Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Friday Night Dinner.

MamaMia cooking (1)

This is a little fictional riff I wrote on routines and rituals, the dance of love, the intricacies of marriage and cooking Italian on Friday nights.

Pasta and Salad

They were back to back cooking Friday night dinner. The usual. Pasta and salad. He asked her what she was thinking. She told him the truth. He changed his mind about slicing the cherry tomato in half. Instead he turned to admire her lovely sensual back as she stirred the marinara sauce.

Basil and Oregano

His grip tightened. The sweetness of freshly plucked basil and oregano enveloped the kitchen. The spaghetti strap on her white cotton sundress slipped loosely over her tanned shoulder. Her hair scooped high in a messy tail exposed her delicate neck. He was no longer hungry. The truth had that affect on him.

Marinara Sauce

The sway to her hips as she grooved to Coldplay broke his heart. Nobody said it was easy. They got that right. Her sultry Italian lips kissed the wooden spoon smothered in steaming marinara. When they first started cooking together she would invite him to taste her sauce. But it was no longer his palate that she was seeking to please.

Steamy Sacred Ritual

She adjusted the seasoning and plunged the spoon back into the thick rich sauce. He noticed that one of her turquoise earrings was missing and this made him feel sad. God, it was hotter than hell outside and sizzling in their tiny kitchen. Yet she insisted on keeping this weekly culinary ritual. “Sacred,” she called it. Insane, was more like it.

Boiling Water

He was sweating bullets yet she was cool as a cucumber. Her full childbearing hips rotated in pulsing infinity circles. Round and round. Effortlessly sustaining the rhythm of the driving guitar riff, all the while stirring the marinara. Irony is cruel at times. Some voids were impossible to fill. The stainless steel pasta pot, a wedding gift from her parents, had come to a full boil. Spitting and splashing beads of water violently onto the stove top. Like angry tears. He could relate.

Fistfuls of Linguine.

As she reached for the pasta, he could see the thin translucent scar on the inside of her fragile wrist. Exposed and formidable. Skimming the surface of her veins. He longed to run his finger across it. Feel her vulnerability once more. He remembered how red and swollen it was at first. Like a lost river. But they were beyond that now. She measured the linguine by fistfuls. One for him. One for her. One for the pot. Just in case.

Forks and Other Kokkengrej.

She reached for the stainless steel fork that was stuffed in the pottery utensil jar next to the stove. It was the big one he used to remove the steaks from the BBQ. He knew it was bad form to pierce the meat like that. Releases their juices, she would chastise. Toughens the meat and makes it hard to chew. He knew this. But he couldn’t resist the urge to stab. Impale lifeless objects. It was in his blood. He was once an ancient warrior. She was the Goddess of basil and other fine herbs.

Al Dente.

He leaned back on the counter and watched as she stirred the pasta. He had difficulty breathing around her. There was a time when this was fun. And romantic. He closed his eyes and remembered. How she used to test the spaghetti. How she’d take a few strands and toss them across the room. How they giggled and applauded the sticky ones. How they carved their love in steam.

Breaking Bread

She insisted he cut the bread into perfectly polite little pieces. “It’s not rocket science,” he scoffed as he pulled out the scarred pine board and prepared the filone for cutting. It wasn’t all that different from sawing a piece of wood. A skill he had mastered at his father’s side by the time he was eight. She was all wrong about the bread though. It was made to be broken, torn and ripped apart. Stuffed into their mouths like savages.

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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.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Five Days.

E with his bass jamming at home.

E with his bass jamming at home.

In many ways I’m a creature of habit.  Sometimes I wish it weren’t so.  But at times it’s a blessing.  I slipped as easily into this new routine as my favorite summer flip flops. Driving across town to the hospital that first night felt familiar.  Like I had done it a hundred times already.

Truth was, I had.  Flash back a decade.  Same time of the year.  Same weather.  Same heavy feeling in my chest.  Except a different vehicle.  Different driver.  This cross-town trip had been part of our daily evening routine those last few months of Ma’s life.

I hated that this was so easy to do.

E was still in the ER when I got there.  It was a different wing with a large flatscreen TV and chairs set up in rows like it was movie night at the local community centre.  The chairs were full of patients and their respective support groups.  Beleaguered husbands and wives. Friends and lovers.  Sundry others.  Some of the patients were hooked up to IV’s on portable stands.  The place was bustling with movement and activity.  Even those with IV’s were shuffling around.  They reminded me of the Walking Dead.  Eyes wide open but with no particular destination.  Just a scent embedded in their nostrils and an indestructible urge to follow it.  E wasn’t one of those.

