D is for Dining Together

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

I am surprised it’s taken me this long to write a blog post on food! I know “E is for Eating” or “F is for Food” would probably seem more appropriate, but this phrase really expresses what I love about food: D is for Dining Together!

So much of my happy memories of food and eating is with good company. If you’re a foodie like me, you know that food is oh so good however we may have it. But there is just an added level of enjoyment, an extra seasoning if you will, to savour in the food we eat when it is enjoyed with family and friends.

food_CChavez

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
– Cesar Chavez*

Earlier in life, I remember coming to the realization that one of the surest and best ways to get to know someone is by sharing a meal with them. When you meet people, they can put up a face that’s arranged to make a good impression and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially for a first meeting. But I don’t think you can properly know someone until you’ve seen how they would tear into a juicy hamburger or demolish a stack of pancakes, if they would use three fingers or ten when eating chicken wings, the face they make when they get brain-freeze or wasabi-burn, how they would balance three scoops of ice cream on a waffle cone, if they slurp or swirl noodles and spaghetti, what they do with the leftover sauce in a bowl of steamed mussels, if they’ve ever thought about drinking Swiss Chalet sauce or maple syrup (c’mon, we’ve all thought this), if they eat popcorn by the kernel or by the handful, whether they prefer mayo or aioli, if they drink red or white wine …I could honestly go on for ages! And there is no better way to learn all this (and more) than to spend time with someone around the dinner table.

One of the other things I love about food is being able to cook the foods I love for the people I love. I’m the type of cook that watches closely as you eat my food, because I want an honest opinion. And there’s no opinion more honest than an empty plate, or in some cases a full plate (insert sad face here). I love finding a dish somebody enjoys, searching for a recipe, attempting to make it, succeeding the first or second try (or third or fourth…), serving it to them, and eventually tweaking the recipe to make it my own. I have spent years trying to get better each time I make beef and barley soup, chicken parmigiana, potato salad, clam chowder, mushroom risotto, chocolate chip cookies, prime rib roast, shortbread cookies …but I am still yet to make the ever elusive apple pie. (One of these days, my favourite pie will be conquered)

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“Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people.”
– Nicholas Sparks

I’ve found that food is also the best way to hallmark special moments. A distinct taste may trigger a fun memory, a familiar aroma may help to remember a specific experience or event, a certain ingredient may even serve as a reminder of someone if that ingredient is significant to them. I often close my eyes and have a moment to remember this feeling every time food reminds me of something special. Nothing compares and no words can describe it. Some of my fondest memories, I remember by way of food, and what a most enjoyable way of cataloging life it is! Here are some of my favorites:

First date with my husband, we had a picnic in the park with a bunch of friends, dessert at a coffeehouse (he got cappuccino foam on his nose!), and we had an apple fight (it was small apples).

Hosting a dinner date at home with two newlyweds, and finding out the husbands went to college together. We talked for hours after dinner!

Trying out that new seafood boil restaurant with work buds, and showing everyone how filipinos eat rice with their hands.

The first time I tried shrimp tempura, at a japanese restaurant in the Philippines. I don’t remember the situation, I barely remember the people that were there! To this day, I only remember the glorious taste that is fried battered shellfish.

The ongoing conversation with a friend I work with: “so, what’s for lunch?” which usually starts around 9:00am. We have very similar tastes and can often tell if the other is having a “bad day” depending on what they want for lunch. Hamburger with poutine is one of our weaknesses!

My mother making mashed pumpkin with ground beef or salmon head sour soup. Lesson learned: it may look funny, but it is still good!

We love Taco Nites in the Dinner household, and it was a very proud moment when my son could actually eat and hold a taco on his own, instead of eating a “deconstructed” version which is obviously not as much fun as the real thing.

In an effort to get my husband to try new things, I told him I would give him $50 if he tried congee (chinese rice porridge). I showed him the bill and took him to our local chinese restaurant. He tried one spoonful, and he literally looked so pained, I gave him the fifty and took the bowl of congee for myself.

Enjoying lobster with my sister on a boardwalk patio in Halifax or fish, chips, & clams in a non-descript restaurant outside of the city. That was a fun trip! We had lots of seafood, we learned some of the history of Halifax and Alexander Keith’s beer, we drove to Peggy’s Cove. The whole time, I had to hide the fact that I was two months pregnant because it was too early to tell. I was so sad that I couldn’t drink the beer, though.

I love cooking with my son! Sometimes we make pancakes early on Saturday mornings as a surprise for my husband. Recently we’ve been making soups and cookies. I teach him stuff about food, how raw things cook, what goes good together, how to mix batter or a pot …and I like to think that he looks forward to when it’s his turn to cook food for himself or me.

Camp food (there’s no other way to describe it, if you’ve been to camp you understand) makes me think of early morning lake mist, walking in the rain, stargazing on the grass, canoeing, swedish berries, campfires, and hacky sack. I had a lot of incredible teenage memories at camp, and I love that the simplest of foods (example, Froot Loops) can bring these memories to mind.

