Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Importance of Lunch by John Allemang

I just read a great book by John Allemang. Aside from the fun fact that he's a local and so refers to places I know well (Fran's Restaurant in Toronto, St. Jacobs Market), he has an attitude toward food that I can wholeheartedly - er - swallow. He asserts that people have taken an adversarial stance toward food; we think it's out to kill us. We fret about cholesterol and fat and sodium. We cut out sugar and gluten and joy. We act as if "good" food were medicine - good only because it's a source of anti-oxidants and Omega 3s. We forget the simple, vital pleasure of just enjoying what we eat.

Last night I hosted a potluck for my Edible Garden club. Everyone brought dishes they had concocted primarily from ingredients they'd grown in their garden. There was beet salad, fresh green beans, hearty chili, coleslaw, kale and tomato dip, crisp cucumbers, homemade grape juice, lavender cookies. Things I'd never tried before. We sat on the back patio in a cooling breeze and let the astonishing flavour of yellow ground cherries explode in our mouths. Great food and interesting conversation, shared by near strangers, all brought together by their common passion for growing food. No one weighed the fat content. No one pontificated about the life-promoting qualities of deep-yellow vegetables. We just ate. Swapped gardening tips. And laughed. Which is, I think, the most important ingredient of a meal.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Ode to Motherhood

In reality a child's birth is the birth of a mother,
an occupation with its end inherent in its beginning.

When they're infants I'm the Dairy Queen,
all-knowing Goddess, bestower of good things.
Weeks without sleep, hair held by a clothes pin.
I don't have bags under my eyes - I have suitcases.
Laughing in order not to cry.
Last to eat, first to wake.
My reward: a tight grip on my finger,
the soft breath of sleep, an occasional smile,
and I am ridiculously pleased.

Then they're in the age of piano lessons,
school concerts in the gym, dentist bills,
concussions, skinned knees, hurt feelings.
I am the chauffeur, the boss, the healer,
long nights in hard hospital chairs,
pillowing small bodies with mine.
Once a year my reward: a bedraggled begonia,
a heart-shaped note pasted to a paper doily,
and I am ridiculously pleased.

When they're teens I become a toilet brush,
embarrassing but necessary,
brought out when there's a mess to clean up,
then tucked away and forgotten until the next time
they need field trip money or a ride to the mall.
Gripping the dashboard as they lurch the car forward,
trying to think of a Mormon equivalent of a Hail Mary.
My reward: the bright smile on the driver's licence,
and I am ridiculously pleased.

Then they're off to university, with all my money and half the house,
an occasional email, wild hair and tattoos,
prepping for exams, interviews, heartbreak.
Fledgling independence, gaining flight.
After decades of fear and sweat and sorrow,
my reward: to see myself become unnecessary.
My goal of obsolescence is in sight.
An empty room, quiet nights, gray hair,
and I am ridiculously pleased.

A Visit with my Sister

My sister came to visit this week, taking three flights from Idaho to reach me here in Canada. That alone tells you what a fantastic and supportive person she is. It was a week filled with long walks by the river, leisurely swims, lavender cookies, and evenings of quiet knitting. We explored jewel-box churches in Toronto, bought baskets of produce at the St. Jacobs Market, got mist-soaked at Niagara Falls, and just talked. She is five years my senior and I have always considered her very wise, perceptive, and level-headed. No one would believe it, but we have never fought, at least not since I was four and coloured war paint on her doll with a ballpoint pen. (Honestly, I thought it made her look better.)

We only get to see each other at family reunions every few years, when there are always lots of other people about, so it was nice to get her all to myself for six days. That bond is always there, a given, but this week made our friendship even stronger. I feel somehow refreshed and fortified for her having been here.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

High School Class Reunion

A short fictional piece, for which there is no real venue for publishing, so I'll dump it here.


It's coming around to that time we anticipate with both eagerness and alarm: the twenty-year class reunion. This is the event where we all find out the school idiot became a high-flying CEO, the ditzy cheerleader became a congresswoman, and the skinny kid with bad acne in typing class became a millionaire business tycoon. And this is when all of them find out that I've put on forty pounds, dropped out of university, and married someone from the rival high school across the valley.

