It's Either Right or It's Wrong

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." ~ Robert Frost (American Poet)

I will start this post out by saying that my mother is an amazing woman. If I ever needed anything (outside of, let's say, unconditional acceptance), she would be there for me in an instant. I never want to take away from that fact when I write about my mother, as it is possible (may be even likely) that I may write about her in a negative light at times. I am a daughter, therefore, a well-developed dysfunctional relationship exists as it does in most (if not every) mother-daughter relationship - one where the foundation has been carefully laid and ripped up repeatedly. I am hesitant to even attempt to write about my mother as she, and our relationship, is so complex that I doubt I can give the stories any justice. I know that I cannot represent her "side of the story" accurately or adequately, as I am not a mother and have no idea what it would be like to raise a child - particularly a child like me. Actually, that's inaccurate - I was a beautiful child; ages 15-23 were "interesting." What strikes me as particularly interesting, how fundamentally different I am from my mother, the differences being so astounding that I often question where I came from (I don't bear an overt resemblance to my father's personality either). So, although I will proceed with caution out of a level of respect, I will simultaneously throw aside my prudence for the sake of what has to be considered hilarity for my own sanity to remain intact.

My mother operates on a system of black and white thinking that is integral to the very essence of her understanding of who she is as a human being. She functions without exploring the greyer sides of life and, although some of this is generational, some of it is a part of her personality that she is very comfortable living within. More comfortable than, let's say, if she was to start some sentences with, "well, I suppose if I considered that factor, my opinion might change." That is unlikely to occur. I am the complete opposite of this. When considering most things, I exist in the "grey" to the point where it might be irritating to others. I consider everything. A good example of this would be the experience of me watching the show COPS, where I sit and consider everything that might have happened to the "criminal" to make him or her behave way they are do and, often, I sympathize with their plight and side with the "bad guys." I can often be heard saying, "no one wakes up one day and decides that they want to be a prostitute/crack head." I genuinely believe that is true. However, to people like my mother, its black and white - being a prostitute or a crack head is wrong, it's illegal, and it's immoral. End of story. This makes for interesting conversation in my household when I dare to broach any subject that can be considered controversial.

Example One: Gay marriage.

Here's a doozey that I will admit my mother has made small progress on over the past couple of years. I will start out by saying that my mother loves gay men and would love to be a hag; although, I wonder if she feels this way because it's the fashionable thing to do. Interestingly enough, she has very little time for lesbians and I imagine this comes from her belief that lesbians all like to do yard work, wear plaid, and drink beer (out of the bottle, oh my!). Gay men like to shop and gossip and tell you how fabulous you really, apparently they are okay.

Regardless, when "the gays" started asserting that they wanted equal marriage rights, my mother struggled significantly. The idea that same-sex couples wanted a marriage was simply preposterous to my mother....PREPOSTEROUS I SAY!  Why, why was this preposterous, you might ask? Well, for the same reason that a lot of people her age struggled with this concept. It was how she explained her perspective that was...hilariously awful. My mother spouted the same argument heard across the planet...a marriage is a commitment to god, a union in front of god, between a man and a woman. And that was that; no grey area here. God doesn't approve of the "gay lifestyle" making a union in front of god even more exorbitant to her. Her theory was this: If we let "the gays" get married, what's next? The next thing you know, people will want to marry their dogs and we'll have to let them because we let "the gays" get married.

What? No really, what???? The only thing I will say on this is something that will clarify just how dissimilar my mother and I are. If people wanted to marry their dogs, without having sex with them or doing anything else that would harm them, I would understand. I love my dog so much that I could pop her little head off. I would consider marrying her....we're married now for Christ sakes. We live together, we snuggle, we bring each other joy and love, we are protective over each other, we don't judge each other. That is like a marriage....only way happier.

Example Two: Marijuana.

To my mother, marijuana and crack are virtually the same thing. I hear that for Americans (no offense intended) the marijuana perspective is similar, but, we aren't Americans...we are Canadians. And a lot of Canadians smoke pot and our Canadian laws regulating the consumption of marijuana are pretty lax. For those of you who don't know Canadian law, if you get stopped with less than a certain amount of marijuana on you, you'll likely get a fine that will not involve legal charges or a criminal record. You have an equal chance that the police officer will just take it from you (with no fines) and, after his shift that night, will likely smoke it in front of his TV to relax. That's just how it is. Once a year in Canada people sit on Parliament Hill and smoke pot all day. For those who don't know, Parliament Hill would be the Canadian version of the White House. I wouldn't go so far to say that smoking pot is the Canadian way...but, it's part of our backdrop whether we like it or not. This is also preposterous to my mother.

