Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Missed Conversations.

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As I was driving into work last week a Jim Croce tune came on the radio. I’ll Have To Say I Love You in a Song. I was reminded of what a lovely and gifted songwriter he was and that he died too young and far too soon.

As often happens with me, a fleeting thought like this can lead to endless musings on various and sundry topics. I have an eternally wandering mind and I’m always getting lost in thought. On this particular day, I was thinking about all the people, famous and not, who also died before their time. The list is long so I won’t even go there. But we all have people we loved and admired, either close to us or amongst the celebrated and famous, who checked out of Hotel Planet Earth when we weren’t ready for them to go. The remarkable ones we wish had been around even a little bit longer so that we could enjoy their particular brilliance and perspective on the world.

I often wonder what kinds of songs these dearly missed ones would have sung, stories told, canvases covered, poetry rhymed, jokes cracked, goals scored, pirouettes twirled, music written. I also wonder what they’d think of this present-day world they left behind. What would they have to say about it?

But the really big thing I pondered last week, as I drove across the country road in my Ford Ranger was, “what about all the missed conversations?” All those marvelous words that were left unspoken. The winsome thoughts yet to be expressed. The pillow talk. And dinnertime discussions. The tete-a-tetes over tea. The long distance telephone calls. The gossip, the gabfests, chitchats and chinwags.

Ma died fourteen years ago today. And I have to say these are what I miss the most. Our beautiful little conversations. What I wouldn’t give for a cup of tea and a heart-to-heart across the kitchen table at 204.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6Vn17S37_Y&list=RDE6Vn17S37_Y#t=30

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Be Real.

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Girl Warrior. 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.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Wearing the Cloak of Invisibility.

Photo by Melissa Adams.

Photo by Melissa Adams.

I’m over the hill. Shocking news I know. Truth is, I’ve been here for a while. It’s a hard one to come to terms with. So I’ve been breaking it to myself gently.

But it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. Bust myself. I’m coming clean and this is my confession.

Little back story.  I’ve been feeling invisible since I turned 50. You may think this is crazy talk, and it may be. But it’s how I feel. And I’m not alone. Other women my age have expressed the same thing. It’s a profound conversation. My jaw dropped when I discovered I had far too many “sisters” out there who felt the same way. Either we’re all suffering from menopausal madness. Or there’s something to this.

I turned 50 and it was like I put on Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility. Suddenly no one could see me.

This was disturbing at first.

I am shy to the core. An introvert by nature. And an occupational extravert by necessity. I act out all day, come home exhausted from all that outgoing role-playing, and flop in front of Netflix to recover.  I tell you this because I’ve never had the spotlight on me. But I never felt invisible either. I always believed that my presence was felt, and seen, in the room. My voice, no matter how quiet, was heard. Nothing had prepared me for this.

There was no prior narrative.

One day, shortly after my 50th birthday, it hit. Like a lead balloon. I had this painful epiphany. ‘It’s like I’m not here. I don’t matter. I’m irrelevant. Insignificant. Inconsequential. Unseen.’  Not just by men.  But by everyone who was under the age of 50. Especially all the cool people. And those hipsters.

So that felt lousy.

But not for long.  I realized quite quickly, the powers of wearing the magical Cloak of Invisibility.  If no one saw me, then that meant I could do whatever I wanted. As long as it didn’t cause harm to any other living creature, human or otherwise, nor to the environment and the earth we all share.

That’s when the fun began.

The world was my oyster. I was set free. Liberated. Emancipated.  Let loose. Oh the marvelous things I’ve done while flying under the radar. I’m a free bird. Untethered. Unshackled. Unfettered. I no longer care what people think of me. That’s their business. Not mine.

If you’re a woman over 50, I want you to know that this is just the beginning. We’re the same gutsy girls who changed history in the sixties and seventies. We burned our bras. Carried placards. Marched in unison. Saw the possibilities and ran bravely towards the future. We rewrote the definition of being a woman. For ourselves. Our mothers. Sisters. Nieces. Girlfriends. Daughters. Grand daughters. And for all the men in our lives.

We are those powerful strong beautiful agents of transformation. It only makes sense, that at this time in our lives, we’ll reconstruct and revolutionize. Reshape and rebuild. Renew and redefine what it means to be a women over 50. We will not go quietly into the dark night. Not us.

Wearing the Cloak of Invisibility has been awesome in so many ways. Part of me, doesn’t want to take it off.  EVER.

I don’t know what your personal journey has been like so far, but if you’re reading this and nodding your head in agreement, then keep on reading because we’re just getting started. Fasten your seat belt because you’re in for a fabulous ride.

