Monday, December 15, 2014

Even the Strongest Armor...can fail you

So once again, two innocent people are dead as a result of a deranged, angry, sickened mind. I am referring to the hostage taking here yesterday in Australia at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney. This country waited and watched yesterday and into the night as these events unfolded. We are still waiting for details and answers, but we do know this. The outcome was tragic for the families and friends of the two hostages that did not come out alive. Our hearts ache for them. 

And what of the man, the perpetrator who held these people against their will inside that cafe? Why do I not feel bad about his death? Does anyone? Should we? From what we have learned about him so far, he was not a law-abiding citizen. He was known to police and was involved in an ongoing legal battle and has been charged as an accessory to murdering his ex-wife along with his current girlfriend. He was convicted of writing offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers, among other offenses. Clearly Man Haron Monis was a loose cannon, who finally came unhinged yesterday in Sydney. It is almost impossible not to judge him.

This sort of event is not unique. People come unhinged everyday all over the world. They do not necessarily act out in such a violent manner, but often they do. As I sit here in the peaceful comfort of my home and tranquil life, it is difficult to fathom the minds of these lost souls and relate to them in any way whatsoever. While I am tending to my flowers and herbs in the garden, or creating a healthful recipe for dinner, or walking through the park and appreciating the beauty of nature around me, there are people all over the world on the brink of madness. The contrast is so vast between people like "them" and people like me. When we are jolted out of our peaceful existence by events such as this, it is easy to allow the actions of a few to weigh our hearts down with sadness, anger and grief. It is as though suddenly, all the negativity that has led a man like that to such a severe state of hatred and anger begins to cross over to us, like an energy transfer.  It is difficult to feel any compassion for him or to feel sorry that he too died. We tend to see him as a worthless human being. Maybe he was. 

Maybe. I do doubt however, that he emerged from the womb as the evil perpetrator he grew into. What led him, or others like him down the wrong path? These are the questions I cannot answer. What is our fascination with these murderers and criminals in our midst? It is as though if we can have some insight into their inner workings, maybe we can spot it in someone and then avoid them, or get them, before they get us. I suppose it is a form of self-preservation. Know thy enemy and all that. But, no matter how much we may step out into the world with all our armor on day after day, you never know when there will be a mad man standing next to you in line at the coffee shop. The two innocent people who did that very thing yesterday, despite any armor they may have been wearing, are still dead. It could have happened to any of us, so all I can suggest is we all just better embrace every minute, every hour, every day and let go of the endless list of worries or grudges or fears or whatever negativity you may be hanging onto and go for the joy...

...whatever that means to you. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Next year.

Right now. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Look in the Mirror, who do you See?

I woke up in the wee hours this morning and like a minor epiphany, it occurred to me that I am always fascinated by the same sort of woman. As I laid awake thinking about my most recent heroine, it came to me. 

It started in the early eighties after I saw the movie Out of Africa. I was smitten with the character played by Meryl Streep - Karen Von Blixen. She was exactly the sort of woman I admired. Strong, quirkily beautiful, courageous, adventurous and hopelessly romantic. She was a writer, a business woman, an advocate for the local people and a poet all wrapped up in one dynamic woman. The movie was based on her memoir written under the pen name Isak Dinesen. 

She became Baroness von Blixen-Finecke when she set off for Kenya to marry her Swedish second cousin, Bror von Blixen-Finecke in 1913 at the age of 27. She wrote of her 17 year adventure in British East Africa (as it was known then) in the memoir published in 1937. Her years there were not without hardships including her struggles with her coffee plantation, her failed marriage, the shame brought upon her by her philandering husband and her less than popular views of how the Kikuyu ( the local tribespeople) should be treated. 

She was determined, tenacious and fiercely independent. 

In Baroness Blixen’s descriptions of the Africa she knew, a note of mourning for this irretrievably lost world frequently colours her stories of magnificent isolation and the redemptive qualities of a life lived in partnership with nature.[13]

The quote above struck such an enormous chord with me when I read it, as I have always felt that no matter how difficult your life can get, the "redemptive qualities" of nature can eventually heal even the deepest wounds. 

After her, it took years before I came across anyone who even came close to her ideal, until I read Eat Pray Love and Elizabeth Gilbert joined her in my mind and heart. She did not face the same sort of adversity, but she had followed her gut and lived her truth and it required courage and soul searching and several missteps before she came out the other side knowing her most authentic self and is/was determined to live that way.

Joining Karen and Liz currently in my list of admired women is Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. Another brave and courageous gal who faced her demons and came out stronger after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail following the death of her mother and her own downward spiral of self-abuse. She stepped off the beaten track and endured hardships of an entirely different nature alone and unprepared. She did it with nothing more than sheer determination to face herself and consequently save herself. 

All three of these women have resonated with me on a level that feels eerily personal, as though their stories are now carried within me and have become a part of me. I may not be alone in this considering their stories are available to anyone who wishes to explore them, but it is clear to me that their adventures have had an impact on me. They have buoyed me when I felt like I could not move forward and put my obstacles in perspective.

My epiphany regarding these women and my admiration for them was interesting in its simplicity. They seem like me. Or rather, I seem like them. And by loving them, does that mean that for once and for all, I really love me? Have I finally forgiven myself?  Don't get me wrong here. I am not comparing the scale of their accomplishments with mine. No. What I am comparing are some of their traits. And not just the admirable qualities. As courageous as they were they could be stubborn. As adventurous as they seem, they were oft filled with fear. As romantic as they were, they failed as often as they succeeded with love. As strong as they were, they could be weak. They faced financial adversity as well as abundance. They questioned their motives as often as they felt assured. But in the end, they were all perfectly imperfect.

And it was OK. 

More than OK.

So, I will leave  you with this, one of my favourite poet's quotes, another voice that often rises up in me at just the right moment...

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?”

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dusky Senses

Oh you
mellow moments
Wash me with your
cool, calm ambiance

Fill my vision
with rich amber light
My ears
with birdsong
My body
with release

Fiery skies sink into
mauvey grey horizons
Crickets begin their
one note chorus
Relieving breezes introduce
the evening star and its
Blurry Moon

Snippets of aromas
Wafting roasts
Spicy curries
The neighbours prepare
their feasts
Do they smell mine?

Soon it's time
to light the lamps
plate the meals
Share our day
Clink a glass
Give thanks

But for a moment more
I bask
This dusky peace
A gift,
An honour, to receive
Again today.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Red and White and no longer Blue

December. It is here again. You would think I would be ready. After all, I have been around for a few of them by now. And, like snowflakes, there are no two alike. There have been small pockets of Decembers in my life that have been fairly reliable in terms of how they played out. When I was little, when my daughter was little. That was all about Santa and candy and magic. I have always leaned toward a fondness for tradition and that is what makes my new Decembers a bit difficult.

Any vision I used to carry about the big family gathering around a long table with a giant roasted turkey being carved by the patriarch of the clan at the head need to be put to rest now. That is not likely a scene that will ever realistically play out for me in this lifetime. Those dreams died with the end of my marriage a few years ago and thinking back, they really never even came close to the vision then either. There was no large clan. My family was dispersed across the country. There was only one child. None of it conducive to that Walton's Family scene I kept in my head for so many years. 

The loss of that dream can still sometimes cause me to feel sad. As this festive season starts gearing up here in tropical Queensland, it is easier to put that vision aside. They still blair Christmas songs in the malls and it always catches me off guard. Why the hell are they playing this music in the middle of summer? That is my initial thought, before I realize with a heavy heart that Christmas is coming again. The traditional Santa themes are present here too. I see the Photo with Santa area in the malls set up much like it would be in Canada and I wonder how jolly that poor fellow must really feel in that get up when the mercury is hovering in the thirties just outside the doors. 

