But this week all I really wanted was a dude with a big shiny toolbox to take up space in my life.
The mental fog that took over during my separation has lifted. I don’t miss my marriage, and I sure as heck don’t want it back. But then I needed new snow tires, my car started leaking oil, and my washing machine broke.
Using a friend’s connections I got a great deal on snow tires and felt like I was winning. I booked my car in for maintenance, and it doesn’t appear the problem is a difficult one to fix, but the washing machine?
The washing machine brought me to my knees.
One sunny Sunday afternoon it filled with water and then just quit, and to be honest I wanted to do the same thing, except, of course, subbing out water for wine.
I checked the breaker, unplugged the machine, plugged it back in. I moved things around, and bailed out some of the water. Next, I called my dad who lives 300 kilometres away.
“Jeez, Danna, I’m not sure,” he said, before asking me to try all of the things I had already tried.
And then I called my friend’s boyfriend–the handiest guy I know apart from my dad. He showed up. Tried all of the things that I tried and a few more, then turned to me and said, “sorry, looks like you’re going to need a real repair guy.”
And he left, and I had the biggest, longest sob I’ve had in months.
I wasn’t crying about my washer. I wasn’t crying about the money it would cost to fix. I wasn’t even crying about my half clean sheets.
I was crying because it was just me. There was nobody with whom to commiserate. There was no one to take this one crummy thing off my plate and deal with it so I wouldn’t have to.
I am solely responsible for making all of the decisions, and it’s amazing, but it also SUCKS!
I get it. In the grand scheme of things these are not big problems. They’re actually super small problems with super simple solutions. A repair guy showed up within 24 hours and within 10 minutes of his arrival my washing machine was cranking away.
(And yeah, the repair man is happily married. I asked.)
Truth is, I tackle MUCH bigger problems every single day, and do so without even thinking about it.
But dammit that washing machine spun me, and I feel like a crummy feminist for saying so out loud.
Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. Like most things, though, this year I’ll be celebrating slightly differently.
Instead of piling into my childhood home with my brother and sister and their spouses and children, I’ll be spending the holiday with friends, hiking, laughing, and eating great food, while my kiddos spend the weekend with their dad and his girlfriend.
Funny, then, that change, growth, and the clarity that comes on the other side of it is what I’m most thankful for this year.
A long list
I’m grateful for soul-filling moments that become frozen in time. Just a few nights ago I convinced my son to come for a run with me. It was a short run — hardly worth the effort from an exercise point of view — but at the end of our run he spotted a patch of dry leaves, grabbed a handful and let them crumble between his fingers.
“You’ve got to try this, mom! It feels SO GOOD!”
And so I did. And we stood there, four steps away from the car and for five solid minutes, crumbling leaves in our fingers and covering our shoes in leaf dust. Our cheeks were pink, our hands smelled like fall, and I’ll never drive by that spot without smiling.
I am thankful for my body, for the way it moves without pain (most days), and for how strong and reliable it is. I’m thankful for the scars that remind me that yes, in fact, I heal.
I’m thankful for all of the things I didn’t say, the secrets I didn’t spill, and the gossip I didn’t repeat. I’m thankful for the texts I scripted in anger and deleted, and for the ones I received, read, and left ‘seen’ and unresponded to.
I’m thankful for remote work and videoconferencing, and for the side conversations that go on behind the meetings.
I’m thankful for all of the times over the past year that I’ve screwed up. I know there will be so many more screw ups in future, but at least those ones are behind me.
I’m thankful for the relationships that haven’t worked out, for the roads not taken, and for the lessons that saying goodbye have taught me about myself and the kind of person I want to be.
More than anything, though, I’m thankful for the relationships that have worked out. For the friendships that are richer now than they’ve ever been. I’m thankful for the life-long bonds, and also for the brand new folks that show up unexpectedly. I’m thankful for the relationships that start off as a few shared gifs in a work chat and an eye roll here or there, and then before you know it, you can’t imagine a day without that bit of connection.
When grieving the end of a marriage people tell you that the evenings will be the hardest part, but that’s not true. Not for me, anyway.
