Category Archives: Everything

life (and death) lessons from a fish

Today I buried Tibu. He was one month short of being five. It is also International Happiness Day, and I think this is absolutely beautiful – here’s why:

Five years ago, just a couple of weeks after my mom died, Candice shoved a fish on me, and a part of me wanted to shove her to the ground. (I refrained because I also appreciated the thoughtfulness of her gesture). But the part of me that wanted to shake her silly wanted to because I could not handle being around a living creature that would just DIE on me. I didn’t want to end up loving a little fish just to have it DIE on me. I was so tired of death, and dying, and going on like everything was ok. I felt like the fish was death taunting me, reminding me that life sucks, we all DIE. I really did not want much to do with that fish, Tibu. Most days I would come home with my anxiety skyrocketing with the fear of finding him floating at the surface of his fish bowl. I always expected to see him there DEAD. Some days I would even wish he was dead just so I could get it over with, so I could stop worrying, so I could say: HA! You’re DEAD and I don’t care!

But Tibu did not die. And also, life does not suck. Yes we all die, I know (I spent so much time weighed down thinking about all this). But Tibu kept on living. And, well, so did I. More importantly, I learned to be happy. Not happy about anything in particular, just happy with living.

I don’t know how many eulogies have been written about fish, but I will say this about Tiburon: he helped me recognize an important life lesson: be happy. Can there be higher praise for a fish?? Also, he lived for five years! FIVE YEARS! I can’t keep plants alive, so this is no small feat on his part.

Happy International Day of Happiness!

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travelling solo…in your own city!

Until last week, I  believed that my transformation into a true-blue Toronto gal was marked by the accumulation of $7.40 worth of fines on my three-month old library card.  Officially a fine-paying resident! Yusss! Then last Wednesday, as I dashed downtown after a 10-hour work day to catch a show solo, I realized: this is it.

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It was beautiful—-the action, that is. The action of being independent. The action of being free. The action of being bold. And another thought occurred to me then: this feeling of being surrounded by beauty is the same feeling, the same delight, I get when I travel solo. The excitement; the uncertainty; the adventure… I was solo backpacking in my own city. 

If you’ve never been to the Dakota Tavern, you should go. It’s a small, intimate bar with a wicked atmosphere grown from it’s natural charm and its patron’s enthusiasm and energy. I visited the Dakota Tavern for the first time last year, and the intention of going back has never left my mind. Now that I live in the city instead of the 905 suburbs, that intention was much closer to reality than a wish. When I began looking into going again last month, I noticed that they feature country, folk and bluegrass music (you’d think the country feel of the place should have tipped me off!).  I was seeing someone at the time who enjoys folk music, and I thought it would be wonderful to go back to the Dakota Tavern with him to see a show together. So I skimmed the events page and I couldn’t recognize any of the upcoming bands–except for The Strumbellas which at least rang a faint bell. I decided to stream their music to check them out first. When the first song, Sailing, played on this soundcloud playlist, I couldn’t help it; was in love!  As soon as I found at least one source calling them folk (although there seems to be a handful of labels they fall under), I messaged my date to go out for The Strumbellas’ first of four Wednesday shows in Toronto. This was three weeks in advance, but you don’t put off a good thing! I spent the next few weeks singing to The Strumbellas while I cooked, dancing while wrapped in a towel after a shower, and once I got their first album from the library, I was jamming in traffic jams along the 401! Then…

 …two things happened:

1. The tickets were sold out. That itself was not entirely devastating since I decided I could go to the show the night-of and try and get two tickets at the door. Plus, it was kind of my fault for waiting until 3 days prior to their opening show.

2. Plans with my “date” fell through, primarily because he had to work last minute, but also because we were now going to be “just friends”.

I did not want to miss out on seeing The Strumbellas after falling in love with them, so I made plans to see the show with a friend who was able to come with me for their last show in Toronto. And then…

  …two more things happened:

1. The tickets for the final show were SOLD OUT – and this time, I DID try to get tickets over a week in advance!

2. My friend had a lot of work to do, and although she would be willing to come if we had tickets, it didn’t make sense for her to stand outside a sold out show only to be turned away, when she has so many other priorities.

