Sunday, October 3, 2010

Enjoying the Route Isn’t Always Easy

I consider myself very fortunate to be a natural optimist. I usually don’t have to work as hard at seeing the bright side of things as some people do. Maybe that is why I fall so hard when I start sliding down that slippery slope...

It hasn’t been very easy for me lately. I tell my daughter that old saying “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, then don’t say it at all”, to help her rise above those caddy pre-pubescent girls’ ups and downs... So, I try to take my own advice and attempt to focus on the positive here.

My Dad offers his words of wisdom. Many years ago, when I found myself in another not-so-optimist moment in life, he said to me, “Jen, there is a great Myth in this world… the Myth that the secret to life is Happiness. It is NOT. The secret to life is simply living each day, as it comes... living each and every emotion. When you are sad – experience it and let yourself cry. Happiness is just part of life. It’s just moments. Experience fully ALL the moments. That’s the secret to life.”

So, it’s just moments. Some moments, my breath is swept away by the slightest little thing as I whip out the camera and try to capture it, like this...

Other moments I can’t even see it.

Recently I have incorporated a daily seaside walk at sunrise into my healing routine. Some mornings I can’t even see the spectacular transformation from black to orangey purplish pink flames as the sun takes over the night-time sky, the whispy coloured clouds, the fishing boats speckling the wavy or calm sparkling sea, the swaying date palms, the endless sand, the smiles and waves from the other morning walkers, their dogs giddy with finally being taken out after a long night, the mist, the water spraying morning irrigation, the shadowy mountains far off behind Villaricos or Mojacar, the flowers, the stray cats, the closed beach restaurants with their boats-turned-BBQs, the lifeguard chairs... Some mornings I can’t even hear the rhythmic waves, the hungry gulls and banter of other birds, the hypnotizing chirp of thousands of crickets, the whispery wind, the “Buenos días” from the friendliest of the fellow morning walkers, the chatter of the garbage collectors, street cleaners & city gardeners, the odd car engine, a cat’s meow… Some mornings I can’t even smell the salty Mediterranean or the fresh morning dew or feel the healing air as I inhale or the peace of the sea...

But some mornings I can...

It’s all just moments.

Sunday, August 1, 2010



At a moment in my life when I am contemplating why I am here, I love to stumble across things I love about my life in Spain - little reminders.

The only plan Saturday was to go to the beach. But we never made it there...

Instead, I had a long, photo-snapping walk along the boardwalk at sunrise...

Met an interesting elderly lady at the local supermarket. She was the first stranger ever who bent down and began helping me put my groceries on the conveyer belt, so I helped her, ended up driving her home, translating for her with a French neighbour (it has been 15 years since I have spoken French & it is pretty rusty but I love it!) and coming home with my arms full of fresh flowers and herbs from her garden...

Stumbled across a 55€ second-hand 28-inch TV, just when our TV had broken a week ago so we bought it...

Went to visit a Belgian friend who called last minute and asked if we were available. She was only in town for 2 days. We spent a few hours catching up. Her singing career is really taking off. It was so refreshing to see someone who is so passionate about her work, as I am ANYTHING but passionate about my job & fantasize about having my own natural cosmetics company. She really inspired me...

Then later that evening after dinner, on a boardwalk stroll, my husband & I shared a frozen yoghurt from our neighbours ice-cream stand and stumbled across some live Spanish guitar players. Sitting on a boardwalk bench by the sea, listening to Spanish guitar, waves crashing, tourists laughing, clinking glasses from boardwalk bars...

Got home and sat outside for a while playing guitar ourselves, something that we haven’t done for a while. All it all, it was a pretty simple yet marvellous day. And all of the things we did were un-planned. The spontaneity and living moment to moment is something that comes easier in Spain than anywhere else I have ever been. What a wonderful reminder to take the blinders off and just remain open to what rolls in...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Early Childhood Memories


My memories start as early as 2 or 3 years old, mostly happy ones. I don’t ever remember living with both of my parents as they separated when I was about 2 years old. About that separation… I never saw my parents argue. Not once.