It all starts with pot.....marijuana is a gateway drug. Smoking marijuana goes against every fibre of my being. If you smoke marijuana, you will become addicted to it. I need to mention here that my mother believes if you use any mind altering substances, you are likely an addict. Except her...she enjoys wine and because she indulges in it casually, she does not have a problem. And, she doesn't...but neither does many of the people she surmises do have a problem - which is almost everyone.  If a person is a crack head and quits doing that but still smokes pot, they mise well continue being a crack head because they are still using drugs. It's like those people who stop drinking booze because they're an alcoholic and then start drinking non-alcoholic beer. You can conclude from this that mom doesn't believe in the harm reduction approach, of which I am a huge fan.

My sister is a fairly conservative person and has never indulged in marijuana smoking and even she understands that pot smoking is part of the Canadian landscape. We often joke about how if Mom ever smoked pot, she'd realize what all of the fuss is about, would likely become a major pothead and, consequently, RELAX a little. My perspective is this - the government, a long long time ago, legalized the wrong thing. Alcohol should be illegal and pot should be legal. May be that's a little black and white thinking of my own. Here's some Canadian statistics for you:

In 2009, 89000 impaired driving offences occurred in Canada and, of those, 2% were drug-related (meaning 98% involved alcohol). This figure includes 154 incidents of impaired operation of a vehicle causing death and 890 incidents of impaired operation causing bodily harm.

In 2010, among Canadians 15 years and older, the prevalence of past-year cannabis use decreased from 14.1% in 2004 to 10.7%. The prevalence of past-year cannabis use decreased, among youth aged 15 to 24 years, from 37.0% in 2004 to 25.1% in 2010.

In 2009-2012, the prevalence of heavy frequent drinking among youth 15 to 24 years of age, was approximately three times higher than the rate for adults 25 years and older (9.4% versus 3.3%). Heavy infrequent drinking increased among adults, from 2.4% in 2009 to 3.3% in 2010. This was likely driven by an increase in heavy infrequent drinking among males from 3.8% in 2009 to 5.6% in 2010. Light frequent drinking increased among females from 25.4% in 2009 to 28.2% in 2010.

In 2010, 14.6% of Canadians reported experiencing at least one harm in their lifetime as a result of their alcohol use. 2.1% of Canadians 15 years and older reported experiencing at least one harm in the past year due to their illicit drug use (all illicit drug use, not just marijuana). Among current users the reported rate of past year harm has also not changed since 2004.

You can draw your own conclusions from these stats, but I will say this: the potheads I know are responsible, professional adults that smoke regularly and their biggest issue revolves around the potential for laziness. The alcoholics I know who drink regularly are a mess. Period.

Example Three: (What I Consider to Be) Basic Human Rights for Incarcerated Individuals.

They should spend their days digging a hole and then filling it back in...then they'd be tired and prison violence would decrease. They should be shot and then their families should be billed for the bullet, like in Japan. Bread and water....that is all they should be given to eat...they lost their right to nutritious food when they broke the law. There is no racial profiling in the United people really do commit more crimes. Canada should adopt the caning laws that exist in Singapore.....people in Singapore get caned for chewing gum because it's illegal....I wish chewing gum was illegal here.

I have spent a lifetime hearing these phrases. It astounds me that I turned out so good....seriously, it really does. Is the one about Japan even true?

If you knew me more intimately, you would know how impossible it was for me to live under the same roof with someone who looked at life and people in this way. The only people in this world that I believe should may be be shot is pedophiles and that is because I honestly do not believe that they can be "cured." I feel that I've done the research enough to qualify my opinion on this as I worked in a relapse prevention program for pedophiles while completing my bachelor of social work degree. I'm not saying that some of these individuals do not feel remorse for what they have done because it was my experience that some of them genuinely do. But, in terms of them stopping harming children.....I'm not so sure about that one. So, to me, if you harm a child and you cannot be helped and, therefore, you will continue to harm children when not contained in the walls of a prison....well, you gotta go. That is my personal opinion so I will not apologize to those who have a different one.

In my grey-world, and as noted in my description of my inability to watch COPS, I feel that people arrive at certain places in life due to circumstances that are often out of their control - initially at least. In working with kids and seeing the damage that is done to them, I am not shocked that the world is becoming filled with people who are engaging in criminal activity. Quite honestly, I am surprised it isn't worse. You cannot do the things that are being done to children and expect them to grow up and be okay. Everyone starts out as a infant....and what happens in those first 3-5 years of life has a large role in shaping who an individual is. This is basic, to me. This doesn't even speak to the other aspects of society that shape individuals, such as racism, sexism, bigotry and hate. I also believe this: if you lock a person in a cage, they will become an animal. That is common sense, to me.

Example Four: (What I Consider to Be) Basic Human Rights for All Individuals.