I am slowly adapting to the differences, but this one is going to take some time. I quiz my partner about growing up here. What was it like for him? For his kids? What did they eat? What did they do on Christmas Day? Did they hang  stockings on the barbeque? Did the patriarch of the family demonstrate the art of peeling prawns at the head of the table instead of turkey carving? I am trying to understand. To assimilate. When in Rome....and all that.

Thoughts of recreating my northern hemisphere festivities swirl around in my head, like visions of sugar plums, but then they melt away as fast as an early snowfall. It would be like moving to an English speaking country not knowing the language and refusing to learn it. So, I observe. This is my second go round now. Still early stages. Last Christmas we entertained his whole clan. We were house sitting a friend's ranch and all I can say is thank gawd for walk-in refrigeration. I spent a bit of time in that fridge. Every time I could no longer bear the trickles of perspiration running down my spine and legs and brow, I would step inside that chilly Nirvana and close my eyes and imagine Canada. How we used to chill our wine bottles in a snow bank outside the back door, or sweep the snow off the front steps for the third time that evening to keep them clear and safe for guests. How the oven would be working overtime in the weeks leading up to the big day with all the baking. BAKING! Forget about that now. Turning the oven on here is to be avoided like the plague. As much as I would love to regale my new friends and family with my Christmas baking and my grandmother's genuine Tourtiere recipe, it just ain't worth the pain.

Last year I attempted a real Christmas tree, but it did not really work out, its thirst was unquenchable and the needles dropped faster than a hooker's knickers at a bachelor party. No, this year, I have gone with fake trees. One home made from pallets at the front door and another inside our small lounge. It is actually one of those cherry blossom trees with lights that you see everywhere now in the shops. I decorated it and arranged the branches into a more conical shape and turns out I like it. It suits the room and my inability or desire to care for a living tree in this climate. 

Last night as I lay on the lounge after dinner staring at the twinkly lights and reflecting colours, I got the notion to put on my favourite Christmas music. A wee voice in my head told me that might not be a good idea, but old habits die hard. I got about halfway through the CD - A Charlie Brown Christmas before my heartstrings were about to burst and turned it off. There is something about music that just transports me to other places and times. In this case, to Christmas's past and my beautiful memories of my sweet Emma's childhood years. You know, those moments that remain in your mind and heart forever. The ones that you wish you could hold on forever and repeat again and again. But that is life. Constantly moving forward no matter how much you wish you could freeze frame the moments. 

It brings to mind a quote I read recently that said "Don't look back, you're not going that way." Memories are wonderful things, but best not linger there too long. In that vein, I bring myself back into the now, this moment, and see I am surrounded by many beautiful things. The Agapanthus is blooming beside my front walk, the Poinciana trees are a riot of reddish orange blossoms, the Oleanders are peaking and the Frangipani trees are a sight to behold in the most glorious colours imaginable. None of these grow in Canada in December. This my new reality. And just when I think that there really are no comparable colours, I notice a vine in bloom right outside my window here in the most perfect red and white, like it was made for Christmas.

It is as though it was placed right there, right now, to appease my soul. To offer me a small token of my past and remind me that although this new version of Christmas is vastly different than what I am accustomed to, if you look around you eventually find what you are looking for, without even realizing you were.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cracking up...Literally

Generally speaking, I am pretty healthy. I have had a couple of scares in the last couple of years with suspect calcifications in my breasts, but fortunately, I have managed to slip past a malignant diagnosis. I am so grateful it did not go the other way for me as it does for so many women. 

My immune system seems to be working well as I have rarely had a cold or flu in ages and my organs and body chug along without complaining most of the time. I am blessed. However, there is one area of my health that has given me some grief for the last few months and exposed me to chronic pain for the first time in my life. It seems I have arrived at the expiry date for some of my molars. They have been cracking at a rate of 1 a year for the last 4 years. Everytime this happens, I find myself in the endodontist chair undergoing yet another root canal. The first two worked out OK for the most part and the third one required some tweaking as it began to ache again. That required some pretty nasty surgery, but solved the issue.

The next molar to bite the dust was the last molar at the back of my lower left jaw. It did not look good and the experts reckoned it was not a good candidate for a root canal as the cracking was too severe, so that one was extracted. By then, I was hoping my tooth troubles were behind me, but no such luck. The pain continued and the source was difficult to pinpoint. Two dentists and two endodontists later and 3 months of Advil every 4 hours day and night and finally I got some relief last Monday. That was the fourth root canal. 

So, now that I have financed several vacations for my dental care providers, I am pain free for the first time in months. I feel like a new woman. Looking back on my journey of pain, I am struck by the fact that I have never really understood the battle many people face with chronic pain. It is not conducive to living life normally. My sleep was disrupted. My moods were erratic. My energy was low. I had trouble focusing and concentrating. I felt anxiety and panic if I found myself too far away from an Advil fix. I was on a roller coaster of pain and relief. I did not resort to anything stronger. The Advil did the trick for me, but I can certainly understand how easy it would be to become addicted to stronger pain meds.

So, now for the reason I am sharing all this with you. As you know, I am always searching for the meaning as to why things happen. What is my lesson? I think over the course of my lifetime, I have not been particularly good at empathy.  I would go so far as to say, I sucked at it most of the time. I have been intolerant of whiners and people who seem sickly to me. I was not completely horrible and if someone was genuinely suffering, I would feel badly for them, but there were times when I would secretly be thinking maybe they were just cry babies or pain intolerant or looking for attention and if someone seemed to be constantly ill or in one case addicted to pain meds, I saw them as weak. They needed to suck it up and move forward. I would label some people hypochondriac and lose patience with their constant whining. 

A small punitive voice in my head would try to suggest empathy to me, but I had no desire to listen to that voice. I was healthy and I would be damned if I was going to let these whiners drag me into their web of malaise. I have never liked hospitals or bedside tables lined with bottles of prescription drugs. The very thought would make me shudder. How did I become so jaded? So callous? Clearly, I would make a lousy nurse. 

These few weeks of pain have been a karmic wake-up for me. As I ask myself, how would I have wanted people to react to my ill dental health? Well, mostly, I would have asked for patience and understanding and for the most part that is what I got. I did not talk about it a lot, but there were times when I had to explain my behaviour by telling my tale. Pain takes it's toll on you. 

It has been a reminder that without your health, nothing else really matters. For anyone reading this who is suffering in any way, I wish you well and hope there is some relief coming your way soon. It has also made me think quite a bit about assisted suicide. If I had thought that I would have to spend the rest of my life with chronic pain, you can bet I would have been thinking about that as a way out. No one should have to live that way. 

But they should be able to die as they choose. 

Funny how walking a mile in someone else's shoes changes your perspective.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Not domestic drudgery to me.

Many people ask me what I do all day long. It seems that since I do not currently go out to work at a structured job, it must be impossible to fill my days. I am usually astounded by this question, as I actually feel more fulfilled now than I ever did going to work outside of my home everyday. In fact, most days, I don't accomplish everything I had hoped to in any given day.

When I worked in the traditional sense of the word, I actually felt like THAT was a waste of my time. I would dream and long for unplanned days that would stretch out before me and the hundreds of options available to me. Whatever suited my whim, I could embrace. And that is how I live now.  I wish I could tell you that I am doing wildly adventurous things everyday, but that would be untrue. It would also be exhausting. The days I enjoy the most are the days that I fill with simple acts of domesticity. Today is one such day. 

