Speak the Extraordinary

Speak-
The desires of your heart unfettered,
And know that you are safe
As I hear with all of my being.

Seek-
To understand me,
And believe that my affections are true
While my fear is real yet surmountable.

Feel-
The fullness of my presence,
And realize that my longings are unfeigned
Though they may be yet unspoken.

Come-
Let us search the panorama,
And recognize our innate connection
With the potential for life extraordinary.

Freedom

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Freedom is a state of mind, not ordinarily an actual reality. We can feel free rather than exist freely. Our current world, which we have created for ourselves and others, intentionally or inadvertently but mostly as a result of irresponsibility, makes true freedom impossible. In some parts of the world, people fight for physical freedom: from slavery, forced prostitution, oppression and abuse of various kinds. In North America, we also subsist tied to society’s ideals and anchors: our phones, televisions, magazines and computers. We live by the news, our neighbours’ judgments, the size of our houses and genitalia. I would argue that I’m not the worst of offenders and generally carry around a positive attitude and only healthy concern for others’ opinions of me. But, am I free?

I find joy in freedom (who doesn’t), but I also enjoy responsibility; in my career, my family, my education. I am conscientious, reliable and typically loyal, and I thrive on accountability. I respect authority and hierarchy where necessary. I excel, given deadlines. Perhaps this makes me seem like an inherent dichotomy, and so be it.

So, during a two week vacation to BC and the Yukon, I had lofty goals of completing unreasonable amounts of work in the “off-hours”, and while I did do some good work, I found myself with a strong desire to just BE. Excuse me if that sounds like a cliché, but it’s as accurate a description of what I was pining for as I can come up with.

The drive from Whitehorse, Yukon to Atlin, British Columbia is idyllic. The evergreen trees are densely packed, a sea of deep shades of green, as dark and healthy as I’ve ever seen. The road meanders endlessly, taking you further and further from civilization. Atlin Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in BC, extends on the right, glassy and calm. Mountain after mountain reaches into the sapphire sky, steadfast and determined to dwarf everything surrounding it. It is there that you feel the world slip away, leaving you isolated and solitary. It is precisely that feeling which I was eager for.

Visiting family, I sat alone, perched on the edge of a rail-less upper deck, overlooking Atlin Lake and the Coastal Mountains. I felt free. For a few minutes, there was nothing else in the world but me, the placid water, the astounding mountains and the warm sun gilding the entire picture. For a few moments, freedom felt like a reality, inchoate. And then, it was interrupted by children shouting and playing, and lighthearted adults enjoying the esprit de corps and a grand meal. Those sounds bring joy in and of themselves, but a different feeling altogether. I felt disappointed not to have enjoyed that freedom a little longer, and for a moment was even irritated. I returned to the large group and enjoyed the rest of the evening immensely. I watched my son play with his “new-to-him” cousins and again, felt a different kind of delight and ease.

This trip brought much time for fun, and also contemplation and quiet. I thought I would write all about each place we visited but I didn’t feel the draw. I felt rather inspired to quiet my mind and in that, I found freedom. I realized that I seek and acquire freedom in many ways, by choice alone. The reality of life is that freedom, at least the way I define it, is impossible as a corporeal, daily existence. There is a big difference between outer and inner freedom and these are not interdependent. With the right attitude and a choice to be present in those miraculous and ecstatic moments, I can maximize the experience of wonderful liberty.

I write (at times) to set free pent-up feelings and desires. I am quiet in order to abandon the bustle of everyday life. I find ease and purity in the laughter of my son. I take risks to pursue liberation from routine. I lose myself in the writing of others. I’m taken to far-off places in savouring decadent foods. I push myself professionally and academically in a self-determined avoidance of mediocrity. I discover freedom in my intellectual pursuits, in pleasure, in pain and in innovation. Freedom blooms inside as I nurture my imagination, my spirituality, my sensuality, my femininity, my style, my uniqueness. I am liberated in seizing opportunities to show kindness, sincerity, and hospitality. I feel released in being a source of pleasure to those I care for. Most of all, I’m free when, with attention to morality, I act authentically and put aside any concerns separate from the current experience. Inner freedom, for me, comes too with letting go of fear. This inner freedom, detached from circumstance, is something I’ll continually strive for, fail at acquiring, and attempt again and again.

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Taken to Great Heights

I’m powerlessly in awe of you.
I shudder at the thought of you.
My hair stands on end in your presence.
You reach for the sky mightily,
Rebelling against your very roots
Fixed in earth and water alike.
Your stalwartness inspires me.
You sustain life with your excellence,
Or shun it with your severity.

You elevate me to great heights
With incredible supremacy and influence.
My heart pounds, breath hastens,
You have inexplicable impact on my whole.
My body, mind and spirit are stimulated in essence.
You are nature at its most ostentatious, striking.
Great summits, you astonish me.