My mother believes that the government should be able to sterilize people. I am not naive enough to think that there aren't others who share in this opinion (as well as the opinions discussed above), in fact I am fully aware that many people believe in this concept. I used to work at a drop-in centre for local individuals living in poverty or who were homeless; I was a crisis counsellor there. I remember telling my mother about one of the community members who had birthed 8 children, all of which were apprehended at the hospital and placed directly into care. Sterilize her....immediately! Conversely, my first thought was, wow - this woman must be in so much emotional pain, or feel no pain at all due to her life experience. Wow, I cannot imagine that. Wow, we need to figure out a way to help this woman. But, that's me. Not just the me that was trained to think that way via my education; the me that existed before that and after that and now and forever.

My mother wants to approach Muslim women and tear off their hijabs and tell them that they are free! And she loves the newly developed laws that are spreading across Europe and the UK, banning women from wearing their traditional head scarves. Not because she wants Muslim women to be free, per se (however she understands the word free to be applied in this context) but more because she doesn't want the hijab worn in Canada....or anywhere in North America....or, more accurately, anywhere outside of what would be considered "Muslim countries." Obviously, she believes in the when in Rome mentality. Similarly, any conversations about religion should be avoided at all times in my household. My fall from the grace of god and the catholic church was/is hard on my mother....she feels bad for me because I no longer believe. She also feels that I should believe just in case I am wrong about my understanding of heaven and hell. I think I'm willing to gamble on that one.

Because I have been forced to live with these ideals my entire life, they have become almost funny to me. And because I am so fundamentally different, I have spent countless hours attempting to help my mother see the error in her logic. It's taken me until the last couple years to finally see that this is an exercise in futility, as the likelihood of her changing is close to the likelihood that I will, let's say, become a nun or something like that. That doesn't mean that every once in awhile, my inner oppositional child doesn't rear her ugly head and engage in sarcastic arguments with my mother. Yes, that still happens more than I care to admit. Because I love my mother, I have tried to understand her perspective on things given her limited life experience, her generation, and all that business. I can say truthfully that she often will not step outside of her comfort zone to attempt to understand my perspectives. She's amusing though.....I will give her that.

I think the above describes the real reason we need siblings. If nothing else, my sister is the only other person on the planet who truly understands what it is like to live a life with mom. I am so grateful for that.

Humanitarian Crisis in East Africa

Humanitarian Crisis in East Africa - CIDA

First Hand Accounts

"The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do." ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach (American Author)

I started with reading books. Being a social worker I figured that I knew a lot about the issues in Africa, what I came to find out was that I had an unfathomable amount more to learn. I knew the basics whereas I needed a masters to really understand. And, after all the books I've read, I know that I do not truly understand as I believe no one can....unless they actually go there. I read about the HIV crisis and its direct linkages to the pharmaceutical industry; I read about children being abducted by rebels needing new soldiers for their wars; I read about orphaned children and the kindness of poverty stricken Africans who take them in; I read about the genocide and I read about using rape as a weapon of war; I read about the historical context of slavery. Eventually, I started reading about international development and various humanitarian aid projects, which proved to be interesting and exciting. When I would travel home for vacation to see my family, I would often make a conscious effort to check the title of the book I was reading to ensure it wouldn't be upsetting to anyone. At times, I found myself wandering the isles of Chapters for serious chunks of time...looking for new information to find and devour. It was amazing how little I knew, as I felt myself to be a socially conscious individual. I was wrong in that assessment of myself; however, I've been making significant strides over the past while in becoming one.

Reading first hand accounts of the young girls in Uganda impacted me deeply, as they spoke of their terror at being kidnapped and used for "pleasure" and war (Stolen Angels by Kathy Cook).  Reading stories of journalists who travelled into war torn Africa to observe scenes that left them flirting with post traumatic stress disorder was dumbfounding. However, it was the stories of the African women who took in orphaned children that spoke to my heart, such as the story of Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra (There's No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene) - an Ethiopian woman who filled her home with hundreds of children with HIV/AIDS.  I've always enjoyed reading about real life and I have often heard that I read depressing and disturbing novels.....I mean, who wants to read about little girls being kidnapped in Uganda? Not many people, I imagine, or may be a lot...who knows. Regardless, I began to educate myself on a variety of issues that were happening in different parts of Africa and, as a result, I began to learn about how individuals, groups of people and organizations are attempting to help.

I was immediately drawn to the work being done through Médecins Sans Frontières  (MSF, Doctor's Without Borders), a well-established medical relief organization that has been working internationally since 1971. What spoke to me about the organization is that they are not affiliated with political or religious groups and that they observe impartiality in their medical ethics, providing humanitarian assistance to all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, and political views. No one has to 'sing for their supper' or pledge allegiance to anyone else to receive aid. So, I began reading books that provided first hand accounts of MSF field workers experiences working in various African locations, such as Six Months in Sudan by James Maskalyk and Hope in Hell by Dan Bortolotti. Instead of quelling my interest, these books simply fuelled it as they described the conditions Africans were living in and the relatively small sucesses of humanitarian aid organizations in comparison to the population of people needing assistance. It was facinating.

