Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Open Your Heart Wide and Let in the Love.

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Girl Warrior. Go where your heart leads you. And don’t run from its softness. Let it be tender. Kind. Compassionate. Gentle. Extend your hand to another and grab on tight. Then let go. Therein lies your strength.

Love again. Then again. And again. You don’t have to get it right. Or perfect. Just let love come naturally. Accept that sometimes it will hurt. Don’t let this frighten you. Don’t push it away. Or turn your back. Don’t give up on it. Most importantly, learn to recognize love when it comes your way. It doesn’t always come gift-wrapped.

Your power to love is your secret weapon.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Annual Thanksgiving Jam.

316591_10150309850086266_1794444596_nI love Thanksgiving.  It’s like Christmas without the retail hook and hassle.  In Canada it’s a fairly low-key, somewhat muted holiday.  I find this understatement peculiar, since we celebrate in October, which is smack-dab in middle of Autumn’s glory. In most of our country, it’s a month of colorful spectacle.  Fall is strutting her stuff.  Showing off in every possible way.  Crisp days.  Big blue skies.  All those bold radiant colors.  Red and orange dominate the scene.

But in typical Canadian fashion there isn’t a lot of hoopla around this holiday.  Perhaps because it falls during a month when we have a fun and flamboyant fete. Creepy costumes and free candy are far more compelling than counting your blessings and gobbling turkey. Maybe having two holidays in the same month is just too much merriment and mirth.  Thanksgiving is like the peas of October.  You just want to get it over with so you can get onto the good stuff.  Have some dessert.  Lick your lips.  Let it all hang out.

At the end of the day, there’s just none of the fanfare that our southern neighbors bestow on their holiday of the same name.  No Macy’s Parade. No colossal pro football marathons.  This isn’t our biggest travel time of the year. We don’t flock from hither and yon to be together.  That’s what we do at Christmas. Plus, the next day isn’t Black Friday, the American fever-pitched super-sized shopping day of the year.

That’s just not us.

Technically the Canadian Thanksgiving occurs on the second Monday in October.  However, I doubt many of us actually celebrate on that day.  I bet if we took a poll, we’d discover many of us “do it” on the Sunday.  This allows at least one full day for recovery. It’s damn near impossible to fill your face with a ton of tryptophan-laced turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, canned or homemade cranberry sauce, a buffet of sauce-laden vegetables, copious amounts of wine or beer, ridiculous amounts of sweets, not to mention pumpkin pie, all topped off with strong freshly brewed coffee, with or without a hit of Baileys.  You can’t possibly expect to go to work or school or daycare the next day.  Seriously, can you?   No.

The Americans get Black Friday and Christmas shopping.  We get an alarm clock catapulting us from our collective Canadian tryptophan comas.  It’s a deplorable first world problem.

So in full-out Canadian style rebellion we celebrate a day earlier.  It’s defiant I know.  I guess to be fair, and God knows I’m all about fairness, not all Canadians do this.  But this is the way it goes down at our house. And has, for as far back as I can remember.  I’m a real stickler for family traditions. Just the way I roll. Or rock.  Bang my head and fall over.

When I was younger I completely overlooked, and took for granted, the “thanks” in Thanksgiving.  I didn’t appreciate the earth’s bountiful harvest, its lavish cornucopia.  All that was lost on me.  Christmas was the shining star, the big holiday kahuna and nothing could compare. It was all I could think about from the moment the Maple trees, that lined our street, turned from green to gold.  Yes, the family meal was delicious.  And yes, having a long weekend in the middle of October was nice too.  But beyond that, it was a lukewarm holiday at best.  No matter how hard Ma tried to make it lovely and festive.  It was never more than a pre-curser to Christmas. Well into adulthood I was still wishy-washy when it came to Thanksgiving.

300420_10150309848916266_1742277456_nBut that all changed about twenty years ago.

Something wonderful and miraculous and completely unexpected happened.  It began with a casual impromptu jam on the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend.  It was unplanned. Unrehearsed. Unscheduled. Nothing fancy. No big fuss.  Beer and chips.  Maybe a crudites or two tossed together.  A few bluegrass musicians.  And a whole lot of really fine music.  Little did we know that this modest unpretentious shindig would blossom into something legendary.  At least in our circle, amongst our tribe.  That first Saturday night grew into something so glorious and stupendous.  One of the highlights of our year. Talked about for days and weeks afterwards.  Imagine that.

