Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Life Flashes.

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Legend has it that when you die your life flashes before you. That may be true but since no one has ever lived to tell the tale, we’ll never really know for sure, will we?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Little thoughts have been coming to me when I’m meditating or out walking or when I’m in the shower. What I’ve been seeing in these moments of reflection is my life unreeling like a backwards upside-down inside-out movie. Not chronologically but episodically and completely random. Like watching Season 3 Episode 10 of something on Netflix one night and then jumping arbitrarily to Season 1 Episode 4 the next and then watching the finale of Season 6 right afterwards.

I’ll be sitting in my meditation chair all quiet and holy-like trying to remain focused on my mantra when my little mind starts to wander. And then before long the movie sequence of some snippet of my life starts to play. Like last week’s episode about the Toronto days at 402 Northcliffe Blvd. No big deal. Just a sweet little slice of domesticity unfolded that involved kids and bus rides to Yorkdale Mall that made me sad and left my heart pining. For what, I’m not even sure. Maybe I need a new pair of shoes and a good visit with my kids.

This movie re-wind thing can happen anywhere. During one of my morning walks with Coco a few weeks ago, a pair of Canada geese flew overhead. There is just something mournful about their honking call that makes my throat squeeze. Instantly I’m back in Northwestern Ontario. It’s autumn and the leaves are starting to turn. The air is growing crisp with winter on its edges. The large blue skies are dazzling as they start to shift into the next phase, a new season. The sunlight is moody and casts uneven shadows on the earth below, and it has lost its heat. I’m ten years old and I’m on my way to Algonquin Avenue Public School when overhead I hear them calling. Good-bye for now, see you in the spring. I look up. Wave discreetly. This movie fragment makes me weep. I cry for the entire walk. I’m grateful it’s early morning and there’s no one around to see or hear. Coco is deaf.

Tears come easily these days too. Everything is touching my heart. Not piercing. Just a gentle prod of confirmation that I’m still present. Still alive and feeling. Awake to the passage of time and the fleeting transitory evanescence of this thing called life. Here today, and tomorrow’s movie.

I wonder if this is how it actually goes. We wend our way backwards then forwards, and back again. Episode by random episode, season by scattered season until it all makes sense, tells the full story. The things we live and the things we remember, real-time and reel-time.

We press play and pause, rewind and replay. Nothing flashes.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Fountain of Youth.

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Dear Beautiful Sarah Jane,

You saw my photograph and asked me, “If I found the fountain of youth?” On the one hand I took this to be a wonderful compliment, but I also saw this as an earnest question worthy of thoughtful reflection and consideration. It is however, a bit like asking, “what’s the secret or meaning of life?” The short answer is, “I don’t know.”

The Fountain of Youth is something I’m not in search of. Perhaps that’s the secret to finding it. Stop looking. What a gorgeous paradox this is.

I am now safely on the other side of young. But it wasn’t necessarily an easy journey getting here. Learning to accept that I am aging. Growing older in this Earth Suit that will one day expire. Accepting the changes to the way I look has at times been difficult. I’m still startled and spooked by the old woman who stares hauntingly at me in the mirror. But thankfully I’m less preoccupied these days with hanging onto the young “me” I once was. I am now more interested in being well, in particular, well in my soul. Could be another secret Sarah Jane.

This is who I am now.

Today, in this photograph, I look like this. Some days I look worse. Tragic even. Rod Stewart put it best in his song Maggie May, “the morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age.” It’s true. Morning light can be a real buzz kill to an old broad like me. Ah, but afternoon light, after a good night’s sleep and a cup of chai tea with someone you love, works miracles. One more secret maybe Sarah Jane.

I have always looked younger than my age. Possibly because I’m physically small and spiritually large. I look inwards more than outwards. I explore fearlessly my interior world and let the exterior grow out of that. I meditate and do yoga every day. Is there some clue in this practice Sarah Jane?

