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!

The Nameless Widow

Needing a change of scenery from my drab writer’s den, I headed to a nearby coffee shop to do the detestable: type away on my name brand laptop with a $5 venti latte. However, providence intervened and my laptop stayed untouched.

After ordering my drink, and settling into a corner table, an older lady approached me with her coffee in hand and asked if she could join. I didn’t know how to respond as there were many empty tables, and I had my laptop open and wanted to, no scratch that, needed to finish a deadline. I hesitate before a polite “sure” escapes my mouth.

“Thanks, dear. The weather today is awful, I feel it seeping right into my bones,” she says as she methodically places her purse on the table followed by her teacup and unwinds the shawl she has around her neck and hair. She is wearing a delicate string of pearls, which beautifully complement her purple dress. Rings decorate every finger except her right pinky, and her blush matches the pink hue of her lipstick. I later learn that she had her hair done, a ritual she has adopted specifically for this date. “Today marks the fifth anniversary of my husband’s passing. I just came back from visiting him and I am not ready to walk into our empty home, even though it has been many years of emptiness.’

“I’m sorry,” I mumble. How else is one suppose to respond to death or death’s anniversary?

“Don’t apologize, dear. Death has a funny way of creeping up on us, stealing those we love, and sometimes acquiring the ones we no longer want.”

I take a sip of my coffee and casually assess my surroundings to see if anyone else in the shop has noticed this woman, or her talk of death. Everyone else is too immersed in their laptop or smart-phone to notice me or this woman.

“Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I loved George dearly, but sixty-four years is a long time to be with someone, and after awhile love just starts to feel like a routine. How old are you, my dear?” She asks as she takes her first sip of tea.

“Thirty,” I shyly reply, as if my age will reveal something I am not willing to share. She takes another sip and I am reminded of a fortuneteller I visited years ago in Toronto; she, along with that fortuneteller, appear to have the ability to look past my exterior armour and into my naked soul, to my secrets – secrets that bare no value to strangers.

“So young, but not really,” she states.

“I know,” I sigh. “Lately I have been dealing with my own insecurities of not being the person I envisioned I would be at thirty.”

“And what is that?” She asks.

“I don’t know. I just thought life would be different, it wouldn’t look like this. I’m happy and I’m loved, but there are days when I ask myself, ‘Okay, what is next?’”

“There is that word again, love. Do you let that word define you?”

I lean back into my chair, look directly into her eyes, and say “Yes, I do, but don’t we all?”

“That is where you falter, my dear. Love is ubiquitous – it’s always there inside of you, you just need to know how to ignite it yourself and not be dependent on someone else because sooner or later, that person will diminish that love.”

“I politely disagree,” I rebut. “Yes, you need to love yourself, but a person is allowed to equate happiness by being loved. Isn’t that what we all want: to love and be loved in return? Cliché, but true.”

“I often forget the banalities of love,” she states, almost as if she is pushing aside the significance of the action to love. “My parents arranged my marriage to George, I was eighteen, and he was 21. I was in my prime to marry and conceive,” she emphasized prime, as if prime was the only reason she married. “But nature had a different plan and left me childless for many years. I prayed to a god every night to give me a baby, more for George than for me, as he so badly wanted children and to be a father. I was impartial though, but I knew a man’s legacy must continue and if I didn’t give him children then he would have gone elsewhere, and he did, many times, and I turned a blind-eye, like a good housewife. We stayed married, and eventually my prayers were answered, like god took pity on me for abiding by my husband while he strayed. I gave birth to a girl and boy, exactly two years apart. Do you have any children?” She asks as she glances at my ring finger.

“I do not.”

“Sometimes it’s for the best.”

“My partner and I want children, we just don’t have any yet,” My response is a tad over-zealous, but I don’t want her to assume that we share a similarity, although a part of me feels an affinity towards her, as if our past lives somehow intertwined once.

“These days, you can never tell with women.” She takes another sip of her tea, which must now be lukewarm. She glances around the room and studies those around us, as if she’s looking for someone. “When I was your age we were married, our children were in school and our afternoons were spent drinking vodka martinis gossiping about the latest Hollywood scandal. Our only worry was making sure we were home in time to fetch the kids from school and to make sure that a proper meal was placed on the table for our husbands.”

“Do you regret it?” As soon as the words slip out of my mouth, I fear that I went too far.

“Not at all. That was the way of life; it was what we knew and how we lived. Mind you, it would have been fun if the roles were reversed and I was the one that left for work in the morning, shagged who I wanted in the afternoon, and returned home in the evening to my dotting family. But that’s just a lascivious dream.”

The bell over the café door chimes and we both turn to look.

“Oh, would you look at that, it’s Max, my driver. He must have been wondering what was taking me so long.”

She quickly gathers her things as Max walks towards us.

“It has been a pleasure talking to you, my dear,” she says as she stands up.

I mirror her actions and stand as well. “You too,” I politely respond.

I look down at my mug of coffee, half empty, and cold since it sat mostly untouched as I was too engrossed with the conversation to move my body to something so mundane as sipping coffee. I glance up and see the back of my acquaintance.

“Wait, I didn’t get your name.”

