Wildflowers, or RIP Tom Petty

heide-1659928_960_720I don’t often write about music – in fact, this is my first time publishing a music post – although I have a draft about Leonard Cohen that never made it out of its half-spun cocoon last fall. I’m not a musician – I was dragged to piano lessons for 10 years of my childhood and took music each year of high school for some easy ‘A’s, but living with a proper, fully realised musician means that when he’s not home, silence, TV or podcasts are my usual jam.

But this week the side of me that loves the jangly acoustic guitar and soulful lyrics of not one, but two singer-songwriters busted the folksy-hippie-chick side of me right out of whatever recess she normally absents herself to, and cracked open my heart in the process.

It started while I was watching the most recent episode of Outlander. If you saw it, you know what I’m talking about – pairing those devastating final scenes with this beautiful Bob Dylan cover:

And then the universe decided that within 2 minutes of drying my tears for a well-loved, but ultimately fictitious character, I should receive the news that Tom Petty was dying/near death/dead.

Oh Tom. If anyone’s held my soul in thrall all these years, it’s Tom Petty. One night last December I was happily flying high on some career success, and a glass or two of wine, singing to the cat rocking out in my living room to Tom Petty and wondering how he was doing – 2016 wasn’t quite over yet. A quick google confirmed that he was not only alive and well but announcing a tour with a stop in London’s Hyde Park. Tickets were purchased and Tom Petty!!!!!!!!! typed into my online calendar for 9 July.

Except, except, except… I.Can’t.Stand.Concerts. Literally. No matter how comfortable the shoes, I have trouble standing for long periods of time, so all-day outdoor concerts with general admission are basically a circle of hell for me. Even though it would mean that we’d be pretty far back, Jeff and I decided to arrive right before Tom was scheduled to go onstage. Before they appeared I even still had a moment of wondering why we’d gone through all the trouble of taking the train to London so we could stand in a park watching a screen of the far-off, tiny stage. And then the music started and I forgot about my feet, forgot about everything. I was super embarrassed at the time, but some of my favourites: “Walls”, “Wildflowers”, “Free Fallin'”, “Into the Great Wide Open”, and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” made me cry (and yes, I ran out of tissues). I think sometimes part of the reason I don’t listen to great music that often is because my favourites affect me so strongly. Hard to explain choked-up tears on a bus, train or in the office. I’m also looking at you, Leonard Cohen.

This wasn’t the first time Tom Petty had affected me so much. Wildflowers is an album that often ended up on repeat, I fell asleep to it many, many times, and it’s simply one of my desert-island discs. Vox, in their wonderful piece, Tom Petty can’t be explained in just 11 songs. We tried anyway. did a nice job of summing up what spoke to me but could nonetheless never quite put my finger on:

…“American Girl” also gets at the heart of Petty’s great thematic concern: the lives of ordinary people who can’t escape either their circumstances or the perhaps foolhardy dreams they can’t give up.

and this, about “Free Fallin'”

…a great reminder of how good Petty was at capturing the gap between desire and fulfillment.

I may not be an American girl, but well have I known that feeling of being trapped in a small town, with outsized dreams that felt like they were never going to take flight.

And finally, I have Tom Petty to thank for feeling at peace with our decision to up sticks and move to England. One day in Toronto, when we were getting close to the point of no return, I was walking alone on my lunch hour, wondering for the umpteenth time if we were making the biggest mistake of our lives. A car pulled up to the same intersection I was waiting at, and “Wildflowers” just happened to be blaring on its stereo (where Tom Petty’s music sounds best, if I’m honest). As I stood there, Tom sang “Go away, somewhere all bright and new”. Thanks for the well-timed epiphany, Tom.

Rest in peace.

And in case you were wondering – the wildflowers in Yorkshire are pretty great.