Here are 20 DO’S & DON’TS for you to consider while wearing the magical cloak:

1. Be creative.  This is your time to escalate. Skyrocket. Shoot right through the roof. Create things that delight you. Whether it’s a blueberry pie, a dress, a song, guitar lick, a squeaky scale on a clarinet, a blog or a book. Make it all you. All authentic. Take an ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude with this.  See what happens.

2. Go where you want.  Don’t ask permission. Just go. Don’t be afraid to go it alone either. Some trips are meant to be solo adventures. If others want to join you, and that feels right, then the more the merrier. But don’t miss the boat because you’re the only one who wants to get on board.

3. Seek out the company of people you enjoy.  And steer clear of those you don’t. Surround yourself with people who matter to you.  These are your tribe members. You’ll know them at first sight. Open your arms and your heart wide and let them in.

4. Welcome solitude and time alone.  Still your mind. Quiet your thoughts. Get to know them. Love your own company.  Be your own best friend first.

5. Stop distracting yourself with busyness.  Instead listen to the small quiet voice of wisdom inside your head. It may tell you to go for a vigorous walk. Or that this is a day to laze around on the couch watching Seinfeld reruns. Let go of all things frantic, frenetic and feverish. Stop dancing on peanut butter. In the end you go nowhere.

6. Wear what you want.  Take pleasure in clothes that feel like you. Express yourself from the inside out. But first, you must be comfortable in your own skin. Your earth suit. Nothing you wear will feel good if you hate your body. So don’t.

7. Don’t cut your hair. Unless wearing your hair short has always been your style. But if you like long hair, and that feels authentically you, then keep it that way. Don’t cut it off because some crazy person said you were too old for long hair. Don’t listen to them. Show them the door. Long hair. Short hair. No hair. All beautiful. Make it your choice. Not someone else’s.

8. Eat and drink what you want. You’re all grown up now. You can make your own decisions about what you consume. Things that fuel your body are important. At any age. But the things that satisfy your spirit are also essential. For example, I love orange foods. Mandarins, peppers, carrots, and Hawkins Cheezies. I’ve also discovered that a Starbucks full-fat Chai Latte makes Friday night grocery shopping almost bearable.

9. Learn new tricks.  Every day. It doesn’t have to be an entire course of study. One word will do. Learn a new instrument. Or a new language. Read. Write. Explore. Investigate. Examine. Bone up. Grow your brain. And blow your mind wide open with the art of the possible.

10. Open your eyes to wonder.  Take a look at the world around you. It’s beautiful. Breathtaking. Awesome in every way. So look under rocks. Gaze up at the evening sky. Stare into the eyes of someone you adore. Spend time with a person who hasn’t been to school yet. They have much to teach.

11. Stay in the moment.  That’s all we really have. Don’t waste the preciousness of the present with worry and regret. Give fear a kick in the ass. What’s done is done. What will be will be. Que Sera Sera. Only ‘now’ matters.

12. Keep moving and bending.  Be pliable. Your body will thank you for it. It’s designed and perfectly engineered to get you around with ease. All the days of your life. But you have to honor its changing stages. Adapt. Alter. Adjust. Do whatever is necessary to keep going. Your days of running a marathon may be over. So walk. You’ll still get there.

13. Hang out with people.  All kinds. All ages. Your tribe isn’t defined by your age. It’s about who you like to be with. Who turns your crank. The faces you like to see across the table, a crowded room, in the gym, at the movies or the book club. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t be afraid to get out there. Call someone. Reach out.

14. Love.  It’s our heart’s desire. No one is ever too old. Everyone needs it. We crave it. We pine. We yearn. We covet. We’ll do just about anything to possess it. But now, more than ever, you are free to open your heart to love. Let it in. And spread it around. Make it go viral. It may be romantic and lovely. It may be with someone new. Or with the one you’ve always been with. Regardless, just love.

15. Don’t run from your emotions.  Love them all. Be fragile and strong. Vulnerable and powerful. Courageous and terrified. Ballsy and meek. Embrace the contradictions. Hug the enigma. Clutch all the paradoxes of the female spirit.

16. Give up on being perfect.  No longer necessary. Because the truth is, you already are. Divine just the way you are. Warts and all. Beautiful. Beyond compare. Know that.

17. Give up the need to be in control.  Relax. Ease up. Unclench your fist. Let someone else steer the ship. Lead the parade. Now’s the time to share the ride. It’s so much easier. You’ll wonder why you didn’t surrender sooner.

