have been influenced by any number of these over the years and as I am about to embark on another new space in a few months from now, I have been keeping an eye out for inspiration.  So far, I have found a set of everyday dishes and a couple of toss cushions that are leading the way from a colour and graphic perspective.  My last two spaces were on the girly side colour wise and since my next home will be a shared space, I needed to tone down the pinks a bit and bring in some more masculine touches without losing all feminine qualities.  So, my Dudeman Manolo Blahnik painting did not come to my new world with me, nor did my pink chair or my Lily Pulitzer style green chair with the polka dot upholstered seat cushion, but I do wish I had not sold the Surveyors floor lamp...however, we move on and begin again.

Old space...goodbye pink!


The new space will be cooler toned, more metal, polished concrete, modern and minimalist. The colours will be added to black, white and grey backdrops. I think green will be the predominant "splash" colour, which leaves room for several options above and beyond that. When I saw these dishes with their curvy, linear pattern and the exact colours that were in the back of my mind, they became the starting point for the rest of the space. An added bonus was that Aussie man liked them too.



I liked the mid-century modern feeling they evoked and at $40 for four place settings, when I tire of them in a couple of years, it won't hurt my pocketbook to change things up again. I also liked the wonky spirograph design (remember that?). The toss cushions (shown at the top here), keep the colours and graphic qualities moving through the space. Although I have been reluctant to jump on the Chevron stripe trend, this is an inexpensive nod to it without going overboard with an entire wall painted out that way or a carpet etc.

The bird cage pillow brings a softness to the hard edges of the chevron stripes and also introduces a bit of a feminine touch without being too girly. And besides, I dig birds. It is also allowing a few other colours to subtly enter the space, with an opportunity for lager splashes of the purple or yellow elsewhere.

The other important reason for me to start with these small pieces is that it plants the vision seed for me. When one is in the pre-construction phase of a project, making these small purchases grounds the plan for me. It gives all the planning a destination.  Visualizing the plates on the kitchen island or loading the mugs into the dishwasher or fluffing the toss cushions on the sofa makes the plans more real to me. Not just a bunch of drawings and budget figures. Suddenly, I see myself in the finished rooms, using them, enjoying them, creating a home...

...once again. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cool...redefined!


You remember that scene in Dances With Wolves when Kevin Costner crosses over? You know, the scene where he has been alone for a long time guarding an outpost that has been abandoned and over time he has changed from uniform-clad soldier to full-on native American? He comes to realize that his hot stiff scratchy woolly jacket and pants are completely inappropriate for the climate and his ability to survive and thrive? Yes, that scene.  

Well, I am currently turning native myself.  The 5 vacuum sealed bags of clothing I hauled across the world with me are for the most part useless here in small town Queensland.  Summer is fast approaching (WHAT? It is going to get hotter?) and even my coolest of cool garments from Canada are not making the cut.  Since I am not working and have no need for business attire and all the accessories that go with that, I have concluded that the main objective now is to remain as cool and comfortable as possible.  Nothing heavy, nothing form fitting, little jewelry, minimal make-up (it just melts off anyway) and no strenuous outdoor exercise between 7 AM and 5 PM. 



I used to think that gauzy colourful dresses and skirts and tops were for hippie chicks and other cultures, but lately, I have been diving into the gauze and tie-dye pool of fashion faux pas like a thirsty camel at a desert oasis.  My once coiffed hair is finding itself lifted off my neck and pinned haphazardly at the back of my head and I go no where without a large brimmed hat and a litre of cold water.  I may not be dancing with wolves, but now I am armed and ready to cavort with kangaroos and koalas, the latter has so far eluded me, but my eyes are on constant survey mode whenever passing by stands of eucalyptus trees.  Believe it or not, there are actually road signs that remind drivers to be on the alert for them.  So I wait, patiently day after day, for a glimpse of these well-camouflaged living teddy bears, certain one day my patience will be rewarded.

After all, I saw my first moose and her calf on the roadside in the BC interior this summer.  I had waited my entire life for that...so I have faith.  Speaking of colourful wildlife...I spotted my first Pale-Headed Rosella at the bird feeder I hung last week on the back porch. He had apparently been spotted by one of the other members of this household a few days ago, but until today, he had eluded me.  I did not run for my camera.  I was tempted. But instead, I just observed him in all his glory. I spoke to him, assured him he was safe near us and he listened and ate and watched us and seemed to get over his fear fairly quickly so I am sure he will return and I will have other chances to capture him in a photo.  

I have to admit, my new look and surroundings are sitting well with me.  There is an ease and casual comfort in these lightweight garments that feel much like wearing nightwear all day long. It was fun and freeing to just select them based on the colours that appealed to me and the sheerness and cooling factor without even a nod to any fashion trend or seasonal style. No one cares, no one is judging and with any luck, the parrots will recognize me as someone they can trust since I am dressed like them!

Just call me Polly, NOT wearing Prada!






Monday, November 4, 2013

Crazy Bird Lady

Rainbow Lorikeets

I have always loved birds. Birds in the wild. Bird art. Birds on fabric. Bird jewelry. Bird ornaments. As a rule, if there is a bird on it, I will have a look. You know that expression - be careful what you wish for...well, if ever birds were to be front and centre in my life, they surely are now. There is actually a bird sanctuary across the street from where we are living. 

Forget the crow of a rooster as an alarm.  Instead, I hear a veritable symphony of birdsong starting around 4 am every morning now.  I think they have come into my life in such a dramatic fashion to force me out of bed much earlier than I would normally rise.  It gets light earlier here as well, so by 4:30 the sun is coming up and by 5:00 am, I am up now. I never thought I would see the day where I started emulating my parent's crazy sleep/wake schedule, but alas, it looks like I may be there.  With the sun heating up the world so early, it is really imperative that I get moving at this hour if I plan to do anything strenuous in terms of exercise.  Much past 7:30, it just gets too hot.

But back to the birds. It is just amazing to see the tropical parrots and colourful bird varieties here in Queensland. Last night before dusk I watched as hundreds of Rainbow Lorikeets gathered at the top of a massive mature Eucalyptus tree. Standing near the tree, the sound of this choir of birdsong was like a scene out of Hitchcock's The Birds...on steroids!  On another tree, a similar scene prevailed, only this time with large white Cattle Egrets, not to be outdone by the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos.  The local residents think nothing of this daily spectacle of nature, but these exotic species are like wildlife eye candy for this Canuck.