Advertisements

Into gezellig before it was hygge

IMG_5258.jpg

With Dutch parents and relatives in Canada, I grew up with a few Dutch words tumbled into their otherwise excellent English. My Oma (grandmother) called me kleine meisje (little girl), delicious food and drink were lekker, and cosy, homey spaces were described using the almost untranslatable gezellig, which to the untrained ear sounds exactly like someone trying to clear their throat.

So after seeing the Danish word hygge (hue-gah) suddenly pop up everywhere last autumn – blogs, bookstores, any place that uses the word ‘lifestyle’ unironically, I was a bit taken aback until I read this Guardian article, The hygge conspiracy.

Friends, after two years in England – in The North no less – I can tell you that Northern Europeans need these friendly words. But what we need even more are candles, throw blankets, thick cardigans, slippers, hot drinks and rib-sticking comfort food. It’s a different cold from Canada: damp, chilly and the nights draw in ridiculously early.

Call it whatever you want, this isn’t a lifestyle trend, it’s a necessity. A winter night in Leeds would be cold comfort indeed if I had to go without any of these things.

IMG_4387.jpg

@the_leela – she’s doing gezellig right

 

16 boring secrets for a happy relationship

dishes.jpgJeff and I just celebrated our nth wedding anniversary the other day, and it’s pretty clear to most people that we are happy together. I often get asked what our secret is, sometimes by other musician widows, because of his irregular and busy calendar. Short answer? He’s lucky I’m very independent.

Oh yes, we have some pretty great arguments and yell-y fights, some which are supremely ridiculous and unique, along with disagreements and frustrations that are probably similar to everyone else’s. One shiny pound coin or a batch of freshly baked scones to anyone who can clearly explain to me why we sometimes act the shittiest to the people we love the most.

So, while riding a train to somewhere beautiful last week on our wedding anniversary, we came up with this list:

  1. Do the dishes. You don’t have to want to do the dishes, but that’s a moot point if the dishes are already done. Just do them. Errands, chores and emotional labour resentments can build up quicker than you think, and constantly being the lazy one is never, ever going to be a sexy look. RAWRRRRRRRR.
  2. I’m going to take that horrid, misogynist adage ‘happy wife, happy life’ and break it down:
    • First, do everything you can, big and small, to help each other realize their hopes and dreams.
    • Second, if something matters way more to one person than the other, whether it’s minor stuff like looking for a specific type of electric kettle that suits your vintage modern kitchen, or major stuff like the type of property you buy, let the person who cares more ‘win’.
  3. One toilet per person, if that’s possible.
  4. Be polite to each other. People have actually made fun of us for this – but why wouldn’t we be nice?
  5. Share your online calendars – and if you both stay on top of your own, planning stuff gets so much easier.
  6. Get the biggest bed you can.
  7. You don’t have to spend all of your time together. As a jazz guitar widow, if I hadn’t maintained and developed my own interests and hobbies, I’d be a very bored, possibly codependent, person. That also goes for keeping your other friendships strong too.
  8. Relatedly, taking separate trips doesn’t mean you’re staring down a divorce. Life gets busy and sometimes it’s the only way. It will give you a chance to miss each other.
  9. Let your partner rant and vent about their bad day or problem for a while, and ask permission before offering solutions.
  10. Don’t jump ahead on the TV shows you’re watching together.
  11. Respect each other’s daily routines and circadian rhythms.
  12. Try to figure something out on your own before disturbing your partner. Look for the thingummy before simply yelling ‘where’s the blah-blah?’, or google the thing you don’t know. The internet is pretty amaze. Your washing machine’s manual can most likely be downloaded as a pdf.
  13. Get onto the same page when it comes to sex. Someone incredibly wise I know likes to say, ‘use it or lose it’.
  14. Ditto for money. Except for the ‘use it or lose it’ part.
  15. Make a comprehensive grocery list and actually look at it while you do the shopping. Everyone has a few grocery must-haves: replenish those without being asked. 
  16. Be on each other’s side. For big things, of course, but for little things too. Don’t say yes to the date of a big, raucous family thing when you know it will take place a scant number of hours after your jetlagged partner flies in from a different continent. If someone is saying something hurtful to your partner, speak up. If your bantam-sized wife decides to run outside and tell off the 6’3” guy whose car alarm has gone off all night, every night, for a week, stand beside her, even if the car alarm guy is terrified within seconds of her tirade.

