Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Wide-eyed Wonder.

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The exquisite thing about aging is the reawakening of wide-eyed wonder.

All the oohs and aahs of life seen through my own magical gaze. And not those of my children or grandchildren.

For decades I saw everything through the eyes of the young in my charge. Enchanting as the dust of fairies. Dazzling as the diamonds in the sky. All things spellbinding and sparkly, cast from the wands of wizards.

I saw it all through their crystal-clear unfettered perspective. It was a beautiful awe-inspiring view. A sacred privilege, the memory of which I hold dear in my mind’s eye, and as close to my heart as humanly possibly.

But now, all things fascinating, enthralling and magnificent, dreamy and delightful are again fresh and new, heaven-sent and divine.

Like never before.

I see the world around me as if for the very first time, with my own precious child-eyes. It fills my heart with such gladness.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 12 Ways to Bring Heart and Meaning to Your Work.

DSCN1378dI’m a lucky woman. I was born and raised in a small town in Northwestern Ontario at a time when career options were somewhat limited for women. Or more specifically, my vision for what I could be when I grew up was myopic. Salesgirl. Secretary. Teacher. Nurse. Wife. Mother. It was a time of women’s liberation and world transformation but we lagged behind in our town of early snows and sweltering summers. From that list, I chose Teacher, Secondary Level, with specialization in English and History. An honorable profession, but not for me, at least not back then.

Secretly, I had bigger dreams than the classroom could contain. Write novels. Tell stories. Spend my days in the presence of creative, imaginative and artistic folks. And oddly enough, to carry a satchel-style briefcase made of brown leather to work every day.

Through a series of fortunate events, that spanned the better part of a decade, I landed a job as a Junior Copywriter in a mid-sized boutique agency in Toronto. Thus began a career I never dreamed of but as it turns out was tailor-made for me.

Fast forward two decades to the West Coast to a small boutique agency nestled in the countryside where fields of green are dotted with sheep, horses, chickens and goats. It is here that I have found my place amongst some of the most talented and creative minds in Canada. It is here that I bring my heart for service, my teacher’s sensibility and a mother’s compassion and love.

I am a Production Manager.

I have had tons of on-the-job training and learning over the years. But so much of what I do professionally, and the way I work, my modus operandi, comes from my personal life and core values. There are so many, I could write a book, but here are a dozen things I’d like to share with you, in no particular order.

  1. Be kind and compassionate. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. The old adage is true. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Walk a mile in their moccasins or mukluks or Manolos. Seek understanding. Express genuine concern. Cultivate a magnanimous spirit.
  2. Treat everyone the same, from the courier to the CEO. Everyone is important and has value. Everyone has a meaningful role to play in your business. Be respectful and appreciative of what each person brings to the table, regardless of their title or station in life.
  3. See the good in everyone. It’s there. Truth is, you may have to dig deep to see it in some. While others it sits on the surface like a shiny penny. You have the power to bring out the best in everyone. But first you have to see it.
  4. Be generous with your praise. If someone says or does something you think is terrific or wonderful, remarkable or just plain nice, acknowledge it. Don’t be stingy in this area. Don’t withhold. Let your colleagues, associates and suppliers know how much you appreciate them and the work they do. Take pleasure in the accomplishments of others.
  5. Think of different ways to do things. Be innovative and creative in your approach to everything. This will add freshness to your daily routine. Be a Curious George. Say, “yes” to new opportunities and challenges, even if they scare you. Zig when everyone else is zagging.
  6. Have impeccable manners. There is no excuse for rudeness. Anywhere. Anytime. Treat everyone respectfully and politely. Please and thank you go a long way.
  7. Fear not and take risk. Fear kills creativity and it’s paralyzing. It’s that simple. Kick it to the curb every time it enters your heart, mind or spirit. Go out on a limb and extend yourself beyond your comfort zone. Don’t listen to the naysayers or the negative noise around you. Listen to the small quiet voice within that cheers you on and propels you to greater accomplishments. And if fear or insecurity does creep in, work with the confidence, faith and belief that others have in you. Remember why you were hired in the first place.
  8. Be of service and helpful. Look for all the ways you can make someone else’s job easier and more meaningful. Lighten their load. Lift their spirits. Be someone who can be counted on, trusted, relied upon, and the wind beneath the wings. The supporting actors always have the most interesting parts. Remember that.
  9. Be smart not a smart aleck. Be humble and gracious. Let your talent and brilliance speak for itself. It isn’t necessary to flaunt your credentials. There’s no need to show off or grandstand. Park your ego and let others shine. When you do, it’s remarkable how smart and wise your colleagues will find you.
  10. Extend grace in order to receive grace. We all make mistakes, for we are only human after all. First and foremost, be forgiving when someone makes a mistake, especially on your watch. Accept that things often go awry. Turn out wrong with disappointing results. Understand that unfortunate things happen, even with the best intentions, the best efforts, the best people on the project. Resist the urge to point fingers, assign blame or throw someone under the bus. Trust me, in situations like this, the people involved feel badly enough. Scolding an adult like you would a five-year old child is demoralizing and doesn’t accomplish anything. Nor does it move the conversation in the direction it needs to go.
  11. Recover quickly from mistakes. It’s not the end of the world. You’ll survive. This too shall pass. But first, own it and then move swiftly to repair things. And know this, in the end it’s not the mistake that anyone remembers but how it was dealt with. A bad resolution leaves a bitter taste that lingers in the air. Gather all your resources to help you to fix things. Remember, you are not alone. Most things that go wrong involve several people, all of whom could have prevented it from happening at some point along the process. So rally your troops. Fix it, extend your sincere apologies, learn from the experience, stop beating yourself up. And move on.
  12. Go for a walk at lunch. Take a break. Get out of the office or studio or plant or store, or wherever you spend your day. Leave. I go for a walk every day because that’s what I like to do. I love being outdoors, regardless of the weather or time of year. Walking changes my perspective and opens the window to more mindful ways of working. Helps me to see things differently, more clearly. Unclogs my brain, and possibly my arteries. It eases the stress, fosters problem solving, inspiration and new ideas. I often take an idea for a walk to see if it “has legs” or needs to be tossed. After twenty minutes on the road, I usually know. If walking isn’t your thing, then find something that is. But most importantly, remove yourself from the building. Make this a daily habit. It’s one of the healthiest and most productive things you can do in your day. It’s one of the keys to long-lasting and enduring success.
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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: It’s in the Blood.

