Saturday, April 20, 2013

No entiendo!

One of the less glamorous aspects of travel in a foreign country is the little things you encounter that stump you or frustrate you.  However, these are usually the things that you find yourself laughing over after the fact.

For instance, we are renting a small flat instead of staying in a hotel here in Sitges.  I like this type of accommodation as it feels more like actually living in the town or city you are in. It does require a bit more planning and effort, but allows you to enjoy some meals at "home" and immerses you a little more into the culture.  Grocery shopping becomes part of your day. However, it does take a little longer since all the labels are in Spanish and you do end up with the odd surprise. We forgot the pocket translator back at the ranch and neither of us speak the language, so what we thought was Greek yogurt turned out to be plain sweetened yogurt and we spent at least 5 minutes trying to find dish cloths and garbage bags. They use a completely different type of cloth here and the garbage bags come in rolls, not boxes or flat packages. The we had to determine the sizes and what would normally be a quick toss into the cart turns into a cross-examination in aisle 3.  It is humbling to say the least but hours later it was a source of amusement over yet another glass of insanely cheap Tempranillo.

This morning it was the washing machine fiasco. The icons don't even look the same. So I guessed at the dials and hoped for the best, but got it wrong and let's just say the load eventually got done, but whether or not it is really all that clean is debatable. Then the front-loading door refused to disengage the lock mechanism and for awhile it seemed we would be leaving a load of wet towels for the next guests who rent this apartment.  These quirky little "first world problems" are really just that however. As I sit here writing this blog gazing out over the azure blue Mediterranean, I have nothing to complain about. These differences are exactly what makes travel an adventure and what propels one out of complacency.

Our timing could not be better in terms of the weather. The wisteria is in full bloom and many flowers, including roses are in their prime right now. The temperature is perfect for hiking and exploring and the evenings are cool for sleeping with no need for air-conditioning. As we make our way further south in a few days, this will change somewhat, but so will the focus of our itinerary.

Tomorrow we are heading into Barcelona for a day of culture. There is a wonderful Picasso museum I want to see and a stroll along La Rambla and through Barri Gothic, a lunch in the El Born area, all of which ought to fill the day before heading back here to our temporary home in Sitges.

For now, Saturday night looms, siesta has passed and it's time to say buenos noches.


Friday, April 19, 2013

One enormous Foodgasm!

Ok, between the French and their love affair with butter and the Spaniards with their love of olive oil soaked paella and creamy egg custards, I am caught in their culinary clutches, helpless to resist.  This morning it occurred to me it was useless to even try.  I observed as the thin and fashionable European women sipped their cafe con leche and assorted pastries without guilt or hesitation and convinced myself that calories are decidedly not a thing to be counted here, but instead, savoured.

When in Rome...yet another justification. It also occurred to me that as I clocked at least 20,000 steps today, whatever I did ingest fuelled my body and I likely broke even by day's end. There is such a distinct joie de vivre that permeates the daily life in Europe that we do not embrace in North America. The trick it seems is everything in moderation. An ounce of exquisite creamy Brie, one slice of butter slathered baguette, a freshly baked croissant, one scoop of dulce de leche gelato. Saying no seems uptight and rigidly controlled. Indulging seems relaxed and sensual. The difference not unlike bony and sinewy vs curvy and sensual.

So, for this brief interlude in my life, I will partake. Savour. Enjoy. Embrace my curves.





Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ate, Prayed, Loved....Now what?

Do you have the same problem I have?  It is a particular problem I have always had with being the bearer of bad news.  Or less than positive news. Or something  you know you have to tell someone that you know is going to upset them. Or giving someone your honest opinion even when you know it is not what they want to hear.  I really struggle with this.  

Over the last few years, it seems I have had to do this on a regular basis.  One would think that with continual practice, it might get easier and I suppose in a way it does, but it is never really easy.  Some are worse than others.  "I don't want to be married to you anymore." THE worst. " I am quitting." (a job) "I won't be re-signing my lease, sorry." 

Then there are the disappointing things you have to admit to yourself.  "I did not succeed."  "I can be judgemental." "I am an imperfect being." "I can be lazy." "I can be selfish." "I am impatient." "I weigh ... WHAT?" "Am I a good enough mother?" "Could I be a better mother/daughter/partner/friend?" 

The lead up to these revelations and announcements are perhaps worse than the actual words that are uttered.  The fear of the reaction.  The fear of your own reaction.  The fear of the consequence. That's a lot of fear.  It has been said that we are only motivated by two things in life - fear and love.  Think about that.  Hard to argue with, ain't it?  We fear so many things.  Rejection. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Poverty. Loneliness. Change. The list goes on.  We want to be accepted, loved, liked, appreciated, needed, wanted, desired.  If we do this or do that or say this or say that, what is at risk? 

