Sunday, July 8, 2012

Not Quite Nora

I have been in a kind of mourning since I heard the news from my husband a little over a week ago: "I'm sorry to have to tell you that Nora Ephron died yesterday". Oh no. I haven't met her yet! I haven't sent her my notes.... I haven't / she hasn't / we didn't.... I was shocked and just so sad.

I have so much to say about Nora Ephron and her influence on me; I don't know where to start. I've seen her movies, read her books, and have been a fan since I was about 12. I find it difficult to sift through all the notes I've made, and all the thoughts I've had about her over the years, in order to tell this story. How I saw things playing out in our future together is now over. Now it's about using her death to propel me into what may be the start of what was really supposed to happen.

Like Nora, I have always been a journalist of sorts. She was the real deal; I just wrote everything down. I have reams of things, mostly snapshots of my life - I assume that I will have dementia, so I am planning ahead - some poems, stories, lists - oh God, the lists! In the journal I started January 2, 2010, I noted that in my capacity as a fake advice columnist and contributor to our neighbourhood newsletter, I had received a total of three fan letters. It was thrilling. Writer friends encouraged me to send letters of my own when I felt so moved, and I had, many times. The very first e-mail I ever sent was a fan letter to a contributor to another local paper, The Examiner, Dr. Dave Hepburn (The Reflex Hammer). I told him I thought his column was informative, hilarious, and that I wanted to write like he did; he said I should be more ambitious. This is what I wrote about Nora in my journal:

Many times I thought: I have to write to Nora. She reminds me of me - OH! I have to send Nora a note - Oh, for Pete's sake! That same thing happened to me! I have to put it in my Notes to Nora blog.

Only I didn't have a blog. I expected that I would some day, and that I would call it Notes to Nora. I was relating this story to my friend, the Film Maker, when we went to see Nora's movie Julie & Julia. Here was a movie about a woman writing a blog about a woman she admired, which was turned into a book, which was made into a movie by the woman I admired, who I intended to write a blog about, who would then discover me, then write a screenplay about it, then produce and direct the movie. Now it would seem derivative. How could this be happening? I was so upset.

Nora's column for the Huffington Post, 'The D Word' on divorce, was the first thing that made me want to join Facebook - just so I could 'like' it, and possibly start our relationship. That didn't happen either. After reading much more about Nora, and listening to her interviews on CBC about her latest book 'I Remember Nothing' and the play produced by her and sister, Delia, 'Love, Loss, and what I Wore', I began to compile notes in earnest.

We are practically twins:

- both Taurus, slight, small-breasted, 5'6" ("At least I used to be")

- both married to our first husbands for nine years, and whose ex's got the houses in the divorces; both had two kids with our second husbands

- we were inspired to write a screenplay about our divorces; I haven't done mine yet

- we are bad at purses, sick of our hair and the maintenance involved, and enjoy the fashion magazines at the hairdressers, though we both bring proper books to read

- we both thought George Bush was a twit; we would never kiss a Republican

- we collect and read cookbooks for fun, sometimes not making anything from them, sometimes treating them like the bibles they are to us

- we love butter, Hellman's mayonnaise, egg salad, champagne, and pate (When asked "Foie gras - yes or no?", she replied "Yes! Are you kidding?")

- we love Julia, Martha, Ina, Nigella, and have long had imaginary conversations with food writers we admired (for me: Judy Schultz and Gordon Morash; for Nora: Craig Claiborne and Lee Bailey)

- we are food obsessive

Some Nora quotes that spoke to me:

I am continually fascinated at the difficulty intelligent people have in distinguishing what is controversial from what is merely offensive.

I don't care who you are, when you sit down to write the first page of your screen play, in your head, you are also writing your Oscar acceptance speech.

Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.

With any child entering adolescence, one hunts for signs of health, is desperate for the smallest indication that the child's problems will never be important enough for a television movie.

You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can't put things off thinking you'll get to them someday. If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I'm very much a believer in knowing what it is you love doing so you can do a great deal more of it.

The last quote was written when Nora had been very ill for a long time. Very few people knew about this. I wonder if she knew she didn't have much time left. How would any of us proceed knowing what she knew? Clearly, Nora didn't want her illness to be the focus of her last bit of time on earth. She just kept on working.