The idea of sitting at home and giving up seemed to go contray to a rule I have been trying to live by: do something everyday that scares you. Was I really going to go out by myself, into the city to stand outside a bar in this frigid February weather ticketless? Hell yes! Armed with a book and mittens, I made my way to the Dakota Tavern. I knew things were grim: Kijiji had 5 postings besides mine looking to buy tickets for this show. But I as a drove down Dundas and watch the city grow closer, I couldn’t help but feel excited. No matter what the outcome would be.

I explained my situation to security outside the Dakota (although I asked twice, I can’t remember his name – was it Brad?), and he was honest about my  (slim) chances of getting in, but he suggested I go wait in the Lakeview until 9 when people with extra tickets usually start coming by. I sat there for 40 mins sipping green tea and reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma – it felt kind of awkward at first, but was it any different than sitting down in a common area at hostel? You’re on your own, but the potential for meeting people is there. Or is it that different than ordering a small snack from a restaurant while you’re travelling just because  you need a place to sit down? Suddenly, I knew I could do this. Why did I not realize that if I could traipse across Europe by myself, I could do the same in Toronto? At 9:00pm sharp, I raced back to Ossington where *Brad*waved me in. She’s selling a ticket, he said, pointing to my now-saviour, Megan.

When The Strumbellas started playing, I knew for certain that happiness doesn’t rely on where in the world you are or who you are with, so much as your state of mind.  I let myself relax and enjoy the show the best way possible: dancing. I also have never stared so hard at a bunch of strangers before in my life; but I was so happy I couldn’t help but ogle at the band members who were an arms length away from me, and absolutely enchanting for the whole night!! The banter with the audience was just right, but their music… this is why I listen to music. To reflect and let go all at once. How can you listen to The Strumbellas and not want to simultaneously dance laps around the room and  consider who you are, what has been, and what will be?

I drove home playing their newest album that I purchased after they finished their encore. I know I will not wait until I go on the next road trip, book the next flight or take my next vacation to travel. Nor do I need to wait for someone to travel with me. Now that I have discovered travelling solo in my own backyard, I can’t wait for my next adventure.

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the great divide: The Land of Stories

5 books.

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They gave it FIVE “books”. Out of five.

I facilitate a tween book club and let me tell you: it is the absolute highlight of my month. I am just beaming when I leave our meetings! It is so exciting to see a group of youth jumping to share their thoughts about our latest read. The group is so incredibly smart, funny and insightful. They often make comments on things I myself have missed!

Sometimes though, I wish I could speak about the books we read with someone who is going to analyze it, say… through a feminist lens, or look at the representation of race and class, or someone with whom I can simply say, ‘this is just horrible‘.

Finishing Chris Colfer’s “The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell”. I knew, I just knew the kids would love it. If I was nine, I’d probably give it that 5-star rating, too. It takes us back to a place that we (at least in Western culture), have grown up with: somewhere magical where possibilities are endless. To meet Snow White, Goldilocks and Froggy is exactly like meeting an old friend — or creating a new life-long friend, as in Alex’s case. Of course there’s a delightful twist to every fairy tale that makes the story fresh and fun.

Me now? Well, I give it “1.5 books” out of five. Here are my top 3 concerns:

1. Who is this written for? Some parts seem incredibly dumbed down – like kids need to have “environmental situation” spelled out for them.  So much plot is ‘explained’ by the characters instead of letting the reader make the obvious connections. At the same time, the book is littered with sexual innuendo and other adult topics. Yes, the original fairytales are very adult-ish, and let’s not forget that the Disney versions have bits for parents too, but I can’t help get the feeling that in writing this book, Colfer was just thinking about what would be funny in his reality. With his teenage/adult friends or in his Glee-filled world. He should have considered what fits the tone of the book and who it’s written for.