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other? – George Eliot

Bristol and Bath

The Circus, Bath

Bristol and Bath; Bath and Bristol.

I honestly can’t separate the two cities in my mind, kind of like when you’re compelled to say someone’s entire name, first and last, out loud due to some pleasing rhythm or alliteration.

I’ve found these city pairings throughout the UK – a small beauty queen of a city near a larger, more Miss Congeniality-type metropolis. Think York and Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and now Bath and Bristol.

Base yourself in the larger for cheaper hotels and more food options, and nip over on the train to the beauty queens on day trips. What you’ll miss in tourism trappings you’ll gain in seeing real UK cities just going about their business. Both types have a fond place in my heart, the beauty queens for all the work that goes into maintaining so many layers of history, and the larger cities, not being quite as shackled to the past, have opportunities to grow and evolve, and yes, plenty of their own beauty spots as well. In this creaking metaphor, they did still make it to the pageant, after all!

This was my first visit to southern England that didn’t involve being sucked into the vortex also known as London. Bristol and Bath are in the southwest, Bristol is the last major English city before you hit Wales, while Bath is a short train ride southeast of Bristol.

Bristol

IMG_4931

My first Banksy

Armchair Travel

I was too busy catching up with friends on this trip to take loads of photos, but why sweat it when there tons of great photographers out there? Get started with 39 stunning photos of Bristol and 10 amazing photos of Bristol. And when doesn’t BuzzFeed have an opinion on something? Living in Bristol ruins you for life.

Food, drink and kitties 

While scrolling through TripAdvisor I noticed that Bristol pretty much has any type of food you could be craving. The usual suspects are all here, plus a few places I’m happy to pull over for whenever I see them, like Gourmet Burger Kitchen. I’m just going to pretend that the server didn’t hear me yelp in happiness as I bit into The Taxi Driver. But she totally heard me.

If you’re not sure what’s next, and you miss Yorkshire beer prices, deliberate over a pint at the King William Ale House. Cosy and just what you need, especially if it just started to drizzle. It’s on King Street, and you’ll want to walk over to Welsh Back for pretty river views and lots more dinner and drink options.

And if it’s getting late and you all just can’t decide what to eat, stop talking and just start walking to Catch22, where you will be in the opposite of a paradox because all the solutions to any possible craving are on their menu. As they say themselves, ‘100% the best place to go if you’re hungry’. Fish (obviously), burgers, salads, hot dogs, pies from PieMinister, ice cream, booze. You’re good. Just go.

Because I am going to tell you to go check out Clifton Suspension Bridge, I also need to tell you about Boston Tea Party. It’s one of those cafes that just solves all of your problems. Coffee, tea, bottled water, snacks, sandwiches, a loo, and if you grab a spot at the counter upstairs, the window overlooks the busiest t-intersection of Clifton Village for people watching, and you can even keep an eye on the buses that head back to the city centre from there. Super friendly staff too.

And finally, if you like cats and beer, has Bristol got a pub for you. Bag of Nails is at the very bottom of Brandon Hill Park, and well, just go. Yes, I was the kind of imbecile who arrived the second they opened one fine Saturday noon. Worth it for the peaceful pint and cat watching.IMG_4990.jpg

Fun

Climb up into Brandon Hill Park (you’ll see what I mean when you get there) and enjoy the gardens and another climb up Cabot Tower for even more impressive views of the city. Bonus points if you bring peanuts to feed to the squirrels.

The Last Bookshop – all books are under £3, just try to walk out without a new book.