So, we put off the truths.  We ignore the voice in our head that is always there.  There are times when that voice gets louder and times when we can barely hear it.  The denial of the voice is where many of us spend the most time.  Suppressing the voice takes many forms.  We bury it with distractions like over-work, alcohol, over-eating, over-scheduling, obsessive compulsions, mindless television watching, over-exercise, drugs - you name it, we avoid it with something. That numbing can go on for years or even forever.  But, the crazy thing is, the voice never goes away. It is always there if we allow ourselves to be conscious.

Being conscious and remaining conscious is kind of like losing weight and maintaining the weight loss.  The latter part is always the most difficult.  It is a practice.  One that you can't just expect to happen without effort.  It is not easy.  By the time we finally perfect the practice, we are old.  That is if we ever get there at all.  Surely the reason that the words "wise" and "old" are always strung together; comfortable like two peas in a pod.  There are some exceptions to this - the occasional souls who figure it all out when they are young but generally speaking, the road to conscious living takes longer for the average person.

One example in my own life has been the number of years I have been ignoring the voice that keeps telling me I would benefit from a meditation practice.  I have stubbornly fought this voice for as long as I can remember.  I had a teacher in high school who recommended it.  He was my definition of the coolest teacher ever.  He was young, a recent teacher's college graduate and he wore his hair a bit long and he taught Man in Society and World Religions.  He also taught an Astrology course at the night school level and I enrolled in that course out of curiosity and my school girl crush on him.  He also meditated regularly.  How cool was that?  I wanted to be like him. Wise like him. So, I joined a yoga class and I tried to meditate.  But at 17 and 18, I was more interested in being "awake" in other ways.  It seemed boring and slow to me.  If I was going to move my body, it best be vigorously and slowing my mind - well that was near impossible.  I put yoga and meditation in the mental pile with golf and crosswords - something I could do when I retired.

Over the years, I have made several attempts to re-visit this, but still found it too difficult. Too time-consuming. Too slow.  Too boring. Too hippy-dippy. Too, too, too something.  Yet, the voice keeps nagging me.  It just won't go away.  I know I need to listen now.  I do feel it is time.  So, I am making a plan to start.  This summer, surrounded by the beauty of beautiful British Columbia, I am going to take the time and the amazing opportunity I will have to finally begin what will hopefully become a life-long practice.  

Amen - or rather Ohhhmmmmm to that!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I won the Big Bag of Cash!

OK, so I tried to anyway! I have tried many many times to get through to CHFI for this contest but never have any luck getting through.  So, this morning, I thought if I wrote that headline just before they announced the "be the fifteenth caller now", it might be like a form of positive thinking or something like that.  The notion that if you think and act like you have already won, it will happen.  Clearly, I was not thinking hard enough.  

The other day the woman from Toronto who won the big lotto max prize of 40 million was on the  news doing her crazy happy dance...and I don't use the term "crazy" loosely in this case.  Is it just me or was she a little "too" crazy?  Who is to say really?  We all express ourselves and our emotions differently.  In fact, she was probably just being authentic, but her authenticity made me uncomfortable for some reason.  She seemed a bit out of control and being out of control is one of my own personal issues, so I suppose I found her behaviour disturbing and annoying because I myself would have behaved with far more composure.  She triggered something in me.  

I imagined her incapable of being able to handle such a large prize.  She will probably spend it on all the wrong things, I thought.  She will be one of those winners who finds themselves broke again in a couple of years or sooner.  I would know how to spend it.  That's why I deserve to win it.  Not some loony tunes woman.  I started to examine my thinking and it occurred to me that my desire to want to control how she spends her winnings was just as insane as her "out of control" happy dance.  It is like telling a homeless person how to spend the toonie you just tossed in their cup.  You cannot.  If it goes toward another bottle of gut-rot, it just does.  We cannot give to receive the results "we" desire.  The gift is the giving. Full stop.

Why was I judging this woman?  I did not know her.  At all. I had no right to judge her.  She may be a perfectly normal person.  She just collected a cheque for 40 million dollars - is it any wonder she was a little out of control?  Her physical appearance was very modest.  She wore no jewelry or make-up and her hair was long and loosely pulled off her face in a thick pony tail.  It appeared she had made little effort for the TV cameras.  She looked like a typical traditional Italian or Portuguese house wife.  A bit bulky.  Someone's Nona.   Turns out she did have grandchildren - 5, I think it was. She was only 51.  One of the things she planned to do was take them to Disney World.  A dream that she was likely unable to fulfill the day before.  Good on her. Maybe that would be her plan.  Just keep giving and giving and giving to her family like she always has.  Anything else might feel foreign to her.  Perhaps that role is so entrenched in her psyche she would not even consider alternative uses for her new found wealth.

In any case, I will not have any control over what she does or does not do with her cash.  A friend of mine suggested it was good to see her win it rather than some rich dude that did not need it.  I doubt that rich dudes bother buying lottery tickets.  Still, my favourite lottery win story of all time was the old couple about 2 years ago in the US that won big and gave away every cent, citing they already had everything they needed...each other.  

