Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Brotherly Love

Deb: I am six years older than my brother Craig, aka Egg, Eggish, Egghead, The Egg. I gave him the Egg moniker when I was around 8, further cementing myself as one of the great wits of our time. Name is Craig/call him Egg. Brilliant. Genius even. In kid world, a rhyming nickname is all we need to put ourselves on the map.
Egg, Deb, and Deb's dad, Jim
 He is my baby brother and to this six-year-old girl, he became my living doll. He was a precious toddler––all boy, as they say. He used to walk around with nothing but a dirty face and a diaper filled with Matchbox and Dinky toys. He would walk, squat, pull the little cars out of his diaper and start playing instantly. The owners of the cars would always always have the same names. Bill, Frank, Joe. “Hey, Joe, I like your car. Thanks, Frank. Here comes Bill. Hi, Bill. Hi, Joe. Hi, Frank.” After this scintillating exchange, and some good car crashes, he would pick up the cars and imaginary guys, stuff them in his diaper and he was on his way to scout another location. Precious. Cutest little thing in the world he was.

And I loved him. Adored him really.

But as with all good things, that love came with control. He was my little puppet and I was his loving but demanding puppet master. And yet, he loved it! Translation––he was too young to know what I was doing.

So we played our games. Every day. Little tiger, little lion. I was the owner of the animal and he was the tiger or lion, depending on his master’s whim. I tied a scarf around his neck and attached it to a rope and lead him around calling out instructions. “Time to eat, little lion, time to drink, little tiger, time to jump off the chesterfield, little lion, time to leap through the hoola hoop, little tiger.” And we played for hours.

I like to think I had something to do with developing his imagination, but I am sure I didn’t. The Egg was born with a vivid imagination. I remember hearing him on the landing at the top of the stairs playing with the hockey guys he had cut out of the newspaper. He assumed all roles in that game from the trumpet playing “Oh Canada” to the roar of the crowd to the comments from the coaches. He would play for hours on end and it is one of my favourtite memories.

He is creative, he is an artist, he is athletic. And all through his adult life, he has had ideas. If just one of his creative ideas had come to fruition, he would have been a billionaire. But they didn’t and he didn’t. He has a good solid job which pays him well and which he enjoys to a degree. But it was not what he envisioned for himself at all. In the meantime, he became something I never would have suspected of him. He became a devoted, loving and selfless Dad. After the party decades, I never thought I’d see the day.

I know that he had big dreams and I know he has struggled with them not coming true.
But as I watch him today I think, “Isn’t it funny how we never dream the small things––as if success in these things is not really success in life.” We never dream of being great parents who work hard to give our kids something we never had. We don’t dream of how satisfying that will be and how great the rewards. We dream of being rich or famous or hugely successful in our chosen field and we are right to dream those dreams.

But I look at my brother today, healthy, married to a loving wife, with two gorgeous kids, and I see his riches. I have such admiration for him and his devotion to his good life. I watch him become the loveliest parts of my Dad and I thank God because I know I will always have my Dad in him. But mostly I am a fan. He would never know this because in our society we tend to judge each other by what we do for a living and how glamourous it is and so he would never suspect my deep admiration. I wish it weren’t so. I wish we judged each other solely on our hearts and wits and empathy. But we don’t. Even if we mean to, we don’t. I love my brother. If his heart was measured in gold, he wouldn’t be able to stand.

To view my cute as a button brother and his loving but bossy sister, enjoy these old super 8 snippets. My bossiness knows no bounds!!! How we laugh at these in our family!

Barbara: Oh, Deb, are these ever precious!!! I have no super-8 video of my childhood, but I do remember how much we all enjoyed a good family slide show.

Yup, I was the bossy one too, as my sisters will attest (although they have claimed they liked it—not the “bossy” part so much, but the time we shared together and the love they knew I felt for them). I was forever commanding performances and directing them and making them my babies (or the Dads, because, you know, I had to be the Mom.)

But I think the emotional centre of your piece today is that part about your brother’s dreams not turning out quite the way he thought, and the value we place on abstract, professional accomplishments. I know I get caught up in that too. Not judging people on their triumphs so much as judging myself on my lack thereof. I think this whole notion is the crux on which midlife rotates. You got this far and suddenly wonder if it's far enough, or you're absolutely sure it's not. So now what? Well, the axis keeps rotating, and you keep turning with it.  And, if you're lucky, you've got a whole slew of satellites orbiting with you, reminding you of the simple beauty of ... this.

I love when you say: “I wish we judged each other solely on our hearts and wits and empathy.” And I actually wonder if in our heart of hearts this isn’t exactly how we judge people. Because so often it’s who we touch, not how we touched them, that lasts, rippling down through generations.

Oh, my heart is just warm and glowing right now! Thanks, Deb, for a beautiful testament, but also for a loving, true and profound reminder. You, too, are worth your weight in gold, my dear. Mwah!

Monday, June 27, 2011

What If EVERYTHING Happens For A Reason

Barbara: It sounds like a serious philosophical question, I know, but I think it could also be a fun question to bat around for a bit.

I’m sure most have us have found ourselves at some point in our lives saying, “It happened for a reason,” either to ourselves or to a friend in trouble. But I haven’t always been sure I believed it. So much so that I invented my own turn of phrase in answer to it: “I don’t know if everything happens for a reason, but I do know you have to reason with everything that happens.” A trite turn of phrase, I know, but come on, as a thinking human, you DO have to make peace with the stuff that happens to you, especially the crappy stuff.