The ticklers have begun arriving months in advance. Last week I received a form by email from our class president (now district attorney). I was to fill out the questions, attach a photo of myself, and send it back. These answers and photos will end up in a directory so we can all look up our former classmates. I'm breathless with excitement at the prospect. Who will I look up first? The girl who shoved me in a locker and stole my gym shorts or the boy who laughed hysterically when I asked him to Sadie Hawkins?

I really did my best to fill out the form, but how can you possibly be honest with questions like "What are the dreams you had in high school and did you fulfill them?" Well, I didn't end up running away to Europe with my French teacher. I never wrote a bestseller, flew in a hot-air balloon, or hosted my own TV show. I never backpacked across Iceland or met Mother Theresa. I'm a suburban secretary with three kids, a dog, and a mortgage to feed. I left this question blank.

The next question was "What do you do?" What do I do? I drive a car pool at 6 a.m. I fold a pile of laundry every day that would rival the Rockies. I hide the last bite of Pralines & Cream at the bottom of the freezer under the bag of turkey burger and sneak it after the kids are in bed. I lock myself in the bathroom at work so I can finish the last three pages of my novel. I use black ballpoint pen to colour in the hole in my stockings. I make the best shortbread at the PTA bake sale.

"Where do you live now?" I am not going to give any identifiers that would allow Janice the shorts thief to track me down. I write in simply, "At wit's end" and move to the next question.

"Do you keep in touch with anyone from our class?" We graduated twenty years ago. I have moved 3,000 miles away. This was deliberate.

"Please give your spouse's name and children's names and ages." Like a retiring Hollywood starlet, I am reluctant to give out personal information. What if I'm just feeding info to a stalker? What if they realize one of my sons was named after my French teacher? And if I give the age of my oldest, everyone will know how far I got in college. I write "Huey, Louie, and Dewey, ages unknown."

"What is your greatest accomplishment?" I know that one. Huey, Louie, and Dewey.

I sent back the email and got an immediate reply. "You forgot to attach a current photo."

I am not about to admit I don't know how to download pictures from my digital camera and still go to WalMart to print off all my photos. I email back, "Just stick in a photo of Julia Roberts and say it's me."

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Farmer's Market Today

We were up at dawn to go to the Farmer's Market at the Etobicoke Civic Centre today. We took the dog along (he likes to linger at the sausage table). There's a cheerful acquisitiveness at the market. Lots of colour and sound and shape to employ the senses. Many of the farmers are immigrants to Canada, and I listen to their happy banter in whatever languages and find myself wondering how they moved here and managed to afford farmland. Where did they settle? Why did they choose to settle there? And why can't I afford to join them?

I like to try new things - duck eggs, bizarre-looking squash, greens I've never seen before, dangerous-coloured mushrooms whose names I can't pronounce. There's a wonderful feeling of abundance at the market. No little cellophane-wrapped packages of four potatoes here. No limp strawberries trucked in from Chile. Just piles and piles of healthy, heaped beets and radishes, onions the size of baseballs, pyramids of fat zucchini. The stacks of lettuces look like the frilled petticoats of Old-West dance hall girls. How did their beets and leeks turn out so uniformly shaped? Mine always look like the results of nuclear fallout.

I can't help touching - bumpy gourds, brittle wicker baskets, crisp bell peppers, buttery-smooth tomatoes. Sorry, not going to buy anything from you today, but do you mind if I just stand here a while and stroke your chard, inhale the scent of your basil?

I was looking for a bushel of green beans - mine aren't doing well in the garden this year, thanks to my furry friends - and I wanted them slim and tender, not those thick Styrofoam things you get in the grocery store. But two different farmers confided to me that I should come back later in the summer, when they're desperate to unload the end of the crop; the prices would be much better then. People who buy in bulk should wait until toward the end of the season, they told me, when they're practically giving things away. I appreciated their honesty and went home with only some heavenly-smelling garlic and two bouquets of asparagus.

