Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Define Your Own Success.

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Girl Warrior. Determine your own definition of what being successful means. Like many of the big things you’ll do, this is an inside job. Start there. Take a long hard close look inwards at the person you are today. The one you were yesterday, last week, last month, last year, or as many years back as your memory will take you.

Then ask yourself this question. Who is this person?

Chances are, this person is somewhere on the growth chart between ‘not quite there yet’ and ‘done like dinner.’ Regardless of where you stand on the Spectrum of Light (SOL) you are incomparably perfect. Not flawless. Not without blemishes or warts. Not pristine. But perfect, not in spite of these things but because of them.

With this perspective in mind, and under your own personal magnifying glass, go in closer to see all the people, places and things that truly matter to you. What inspires your soul? Fills your mind with wonder and curiosity? Makes your heart flutter with happiness. Brings tears of joy to your eyes? Scares the shit right out of you? What drives and propels you forward? What makes you want to get up in the morning? What would you rather be doing more than anything else? What does an ideal day look like? Who do you like to be with? Who’s in your tribe and who’s missing that you wish was there? How do you find bliss? Where do you want to go? When do you start living your life? Why does it matter? And, the really great big huge colossal critical question, why are you here?

Once you have probed deeply and truthfully into the answers to these soul-searching questions, you can start to formulate a picture of what success means to you. Notice that these are questions you ask of yourself. This is a very personal quest and is nobody else’s business. Not your parents, friends, teachers, therapists, colleagues, pop icons, social media stars, fashion freaks, political leaders or anyone else that you may be under the influence. Not their life. Not their definition. Not this time.

Know this, being successful lies in your answers to these vital life-affirming questions. Only these. It’s not about wealth or power or influence or status or jobs or fame or fortune or getting ahead or climbing some corporate ladder. It’s about loving, honoring and respecting the person looking back at you in the mirror every day. It’s about knowing that your presence on Planet Earth matters.

Most importantly Girl Warrior, it’s about knowing that your life is a success because you live it fully and completely, with the utmost integrity and authenticity. And always, always, always according to your own definition. On your terms.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Maple Tree.

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I have a Maple Tree in my front yard.

I brought it with me from Ontario as a tiny sapling.

I removed it gingerly from its mother tree the morning I left to return to BC.

I wrapped it in a wet paper towel and a plastic baggy.

I placed it carefully into my purse where it journeyed across Canada with me.

I loved it so and made a promise to my parents to take good care of it.

I planted it temporarily in a small terracotta pot.

I replanted it and replanted it into ever-bigger pots that sat on my sunny patio.

I watched as it grew and grew until it was the same height as me.

I bought a little white house after my parents died just around the corner from the rental.

I lovingly removed the Maple Tree from its final pot made from a wooden barrel.

I planted it permanently in the front yard deeply anchored in the solid earth.

I called it Marion after my mother.

She is well over twenty feet tall now.

She is far bigger than my mother could have ever imagined.

She is a faithful reminder of my mother and the life we shared.

She provides a welcome canopy of shade.

She keeps my front room cool and comfortable in the summertime.

She is beautifully naked and oh so graceful in the winter.

She quietly stands guard and watches over this little white house.

She is eternally helpful and obliging that way.

She also makes me feel safe in the shelter of her branches.

She changes color with the seasons but not the way her mother tree did back in Ontario.

She wonders about some of those autumn colors of her lineage.

She ponders the reason they are missing from her leaves.

She thinks her mother tree looked divine in a particular shade of red.

She mourns the loss of the things she did not inherit.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Second and Last Kiss and the Smell of Old Spice.

Ma + The Old Man sitting on the stone wall.

The Old Man and his beautiful Italian Sweetheart.

The second kiss.  Does anyone even remember?  We don’t write love songs about the Numero Duo.  No passionate odes.  Or lyrical poems.  Tragic melodramas.  Nothing much comes to mind.  No backward glances.  No second chances.  Or even a second thought.  Nada.

Ma gave me my first kiss.  And The Old Man gave me the second.  The order and circumstances of these inceptive parental kisses most likely set the tone for our future relationships.  The Old Man would always be second best in my life.  The first kiss trumps everything after all.