I eat well and wisely most of the time. But then I also devoured a big bag of Lays potato chips last night. I never go to bed with makeup on. I brush my teeth three times a day. Take vitamins. Drink gallons of water daily. Laugh out loud a lot. I burp like a pig. I play music. Sing in the shower. Sit in the shade on sunny days. Go for long walks up country roads. I take tons of pictures on my cell phone. Read books and write something every day. I keep my mind open to the possibilities. Pursue wisdom and knowledge. I never stop learning. And most importantly, I hang out with dogs and good people of all ages. A secret there perchance Sarah Jane?

I love fashion. But ironically hate to shop, unless I’m with “my girls.” Then it’s fun. Especially if we stop for lunch and gossip. I do love clothes though. I’ve learned that if worn well, they cover up a whole host of not-so-pretty issues that develop as you age. Some people probably think I dress inappropriately for my age. I say fuck them. Or that I’m too old to wear my hair so long and dye it red. I say fuck those people too. I swear. And I’m unapologetic. I don’t know if there’s a secret in that Sarah Jane.

Then there’s just plain old luck and good genes. My mother was Italian. She was small physically, spiritually large and had beautiful flawless skin all the days of her life. She also dyed her hair jet black right up until the very end when she was too ill to do so. She taught me all the things I have just shared with you. Except she didn’t swear.

One last thing Sarah Jane, my sweet butterfly. Stay fierce about life in all its colors and complexities. Never let go of your curiosity and always stay close to the ones you love.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Hang Out With Animals.

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Girl Warrior.  Hang out with animals. It’s next to impossible to be in a foul mood when you do. They have an infinite capacity to lift the spirits of their human friends. You’ll be happier and healthier in their furry or feathery company. Your beaming joyous face is proof positive.

Pet a dog when you’re anxious and within minutes you’ll be relaxed. Watch a cat chase a light beam around the room and you’ll find yourself giggling hysterically. Cuddle a bunny and you’ll know instantly why good things come in small packages. Sit in front of a fish tank for ten minutes and without effort you’ll be meditating. Listen to the birds sing and you’ll know what real communication is all about. Get on the back of a horse and you’ll understand the true meaning of balance and strength.

If you’re feeling blue, they’ll brighten your day. If you’re lonely, they’ll be there. They’ll teach you things about loyalty, faithfulness, dedication, steadfastness, resilience, trust, courage and bravery.

And most importantly, about unconditional love.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Be Still.

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Yoga Teacher Karen Cooper. Photo by Stephanie Hull, Centric Photography.

Girl Warrior.  Be still. Sit quietly. Spend time alone gazing inwards. It’s a breathtaking sight. Take a moment every day for introspection. Meditate. Pray. Twenty minutes in the solitude of your room is all you need to be transformed. It will change your mind. And alter your life.

Unplug. Turn everything off. Including the lights but especially all your digital devices. No distractions. No diversions. No disturbances. Let nothing come between you and your inner self. This is your time to just be. And get in touch with who you really are Girl Warrior. Deep down in your core.

Shut out the noise and the clatter. Sink into the silence. It is here that you will find peace. Surrender to serenity. It’s as natural as breathing. In. Out. In. Out.

Let the calm beautiful you emerge. Like a butterfly from the chrysalis.

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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.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Depression.

Face of DepressionThis morning I woke up.  Thank God.  As I was making the bed I thought about my plans for the day. Making a cup of cinnamon coffee. Writing my blog. Banking with E.  Shoe shopping with M. The first two items on the list made me happy.  The third, not so much.  The fourth delighted me.

Then I had this thought.  My two daughters are my best friends.  Then I had this thought.  I wonder if they’d find that pathetic.  I know I’m not theirs.  Nor should I be at their ages.  Then I had this thought.  My mother was my best friend.  Then I had this thought.  When she died I not only lost my mother, I lost my best friend.  Then I had this thought.  That blows.

Then I started to cry.  Bawled my fucking brains out as I was making the bed. The whole nine yards. Messy tears and snot all over my face, the pillows, sheets and my new shabby chic comforter.  Which by the way, was incapable of providing neither the degree, nor the depth, of comfort required to stop this sorrowful eruption of muck and mournfulness.

