Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Five Crazy Things: Olympic Dreams

Barbara: You might not all be as Olympic-feverish as Deb and I, but that won’t stop me from throwing out this week’s challenge: if you could participate in any sport in the Summer Olympics (we’ll do Winter when the time comes), what would they be?
1. Rowing, sculls, 2-person (this is one I could actually imagine myself doing)
2. Trampoline (could never imagine myself doing for fear of heights, but would love that free-flying experience)
3. Swimming (400 meter breaststroke)
4. Shot-put (just, for once, to be able to not throw like a girl)
5. Triathlon (this would be my dream sport—not thanks to any skill at all, but because it so so amazing)

Deb: When I was in junior school I participated in track and field. I wasn’t bad for a runt. When I got to high school it was over as my fellow athletes left me in their dust, height-wise. So...
1.  100 meters
2.  200 meters
3.  4 by 4 relay
4.  High jump
5.  Diving

Monday, July 30, 2012

Barefoot Bliss

Barbara: Here’s a wee topic for a summ’a rumination. Bare feet.

I have always been a shoe person. As far back as I can remember, I’ve had some kind of shoe on my tender tootsies, whether it’s the comfortable shoe to walk in, the sexy shoe to go out in, or the at-home slipper to laze around in. I have liked the sense of comfort, the seeming strength, the inherent safety of a shod foot. Also, living in Canada with our cold winters, a cozy slipper is almost imperative.

I remember being shocked years ago when I read an article written by a dedicated jogger who had taken to the new trend of running in “barefoot sneakers”, thin runners that are made of skin-like plastic that are so much like bare feet they sometimes sport individual toes. These shoes are designed to mimic the actual barefoot experience without the inherent risks of running with no protection. This was the first I’d ever read about the supposed advantages of running barefoot—the article cited all the studies that have proven that the human body is safer when it does what it was designed to do—ie, running naturally—rather than being misdirected by all the arch supports and heel adjusters and weight calibrators of our famous running shoes. The writer waxed on about her own amazing experience running in these barefoot sneakers: her chronic knee pain had disappeared, she enjoyed the experience of running so much more, and she was running faster too. For some reason, this new piece of information lodged itself in my mind and held my curious, if still shoe-obsessed, attention.

Then a few months ago, as I mentioned here, I read a fascinating book called The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. Among his many other collected bits of neuron-facts, he also mentioned the neural advantages of the bare foot. Believe it or not, there is an important brain-map in our feet (for anyone who has ever had reflexology or massage of the foot, this is probably no surprise), and this brain-map is linked to our gross motor skills. There is a whole chapter in the book (thanks to intense studies by neuroscientists like Michael Merzenich) that describes the importance of this map and how we can redesign the brain, in both good ways and bad, depending on the kind of stimulation (or lack thereof) that this map gets.

I recalled that old article about the benefits of barefoot running when I read how Merzenich blamed the loss of gross motor skills as we age to a decrease in sensory feedback … from our feet. And why? Because we wear shoes—all the time! Shoes interfere with the stimuli to our brains that keep us agile and mentally “on our toes”. The artificial flat surface inside our shoes literally dumbs down the challenges that uneven, imperfect, unusual surfaces would normally stimulate in these brain-maps. To add to this, as we get older, we often start using walkers, canes or crutches, and these further dull any messages our feet might send to our brains. Then to make it worse, we begin to watch where our feet our going (ie down stairs or across the room), further dulling this important neural activity.

The good news is that the more time we spend barefoot and not watching where our feet are going, the more we will maintain—and even develop—the brain-map in our feet!

How could I resist this call to de-shod??? Now I pull off my shoes the moment I get home, and yes, I have even given up my at-home slipper. And, yes, yes, I do notice a difference. Maybe not in my gross motor skills, but definitely in the sensual pleasure of feeling the ground beneath my bare feet. The texture of my smooth kitchen tiles, the grain of the backyard deck, the warm nubbly-ness of the driveway asphalt. It is divinely pleasurable. And maybe even a way to get—and stay—smarter and more agile. I don’t know what will happen when it gets cold again, but I am hoping I can get used to a be-socked foot and avoid the always be-slippered one. We’ll see. In the meantime, this is foot for thought.

Deb: Oh how I loved the foot for thought, Barb. Again, you with the hitting the nail on my head. Or dropping the other shoe. I have always always been a shoe girl. My friends have teased me about it, my not wanting to be barefoot. We are right now, up at our beach house rental as we did last year. And last year at this beach house, my shoe wearing ways were turned on their ear. I was walking along the beach with sandals on, natch, and suddenly I took them off and found myself barefoot for the rest of the trip. When I returned home I found myself barefoot and happy about it. But not all day. At night and first thing in the morning my moccasins must be worn. I also have a weird thing that my feet cannot feel too DRY. It gives me the creeps. And if one foot gets wet and the other is dry, I must get the other one wet or it creeps me out ... uh oh, I’ve said too much.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Country Of Your Heart

Deb: My grandparents came to Canada from Scotland in 1927 when my Mom was six months old. Grampa embraced his new country and all it had to offer. Despite a struggle in the early years of the depression, he became, legally and emotionally, a Canadian. My Granny on the other hand was a landed immigrant who never really landed here. Her body walked on Canadian soil, her other children were born here, but her heart remained forever in Scotland until the day she died at ninety-four.

My dad was similar in some ways to Granny for a while. He was born and raised his first ten years in Maple Heights, Ohio, and during his teens he moved to NYC and worked on the tugboats in the harbour. Then he moved to Canada and, although he loved it, it could not replace for him all that the United States was. And that tie was made stronger over the years as he romanticized everything about America. I really don’t think to this day that he truly feels Canadian. It was years before he took out his citizenship and even then, it was mainly so he could exercise his right to vote. He loves Canada, but his heart is American, steeped in the politics and the history. Dad is an American Civil War buff and an expert on the old west. He loves American literature and American poetry and has volumes and volumes of all of the above on his bookshelves.