When you’re a parent, mornings rage in like thunderstorms, startling you from sleep and smashing you over the head with needs, wants, demands and expectations. Mornings are noisy and frantic. Despite how prepared you feel the night before, each morning brings with it its own new catastrophe. Someone lost something. Someone forgot a spirit day. Someone finished the last of the favourite cereal. All of the favorite lunchbox treats are gone. There are seeds in the bread.
At the end of my marriage I expected to feel at lose ends in the evenings. But, as is often the case in life, reality serves up unexpected hurt, and for me (even a year later) that hurt comes in the morning.
Let’s just make it to bedtime without killing each other
Since becoming a parent, the evenings have always been my goal posts. Children are fed and bathed. Whatever happened that day, good or bad, is behind you and the next day brings a fresh new blank page. The little arguments we had have been resolved – or they haven’t – but either way those children are safe and softly snoring, and even if you didn’t earn a gold star for the day, you at least get a checkmark. You may not have exceeded expectations, but dammit, you met them.
Evenings have a charm and a lightness. The quiet of evenings has a peaceful quality to it. The sofa is softer because you know that you can sit for more than a moment. The tea tastes better because you know you’ll be able to drink it while it’s still hot. TV is funnier and more entertaining, complete with sex and swearwords.
I expected that the evenings would be the hardest because of the dark, but it’s the bright light of morning that takes my breath away.
The sound of silence
Every other week I languish in the mornings. I lay in bed and listen to the silence for a moment and I find no pleasure in it. I yearn for the chaos that I always thought I hated and now crave.
I’ve never not had a human to wake up to – whether it was a partner rolling toward me with a stretch and a groan, or a child with his knees shooting daggers into my back. I’ve also always had a morning soundtrack: A television, an argument, cupboards and drawers opening and closing, and of course the sound of that epic morning pee and subsequent (if I’m lucky) flush.
So often these days, I wake up to silence, and now (thanks to the pandemic), I shuffle into work in silence. I don’t greet the neighbour as I get into my car because working from home I have nowhere to go.
Hey. How you doin’?
But not so long ago I rolled over in bed, grabbed my phone and spotted a text that had been sent five minutes earlier, which read simply: “Good morning!”
That was all. That was it.
The “good morning!” asked for nothing. What it gave, however, was a reminder that just because it sounds as if I’m alone, I’m not.
It reminded me that I’m not the only one living so quietly these days, and that this pandemic solitude can be breached through intentional and thoughtful connection.
In other words, good mornings are now on the menu. When you receive a “good morning” from me, here’s what it means:
I care about you. I’m thinking about you. I am happy because I know you. I am grateful that you are in my life. It is a privilege to be your friend, your mom, your lover, your daughter, or your colleague.
And what I realized also is that good mornings don’t have to be quite so explicit. Maybe they’re just a funny meme, or a news story that you read that relates to a conversation you just had. Maybe a “good morning” is just a gif, a joke you heard, or maybe it’s an in depth retelling of a super weird dream.
That’s all. And that’s so much.
I can’t always hear the folks who love me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Tonight, though, feels like a breakthrough; tonight feels like I’ve given myself permission to stop feeling guilty for a moment and breathe one big, deep soul replenishing breath.
Growing weary in a pandemic
Tonight they are at their dads. It’s been a long, busy week. There were bike rides and home reading battles. There were concurrent work deadlines and big conversations. There were so many dishes and there was, for some reason, an inordinate amount of dog vomit.
The weather was spectacular and every moment spent inside in front of a computer screen felt like punishment. Crystal clear blue skies and glorious wind lifted the flags in the schoolyard next door and cast shadows across the pooch often sleeping at my feet. I spent most of the week inside looking out; pandemic numbers have been steady but hospitalizations are at an all time high. The media assures us that we’re all doing everything wrong and that there is no guarantee of a reprieve this summer. I endeavour to always be kind and calm, but this week’s mandated kindness and calmness has come at a psychological cost.