18. Be grateful.  Now more than ever take stock of all the amazing people, places and things in your life. Then give thanks. It’s that simple.

19. Embrace the messiness of life. With arms open wide. Jump into mud puddles. Roll around in the muck. Get egg on your face. Dirty your hands. Cover yourself in grime. Caress the earth. Most importantly, don’t concern yourself with cleaning it up. Just let it be.

20. Remember that you are needed.  Always have been. Always will be. That doesn’t stop because your kids have flown the coop. Or you got divorced. Or widowed. Your parents have died. Or whatever the “winds of change” are for you. No matter what your age. You matter. The world needs what you, and only you, have to give.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Not the Marrying Kind.

1452388_10153580945835113_784035814_nI’m not the marrying kind. Even though I’ve done it two times. That’s the enigma.  It’s a mystery even to me. My personal paradox.  The thing is, it’s not even that I don’t believe in marriage per se.  I think it’s a fine enough thing to do, and anyone who chooses, should have that right.  No matter what.  I’m just not sure it’s something that really matters to me.  Despite having done it twice.  I’m ambivalent at best.  It’s a Sunday morning quandary.  I for one am positively stumped.

To say the two wedding ceremonies were as different as night and day, the East and the West, Chopin and The Clash, would be a monumental understatement.

The first time, I stood next to my betrothed in the muggy cramped claustrophobic office of a Justice of the Peace in the far reaches of northern BC.  There were warning signs right from the get-go that I chose not to heed.  Like my absurd fear of small spaces, yet there I was getting married in one.  Then there was the JP, who was missing one of his thumbs.  And the piece de resistance, he was wearing a burgundy leisure suit.  His name may have been Ron.  I don’t remember, which is probably a good thing.  Best that I don’t remember all the intimate details of that day.  Some situations and events are better left in a foggy haze.

By contrast, the second time with E was on top of large rocky hill with sweeping 360 degree views of the city and the ocean below.  The clouds, the sun and the large expansive sky, a natural backdrop.  Sheltered by ancient Garry Oaks, we were married by our beloved minister, surrounded by our beautiful family and friends. There was much music and laughter in the summer air.  It was lovely and romantic.  Well worth the twenty year wait.

But as wonderful as that was, it was nothing compared to T and D’s wedding last weekend.

Perhaps I was seeing through the eyes of a mother, who loves her son dearly.  Or maybe it had something to do with how much I adore his beautiful sweet “Lady”.  But the sight of these two dear ones exchanging vows stopped my heart.  Took my breath away. Brought tears of joy.

All this vow taking over the past two years got me thinking about Ma and The Old Man. They were together for over fifty years yet they never married.  They had their reasons.  We didn’t talk about it much.  For a long while, Ma carried a truckload of shame. Then there came a time where the legalities didn’t matter much anymore.  When she was finally free to marry The Old Man, she chose not to.  Perhaps the truth is, she wasn’t the marrying kind either.

No, they never said I do, in any formal way. Never took it to the alter.  Not before God. Nor anyone else. But they did take it to heart, made promises and vowed, in all the ways that count.

I do love you.  I do cherish you.  I do respect you.  I do honor you. I do want to be with you above all others.  I do want to spend all the days of my life with you. I do want to be there by your side through sickness, health, good times and bad.  I do want to hold you close to my heart and keep you forever in my soul.

They may not have been bound legally.  But they were willingly united for life by the things that matter most. Commitment. Loyalty. Honesty. Faithfulness. Dependability. Steadfastness. Devotion. Trustworthiness. Kindness. Gentleness. Compassion. Generosity. Tolerance. Acceptance. Forgiveness.

And above all else.  Love.

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: 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: The Rhythm of Running.

running gearRunning doesn’t come easy for me.  The first few blocks are pure hell.  Psyching myself to go for a run is a marathon in itself.  Each new day is like starting over.  Even after 30 years, it’s still the same.

