Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wishes Come True

It's a rare treat these days to have time with my girls, and it was the birthday wish that I had and that was granted. It's all I really wanted - time with the special ladies in my life and they made it happen. Hubby cooked his recipes of love and ate silently while the rest of us noisily discussed and debated the state of the planet, poverty and the dark side of seemingly "charitable" organizations.

The candlelight cast a golden glow on the faces of the people I love. And that is how I feel about them;  each a precious treasure in the cache of wealth that is my life. So it doesn't get better than that; living in, around, and amongst my loved ones.

At fifty-two, I like who I am becoming. And I love my life.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm Alive!

I'm alive - and I have the birthday to prove it! And I am not just alive - I am really living.

I don't have a favourite age -- I have enjoyed each and every one, and usually the age that I am living becomes my favourite. Now that doesn't mean I enjoy finding random hairs growing where they ought not to -- or reading those Maxine cards about droopy boobs and then looking w-a-y- down to see my own. I get frustrated that I can't remember the name of my grade one teacher, and by the fact that my keys keep wandering off; and that with this aging business I am are more "bold" than "beautiful"; and without mascara, my eyes disappear. Hey - there are parts of aging that are no picnic.

But there is more good than bad, starting with the fact that it's a privilege to age (and it beats the alternative). My surging hormones may have left my bone density depleted, but I've never had so much hair (yes- on my head!) and so much body (I am talking about my hair here). I feel great in my blazing rosacea-ridden skin, and I take comfort in knowing that I am a much better person than I was 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. I have chosen to be changed by my life experiences and learned that I am stronger and braver than I  knew; and that life is more meaningful when shared with the ones I love. And I still have much to learn.

And so on this birthday, I can only give thanks for that which has been, and be hopeful for more time to evolve into the best possible version of myself. All I know for certain is that right now, at this moment, I'm alive!

The Never-ending Birthday
Traditional dinner - Three Amigas
Birthday-eve dinner with my MIH and pop-in-law
Soul sisters who love veal parmesan

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


There is nothing more life-affirming that being swaddled in love by people who "get you". I am surrounded - and am therefore content. What better gift can there possibly be?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Royal Week

I feel like a queen with a week of socializing rolled out before me - dinners and get togethers with very special people in my life. It's birthday week and each and every day has a precious birthday nugget in store -- lunch with my work family, dinner with my amigos, dinner with my loving in-laws, dinner with my kidlets (who are now chicklets) -- TIME with loved ones. I know,  it's alot of eating. Time with loved ones has become the absolute most precious gift - I simply can't get enough of it.

Last weekend I kicked off the love-spree with a patio date with hubby, lunch with my MIH, and time with the ninety-something grannies. I made spaghetti and meatballs for my little sis and I and Kidlet joined us for a little chin-wag. We chatted and laughed between  noodle slurps and sips of wine and got caught up properly. I love those times when the  worries and busy-ness of the day falls away and we slip effortlessly into the cosy, sisterly, cocoon of comfort and familiarlity that comes with sharing a room - and a life.

So that long-winded preamble takes me to this week! Lots of plans and more importantly - a time to reflect. My weekly giving has been chaotic and sporadic - but I am back on track. My purpose is clear - live to give (in all ways possible). So this week I declare my birthday a time to plan my giving and count my blessings. this week I will donate my age (52) to a sustainable cause (soon to be announced).

 As I reflect on the life that I was blessed to be born into and create, my heart will be filled with gratitude. Now - let the party begin!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Celebration, Attitude, and Gratitude

I had a great day! It started off a little precariously when the power went out at 6:30 this morning -  after my shower thankfully. I had grand plans to make the most of my day off with an early, productive start so reading by candlelight wasn't exactly what I had in mind. When the power finally came on 110 pages later, I heard the washer and coffee maker start on queue, just as I had set up.

I have been struggling lately with an ailing shoulder (thus the blogging cut-back) and generally feeling lethargic and crummy. After a much needed attitude adjustment, I ditched the pity party and charted a plan for my health and well-being. The result - a great night's sleep and a revitalised outlook. In a nutshell, I woke up on the right side of the bed!