So far this morning, starting at 5:30 I have gone for a 45 minute brisk walk, taken a dip in the pool, tidied up after the weekend of guests, washed and hung two loads of laundry, made my bed, vacuumed, made fresh lemonade, poached an egg, swept the patio, watered the potted plants, deadheaded some flowers, hosed off the deck chairs, downloaded photos from my phone to the computer, paused to observe several butterflies and birds and these were all just things I wanted to do before I actually started the more ambitious part of my day. 

I wanted to write a quick blog and play a game of on-line Scrabble before I head off to the grocery shop to replenish the food supply. I will then prepare a few cold dishes to keep ready and on hand as the weather is hot right now and I really like to avoid heating up the kitchen in the afternoon if I can. Food preparation consumes a big chunk of my day, as I cook everything from scratch and as anyone who cooks will tell  you, this requires a fair amount of slicing, dicing, squeezing, mixing and chopping. There is also music playing while I am in the kitchen...a very important component. Now that I have the time to devote to this, I find it very creative and soothing. It is also self-nurturing and nurturing to others who eat my food, so all and all I feel it is time well spent. Not the chore it was when I had less time and was faced with the task at the end of a long day.

Before dinner, I will swim again and possibly read or take a cat nap...a siesta so to speak. I am completely content with this, a typical day for me. Some days I play tennis, or golf, or drive to Hervey Bay, or work on a gardening or art project or go for a bike ride or hit the weekly farmer's market. So, as you can see, there is no shortage of things to occupy my time. Truth be told, I wish the days were longer, so I could do more. I have little anxiety and enjoy my solitude. So for those of you out there, who find it hard to believe this is enough for me, let me assure you, it is. 

Contentment is highly underrated. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

No Itsy Bitsy Spider

I feel safer already. Sitting here, at my desk, behind my screened window, out of the intense sun and feeling my heartbeat slowing back to normal. 

It is official. I have now encountered a Huntsman. Not just any encounter. Not a giant spider across the room or on the ceiling, or scurrying under a bed. No. Those encounters are for amateurs. I just had the thrill of one racing up  my leg in the garden. My shriek of terror alerted my elderly neighbour, who likely thought I had just come face to face with Beelzebub himself. Frankly, that may have frightened me less.

I am pretty sure, the Huntsman was equally terrified of me, but that is not my concern. I suppose I was in his territory. I was planting some nasturtiums in the garden and noticed a large Foxtail palm frond that needed to be removed as it was close to falling. I forgot that I had read somewhere that sometimes these spiders hang out in the decayed casings of these fronds. I yanked it down easily and went back to my digging, but clearly this arachnid was not going to let me off that easily. How dare I disrupt his comfy quarters! It all happened so fast. I barely had time to consider my options other that to scream and dance about the front yard like a mad woman. After my initial shriek, I believe I may or may not have used the F word two or three times, mostly because it seemed the only adjective harsh enough to express my fear, now disguised as anger toward the spider for daring to come into such close intimate contact with my body.

It wasn't a moment later I heard my lovely protective neighbour shout across the fence, "You alright over there Deb?". Now I was just embarrassed. I walked toward the fence so she could see I was indeed still alive. She thought something far worse had happened to me. We had a chit chat about spiders as I tried to calm myself and she even assured me she was no fan of them either. She even told me she does a quick scan of her bedroom each night to be sure there are none about. This is a woman who has lived here all her life and even she doesn't like them. Gawd! What hope is there for me?

I suppose the good news is, I did not get bitten and I have surely survived my first bodily contact with one, which I reckon has got to get me some sort of Australian badge of honour at the very least.

One more step of initiation for me here in the Land of Oz.

Let's hope I can skip past the snakes. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Welcomed "home"

Sometimes it takes a step backwards to double check if you are on the correct path. That is what I just did over the last two months. It was not the intention of my journey, but it did give me answers. Answers to questions I did not even consciously ask it seems. 

Had I made the right decision to move to the other side of the world? Would the distance between my family and friends be too difficult to bear? Could I adapt and possibly even embrace the climate change? Was I a big city gal at heart? Was my relationship enough of a driving force to overlook the sacrifices I made to make it happen? 

One thing I knew for sure was that two months back in my beloved Canada would very likely provide me with a fresh perspective - either way. 

Initially as I took in the spectacular landscapes of B.C. and later Muskoka, followed by the Rideau Lakes in Ontario, I felt my heart fill with the beauty of these parts of Canada that are an intrinsic part of my history and being. As I drank it all in, I wondered if Australia could ever come close to feeding this need in me. The mountains, the water, the glory of the changing seasons, the colours, the smell of pine needles crunching underfoot. Let's face it, we are talking about two vastly different countries. As I pondered these differences, I began to wonder if the need to surround myself with the Canadian landscape was indeed something I could not live without.

But then something started to happen. As the days and weeks passed, the intensity of the beauty began to soften. It hovered gently day after day. I still felt comforted by it - fed by it, but another feeling started to take over. I started to miss my new life. I  missed my modest little house and the sounds of the tropics and the smell of the ocean. But mostly I missed him. And it did not matter where I lived. It mattered where "we" lived. And despite all the opinions to the contrary, this is what matters most. To me anyway. 

I read an inspiring bit of wisdom from Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday where she talked about living your own dream, not someone else's dream. It was timely and spot on. I keenly observed the lives of my friends and family while back in Canada and concluded their lives are their dreams, not mine. Then, as if to cement it for me just a wee bit more, when I arrived back here in Oz, within the first 48 hours, I sipped a latte at the beach while an eagle circled over the shoreline and the balmy breezes filled my lungs and banished all travel anxiety. My garden had grown at a crazy rate, like greenery on steroids. Everywhere the Jacarandas were blooming. I stripped out of my city clothes and donned one of my hippie dresses, stripped that off a short time later and skinny dipped in our pool, ate a mango, drank a cold beer with a wedge of lime, said g'day to two kangaroos that were over my back fence, put some food out for the parrots and slept to the thunderous sound of a tropical rain on the steel roof.

And as wonderful as all that was, and believe me, it was, it was all just window dressing compared to the greeting I received at the airport. As much as I abhor cliches, home really is where the heart is and for me, that trumps everything. We could be anywhere in the world. But this little corner of Queensland will do for now. And bloody hell! I just looked up from this computer as a kookaburra landed on our Hill's hoist. He apologized for taking so long to stop by and welcome me home. I told him "no worries mate", I had already had the most amazing greeting...

...the one that mattered most.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On Sabbatical

....returning to my keypad in early November with fresh ideas and insights from my travels in Canada. What a journey it has been!

Decomama xo

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Voice of Reason - Are you Listening?

For the last several years, it has become very apparent to me that we are constantly receiving messages from the universe. It can manifest as intuition, as it does for me, but the trick is to pay attention. Actually notice it. Realize it is indeed a voice outside yourself that is speaking to you and take heed. Some of you  may be skeptical and that is your choice, but for me, it is as clear as a bell most of the time. If I am distracted or not focusing, I can miss the more subtle ones, but generally speaking, even those manage to reach me eventually if not right at the moment.

Often, I will have a delayed epiphany, hours or days later and find myself surprised that I did not notice it at the time it presented. It matters not to me if there is an actual science to any of this. Proof of the validity of any of this does not concern me. The reason I don't care if these mysteries can be solved scientifically, is because in the end, the messages serve to better my life in someway. They can be warning messages, or encouraging messages, or answers to questions that I have been struggling with, so the fact that they are helpful to me does not make me second guess them. In addition, I have had solid proof many times over the years that when I don't listen to that voice, I always live to regret it.