Before I run there are a few things I do first.  The Monday to Friday pre-run routine and ritual goes something like this:

1. Get up early. 5:00am at the latest. Except for the summer months, it’s dark outside and quiet inside.  The house is hushed and still in the undisturbed darkness before dawn.  Just how I like it.
2. Put on sweatpants and T-shirt or some other comfortable running attire.  These are found heaped on the floor next to the bed where I left them the night before. I prepare ahead.
3. Grope my way through the hallway to the kitchen where I put on the kettle. Sometimes I hit the bathroom first and take a pee.
4. Head to my office where I check emails and cruise through Facebook while the kettle boils.  Sometimes I read a Cowbird story.
5. Make a cup of Tetley’s Orange Pekoe tea. I like how the round bags fit perfectly int the bottom of the Vegas mug D gave me.
6. Practice yoga for an hour.  Because I’m so spiritual I do this in front of the TV.  Depending on my mood it’s either Steven & Chris or CMT. Until January it was CNN but I stopped that because it was counter productive and stressed me out.
7. Make the bed and tidy my office. I hate clutter and can’t get into an unmade bed.  Just one of my many quirks.
8. Make my lunch for work.  This is usually a salad and some kind of protein.  I don’t really care what I eat for lunch just as long as it’s reasonably healthy and doesn’t make me sleepy by two.
9. Boil the kettle again.  Make a cup of coffee spiked with cinnamon. I like to live dangerously.  I also add cream, which is completely over-the-top and edgy.
10. Head back to my office, pull out my latest Hilroy notebook, a blue Bic pen and write my daily letter to God.  This is private.  But possibly some of my best writing.
11. Sip my creamy cinnamon coffee and say my prayers.  I don’t get down on my knees.  This hurts too much.  God knows and doesn’t expect it of me.  We’re pretty tight.
12. If it’s cold out, I throw on my big old grey hoodie with the bleach splatters and pills under the arms.  If it’s warm than the T-shirt is all I need.  I don’t wear a bra.  I like to flop when I run.
13. Head downstairs and lace up my sneakers.  Nothing fancy here.  Nor expensive.  If they aren’t on sale I don’t buy them. One of my best pair of runners came from Zellers. This was before Target took over.
14. Check the clock next to the back door.  I don’t know why I do this. I never check it when I return and I don’t time my runs.  I really don’t care how long it takes.
15. Walk around to the side of the house, past the Camellia tree, the bamboo and the old rose bush that scares the shit out of me.
16. Open the front gate, take a deep breath, hesitate momentarily, mumble ‘what the fuck’ under my breath and hit the streets.

I start to run immediately.  It’s uphill right out of the gate. Brutal. Punishing.  Grueling.  My legs are already tired and I feel the burn.  It’s killing me and I haven’t even gone a block.  All I can think about is how lousy I feel.

But just when I think I can’t run another step, the sidewalk slopes downward and I coast along for the next bit. This is where grace and mercy come into play.

It’s during this little stretch that I set the pace. This is different every day.  It all depends on how I feel that morning.  Not just physically but emotionally.  One day I could be the hare. The next, the tortoise.  Sometimes I feel like a freebird.  Other days, a slug.  There are mornings where I feel like I could run forever.  Or at least a mile or two.  Maybe even ten.  Then there are days – many, many days – where I ask myself, ‘what the hell are you doing?’  I just want to roll over onto the boulevard and curl up like a wood bug.  Go to sleep. For a long time. Like Rip Van Winkle.  Some days, my youth is renewed like the eagles.  Others, I’m an old wizened woman.  Gnarled.  Weather-beaten.

The difference between a good day and a bad one usually comes down to rhythm.  I don’t plug in while I run.  No iTunes. No playlists. No music. No motivational talks.  No podcasts.  None of that.

I listen to my soul.  My heartbeat.  My inner cadence.

I hear the sound of my breathing.  My footsteps on the concrete. Crows squawking on the telephone lines.  The voices of the squirrels.  Leaves rustling.  Wind howling. Gentle breezes calling. Dogs barking. Cars racing.  Doors slamming.  All the early morning reverberations.

I hear the silence.  And the pauses between the clamor. I hear God whispering my name.

It is here that I get in the groove.  Find my rhythm.  This is the sweet stuff of running. This is the meditative place. Where everything works.  My body, mind and spirit are all in tune.  Harmonious.  Peaceful.  Grounded.

I run to the rhythm of me.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Lessons in Gratitude and Patriotism.

IMG_1825Grateful and patriotic.  That’s how I felt last weekend when E and I escaped again to the mainland.  This time there weren’t any medical procedures tagged onto the end of our trip.  No Big C cloud hovering over our heads like an alien space ship.  Just two glorious days of freedom and fun with our oldest daughter A.  Quite simply, it was divine. And exactly what the doctor ordered.

I like to keep an attitude of gratitude. I’m happier and far more optimistic when I do. Life just feels richer and amplified when I see the glass half full. This thankful continence isn’t always easy to maintain though.  Sometimes I engage in rip-roaring pity parties of one. But most of the time I count my blessings.  And they are many.