Tonight, though, there’s no one watching and modeling my behaviour, and I can finally switch off. Tonight, instead of having to lay down the law at the dinner table demanding they eat and threatening some form of punishment, I ordered sushi and ate it slowly and quietly without background noises of YouTube or some weird anime.
Tonight the house is clean — there are no stray socks on the floor or toothbrush smears on the bathroom mirror— and it smells good in here. I lit scented candles knowing that I won’t have to stop my kids from blowing them out or dunking their fingertips into the wax and then peeling their waxy fingers all over the clean countertops.
Tonight I had a bath at 7 p.m., during which time I applied a face mask, read a little bit, and sipped a glass of wine. I ended my bath when I felt like it instead of when someone banged on the door announcing that they had to poo.
Tonight I am recharging and I am trying not to feel guilty about it. My children are growing up so quickly that it takes my breath away. When I stare at photos of them from a year ago, two years ago, or four, I catch my breath and sometimes sob. How can I be both a wonderful, loving, and attentive mother, and also a woman who craves space, time, and quiet freedom?
Tomorrow morning I’ll miss them. I’ll miss the energy they wake up with, I’ll miss their laughter, and their odd pronouncements. I’ll miss making them pancakes, and I might even miss the sound of their weird cartoons, interrupted only by cries of pain as they wrestle each other for the remote.
Tonight, though, feels different; it feels as though I’m honouring myself. In giving myself permission to enjoy this solitude and shed the guilt associated with it, tonight feels like a gift.
When I started to think about International Women’s Day my thoughts immediately turned to the women with whom I spend the most time. They are my best friends, my colleagues, and the smartest, most loyal people I know. Below, you’ll find three stories that introduce three members of my incredible tribe. They have all read and agreed to allow me to publish these tiny glimpses into their lives, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
Is it all in her head?
Her hands were swollen. Anyone could see it. They were bright red and her formerly thin fingers looked like sausages ready to burst.
She can’t take the lid off her son’s water bottle without pain shooting up her arm, she also can’t type, and she can’t wash her own hair without having to sit down afterward with her hands in splints. It’s arthritis — some sort of auto-immune version — and it’s something that we can see with our own eyes some of the time, but not all of the time.
The swelling goes away occasionally but the pain remains and that’s when the doubts creep in: “Is it really that bad? Is it mostly in my head? Am I imagining this?” she asks herself, wishing someone could jump into her body to feel what she’s feeling just to let her know that it’s real, and that she’s not making it up. She’s grown up being told that all the things she feels are figments of her imagination, or that she’s “oversensitive,” or a “hypochondriac.” Friends and physicians all tell her that she’d feel better if she lost weight, went to yoga, or meditated. Great advice, but none of it will help her fill her son’s water bottle.
at the breaking point
She’s limping. She took a puck to the back of the leg during the first hockey game of the season and now it’s swollen and bruised; when she puts any weight on it tears leak out her brilliant cornflower blue eyes. She is still standing, though, because she’s got kids to get to school and she’s got a deadline today and several back-to-back meetings. She’s got a desk job anyway, she tells herself, so she’ll be fine if she can just get these damn lunches packed.
She sends the kids off, sits down, and props up her foot. She leans over her keyboard and begins answering emails and taking meetings. There’s a bottle of Advil beside her. Her ankle has a heartbeat, but it’s bound to start feeling better soon, and if it doesn’t, she’ll take herself to the hospital — after she puts the kids to bed.
It’s broken. Her ankle is broken, and she’s treating it with elevation, ice packs and Advil because, let’s face it, she’s a woman, and she has hurt worse.
Soar (but not too high)
Her beautiful, athletic husband died four years ago. One moment they were laughing in the sunshine at an outdoor festival and the next moment he was hooked up to life support and she was saying goodbye. She has little memory of the days that followed. She remembers having a hard time going back to their house, the one they were just beginning to fill with memories. She remembers that some days she showered, but some days she didn’t. She remembers everyone telling her to “make sure you eat,” so she ordered a lot of pizza and watched it grow cold on the coffee table. She remembers watching a lot of television — shows with endless seasons that she could disappear into. Her blinds stayed closed for two weeks, leaving her house in a perpetual shade of sadness.