Sometimes it requires a tremendous leap of faith. For the larger leaps, the messages usually come in multiples because they are usually up against serious fear and doubt.  So, they tend to hammer me a bit. They also tend to appear when the fear or doubt is really close to taking hold. They show up like a giant neon sign on a deserted road, just in case they might be missed. You could call them guiding lights, or angels, or channeled wisdom - whatever floats your boat. All I know is that they exist and they are available to anyone who is willing to listen. In the beginning, I brushed it all off as coincidence, but as time has passed, it has become impossible to deny that for me, it is real.

Tapping into this available wisdom has helped me make countless choices and decisions, both big and small. Let me share an example of something simple and how it works for me. Last January, we were looking for a house to rent. I was constantly pouring over the Internet listings, real estate ads, networking with people, driving around town looking for signs and was on a mission to find just the right house at the right price in the right location. Armed with my criteria list, I was able to scratch the obvious duds off my list in seconds. Busy street. No. Too many bedrooms. No. Not enough bedrooms. No. Too ugly. No. (note to agents - take better photos). Anyway, you get the picture. So, day after day, I would scroll through the listings, hoping for something new to appear and as I did, this one house that was on my "no" list would appear again and again, almost annoying me. I continued to write it off.  I looked at hundreds of listings, did the virtual tours, looked at the brochures and booked appointments to see several. 

After a couple of weeks, I was getting a bit discouraged. Out of all the houses, there was only one I really liked and we missed it by a day. Turns out, it would have been a huge mistake as it had a bad roach infestation that would have been the death of me.  So, I started to revisit all the listings again. Maybe I had missed something. There was that one house that I kept going back to, but the virtual tour revealed a very dated kitchen, so I wrote it off time and time again, even though it fit the criteria list in every other way, including a nice little in ground pool. I had also heard a couple folks poo poo the neighbourhood. Being new to town, I was clueless in that regard. 

One afternoon, we stopped in to visit a friend and it turns out, this friend lived on the same street as the house I had written off as a "no". As we were heading home after our visit, we decided to do a drive by and take a closer look. The house was empty. It was a simple house, a ranch style bungalow likely built in the early 80's. It did not inspire, nor did it repel. It was neat and tidy. We sat in the car out front and took a good look. Bush across the street scored a point. A small parkette behind it scored a second point. Since it was empty, we got out of the car and walked around the back. It was like a small oasis with the pool and palm trees, a sizable covered patio and quite private. Suddenly, I was interested. We noticed the woman next door out in her garden and approached her with some questions. As it turned out, she held a key and took us inside for a tour. The kitchen still sucked and there was no dishwasher, or even a space for one. However, the bathroom had been newly renovated and the place was clean as a whistle so now the kitchen was starting to look better.  

I cannot tell you how many times I had taken the virtual tour of this house. Not only did it keep presenting itself, for some reason, out of all the houses, the street name and number kept popping into my mind. The voice. For days I had not been listening. When I finally did listen, it was almost with resignation. I even talked back to the voice in my mind. It went something like this. "Ok, Ok, I will drive by the bloody house. Why not? At least then, I will know for sure." So, fast forward,  here I sit, six months later, my desk at the window that looks out onto this little oasis, grateful I finally listened. It has turned out to be a good house for us as an interim pause. It is compact, easy to clean, the neighbours are quiet and when I am melting, I have a solution. And, just this morning, as though to cement the fact that we made the right decision, a kangaroo paid me a visit right in my back garden, which I have interpreted as a message on behalf of Australia to be sure to come back after my visit to Canada later this month, just in case I had any doubts about returning.

This house was a great choice despite the old kitchen, and as it turns out, my dishwasher does not cost a cent in electricity and does an amazing job after dinner each night. ;-)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Out of the Darkness

There is only one thing on my mind today. It has been hovering in my head for about 24 hours now, ever since I became aware of the passing of the talented and much loved Robin Williams. I cannot stop thinking about that dark place that people are in when they kill themselves. That place that so many find themselves in from time to time in this crazy world we live in. 

I will go out on a limb here and suggest that most of us have had brief or not so brief encounters with that place. Most are able to turn back to the light before they become swallowed up by it, but many do not. For many, like Robin Williams, the desperation to turn off the pain outweighs the desire to go on living.  That is some kind of pain. There is no turning back. 

Speaking with my daughter yesterday afternoon and sharing our shock and sadness over his death, I said, I just find it so hard to understand that someone who was so loved by so many would feel so alone. Her answer was so simple, yet so profound. She said, "Depression is a disease of the mind mom, and it stops you from seeing the good things." 

The key word in her answer, as I mulled it over later was "stops". It does not cloud your ability or distract you, or sidetrack you. No, it is far more definite. And that, I thought, is the difference between those who actually do commit suicide and those who manage to stop themselves. They cannot turn the switch back on. Something in their brain "stops" them from turning back to the light in their lives. No amount of familial or romantic love can prevent them from their final act. So, how do the people who love them, help them? The truth is, even if we are aware of some one's depression and try to be more vigilant of changes in their behaviour or hints in their words or actions, we cannot be there 24/7 to stop them if they are determined to follow through with suicide. 

It matters not that he had what many imagined to be "everything". Talent, fame, money, love - none of it was capable of saving him. Depression is an illness. If anything is to come from his death, let's hope it is the beginning of more awareness, more research, more funding, more conversation and more acceptance.

About 12 years ago, I personally suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. I was ashamed to tell people and until now, I rarely shared this with anyone. I took some anti-depressant meds for a couple of years but never liked the way they made me feel. I did some therapy on and off and that helped. What has worked more than anything for me however, believe it or not, is exercise. Even a 20 or 30 minute brisk walk will do the trick if I am feeling anxious or depressed. I am not saying this is the cure for everyone, but it is what works for me. The point of my sharing is to do my small part to try to remove the stigma attached to depression. For many of you, this may be the first time you have ever heard me mention this.

For a long time before I realized I suffered from anxiety,(and that it actually was treatable) I used to berate myself and tell myself to get a grip and pull up my socks and stop being such a wuss. I would tell myself I had nothing to be anxious or depressed about and that there were people in the world with far more serious issues than mine and how dare I wallow in despair? I had a good life, people who loved me, I never went without, I  lived in an amazing country, etc. etc. Snap out of it! So, for years, that was how I dealt with it. I kept pulling myself up out of what I saw as my self-imposed mire with mental whipping, and punishing self-talk. There are even days now, when I can revert back to those coping mechanisms. It never really goes away.

The difference now is that I recognize it sooner when it rears it's ugly head and I can get on top of it. I always notice it if I go more than 2-3 days without any exercise. Fortunately for me, this is an easy remedy. That, combined with spending time in nature is my drug of choice. Maybe for some people, nothing works. I don't know. What I do know is that the darkness is real and it exists and I hope and pray that one day the Robin Williams's of the world will find a way to escape its clutches. 

Maybe his death will lead the way out for many others - here's hoping.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

If the Birds can do it....

Yesterday in the hour just before dawn, I laid in my bed, semi-conscious listening to a lone bird across the street in the bush. There is a stretch of wooded area without houses that is home to hundreds of birds, but this bird was the first one to make a sound. In the still and quiet at that time of day, his song was crystal clear and loud. It was as though the trees had parted to create an amphitheatre for his performance. His song was rich and precise and repetitive but not annoying as it was so beautiful. I could not identify the species like I now can  many others. 

I could only imagine what he looked like based on his voice. He was surely large, the size of a sulphur-crested cockatoo I figured. A small bird would never accomplish the depth of his cry. I imagined him to be an older bird, wise and owl-like, but not an owl. His sound was not a hoot. He must have been perched high and his chest would be puffed out, his head lifting with each note. There were three distinctive notes, spaced evenly and with purpose. I wondered if he was in charge over there. Was he the rooster of the bush community? Were the other birds wishing they could turn him off like a snooze button? Or, did they look forward to this wake-up call each  morning? 