And so I will start today. I hereby cast out to the universe that I will write my Notes to Nora. Someday I will write my screenplay, which I will dedicate to you, Nora. Maybe this is how it was supposed to happen: You needed to leave this earth so you could be my spirit guide. I expect that your legacy will inspire people all over the world to jump in and just start doing what they need to do.

Thank you to a Soul Sister that I never met, but felt I knew. I hope we meet in the great dining room of the hereafter. I'll bring the pate, you bring the egg salad.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Puzzling Sunday: Of Games and Guilt

Yesterday was one of those grey March days that make getting out of bed really hard. There is still frost in the morning air. Well, I assumed so - I didn't plan to go out there to check for myself. Snow and ice still cling to the edges of everything. The sky seemed to press down on me. There is so much to do with a whole Sunday, but yesterday I couldn't muster the energy.

There wasn't much movement yesterday morning. Though it was Sunday, my hardworking husband went into work. Our girls were sleeping. I stayed in bed to read the paper, then thought about doing a puzzle - mental aerobics, I told myself. I did the Super Quiz, then the Jumble, then the daily crossword. I was feeling pretty limber at this point. My little one joined me in bed. "Can we do this one?" she said, spying the New York Times Sunday crossword. We've attempted these from time to time together. The answers are provided on Sunday, and frankly, we need the help. I was impressed by how many my girl got on her own. We worked on it until noon.

After we ate, the little one suggested we play a game. We settled on Battleship. I have fond memories of playing this game with my husband on tropical vacations, while it was raining sideways, and there was nothing else to do but drink. The game with my daughter was long, intense and very close. We used all of our 'miss' white pegs, and had to be creative to continue. I was completely engrossed in that game. By the time we finished it was time to plan dinner. I didn't want to, however, so I contacted some friends to join us for a charcuterie and wine afternoon. They were unavailable, sadly, leaving my husband and I to deal with their share.

What sort of Sunday was this? A fine one, I'd say. Except for roasting some excellent nuts for our charcuterie tray, and driving my oldest to work, I did absolutely nothing. Surprisingly, the world kept turning and nobody died. Huh, I thought. A gal might want to do this more often.

There is an old saying: Men feel guilty about what they do; women feel guilty about what they don't do. Speaking to many generations of women about this, I would say that it mostly holds true. On a typical weekend, you don't see many gals watching sports or golfing for five hours at a time. Neither do you see many fellows doing laundry, housework or grocery shopping. Though we do help each other in many areas, especially cooking, I do most of the cleaning, laundry and shopping; my husband watches all of the sports.

I wondered why I didn't feel guilty this Sunday. I have a list a mile long of things to tackle. I chose to focus on what I had accomplished: my taxes were done. That was all I could come up with, but still, it was something. Laundry day isn't until tomorrow, that pile of stuff in my den isn't going anywhere. Maybe it's a factor of my age. I don't think I have anything to prove anymore. I know how to work hard and get things done. It's been brought to my attention that I find lack of busy-ness in others intolerable. It's true. I have to learn how to respect that we all have different time tables; we all work differently. The end result is the important thing. Maybe I'm getting it. Probably not. I think I just had a grey, lazy Sunday that was perfectly lovely.

Now if you'll excuse me, that laundry isn't going to do itself.

A few notes:

- My charming husband does his own gym laundry, even though I insist it's more efficient to do it all at once. I appreciate that he tries to spare me from that which might make me reconsider my marriage vows.

- Yesterday was the first time I ever won in Battleship against my youngest daughter. I have only recently begun to win when we play crib. I attribute this to mental aerobics and hereby commit to doing at least one puzzle a day.

- The roasted nuts recipe is from a my fabulous friend, Deborah Anzinger, author of 'Cook!' available at Chapters. Her new book 'Entertain!' will be available soon.

- I did eventually feed my children, with perogies I made BY HAND, with a fine group of women - Amish style (except for the wine).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Order of the Day

By now you may know that I like to have coffee first thing in the morning. I can't function well without that first sip. I take it in the shower in a Go-cup, then have another while putting on my make-up and making breakfast. Coffee is a barometer for me: If I can't drink it, I know I am coming down with something. It's not just a stimulant for me, it's the natural order of my day.