2. Alex and Conner: Instead of having Alex and Conner deal with the issues they face, I found that the emphasis was placed on having the fairy tale problems fleshed out, while the “real” issue are left in literary limbo. For example, Conner worries on several occasions what the “boys” will think of him (i.e. as a fairy). Whoa – wait. This is a book about learning lessons, about strong characters (okay maybe that was my assumption), and you’re letting Connor bring up bullying without addressing why those boys would be putting Connor down? Why Connor thinks the boys will make fun of him (what gender roles are informing your concerns)? Or even how to handle teasing, period?

As for Alex, she laments the fact that she has no friends – but doesn’t because she’s a Curvy Tree, one-of-a-kind girl… but then she’s super excited because she has finally found friends! Or at least Princesses who sympathise with her and her brother’s quest. Why couldn’t we see Alex develop more substantive relationships with others? Why not address the fact that people who don’t like Alex are bullies, but that they are also reacting to her know-it-all attitude? Why can’t we consider that her character is a bit abrasive – but that she can grow from that? Unfortunately, her interactions with Conner are pretty much the same throughout the book – she hasn’t really changed AT ALL since entering the world of fairy tales.

3. Modern day Princess? Why is every princess still living for a man – or for someone else?

Red – the only “democratically elected” Queen – is  crazy in love and so in order to secure a place in Jack’s heart, she leaves her childhood best friend to be wanted by the authorities for the next 10 years.  Cinderella is still the perfect housewife, popping out a baby at the end to complete the picture of domestic bliss and hope for the future. Sleeping Beauty is going to let everyone around her sleep while she, in an insomniac state, frets about how her Kingdom went down the drain while she was sleeping (because apparently it’s her fault?).

Then there’s Goldilocks, Goldilocks – perhaps the only character with the potential to be something more: an outlaw; kind, clever and strong. But then at the hint of an opportunity for revenge, she is ready to kill her old best friend for ruining her life when they were kids. I get it, Red had plenty of chances to fix her mistakes and didn’t, but why does that reduce Goldilocks into a petty name-calling, girl fighting MEOW type frenzy? Oh right. Because of a man.

Overall I think this book is poorly written, but it is a lot of fun – particluarly for a younger audience. I find it really interesting how there is such a huge divide between my interpretation and theirs. This doesn’t mean I can’t still share my ‘Goldilocks is a horrible heroine’ arguments, but I need to recognize how youth read fiction – and that it’s decidedly different from the way I do.

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imagine a cookie that’s been through a nuclear meltdown

Finding myself with a sugar craving and a free evening, I decided tonight would be the night to try out that cookie recipe I had hastily copied from a book last week. The Nameless Cookbook (I didn’t jot down the title), touted the “best” easy and healthy recipes, and these cookies in particular looked de-lish.

Buried among pens, wrappers, a cell-phone charger and other debris, I found the paper I had written the recipe on at the bottom of my bag, and happily proceeded to make myself a bed-time treat.  My writing was a bit sloppy, so my concern was decoding what looked like “SuCanil”. I assumed it was some sort of sugar substitute – and my web search proved me correct: I substituted some brown sugar for what I now know is, Sucanat. I also decided to halve the recipe – primarily because I didn’t have a whole cup of butter in my fridge (although I did have half!), but also just in case.

Just in case I mess things up. Just in case the cookies turn out a bit like yesterday’s lemon squares: ultimately edible – but after and extra hour of fiddling, setting, and re-baking.

THERE IS ONE THING YOU HAVE TO KNOW ABOUT ME. I don’t follow recipes. It’s like there is no sensible switch in my brain that recognizes that disastrous path I’ve been down before. No full-out impending nuclear warfare, you-better-get-to-your-bunker, alarm. Oh, I have enough sense to worry and consider following a recipe exactly… but that alarm is no louder than my morning wake-up call. Just hit snooze. Because really, what’s wrong with just sleeping in a few more minutes?