Although they may have separated and divorced, they remained strong friends and had a lot of respect for each other. Over the years we spent most of my birthdays & Christmas’s together, both getting along with the others new partners. Every mother’s day, a huge Chrysanthemum plant or bouquet of flowers would arrive from my Dad, saying thank you to my mother for raising me. I think that continued even after I left home…

... our cozy little 3rd-floor apartment in Guelph, Ontario where I would ride my tricycle around the courtyard
... setting up tea parties with mum and all of my stuffed animals around the kitchen table
... running to Mum's bedroom on a weekend morning to wake her up, literally pulling her eyes open
... hiding in the closet to “do it” in my pants because I did NOT want to use the toilet
... the cottage, my haven for many years to come, on the Big East River in Huntsville, Ontario, Muskoka, where we would have family get togethers at Easter, Christmas and summers
... the cottage being built... a huge hole in the ground... climbing up an EXTREMELY forbidden ladder, almost reaching the top and all the grown-ups screaming at me from below to stop! Being rescued by my mum
... only being allowed to go into the Big East River up to my Belly Button
... my best friend Kimmy. What she liked I liked, what she didn’t like I didn’t like
... Aladdin Nursery School... Mavis, one of the teachers
... waiting anxiously for my Mum to pick me up at the end of each day-care day
... seeing one of the other children at the day care getting A LOT of attention when she felt sick... so I faked feeling sick one day so the teachers would dote on me
... lying on the “Nap-mat” at day-care, trying to sleep each afternoon but never being able to get to sleep. One eye open... coughing loudly as a signal to the other kids that I was still awake. Sometimes a no-nap ally would cough back.
... Mum & her camera
... my stuffed animal Big Bird from Sesame Street
... my pink blankie, tattered and comforting
... visits with my Dad who would drive from Windsor to Guelph to see me... the proud sparkle in his eye when he saw me and would say “Jenny!” and open his arms wide for me to run into them
... Dad pushing me on the swing one afternoon. I would jump off into his arms and giggle like crazy. Suddenly, I jumped off wrong – toward the back of the pendulum, surprising my Dad and landing on the ground... Dad picking me up and running to the car... the hospital... a few stitches in my chin. I do not remember my own pain, but vividly remember the pain in my father’s eyes & seeing how horribly he felt having accidentally let me fall. It's not your fault Daddy. I'm okay.
... Mum picking a splinter out of my baby finger with a needle. Ouch!
... Daycare excursion to the Maple sugar farm, when Mum took a day off work to come with us

... Our little tape-recorder, which I named “Seve-osten”. Mum would interview me with it. She would ask me strange questions like “Jenny – what is a rainbow?” and “Jenny – how does a car move?” and I would answer and listen to the tapes over and over and laugh and laugh
... Mr. Grumple, my imaginary friend, who would leave me little gifts! Suddenly my Dad would say, “I think Mr. Grumple has been here.......” and my eyes would light up and I would take off on a mad treasure hunt around the house or the park or wherever we were, looking for something... sometimes it was a pack of lick-on tattoos & chewing gum
... Discovering that Mum wasn’t perfect. She actually made mistakes. Sitting around the kitchen table... I had decided that I didn’t like strawberries, probably because my best friend Kimmy didn’t like Strawberries. Mum was feeding me strawberry yoghurt. “Mooooommmmmy..? Does Strawberry yoghurt have whole strawberries in it? Because I don’t like whole strawberries!” “No dear. Strawberry yoghurt doesn’t have whole strawberries in it” Ooooooppssss... Oh no! I spilled the whole container of yoghurt on the floor, and there, right in the middle of the yoghurt was a whole strawberry! “Aaaaaaahhhhhh Mooooommmmy! You lied! You lied!” She didn’t know. Her embarrassed face went beet-red. Mums didn’t know it all...
... “We are moving to Toronto!” my mum said. We are going to live in our own house! Wow! “Where is Toronto?” they asked me at day-care. They thought I was cool... I was moving...