On the other hand, if you’re like me and if enough years have passed, you also can’t help noticing that this handy reassurance also seems to be true. For instance, when I was young I always promised myself I’d try my acting luck in L.A., but I never made the trip. Instead, I concentrated on raising my girls in my native land. I’ve sometimes wondered what would’ve happened if… but I also look at my grown daughters now and know with full certainty that they’ve had chances to grow and develop and we’ve had a family life here that would never have been like this if…

On the same hand, I’ve also had to deal with crap too terrible to go into here that has absolutely had a lasting––and ultimately positive––effect on me and the people around me. It just took years to find the “reason” behind it.

Another thing I believe: the horrible things that have happened in the world have also taught humankind lessons that we would never otherwise have learned. It’s not the “Secret” philosophy where you attract your own fate, but the opposite. It’s the butterfly effect. Everything makes a ripple. And ripples are a fact, not an evil. And all those ripples, even the terrible ones, make the fabric of our lives denser, richer, more profound.

Oh dear, this is sounding way too much like a deep philosophical chat, isn’t it? So let me get back on “fun” track. What if it’s not just major events that “happen for a reason”, but every single little thing as well?

I’ve suddenly found myself contemplating this question everywhere I go. And as a result the world has suddenly gone into super-saturated mode. Sound bytes, random occurrences, a song on the radio, all suddenly take on a real SIGNIFICANCE. And that stuff people say about living in the “now” seems to be much easier to accomplish––because the now is so present. Because when everything is important, well, then EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT. It’s been a fun few days. And I swear it feels way less cerebral than (I think) it sounds.

Try it and let me know what happens to you when everything happens for a reason… 

Deb I think this blog today happened for a reason. It coincided with that fact that I was just thinking today about something in our lives, and the life of the boy, and how it had happened for a reason.

We were driving him up to camp this morning for his summer job and as we weaved past each yearly signpost I kept thinking of his camp and how I didn’t grow up going to camps and never figured that camp would be a part of the boy’s life.

I remember the day I heard about this wonderful arts camp. Luke had stated in no uncertain terms that he was not interested in camp of any kind. But despite my need to have him with us in the summer, I knew that this would be a place he might thrive in. Just a week I thought. Ha ha.

And he went and it became the thing he looked forward to every year. It brought him a whole new world of possibility and friends. And all these years later after picking him up each year and seeing the joy and the growth in him, we know that it happened for a reason. He and his girlfriend of three years met there and she certainly happened in our lives for a reason. He became a loving partner with her. He learned the joy of a shared relationship and we have stood in awe of his maturity with her. He has learned to love a woman and he has learned to love children through this camp. Mostly he has discovered a new and wonderful side of himself that we could not have brought out in him.

I remember the day I saw the name of that camp and read the description. Even then, I knew it was a fit for the boy.

I knew I had found it for a reason.

PS A new fun, practical deco tip and yummy, easy recipe were published on Saturday!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Life Imitates Text

Edited to add: A new fabulous Deco Tip and delicious Recipe today!!

Deb: Yesterday I was sending a text to my husband and one to my son. I have a weird thing about deleting their previous texts. I don’t. Don’t know why. Just don’t. Sentimental I suppose, which is odd because of course the texts are minutes, hours, days, even weeks apart. I was being driven home from the set and decided to peruse them just to see what was there.

Man I laughed!  They were soooooooooooooo unrelated. But so funny in their juxtaposition. Here they are in their crazy unrelated glory:

Barbara: Oh man, Deb, this is soooo fun. Not only did I laugh at yours (“love ya” equals “love taco”???), but I found my own texts equally absurd. Makes for an interesting take on modern poetry, no?

Okay, my turn:

Still don't know what "But cingular home how??" was supposed to mean before auto-correct...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Last Pair Of Shoes

Barbara: My younger daughter has her prom next week. Today we found the perfect pair of shoes to go with the beautiful dress her sister is making her. Next fall, Michele goes away to college. And so I notice it has become a year of lasts.

I’ve been known to wax melodramatic on many a subject (don’t get me started), but it’s hard not to go there when every other exchange between my daughter and I involves, “When you’re away next year…”

I can’t help but read heartbreaking finality into every gesture, every event, every moment.

Obviously the fact that this is my last child in her last days of high school going to a last prom is indisputable. I will never again drive a child to or from school, will never wander school halls to admire a child’s work or speak to a teacher, will never again meet and host all their various friends. I knew it was coming, but then––like everything with your kids––one can never fully prepare.

So today I bought what will undoubtedly be the last pair of high heels for my daughter.
The last size 8s, in the last store we had time to check, on our last shopping spree: the exact pair she'd imagined
You can reassure me all you want and say, “Shoes make an awesome present for a young woman of limited means, of course you will keep buying them shoes.” But the truth is, as any woman will tell you, dress shoes are the chocolate truffle of women’s wear: you discover them, your breath is taken away, you try them on one delicate foot at a time, you delight in their elegant perfection, you decide you MUST have them, you buy them and watch them get packed away in their tissue-laden box, you take them home, model them, savour their loveliness. High heels are impossibly PERSONAL. They’re not practical, not comfortable, and might not be worn more than a handful of times.

With university costs and expensive equipment requirements for both girls, it’s unlikely our daughters will enjoy any more frivolous shopping sprees courtesy of their parents. No, I see more winter boots in their futures, more sensible coats, apartment accessories, food of course, camera equipment and fabric bolts, even hats and mitts and scarves and shirts, but we may in fact have just purchased the last pair of strappy heels for a female member of the household that is not me. Sigh.

(Bright side reflection: every future pair of sexy shoes we buy will be all MINE…)

Deb: Oh Barb, this was so beautiful. The idea of the last pair of shoes resonates with me. Since our boy has been in New York, some three years now, he more and more will not allow us to pay for things when he needs something. When he has to, he will cave. But usually he chooses to live independently. So I know what you are going through.