Cattle Egret

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

Prior to this viewing of a real life episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (for those of you old enough to have seen that show on TV), I had gorged myself on the back porch, binoculars at the ready on a pair of parrots in the adjacent Jacaranda Tree. They were so multi-coloured and different from the lorikeets and the Australian King Parrots I had seen the first few days after I arrived, I had to look them up. They were called Pale-Headed Rosellas. They were a couple and they moved in tandem from tree to tree, gracing me with their beauty for over an hour and then they flew off across the neighbourhood together, having dined on the seed pods of the Silky Oak and nectar of the Jacaranda like a seasoned old married couple out for dinner at their favourite restaurant before heading home for the remainder of the evening, where they might then have reviewed their night out and chuckled over the crazy Canadian woman who wouldn't stop staring at them all night.

Pale-headed Rosella


When I wasn't busy perving on the Rosellas, I was mesmerized by the assortment of Honeyeaters. They come in quite a few varieties and they amuse as they hang upside down draining the Jacaranda Blossoms of their nectar. They also like to chase each other from tree to tree creating a mad scene of seeming aggressive birdie tag. 

Blue-faced Honeyeater

This morning as I did my loop around the park, the evidence left behind from the hundreds of Galahs that feast on the ancient fig trees, crunched beneath my feet. There is always a bit of a risk of them leaving a not- so-sweet surprise on your head or shoulder as you walk under these trees when they are feeding but so far, I have been lucky. Note to self... I must remember to carry some tissue with me from now on. 

Gulah

The ability to do this on a daily basis is enough to make my day. Like any gift of nature, it feeds my soul and makes me grateful to be alive and fortunate to witness these beautiful creatures. I always enjoyed birds in Canada. I used to feed the Goldfinches and got excited to see Cardinals and Pine Grosbeaks and Cedar Waxwings depending on what part of the country I was living in at any given time, but this is a whole new ball of wax down here. The type of birds I am used to seeing in cages or zoos flit and fly around here like Sparrows and Chickadees - as common as that. 

These are the kind of Tweets that really interest me.




Saturday, November 2, 2013

Deb Down Under...Week One


A whole new world. I think that was the song.  The lyrics keep popping up in the back of my mind constantly. There is one slight difference however. That was a Disney song and my name ain't Jasmine (although there are some that may think I am a bit of a princess) and Aladdin is not whisking me off on his magic carpet...not yet anyway.

No, before there are any dazzling sights to behold, we have several months of work ahead of us to create our little paradise here down under in Queensland.  After surveying the plot of land we are planning to turn into our peaceful new home surrounded by eucalyptus forest and cane fields, the reality of what it will take to get from here to there has hit me over the head like a wayward boomerang at full speed. 

The ground is hard and crunchy and the rain is no where in sight. I was tempted to take a spade and see what happened when I tried to drive it into the ground, but I knew the answer without even trying. My organic dream garden is a way off yet. First things first. We need to get the house built and worry about the landscaping and gardening later. For now, I will have to set that part of the dream aside.  On a positive note, there is a very well supplied Farmer's Market every Thursday here in Maryborough that impressed me the other day so that will head up the Thursday morning "to do" list each week. 

There was a wide range of produce and interesting vendors participating. A number of ex-pats selling their unique food and crafts. A German woman who had found her little slice of paradise here selling a variety of olives from her own grove. She said she had grown tired of the crowds and traffic in Black Forest town she hailed from and was much happier in Oz. If her yummy assortment of flavoured olives were any indication, I would say she had found her niche.

A young Turkish fellow had a stall where he was baking fresh "Turkish breads" that looked more like foccacia pizzas to me, the aroma of the feta cheese, roasted tomato and olive toppings was impossible to resist, so lunch was decided right then and there. As it was only 9 am, it was wrapped in brown paper and would wait until later. I was elated at another stall when a young Thai woman had the efforts of her own organic garden available for sale and her veggies were so beautifully arranged and displayed it was clearly a labour of love for her. I nearly danced a jig when I spied three perfectly fresh bundles of Cilantro, every stem and leaf pure perfection. It was the one item I had set out to find that day that I was sure I would have difficulty finding. I had a notion to make a large Quinoa Salad with sweet potatoes and fresh corn and black beans and the Cilantro was a necessary ingredient. So, thanks to her, mission accomplished.

I had a little more difficulty finding what I thought would be a no-brainer - the black beans. They had navy beans, kidney beans, white beans...but not a black bean in sight. Red kidney beans would have to do. In the end it mattered not, but you can be sure I will be buying a case of the damn things if I find them in my travels.  It was also curious to me that all the canned beans had sugar added in the processing. Looks like I may have to start cooking my own from scratch, which leads me to another dilemma. Cooking. The house we are staying in presently is a classic old Queenslander style house (shown pictured above). If you don't know what that is, they are built on stilts, so the air circulates under them and they generally have big porches all around the front and back and the windows are left open (sans screens - geckos are my new friends!) for the air to blow through. Some do have air-conditioning but ours does not. So, the last thing you want to do is fire up a  hot oven or stove any time past 9 am or much before 6 pm, so planning menus and cooking time is crucial to prevent overheating the house and more importantly...yourself!

Early evening is spent with a cool drink on the porch watching the sun go down over the horizon and observing hundreds of colourful birds and the emerging flying foxes as they appear at dusk.  Dinner is enjoyed after that when the temperature goes down.  There is air conditioning in the bedroom but so far we have not needed to turn it on at night but it is still spring here in the southern hemisphere with summer just around the corner. It will hopefully give me time to acclimate before it arrives and challenges my internal Canuck thermostat.  

Lots to learn. Lots of change. It is, without a doubt, a whole new world.

A whole new world

Don't you dare close your eyes
A hundred thousand things to see
Hold your breath - it gets better
I'm like a shooting star
I've come so far
I can't go back to where I used to be

lyrics by Tim Rice






Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fearlessly Forging Forward


Three large suitcases. One set of golf clubs. One carry on. One handbag. That is all I am taking to the other side of the world with me. Whittling down my life to approximately 200 lbs of clothing and possessions took some ruthless editing and more than a few anxious moments, but I did it. 