She gave herself a time limit because that’s the advice she gives her clients. “Feel the feelings, honour them, but don’t unpack,” she has been known to say, so when her time was up, she cleared away the pizza, opened the blinds and got dressed. She went back to work because people were counting on her. She plastered a smile on her face, and sometimes it was genuine. She laughed a little bit, and it didn’t hurt like she thought it might. She looked across at her clients and passed them tissues and shared her wisdom. She soared slowly from the charred bits of her shattered future. She shook her fist at fate as if to say, “you thought you could destroy me? Fuck you. Just watch how high I’ll climb.”
Her rise is so profound that most people look at her and forget about all that she has lost. They’re skeptical and resentful of her grace and ambition. She didn’t grieve enough, they think; she didn’t do it “right.” Those who love her see bravery. Those who don’t fear that her strength makes them appear weak. “How can she be so focused,” they ask one another. “She seems to be handling this well,” they murmur, inauthentically. She hears every whisper and brushes them away, but not before they leave their little cuts.
Once upon a time in a neighbourhood just like yours sits a woman staring out her office window. It’s a dreary day — cold enough to snow, but it’s not snowing. It’s not even windy. It’s not anything. If the weather app was honest the day would be described as “blah.”
The woman feels like she pressed pause on winter two months ago and misplaced the remote. She is so, so, bored.
Working from home is a privilege. Working from home right now, though, in the middle of the longest winter, stinks.
an Invented drama
This woman (OK, it’s me) is so bored of her own company that she not only knows her neighbours’ schedules, but has become weirdly invested in their routines and creates elaborate narratives about the goings on that take place outside. You’d be surprised at how the smallest variation in her view excites her.
For example, this week there was a plumber’s van parked in a neighbour’s driveway. Did the hot water tank burst? Were they installing a heat pump? Did someone drop their hearing aid in the toilet?
It was anyone’s guess, really, but she spent a full hour speculating.
This morning Larry walked by at 9 am on the dot with his Jack Russell terrier, Molly. Larry and Molly always walk by at this time, so there’s no news there. But this morning, something was up.
Larry is in his late 70s or so. Molly looks young for her age, but with small white dogs it’s hard to tell as they don’t show the grey. Larry always wears a red ski jacket. This morning, however, he wears a StormRider jacket (circa 1996), and it is in pristine condition. The woman recognizes this jacket because her high school boyfriend wore the same one (albeit his was drenched in Cool Water cologne). When Larry walks by in this new get-up, she’s baffled. “What Rubbermaid tote did you pull that vintage piece out of,” she says to herself, coffee cup paused in mid-air.
What will Larry wear tomorrow? High tops? A bandana? This show just got interesting! Literally anything could happen!
people really are watching you. and judging
This is work-from-home entertainment: Invented dramas enacted by near strangers who have no idea that they are currently on set. There’s the couple across the way who perplex her: He’s retired, and she isn’t quite retired yet. They own a car, yet she runs a block to catch the 7 am bus to work. Why doesn’t he drive her to work? What’s his deal? Is he awful, or does she enjoy her morning sprint and subsequent city tour via public transit? Why would one casual observer make judgements about the state of her neighbour’s (presumably) happy marriage based on their transportation choices?
Years ago, an older, wiser colleague said: “Danna, stop worrying about what other people think of you. They aren’t. Most of the time, they’re thinking about themselves.”
(In actual fact, this older, wiser colleague might have been Oprah. And it might have been a segment from her talk show. Danna has never worked with Oprah #regrets)
For a long time she believed Oprah, but then the pandemic hit and she found herself staring out the window watching the most boring show ever produced, and it dawned on her that Oprah was wrong. People think about you all the time. They’re looking at your heaping recycling bin and wondering if you have a drinking problem. They’re noticing that you’re still going for afternoon walks and speculating about how long you’re going to stick with your New Year’s resolutions (and frankly, they’re impressed that you’ve lasted so long). They hear you yell at your kids every damn morning, shouting at them to zip up their coats, and put their toques on their heads and not in their pockets, and they wish you would just go a little easier on those sweet boys, who are trying so hard (even though, reader, they are really not trying. Not at all).
