worried not worried

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It’s been years. 


Sometimes I worry the person I used to be

 is still inside me, 

and could come back

if again I was worn out and addicted. 

Ciagaretts and loniless

Stuffy air and pushy strangers

The city wasn’t good for me


Amongst other things


I had a horrible temper and a permanent frown. 

Stressed out, I manically cleaned.

I distracted myself incessantly 

I was sick and tired to my core

And I worried all the time.


Even so, I wanted a baby. 


I still want a baby. 

I want a child

Everything in me is tugging in anguish

Saying, “Now.”

It’s something I need to do. 


It’s never been a decision

It’s irrational to its core

It’s like asking for a miracle. 

I know it will be hard

I worry the child will turn me bitter

Motherhood could wither me

If I was too giving, patient, forgiving, like before

I worry about the person I could become, 

Or turn back into. 


Driven by frustration

Fuelled by resentment

I used to scream and shove

I can feel the imprint of those flames

I worry about that anger. 


But I’m different now.

The change was fairly fast 

It happened after I moved to the county


I am not the person I was. 

But I will always be me to the core. 

This is where I am meant to be 

I am my self


I’ve learned to be at peace. 

The waves inside are calm

Feasting on fields, breathing the air

I have been happier now than ever

And Im not worried about anything 


Now I get shudders of joy, tearful happiness from small things

And it will happen, one day

I will be a mother

Poem

Letters on a page

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Read them as art 


See the cream for the butter 

In a cafe diner  


Write the words 

Simple and clear


Make them artful

And magnetic


Feel them sit on you tongue

Knead them with your mind 


Churn them smooth 

Create a thought 

Breathe your images to life

With a gust of ink

Or a drop of milk

horrible thing

i saw a horrible thing yesterday

it was sudden and shocking

we sped by in the night

and the image of what i had seen was branded in my eyes

i couldn’t un-see it

i couldn’t see anything but that thing

it was horrible

and i don’t want to talk about it

because i don’t want anyone to feel what I am feeling

Slower to Set

It’s mid-April, mid-evening and I stand, amazed at the light

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I stare out my window, still

Unbelieving it finally came

The day is longer, light stays,

Leaves slower


The sky is a cotton-ball at 7pm

And it’s gonna be a late dinner again 


Evenings stretch ‘till dark  

The sun resists its sinking


The street lamps yellow and light the ground

Hints of green through the brown 

Greenery to make the iris glisten

Emerald eyes  

Birds fly home in a line 

And the water rushes, rising 


Sinking in the roaring bankside

Soles caked with mud


Growing with the blooming spring

Forging Ahead with the Ponzos

The time was ripe and he picked the fruit of opportunity. Chef Albert Ponzo and his family packed up their life in Toronto and began a new chapter in Prince Edward County.

Their new home is as bright and airy as the county outside. The rooms are modern with clean lines, earthy colours and bright, natural light flooding the space. Accents of bone and wood are an homage to the land. There are deer antlers on the mantel and the skull of a cow on the wall. On the crisp white walls are pops of colour from artwork created by their children, adding a hint of whimsy to their home. This tight-knit family is embracing their new space. 

Albert along with his wife, Sommelier Marlise Ponzo and their three children still look outside in awe and marvel at their new view of fields, forest, and a quiet, winding country road. In April 2017, they moved to their new home, which sits on a vast 63 acres. The five of them explore the property frequently and together forage stinging nettles, wild ramps, mushrooms and fiddleheads for their springtime suppers. They are a family that loves food.

The move made perfect sense. Chef Ponzo had worked for more than 15 years as a chef in Toronto, where he was executive chef at the highly regarded Le Select Bistro for ten years. He chose to use suppliers like 100km foods, who source locally. By supporting sustainable farming, and having a strong relationship with his suppliers, he was able to create a menu dedicated to Ontario’s bounty. 

Having spoken at the Terroir Symposiums in Toronto, Hungary and Tuscany, as well as being hosted at various culinary events from Newfoundland to Napa Valley, he gained a reputation for dedicating his time and energy towards advocating for the support of sustainable, locally sourced food.  

Speaking with farmers, chefs, and other proponents of sustainable food eventually lead Albert to connect with Greg Sorbara and Sol Korngold, who are reviving The Royal Hotel in Picton slated to open in 2020. Discovering they shared the same beliefs about food, Albert was offered the job as executive chef. He willingly accepted.

The menu will highlight the county’s wealth of local fare and Albert will be sourcing ingredients primarily from Edwin County Farms, which is the 650 acre Sorbara family farm. Under the tutelage of Nick Sorbara, Albert has become an apprentice farmer. The Sorbaras grow certified organic vegetables, heritage wheats, raise Black Angus cattle and have a sugar bush where they make their own maple syrup. 

Albert has immersed himself in a plentitude of activities all surrounding sustainable food. He is working with charitable organizations like The County Food Hub and Food to Share. Both are incredible feats of dedication from volunteers, famers and chefs, who come together to make sustainable food more accessible.

At home, he is getting to know his land on a deeper level. The Ponzos take walks on their property with friends and neighbours. Albert admits he is “still green”, and welcomes the expertise of locals. Surveying his vast property, he imagines how he can honour the past life of the land, while forging ahead into the next chapter. “I generally walk around and try to understand what the land was used for before and try to look for the signs which tell a story.”  With his food, he creates his own story. Nettle Triangoli is a nod to his Italian roots, using local, sustainable, fresh ingredients. Some people see nettles as a pesky weed, but Albert sees the nettles growing wild in abundance as an opportunity to forage and cook sustainably.