Yet this proud Eagle managed to raise two very Canadian kids whose pride in the Maple Leaf Forever knows no bounds. I have always been a lover of Americans and fascinated with the culture and the history. I could live in New York City in a New York second, and likely will at some point as it is a shared dream of my husband’s and mine. I could also live in London, England, and hopefully will as well. At least, these are our dreams! And if we get to fulfill these dreams, I know it will be the time of our lives, this time of living in two cities, in two countries we love. But for me, Canada will remain the country of my heart.

The boy, for his part, is American-born with a landed immigrant status in Canada. He was born in L.A. and moved to Canada when he was almost three. He chose to go to school in NYC and loved every single second of it. He is proud to be American-born and proud of that tie with his Papa, but after school was over, he wanted to come back to Canada to start his career. We were a little surprised, as we assumed once he had done the Apple for some time, he would never come back. Turns out, this is the country of his heart.

My husband on the other hand, refers to himself as a man without a country, a man without a city. He claims he could live almost anywhere and I think that is true of him. He is proud of his Scottish heritage and he loves Canada, often defending it when need arises, but he could also happily live in London or New York forever at this point in his life, I think. His parents came to Canada from Scotland when Colin was just six. Both his mom and dad fell in love with their new country and, although they kept many Scottish traditions, this became the country of their heart. More Dad than Mum I think, truth be told.

We were away with dear friends this past weekend and we started this discussion around “were you born where you belong or were you transferred to where you belong?”

Do you live in the place of your heart or are you still searching?

Barbara: SUCH an interesting question, Deb! I love Toronto, I really do. Especially since it’s a city that is maturing in all the ways that resonate for me: its culinary, arts, neighbourhood, and green-space/Lake Ontario gifts just keep getting better and better every year.

That said, if I were to honestly answer your question, I am not tied to one place, and Phil and I have often imagined living somewhere else. I feel my greatest connection is to a great vista of water. I would love to live on the ocean. I also love the mountains. I was born in Vancouver and, in many ways, it is probably my ideal setting—but I worry about the rain, rain, rain. I would love the chance to explore different homes in the not-too-distant future: NYC, for sure; San Fran (and surrounding area); the south of France; a serene Japanese countryside. Yeah, I have no strong need to stay here forever, although I do believe I will always always BE and FEEL Canadian.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Great Message

Barbara: Mary shared this with Deb and I the other day, and we so loved it I had to share it here today. Yes, this is the great Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, re-edited to great modern footage, but bearing the same great and meaningful message. As apropos today as it was back in 1940.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Our Urban Dare

Barbara: They say “a change is as good as a rest”. After my most recent adventure, I would have to agree.

My friend Charlotte and I have started to give each other experiential birthday presents instead of “stuff” (ie, we go places/do things). I wrote here before about this—it’s how I celebrate my nieces and nephew for their birthdays, and it’s the same theme that got me kayaking last year—and I just have to share with you my latest amazing experience.

For my birthday this year, Charlotte discovered the “Urban Dare” tour. It’s a fundraiser for breast cancer research and happens in cities all across North America. Without me knowing anything but the date, Charlotte registered us as a team in the July 21st Toronto Dare.
Pre game!
Charlotte picked me up on Saturday morning and took me for a big pre-challenge brunch and then, properly stuffed and caffeinated, we went to the downtown meeting spot to get our official garb—the Urban Dare t-shirt with number—and our official clues.

As I am such a game-lover at heart, when I found out what we were doing, I got very very excited. Many people “accuse” me of being competitive—I think it’s because I revel in game-playing so much—but the truth is, as much as I like to win, I don’t care about it. I can honestly say, it’s the act of playing that gives me that adrenalin high. What I discovered I like about it is that really primal feeling that courses through me when I play: I must have every synapse on alert, I must reason and plan, I must be aware of my surroundings, I must be quick and physical, I must survive. I am alive! Not that anything I do (or want to do) involves the threat of imminent death (like a primitive ancestor on the hunt), but it’s invigorating to reenact that kind of fundamental experience.

Okay, so the basic scoop on the Dare is that you all get your clues at (more or less) the same time. There are 10 clues that, once solved, direct you to various locations around the city (they say the parameter is about 7 miles). You and your team member must figure out where you need to go and then either take a picture of yourselves at the site or complete a “dare” designed by the tour. In our case, these were a 3-legged course (my first!), a wheelbarrow course (also my first!), a candid photo of a random couple recreating the famous Eisenstadt photo (of the WW11 soldier kissing the nurse), and a number/word challenge that Char and I were shocked to fumble our way through (strike out for cocky over-confidence. Um, yeah, that would be me…).

You aren’t allowed to use cars, bikes, or taxis, but you can hop on the bus or subway. We ended up walking most of the course. Or speed-walking. My hips have never been so sore! And the first team back with all the correct answers, photos, and courses wins the dare. Charlotte and I were surprised to find ourselves pretty much twice the age of the average competitor (hats off to those enterprising and benevolent young people who came in droves!), and in the end, we finished a respectable (to us) 60th out of 192 teams. That said, we also committed 3 very costly mistakes (again, thanks to over-confidence when it came to our supposed destinations) that probably added a good ½ hour to our race.

It was an absolutely wonderful day! It was beautiful and sunny out—we sweated buckets—but that concerted 2 ½ hours of running, laughing, problem-solving, and discovering our city was absolutely an invigorating and wonderful rest from the everyday.
After game!
Deb: This is what I am talking about! These are the adventures that make us love life and love living! Charlotte, you rock in the gift department and you picked the right gal to bestow this gift upon. So happy for you guys and the fun you had! Barb, I cannot wait to meet you on the three-legged and wheelbarrow course. I am all over that. I am the wheelbarrow race, my friend! Yes, the challenge has been declared!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Favourite Summ’a Movie Recommendations

Deb: As the heat continues, why not relax in the evening (after the mosquitos have come out) and enjoy some summ’a cinema fare? I have some all time favourites that I will share in the coming weeks. Here are the first two:

A Summer Place. One of my Favourites.

