Introducing TWO New Demipinte Series

As of today, I’ve been on maternity leave since October 2018. Our son was born in November 2018 and my husband wrapped up his paternity leave in January 2019. We’re now in April, which means I have been flying solo as a full-time homemaker for five months.

Not only do I spend my days raising our son, I also spend them doing chores. Anyone who knows me and/or who has lived with me will know that there are some chores that I really can’t stand doing. Ever since moving out of my parents’ house at 18 I’ve been something of an undomestic goddess: I am very good at making messes in the name of DIY projects and culinary adventures, but not so good at cleaning up right away.

But now that we have a human baby and two furbabies, those days of letting any of my chores pile up are long behind me. In the name of sanitary and sane living for our entire family, my mornings and evenings are ruled by a chore rotation that allows me to keep things orderly in the small spaces of time I have that aren’t devoted to the baby.

And on top of keeping a baby alive while keeping our home clean, I’ve also been put in charge of our finances. Up until now my husband has been our CFO, but we both decided that it was finally time for me to take the reins and learn how to properly manage a true grown-up budget. It’s not like I’ve never managed money – I managed my own when I was single and scraped by – but now as a married adult with a child managing money is an entirely different challenge. In addition to keeping our living expenses reasonable, we are working on paying off the last of our debt as well as finally starting to set aside proper savings.

As both the new family CFO and head of household maintenance, I’m constantly trying to keep our finances well in the black without us losing a comfortable and decent standard of living. In the last few months I’ve learned a lot and I know as we progress through my maternity leave and eventually back into me being a working mother I’ll keep learning.

But right now I feel like I’m ready to start sharing what I’ve learned so far with you!  In light of this, I’ll be breaking down my experiences into separate blog posts in two new Demipinte Series called Snazzy Shoestrings, which is all about how we’re living happily while cutting costs and reducing our expenses, and  Spending Smart for the Home On… for my personal insights on very specific items that we own versus more popular versions of the same thing.

Today I’ll be doing the two of them together, but going forward I might split them into separate posts especially if they don’t relate to one another.  However, this week the Snazzy Shoestrings subject works really well with the one for Spending Smart, so it just seemed right to launch them together in one post.

Now, before we begin I will say that some of these are things we’ve been doing ever since we first started dating and others are things we started when we became parents, but they’ve all saved us a fairly decent amount of money to date.  Also, I’m not sponsored by any brands or companies and I’m not earning any money off this blog at this point in time.

Alright.  Here we go!

 

Snazzy Shoestrings
Reducing Household Waste:  The Food Budget

We’re not a zero-waste family and at this point in time, becoming one is not a goal we have in mind. But what we are striving for is a reduction in our physical household waste so that we reduce financial waste, especially in our food budget.  We found a lot of waste in our groceries (overbuying food or forgetting about what we bought were our biggest pitfalls) and in eating out (we ordered take-out more in our son’s first year of life than we did in all of 2018 prior to his birth). We approached this challenge from a couple of different angles.

We keep a master list of core items and food staples for the rest of our regular meals at home and we only buy what we need of perishables. We revise this master list every few months and we shop for these at various markets and grocery stores so that we can take advantage of what fresh local produce is in season as well as any weekly sales or flyer deals, and depending on where we shop any given week we also have opportunities to use store rewards programs such as PC Optimum to trade in points we’ve collected on previous purchases for a monetary amount off a larger grocery bill.

We do have a Costco membership as well, since shopping at Costco can give you a really good bang for your buck if you do it right. Some of the few prepackaged foods we eat as well as many of our bulk food items and non-edible household essentials are priced better at Costco than other stores we have access to where we live, so we get them there while store-hopping around each week for everything else.

One thing we decided to invest in was a GoodFood subscription. Having the GoodFood subscription gives us new recipes to try without us overbuying items we normally don’t buy, and gives us a break from our usual menu without the price tag of eating out or having food delivered. Our plan is the basic box of three meals (two servings per meal) each week, which costs us $65 CAD. It’s still not as cheap as cooking entirely from scratch for those three meals, but it’s not as expensive as eating out whenever we’re tired of our staple, more basic home-cooked meals. What we really like about the GoodFood box is that we get exactly what we need for each meal, we’re sticking to our policy of eating produce that’s in season, we’re supporting local farmers, and all of the packaging can be recycled or reused.