IMG_3kk234lljI have bad blood. Not really bad, as in deadly. But not normal either. Just another one of those things that I came by honestly. This little doozy came compliments of Ma. She most likely inherited it from her father. Blame it on her Italian heritage.

Little back story. Since I was a kid every time I had my blood tested, it revealed that I had anemia. Ma was always giving me iron pills. Or worse, yet cod liver oil. I don’t have to tell you how disgusting that shit is.

I spent my entire childhood, and a better part of my young adulthood, believing this myth and popping iron tablets. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my youngest child, that the truth was discovered. I did not have your regular garden-variety anemia. I was a carrier of this peculiar sounding blood disorder called Thalassemia Minor. Like Ma and my Italian Grandfather. Other than occasional fatigue, bruising easily, and being aerobically challenged, I’m fine.

Good thing The Old Man was Finnish because if he too was Italian, or from some other Mediterranean country or Asia, things could have gotten ugly. It takes two to tango with this blood disorder. With one parent a carrier, you may or may not end up a carrier as well. With two, the odds are 50-50 that you’ll have full-blown Thalassemia. And like it’s evil cousin Sickle Cell, things can be pretty dire, if not downright heartbreaking.

Young MomBut happily that isn’t my story. Nor was it Ma’s and my grandfather’s. My two older children have both been tested, and although they are both carriers as well, they are healthy. And most importantly, they know what they are potentially passing onto the next generation.

My youngest daughter has yet to be tested. At the beginning of summer, I wrote her this poetic letter with the thought in mind that the time has come. Now that she is moving into the stage in her life where she could easily fall in love. Big, hard, deep and forever. She needs to know, what’s in her blood, beyond the unconditional love of her parents.

Hey Beauty,

It’s time to get your blood checked to make sure you aren’t a Thalassemia carrier. Like your Italian grandmother, your mother, big brother and sister.

Even though there’s nothing to worry about right now because you only fall for Anglo-Saxon boys with blue eyes and blond hair.

But one day you may fall hard for a guy who is tall, dark and handsome, the front man for an Indie band, who plays acoustic guitar and writes lyrics worthy of a tattoo on your torso, drinks tequila, rides a 1952 Harley he inherited from his grandfather, eats organic peaches, and most importantly, is of Mediterranean descent.

When you fall, you fall hard.

Boo in B+WJust like your Italian grandmother, your mother, big brother and sister. And because you fall so hard, you might even dream of having a child one day with the guy who is tall, dark and handsome, the front man for an Indie band, who plays acoustic guitar and writes lyrics worthy of a tattoo on your torso, drinks tequila, rides a 1952 Harley he inherited from his grandfather, eats organic peaches, and most importantly, is of Mediterranean descent.

You can picture this child with his father’s dreamy soulful brown eyes, olive complexion and thick dark hair with soft curls around his ears.

