Opening words . . .

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Tea, Tears and Giggles (Dakar Series)

The fuchsia coloured bougainvillea hung over the balustrade, falling into the back balcony swaying in submission to the ocean breeze. The consistent breaking of the surf on the beach made a sonorous rumble adding significantly to the ambience of the Dakar villa.

My friend visiting me from back home in New Brunswick, Canada took a seat at the table I had readied for tea on the back balcony. I felt she could use something familiar after ten days of living and working on a project in the African bush. An English tea setting to cheer her was just the thing!

It had taken at least three trips up and down the winding staircase to prepare the setup. From my point of view, it was idyllic. English bone china tea cups with flower decals on the tablecloth and a small plate of shortbread cookies gave the perfect touch to the scene.

“I miss Waaaayne,” she wailed into our ever so nice tete-a-tete setting.

I held back on voicing my thought, “Why?”, as it wasn’t the moment for even light sarcasm, though I’m sure Wayne himself would have seen the funny in my comment. But he wasn’t there - thus, the issue. Barb and Wayne were longtime friends of mine and my hubby. And as I looked at her over the teapot, I could see Barb’s tears were genuine. The moment demanded my sympathetic encouragement.

“Hmmmm,” I mustered. “How’s the tea, Barb? You’re tea is the benchmark for mine. I hope it even comes close to the standard.”

She burst out a quick giggle through the tears and took a sip. “It’s good,” she confirmed.

I soaked in the scene and the visit with my friend, multitasking as an open ear and a shoulder to cry on as she continued to share her homesick blues. I was chalking the episode up to nothing more than fatigue and a smattering of culture shock.

I was fully aware that this opportunity of place and setting would never happen again. Barb would leave in a couple days filling out two weeks being away from “Wayne.” We had another year in Dakar and then our family would be completely moved back to Canada. Our oldest son would leave in a few weeks after high school graduation. After not quite one full year, I defined Dakar, Senegal as a city of contradictions evoking conflicting emotions on every dimension.

We sipped our tea mindful of the background chorus of sounds: the pounding of grain by mortar and pestle, neighbours talking in the local language, gardeners hosing the plants, the bonne’s flip-flops flapping on the ceramic tile below us as she went from room to room completing her morning tasks. Kids’ chatter was punctuated by crying screams or squeals of laughter mixed with dogs’ barking. Passing cars honked and geared down as they pushed through the beach sand. These moments were melding into memories.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

How to decide what to sell and what to keep

We’ve all been there - that situation or stage in life that requires the sorting and organizing of our belongings, whether we like it or not. It may be in preparation for a move to a new place or just clearing out a space. Decisions around whether to keep items or to sell them can become overwhelming without a strategy for the process.

Determining the value of an item will help bring direction to your decision. The item may have monetary, sentimental or practical value. In preparation for your choices, designate an area where you can put the for-sale items and another space for the items you’ll decide to keep.

$$$ Value

Selling items brings in extra cash, but how do you know how much it is worth? Check out similar or identical products online through buy and sell sites like Kijiji or eBay. Ask friends, family and neighbours when in doubt. Several estimates can give you an idea on the monetary value and the practical side of how much you can actually sell it for in a given venue.

Sentimental Value

It may be the emotional tug that keeps you hanging on to an item. There are creative ways to handle “letting go” of those items for which you are really sacrificing space presently.
Choose a storage container that fits the size of space you can actually spare for storage and keep the space remaining uncluttered.
Be firm, knowing that the process of paring down will bring more contentment than keeping things you really do not need. Remind yourself of the space it will make for the other item you want to use or show.
Take photos of an item and cherish the memory through pictures.
Give the item away to someone else who needs or would really appreciate it. The thought of someone else loving the item can relieve anxiety around giving it up.
Ask a friend to help keep you on track with your overall goal.

Practical Value

Next, let’s consider those items that you’re sure you will use some day, but - haven’t yet. Often items are kept for years, even in original packaging, waiting for the day they will be used. Practice or imagine living without a particular item you are unsure about. Ask yourself some questions:
Did or would you miss or need the item?
Had you forgotten you had the item?
Do you have room for the item now that you are freeing up space?
Could you use the item now that you found it?

Give yourself a timeline. If the item has not been used in the last six months, you know whether you can live happily with or without it. If you can live without it, move it to the sell pile.