In two days, I will check the bags through to Brisbane.  There is mostly clothes and shoes in two of the bags and the third bag is an odd assortment of things I could live without but simply did not want to leave behind. Mostly meaningful things. A couple of books, framed photographs, my favourite mug, my softer than soft pillowcases, gifts from friends over the last couple of years that symbolize my journey. Stuff like that. And yes, Margot - a 4 lb carved stone that has been my house protector for 20 years. It must work - I have never had a break-in. It will grace the front door of my new house one day.

Anything that did not fit will be stored here in Canada and over the years, perhaps bits will find their way back to me...or not.  The last move I made meant leaving behind even more and already I struggle to remember what most of it was. Things. Just things.  It would have been unfathomable to me 10 years ago to find myself so unburdened as I am now.

One "thing" I came across today in my wallet has only been with me less than a year. It was a small medallion given to me by a very close friend. I have treasured it from the moment she gave it to me because every time I have worried about or doubted my decision to move to Australia, it has helped me move forward. On the front, as you see above, is an image of a woman or goddess, her feet are roots, firmly anchored in the ground and her arms are raised above her head, reaching, seemingly taking nourishment from the sky. She is a symbol of strength and conviction in my mind. She is sure-footed, confident, in touch with herself, her body vulnerable, exposed, without fear. Her foundation is solid and her outstretched arms have also found a place that feeds her heart and soul. Her spiritual life, clearly as grounded as her physical form, completes her.

On the back of this medallion is one word.  Courage.  She came to me when I needed her. Or did I? Certainly there were moments when I felt a need to hold her between my thumb and fingers and meditate on what she symbolizes to me. At other times, she was just a comfort to me, a reminder that I was on the right path. A touchstone. I would repeat the word over and over in my head. Courage. Courage Deb. You can do this. She also symbolized the support and encouragement I have been given from the friend who gave her to me. It helped me recall the many conversations we have had over the past months.  The analyzing, the dissecting, the laughter, the tears, all leading me to where I am today. 



I tucked her back in my wallet where she mingles with some coins, guaranteeing she will be seen often.  Once in a while I take her out for a walk with me, tucked in my pocket or in my clenched hand. I used to worry about losing her this way. But now, I doubt that even if I did lose her, I would never really lose her message.

She has really rubbed off on me. People keep telling me I am courageous. I used to hear their words and think, ME? Courageous? I always thought courageous people were heroes like firefighters or policemen or soldiers. But now I realize that courage comes in many forms as do courageous people.

And I guess, like the cowardly lion, I had it all along.

Only, this time, I am following my own yellow brick road. 

To Oz.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Changing Patterns


It's official! I stopped in my tracks when I checked the beep on my phone and read the email. Good news Debra it said. The Singing Lady has a cheque for you. I always enjoy these emails from this consignment shop. "We sold your China".  Last May I took all my fine china, crystal and depression glass collection to this shop hoping to unload these items. No one I knew wanted it. They either had their own ill-chosen sets they dusted off every Christmas and Easter or their tastes had changed, their entertaining had become less formal (the latter most likely) or they loved their china and would continue using it until it was passed down to their heirs.

My daughter was completely disinterested. She does not even want to own a house. She claims she prefers a smaller, more low maintenance space. A condo will suit her one day apparently. She has never been one for fussy formal table settings although I do believe she is comfortable in formal dining situations.  I did teach her basic etiquette. It is always a handy skill in the work world at the very least. I don't have to worry about her embarrassing herself should her future partner's family judge her knowledge of which fork to use. (Gawd help her if she chooses someone whose family is like that!)

Anyway, it feels like a seriously symbolic moment for me. One of the last bastions of my former life has been passed along to a new owner. The baton has been handed off. I think back to the girl who chose that China all those years ago. It mattered to me. I was careful not to pick anything too bold or flowery. It was all white.  Unfortunately, at the time I was very drawn to Victorian period design, so the edges were embossed in a raised garland of small roses that turned an otherwise timeless plate into something fussy and overly feminine.  I used to occasionally pair it with the pink depression glass and it did make a spectacularly girly luncheon splash.  It also worked well at Easter with all the pastels but just as my lifestyle has changed, so has my taste in crockery.  I would never choose it now in a million years!

The money I got for it was criminal compared to what was paid for it. I can't dwell on that though. I am just glad it is gone. I don't have to retrieve it from the shop, store it in a basement somewhere for the rest of my life. One more thing I don't have to worry about. I hope the new owner enjoys it. They got an amazing deal on it. It was in mint condition. Not a single chip or missing piece. Service for eight and all the accessories. Serving bowls, platters, cream and sugar, salt and pepper - the works. When I think back to the time I chose it all, I recall doing it because it was expected. I remember people saying - "You are going to register somewhere of course." Um, yeah, OK, sure, I am.  Truth was, even then, it did not occur to me that it was all that necessary, but I got caught up in the rules, the proper etiquette for a young woman about to marry for the first time. So, I went out and selected Rosenthal China and Crystal, which was a little non-traditional (my first husband's father was German), no Royal Doulton or Royal Crown Derby for this gal...even then I was determined to buck the system a bit.

My first husband had inherited silver from his grandmother, so I had to choose something that sort of blended with the intricate ornate pattern of the flatware. I always felt the silver out shone the China...in a good way. But when he left, so did the silverware, so then I had to find a replacement. Not just for him.  So, not long after, I did find both. Husband number two came along and within a few years, he was awarded a set of silver for 25 years of service with his company. Once again, I had to choose from a menu of patterns, this time matching the silver to the China.  Silver is wonderful to look at but a royal pain in the ass to care for.  For a time, my wonderful cleaning lady would take it upon herself to polish the silver for me, but even she grew weary of that chore. It was not uncommon some holidays for me to sift through the case looking for the least tarnished fork tines to set the table, always placing the most severely burnished looking pieces at my own place setting...no one would notice I reckoned. 

So, once again, the silver set number two left with the second husband. There won't be a third set. My table will be set with stainless from here on out. No more polishing. No more special box to store it. Dishwasher safe. Worry free. Care free. Something simple and streamlined. 

Not unlike the next third of my life.

Here's hoping anyway.