Little back story.  The Old Man was an emotional guy.  He laughed easily and heartily.  Flew off the handle at the drop of a hat.  Tears welled in his eyes when he watched something sad on TV.  He cried like a baby when our birds, Petie 1 and Petie 2, died.  But as emotional as he was, I don’t remember him being comfortable expressing his love.  Yet oddly enough I always felt loved by him.  That was the paradox of The Old Man.  Emotional yet stoic.  Loving but unable to show it.  The stoicism was in his DNA.  He was a Finlander and they aren’t known for their overt expressions of love.  They aren’t huggy people.  Like the Italians.  Like Ma.

Part of the way The Old Man was had to do with his generation.  Back then, men were different than they are today.  Real men not only didn’t eat quiche.  They didn’t seek help.  There was no Burning Man.  There were no public displays of affection either.  It embarrassed everybody.   Husband.  Wife.  And especially the kids.  Even the pets hid in self-conscious mortification.  All that mushy stuff went on behind closed doors.  If it went on at all.  Most kids, myself included, preferred to think that it didn’t.  I was perfectly content in the belief that I was plucked from the cabbage patch.  Then carried in a pink flannel blanket by a stork and placed into Ma’s waiting arms.  Some myths are worth perpetuating.

The Old Man used to kiss Ma lightly on the lips before going to work every morning.  Perhaps “kiss” is a bit of an exaggeration.  It was more like a little peck.  A light brush.  An accidental skim of the lips.  I don’t even recall them holding hands.  But he did put his arm around her for pictures.  I don’t think he was just putting it on for the camera.  I look at the old photographs and I see a man showing the world that the Italian beauty next to him was his girl.  Sometimes he’d come up from behind while she was busy cooking and give her a little peck on the cheek.  She’d pretend to be annoyed and send him on his way but secretly I think she loved the attention.  Loved that he loved her.

Saying I love you didn’t come easily back then either.  Another embarrassing thing that sent everyone running for cover.  Saying it was awkward.  Uncomfortable.  And often blush inducing.  It was especially difficult if you were even the least bit shy, which our family was.  It was written in all the greeting cards of course.  At the end of the rhyming couplet.  Love and X’s and O’s.  Hallmark took care of everything.  But it was rarely openly and easily said.  It was just understood.  A given.  Taken for granted.  Families loved each.  Parents loved one another.  Parents loved their kids.  And kids loved them back.  There was never any doubt in my mind that I was loved, whether the words were spoken or not.

When I was in my late teens I fell in love for the first time. I found myself expressing that love to this young man.  It came naturally.  Like breathing.  Nothing much came of this callow relationship.  It fizzled pretty quickly.  My young teenage heart was crushed.  There would never be another quite like him.  But every cloud has its silver lining.  And mine was three little words. I love you.  Suddenly I was liberated.  It was the beginning of my Flower Power chapter.  The Age of Aquarius was just dawning on me.  And I was determined to openly and freely tell people that I loved them.  I wanted to introduce the phrase into my daily conversation.  It no longer needed to be pulled out of the mothballs for special occasions.  Like the good dishes for Christmas dinner.

Saying I love you to Ma was a piece of cake.  It wasn’t long before our good-bye kisses included an I love you.  Off I went to school with an I love you tucked inside my heart.  Ma stayed home with hers held equally close.   But saying I love you to The Old Man wasn’t quite as easy.  But I did say it eventually.  Not every day like with Ma.  But I said it and I’m grateful I did.  The truth is, he needed to hear it.  Craved it.  Like sugar.  And I needed to say it to him. The last time I told him I loved him was when I went home to bury Ma.  By then The Old Man was living in an old folks home.  I visited him every day during that week.  He had grown frail and was wheelchair bound.  His hearing was pretty much gone.  It was the night before my return to the Westcoast.  He was in the common sitting room.  The gathering place.  It was eerily quiet.  Surreal. The only conversation was the one coming from the television set.  When my niece and I opened the steel double doors to the room, we were greeted by a group of elderly folks sitting in wheelchairs.  They were all just sitting there facing the door.  Like it was a stage and they were the audience waiting for the show to begin.  Expectant.  Eager.  Earnest.  But there was also something else that I saw in their faces.  Hope.  Maybe tonight was their night.  Tonight there would be a visitor just for them.  Someone from their past who loved them.

