Trampling Grapes – A Childhood Memory

The subject of my alcohol-fuelled childhood recently came up and not in therapy as one would imagine.

Both my grandfathers were Portuguese and both were winemakers like their fathers before them.  Growing grapes and making wine was never an option for either one of them. It was just something they did.  I don’t recall ever seeing my grandparents buy a bottle of wine just like I can’t recall a time when there wasn’t an open bottle of wine at the dinner table.  Each year at harvest time, my sister and I were brought in to help with the picking and making of wine and since our grandparents lived on separate properties we were really busy.

I guess this was our first experience with work although we loved it so much we didn’t think of it as work.

My sister and I were the only ones allowed to trample the grapes in the winepress.

We had the sense from the way our grandfathers sought us out – and only us – that we added ‘magic’ to the process as we sang our childish songs and trampled those grapes with an enthusiasm I sometimes wish I could recapture.  I seem to recall we would wear the absolute minimum for the job – bathing suits and very short shorts and raggedy t-shirts.  We were sticky and sweet for days 🙂

By now you must be thinking my grandparents lived on farms but no, they nurtured their vines in their suburban gardens; those vines offered shelter from the harsh African sun under which we enjoyed extended barbecues and spilled gloriously green and abundant over their respective garages and boundary walls.

There was of course a reason for our enthusiasm.  My sister and I knew what would happen as the grapes were left to ferment in large vats.  Samples had to be taken during the process of fermentation and someone had to be on hand to turn the tap and pour those first drops of sweet nectar.  My sister and I were available.  It’s not like we had anything else to do but attend school.

You may think we were drunk a lot.  I don’t believe we ever were.  We were allowed to drink wine (one small glass each) from an early age and I credit that experience to the fact that I know when to stop.  I have been ‘wasted’ a record one time. And it wasn’t on wine and I was well into my twenties (boring I know).

My question is not whether you started drinking as a toddler but what activity did you participate in as a child that is now frowned upon or considered risque? 

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The True Meaning Of Wealth

I have some of my favourite Christmas ‘collectibles’ on the mantelpiece.  There is a Very Canadian Moose lying on his side admiring the sitting room, a Santa in a wizard’s hat, two glittery angels, a jolly Santa, a clutch of cranberry scented candles and the obligatory tinsel hanging about.  At the base of the hearth the Holy Family nativity scene.   Slowly our house is being transformed into a wonderland as I recover from unplanned and unexpected surgery.

This was going to be the Christmas I was going to make an accordion folded paper wreath and a bowl of sugar fruit (did you know you can use marshmallow powder instead of raw egg to coat the fruit with sugar?). This time last year Christmas cards had been posted, gifts had been bought and wrapped and all I had to worry about was putting up the tree on the 15th and the Christmas Day menu.  This year I find myself woefully behind and perhaps a tad neglectful of others but unashamedly and happily ensconced in my bedroom.  I have a lot to be grateful for:  the surgery was uncomplicated and I should be up and about by mid-week; I am getting through my mountain of must-read books YAY! (doing very nicely – only one hundred and fifty two books left); keeping up with reading my favourite blogs (kind of) and watching Christmas romances and dramas on television (I know I know, but I am sucker for those badly acted but delightfully sweet movies).  My family (bless them) keep me hydrated with cups of tea and smiling with boxes of chocolate (what else really can a woman ask for?) ….um, maybe fresh flowers.  Just saying 😉

The lightning-strike suddenness of my medical emergency reminded me of how easily so many of us get caught up in our day to day strife,  forgetting in the meantime that everything – I mean, Everything – hinges on our health and well-being.   My body had been warning me over the last three or four months that not all was well but I chose to ignore those signals.  Lying in hospital, I thought of an aunt of mine who is very rich and who – without fail – would pop over every Christmas to leave a gift of money for my sister and I.  I remember being small and therefore prone to small-thinking, saying to myself ‘she has it all’; good looks, mansion, fancy cars, Chanel handbag.  Then one day when I was older she and I met up on vacation and hearing that I had a goal list as long as my arm filled with things ‘I would possess by such and such an age’ she told me – her deep brown eyes boring into mine – “Money isn’t everything.  Health is true wealth.”

Did you know that the word “wealth” comes from the Old English words “weal” which means “well- being” and happiness?