  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Swirling Deb


My best friend is out swirling tonight. She texted me a photo of herself and another friend of mine at a gala affair I was invited to in Toronto with the tag line - Wish you were here!  Swirling. That is what we used to call it back in the day. Back in the day referring to the period of our life that we spent living in Banff...where we met. It would be an understatement to say that we swirled occasionally  We were young. In our early twenties. It was just the way it was. If we were not working or sleeping or skiing or hiking or riding our bicycles, we were swirling. 

Swirling could be as tame as a night out with just a few drinks and calling it an early night, or as crazy as losing count how many drinks, how many tokes, and dancing until the wee hours and polishing that off with a private party back at someone's pad till we crashed. Apparently I was a champion swirler according to my BFF. When my marriage was collapsing, she said I had stopped being that fun Deb - the swirler she knew and loved.  Marriage had suffocated that Deb. She was probably right. But, I also saw it as growing up and being responsible. I had a child. I needed to set an example. And I did. I don't know that I really fooled my kid. She did manage to figure out that her mother had a past, but for the most part, I tucked that swirling Deb away for about 20 years. It was likely good for my health and good for raising a daughter to be a responsible citizen, but even though I tucked her away, there was always a part of her itching to resurface.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to go back to that kind of life. I am too old and too health conscious now to abuse myself that way. But what I have resurrected in recent years is some of that old swirling spirit. It is not always easy to let her out. I worry it would embarrass the people around me, so I sort of contain her, reel her in a bit, but the truth is, I want to let er rip sometimes. I love dancing. I just finished dancing alone. In my kitchen. Music loud. A tall Mount Gay Rum and Stevia Cola with lime (a healthy Cuba Libre). Moving my body, slightly buzzed, no one watching. Bliss. Me and Tom Cruise...a Risky Business moment. Feeling more me than me.

It is almost like good sex. In fact, it could surely be a prelude to good sex. Feeling in touch with your body, your senses aroused. Music is a big part of 'swirling Deb'. It is a mandatory component.  I watched a movie last night called Peace, Love and Understanding with Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener. The movie was not really very good but the character played by Jane Fonda, an aging hippie who had been at Woodstock, supposedly had an affair with Bob Dylan and lived her entire life essentially always swirling even into her old age made me pause. She had not compromised herself, not for anyone or anything. Had I?

Bloody right I had. I became who I thought society and my parents wanted me to be. I played the game. I joined the right clubs, volunteered for the right organizations, wore twin sets even. Holy fucking Hanna! Really? I mean, I did not turn into a total Stepford wife, but I came damn close. I did everything but rejoin the bloody Catholic Church.  That was NEVER going to happen even though I sent my kid to a good Mic school and played along with the bullshit. Mostly I just wanted her to be able to make Christmas and Easter crafts at school and be in the Nativity pageant and learn about Christianity before making up her own mind about religion. I was raised Catholic and even though I now think it is a total pile of crap, I still like the Christian holidays and wanted her to enjoy them too. However, that is a whole other blog - I digress. 

Back to swirling. So the girls are out tonight swirling - adult style without me. Mostly I am just sad that I am not there with them. But what really struck me was the fact that lately, I have mostly been thinking about how much I am going to miss my friends and family, but it had not really occurred to me that they were actually going to miss me too. Especially since they all know that the old swirling Deb is kinda back. 

This time I must be sure not to lose her again. 

Swirling Deb. The Deb we all know and love. 




Monday, October 14, 2013

Tattooed on my Heart


Minus 2 degrees Celsius this morning. If ever there was a sign it was time to leave, this was it. This cool crisp morning; unseasonable for this time of year in Kelowna, called for some layering up for my walk to the Sunshine Market. Living on an uphill slope affords one lovely views, but when it comes to walking, it is next to impossible to avoid some uphill climbs. Good exercise for sure, but sometimes I yearn for a flat track. It is a 2 km trot downhill for provisions...followed by the same 2 kms back up. I have done it a few times this summer, not as often as I should have but at least I did not let it scare me off completely.

The downhill portion is easy, needless to say with only an odd twinge in my shins as any downhill trekking will cause on my aging bones. I set out at a brisk pace, my layers not quite as warm as I had hoped. I followed the now familiar Chute Lake Road down past a few blocks of houses, round the bend past the organic winery, a couple of cherry and peach orchards and the intersection of Lakeshore Road and down another slope to the market. 



As I contemplated the changing scenery, I noticed I was following a set of deer hoof prints all along the shoulder of the road. There was something lovely about that. The doe (I made the assumption it was a she by the delicate nature and size of the tracks) had journeyed down this exact path very recently. Clearly, we humans did not own the road. I smiled at that thought. As I got closer to the market the tracks ended. I stopped and paused and looked to the left where it looked like she had turned. I squinted and strained my eyes looking down the shadowy rows of peach trees to see if I could spot her moving along the dewy long grass that ran along the rows, but she had vanished I guessed. She had likely set out earlier than I did.



The open market farm stand where I had stopped many times over the summer to buy lush ripe cherries by the pound was vacant. Closed for the season. The sign by the drive at the next orchard that invited you to pick your own peaches had been taken down. All around me, the signs were glaringly obvious. Summer was over. Fall was well underway and the temperature was foreshadowing what would inevitably come...cold and snow. Canadian winter.



However, for now, the last hurrah of colour was surrounding me and I was grateful for the cooler air on my ascent back up the road. The grapes that had hung heavily just a few short weeks ago, were snipped and gone leaving rows and rows of thick leaved vines, their job done for the season. As I was scanning the rows for any grapes that had been missed, I nearly stepped on a dead bird at the side of the road. Whenever I come across any sort of dead bird or animal, for some reason it always startles me and causes me to jump. This bird was particularly frightening to me, it's neck was twisted, the beak wide open and facing upward as though in its last moments it was beseeching the sky to rescue him. Maybe seeing sights such as these are reminders of our own mortality. One minute you're flying around, the world is your oyster and the next minute you're laying on the ground, not really ready to meet your maker but your time is up. 