Albert can collect greens and vegetables from the garden and prepare a fresh meal for the family. He is a chef at ease in his kitchen, the heart of their home. With jeans on and his sleeves rolled up, he can easily tackle cooking for three children.  On the expansive white countertop, he surveys his foraged nettles and decides to make pasta. The sound of one of the kids playing drums can be heard through the walls. 

Making pasta is like meditation. The soft pasta dough is verdant and becomes translucent as he feeds it through the pasta roller. The filling is made with nettles and locally made ricotta. Garnishing the dish with morels adds earthiness and fresh asparagus brings the dish a note higher. These are the flavours of spring, and the flavours of their land.


Side dish: 

Marlise Ponzo is a sommelier and expertly pairs what Albert cooks with locally made wine. The wine she chose for Albert’s stinging nettle pasta dish is the Pinot Gris 2016 white wine from Grange winery. Amber in colour, fresh and crisp with notes of melon, it pairs beautifully with the nettle triangoli. 

Coming out of Hibernation

It’s not that I haven’t been inspired. I just feel like I’ve hit a plateau. I’ve hibernated from art. I’m not sure why. I can partially blame the below freezing temperature of my studio. I had a boost of inspiration to clean. I put a space heater in there three months ago after watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. 

For three weeks, I would sporadically attempt to tidy and organize, but would always eventually become discouraged with the cold. Half the room is now clear, but the half with all my art and art supplies sits in disarray. I intend to finish, and I know once I make it more welcoming, a flow of creativity will pour out of me. I am honest with myself when I assume I won’t get around to it until May. I am ok with not painting until then. I am creative in other ways.

In the meantime, I have been writing. I interviewed a chef from Prince Edward county and the editorial will be published in the spring issue of Watershed. I am thrilled. It was certainly a new experience writing with restrictions on topics, word counts, theme and direction, but I will forget the tribulations once I see my name in print. I will probably keep the magazine issue for years and may not reread the article for another ten. So much happens that I forget, and so I try to hold on to material objects to jog my bad memory. 

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t often sit and think of my past. The man I am dating now will help me with that. His family reminisces every day. At dinner time, they don’t talk about news or current events but rather of family vacations and the fickle or funny nuances of relatives. It’s been a fun introduction to a new way of enjoying a family meal. We have been together on a vacation for 7 days now. We have three more to go. 

This trip has been exceptional. I’ve met a half dozen family members and friends. When you spend this much time together, your relationship is torpedoed forward. It’s been great. I’ll be riding this high for a while. It will be good to get home and back to my normal routine but it will be a good feeling to know I can always go over to their house for dinner if I crave a family meal different from my own. It is embarrassing to know there are so many things about this trip that I won’t remember. I’m thankful to have spent so much time with a family that remembers everything so well. Together, they will remember every moment. It is spring here in Whistler, and just like every year, the warmer weather signals change and growth. The heat here has been the spark that ignited my reflection today. 

When I return home on Saturday, I’m sure the weather will shock me, but I know Ontario’s spring is so close. Summer will creep up closely behind. Buds on trees will unfold overnight into leaves and my paint brush will touch the canvas again. Maybe art is my way of reminiscing. I remember smells and sounds and colours more often than I remember a story. Perhaps reflecting daily with my boyfriend’s family will affect how I draw. Who knows. I am eager to see how my art has changed after I left let it hibernate over the winter. 

Christmas Tradition

For my version of my Grandma’s plum pudding recipe, visit my old food blog by clicking  here

For my version of my Grandma’s plum pudding recipe, visit my old food blog by clicking here

Christmas is my favourite holiday. I love winter in general. The bright snow glistening, building crackling fires so hot my cheeks burn, stews and braised meat, cozy days and snow days that force me to rest.

Leading up to Christmas, I have been asking folks about their traditions and the overwhelming feeling is that ours is the best. Ha! Of course I would think that: it’s my family’s tradition and so of course I love it whole-heartedly. I feel so lucky. Every family has their own tradition that makes the holiday familiar, nostalgic and comforting. Still, I thought I would share ours here.

Mom usually buys the tree and it miraculously appears in the house. Last year, she and I tried to set it upright with my 93 year old Grandpa supervising. It is a task to do this without anyone getting mad.

A few days before Christmas, Mom and I decorate the tree. Zoe isn’t always there by then. Mom and I have a scotch and use the ladder. From the basement, she brings up the ornaments Vlad and Olga gave us 20 years ago, some tacky ornaments accumulated as joke gifts as well as beautiful and precious ornaments from Grandma. These are the same ornaments that have been on the Christmas tree every year, my whole life. We put the envelopes and letters that have arrived to the house within the branches of the tree too.

On Christmas eve, we usually have a number of people over. Trevor makes congee and we eat a fairly light meal. Presents pile up under the tree. Mom and I try not to peak. The guests sit around the table long after dinner and dessert drinking wine as the fire is maintained by Uncle Stevie. Once the guests leave, Mom and I each open a present. Zoe is allowed, too, but she often foregoes this treat. My sister gets mad and accuses us ( rightly) of peaking. We giggle and eventually we all go to our rooms to finish last-minute wrapping. The house is quiet except the sound of wrapping paper and tape.

I can never fall asleep. I go to bed late, and wake up before dawn. My stocking is at the foot of my bed. Mom learned this trick when I kept waking up the whole family too early, too eagerly. The stocking is fat and heavy. It is a tacky large thing with an image of a panda family under a Christmas tree on Christmas morning. My initials are written on the top. MY sister has her own version of the panda family Christmas scene on her stocking. I take out the magazine. There is always a magazine. As a child, it was always MAD magazine. Growing up, it was often a food magazine. Now, the magazine is a food or art magazine, Vanity Fair or Vogue . Zoe gets a different magazine in hers.