Clifton Suspension Bridge – mebbe not quite as spectacular as the Brooklyn Bridge, but nonetheless it’s always great to see some excellent Victorian engineering up close and Bristol’s icon and calling card is no exception. Take a look down into the steep gorge the Avon River flows through, and a gander through Clifton village while you’re over that way.

Bath

IMG_4950 2.JPG

Armchair Travel

I can honestly say that Bath swept me away not just with its beauty, but with how consistent that beauty is – in my eyes it’s up there with Paris and Venice. No false moves, no ‘who the fuck thought that 1960s monstrosity would look good there?’ moments. Just pure Georgian glory, with a little bit of Roman interest kept around for history. I love Unesco World Heritage Sites. In fact the only thing that marred the day was that we weren’t swanning around in Regency gowns and having British soldiers dance attendance on us. Some stunning shots here

Food and Drink

We just tootled in for a day trip but still managed to hit a couple of tearooms. The famous Pump Room connected to The Roman Baths turned us away at lunchtime after determining (by outright asking us at the door) that we didn’t plan to fork out £26 each for a full afternoon tea, and told us to come back after 2:30 pm. Ah, the cheekiness and confidence of a place that knows the dining room will be filled, so why not with punters willing to fork out the big bucks?

We shook the brief disappointment off quickly and found another tea room that was a little less haughty – Hands Georgian Tearoom. Their menu happened to have lots of delicious things for lunch, and all three of us ended up with their substantial Ploughman’s Lunch. Hey – touring beautiful cities is hungry work!

We did end up having a cream tea at The Pump Room later on that afternoon, and damn their eyes, it was splendid!

Fun

Top of your list should be The Roman Baths. Then go for a walk over to Pulteney Bridge, up to the Circus, and over to The Royal Crescent.

Going offline like it’s 1999

knitting and cat.JPG

Or at least as much as I can. I’ve been feeling my screentime edge up even more than usual lately – not helped by working in online media, of course.

So I’ve compiled a list of things to do that don’t involve the internet. I don’t see the point of taking a complete break – people do need to contact me, and with a small business I don’t want to miss a single message. But for the foreseeable future I am going to take any chance I can to travel back to a simpler time, before laptops, smartphones and social media turned many of us into eye-strained zombies; and everything into a photo op.

My ground rules for 1999 living:

  • Streaming TV on my laptop is ok – it’s the only way we can watch TV here
  • Messaging and email are ok – when my phone rings nowadays I’m filled with wonder and/or panic
  • Podcasts are ok – modern radio, really
  • Blogging is ok – obsessively checking my stats is not

Other than that, let’s unleash our inner neo-luddites! Put that phone down, and:

  • Read a book – a real bound book, with paper pages and ink print
  • Cook something
  • Bake something
  • Make something
  • Go for a walk
  • Play board games
  • Take a bath
  • Listen to music
  • Explore your city
  • Visit a museum or art gallery
  • Go shopping
  • Watch the passing parade from the vantage point of a nice cafe
  • Write with pen, on paper
  • Try a new look, update your makeup, maybe even a new hairstyle
  • Exercise however you usually do, or try something new
  • Meet up with friends;  but once you’ve all arrived – put your phones away!
  • Get a massage, a beauty treatment; hipster dudes, get a pro to shape your beard
  • If you feel like you need to talk to someone, enlist a friend or seek out a professional
  • Go see a film at the cinema, or support local musicians or theatre
  • Meditate
  • Garden, even if it’s just some tiny potted herbs on your windowsill
  • Play with your cat, your dog, your kids. Give them your 100% undivided attention. They can tell the difference. I know it’s not possible all the time but…
  • Do the dishes. Go through your wardrobe. Organize your books. Pick a task that’s been bugging you for a while and just do it. Might be tough to get started but it’s worth it for the sense of accomplishment when you’re finished.
  • Go get ice cream
  • Become a charcoal snob. Read a book while you wait for the coals to turn that pale ashy grey, then grill vegetables, meat, whatever you fancy
  • Drink a really nice glass of wine, beer, whisky, a great cocktail

Quitting Diet Coke

Aspartame.svg.png

Just say no to aspartame!