This is my wish for you and your loved ones this season and beyond:  wealth, as in an abundance of well-being and happiness.

Counting Stars

I walked home from work last night and because a clear sky at this time of the year is something of a rarity in Vancouver, I dawdled so I could enjoy the incredible view of burning stars and golden moon.  My slow walk brought home the fact that we are surrounded by awe and wonder.

Take for example Rosetta’s (European spacecraft) successful landing on a speeding comet yesterday.  This is an extraordinary achievement and yet another leap for mankind.

Why should this audacious achievement excite me or you?  Well for one that washing machine- sized explorer is about to help us re-write history and what we know of ourselves.

Images of Rosetta landing on 67P (couldn’t they name it after a nice Greek nymph? one of the many ravaged by the insatiable Zeus? I wonder) are a reminder that we are constantly redefining our limits.

The Night Sky also brought back a flood of memories.  On warm and warm(ish) evenings my sister and I would drag one of our mattresses out into the backyard where we would lie, sometimes in our pyjamas, sometimes in our bathing suits, to watch countless worlds spin and sparkle before our eyes.

Night time was particularly exciting because it was quiet – except for the crickets and cicadas (also known as Christmas beetles) – and the adults were in bed because as everyone knows adults are scared of the dark.  One of my most treasured possessions was an encyclopedia with a map of the Southern Skies.  I would pore over those pages with a torch and read out loud the names of constellations – Canis Major, Scorpius, Centaurus – and we would point to – well, anywhere in the sky – and link random stars and proudly tick off a constellation in my encyclopedia.

The encyclopedia told us stars are balls of gas but that didn’t stop us from imagining they were much more. Many we knew even then, were worlds.  Some undoubtedly inhabited by lizard men and robots.   We wondered if from our small backyard, we could spot the remnants of that great planet Krypton after the explosion.   Wouldn’t pieces of that great planet glow green in our night sky?

We tried counting stars.  But neither one of us could figure out how many zeros fit into a million back then.  Now that I’m older and a little more learned I happen to know words like quadrillion actually exist but I can’t bear to think of all those zeros!

It’s impossible to manipulate stars. You can’t make them explode by willing them to, like you can clouds.  A cloud is a temporary and fluffy thing with no fixed course or firm hold.  We used to lie there, rubbing the sides of our temples and will those stars to go ‘POOF!’ because we imagined we had that power.  The first time we saw a shooting star we ran into the house and hid for cover under the kitchen table.  It was our first experience with God.

And the first time we spotted a satellite tracing it’s slow arc across the sky we shook our mother awake and announced the imminent arrival of Martians.  My mother told us it was way past our bedtime and we had to drag the mattress back inside.

No one had told us we could wish upon a falling star in those early years.  We only found that out later.  Certainly wishing on stars was not a tradition in our family.

How many wishes were lost? Countless.

Interacting Galaxies

Nasa Image of Interacting Galaxies

 I try to make up for it now by watching the Perseids and Leonids (coming soon to a Night Theatre near you Nov 16) meteor showers

 

Do you enjoy the night sky?  

What is your favourite night time memory?

Losing My Voice

I have been without voice or almost -mute for five days now. I communicate with my teenage savages sons via rude gestures sign language, iPhone messages and ape-like grunts. The savages teenagers have taken over the house as the alpha male has been away on business for over a week now and let me tell you all is not well.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I can still both see and hear I am certain they would have let all their Facebook ‘friends’ know there is a PARTY (!) at our house and I would wake up to toilet paper and other unmentionables hanging from the chandeliers. We don’t have chandeliers but you get the picture.    

I’ve been texting their father (my husband) for help.  Here’s an excerpt:

S.O.S

What’s up?

Teens In Revolt.

They must help you around the house.

U hav a sense of humour.

Take away their privileges.

Pleeze. My throat hurts when I laugh.

Take their iPhones.

I can’t.

Why not?

It’s how I let them know dinner is ready.

Why r u cooking for them?

‘They’re boys. If I don’t give them their greens and protein they’ll just go to McDonalds.”

Let them eat cake!

I’ll have to go buy some.