Quite simply, on that Saturday night twenty years ago, our Thanksgiving was transformed.  A new tradition arose from the ashes of apathy.

The following year we planned the occasion.  Somewhat.  We invited a few more jammers, family and friends to join us for an evening of appies and music.  It was still an intimate and simple affair. A kitchen party through and through.  But the day after, basking in the glow of an evening done well, we began planning the next one.  By year three, we opened our home to even more musicians, family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.  There was a generous overflow of musical talent, food, laughter, kindness, joy, love and memories.  Beautiful memories.

304123_10150309850896266_2094474882_nThus began B and E’s Annual Thanksgiving Jam.

For over a decade we gathered for these jams on the Saturday night.  The morning after, I would wake up early to put the turkey on for our traditional family dinner.  This was a smaller, more intimate festivity attended by our immediate family and a few close friends.

We celebrated and gave thanks this way for well over a decade.  The Saturday Night Jam and the Sunday Family Feast.  Weeks of planning and preparing food followed by two intense days of celebration became too much for this old broad.  E and I made the decision to combine the jam with the feast, pare back the guest list to a manageable number and host a less demanding Thanksgiving Jam on the Sunday evening.  This has been pleasant and enjoyable.  But just not the same.

Last Thanksgiving we had no idea what was in store for us.  E may have had some inkling because the cancer was brewing in his body.  But the rest of us were clueless.  It was a big year.  One that took its toll.  Drained us both physically and emotionally.  We were often in the mud wrestling with the devil.  Other times we danced and soared with the angels.  We were all over the place spiritually.  E has had his recovery to contend with.  But so have I.  Sometimes I think he’s farther along that road than me.  I’m still untrusting of the process of life.  Wary and weary at times.

But we’re here.  I’m grateful for that.

And because we’re so very grateful, E and I decided that this year we would resurrect our Annual Saturday Night Thanksgiving Jam.  We’re doing this thing.  Celebrating the past year and all that it has taught us.  We’re celebrating our life. Our family. Friends. Music. Laughter. Joy.  Love. There will be turkey and ham and all the traditional trimmings. There will be apple and pumpkin pies.  Autumn will be showing off.  So will we.

And our hearts.  Our sweet Canadian hearts will give thanks for the opulent abundance that is all around us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Where Would we be Without our Mothers.

Ma and Daughter Number One wearing matching sweaters.

I miss Ma.  Every day.  Some days I pine for her in the deepest way.  Especially at this time of year.  I’d like to sit and have tea and cookies with her.  Just one more time.  Phone her up to chat.  Long distance to wherever she is.   There are days when I weep.  Uncontrollably.  It’s like a sad Candid Camera.  When it’s least expected.  Tears.  I never know when they’ll erupt.  Or why.  I can look at the same picture of Ma a thousand times and all it does is evoke a smile.  But every now and again I’ll see it through a different lens.  And the tears fall.  Like the loss just happened.  Heart broken anew.

Ma was the perfect mother for me.  She wasn’t perfect.  And she’d be the first to point out her flaws. But only Ma could have given birth to me.  Without she, there would be no me.

I had a good mother.  And I gave birth to a good mother.  I am doubly blessed.  Twice heaven-sent.   Daughter Number One (DNO) gave me a granddaughter and made me a “boo.”  In our family this means grandmother.  It was an endearing childhood nickname that we hauled out of antiquity.  Ma was already Gran, Granny and Grandma.  No other title seemed quite as fitting so we came up with the boo thing.  And it just felt right.

I always knew I would be a mother.  It wasn’t like I lied awake at night dreaming of the day when I would hold a child in my arms.  It was just something I took for granted.  Understood would happen.  And I am so grateful that it did.  I love being a mom.  I love being a boo.

When Ma was a young girl, she did dream of being a mother one day.  Having a family to call her own. By the time she was ten both her parents were gone, and for all intents and purposes, Ma and her four sisters were left orphaned.  They were raised by their maternal grandmother.  Ma loved her dearly.  But she longed for a mother’s love.  I get that.  There’s nothing quite like it, especially when you’ve got a good one.