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Distant Friend (For Deanne)

Hearts reconnect in friendships sound.
Evoke memories, reminiscent of days passed.
Rouse laughter, camaraderie in earnest.
Full bellies and raised glasses
Further join the love of faithful friends.

Tears of mixed emotions:
Sincere fondness and joy in reunion,
Heartfelt sorrow in parting.
The strange space of time and distance
Detracts not from the true bond of friends.

Home

They say home is where the heart is. I don’t know who “they” are, but I’m not sure I fully agree with them. It is logical that where you find love, ultimately you should be content. However, I don’t believe that finding the object of your heart’s great love in a place necessarily creates an undeniable impression of “home”.

I grew up in the Toronto area, so technically speaking, it is home. It was my birthplace, is the area where my family resides, and I have many memories there. In 2007, I decided to go on an adventure and take a job on Vancouver Island. I had always felt an innate attraction to BC. Having always had a bit of a hippie side, this wasn’t a surprise to most. I left Ontario in January 2007 and within days of landing on the Island, I felt as though I’d found home.

Jumping over the years between then and now, here I sit, writing this post from a table overlooking the ocean; the Straight of Georgia to be exact. I’m back in the Comox Valley for just a visit, and yet I feel like I’ve returned home.

I used to have a major fear of flying. I never let it stop me from travelling, but I had my share of anxiety attacks before takeoff, during turbulence and landing. At some point I started drinking a glass of wine or two before a flight and found that did the trick. For a business trip from Comox to Phoenix, Arizona, my employer booked my flight from Comox to Vancouver on Coast Mountain Air. CMA runs small planes: Beech 1900D, twin-engine turbroprops. They are 18-seaters, so for someone who does not like to fly, they are terrifying. You can feel every bump, see into the cockpit, and view the runway through the windshield as it approaches. That day I flew at 8am, so I certainly didn’t have any opportunity to drink beforehand. I woke up in the morning in a complete panic, refusing to go. I did get on that plane, and I didn’t enjoy a single moment of it.

Friday, we flew from Toronto to Vancouver first. My two year old son Elijah was an absolute angel the entire 5 hour flight, enjoying the trip quietly and enthusiastically. I marveled at his joy and complete lack of fear about anything out of his control. Fellow passengers commented about his good behavior and humour and the ease with which he slipped into a deep sleep in the seat that was so oversized for him. He found creative ways to play in his seat with his matchbox cars and tank engines, snacked on cashews and dried fruit, and didn’t even watch a movie. I did fine too, having lately found myself worrying very little and letting go more of circumstances beyond my control.

In Vancouver, we waited for our CMA flight to Comox; the one I had personally booked for us months before, long enough before the trip that I could ignore my fear. This was the real test. The butterflies congregated in my belly, flying around and making me feel nauseous. Perhaps my newfound confidence was really just a hoax – of course I could manage a turbulence-free flight on an Airbus 320. We boarded the turboprop and little Elijah sat in his own seat, happily eating apple chips. I felt ok. We took off and were up to cruising altitude in no time for the short jaunt. I watched as my little boy placed his chin on the windowsill and silently, maturely watched the world below.

And me? As we crossed the straight below, I pressed my face against the window like a child, sat in peace and cried. No fear, no nervousness, just awe. This place is simply marvelous; the vast cobalt waters and emerald inlets, the snow-covered mountaintops and glacier, the huge groves of evergreens and the sheer breadth of wild, raw beauty. I can’t accurately express what the West Coast does to me – shivers travel down my spine, goosebumps cover my arms, a warm glow fills my heart. I have been in every province from New Brunswick, west (except the Yukon and Northwest Territories), and I do hear about the loveliness of the East Coast, but to me the West holds some of the greatest natural treasures to be found in Canada, and in the World. My worries and anxiety were absent, perhaps vanished forever, as I gazed out and down and absorbed the majesty of my destination. I was filled to the brim with love, joy and peace in those moments, irrespective the somewhat challenging nature of my life at present.

I may never live here again; I don’t know where life will take me and I’m open to adventures of all kinds. True, I don’t actually live here, but for this week in actuality, and for the rest of my life in spirit, it is here that I am home.
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[….I wasn’t intending to write about this trip but I have a feeling, as we enjoy home and travel up to the Yukon next week, there is more to come. ]

My Canadian Food Hero

A colleague and fellow blogger inadvertently inspired me to learn about Valerie Lugonja and the Canadian Food Experience Project. I was intrigued to read about the challenge to Canadian foodies and bloggers alike, and although food is not normally a subject of my blogging, it has certainly influenced my life in many important ways. This aside, I too have taken up the challenge to write a post on the 7th day of each month, as set out by Valerie. Please visit the foregoing link to learn more about her desire to showcase the Canadian food identity through the individual experiences of any Canadian who is impassioned to share theirs.