Last Saturday afternoon, smack dab in the middle of a busy crowded downtown Vancouver street, I had an epiphany.  The sun was shining gloriously overhead.  The energy and positive vibe in the city was electric.  Music and laughter, breezy summertime conversations, and the smell of suntan lotion wafted from every street corner.  It was picture perfect.  Endorphins flooded my limbic system, and by doing so released a profusion of happy childhood memories of summers at 204. In an instant, I was as lighthearted and mirthful as a ten year old girl running under the garden sprinkler. Yippee!  It doesn’t get much better than that.  Another neat thing happened in that moment. My gratitude muscle expanded and skyrocketed, then soared heavenward through the brilliant clear blue sky.

Giddy with glee, I turned to E and said, “Life doesn’t get much better than this.”

He looked at me as if I had suddenly grown two heads. I fully appreciate why he would find my declaration untrue, given the circumstances of our life right now.  But before he could protest or disagree, I repeated, “Life doesn’t get any better than this.  In this cosmic moment, which is all we have, life is perfect. Just the way it is.”

Then he got it.  His eyes welled with tears and he smiled. Big honest smile.  Right from the heart. One filled with gratitude.

Later that day, our daughter took us to a baseball game at the Nat Bailey Stadium, where the Vancouver Canadians and the Tri-City Dust Devils were playing. I can’t think of a more definitive summer diversion or pastime than going to a ballgame.  Some people find this game boring. Too quiet and slow.  But for me it is beautiful.  Elegant. Subtle and masterful. First and foremost, a team sport.  Yet each player has a time when they stand alone at home plate.  Armed only with a wooden bat, years of practice swinging it, the sagacity and the wits of a street-fighter, the indelible voice of their coach always with them, the encouragement of their team mates, the cheers of their devoted fans, and the genuine love of the game.  It is there that each player, one by one, bravely faces the nine guys from the opposing team, all focused on the same thing. Stop this guy from getting a run.

My love of the game goes way back.  The Old Man loved it too.  He was one of the guys who started Little League in our hometown.  He coached and umpired games well into his senior years. When I was young, I used to tag along and sit in the weather-beaten wooden bleachers and cheer on ‘our guys.’  It was during those long hot steamy Northwestern Ontario summer nights, that I fell for the game and the boys who played it. During my Toronto years, The Old Man loved visiting, especially in the summer.  Going to a Jays game was a dream come true for him.  To see a major league game close up and personal was beyond his wildest imaginings.

The Nat Bailey Stadium is gorgeous.  Most people wouldn’t describe a sports stadium this way. But to me it is. This was my first time, and like many firsts, it was memorable and I loved everything about it.  The pre-game excitement, the smell of popcorn and hotdogs, pizza and beer, cotton sundresses and pink cotton candy, fans in red tee-shirts and baseball caps, flip-flops flapping up and down concrete steps, hoots and hollers across the stands, the red wooden bleachers with perfect views of the field, the calls from the beer guy and the fifty-fifty girl, the playful fan photos taken with Bob Brown Bear, the cornball music, the repartee and easy banter of the announcers, the pre-game warm-ups, the national anthems, and the crack of wooden bat on leather ball.  Gorgeous.  Every last bit.

Before the game begins two national anthems are sung.  I don’t recall the name of the singer only that she gave a virtuoso performance.  Flawless. Resplendent. A crackerjack job. I love the American anthem.  It’s impressive and majestic.  But I’m a Canadian girl.  Through and through.  Tried and true.  Homegrown, born and raised.

From the very first note, when this crowd of devoted Vancouver Canadians fans stood shoulder to shoulder, hats in hand, young and old alike, and gloriously sang our national anthem, I was moved. Unexpectedly touched yet filled to the brim. With patriotism. With pride. With gratitude.

Oh Canada.  Dear sweet Canada.  My home and native land.  I am so grateful to be here.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Best Laid Plans and How To Blog. Or Not.

Boo in B+WA year ago I started a blog. I didn’t have a hot clue what to write about.  It was just something I felt inspired to do. The goal was to write two posts a week.  Maybe more, if the muse struck with high pitched frequency.  Kind of the opposite of lightening.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Really, how hard could it be?

Bloody hard.  I’m not one to make excuses, especially when it comes to myself.  But it turns out writing one post a week was a challenge. Two, damned near impossible.  And more than that, well forget about it.  What I didn’t realize a year ago was that I actually had a bit of a life beyond the iMac and the things that go on inside my head.  So I reset my sails, pared down my goal and determined that one post per week would do.  Not only would this do, it would be an enormous accomplishment.