For clothing items, it is a well known that saving smaller sizes until weight loss is not as motivating as it seems. It is better to sell or give them away and start with new items as the weight is lost. Without the items hanging in your closet to remind you of failure, it might be the motivating factor that you need. If the item is an expensive item, such as a coat, and you could use the money, sell it and put what you make on it towards one that fits you presently or put the money in savings.

Some items are too valuable to give or sell for whatever the reason. Make the decisions yourself with sound judgement. Don’t let yourself be talked into getting rid of an item if you know you will regret your decision. If you do decide to keep, you can always sell tomorrow!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Sensation of Seasplash: How can you be yourself?

Have you ever had someone say to you, “Relax! Be yourself!” Or, maybe the more relevant question is how often has someone tried to reassure you with this instruction. No doubt, the speaker’s intent is to promote calmness and an enjoyable experience for you. However, for some of us, it has added to the stress of the moment - because we haven’t always known how to be ourselves.

So how do you “be yourself?” To truly be yourself, you’ll need to get to know yourself first! It will take some effort, but the results of finding out that you like yourself and are happy in your own skin is a real bonus for the effort. Knowing yourself well enough to make good choices for yourself opens the gate to personal happiness.

But it's not easy for all of us to get to that point; it requires real work to figure it all out. Sometimes it means facing our past, dealing with damaging behaviour, or maybe becoming realistic about our own expectations of ourselves. Living life’s trial and error experiences, reflecting on the outcomes, and applying the new truth will bring depth of understanding.

Getting to know yourself is the journey to understanding your feelings and actions, those characteristics that identify you for who you are, both to you and others. A place to start is by telling yourself the truth about yourself even if you find it bewildering or frustrating. “Why do I feel this way?” “Why do I do what I do?” Admitting that you don’t know why - is a start.

We do put in a lot of effort to get to know others, lovers, co-workers, and BFFs. How much study and analysis do we put into really getting to know ourselves? Pause in your busyness to examine how you can spend more time learning to understand your own personality, characteristics and just how happy you presently are. You may find that you live and make choices out of the need for others’ approval. If this is true, Bingo! This is a good place to start observing your motives behind your choices and your resulting actions.

Take a personality test. Print off the questions to use as a self-study before submitting your answers. Don’t choose what you consider as the “best answer” based on people you admire with a particular quality, but how you really respond in situations. If you do not know how to answer a question about yourself, wait and watch to find an actual example of how you react in a given life situation. You may be wondering,” What if I don’t like what I find?” Telling yourself the truth about yourself and accepting yourself in spite of finding negative characteristics is part of the process and normal. Everyone has weaknesses and strengths.

Notice those people with whom you feel most comfortable. There are those who seem to have been born relaxed. They are fun to hang out with. They don't grab attention or do not hang back either. They flow with whatever is going on. You may admire this person, but may not be like them. That’s okay. You are okay, too. But when you are being yourself, you will come off more relaxed than you even know.

We can learn to relax, even in our most stressful kinds of situations, by studying our own reactions and taking small steps toward changing. Don’t be hard on yourself. The very fact that you want to make these changes is a huge step! Seriously - pat yourself on the back and then get ready for the next step.

The practical side to being ourselves is in practice. The practice is in the exercise of recognizing our patterns and remembering what to do in each situation until it becomes habit and feels very natural.

Being ourselves is vital to our happiness. Again, tell yourself the truth. Your friends and family find you most lovable when you are “being yourself.” People are perceptive - they recognize when you are being the real “you.” Live it out! It takes thought and practice, but you will get to the place that neither you nor anyone else will need to remind you to “be yourself!”

Monday, 21 November 2011

New Invasion of Snowflakes!

"My first sighting of the white furry bits - 2011's fall debut, shocked my senses with disbelief. In just moments, memories that the long lovely summer had masked, burst through the surface with recollection of the same activity framed in the same window - the inspiration of last winter's flaky weather updates.

Snowflake Adventures have started again - to be Twittered to Facebook as poetic tidbits for us all. Snowflake poetry hopes to bring pause for thought and light in the midst of winter's heaviness."

Friday, 8 April 2011

Being local downtown

Trish, who announced her name with each greeting, was in a neighbourly frame of mind for a rush hour commute on a cold January day. She had taken the front seat, meant for seniors and less mobile people, and greeted each new rider as they stepped up into the streetcar. Her “Hello, how are you?” greeting prompted quick glances in the direction of the clear and direct, but friendly voice.