He sang his song for about 15 minutes, unaccompanied. A bush solo. Just as the first glimmer of morning light appeared, he was joined by a single kookaburra. The kookaburra used his soft voice, not the loud cackle we  generally hear. The two of them were in a duet now.  There was a slow and gentle rhythm building. After about two minutes, a couple of other kookaburras chimed in, still using their softer more guttural voices. It was as though they were honouring Sunday morning and giving their human audience a peaceful concert to start the day, unlike their weekday revelry-like blast of crazed laughing to which we have grown accustomed. 

Then, one by one, other birds joined in. They joined in distinctively one at a time. Who was conducting this avian choir? It did not seem random to me at all. Yet, despite the seeming order of this concert, there was an ease to it that made it flow and rise and fall as it should. Each species seemed to know when to start their instrument at a certain volume and time. They clearly followed in numbers and volume with the incremental increases of light with the rising sun. 

It occurred to me how simple life can be when we follow our instincts and allow nature to guide the way. These birds did not resist adding their voices. They knew just how and when to join the chorus to create this Sunday morning symphony of song. A cooperative collaboration of species, sharing their talents, using their skills as nature intended. As each new flock joined in, it only added to the depth and richness. There was no evidence of one group of birds trying to out do the other or silence another's voice. They were different, yet alike. And they worked together to produce a thing of beauty. 

You see, I thought to myself, it is possible.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Are we really Listening?

Tropical hideout

In my constant quest to find meaning in the ordinary moments of everyday life, this morning I am pondering a situation out on my patio. For the last hour as I sat here doing a bit of work at my computer, there has been a Noisy Miner doing what Noisy Miners seem to do best...making a racket. This is not uncommon and I tried to ignore his refrain for the first thirty minutes or so until I was compelled to go see if there was a reason for his seeming distress.

As I made myself a latte, I watched him from the kitchen window as he yapped on and on and kept hopping from surface to surface within about a two metre square above a bit of garden next to the patio that is fairly dense with tropical foliage. I knew there was something in there that he was worried about, so I went out to take a look. Sure enough, this grey and white cat that has been frequenting my garden in search of easy prey was hunched down in the middle of the garden bed. Now, the funny thing about this cat is that it is an exact re-incarnation of a cat I used to have for many years back in the 80's and early 90's.  He lives somewhere in the neighbourhood and is clearly well fed and quite friendly, so he/she is not a stray. One morning, I even called out to it, using my old cat's name and he immediately turned and looked toward me. Spooky.

I have always been open to and fascinated with the concept of re-incarnation and this cat is really convincing me it is possible. So, what has this cat come back to say to me? I am so tempted to really welcome him to hang out but since I know he is just visiting and probably has owners who love him, I won't start feeding him or enticing him to stay. As it stands, he visits every day anyway, so I don't really have to do anything to encourage him. I am not too happy that he poses a threat to my feathered friends, so when I see him near the feeder, or crouching in hiding to pounce on an unsuspecting bird, I shush him away and blow his cover.

There have been a few feathers left behind when he has been successful and I am thankful he has taken his trophies elsewhere to eat them or present them to his owners perhaps. Knowing he is on the hunt in my garden daily keeps me on high alert for possible victims. So far, I have not seen any solid evidence aside from the scattering of feathers and my hope is that they got away.

Is this the lesson? Could this seemingly commonplace occurrence in nature be trying to tell me something? By turning my back on the fate of the birds and allowing nature to take it's course, am I guilty of complacency? Should I be doing more to protect the birds? Should we all be doing more to protect the innocent birds from the bad cats?

The only answer to this question is yes. Yes of course we should be doing more. More for the children of our world who have evil and violence thrust upon them in war-torn countries and impoverished lands all over the planet. What must it be like to live in that kind of fear? We live in a world where birds awaken us each day, not bombs. The caretakers of children in these places - the mothers, the fathers, the grandparents...they are the Noisy Miners.

We need to hear them. And help them.

Now I just have to figure out how.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cry a River

Today there is a memorial service being held in Melbourne for the victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 tragedy. A day of mourning. Flags are flying at half mast here today and as I write these words, the ABC is playing In the Arms of The Angel by Sarah McLachlan. 

I wondered while I listened to her haunting lyrics if there were other people just like me in that moment feeling the sad emotions that song brought up in my throat and heart as I imagined the horrendous pain of all the families and friends of the victims of this tragedy. I was no doubt not alone with my feelings. I thought about the contrast of that harsh reality compared to mine and felt grateful and lucky. I was not on that plane. I am still alive. But it could have been otherwise. It could have happened to any of us that day. 

So, what do we do with these overwhelming feelings? I stood in the kitchen and cried for a minute. For the families. With the families. When I stopped crying, I thought, that had I not been alone, I would have held back my tears. There are people who don't understand why you would feel so sad about lives that have nothing to do with yours. I am not one of those people. I do feel the anguish of strangers all the time. So, even though I allowed this sadness to flow out of me, when I was finished, I felt as though my short spurt of grief was insufficient. My day would go on and my life, not directly affected by loss, would move forward grief-free for the most part. 

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that we are all affected by these lost lives. Everytime something like this happens, we are changed. The only difference between a direct association with a lost life and those of us who did not know them is the scale of grief we feel. Or, allow ourselves to feel. When I stopped crying in my kitchen, I was listening to all the voices in my head that were telling me to stop. And I did. I listened to those voices, grabbed a tissue, took a couple of deep breaths and told myself to buck up. However, I could have ignored the voices and just kept crying until I had no more tears to cry. Instead, those uncried tears will be pushed back into my heart lying in wait for the next inevitable tragedy. 

I have held back a lot of tears in my life. There is a fear of losing control associated with just letting sadness rip. The truth is, that the few times I have actually let myself really sob with abandon, it does end eventually and once all the tears are spilled, and the tightness in your chest starts to release, some of the sadness drifts away too. 

So, my wish for all of the people who lost precious loved ones on that flight, is the ability to sob with abandon. Let it all go until you cannot summon another tear. Do it as many times as it takes to let some of your grief go and don't listen to those voices that tell you to buck up or suck it up or be strong. Your grief is your gift to those lost lives. 

Make it count.

I need some distraction
Or a beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins
Let me be empty
Oh and weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

- Sarah McLachlan, In the Arms of The Angel

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Against all Odds

Over 80% of blogs are abandoned within the first month. This is a statistic that I just read. I have always known it was a big number, but this is even a little more grandiose than I thought. The number one reason most are abandoned is "fear". Apparently most blog writers are worried about failure, not being relevant, not being able to succeed, not being able to come up with fresh ideas on a regular basis, etc. etc. etc.

The blog I wrote two blogs before this one was my 400th blog since 2009. I have no plan to abandon my blog any time soon. I try to keep fear at bay by bringing myself back to the reason I started writing my blog in the first place. For me it is a creative outlet. Pure and simple. I don't have a gazillion followers, nor is my blog attractive to advertisers. I don't care about any of that. I do it for the sheer joy of putting words together on a page and adding some visuals and expressing whatever I happen to feel like putting a voice to on any given day. 

I have always dreamed of being a columnist. It would be nice to be paid for my random musings, however, the way I saw it when I first set out, was, like, OK, Deb, if you really want to write a column, go ahead and write one. Don't attach a reason. Just do it. Write and write and write and see what happens. So I do. I write when I am in the mood. Sometimes I write when I am not in the mood. Sometimes I want to write about things that are too personal to share and sometimes I write about things that probably are too personal to share but I write about them anyway. I find inspiration in the most mundane as well as the most controversial. In the early days I found myself ranting quite a bit. Now I try to take a more placid approach. I still throw in the odd rant, but more often than not, I find ranting more of an energy drain.