I met the day like a whirling dervish and did four loads of laundry, scrubbed the bathrooms, cleaned the kitchen, connected with my MIH, and stopped off to buy flowers for my hubby's grandmother's 91st birthday - ALL before meeting my MIH for lunch.

We had a great catch-up before we headed over to the birthday party, which was held at the long term care residence our grandmother lives in. She is blind and immobile and tends to slip back into German, her native language, when she is in a crowd. Although she couldn't see the family who had congregated for her special day, she could feel their love with every hug and hand hold.

After a humongous helping of strawberry, banana vanilla cake and a few hours of family time, we bade her a fond farewell and left her to rest in her room of stuffed animals and flowers. I couldn't help but marvel at the longevity of her life. For someone who survived incredible hardships and health problems, she managed to live out a full life.

Hubby and I took Fritz for his evening stroll through the forest and this time I went armed with my good camera, determined to capture the emerging colours that are signalling the wonder that is to come.

I just drained the last few drops of wine from my glass, Fritz is asleep on my feet and I can't help but feel contented. Life is good. Actually, it's great. And that is yet another reason to celebrate.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Unseasonal Greetings

We are in the midst of a heat wave! That's right - weeks of continuous warm weather and sunshine that really has no right presenting itself mid March. Not in these parts anyhow. It is as though the climate from Florida has crept up and snuck across the (U.S.) border - far ahead of the rest of the snowbirds!

And yet we are afraid to let our guard down and fully enjoy for fear of that winter will go on one last binge, terrorizing us with (God forbid) a random blizzard or ice storm. It's an unkind tradition, and we don't take it well. But the bulging buds on my lilac tree and the blooming daffodils I spotted in the forest yesterday seem to quell all skepticism and convince me that spring has unpacked and settled in, and that winter dissolved quietly into the night weeks ago with not even a goodbye.

And so I am embracing this gift of glorious spring without restraint. What will be, will be. But in a true act of faith, I have packed up the woollies and all things black and gray (mostly) and replaced the space in my closet with my spring and summer clothes. I am expecting smooth sailing from here on in.

And the only tickler in all of this unbelievably unseasonal weather is that it is not natural for this region - or any region in Canada. And the global warming issue stands silently in the corner.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Break

It's spring break and although I am not in college, I am definitely loving the spring break we've been experiencing the past few days. The temps have soared way above normal for this time of year, the sun has been shining in all its glory and the air is fresh with a hint of promise.

I meet more smiles on the street; people are walking with a spring in their step; and is seems as though the world has moved outdoors. Lovers walk hand in hand and nuzzle on park benches; dogs on leashes playfully go nose to nose; and sun lovers crowd sidewalk cafes.

It's dark when I leave for work in the morning but the hours of daylight that remain at the end of my day energize me -- and remind me most of what I love about our changing seasons. Spring has arrived early - an unexpected but welcomed guest. I only hope that Winter got the memo, and stays away!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sisterly Love

She carried me on her back as she ran on the hardened pathways in an around the locks, doing her best to keep up with her friend Hazel who raced unencumbered. She was six years older and I was her little sidekick whether she wanted one or not. She was the first person I can remember wanting to emulate. She was athletic, her blonde ponytail bouncing as tried handstands and incredibly creative, sketching pencil renderings of graceful horses, sewing her own skirts and dresses and strumming her guitar as she hummed out favourite tunes in her high, gentle voice. She wasn't my sister - although I wished she was - she was my aunt.

Both of my grandmothers had babies in their forties begifting me with a young aunt and uncle - both who were young enough to be my sibs. When my grandfather passed, my aunt was only 11. She and my grandmother moved with us to a new town where we all started a new life. We went to the same school for a few years - me trailing behind her and her girlfriend as they giggled and chatted about things that I had no business knowing. When I felt the need for instant attention I would round up a bunch of my classmates and announce that my aunt went to my school. Of course back then, aunts were wizened older ladies - not school girls, so when proof was demanded, I would march the clan over to the circle of big girls and proudly point out "this is my aunt!" (to her horror).

Years passed and although my attempts at sketching and sewing failed, I can't sing a note, and my guitar playing never progressed past 8 chords, I never quite lost the desire to be just like Mugs. The love I have for her is deeper than that of aunt and as fragile as the feelings of wanting to make her proud. She is now the lone survivor of a family of seven children, a mother, wife and grandmother. In her, tiny traces of my mother and grandmother reside; little bits of recognition, subtle gestures and nuances that bring me comfort.