Then I had this thought.  I’m sad.  Probably even depressed.

I come by this melancholy honestly.  Not that he talked about it.  Not ever.  But I think The Old Man was depressed, most of his adult life.  Maybe it was because he was Finnish.  Their suicide rates are high, especially in the winter, which is long, cold and dark.  Much like Northwestern Ontario, where he lived his entire life.  I got out when I was twenty-four.  It was too dreary for me.  On so many levels I can’t even begin to describe.

What caused his depression?  Who knows. I can only speculate.  One part environment.  One part DNA.  One party magical mystery tour. The Hammond Organ

The Old Man sought refuge and relief from his misery in alcohol, watching sports on TV, buying new shoes, eating anything laced with sugar, swearing at inanimate objects, going to church on Sundays, shoveling snow in the winter and digging in his garden in the summer, umpiring little league games, taking long Sunday drives, scratching our dog’s belly, and sleeping. The older he got the more he slept. He was often antisocial, spending long hours alone in the spare room, behind closed doors watching TV or reading the daily newspaper.  There was a Hammond Organ in that room that he tinkered with but never really learned to play.  (However, he was an accomplished spoon percussionist.)  The memory of that room, and his self-imposed exile and isolation, makes me sad.

People didn’t talk about their feelings back then.  Men especially, kept things under wraps. Stiff upper lips and pulled up boot straps. The Old Man stuffed his sadness inside a profusion of plaid flannel shirts, only to unleash it every three months like clockwork, after a long night at the neighborhood saloon. The Crest on Red River Road.  Instead of manifesting in tears, his hurt took a far darker, menacing form.  He’d come home seething with anger.  Uncontrollable rage.  He never hit anyone because he was like a small yapping dog.  All bark and no bite.  But he ranted relentlessly and bullied the shit out of Ma and her kids. He was an unholy terror. It was one hell of a time.

During those dark nights of the soul, I hated him.  Wished him dead.  Prayed to God to strike him down with a bolt of lightening.  A precise and explicit message from heaven.  But that didn’t happen.  Thankfully.  Because the truth is, The Old Man was a good man when he wasn’t drinking. He had a kind, tender and sensitive heart, and he loved his family fiercely.

And he was ill.

An alcoholic.  But the alcohol was merely self-medication.  The deeper illness was depression.  It makes me sad now to think that we didn’t know that.  I mean, we knew intimately the subject matter of his rum and coke induced rages.  The things that angered and tormented him.  But we never understood why. Our family knew very little about the pathology of alcoholism as a disease.  And even less about depression.  Back then depressed people were crazy.  Plain and simple.  It was far better to be a self-pitying miserable alcoholic.

Over the years, I’ve often wondered if while I was praying to God to strike him dead, if he was doing the same thing. He went to church every Sunday.  What were his prayers?  Did he pray for help?  Beg for healing?  Did he seek forgiveness?  Did he find comfort there? Did it any of it help?  I hope so.

So here I sit.  Years and miles away from Northwestern Ontario.  Daylight is breaking.  How do I deal with my sadness?  This depression?  The tears that stain my cheeks and cover my shabby chic comforter? I do this.  I write.  I run.  I do yoga. I take long walks along quiet country roads.  I take photographs.  I play with my dogs.  I love my family fiercely. I eat well. I take vitamins. I talk to my wise girlfriends about deep dark feelings.  I pour my heart out to my husband.  I listen to my children and look for clues on how to live a joyful life. I laugh my guts out.  I pray.  I meditate.  I write letters to God. I count my blessings. I get up, go to work and give it my very best shot.  I play my guitar and my clarinet. I read books. Listen to music. I dream. I hang out. I waste time. I watch TV. The Old Man Hipster

But I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t do drugs, except for the occasional ibuprofen. I do my best to stay away from sugar, especially white. I don’t give myself pep talks. They don’t work. I also don’t scold. Engage in self-pity, self-loathing or self-flagellation. I watch my inner dialogue. I try not to spend too much time alone in this room.  Although that’s challenging because one of the things I love to do most requires that I spend long stretches of time in isolation.