By the way, we still do leave room in our budget for restaurant food, but by setting a hard limit on what we can spend on restaurant food every month we’ve managed to drastically reduce our expenditure on restaurants. What’s nice about our restaurant budget is that whatever we don’t spend on restaurants in one month gets carried over into the next month, so once in a while we can afford to go out somewhere really nice for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. In fact, the prospect of being able to have a special date somewhere really nice is such a motivator that sometimes we actually don’t eat out at all one month so that for the next month we have double our restaurant budget.  And we’re not above using Groupon vouchers from time to time, either.

***

Working to reduce not only what we spend on food but also on actual food waste means overall we’re saving a fair amount every month in this budget category. Food you throw out, no matter how cheap it was, is still wasted money.

Are you also trying reduce your spending on your food budget without resorting to the eating habits of a broke college student?  How are you getting the most bang for your buck out of your groceries?  Let us know in the comments below!

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And now for…

Spending Smart for the Home On…
…Carbonated Water

We stopped buying carbonated beverages a long time ago, including carbonated water , but we actually drink sparkling water pretty much every day.  And we drink a lot of it.

Instead of buying Perrier or San Pellegrino, we use a carbon dioxide (CO2) cylinder to get our fix of fizz. We actually opted for a rented CO2 tank over a SodaStream machine, which is widely recommended when you’re trying to consume less sugary soda but  also keeping up at home with your cravings for bubbles in order to reduce the cost of doing so.  For example, The Financial Diet channel on YouTube cites the SodaStream in a few of their videos as an appliance worth investing in to save you money in the long run.

Before we go any further and start talking about how much things cost, I’m going to point out now that nothing below factors in sales tax, which where we live (Quebec) works out to about 15%.  However, because here in Canada the listed price doesn’t include the tax when you’re shopping, I’m going to follow that model and give all the figures as pre-tax amounts.

Here’s a basic rundown of SodaStream prices, using figures in Canadian dollars from their Canadian website as well as prices from Canadian Tire:

  • Starter pack: Anywhere from $89.99 for the cheapest model at Canadian Tire to $199.00 for the most expensive one on the SodaStream site; starter pack includes machine and one cylinder of CO2
  • Accessories: As shown on the SodaStream site, accessories range from bottle caps at $3.79 for 2 to bottles from $9.99 for one 1L bottle to $19.99 for a 3-pack of 1L bottles; and fancier 1L glass carafes for $15.99
  • Flavour packs: Individual packs at $5.49 for Drops, $6.99 for Classic, $7.99 for Waters, and $9.99 for Organics, or a variety pack of 3 Fruit Drops flavours for $11.99
  • Spare/extra CO2 cylinder measuring 14.5oz (just under 1lb) of CO2 to create 60L of fizzy water: $35.99 at Canadian Tire or $39.99 from SodaStream’s website, then extra for the gas refill

Using our own realistic purchasing habits and reasonings as a guide for a SodaStream purchase, let’s say my husband and I made an initial purchase of the following SodaStream products:

  • cheapest starter pack:  $89.99
    (comes with a tank and a machine as do all the starter kits but it’s $30 cheaper than the next model up)
  • one glass carafe: $15.99
    (this is me being extra — it’s for when we’re having a nice meal with people and the table setting needs to look pretty and Instagram-worthy)
  • one two-pack of extra caps:  $3.79
    (since caps tend to get misplaced around here)
  • one spare cylinder:  $35.99
    (so we don’t have to rush immediately to the store for a refill every time a cylinder runs low, we can pop the next one in and wait to/forget to replace the first one for  a week)
  • one flavour pack:  $6.99
    (we actually don’t flavour our fizzy water, but I’ll be honest and say that if we were to buy a SodaStream we’d want to try at least one Classic flavour)

Even going for the cheapest starter pack possible, our hypothetical SodaStream system would cost us $152.75 for the initial purchase, pre-tax.

With a rented CO2 cylinder we’re still able to carbonate our own water at home. Our CO2 cylinder rental from a company here in Montreal called Air Liquide and it’s huge:  it’s 50lbs of CO2. We store it in the kitchen next to our water cooler.