We moved to Toronto when I was 4, the summer before starting Junior Kindergarten.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Needing Family


I have chosen to flip back and forth from then to now from post to post as I want to write about the past and how I got here but at the same time I want to write about now and about what I am feeling. So I am back to now.

Why am I doing this? Everything was sorted. It’s all perfect here in Spain, right? Wrong.

My grandmother went and shook everything up a bit... her legacy to me before she left us. “Hey Jen,” She called from beyond, “Don’t forget about where you are from... who you are... and your mum... you need to come home... at least for a bit... maybe longer...”

Grandma Jean

I had never really had anyone super close to me die. I have never been to a funeral. Amazing eh? I am 40 and have always been able to avoid funerals... When my Grandpa Ken died (really my Step-Grandpa, but the Grandpa I knew and loved) about 15 years ago, I didn’t find out for weeks after it happened as I was a student in Spain and we didn’t have phones or email... but it didn’t affect me much. Sure I missed him, but I knew he was in a better place and the hilarious memories of my legendary Grandpa Ken make me happy not sad...

I knew Grandma wasn’t well. I had known for a while. I sent her some of my homemade soap for Christmas. She was doing pretty darn well for a woman who was almost 93 years old, and still lived in her own little house! Grandma had been ready to go for a while. She was questioning death. It was her time.

But when the call came in from my mum March, this year, only 3 months ago, I was devastated instantly. I was sitting around the dinner table on a Sunday night with my not-so-little-one-anymore and my husband. After dinner, pre-dishwashing chat... I picked up the phone to hear my mum’s beautiful voice, even softer than usual. She told me that her mother had just passed away. I started to cry and I just couldn’t stop. It was like opening up the Hoover dam. It wasn’t that I was hysterical. It was just tears flowing out of me. I would plug it up, in order to last through the work day, but sometimes I couldn’t. If a client even just simply asked me “How are you?”, I had to walk away to hide the break-down. Considering that I had felt prepared for my Grandma’s death, I couldn’t understand my intense reaction. There had to be more to it... Could there be something lurking down inside me that got shaken up? I desperately needed to be with my mum.

Both my husband and my daughter new I wasn’t well, they saw that I just couldn’t hold it together. He told me to go, get myself back to Canada. We didn’t have the money for a flight. My mum paid my flight & Oscar stayed in Spain with Aurora. Aurora had school & gymnastics competitions and it she would be coming to Canada in the summer as she does each year and we just didn’t have the money for her to go with me this time.

I had fled Canada, running full-speed ahead, 7 years earlier, as a single mother with my 5 year old daughter... I sold everything, shipped the necessary and paid off all debt... leaving behind an unhappy, materialistic life as well as a well-paying job where 30-year-olds talked about “pensionable time” and came back to an ideal I had from my student days in Granada... the sun, the people, living day by day, the quality of laid-back life, the Mediterranean, Andalucia, the Spanish language, no-pressure, spontaneity, smiles, culture, music & dance, Flamenco, the food, the coffee, the life-style, the lack of age barriers, long lunches, the focus on group rather than the individual, the white villages, the Alhambra & Paseo de los Tristes, the tapas, having time for tapas, fresh fruit, meat & fish from the local market that you walk to...

Now 7 years later, my grandma died and all I desperately wanted was my family... to be near people that knew & loved me all my life.