So here I am, halving this lovely recipe when I stumble across one dilema: the recipe calls for 1 egg. How do you halve an egg? Use just the yolk? Scramble it first and pour in half? I decide that a full egg, as per the original recipe can’t be the end of there world, so I go ahead with it. The end product seems awfully watery. Blaming this on the egg, I consider what to do. More butter won’t help, would more sugar? More chocolate? I settle on tossing in some quick-cook oats to soak up the liquid and skor bits for good measure. I plop this goo onto parchment paper and stick it in the oven. Now to the happy task of licking the beaters.

MmmMMmm – EHCK! Whoa! Super buttery! This cookie is a heart attack wating to happen. Did they say this was supposed to be healthy? Good thing I didn’t buy the book…

And then it hits me. Why IS the main ingredient butter? Memories start running circles around my head as I throw the oven door open to rescue my cookies. Memories of why this recipe was healthy to begin with: the main ingredient is almond butter.

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What I pulled out the oven was a pool of buttery goop. You think I would’ve wondered why a dessert would be made of butter (oh wait, deep fried butter balls…), but I didn’t. In all fairness, if you take a look at the recipe I scribbled down, I had abbreviated almond as “al” and had written it on top of the ingredient list. It was an honest mistake!

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Not so quick to accept defeat I threw together another batch (er, halved – but with the full egg…and still with oats and skors bits).

FYI: The new batch came out tasting absolutely divine.

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Lesson learned? Yes. Take the time to consider what your ingredients are, how they work together, and if it makes sense.

And more importantly: even mistakes are tasty.

I ended up eating the buttery goop with a spoon.

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make-it-yourself postcard sling

Preparing for a garage sale a couple of weeks ago I stumbled across my mom’s old postcards – some dating from 30 years ago! I never knew my mom had a collection or that her friends had traveled so far around the world! Even though they weren’t my mom’s own travel memories, I still appreciated this glimpse into her life when she was younger. It seemed like such a shame that they were boxed up – and then I realized my postcards were probably doomed for the same fate: to lie around in a box until my future progeny stumble across them and depending on how sentimental they are, they will either love ’em or chuck ’em.

I’d rather enjoy my postcards while I have them – just in case my children don’t turn out to be romantics like me! Each card is a reminder of what the world holds, my friends’ adventures, and really, they are also tokens of kindness. After all, someone took the time to write, stamp, and mail. If you’re a serial postcard sender like me, you know tracking down a post office on vacation isn’t always as easy as it sounds…

Now, to the postcard collectors among us, what do you do with these memories?

Up until two weeks ago, I had no answer. At first I thought about framing them – but that would mean I couldn’t read the messages on the reverse! Taping them on a wall or pinning them to a cork board would give me easy access to the messages, but the thought of holes and peeled paper from tape on my memories horrified me! I want to preserve them, not slaughter them!

Then I thought of creating a sling for them: they could be hung for display, but be taken out of the sling easily for reading – brilliant!

Here is how to do it:

1. Depending on how many postcards you have (or how many you think you’ll eventually display), get anywhere from 1m to 1.5m of two strips of ribbon. For aesthetic purposes, I chose contrasting colours and two different width sizes. The larger ribbon measures 3.5cm in width and the smaller, 2.5cm.

2. Put the ribbons on top of each other and using pins mark where you will be making a horizontal stitch (this will also keep the ribbon in place while you work). Give yourself at least 1cm more than the length of a postcard for each slot – this way it will be easier to slip the card in and out (don’t give the card too much extra space or it might fall out easily!). The extra spacing will also reveal the colour of your wider ribbon if you chose a different colour and size.

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3. By hand or with a sewing machine, stitch across the ribbons. Cut extra thread. If you make a mistake (i.e. make a slot that’s too small or large), just unstitch and start over, but also double check on the sizes of your postcards – most of them are the same, but they do come in different sizes so you may find one that fits before you do the work of unstitching!

4. Once you are done, you have a few options for hanging. I sewed a little pice of ribbon to the back to create a hook – but you can also hammer it straight into the wall if you like!

I am in love with my new postcard slings and they add a lot of character to my room besides the happiness it brings me to see them there!

I’m not normally a “crafty” person, but I think I’ve caught the bug…

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in a minor key

The most powerful thing about relationships is that they help you grow. And so does the end of a relationship.