If you’re wondering why we would bother with a gigantic, unwieldy thing full of carbon dioxide that takes up floor space instead of purchasing a machine that can sit elegantly on our counter and doesn’t look so scary, we’ll have to do some math.  Actually, a fair bit of it.  Here we go:

  • cylinder rental (50lbs cylinder for 1 year): $75.00
  • gas lock line & carbonator cap:  $30.99 
  • regulator:  $56.99
  • 3 reusable glass jugs that originally held 64L of beer each: Free
    (an old roommate of mine bought them for the beer, I kept them to reuse as serving jugs)
  • 1 each of empty 500mL, 1L, and 2L plastic soda bottles:  Free
    (we get these as we need them from our friends and family whenever they have empty ones — they have to be bottles that contained soda or other carbonated beverages in order to properly introduce the CO2 to the H2O)

Pre-tax total initial investment:  $162.98. That’s $10.23 more up front than the SodaStream system, but hang on a sec.  We’ve got some more math in terms of the cost for consuming fizzy water using both methods, but for the sake of simplicity I will not factor in SodaStream flavourings (and realistically for my husband and myself we’d either not finish the flavouring within a year because it’d get lost at the back of the fridge, or we’d just not bother buying more once it’s gone.) From here on out we’re talking just bubbly H2O.

With a SodaStream, one cylinder is 14.5oz — which is a little under one pound, but for the sake of easier math let’s call it 1lb.  The 1lb SodaStream cylinder produces 60L of fizzy water, so if we drink 1L of carbonated water per day, it should take us 60 days, or roughly two months, before we need a new cylinder.  At Canadian Tire, we can exchange an old cylinder a new one is $19.99 ($16 off the original price of $35.99 for a brand-new one).  Even with two canisters we’d only be replacing one at a time, so instead of replacing one canister six times we’d be replacing two canisters three times each. In a year the refills for just the CO2 every two months or so would cost us $119.94, bringing the first year of owning a SodaStream to $272.69 before taxes.  

Now, for the CO2 cylinder system.  Going by the same math as SodaStream (1lb of C02 producing 60L of carbonated water), the 50lb tank gives 3000L of carbonated water.  We’d have to drink 3000L of carbonated water in a year to empty the tank so as to require a refill in the first year, which is ridiculous — but even though we don’t require a refill, it still costs us $75 a year as a rental.  Still, though, $75 a year is still $44.94 cheaper per annum than SodaStream refills.

To deplete the 50lbs tank entirely, we’d need to drink 1L of fizzy water every day for 8 years.  Without inflation (again, for the sake of simpler math) the rental cost per year would be $600. Under the same parameters our SodaStream refills, on the other hand, would total up to $959.42.  So, over 8 years in our home, a rented CO2 cylinder would be $359.42 less than a purchased SodaStream.

Here’s an extra little kicker:  the cost of $119.94 per annum for SodaStream refills assumes a steady, unchanging consumption of 1L of carbonated water every day for a year.  A household than consumes more than 1L of carbonated water per day will require more frequent cylinder replacements, driving the cost higher to own and use a SodaStream every year.  However, because a CO2 cylinder rental is a flat rate per year regardless of how much CO2 has been used in that year, consuming more carbonated water each day with a CO2 cylinder doesn’t end up costing more per year.  It might need to be refilled in 5 or 6 years instead of 8, but it still only costs $75 a year regardless of how much you consume that year.

And let’s say you’re a normal person who can drink flat water every day and only occasionally consumes carbonated water, but is thinking of investing in a SodaStream to enjoy homemade fizzy water a couple of times a week.  Here in Canada, 12L of Perrier at Costco (24 bottles of 500mL each) is $24.99.   Now let’s say your version of occasionally consuming carbonated water is 1L per week.  At that rate it’ll take you 12 weeks to get through that one case of Perrier.  Expand this to 1L per week for 52 weeks to go for an entire year this way, which means you’re consuming 4.5 cases of Perrier in a year.  Round that up to 5 cases for the sake of simple math, and that’s $124.95 for a year’s worth of bubbling water for you.

If you were to buy the SodaStream system as represented in my household’s simulation above at a cost of $152.75 to fulfill fizzy water consumption of 1L a week, you do not break dead even with your initial investment within one year and you would not even start on your extra cylinder.  A more realistic investment for somebody only consuming 1L of carbonated water a week would be just the starter kit, but if you go for the extra cylinder on the mere possibility that you might consume more carbonated water if you can make it yourself, that would cost you $125.98. 

While it’s a difference of only $1.03 it still means your Perrier habit costs less than the most basic SodaStream setup with an extra canister that you may or may not use.  If you cut out the extra cylinder for the dead-basic initial investment of $89.99, then you save $34.96 a year on carbonated water on 1L a week, and that is the only scenario in which a SodaStream works out to be cheaper than just buying Perrier at a consumption rate of 1L per week.