It was from that motherless child’s perspective that Ma’s desire grew.  To one day be a mother herself.  There was never any doubt in her mind. No second guessing.  It was her magnificent obsession.  Her four kids were everything to her.  As were her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Quite simply, Ma loved kids.  Not just her own. But everyones.  That was where her heart was.  And kids loved her.  Drawn to her like Mother Earth.  They may have come initially for her cookies.  But came back for her kindness.  And she had it in spades.  Her heart was compassionate.  Her understanding empathic.  Who wouldn’t want to run into the arms of someone so emotionally gifted.

Ma holding me as we pose for the camera.

It was love at first sight for both Ma and me.  I don’t remember of course, but on some level I think we do.  Somewhere inside our spirit lives this first moment of meeting.  Ma said I was born around noon.  It was summer time.  Possibly the living was easy.  Ma was happy.  From what I was told her water broke, she had me, missed lunch and that “I was the cutest baby.”  As it just so happens, my three siblings were also the cutest babies.  It’s nothing shy of a miracle how every mother has the cutest baby, or babies.  I love how equitable the universe is on this subject. But equality aside, this was our moment for mutual admiration.  My three older siblings all had their turn.  Now this was mine.

Ma said I had dark brown eyes and tons of long black hair.  I used to pull it and make myself cry.  And then look at Ma like she was the culprit.  Ma loved to tell this tale of my infantile masochism.  It was her “cute baby” story.  And I couldn’t get enough of it.  Partly because it made us both laugh.  But also because Ma always told it with an air of pride in my crowning glory.  Like this was some extraordinary accomplishment on both our parts.  And at such a young age.

Me and Daughter Number One posing for the camera.

I remember the birth of my DNO like it was yesterday.  I was two weeks overdue.  And super-sized.  Next to me, an elephant looked svelte.  It was the beginning of October and Autumn was showing off as usual.  I was hoping DNO would arrive a week early for Ma’s birthday.  What a perfect gift this would have been. But that day came and went.  Then I placed my hopes on my best friend’s birthday in the middle of September, but that too came and went.  By the end of September, the doctor decided that if the baby didn’t arrive over the weekend, he would intervene.  Monday came and still no baby.  An induction was scheduled for 5:00pm that day.  This was the last thing I wanted but by this time, I was compliant.  Ready.  I hadn’t seen my feet in months.  I was swollen.  And exhausted.  It was time for the bun to come out of the oven.

Perhaps it was just a curious coincidence.  Or maybe DNO was finally ready.  Because not long after we arrived at the hospital, I felt the first pangs of labor.  No need for inducement.  This became my “cute baby” story for DNO.  Just the suggestion was enough for her to take things into her own hands.  Do things her way.  This willfulness has never left her.  It is one of the things I admire and love most about DNO.  It has taken her to wonderful places that I have only imagined.  It is the engine that drives her courage.  Her strength.  Her determination to live life to the fullest.  It propels her towards big dreams.

My other “cute baby” story is how she came out smiling.  She had a happy spirit right from the start.  This too in part defines her.  I looked into her beautiful dark brown eyes and it was love at first sight.  And I knew.  There would be no stopping a girl with a cheerful demeanor and a will of steel.  Watch out world.  Here she comes.

On some level the birth of my granddaughter was more profound than the birth of my three children.  When you’re in labor you’re caught up in the fray.  There’s no time for perspective.  Reflection.  Or introspection.  That comes afterwards.  But when your child is having a child, you are witness to the miraculous. And you know it.  With every fiber of your being.  Grandchild number one (GNO) came into my world one beautiful morning at the end of summer and made it a better place.  All has been right  ever since.

Daughter Number One holding Granddaughter Number One.

My daughter had been in labor for over two days.  It was difficult to watch my child in pain.  If I could, I would have taken it from her.  It’s natural for a mother to want to take the bullet.  Jump in front of the train.  Walk without shoes.  And this was one of those instances where I would have done anything for her.  But this was her journey to travel.  Her odyssey.  Her miracle in the making.  Her moment.  My job was to wait.  To comfort.  And to love.