And when this happens, you’ll want to know for certain whether or not you’re a Thalassemia carrier. Because if this beautiful guy, who is tall dark and handsome, the front man for an Indie band, who plays acoustic guitar and writes lyrics worthy of a tattoo on your torso, drinks tequila, rides a 1952 Harley he inherited from his grandfather, eats organic peaches, and most importantly, is of Mediterranean descent is also a Thalassemia carrier.  Then Beauty the odds are 50-50 that the child of your dreams will have full-blown Thalassemia.

And Beauty that isn’t something you’d wish on your worst enemy, never mind the child of your dreams.

http://www.thalassemia.ca/

 

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I Will Always Remember You There.

560852_10150626889916644_990312550_nShe called me Agaluk. I called her MF. Beautiful One. Sweet Butterfly.

I also called her my friend. We were Soul Sisters.

One of my most strongest, steadfast, courageous, creative, bold, brilliant, intelligent, inspiring, wise and wonderful, in every conceivable way, a true Girl Warrior to the core and beyond, died last week.

Receiving the news so abruptly. Incomprehensible. The loss for those who loved her. Immeasurable. The gaping hole in our hearts. Irreparable.

Little Back Story. We met in the most unlikely of places. Old Fort William. Decades ago. Free spirits. Wild hearts. Fierce warriors. Intelligent and introspective young girls on the cusp of becoming the women we are today.

530446_10150626890261644_650726391_nMF and I were from different worlds. She was from Southern Ontario, the part of the province with the big cities and prestigious universities. She was an intellectual. Well-read and world-wise, even then. Sophisticated beyond her years. She was eloquent and articulate.

I often wondered what she saw in me. I was smart enough but by no means an intellectual. I loved reading but in a million years I couldn’t tackle the books MF read. I was far from sophisticated, more of a small-town bumpkin. My speech was typical of the region, with its Scandinavian-Canadian twang, every sentence peppered with the non-word utterance, “eh”. And I was born and raised just across town from where we worked. I was all too familiar with the summer stench and acrid bitterness of the Abitibi Mill.

We managed to stave off adulthood that glorious summer by the shores of the Kaministikquia River.

544764_10150626890401644_450351427_nMF and I were part a ragtag troop of young vagabonds and hippies, who dressed up every day like it was 1815. We worked, and played, in the Tradesman’s Square at Old Fort William.

The young men in The Square worked as blacksmiths, tinsmith, carpenters, coopers, and of course, the birch bark canoe builders. Many came to The Fort with these skills in toe, but by summer’s end they all knew how to handle the tools of their historic trade.

MF and I were among the “Native” wives of these rough and ready Tradesmen. Dressed in traditional garb, with our long hair braided in side pigtails or down our backs, we spent our time hand stitching garments and beading necklaces. We were called Historical Interpreters, which basically meant we told the story of the Fur Trading Post belonging to the North West Company, and the men who worked in The Square. We regaled the flocks of tourists, who streamed in and out of our log buildings, with tales of life in 1815 Northwestern Ontario.

OFW-Tradesman 5MF and I often worked together in the Tradesman’s sleeping quarters. Between tourist visits, we gabbed endlessly about all the grand things of life, all the while our hands were ever-busy making the wool felt leggings and strands of colorful beads that we wore so ubiquitously.

In this backdrop of historic Old Fort William, our friendship grew. Born out of conversations that were deep and engrossing. Sometimes silly. Often extraordinary. Yet so divinely unforgettable.

MF and I lost track of each other after that summer. There were the occasional blips on the radar. But for the most part we moved on with our lives. It didn’t help that geographically we would end up thousands of miles apart, with MF in Southern Ontario and me on the West Coast.

Then, a few years ago through the wonders of social media, MF reached out to me. First on LinkedIn and then through Facebook.

It was like no time had passed. We picked up where we left off. It was as natural as the flow of the Kaministikquia River. Although many years had passed, and on the surface our personal and professional lives appeared so very different; but in our hearts, and all the places that mattered, we were kin.

It was no surprise to discover we had both spent our lives embracing all things spiritual and creative. We were both wisdom seekers, with love our abiding compass, the beacon in the dark, the light, and the way.

DSCN1131For the past twenty-four hours, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around MF not being here. In this very physical place we call earth. Then this gentle thought came to me this morning, upon the first delicate rays of early morning sunshine. Like a heart-gift filled with grace.

Since I’ve known her, right back to the days of Old Fort William, MF shone from within. Her face literally glowed with the lightness of being. She was adroit at traversing both worlds. MF possessed a huge life force and energy field. She was always growing and ever-expanding, crossing boundaries and skipping borders with ease. There was this earth place that she loved so dearly, and embraced with wide-open arms, and then this other place where she is right now, which she understood with a breathtaking profundity. She did not fear it. Not this place. Nor that. For it is all the same. One.