Still here?  Okay.  Let’s say you’re one of those people who’s looking at a basic SodaStream to replace consuming Perrier Slim cans once or twice a week.  Here in Canada a 10-pack of 250mL Perrier Slims is $4.95.  If you consume one can each week, it’ll take you 10 weeks and you’ll need 6 packs for an entire year, spending a whopping $29.70.  Consuming two cans a week will have you spending $59.40, which is $30.59 cheaper than the cheapest SodaStream without any extras.

BONUS ROUND:  Remember how I said above that none of my figures here account for Quebec’s 15% tax rate?  If you still feel like getting whacked across the face with figures, multiply all the totals I provided by 1.15 and you’ll get an even better idea of the cost of consuming bubbly water at home is around here!

The prodigal blogger

Alright.

Here we go again.

I couldn’t let an entire year pass by again before writing another post, but to be honest for the last not-quite-a-year I’ve been at a loss for words.  There are days where I feel like I have no words to describe what’s going on in my life, let alone to disect it and attempt to distill some kind of significant human experience from it.

My husband and I created an entirely new human being together — a person we are privileged to both cultivate and observe as he blossoms before our very eyes.  Trust me, some days I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.  Yes, this baby was planned (and longed for) and yes, we were not trying to Jedi mind-trick ourselves into believing it would be easy.  Yet even knowing that it was going to be hard and brace ourselves for it wasn’t quite enough to truly prepare for what happens when you become a parent for the first time.  It’s almost like you need to actually be majorly sleep-deprived for the true reality of the situation to really sink in.

Actually, “sink in” is too gentle a term for what it does to you.  It actually feels more like being hit across the face with a shovel.

Repeatedly.

I am no longer a single young twenty-something trying to figure things out.  I am now a married almost-thirty trying to figure things out (usually while my baby executes a new plan to distract me from figuring things out).  One nut I’ve been trying to crack throughout the first year of marriage and then into pregnancy and motherhood is a way to blog about “discovering the world and finding the significant human experience” without encroaching first upon the privacy of my husband and then that of our child.

After all, being a wife and a mother may not be my only roles as a woman of this world, but they’re inarguably intrinsic to my identity now and massively influence my individual self.  And how does one keep one’s private life off the Internet when one’s blog is all about how the small events of one’s daily life become catalysts to the bigger changes that lead one to one’s purpose?

Tricksy precious.

But I think I’ve figured out how to do it.  In addition to being excited to try out this plan I’ve concocted, I also really miss writing and have come to realize how much deeper I was able to root myself in things that matter when I wrote about them.

So.

Here we go again.

 

 

 

 

A taste of cardamom

It’s been a while, hasn’t it…  Last time I posted, it was one week after I arrived home from my two-week jaunt overseas to Sweden and Ireland with one of my best friends.

And then, suddenly…all quiet on the northern front. 

It’s not that I haven’t tried to write.  I really have.  Feverish scribbles in many notebooks record my efforts.  And it’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about, either.  Indeed, I returned home to the love of my life; I left my second job where I worked en electronics retail; I met my love’s family over Canadian Thanksgiving…oh, and I got engaged just before Christmas!  Personal life events aside, there was always the soapbox of some big current issue:  a Canadian perspective on the US elections; another voice in the protest against the patriarchy; more insights on feminine self-perception and the issues women have with their bodies… You name it, I could have written about it.

But I lost my voice after coming back home in September.  It was as if Angela the Writer was struck speechless by that journey and just felt as if there was nothing to write about on the home front that could hold a candle to the wonders of Sweden and Ireland.  (It certainly didn’t help that before  I left my second job in mid-November, I kept having mini-breakdowns everywhere because of how stressed out, anxious, and over-tired I was.)  And so, as I wound myself into a tighter ball of stress and anxiety and fatigue, the Montreal Autumn waltzed by mostly unnoticed.

And then the Montreal Winter arrived.  Cold and dark as it was, the snow didn’t start coming in earnest until just a few weeks ago.  The past two weeks in particular have been bone-chillingly cold with blustery winds and near-white-out snowfalls.

Memory Lane, or as it’s called in Swedish, Nostalgitripp, beckoned to me and called me back to Sweden in particular when the snow finally hit in earnest.  In the midst of this winter I found myself cocooned in memories of blue skies shining over Stockholm, birch-lined paths through Falun, sun-splashed cobblestones in Gamla Stan, exuberant winds coming off the Baltic…and cardamom buns and coffee enjoyed next to window-baskets full of bright flowers whenever it was time for a fika break.