Shaking off the aura of death, I continued along, wishing now I had left a layer behind, my bag of apples from a local orchard weighing me down a bit. At about the two thirds mark, I turned to admire the view. The view I see almost everyday as my car heads into town. It is always a  moment I love as I turn the corner and Okanagan Lake appears off in the distance flanked by the surrounding mountains. It is like a postcard. Picture perfect in every way. I never tire of it. It lifts my spirits even on a cloudy day. I stopped to take a shot like an addict who just cannot get enough - water views my drug of choice. The opposite side of the road where I stood is lined with old willow trees, their sweeping long tendrils falling like a curtain of green along the roadside. More beauty. 


Up past the willows, brilliant russet Sumac cried out to have their picture taken as well, so I stopped once again. It occurred to me this morning's journey was like a Canadian send-off. The flora, the fauna, the water and the mountains doing their very best to imprint their images in my mind asking me to never forget them. Take us with you. Remember us.





Not to worry my home and native land. You are a part of me like a maple leaf tattooed on my heart.



And that, unlike the autumn leaves, can never change, eh?






Friday, October 11, 2013

Turkey Talk


Earlier today as I enjoyed a peaceful late afternoon walk through my neighborhood admiring the fall colours and feeling the cool autumn air on my face, I was suddenly distracted by a conversation taking place on the street between a couple. It was an emotional confrontation, the woman's voice growing louder and more agitated the closer I got.

She was spewing about the fact that she had discovered her entire family was gathering this Thanksgiving weekend and she had not been invited. She was full of anger and as I passed I heard her saying she wouldn't go even if they did invite her now. She was clearly upset and the fellow listening allowed her angry words to fly from her mouth seemingly knowing she needed to vent. As I continued along my way silently, it made me think about families. Families and their ability to arouse our emotions in such a way. She was behaving angrily but what she was really feeling was hurt. Big hurt. My heart went out to her.

It made me wonder how many others will be hurting this Thanksgiving weekend. A time that is supposed to bring families together, like other holidays, is a recipe for disaster for many. It made me grateful knowing I would be having dinner with my brother and his wife and their kids and spouses and my great niece.  I know it will be fun and boisterous and I look forward to spending my Thanksgiving with them. This is a rare occasion as we have not been in the same part of the country for many years for this weekend. My daughter will be missing, so we will try to Skype her in so she can partake.  Long distance calls will be made to grandparents across the country this year - a departure from the norm.

This will be the first of many departures from the norm for me in the next few months. I can get very melancholic about these breaks from tradition.  Change can be challenging. It can also be refreshing. Sometimes I wonder if traditions aren't overhyped. Doing the same thing year after year can get stale. Often we attend these family affairs out of a sense of obligation. I know a woman who in recent years decided to forgo the annual turkey fest with the family to spend 3 days hiking the Bruce Trail instead. Long weekends are few and far between and when you think about it, she now makes a much healthier choice both physically and mentally. I have often thought that these annual holidays would be better if they were less frequent - every 2-3 years perhaps. Especially Christmas. That is one holiday that could come every 5 years as far as I am concerned. At least Thanksgiving is just about sharing a meal and the company of family or friends. No gifts. No big panic for perfection. 

So, whether you are heading home for mom's pumpkin pie or trying something new this year, I wish you all a Happy Turkey Day filled with fun and love. 

Get stuffed. Your way.




Thursday, October 10, 2013

Still Under Construction


The farewell tour is over. At least the Ontario version. The last 10 days were a blur of appointments and socializing. Glasses were clinked. Stories were shared. Tears were shed. Hugs were lasting and passionate. No perfunctory pecks or weak embraces. No - these were the kind of hugs you never wanted to end. The type you give when you are not sure when the next one will occur. Hugs between family and friends that mean something. 

I even walked by my old house for one last look. When I left for BC in June, the new owners had started to renovate. They are making slow progress. It is difficult to tell what the actual design plan is at this stage. Not sure where they are going with it. As I stood across the street observing the various changes, it occurred to me that the house was a metaphor for my own life. 



Under construction. Final outcome - a mystery.

My dear friend Margot was with me surveying the half-renovated structure. I asked her to let me know when it is completed. The landscaping will surely follow the changes to the house. My once well-tended, much loved garden is pretty much a disaster. I figure it will be at least spring before the place is finished. It was a relief to know I still have some more time to finish my own life transformation. Perhaps by springtime, my new life will be more settled. Fresh starts all around. 

Already, there is not really much that resembles the old house. All that really remains is the foundation and the memories that linger silent within its walls.

Not unlike me.

There is a handy book for writers called I Never Metaphor I didn't Like. Here's hoping I can live up to that title.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I can't Cope...or Can I?


I firmly believe that things happen for a reason and that the universe presents messages to us almost constantly.  It does require keeping a sort of low grade awareness about you, as they can easily be missed with all the daily distractions in our lives.  It takes practice and the ability to interpret the messages. If I did not believe this, my life would not have changed over the last few years at all.  It was when I started to listen to them. I mean really listen to them that change was able to manifest.

Fear can be a harsh taskmaster. It is without a doubt what prevents most people from moving forward. The known present is so much safer than the unknown future. As we age, it becomes more so. "What ifs" clog our progress and keep us stuck.  Leaps of faith are far more frightening as the years pass.  At 21 or 31 or even 41 we are more courageous. The thinking that we still have so much time left helps. But something happens north of 50. We are less inclined to take risks.  We become a little set in our ways.  Change rattles us more. Routines give us comfort. For the most part it works, but for many, like me, there is a yearning for more. More adventure, more stimulation, more experience.

I watched a movie last night called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The basic premise of the film is a handful of English retirees who due to financial circumstances are drawn to an ad to come and live at said hotel, a seemingly exotic place, for very little money. Like most ads, it portrays itself as far more luxurious than it really is and when these folks arrive and see the state of their new home. each character copes in a distinct fashion. Some much better than others.  

It really got  me to thinking about the next change in my life.  I have spent many months contemplating my move to Queensland.  It is so far away. What if I need to come back to Canada in a hurry? What if I find the semi-tropical climate unbearable? What if my new relationship does not work out? What if I have problems immigrating? What if I become ill? What if there really are snakes everywhere? What if, what if, what if, what if, what if.....??? The list is endless. 

Twenty or thirty years ago, I would not have given these things a second thought. The truth is, I am still healthy. I do have the means to hop on a plane in an emergency. I have been dreading and despising the cold Canadian winters for many years now. My relationship is wonderful. My daughter has given me her blessing. Go live your life mom. (she is amazing!) Still, despite all these positives, old MRS. FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN will suddenly weasel her way into my thinking from time to time but as the days pass, she makes fewer and fewer appearances. 