Today is her birthday - and I don't think I have told her often enough how much she means - and has meant - to me in my life. I often refer to her as the big sister I never had - but in hind sight, I suppose I did. Happy birthday Mugs. You have your own permanent little space in my heart carved out and I carry you with me always.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Toilet Talk

There are things about travel - as with aging, childbirth, and menopause - that people just don't want to talk about; disdainful informational shrapnel politely omitted to avoid unpleasant, distasteful discussion. I on the other hand believe that information is power. It leads to preparation and helps set expectation. Case in point: toilet talk; washroom worries; bathroom debacles. Call it what you will but the truth is that not all cultures around the world handle "toileting" exactly the same way. And since using the toilet is done frequently (especially after copious cups of tea), the familiarity, availability and usability of such can have a great impact on the comfort of our travel experiences.

That long-winded intro leads me to the purpose of this post: to pull back the curtain of mystery on what lies behind that "toilet" sign in China and other Asian countries (and perhaps in others).

Squat - or not
It was 1990 in Thailand and my friend had tried her best to forewarn and prepare me for the culture shock that would await me at the first loo-stop at the airport. Regardless, the first time I swung open a stall door to find a stark, glistening bowl sunk into the raised ceramic floor I was mortified - and puzzled. Thankfully that particular stall came complete with "foot prints" to guide the user -- something like "place feet here".

The reappearance of the squatter during our China visit 22 years - and bad knees - later was not a high point for me, but armed with my personal supply of tissue and antibacterial wipes I sucked it up and handled it like a trouper. I had learned that part of being a savvy traveller was making like a girl scout and being prepared for anything/everything. Bathrooms in Asia do not come equipped with toilet tissue, paper towels, nor soap in most situations. AND nothing goes down the toilet except that which comes out of your body, thus the nearby trash basket.

The upside of the squatter toilet is that your tuchus doesn't have to make contact with any bacteria ridden surfaces. Most often they flush just like a western toilet, however occasionally I have come across the model that basically sports a wide deep hole to who-knows-where and doesn't flush. I definitely favour the flush!

The downside of the squatter is just getting down there - especially if you have bad knees. There is no middle ground here - you have to commit and get right down there in amongst the action to ensure a clean getaway. I recommend emptying pockets of valuable contents or zipping them closed where possible. I won't bore you with stories about how many times I got down - and then surrendered to fits of giggles attempting to stand tall. This is where men have a distinct advantage! And of course there is the fear of slipping into the pitted abyss, never to be seen again.

So the moral of the story here is if you plan on traveling to unknown and faraway lands, do your homework and be prepared! You just may have to surrender the porcelain throne and exercise muscles you didn't remember you had. Now, aren't you glad we had this chat?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On the Cusp

I just noticed that this blog is teetering with 99 followers the exact same day that my other blog, Soul Snax gained three new followers to also reach 99 (and they are not all the same followers). hmm

I am thrilled that anyone other than my proud papa would want to read something I write, so I think sitting on the cusp of this little milestone is to remind me to be grateful. And so I will  be, and am.

I enjoy the little blogger community I have come to know and be a part of these past four years. There are so many wonderful writers out there and people who willing to share. I have learned that everyone has a story to tell, and I love to read them.

Thank you to all of you who drop by for a visit now and again. It warms my heart. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


We've been home for days now - our China adventure behind us, neatly wrapped and stored like our luggage, the memories there to be hauled out whenever the whim moves us.  When I reflect on our experience, it replays in dreamlike foggy celluloid images -- surreal. This time last week I was squeezed onto a crowded plane to Shanghai, eagerly seeking some fresh air. Tonight I am sitting on my couch with my shaggy Schnauzer curled up on my feet watching the Super Tuesday returns. What a different a few days makes!

Unfortunately hubby and I came home with an unpleasant memento from our travels. We woke up the first morning home with nasty colds, nasty enough to knock us flat on our @sses. The contents of my carry on bag clutter the kitchen table - right where I left them the first night home; the clean laundry is still in baskets yet to be put away, and the fridge is in serious need of replenishing. 