The Parent Trap. The original starring Haley Mills.

And the update with Li-lo is good too!

Barbara: My girls routinely hang a white bedsheet outside (either in our backyard or on our porch if the weather is iffy) and project movies through Netflix or DVD onto the sheet. They invite friends over and eat popcorn during their “sit-out movie”.

Last flick?  Bye Bye Birdie.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Deb: In the last few weeks, I’ve had some physical episodes. I will not go into what they were as it doesn’t really matter, but they were alarming and puzzling. I have had problems with stress before and my attempts at channeling it. I am genetically pre-disposed to this stress condition, as my Mom has had many many issues over the years with this very thing. My Mom is a stroke survivor and, in support of this theory, they told her at the hospital that she stroked-out from stress. She had no blockages they could find and no medical issues that would have lead her to such a thing. When she was younger, in her fifties, she had several incidents of hives from stress. She would break out in them and scratch till she bled. I have the same symptom but to a much lesser degree. At one point, my Mom was so covered in hives, so completely covered from head to toe, in her nose and ears and around her eyes, that her face changed shape and she looked like a completely different person. I think this was her form of a nervous breakdown and she was hospitalized. My granny, Mom’s Mom, had a complete nervous breakdown when she was the same ballpark of age.

So this legacy of unpasteurized stress is my cross to bear. But I have had advantages and resources to call upon that Mom and Granny did not have. For one, I knew this years ago and started to do something about it. Actually, many things about it. Some major and some minor things. I know that I have reduced my stress level by leaps and bounds, but every once in a while...

As most of you know it has been a painful period of time for me regards my parents and their ever-changing condition. I get upset and feel pushed and pulled, confused and challenged, but I always come home and chill with some wine and some husband and some good food and movies. I am very good at knowing when I have hit bottom. But lately, although I have been carving out some time for me, I have still found myself facing some odd and very new symptoms. Then I realized that it is not just about taking the time out of a busy and stressful day, it is about channeling the sadness and pain that my parents situation brings, and that is not as easy. I realize now that the sadness I feel has latched onto my heart and my psyche and it is silently doing its damage. And that doesn’t go away just with a nap or a quiet glass of wine on the deck. So here is what I decided to do these last few weeks.


I have given myself permission to just do nothing. And by nothing I don’t mean stare in a catatonic state out the window. But to really just hang out. Life of course goes on so in the day there are a few calls that I must make and a few errands that must be done but other than that, I am sitting and reading and playing with the pups. I am enjoying the garden and floating in the pool. I know this might sound like no big deal to some of you, but for the likes of me to do nothing is like nothing I have ever done before. Not in my home. Not unless I am a guest at a cottage or that type of thing. And even then.

I implemented a new scheme in my life.  I get up, make breakfast, sit outside, and read my book. First. I have NEVER done this before. I will read my book and then if I have time I will get to the newspaper, and maybe if I have some more time I will “visit” Facebook. But I really wanted to read my books. And my feeling was, if the day gets away from me, then at least I am comforted to know that I have read for an hour in the morning. A dear friend said to me when I told her of my plan, “Be careful you don’t become obsessed with this plan, forcing yourself no matter what comes to read and then be disappointed if you don’t. You know how we are!” I assured her that so far that was not happening, but I knew what she meant. The not doing is not in her nature and it is not in mine. So I thought, “Wow, am I forcing myself to relax?” In my panic to become stress-free, am I panicking? In the midst of panicky panic and counter panic and non-panic tactics, how does one tell?

So I just really took a dramatic step back from the every day of it, the do of it, the on top of it. And I fell into the do-nothing and when I landed, I did not struggle and scrape to get up. I laid back literally and figuratively and gave myself this gift. Gave it with love, and then, rather than open this gift, I just stared at it, all wrapped up knowing that I already knew what was inside and didn’t even have to open it. As a result, this de-stressing has become a lovely lovely habit that I am not ready to quit.

I am normally the woman who cannot read a magazine in the middle of the day lest I feel guilty. But no more. Hart made a comment in a blog last week about North American society and the fact that we cannot just give ourselves a break. We cannot just let go and take holidays and time off in the middle of a stressful day without being wracked with guilt. Hart was right and I am a very bad offender. The guilt stacks up in my body so high that I sometimes feel I am choking on it. Nobody is doing this to me. I am doing this to myself. And it must stop. And I am working on it. Or rather I am anti-working on it. At the risk of sounding like a drama queen, my life may one day depend upon it.

Barbara: You are so not a drama queen, Deb. So very far from it, in fact, that I am beyond relieved to hear that you have found a concerted and gentle plan to de-stress and cope with what is, for all intents and purposes, one of life’s seriously difficult life-challenges. Thanks so much for your honesty through this—and by that I mean, for the honesty with yourself that then coalesces into honesty with us. Because we all go through these times, we just don’t always recognize the absolute need for our own concerted coping strategies. We really do have to step back from the muck from time to time, guilt-free and bravely, if we’re ever going to survive the serious and heavy-duty business of emotional muck-racking. All our lives depend upon it!

Friday, July 20, 2012

When Words Are The Sticks And Stones

Barbara: Remember on Tuesday when we asked what we would say to our 12-year-old selves if we could (and, wow, thank you for one of my favourite comments sections ever!)? Well, it got me thinking about something that someone actually did say to me in those vulnerable growing-up years, something which changed my life. And not for the better.

The reason I want to share this with you now is that it was certainly a turning point moment in my life, but also, more importantly, because I am finally and utterly over it.