I think I was about 14 when I started drinking coffee. It was pretty gross even though I used a lot of cream and sugar, but I forced myself, because I wanted to look more mature. My friends and I 'went for coffee' almost every day. And yes, we were smoking.

Here is a text I sent to my daughter last summer, when she was 14:

She replied:

Extra hot? What the....? I guess you can't ask for a 'cute' coffee. I get the soy thing as she was a vegan at the time. I asked her to explain:

I think that is pretty accurate. When I asked my 12 year old what she would like at Starbuck's, she said "I'll have a grande passion tea lemonade with a shot of raspberry." Huh? What about chocolate milk? Kids these days. Where would she even hear about something like this? I try to counter the obnoxious fancy orders by making mine as simple as possible. It goes something like this:

First Person in Line: Can I get a grande, extra hot, half-caf, no whip, skinny mocha-locha-choka-ya-ya?

Second Person in Line: I'll have a tall, soy, double-shot, no foam, frappa-lappa-ding-dong?

Me: May I have a cup of coffee please?

Counter Person: Venti?

Me: Bless you....

Counter Person, confused: Tall?

Me: Well, I'm average, I'd say....

Counter Person, rolling eyes: To go?

Me: I'd like to stay and drink it, if I'm allowed.

Counter Person, annoyed now: Bold?

Me: You don't know the half of it..... OK, OK, I'll have a tall, bold, with room, in a real cup to stay.

Good grief, was that so hard? Just having a little fun. Come to think of it, I think that order describes me pretty well.

I decided that we should all have a descriptive coffee order. That passion tea lemonade thing doesn't even make sense. For my Little One: a slim, string-bean, plain eater, about to turn 13, who needs to run on a hamster wheel if she drinks a coke, and likes to rap, dance and act like a crazy person, I would choose a tall, skinny, no-caf, vanilla bean Frap-bap-a-loo-wappa-whop-bam-boom.

That would be the order of the day.

Monday, October 3, 2011

In & Out: A Hormone Story

October again, my favorite month. I love the change of seasons. I love working outside in the cool, crispy air. I feel recharged by the light and warmth of the sun. I look forward to that feeling of being cool and warm at the same time. My yearly pattern went like this: when fall comes in, I go out; when its winter out, I stay in; spring brings me out to the 'In" door of the garden center, and so on. This year, fall feels a bit like the October of my life.

I am on the way out of the estrogen years. Things have changed dramatically recently. There once was clockwork and mayhem working hand-in-hand. Now it's kind of, well, warm/damp/cool all at the same time within 30 seconds. "That was spring" I will say to myself. "Oh, wait, here comes summer... " And on it goes several times in a row, night and day. My first hot flashes are coming as I leave the 'childbearing years'. A badly named term, I think. If women were meant to bear children in their 50s, our boobs would still be in the right place.

I have had all the typical peri-menopausal symptoms for the past 15 years, except for the flashes. I was also having children at the time, so maybe I was experiencing pre and post-natal hormones. Maybe all of the above. I had my first child at 36, my second at 38. That means we are now going through the big life changers at the same time. My 15 and 12 1/2 year old girls are coming into the hormone shower as I am leaving the pool. It's an interesting time. But not if you are my husband.

I wish my girls weren't so squeamish talking about these things with me. I know it's creepy to think of your mom as a girl, or your parents as teenagers, feeling things you might be feeling now. Luckily, my parents had me the old fashioned way, by way of immaculate conception, so I don't have to think about them that way. I have a lot of information that my girls are reluctant to receive. I totally understand their ups and downs - I am an elevator myself. I get the crazy craving thing, I am moody, distracted, forgetful, emotional. I am filled with empathy and irritation.

I tried humoring them with stories of my becoming a woman. There were eyebrows raised about brochures left on my dresser, and large boxes of mouse-mattress type things showing up mysteriously in my closet. They are lucky they don't have to wear the whole pad belts and five pair of underwear to conceal their fate. I was 12 when I came home feeling fluish and irritable. It was the time before modesty had been invented and people grew up in households with just one bathroom. My dad was shaving in the bathroom at the time. "Oh! I guess I am a woman!", I said. "Congratulations" said my dad through his shaving cream . I have a hilarious story of my attempts to use tampons, though my girls always seem to have something to do at moment that I try to share it. It was a big deal at the time. Now, the tampons are so sophisticated, they practically insert themselves. Just leave a box open in the bathroom, and before you know it, you'll be swimming, skipping, and dancing like the girls on the Tampax commercials.