But on this particular night, the visitor was for The Old Man. He wasn’t part of the audience watching the door.  He was by the television set, his head slumped on his chest, his eyes closed.  I touched his shoulder, which was thin and bony under his flannel shirt. He came to life.  We had a short visit.  It was a shouting match actually.  Because he refused to wear his hearing aid, having a private conversation was impossible.  So we yelled at each other for an hour.  Some things never change.

When it was time to leave I bent down and shouted in his ear.  Not just because he couldn’t hear, but because I knew it was my last chance to say it to him.  Loud and clear.  For eternity.  For the whole world to hear.  I LOVE YOU DAD.  Then I gave a kiss on the cheek to the one who gave me my second.  He told me he loved me too.  By this time all the old folks had turned their wheelchairs around and were no longer watching the door.  All eyes were on us.  After I shouted my love to The Old Man, the entire room let out a collective “Awwwww.”  Not applause exactly.  But close.

The Old Man smelled different than Ma.  She was all sweet tea, peppermint Chicklets and Second Debut.  His scent was inconsistent.  Right after work he smelled of bakery dust and sweat.  He’d head to the bathroom to wash it off and emerge smelling of Ivory soap and Brylcreem.  On special occasions, or on Sundays, he simply smelled fresh and clean.  Old Spice.  And everything nice.  But on that last kiss good-bye he smelled peculiar.  Off.  Tinny.  Sour.  The smell of death around the corner.  All the more reason to shout I love you.

I’ve thought about that last scene with my father many times over the years.  And how hungry everyone in that sitting room was for some expression of love.  And how it took their breath away when they heard the words “I love you” shouted with such wild abandon.  Such a sublime and wondrous thing to hear.

I love you.  And you.  And you.  And you.

Bill and boo snow day

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Me and The Old Man

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Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer.

After the photo shoot. Ma, The Old Man and Sugar.

I like to dance.  I’m lousy at it but that’s beside the point.  I have two left feet apparently.  I lack rhythm.  Poise.  And most importantly, grace.  I’m a klutz.  I bang into door frames and stumble farcically over cracks in the sidewalk.  But I flat-out refuse to accept the mountain of corroborating evidence that even though I’m a lousy dancer, I should pack it in altogether.  That’s just not going to happen. I may be in denial but I like it.  Nothing can stop me from shaking my booty.  Strutting my stuff.  Tripping the light fantastic.  And shuffling off to Buffalo.  My personal history has taught me that it may not be such a great idea to dance in public. But in the privacy of my own room, I can boogie on down and dance dance dance.

Little back story.  When I was six or seven I started taking ballet, tap and acrobatic lessons from Mrs. M.  Although I took lessons for seven years I never really got very far.  The writing was on the wall, “This girl needs to take up another activity. Like bowling. Or Paper Mache.”   Ma and The Old Man didn’t see it that way though. Just as I am in denial today, they were equally blind back then to the abysmally obvious. They had no perspective when it came to my talent.  Or lack thereof.  I was their child.  Everything I did delighted them.  As it should be.  But the truth is, I knew, and Mrs. M. knew, that I was never going to be the next Anna Pavlova.

My memories of Mrs. M. are vague and sketchy at best.  Blurry little reveries of wooden floors and pointy toes fused with young girlie scents and self-conscious glances.  Unlike Terpsichore, Mrs. M. did not find me amusing.  No, I was not her muse.  And unlike Ma and The Old Man, she did not take delight in my dance.  But she was my teacher for seven years and I do give her top marks for perseverance and tolerance.  And for not telling my parents to take my ballet shoes and go home.   I was also irrationally terrified of her.  In my mind she was at least 75 years old and monstrous.  Realistically she was probably only 45, but when you’re seven and small, anything over thirty is ancient and intimidating.