So, I went to Canada for a few weeks to be with my mum, to Celebrate my Grandma’s life with the rest of our family, and to get restored.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Mum


My mum
... was raised in Alderwood, Toronto, although they moved around a little
... is the second of four daughters
... was born to my grandmother from Fogo Island, Newfoundland and my grandfather from some Ontario town
... thought it would be a neat idea to spread cement all over her brand-new bicycle...
... loved comics, baseball, climbing trees & cowboys and indians
... had the first Television on the block in their house, as her father worked in Radio & television and all the local children would come over to watch
... played a boy in a TV commercial for Kellogs when she was 9 years old
... spent all the money she earned from that commercial on sweets and a new bike
... remembers vividly the night her father left her mother... there had been shouting... he was walking out the door with his packed bags and she watched her older sister clinging to his legs, crying and saying “Don’t go daddy!” and years later, when reminiscing, was told by her sister, that that had been my mum clinging to her father’s legs, not her sister...
... was uprooted with her sisters and taken for a winter to Fogo Island, Newfoundland where her mother could recuperate... she remembers it being like stepping into a past century... real candles on Christmas trees... several meter hight snow banks... sleds for transportation...
... became her high-school sweetheart's step-sister when her mother remarried... to his father
... left home at 18 to go to Nurse’s training and become a Nurse like my grandmother
... went on to Windsor after Nurse’s training to get a bachelor of science... there she met my Dad
... had to ask her own father not to go to her wedding, knowing how much his presence would have hurt her mother...
... was working in Detroit, living in Canada, during the Vietnam war and tried to enlist in the Airforce as a nurse... thank God they wouldn’t have her, maybe because she was Canadian?
... remembers watching Detroit burning with my father from the banks of the border river in Windsor during the black riots in the late 60s, feeling how lucky & proud she was to be Canadian
... took disco dancing classes in the 70s...
... did a Triathlon to celebrate turning 50
... is naturally beautiful, without make-up & without ever dying her hair
... worked very hard, sometimes she even took extra jobs to pay for vacations with me… and continued to do volunteer work as well, at an AIDs hospice
... played the guitar & sang... she even wrote a song for me when I was 6 years old, that began “Jenny oh Jenny, my dear little girl” And years later I wrote a song on my guitar, a lullaby, for my daughter “...goodnight Aurora... oh my darling daughter...”
... is passionate about baseball…and her Blue Jays… she even collects baseball cards
... has a signed Jackie Robinson baseball card
... painted our hallway a different vibrant colour each time she needed "a change"
... passed on her love of popcorn, movies and black olives to both my daughter and I
... is so sentimental that she gets all teary-eyed at any tear-jerking moment, maybe even just a simple long-distance telephone commercial.... Just as I do...
... has been extremely healthy and health-conscious as long as I remember, always leaning toward the natural... minimum plastics... no teflon... fresh healthy food...
... has never stopped learning... she is always taking some course or another… from Spanish (beginner Spanish – 12 times!)... to film history... to photography
... is a fantastic prize-winning photographer
... loves the sun and the ocean
... has been and will always be such a beautiful example to me with her honesty & integrity, thirst for learning, gentleness, generosity, compassion & care, spirit of adventure and kind-kind heart

It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I fully appreciated her... I was suddenly so absolutely overwhelmed with love and appreciation of my mother and have been ever since. What an amazing mother and woman.

I remember the phone call when I told her that I decided I was moving to Spain... I was selling the home, the car and anything I could and taking off to Spain with her only grand-daughter... She said “Oh honey, that is Wonderful! I am so happy for you.” And she meant it. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Mum, how are you capable of being so accepting and supportive and non-judgemental? How can you be happy for me, knowing I am going so far away from you?” She said, “Honey, when you really and truly love someone, you just want to see them happy, no matter where that takes them.” She knew I had had a rough few years. She was genuinely happy for me. I told her that I hoped to be as good as a mother as she was.

You are part of me Mum. I love you. Xo

Both of my parents were amazingly supportive, non-judgemental, fair and accepting of me as I grew up. They were there to listen & help whenever I needed them, but without making opinions or judgements about my life. There were guidelines and discipline but it was always fair and understandable. They are sad when I am sad, but they have let me make my own mistakes, even when they might have known better. They have empowered me to become the unique person I am, from as long as I can remember.

