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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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!

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