My fiancé recently let me loose with gift money in the cooking section of Indigo as part of my Valentine’s Day present, and in that particular haul is a book called How To Hygge:  The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life, by Norwegian food writer and chef Signe Johansen.  While it’s more of a lifestyle book than one of cookery, Johansen includes many Nordic recipes in it…and in the chapter on fika, there is a recipe for cardamom buns.

If I ever have to summarize my time in Sweden in terms of food, kardemummabullar from Fabrique Stenugnsbageri is always the first thing I mention.  Kanelbullar, or cinnamon buns, are commonplace enough in North America, and while the kind we get here in abundance is made in the typical American fashion (gigantic, stodgy, and made with too much sugar), their cardamom counterparts are rare treats even in the fanciest boulangeries of my city.  I absolutely love cardamom (many of my favorite tea blends from DavidsTea involve the dried, fragrant green pods) and get noticeably excited when I see it listed on a menu.

Now, hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is a lifestyle that’s all about cosiness, comfort, companionship, and all the little things in like that bring them to life, and I encountered this concept right in the middle of the time of year that tends to make me feel lethargic, uncomfortable, and lonely.  But as I read the chapter on fika and looked over that recipe for cardamom buns, I remembered not how the Fabrique kardemummabullar tasted but rather how I felt while eating them for the first time.  I’d chosen a rich double espresso to go with it, and as I tucked into this modest little feast I felt all the stiffness, tiredness, and stress of long travel hours melting away.  As I ate I felt ready to take Stockholm head-on like the proper adventurer I wanted to be.

If a cardamom roll could do that once, maybe it could do it again, I thought as I read Johansen’s recipe, curled up on the couch with our British Shorthair purring next to my head while snow fell down outside the window.  We even do have cardamom in the spice cupboard…

I had time this weekend to take on the challenge of home-made bread, and this morning we had a batch of kardemummabullar waiting for us to enjoy in our breakfast.  As I gently tore apart a golden-brown spiral and looked out at the snow that’s piled up on the porch and in the alley below, I felt this long winter brighten a bit with my first taste of the hygge life.

And just as it had done on a side street in Gamla Stan, the taste of fragrant cardamom, fresh bread, and coffee helped me get back on my feet.

Cookies for a Cause

Father’s Day is coming up this Sunday over on my side of the world and, as has been the case since 2012, it’s another occasion in the year for me to remember my father and reflect upon his legacy.

This year, though, there’s the added element of my favourite first brother now also being a father – so of course the question of my father’s legacy and what we, his children, inherited from him is rather in the forefront of my mind. These are the thoughts and ideals and pieces of wisdom we’re supposed to pass on to our children, after all.  And while I don’t have children of my own I am an aunt (twice over now) and that, perish the thought, means at some point in the future my niece will be following in her older cousin’s footsteps and asking me questions.

I’m very close to my nephew, and maybe that’s why when I consider what my father left behind I immediately look over at my sister and brother-in-law, and then at this twelve-year-old boy. This kid came into our lives twelve years ago on our dad’s forty-ninth birthday and though his memories of his beloved “Grampy” are of a child, it’s up to him to give his younger cousin (hopefully that’ll be plural someday) the grandchild’s view of the man who raised their adults, filling in the gaps of the grown-ups’ memories with his own.

And although his time with Grampy – to us older folk, Poppie – was short indeed, my dad’s legacy of faith, hope, and love was passed down to this kid through my sister and her husband. I’ve always been aware of this because I’ve witnessed my nephew’s big heart in action before, but this week just how much of that heart is like Poppie’s hit me in full force.

My nephew has decided to take a stab at summer entrepreneurship, but he’s foregoing the lemonade stand in favour of chocolate chip cookies sold to raise funds not for more NERF Guns but rather for Parkinson’s research. I think chocolate chip cookies are a suitable choice, as my father loved sweets and would never say no to anything we’d make for him.

This is the disease that affected Poppie’s life for the better part of fourteen years, creating the conditions in which the entire family’s strength of faith, hope, and love was constantly tested. This is the disease that robbed Poppie of his motor functions and slowed down his ability to speak, but in turn gave him more time to sit still, ponder the wisdom he could give to his children, spouse, and friends, and learn to use his daily struggle greater purpose of teaching compassion, understanding, and fortitude to others, as well as to teach those around him the value of every human life.

It’s a disease that doesn’t get much attention compared to cancer or diabetes, but affects life for all involved in profound ways just the same. It’s a disease whose slow but steady progress in research has now, four years after my father’s passing, only just started producing better, more focused, and more grounded forms of treatment and management for those diagnosed.  There is still a long way to go before Parkinson’s is conquered and those physicians charged with treating it are able to give their patients a course of treatment that truly does give them back a normal standard of living, but without big hearts willing to do small things like baking cookies or selling flowers or running miles to raise funds, I don’t think even my father’s difficult journey would have been anywhere half as manageable as it would have been.

