Between the Vines

I vividly remember Take Our Kids to Work Day in grade nine, it was the beginning of our high school career signifying that we too will soon enter the coveted workforce and bid adieu to the dreaded school bell. (Hindsight is 20/20, amiright?)

While other kids in my grade were pumped about the idea of tagging along with their parents to the big City to do what grown-ups do best, work, I on the other hand was less thrilled about my dad taking me to his work. A couple of reasons, but the main one being that I was embarrassed to talk about where I went for TOKTWD with my peers. As we all know, high school is tough, mean girls do exist, and 14-year-olds just want to be Cher Horowitz, not some farm kid.

Fast-forward 18 years later (don’t do the math), I am shadowing my dad again for a day in the life of grape farmer under my own volition. Things have changed slightly, like the truck my dad is driving, but everything else still looks the same: the grapes are still purple, the leaves are still green, and the barn is still standing. What is new is the fact that my brothers, all too young at the time of TOKTWD, have found their own niche doing what they love on the farm. IMG_8206

It’s a busy Saturday during harvest and there’s lot of action on the farm. The crew were out early harvesting grapes for an 8am drop-off at a nearby winery, then a rinse and repeat for an 11am drop-off at a different winery. There is much to do and the crew are racing against the impending rainstorm that is on its way. Back at the barn, the group has a long break – their next grape drop-off isn’t scheduled until 11pm.IMG_8190

Since we have some time to kill, I meet up with my younger brother for a quick catchup. After we chat about life, I get down to the nitty-gritty.
“So, what do you do now?” I ask, as I figured they would be picking from 9-5 with a few breaks in-between.
“We catch up on paperwork, clean the machines, help the guys in the vineyard. There’s always something to do.”
“How do you manage everything?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” He retorts.
“You know, all the farms you pick for, what wineries get what, who’s harvesting where?”
“It’s a challenge coordinating everything, but we have a great team that we trust and rely on.” He then shows me the day’s schedule on a dry-erase board and tells me that it is updated daily for the team to check regularly, and further adds that communication is key.
My phone buzzes, “It’s go time. They are about to pick chardonnay on concession 8. I’m coming to get you.”IMG_0258

A few minutes later, I’m tagging along beside my dad like it’s grade nine again, but this time I’m interested. Unlike grade nine, a few colourful words escape my dad’s mouth as stress levels increase due to to the time constraint they are battling.
“Why is the rain bad?” I naively ask.
“We need the weather to remain warm and dry. We can’t pick in the rain, and the longer we wait the more susceptible the grapes are to rot. I can’t sell rotten fruit.”
“Oh” I respond, as I silently pray to the weather gods to not mess with my dad.

We make our way down a bumpy back road and spot the harvester already in one of the rows. A few seconds later, I’m riding on what can only be described as a transformer as the machine straddles a row and picks the grapes. The driver, one of three on the farm, tells me that this is his favourite part of the job, and I can see why. You are on top of the world.
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Merry & Bright

Today is the day, the beginning of Yuletide festive cheer, the start of joy and giving, tradition and nostalgia, and most importantly, the time to slow down and visit with those that are dear. As I sit to write this in the warmth and glow from the twinkle lights on my Christmas tree, outside snowflakes are gently falling: it is a picture perfect scene of Christmases of my dreams: white and merry, and comfy and cozy.

Christmases have changed from my childhood, but the magic, although now self-made, has remained. One of my fondest Christmas morn’ memories is of waking up with my brothers and seeing the presents under the tree – presents that weren’t there the night before. Wonder, excitement and magic, as the belief of Santa became a reality that morning. Now Christmas magic is not in the presents, but in the memories that were made of yesteryears and the new ones still to be made.

Tradition is another element of my Christmases that I am adamant to keep alive, such as the movies that need to be watched, the stockings that have to be hung, the cookies that need to be baked, the Christmas albums that need to be played, and the real Christmas tree that must be decorated. Some of these traditions are fairly new (e.g. the real Christmas tree tradition has been adopted since living with my boyfriend), others are fave oldies and some become modified.