Watching that movie last night really was one of those  messages from the universe. I think it was Judy Dench's character that said it was all in the coping. How one is able to cope with the changes made all the difference. She did not paint a romantic unrealistic picture of her new life in Jaipur, but in the end, her ability to cope is what made her experience positive, unlike Penelope Wilton's character and her inability or even desire to cope that made hers so miserable.

It gave me a real jolt of excitement. A turning point for me almost. The thought of embracing change instead of resisting it. That old cliche of "when in Rome...", is exactly the approach that is needed.  Things will be different there. Not better or worse...just different. Instead of stopping to buy peaches and apples at a roadside stand, now I will buy avocados. Instead of roast turkey at Christmas, shrimps on the barbie perhaps. Fresh water lakes vs the Pacific Ocean. The Big Dipper vs The Southern Cross. Vegemite vs butter tarts. (OK - that may be harder to cope with!)

I keep thinking back to one of my earliest messages from the universe. At the time I did not really see it as such. I had one of those world globes on a stand made of tin. I was about 11 years old at the time and I used to lay on my bed and spin the globe around and around studying all the foreign lands and dreaming of seeing them one day. I dropped it on the floor one night after a too vigorous swirl and dented it. When I picked it up to examine the damage, there was an obvious dent on the pink land mass called Australia. I knew then that one day I would go there. My first trip was in 1979. The second time was 2012.

The third time will be October 26. Perhaps this time, like that dented spot on the globe, I too will leave a more permanent imprint.

Even thinking of a new blog...Upsidedownunder Deb...city gal goes Walkabout!

...it's all in the coping. :)






Friday, September 27, 2013

For Arts Sake


As much as I have been denying it, summer is well and truly over. The down duvet went back on the bed today. As I glimpse to the right of my counter stool I see the fire flickering in the gas fireplace that is the heat source in this "cottage" I have called home for the last few months. My bare feet are pleading for socks or slippers. Time to retire the flip flops I guess. Just as well, as my pedicure is a shameful shadow of it's summer brilliance. Must do something about that I think to myself as I reluctantly root through the closet for warmer footwear. 

When the sun is shining at this time of year I am energized, but today it is rainy and grey and cold, not unlike my mood.  Swinging back and forth all day between brief spurts of energy, I welcome the darkening sky now. It makes me feel justified in my sloth.  It was dinner time before I made the bed, wheeled in the rubbish bins and even worse, combed my hair.  It would have remained in it state of disarray had I not caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror when I went upstairs with the freshly laundered sheets to make the king-sized bed - a chore really made easier with a second set of hands. How it has been done until today.

I decided around 5 pm that the day was a wash. Prior to that, I kept thinking I would get outside, go for a brisk walk with an umbrella but the voices that were prodding me to pull myself together and face the elements were not nearly as strong as the ones that were giving me permission to take a day off from life. A sick day. Even though I am not sick. OK, a mental health day then.  It was not a complete waste of a day. I rooted through some piles of paper and mail that had accumulated the last three months, did a bit of laundry, a bit of banking, stuff like that. I did not turn the TV on, not much of a sacrifice really since I rarely do. Life is about to shift again. This is my battery re-charging I convinced myself.  Amazing how we are able to justify just about anything if we try hard enough.

I was up in the night. Sleepless. Somewhat near Seattle. Instead of counting sheep, I watched a few Ted Talks on my ipad until I started to nod off again.  I tend to go for the inspirational ones. They are not kidding. Some of them really are. Problem is by the time I woke up this morning, I forgot what it was I was supposed to incorporate into my life to be happier or less stressed or more creative. Tidbits remain floating around in my sub-conscious brain surely.  Hunched down, waiting to pounce into consciousness at just the right moment. That's my hope anyway. Like the "moment of brilliance" between the first and second bottle of wine.

I did listen to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and it made me admire her even more than I did before. Her talk focused on the creative process and how creative people are somewhat marginalized in our society as being a bit crazy (I am paraphrasing here) but there is a stigma attached to artists. People in more traditional jobs and careers wonder how they do it. Aren't you afraid of failure or obscurity? What if you never succeed (referring to financial success for the most part)? She proposes that no one should be afraid to do what they were meant to do, no matter what their talent. No one ever asked her father if he was afraid to pursue his career in chemical engineering. But tell someone you are a musician or a dancer or a writer and right away the questioning begins. How will you make a living doing THAT? 

It is preposterous when you think about it really. The truth is, trying to fit into someone else's mold of who you should be is the real tragedy. It is akin to living a heterosexual life when you are really gay. I bet there are millions of closet artists out there working as accountants or lawyers or construction workers or nurses because they felt pressured by their parents or their community or society in general to comply. To put their "foolish" dreams aside and work in a "normal" job or profession.

I have been working very hard the last few years to banish this kind of thinking from my brain. Someone once said if you want to be a writer...start writing. So I did. And, I started writing this blog. It  has no real purpose. It is just an outlet for me. It is like practicing scales on the piano. (hated that as a kid), but it does make you a better piano player. The difference between playing piano scales and writing this blog are in the discipline. Scale practice requires discipline. This blog does not. I have complete freedom here. I can do it when the mood strikes. No one will care if I do it or not. Some times I even wonder myself why I bother doing it. All I know is that while I am doing it, it feels like I am being me. 

Now, if only I could get paid for being me....:)


And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that's unique. You have the ability to make art.
And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.
Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
Make good art.
-Neil Gaiman-









Keeping the love Lubed


If I turn the radio off right now, I think the silence may actually consume me. Best leave it on. In fact, maybe even turn it up a little.  Alone for the first night in many weeks, the adjustment to my own company will take some time. On one hand there is something appealing about it. On the other hand, not so much.