And although you will not be able to buy that pair of strappy goodness, you WILL be able to say, “Hey, since you’re in town, why don’t we go shoe shopping together?” And when you do, maybe you will treat, or maybe she will.

Or maybe neither of you will find anything worthy of your money. And you will be left with simply a glorious day together. Such is the crapshoot of adult children. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dear Women Fully Clothed

Deb: This salutation must sound odd to those of you who don’t know what Women Fully Clothed means. They are a Canadian sketch troupe and I am one of the five founding members of this group, consisting of the greats Jayne Eastwood, Robin Duke, Kathy Greenwood and Teresa Pavlinek.
Kathy Greenwood, Jayne Eastwood, Deb, Teresa Pavlinek, Robin Duke

I have laughed, cried, screamed, travelled, argued, debated, supported, loved, admired and peed my pants with them over some five years.

Then just over two years ago I left them in one of the most painful decisions I have ever had to make. And it hurt. Cannot even describe the hurt. For all five of us, not just for me.

I will always lament the fact that I left them in the lurch, but the only excuse I can give is that I was fighting for my life. I had to go and I knew, as in the past, that they would transform into cheerleaders and pull me back in. I had tried to leave before and it had always ended with me staying. So I left. Abruptly. Bleeding from my heart.

But we all pulled back and picked up our respective pieces. Me, the pieces of my ego and pride, knowing I would never again perform with them to adoring packed houses, and they, the pieces of their shattered show that we were writing and rehearsing together when I departed.

So I moved forward with sorrow, missing them and fluctuating between relief and pain at my decision. And trust me, the healing took time. After a year they were ready to premiere their new show “Women Fully Clothed: Older and Hotter” without me.

They offered me comps to the premiere, and I set out to go to the show. On the day of the show, after a sleepless night, I realized that I had to be true and honest with myself and admit that I just wasn’t ready. I had healed a great deal but some residual pain still lurked beneath the surface and it took the prospect of seeing them without me as a part of it to realize I still had work to do.

So this is what I did. I wiped my pain slate clean. I replaced my ego with pride for them. I replaced my hurt with joy for them and I replaced resentment with support for them.

And afterwards, whenever I would feel one iota of these feelings, I would let these new words work as a mantra for me. And through it, I achieved peace and contentment.

Now, make no mistake, I have seen them all socially over these two years and it has been great. We were all able to compartmentalize. 

But the wonderful show we shared was still a big hurtle for all of us. They have told me individually how they have missed me and how they think of me every show, and that had made my heart soar.

So this past Friday night, I went with my darling friend Sheila to see them. Heart pounding I sat in my seat and opened the program that did not have anything to do with me at all. Twinge. Stared up at the WFC logo curling its way over the black curtain. Hurt. Then they came on stage to thunderous applause. Pain.

Then I watched them and started to laugh. Inside at first. The laughs were stuck in my throat. Then something took over in me. I was a part of them again.

You see, over the years our friends would say after seeing the show that it would be great if we could each sit in the seats during a show to know what it meant to the audience and to be engulfed in not just the laughter but the resonance the crowd was feeling. Of course we knew we could not be in two places at once, so it never happened.

Till Friday. And there I sat. The Pete Best of Women Fully Clothed!

Sitting in the house watching, laughing and channeling all that love around me into them. I tried to tell them afterward how it felt to be in the audience and how filled I was with the crowd’s adoration, They were so thrilled to hear it. At that moment we were all living through each other. One of us in the house and four of us on stage.

So that’s my parting gift, m’ladies. As I say goodbye with a clear heart, I hope I leave you filled with chocolate and the laughter and love of strangers.

Love, Shitzy xo

Barbara: Dear Deb,

Thanks for sharing this journey of struggle and redemption. It is the ultimate story. It’s what we want to have confirmed for us when we face tough choices, emotional crossroads, or difficult decisions. That we can look back on that moment when we chose to take Path B instead of the original one and not regret it, not shudder at the memory, not find ourselves unable to look those in the eyes who might have been collateral damage, is so reassuring. Never mind that in this happy ending, everyone is hugging it out with chocolate and adorable nicknames.

I’ve had my own fair share of turning point moments. And I’ve learned to realize that if I risk losing myself in the process, then it’s not worth any amount of sacrifice—even if that sacrifice seems geared for the greater good. I think the greater good truly—and only––comes when that brave choice is made. It seems you just have to wait for the smoke to clear. Even if it takes years… In fact, it usually takes years.

Deb, you are brave and dear for sharing. Thank you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Deb and Barb Have A Four-Way (really handsome men might be involved)

Deb and Barb Have a 4-Way With Their Husbands
Colin: When I was approached by Deb and Barb about starting a four-way––and after the original misconception was dealt with––my mind reeled with what I should write about. It is easy to go the “arent men and women different” route, or the “why do women always...” tack, or even the “ isnt that cute, she said whiffy instead of Wi-Fi”, but heres where I want to go.

Phil, you and I have been extremely lucky with the women that we have pledged our lives to. Women who love and accept us for who we are and have eyes only for us (Im not counting the time Deb accidentally grabbed your penis, Phil. Have to say, Barb has yet to reciprocate. In fact, she actually slammed her fingers in the car door to stop herself.) (…yup, for full story, click here and scroll down to Barbara's response...)

Heres the thing: I love being married. Now, being married to Deb probably has a lot to do with it, but still. Since I was a young man, I have always wanted to get married and have a family. You might be surprised to learn that this was not an attractive trait in the dating world in the late 70ʼs early 80ʼs. I kept it suppressed, but it was always there. The only smart thing I did as a young man dating was to follow my instincts in this arena. I trusted that my DNA knew what I wanted. I had been in relationships with women I loved deeply, with women I kinda liked, and with women who apparently had day passes. Yet, no matter the depth of my feeling, I was never close to proposing or even entertaining the thought.