Okay, so the words

I got hooked on writing when I was pretty young. I mean, I loved to perform and direct and had huge plans for local theatre shows or fairs that my friends would help me organize for weeks and which then kinda fizzled out (I guess follow-through was not my strongest suit back then). But, more than that, my precious secret was that I was actually a writer. Scribbling first draft work into a notepad and then meticulously transcribing the story through my little portable typewriter. I amused myself by calling the typed version of my work my “copyright” (copy/write… get it??? Unfortunately, when my parents patronized me with delighted laughter about this malapropism—like I didn’t know what I was saying!—man, was I pissed. And embarrassed.) My coup was when I wrote a 60page novel at 13. No matter that it was a blatant rip-off of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it was my own beautiful creation.
Barbara at 10

Two years later, I had high hopes for my English class. We were finally attempting creative writing and I was sure I was a shoe-in to ace it. I would finally bring my little secret to the light. I would be recognized. I would be renowned.

But the teacher had other ideas in mind. She took it upon herself to stand in front of the class one day and list all the people she believed to have genuine talent. As she pronounced the names, I nodded in recognition—yes, she was a great storyteller; yes, he had such a way with words—and waited with bated breath for my own name to be called. But she continued with her list, her eyes scanning the classroom, several times holding on me and then passing on, announcing on and on, name after name, until the names began to lose value—what? him??? He doesn’t know a simile from a metaphor!—until she was finished and ready to direct our attention to other English matters.

But wait! It doesn’t end there. As hurt and humiliated as I was (why are we humiliated by omissions that no one else would even notice?), I swallowed past it and carried on. Until a few days later, this same teacher called me into her office and told me—unbidden, mind—in a calm, clear voice that she understood that when she’d made her “talented writers” pronouncement, she’d noticed that I might have hoped that my own name would be called, but that she was sorry she just couldn’t do it. My memory after that is a blur: I think I nodded and kind of wandered out into the hall, trying desperately to hold it together.

I’m pretty sure, in the end, I kicked some creative writing butt in that class, earning high marks on all my pieces. But I let those strangely pointed words become the mantra to which I pursued (or didn’t) all my writing in all the years after that. I let those words sit on my shoulder and become my cross for so many years that it finally had no other choice but to decay and disintegrate. It wasn’t until the cross was gone that I realized that it was gone.

(I will also allow that years and years of writing practice—and now blogging—has helped to erase the onus.)

And I know we will all be outraged at this teacher’s cruelty (or at least that is the most common response when I share this story—which isn’t often), and we will wag our fingers at her casual damage, and we will pat my back (appreciated but truly not necessary) and comfort me. But I wanted to share this with you because I think, in many ways and in ongoing ways, we are always talking to our 12-year-old selves. Or at least we are trying to. And we ARE changing our personal histories by listening to our older, more mature selves and … well, getting over it.

Revenge is a dish best … left in the kitchen.

Deb: Barb, this is so poignant. I agree that we are always talking to our 12-year-old selves and I love this story. I certainly don’t love it for the pain it caused you, but rather for the lesson it taught you. You did it. You kept doing it!!! Do you know how many people would have never put pen to paper again? In this instance, you do not need to go back and talk to your 12-year-old self. Your 12-year-old self got it, I think. It just took some years of maturing to set it in stone. Well done. You should lay your head on the pillow and say Mrs. (insert teachers name), today I am a writer.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

And In Recent News: Human Beings Continue To Amaze!

Deb: This was sent to me by the lovely Seana who is alway always finding inspiring and life affirming things—both in the world and in her heart. Please watch and be inspired.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Facebook Friend’s An Alien

Deb: All this talk lately on the blog about the future and making connections with people has got me thinking about a far-reaching connection that, despite all the technological advances, I am still yearning to make. I am talking about our frenemies, the aliens. I’m talking your Martians, your Siriuns, your Moon people, your Uranians. As we can now literally reach across the planet, why not the universe? Where are my alien Facebook friends? I don’t have one single alien friend. I have some that seem not of this world, but that’s another story.
Deb's keychain

Full disclosure and I hope this concept is not alien to you—YOU KNOW, I HAD to do that—I believe in them. The aliens, I mean. I have never doubted it. It always seemed so shortsighted not to at least believe in the possibility of life on other planets. I figure, where does Earth get off thinking it is the centre of the universe? Does the earth think it’s Toronto!?!? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Earth. Earth rocks. It’s my favourite of all the planets. But as I stare into the night sky I just cannot believe that we are ... alone.

Yes, I loved X-Files, let’s get that out of the way.

Is it just that the internet is so last millennium to the aliens that they don’t even bother? Or are they wishing they could connect with us too? Do they have WIFI?  Or are the aliens being coy? Shy? Do they need prodding? Maybe this very blog will open their minds and they will post anonymously and say witty and brainy things to us.

My love affair with aliens started with the 1951 version of The Day The Earth Stood Still. I have been besotted with aliens since. Maybe I was just besotted with Michael Rennie. At any rate, I loved the kind, wry, condescending Klaatu played by Mr. Rennie who despite his prejudice for the lowly earthling, found himself falling for us. I have been fascinated since the first time my Mom and I sat down to watch the movie together when I was a kid. We would curl up on the couch and scream, “Say it, lady, say it!!!” as Patricia Neil was backed up against the steel fence stricken with fear as Gort advanced. Despite the fact that Gort could disintegrate a tank in seconds with the flash of his eyesheild, he was not an aggressor. He only retaliated. Never took the first shot. Or first laser in this case. He wasn’t the kidnap and probe kind of alien which, let’s face it, really gave aliens a bad rap.  Hmmm maybe aliens invented the colonoscopy?
Should I change my password to Klaatu, Barada Nicto?  Is that the welcome our neighbours seek?

My real true love affair started as a kid. I would look up at the sky and I would know in my heart that we had friends out there and, despite media to the contrary, it never seemed to me a frightening concept. I was comforted by it. The thought of our little ball rolling around this endless space in time was far too isolating for me.

At any rate, if they are out there, I would love them to make themselves known. Let’s face it, if they are out there and they are as brilliant and advanced as we think they are AND they are evil, they would have dusted us centuries ago.  Maybe they are just a tad insecure and given all the bad earthling to alien movies and press, they just haven’t found a good way to make a peaceful foray into our world, what with Michael Rennie being dead and all.
Alien contact for Dummies. Someone should invent an app for that. I would pay top dollar.