I found him in a hallway propped up on a gurney and hooked up to a couple of IVs.  Fluids and antibiotics.  These would be his primary sources of sustenance for the next five days.

He greeted me with his usual wide toothy grin and rascally blue eyes.  He looked better than he had in days.  It was a relief to see him smile.  Maybe things were turning around, I thought.  In a way they were.  It was a subtle shift.  But I could feel it the second I saw him.  After more than two decades with this man I could read him like a cheap paperback novel.  Smiles like that do not lie.

“I’m feeling much better,” he said as I leaned in to kiss him.

“You look a million times better,” I said. “What’s with the hallway?”

“Waiting for a room.  I could be here all night.”

“I’m just glad you’re here being taken care of,” I said.

I stood next to his gurney while we visited.  Moving aside for passing orderlies or nurses pushing stretchers through the narrow corridor.  It was noisy and more like a Pub then a hospital. The season aside, there was something uncannily festive in the air.  I kept my gloves on while we visited. Partly because I was chilly but mostly because I felt submerged in germs.  People were coughing and hacking all around us.  My imagination was running rampant.  I couldn’t shake the fear that I’d catch some crazy incurable virus or ugly transmittable disease and land up in a gurney next to E.  Although I couldn’t think of anything finer than lying next to him, one of us had to remain healthy.

I don’t know how long I stayed with E that first night.  Time takes on a different dimension in situations like these.  It stretches on endlessly.  And it flies by in a second.  I only know I left when we were both too tired to visit any longer.  I kissed him goodbye and headed home.

This would be my afterwork routine for remainder of the week.

When I visited E the next evening he was in a private room. The lights were too bright.  Glaring and jarring.  It was like a science fiction movie.  It hurt my eyes.  Assaulted by fluorescent lighting. E was still hooked up to the IV and looked so small lying on a normal sized bed. I had grown used to seeing him in small cots and gurneys.  To see him looking so frail and vulnerable took my breath away.  He looked like a little old man.  Just like his Old Man in fact, the year before he died at eighty-seven.

Where was my E?  How had he gotten to this place so quickly?  Was he really this feeble?  Rail-thin and boney.  His cheeks sunken and sporting shocking grey stubble.  And his voice.  It sounded just like his father’s.  Not E’s.  Who was this old man that had taken my love hostage?

I took a deep breath and forged on.

We chatted leisurely about his day as if we were in our own living room unwinding after work. He was full of praise and gratitude for the care he had been given by the nurses.  All things considered he felt good.  He jokingly referred to his portable IV stand as his dance partner.  He sashayed her through the hallways, he laughed.  Round and round in circles just to get some exercise.  For a moment, I was jealous of a steel pole and a plastic bag full of saline water. E’s mouth was still in pain and his tongue was swollen.  Yet things were improving.  He ate green jello.

I kissed him on the cheek.  Not the lips.  I didn’t want to touch his mouth for fear it would hurt.  It was difficult to imagine that my kiss would not bring pleasure to his lips.

I stepped out into the dark rainy night.  Alone.

On Wednesday night everything changed.  Originally, E had been scheduled to have a CAT scan after the surgeon gave him the results of the biopsy, which wasn’t supposed to have been for another week or so.  But because he was already in the medical stream the doctor ordered the CAT Scan that day.

The surgeon had been in to see E earlier in the evening.  M arrived right after her last class.  She was curled up comfortably on the little leather couch under the window, her grey flannel knapsack resting next to her feet.  She was chatting quietly with her dad when I walked in the room.  The lights were still blaring.  There were no soft shadows cast.  I took the chair under the hanging TV.

I had barely taken my seat when E broke the news.

“I don’t know how to say this,” he said. “So I’m just going to say it the way the doctor told me.  I have cancer.  It’s the early stages. The doctor said he can take care of it.  He’ll get rid of it.  Don’t worry.”

Don’t worry.  Don’t worry.  Don’t worry.

I wanted to throw up.

“That’s better news than it could have been,” I blurted. “And if you’re going to get cancer, this is the place to be.  We have the best of everything here.”