I now have the room and the space and the freedom to address what I needed to address ages ago: my fears, my anger and my frustrations. The weight of a relationship and the nature of relationships (where you can rely on one person and one person only), gave me something to sweep my problems under. I could hide from the root of the problem because there were so many other more immediate ones I had to deal with.

I am taking a hiatus from writing here (not that I did much of it anyway), to focus on a different project:  myself. I might come back soon (maybe never), but don’t worry about me because I will be reading, I will be thinking, I will be laughing, I will be dancing, I will be happy. I am happy.

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oh, mother – let’s open up to discussion

Mother’s Day is here and odes to Mom are popping up like daisies in May all over social networking sites.

I hate to be the one to pick on declarations of love (I truly believe these messages are genuine and beautiful), but certain posts have left me feeling frustrated with how we define motherhood, and more specifically, good mothering. While I could spend much time deconstructing  objectionable posts, I will focus on one that has to do with a serious and important issue that is worth every moment of discussion: the mother and reproductive rights.

With the annual March for Life just last week, and a call for the (and dismissal of) re-opening of the ‘abortion debate’ headlining Canadian politics as of late, it is timely to look closely at what issues are necessary to consider when broaching the topic. To “open the abortion debate” has come to mean “to want to change abortion legislation in favour of criminalizing abortion”, but I would like to ask that in the final paragraphs of this post, we open up a dialogue on reproductive rights and motherhood that ignores legislation. Of course, the issue of criminalizing abortion is relevant to any discussion of reproductive rights, but so are definitions of motherhood. How often does that get sidelined for an oversimplified, dichotomous argument either for or against killing babies? Human life and bioethics should most certainly be included in this dialogue as well, but my point is that the issue of reproductive rights should not be fragmented to serve your stand in the debate. An honest and productive dialogue should discuss all concerns – or at the very least, acknowledge them.

I’m afraid that this is what I am going to do – acknowledge. I hope the above paragraph did some justice to the myriad of concerns many people with divergent views on the topic have, because I would like to return to the post I spotted today, and issues I find with it only. Even then, my discussion may quite possibly be brief and incomplete, since my voice is only one on the subject.

“Choose life. Your mother did! Happy Mother’s Day to all the courageous women out there, we can never thank you enough!”

There it is, the post that compelled me to speak up in my own way.

My first response to this post was severe: how arrogant, how privileged! But I would like to walk through why I thought this and to offer a fair repsonse to this post. My concerns are the following:

1.  Did My Mother Choose Life?

I get where the poster is going with this: if I am alive, my mother did not have an abortion, and therefore, she chose life. I get it… except, my mother did not choose life in the way this poster assumes she did: in a conscious, deliberate way.

When my mother found out she was pregnant, she was married, employed (as was my father), financially stable (although not rolling in money by any means) and was looking to start a family. There was no reason for her, upon finding out that I was on the way, to ask herself whether she wanted this baby or not; whether she could have this baby or not. It was just a fact for her. A happy fact. A welcoming fact. Yes, she could have been saddened by it, she could have regretted knowing she was pregnant but she didn’t. What I am trying to say is, a woman does not ‘choose life’ in an abortion-debate sense by virtue of simply having a baby. An 18 year old who is about start university may choose to either continue with pregnancy or not. A 27 year old woman who is no longer with her partner may consider her choices. A 46 year old woman may consider her choices. But not everyone does, because many women (but by no means all) find that they are pregnant at very opportune periods in their life. That is not to say the pregnancy is necessarily planned, but that abortion does not even have to come up for discussion. My mother didn’t ‘choose’.

The argument “Your mother did [choose life]!” bothers me because it is a very simple interpretation of a woman’s history. You can ask me to ‘choose life’ because you think it’s important that I do. I can consider your beliefs, as I consider the beliefs of others who either agree or disagree with you (or sit in the multiple views in-between), but my choice to either have an abortion or not will be a reflection of my own experiences (cultural, religious, socioeconomic) and situation at the time. It will have nothing to do with whether my mother has ‘chosen’ life or not. She may guide me in my decisions (if I feel there is a need to make any decision at all), but the very fact that I was born to her and am alive, does not in my mind affect how I feel about reproductive rights.