So, over the next few days I am going to savour every moment, relive happy memories and indulge in all things merry, and I hope you, dear reader, will as well. Happy Christmas!

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So many feels

As the days began to darken earlier, so too had my mood, which took an unexpected turn earlier this week mirroring the recent change. I don’t know why, but I’m sure the unnecessary time change, the sugar crash from over-indulging on leftover Halloween candy, and the [my] moon cycle had something to do with it, but this week was blah. Everything was too hard, I was so sad, and I felt alone.

After a few days on this roller coaster of emotions, I decided to confide in a friend about this funk and how to turn my mood around. Her words helped but I still needed to find the inner strength to transform them into an action.

“Every day I have the choice on whether or not I want to be happy and I have to actively choose happiness over sadness. Yeah, there are days when that dark cloud follows me like a shadow, but I’ve learned to embrace that dark cloud and accept it. The difference is that I no longer hate myself on those days I can’t get out of bed, the days I just want to cry, and the days that I don’t want to talk to anyone. I know that those days will pass, eventually, and in a way, those dark cloudy days are my body’s way of telling me to slow down and reset.”

I never thought of it that way, as happiness being a decision we have to continuously choose, I naively assumed happiness just happens, and it probably does, but when it doesn’t happen, on those dark and gloomy days, what do I do?

This question also had me asking “what is happiness?” Is it having it all: house, luxury car, money? Maybe. But what if the house, the car, or the six-plus-digits in the bank account is non-existent, does the mean one is not happy / cannot be happy? What does it even mean to have it all? Maybe having it all isn’t tangible expensive possessions, maybe having it all is simply friends, family, and most importantly, breath, the ability to inhale and exhale every day.

I’m a recreational yogi, I attend a community class at a yoga studio in my neighbourhood once a week, and one thing all of those downward dogs and warriors poses have taught me is the importance of my body working in conjunction with my breath. Some of the poses are impossible for my rigid body, while others are doable, but uncomfortable, and some leave a feeling of sweet sensation on both my physical and mental state – hello, shavasana. The difficulty of each pose affects my breathing, and there are many times I catch myself holding my breath, but it is in that moment when breathing is integral to the pose, and I have to consciously choose to breathe to ease that discomfort.

That dark cloud, the discomfort, and blah-ness of all the feelings, too many feels, crashing down on me at once is invited, but I will hit that internal reset button, I will breathe, and I will choose happiness, be it laughing with friends, taking comfort in the warmth of love from family, and by remembering to inhale and exhale when things get difficult.

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Summers on the fruit farm(s)

I love summer in Niagara: senses are heightened, weather is perfect, and the landscape is abundant with delicious colourful local food. Farm-to-table is an easy motto to adopt, as farmers’ markets pop up in busy locales and fruit stands decorate dreamy country roads. But for many Niagara-ites, farming isn’t just perfect Instagram pictures, or tasty treats, farming is life.

During the sticky humid summer months, there is no shortage of work for eager hands in Niagara as fruit farmers enthusiastically welcome as many labourers as they can acquire. With over 700 fruit farms in the Niagara Region and a tight time-frame to follow, help is needed, albeit arduous and exhausting, and the pay is, well you’re not going to become a millionaire, but the memories gained outweigh the negative.

Growing up, my summers were spent helping my dad in the vineyard and neighbouring farmers tend their fruit, as my own eager hands, in quick succession, worked in fields and barns pruning, picking and packing.

Let me preface, when I say eager, I mean told – I didn’t want to spend my summers working on farms. I wanted to laze around the pool, binge-watch television, gossip with girlfriends, but instead, was instructed by the authority figures (my parents) to get off my keister and work. I hated it! It was hard work, the hardest work my teenage body ever encountered, and it was boring, so very boring. I can’t tell you how many grapevines I have pruned, or the number of cherries I have picked, or the amount of apricots, peaches and plums I have packed. However, I can tell you the horror stories of what happens when you eat too many cherries, or the feel of peach fuzz on your skin after an eight-hour shift, or what happens to your nails after repeatedly rubbing them against the rubber conveyor belt.