As usual, the streetcar jostled and jerked, bumping us against each other as if we were being carrying along Queen St. West in a shopping bag. This is Toronto. You don’t have to greet people or respond to greetings to you. It sounds rather subhuman to be so antisocial, but it really is accepted. There are those who do greet strangers, of course, but their too friendly demeanour is met with skepticism. Just about everyone was caught off guard and greeted Trish in return.

Each time the light turned green, the streetcar would lurch forward again and Trish would pick up the conversation where she left off before acknowledging the newcomers, welcoming them like a party host. Trish was completely unintentional in her demand for attention, oblivious to her stage presence.

“Wanna go for a coffee?” she queried the TTC driver. “I have a free coffee card. I’ll get you a coffee.” “No, it’s okay, but thanks,” he responded again as if this was the first time she asked.

Another stop. More passengers get on, much to Trish’s delight. A beautiful woman with long auburn hair sat down in the aisle seat sideways to her. She was in the later stage of pregnancy and this did not go unnoticed by Trish.

“So, are you living with the baby’s father?” Trish investigated. Surprised by the directness, the lovely lady blushed, but then smiled at the open question and quietly answered “No.”

“So, you’re on your own, then,” Trish surmised, her face revealing a little pride in her own conclusion. There were embarrassed smiles and some just good hearted ones. We were enjoying the show, waiting anxiously for the next possibility.

Trish decided to answer questions about herself that people were probably thinking, but of course, weren’t asking. She was in her late twenties with dark hair and pleasant features. She informed us that the people in the apartment complex where she was staying were kind to her, but there were a few issues of concern.

The reflections on her living space at the apartment apparently triggered her next act. She began to scratch her mid section and then hiked up her sweater displaying her ample middle. The conversation had definitely moved on to her personal matters.

“Bedbugs,” she pronounced as she stretched and scratched. Everyone prickled in their seats. I resisted the urge to scratch, telling myself that being two seats back was safe.

Trish looked for interest from among us, while continuing to scratch, reaching around her side and scootching the sweater a little higher for better viewing.

“Bedbugs, yep!” she repeated, in case we hadn’t heard the first time. There was no denying the problem of bedbugs in the city - the news was all through the papers and regarded with disdain as if bedbugs themselves were in the folds of the pages.

By this time, smiles had turned to giggles and even a few shoulders were now shaking. Ahead of me and between the seats, I could see “the bites” and the scratching was leaving long red marks on her bare skin.

Her stop arrived and with a good-hearted “Goodbye,” she was down the steps and out the door. I saw Trish walk back a little on Queen, assuming she was headed for the coffee shop for her free one. Her candid display of what her life was like for her, I’m sure touched us all. It was definitely not my average streetcar ride home nor one that I would easily forget.

Note: "Trish" was not the girl's real name - I can't remember her real name :-) Also, if this story is too "real" for you, I would ask you to consider the reality that there are many in our cities, provinces, and country who live the "tougher" side of life, most of the time. Help out when and where you can!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Ketchup and Mustard on Toast and Other Snacks

We had played hard all morning and therefore, felt deserving of a snack. It was summer holidays and my cousin, Michelle who lived all of ten kilometers away, was visiting the “family neighbourhood,” staying with our grandparents. Since Michelle was staying at said house, it is where we headed for our mid-morning morsels. It made the most sense at the time, considering the whole neighbourhood who seemed to have a sense about kids that time of the morning and could see them coming a mile away, and Grammy wasn’t around.

The neighbourhood consisted of three main households - that of our grandparents occupying the center house, with the two oldest siblings and their families on either side. Another joined the lineup in the next few years. The “family-hood” was a natural situation for cousins as playmates and provided a farm (Gram’s barn in which we were never supposed to enter, eh-hem, and a sawmill on the premises with ever present danger, enough to keep everyone a little on edge.) We, the kids, lived the constant reminders through macabre stories of people with their fingers cut off told to us many times over, particularly from uncles, the younger siblings of our parents. But by school age, each kid had learned the ropes and could see through the “concerned” warnings to the glint in their eyes, their love of the story and the fun in infusing unreasonable fear to keep us awake at nights. In spite of the rules and the stories, we managed to have one heck of a time.

The farm provided a rhubarb patch and an apple orchard. The rhubarb patch launched our summer snacks. We would pull the long rhubarb stalks with both hands, often landing on our bottoms when the roots gave way. A small bowl of sugar and the dipping and jabbing of the shredded rhubarb ends soaking up the sugar was the ultimate in sweet and sour delights. We faithfully returned the soaked up clumps of sugar in the dishes to Grammy’s kitchen counter.