I wait in peace.

Barbara: I love me some aliens too! I would be all over having them as my FB buddies, or weighing in on the blog about what they might say to their little alien selves. I agree with you, Deb, that if they could eviscerate us, they totally would have done it already. On the other hand, maybe they’re waiting until we do the job ourselves…

I also believe that alien worlds exist, but I have slightly different (and not nearly so hilarious) take: I feel that—if our human experience on earth is just a tiny blip in the HUGE picture of time—it’s entirely possible that these short blips of human activity could be happening all over the universe, but at VASTLY different time-frames. Maaaaaybe all this soul-stuff we’re feeling is us traveling from earth to earth over millennia, inhabiting one place after another until we wear out our welcome, disintegrate to nothing, and the planet continues without us. Maybe WE are the aliens. Hmmm … Alien for thought.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Five Crazy Things: Childhood Lessons

Barbara: Inspired by Linda’s question last week in the comments’ section, I wondered what we might say—if we could—to our 12-year-old selves. It doesn’t have to be deep, dark life lessons or game changers or anything like that, but whatever you think might be helpful (or weirdly interesting).
            To young Barbara:
1. Stop envying others’ tastes and choices and rely on your own ideas. Find your own path even if you have to go against what’s popular or cool. Start asking yourself what you like.
2. Speaking of which, don’t be afraid to not be cool. I mean, sorry to break it to you, but you will never, ever attain “cool” status. So just embrace that fact now and make your own rules.
3. Start paying really close attention in History and Geography classes—because they will both come in very handy when you grow up… And accept now that you really want to be a writer (because you can use the extra—and early—years of practice).
4. …and, no, you will never, in fact, miss acquiring those elusive math skills.
5. Start yoga as soon as it becomes all the rage. You will love it and it will get you through many stressful periods of heartache and frustration.

To Young Deb:
1.  You are more than a body. Speak up. Say no. More than that say, “How dare you!”
2.  You are smart. Very smart. You just learn differently and they don’t have a name for it yet, so demand attention and respect.
3.  Try and stick with the piano. Please. Learn to read that music at whatever cost.
4.  Stop being afraid of water, the dark, and whatever else lurks in the recesses of your mind.
5.  Learn to balance a checkbook. Restrain yourself and your spending. You will thank yourself for it later. 60 pairs of shoes, as you will soon find out, amounts to 60 pairs of shoes. Find the balance in this shopping world.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Free Reign In the Summ'a

Barbara: There was a fun article in the Life section of the paper the other day (damned if I can find it to link), looking at the days of yore (ie the seventies and back) and the days of new, and comparing the differences in how children play. I know it’s a well-addressed theme—we got to play wherever and however we wanted and today’s kids are cloistered and over-protected—but still, I thought it would be fun to ask about your experiences and share our childhood memories … since it is summ'a, after all!!

Yeah, yeah, I am old enough to be from the generation of Free Play. When I think back to my childhood, I have vivid memories of hours and hours spent exploring the woods that abutted our suburban house. It was a large tract of land clearly slated for future development, but which languished in my time in wild, thorny, and verdant splendour. Hard dirt paths carved through the woods, ample clue that they were popular with more than just this curious 9-year-old child. But I don’t remember ever seeing anyone. I could take an entire artillery of flotsam with me—Barbie dolls, sand pails, plastic animals—and create new and amazing worlds in those woods. I could invent stories rife with travesty and betrayal and magic and deep abiding love. I could lie amid thigh-high grasses and just inhale the dry, hot, wildflower fragrance. I never worried about “strangers”; I cherished the bright rays of the sun; I didn’t imagine the possibility of fierce animals or broken bones or helplessness. I know I must have played in these woods with my friends, but strangely, that’s not what I remember. The memories that linger of this carefree time are the ones of me alone, responsible to no one, utterly unrestrained.

And then times changed and I grew up and so did the world and our fears and our woes. And I had my own children and had to make a choice (or choiceS: choice after choice after choice) on how we would raise them. Sadly, I couldn’t risk allowing them to utter abandon. On the one hand, I don’t agree with the mother in the article who laments, “The world is a different place!” It is in many ways, but not, I don’t think, in the pure mathematical logic of more psychopaths—because that’s who we fear when we fear the “stranger”. I imagine that the odds are about the same (with the exception, maybe, of a slightly higher population affecting the pure amount of them). On the other hand, I completely relate to the father who says something like, “But I can’t risk my child being the one child.” So I never walked the street without holding a hand and I never let them out of my sight (and so never lost them). That said, I was always aware of a kind of childhood injustice when it came to their freedom—the freedom necessary, in my opinion, to develop their imaginations and curiosity and problem-solving skills.

I asked the girls about how it was to grow up the way they did … and their answers surprised me. They have their own sweet memories of childhood abandon. For them, it was sweet summer days spent in the backyard creating worlds in their sandbox or in our garden. It was cold winter hours in the “mess” of a basement where we allowed their toys to have their own sort of wild free reign. They say they have no dearth of experience when it comes to freedom and independence. Even if I only remember hovering at the kitchen window making sure they were safe outside or tracking their basement safety from upstairs. Maybe a kid’s always gonna do what a kid’s gotta do!

What is your experience of childhood play—is it carefree abandon or cloistered restriction?

Deb: Mine was a combination of both, I would say. My parents certainly wanted to know where I was, but we were allowed to run free in the fields, and up at the cottage we spent endless hours by the creek, in the forest, and in the farmer’s field. We had a huge tree on the other side of the creek that we would climb every day as part of our ongoing game of Robin Hood. We would sneak into the abandoned (haunted, to our young imaginations) cottage that we were told not to enter but did anyway. Walks to “Big Rock” for the big climb and picking wild raspberries were all part of the daily fun. Our parents were secure in the knowledge that we would come home for meals, which we always did.

