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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The Old Apartment

Last week I was reminded via Facebook Memories that seven years ago I moved into my first apartment. It was nothing fancy, but it was love at first sight: French Doors, a claw foot bathtub, and hardwood floors. I loved this small 550sq.ft space more than anything. Sure, the floors were squeaky, the neighbours upstairs were noisy, and the water pressure was weak, but it was mine, a place to call my own. It was in this apartment that I adopted my cat, Kingsley; I wanted a companion but not the human kind, and a dog was just too much. It was in this small space that I learned what it feels like to have mere cents in the bank account and no food in the fridge. This was the spot that girlfriends would come over to chat late into the night. And most importantly, this was the place that I finally grew comfortable being on my own.

I remember locking myself out of my apartment one evening in the winter. I didn’t realize until after a few drinks as I searched for my keys inside my purse. As most amazing ideas are the brainchild of booze, my idea of climbing the garbage cans to my bathroom window that was ajar, was a given. After failing, and falling, I had to call my landlord.

I have hazy memories of hanging out with a girlfriend who lived a few blocks away. My back-stoop became the spot we would smoke Sobranie’s, sip rosé or some homemade cocktail and discuss our current life choices; Lana Del Rey’s drowsy voice and the murmur of busy St. Paul Street the soundtrack to those summer nights.

I became comfortably at peace with the place I called home, but after two and a half years of safe refuge, my fear became a reality, as my beloved apartment turned against me. It was an early summer morning, but the city was still asleep when I was jerked awake by what sounded like my door knob turning. Too scared to move, I stayed in bed and reassured myself that it was just a dream. A few seconds later, I heard a deep bellowing voice say, “B!tch, let me in.” I screamed, and jolted out of bed – it sounded like an someone was inside my apartment. With nothing to protect myself, exposed and terrified, I slowly walked towards my kitchen, where I stood face-to-face with an unrecognizable man, my only protection, the window screen that stood on guard between me and this intruder. I yelled at him to leave, colourful curse words escaped my mouth, and with shaky limbs, I slammed the kitchen window closed and locked it. The man did not recognize that his behaviour was unwanted but continued to pound on my door and the walls of the building, spewing profane language, and causing me to feel weak, dirty and isolated. Finally, the man gave up and ran off somewhere, while I remained hidden on my living room floor crying.

After I gained a bit of strength, I called the police, and to my horror, they did nothing but made me feel as if the incident was my fault.

That moment changed my carefree spirit and I became paranoid of what could be lurking around a corner, or across the street. I became a 27-year-old woman who triple checked that the door was locked, and that the windows closed. I could no longer sleep in the dark and had to leave my night table lamp on – shadows that were once familiar scared me and sounds that were soothing became unbearable.

I remained in that apartment for ten more months. When the day came to leave, I was sad; I didn’t want to say goodbye to my first home, to the memories I created in that small space, and to the place that taught me to stand on my own. Although it felt like she abandoned me that one summer morning, in reality, my old apartment protected me.IMG_1028

Hi Ali, It’s Botox Calling

As I was driving into work the other day, I looked at myself in the rearview mirror to make sure that toothpaste residue wasn’t caked around my lips, and noticed, instead, a faint sign of a wrinkle just above my upper lip. The horror: a new line, a new crease, a new sign of the impending inevitable aging process. I’m not young and I’m not old per se (what constitutes old and young anyways?), nor am I a wrinkle rookie as lines slowly decorate my flesh. Yet, it’s still upsets me when I find a crevice that was not there the day before, and I quietly curse the anti-aging potion I spent a fortune on for not doing its magic.

The same day, an editorial piece popped up in my news feed about the benefits and beauty of injectables, and I felt defeated for being victim of another clickbait article brandishing the vulnerable. But I had to know, what is the aging cure, so I read and found that the answer is in the form of repeated cosmetic treatments. Okay, but there has to be something else? Can’t I just slather Fun Dip on my face, relive the 90s, drink lots of water and go to bed at a respectable hour to rejuvenate my youthful glow? If only.

Alas, the never-ending desire for flawless skin free of lines, creases, furrowed brows will always be prevalent in my own everyday narrative when I greet my face in the morning and clean it at night. I’m not alone in this struggle as women everywhere are echoing these sentiments. A study published in 2017 from Reuters, stated that “the Global Anti-Aging Market was worth $250 billion in 2016 and is estimated to reach $331.41 billion by 2021.” Our skin is our identity, yet we disguise its truth with lotions, potions, fillers and enhancers. Why?

I will be the first one to admit that I am bamboozled by the beauty industry; my makeup drawer is an embarrassment, my Sephora buyer status is VIB (it could be worse), and I’ve contemplated many times on getting a little prick here and there to eliminate a line or two. I’m a sucker, the biggest sucker, for concoctions that promise beauty in the form of perfect youthful skin. But aren’t we all in search of that one product that defies time by tricking others, and ourselves, that we are untouchable from the signs of aging?