Sunday was the worse day. Hubby and I lay side by side in bed, helplessly watching the minutes and hours slip by, getting up only to drag ourselves to the washroom or get a glass of water. My little sister called several times to check in on us, offering to pick up chicken soup, drugs or anything else we needed. I was too tired to entertain the offer. Lucky for me I rebounded quicker than hubby; his cold stayed lodged deep in his chest and is only now starting to show signs of recovery. 

I've had flashbacks of the chorus of coughing that filled the plane as we took off, trapping us for thirteen and a half hours, thirty-seven thousand feet in the air with recycled air to breathe. I think there is a real case for requiring sick and coughing passengers to wear masks, not unlike they do at the hospital. 

All in all, it was a small price to pay for the the opportunity to experience the travels we did. So now I just have to pull my butt off the couch, clear off the kitchen table, put away the laundry and make a shopping list. Tomorrow is going to be a sunny, springlike day and I'm going to be ready!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

China Syndrome

Boarding the magnetic train to the airport
Trains, planes and automobiles - the final leg of our journey. All in all we travelled over 17,600 miles and although were only gone twelve days, our journey to China doesn’t seem to fit into orderly segments of day/night/week/work/play. The barrage of stimulants to the senses and the cultural divide suspended all time and reality for us. Home seemed to be a faraway place of another dimension. The trip was trying on many levels but magnificent on many more. I have learned that often the adventures that teach us the most are the ones that are not easy to endure while they are occurring. However once you are home and shake out the experience with time and space, the bad bits fall away like dust in the wind, and you are left to remember and treasure all that you have seen and learned.

My feelings for China are mixed; every person I met and spent time with was kind, sweet and generous. That which is China the government, is not so kind, welcoming nor generous. The people here live with no social net; laws are designed to protect businesses and not individuals; and I fear the success of this country will be borne on the backs of workers and those who are powerless. I am not sure where a Communist government comes into play here as this country is riding a wave of capitalism and greed like there’s no tomorrow – that is, capitalism without democracy.

And there are some fundamental problems that so obviously need to be addressed: smoking needs to be discouraged and promoted as the health killer it is; something has to be done about air quality - the air is unbreatheable in the cities; environmental efforts have to be made and new attitudes adopted.

With over a billion people, China could tilt the earth --- and wouldn’t it be wonderful if it tilted in the most positive way possible?

The magnetic rail to the airport
It went really fast! 33 kms in 8 minutes!

Homeward bound at the Shanghai airport.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shanghai Shenanigans

We arrived in Shanghai yesterday afternoon. We were met by a “professional” driver and van who expended every ounce of energy into getting us to our hotel as quickly as possible, with little regard to whether we would be alive when he did so. He was nuts! And for the first time in our trip, hubby wasn’t having it. He started relaying his discontent to our Chinese friend as I quietly urged him to just hold on a while longer (secretly agreeing with him). I could write a whole post on our wild ride in and the number of close calls but I will resist.

 We ended the evening with a third and final dinner with local businessmen who our Chinese friend is establishing good “guanxi” - connections and relationships key to Chinese success (another future post). This was by far my favourite meal – the Shanghai style of food is my favourite. They ordered dishes of spicy tofu, teriyaki fish, goose liver and raisins (they thought Canadians would enjoy it because the French do), crunchy fish, greens in broth, sweet red bean broth with rice balls, and baked dumplings.

The weather is much more humid here and finally my hair has lost the static that has plagued me since Beijing. Most importantly, I can breathe here!

Today when we hit the hotel buffet and spotted all of the western food – we knew Shanghai was different than the rest of China. Our friend keeps calling it New York, and in many ways, it has the same touristy, commercial, international feel. It reminds me of Singapore with its ceramic tiled sidewalks and glistening glass high rises, mixed with the remnant colonial architecture. We strolled the streets and ducked down some old Chinese laneways when the commercialism got to be too much.

This is a shopping Mecca for people with money. We strolled the Bund, the walkway that runs alongside the Bund River and across from the brand spanking new Shanghai. Unfortunately for us, it was dark, rainy with little visibility for picture taking. But we enjoyed the five-hour long walk just the same.

Tonight we dry out our wet clothes, rearrange our luggage and get a good night's sleep for the long journey home.