May 31, 2017

City Mouse, Mountain Mouse

I was so exhausted after work Friday I forgot the onions and garlic for the Shepherd's Pie I was set to make the next day.  We were gathering up clothing, food and supplies to take up to our place at the mountain resort where my husband is employed, and where our daughter and I would also spend our weekend. I had the recipe in front of me and read it over to make sure I gathered all the ingredients. (I also ended up forgetting the rosemary.) For some stupid reason I had awoken that morning at 4:45 and could not, for the life of me, fall back to sleep. Instead, I had given in, got up, made coffee and taken care of some emails. I never sleep to my 6:20 alarm on my work days, but 4:45 is ridiculous. Fourteen and a half hours later I was pushing through my foggy haze to get organized. Fortunately, my husband had come down to pick us up, and I would not have to drive the hour and ten minutes to the resort. He was also trying to be helpful in a 'let's hurry' sort of way.

Once we were on the road I could relax. A beautiful evening drive was in front of us and a mellow and quiet weekend was something to look very much forward to. The weekend before my husband had come down with the stomach flu and a few days later our daughter got it. I had successfully fought off the flu, but I was truly spent after looking after my family, working, and surviving on the interrupted sleep I seem to get nowadays. As we left the freeway behind and began the gradual winding climb to the resort I felt every cell in my body breathe a sigh of relief. I enjoy my job, I like the convenience of living in a mid-sized city and appreciate all it has to offer my daughter and me by way of cultural and educational opportunities, but I was born and raised in a town perched on a mountainside above a long and lovely lake, and the scent of lake water, evergreens and cottonwood are part of my DNA.

The first thing I do when I arrive at our humble little place in the mountains is fill my lungs with the sweet, fresh, fir and pine scented air. Next, I fill a glass with delicious mountain water and drink it down. The city where I live used to boast some of the best drinking water in Canada, but now it has to be chlorinated. After my ritual of inhaling and water drinking I put my stuff away and my husband made some popcorn. We sat down in front of the laptop and watched some comedy on YouTube. My husband has lately discovered a Brit comedian named Michael McIntyre,who is very funny but also incredibly fast talking. After about forty-five minutes of trying to keep up to Michael McIntyre I gave up and went to bed. I slept the deepest, longest sleep I'd had in ages.

My daughter was up before me the next morning, which almost never happens. I got up about 9 and made coffee, which I am confidently sure I would never forget to bring no matter how foggy I am the night before. My husband doesn't drink coffee, he wakes up ready to go which is a completely foreign concept to me, and doesn't keep it on hand. My daughter was still feeling a bit rough so we kept our ambitions of activity low and wore pyjamas until the afternoon. After lunch we ventured out for a walk on one of the many trails in the park and came across a couple of snowshoe hares, their feet still white but their bodies turning brown for their summer camouflage. They seemed to be chasing around in some sort of mating ritual and kept darting across our path. The air was warm, but not nearly as warm as it would be down in the valley. Still, we stuck to the shade where possible and put our hands in the cold rushing stream dissecting our path. We returned early to our place and I began to prepare our Shepherd's Pie. I soon realized I lacked the required onion and garlic. I wondered if the Resort chef would spare me some, and made my way out the door to walk the ten minutes to my husband's office. I had barely gone fifty meters when I saw our neighbour pull up in his BC Parks truck. I called out, "Do you happen to have an onion?" He said he did, at first thinking I was a tourist before recognizing me despite my lack of winter garb, and we proceeded to chat about Shepherd's Pie and cooking in general. I offered him a piece in exchange for the onion and garlic, and he took me up on it. I had met him and his girlfriend only once before in the winter, but familiarity is quick in somewhat isolated resort communities, I find. I think it has to be.

We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner. The simplest meals seem to taste best in a camping-type environment, where the flavours mingle with fresh air, wood smoke and sunscreen. I remember making Sloppy Joes, which is basically meat sauce on a bun, for my family when we were camping on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and they begged me to make it at home. I made the dish a couple of months later and the kids were disappointed, even though the ingredients were exactly the same as when we were camping. After the dishes were done, my husband made our first campfire of the summer and we sat around it in camp chairs and talked of this, and that, and burned an old insect and mold damaged paperback nearly page by page. My actor daughter and I read selected lines from the pages by way of a eulogy for the book. We let the fire die and went back inside to watch more Michael McIntyre and then we had another long and satisfying sleep.