Over the years I have found solace in motivational books and tapes, teachers, preachers, the wise and the enlightened. I’ve learned acceptance. Of what was.  And what is.

Will I ever be completely free from depression and sadness?  No. The truth is, I don’t want to be fully extricated. It’s part of who I am.  Like my hazel eyes and crooked smile.  It’s the fuel that fires some of my richest writing. The fountainhead of a few of my best ideas.  My literary wellspring. It’s what allows me to feel things deeply. Not just my suffering.  But yours.  And yours.  And yours. I shed tears for all living creatures. Even the dead rats I come across on the country road I walk.  I like that about me.

Depression reminds me of my humanness.  My weaknesses and strengths.  It dictates that, in order to stay healthy, I must stay connected.  It opens the eyes of my heart. And unleashes love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, hope.  And above all.  Empathy.

I get it Dad.  I get your pain.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I Love To Do Lists.

I knew one day I’d start a list. In the meantime I stood in front of windows and smiled.

I love To Do lists.  They keep me organized.  Help me to remember.  Remind me of what’s important.  They keep things orderly. Sweet and simple.  Neat and tidy. I love the symmetry these lists bring to my life.  Balance.  Ease.

I’ve always been a compulsive list maker.  As I age my appreciation for this practice has grown exponentially.

There is this list that I have been compiling in my book of “boo’s to do’s for today” that just keeps growing.  It appears to be never-ending. And for this I am grateful. These are the eternal things. The timeless. The constants in my life.  And the infinite. The daily reminders of how good life is.  How lucky I am to have been born in the time and place that is now, to the parents who raised me with love, to the children I have done the same, to the family and friends who I have been blessed to have walked the earth with, for their presence and presents.  For grace and forgiveness. For hope. For faith in us all to create a better, kinder, gentler place.

It’s all a wide-eyed wonder to me.  It’s humbling. I am thankful every day that I am here now with you. And you. And you.

So this is the ever-growing list of Boo’s To Do’s for Today.

The cover of my book of to do’s. It’s nice.

Today I will:
Thank God for my human being-ness
Be curious but not nosey
Be helpful but not pushy
Be funny but not hurtful for the sake of a joke
Be a dreamer but keep my feet on the ground
Be happy but not at someone else’s expense
Be honest but not brutal
Be smart but not a pompous know-it-all
Be supportive but not a door mat
Be a seeker but look for Light not darkness
Be God-minded but not God

Today I will:
Thank God for the little things in my life
Kiss my husband good morning
Tell my kids that I love them always, forever and a day
Eat mostly healthy stuff today
Eat chocolate, devour the entire bar
Smile at strangers, even the scary ones
Be helpful and kind and generous
Laugh at myself
Practice patience with everyone but especially the very old and the very young
Say my prayers and let go of the day

Today I will:
Thank God for a new perspective
See people in a different light
Recognize the truth
Appreciate an opposing opinion
Give everyone the benefit of the doubt
Understand that there are other sides to the story
Look for a new perspective in an old place
Offer grace so I can also receive it
Read between the lines and hear the words not spoken
Say my prayers and settle into the quiet

I like the red ribbon and yellow sticky note.

Today I will:
Thank God for the playful
Play it as it lays and learn acceptance
Play for keeps with those who matter
Play for real with everyone
Play around and square and mix it up
Play full with all I’ve got
Play games that are fun not hurtful
Play back again and again, especially if it’s good
Replay and repeat tomorrow
Say my prayers and sleep lighthearted

Today I will:
Thank God for all the wonders of Nature
Chase double rainbows across the sky
Sing with wild abandon in the rain
Blow free like a leaf in the wind
Spread my wings and fly
Soak up the sun and catch some rays
Dig in the dirt and get mud on my face
Soar with the eagles
Set the world on fire
Reach for the stars and make three wishes
Howl crazy at the moon
Say my prayers and drift into the waters of heaven

Today I will:
Thank God for this new day of simple things
Forgive everyone, even those I don’t want to
Do yoga and be grateful that my body still moves
Eat an apple, possibly an orange, but not a banana
Paint my toenails red and smile at my feet
Take my dogs for a walk
Drink water right out of the tap
Be polite and mannerly, please and thanks
Listen better to everyone but especially to the very old and the very young
Say my prayers and plump my pillow

Thank God for all the wonders of nature.