Today's blog was supposed to be Chapter 5 in my Decades of Designing Deb series, but since I did not feel inspired to write about that this morning, I am not going there today. This is the wonderful part of not being paid or having to answer to anyone. I can do whatever the hell I want, when I want. If I were being paid to do this, I would likely have been given a topic by an editor and told to produce 500 or 1000 words by such and such a time and in such and such a manner and although I am quite capable of writing on demand like that, it is wonderfully freeing to not have to work that way.

I am also working on a novel when I am not doing this. The blog is really a distraction from the hard slog of the book. Kind of like my version of recess. Sometimes I feel like writing a poem. I fear those postings the most, which is why I think they are the most valuable. I worry about being judged and laughed at and criticized. Overcoming those fears has been hardest of all. Allowing myself to be that vulnerable has it's challenges and rewards. Thank you Brene Brown for encouraging me to be vulnerable. If you have not read Daring Greatly, I highly recommend it. 

There are days when I ramble (like today), and days when I focus more on the prose and days when I immerse myself in research but in the end it is all about the words. The stringing together of words to tell a story or share a feeling or convey a message is a joy to me. It matters not that I do it well or better or worse than other writers. What matters is that when I am doing it, for a time, I am transported to a place that feels like home to me. 

And not many places feel better than that.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Riverdale Reminisce

SOLD - 148 Victor Avenue - RIVERDALE  (click on this link for photos)

I am going to backtrack a bit today, since I have come across something really interesting here. This house at 148 Victor Ave in Toronto was one of my early residences in my twenties. I spent my final year at Ryerson living on the third floor of this Victorian beauty. It has been completely renovated since of course, but scrolling through these photos still brought back a flood of memories for me. 

The photo of the bedroom with the exposed brick chimney was my living area and the adjoining master ensuite in the next photo was my kitchen. There was a small bedroom where the rooftop deck now sits and I had an antique drop leaf desk in the front dormer window where my cat used to sit and watch the world go by from above. That garret apartment was my first time living completely alone. However, having said that, the woman who rented it to me was an acquaintance who became a friend for a time, and she and her boyfriend lived on the first two floors. As there was no separate entrance to my space, I had to cut through the house to get to my door. More often than not, if they were home, I would stop for a chat, which inevitably would lead to drinks and sometimes if I was lucky, a dinner invite. They were both chefs - one at Scaramouche and the other at The Four Seasons Inn on the Park so the food was generally pretty outstanding. Either that or they would both be completely exhausted from the demands of their gourmet preparations and we would end up with something very simple like an omelette or even the occasional pot of heavily peppered KD. With wine of course. Or beer. We weren't too fussy.

I hammered out many papers on my manual portable typewriter in that attic, so it was a good thing they worked at night. I too worked part-time waitressing and bartending, so when we all three arrived home late at night, we would all unwind until the wee hours recapping the various dramas of our shifts. As for the space, I had some fun with it, although it had such great features on its own, I barely had to do more than paint the living area. I arranged the furniture so I could lay on the sofa looking up through the skylight on starry nights. It was an operable window as well, so on hot summer days, it could be opened to allow the warm air to escape. Still, I needed a window air conditioner for the bedroom. It was a used clunker from a garage sale that was noisy but did the job. 

The bedroom has become a rooftop deck now. It does not surprise me as I actually used to dream of how awesome that would be. There was a step up from the kitchen to go into the bedroom that always seemed to me to be an afterthought which it likely was. The ceiling was low and there was only one small window and on howling blowing winter nights it felt like the whole room might blow away into the sky and land somewhere else like Dorothy's house in The Wizard of Oz. It was cold in the winter and too hot in summer. It was only a matter of time before it would need to transform. Become the open space it was meant to be.

The kitchen had old vinyl tiles in a sapphire blue and the appliances were what would be considered retro by today's standards. The fridge had one of those handles that you had to pull forward to open the door and I always had to do a double check that it was closed tight. With no choice but to work with the blue floor, I went for a triadic colour scheme in the kitchen, adding a small red and white painted free-standing cabinet, a red metal drop leaf table top and bar stool under the window where I could look out at the neighbouring house and blue sky while I ate breakfast. There were no closed cabinets for dishes, so they sat on open shelves above the small counter and it was there that I was able to have some fun with colour. Pops of red and blue and yellow made it kitschy and fun. 

Interestingly, I was in between relationships while I lived there. It allowed me to fully express my creativity without the need to consider another person's opinion or needs. There are few times I can look back on my adult life when this was the case. I think it is true for many women. The times we are on our own with no partner or children can be wonderful therapeutic pauses in our journey through life. 148 Victor was such a time for me. I met my first husband at a party I hosted for the entire Journalism Class of 85 at the house. All three floors rocked until the sun came up. There is likely a police record for disturbing the peace in the archives somewhere. A few months later, he moved in and it was never meant to be a space for two, so we left to find a larger place. I was sad and happy all at once.

That house has completely transformed into something beautiful and its potential fully realized. The exterior was pale pink back then. The interior needed attention and the gardens were in need of much TLC. It has no doubt been through a few incarnations since 1985. 

Not unlike myself. Funny that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Southwest in the Northeast

Yesterday I admitted that I had dabbled for a moment with the Southwest trend back in the late 80's. I did resist until it was just about over, but the end of my first marriage and a resulting empty office/guest room space (he took the desk and computer - I took the car), left me with an opportunity to make a fresh start in that room. 

You will recall, I did not have a solid grip on choosing paint colours at that stage, so what ended up on the walls was a bloody awful salmony version of terracotta that was an epic fail, however, I lived with it as I was too lazy and in too big of a hurry to transform the room to re-paint. There was also the question as to how much longer I would be living in that apartment now that he was gone. Most older apartment buildings in those days (a 3 story walk-up) had the old 2 inch strip oak hardwood floors that were stained a sort of orangey-gold, so the paint colour did not work at all with the floors. I remedied that problem with an area carpet in a toned down shade of the room creating what could only be considered the equivalent of living inside a giant acorn squash. 

A fold out Ikea sofa bed was purchased and since the colour choices were limited, I went with the most unoffending of the lot. It was a taupey stone colour - khaki brown at best and the most likely colour one would find in New Mexico or the desert where this decor trend must have originated. The thing with colour schemes that work well in other parts of the world is that they don't really translate all that well in an apartment in Toronto. I persevered. Next I would need some actual terracotta pots. The room did boast a fairly large north facing window which meant it kept fairly cool in the summer, but was not the ideal location for the row of cactus that now graced the windowsill. Nor did it do much for the grouping of larger cacti in the corner of the room. 

The jump off point for the colour scheme was a Mexican blanket I had carted home with me from Mexico a few years earlier. It had never really found itself at home anywhere at the time, but now it was time for it to shine. It hung on the wall adding some much needed texture and doing double duty as a cover-up for the paint mistake. The art that I hung over the sofa was a watercolour of The Hooker Track in New Zealand that I finally had framed after many years rolled up in a cardboard tube. I chose a rather rustic looking wood frame, and the painting was a moody grey and cloudy version of that landscape, so it worked perfectly.

On another wall, I hung a framed Tapa cloth from Fiji that I had found on that same South Pacific adventure in 1979. I also hung a hand carved wooden bowl and a pair of cannibal forks creating a bit of a sculptural element in the room. A bentwood rocker (remember those?) sat in the corner by the window. The frame was painted black (every room needs a hit of black!) and it became a reading corner where I devoured self-help books by the truckload on my healing journey through heartbreak.  In the end, it did not look too bad considering the minor mistakes and looking back, I can see that creativity was my therapy. The devastation I felt at the collapse of my very short marriage left me wondering who I had become and feeling I had lost myself in the 6 years we spent together. 