One week with Deb and I knew she was the one. It didnt hit me like a thunderclap, I didnt have a Eureka moment, I just knew. Like you know you are breathing. It felt right then and it certainly does now, 22 years later. Marriage was the making of me. I matured. I learned how to pull my weight in a relationship. I learned to cook and to clean (okay, how to “boy” clean. “Girl” clean involves making things sparkle … I mean, come on). I learned about the true meaning of husband and wife. It’s not intense passion every minute of every day, emotional turmoil, suffocating jealousy, wild sex everywhere (though Im still willing to test that last part). Its doing the crappy, mundane things in life without question because it helps out your partner or because it just has to be done. Its sitting together watching So You Think You Can Dance and crying, not just because of the artistry, but also because you understand the passion and dedication needed to make something beautiful. Its watching a little being you created grow into a person you admire and want to be with because of the right choices you made and in spite of the mistakes. Its dealing with the tragedies and triumphs of life as a unit, not always saying the right things but always trying. Its learning about being unselfish, or, at the very least, learning the right time to be selfish.

Sometimes its work and sometimes its nothing but play. Its the little moments that surprise you like doing spring cleaning, dirty and sore, glancing at your mate in old clothes, sweating and swearing, and feeling your heart pound so hard you cant think straight. Marriage never stifled me, or had me feeling trapped, or limited what I could do…. You know, those misconceptions that clueless singles throw out as truths. It freed me.

So thank you, Ms McGrath, for making “I do” the richest, most satisfying sentence I ever uttered. Dinner will be waiting for you when you get home.

Phil: You broke the bro code! Colin, I thought it was implicitly outlined in the code that we must never reveal our true feelings about married life under threat of having our man-cards suspended, or worse, revoked! What have you done, my friend?! What chaos will follow?... An admission that cuddling while watching The Devil Wears Prada for the umpteenth time has its merits? That his and hers mani-pedis are moments to be cherished? That spending hours perfecting a French manicure on your lady is challenging yet strangely enjoyable? That having the place to yourself isn't all that it's cracked up to be if she's not around?

All right, this could get us in deep trouble with the brotherhood, but here goes.

From the earliest age, I always wanted to have a girlfriend. Even before being ruled by raging teenage hormones, I liked the idea of a female in my life for the camaraderie, different insights, and maturity ... my own personal girl if you like. So unlike you, when I met Barbara, I didn't dawdle for a week figuring out that she was the one, I took a well-measured fifteen minutes to decide! Yup, a quarter of an hour is all it took to go from saying, “We should take it slow, keep it casual,” to declaring that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. While quite young at the time, I can assure you that it wasn't related to any kind of "premature" incident that one might succumb to at 18. It was a genuine and deeply committed, damn-the-consequences statement with no taking it back. Good thing she has felt the same way since.

I admit that it took me another 9 years to propose, but it wasn’t due to any sense of apprehension, but rather a belief that we would just progress naturally to marriage with nary a discussion, proposal, or planning; Barb set me straight on that pretty quickly and I stepped up. Luckily she said yes and I am the richer for it.

There are so many qualities I admire about Barbara from her beauty to her amazing empathy for strangers, but it's her knack for making lists that has made me who I am. She's a planner and an organizer and I'm not. She knows how to make lists and stick to an agenda. Her ability to bring things to the forefront and discuss important life issues has given us a beautiful home, two amazing daughters who can speak two languages, swim, dance, paint, ski and play instruments. Without her, my kids would be illiterate, talentless couch potatoes living in an overpriced rental condo.... Actually, without her there would be no kids and all those fine traits would apply to me!

But married life isn't always perfect and we all endure our share of disappointments. Which brings up another point. When Barb met me so long ago in my angst-ridden teens, I was quite the prolific songwriter having penned many tortured ballads about my many failed relationships. She's often asked me over the years for her own song and has been disappointed that none has been written. My answer has always been the same: those songs were unhappy tunes about healing or pleading to save a failed relationship. Since there is nothing broken or in need of healing in our lives the songs are unnecessary and would just ring hollow. Besides, I got the girl this time!

Yup, I like being married to Barb. And waking up everyday and seeing my own personal girl next to me never gets old. 

Okay, that's enough. The damage is done, Colin. The cease and desist orders will be coming shortly asking us to burn our man-cards. But when I see you around the ceremonial bonfire, we'll be in good company with the rest of the happily married real men.

Deb: First of all, I will say after reading both my husband and Phil’s contribution, that we are two lucky women, Barb. But I think the key to our happy marriages lays not only in their love for us or our love for them, but in our mutual love. I know this because I see this in both our marriages all the time. But more than love, I think it is respect that wins the day in a marriage. I will not speak for you, Barb, from this point as you will have your own individual lovely point of view.

But I will speak for Colin and myself and our love.

People often say that it is the little things that break up a marriage and I would tend to agree. But in our case it is the little things that make our marriage soar. I will not sing my own praises here regards our marriage, as this is my love letter to Colin.

My husband does for me. As he spends his day doing all the many things he does, there is never a time where he fails to ask what he can do for me. And I will tell you that he has saved many a stressful day for me in doing so. Besides the fact that he makes me laugh all day long, thus lengthening my already happy life, he constantly reminds me that I am essential, not only in his world, but my own.

Ultimately, it is his love for my Mom and Dad and his Mom and their needs that has made me know what a person of selfless quality he is. He loves my Mom and Dad and cares for them as if he shares their history. And he loves his Mom more and more as he grows older knowing and appreciating the things she has done and sacrificed for him.

That is true love for me. That and his love for the boy.

His love for the boy would take us into an arena that I would not have time for here. As they say ... that’s another story.  