I have always thought there ought to be a switch that could be flipped when you were sure you were done with this monthly nonsense: A female version of the vasectomy. I remember my husband's vasectomy as very straight forward: Do some manscaping (also referred to as 'shaving the octopus'), drive to the doctor's office, make a grocery list, drive to the pharmacy, the liquor store, then home. Easy. He remembers it differently. Why should women have to endure this ridiculous monthly curse long after bearing those kids? For pollution reasons alone, it's a major issue.

I thought it would be a lot tougher going through my exit while my girls go through their entrance, but it hasn't been that bad. I have some understanding about what they are going through so I try not to push too hard. Sometimes, I get a little understanding in return. If I am having trouble concentrating or have had a bad night, a bad day, or all of the above, my "I'm sorry, I had a really tough day", may be met by "It's OK, Mom, I know exactly how you feel."

My fifteen year old, back from three years away at ballet school, has had to integrate back into a regular family routine. This includes, talking to us, having meals together occasionally, participating in family events, and housework. She has had a smooth entrance into adolescence, but is now negotiating the passage into womanhood. It is just so terrifying to behold, I can't tell you. I remind myself how I felt when I was 15, how I wanted to be older, to be seen as a woman, to be mature beyond my years. I can tell you that my mother didn't have to see what I see in the laundry these days (keep in mind, this woman-child has been buying her own underwear for several years now). There are things smaller than I floss my teeth with, that are supposed to cover her assets. It simply can' be done. I just got rid of the princess panties, for God's sake!

The 12 year old is coming into puberty in a different way: she is as expectant as a mother bird sitting on her eggs. "Any day now, mom" she announces when she's feeling bad. She is ready. I am ready. Dad / husband is hiding in the basement. The big surprise of the summer is the forming of alliances. Our daughters seem to have an 'us against them' attitude. We are hopelessly embarrassing and out of date to them. They are agonizingly self-conscious and reclusive to us. Although we are together, we are fractured. It's frustrating.

I am anxiously awaiting the One Year Period Free certificate that acknowledges my having crossed over to the other side. I expect about the same time to have welcomed one daughter into the Womanhood Club, and possibly the other into the lobby of The Real Womanhood Club. Just to be clear, our oldest daughter is in public school for the first time since grade six, and has had more boys fall in love with her in the month of September than I have had in my entire life. This should be interesting. I was a pretty good shot in the archery segment of Outdoor Education; my husband can be pretty intimidating when he wants. I think we need to perfect our Scaring-Shit-From-You procedures for the parade of pursuers. We are in for it, indeed.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hits & Misses

Today is August 1; I haven't posted anything since May. I have been thinking for weeks now of all the things going on that I need to write about, to keep current, to preserve memories, to amuse myself with double entendres. I just haven't found the time. I miss that. I miss how it feels to be completely immersed in telling a story, even if it's just for me.

I was getting ready for bed early, something I never do, and I had this idea: I would post a list of things that I miss, things that were a hit and things that hit me hard. This is just a spur of the moment post to say that I feel guilty about neglecting this space. So, in no particular order:

First, I miss these escargot begonias. They are the most beautiful things I ever grew. I couldn't find them anywhere this year. The are of the 'Rex' variety of begonias, and I have plenty of their cousins.

I also missed July this year. We had so much rain, then so many mosquitos, we were trapped in the house for the whole month. Quite the contrast to last July, with our girls away, and our lovely dinners in our outdoor 'cafe'. I miss those, too. With so much rain, though, we have had an incredible growing season in the garden - weeds included. The ornamental cabbages and the lupins, below were just crazy. They were a hit in the neighborhood, too. I met so many people walking by commenting on them, taking pictures. I also got a 'Front Yards in Bloom' nomination. I was involved in the processes of nomination and selecting for our neighborhood a few years ago so I was touched by this.