The arranging of all these elements of  my past travels and the expression of the solitary new me got me through those first few months of grief and reminded me how far I had come versus dwelling on the failure of the marriage.  I did not live in that apartment for much longer. Eventually the cacti that had been over-watered started to long for a sunnier spot at about the same time I was ready to move forward. Or sideways as it turned out. 

Vancouver. The west coast. It was there, that I really started to pursue interior decorating, as well as an entire new chapter in my life. 

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Forgive me Father, I know I sinned

Vintage Polished Chintz fabric 

Interior decorating is not unlike the quest for perfection. I am quite certain that the best decorators and designers are perfectionists to one degree or another. Since attention to detail is tantamount to creating a magazine-worthy outcome, anything less than this focused quest would find you standing in the unemployment line, as tired and defeated as a wallpaper border. 

And, like most things in life, we get better at it with experience. There are some young ones out there who are creative and are full of original ideas, but you are not truly expert until you have made a few mistakes along the way, most of which usually have manifested in your own spaces. Choosing paint colours is one skill best left to a professional. It took years of ghastly choices and an awesome colour theory professor to help me fine tune this part of the job. Case in point. Before I switched my career path from Journalism to Interior Decorating, I painted several apartments without any real colour education. I just gravitated toward colour. BOLD colour. I gave no thought to the transition from room to room or how light might effect the depth of colour throughout the day and into the evening. I paid no heed to natural light versus artificial light, paint sheens, flat vs eggshell vs gloss (I liked gloss!). Despite my unfamiliarity with the colour wheel at the time, I did seem to have a natural inclination toward complimentary and triadic colour schemes. But I always made the mistake of going way too dark. 

In an effort to block out the harsh streetlights in one townhouse I rented, I decided to forfeit the street facing master bedroom to an office space and turned a very small second bedroom into what can only be described as a small cave once I slapped three coats of the darkest, glossiest forest green on the walls and a black-out window covering. Were it not for the all white duvet cover, you would not have been able to see the bed in the dark. It was the most dreary, depressing place to start the day, but it did make for the perfect room to sleep in after a late night. You never knew what time it was and we once spent an entire super hot humid Saturday in July holed up with the A/C blasting watching movies and eating popcorn, transforming it from bedroom to private theatre by just closing the door. It was 1986. Forest Green, Rosy Pinks and polished chintz were de rigueur.

Joining the fray of "what were you thinking?", was my next apartment painting frenzy. Again the bedroom took centre stage (guess I figured I could go a bit crazy in there away from the public eye and all). This time I was all agog over candy pink and apple green. I believe lacoste was doing a line of tennis and golf fashions in those shades around that time as well. They were way ahead of Lilly Pulitzer for the time. So, off I went in search of duplicating that combo. I found some Laura Ashley wallpaper with co-ordinating polished chintz fabric giving me that much needed jump off point. The paper had a creamy background with a shade of that apple green in a vertical stripe over which were layered ever present pink roses (gagging here now). I took the paper sample to the paint shop and was certain I had matched the pink and green perfectly. So if you can imagine, a feature wall in that paper, the facing wall in the pink and the two side walls in the green. Neither colours were perfectly matched but close enough I reckoned. And, a set of corner windows covered in ruffled balloon shades to top it all off! Then I painted a couple of garage sale bedside tables and stenciled the roses on the drawer fronts. OK, this is beginning to feel like a confession, only I am admitting my sins to more than one person. My penance is going to require a lot of Hail Marys for this one. Let's not forget, at the time, my closet was full of dresses and blouses with giant shoulder pads. I was in the second year of my first marriage and it ended in that apartment shortly after our fourth anniversary around the same time as we were ripping out the shoulder pads and sending Ms. Ashley packing. 

Proving once again that art can imitate life.

In the next edition of Decades of Designing Deb we will explore my adventure into the Southwest craze  and even more polished chintz as it hung on like decades old wallpaper to an unsized plaster wall.

Until then, stay on trend my friends. ;-)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Decades of Designing Deb

Lately I am obsessed with small houses. I seek them out on-line. I subscribe to Small House Bliss and Tiny House Swoon and gravitate toward little cabins and treehouses in the countryside and on islands and in the mountains when searching for travel accommodations. I marvel at the smart and functional designs. I imagine myself living in them. Cooking in them. Sleeping in them. Bathing in them. The mere thought of living in a massive square footage house now, sends chills down my spine. I long for simple and compact interiors. No more than 2 toilets and more than likely only one. Were it not for visitors, there would never be a need for more than one.

However, there is one caveat. I want lots of outdoor space surrounding the small house of my dreams. For the last year I have been busy researching and scrolling and pinning and narrowing down the details of exactly what I want in a house now. I have had a bit of a trial run in the small house we are renting right now. It is only about 1100 sq ft. The three bedrooms are small. There is one bathroom. One water closet. A small but functional kitchen. A living area that barely gets used. A small dining area off the kitchen that does get used every day. It is all on one level. The main areas are tiled and the bedrooms are carpeted. It is easy to clean and is more than enough space for 2 people. 

What makes it really perfect is the large covered patio and front porch that doubles the usable space and where we spend a lot of time when the weather is warm...which here in Queensland is most of the year. The secret to managing in a small house is to avoid clutter. In other words, keep STUFF to a minimum. Easier said than done. Already, in 6 short months, the cupboards and closets are close to full. The double car garage is currently only housing one car, as one of the spaces is slowing filling up with tools and garden stuff and 'future projects". I look at how quickly we accumulate things and it actually scares me a bit. Do you ever drive by a "hoarder house"? When I see places like that it actually causes a physiological response in my body. I shudder and avert my eyes as though avoidance might restore the temporary loss of qi it just caused. I could never live that way. Stuff would bury me. Bury me physically and spiritually. 

This knowing is useful. It has informed me. I know how I need to live to feel peaceful. Even as a child I always felt better when my bedroom was tidy and orderly. It would get messy and cluttered, but never for long. I liked it to look pretty and I would often spend an entire Saturday re-arranging the furniture and my things until the vignettes were pleasing to me. My mother would help me re-decorate my bedroom every few years when my tastes changed as I got older. One of my fondest childhood memories was the day I came home when I was about 7 and I had a new bed and dresser. It was sort of white french provincial looking and the bed head had what could only be described as a faux canopy. The posts went almost to the ceiling and were joined by a valance box that contained a ruffled swath of billowy sheer fabric. I felt like a princess sleeping in that bed. Years later when my tastes matured and I became aware of quality and design, I would look back on that early introduction to furniture and simultaneously grimace and smile at the memory.

The dresser was matching and the lamp that sat on it was a hideous looking thing with a poodle base and one of those wavy plastic shades covered with a stiffened muslin-like fabric. I recall I did not like it even then.  Once, when I was playing make-believe and trying to create a dim atmosphere, I put a tea towel over it and as I went about my morning as mistress of the manor, the plastic started to melt and I only noticed when the smell started to permeate the room. From that day forward, my lamp took on a whole new look of deformity. It was only a short time later that a bottle of nail polish spilled on the dresser top creating a patch of bubbly veneer giving the unsightly shade some company. For weeks I tried to hide the damaged spot from my mother with embroidered doilies (aaack!). 