And wait  we did.  In the final hours before GNO’s arrival, my husband and I sat on the floor outside my daughter’s hospital room.  From that vantage point, we listened while my daughter’s partner whispered words of encouragement and love.  We listened as the medical folks led her through the final stages of childbirth.  We listened as she became a mother.  We listened as the doctor declared that a beautiful healthy baby girl was born.  Those were the joyful words we were waiting to hear.  Then it was time to meet our new granddaughter.  I held her in my arms and she looked up at me with deep dark chocolate eyes.  Just like Ma’s.  And this is my “cute baby” story for her.  I remind her often that she has her great grandmother’s black Italian eyes.  And that their time together was brief.  But they knew each other well.

Ma was a remarkable mother.  My daughter is too.

Ma taught me everything she knew.  How to bake a perfect ginger cookie.  Sew a seam on a summer dress.  Tend to an open wound.  Mend a broken heart.  She taught me how important it was to listen to your child.  And to hear the words spoken.  And those not.  She taught me how to open my heart.  And when to keep my mouth shut.  She showed me how to make much of little.  And to celebrate the birth of a child.  For there is no greater gift.

My daughter is teaching me every day.  I watch her with my granddaughter and my heart stops.  She’s engaging.  And smart. Full of all the right instincts.  She knows how and when to discipline.  She knows how to grow an infant into a little girl into a preteen and one day into a strong young woman.  She knows how to entertain her daughter.  And when to let her entertain herself.   She’s funny.  And fun.  Kids are drawn to her.  They see her great big heart.  And welcoming arms.  Who wouldn’t want to be embraced by those.

Yes, both Ma and DNO have taught me much. I like to think that I’m a better woman because of these two extraordinary ones.

A few weeks after this photo was taken my granddaughter was born. A few months later Ma was gone. They knew each other briefly but well.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: A Good Snow Day Trumps All.

Me and The Old Man posing in the snowy backyard.

I love a good snow day.  I always have. We had one last week.  They are pretty rare in this part of the country so when one happens it’s an ‘event.’  Not momentous like Christmas, a wedding or a milestone birthday.  But in some nonsensical way, celebratory just the same.  And if the truth be told, the amount of snow that causes a snow day on the West Coast is laughable compared to that of my wonder years.  A heavy enough frost out here can bring the city to its collective knees.  The size of the celebration is not necessarily equal to the depth of the snow either.  It’s not always relative.  I think even Einstein would agree.

When I was a kid a snow day was synonymous with no school.  That in itself was cause enough for celebration.  Nothing much has changed since then.  When my kids were younger they behaved pretty much the same way I did. Their reactions echoed those of a girl growing up in another place, another time.  Same holds true today for my grand daughter.

It pretty much goes down like this.  If you wake up to a magical and mysterious Brobdingnagian sized nighttime dump, you immediately turn to some form of authority for their take on the situation.  I’m not talking about your parents here.  I’m talking the BIG authority.  And no not God.  I’m talking the Media.  And only the local, close-to-home purveyors of news and weather will do.  Who cares what’s going on in the rest of the world when you’ve got a day full of plans to make, your life to reconfigure.  Your snow day trumps all.  Will you do the happy dance, jump for joy, slap the high five?  Or will you grit your teeth, throw on an extra sweater, button up your pioneer spirit and walk five million miles to school in this crap?  One’s emotional landscape can be turned on a dime depending on the news.  Pretty or ugly.  Which is it?  Truth is, it’s just cold precipitation and sometimes it can be pretty ugly.

Let’s say the news is cause for celebration, a paradoxical thing often occurs, whether it happened last week, last year or the last century.  The very same kids who are incapable of pulling up their bootstraps (literally) and getting themselves to school are supernaturally transformed into hardy Nordic tribesmen who charge fearlessly into the very depths of the white stuff.  Here they commune, they romp about, and play gleefully like there is no tomorrow.  And in truth there isn’t, at least not like this.  This may be it.  The one and only snow day.  The one chance to throw caution to the wind, make a snowman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Bob, fall backwards, with complete trust into the blanketed earth, to make a glorious one-of-a-kind snow angel, slide down the closest hill on a rickety wooden sleigh, broken toboggan or hunk of cardboard, have a spontaneous snowball fight, put on old leather skates, cry out to God for the sheer splendor of it all, and just let go.

Snow is seductive.  It beckons.  Calls your name.  Calls you forth.  And calls you back home. It calls a treasured daughter to a garden-sized ice rink her Old Man made in the backyard solely for her skating pleasure.  It calls out love through the years, the passage of time, from the heart of the whiteness.