Working from home is a privilege, certainly. But let’s be honest, this show is getting old and there is a very tired person writing the script.
“I’m allergic to red wine,” a good friend once told me when I offered her a glass. “I once drank two litres of homemade red and became violently ill.”
By this logic, I’m allergic to Smirnoff Ice, my high school boyfriend was horrifically allergic to boilermakers, and my best friend is allergic to banana flavoured paralyzers.
Like many others, I’ve washed Smirnoff Ice-flavoured vomit out of my hair following a party held inside a faux spaceship in a small Alberta town, but that was a long, long time ago, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I had an “allergic” reaction to booze.
These days, a single glass of wine leaves me pleasantly warm and snoozy. My clothes fit better, snacks are more delicious, and Netflix comedy specials are funnier. More than a glass or two and I risk bed spins, so it’s a delicate and delightful balance.
I’m not a big drinker, but I think about drinking often, and this gleeful anticipation has caused me some consternation.
During the pandemic I stopped going out, yet every night felt like Friday and my alcohol consumption reflected this. My uncommitted relationship with booze became monogamous. This spring, a glass of wine became the reward for getting through days filled with uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy.
I was signing into Google classrooms, checking homework, monitoring screens and ensuring tablets were charging as required, all while managing my own full-time job and struggling to complete graduate school, which I did in a corner of my children’s playroom while they were sleeping. I was hanging onto my sanity with the lightest of grips, and for the first time in my life I was underperforming in every single subject.
There was comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone. Friends, colleagues, strangers — we were all drowning, but most of us were too busy to notice the water rushing up past our ears. And all the memes that normalize how moms drink to cope gave me encouragement. See all those wine memes? Everyone does it!
Booze played an integral supporting role in this drama. Nightly wine (or sometimes blueberry gin mixed with elderflower tonic because I’m fancy like that) became a bright light; it became the raft I was swimming toward. When the screens blinked off for the day, when the kitchen was tidied and the house had settled into a blissful quiet, I’d shuffle into the kitchen, reach for my favourite glass and fill it up. I’d carry it with me to the coziest chair and cup that chalice with both hands, breathing deeply for the first time all day. As that first delicious sip wound its way into my belly I’d heave a great sigh. I made it through another day. Cheers!
Meditating or medicating?
A few months of this and I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but the pandemic didn’t stop, and what began as a treat ended up feeling more like a prescription.
When the BC Cancer Foundation launched its Loose the Booze fundraising campaign, I opted to challenge myself and I begged a few friends to join. It’s been two weeks, and I’m fine. As I suspected, tea is delicious and much less expensive, and there are a billion flavours of carbonated water, which is nice. I’m also snacking less — it turns out I make much better food choices when I’m not a tiny bit tipsy.
There’s relief in knowing that I can stop, and that I’m not a problem drinker. Yet. But if you try and can’t, you’re not alone, and there are services available.
And by all means, support our Lose the Booze team by donating to cancer research. Already, I’m feeling great about my decision, but with your support I’ll feel even better.
This is my first (and perhaps only) food post, and guess what, I’m going to post recipes, too, but in order to get to the recipe you have to read the entire post, where you’ll discover the complicated history of the sugar cookie and learn about how these cookies have become the soothing balm needed to heal my broken heart. Kidding! These are cookies, not tattoos!
I love baking. It’s something I’m decent at, and I’m a tiny bit proud of that.
Hands up if, as a kid, you thought your mom, or your grandma was the world’s most accomplished baker. I know I did. What I’ve come to realize, however, is that the reason their baking tasted so good is because we loved them so much. We associate the foods they prepared with the way their hands looked as they kneaded the dough, or the way we felt standing beside them on a stool us as we cracked our first egg.
But if there was a blind taste-test between samples of my baking and my moms, mine would win, no question. I don’t like to brag, but there it is. Sorry mom. You use too many raisins.
Mince? But why?