The next morning I got up before my husband left for work. Our daughter was up early, too, so I suggested we aim to leave the house by 10-ish since we were both feeling a whole lot better than the day before. We packed a simple picnic and drove the four kilometers up to the lakes. The May morning shone on the blue-green of the lake water and the verdant green of the shore. I knew a path circled the lake so we set out upon it. We stopped several times to exclaim at the tree-perfumed scents of the forest in which we hiked, the birds and especially the ground squirrels that so delighted my daughter with their winning/food begging ways, The walk was longer than we anticipated, and very glad we'd brought peanut butter and jam sandwiches and apples we stopped to sit on a log overlooking the water to enjoy our lunch.  Happy people in canoes and kayaks paddled by in front of us and ducks and geese floated and fished. A dog came to visit us and I jumped because I had been bitten just a half hour before by another dog I had been assured would be friendly if I said hello. This particular dog was an adorable puppy and only made a muddy mess of my leg as it raced around us. I was grateful to put my throbbing and bleeding hand in the cold, clean lake water (no motors are allowed on the lakes) before we continued our trek.

We drove back to our place and made tea and ate more food. We decided we had earned a movie and chose Johnny English. Although the hike around the beautiful lake had made me feel blissful and somewhat romantic about life, the dog bite had brought me very much back to reality and I thought a laugh would do me good. It did do me good, as did the antiseptic wipes and the Advil. We made another simple but enjoyable dinner, packed up and drove down the winding descent to the freeway. We arrived home to a very warm apartment and flicked on the air conditioner. Our daughter caught up on the rest of her homework (she had already done plenty on the weekend after missing school for three days), and my husband and I watched an episode of Miss Marple.

I woke up the next morning at 5:30. The traffic had started in earnest on the thoroughfare by our building and the Tim Horton's drive-thru had already been open for an hour and a half. Not quite ready to give into the city's ways I suggested to my husband who was now on days off, that we drive the few minutes to the river and go for a walk before the heat of the day set in. The cottonwoods were shedding their fluff and giving off their heady, honeyed scent. Acres of pink and purple phlox bordered the pathway and the sun shone warmly down. The river swollen from the spring runoff raced along beside us. I was very glad to carry on the nature therapy a little longer so near our city home. I know we are very lucky to live where we live. The cares of the weekdays would come soon enough.

Later that day I went to the second hand book store and bought another copy of the burned novel.

May 17, 2017

The Food of Love

Ask a teenager or a romantic and they will tell you a successful relationship is all about the Grand Gestures: the poetic declarations of love, the surprise tickets to the ballet, the offerings of jewels, flowers, expensive dinners in dimly lit restaurants. I was once both a teenager and a romantic, and I will tell you here and now after twenty-five years of marriage, if I still believed grand gestures to be the food of love I would live a disappointed life. Grand Gestures are well and good but daily small gestures are what nourish and sustain.

My husband is not one for Grand Gestures. True, in our early days of courtship he brought me flowers regularly, but he also proposed to me over a paper bag picnic from the once-lauded Bread Garden while we sat cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom. No diamond ring was presented. I still said yes. After all, we had been dating a solid three weeks.*

My husband is not a composer of sweet nothings. Oh, he can talk, certainly, about any number of things, but when it comes to whispered poetic endearments, they are few and far between. When they come though, they are simply stated, heartfelt and treasured beyond anything. Where this man truly shines is in his rock solid support and care for me, and for our family, and in the way he can, like a well-aimed javelin, hit upon the truth of a situation. No one cuts the crap and gets to the heart of the matter like my husband. Time and time again, I have been more than grateful for this trait of his. When a certain small daughter was resisting her swimming lessons and I was at my wit's end trying to reason, cajole and practically bribe her into going, he took her into his lap and calmly said, "Now what's this really all about?" When a son wanted to quit halfway through university and I was caught up in the emotional turmoil of his situation, his dad got on the phone and calmly said, "Now what's this really all about?" Our son will graduate from university next week and our daughter knows how to swim quite well now. Of course, we've had our share of battles in the family. Doors have been slammed, voices have been raised, harsh words of scorn pronounced from time to time, but somehow cooler heads prevail and we figure it out between us and carry on stronger and better than we were before.

I remember talking with a group of young people at a lodge where we lived and worked as a family. They were curious about marriage, mine in particular. What makes a good partner? they asked. My response was immediate: A good partner helps you become a better person. They chewed on that for a bit and said, 'That's cool'. At the time of the conversation I was going through a lot of personal stuff. Twenty-eight years old with three kids and living in a rustic cabin in a remote location, I was being challenged on a daily basis. Basically, I was faced with myself and my weaknesses and limitations each and every day. I was not the best wife and mother I could be at the time, but my husband was so incredibly patient with me. When I resurfaced from my difficult stage I asked him how he could stand me during that period (It lasted about a year). "I knew you would come out of it, you just had to get through it." Perhaps that was the grandest gesture in the world, him waiting for me on the other side with open arms. "I don't deserve you," I said.