This is my 54th post.  Bravo for me.

Little back story. I had read an article online in The New York Times by Eric Weiner called “Americans: Undecided About God.”  This article intrigued me because the premise was something I thought a lot about. God was on my mind.  Here, there and everywhere. Just a little insight into my interior world. I thought it would be interesting to engage in an online conversation with other folks of a similar ilk.  I thought there had to be millions of people out there who would love to do this.  And most importantly, participate via my blog.  Looking back, I don’t know if I was incredibly naive or full of hubris.  Or just a pompous ass.  I’ll leave that for you to decide.  Keep it to yourself though.  My ego is fragile after a year of this.

Long blog short. This didn’t happen. None of it.  You know what they say about best laid plans. I don’t either.  But I think it had something to do with mice and men.  And things not always turning out the way you expected.

As it turns out, this confounding cliche proved to be true for my blog about God. It’s painful to be reduced to a literary cliche, I might add.  Thank you very much Mr. Steinbeck.

Not that God isn’t a hot topic.  He/She most certainly is.  It’s just that very few people wanted to read my blather on this theme week after week.  Good God jumping Jehoshaphat.  Truth is, I didn’t even want to talk about it.  I only thought I did.  I thought I had tons of things to say, given the amount of time I spent pondering. Contemplating. Meditating. Ruminating. Praying to and mulling over God.  Turns out I didn’t.

I had about three posts-worth.

The thing is, I didn’t deliberately change course with the blog.  It just happened.  It took another three posts to realize that I was telling these stories about my life growing up at 204.  As it turns out very few were interested in that either.  So on that level my little foray into blogging was a colossal failure.

Either I have an extraordinary talent for picking lousy topics to write about. Or very few people care what I have to say about those topics. Or I just write poorly about the topics that interest people, and therefore, refuse to engage. Thus, the lights go dim on computers worldwide whenever one of my posts is broadcast.  Regardless, my naive, hubristic, pompous dreams of blogging to the masses was possibly just a tad grandiose.  Do you think?  Don’t answer that question.  Remember the fragile ego.  May the echo of cracking ice on a frozen country pond haunt you eternally if you dare.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to not let those kinds of failures stand in the way of having a good time.  And that’s exactly what this past year has been.  The time of my life.  I wouldn’t trade it for a wiener on a stick.

It wasn’t easy.  In fact, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Except for childbirth.  Truth is, this blog was a bit like giving birth.  In this past year, I gave birth to a new me.  The authentic me.  100% genuine.  Bona fide and real. Most importantly, it gave life to the storyteller me.  And it set me free.

Before Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter came to life, I never in a million years would have considered revealing the things I did.  The thought was enough to make me shudder and hang my head in shame.  Oh shame. How vindictive, rancorous, spiteful, venomous, cruel and unkind you are. You are the schoolyard bully.  The coward. Tormentor and thug.

But through God’s grace, and one blog post a week, you are gone.  I, and those who shared this journey, have been liberated. Telling these stories about my life growing up with Ma and The Old Man at 204 didn’t cause my heart to stop, my world to implode as I had so feared all my life.  No.  In fact, the exact opposite was true. My heart beat stronger and fiercer.  My world exploded with love and kindness, compassion and empathy, joy and appreciation.

Although I didn’t intend to go down this path, I am so grateful I did.  Along the way, I discovered my parents, Ma and The Old Man.  I got to tell their story with all of its complexities.  Their complicated love for each other.  Their unconditional love for me, my siblings and their grand children. The lessons that love taught me.  Somehow through the rush of time and the dailiness of life, I’d forgotten that.  Or dismissed it as being trivial.  Or worse yet, not true. But this past year helped me to realize and remember all the love that lived at 204.  In all its shades, muted and glorious orange, the highlights and the dark shadows, the frostiness and the humidity, the large blue skies overhead and the beige sand beneath.  The home in our hearts and the heart in our home.

On one of our many walks together, Ma said, “I’d love to write my life story but I don’t know how. And who would read it anyway?” This notion, this gut-wrenching, heartfelt cry touched me.  Far deeper than I realized at the time.  It took years, and much practice as a writer and storyteller, to bring her story to life.  A simple tale about an ordinary woman, who in many ways, lived an extraordinary life.

I can write Ma.  I can tell your story.  Does it matter who reads it?  I think not.

As for The Old Man, had I not written this blog I may never have realized just how much I miss him. Orneriness and all. He had always been such a thorn in my side.  Not any more.  Extraction is complete.  Wound healed.  Only love remains.  I am proud and honored to be The Breadman’s Daughter.