I rattled on.  Spewing the fragmented bits and pieces of information I had picked up from work.  One of our clients at the Agency was the BC Cancer Foundation so I knew something about treatments and research.  How advanced our Province was in this field.  While the advertising crone spouted lines of optimistic copy from a recent campaign, all the wife wanted to do was ram her fist through the wall.
On the way home, M and I stopped into the little Mexican cafe up the road from our house and picked up beef burritos.  We sat in front of the television and ate in silence.  The room reeked of salsa, refried beans and fear.

On Thursday night my sister and her boyfriend came to visit.  She had called E earlier to see if there was anything she could bring him.  He wanted KFC.  He wanted solid food.  Anything but green jello and tomato soup.  He craved something nasty.  Junky. Greasy. Chicken licken good.  She walked into the room with the illicit contraband concealed in a brown paper bag.  You could smell it the second she got off the elevator.  E’s eyes widened with delight.  And gratitude.  He opened the bag immediately and ravenously started in on the chicken.  It hurt his mouth but he didn’t care.  It was the first solid food he’d had in a week.  Green jello doesn’t count.

It was good to see him eat something that didn’t require a straw. We were like proud parents feeding solids to an infant for the very first time.  Grinning from ear to ear.  It was a surreal visit.  If not for E being hooked up to a monitor and IV, we could have been drinking tea and chatting around our kitchen table. The conversation ebbed and flowed.  Intermittent at times.  B regaled us with stories of his misbegotten youth.  We laughed.  We stared at the floor.  We were silent.  Then it was time to leave.

I kissed E on the cheek, whispered I love you and said goodnight.  I didn’t look back.

I had Friday off but still had to get up early for a doctor’s appointment that I had booked weeks earlier.  I was sitting in the clinic waiting room taking Instagram photos of my boots when my photographic musings were interrupted by a text.  It was E.  He was getting sprung from the joint.  Hallelujah.

By the time I got to the hospital he was going through the check-out process with his nurse.  It was the first time I’d seen him upright in five days. Without the IV stand, he looked like himself. E had returned.

E drove us home.  The sun was shining for the first time in five days.  It was a large blue sky.  Just like the ones that hung over 204 when I was growing up.

Things were looking up.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: We are the Girl Warriors.

The Girl Warrior on top of the wall at Hillcrest Park.

I’m a warrior.  It’s taken me decades to accept this notion.  But I now know it to be true.  How could I have been otherwise?  I was raised by one of the best warriors God ever created.  Ma, my Warrior Queen.  The courageous one.  The small package containing a fierce and valiant spirit.  My inspiration. Teacher.  Leader.  The one I will follow into the dark.

I have raised two glorious Girl Warriors.  They too inspire me.  Every day and in every way.  They stand tall.  And walk with their own swagger.  Speak their truth. They challenge. Question. Test.  They are noble.  I have a grand daughter who is a young Girl Warrior.  Already fiercely independent.  A mind of her own.  An adventurer off to see the world.  No holding her back. Then there’s my bonus Girl Warrior.  My daughter-in-law. The one who captured my son’s attention and the hearts of his entire family. Another small package containing a wondrous, magical, spunky soul.

These five extraordinary Girl Warriors have taught me much over the years. They’ve helped me unearth my Girl Warrior.  To not be afraid of her magical powers. To celebrate. Honor. Appreciate. And applaud.

There’s no age limit to being a Girl Warrior.  She doesn’t look a particular way.  She comes in all ages, sizes, shapes, colors. She’s out there.  And inside every girl who enters the world.  She’s the face of hope at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.

The 10 Steps to Becoming a Girl Warrior:

My first Girl Warrior fearlessly staring down the camera.

1. Be real.  Authentically you.  Be the girl you are when you’re alone in your room.  The girl who sings into the hairbrush.  Or dances like a wild one.  The girl who jumps on the bed with crazy abandon.  And cries in the mirror so bad the mascara runs like black rivers down her cheeks.  A girl who curses at the ceiling and vows to never speak again. The one who drops to her knees and prays that someone or something is listening. Be the girl who not only hears the music but makes the music.  The girl who doesn’t just march to the beat of her own drum but runs, leaps and flies. She’s the leader of the band.  Not the groupie.  Open the door to your room. Let the rest of the world see this strong Girl Warrior.