“That’s the funny thing about names, they ruin a person’s aura.” And with that she walked out of the door.

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.

Dear Diary

How many of us have written that greeting under the incandescent glow from the lamp on our night table, while siblings softly slumber in the room next door and our pen, our mighty tool, anxiously scribbles the day’s events, the newest crush, the latest dream. Afterwards, we would quickly lock it, and hide the key in one place and the diary in another for safekeeping from prying eyes.

Keeping a journal knows no boundaries, it allows the writer to try-on and live-through various experiences through their own imagination, and it creates a form of autonomy by allowing the writer to control what is written: A diary lets us put who we are on to paper, it also allows us to describe who we want to be. What is writing in a diary but a messy melding of ink and paper that opens a window into a person’s soul.

For many years I was an avid journal-er: I wrote about my dull and mundane life; the troublesome times of my teens; the desire to be popular and soooo cool; the need to lose weight, get a boyfriend, wear cool clothes (don’t know why that was a priority since I wore a uniform in high school). All of this would somehow equate to a better and happier teenage life: the teenage dream.

And then my journal entries took a juicy turn as I entered my junior year of high school. I was sixteen, it was spring and I started seeing a guy (I use the term seeing loosely, as we probably saw each other once a week but we would talk on the phone for hours – “Don’t go on the internet, I am on the phone!”). As my love began to blossom, so too did desires to kiss, hold hands, cuddle, and god forbid, French kiss. These newfound feelings I would vigourously note on the pages in my journal: What were these feelings that made my head dizzy and my heart beat faster? What would it feel like to have my hand held, and in public?! What would it feel like to hug someone that was not a family member, and what does a kiss feel like. To quote an excerpt for my 2001 diary: “I think a kiss feels like a Hershey’s chocolate kiss, if not, why would they be called a Kiss?” Boy, was I right!

These desires weren’t rooted in sin, and I should point out, never acted upon, because hello brace face, but the cause of a natural curiosity towards another human. I could never talk about these feelings with my parents (“What are they teaching you at this Christian school!?”), I couldn’t share them with my friends for fear of embarrassment (“What do you mean you’ve never kissed a guy?”), but I could freely share these thoughts and ask these questions to my bff, Dear Diary. That was until my secret world was exploited, and my life as I knew it came tumbling down. Someone broke the unforgivable act, and read my diary without my knowledge or permission.

I will never understand why my diary was read, just as I will never understand why I, humiliated by my own words, had to read it out loud to my parents. But days later, and a two-month grounding serving as a form of punishment for my words, I watched my diary burn in flames and my words as I vowed to never keep a record of my secrets.

However, that vow was broken a year later when a new leather bound notebook fell onto my lap, and the well of words flowed, just as Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” continued to sing. These tomes full of wonder, anxiety, heartache and love are boxed away in my basement and once in a blue moon I will tiptoe downstairs and reread the workings of my mind from a different time. Some of these excerpts bring me joy, others tears, but most make me laugh.

These days I don’t keep a diary, I have good intention of writing my daily thoughts as unused notebooks pile atop one another collecting dust as my yesteryears become more faded and my memory becomes a blur. Diaries are meant to serve as secret reminders of the person one is because of the who they once was. Maybe I will start writing again?image1

Ring me your love

Let’s talk engagement rings. I don’t have one nor do I want one, but I do like to admire them. Who doesn’t like to look at pretty things? Half of the accounts I follow on Instagram are pretty people donning pretty things, and to me, a diamond engagement ring is a pretty thing I don’t need. Although, that has not always been the case: Not until recently has my diamond desire dwindled from wanting a big rock, nothing less than a karat because I deserve it, or so the jewelry ads led me to believe, to not wanting anything at all, except a simple yet elegant wedding band.

I mentioned this to a girlfriend over tea one evening, the horror and shock of what I said  was clearly expressed on her face; it was the look you would give your friend if they told you they robbed a bank. “What?! What do you mean you don’t want a ring? Of course you do!” Followed by the predictable, “You deserve one!” Here, I thanked her for nonchalantly saying I am a queen that deserves all of the jewels in this world, but the truth is I don’t deserve a ring – I don’t deserve something that my partner has to save three months of his salary to buy; I don’t deserve something I can’t reciprocate back. Reader, your response of, but you are giving him your love forever is valid, but then why isn’t my boyfriend’s love enough, why does he have to buy me a ring – a ring to prove our love with undertones of class, status and wealth. To me, it just doesn’t make sense.

A bit of diamond engagement ring history loosely cited from the Atlantic: In 1938 Harry Oppenheimer, the De Beers founder’s son, hired N.W. Ayer, an ad agency, to polish the image of diamonds as the price of diamonds was falling. N.W. Ayer set out to persuade young men that diamonds (and only diamonds) were synonymous with romance, and that the measure of a man’s love (and even his personal and professional success) was directly proportional to the size and quality of the diamond he purchased. There we have it folks, the genesis of diamond marketing – the bigger the rock the deeper your love.

ring

Dear reader, my intention is not to make you self-conscious as you read these words while glancing at your beautiful ring that was handpicked just for you by your SO, nor do I think the love my partner and I share defies commercialism (you should see all of our stuff!). The truth is, the older I get the more jaded I become, scratch that, the more practical I like to believe I’ve become. For example, let’s use that money to pay down some debt (boring!) or put it towards our dream honeymoon (better!).