I sit in bed with the lamp on and read the first little bit. I am distracted and watching the clock, waiting for an appropriate hour to wake everyone else up. I go downstairs after a bit, and put on a pot of coffee, set the dining room table for breakfast, then scoot back upstairs, grab my stocking and creep into my sister’s room - leaping on her bed and waking her up. She’s grumpy and asks if it has snowed. I open the curtains. The house begins to stir. I wake up Mom and she comes into Zoe’s room. We sit on the bed and open the little gifts in the stocking one by one. These are cute little things: food things; gimmicking things; little books. Mom frets and apologizes they are all only little things. The bottom of the stocking ALWAYS has an orange. Some years, it still had the orange from the year before. We hear Trevor go downstairs and feed the dogs. Uncle Stevie usually is away and starts a fire. Grandpa sleeps in a bit and we try to stay quiet.

Downstairs, slowly the day starts. We make a breakfast of eggs, bacon, or leftover congee. We pour mimosas and cut pannetone. When everyone is ready, we gather in the living room and take our places. Each in a chair and me by the tree. I search through the gifts and hand one to each person a few minutes apart. As each person opens their gift, they make a note of who it is from and present it. It’s more casual and relaxed than this sounds. We usually have Christmas music or the radio on. The dogs get into the thick of it. Zoe and I make piles of our opened gifts. Wrapping that can be saved, is folded and otherwise thrown into a burn pile. Opening gifts takes a while. If someone, like Grandpa, only has a few gifts, I make sure to spread the out and hand him one for every four Zoe and I open. We are spoiled. I know this now, after hearing about everyone else’s family traditions.

It seems like a lot of families do a secret Santa type thing and only buy one gift for one person. My mom is generous. Often, she forgets what she bought and buys more than she plans to. Often, she is up late wrapping gifts and so in the morning the writing on the packages are scrawled signatures from Santa.

After we open our gifts and tidy, it’s quiet time. Everyone retires to a corner to read their new book, try on their new clothes, or play a new game. Family members appear and disappear and by noon we are all dressed. Usually, we will take the dogs for a snowy winter walk.

In the evening, we get dinner started. Trevor and I cook and Mom and Zoe tidy and set the table. Trevor may smoke something outside, and we have a new tradition ( I think we are in year 4 now) of making a huge rice pilaf from the Jerusalem cookbook called Mejadra. We prep the turkey, the green beans with almonds, the squash, the gravy, the stuffing, the salad. Mom sets out snacks of chips and antipasti with crackers, salumi, cheese, pickles and preserves. We crack a bottle of wine. We probably do a shot of tequila too.

Guests arrive on time and bring wine. The house volume intensifies. Music gets louder. Everyone chats and cheers and cheeks grow rosey. Dinner is usually later than anticipated - around 7:30 or 8. When we pull the turkey out, we announce everyone should take their seat and there is a few minutes where no one listens and we need to be firm. It’s hard to coordinate 20 tipsy people, lost in deep conversations, catching up and having a good time.

Entertaining is easy at Mom’s house. She has a knack of making everyone feel welcome and at ease. Dinner is served. I carve the turkey while everyone squishes around our two tables, pushed together. As guests pass the dishes to one another, I go around the table and serve the turkey. Usually, once everyone is seated, Mom jumps up for that last forgotten thing ( water, salad dressing, candles, etc!). We cheers and toast to friends, family, farmers, each other and Lizzie, my mom.

The clock on the wall is a decoy. It says 10:10 and it hasn’t worked in 10 years. It is perfect. Time stops when you’re with people you love.

Merry Christmas

Snow in November

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It was my birthday this week. 32. As a child, November was slushy. In my adult years, it’s been warm. This year, it snowed. I love the snow. The weather made my birthday extra special. The past year has been a breath of joy. Life gets easier as I get older. I’ve spent so many birthdays angry. I never felt loved enough. I was angry for most of my life. Thirty was easier than 29 and 31 was even better. I am looking forward to my thirty second year. I am optimistic and feel loose. There is no weight on my shoulders. I smile easily. I love so many people and now that I’m a happier person with an open heart, I can let in all the love that has been around me the whole time.

Free Art in Chicago

Chagall’s Four Seasons mosaic is remarkably similar to his paintings; It’s watery colours leaking outside their tiled bounds.

Calder’s Flamingo is calming, and draws me under it. It’s orange-red beams soft and inviting, mirrored in the surrounding black modernist cube buildings.

Miró’s Chicago is a queen who looks north with two wide-open eyes. Her crown has points like waves and it floats above her steel head. Arms outstretched, she welcomes visitors to take a closer look. Under the rough concrete exterior, you can find pockets of colourful tiles, a nod to the gems in Chicago’s architecture.

The Picasso, though untitled, is unmistakably a horse. Its long nose and nostrils are not the only indicator. Fourteen ribs traverse the space within it. At its rear, the shape evokes a pelvis and from it, a large base angles downward. Visitors mount it freely and ride down its smooth brown-black structure. Its ears tilt backwards as it stands still and listens to Chicago.

Ten Years

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I am not one to reminisce. I don't have (many) regrets and rarely am I nostalgic for the past. This summer, however, has thrown me back to ten years ago. I didn't even realize it has been ten years since I worked in Italy. 

Ten years ago, I spent the summer between my first and second year at chef's school in Italy. I worked in Tuscany for three months and the property was situated on the highest point in Chianti. I remember seeing the twinkle of Sienna in the distance to the south, in late afternoon when the sun cast yellow over the hills, and illuminated ancient buildings in the distance. 

