BIRDS OF A FEATHER

I have three amazing nieces. One of them is a free-spirit. At the age of three, she had her own mind and was firm in her beliefs. That’s not to say she doesn’t listen to others because she also has wisdom. She may not agree with you or act on your advice but she will patiently absorb your perspective. A change from when she was three.

Her Mom, my sister Dawn and I were sitting in her kitchen, chatting about our favourite musicians and fave songs, sipping on tea. In strolls Jess (who I called Muffy then) in her onesie and declares that  she likes Marilyn Manson. Perplexed I look at Dawn and ask, “Who is Marilyn Manson?” She ignores me and a battle ensues between Mother and child, “No, you don’t. Yes, I do. No, you don’t. Yes, I do”. After a few minutes of the same argument, my sister  exasperated raises her hand, points down the hall and in a firm voice says, “Room, now.” My three year old niece sauntered down the hall, turns and softly said, “Yes, I do” before she shut her door to us.

Now, in her early twenties she works as a Dental Assistant, still as sassy and spunky as ever. She recently experimented in some bold hair colouring. First a full head of neon pink before graduating to rainbow colours. As her aunt and artist I though she looked beautiful and I applauded her bravery. It’s not easy standing out from the crowd in our die-hard conformist society.

Beautiful, brave Jess with her hair now faded to Easter colours.

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A couple of weeks ago she relayed a story about how one of her patients asked her boss why he would allow her to work in the office with her vivid hair. To his credit he said, “I like it, many patients like it and she is not hurting anyone.” Bravo.

Bravo, bravo, bravo. With the caveat that personal choices cause no harm, why do people get so worked up about what others choose to do, with and to themselves? Some folks get so angry with others who paint outside the lines or think and actually live outside the confines of those boxes they’ve chosen for themselves. I’m not fond of young men who wear their pants around their hips. I don’t want a view of their manties but that is THEIR choice. While our sensitivities may be offended, our life is not in danger.

On my last trip to Las Vegas I saw a man who wore a crochet bag around his family jewels which was held in place by various crochet strings weaved around his body. He did not have any body issues whatsoever and while I did find myself staring, I was not offended, nor did I need medical attention. And if you choose to use your body as a canvas, that is your right. I’m not fond of a full body of tattoo art yet find much of the art beautiful. Neither of these choices would suffice for me as personal expressions but I respect they are for others. I respect their freedom to make choices. It is admirable and I applaud anyone who has the courage to do what they want to do with their life. In fact, I encourage others to see themselves, be outside the “norm” and discover what it is they truly like, who they truly are and free themselves of any restrictions society has attempted to place on them. If you want to live in Indonesia and help save the hundreds of orphaned orangutan, please, do it, they need you. Anytime I see someone somewhere expressing themselves I have more faith in humankind. When I am lucky enough to witness the celebration of uniqueness in each individual, my heart swells. When people free themselves of these false societal bonds of normalcy, it someone provides others, myself included with the impetus and power to do the same.We need more freedom fighters. We need more inspiration. We need more awe.

We are individuals and it’s time we appreciate and respect our own great uniqueness in whatever manner you chose to express it. I paint, I write. I explore and right now, I’m off to the hair salon.

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. ~ Dr. Seuss

 

LAS to BNA: Quest for the Best Biscuit along I-40

Two weeks from today, our SOUTHERN SOJOURN adventure begins. Stoked? You bet I am. Like many, my BFF Carol and I need an adventure. A clean and clear break away from the respected daily routine. I need a big hit of freedom and nothing does it for me like a road trip. This anticipated trip covers it all from Sin City to Music City and everything in between.

…electric, eclectic LAS along I-40 to friendly, fabulous BNA…

Nashville, TN - Music City

A highlight for me will be the Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim, then Santa Fe, New Mexico and Nashville, Tennessee. Long have I yearned to see these places and while the visit will be short, I’m certain I’ll be back again.

How did this foolishness start you wonder? I travel as often and whenever I can. Last road trip Carol and I survived was to Asheville, North Carolina. Now I’m lucky when I travel, super lucky. Carol is not. She is a lightening rod for bad weather and our trip to meet with friends from South Carolina was no exception. It started off well, all smiles and happy. As we drove South, the skies got ominous and there was an eeriness in the air which was hard to explain. Hackles up, I stopped at a gas station in Beckley, West Virginia to fill the tank. I heard the pump click off, darkness descended and winds whipped. Carol ran back to the car from the station store and I backed us into the crook of a building. We watched and waited until the “Derecho” ( a downgrade from a hurricane) passed. The first I’ve encountered and I hope the last.

As with all storms, it passed and direct damage was no power in West Virginia for two weeks. The power was out in five states and also in Washington, DC.  We still had another four hours drive to Asheville through the Smokey Mountains. I asked Carol what she wanted to do but she said since I was driving, it was my decision. To ensure our safety I decided to book the nearest hotel, but it was not to be. Front desk advised all hotels within a two hour radius were booked and all without power. We had the choice of sleeping in the car or driving into North Carolina. I opted for the latter.