All I know is that whenever he walks in the door, with groceries, with our dogs, home from a trip, or up in the morning, he rises from our bed with my heart in his hand, and I look at him and melt. And he looks at me as if he is seeing me for the first time. To be almost 57 and have your husband look at you like you are 21 and HOT is a feeling that frankly defies description. And the gorgeous part of it is that Cupid’s arrow strikes out of the blue for us, from the bad breath moments to the dressed to the nines. We still get that feeling. Mostly it can happen on any rainy Tuesday morning. And I feel it. With each passing year. More and more and more. God bless him, he loves me, and lordie do I love him.

Annie Lennox has said it for me many a night when I have danced alone in our living room missing him:
Cold is the color of crystal, the snow light
that falls from the heavenly skies.
Catch me and let me dive under
for I want to swim in the pools of your eyes.
I want to be with you
baby oh oh slip me inside of your heart.

And I do. And he does. But the two of us share a feeling and it comes from our mutual favourite film:
You are my lucky star
I saw you from afar
Two lovely eyes at me
They where gleaming
I was starstruck

You are my lucky charm
I'm lucky in your arms
You've opened Heaven's portal
Here on earth for this poor mortal
You are my lucky star...

... as I read this to my husband tonight, he came to me and kissed me huge. And I said through piles of tears, “Is it too corny, too much? ... Oh fuck it, I don’t care.”

They say that there is nothing more irresistible than a person who loves you … oh baby.

Barbara: Dear readers, I hope this isn’t all too much for you! I swear, when we asked the guys to 4-way with us, we weren’t expecting THIS!! We thought we’d get something funny, glib, a little cheeky, even subversive. Instead, we’ve been handed a gift so huge, I want to ask every long-term couple to write one letter to each other—just one real love letter.

I get it. Love is the most fraught of our emotions: so easy to fall into, so painful to lose, so beautiful when appreciated, so lonely when unreciprocated, so complicated when you start adding personal disappointments, ambition, needs, illness, ego, ego, EGO!

Here’s the thing surveys on marriages don’t tell you: if you’ve been through the wringer with someone––the good, the bad, the tragic, the ugly, the sublime––and come out of it on the other side, the depth of that love––as each of these stories illustrates so well––is positively epic. It’s not just the chemical connection, the romantic loveliness, the sex (wild or otherwise, Colin), the dinner mate, it’s something deep, relaxed, essential. It takes a loooong, circuitous journey to get to this point. And not everyone is up for it. And not everyone is into it. And certainly both of you have to want it; one can’t want it for both of you.

And after much consideration, I can honestly say that if I had to choose to live with a partner just for the sake of having someone there with whom to weather any and all storms, honestly, I’d rather go it alone. Alone is how I discovered who I really am, is how I found who I was meant to be, is how I learned to grow and bloom and think with clarity. If my partner was just a role-filler living here to get me through tough times or help me raise my kids, then he might as well be a leech sucking up my light and energy.

I’m not with Phil because he props my life up. No. I choose him. I choose him every day. And he chooses me every day. And he knows it, and I know it, and we both love that both of us knows it. Day after day after day.

Phil isn’t just my helpful partner (which he is in spades), he isn’t just my ear, my shoulder, my rock, my love … he lets me be who I need to be. He’s given me room to grow and explore and expand to fill my rightful space. Without all of that, I would certainly be half the woman I am today. With him, am I twice the woman I would otherwise be? Of course not. But I’m eternally grateful that I don’t have to test that theory.

Oh, and his story about telling me within fifteen minutes that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me? I was so smitten, so intoxicated with love, I never heard it. It wasn’t until our teenage daughter bugged him not that long ago for stories of our early relationship that he repeated it out loud. I was floored. Not only was I still waiting for that love song, but those romantic little stories from our past had gone MIA too. He’s not exactly the strong, silent type, but he definitely prefers to show his love for me through gesture, action, and physical affection. And that’s just the way I like it. But, as a lover of words, I’m also taking this blog-post and filing it under: Break Open in Case of Emergency. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Surprise Encounter With Serendipity

Barbara: Clichés are handy because they remind you that your surprise encounter is not unusual, but rather shared by thousands––or millions!––in their own unique ways. Which cliché are we exploring today? Glad you asked. It’s “Life works in mysterious ways.”

Seven months ago I was my daughter’s date at a function to honour some of the fashion design students at her university (she won the Wayne Clark award for Fashion Illustration—woo hoo!). I was the proud stage-mom (another handy cliché) and followed her around all goggle-eyes and puppy-dog tongue hanging out as Canadian fashion luminaries mingled around us (hello, Jeanne Beker!!). I pushed my shy daughter forward to meet people, then hung back while she gained her confidence.

The beautiful Olga and I at "Being She"
I could go on about my daughter’s wondrousness, but I’m telling you this story because the strangest thing happened to me. Stefanie was having a nice conversation with one of her mentors, the inimitable Olga Koel of Danier Leather, and apropos of nothing (that either one of us can remember), Olga turned to me and announced that I was going to help her on a volunteer committee for a big upcoming event. Without thinking twice—not lingering on my lack of experience or lack of information!—Olga and I were exchanging digits and a volunteer was born.

When the fog lifted (damn those clichés!), I realized that I had “asked the universe” for just such an opportunity. I wanted to be part of something outside of my circle of experience. Conversely, I also loathed the idea of fundraising (although absolutely respect and understand the need for it!). But lo, this event was a photo-based art exhibit called Being She in honour of Women’s College Hospital’s 100th year anniversary and was being held at the sexy boutique hotel, The Gladstone. No fundraising! Lots of art! I had inadvertently hit the volunteer jackpot.