If you are in the greater Cincinnati area and would like to part with a few dollars for some amazing cookies for a worthy cause, please send an email to the address listed below. I don’t know yet if my nephew will be taking out-of-region orders, which has been suggested by many family friends on social media, but in the meantime if you would like to find out more about Parkinson’s and even donate, I invite you to check out the links below.

 


 

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research – “Dedicated to ensuring the development of a cure for Parkinson’s Disease within this decade”

Parkinson Canada – “Support and Hope to Canadians with Parkinson’s Disease”

National Parkinson Foundation and Understanding Parkinson’s

 

The female roots of my family tree

This morning, I woke up at my mom’s house. She and I spent an evening out together yesterday — dinner, coffee, a short lecture about the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and then the BNC’s ballet performance of Don Quixote at Place-des-Arts. It was our way of celebrating Mother’s Day (which is actually today here in Canada). With the memories of the previous evening’s performance running through my head, the first thing I experienced this morning as I reflected was a sense of pride.

We’re not Cuban or any other kind of Latin American by any means, but we share the same Iberian passion, heart, and exuberance that the dancers of the BNC displayed last night, and that honestly all Hispanic people display on a daily basis. But seeing it on stage in all the sumptuous finery of classical ballet was a pivotal moment for me, I think. From the music featuring tambourines and castanets and the distinct rhythms of Spanish dances right up to the sheer joy and love of life expressed in the movements of the dancers, Don Quixote put me in touch with a side of my heritage that I’ve never really felt connected to before.

My Spanish heritage is something I don’t often consider — I have always been first and foremost a Canadian, even before I became a citizen, and of course Filipino culture reigned supreme at home — but lately it’s been creeping to the foreground of my thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot more about my identity, which is probably why I’ve finally started poking into the Spanish and Spanish-influenced chapters of my family history. And, as it turns out, much of what links me to these roots comes from the women of my family.

Although the hot Iberian blood runs on both sides, I know more about my mother’s side of the family than my father’s. The primary factor playing into this imbalance of knowledge is that my mother’s family were all in Canada when I was growing up, including my maternal grandmother who was full to bursting of family history. By marriage she was a Gomez but by birth she was a Garcia, a direct descendant of the Mercado-Alonso union that would become known as the Rizal family, and so the family history is extremely well documented and archived. They were blessed with an abundance of daughters but only two sons, though they’re more well-known of course for the legacy of José Rizal than they are for anything their daughters did.

But that doesn’t mean any of them, or any of the ladies to follow, led boring and insignificant lives. Thanks to my maternal grandmother, whom we referred to as “Lola” in our family, my earliest recollections include stories of the great-grand-women of the family: women whose most formative and defining moments were in harrowing experiences such as world wars and civil uproar; women who, for their time, experienced the privileges of education, personal wealth, and careers — things that we today believe are normal components of the everyday life of a modern woman, but back then were considered to be firmly in the domain of menfolk; women who, in short, have created for my sisters and me an unbroken legacy of strength, grit, and resilience tempered by love, kindness, and faith.

Sometimes it’s hard to live up to that kind of family history. Here I am at twenty-six and I feel like I’m in a pretty good place in my life; at any rate, I’m more comfortable with myself and more loving and accepting of who I am now than I ever have been. But although I’ve been down the foundations of my adult life for the last few years when I compare myself to the women of my family tree when they were my age, I always feel like I’m found left for wanting in their presence. But then I remember that you can’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty — and the fact of the matter is, my world is very different from the worlds of these ladies, so of course it makes sense that my story is being written at a markedly different pace.

I often wonder (and honestly, worry) if I’ll ever be able to be as strong, poised, gracious, confident, and beautiful as the women of my family before me. Even when I compare myself to my sisters I find myself in a brief panic over the thought that I’ll never be anything remotely like them.

There’s a quote that I’ve seen everywhere on social media today and I’ve been pondering on it while I’ve been preparing to write this, and by putting those thoughts alongside my insecurities in the face of my feminine legacy, I’ve realized something important: it doesn’t matter if my experiences at age twenty-six aren’t quite as earth-shattering and life-changing as those of the women before me, or that I’m nowhere near as well-established in my life and my career as they were at this age.