Anyway I know why I lost my voice.  Physically it’s because a forest of grass and ragweed invaded my airways (allergic rhinitis). But the emotional and psychological component to this ailment (laryngitis) is I didn’t speak/open up about certain issues with one of my clients.  For several weeks now she has been doing and saying things that are counterproductive to what was agreed upon.  I should have pointed it out to her the first time she had ‘a lapse in judgement’ and perhaps even said something about the fact that she had missed not one but two important meetings with potential clients because she ‘forgot to check her email’. (For those of you interested in psychological terms and definitions such behaviour is otherwise known as passive aggressive behaviour)  I stayed mum when I shouldn’t have. I hate to admit this but right now I can’t afford to lose this client.  I agreed to work with this person because I believed in her and her vision of success for her fledgeling business.   Since the body and mind work in sync my body is now ‘manifesting’ the ‘staying mum’ part of this story. It’s reminding me – in a painful, demoralizing way – that the choice I made went against who I am. I betrayed one of my fundamental values.

Personal integrity is important to me and has higher priority than personal gain.  And all my relationships personal or otherwise are based on honesty and openness.  I’m a straight shooter. Have to be if I am to be of real service to my clients but it became evident early on that this particular client does not take well to any advice or direction of any sort. (True success comes with a healthy dollop of humility and a willingness to learn).  Which explains why her business is not thriving but plodding along.  

I know what I have to do this coming week and I bet you anything whether I lose her as a client or not I will be 100% better once I’ve ‘cleared the air’.

Do you or have you experienced something similar? Are you aware of any particular physical manifestation to an emotional or psychological ailment?

 

Believing In The Improbable, The Impossible and The Illogical

Sometimes, on my way to or from work I walk past a park with a playground and when the weather is good (which it has been for a while now) the park is full of mothers and toddlers and children no older than nine (my estimate). I enjoy listening to the children scream with glee as they scamper down the slide (sometimes on all fours, funny monkeys!) and reach for the clouds from the seat of the swings.

I love how children believe in the implausible, illogical and impossible and how despite the odds being against them, continue to reach for the man on the moon or search, flashlight in hand, for the purple monster under the bed.

Growing up takes some doing.  It’s hard work trying to suspend if not abandon entirely, certain heart-truths or beliefs.  Imagine for example trying to communicate to your dearest and nearest that you suspect you were abducted by aliens or that Bigfoot carried off your cooler on your last camping trip.  Chances are they’d recommend you cut back on the boozing and look into therapy… unless of course you’re a writer.  Like me.  And your family is, well, used to all kinds of ‘fantasies’.

Image

I’m going to share with you a story today that I have shared once or twice at family gatherings.  It is a story that always draws a few ‘ahs’ and ‘aws’ while raising a few eyebrows and a fervent apology from my husband who thinks I’m bonkers.

My eldest son’s birth was a traumatic experience for me and not for any of the reasons you would suspect.  I was scared.  Very very scared.   Believing I was ill-prepared, inadequate and unworthy in equal measures.  So  instead of pushing when I was told to, by an increasingly irate obstetrician I focused all my energy on keeping my child inside me.  I don’t recommend this course of action.  I can assure you if you have not given birth yourself that the pain I endured (natural birth, no epidural) defies description.

Anyway my son made his appearance and was and is a perfect boy. I remember holding onto him feeling ill-equipped and unprepared.  M was about two months old when it became clear to my husband, my doctor and immediate family that I was suffering from post-partum depression.  When I wasn’t sleeping (which wasn’t often of course) I was crying.  And I mean crying. Long, ugly, messy bouts of deep sorrow.  I turned to prayer and sometimes with my baby in my arms I would sit on the rocking chair in his nursery and lament.  Yes, lament.  I wish I could say I soothed my firstborn with lullabies but the truth is M would doze off to the sound of my pain.

Then one day  all hope drained out of my body, I fell silent.   I remember that day clearly.  It was late afternoon and orange light fell in a ray over my son’s cot and a bird sang his last song for that day somewhere in the distance.  The nursery door was wide open and I could see the corridor from where I sat.  Something stirred.  A breeze from an open window? The colliding of molecules?  I watched transfixed as a pair of beautiful, impossibly white wings materialized by the door.  They were long feathered wings, like those of giant dove’s, attached to an invisible back and trailing behind them a slow moving mist.

I know how this sounds.  M says I’m weird and sharing this is a bad idea.  But you should know I wasn’t on medication even though I should have been.  I will end by saying this.  I believe in angels.  Do you?