2. Stare down your fears.  Look them straight in the eyes.  Laugh at them.  Call their bluff.  Walk right through them.  Don’t go around.  Don’t avoid.  Face them head-on. Take a deep breath.  Or a hundred  breaths.  Make your move.  And keep moving.  Shaky legs, a racing heart, lump in the throat or dry mouth are just the silly antics of fear.  Not real.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Find your brave heart and take it into battle. Give yourself a hug. Then go out and kick some ass.

My second Girl Warrior standing tall in her grad dress and shades.

3. Get a kick out of life.  Have fun.  Find things that amuse and delight you.  Not just once and awhile.  But every day.  Don’t put it off for the weekend. For vacation. Or another time.  Hoot and holler right now.  Find your zippity doo dah.  Make a joyful sound. Cause a ruckus.  Bang on your drum all day.  Laugh your guts out.  Until you cry.  Embrace happiness.  Enjoy the people you’re with right this very second.  Let them see your playful radiant blithe heart.

4. Open your heart wide and let in the love.  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.  There in 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.

The young Girl Warrior has dressed for the part.

5. Find your tribe. Your pack.  Your posse. Your band of sisters and brothers.  Surround yourself with people you trust, respect and enjoy.  You don’t have to always agree. You don’t even have to always get along.  But these are the faithful ones. Loyal. Steadfast. And true.  The ones who will be there for you.  With you. By your side.  The ones who have your back.  And will hold your hair back while you barf.

6. Follow your passions.  Therein lies your love affair with life. Be curious.  Channel your inner Curious George.  Do things that you love to do.  Be enthusiastic. Keen. Overflowing with zeal, zest and gusto.  Embrace new ideas and ways of doing the things you already know. Be creative.  Imaginative. Take the magical mystery tour.  Expand. Grow. Cultivate. Hone. Set your heart on fire.  Grab a handful.  Then another.  And another.  Gush about the things you love. Take risks. Embrace the failures on the way to your successes.  Learn and get on with it.  Dive in with your whole heart.

The bonus Girl Warrior sits on top of the world.

7. Be generous. In every way.  With everything and everybody.  Don’t be stingy.  Don’t withhold. Don’t hang onto things.  Never covet. Give of what you have.  What you know.  Give a little.  Or give a lot.  But give.  And forgive.  For that is the ultimate gift.  To others.  To yourself.  Give it all away without hesitation.  And watch it all come back in miraculous ways.  Go out there and be someone’s blessing. You will be blessed in return.  It’s the way of the Girl Warrior.

8. Be honest. Speak up.  Speak out. Speak your truth. Express yourself.  Whatever that means to you.  However that looks.  Tell it like it is.  Or how you wish it was.  Be bold.  Audacious in your speech. Intrepid with your message. But don’t use your words to slaughter.  Use your words to empower.  Elucidate.  Illuminate. Exalt. Demystify. Take ownership of what comes out of your mouth. Make it good.

The original Girl Warrior. Our queen in her floppy hat and hot pink pants.

9. Defend and stand up for something. That’s what true Girl Warriors do.  Don’t stand on the sidelines.  Believe in something.  If you haven’t got a cause.  Find one. The mission is personal. And it’s critical.  Don’t worry if you’re the only one fighting for it.  That’s not the point. If it’s meaningful to you, then get behind it.  Breathe life into it in a way only you can.  While you’re standing up for something, avoid putting someone else down. No matter how much you disagree. Cheap shots are easy and beneath you.  Defend their right to have their own beliefs.  Don’t kick or trample on the weak. Reach out and extend a helping hand. Invite them to stand with you.

10. Dress the part. Every Girl Warrior should have a costume.  Something that is uniquely her.  At first blush, it might look just like someone else’s.  Don’t be fooled.  No two Girl Warriors wear their costumes in the same way. This is your personal power suit.  Put it on.  Strut your stuff.  Don’t apologize for the cut, color or condition.  Walk.  Run.  Skip to my Lou.  Black leather jacket.  Frilly blouse.  Skinny jeans.  Mini skirt.  Floor length gown.  A sundress blooming with flowers.  Floppy hat.  Or fascinator.  A pinstriped suit. Kick-ass boots. Red stiletto shoes. It’s not about fashion. It’s about expression. Wearing the inside out.  It’s about attitude. Character. Originality. You are a rare bird Girl Warrior.  Know this.  So put on your cape.  And fly.