I had an Italian boyfriend and we would go for scenic drives on my days of ( which were few and far between). Driving through Tuscany, I insulted him by remarking how similar the landscape was to Canada's. He hadn't been to Canada. Now, in Trent Hills, I am reminded of Italy. 

Last month, when I picked the red currants I was transported back to La Petraia. I had worked at the agritourismo with four other chef students from Canada. We started each day at 5am by feeding all the animals. After that, we harvested. I was always happy to harvest the red currants. The tall bush provided shade from the famous Tuscan sun, and it created a curtain of privacy from our demanding boss. Under the shade of the red currants, I sat and harvested alone in peace, or while chatting to the farmers in broken Italian.  

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When the sun was too hot to bare, we had our lunch with the farmers in a little shack in the shade. Our afternoons were spent leading cooking classes, and then serving Michelin-quality ten-course meals. We left work at 9 or 10pm most nights. We got home, drank vodka and ate salumi. We did it again and again and again. 

In our final month, there was a drought and our town's well dried up. Nobody had water. We all began counting down the days. Mail I sent never reached Canada. The train operators went on strike. All our bunnies died of a mysterious disease. We weren't paid a penny for our work. It was a really hard time but I look back at my time in Italy fondly. It was my introduction to Slow Food and life as a farmer. 

My time overseas ten years ago projected me forward to where I am now.  With no awareness it was happening, I feel like everything in Italy and since has put me on a course to be here in Warkworth. It is as hot as Italy and this summer, it is as dry as it was there too. I am tougher for it. 

I have been working on a farm two times a week and I love it. We take breaks in the shade and eat ripe cherry tomatoes off the vine. Today, Bruce handed me a beet he had pulled from the soil. I ate it and again a memory of Italy flashed before me: I remember biting into a beet back then and thinking how exquisite and sweet it was - not at all dirty tasting. It was the same today: a burst of sweet flavour and not at all dirty. Italy taught me how to be in tune with food. 

A few weeks ago we had a duck on the farm and I was reminded of Jack, the duck I had adopted as my own in Italy. On slaughter day, I hid him. I had forgotten about Jack. Like I said, I don’t often reminisce. He was a loner duck, rejected by the rest and just like Lucky Ducky here in Warkworth, better suited as a pet than a meal. 

I will try to find the journal I kept in Italy. I want to look over it and see my dreams and predictions, my hopes and fears. It is comforting to know ten years have past so quickly. Back then, ten years into the future seemed like a lifetime. I pondered where I would go and what I would do with my life. I would never have dreamed I’d be working on a farm and writing. I also thought I’d be married and have children by now. 

But I am right where I should be, doing exactly what I want to do. I wonder where I’ll be ten years from now. I wonder how much will stay the same and how much will change. I wonder what I will remember and what I will forget. 

Hard Few Days

 

Everybody knows the boat is leaking. Everybody knows the captain lied. 

I’m having a hard time. I’m listening to my lyrical hero: Leonard Cohen. He reminds me of Bourdain. I’m still not over his suicide. It made sense. All smart people are depressed. I’m drinking expensive white wine and diluting it with club soda - because it’s noon and a spritzer doesn’t seem as shameful. 

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I never used to drink, but that was because I lived with an alcoholic. Now that he’s gone, I drink (not usually during the day, but I have been drinking every day for a while now). It always feels like a treat, and that’s how he thought of it too. I am trying to be careful not to have more than 3 a night. Three is still too many. I’m not bored but I am lonely. I am busy and I fill my time so that all day, every day, there is something to get done. I miss the distraction of a partner.  I miss his playlist. I miss the constant presence of a silent partner. I miss being able to blame someone. I miss planning a future. I miss the prospect of children. 

The other day, I overheard someone ask a friend, “ what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say: marriage”. Immediately the word confinement came to me. I’ve been thinking about that since. It makes me kind of upset that I didn’t think of ‘love’ or anything remotely typical. I know I am weird and different. I am a loner. I am happy alone. 

There are times when I cry because I am lonely, and because I am conflicted: I want my independence. I don’t want to answer to anyone or compromise my time, my wants or my needs. However, there are times when I just want a friend to stop by and give me a hug, bring me a bottle of wine to share and drink together, mull over the world, and life. 

When I have a shitty day, that’s when I realize I need friends. Many of them are far away and busy. I blame my social media. I over-post and infiltrate all streams. People see my every move, and every meal. They think they know how I am doing and what I am up to. Those posts are begging for attention. I try to keep this in mind when I see friends postings and I try to reach out regularly. I don’t do a good job. 

Today my post garnered the attention of one good friend and one new friend. Afterwards, I made some art. It’s a better way to communicate than instagram. I am writing. I feel a little better. I have also had three glasses of white wine spritzers and it’s 1:30pm. 

It’s my first day off since April. 

Increasing Value

Shopping local seems trivial in Toronto. It seems like any small gesture of support is pennies dropped and lost in the big city hustle. 

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In Warkworth, things are different: Every dollar spent is a dollar earned. I knew the importance of shopping local in Toronto, but until moving to Warkworth, I hadn’t fully grasped how money could increase in value by keeping it within a small community. Let me explain: 

Working at my mother’s cafe, I am tipped by locals. Let’s say I choose to spend my tip money in town. I decide to barbecue and head to The Village Pantry to buy some PiriPiri spice mix for $5. Raquilda uses that money to buy some local herbs at Market at the Mews on Friday from Peter Finch of Rolling Hills Organics. With his $5, Peter buys a lemonade and a muffin from Bekky O’Neil of Cardboard Reality Farm. Bekky uses that money to buy some of my art postcards for sale*.