I will have to ask the boy if he had any such adventures that I did not know about. Sadly I was not as cool a parent when I became a Mom. I was, I am ashamed to admit, too worried about his safety to let go too too much. But I think the boy would tell tales of tobogganing on the big hill, building snow forts, and climbing the next-door neighbour’s tree. The toughest and best thing I ever did was letting go enough for him to have camp experiences. After one session, I settled into letting go and trusting that he was going to be okay. Also, having a pool has adventure built in and I think he remembers it that way. I hope the fact that I walked him to school till he was shaving does not colour his memories of childhood abandon! :-)
Phil sent me this and I had to include it. Credits, anyone???

Friday, July 13, 2012

Into The Continuum: Friendships Past, Present ... and Future

This post is part of the Visions of the Future bloggers network - a group of bloggers inspired by the new TV series Continuum. The one hour police drama tells the story of Kiera Cameron, a regular cop from 65 years in the future who finds herself trapped in present day Vancouver with eight of the most ruthless criminals from the future, known as Liber8, loose in the city. In the collection of blog posts, various writers share their vision of the future and how they would deal with the challenges. Head over to the Continuum website to catch the other posts and learn more about the series.

The future Keira Cameron on Continuum
Barbara: The people behind the hot new TV show, Continuum, asked us to ponder friendship and trust, both present and future. On the surface, this show is a thriller about a police officer who, through a radical terrorist act in 2077, gets transported in time to 2012 and must save her own future. But deep down this is a compelling, believable exploration of how our beliefs, expectations and hopes are also coloured by our times (aka our experiences). They got us thinking: how has modern technology affected our friendships from the past into the present, and how will the dynamics continue to evolve into the future? What do we think the future holds for our closest relationships?

Deb: I had a BFF when I was a very little girl with whom I have remained close to this day. Of course in those days she was, simply, my best friend. We were inseparable. And inseparable in the 50’s and 60’s meant “inseparable”—face to face, voice to voice, heart to heart.

Technology such as it was then, brought people together. If we wanted to listen to music, we played records or the transistor radio and listened to it together. It was a shared thing. The phone was also a wonderful tool for connection with friends but, as was the era, my time was strictly limited by my well-intended parental units. The only other authority figure in my life at that time was the streetlights which would come on midstride, mid-game, stopping cold a good round of “What time is it, Mr. Wolf”?  They were glorious, sweet times and I loved the connection of that period to each of the humans in my life.

I will never forget the day when my best friend and I skipped up the street, singing and holding hands, only to be stopped in our tracks: my house was brandishing a Sold sign on it. Yes, it had been for sale, but in kid world, that sale was never going to happen. It had been weeks, and no bites ... until bang. It is my first ever memory of weeping my guts dry. My best friend and I clung to each other in the hopes that when my parents saw how distraught we were they would rip the Sold sign up and use it for kindling. But as bad as they felt for us, as you can imagine, they were not swayed. It was my first glimpse into the world of adult decisions that were between the adults and not shared. This was not an era for “family sharing” dinners. They had made a grownup decision. Because they were grownups. We were ten.

My friend and I vowed to keep in touch and we did. Our parents did their best and drove us back and forth to each other’s homes. Sometimes, as we got older, we would take the bus. We were a good forty-five minutes from each other, which in those days was like traversing the Cabot Trail from one end to the other. We stayed in touch more or less right through high school, but the “less” started to overtake the “more” as we each forged new friendships and lives. After a while we lost contact altogether. Then in our thirties we ended up working together on a Movie-of-the-Week. The depth of how out of touch we were was illustrated by the fact that we were both shocked to see that the other one had gone into the acting field. We were happy to see each other but, for my part, there was awkwardness and guilt. I can’t speak for my friend but, as lovely as it was to see her, we just didn’t fall back into “it”. We met a few times and it was lovely, but we did not reconnect with those “best friends” of our youth.

Cut to: The internet with all its wily connecting ways! So, suddenly, there we were, my old best friend and I, skipping through cyber space holding hands. As we started to email and Facebook, we found that it brought us back to that comfortable place. Memories were brought forth, photos were shared, and bonds were reformed. The internet had replaced our end-of-the-day conversations with each other on our princess phones. This time we were free of the sound of, “Okay, Missy, off the phone!”  And as it turns out, the internet was doing just what the phone had done. It was making us yearn for each other, for that face-to-face, voice-to-voice connection that we would have the next day. And so we started connecting in person and spending time alone, with our husbands and with our mutual friends.

My old best friend is just one example of the reconnections I have made that have delighted me and brought my past into my future in gentle way. The internet has brought me to a connected place. I know the prevailing thought is that the internet disconnects us, but for me it has been the opposite. It has freed up my time with its shorthand ways to do the things I want to do, and to be there for the people I care about. And if an email seems in any way a call for help, I just pick up the phone and really connect.

But I wonder, will it be that way for a generation of people who never had the intense face-to-face? Will they crave what they have never really known? I like to think they will. We are human after all, with the need for real human contact. Somehow, I think we will instinctively seek it out. We can’t help it.

Barbara: I’ve told you guys before how I struggled to establish true female friendships for a long time, committing instead to my relationship with Phil and being a mom, and not really understanding that platonic friendships took an equally committed approach—one with as concerted efforts in sharing (I was a terrible sharer) as there are in listening (I was a great listener).

Like Deb, I certainly have found that blogging and Facebook and email and everything technology-related has only helped me in my efforts to embrace—and trust—sharing. And it has felt very much like a wild and happy ride embracing this new tech-world. When I think of myself in my 30s and remember being a working mom and recall how I felt back then—utterly in love with my family, and certainly able to have a great time with friends, but somehow, intrinsically, lonely, I want to take my hat off to technology and really celebrate all that it has brought me in terms of connecting with people. Today, I feel more in touch, more “heard”, more a part of the greater fabric. Yet when I consider it, I can’t ignore all the cautionary warnings about what might become of us if we continue to immerse ourselves into this relatively new form of communication.