And she encouraged us all to do the same. This was her mantra. Fear not. For we create our own lives. Weave our own destinies. Manifest our own worlds. Hug life and squeeze every ounce of joy out. Then push it back out. Pay it forward.

MF was/is one of the rare beings, who possessed the key to the door to wonder. She saw it all. This and that. Here and there. Now and forever. Eternity in the palm of her hand. Her hand in the hand of the everlasting.

See you later Sweet Soul Sister Beautiful Butterfly.

Love you always, Agaluk.

Footnote:

The night before she died, MF made this last post on Facebook, including a link to Hallelujah – Choir of King’s College, Cambridge live performance of Handel’s Messiah.  Extraordinary.

Posted, September 24 at 12:42am: Taking an exultant drive to my place on the water for sunrise, NOW!. Been stuck in the city waaay too long.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3TUWU_yg4s&list=PLlsiuiVOpp3pMgv0vDVk3g2fChthCLbYY

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Under the Harvest Moon Soup.

The fall of our hearts

And the light faints.

But the colors

Still stain our eyes.

DSCN0909I wrote that poetic bit to mark the end of summer and to welcome in autumn. As far back as my memory will allow this time of year has always made me sad. With a tendency towards melancholy at the best of times, Labor Day weekend is like a freighter that transports me from the light and easy to the dark and serious. For those first few lingering days afterwards, until my eyes adjust to the changing light, when the large blue skies abbreviate and foretell. The feeling of loss that another glorious summer has come and gone, the lazy hazy days are over. It’s back to school. Or business. Life, without beach sand between my toes. I miss it. Pine for it. Beckon it back. Beg it to stay just another month or two. But that’s not the way of summer, North of the 49.

Goodbye to the pastel evening skies. Oh, but hello to early morning light that shimmers and casts rusty hues on the arcing limbs of the Garry Oak trees.

Back into the kitchen, overlooking my reluctant rocky garden, I prepare earthy vegetables for Under The Harvest Moon Soup featuring our volunteer summer squash.

DSCN0892The ingredients.

It’s a simple recipe that involves cleaning out the crisper and roasting what you’ve got along with at least two squash, any kind. Our little miracles are a-corns. My crisper crop usually includes cauliflower, red and orange peppers, carrots, tomatoes, onions, celery, and garlic. Whatever you’ve got that goes with squash will work beautifully.

The method.

Lay these all out in a large baking dish. I use the spectacular Portmeirion baking dish that E gave me for Christmas a few years ago. It’s big and beautiful and roasts veggies to perfection.

Sprinkle with your favorite herbs and spices. For me, curry and turmeric are the perfect spices for squash soup so that’s what I sprinkle lavishly over the veggies. A little s ‘n p.

DSCN0895Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Pop in the oven at 350 degrees for at least an hour, or until the veggies are tender and getting that roasted look.

In no time at all, your kitchen will be infused with a sweet fragrant aroma, like none other. Take a moment to breathe it in. This will make you happy. You will smile.

While enjoying this culinary bliss, remove your magnificent morsels from the oven and set aside to cool. When cooled, blend with a vegetable broth or stock. I just use the Tetra Pak type you buy at the grocery store. But if you’re into making your own, that’s cool. Truth is, water works too since this is already a nutritious and delicious brew. You just need enough liquid to blend the veggies until they are pureed, smooth and creamy. Dump this into a large pot and add more seasoning if you like. I add more curry because I can never get enough. Because the veggies are already cooked, this baby is almost good to go.

DSCN0930Cover and simmer on low heat to slowly warm up the silky smooth veggies. Let them mingle with the sexy spices for a while. Once the soup is nice and hot, I add a tablespoon of butter. You don’t have to do this, of course. I just think butter makes everything better. Except for your butt. But that’s a whole other blog post.

The accompaniment.

Our family likes something starchy with our soup. Like homemade biscuits. Or any kind of crusty Italian bread. E likes Saltines. Enough said.

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Neil Young – Harvest Moon

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Garden of Little Big Things.

DSCN0818I’m big on the little things. The small, unexpected delights that make you smile. Or grin like a fool in love. Stand on your head and spit nickels. The unplanned moments and spontaneous incidences, with their elegant perfect brevity, that takes you by surprise. Then there are all those transitory things that are so easily overlooked or often passed by completely. Those are quite simply, the best. When you raise your head and say, ‘thank God I saw that.’

I also believe in everyday miracles. The tiny wonders that make you grateful.