The first rule of Christmas baking is understanding what to bake vs. what to buy, and the second rule is understanding what to avoid entirely, like mince anything, or anything with candied fruit.
The only candied fruit that is allowed in my kitchen are red and green candied cherries. And the only place candied red and green cherries are allowed to exist is on top of a shortbread cookie.
My mom likes mincemeat and fruitcake. She also likes the hot cross buns that you buy at Easter with the colourful fruit inside. My problem with all of these baked goods isn’t necessarily taste, but texture. With mince and candied fruit there is an element of surprise that disturbs me. Take a bite, chew, chew, flavour is OK, and then BAM! weird unexplained crunch. It’s unsettling.
What to bake vs. what to buy
Another rule is to not waste time baking something complicated when there is a store-bought version that tastes almost as good and is significantly cheaper.
Like Nanaimo bars, for instance. You can buy an entire flat of delicious Nanaimo bars from Costco for $10. To purchase all of the ingredients to make your own you’re looking at $30 and about 2 hours in the kitchen. A person who makes $25 per hour just paid $80 for Nanaimo bars that would have cost $10 from Costco. This is what I refer to as “baking math.” It might be fundamentally flawed, but it’s worth considering.
Furthermore, you can buy Forty Creek Nanaimo Bar Cream, which is the booze version of a Nanaimo bar that you can sip while you’re baking. Discovering this delightful concoction blew my mind, and if you haven’t heard of it yet, you’re welcome.
Let’s not get too fancy
Some of the most delicious baking is the simplest. Faux Almond Roca with a saltine base? Fancy? Heck no! Delicious? Absolutely! If you’re baking for family and friends, and for kids especially, these are the treats that get gobbled up, year after year.
These recipes are not complicated, because 1. It’s been a hard year, and baking shouldn’t stress you out, and 2. You might be drunk baking, in which case, simple is safe.
Sugar cookies with simple glaze (head over to Pinterest for some cute decorating ideas)
This is the best sugar cookie recipe because it tastes amazing, and the dough is easy to work. Do not refrigerate the dough, just get busy rolling it out.
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
5-6 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup milk (more or less, depending)
¼ tsp almond flavouring (optional)
Gel food colour
Preheat oven to 350F
Cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer until smooth
Beat in vanilla and egg
In another bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder
Add dry ingredients to wet a little at a time, continuing to use mixer until everything is combined and the mixture is crumbly
Wet your hands and knead the dough by hand. Separate it into 2 dough balls. Cover one with plastic wrap while you are rolling out the other (don’t chill the dough)
Place the dough on a floured surface, sprinkle flour on top to prevent the rolling pin from sticking. Roll out until it is about ¼ inches thick (don’t roll too thin!)
Cut out shapes, and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets
Bake at 350F for 8-10 mins
Cool completely before icing
Dump ingredients into a bowl and mix together with a metal spoon or fork. I never actually measure out the powdered sugar. I usually just put about 5-6 cups into a bowl with about ¼ tsp of the almond flavour and maybe ¼ cup of milk, but slowly. You need the glaze to be relatively thin, so it comes out nicely from the piping bag. The glaze will harden after a few minutes. If you’re working with kids, I recommend avoiding piping bags to save your sanity and just giving them a bowl with a spoon and butter knife for spreading.
Haystack cookies (AKA chow mein noodle cookies)
My mom makes these every Christmas. Eat them over a plate because they’re a mess to eat, but so yummy.
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup butterscotch chips
½ cup chow mein noodles
½ cup salted peanuts (you can use whole, or crush)
Note: Mess around with these. You’re going to want to double or triple this recipe. Also, if you’re like me and prefer chocolate over butterscotch, switch up the ratio, or replace the butterscotch with chocolate entirely. If you like butterscotch a lot (which just seems weird), toss the chocolate. These are YOUR cookies, so you do you! Try using pretzel bits, add a bit of coconut, or throw in mini marshmallows just for the heck of it. You really can’t screw up this recipe.
In a microwave, melt chocolate and butterscotch chips, stir until smooth. Stir in noodles and peanuts until well coated
Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or until set