As I became more informed, my dreams of travelling to Africa became more defined and easier to articulate; however, they remained dreams due to having no idea of how to transition them from this place. I started to wonder, then imagine, what it would be like to actually go away to Africa for a period of time and I asked myself, is this even possible? Most days I answered myself with a resounding 'NO!' as it seemed unattainable from many aspects. Financially, practically - in terms of work - and the biggest element being that I was still kind of a mess....mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Despite any other reasons I could surmise, in knowing myself as intimately as I didn't seem possible or, at best, did not seem likely. I felt disappointed in myself, knowing that other people do these kind of things regularly because, if they didn't, organizations like MSF would not exist. I wanted to be one of those people but, at the time I didn't understand that I possessed the fortitude to become one because I was too lost.

Despite feeling wayward, when people asked me what I wanted to accomplish in this life.....marriage, children, establishing myself within my standard answer became, I want to go to Africa. It was virtually the only thing on the bucket list. I wanted to be able to provide my own first hand accounts of my experiences.

Family Expressions that Wouldn't Make Sense to Anyone Else

"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance." ~ George Bernard Shaw (Irish Playwright)

Having a mother (and aunts/uncles) from Newfoundland has been a great blessing in many ways. In fact, if I could be surrounded by Newfoundlander's most of the time, I would choose that option. They are great people, for the most part, with a colorful history and a unique grasp of the English language. Growing up, there were common words and phrases used in my house that we not part of the vernacular of my friends or their parents. Since moving to a different province, one that is removed from Maritime culture, I have realized that these words and phrases are very unique to Newfoundland; although my mother asserts that they come from the old English dictionary. I have found myself explaining these terms to people unfamiliar with them and have often found people to be fascinated by this use of language. Fascinated and amused.

King Carn (K-ar-n): meaning ones neck. "Let me stick my nose in your king carn to smell your perfume."
Pole (Poll): also meaning ones neck. "My favourite part on that baby is her pole."
Come to Jesus: meaning a significant disagreement that leads to a verbal argument. "If you bring up my smoking one more time, we're going to have a come to Jesus."
Puddock (Pud-uck): meaning ones throat. "Now jam that sandwich down your puddock so we can hurry up and get out of here."
Streel (St-real): meaning someone who is lazy, typically a woman. "She is such a streel, she won't even do her own laundry."
Slut's Day: meaning someone who chooses to be lazy by lying around in bed all day. "I had myself a real Slut's Day recently and laid in bed reading a good novel all day."
Geezler (Gez-lir): meaning someone who is a nuisance. "That boy has been a geezler all day, getting into everything and making me chase him around."
Covages (Cuv-age-is): meaning greedy or selfish. "That girl is some covages, not even sharing the ice cream with her brother."
Lazier than a Cut Dog: meaning a person too lazy to move. "That boy is lazier than a cut dog...won't even get up off the couch to mow the lawn."
Piss-Burned: meaning a child needing a diaper change because they have peed so much in it that it's going to start irritating their skin. "For the love of God, would you change that child's diaper....he's going to get piss-burned.
Sleveen (Sl-eve-en): meaning a person who is lazy or deceitful. "Don't you trust that man with your money, he's a sleveen and will probably squander it."
Glag (G-lag): meaning someone who is a gossip or who talks about other people behind their back. "Don't listen to a word that glag says, she's so full of the gossip."
I will add more to this list as I remember them.

Gluten Free

"In order to change we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired." ~ Frannie Lou Harmer (American Voting Rights Activist & Civil Rights Leader)

When the witch doctor explained to me that, based on my symptomology, I was likely intolerant to gluten, I thought to myself "what in the hell is he talking about?" The only information that I had on gluten was that it's practically in everything we eat and that giving it up really sucks. Not encouraging. I had heard of Celiac Disease and had worked with a kid who had to maintain a specific diet because she had Celiac. It seemed really complicated....and expensive. I was happy when he told me that he only wanted me to try a gluten free diet for three weeks to rule out the possibility of an intolerance or Celiac. I was fairly confident that I could do three weeks; however, I was also confident that once those three weeks were over, I would be right back to eating breads and pastas. Now, I am not one for making drastic decisions and changes that would generally be considered healthy. When it comes to getting large tattoos or altering my hair style - I get an A+ for bravery. However, when it comes to making changes that require a distinctly different way of living daily life that requires an ongoing commitment, I aim for a C-. Good examples of this would be: quitting smoking, exercising and daily self care. Going gluten free demanded all of these things; therefore, my success with this particular project has been nothing short of amazing.