Maybe one day I’ll try Botox, or maybe I’ll simply accept fate and appreciate the slow process of my body changing over time; that these lines slowly creeping on my face are merely lines celebrating smiles and contemplative thoughts over a lifetime. Easier said than done, amiright?

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Update

I am a dry well: I have nothing to say and no stories to share. Without my words guiding me to shore, anchoring me home, I feel barren and soulless. I haven’t written creatively in over a month, I don’t know what to write; I struggle that it’s not good enough or even worse, that it’s boring and mundane. The cursor on my screen mocks me as I type, delete and then try again. It is a hopeless endeavour.

Like a drought, this won’t last forever, rain is inevitable and so too are my words. I just have to be patient, and let this pass, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help it along the way. I will be like the farmer who waters their land during the dry spell; I’ll pick up my pen and write a line or two about the day, and I’ll continue to read until that eureka moment, then I’ll harvest my words, just for you. Until then.

Currently:
Anxiously waiting to play in the dirt and start gardening
Reading The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Listening to “Nice for What” by Drake
Drinking Malivoire Rosé Moira

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Is Etiquette Extinct?

Let me start by sharing my experience meeting a Prince of Royal English descent. Picture a young woman in her early twenties on the verge of ditching her punk-rocker/hipster aesthetic and attempting to adopt a bohemian-hippie vibe. Yes, that was me. I was working in the hospitality industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and an event was planned with the Earl of Essex as the guest of honour. Oh my, what a tizzy! Everything had to be perfect, especially us, the lowly staff. A Finishing School teacher (yes, there is such a thing!) was hired to teach us royal etiquette, and instruct us on how to behave, address and acknowledge the Prince. I practiced how to act and what to say until it was perfect – I was going to nail this visit, and possibly become the next Duchess, Countess, Princess whatever.

When the Prince arrived, he greeted everyone in the room and in turn, received a bow or a curtsy. It was nearing my turn, and nervous me did that game we all do and started counting down the number of people ahead of me. In my head, I recited what I had to say and before I knew it, the Prince was in front of me, my name was called and I half curtsied/bowed/lost my balanced and awkwardly jumbled “Pleasure to meet your RoyalHighnessMajestyPrince.” Wrong! It was embarrassing, and in that moment I thought he was going to yell “off with her head” (wrong monarch) and the Scotland Yard, who were standing guard at every possible entryway, would come running with their swords.

Thankfully, that did not happen; my head is still intact and my curtsying days are over. However, there is something to be said about proper manners, even though some seem dated, while others are daunting. I will be the first to admit that I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to being a prim and proper manners queen, actually, I’m the contrary, I am a bit of a slob, but you’ll never know that (unless you live with me) because I have almost mastered the art of etiquette.

We live in a unique time right now: technology is ever evolving and continuing to advance the human race, yet I think humans, my generation in particular, are failing when it comes to our Ps and Qs. I can’t be the only one that thinks that, and if I’m not, have manners become a thing of the past, dare I say it, possibly extinct? Is it because we have lost practice of properly communicating to people without a screen in front of our face; are we too self-centred that thank yous are no longer in our vocabulary; or does it have something to do with a cultural shift of slow and steady to fast and furious?

Whatever it is, I say that we push the pause button and examine our etiquette practices. What follows is a short little ‘mind your manners’ list to use as a cheat sheet, or fake it until you make tips.

Thank Yous
This shouldn’t need reiterating, but sadly it does. Thank yous are free and the greatest gesture to show someone that you appreciate them and their generosity. If someone gives you a gift for a shower, bridal, or wedding, thank you cards are necessary. Say someone shovels your sidewalk while you are away, they deserve a thank you and maybe homemade cookies. To people that serve you, say thank you. If someone has gone out of their way for you, be it monetary or physically, say thank you.

Host/Hostess Gifts
This may seem a bit old-fashioned, but if you are invited to a dinner party know that your host has spent time and money planning and creating a delicious meal. A gift is a token of gratitude for their efforts, and can be small or complement the dinner party. Flowers, wine or a dessert are my go-to gifts.

Dinning
When at a formal setting, fancy dining can seem daunting but it is fairly simple. Remember to place your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down and leave it there until you are done. Always wait until everyone at the table has been served before you pick up your cutlery, and start with the utensil that is away from your plate and work your way in. When finished, place your utensils at 4:20 on your plate. Confused with which bread plate and drink glass are yours, connect your left pointer finger and left thumb to make an ‘o’ and do the same with your right, the letters b and d will form; b is your left hand where you will find your bread plate, and d, for your drink, is on your right.

Daily Life
We all go through moods and sometimes we are not in the proper mind space to smile or chat with anyone, which is okay. But, on days when our spirits are bright we should share some of that warmth to others we connect with throughout the day. Smile at the people you pass on your walk; hold the door open for the person behind you; compliment a colleague on their awesome outfit, or their great presentation. Respect your partner, check in with a friend, and call your parents and grandparents.