Over three months ago I made a great decision.

One day, when I realised I’d run out of Diet Coke, I didn’t rush out to buy more. The next day, I simply chose to not have some. I wasn’t drinking 2 litres a day or anything, but I was starting to depend on my daily dose to get me through the afternoon. One of the world’s most socially acceptable and ubiquitous addictions.

Unlike past attempts to quit, this time I didn’t get a withdrawal headache. And rather than being dramatic and going cold turkey, I was inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret – ‘Don’t Break the Chain’. On day three I began a holiday in Scotland and planned to drink tea, sparkling water, wine or whisky to get myself over any cravings. My competitive streak kicked in – I guess I was competing against myself? and I didn’t want to break that chain.

Within a few days I felt a shift.

I had noticed it once before on a cottage weekend when I ended up blissfully day-drinking lager instead. On that road trip home, we stopped somewhere for a bite and I had my first Diet Coke in three days. Within minutes, a familiar, uncomfortable jangling rushed through my nerves that had nothing to do with the holiday Monday blahs. That should have been my warning. But no, I just went straight back to my daily fix.

This time, I wanted to see who I’d become without that nervous tingle. That was the real impetus. I was getting really tired of myself – so bloody high strung all the time. Anxiety was starting to interfere with my focus, concentration and short term memory, and I couldn’t remember the last time my neck and shoulder muscles weren’t stiff. I wasn’t having problems sleeping, but I was haunted by a summer of insomnia a few years before. Making every molehill into a mountain made it hard to do anything easily or think under pressure. And I’m in journalism and media – that’s just a day in the life.

So I kept not breaking the chain.

And I calmed down.

A lot.

It’s not the only way I combat anxiety, but it’s the latest in a toolbox that contains mindfulness meditation, therapy, long walks, staying organised, avoiding sugar, getting enough sleep, never getting too hungry, and making sure I have enough downtime.

But this. This simple change just blew me away with its immediate results.

I began to do some research to find why exactly this was happening. And found all the information that had always been available online, except I wasn’t ready to hear it before.

Along with less anxiety, I noticed other huge changes. For the first time in years, I’d gone days and days without a migraine. My embarrassing runaway appetite calmed down and I found myself not being able to finish my plate, had fewer cravings for snacks and could go longer between meals. How Artificial Sweeteners Confuse Your Body…

It’s hard to say whether one of my migraine triggers is aspartame itself, or if blood sugar fluctuations caused some of them, but either way it’s a win-win for me.

Spending each day worried that you’re about to have another migraine is not a fun way to live, and one of the ways I tried to stave them off was to make sure I never got hungry. My unofficial mantra became ‘better to overeat than undereat’, and of course I gained weight. But hey – at least I was drinking Diet Coke with my meal, instead of something filled with sugar, right? Do you see how circular this is?

Ironically, I switched from Coke to Diet Coke years ago in a bid to reduce my sugar intake and get healthier. I feel so completely and utterly duped, and had to forgive myself for my stupidity. And because migraines run in my family, I never made the connection when I started to have them more often.

So now that I’ve replaced Diet Coke with water, one huge migraine trigger is just… gone. I still have a few others; hormonal fluctuations, sudden barometric pressure changes, and travel of all things (the universe certainly has a twisted sense of humour), but I can anticipate and deal with them.

When it comes to health, everything is everything, and quitting aspartame has improved my physical and mental health in a beautiful upward spiral. It’s hard to see where one benefit stops and another begins. I don’t really care, and it would take way too long to list each physiological explanation in this blog post.

I’m just happy to have my life back. I have more energy. I can think more clearly – much less ‘brain fog’. I’m more creative. I’m more productive and prolific. With fewer migraines come fewer days I have to deal with the stupefying, exhausting fallout from each attack.

