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. 

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. 

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.