So, in the spirit of considering my life experiences and thinking forward, here’s a re-cap of what I believe to be the benefits of modern technology so far today: I get to hear from friends I would never otherwise keep up with; I get to meet new friends and like-minded (open-minded) souls from around the world—again, people I would never otherwise meet—I have a forum for my own voice, which is intrinsic to my well-being (call me egotistical, but I want to tell you stories and I want you to hear them, and I want to hear your stories and I want us to talk about them and what they mean to us); through the unflinching honesty of so many others online I have daily opportunities to have my world or personal vision skewed in new directions; I get to live vicariously through many more people; I get to “see the world” in more colours than ever before; the world feels smaller and therefore it feels more possible that we might take more responsibility for it in the future—we have the chance to care more, understand more, relate more, accept more, take less for granted, appreciate more.

But on the other hand, there are also many naysayers. Even optimists bring up legitimate concerns about the future of our relationships if we continue in this artificial world of technology: we might, in fact, care less, understand less, relate less, accept less, take more for granted. Just the other day I read this article lamenting the downfall of eye contact. Katrina Onstad—whose writing I love and respect—bemoaned how, because of our attachment to technology, we are seemingly losing our most vital connector: what and how we see. In fact, I remember being impressed many years ago when I read about a study that discovered that when we listen to others, we are wrong about their true meaning at least 70% of the time! We misinterpret significance, intent, and motivation more often than not. Of course, there’s that other study that tells us that we read people correctly 80% of the time when we subconsciously interpret their body language. So it’s kinda hard to dispute that we need to see each other in order to truly understand each other. Through only writing our reality and not engaging in reality, we have the option to offer only certain, idealized elements of ourselves, to (as Katrina O. says) “curate” our own lives. And also, sometimes we lie (even to ourselves)! I know I’ve been guilty of intellectualizing and then expressing some important aspect of myself only to either change my mind the next day or—more likely—have someone who knows me really well call me out on it and say, “Bullshit!”

So, with these basic parameters on the board (and please add your own here), where might we be in 65 years when it comes to how we communicate in our relationships?

Maybe we’ll be in touch with every single person on the planet. A kind of technological beehive where our community needs outweigh our individual needs, and food and healthcare and environmental safeguards will be distributed accordingly (I’m an optimist). Maybe there will be no borders. Why do we need them, what are we protecting if not our mutual survival? Maybe, in order to sustain our friendships, we will have gone so deeply into technology that we will no longer need the visual cues that were once so imperative to our survival on the savannahs. Maybe the “bullshit” meter will be an automatic part of our daily lives: a scanner in our computers (whatever those will look like then!) that can measure our heart rates and pupil dilations and tell us, “You are way off base with this assumption,” or “Bang on, sister!” We can laugh about it with each other in our virtual coffee klatches (hello, “The Old Middle Ages”). Or maybe we can turn that setting off so that we’re operating not on “absolute-truth-mode” but on “philosophy-aka-‘what-if’-mode”.

Deb: What if at some point in time we have the ability to read each other’s emotions? Not by a glance or a smile, but through the kind of technology that can enable us to detect a quickening pulse or a reddening face! It sure would save time on bad pickup lines. I also wonder about the possibility of body scanners that work as we enter a shoe store or clothing shop, reminding us of what we chose last time and what we might be interested in purchasing today. I remember seeing this in the movie Minority Report and thinking, “Yeah, hell yeah, I’ll take that!” As middle age has crept closer I have found myself fantasizing about what might be available to us in the future and, believe me, it has been a battle in my brain between privacy issues and convenience issues—as I get older, convenience is starting to pull ahead of the pack, I am ashamed to say.

Barbara: So what about trust? Would we trust more or less if we had access to everyone’s emotional state through scanners and readers? We can know someone we love is frustrated, scared, bored and still be shocked and heartbroken if, because of these things, they betray us. Having their emotional states tracked scientifically or communicating in other visual ways won’t preempt us from living with the burdens of loss and pain or with the highs of joy and accomplishment. Technology can’t prevent us from living in the moment, even if that moment looks utterly different 65 years from now than it does in this moment right now. We will still rejoice and trust and celebrate and love. That’s who we are. For feel better or worse.

So what do you see in our future ... of friendship or human relationships in general?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quick Video: Interview With A Young Self

Deb: First of all, the foresight of this young man blows my mind. I wonder, did he forget about it for years and rediscover it, or was he waiting until just the right amount of years had gone by? These kinds of things always blow the creativity of the human mind out of the water! Enjoy and put on your own thinking caps. It got me to thinking I can tell you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Shared Birthday

Deb: I LOVE my birthday. My husband started this particular birthday as per ush, with “Birthday” by the Beatles blasting as I emerged from my cozy bed. I did, as is my wont, proceed to dance about the house punctuated with the joy of another birthday bestowed. Lovie me m’ birthday, I do! I followed my birthday dance workout with my husband’s blueberry pancakes and tea.

Then my husband and I got on our bikes and partook of a long and lovely ride through the ravine below us, and it was sweet and it was warm, and it was sun and shade, and fuck my legs hurt! Come on legs!!!! Why are you hurting? You work out with me every day!!!! Is a bike so different? And, if it is … why? Or ... tell me beforehand. Warn me! The shock of it freaked me out. Okay ... on with the story.

My husband laid out the world of possibilities for me on my special day and I chose peace. My original plan for my birthday was a city tour brimming with new experiences. But on the day, on the actual day, I knew what I needed for my 58th birthday and gift ... thy name was peace. And I woke up and grabbed me a piece of that peace. I did some sitting and some reading and some puppy belly rubbing. I had a day of nothing special and everything special. It was a huge revelation for me that I actually chose ... whatever! Come what may. In the moment. Peace baby peace.

Birthday. Birthday. Gift to me.

So. With a day spent outside and in our pool, with my kisser in a book and my toes in the sun, I reveled. And afterwards went willingly into the shower to fancy myself up for dinner. And we visited my parents on our way to dinner and I said to my Mom (given that she was shocked to see us) that I just wanted to see them on my birthday. Her response was, “Well, I was the first one to see you on your birthday!” True. I had celebrated with Mom and Dad a few days before at a BBQ at our home, but I just wanted to give them a smooch, you know?