The apples were on our barometer for future snacks just as the rhubarb patch had provided its bounty in early summer. Wild strawberries were also available, but unfortunately took work for their provision. Also cream and sugar would be needed. In Gram’s apple orchard, the yellow transparent apples were the snack we all patiently waited for - all summer.

It was during one of the lulls - in between our natural, outdoor snacks, when ketchup and mustard on toast was introduced to me on a midsummer’s day, leaving me with a conundrum. I watched closely, unbelieving that this combination of colour and sludge on toast was a legitimate snack.

“So what about the wiener?” I questioned while watching Michelle munch her first bites in between spouting out words of explanation that we didn’t really need a wiener.

It was my turn to give it a try. With my very first bite, I was convinced that all along we had been duped about the wiener in a hot dog. We really didn’t need one. The mixed flavours of ketchup and mustard and bread were enough - missing nothing.  It was definitely worth another piece and certainly worth referencing for the future to ward off any potential snack famines. There was also the added benefit of only one messy knife used for spreading being left in the kitchen sink. A few crumbs around the toaster, but certainly not severe, and we were gone again out the back door.

The wild spread of barnyard and lumber piles stretched before us like a playground. Ketchup and mustard on toast energized us for out-manoeuvring and surviving any machine or uncle that would come our way.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Going Down Haine

“Going down Haine” was a short excursion that our family felt obligated to do every summer. It just had to be done. Things had to be checked out down there, or so we told ourselves and each other to cover for the excuse that the journey to get there was just too fun to ignore. Who went with us was very important, also. It could make or break the trip.

Haine was the location of an old abandoned village. An old bridge going nowhere remained to remind us that once people lived and traveled there. Climbing down Haine’s rocky hill in our car and making it back up in the same day was nothing short of a miracle, every year. We held our breath, while bumping down over the rocks. I remember wondering and Mom would voice my thoughts, “What if we meet another car?” Dad, who thought the possibility most unlikely would reply, “Well, who else would be down here?” I’d breathe a sigh of relief when we made it around the bend.

When we arrived at the old rail bridge and the car actually stopped without nose-diving into the stream, we would start our plea to go swimming. Danny and I would have to listen to Mom tell her “nearly drowned story” first, but once that was out of the way, Dad let us go in.

One particular summer, on one of our regular trips to Lower Hainesville for Mom to visit our grandmother, she refused the opportunity to do the trip with us. She said she didn’t want to go all the way down there. I never thought it was that far, but we decided to go anyway since Uncle Bob Bragdon was offering to take us. I can still hear Mom warning Dad to not let “those kids” go in swimming, as if we weren’t standing within ear shot. “They’ll drown or break their necks.” She did sometimes confuse the potential disaster with the particular episode.

Anyway, getting back to going down Haine - Dad, my brother and I decided to go with Uncle Bob, and we could go in his car. Bob assured us it was a good car – it had a small radiator problem, sometimes, but nothing really to worry about. It could get us down Haine, no problem.
Getting down wasn’t any problem; the brakes were good and we arrived in tack. We commenced to check things out around the bridge – read the most recent graffiti on the inside of the bridge, which there was very little of, and then started scouting out the woods.

Everything really looked just fine, just like it always did, each year. Feeling good about how things were in Haine, we decided we’d better get back home – Mom would think we had drowned or broken our necks somehow. The fear of it did become the norm.

So Uncle Bob started the car and next we were back around the bend. Hearing the tires scatter the rocks, we were on our way. It must have been the climb and the heat – it was a very hot day, but that temperamental radiator decided to act up, right now at this point. Bob saw the steam and I was going to say, “pulled over,” but there was no room or need to pull over – we just stopped.

As unusual as it sounds, Bob’s car always had a good supply of bubble gum, apparently an essential in any car’s dashboard and in this case, it came in really handy.

Bob distributed the bubble gum and we all started chewing. We needed enough to cover the leak. We chewed and chewed – Danny and I enjoyed the flavour and then spat out and handed the chewed chunks over to Uncle Bobby who promptly added each piece as a contribution to cover the leak. Then, before we knew it, we were off again.

The bubble gum served its purpose, but for short bits of time. We would need to stop, chew some more and Uncle Bobby would replug the leak. Overall, it worked. After several chewing sessions, we made it up the hill and back to Hainesville. Mom saw that we had not drowned, our necks weren’t broken and our trip to Haine was done for the summer. It was all a big relief - again.