Initially, my witch doctor provided me with some basic information about what to expect when giving up gluten, what foods to avoid and what foods were safe. Everything else I was able to find on the Internet and there was ample information out there to support a gluten free lifestyle, as well as recipes and ingredient lists that were very helpful. The other thing he strongly recommended was starting to eat as many organic products that I could, such as fruits and vegetables. This was going to be very expensive, I could just feel it. May I ask why becoming healthy is such an expensive prospect? Is that not counter intuitive to what we are hoping to accomplish during our days on Earth as human kind? Ridiculous.

With a deep breath, I looked forward into my three weeks and plunged head first into the gluten free world. I emptied my cupboards and fridge of any and all products containing gluten, which basically left my cupboards and fridge completely bare. It really is in everything and, even when you think it might not be in something, if you look closely enough - there it is. After heading to my local grocery store and being very overwhelmed and discouraged by the lack of gluten free and organic items available, I went back online to figure out a different solution. Small health food stores were available throughout the city; however, their prices were totally unbelievable. I was lucky and quickly found a place in the surrounding area that sold gluten free and fresh organically (locally) grown products and on top of this wonderful discovery, they also  delivered to your door once a week. Bingo. I set up an account immediately. A couple weeks after this, I found out that the Bulk Barn has a wonderful selection of gluten free products that are much cheaper that you can purchase in other places so I have become a frequent flier there.

Making this transition was not difficult solely because of the organization it took to consistently have organic, gluten free items in my home. Going gluten free forced me to change every eating habit I had, from the types of food I was cooking, to the new recipes I was learning, to the preparation of food, to the frequency of being in the kitchen. It was crazy. And, what was crazier was the fact that I just simply did it, without complaining or procrastinating. I just did it, completely, and that was totally unlike me. I could no longer eat at the restaurants I frequented or casually snack on granola bars and muffins. Outside of purchasing cigarettes, I no longer had any reason to stop by the corner store. My trips to the local grocery store dramatically declined. Being invited out for dinner became complicated and it became easier to stay at home and cook. I became very aware of what I was putting into my body and my body responded very positively.

For the first three to five days I went through what I assume was carbohydrate withdrawal, which for me felt like a never fulfilled hunger ache in my stomach. It drove me bonkers. Planning every meal - every snack - also drove me bonkers. After the first week, I noticed a dramatic difference in my episodes of bloating that, at times, had left me looking five months pregnant. My stomach and digestive system felt happy. The second and third weeks, I experienced a distinct shift in my mood and levels of anxiety. My brain and heart felt happy too. That was all it took really and, during my next appointment with my witch doctor, I informed him that I would be remaining gluten free. Likely Forever.  That's how much better I felt - physically, emotionally and mentally. My stress decreased and my ability to cope with stress increased. People at work started telling me that my demeanour was completely different and I started losing weight. This wasn't solely due to the change in my diet; at the same time, my witch doctor was helping me address some other identified issues, which I will describe in their own, separate posts.

As time has gone by, the benefits from going gluten free and eating organic has had pronounced changes on how I function and how my body functions. I have also given up red meat, which was very difficult for me but has been worth it. Who knew? Apparently, lots of people, but, I didn't and that's all that really matters.

The Osteo

"If you want to know what your experiences were like in the past, examine your body now. If you want to know what your body will look like in the future examine your experiences now." ~ Ancient Proverb

Society as a whole is astoundingly disconnected from the Earth and from ourselves, as human beings. As an individual, I have wholeheartedly neglected myself emotionally, spiritually and - most pronounced - physically. For years upon years. Oh, there were some good moments in there....I distinctly remember being in the best shape of my life in 2005 when I was hitting the gym, swimming, and kickboxing. I must have had a lobotomy or something that year because to say that was "out of character" is a gross understatement. I have been prone to laziness. A lot of the time. To say the least.

Given my sometimes lazy attitude and my tendency to relish eating chocolate, Thai food, pop (oh, how I love Pepsi), and the worst offender - Bailey's -  the last few years have not been kind to my body and my age is now changing my ability to drop 5lbs in one week. Now, I actually need to work at it. Besides that, I experience pain in various parts of my body....not like requiring pain management pain, but more aches and pains than I likely should have at 33. And headaches. And stress. And, I smoke, so knock a couple hundred years off my life expectancy for that evil-doing. Oh, and I did some drugs over the years and pickled myself with alcohol. Basically, I'm fucked.

A couple months ago, my BFF was telling me about her recent experience with visiting an Osteopath, which was extremely positive and she immediately saw results. An Osteopath falls under alternative medicine and basically they look at the relationship between structure and function of the body. It's a holistic approach that believes they body holds the power to heal itself through making connections between the body, mind and spirit. Not exactly the same as western medicine, eh? I have been working with my doctor (GP) for some years now and, although I like her and think she is competent, she is a medical practitioner and is limited in her ability to step outside of the medical model and look at someone as a whole person. Over the past some months (no, wait...years) I've been experiencing a lot of stress in relation to my workplace; it's a complicated story that I won't get in to. As a result, I have developed issues that I have assumed were stress related and the advice my GP gives me is to "just find a new job." Outside of that, no tests have been performed, no further exploration into matters.