This summer I was fortunate enough to bear witness to the innate generosity and enduring tenacity of the earth, quite literally beneath my feet. It began with a compost box in our backyard. Actually it began before that. With delicious winter meals of roasted squash and crispy green salads populated with grape and cherry tomatoes.

DSCN0834Little back story. Our house is built on a rock. A massive boulder that ascends heavenward less than ten feet from the back door. Steps have been cut and built into the rock so that you can climb it with ease. At the top it levels off into this lumpy grassy knoll in spring that is parched and stripped of color in summer and then mushy from the relentless rains of fall and winter. Always a farm boy at heart, E refers to this as his Back 40, but unlike his Annapolis Valley roots, where food crops grew in abundance, this little piece of paradise is canopied by Garry Oak Trees and shadowed by the Douglas Firs that tower like looming sentinels in the park that butts up against our property. We soon discovered, our first summer living here, that growing things to eat would be a challenge at best. And far too often, downright heartbreaking.

Like the early settlers and pioneers of the New World, E and I persevered. We were inspired by a deep yearning to sow good seeds, tend to them with loving kindness, watch them flourish and burgeon so that by summer’s end we could enjoy the harvest season, nature’s bounty, the abundance of Autumn. Surely this is what Mother Earth intended, even for gardens grown in difficult settings.

DSCN0971E persevered. I gave up.

Through tenacious experimentation with planting various and sundry seedlings, grew understanding, wisdom and respect for what we had in our Back 40. First and foremost, we accepted that it was different from any other garden we had ever grown. It did its own thing, for the most part. It was a maverick. In many ways, it was a mirror to our own natures.

Eventually E figured out what grew. And what didn’t. Blueberries for example, love the rocky ridged beds that E built and filled with enough earth for them to take hold and produce an abundance of juicy berries. We have over a dozen bushes now of different varieties, including pink blueberries. Who knew? On the very top of the rock, where the trees don’t block the sun, big bouquets of petunias grow beautifully in cobalt blue and burgundy glazed earthenware pots. And a variety of tall elegant grasses do well on the sunny slopes that flank the steps. In the long narrow bed that clings to the side of the rock, just outside our kitchen window, a grouping of succulents with tiny pink flowers that bloom in autumn have taken occupancy. I am a blessed woman.

One of the things we have grown to appreciate the most about this wild horse of a garden are all the things that grow naturally, without any help from us. For the rock knows what it needs and what it wants. Like all the wild flowers that grow in the tiny pockets in the rock. Purple things, little mysterious gems that pop up everywhere all year round. I don’t know their fancy Latin names. I just call them beautiful. Then there are the daisies with their sunny smiles that hang out on the side of the fishpond with the orange spiky lilies, red hots, the scraggly fuchsia bushes and overgrown grape vine. And of course, there are the clingers and hangers-on. The pale green lichens, the mossy carpet bits and the small-scale succulents.

DSCN0735The birds love it here too. Plus, they also do their share of planting. Without them, we wouldn’t have the pink and yellow funny-faced snapdragons.

But of all these miraculous things, the most wondrous of all, are what E calls “the volunteers”, a phenomenon of sowing and reaping that occurred for the first time this summer. One that took us by surprise, and delighted us, beyond measure. And to think, it all started last winter with roasted squash and tomato salads. And that black compost box.

In the spring E filled all the rocky beds with the rich mulch that he had been collecting all winter. And from that, six mystery squash plants and three tomato plants took hold. Sprouted and grew effortlessly. Miracle plants. Gracious gifts from God and Mother Earth.

We’ve spent the summer watching them do their own thing. Just doing what comes naturally, I suppose. Add a little sunshine and water to E’s well-mulched earth. And voila! Hallelujah! A miracle.

And we slow dance under the harvest moon.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Photograph.

ma me dog on back steps at 204I love taking pictures. It’s just another one of those things that I come by honestly. I’m not a Pro, nor do I aspire to be. I just like to take pictures. Plain and simple.

My parents loved to photograph the sundry events of our domestic life. Both momentous and intimate alike. All the milestones were covered. So were the trivial, trifling and trumpery.

While browsing through our old family albums, it’s always photos of the small everyday things that captivate me the most. The prosaic and mundane events capture my imagination like no other. For it is in these ordinary images that I see the unguarded details and accidental gestures. They become the grand movements that spawn wonder, and where unexpected beauty dwells.

Everything from Ma in the kitchen stirring the Saturday night pot of spaghetti, with the food-worn wooden spoon that had grazed many lips and touched all of our tongues with its tanginess. Or The Old Man sitting in his favorite orange velvet swivel rocking chair, with his oversized horn-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, engrossed in the evening edition of the Times Chronicle. The exquisiteness of the waning summer light glinting through the living room picture window upon my unwitting father takes my breath away and stills my heart.