Once I learned how to overcome the, shall we say, obstacles, it wasn’t that bad. I worked with great people, both locals and migrant workers, and shared laughs, meals and stories. It helped that my bff was there as well, which made the time slightly speed on by as we would tell tales, listen to audio books, and get and give advice, mostly on school, guys, and clothes – the priorities of teenage girls.

Those four summers spent working on fruit farms created the foundation of who I am today. I learned what it takes to be a hard worker, how to listen to others, and the importance of respect, followed by a greater appreciation for the fruits of our labour.

So buy local, not only does it taste better, it supports our local agricultural communities.IMG_4426PS. Have you been following the “The Hands That Feed Us” series in the St.Catharines Standard by Niagara-based writer, Tiffany Mayer?  If not, you really should!

An ode to my dad for Father’s Day

Fact: I am the biggest ‘daddy’s girl’ that ever lived and it is because my dad is pretty great. You see, my dad is much more than just a dad, he is a super dad. I know everyone thinks that their dad is the best, but I’m not bragging when I say I have you beat; I really do have the best dad. I’m not saying this because I was spoiled, a favourite, or continually got my way, I am saying this because my dad did everything conceivable with very little to care for me. My dad was young-ish when he became a father, my mum even younger, and the road they travelled on together was bumpy with a dead end in sight. My mum went one way, my dad and I another – I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for him; he had to survive, raise a child, and manage a new vineyard, all on his own.

At a young age (22!) my dad left his family, his friends and his home country, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to plant roots, vineyard roots, in Niagara. That alone could justify him as a super dad, but my super dad recipe also includes one special ingredient: a finicky tot. I am sure there were many days when he wanted to throw in the towel – or should I say, drop the pruners – on the new life he created, and on me, the finicky tot, but he didn’t. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he did, we all call it quits when the ‘going gets tough’ but he didn’t and that is why he is a super dad!

Growing up I was embarrassed of him – I was embarrassed of his career choice. I would often compare my dad to my friends’ dads: Why couldn’t my dad have an office job where he could wear a suit, take family vacations and enjoy weekends off? Why did he have to till the land from morning to night; why were his clothes and hands always dirty when he came home; and why did he have to drive a rusty truck that rattles? I would equate farming to a lowly life status, and I didn’t want to be known as the poor girl. I was so naïve.

Today, there is no one I admire more than my dad. He is a man of integrity, loyalty, honesty, and the hardest worker I know. To imagine life without him is unfathomable, and not ideal, so I won’t! Here’s to you dad, to all that you are – farmer and father, aka my super dad!FullSizeRender

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In case you are curious: My mum is, and has always been, a part of my life. She’s basically my bff.

Five reasons why you need to travel somewhere with your sister

Let’s be honest, travelling is probably the most exciting thing to do. We count down the days until our next vacation, we daydream of destinations to add to our bucket list, we buy calendars with tropical islands, and we decorate homes with souvenirs of happy memories from places new. Travelling suspends our reality for however long we are away and positions us in a different space. There really is nothing more thrilling than experiencing the world, especially if you are travelling with someone you like, like a lot, since you will be around this person a lot. This person can’t just be any person, this person is your confidant, your co-conspirator, your wingman, your breakfast, lunch and dinner date, your alarm clock, your budget-checker, your authoritative figure (“do we really need to do another shot?”), your entertainment, your photographer and your compass.

A couple of years back, which feels like forever ago, my sister and I swapped our parkas and boots for bikinis and sandals and headed to an all-inclusive beach resort in Cuba. The resort itself wasn’t much to write home about, but the memories that we made will forever be a part of our sisterhood narrative! That vacation was the first time we travelled together alone, without the added baggage of our parents and siblings (joking, we love you guys!), and it was a much-needed break during school stress and a personal heartache. That week, with its white sand, turquoise water, palm trees and warm breeze, not only gave us a new perspective on the world, it also brought us closer together as we confided in one another about our lives, our goals, dreams and aspirations. There were times on the trip when we both got annoyed with the other, but the beautiful scenery brought us back to the moment of what really mattered: we were experience something new together.