I may not be a vegan marathoner, but I am proud that I’ve stopped putting a nasty chemical into my body – one big step closer to treating it like a temple. Like our Begbie says,

 

On being jealous of my younger self

wedding guest.jpgI was just chugging away, deep in my work the other morning, feeling happy and fulfilled, when I was tagged in an old photo on Facebook.

There I was, in a slightly blurry wedding group shot, not quite looking directly into the camera. Great hair (I’d had an elegant updo done at the salon), porcelain skin, thin arms, one chin. A brownish pink lipstick. Bright eyes. I am wearing an extremely pretty sleeveless dress in a wonderful pale yellow with blue flowers. I’m not quite smiling, and I’m looking elsewhere. I admit I’m curious as to what I might have been thinking – that half smile definitely looks a bit pasted on. It could be that this was the end of a long wedding photo session. I remember I had flown in early that morning. I know I was happy to be at the marriage of two amazing friends. I was happy to see Jeff, who I hadn’t seen for over a week.

The surge of jealousy that ran through me the other day was alarming. I wanted to look like that again. I pictured the lean, clean diet of salad, poached chicken and water I would have to live on.

But then I remembered who she was, what she was going through, what she hadn’t even been through yet.

She was extremely unhappy. The adjustment to working full time after university was rough. That was the second August that she wouldn’t be returning to school in September and she longed to be back in academia. Maybe not for the studies, but definitely for the lifestyle, flexible schedule and intelligent late-night conversations. Trying to find work without office experience in a new city that favoured Francophones had been difficult, so she ended up relying on her retail background to get a full-time job in a shoe store. A job she hated so much that she cried the whole way back to Ottawa the day after that wedding. It would be another year before she would be able to quit. She was embarrassed to work there, but it paid the bills. She was glad that she was nowhere near her hometown and Toronto, thankful that she wouldn’t have to run into more successful former classmates, or – horrors – have to sell them shoes.

She had already started to have anxiety issues, attacks that seized her throat in a vice-like grip, especially when she thought about money.

She ate like shit – fast food, candy, popcorn for dinner, and was deeply ashamed but couldn’t stop. Her high metabolism made it feel like a victimless crime, but she knew she should eat better anyway. Thankfully, she wasn’t much of a drinker – she didn’t like the way it made her feel.

She didn’t know how to cook. Or, at very least, not very well. And Jeff, studying for his degree in music, wasn’t home for dinner most nights anyway.

She dreamed of writing, but didn’t write. There is no written record of those years.

The only thing (she thought) she had going for her was what the mirror showed her. And let it be said, she did revel in it, just a little, in private. But she was also afraid to shine too brightly, for fear of being the centre of attention, for fear that other women wouldn’t like her, for fear of the unwanted male gaze. She wanted to be taken seriously and rarely was. Bold glasses helped a little. She even dyed her hair brown once, and thrilled in the temporary chestnut tones.

She started to shop a lot. Working next to a mall where she whiled away each lunch hour meant she knew all the clothes in her favourite stores, and could capitalize on sales. Still, she slipped into buying more than she could afford, rationalizing that she needed to dress properly for her job. Buying something would lift her spirits briefly. It became a spiral.

Her doctor’s diagnosis of depression was still months and months in the future. She thought it was just that she hated Ottawa, her job and lack of good friends. She was tired all the time. Moving closer to home in Toronto ended up being the watershed moment – she should be happy now, right? Why wasn’t she?

Cut to the present.

I wish so badly that I could go back in time and hug her. Tell her it’s all going to be ok. It’s going to take a while (maybe I won’t tell her how long, or that it’s going to get worse before it gets better) but things are going to get awesome, and be even more awesome because of hard work, patience and learning how to believe in myself. That while I do make an effort to look nice and take care of myself, my body is ultimately what carries my brain around, to paraphrase the late, great Carrie Fisher. I’m revelling in the creeping invisibility with an edgier look.

But god she was so pretty that day.