I have always been one that is open to experiencing different ways of working through problems and I have participated in acupuncture, therapy, yoga, and attempted meditation at various points in my life. For me to explore seeing an Osteopath isn't really that out of the ordinary. I had no idea what I was in for and I am so glad I went as the things I have learned are crazy. I now affectionately refer to my Osteopath as my "witch doctor" and he doesn't seem to mind. My witch doctor is originally from the UK and is unassuming, gentle and kind. Apparently, he is very good at picking up on the energies of others and, upon first meeting him I left him feeling very "scrambled." Not shocking if you know me. His education is both in Osteopathy and Naturopathy and he brings philosophies and techniques from both into his work.  He is a very cool guy. Seeing an Osteo is a distinctly different experience than any I've had utilizing western medical practices from the moment you walk into the beautifully calming office to the examination process to what you are prescribed (not meaning medication). From what I've discovered, it's one of those things that you just need to go with and, quite likely if you over think it, you will fail to benefit wholly from the experience. It's so outside of our experience with western medicine that it is easily dismissed and, if I had not been open to meeting with my witch doctor and wasn't prepared to listen to what he had to say.....well, nothing would have changed, I guess.

Things have changed and my body is starting to heal. And because my body is starting to heal, aspects of my emotional and mental self are also starting to heal. Thank you Osteo. The things we discovered about my physical self were profound to me. May be not to others, but to me. They were profound because once we started working on them, I felt so totally better that I literally could not believe it. It was so simple. My witch doctor has said that there are things - aliments that we just learn to live with as humans, such as headaches, bloating, anxiety, back problems, etc. However, we don't have to live with these things and, in fact, they are startlingly easy to fix. Over the past two months or so, I have discovered that I am intolerant to Gluten, my thyroid was not functioning properly and I had a parasite (gulp). Yes, a parasite. A fucking parasite. Like a worm thing? Yes, like a worm thing. How my GP never explored any of these things, given the symptomology I reported, I will never know because they seem pretty damn significant if you ask me.

"Just get a new job..." are you kidding me?

Creeping Back

"Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress." ~ Bruce Barton (American Author & Politician)

After Sue died, things drastically changed for me. Not in all of typical ways you might think, but, there was change. I imagine that many people, after losing a friend so suddenly (particularly when said friend was only 41), would take inventory on their life to see where changes could be made. After Sue died, I made a lot of promises to myself that never came to fruition. For example, I vowed to quit smoking - that was over two years ago....and here I go, lighting another cigarette. I vowed to start engaging in physical exercise - again, two years ago, not a lick of exercise has been done. I guess these promises were akin to making New Year's resolutions that never actually happen. Frankly, I think Sue would have been disappointed....not in my lack of commitment, but from me thinking I would change these things in my life simply because she died. In fact, she would have been wholly against quitting smoking, something that we tried to accomplish together when she was alive and never succeeded in past the 24 hour mark. At one point we attempted to channel the "just for today" philosophy and would attempt to quit smoking for just one day (with the goal of quitting again the next day, and so on).  Yeah, it didn't work, but we had fun trying.

The changes I experienced were a little more philosophical than that. If there was any remaining doubt as to whether god existed or not.....that was finished. Probably unfair to the 'big guy upstairs' should he actually exist as someone dying likely isn't good evidence of his non-existence. But, that was the final nail in the ol' proverbial coffin (no pun intended). There was also a profound understanding that someone could be there one minute and gone the next. This was a lesson I had begun to understand with the loss of my previous relationship (see previous Africa entries); however, he was still alive, just figuratively dead. She was gonzo. And in beginning to understand that this was a reality of life - the understanding that life was extremely short became overtly pronounced.

To say I have wasted many years may be, in fact, a gross understatement. My sister once told me that the secret to life is that you don't know how short it is before you've wasted countless years of your existence. I think she's on to something because I have been kicking my ass over my wasted-years-a-plenty, of which I am solely responsible for. In saying this, I am also extremely grateful I have started to figure this stuff out by 33 rather than 43 or 53 (or never). I am also appreciative of the fact that during the years I didn't have it figured out, I did not produce any children who would have been forced to bear the brunt of my meanderings. If you read my profile, you know that I have admitted to suffering with chronic immaturity. I don't mean the kind where you get drunk and do stupid stuff (which I've done countless times) or the kind where you can't have a normal conversation with another adult or hold down a responsible job and lifestyle - not that kind of immaturity. What I mean is the kind of immaturity that results from not being nurtured in the way you needed as a tiny human, resulting in this kind of internal searching that is never fulfilled or complete (similar to an itch that you cannot scratch). The kind of immaturity that results from having attachment issues that were dealt with poorly (understatement) from an early age. So, wasted years....yeah, I have complied a astounding amount of them.