Etiquette may seem archaic, mundane, silly and unnecessary, like that curtsy/bow debacle, but it is a sign of respect, to you and to others. So bow, open that door, send the thank you letter, and let the resurgence of etiquette commence.annie-spratt-113596-unsplash

Fitbit Thoughts: The Lives of Others

Last Christmas I asked for a Fitbit, and was generously gifted one by my significant other. I wanted one for the same reason every other Fitbit user has one, to track my daily steps, which to my horror, was/is quite pitiful. I’m not lazy, per se, I just work a 9-to-5 desk job and in the evenings I just want to read, eat, watch T.V., and sleep. However, since rocking this super fashionable rubber step tracker, I have felt accountable to the number that mocks me daily; sometimes it reads 10,000 steps other days it reads 3.5K steps. Needless to say, I have started to walk more to show that number who’s boss.

This act of walking would make me less creepy, say if I was walking a dog, or with someone else, but nope, I walk on, and on these walks, I am even more of a creep as I house shop. You know the act because you do it to: You go for a Sunday drive to look at houses; you check out the nearby open house, not because you want to buy, but because you want to see what’s inside; and you, like me on these evening walks, glimpse inside windows if the curtains are open and the lights are on.

That is what I do on my Fitbit-10K-a-day walks: I house shop. I unplug from my phone, and from other distractions, and tune in to the stories untold by the houses I pass. I am intrigued by the story every house has, its past and its present. Who lives in it now, and what do they do, but most importantly, what does it look like inside? I have taken it one step further and added careers to the owners of these homes. For example, on one of the streets I frequent I am positive a witch (obviously there has to be one) lives in the house on the corner with the magical turret overlooking the neighbourhood and the windows that are never open. I met her once as she was sweeping her stoop while a grey cat, that wasn’t hers – she mentioned this fact twice – circled her legs purring. We had a nice, albeit brief chitchat. Continue north, and we’ll meet a bookseller, I know this because there are bookshelves that are overflowing with books in the living room and the front foyer, and there’s even a bookshelf on the front porch – I often wonder if the mail-person sometimes grabs a book while delivering the mail. The bookseller’s neighbour is a doctor, while a graphic designer, a drifter, and retired elementary school teacher live in the Tudor-style home turned apartment across the street. Eventually I’ll end up back at my house and wonder if people think the same thing as they pass on by: Are they curious about the lives and the stories being lived in this little old house of mine? Maybe.

After all, it is human nature to be intrigued by the lives of others. If we weren’t, our media landscape, the outlets that willingly allow users to invite people into their lives via stories, tweets and posts, would look a lot different, possibly be non-existent. Memoirs, biographies, epistolary novels (I love books that are narrated through letters or diary entries, it’s like I’m participating in the secret), would never be written, and many documentaries would be left untold. So, my curiosity for the lives of others wagers on one tracked step at a time.

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An open letter to the girls from my youth

Dear you,

I am writing you this letter almost fifteen years since we were last together hoping that you are well. Crazy how fast those years have flown by when we don’t have semesters and summers to separate our carefree years.

I want you to know that I’ve thought of you, how life is for you, what you have accomplished in the past decade: are you married, a PhD candidate, do you have kids, did you travel, what do you do for work, are you happy? I am genuinely interested, which may seem strange since we never really talked in high school. Why do you think that was? It is a regret of mine, for being afraid to say hi, to sit beside you, to ask how your day was and wanting for that one second to build a connection, but that never happened because I was too scared. But maybe you were too. It’s ironic how what comforts us actually burdens us.

Then just like that, our high school life was over; we forged our own separate paths as we walked out of those doors, carefree and thought-free of the people we were walking away from, some forever. Then Facebook happened, a tipping point for human connection and interaction. We added one another as friends – what a funny misconception, because we weren’t IRL – and yet, at a safe distance and free from judgement, we were able to like and comment on posts shared. Through this mediated form, I have been able to witness you kick-ass building a career; I was able to see how stunning you looked on your wedding day; I was proud of you when you accomplished that project; I also sympathized with you when you shared some sad news. It made me realize that I never complimented you or encouraged you while we were teens, the pivotal time when compliments and encouragement are so very needed.

That in-between stage of childhood innocence to adulthood awakening is such a difficult time as we figure out how to navigate through wonky hormones and crazy attitudes, yet barely understanding any of it. So we build a wall to protect ourselves from this unknown, but our barrier is uninviting and quick to judge others, and for that I apologize. I apologize for judging you instead of taking the time to get to know you; I apologize for not asking you to join me at my lunch table; and most importantly, I apologize for being mean. But we were young, we didn’t know better, right?

Now, we are not so young, and we do know better, so should our paths ever cross again, I promise I will say hello to you and ask how you’ve been. Maybe we will grab a coffee and catch up on each other’s lives, or we will simply chat for a couple of minutes and then walk our separate way, but whatever the outcome, I will be happy that we were able to connect unhindered from fear for that brief moment in time.

Love,
ali

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