As I heated the kettle to make a cup of tea, I took just one cup from the mismatched collection of mugs on the shelf.  This nightly ritual since the evenings have become cooler was one of those simple acts of nurturing that gave me pleasure.  Making cups of hot tea for us following dinner and the post dinner tidy up in the dimly lit kitchen we have shared all summer seemed intimate to me for some reason.  Intimacy can take many forms. Knowing exactly how your partner likes their tea or their coffee or their eggs prepared are things we take for granted most of the time. We just do it. We apologize if for some reason it is not quite right. Sorry, darling, I know you like your toast a bit lighter than that, hope you don't mind this morning but I forgot to turn the dial back. If you are lucky, these minor imperfections are shrugged off as mine are. But I do like to get it right most days. I like making him happy in these small ways.

However, for the next month I am on my own.  It got me to thinking how difficult it must be when one's partner is not coming back in a month, or a year, or ever. I imagine these are the very things, these ordinary kindnesses that we perform with love and caring that you miss the most.  I am already switching gears a bit knowing that the little tasks that I relied on him to do will now be up to me.  They are not things I cannot do myself. They are just things that he did. Things that were "his" job.  Checking the doors were locked before bed. Pouring me a glass of water before he came to bed so there would be a room temperature glass of water for me in the morning to take my vitamins. Turning on the dishwasher. Taking out the rubbish. Doing any jobs that I deemed "yucky". Things that I am completely capable of doing, but really appreciate someone doing for me. 

Small, thoughtful gestures like this are the things that keep a relationship humming along like a well-oiled machine. The constant steady maintenance required to keep the love alive. Stopping in the middle of whatever you are doing to focus on your partner for a moment.  The 6 second kiss. Long enough to make it meaningful. A re-connection for no other reason than that - to reconnect throughout the day. Coming back to each other amid all the distractions. Like little shots of WD-40 to keep things gliding along.

He just texted me from LAX. Knowing he is safe on his journey home is important to me. These things are unnecessary really, but we do them to engage with one another. It breaks the silence he knows I am experiencing. The sound of the text startled me. Then soothed me. All good he said. It's what I wanted to hear.  All good tonight. All good.

All the time. 






Thursday, September 19, 2013

Slip Sliding Away...aka...Hot Yoga


This may come as a surprise to many of you out there, but I took my first yoga class in 1973. A gal pal of mine in grade 11 and I decided to add it to our repertoire in a vain attempt to turn our curvy butts and muscled calves into something they were not. We dreamed of long graceful torsos and ballerina gams when the reality was we were 5'3" and 5'4" respectively.  Damn her for being so much taller than me! 

No amount of spine lengthening shoulder-stands or downward dogs was about to change any of that, but we persevered nonetheless.  This of course was in the day of yoga studios (I use the term "studio" loosely here) above downtown commercial spaces in St. Catharines where we both grew up. You entered them through a darkened doorway and headed straight up a set of creaky old stairs and entered a large cavernous space covered in old worn hardwood or maybe some old vinyl tiles with the odd chip here and there.  Everyone would find a spot on the floor and wait while others arrived, while the instructor busied herself with her cassette player and lit some ghastly patchouli smelling incense. She had no doubt graduated from the "flower-child" school of Hatha Yoga and led some sort of alternative lifestyle that we found a bit weird yet fascinating. This Lola Granola gal was from another planet surely.

It was a mixed crowd.  In fact, I am quite certain we were the youngest in the crowd most evenings. One of the participants in our class was a man well into his seventh decade, a local eye, ear, nose & throat specialist that once treated me for ear infections as a child.  It is always strange to see one of your doctors in civvies, but I assure you it is well beyond creepy to see one curled up in Pavanmuktasana (wind-relieving) pose next to you and even more uncomfortable when said pose worked for him.  This of course sent the two of us into utter spasms trying to suppress our immature girly laughter and our own gassy emissions. 

Oddly, I do not recall bringing a yoga mat or a bottle of water to class. Maybe because the room was a normal temperature and not FIVE MILLION DEGREES! It was not referred to as a "practice", it was simply called "yoga class", and your wardrobe did not require a special trip to an over-priced shop for "breathable" logo-stamped clothing. I was even able to do double-duty with the same leotard and body suit I wore to my Jazz and Ballet classes that year. 

At the time, yoga was not cool (or hot for that matter).  It was out there and available, but if you did not do it, no one was going to think you were unenlightened.  Yes, that is how it feels now.  What? You don't practice? Oh, you really should.  It is sooooooo good for you. It has completely transformed my body. I cannot de-stress without it! Blah Blah Blah! The Cult of Yoga. That is what it is now. So, not wanting to miss out on this amazing life transforming, detoxifying, stress-relieving activity, I geared up last winter and signed up for a month of Moksha yoga. 

Let me start by saying I detest saunas and have been known to overheat in a hot tub. As I entered the "practice" room for my first class I felt the same shock you get when you exit the plane and descend the stairs to the tarmac when you land in the tropics after being holed up in a Canadian winter for 4 months. Gasp!  The shock of the heat and the thick moist air pushes a panic button in me and it takes gargantuan focus to talk my way through the moment. Remain Calm Deb, breathe slowly. Move slowly. You can do this. You will not drown in your own steam. So, I try to find a spot where I will still be able to watch the instructor, but not be too front and centre in case I do pass out from heat stroke. We are to lay in Savasana (corpse pose) until we begin. Great, I think as I just may be a corpse before the end of this. 

Before the class even begins, I am perspiring. Just a moist film covering my skin for now. Hmmm, maybe I can handle this. The instructor arrives just as I start to nod off and asks us to set an intention for our practice today. What?  An intention? Now my relaxed corpse body has tightened as I scramble to think of one. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to set one and have it manifest at the end of an hour, I want to think of something really profound or mind-blowing. I come up empty. Nothing. Surely there must be some issue or deep-seated emotion I need to vanish from my being.  But no, nothing. Then it dawns on me.  I know. I will set the intention that I will not let my beginner hot yoga self feel intimidated by the long-practicing yoga gurus in the class. I will not compare my skills (or lack of them) or my body, or my pace with anyone. Perfect. That is my goal for this class.

There is only one small problem with this. Mirrors. Not only can I see myself, but I can see everyone else as well, despite the dim lighting. The man with the crazy, hairy back, the tall sinewy pretzel girl, the Olga Korbut look-alike, the tatooed dude with the six-pack, and his big tits, no ass girlfriend, the serene looking east Indian woman who has surely been doing this her entire life, several perky, pony-tailed milfs, a couple of women my age with larger asses and a couple with smaller ones and those are just the ones I can see clearly. Ugh! There is no way in the world I will not be able to look and compare. 