I guess the fundamental evolution that came from Sue's death was my understanding that my life needed to be (and could be) different in order for me to achieve genuine happiness. Rather than bumbling through life randomly (and destructively) I realized that I needed to become an active participant in my life. This realization took awhile to fully set in (awhile meaning at least a year) and took even more time to actually work into my "doing something." I am an idea-person, not an action-person. This was one of the things to change. Dreaming of Africa was also one of the things to change; however, doing that took some deep self evaluation and exploration that traversed many hours of reflection on countless numbers of my combined life experiences. Basically, I had to get to know me and that was hard and unpleasant at times, and enlightening and freeing at other times.

I miss Sue. On my recent annual summer holiday I visited her grave, as I have done every year since her death. I might miss our visit next year if/when I am in Kenya....but, that's jumping ahead of where we are in this story. When I visit her grave, I talk to her - which doesn't make a lot of reasonable sense because I don't believe in heaven, but I do believe in makes sense in my head. Sometimes, I talk to her about the changes that have occurred in my existence since her death. Sometimes, I talk to her about how the immense grief of her sudden death, combined with the loss of my former partner at that time, was so intensely painful that I was forced to recognize that actually I survived it. And in that, I was able to make change - gradual change - that was profound and required strength. I got that strength partially from her death and some of that strength has gone into my developing journey to Africa. And for that, I am grateful.

The Background

"People talk about 'dysfunctional' families; I've never seen any other kind." ~ Sue Grafton (American Writer)

To attempt to explain my family would be an effort of futility, as I imagine it would be for most individuals. Family matters are fundamentally complex – I should know given my line of work. I can sit back and observe and appreciate that complexity when working with other families; however, when applied to my own, my appreciation declines significantly. Let’s start with some background:

I come from an intact family – I know, shocking these days. The ‘rents are still married and their 42nd wedding anniversary is soon approaching. My mother was born in 1948 and was raised in a small out port in Newfoundland with eight brothers and sisters. Terming my mother’s community as a “small out port” is generous as it was the “not-on-the-map” kind of extremely small when she was growing up. Mom was raised dirt-poor....she jokes that when times got tough her brothers and sisters would fight over a rock sandwich to get fed. She was 13 by the time she had electricity and at no time did she ever have indoor plumbing. Mom often recalls wearing the same clothes year after year as there was no money to buy more and talks about the kids being “lousy” (meaning having lice) and being dirty a lot of the time. Her mother stayed at home, as most mothers did, to take care of the kids and her father was often absent as he was a member of a shipping crew that did import and export from Newfoundland to the United States. Her parents, my grandparents, came from Scottish heritage of the Grant Clan. Mom got her ass out of that small out port at the age of 17 and she asserts that from the day she was born, she knew she was meant for bigger things than that community could ever offer her. At 17, she travelled from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia with only $2.00 in her pocket and made a life for herself (the life she established pre-Dad days) by working hard and being honest. My mother is nothing if not brutally honest.

My father was born in 1947 and was raised in a small Acadian community on the French Shore of Nova Scotia. His family was even bigger (French, Catholic – go figure) and he had 12 brothers and sisters (that lived - there were more children, however, some of them died). Dad made 13. His mother was a school teacher before becoming a mother; however, I’m sure being either pregnant of breastfeeding for 26 years straight put a damper on her career. His father was a farmer and a logger and was very good at both. Dad started working on the farm as soon as he could walk and has continued to work to this very day. He brings an entirely new definition to the phrase “hard work.” Although my father’s family did not have disposable income of any kind, they were well taken care of in terms of having plenty of food, being clean and having at least good clothing to go to church every Sunday. Although Dad had to work since the day he was born, the stories he tells of his childhood have a happier tone to them then Mom’s do. Mom’s stories are slightly more depressing and gloomy due to the circumstances of her family’s insolvency, whereas Dad speaks of having a cellar full of preserves and his mother always baking bread and rolls. Mom might joke about fighting over rock sandwiches but, in reality, they did fight over lard and small corn on the cobs you could get in a can. These differences led my parents to have different outlooks on life and different understandings of what it means to succeed. Success to my mother meant being the exact opposite of poor, always putting on a good appearance to others, getting a good education (to to avoid being poor) and never wanting for anything. Success to my father meant putting in an honest, hard day’s work, taking care of your family and making a life for yourself and your kids that was better than the life you lived as a child.

