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. 

Orange Chips and Brittle Behaviour

Tonight I sat in a sound bath. 

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My day had started at 6 a.m and continued as a whirlwind of frantic motions and looming PMS-like symptoms. Breakfast was so long ago I can barely remember it. When I had my first break at 5, I ate dinner alone, as usual. I had french fries and mayo for dinner with a side of crudités. I scanned through emails with my right hand while eating with my left. I sipped on an Old Fashioned I had made myself using a special ingredient. 

With ten minutues to spare, I zipped across the street to the Arts and Hertiage Centre, where the event was being held. I was asked to bring a cake. I made it yesterday, knowing today would be non-stop. Yesterday, I garnished the cake with some orange slices I cut finely using the mandolin (that is, I lay the slices down on parchment at the bottom of the cake pan with the intention to un-mould  and flip it over to serve).  I had extra slices so I put them in a pot with water and sugar. I thought: maybe they'll be marmalade or maybe an orange-infused simple syrup. Then I made the cake batter. Meanwhile, as the simple syrup bubbled, the slices maintained their shape and became vibrant and so I changed the plan.

After they had simmered a while and the pith began looking translucent, I pulled the slices out. One by one with a fork, I sieved off the excess liquid and lay them on a cooling rack. I put the rack in the oven after the cake came out. I turned the oven off immediately. 

The next morning (this morning) after I ran about a while, I came home quickly to check on the oranges. I had dared not open the oven lest some residual heat be let out. Still a bit soft. I turned the oven to the lowest it would go and checked on them every half hour until it had been about 2 hours. I cooled them as I went out to do more errands. They became beautiful crispy orange 'chips'. By evening, they were bitter and slightly sweet and just lovely with my Old Fashioned. 

I finished my cocktail and headed back out.  I arrived at the sound bath and put the goodies aside. I found a space on the floor in the dark room, where 15 others lay on their yoga mats and covering themselves with blankets. I sat against the wall, on the wood floor, with no blanket. 

The instructor began to make sounds using her quartz crystal bowls - though I could't be sure how (my eyes were closed). With the first note she made, I imagined the colour red. The sound changed and I felt intuitively it was yellow.  We were asked to think of a word and we were gently reminded this is the time of year for making goals. I had had a hard day working with my mother.  It was my fault things didn't go smoothly. The word "gentle" came to my mind. It was a purple word. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I have a strong aversion to purple. 

I am not gentle. I would like to think I am full of love. I'd like to think I am graceful. I am intuitive. I see beauty where others don't. I am in awe of the world often. I am caring.

But I am not gentle. 

I spent a long time trying to clear my mind and work on my breathing and I did try to be "present". Instead, I fought with my racing mind. By the end, I just wanted to go home and eat chips in bed. 

What made my head spin was thinking: treat others how you want to be treated.  I know that my aggressiveness stems from working in kitchens for over 15 years. I realized most people (e.g. my mom) want and need to be treated gently. I realized I have a difficult time remembering that because I do not want to be treated gently. 

What problem do I have with being gentle? I realized tonight that I look down on those I think are "soft". Where does this hostility come from? It would be easy if I could blame genetics; I am so much like my dead Grandmother, or so I've been told. (She was cold, mean and firm and I always got along with her swimmingly.) I'd rather be told, "Sweep that area at 5pm" rather than, "If you could, if you wouldn't mind, would you please sweep at some point in the evening?". I don't see one as more kind than the other, but my mother would. 

Ironically, I feel like I am being censored when I have to use more words to say something that I would feel more comfortable saying in fewer. Maybe it 's that I feel gentleness is: false, a lie, deceitful, phoney and a waste of time. It skirts around the issue. It isn't clear or to the point. It is just padding for the truth. It implies shame in asking for something. 

My mother would probably call me terse and imply it as something I should be ashamed of. It means clear and neat. Those are things I would take pride in. In busy kitchens, it's necessary to demand a number of things that need to happen without wasting time explaining them. In an interview, I would call my way of working efficient. 

I've often wondered if I have a slightly autistic brain, or in other words, if I'm "on the spectrum". I have a hard time following social norms and I often misunderstand body language and misread facial cues. I hurt other people, including my mother, with my sharp attitude. I'm not a flowery person. I'm full of spurs. 