Although there weren’t any grand discussions about God in my blog, the presence and influence of the divine was the underlying melody throughout.  God was present in every grace note.  Not only in the process of telling the story.  But in the stories themselves.  It was there.  In the space between the notes.  The reading between the lines.

As for those grander God discussions, I learned that in the end, I’m ill-equipped to have those.  I’ll leave that to Eric Weiner or Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay or David Javerbaum, even.  I could never write something so sublime and witty as The Last Testament.  Not in a million blog years.

What next?   More storytelling.  I think I’m better at that than blogging. I’ve joined Cowbird, the online community for storytellers, so all five of you can find me there.  I do have a few more Daughter stories to share with you.  You’ll find those here and on Cowbird.

If the blog survives, it’s my plan to take it in a completely different direction.  At least I think I will.  As you know, I’m easily sidetracked. And we all know what happens to best laid plans.

One parting thought, watch out for mice.

Diaries of The Beadman’s Daughter: Life Before Me and You and That Other Guy.

Ma with my big brothers and sister.

Sometimes I find it hard to imagine that my parents had a life before me.  I’m also certain that it’s hard for my children to imagine me having a life before them.  On some level I guess I didn’t.  Not like this anyway.  It’s like my life is divided into two.  Life before kids.  And life after.  Each child changed me.  Made me more.  Expanded my capacity to love.  Larger and richer.  Deeper and unconditionally.

Before I met E I had pretty much given up on the notion of ever finding love.  Much less a husband.  And having another child was seemingly impossible.  Yet both of those things happened.  Proof that miracles do happen. Even if they were just the bland run-of-the-mill types.  Not your water into wine.  Or parting of the seas.  Raising the dead.  But these events were every bit as miraculous to me. This was also the case for Ma.

Little back story.   Before Ma met The Old Man she had been married.  Plus she had three kids.  She met her first husband just before WW2.  The details of this period in Ma’s life are sketchy at best.  All I know is that he was in the air force, flew off to war and evidently came back long enough to conceive children.  In the span of five years, all in one week in April, Ma had three kids.  Then after the war ended he “shacked up” with some woman in Manitouwadge or Wawa, and there he remained until the day he died.  He abandoned Ma and her children and never reappeared in their lives.  In return, Ma rarely spoke of him and my siblings did not preserve any memories of the father they never knew.  He was like “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” in the Harry Potter books.

The Old Man behind the wheel of the Woods Meat truck.

Ma met The Old Man when she was working the 7pm to 3am shift at a restaurant called Porky’s on St Paul Street.  He was working as a deliveryman for Woods Meat Market at the time.  He used to go in there after midnight for coffee.  Given the hour he frequented the joint, I’m assuming it was where he went after the bar closed.  He may have originally gone there for coffee but it was Ma who kept him coming back. Ma never said much about their first encounter except that he was incredibly handsome and had beautiful blue eyes.  She also said it was love at first sight.

My parents were from a generation of folks who didn’t discuss their romance.  Nor did they engage in public displays of affection.  At the most, there was hand holding, quick pecks on the lips when saying goodbye, and occasional awkward hugs.  For photos The Old Man would place his arm around the back of Ma’s waist.  That was it.

Ma in the woods with my two big brothers.

Due to this lack of romantic mythology I have fabricated my own version of their budding courtship.  It goes something like this.  Two incredibly shy people.  One with blond hair and blue eyes.  The other a raven haired dark-eyed beauty.  One Finlander.  One Italian.  Fire and ice.  Yin and yang.  He sits at the counter after midnight and orders a cup of coffee.  Cream and sugar.  Then he orders another.  She bustles around serving coffee and late-night sobering-up food to the other patrons scattered like lost sheep in the ratty Naugahyde booths.  He stays until three when the place closes.  He can’t get his eyes off her.   She steels glances his way.   Bolstered by a few too many drinks from the local watering hole, he’s able to find the courage to say hello.  By morning that false confidence would evaporate.  But for those few fleeting hours after midnight his shyness, especially around women, was held at bay.  She’s exhausted from raising three kids and working nights.  His sweet flirtations revitalize her though and put the youthful bounce back into her step.  She blushes and says hello back.  Their conversation is endearing in its bashful clumsiness.  It doesn’t come easy.  Still they persist.  Night after night.  This goes on for days, weeks, months perhaps.  Then the shy blond blue eyed Finlander musters the courage to ask out the Italian beauty.  After one date she knows he’s trouble but it’s too late.  She’s madly in love.  The sparks fly.  Then there’s me.  And life begins.