Although my mother worked before I was born, after I graced this world with my presence in the spring of 1978, my mother transitioned into a full time stay-at-home-Mom. My father established his own construction company in the early 80’s where he worked as the general contractor – initially on jobs requiring additions and renovations and, over time developing into some pretty custom work for some pretty high paying customers. For as long as I can remember, my father worked six days a week (sometimes seven), 14-16 hour days. He used to fall asleep at stop lights and during construction season when the roads were backed up. He was a tired guy. He has rough, calloused hands and I never remember minding this. He still smells like wood and sawdust, two of my very favourite smells to this day. Mom, being the one that stayed at home with us, was the one to bake the cookies and be the disciplinarian and, although I repeatedly heard the phrase, “wait until your father gets home” from my mother, I don’t ever remember a time feeling frightened. Dad was kind through and through and never laid a hand upon us. Mom was more of a loose cannon....but, man she could bake some good cookies.

Living in a family with one parent who was Acadian French and one parent who was straight off the rock (the province of Newfoundland is often referred to as The Rock in the Maritimes) was interesting at best. Both came from vastly different backgrounds; however, the functioning of their communities – albeit different – was very similar. Church had a big role in the education system and attending church on Sunday’s was not an was what you did. Mom was raised Anglican and Dad Catholic and, upon getting married, Mom converted to Catholicism. Regardless of whose house you were at, the rules were the same and if you acted up – it didn’t have to be your parent who cuffed you upside the head to put you back in line – that was a privilege every parent had in the community. Everyone in the community basically had the same thing – next to nothing with a lot of mouths to feed.

One difference between my mom and dad’s upbringing involved the level of affection they received as children. Dad’s family was somewhat cold in the sense that hugs and kisses were not offered readily and no one was fussed over past the time of being an infant. I never remember my Grandmére (French for grandmother) being affectionate or snugly in any way when I was a child being forced to spend every Easter at her house that was still heated by a wood stove and only had three TV channels that were all in French. I don’t remember my Grandpére at all; although there are pictures of me with him as a child before he died. My mother’s family – extended included - was very affectionate and Mom tells loving stories of her grandfather, “Pop,” living with them. It’s my understanding that hugs and kisses were easily passed around and that my grandparents were adoring, funny and generous people (as we would expect Newfoundlanders to be). I never experienced these grandparents after I was a baby as both my grandmother and grandfather died. My Grandmére, however, lived until my late teen years and I guilty wish that I had the Newfoundland Nan and Poppy around rather than the Grandmére. Even the title is cold. I never experienced the cookie baking, cosy, protective, tender grandparents that my friends often describe and I really wish that was part of my narrative. As an adult I see my parents, now grandparents, interacting with my now six year old nephew and think I really missed out on something special.

In saying that I have a nephew, it would make sense for me to talk about my sibling a little. I have an older sister who is my senior by five years and it’s just the two of us, her and I. We couldn’t be more different if we tried in terms of our lifestyle, our beliefs, our approach to human interaction, our politics and so on and so forth. We don’t particularly look alike either – she’s about 5”3 where I stand at almost 5”11. Her body is type is straight from my mother’s side, yet her facial features represent Dad’s side of the family. I am the opposite and my height comes from my father, but my eyes and across the bridge of my nose look just like Mom. My sister’s personality is a lot like my father’s – reserved, a thinker, pragmatic, whereas my passion for people, helping others, and my temper comes straight from my mother. However, despite our obvious differences – and they are plentiful – put us beside each other and get us talking and there is no doubt we are sisters. Our expression, our sarcasm, our sense of humour and our wit are extremely similar.

My sister married her high school sweetheart, a wonderful man who has been present in my life since I was 14. He was the first boy she brought home that I didn’t have a crush on and now, all these years later, I affectionately refer to him as my “brother.” He comes from an equally dysfunctional family, also an intact, two-child family. He and his older brother are much closer in age than me and my sister are and I’ve heard plenty of stories about his older brother beating the shit out of him on more than one occasion when they were boys. That would have never happened in my family. If anyone was going to get the pleasure of beating the shit out of was going to be Mom. A funny aspect about my brother-in-law and his brother is that they have both produced boys that look exactly like them. The boys (one being my nephew, the other being his cousin) are both six years old; however, one is older by four months. They are carbon copies of their fathers and I can only image what it is like interacting with them both from the perspective of my sister’s in-laws (my nephew’s other grandparents). I imagine it must be a watch wound back in time. My sister and her husband have done well for themselves. After getting married at the tender ages of 25 and 26, they waited longer than anyone had patience for (except for me, I had all the patience in the world) to have a child. Both were well established by the time my nephew was born in 2005. My nephew is basically the best thing ever.

I suppose you might be wondering where I fit into this dynasty; I have asked myself the same question repeatedly over the years. The easiest answer is: I don't. If I was adopted or was the result of an affair my mother had, it would actually make more sense to me. Although I possess qualities from both my parents, I am fundamentally different from the individuals who comprise my family unit. This is where the stories for these posts will develop from: a place of belonging to a family just by virtue of being part of the family, while being completely different from them and never feeling a true connection to what it means to be part of my family.

Should be interesting.