What truly matters is that the iron-clad strength of their souls that allowed them stand upright in their convictions and the passion that burned in their hearts to fuel their lives was passed on to me, along with many examples of what one may accomplish if one looks life straight in the the eye and never backs down. It doesn’t matter how I do it myself, just that I harness that strength and passion in my own bones and heart, and live life to the fullest as they did…in the best way I know how. That is how I might live up this legacy and embrace this heritage of mine.

And so:

“Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.” 

When a knife in my back starts to twinge and turn

It’s been a month since I actually posted anything, which doesn’t really seem to fit the definition of “being back.” Mea culpa. Life has been pretty crazy in the last little while – when it rains in my life, it really does pour – and I’ve been fighting to keep my head up above the rising flood. But now spring has actually arrived, my life is calming down enough for me to write in earnest again, and I’m finding footing on dry land once more. And I’m more in love with life now than I ever have been.

One of the bigger things I’ve wrestled with in the last year-and-a-bit of my life was learning how to let go – of things, of people, of what never was meant to be. I was holding on to far too much of what lay behind me that I had no way to grasp the things I needed for the journey ahead.

And yes, I was holding on to a lot of pain. Far too much pain, really, but I held on to it because I was utterly terrified – of what, I’m not sure.

Was I terrified of not feeling anything at all? Was I terrified of what I might feel instead? Was I terrified of forgetting the hard lessons I had learned?

I don’t know. I was being pretty irrational about holding on to the hurt, to the point where I still can’t explain why I did…or why I kept it all hidden away and bottled up inside.

Then before Christmas last year, some of it bubbled over. Before I even fully realized what I was doing or saying, I blurted out to an old friend that I felt as though there was something wrong with me.

No, he assured me – there wasn’t, and there never had been.

And when I bubbled and blurted a little more about why I felt all wrong, he said, “Knives in the back are there for a reason. For us to learn and move on… It’s life.”

I chewed on that thought for a while after, and the next time I felt one of those knives in my back twinging and turning, I took a deep breath and pulled it out. It was the knife of a toxic connection that was starting to affect a couple of the longer, more meaningful relationships in my life. It was doing nothing to improve my life and instead making everything so much harder with all the negativity and anger it was attracting.

What filled the wound left behind was a better kind of love from others who mattered more and meant more than that one connection. I found myself standing a little straighter in my emotional state, and feeling stronger than before. I’d done it: I’d felt a knife in my back, I’d learned what it was trying to teach me, and I’d pulled it out and let go.

And it felt so good.

I’ve gone and pulled a few more out since then and done the necessary emotional first aid to patch myself up and get on with the business of life. Sometimes the process has involved letting go of something physically, such as a trinket or memento from some long-ago friendship or relationship; sometimes it’s involved taking a constant source of pain and turning it into fuel for a particularly grueling workout. But no matter what the extraction looks like, it’s as though I’m being given another chance to stand up for myself. Each new decision to pull out another knife turns the wound from a source of pain into a channel by which something better can flow into me.

I do see now why we need knives in our backs, but they don’t have to stay there. They’re more use to us in our hands than buried hilt-deep in our backs. Once we’ve pulled one out, it we can use it to cut loose something else that’s holding us down or holding us back. And while we’re doing that for ourselves, we’re reminded too that we shouldn’t be doing any more of our own back-stabbing.

Breaking Free

Winter came late to Montreal, but it’s felt like it’s lasted forever just as it does every year. Having finally hit my stride with regular outdoor running last fall, it’s been torturous these last few weeks to wait for winter to blow past my city entirely. Much like Hobbits take second breakfast, some areas of Canada get second winter and I happen to live in one of them.

Easter Sunday was bright and beautiful, and though it started off with a bit of a nippy breeze by the time I got home from my mother’s nest it was a lovely 13 Celsius and I couldn’t help myself. I had to run. After all, as I had said to my longtime Swedish friend just a few days before —

 

And it’s true. For me running is about the sun and the air and the wind; for him it’s the smell of fresh damp earth. But whatever gets us going when our respective frozen northland homes finally begin to thaw out, I know for me there’s something else that pulls me out of my apartment and towards those paths and trails I’ve come to know so well. It’s the fact that whenever I run outside, for however long I’m out there I’m free. There’s nothing but myself and the hybrid environment of urban and natural surroundings; nothing to stop me from stretching my legs out as far as they can stride; nothing to make me forget I’m alive.

In fact, running makes me remember I’m alive. It’s funny – depending on how far and how fast I go, I end up feeling like I might die! But there’s something about a racing heart and quickened breath and sore limbs at the end of the run that gives me a sense of strength and self-assuredness that I haven’t felt for a long time.