In this example, five dollars bought a BBQ rub, local organic herbs, lemonade, a muffin and postcards. The money ended up coming back to me in under 24 hours. 

I’m happy to be in a community of hard working locals who are all so eager to support each other. Sharing our wealth and keeping it close makes us all richer, more generous, supportive and kinder. Warkworth is a truly prosperous town. 

 

*these are hypothetical transactions that may or may not have taken place. 

Becoming Rooted and Blossoming

Plants wilted, soil either moulded or dried up and even the cacti would die. The plants I had at home were symbolic of my life. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. At home, I had many responsibilities. My days started abruptly; I had no time to spare. I’d jump out of bed and was likely to clean the floor before I fed myself. My ‘to-do’ list was endless. By 2pm, I would have done more chores than most do in a week and then I would go to work. Returning home, often after midnight, I would feed the cat, and then chain smoke until I was exhausted enough to fight off the adrenaline and head to bed. In the dark, I would stare at my partner who would grind his teeth and thrash in his sleep. Often, he also snored. I didn’t sleep well. At first light, I’d jump out of bed and do it all again. It was difficult to keep track of the days because I worked so often and always on the weekends.

Keeping a plant alive was a ruse in attempt to slow down and breathe. I had to trick myself by adding, ‘Water the Plants’ to my list of chores. I had a cactus, a succulent, an elephant tree, a spider plant, and others with names I didn’t know. I had gathered them $3 at a time from the corner store. I would buy plants as a treat to myself, thinking of it as self-care, and in an attempt to make my space peaceful. I would buy a small bag of soil and carry it home. I would put newspapers on the dining room table and there, I would pot my plants. These quiet mid- afternoons, when the sun came in yellow through our west-facing windows, were happy, fleeting moments that gave me hope.

They kept dying. I couldn’t remember when I had watered the plants and I was constantly rearranging them for more or less light. I was anxious and fairly sure I was manic (though undiagnosed). I tracked my moods, and tried to find a pattern.

In order to pace myself, I made a chore schedule. This was to steer me away from attempting to do it all. Tuesday was laundry day. I would do 3 loads every Tuesday, lugging the laundry bags from the third floor to the basement, with a pocket full of quarters I had methodically put aside throughout the week. I’d set my alarm and go down and transfer the clothes to the dryer. I’d set my alarm to fetch them and carry them back upstairs. I liked folding the laundry; It was peaceful and the warm clothes were comforting. Seated on the bed while I folded the pile of clothes, I would imagine my future. I probably spent more time cleaning than eating, bathing or reading, but becoming aware of this helped me move forward.

I gave the plants a schedule too, and watered them on Wednesdays and Sundays. The schedule helped me tone done the standard I had set for myself. I felt like I was in control, but I was still unhealthy and the plants still wilted. I had yet to learn that it wasn’t control that I needed, but rather, sunlight, fresh air and the nourishment of a small town community.

Growing plants in my downtown apartment was as close as I could get to peacefulness. Standing over the sparse greenery, idle with my phone in hand, I closed the relationship advice page, and opened a guide to plant care.

I started asking people: How often do you feed your plants fertilizer? How often do you have do laundry? How often do you fight with your partner?

In September, I left Toronto, I moved to the country and soon thereafter became single. It was a move I anticipated, but couldn’t conceive until I was here. My frantic city routine was abolished and I found myself busier than ever - but in the most rewarding way. It is a different kind of ‘busy’ in the country.

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When I first arrived, my step-dad was spending a lot of time in the garden. We were nearing the end of tomato season. Everyday, the tomatoes demanded our attention. Crouching between the aisles of vines, I became closer to nature, and gently plucked tomatoes from the vine. I removed horn worms with a twig and tossed them into a bucket. Lugging the basket of tomatoes inside, my step dad and I would smoke them and make them ketchup or simmer them into a passata. We spoke to farmers and learned we could freeze them whole. The tomatoes were on my mind, and helped me move on from all I had left in the city. These tomatoes gave me time outside, they reinforced my familial bond, they reignited my joy in the kitchen and they opened the gates of communication with famers.

I am just as busy as I was in Toronto, but with a much more varied life. People out here take care of one another. After a few months of working at my mom’s cafe, I still struggled with my new identity and finding my place. I learned that if I was willing to work, there was always a job to be done. After a month of adjustment, I started talking openly about how I felt. By being honest about not knowing how I was going to earn a living in Warkworth, I was offered work. I soon found myself with a number of odd jobs. I painted three sheds on a farm, I baked some cakes, I cat-sat, I painted a ceiling for the first time, I packaged gourmet chocolate, and I learned how to check on bees before winter arrived. Out of my element, I didn’t have any control or routine. Everything was so new and country life was sweeping me off my feet.

When it got colder and darker, and winter was fierce, I didn’t feel isolated out here, I felt surrounded and supported by my new community. I volunteered at the Arts & Heritage Centre, and soon was hired as the Arts Administrator. I work there now, and absolutely love it. I am still doing a million other things as well. I have found my place here in this magical town. Every person here has a multitude of varied skills and we all learn so much from each other. Warkworth is a very special place. Out here, we are surrounded by both artists and farmers. Many are both.

One artist/farmer, and also a friend of mine, recently gave me some of her plant clippings. They survived transplantation and are happy in their new home, on my window ledge. I am growing a number of plants from seed and they have been a pleasure to watch sprout and charge upwards. Just like a little sprout in shallow soil, I teetered upwards before growing any roots - a blind faith everything would be ok. I was propelled forward into the next chapter of my life when I first arrived. The town nourished me. I have survived my transplantation and I am rooted here now. My anxiety has dissolved and what I experienced as mania, I now realize was situational. My first true leaves have emerged and I am excited to see how my life grows. My house is full of lush greenery, happy cacti and blooming flowers. I have created a precious place I can call home.