Thank you both Mum & Dad. I love you. XO

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blending Traditions


Sitting at a make-shift open-air temple in the Garrucha port last Friday afternoon, sweltering sun & sea breeze... the approaching sound of the town band following the small procession, parading the Lady of Carmen (Virgen del Carmen) through town... led by traditionally-dressed town-people of all ages, the children & ladies in front, all gripping a long fishing net... the men underneath the gold statue of Carmen... carrying her to the docks... 1 lucky fisherman taking the statue of Carmen out for a spin on the water, to the chants of the town “Viva la Virgen del Carmen!!!”... the procession finally delivering her to the crowded temple, now under the stars, and Mass beginning with an angelic voice singing “Ave Maria”, accompanied by live Spanish guitar and African drummers...

It had been quite a while since I had been to Mass but this one held me right to the end. We hadn’t intended to go... we were simply taking an afternoon stroll down to the port on Friday, which was a local holiday in Garrucha and in many fishing villages along the coast as the Saint Day of the Lady of Carmen, the patron Saint of the Fishers. We stumbled across the open-air temple and live music so we stayed. What struck me most about the wonderful ceremony was the integration of a Senegalese group of singers into the choir… I was blown away by the whole experience really. Celebrating mass under the stars to Spanish guitar blended with Senagalese African music with drums… a sign of today… even little Garrucha has opened its arms wide and is letting other traditions and cultures blend with its own...

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Dad

I suppose I should start from the very beginning, with the stories told to me. I may get some of it wrong as they are stories from my memory after all but I will do my best.

My mother and father met in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He was doing his Doctorate in Neuro-Phychology, she was finishing a Bachelor of Science and working as a Nurse at a hospital in Detroit. She would cross the bridge to the States each work-day.

Apparently the first date was a double date, mum and her room-mate & dad and his room-mate. I think mum was supposed to be with dad’s room-mate until, as the story goes, dad pulled out his harmonica and played. My mum fell in love. If you saw my father play the harmonica, or the passionate way my father does most things in life, you might fall in love too...

My Dad
... grew up in a little mining town on a little island on the east coast of Canada where the wealthy people were the ones who had shoes
... was the 4th boy in a family of 6 children
... was the son of my French Acadian grand-mother and my German-born grand-father who came over to Canada as a baby on a ship captained by the same Captain who later sunk the Titanic
... had to eat fast growing up if he ever wanted second helpings
... got 1 present on Christmas morning, maybe a paint-set, and before afternoon all the paints were all used up
... loved to draw, paint and play ice-hockey
... was very proud of his father who worked his whole life as a Coal Miner, a hard-working man with strong values. My grandpa didn’t drink alcohol but as I am told, many a pay-day he would wander down to the local pub and take the money from the miners who did… and walk it back to the wives of the drinkers before it was all used up... so that they could put food on the table for their families…
... is passionate about music… singing and listening… and sings me some of those songs sung to him by his father… heart-felt sad Celtic-like ballads such as … the Eastbound Train was Crowded. Sometimes I sing them to my daughter…
... left home at 15 and went to be a Franciscan monk in the state of New York
... lasted 7 years and has more good stories from the Monastery than bad
... learned cooking, carpentry, electrics, gardening, farming at the Monastery as well as playing pranks on the other monks
... left the Monastery at 22 years old, before being ordained, and returned to his home town to finish high-school and went on the University of Saint of X to study Engineering
... drove a bull-dozer during the summers to pay for University, clearing forest for high-ways.... Many years later, passionate about nature... he apologised to the trees he brought down...
... switched from Engineering to Psychology and went on to the University of Windsor to do his doctorate... where he met my mother
... never does things half way...
... got so into skiing so passionately in his 30s and went on to win many gold medals in Masters racing
... races the Peak to Valley downhill almost every year at Whistler and reaches 70km per hour on skis (did I get that right Dad or is it faster?????) and he is 71 years old!
... got into sailing at one point so passionately that he took off suddenly to crew a small sail boat crossing the Atlantic ocean one summer... he wrote me a journal along the way
... has always and will always be an inspiration to me… with his passion for life... his sense of adventure... the twinkle in his eye & childlike wonder... his love for life... the 100% way he dives into whatever he does... his respect for nature… ability to live the moment & enjoy the route... capacity to enjoy just being next to me in silence... humility... integrity... his choice to not live his life driven by money… his respect for all living things... his simplicity...