Our Pixie decided that after three years with the National Ballet School she was ready to come home to stay. She opted not to go to summer school - 3 1/2 weeks in July - which is required if you are a returning student, optional if you aren't. We've had the whole summer together for the first time since she was in grade six. It has been great. The girls have been able to lay around, and just let things unfold. Usually, there is a list of things to do, appointments, people to visit, supplies to get, clean, pack then back on a plane. It is such a relief to know we don't have to do this anymore. I put our suitcases in the basement, not the spare room. I bought us tickets to Wicked and the Folk Fest instead of looking for seat sales to Toronto. It's been wonderful. Now, I see pictures of our family everywhere there are four things together, like these tulips.

At the same time, I missed going to see the end of summer school performance at the NBS and the choreographic workshop. Last year our daughter did a piece for this program, as did 18 other students. It was one of the most wonderful things we ever watched. Many of her friends are participating this year. I can't believe how much I miss them! I guess they became such a part of our life because they were 'the other family'. Though it was a lot of work moving out of that ballet school residence at the end of the school year, moving back in at the beginning of summer school one week later, then out again at the end of July (then in again in September...), I miss the excitement. Who will be roommates, which room will you get, which teachers? I love this picture of the collection of plastic animals (from Milestone's) that lined our daughter's window sill in res. They remind me of all those great friends she made and how much we all miss them

I remembered the other day that it was a year ago that we were on our way to pick up our girls from summer school, when we stopped in at the Grey Nuns to say goodbye to my Grannie who we thought would die before we got back. Despite having several major set backs, that old gal has rallied, yet again, and regularly shows off with her walker at her nursing home. She is the healthiest 94 year old I've ever met, albeit one of the most blind and deaf ones. I do miss how we could just sit and talk and she would get the jokes, tell a few of her own, and laugh at everything. It's hard for her to catch a lot of what's going on around her, but she still appreciates that we come to visit and keep trying.

In December, my dear Great Aunt Betty, my Grannie's sister-in-law, and beloved friend for over 80 years died. Then at the end of June, Grannie's daughter, Pauline died suddenly, three weeks before her 68th birthday. She was eagerly awaiting the arrival of a grandchild, due on that day. Though the baby, and namesake (Pauline v.2.0) was early, she missed meeting her grandmother. We had a memorial on the birthday instead.

Yes, that is a Saskatchewan Rough Riders cookie jar / urn. My dear Aunt Pauline was their biggest fan. Seeing the sea of green & white at her memorial was touching.

Many things hit me hard this summer. Fodder for future posts. Now it is way past my bedtime. I just can't stay up late like I used to. I miss that.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Temper Temper

When I get agitated, I feel like a wasp in the heat. Something that doesn't work properly, inconsideration and rudeness are the usual culprits to push me over. I try very hard to keep my cool and correct a situation, but sometimes I get so upset I break down. I am not a screamer or thrower of things, but I have been known to swear and rant.

I remember when my girls where younger, I could get so angry at them I would want to scream. Some of my more memorable lines were "Is my head still on? Because I feel like the top of my head just blew off!!" or "Are you bleeding? No?? Is the house on fire? No??!! Then why are you interrupting me when I'm on the phone?!" I am embarrassed to say that in the heat of the moment, knowing I was about to show inexplicably politically incorrect bad form, I would ask: "Are you retarded?" Now my girls get a big kick out of imitating me, in a hysterical shrieking voice: "Jesus Murphy! What is the matter with you? Is my head still on? I swear to God, if I have to tell you one more time! You just got a $5.00 fine, Missy!" Ah yes, good times.....

I am glad to say that I don't freak out at my kids like that anymore. Oh, maybe a time or two in the last five years, like when they confessed that they figured out my computer password, or spilled a bottle of green pigment in the middle of a beige carpet. When I feel my temper rising, I try very hard to bite my tongue. I am trying to minimize the imitations of me.

The interesting thing about the word temper is that its definitions are opposite. The first meaning is anger or irritation: she has a temper, or in a fit of temper; the second is composure: she has a lovely temper, or losing one's temper. As a verb, to temper refers to the process of the adjustment of balance of hardness and elasticity - as in metal, clay or chocolate. As a transitive verb, it means to moderate or mitigate: to temper justice with mercy.