What belief do you hold onto because you know it to be true however illogical and improbable it may seem to others?

 

 

 

 

 

The Trouble With Families and A Book Review

Children are quick to pick up on what their parents value or rather, what possessions are most valued by their parents.  My mother’s most prized possessions were her records and the record player.   My sister and I knew that because she had a routine. Mom would get home from work, throw off her shoes (yes, literally) put on a record and collapse onto the brown faux leather sofa with a very long sigh.  We were therefore very careful not to scratch any of her records but not so careful with the kitchenware.

Throughout all those nights of listening to records with mom we never heard her sing.  Not once.  So while my sister and I would flounce about screaming into our hairbrushes my mother would lie back and listen.   Fast forward twenty years, to one sultry summer evening on a beach, when my mother quite unexpectedly tells me that she had once been approached by a respected agent who had heard her sing at a party.  Turns out my mother had quite the singing voice.   My mother never took up the agent’s offer of representation.  She never pursued her dream of singing to audiences around the world.

This nugget of information unsettled me on so many levels.  It bothered me that my mother had turned her back on a wonderful opportunity,  a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.  It bothered me that she had never encouraged our own creativity (she barely encouraged me to keep up with my writing) and stifled her own gifts.  I felt my mother had purposefully distanced herself from my sister and I by keeping this and other stories about her youth to herself.   Imagine how I would have reacted if she had come out with a dark and ugly secret!

The point is, now that I am a parent I realize just how hard it is to tell which stories we can share with our children and which are best kept private.

Do you wrestle with this dilemma or are you an ‘open book’?

My favourite novels are almost all about the corrosive effects of secrets, especially family secrets.  I am sure every family has them just as I am sure that we all wrestle with various temptations and fantasies.   So when a dear friend of mine gave me a copy of Sue Miller’s While I Was Gone  I had to read it.

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Jo Becker has a loving husband, a beautiful home, three daughters and a rewarding career yet she is plagued by a persistent restlessness.  A sense that an elusive something is missing from her life and she is ‘suspended, waiting.  Between all these worlds and part of none ‘.  She has a sense of being “utterly present and also simultaneously, far far away.”  So when an old roommate reappears and so do her memories of her life in her early 20s Jo’s impulses threaten to fracture her family.

I really connected with Jo.  She is a contemporary heroine: busy, distracted (perhaps unconscious) and flawed.    Aren’t we all?

What makes this a great read besides the fact that the characters are expertly captured and the story well paced is that the author’s wisdom and understanding of human nature shines through.    Wonderful read!   ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

 

 

 

Let Me Eat Cake…Please

I am a sucker for cake.   I want to say All Cake but that would be a lie.  I have had bad cake.  Once I had to force a thick slice of marzipan covered ‘vanilla’ cake that tasted like cardboard down my throat at a christening, because the person who baked it was standing beside me.   I was ill for days after.  Not bent-over-the-toilet-bowl-sick but sick in spirit.  Cake should be so good you want to dive into it naked.  Another time, at a wedding, I inhaled a piece of dense fruit cake just so it would skip my taste buds and graze my tonsils before falling into my near-bursting stomach (I had feasted on a plate of cream puffs).  This is not to say I don’t like fruit cake it’s just not chocolate.  Like Chocolate Decadence.  Or butter cream.  Or God help me, vanilla cake infused with maple and coffee cream.

freeimages.co.uk food images

Some of my happiest memories involve cake.    Fancy birthday cakes, rich Black Forest cakes, Strawberry shortcakes and a neighbour’s humble but delicious honey cakes.    I remember her.  She was this gentle, old lady from Spain, famous in the neighbourhood for that one recipe.   A recipe that she ‘dabbled’ with, sometimes throwing in walnuts, other times ginger but mostly she would infuse it with love.  I gobbled it all up. 

I have been known to complain loudly if there is no cake (or cupcakes) at functions.  Even work functions.  When did cake became an ‘afterthought’.  Surely the purpose of having a reception or tea/coffee ‘meeting’ is for the cake?  I wanted a wedding reception so I could eat cake and still have some leftover for our first wedding anniversary breakfast.

Do you have a favorite cake/s? Please share. I’ll probably want some.