Women’s College is an esteemed Toronto hospital whose claim to fame is that it was started and formed by women and has dedicated itself ever since to women’s health issues and healthcare. That it was started 100 years ago and flourished almost defies belief. To this day, they are still leaders in women’s healthcare. And here’s more serendipity at work: both my girls were born at the hospital!

Of course, in the months that followed, I couldn’t just be an adoring fan, I had to step up. I had to find resources I didn’t know I had. I had to use resources I did know I have, but that didn’t get a lot of exercise. The hardest job by far was having to phone every editor, photographer, and journalist in the city to ask them if they’d received the publicist’s material and to consider covering the event. It took several full days to go through the list. And how many mouthfuls in this improvised pitch: “I’m calling to follow up on a media advisory we sent out a couple of weeks ago about a photo-based art exhibit called Being She that’s being held in honour of Women’s College Hospital’s 100th anniversary and opening at the Gladstone Hotel on Thursday June 9th at 6:30pm.” Huge intake of breath, borderline hyperventilation. I had to go well outside my comfort zone and was surprised to discover just how quickly that new zone also becomes comfortable.

The appreciation I received from my group for performing this task was embarrassing to say the least. But I knew that they knew just how onerous a job it was. We also all realized that if we didn’t follow up, then most of the press would have lost the advisory in their in-boxes. I’m thrilled to say we got great coverage: national magazines (House&Home, Canadian Living), local papers, national papers (Globe and Mail and National Post), and radio (CBC), etc, etc. Of course, my job was just a tiny cog in the wheel of procuring this coverage as there were tireless PR people from both the hospital and the hotel working on it.

The opening reception was a huge success, with members of the healthcare community rubbing shoulders with artists and their appreciators from the arts community. The art was superb, moving and beautiful, the stories behind them heart-stopping. I was beyond proud to be involved with this stellar event and its circle of dedicated organizers.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, the event continues until August 1st. Check it out! The featured artists are on the 3rd and 4th floor lobbies of the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. You can also ask the hotel about guided tours of the work. And if you go to this Flickr link (yes, that’s me and Charlotte) and click “actions”, then “slideshow”, the following photos (credited to Michele Ayoub) were taken by my other wondrous daughter and handled and organized by my older daughter.

Full circle back to wondrous daughters and that timely night seven months ago when a woman I’d never met before tapped my shoulder and called me up. Be careful what you wish for because life works in mysterious ways and if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen until you realize that it’s all just a bowl of cherries. With a cherry on top.

Deb: I think the universe keeps itself very busy telling us what our next
path is and, more specifically, what our next window of opportunity
is. When I first met you, Barb, as you know I kinda wrote you off as a
beautiful blonde with talent and charm but nothing to offer me in the
way of deep friendship. Universe had other plans. Then I listened at
the end of each meeting to your assessment of your day’s work for our
film. Your contacts, your excitement, your zeal. And I was shamed.
Maybe the universe is poking you. Xo

PS We have a very special 3-way coming up this Friday (actually a 4-way…And some very handsome men might be involved…)

PPS Kiss Me Kate teased us about not announcing our shows when they are on. So we’re going to give a little shout-out to Deb’s show, Single White Spenny, which airs on Thursday nights at 9:30pm––she plays Spenny’s depraved mom. And you can find Barbara on episodes 3 and 5 of Good Dog on HBO Canada as Ken Finkleman’s bitter ex-wife.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Slow That Number Down

Deb: Slow that number down please. My brain is not a computer.

Think of this blog-post today as a public service announcement for all of you who have ever been victims of the rapid-fire phone number message.

You know what I’m talking about. The “Hi, this is Dr. Asure’s office confirming your appointment. Please call us back to confirm at 4175559041.” And they proceed to rhyme off the number faster than the speed of light.

I have found myself on the receiving end of these number sprinters on many occasions and I can’t tell you how it annoys me to take time out of my busy day to have to listen to the message eight or nine times, each time picking up just one more number.

And when these people, these rushers of numbers, are on the receiving end of said messages, do they ever think, “Hey, wait a sec, I do that! I should stop.”

Clearly they don’t. And yet it is such a simple thing to fix really, isn’t it?

Beep ... Hi this is Deb McGrath calling. Please call me back at  4...1...7...5...5...5...6...1...6...1.

That number again... 4...1...7...5...5...5...6...1...6...1

And done. Solved.

I am quite confident that now that I have spoken up, this will never happen to me again. I am sure that word of this menace will now spread like wildfire, the plague, or a congressman exposing himself.

Boy, when I rule the world...

Barbara: Ha, Deb! I hope you friggin’ rule the world soon because this menace has terrorized me more times than I can say. And is often brandished by a person who also speed-mumbles their name, leaving me with not only a call-back number I must decipher, but a caller I must fake-ask for (“Yes, I’m returning (mumble) Fafafa’s call.").

Thanks, Deb, for taking on this most noble cause. Spread the word everyone: Citizens for clear phone messages!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ode To A Book Club

Barbara: When I talk to people about my book club, it gets a whole slew of reactions. There are those that get it right away. They are part of their own groovy club, filled with interesting people and great conversations. Or I get the wistful sigh, the romantic smile: Oh, a book club sounds so great; I wish I could find a group who’d be into it; I’d love to read more books.

But most people, MOST people, fairly rant at the notion. How do you manage to read a book every month?!! Who has the time?!! Isn’t there always one smart-ass who thinks they know everything and ruins it for the rest of you?!! Isn’t it really a competition for who can host the best meeting?!! Don’t most of the books suck?!! Don’t most people not even read the books?!! Do you even talk about books or is it all kids and menopause?!!

Okay, settle down.