This month’s challenge is to write about a Canadian Food Hero. I realize I am 3 days late, but since I only learned about this project on the 8th, this will have to do for this month.

There are a few people who came to mind as I contemplated who my food hero was; my mother, my grandmother, and others. Food has played a powerful role in my life, from early childhood through to now and beyond and I’ve had many memorable and sometimes intense food experiences. I love to savour food of all kinds and would suggest I’m quite adventurous as an adult. Attitudes about food were significantly shaped by my family’s European ideals in both positive and negative ways. Nonetheless, there is one person who stood out to me as a true hero, and this post is dedicated to her.

I eat mostly vegetarian, often vegan and purposefully healthily. I don’t deny myself the occasional opportunity to indulge in something meaty, rich and fatty because I still have an undeniable craving for such indulgence at times, but have also found ways to still feel I enjoy incredible taste experiences without those foods. I don’t believe in imbalance and complete denial, so moderation is key for me to maintain my wholesome habits the rest of the time. Given my love of tasty but nutritious food, I knew immediately that my food hero had to be someone who not only creates delicious and aesthetically gorgeous food, but also develops dishes that are nourishing and employ a broad range of nutritious and natural ingredients. So, with that determined, it was obvious. My local food hero is Julia Graham.

Julia is a neighbor, friend, wife and mother, teacher, community supporter, and on the list goes. She and her husband have raised two of the most charming, well-mannered and bright young ladies I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. You will often see Julia out for a run, or a ride on her baby-blue cruiser bike with her red and white polka-dotted helmet; this playfulness is indicative of her wonderful spirit, equally played out in her food. With a preference for vegetarian and vegan foods, Julia’s friends and family also know her for the ‘meatless Mondays” in her home, to which I’m sure her husband Scott has grown to love over time (right, Scott?). If you visit their home, there is almost always something new in the oven or on the stove; I’ve never tasted anything Julia prepared that didn’t taste amazing. And when we are fortunate enough to have one of her girls show up at our door with the surplus of a recent catering menu, we excitedly accept!

Julia, a trained chef, owned her own catering company for seven years before going on to become a teacher. Julia has taught culinary arts to high school students for the last eight years and is beloved by her pupils and fellow teachers. I’ve never been in her classroom, but her reputation precedes her; she imparts her passion for high quality, healthy ingredients and beautiful food on her young apprentices.

Julia continues to cater in her “spare time”, putting together creative and uniquely tailored meals for small and large groups alike. Most notably, she is a beacon in the community as she volunteers her time and expertise to cater large charitable events on a regular basis, where she invites her current and past students to join on the team. This includes an annual, very large fundraising event where she and her large, young crew create an authentic and raved-about East Indian meal for several hundred guests. Julia’s heart for local and distant causes is evident, as is her passion for local and fair trade ingredients. You might get to see Julia out on her bike, proudly wearing her Fair Trade t-shirt on Fair Trade Karma day.

Last year, the Maxville Farmer’s Market needed a new volunteer coordinator. Julia stepped up to the plate, and local residents have seen the market flourish beyond imagination. For a small town of about 800 residents, the market abounds with fresh, local and often organic and unique produce. I even learned about bag cultivating my own oyster mushrooms, something I plan to do after my vacation. In addition, you’ll find locally raised meat, locally roasted fair-trade coffee, homemade and authentic Thai food, incredible baked goods, vegan specialties, crafts and more. Much of the community turns up on Friday afternoon, and through her zeal and community contacts, Julia has single-handedly grown our market into something to be very proud of.

This past year, Julia was moved to a different local high school and it was a very emotional time for her, her family, her students and friends. After much deliberation and exploration, Julia made a very brave decision: to resign from her teaching position at the end of the academic year and pursue her long-borne dream to open her own restaurant. In October, Julia will celebrate the grand opening of her much anticipated and carefully designed establishment, the Quirky Carrot Café. The Quirky Carrot will not only be a high end café in the heart of Alexandria, Ontario, but also a cooking school and catering company. I, for one, cannot wait to regularly enjoy an undoubtedly delectable, locally sourced meal and (finally) an excellent cup of coffee in town.

Julia’s boldness, confidence, grace and inner (and outer) beauty inspire me. She has strived for and grasped her dream, and will now bless the entire community with her wisdom and mastery of healthful, beautiful and scrumptious cooking, created with the most nutritious and local ingredients available to her. I have no doubt she will bring unique and intriguing elements and recipes to us all, and will be exceptionally successful. She certainly has my support.

http://www.thequirkycarrot.ca

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