I was 15 years old, and staying with him for the weekend. “Jen! Listen to this song! You gotta hear this!!” He put on Working Man, by Rita McNeil, a wonderful singer from his home-town. He took me into his arms danced me around the candle-lit room as he told me all about his father. He showed me his mining hat and lunch box, which he keeps on display in his living room. Proud. Humble. Loving. Passionate.

I was 33 years old when I left for Spain this time... Dad came to Ottawa to see my daughter and I off at the airport... and to help me pack yet once again. My dad is a master packer and is a valuable and memorable part of all of my many house moves. The day we left - his only daughter with his only grand-daughter moving to Spain - he didn’t say much but I could feel his emotion... just as I was about to board he grabbed me and hugged me and whispered in my ear, “Jen, I support you in everything you do. Have the time of your life.”

You are part of me Dad. I love you. xo

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Inspiration

Driving down the highway, on our way back to the coast from Madrid today... the rolling fields of sun-flowers & solar panels, windmills & white-walled ruins... my husband, seat-back, sleeping soundly beside me after animated talks of buying a second-hand auto-caravan and travelling all over Spain... serenaded by Jack Johnson, Colin Hay, Sarah McLaughlin... creating photo collages and new soaps in my mind - it all just hit me - I want to tell my tale. Not just another of my half-finished stories that get filed away privately on my computer...

In my mind, I began writing this blog.

Why is that we narcissistically feel other people would be interested in the story of our own lives? I don’t know. I just want to share it.

Before my husband nodded off, before I took over at the wheel, he took a sudden detour from the highway... Sometimes he reminds me of that other special man in my life... my dad. My dad was never about getting from A to B in the quickest way... He was all about enjoying the route. So is my husband. We had hardly slept. We had driven 6 hours to Madrid the previous day to drop off my father-in-law for his return to Argentina. We were on our way back early this morning driving across Castilla-La Mancha, pure Quijote country, when Oscar detoured off the main route and headed into the endless sunflower fields towards a monastery that we had spotted... something my dad would have done. Who cares what time we get home!? We got to the monastery, read a bit about the incredible history, snapped a few shots (please be patient... I am learning about photography... some photos are better than others...)

and on the way back to the highway he took another detour... right into the sunflowers. My camera batteries ran out mid-picture so the photo at the beginning of the blog is the only one I got. He took a few pix on his phone of me in love with the sun-flowers. They are my favourite flowers today - so full of life, so happy.

I took over the driving and he nodded off. I cranked up Colin Hay on the CD player and just let the creativity over-take me.

I am not sure what has affected me more... But in the last few months, either the death of my Grandmother or turning 40 has really made me take a look at where I have been, where I am and where I am going. I don't think it's about turning 40, because I feel pretty good about being 40, but I am aware it is a milestone that can affect people in strange ways. My grandma's death made me miss my mum acutely...

Intensely emotional ups & downs. At any given time, anything can trigger it, the tears just start flowing. It's getting better...

...the other day it was the smell of morning toast which took me back to Rexdale mornings before school, at 8 years old with my mum...
...once it was Hallelujah, sung by K.D. Lang, which my mum had set the photos of Grandma to at the recent Celebration of life for her...
...another time it was a reading through the posts of a Blog that really inspires me... A fellow (ex) soap-maker, turned photographer that gets really personal on her blog. She married her high-school sweetheart and they are raising their three daughters in their hometown... Stability, tradition, history, family... I have done anything but marry my high-school sweetheart. I fled all that, setting out on one adventure after another, but here I am so many years later almost envying it...

Today was wonderful. A CREATIVE PEAK. I was reminded how much I love Spain and have decided to share my story. I have a hunch that the whole thing will be cathartic.