I started thinking about those dual meanings - irritation and composure. It occurred to me that I have an unusual amount of both these days. I am caught in the hormone storm of peri-menopause. One day I am the soul of peace and mercy, the next I am a shrew. I'm being heated and cooled regularly. Maybe it's the universe's way of tempering me: trying to achieve that balance of strength and flexibility. I like the thought of being prepared properly to endure the indignities of old age, the passing of loved ones, the unimaginable joy of grandchildren. It is said that old age is not for sissies or the faint of heart. If this is so, I say: Temper away!

This is not an actual picture of me, it's just what I look like on the inside....

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day

Today is May Day, the first of May; a day traditionally celebrated in honor of workers, with festivals and dances around tall, painted poles decorated with flowers and ribbons. It is also an international distress call, from the French m'aidez: Help me. This day represents both distress and celebration for me, and it's symbol, the may pole, is my talisman.

Today my youngest sister, a widow of almost eight years, who raised three young children alone, shared her story of going to church to thank God for answering her prayers. She is experiencing what I did many years ago when Mr. Right came into my life. I believe that you have to give the universe something to react to, whether you believe it's God or karma, the point is you have to believe. When you send out a mayday you have to be specific, as the universe has ways of 'helping' you in ways that are really inconvenient and messy. There are many stories like this one: "My wife left me, I lost my job, I ended up in rehab, fell in love with my therapist, we now run a support group for men like me; I am living the life I was meant to live and I've never been happier." This person may have just said he wanted to be happy. In my sister's case, with encouragement from a friend, she made a list of what she wanted; a way of focusing, of giving herself hope. The prayers were answered - as if an order was being filled - not right away, but when it was right for her. It still feels like magic; like a miracle.

When I first met my husband, it was at the house he and his soon-to-be ex-wife just sold to me and my husband-at-the-time. I was taken by the many decorations this metal artist had made: a bed, candelabra, a mirror, sculptures, curtain rods, and a may pole in the back yard. I told him how I admired his art; as a housewarming gift he gave us the may pole. He had made it for the house and there it should stay. It was so lovely and magical yet it became a symbol of the undoing of my marriage.

My marriage was to be undone by several things, but the tipping point was the "I won't have this in my house" gauntlet thrown down on the drive home from a dinner with friends; an older, childless-by-choice couple admired by my husband-at-the-time. Our evening conversation was about many mystical things; the beauty and exhilaration of the natural world, how exciting it would be to feel the power of the universe outside in the moonlight, maybe dancing around the may pole, something like that..... I can't remember the exact conversation, but I do remember the conviction I felt about wanting to enhance my life, and after hearing his words, that this was the wrong man for me.

I looked out at my may pole this morning, made with love by my husband. It is adorned with our astrological signs and the symbol for eternity (though it looks a bit like a cartoon horned creature wearing sunglasses). Every other year we tore strips of bright colored fabric into strips, tied them together at the top of the pole, and twisted them around the pole, winding, swinging, laughing, under and over, twirling and dancing. Our daughters loved this ritual. Once in awhile we would burn off the old, faded ribbons so we could start fresh.

There is a lot of magic in this new may pole. Just ask the squirrel who has practically stripped it from it's ribbons this winter to do God-knows-what with. We thought about tracking him to his nest to see if he made a quilt or curtains with them. It looks like we will need to flambe the pole and do a re-wrap this year after all. We were trying to remember what became of that original pole that brought us together. We think we left it at the home of our friend, the Bon Vivant, who offered sanctuary to me, and to several others over the years, on the way to our new lives. Everyone should have a talisman of their own.

Everyday we hear of the strife, the catastrophe that surrounds us. We hear the call around the world: Mayday - help me. Unless we are in it, or have been in it, it's hard to really feel it. Our own private, small time, every day 'may day' that we feel so fully, that we pray for release from, is so trite in comparison yet, on we go, daring to pin our minor irks on the big time bulletin board. It's human nature. We suffer. But we don't know from suffering. Let us be mindful of our minor may days, and tuck them away. Let's celebrate our May Days as we are able to walk out into them and feel the spring sun on our faces and thank all our powers that be for this day.


N.B. Very old photos will be added of the original may pole, wrapping & burning ceremonies, once they are located, scanned and uploaded. Please check back in a year or so.....