When I’m not at Our Lucky Stars cafe, the Ah! centre, a farm, my mom’s house or taking my weekly stroll with Bruce Brown, I am cooking, eating, spending time with friends (often at The Legion), reading, writing or making art. I am doing everything I ever wanted. My life has evolved into something I could have never imagined a year ago. I wake up, and every morning, sitting in bed watching the light come through the curtains, I drink a glass of water, and breathe. I do my

morning yoga routine. I say good morning to the plants. I feed my cat and then myself. While I eat, I quietly reflect and enjoy being surrounded by plants and silence. If the plants look thirsty, I water them. They are thriving, and so am I.

Jazz Greats and Giants

To appreciate jazz, you have to give yourself over to it. Let it absorb into you.

Parker was the yardbird, an intellectual who could chirp high and glide close to the ground. Thelonius Monk was abrupt, dramatic, poetic and deliberate. Monk's Dream is my favourite bedtime story. Later, Miles Davis flirted with improvisation and guided it with instinctual harmony. He reminds me of a downhill skier in the alps. Bill Evans played the piano as if dipping a toe in a still, blue lake in spring. Coltrane could morph from manic cat to prowling jaguar. If you listen carefully, you can hear his thoughts. Dizzy Gillespie was a saucy punk and legend of succinct complexity. Chambers was like a blue whale; strong and gently creating his own current. 

These greats speak to us through their instruments. They are eloquent in their chosen language of jazz. The instruments are characters and the sounds are actions, plot points, exclamations. Imagery comes easily. If it's good jazz, it tells a story. It is a pleasure to listen to and to decipher. The story appears when you pay attention.

When I am 9 minutes into Kind of Blue, I sink into the story. 

The notes evoke a sequin dress, tight against the curves of a woman, who sparkles in the dark. It is nighttime in New York. Light on her feet, the piano dances with the crowd on tippy toes. The spotlight shines towards the bar. The mood slows and the sax signals tribulation. As she dances, she rips apart the heart of the scotch drinker, watching from the bar, from under the brim of his hat. We imagine him watching her, grimacing from heartache. Is this Freddy Freeloader?

The rhythm change announces a change of scene and now she's walking home and it's nearly daylight. She's tired. The horn comes in again. He's following her, begging her to stay longer. He pleads long and loud. She lists the ways he has disappointed her. The sax is her voice. She slurs some of her words. She is frustrated. A person interjects and tries to calm her from making a scene. It's too early in the morning for this fighting in the street. She tells them to shove off and continues berating Freddy. After a long explanation, she walks away, leaving him behind. She walks slowly, her dress catching the first ray of daylight. The piano is the sun peaking through the stout buildings. He laments his loss, and watches her disappear. 

Alone with my thoughts and uterus

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I enjoy being alone. I wake up with a plan for the day, or at least a general idea of what I would like to do. Some days, I wake up at 6am and work; Others, I wake up naturally at 9, do yoga, do a workout, re-arrange my room, make a nice big breakfast and won't get dressed 'till noon. I mostly make my own schedule. I would be irritated if I had to compromise that. 

I eat well. At night, I have so many hours between sunset and bed and so I fill that time with making beautiful food. I take a lot of pictures of that food. It's probably obnoxious at this point. Part of me feels that if I am putting so much time into the food, it has to be more than just for consumption - that it should somehow go towards my 'portfolio' or my career, my future. It's as if I am keeping a tally of the nights I am doing just fine being alone. 

I worry being alone will make me selfish and self absorbed. My last partner wasn't always nice to me, and I thanked him for it, worried that if he was too encouraging, my ego would inflate.

I have conflicting thoughts about having children. I worry not having children will make me self-absorbed and selfish. I don't want to be pregnant in my 40s, so I am really hearing the clock tick.  I do want children. I want them with when I am ready, but I know the process isn't that easy or immediate. I am anxious about the possibility of being unable to become or stay pregnant (for a number of reasons). I have internal dialogues with myself, working out timelines and deadlines for meeting a person, bringing up the notion of kids, feeling out the relationship and their ability and then speculating about the time it takes to conceive or carry to term thereafter. 

Part of me has entirely given up on birthing my own biological kids in a hetero-normative relationship. I have started realizing there are so many options: dating someone with kids already, adoption, IVF, raising a child with a gay man, being a surrogate for a gay couple who would include me in the child's life. Fostering. There are a million options. I don't even know if I want kids any more.

For the past two years, I felt a deeply rooted hormonal craving for a child; It was a teeth-clenching, fist-squeezing feeling of absolute necessity. Then my partner and I broke up and the feeling completely dissipated. I don't think it's about finding the right partner any more - I think the feeling is just genuinely gone. I like to be in control. Perhaps because I can't control this sort of planning, I have reverted to telling myself I don't care. Who knows?

Writing is good to let out these sort of subconscious thoughts; These thoughts that easily flow out of my fingers onto my keyboard but which I cannot grasp if I am staring at the wall and trying to think about them. 

I try to be upfront and honest with the people I am interested in. I have this gnawing bug in my ear telling me not to be too forward and not to be too honest, but I like to be forward and honest; It cuts through the bullshit and it doesn't waste any time with pleasantries. 

I feel as if I scared off a potential suitor lately. I don't blame myself or them. I sum it up to them hearing my needs and realizing they couldn't meet them and then backing away. What are my needs? Being alone and doing what I want, how I want. Is finding a partner important because it's a reminder that one must be kind to others and learn to accept compromise each day?  I know being alone doesn't have to be synonymous with being self-absorbed but I have a hard time remembering that. I think a lot of my fear is rooted in seeing my father: a cyclical bachelor with expensive taste and not ever as much time for his daughters as for his projects and jaunts to Paris, Porto or Santander. I envy his freedom and I pity the loneliness he has built.  