There were the bigger things too.

Like the photo taken of me on the Sunday I got Confirmed. There I stood in front of the Kodak Brownie camera looking more like a reluctant blushing bride than a religious devotee, who had just received the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was the combination of my not-so-holy Mona Lisa smile, the newly sanctified white leatherette Bible that I was clenching so fiercely to my precious budding bosom, and the unfashionable translucent off-white organza dress Ma bought from a secondhand shop just for this pious rite of passage. In the same cream-colored album, just a few pages later, there shines the real bride photo of my luminous sister-in-law in her fairytale wedding gown looking beyond radiant on the day she married my big brother.

Then there’s all those birthday party photos of me surrounded by my little friends in our fancy dresses and Sunday-best shoes. Sitting cross-legged on the grass or standing side-by-side posing, smiling and squinting into the glaring midsummer sun. Ma really knew how to throw a good party.

The silly lighthearted things were captured too. Like the night my sister decided to pin curl both my brothers’ hair. All the crazy amusing family antics. Giggling. Hoot and hollering. Laughing our guts out. All there. Perfectly preserved.

Pictures were taken everywhere. From the bathroom to the beach. Around the kitchen table and all around Lake Superior. In front of the Christmas tree and behind the back porch. Sitting on the front steps, the front lawn, the front seat of the car, in front of the TV, and in front of God.

Ma, in particular, had an abiding love for capturing the events of our lives. She had a Polaroid camera that brought her endless hours of fun and fascination. Its ability to seize a fragment of time instantaneously was a marvel to her. Holding the print in her fingers as the picture appeared within seconds. Right before her eyes. Pure magic. A modern day miracle. A wonder of wonders. Oh how she loved it so. I feel the same way about the photos I take on my iPhone. Mind blowing amazement.

As a result of all this finger-snapping photo-taking, I have a glorious visual documentation of my life. One that covers the panorama of events and emotions. From the bitter to the sweet. Snared at the intersection where joy meets sorrow. Where the profound punches the profane. The everyday and the spectacular events in the life of a regular ordinary family. Nothing special. Yet remarkable.

I have looked at these photos hundreds of times over the years. More so lately as I record the stories of my life growing up at 204.

The cracked and tattered black and white images from the early days. The washed-out color photos from the seventies. The blush-inducing eighties pics. All the nineties farewell kisses. Ma and The Old Man both died in early 2001, and with them went all the interesting, eccentric, peculiar, wonderful, joyful, melancholy, and magnificent photo ops.

There is a photo that I looked at this morning, as if for the very first time, although I had seen it countless times over the years. One of the black and whites taken by The Old Man.

My recollection of 204 was of a lovingly well-kept freshly painted white wartime house, with an enviable vegetable garden in back and beds of sunny happy Marigolds under the front window, with a beautiful Lilac bush that bloomed every June.

But this picture told a completely different story.

Staring down at the image in my hand I thought, “Holy shit. Were we really that fucking poor?” And then, shaking my head in disbelief, I thought, “The place was a run-down beat-up crummy shack.”

But as quickly as these thoughts passed through my mind, I saw this treasure of a photograph through my father’s youthful eyes.

Everything he held dear in life was in that photo. Ma, his beautiful Italian girl looking so lovely in her flowing cotton skirt of flowers. His shy baby girl with curious dark eyes just for him. The sweet gentle caramel colored mutt, with her ears perked up and dialed to his whistle. And of course, the leather baseball glove on the bottom step, ready for a game of catch.

Not so shabby.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Walking the Tightrope.

While Ma was lingering in her last weeks, and then days on Earth, I was walking a tightrope. It was surreal. Dreamlike most of the time. It was a delicate balance. How do you keep precious hope alive while you’re slipping headfirst into the long dark tunnel of despair?

The heart wants what the heart wants. But the head knows the hard cold truth. This cruel candor resided in the belly of the thin black line I traversed every minute of every one of those final evanescent days.

It was as though I was walking high above this fragile life that was unraveling. Thread by thread. Bit by bit. One piece at a time. Tiny fragments dissolving into dust.

There I was, out of my body. Looking down. A witness to my own personal heartbreak.

The line was taut. The emotions tauter. I was neither light on my feet. Nor was I nimble. There was no grace in my step. I was just there. Trying to breathe. Trying to keep it together. Whatever “it” was.

The multi-layers of tyrannizing fear permeated ever fibre and pore of my body. Suffocating my soul. Strangling my spirit. I was bound and gagged by the evil twins, anguish and anxiety.