And so we begin. I move through the simple poses, trying to keep my focus on how my body feels, my technique, my balance. I can feel myself getting hotter and hotter. The sweat is now trickling off my chin, droplets hitting the mat slowly at first, then more steadily. I silently thank god I wore a cotton headband to absorb what is now wet hair and keeping the sweat from dripping in my eyes. We stop to hydrate. Momentary relief. I cannot feel any air circulation. I need a fan, a breeze, something to cool me down. Nothing. Onward we proceed. Ugh. Dancer's Pose. I hate this pose. I cannot do it in the best of times, but now, my hand, slippery with my own hot bodily fluids, cannot grasp my leg without slipping. The instructor notices me struggling and comes by and helps but now I sense all eyes on me and it makes me sweat even more. Stop it. Stop it. Remember the intention. Fuck the intention. Now I just want to move on to the next pose. End my misery. Now I start wondering what time it is and how much longer I have to endure this discomfort.

I recall there were 2 choices for class length. Was I in the 60 minute or 90 minute slot? Please, please, tell me it is the 60 minute class. My foot slides on my mat as I lunge into Warrior pose and I can feel the groin strain and quickly pull it back in before I end up in the splits involuntarily. Relief arrives as we get down on the mat for some spine twisting pose and that is when it happens. The neck issue I was suffering from for months prior to this class, rears its ugly head and no amount of deep cleansing breathing will end my now stiffening neck. All I can think about now is when will we be able to lay in Savasana again? I want to be a corpse. 

Finally prone again, I wonder if it is actually even possible to re-hydrate after this self-imposed torture. Then it occurs to me that a post-session weigh-in might be in the cards. Surely I just lost about 5 pounds of fluid.  For a moment I am excited and feeling light and detoxed. The instructor has suggested we lay here for as long as we like. Although I want to roll up my soggy mat right away and escape this choking steamy atmosphere, I wait a few minutes,  not wanting to be the first one to leave. Leaving too soon disturbs the folks who are lying in some state of Nirvana it seems. One woman is a bit noisy as she departs and a couple of enlightened souls shush her, perhaps their intention to not sweat the small stuff and release all their anger did not quite gel in the hour spent in clammy contortions. 

I finally get up off the floor and start gathering my mat and water bottle and towel and head for the door toward what now seems an oasis of cool. The peeling off of the wet supposed breathable yoga wear is as difficult as putting a wet bathing suit on.  It all lands in a damp heap on the floor and I am so grateful for cool air on my skin, I don't even care that I am naked among strangers, my aging breasts likely shocking to the younger perkier gals in the locker room. No more shocking I suppose than the number of tramp stamps I notice on several of them. My head does a double take on the way to the shower. Did she really have Namaste inked above her ass crack? 

For the record, I actually did this 7 more times that month. I think there might have been one day that I actually did not hate it, but the feeling passed almost as quickly as it arrived and my neck actually got worse and worse. I clearly had hoped it was going to help but that was not my experience. This is one bandwagon I needed to get off. And I did. 

Namaste to that.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pulling back to move Forward?


Going backward.  Generally speaking, it is not often a good idea.  Both literally and figuratively.  It is however a continuous temptation in many areas of our lives.  I have had a couple of "going backward" situations recently and I am further convinced it is not the best direction for me. Sideways and forward are really a much better bet.

When I stop and really think about it, almost every time I go back, I regret it. And I am not just talking about the major go backs, like relationships or jobs. Even the simplest backward steps can get you in trouble.  Like last weekend when instead of taking a step forward into my canoe while boarding, I stepped back with the outside foot instead to avoid the unbalanced tipping caused by the inside foot and I slipped on a rock underfoot and took the backwards splash into the water.  Normally this would have been no biggie, except this time I had my iPhone in my pocket...now a defunct iPhone. That canoe adventure was the most expensive one of my summer. Not only did I have to pay for a new iphone (albeit at a reduced cost), but I lost hundreds of photos that were not backed up.  These are lessons learned the hard way that could have been avoided had I moved forward rather than back out of the canoe. 

This past week, I took a trip back in time to the city where my daughter was born, where I became a first time home owner, where I married her father, where I have many happy memories.  We visited the old hood and I took her to see where she lived until she was 3 and showed her the parks where she went from wobbly baby legs to a running and climbing toddler. I wondered if any of these visuals would prompt her memory, but she did not have any recollections.  No sirree, all the memories were mine and mine alone.  And it was bittersweet. The views and vistas of my beloved Deep Cove were still intact, but my old house was run down and hardly recognizable.  Ugly in fact. All the hours and passion I put into the garden and trying to turn a fairly ordinary house into something more seemed wasted.  The follow up owners clearly did not care or possess the talent or money to improve on what we had created there.  It occurred to me that the house had followed the same path as my marriage.  The garden had not been tended.

Spending too much time looking back does not really do much good either.  It seems to keep you stalled in limbo. Best to look to the future.  A place where you can apply all the lessons of the past at least. The tendency to paint the past with pastel watercolours is easier than facing the unknown and possibly harsh colours of the future.  Of course, all the current wisdom encourages us to try to live in the moment but that concept is easier said than done.  As much as I try to just be here and now, the future and past are relentlessly pulling me backward and forward these days.  It's exhausting. 

I have come to the conclusion there is only one area of my life that I actually want to go backwards. Yes, the place where we all (well most of us anyway), want to go back.  Backwards on the bathroom scale. Backwards and a bit even.  What are the chances? OK, so I will never have that 16 year old waistline again, or breasts that will pass the pencil test, but just once in my adult life I would like to step on a scale and be happy with the number.  Satisfied. Even at my lowest weights over the years, I have always wished the number would be lower. Will I ever let it go?  Will that critical voice ever shut up?  She is sooooo annoying.  Every now and again these days, I have moments of clarity on this in my mind. I look in the mirror, standing in all my naked glory and actually feel (dare I say it?) beautiful. Then as this fleeting feeling hovers over me, I find myself thinking..."yup, this is me now, less than perfect, flawed by time and the odd scar, take me or leave me world!" And for one brief moment, this defiant, glorious, powerful voice inside me moves me forward for one more day.

Bathroom scale be damned.