I work hard to reach out and feel connected; This blog is partially me doing just that. I fear becoming my father but I don't feel ready to sacrifice my alone time or my flexible routine. I like doing things my way. I like eating what I want to eat and taking 2 hours to cook it. I don't need anybody, but human presence would be nice. I don't want a partner just because it is normal and expected, either.

I'm trying to go with the flow while also trying to flow down the most efficient river with the shortest distance to pregnancy....or at least to a place where I can approach it more optimistically and realistically. There will be a point where I will have to decide to do it on my own or to not do it at all ( or maybe a point where I meet someone and they want the exact same thing "like, now"). 

 

Trains are a Luxury

I boarded the train just after 3pm in Cobourg. I love taking the train. Trains are a luxury I am lucky to afford. 

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The train was full of youth. I thought to myself  "Cute: These kiddos are going home to Toronto, probably back to school, after visiting their parents over the weekend". Their vibrating energy made me smile. They reminded me of every first year student - liberated to be oneself and fiercely unapologetic. How naïve, I thought: They have been taught that the world is their oyster. 

The train departed and I opened my computer to get some work done. I cherish my time on a train. I am able to focus on my work and I become incredibly productive. If I don't have work to do, I can count on 45 minutes of uninterrupted reading. I savour the time I can read without distraction. 

Of course, if it was a smooth ride I would probably not be writing about it.

The voice of a young woman was tuned to a frequency that carried throughout the car. The sound split my focus. It made me cringe. I couldn't ignore it. I spotted her a few seats away just as she and her three friends started laughing. Their laughter pierced the sacred train silence.  The disturbance was loud and unceasing.

To my relief, the people in front of them turned in their seats and peaked over their headrests.  They told the girls that they could hear them through their sound-cancelling headphones. The girls laughed. They explained that the loudest one had been eating a carrot with her mouth open and a piece of the carrot had fallen out of her mouth and into her shoe. She showed the couple her shoe. She took pictures of her shoe for instagram while the couple watched. The couple laughed and they all started chatting. Chattering.

I tried to drown out the noise by concentrating on my work. I couldn't focus and so I searched on Instagram to see if I could find the #carrotboot and troll her. I couldn't.

When we arrived in Toronto,  I hopped off the train and hurried out of Union station. I had a great time in Toronto. 

Active Listening

I must have been around 8 years based on the pictures I remember seeing. We had arrived in the afternoon and I remember having to be woken up when we reached the dock. It might have been raining. I was drowsy or grumpy when I had to step into the little motor boat. The weather was fierce and I hid under blankets on the floor of the boat as it bumped against the choppy surface.  It felt like forever. The boat slowed and I emerged, looking out to face a giant rock on top of which a house sat.  The familiar scene of Georgian Bay. 

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After dinner I remember sitting on the couch. The couch separated the dining room and faced away from the table and towards the fireplace. I curled at the end of the couch. The adults may have still been eating. I had my back to them. There must have been a fire lit, but I don't remember it. 

I remember Leonard Cohen. It must have been "Take this Waltz" and I may have fallen asleep before I could hear more. I remember being drawn to the darkness of his voice. I didn't pay attention to the lyrics. I have the strongest memory of sitting on that couch alone,  listening to his voice harmonize with his backup singers. I was absorbed by his sound completely. I don't reminisce often. I'm not nostalgic, and I think that affects my ability to remember - but hearing his voice when I was on that couch is clear as water.

I remember walking down the rock and into the forest on the other side of the water.  I may have been exploring alone. I often sang as I wandered. Mom told me that I was misbehaving and was sent outside. She says I went under the porch and found a snake. I don't remember the snake, or much else from that trip.

When I listen to Take this Waltz, I imagine rough waters bashing against a hill made of one big wet rock with a house on top, where I sat alone among family and where the voice of Leonard Cohen made a permanent imprint on my brain. I am reminded that no matter how grumpy, I can always feel better with music. 

Busier but Less Hectic

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I never thought my life would be busier in the countryside. 

In the city, I thought waking at 10 was acceptable and by the end of the day I'd complain how hard I was working. I worked until I didn't, and when I left work, I didn't take it home with me. Cooking was a chore. Cleaning was constant. I smoked to de-stress. I walked everywhere to save the $3 TTC fee.

Now I am in Warkworth. I wake up at 7 or 8. I have a million things on my plate and I do take my work home with me for the first time in my life. I am making less money but saving more. I don't smoke. My brain is healthier. The anxiety I thought was chemical is seeming more and more like it could have been situational.

I wake up and do my 15 minute yoga routine. No one knows I have woken up. I haven't checked my phone or opened my computer. I breathe and stretch and gain strength for the day. I do not dread the day.

I have formed a new habit into my mornings. It is my own version of meditation and checking in with myself. I split a stack of tarot cards in a random spot and expose the blindly chosen card. Sitting on the edge of my bed, peaceful after yoga, I pick up my phone and find a reference to the card on a tarot deciphering site, Biddy Tarot. I don't expect the card to tell my future - that's silly. I use it to jar my brain of its old thinking habits and patterns. I use it as forced introspection, as a third party perspective. I read the meaning and apply it to my life. I don't take it word for word. Often, it helps me throughout the day as a reminder to re-focus, re-balance and to view things from a different perspective. 