I go out in my backyard and smile benignly at the rabbit munching in my oat patch. Go ahead, sweetie. I know where I can get more, and there's plenty to share.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Emotional Rollercoaster - I'm just going along for the ride

Most of the books I read describe the characters in a few short words meant to convey their personality - "a taciturn man" or "a soft-spoken woman." As if a few adjectives can describe a person. As if people are static.

If I were to write myself as a character in a book, I wouldn't know how to begin to describe myself. I don't think I'm one dominant trait that's easily identifiable. Just today, I've experienced anticipation, hope, nervousness, disappointment, frustration, despair, anger, disgust, resignation, gratitude, compassion, love, boredom, contentment, sadness, self-pity, impatience, embarrassment, loneliness... and the day's not over yet. Am I the only one who flicks emotions on and off like an OCD child with a light switch? Or is that just menopause turning me into a feverish madwoman? I don't think I can blame it entirely on that. I've been this changeable since childhood. I think people are more complex than writers give them credit for.

That, or I'm a feverish madwoman because I'm a writer. After all, I have hordes of characters to keep in touch with. How do I portray them authentically if I've never experienced what they feel?

Because they do feel, you know. All I do is pry them out of my head and spread them onto paper. What they do after that is up to them.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Canada Day

Happy Canada Day! I have been in this country nearly 23 years now, and a citizen for about eighteen. I was sworn in as a Canadian along with about a hundred other newcomers in a Croatian Banquet Hall (somehow that seems so Canadian!). We were told to bring along a Bible or other religious book we valued. I took along my LDS scriptures, and as we sat waiting for the ceremony to start, I let my book fall open wherever it wanted to. It opened - I kid you not - to Ephesians 2:19 "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens..." It seemed apt for the occasion. I started to laugh and tried to show the passage to the man sitting next to me, but he didn't speak enough English to get it, I don't think.

I have been in Canada more than half my life, and I am very happy with the move. Ontario is beautiful and green, both gentle and rugged. I find Canadians very friendly and honest, kind and concerned. They vote. They let others merge into heavy traffic. They laugh a lot. They're down to earth. They don't take politics overly seriously. They remove their shoes in your home. They're avid for world news and stay up on current events. They appreciate a good joke, especially if it's about them. They're genuine; they let you see who they are, and they let you be you too.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

User-Friendly Technology

I was discussing pet peeves with my husband one morning. His is the computer that asks you three times if you're really sure you want it to carry out the command you just gave it. Mine is cell phones ringing everywhere, all the time. We envisioned a world where technology was useful and friendly, not annoying. Technology that actually enhanced your life. So here's the list of devices we think need to be developed:
  • An alarm clock that, after you've hit the snooze button three times, is programmed to phone your boss and say "She just won't get up. I've tried and tried, but it looks like you'll just have to go ahead without her today. I'm sorry. I've done my best." Or it could cough and wheeze and say you're staying home ill.
  • A cell phone that politely clears its throat and whispers, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but you have a call."
  • A fridge that asks you gently when you open the door, "Are you really sure you want to eat this cheesecake? You don't really need that extra 500 calories, do you? How about you go for a run instead?"
  • A treadmill that makes encouraging noises, says motivational phrases, and announces every so often, "Congratulations! You just burned off that leftover pizza you had for breakfast this morning!"
  • A clothes washer that doesn't buzz, but instead calls out a cheery, "Yoohoo! It's time for the fabric softener!" 
  • A cupboard where you can keep all the stuff you don't want your kids to get into, and if they manage to break into it, it immediately sends you an instant message: "Albert's into the chewable vitamins again!"
  • A Home Alarm system that - rather than barking "The police have been notified" - instead flips lights on all over the house, slams an upstairs door, and shouts, "Martha, get the rifle! There's someone downstairs!"
  • A car that automatically starts to recite a Hail Mary when you go over the speed limit.
  • A lawnmower that politely reminds you when it starts getting low on gas. Or better yet, mows the lawn for you, like one of those robot vacuums.
  • An ATM machine that says "Your account is getting a little low. You might want to rethink this withdrawal." Or a wallet that absolutely refuses to let you take out your credit card when you're near your limit.
  • And I've always maintained that a photocopier that is smart enough to tell me it's jammed should be smart enough to clear the jam itself.
Now, wouldn't that be more useful?