2. What defines a courageous mother?

I mentioned above women who could potentially feel the need to consider abortion. It would be a privielege for all women to never have to face this issue – that every pregnancy is welcomed and possible. However, there are women who, finding out they are pregnant, are in a position to think about abortion.  These women are no less courageous than the women who have a child. My mother, in having me, is not more courageous than women who fear serious retribution from their partner or society or acts how she feels is appropriate for her and her family’s future. In defining a courgaoues mother, where do we place mothers who suffer from post-partum depression/psychosis? This mother would be faced with choosing life every day of her illness – her’s and her child’s. And were she to take her child’s life as a result of her illness, how do we see her in the spectrum of “good” motherhood?

How do we imagine mothers who commit suicide? I feel that most children would not be happy to hear news of their mother’s death, but does that negate the actions she made before hand? The love she gave her children before she took her own life? A mother who commits suicide, may not be choosing life (for herself – but consider the effect this has on her child, too), but she is courageous in every moment she has smiled at her children, in every moment that she fights to be there for them.

Are mothers who choose to have a child and abuse or neglect them more courageous than mothers who choose to abort their child (regardless of whether this decision is because they would or would not be ‘good’ moms)?  The mother who has an abortion and later gives birth to children that she cares for dearly – is she a courageous mother? Does the fact that she did not ‘choose life’  initially make her less of a good mother, or more so because she ‘chose life’ in the end? How then, do we see a mother who has and loves two children and aborts her third pregnancy?

In these example I would like to call upon how dangerous (or problematic, to be less severe) it is to frame good or courageous motherhood solely by the actions a woman takes during pregnancy.  Why does choosing to see your pregancy to term define your goodness as a mother? Instead of placing the act of giving birth as marker of good motherhood (as beautiful and wonderful as it is),  the actions a mother takes and the sacrifices she makes during her child’s life until she dies should also be remembered and seen as a true gift. This is not to say that this poster does not consider the actions of a mother after pregnancy as important, but that simplifying good motherhood for the sake of anti-abortion beliefs is not a strong way to engage and influence people in a discussion on abortion. Finally, I do think the woman who chooses to carry their child to term despite fear for her, or her child’s future, is courageous. Of course. But again, let us consider the multiplicity of voices that tell unique, individual histories.

3. Whose life is it anyway?

This is the big one! I know this issue can be debated dry: When does life begin? and Whose life are we concerned about?

I’m going to stick with the second question. Baby or mother. One side will argue, you do not care about the baby! The other: You do not care about the mother! Well now, as long as we are engaging in a discussion where both mother and baby are considered, we’re off to a good start. I’m weary that the poster has focused their concern only on the life of the baby, on YOUR life (having been born). The poster does acknowledge a courageous mother, but does not explicitly congratulate mothers for the acts of courage they take every single day after the baby is born.  Nor the shameful acts. Nor the mistakes. It happens!

Also, although we can argue over the role fathers have in a reproductive debate, a mother’s partner’s life is important to remember, too!  A woman’s partner may play a role in any decision being made during pregnancy, and they may also be involved in many of the ups and downs of parenthood. I know, let’s save it for Father’s Day – but, if the discussion is about abortion, the father (whatever gender, biological or not) is important. It may not be their decision to make ultimately, but they should be saluted for supporting whatever decisions their partner makes, and criticized for forcing any particular action on her. If a couple is in disagreement, that may lead to a dissolution of their relationship, and most certainly a difficult period of decision-making because it is never just about the baby’s life. Many people play a role in how women address their pregnancy.  Ultimately, a woman’s reproductive choices should be respected, but a partner’s own life and views should be valued as well.

This post, although long, is limited. It did not touch upon many issue regarding abortion, but I hope that it encourage a discussion on how we frame motherhood, reproductive rights and life.

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