I can’t say I know for certain what’s in store for my ring finger, but I am not putting that added pressure on my partner to propose with a diamond so big that even the Jones’ will be jealous. The big ring is just not for me, however I will still oooh and awww over other peoples’ engagement rings and I’ll honestly be happy for them, because diamond ring or not, the next step is the happiest of all!

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 am 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 ovaries. 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

Marriage & Motherhood

Part One: Marriage

As a young girl, I would idly daydream of my future love life: At 13, I would have a boyfriend; at 16, I would experience my first “true-love” kiss; and, by 25, I would be married to a handsome man, we would have two adoring children and live in a white colonial style home with navy shutters and a matching white picket fence. Fast-forward to present day 30-year-old me, living in a stucco/grey-green siding home with my common-law partner, childless and broke. Does present me envy the past ideals I had for my future? Definitely not. But, would past me be embarrassed of my nontraditional life? Probably.

Being a late bloomer, I was nowhere near ready for those wedding bells at 25; I was still learning how to live on my own while balancing work and school along with a roller-coaster of emotions and different medications that came with all of those mixed feelings. Maybe if Mr. Right came into my life earlier I would have been ready, but he didn’t, and I’m glad of that because I wouldn’t have been ready for him. At 25, I was learning who I was and who I wanted to be, while learning what I wanted mentally, emotionally and physically in a life partner. However, and contrary to the teachings of my upbringing, by my twenties I knew I wanted to live with my partner before marriage, thereby equating my relationship status as common-law in the eyes of the government, and a heathen to others.

Are common-law relationships lesser because there is no paper professing their love; is a couple ‘bad’ because they haven’t institutionalized their “I dos”? To some, maybe, but to the common-law couple they may be, and probably are, blissfully content with their current relationship. There is something wildly romantic about a love that it doesn’t need a binding document proclaiming “I’m taken” to the rest of the world; a love that transcends the conventional “do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife” jargon. However, on the opposite spectrum, there is beauty in promising eternity to your partner in front of the ones you love. Togetherness, whether sanctioned by the Church, or promised to one another silently is beautiful and should not require explanation or reasoning for the actions a couple commits.

Don’t misinterpret my marriage / wedding views, as those are still tantamount to 10 year old me (I have a secret wedding Pinterest board, and get girlishly giddy discussing wedding plans with friends), but what I am arguing is that there is no ideal age to marry and have children. Marriage and children, or the latter before the former, should be an organic transition in a relationship, not something that is done because one is suppose to or because everyone else is doing it.

There may not be a ring, the last names may differ, but to that couple, they have promised each other their own form of “I dos” which may differ from the norm, but to that couple, their current relationship status is perfect, which is all that matters.

Stay tuned for Part Two, released on Friday, March 17.

Love lost & self-love found

When I was in my mid-twenties I got ‘dumped’ two days before Valentine’s Day. My heart broke, my happiness died, and my body became an alienated monster. I lost my appetite; my desire to be around people vanished; and, the world around me appeared bleak and dull. Getting out of bed was hard, but looking at my reflection in the mirror was even harder. Who was this woman that defined herself by her past love? This woman, who assimilated herself to someone else’s values and beliefs, then adopted them contrary to her own past philosophies. Who was this woman that now stood alone, exposed, empty and weak?

Like some, I allowed this unhealthy relationship define my identity. I endured emotional pain because I desired a destiny that was not mine to begin with. I destroyed my dreams to be a part of his. And just like that it was over. I was heartbroken. I didn’t think I could go on living, but I did, slowly. Day by day my brokenness began to heal. My own form of metamorphosing took place: I shed my weak and naïve skin, and grew into a confident and determined woman. I came to the realization that man does not define woman, but rather women and men are symbiotic in that they complement one another. This understanding led me to realize that love relationships continually encourage and motivate one another to be their best and truest self.

If you have recently gone through a breakup and are finding it hard to see the daylight, here are five not so easy steps that helped heal my broken heart and placed me on my own journey towards self-love:

  1. Cry: Cry until you feel like you cannot cry anymore, and then cry again.
  2. Live like a hermit (but not for too long): Binge-watch your favourite sitcoms, watch those cheesy RomCom movies (step one is allowed to creep in here), wear comfy clothes, and forget about the number of days that have lapsed since you last washed your hair.
  3. Call your girlfriends: These gals are your lifeline, your support, and they are on your side. (“He’s a d-bag, we hate him!”)
  4. Dance: Get glammed up, go out and dance the night away with your girlfriends, and only your girlfriends. You own the dance floor so boogie it up!
  5. Make a list of goals: Think of this as a reawakening – a new year of ‘you’ so set some goals and write down your dreams. It’s time to conquer them!

Keep in mind that these five steps helped me and that they may not fully heal your broken heart, but time slowly will.

Lots of love goes out to E&N who helped me through this breakup nightmare. You girls are my rock!