I’m not trying to rub it in, I’m not trying to brag, but our book club is friggin’ AWESOME! We started with just a handful of women 13 years ago when my best friend, Charlotte, opened a literary coffee shop. The coffee shop was called Wuthering Bites. Oh, it was the cutest place ever. Art on the walls, musicians every few weeks, literary readings by prominent authors and fledgling ones (shyly raises hand). Sadly, it didn’t last. But the Wuthering Bites Book Club did. And it grew.

The end-of-the-year potluck under Barbara's copper beech. Thanks everyone!
 (yes, we've all been photoshopped to look like Angelina Joli)
We are now 19 women strong, ranging in age from mid-30s to 94 (yes, a rockin’ 94, would we were all so lively, lovely, and sharp). If we add another person to the group, our living rooms will explode. (Of course, not everyone can make it to every meeting, so hosting it is not as onerous as it sounds.)

Yes, we meet once a month. We read the books. Mostly. When we don’t, we come anyway and are inspired to read them. Someone—not always the same person—might have some interesting back-story on the book or author (usually from our friend, Google). It’s not that hard to read a book a month. It’s just a few pages a night if that’s all the time you have. Of course, the books don’t suck. They’re not always to everyone’s taste, but that’s what makes the meetings so interesting. Books you wouldn’t normally pick up open your eyes to worlds you might never otherwise explore. We’re lucky: our group has a great and open dynamic, no know-it-alls or bad-mouthers. Maybe it’s the age. And we always try to talk about the book as much as we can—we’ve gotten very good at getting back on track—but yes, we also talk about life and death and heartache and illness and triumphs and efforts.

It is really really special. I don’t see most of the women outside of Book Club, but I would dearly miss them if Book Club no longer existed. I see the world through gentler eyes when I’m around them. Diverse ways of looking at the same things can have that effect on you. You can see with your own eyes that every fictional and real life struggle has its natural trajectory. And that the human spirit triumphs every time. Even if it takes a while. Or seems insurmountable.

It is complex and it is simple.

It encourages us to read read read. And books and their authors need to be championed. Where would we be without our stories? I hold my head high when I extol the virtues of my book club. Even if I don’t always tell people our private—and very immodest––name for it.

(Okay, between you and me, it’s The World’s Best Book Club.)

Deb: I think it sounds just ducky. I am the world’s slowest reader so I would not be up on the books at the same speed as the others. But I believe that anytime, anywhere a group of people comes together to read, discuss, and trade ideas and concepts is a good thing. Not everyone has to be our best friend in our lives every day. It’s nice to have people from different walks of life come in and out of our world. It makes for a more meaningful life experience I think.

So onward and upward go ye of the book club. Keep sharing and supporting. Me? I’ll be the one in the corner with the wine and the Cliff Notes! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mr. Reid

Deb: My oldest friend in the world just lost her dad. I cried with her and worried for her as she drove home to see her Mom and her siblings during a fierce thunderstorm. She sounded controlled and resigned.

Then she wept and the sound killed me, cracking with the thunder, but so much smaller. 

Such is the stuff of Carol Ann Reid. I think it is fitting that she drove through a fierce thunderstorm.

Her Daddio, one George Reid, could appear to anyone like a fierce thunderstorm with his booming voice and his thick Scottish brogue. But he was really a soft Scottish toffee, a bold lover in love with the lovely Nan, with whom he was about to celebrate their 59th anniversary.

When I was a kid he was a daunting figure. Always kind and sweet, but with a boom of a voice that I laid in wait to hear lest I should act out. But it never came, this reprimand, however deserved. It came in the sound of the pipes, which he played with such skill and pride and passion that it breaks my heart that I did not realize the scope of it then. It was simply to me, a big big sound from a big big man. I would sit in awe with my best friend, his daughter Carol Ann at my side, listening to her Dad.


He would play and we would listen. Then he would smile and we would melt in his love.
He lived to love, and boy did he hit the jackpot. Nan, his loving devoted wife, Carol Ann, first born and the heart of my heart, Heather, Kirk, Craig, and Wendy. How I would love to travel back there and live those innocent memories.

I am heartbroken for you all tonight. Each child, grandchild, and great-grandchild. George Reid has left us. And we are taking notice.

Barbara: I am so sorry for your loss, Deb, for your dear friend Carol Ann’s loss, for the loss borne by her entire family, and for the loss of another great man.

It’s funny this business of so many souls and so little time to know them all.

I often read those tributes in the paper to a stranger’s life lived––I don’t know why I read them exactly, I’m not morbid. But of course reading them leaves me with a profound sense of sorrow. It suddenly occurs to me that this (possibly morbid) urge comes from the unsettling sense of not knowing them. As if I ought to have known them. As if it was some mean hiccup in the fabric of the universe that prevented me from knowing them, and not a simple logistical reality.

It feels patently unfair that we can’t know them all. It feels not right somehow.

It must be that ancient tie we have to one another through our tribal roots. That long-ago ancestor deep within my soul wants to rear up and don the primitive mourning garb and ululate in unison with all of you. Another of our friends, of our tribe (and we are one tribe), has passed away.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nursing The Blurt

Barbara: So we’ve talked here about how we’ve blurted awkward things (“How far along are you?” to someone who isn’t pregnant) and lived to rue the day. But yesterday, I was on the receiving end.

Yup. It hurts.

Last year I wrote about my sister’s amazing dance festival, remember? It is one of my most cherished yearly celebrations. But yesterday, a series of snafus almost kept me from attending. First there was the pounding thunderstorm that caused the cancelation of the outdoor events, then the blackouts that threatened the indoor ones, then when I was finally confident I could make the one hour trek to Guelph and enjoy the scheduled performances, I realized I had to drop my daughter and her friend off at a point halfway between my home and the festival. All this to say that I had exactly one minute to spare to pick up my ticket and find my seat when I finally arrived at the theatre, drenched in sweat and panting breathlessly. “The ticket is under Radecki,” I say to the box office clerk. Who answers, excited, clearly honoured to meet me, “Radecki?! Are you Catrina’s mother?!”  