Driving along a pitch-black, windy, winding, debris strewn road was not my idea of adventure. Tiny Irish roads and wicked Canadian snowstorms aside, when I saw debris on the Interstate, and I am talking whole branches of trees, large branches, I questioned my choice. The Interstate drive was slow but we fared better after Johnson City, TN. When we arrived 4am at our hotel in Asheville, my hands and the steering wheel had melded. A hard-earned, frosty beer poolside steadied my nerves and after a good nights sleep, we awoke to one of the hottest heat waves to hit North Carolina.

Plans that day were to climb Chimney Rock but my pals Charlotte and Rich, natural-born Southerners acclimatized to heat declined the climb as it was “too damn hot.” This Canuck had melted to the point of exhaustion so we headed back to Asheville to listen to a concert in the park and enjoy some local fare and micro-brews. Sadly, twenty-one locals died that day of heat-related illness. It was indeed, too damn hot.

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Chimney Rock, NC

The return home was no better. After an enjoyable albeit humid morning spent at the Biltmore Mansion we drove North through the Smokey Mountains. The power was out in West Virginia which meant State Troopers were patrolling the gas stations. While we were mildly inconvenienced, I thought of the thousands of families without water to wash, cook, bathe, wishing I could help, I counted my blessings.

Biltmore Mansion in Bloom
Biltmore Mansion in Bloom

On the way home we drove through pretty pink and yellow, electrical storms in the mountains of West Virginia and torrential rain that forced me to stop driving. What is one to do in these conditions? Like all trials in life, you steady yourself and plough forward with as much heart and grace as you can muster.  Carol stayed calm which gave me the added strength to do just that which I will always value.

The last point of interest on the journey home was Fallingwater, a designated landmark home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright south of Pittsburgh, PA. The home and area had been without power so their schedule was out of whack but they let us in and we were happy, and amazed.

Fallingwater home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Fallingwater home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

And of course we made a safe return and have stories to tell and memories to share, now, and when we are old gals rocking our rockers. I suspect our newest adventure will be full of good times, great experiences, warm and wonderful people and more memories to rock on.

Stay tuned friends and family. I will post the updates as you’ve requested, as best I can.

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
~ Mary Ritter Beard

 

 

 

 

 

IT AIN’T ALL HEARTS and ROSES

This past Valentine’s Day had me thinking about love, as it should. Love of family, friends and things I hold dear. In Canada, we also celebrated Family Day the same weekend. It’s a happy coincidence.

Most of us find it easy to spend heart day with family or others who we love. It got me thinking about those I love who are gone, like my Mom, Grandma and my oldest, dearest pal Maggie. It also got me wondering about a cherished family member, the “Black Sheep” who in her selfishness, walks a road of self-destruction via drug and alcohol abuse.

After many years of late night phone calls for help, a bail out, collections and copious amounts of money loaned and wasted, I decided to accept what I had always known. You can extend a hand of help but you cannot make someone take it. Help is but a step from others and real change comes from internal strength and determination within.

 

This revelation helped me to unburden myself from taking the responsibility for the life of another. It is hard, damn hard to watch someone you love struggle with their demons. It’s harder still when no matter what you do, no matter what love, assistance, guidance and lies you overlook, the charade continues. It is hard to bear witness and stand back. It is difficult to watch someone you love endure pain, without feeling and in some respects, share their pain.

In the end, all that is left is love, hope and prayer. I have found nothing detracts from the love. The humanness of struggle has in fact increased my love for her and myself and provided clarity for which to see the fissures and solutions without prejudice. I am still blind to her deceit as  love does blind but now I can help through love, which is a better way.

Many folks are hard-core adapters and devotees of life’s societal norms and while I have never fit into this category, I understand the rules of the game. Those dark horses who refuse to learn and scoff will always be outside the circle of candy, roses and epicurean delights. They are perhaps the ones who need love the most. They are the adult children shyly clutching the barbed wire fence looking to others for succor on Valentine’s Day. They are the dogs baying at the family door, waiting to be let in.

I have never been one to look away or ignore the pleas in their eyes. I’m a sucker for a tin cup and a hard luck story. Stories are who we are, singularly and collectively. If we choose to look away and turn our backs on those in need, this tells our story too.

During that frosty, sunny weekend of celebration for love and family,  I felt it should have been impossible to exclude those who need us the most. Those who are the most vulnerable need us to be vulnerable and be the love. Be their Valentine.

If your family, like mine has dysfunction, love and embrace that too. Valentine’s and Family Day are not always filled with pink hearts and pretty pictures. The key to loving is in the acceptance of another’s ability for impropriety, their fragility, imperfections, foolish hearts and yes, their selfishness.  It is the essence of Valentine’s and Family Day. It is the heart and soul of every day.

I am single this year so no roses, chocolates or champagne. Instead, I choose to flow with my profound love of family and spent part of the weekend with them and as usual, my cup was overflowing. I hope yours was too.

When you learn to accept instead of expect, you’ll have fewer disappointments.