I wanted nothing more than to have made my inept body perform better.  But it just wouldn’t.  In addition to lacking rhythm, poise and grace, I lacked flexibility.  Especially in my legs and lower back.  Having pliable stretchy elastic Gumby body parts in these two areas is  undoubtedly advantageous.  This particularly comes in handy when performing moves like “the splits.”  I don’t advise that any human over the age of thirty attempt doing these. At least not without an Emergency Medical Team on hand to revive you and uncork your legs.  Even the sound of the word hurts.  Splits.  OUCH.

I remember practicing. Diligently. Tenaciously.  Willing my legs to  flatten.  Forcing them downwards towards the floor.  Long before I knew what visualization was, I would lie in bed and see my skinny bowed legs getting closer and closer to the floor.  It was painful.  Eventually I got pretty close. If I scootched my bum just right, sort of off-kilter and leaning towards one side, it sorta-kinda looked like I was doing “it.”  And that pretty much summed up everything about my dance career.  I got close, and as Groucho Marx or W.C. Fields put it, “but no cigar.”

In what would be my final year of lessons, I got to participate in the annual dance recital.  The Dance Revue.  Two horrifying nights of performances on a Friday and Saturday, in June. I still have the blue and green program from the evening.  My last name was spelled wrong throughout.  In the program it proclaims that in the first half of the evening I performed in three of the “Varieties” called Recital Time, Destination Moon and Tumblers. After the Intermission, that lasted precisely 3 minutes according to the program, I also performed in a dance called Flowers Awaken in the “In A Flower Garden” feature. It goes without saying, I was a supporting player, not a soloist like Donna M or Bernice H or Barbara C or Wendy W.  I probably secretly hated all of those girls.  A Prima, I was not. I didn’t even make it into the Grand Finale “Around The World” feature, of which there were sixteen.  You think she could have at least thrown me into the back row of Chantez Chantez or Canada The Hop Scotch Polka.  Everyone seemed to be in those little numbers.  Except me.

Ma made all of my costumes. Lovingly. Tenderly. Ardently.  I thought they were divine. Worthy of a Princess.  A Prima Ballerina.  I still have those too.  They’re wrapped in tissue and stored in a McNulty’s box in my storage closet.  I can still feel my mother’s touch on the fabric. And it breaks my heart.

Recital Time was a snappy little tap ditty.  The fabric for this costume looked like it once adorned Ma’s kitchen table.  A hot pink checkered gingham number with puffy little pants and a bib-like top tied in a bow at the nape of my neck.  The piece de resistance was the pointy little hat, that closely resembled a New Year’s Eve Party Favor or a small dunce cap. I think I wore the same costume for Destination Moon because the hat could also work as the nose cone of a rocket.  For Tumblers I wore a simple black leotard with tights and black ballet slippers.  My leotard was the wrong kind.  All the other Tumblers had leotards with short sleeves. I was self-conscious and embarrassed by the lack of sleeves on mine.  I never told Ma she bought the wrong kind but it was plain to see I had four inches of uncovered flesh on my upper arms.  In Flowers Awaken I wore an orangey rust colored tutu made of satin and crinoline with fake silk flowers strategically attached to my torso.  But thankfully there were no hats.

Ma and The Old Man thought I was marvelous, none the less.  Before the recital they took photographs.  They turned our living room into a photography studio.  Truth was, it was nothing like a photo studio.  The developed pictures were proof of that. They draped a white sheet over our floral curtains, moved the chair and end table aside and snapped away with our six-20 Brownie Junior camera.  I posed in front of the sheet in my three costumes.  The serious tap dancer.  The smiling ballerina.  The perplexed tumbler, almost doing the splits.  And then after the photo session, I took a picture of the two of them with our dog Sugar, wedged helplessly between my father’s legs.

There they are, my two biggest fans.  The ones who took me to lessons for seven years.  Made my costumes. Applauded the loudest. Fought back tears of pride.  Cherished my performances.  Showered me in kisses filled with admiration.  I was their tiny dancer.  They were incapable of seeing my flaws. My faulty performance.  And the gap between my skinny bowed legs and the hardwood floor.

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