Of course, relationships are about give and take. I have supported my husband through many of his own difficulties and challenges. I have cheered him on at the soccer field, at the sidelines of cycling events, and of course acted as his sounding board and best friend. I am able to do all these things without hesitation for him because we have built a foundation of love and respect between us. Our foundation is built, brick by brick, slowly and steadily with time and care, laughter and music. I still have no fancy jewelry, and I am still waiting to be whisked off to Paris, but if those things never materialize I know the day-to-day gestures - the daily phone calls to see how my day is going, the appreciative thanks for a good meal, the efforts to get to every event of mine or our children's, the commiserating when things get crazy, the hugs when I am stressed - are more than enough to satisfy.

Happy Anniversary, my love, and thank you. Here's to the next twenty-five years.

*Although he proposed after only three weeks and I said yes, shortly after I freaked out and said, "I'm not ready!" It was several months before I said, "Ask me again."

May 1, 2017

Loss and Letting Go

After a car accident about eighteen years ago, I was undergoing massage therapy treatment. At one point in my treatment my therapist must have been frustrated with my lack of progress because she said to me, 'You have a hard time letting things go, don't you?' At the time, I was insulted. How dare she psychoanalyze me? I remember thinking, 'Just give me the massage, lady, and let me go home.' Her statement, for it wasn't really a question, wormed its way into my soul and stayed there, mostly because it was true. I carried a lot of stuff around in my muscle memory, old grudges, past hurts, much self-protection, and the enormous expectations of personal 'success' that came from, well, various sources, including my own rather self-punishing version of perfectionism. Oh yes, I had baggage. Carousels of it. Thankfully, I also had a sort of irrepressible optimism, a cheerfully sarcastic disposition, and a love of laughter to counter the weight of all that baggage. After ten months of therapy, and with youth on my side, I recovered from my injuries and joyfully returned to running, dancing, and living (mostly) without pain. I wish I could say I also started letting things go, but I can't. That process would take many more years.

Loss has featured largely in my life for the past couple of years. I have lost people, ideas of people, ideas of myself. Through loss I have shed several layers of my hard-earned sense of self, and the process has been both painful and freeing. Like the snake that wriggles out of its old, worn skin, a person who struggles through a period of great personal difficulty has the power to emerge shiny and new. I am not yet shiny and new, I am covered in post-rebirth gunk, but I have hope I will fully emerge in smooth and radiant glory, eventually.

I was texting with my niece the other night. She had posted something on Facebook about a young friend who had very recently died. She told me what had happened to him and three of his friends - a serious car accident in which the friend had died on the scene, two were critically injured and one walked away relatively unhurt. My niece said she had gained a newfound appreciation for the preciousness of life. I found myself texting her the words: 'We always, always learn a lot from loss.' When we lose someone or something precious we rage and ask why? why? The loss seems so unfair and so arbitrary. But, somehow the act of losing also gives us, dare I suggest it, an unexpected gift of a deeper appreciation for what is left. We often pledge to live better and more authentic lives.

I suppose that is where I am at now: trying to live a better and more authentic life. I have been saying 'no' more often, which is a challenge for a people-pleasing person such as myself. One of the hardest things for me to let go of is the sense of disappointing others. People pleasers need people to think highly of them, even love them, and they derive a certain amount of pride in achieving that love and approval from others. I have worked on developing something of a new mantra to help me in my aim to say no more often: They'll get over it. I've had to let go of the idea of success and replace it with doing what I love for the joy and satisfaction it gives me. ME. I've had to let go of my children as they grow into independent adults, forging their own divergent paths. I would not say I have been a helicopter parent, but I did exhibit some tendencies in that direction over the years. My youngest said at one point, "Mom, you're like the mother duck who has been leading her ducklings all over the place, and one day she turns around and they're not following her anymore." Ever wise, she said it with a mixture of pity and 'deal with it, Mom'. I have had to let go of my pride, the main thing which has held me back and held me in all these years.

Throwing bag after bag off the carousel of my life leaves me feeling raw and vulnerable but I am okay with this. Left also with a sense of lightness and freedom I can now embrace what is before me. I have little idea of what the years after my youngest graduates from high school will hold, but at least I know they won't have the endless nature of a baggage carousel going round and round carrying the same heavy stuff until someone claims it.