Today I will:
Thank God for the givers
Give a helping hand
Give advice only when asked
Give away the good things I no longer want, need or wear
Give to a charity besides the usual ones
Give love even to the unlovable
Give someone a surprise gift for no reason, just because
Give others the benefit of the doubt
Give of myself even when I’m tired and don’t feel like it
Give someone else the credit and the glory
Say my prayers and give thanks

Today I will:
Thank God for the journey through this day
Applaud the achievements of others
Eat more red foods
Be respectful and considerate of others
Play my guitar even when it sounds painful
Be honest, starting with myself
Bake chocolate chocolate chip cookies, then pig out
Sit quietly and breathe easy
Take the long way home and enjoy the trip
Say my prayers and drift into dreamland

Today I will:
Thank God for healing
Mend all bridges in my life that are broken
Sew buttons on tattered open wounds
Stitch time that has been squandered
Mend a broken heart
Seam together a fragile friendship
Repair all hurt caused by my good intentions
Fix things that can be fixed and bless what cannot
Patch the worn and the weary with love and kindness
Say my prayers and hug my love

Today I will:
Thank God for countless things in my life
Count my blessings
Count the red smarties in the box
Count the steps from the couch to the fridge
Count my friends who count
Count the birds at the feeder
Count the calories in the chocolate cake then eat it any way
Count the purple tulips in my garden
Count the number of sleeps until my summer holidays
Say my prayers and count sheep

Thank God for the Makers.

Today I will:
Thank God for all my senses: the first five, the sixth, common and Spidey
See the beauty in all things, even the unusual
Listen with an open heart to hear the unspoken
Breathe in all that is around me, especially the smells of nature and of the kitchen
Touch someone in need of a gentle hand
Taste the sweetness in life not the bitter
Trust my inner voice when in doubt
Remember the sound and reasonable advise of my mother
Pay attention to the goose bumps
Say my prayers and welcome a sense of peace

Today I will:
Thank God for the lazy days
Take it slow and easy
Relax and chill with a cup of green tea
Read a gossip mag from cover to cover while watching my fav soap opera
Eat a bag of Oreo cookies
Consider practicing yoga
Contemplate meditating
Think about going for a walk
Exercise my option to do absolutely nothing
Take a long soak in the tub
Say my prayers and rest gently

Today I will:
Thank God for the makers
Make believe and have fun like a five year old
Make memories without Kodak
Make amends to everyone I’ve hurt
Make love with the light on
Make up not down
Make music without an instrument
Make peace with myself first
Make better all my owies
Make good on all my promises
Make muffins, blueberry lemon
Make magic without a wand
Make friends with myself
Say my prayers and make ZZZ’s

Today I will:
Thank God for housework
Change the sheets and flip the mattress
Do laundry and maybe iron
Wash the dishes by hand
Scrub the floors, the old fashioned way, down on my knees
Vacuum even the hidden places
Polish the furniture with lemon oil
Clean the windows
Stop to admire the “clean and shiny”
Say my prayers and fall quickly into a deep sleep

Thank God for the lazy days.

Today I will:
Thank God for chance to begin again
Turn over a new leaf, discover the mysteries hidden there
Start a new chapter that begins with hope
Wipe the slate clean of all past doubts
Start fresh with a different perspective
Begin anew with novel ideas
Embrace the blank page and let go of fear
Clear the deck and make space for possibilities
Close the book and make peace with the past
Say my prayers.