Fear of losing Ma. Fear of life afterwards. Fear of going on without her. Fear of falling apart. Fear of my emotions and what they could do if unleashed. Fear for my family, especially my children. Fear that my heart would never be the same. Fear that I could not go on. Fear that I would.

Fear. Fear. Fear.

With each teetering step, I wondered if this was the defining one. The tripper. The one where all equilibrium was lost. The pivotal point where standing meets stumbling. The place where I falter. Then free fall.

Down. Down. Down.

Eventually, and inevitably, I did fall. It was inescapable. I couldn’t stay up there forever. I had to come back down to earth. Face the other inevitable. Ma was dying. And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Except be there.

In the end, falling was an epic relief. I would have let go sooner had I known that I had a safety net. It was there all along.

Yes, for I fell sweetly and safely into the arms of everyone who loved me.

 

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Letting Go.

tom and boo on the rocking chairA few weeks ago I gave up. Surrendered. Let it all go. Threw a private tantrum. Held a pity party for one. Screamed silent rage.

What exactly brought me to this place? What triggered it? How did I go from, life is pretty good to life is fucking shit? Why did I switch stations? Which straw broke the camel’s back?

I don’t know.

I wasn’t exactly blindsided but I didn’t see the point tipping either. Nor the stubborn brick wall that refused to budge. I only knew that I was too tired and weary to figure out a way around it. Or through it. Over or under. The gloves were off. I threw in the towel.

I’m not talking about your garden-variety physical tiredness, the kind that takes well to sensible homespun cures. A long hot luxurious bath. Lazy afternoon nap in the sun. Curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. Or simply getting a good night’s sleep with nothing but candy-coated honeysuckle dreams.

I’m talking about a malaise that at times appears so dark and impenetrable. So suffocating yet seductive. Like a Dark Hero who feeds off the tiredness deep inside my soul. The relentlessness of daily life becomes intolerable. The path is overgrown with thickets and prickly thorns. Abandoned by my guide, I grope for a lifeline. I struggle to keep my head above water.

The dove does not appear with the olive leaf.

Little back story. Two things happened in my first year of University. I got pregnant. And I made a conscious decision to be a better person. Partly for my son’s sake, but mostly for mine. I wanted us to have a bigger life than the one Ma and The Old Man lived. This notion, along with a burning desire to prove that I wasn’t a total loser, fueled my passions. Colored my every move.

I was highly motivated. I became a triple, possibly quadruple, Type-A Person. I had much to prove. I was a driven woman on a mission to change everything about myself that I deemed unworthy. Nothing worse than that.

With this ambitious desire for self-improvement came a lifelong pursuit of all things spiritual. I not only walked away from Christ Lutheran Church but I kicked any form of Christianity to the curb. I didn’t walk away from God, just the institution of religion and all that it entailed.

I wanted a deeper, more authentic relationship with my higher power. I wanted something real and meaningful. Personal and gritty. Truthful. No holds barred. I also wanted to feel better.

I became a seeker. Not just of wisdom. But of peace and beauty and truth. And the cynosure, my everlasting muse, love.

Along the way, I discovered my personal gurus and motivational mentors. Everyone from pop-psychology writers to spiritual superstars. Philosophers to fiction writers. Kindergarteners to Doctorates. From famous television hosts to an intimate circle of girlfriends. Colleagues and classmates. Poets. Artists. Musicians. Healers and helpers. All wise, witty and wonderful.

I voraciously read the books. Listened to the audio tapes. Recited the positive affirmations. Attended the lectures. Filled countless pages with lists of things I was grateful for. Gave thanks for everything, and everyone, from Gandhi to Mother Goose. I kept careful watch over my thoughts. Fearful that any negativity might manifest some really bad juju.

Thoughts become things. We are the creators of our world.

I smiled serenely. Like Buddha. Bowed my head. Breathed in the good and let out the bad. Walked barefoot. Sat silently. Practiced yoga and meditation. Got in touch with my body, mind and spirit. I did the cha cha cha.

All these things helped.

But there are times when it is exhausting. Bloody hard work. Being good, and constantly striving to be better, possibly vying for sainthood even, is downright taxing. Every now again it makes me cranky. Just like the two-year old lying on the concrete floor in the middle of the frozen food aisle at Walmart, I throw one hell of a tantrum.

The fortunate thing these days, few witness the thrashing and kicking and wailing at the top of my lungs.

No. No. No. Life’s not fair, I whimper.

I don’t want to be good, better, best. I don’t give a shit about my higher self. I want to hang out in the Dark Side. Amongst the shadowy villains. Monsters and miserable men. Mess around with Lucifer and his gang.

I don’t want to play nice.

It’s at this humbling and spirit-siphoning dead end that I surrender all. Every last bit. I just let go. Hand over the reins to God, the universe, Mother Earth, my Guardian Angel Franny and her sister Zoe.