So this new year, 2018, my word is : Gentle. 

Don't treat me gently, I don't like it. It confuses me and irritates me. However, I don't have to treat other people as I want to be treated. I should treat other people how THEY want to be treated. I will try my hardest to remember that other people feel more comfortable when I smile as I talk; when I speak slowly and end my sentences with a higher intonation; I will be aware of my facial expressions and try not to furrow my brow or clench my jaw.  I will stand with open body language and rest my face while listening even if I think there is no time for human behaviour I can't wrap my head around.  I will try to be gentle. 

I will continue to feed people. Food is a language I do speak. Try an orange chip:  They are bitter , brittle and delicious. 

No, not by any other name, Rose.

On Instagram, the followers of a chef couldn't understand why I was upset. I had tapped on the thumbnail image because it looked good. It seemed to be a creamy pasta with fresh peas with a steak fanned on on the side.

When I looked at the larger image, the steak looked rancid - it had a nice char, but the exposed flesh was a strange texture and a slimy brown colour. From my experience as a chef, I knew something was amiss. I saw "flank steak" in the description and knew that too was incorrect because of the muscle structure that this "steak" lacked. 

Then I realized I was on a vegan's account and that the description went on to say that this was a "flank steak of portobello mushroom"

 

(pause for effect and adequate gasping time) 

 

I was a vegetarian for 15 years. I believe in the mantra, " Do what you will and harm none". Calling a mushroom a steak can be forgiven because the term steak is now colloquial for 'a hunk, a meaty piece'. But calling it a flank steak goes too far. Here's why:

Butchery is a craft. It is a respected tradition and it honors the animal. A human takes the time to cut the meat from the bone with little waste. It brings us closer to nature. It helps us respect the whole animal. Taking a term for a specific cut of beef to describe a vegetable is not only an insult to the effort of all butchers ( and also farmers who raised that animal with love and care) but also to the mushroom. It is not respecting the mushroom for what it is. It is not honoring the mushroom's unique characteristics. 

Which brings me to my next big problem with calling things what they are not: That chef bent to the whines of the public. He wouldn't have called it a flank steak mushroom if he didn't sell more because of it. He was answering the whines of the public. This is a world where people want everything and want it now. It's the same reason we have tofu chicken fingers and bean chips. Our desire to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, is actually pulling us further away from food. We are eating substitutes and imitations. In doing so, we lose a bond with food that should be innate. 

I get upset because food tradition is incredibly important to me. We share stories through food. I can understand populations around the world better based on the food they eat. Food is a way of life everywhere in the world (it seems), except for in North America. In North America, food is just something else we consume.  

Food is special because it helps us hold onto our roots and respect our ancestors. We don't have to imitate them, but to look back and understand why they did things the way they did helps us live life better now. Let me explain with yoghurt. Yoghurt is more than one thousand years old. It has no single origin. It was made (probably by accident at first) by people who kept livestock. They wasted nothing. It was a time when dissemination of knowledge was through story, passed down from guardian to child, from mentor to mentee. It was important to listen carefully lest you lose that yoghurt recipe and disrespect the animal by wasting something it gives freely.

It probably only took 5 years for it all to change. Yoghurt was in demand as a low calorie snack. People wanted something creamy and had the luxury of wanting to buy calorie free food. Soon, 'Yoghurt' was being made with skim milk, carrageenan, gelatin, guar gum, splenda (which is so processed that I am appalled it can and still is labelled 'yoghurt').

It wasn't the companies, it was the people, the demand that changed things. It was the " but I want it"  attitude. Where did this attitude come from? Was it globalization? By sharing our food and ideas, we actually diluted them into a big grab bag of 'pick and choose'.

This is something I have talked about before. I get pretty aggravated because I do love food with such a passion. When you eat food that is imitating something else, you are taking the story away. By buying something that imitates what you actually want, you are separating yourself further from the source. The more processed . packaged food is, the less involved a human is. You are voting at the cash register. Companies will respond to what you buy. They care about profit. If you don't respect real yoghurt, it will eventually disappear. Thousands of years will disappear.  

If you want to be a vegan, go for it. Love the vegetables and legumes for their history; for the decades they have been nourishing people. Don't make a mushroom seem special because it can look like a steak, know that it is special for the qualities it already has. 

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but we're not talking about roses.