But this yearning, this longing to stretch and grow — it’s more than just wanting to break out of the indoors and be outside again after a long winter.  I was born a free spirit; my heart is wild and my soul has wings. But through a series of various events, when I turned twenty-five I looked at my life with fresh eyes and unexpectedly found myself in a cage of expectations, responsibilities, obligations, and limitations.

And I don’t like that one bit.

I know that growing up and “adulting” involves buckling down and taking on things that make you a contributing and productive member of society. But is the conventional way of becoming a contributing and productive adult really the way we all have to do it? It takes all kinds of people to make the world go round, after all, so what are the free spirits of the world supposed to do about growing up?

Something that doesn’t sit well with me is the fact that somewhere along the way somebody – I can’t remember who exactly, or maybe the reality is that it was actually several individuals – told me that the free-spirited, wild-hearted creativity I possessed would not serve me in good stead when it came to “real life” – that these traits were better left for hobbies and personal pleasures, and that my best chance at being a success in life was to go to university, get a degree, find a job in some big corporation, and work hard. And that while all this was going on, I’d be an even bigger success at life if I found a nice man, married him, procreated with him, and raised my offspring to be educated, hardworking specimens who would also perpetuate our race. Oh, and I can’t forget to use everything I’ve been given in the service of others and for the glory of God because that’s the bottom line of human existence.

Well, I’ve completed part one of that plan, and I came pretty close to having the second part as well. But it didn’t work out with that guy, and that made me re-evaluate a lot of things in my life that I had grown up thinking were “what I’m supposed to do.” And then I look at what I do on a daily basis and then at the talents with which I was blessed, and I get really uncomfortable because it’s revealed to me that part three is barely present at all. I don’t see how I’m serving man or God to the best of my potential – because the things I’m really good at are, apparently, only good enough for hobbies and personal pleasures.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful to be employed twice over at two amazing companies; I’m blessed and I’m fortunate in these circumstances to have a means of supporting myself. I was raised on many principles including the one that states than any decent, honest job is worthy of respect, and I believe that whole-heartedly.

And that might be why it’s never sat well with me, this idea society seems to have that if you’re a non-celebrity pursuing a career of creativity and expression there might be something wrong with you, and the ensuing pressure that gets put on us to live conventional lives.

It still takes a hell of a lot of hard, honest work and blood, sweat, and tears to make natural creativity and curiosity into something useful for humanity. You still need to be responsible and make sure you have a means of supporting yourself and of getting back on your own two feet whenever you fall. You don’t have to be famous to be a successful creative person, but we seem to make fame and celebrity our benchmark for success in creativity and so we’re told to leave the creative pursuits to people who are already famous for them.

Which baffles me because if fame and celebrity is how we measure success in unconventional careers, can you tell me what’s so creatively meaningful and hugely important about certain celebrities that society worships – or, as my mother put it, “Who are the Kardashians and why do I need to keep up with them?”

Now can you tell me the name of the designer who brought us the POÄNG chair or the BILLY bookcase?

And now, who has a more direct impact on your comfort and quality of life?

If presented with two career options that require me to put in the same amount of effort, willpower, and time to serve humanity, I would much rather choose the one that gives more than ten percent of that back to society and the one that gives me more joy and more pleasure in putting in that kind of work in the first place. I don’t have to end up being famous for it. If the work I could do to turn creative vision and free-spirited dreams into something useful and improve somebody else’s quality of life, that’s enough and that should be our benchmark for what makes the pursuit of a creative career successful. I’m not saying I want an unconventional and creative career for the sake of being famous: I want it for the sake of improving the human condition by contributing my vision to those of others who break the mold for this same purpose.

So, what are you supposed to do when you realize that you’re an ill-fitting cog in a vast machine that takes all the work you put into its running and gives only ten percent of it to the people you’re apparently meant to be helping? What are you supposed to do when you wake up every morning feeling like there’s something else you could be doing with the time you’ve been given on this Earth to make it a better place for humanity? What are you supposed to do when you realize that people were wrong about you and about your talents being good enough only for yourself and for your nearest and dearest?

What do you do when you realize you’re in a cage when you’re really meant to fly beyond the horizon – to leap across the gaps between people – to run like hell on wild ground?

You can either stay where you are, which is the safe option.

Or you can be the daring, brave, and free spirit you were always meant to be, and just do it. Because you’ll never be able to help others and improve the human condition if you can’t even do that for yourself.