It usually takes about a week to release the sad, frightened, angry, resentful, jealous, lonely, toxic little child that sometimes grows insidiously within the grown-up me.

To finish this business, I don’t go anywhere exotic. I don’t check into a hotel under an assumed name and have an exorcism performed. No bed rest nor hospital stay is required.

I just stop. Listen to the quiet voice within. Cut myself some slack. Then let go.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: How I Learned to Meditate.

boo on the rocking chairI learned to meditate while Ma was dying. If she had died suddenly. Or in another place. At a different time. I’d probably have a different story to tell.

As an enduring student of yoga, I made countless attempts over the years to learn the nebulous art of meditation. But I just didn’t get it.  Stilling my mind was impossible. Sitting cross-legged for anything longer than a minute or two just about killed me. Om aside, staying focused on ‘nothing’ was a ridiculous premise at best. Stopping the endless chatter inside my mind was frustrating.  All of it made me uncomfortable. Pain, pain, pain. That was my mantra.

I also tried meditating while in the corpse pose. This just put me to sleep.  Within minutes I was dead to the world. A gaping mouthed drooling transcendental disaster.

Ma used to say that God works in mysterious ways.  I didn’t get that either.  I’ve always expected God to be more direct.  Obvious. Straightforward.  Shoot from the hip. Strike with a bolt of lightening. Flood the earth. And part the seas. Regardless of their color.

Who knows. Maybe Ma and I were talking about different Gods.  Despite all those Sunday mornings sitting side-by-side in the ass-numbing wooden pews of Christ Lutheran Church. Hers was an enigmatic deity filled with paradoxes, parables and puzzles. And with an inexplicable and absolutely unfathomable approach to running things. Mine was simple. He/She spoke my language. Read my letters. Understood the complexities and subtle nuances of the word fuck. And why it was part of my daily vernacular.

Then Ma had a heart attack.

I thanked God for not striking her dead instantly.  Which He/She most certainly could have, especially if He/She was in a particularly angry mood on the morning of Ma’s heart attack. Remember all that scary shit from the Old Testament?

Instead we got another 18 months to enjoy Ma’s presence on Earth. And what a gift that time was.

Most of the last six months of her life was spent in a hospital, on the West Coast.  She came for a visit a few months after the heart attack and never left.  By this time The Old Man was living, and I use this term loosely, in a dreary Senior’s home back in Northwestern Ontario.  They died 5 weeks apart, and 3 thousand miles away from each other.  They hooked up in heaven though. At least that’s what I believe. That notion brought me comfort then. It brings me comfort now. Then, I’ve always liked stories with happy endings.

We held vigil by Ma’s bedside. 

ma + aimee + abbyAt times there were enough of us to form a small crowd. We clustered around Ma’s frail sheet-draped declining body. Her little flock of fragile birds. Still hungry to be fed. We took turns holding her hand. We laughed. Cried. Prayed. Told stories. I’m guessing there was nothing unusual about our good-bye time with Ma. We weren’t the first family to experience this.  But this was our first time. Our first rodeo.

My heart was fractured. Armor chinked. Equilibrium faltered as the earth beneath my feet shook. I was standing on a fault line with nowhere to go. With my lifelong safety net lying in a bed dying.

This was also a time of transformation.

My favorite time with Ma was when it was just the two of us.  Not just because it was precious mother-daughter time, which was slipping rapidly and elusively away. But because it brought me peace.  In the midst of family chaos and emotional gut-wrenching wringer days, this quiet alone time with Ma became a place to escape. A safe haven. A sanctuary. It was the sheltered harbor where I moored my heart and allowed my spirit to rest. Next to hers.

It was in this quiet place that I learned about God and his mysterious ways. It was during these soft murmuring twilight hours that I learned to meditate. Ma taught me everything I needed to know about the stuff that mattered in life. This was no different.

Hours would pass. Time had no meaning. I sat next to her bed in the clinically designed hospital chair, with the hard vinyl seat and wooden arms.  The type fashioned for short visits and good posture. Neither of which applied in this situation.  But it didn’t matter.

Very little was said during these visits.  Words were no longer necessary.

I watched Ma sleep. The gentle rise and fall of her breath against her flannel nightgown. The stillness of her body.  Her peaceful repose. It soothed me. Ma had always been able to comfort me when I was hurt.  Nothing had changed in that regard.

I slipped effortlessly into rhythm with Ma’s breathing. Inhaled. Exhaled. I closed my eyes. I let the world drift away. There was no dying. There was no living. There was just being. Ma. Me. God.

And with the ease of a soaring eagle, I was meditating.

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