After my tarot moment, I have breakfast and feed the cat. (Ok, the cat gets fed first.) I check emails and do lots more work on my computer than I ever have before. I send many emails. When I have sent a few, there are more waiting. I have to practice pulling myself away from the computer and resolve to leave emails unread while I prioritize other tasks of the day. 

I am learning to be honest about my capabilities. It has been hard to learn to say, " No, sorry, I cannot take that on". I am my mother's daughter, after all. If anything, she is the inspiration for me to learn to say no.  She says yes to everything. She works her butt off. Her heart is under a lot of stress. No time to slow down, I think she thinks. I try to make that time for myself.

A chef once made me stop and take a moment to breathe during a rush. I was 15 and overwhelmed and nothing was going right. He made me stop everything and just stand there. It was hard to stop and let go. He instructed me to make a list of priorities in my head. When a minute was up, he allowed me to get back to it. My motions were smoother, more precise and I could think clearly again. He taught me that sometimes you need to slow down to be effectively productive. 

Our worth is not measured by our productivity. I read that somewhere recently. I don't know if I agree. I certainly wasn't raised to think it, though I do like the way that mantra sounds. I suppose it is how we define 'productivity'. To me, and I'm sure to my mom also, productivity includes doing things for others, taking the time to call Grandma, stopping on the street to pick up a glove and prop it on a fence for easier visibility.  In those cases, yes, you are a better person because you did those things.

But how about we stop thinking about worth and just get on with our lives? I am learning in Warkworth that today is 'my life'. In the city, it seems like a race to catch up. People ask what you want to do with your life. Today is your life! Every day you are living it. Wiccans will say, " Do what you will and harm none". I'd say that's a pretty good rule to follow. Every day is you leading your life. It's not as if today doesn't count. In the city, it seems people live thinking of the future and not the present. City dwellers are hypnotized with grand goals of prosperity,  delusions of wealth bringing happiness and popularity amplifying status. 

I am busy, yes, but I have learned to step back and take an hour to prepare and eat (and digest!) dinner. There is always time in the day to do what you want to do. 

At the end of the day, I am alone but I am peaceful. I realize we are all alone. I have to learn to live with myself, make myself happy and entertain myself in healthy ways. I take more baths now than ever. The bubbles make them special. I read more. I read until the bath is cold. In the bath, I don't check my phone. I plan meals and empty the fridge between grocery shops. I eat very well and I eat more canned goods than I ever have before. I do wish I walked more than I do here. It takes 10 minutes exactly to walk to the end of town and back. 

Though I am busier here in Warkworth and feel stretched in a million directions, everything is easier than it was in the city. I am very busy, but neither my mind nor my motions are hectic. 

Nightmare

I am standing in the foyer of my new home. Looking into the house, there is a room on either side of me and nothing ahead. The room on the left has old white walls stretching up to the high ceiling. A wooden plank juts from the wall, to be used as a seat. I have a memory of feeling uncomfortable on that bench, posing for a picture taken by a stranger (possibly a photographer I didn't know). 

As I scan the space, I see I am standing beside an open floor vent and beside it there is a sage smudge, just barely singed. I use my foot to push it down the vent and then regret it immediately. I'm too scared to reach down and get it. To my right, there is a larger room - filled with clutter and furniture. There is a draft table half buried in moving boxes (but not my moving boxes). There is an old TV loosely hanging from the wall. I feel uneasy and leave the house. 

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I am on a campus of large hedges and blackened brick buildings. I seek out the cathedral. Upon entering, I see the bowl of holy water and I approach a priest and ask him to bless me. I stumble over my words, then take a seat on a large stool. There is a service in session but I remain at the back of the church. The priest dips two cotton pads into the stone bowl and places them on my eyes. I feel soothed, but then I see what he sees. I am sitting on the stool, the cotton pads are soaking through with blood from my closed eyes and my head is rolling slowly. Again I see things from my perspective and though I feel unnerved, I don't see blood and I feel still. I leave the cathedral. 

When I exit the church, I face a large courtyard. I see a friend with her toddler in her arms. She waves to me and I see her say something to her child, then lowers him to the ground. He runs away from her and away from me. We try to catch him as he races around the stone path bordering the square swath grass. Somehow, we cannot catch him. He races straight to my house. 

We catch up and  reach the house, where the door had been left open. He is standing in the doorway, looking in. His mother scoops him up and they leave. 

I go inside and I look up. In lieu of an exposed lightbulb, there is a lightbulb-sized rubber head. She has her eyes on me. Her eyes are blue. Where her hair would be, is a swath of pink plastic. Soon, I am at her height, pulling the head off to expose a camera. I realize I am floating. I am not on a ladder. I grab the camera and it loosens from the wall, and as the cord stretches out from within the ceiling, I repel down to the floor. 

I know the house is haunted. I try to say something soothing to the disturbed soul. Nothing happens. I resolve to start with the empty room on the left. I begin to paint it a sunny yellow colour. I am standing on a ladder in white pinter's overalls and it is the picture of 'home renovation'. I am smiling and rolling on the paint. I get a flash of third person perspective. I am painting the room black. Not yellow. It looks as if I have painted layers and layers of black paint without realizing. 

Horrified, I begin to pack everything into my car, planning to drive it to a dump far away. In the car, I idle outside the house and look in through the open door. It seems I got everything. My phone rings and it's a familiar number. I get out of the car to answer the phone but no one is there. As I call back the number, I walk up to the house to lock up before I depart. Inside, a phone is ringing. The home phone is off the dock. I follow the ring. 

I find the phone in the air vent with the sage smudge and it's still ringing.

I realize I had been haunting myself, from a different year. As if time had layered and over and over I was bumping into myself from past and future. 

Horrified, I awake.