While Ma was working the night shift at Porky’s my oldest brother was at home with my other brother and sister.  This was the little family that existed long before I was even a twinkle in The Old Man’s eye.  By the time I was born my brothers were well on their way to adolescence.  My sister was old enough to take me for walks down the street in my carriage and dress me up like one of her dolls.  Because I don’t remember anything before the age of five my first impressions of my siblings is that they were quasi-adults.  Big people.  I knew they weren’t old like The Old Man and Ma but they weren’t kids either.  Definitely not playmates.  It was a peculiar psychological head space.  On the one hand I understood that these big people were my brothers and sister.  Yet on the other, I felt very much like an only child and longed for siblings that were closer in age.  In my childhood fantasies I often pretended that they were.

A hair curling night. They sure knew how to have a good time back then.

Despite the age difference I loved them all dearly.  I idolized my ‘big’ brothers.  They were both handsome, kind and patient with their baby sister.  They called me Babe.  I also loved that they were so different from The Old Man.  They weren’t alcoholics for one thing.  And they were the defenders of Ma, my sister and I.  They were our heroes.  Not cape wearing or white horse riding.  But on those dark nights when The Old Man came home reeking of alcohol and ranting about some past injustice brought upon his late mother at the hands of his old man, they were brave lionhearted men.

They were also boys of that era.  I loved that about them too.  They had slicked-back Brylcreemed hair and drove a mauve colored Harley.  They smoked roll-your-own Export A cigarettes and had do-it-yourself tattoos.  Our neighborhood was full of guys just like them.  Most of them hung out at 204.  But this was all exterior stuff.  The way teenagers looked back then.  Fashion and fads.  Ma always said she had good boys.  She was right.  Good boys who grew into sterling men.  Married their soul mates and big loves. Raised wonderful families and led good lives.  Decent.  Ma taught them well.

Me and my big sister on the front porch in winter.

The relationship between my sister and I was akin to oil and water.  We didn’t mix well but we did love each other despite our innumerable differences.  Genetics may have had a hand in this. Just who we were.  But mostly I think we were both products of our own times.  We were imprinted by the decades that informed us most.  The indelible impression.  She was a good girl from the fifties.  Defined by maintaining a high morale code and preserving one’s virginity until marriage vows were exchanged.  I am a product of the sixties and seventies.  Peace.  Love.  And understanding.   Complicated and perplexing.  And yes, there was living in sin.  Nothing was being saved for marriage.

Enough said.  My sister and I were different.  We loved each.  We fought like two female cats in heat.  Ma had to physically stand between us on more than one occasion.  We always made up and made nice.  Because in the end we were both good girls.  Just with different points of view.  Not wrong.  Not bad.  Just different.  As adult women we have come to terms with all of that.  The oil and the water was given a good shake.  It has emulsified.  Ma taught us well.

My parents’ relationship was plagued with challenges right from the start.  Legally she was still married to the man in Manitouwadge or Wawa.  She was raising three kids on her own, money was scarce and at times her world was a dark and frightening place.  The Old Man was four years younger, immature by all accounts, mourning the recent loss of his mother, and ill-tempered when drunk.  Not the best formula for starting a new life.  Yet somehow they made this thing work.  It wasn’t perfect.  But it wasn’t too shabby either.  More proof that miracles do happen.

My two blond blue eyed loves.

Flash forward to 1992.  History repeats itself on the West Coast.  I was a single mother of two.  Working at a little graphic design company owned by an old friend from back in the days at 204. He was the first big heartbreak love of my best friend, the person who introduced me to my ex-husband and my boss.  My mantra back then was “you’ve just gotta love a guy like that.”

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in March of ’92 I met a blond blue eyed alcoholic at a rundown country bar my sister dragged me to because I needed a little fun in my otherwise dull life. It was there that I fell head over heels for one of the jammers on stage.  He played upright bass in a bluegrass band.  There was just something about the way he played that thing that made my toes curl.  After his bit on stage we danced.  And we’ve been dancing ever since.

I dove in with my eyes wide open.  I’d seen this movie before. I knew how it played out having witnessed it up-close and personal my entire life.  There we were.  Just like Ma and The Old Man.  Yet not.  We’ve written our own story.  Everyone does.  This was our shot.  Sacrifices were made and compromises struck.  A beautiful blond blue eyed child was born bearing an uncanny resemblance to both her Dad and The Old Man.

The heart expands. Love grows. And life begins.  Again.