From this early foray into the world of decor and design, I went through many phases. For a time in my late teens and early twenties I was mad for anything Victorian. Gasp! My last bedroom in my parent's house featured a wall of imported wallpaper from France that was a collage of antique posters of Victorian women in full period costume. It was one of the first really expensive interior design purchases I made. It became the focal point in the room and everything else was chosen around it. Dark navy blue carpet and walls and mahogany furniture created a feeling of old worlds - exactly what I wanted - a world completely different than the one I was living in. Someplace dark and mysterious and exotic.   The previous incarnation of the room had been a bright yellow and white theme. We had even covered the hardwood floors with a crazy vivid floral vinyl lino that featured slightly raised, padded daisies. Big bold happy daisies. So, the departure from light and airy and happy to the dark and dreary and heavy Victorian theme was not unlike the progression from light-hearted pre-teen to brooding, smoking, know-it-all 15 year old. 

My journey in life has always been reflected in my decor. 

Tomorrow I will look back at my 20's. 

Yes. Russian Balloon Shades will make an appearance. Yikes!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Alarmed and Saddened

The wise words of wisdom you see in the photo above came from a 10 year old boy. This was posted on Facebook by The Huff Post a couple of days ago. I clicked on the link thinking it might be a cute and amusing tidbit.  As I read through his list of advice to his teacher who was getting married, I was fine until I got to the last piece of advice. It actually disturbed me to the point I felt compelled to comment.

My comment was as follows: I find it alarming that a 10 year old suggests carrying a hand gun. Alarming and sad.  It was a simple statement of how reading it had made me feel. If a 10 year old thinks the solution to living in a dodgy neighbourhood is to arm yourself with a hand gun, how sad is that? How old was he when he came to this conclusion? Who taught him this was a good idea? Do his parents own handguns? Has he seen one? Has he used one? Is he just chomping at the bit until the day he gets to own one, as eager as I was to get my driver's license the day I turned 16? Is this the new norm for American children? Are handguns added to their Santa wish list each Christmas?

So far, (as of about 20 minutes ago), 35 people have checked "like" on my comment. However, as encouraging as that seems, there were several who have commented that they see nothing wrong with carrying a hand gun and why shouldn't they be able to, and if you know how to use one there is nothing wrong with it....etc. etc. I am stunned by these responses. There seems to be no understanding whatsoever among these pro-gun carrying folks as to the point I was trying to make. They immediately get their feathers all ruffled about their "rights" to bear arms and their "freedom" to hunt for food and protect themselves. Do they not hear what they are saying? Clearly they did not hear what I said.

For starters, no one is debating your "rights".  My comment is very straightforward. It is a statement of how I felt. And still do feel. Will always feel. If a child by the age of 10 is already hard-wired to believe that the way to confront violence is with more violence, then how will we ever walk the path to peaceful resolutions as a society? It has to start at home. We need to be teaching our children how to resolve conflict with conversation and reason. 

As far as I know, hand guns are not used for hunting. So, if hand guns were only issued to law-enforcement, there would not be any need to "protect" yourself from other citizens carrying hand guns. I realize this Utopian scenario of the banishment of hand guns is just that - an idealistic dream world that will likely never exist, however, can we at least begin to work toward changing the attitudes of our children and our communities? Walking down the street with a gun in your pocket is not the answer kidlets. 

It may be too late for young Ethan, but people can change.  

Here's hoping.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Some hearts don't Bleed

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion - Nelson Mandela

I woke up in the wee hours today and as I am often sleepless at 3 or 4 am and I picked up my iPad and brought the rest of the world into my bed with me. I found it so bittersweet as I saw that Google had created a birthday tribute message to the great Nelson Mandela reminding us all that we are capable of unlearning hate. The next thing I saw was the tragic result of that hate. The unwarranted attack of a Malaysian passenger jet over the Ukraine near the Russian border...295 crew and passengers dead.

As early as I can remember, as a child of the sixties, I have been listening to words such as Mandela's. Haven't we all? Martin Luther King Jr. Gandhi. The Dalai Lama. Maya Angelou. Musicians. Poets. Writers.  And all the while,  as these great men and women who have stood before us and spread their messages of peace and love, we watched wars and hatred continue to unfold daily. It is as though their words have fallen upon deaf ears. Educated nations and leaders (and a few uneducated ones too) continue to support these violent methods as their path to winning. I don't get it.

When we teach our children how to get along with others we don't tell them to injure or kill their playmates over a game of Monopoly or on the soccer field or at a dance competition. And yet, these same children grow up, supposedly into mature adults, and one day give the command to release a missile aimed at a jet they are not even sure poses a threat to them. And what have they won? Has anybody won anything? How do they live with themselves? Do they go home at the end of the day and kiss their wives (or husbands) and tuck their children in and sleep soundly knowing they have just ended the lives of 295 souls and left thousands of friends and family grief-stricken for life? Who are these people? Who are these supposed humans? They must be without a conscience.

Perhaps what we need in our schools worldwide is a course called Conscious Living 101. Starting in Kindergarten, or sooner.

Maybe that is the answer. For as long as there are human beings living unconsciously, there will never be peace in this world.

Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world. - Nelson Mandela

If we would only take heed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"There is some kiss we want with our whole lives"...Rumi

"Aint it funny how your new life didn't change things. You're still the same old girl you used to be." -The Eagles, Lyin Eyes

It has occurred to me lately how my new life is not all that different from my old life. Initially it was a bit of a culture shock. You cannot avoid that when you move from a city of 2.5 million to a town of less than 50 thousand. I was braced for that. My choices were reduced in just about every category. Shops and  restaurants and  theatres that I once took for granted were limited. I was grateful for the absence of traffic jams and the competitive nature of city living. I felt like the proverbial fish out of water.

Grocery shopping took me twice as long as I had to learn new labels. Driving required intense focus. No more auto-pilot. What do you mean? No right on a red? Ooops! Thought I was in the slow lane. Keep an eye out for kangaroos. No joke. Paying extra for ketchup? You gotta be kidding me! Don't tip the server. What?!!! Hanging the laundry outside to dry. Only turn on the A/C when you absolutely cannot stand the heat another minute. Taking cold showers...on purpose. Don't worry, that snake is not poisonous. You get the picture.

So now that a few months have passed and I have made it through these changes, I have managed to re-create some of my past life. I have found a lovely bunch of gals to play tennis with and have just hooked up with another group for golf. A local book club has invited me to join them the first Tuesday evening of each month. I still need to focus on my driving, but it is less scary now. I have discovered where to buy just about any and all ingredients (even organic) I need for cooking and have found a couple of decent clothing shops that carry some stylish pieces when I need some shopping therapy. Although I have not found a replacement for my beloved Humber River walk, I have a couple of loops nearby that offer me a nature fix daily, replacing spawning salmon sightings with mobs of kangaroos.

We are truly creatures of habit. I still even manage to play Scrabble at least once a week with my darling daughter. Technology has made the distance between us seem less overwhelming. Without it, I could not have made this leap. So, what, you may ask, compelled me to move to the other side of the world to start all over again, only to engage in mostly the same activities I had enjoyed in Canada?

Well, in the words of the great poet Rumi, I "gambled everything for love". There was no guarantee. I had to rely entirely on my gut instinct. Every time I woke in the middle of the night, overwhelmed with fear or the voices that cast doubt on my decision, each and every time, I came back to my gut. What was it telling me? It was not a screaming, bossy, aggressive voice. No. It was a soft, gentle and constant voice. A nudging. Just go, it would whisper. It could offer me no real outcome. No fancy promises of happily ever after. No defined security. It required a leap of faith like no other I have ever faced. I came from a family that defines success as  financial security and the owning of things. Up until then, I had followed that path. What madness had come over me to leave it all behind?

Call me crazy, but I can sum it up in one short sentence.

He dances with me in the kitchen.