They had already won before they won.  How about that?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Now playing on the Humber River...

The salmon are working their way up the Humber right now. I have been watching them for the past two weeks now. I never tire of this entertainment.  Today was exceptionally busy. However, of the hundred or more I witnessed struggling to jump the many sets of falls, I only saw two make it for certain. These determined fish are so fascinating to me. I urge you to get down there soon before the spectacle has passed for another season. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pausing in Gananoque

What's the point if we are just going to die anyway?  That is the thought I often have when someone I know dies young or suddenly.  Then, almost as quickly, my next thought is, "Holy shit, better get living.!" Then I start to question the meaning of that.  Generally speaking, I think I am, but is what I am doing from day to day really living?  Is it "living like you are dying"?, as the song goes.

Or, is it just simply trying to be grateful for each day you are still breathing?  I think that is important, but what about making a contribution?  What constitutes that?  Was I a good friend today?  Was I a loving mother today?  Was I a giving partner?  Was I kind to a stranger?  Are those important enough?  Did I squander my talents today?  Ahhhh!  Felt a twinge of guilt on that one.  Ouch. But there is the rub.  What is my talent?  Really.  There are a few things I am good at. But, would one define it as "talent"?  I suppose if you graded me or tested me, or liked the results of something I provided for you, that could be considered.  Why are we so hard on ourselves?  Why do I think I need to win an award for my talents or write a best seller or turn out some sort of child prodigy to make my life count?

I know that is unrealistic thinking, but underneath it all I do harbour those thoughts.  If only I could just do this or do that or be this or be that, then my life will have meant something.  Well, who the hell decided those were the rules?  And ain't that just one way of looking at it?  What mere mortal cast that notion in stone?  

A friend of mine lost her husband last week.  It was a sudden and tragic accident.  Life as she once knew it just days ago is over.  This has me all stirred up again.  Another friend lost her husband in January.  And yet another had a very close call with hers last month.  Is it any bloody wonder I am in such a place right now contemplating life and death and what it all means.  It's messy and murky and heavy and sad.  But it also brings up the opposite.  It makes me not want to waste a moment.  Feel joy deeply. Hug. Smile. Laugh. Sing. Dance. Have fun. Never regret.

I drove to Toronto from Ottawa today.  I had a lovely visit with my daughter who is at university there.  We hugged. A lot. On the way home we had no real deadline to get to the city and as we approached Gananoque, I said, "let's check out this place, I have actually never stopped here."  It was such an awesome surprise.  We practically had the waterfront to ourselves as the lingering winter winds continued their harsh attack over the water, but we braved the stroll along the point and took a few snaps and felt the fresh frigid air on our cheeks.  "We are alive," I thought silently.  Cold, but alive.  The sun was bright in the crisp clear blue sky and the water looked choppy and clean enough to drink.  We read the historic plaques and put our hoods up and imagined the abandoned beach filled with happy splashing children come summer.  But for today, it was empty and ours. The few of the thousand islands we could see from the shoreline looked inviting but untouchable from our position on the beach.  I wondered about the fortunate cottage owners who would populate them in summer.  What fun it must be to boat to your little island and enjoy the serenity and isolation they afford.

On days you get bored or in a mood to be around people, you could motor over to Gananoque and stroll around, visit a gallery, eat ice cream.  The idyllic vision of that life danced gently through my mind as we worked our way across the waterfront park.  A small lighthouse that was likely really not a working tower but more a decorative feature created another vision of living an alternative lifestyle as a lighthouse keeper.  A dream tucked in the corner of my mind for years now.  Few, if any real lighthouses actually employ a full-time keeper anymore, but it is such a romantic notion that I just can't let it go.  In my imagination it is still possible.

It was time to get warm, so we got back into the car, the interior warmed by the noon day sun and made our way into town for lunch.  A few locals milled about the main street and we noticed a fairly steady stream of people coming and going from the Panache Bakery Cafe.  That would be the spot we figured.  We were right.  Homemade soups, sandwiches, baked goods and a seat at the counter facing the street in the window to watch the passing parade was just what the doctor ordered.  Warm at last.  It was probably a good thing the weather was as cold as it was as we surely would have wanted to stay and linger in Gananoque all afternoon otherwise.

The excursion to this lovely town on the north shore of Lake Ontario near Kingston was just the soul food I needed.  Soaking in the charm and beauty of this lakeside town fed me.  I was grateful for the nourishment.  I found it hard to believe I had never been here, having driven by the exit signs so many times on the drive across the 401 to Ottawa or Montreal.  This is exactly the reminder I needed.  The reminder that there is always something new to discover in this life. Something new to appreciate.  Something new to learn. Something to excite me.  Something to get passionate about.

And that is living.