And we arrived at our wonderful dinner, after a parking episode which deserves it’s own blog but for the moment will go unrecorded. Suffice it to say, we had many laughs, managed our way uphill to the restaurant, ate well, chatted much, and finished the evening with a dessert devoted to the lady of the hour—Nasim—which was the name on my birthday dessert. And so Nasim, if you are out there, and were perhaps treated to a Happy Birthday Deb cake, I can only hope you appreciated the mistake as I did—with some howling tearful laughter and the thought that maybe we were somehow meant to connect.

Happy Birthday, Nasim! Deb loved your cake!

Barbara: Deb, as you know, this birthday perfection—and especially the final (hilarious) touch—made me so happy for you. But the one (trivial) question I never asked you: is it possible that Nasim is a guy??? This makes the idea of a stranger getting YOUR cake even funnier!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Five Crazy Things: Skills

Barbara: Rigel suggested this one for us (thanks, Rigel!): what are the five skills you would want to learn?
1.     Master chef cooking
2.     Real and proper horseback riding
3.     Rock climbing (but without my fear of heights)
4.     Real and proper gardening
5.     Marine…well, not “biology” because that’s a bit more than a skill, but a marine something in that I know and understand underwater life. (help me out here, people!)

Deb: So so so so so so so so soososososososo many it’s hard to list. And by “skill” I am going to   list that which I would love to be really good at!

1.  Piano
2.  Guitar
3.  Horseback riding (with Barb and Jo!!!)
4.  Sewing skills
5.  Dancing

Monday, July 9, 2012

Grateful For Gratitude

Barbara: Yes, last week was my birthday—and I just want to thank you all soooo much for your lovely birthday wishes and thoughts. I had a really beautiful special day with my closest beloveds (except my younger daughter who had to be away for the weekend). It was a day of enjoying life, being spoiled … and practicing gratitude.

Remember back in the nineties when books about gratitude were all the rage? We were encouraged to be grateful every day for something. Even—and maybe especially—something small (the smell of the garden, a bubble bath, a fresh strawberry, a good cup of coffee, etc). Then we were reminded to think of the people and events around us for which we were grateful. On bad days, this might be more difficult, but for just about all of us, there is definitely someone out there in whose light we can revel for a few grateful moments.

The philosophy behind this practice was that if we did that small bit of work every day then we would slowly, inevitably, shift the colours of our lives until that lovely rosy hue would outshine the dark. I never ended up reading the bestselling books, but I certainly listened rapt as those who did expounded on the theory. It made sense. And I started to become aware of my own gratitude and how deeply I felt it and how, in many ways, gratitude was one of the most consistently achievable feelings of “good” that I could attain. Even on a really shitty day.

I am truly grateful that gratitude has been a consistent theme on this blog and that our readers so quickly and readily jump on the “gratitude bandwagon” whenever we bring it up. So I hope you don’t mind if I revisit it one more time??? I want to share a small experience with you and then see where we land afterward:

For my birthday dinner, we went to an amazing little restaurant called Keriwa CafĂ©. It is a cozy little place, the kind that makes you feel very much like you’ve walked into a (stylish) friend’s farmhouse kitchen. The air is perfumed like a warm smokehouse and you picture not a bland city alley outside its kitchen doors, but a vast farmland, filled with all things good and clean and delicious. The server was a charming guy who took amazing care of our every need, and who made us feel like we were already on comfortable terms—maybe like he was the friend of a friend (ie not overly-familiar, but also not cold and standoffish). The food was divine: earthy and sophisticated in equal measure, sublime combinations of herbs and sauces, and the absolute truth of flavour that comes from the freshest and best quality ingredients. We were in raptures with every single mouthful, from the homemade sourdough bread at the start (washed down with the loveliest signature cocktails) to the gift of the airiest truffle I’ve ever eaten at the end. Now I’m telling you all this not to try and sell my skills as a restaurant reviewer (although, for me, that wouldn’t be the worst job!), but to underscore my point about gratitude.

As we were eating, we shared our sentiments with our server at every course. We mmmed and ahhhed and made sure he knew that we thought everything was delicious and perfect. We weren’t ridiculously effusive, but consistently grateful. And he was … surprised! Not because we found the food wonderful—this restaurant is run by one of the best new chefs in the city—but because we were sharing our love. On the drive home afterward, Stefanie expressed her own sense of gratitude that we had taught her how important it is to communicate gratitude if one truly feels it. She has been able to see just how deeply it affects people, while also realizing—through the sincere surprise at the restaurant—that this means it is maybe all too rarely communicated. She reminded me again that, while she considers herself a fervent foodie, she maybe wouldn’t have had the courage to rave. She is “too shy”. But this experience—and others like it over her growing years—has taught her to keep trying to work at sharing her gratitude. Because it literally makes everyone feel good.

So, if we’re going to revisit this theme again, here’s what I’d love to hear from you:
1.     Are you too shy to share your gratitude with strangers?
2.     If you do share your gratitude, what is the response?
3.     And, how do you feel when people express gratitude toward you?

Deb: Well, you know me. Not too shy about anything. I share my gratitude easily and frequently. I also share my gratitude silently in the morning and the evening for a day lived and a day woken up to. When I share my gratitude I am ALWAYS moved by people’s reactions. Always. Some are shy about it, some are gobsmacked by it, but they are always grateful for it. When people express gratitude towards me ... well ... hmmmnnn .... I am getting better. Much better. I am starting to be able to look people in the eye and say how happy and grateful I am for their gratitude. But that one remains the toughest. As I have said in other posts, I love to be the bestower, not so much the bestowed upon. But I am getting better. It is something I have worked really hard on. Grace is the word I use when someone expresses their gratitude to me. Be graceful, I tell myself. And it is working for me.