These are my five reasons why you should travel somewhere with you sister:
(Note: Replace sister with best friend if you are sans a sister)IMG_2132

5. You get to spend quality time together. My sister and I live in different cities, so spending a week together brought us closer together as sisters and as friends.

4. You learn a lot about each other. Even though we shared a room growing up, and now text regularly while living our separate lives, we still learned a lot about each other during our week away. I learned that she is a nurturer, who is brave, fierce, smart and crazy.

3. She will step out of her comfort zone for you, like go skinny-dipping in the ocean in the middle of the night then run from security.

2. She willingly will take hundreds of selfies with you just to get the perfect one, and she’ll be your personal photographer.

1. You both have each other’s back, travelling or not.

As I write this, my sister is on another trip of a lifetime with your boyfriend backpacking though Europe. Her fearlessness and desire for adventure never ceases to amaze me!

Marriage & Motherhood

Part Two: Motherhood

I hear it all too often: Your clock is ticking; when are you going to start having children; don’t you want a baby? I know I’m not the only woman who hears these comments, and I’m not the only woman with motherhood anxieties, yet it feels like I am the only one not having a baby?

As someone who has recently entered her thirties, the baby talk, along with the marriage talk, is more imperative, then let’s say, everything else (career goals, community involvement, creative pursuits, etc.). These kinds of questions further add to my motherhood anxieties, let alone, the main culprit – the natural pressure my slowly aging body exudes on the ticking time bomb called my uterus. I know that I’m not the only thirty-year-old that is chasing time, a career, and an identity, but sometimes it feels like I am alone in this life race. Some of you may say that I am being over-dramatic and that children are the greatest blessing (I know, I know, I know) but so is the solace of a Saturday morning with nothing to do but the day’s crossword.

Maybe it’s all those perfectly curated baby announcements on Facebook; or the fact that everyone else IS having a baby but me; or simply, I’m afraid that I will lose my friends to mommy groups, but feelings of jealousy and resentment arise every time my cursor lingers over the ‘like, love, haha, wow, sad, angry’ feeling choices social media provides. OF COURSE I am ecstatic when friends announce that they are expecting (I’m not a heartless selfish b!), but a part of me falters – will that ever be me, and if so, when? Am I not allowed to feel these emotions because I’m not ready…If I’m feeling these emotions, then why not just have a baby? It’s not that easy! There are two things my partner and I need to agree on: Are we financially prepared and are we ready to adjust our lifestyle? Spin yes, fill you car with babies, if not, keep driving. Obviously, we talk about our future, and babies are in those dreams, but so is being debt-free, it will happen, but not yet.

I digress; motherhood is beautiful, terrifying, but beautiful. It is beautiful being able to witness my girlfriend be a mom to her little girls; it is inspiring seeing my sister-in-law and her husband lovingly adjust to their new life of parenthood; and, it is amazing seeing my partner interact with our niece, nephew, and friends’ kids. (Talk about ovaries on fire!) Yet, why is it that something so natural is so wildly judged? You didn’t birth naturally; you’re no longer breastfeeding; have you started thinking about your postpartum body; you hired a nanny; you want to go back to work over being a stay-at-home-mum? I cannot imagine the pressure mothers are under: The pressure to fit in to your pre-baby clothes asap; the pressure to be a perfect mother; the pressure to do it all on little to no sleep. It is scary! What if I need all the help; does that make me a failure? What if I don’t like it; does that me a bad person? What if I’m not good enough; does that make me a bad mum?

Last weekend, my partner and I had our precocious niece stay with us; it was busy, chaotic and fun, but after dropping her off, we both inhaled the quiet and exhaled a sigh of relief, and then my boyfriend turned to me and said, “that should cool your baby fever for the next little while.” That is, until the next baby shower invitation with all its cute miniature-ness lands in my mailbox.

Read Part One: Marriage