The world implodes. As does my ego. Did you hear it in Arkansas? It was loud.

“I’m her sister,” I say. I can honestly say I answered graciously. My eyes might have averted a bit. I may have busied myself with some fictitious purse searching. The clerk immediately scrambled. “Oh, I didn’t mean that. It’s just that we were JUST talking about Catrina’s mom and her art. And I was going to ask, Did you have her when you were five? I hope you don’t…” Her cringing was as horrible as my own.

Please believe me when I say: I’m not telling you this to get your outraged support or your encouragement of my youthful good looks. Really. I am telling you because it happened. And it happens to all of us at some time. And talking about it makes it seem way funnier than the incessant reverberating in my brain: “her mother?” “her mother?” “her MOTHER?!!!”

I feel bad for the blurter. We’ve all done it at some time and must be let off the proverbial hook. But I can also say that I am going to have to work frickin’ hard to wash that blurt from my brain and let it go. At least the show was awesome!

Deb: Oh yes. Oh yes. I have been on the receiving end of this one, my dear. My Dad is 84 and I was taking him to one of his many doctor’s appointments and the nurse said “I’m sorry, Mr. McGrath, but I’m going to have to take some blood,” and Dad said, “As long as it comes with a kiss, nurse,” and she said (you know where this is going don’t you?), “Well, Mr. McGrath, I’ll leave the kissing up to your wife here.” Do I need to say anything else? HE IS 84!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And darling Barb, I know you were not looking for an ego boost but all I can tell you, dear readers, is that Barb’s gorgeous photos do not do her beauty justice. She is a stunner. At Stef’s fashion show last year, I thought, “Wow, they look like they could be sisters”. And believe me, that’s no insult to Stef!

PS On a yummier note, we have a new Deco Tip and Easy Recipe for you guys this week!

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Day In The Life Of Little Mosque On The Prairie

Deb: Here we are in the thick of shooting season six of Little Mosque on the Prairie. It is the last season that we are doing right now, and I thought it would be nice to pay a little farewell to it here at The Middle Ages.

For those of you who watch, I want to be clear that the final season will air this fall on CBC. For those of you who don’t watch it, you may enjoy it anyway. I wasn’t able to shoot any actual scenes out of respect for the dreaded “spoiler alert”, but I wanted you to meet some of the cast and get an insight into a day on a set.  Not everyone was in on the day I shot, so there are some wonderful actors missing. I hope they are represented by the spirit of the film.

Thanks to my boys, Luke for editing, and Colin for posting this for me. And a special thank you to the Little Mosque team who over these last six years have given me employment, laughs, and a pay-cheque, not in that order. I will always be proud of this little Canadian show seen around the globe, which has shone a light on understanding and tolerance. 

Barbara: I just loved this, Deb. I spend time on sets and yet still found this adorable and sweet to watch. Thanks so much for taking the time to put it together. And thanks to all your peeps for being so gracious and sweet. For our readers: the show isn't available yet to see if you don't live in Canada ... unless you buy the seasons online (it's a really cute show and Deb is so funny). 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Everyone Looks So Familiar!

Barbara: Okay, it wasn’t so long ago that I was bemoaning the fact that I have a hard time remembering people. I am a “people person” and not remembering people kinda defeats the purpose, no? And yes, I do take small comfort in the fact that most people have this same problem.

Of course, we’ve all found a myriad of ways to cope with this conundrum. There’s the trusty party trick where two friends play each other’s wingmen: Friend 1, “I know I’m supposed to know her, but can’t for the life of me remember how I know her or what her name is.” Friend 2, “No problem, I’ll introduce myself and get all the stats.” There’s also the “ignore the person until I can place him/her” solution. Or the “fake your way through the convo” option, just smile and say benign things that don’t betray your ignorance.

Okay, a whole blog post could be written about this. But here’s the thing: lately friggin’ everyone looks familiar to me!! I’m walking through the garden centre and have to hold myself back from shouting a hearty hello to every Tom, Dick and Sherri. I’m at a party and find myself in disorienting conversations with one person after another: “Oh, where did we meet? I just know we know each other. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Were you at the (fill in the blank)? No? Are you friends with (fill in the blank)? No? Well, didn’t we chat about the (fill in the blank)? No, no, and always no.

The truth is: I DON’T know them. We’ve never met. And we have nothing in common. Well, that last part is an exaggeration because ironically my maniacal efforts to remember imaginary connections often results in … interesting new connections!

But why does everyone look so damn familiar??? Is it that I’ve lived long enough now that I might in fact have randomly bumped into this person somewhere in the past? Is it that I’ve lived so long now that many facial traits have imbedded themselves in my brain and I’m actually seeing everyone’s doppelgangers? Is it that I’ve … lived soooo long???

Deb: A few years back, the boy gave me a button that said, “Don’t feel bad, I don’t know your name either”. I really should wear it every day. In a way, I have made my peace with this because it seems that a good deal of the world is in the same boat. Even the boy at his young age struggles with this. I read something interesting that said the reason we don’t remember names is that we have too many numbers in our heads. And numbers trump names.

Barb, the fact that people look familiar to you (happens to me too!) is that there are only so many different facial configurations in the world, right? Or it could be past lives and the people you met there! I have found a foolproof way to cope however. Instead of those pesky old individual names, everyone becomes “sweetie”, “darling”, or “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy”! Now I know that most people are on to this ruse, but I say, Who cares? I mean, after all, who would balk at being called sweetie?

PS Looks like the comment-problem has finally been fixed!! If you want to post comments to our static pages (ie, About Us and Deco Tips and Recipes, go for it!)