The first time I visited my sister in Edmonton, we hung out at a Tim Horton’s well past 10:00pm, and I was so surprised that it was still light out! I remember being enamored by her city and proud of her being on her own.

Finding a random filipino restaurant along the Las Vegas strip with my sisters, or taking my friend Jenn out to a ramen place for the first time on a trip to Vancouver.

My first year of university, I used a generous amount of money earned from my part-time job on coffee in order to stay awake during 8:00am classes. I brought a latte to every class!

While I was in college, I would often meet up and study with one of my friends at a coffeehouse or bubble tea place, and we would spend maybe twenty minutes actually studying and about two and a half hours spent talking.

Meeting up with friends on race day, and going out for brunch after all that hard work running our butts off. Chicken and waffles or eggs benedict taste all that much yummier when you eat it wearing a medal around your neck, a sweaty running jersey on your shoulders, and other patrons staring curiously at your group.

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“Nothing – not a conversation, not a handshake or even a hug – establishes friendship so forcefully as eating together.”
– Jonathan Safran Foer

There is so much to be enjoyed in food. Sometimes it is a matter of finding the right dish for your appetite. Other times it is a matter of finding the right meal that warrants the occasion. And still other times it is a matter of finding the right party to accompany the meal. But good food is definitely all the sweeter when shared with good friends.

 

-JOYismom

*all picture-quotes are mine except for this one. Borrowed from article: http://www.gustotv.com/food/foodie-quotes-for-valentines-day/

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C is for Childhood

“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince*

tlpWriting this took me a lot longer to finish than I thought. Mostly because of, well …life. I guess I, like we all inevitably do, have become like the grownups, always so busy with the busy-ness of life. But this also took me a while to write because I needed time. The Little Prince is a hard cookie for me to chew. I usually read it when I feel out of sorts, when I feel like I’m floundering and could really use some good, simple, quality life-advice, and when I need to look at life in the eyes of a child. But I always find it hard coming out at the end of this book.

It starts out with the author explaining why, at the age of six, he turned away from a possible future as an artist and instead focused on education and chose another career as a pilot. At some point later in life, he crash lands in the Sahara Desert, where he meets and befriends a little prince. The little prince tells him of his travels from planet to planet, how he eventually got to earth, about his three volcanoes (one of which is extinct), about baobab plants, and about his flower …and somehow, the little prince teaches him about life.

“One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

Relationships, loneliness, innocence, responsibility, self-awareness, love, life, death — this book touches on so many things considering the human condition that each time I read it, a different aspect resonates with me, depending on my current circumstance.

It is so effective in presenting itself as a children’s book, as it continually gives us reminders of simple yet profound truths only made clear to us when we look at life through the innocence of childhood.

Some advice we could all use at some point in our lives:

“Telling these memories is so painful for me… It’s sad to forget a friend. Not everyone has had a friend. And I might become like the grown-ups who are no longer interested in anything but numbers.” — Although it hurts him to remember losing his friend, he recognizes the importance of friendship and building memories with those friendships. We can’t let ourselves get so caught up in the important work in life that we forget about our friends.

“Children, watch out for baobabs!” — The little prince tells him about these plants that, if not taken care of, can overtake an entire (albeit small) planet. It’s about discipline, about tending to ourselves daily. Pull up the bad root regularly, as soon as you can distinguish them from the good, because they can look very similar at times. It’s tedious work but very easy when done early enough. But attend to a bad seed too late, its roots pierce right through you and you may never get rid of it again.

“I ought to have realized the tenderness underlying her silly pretentions. Flowers are so contradictory! But I was too young to know how to love her.” — Alas, the enigma that is us, women! The flower always put up a front to the little prince. What she would say to him, while they would sound biting or sarcastic, tended to mean something else entirely. Before he left her, he did not know how to understand her, how to appreciate her, or how to love her, and vice versa.

“[We] need to put up with two or three caterpillars if [we] want to get to know the butterflies” — One of my favorite lines by the rose! What an interesting perspective when it comes to the people or circumstances we encounter before reaching our match or potential.

“It is much harder to judge yourself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself, it’s because you are truly a wise man.” — Being skeptical of others is much easier than giving ourselves constructive and honest criticism.

“I have no need of you. And you have no need of me, either… But if you tame me, we’ll need each other. You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you.” — Taming the fox (and, in a way, the rose) is about our relationships. Tame sounds like such a vulnerable word, but isn’t vulnerability exactly what it takes for us to let someone into our hearts? For our loved ones to be significant to us among the billions of people on this planet?

“Eyes are blind, you have to look with the heart.” — What is essential, what is truly valuable, what is actually important, is invisible. We can’t find meaning when we look at the world only with our eyes.

There is honestly so much more, but I would just end up quoting the ENTIRE book! But I will not (cannot?) do that, you’ll just have to go and read it for yourself. If you can read the original French translation, I envy you immensely.

For those who have read it: I know that the ending is ambiguous, but perhaps Saint-Exupery did that on purpose, to allow us our own choice when it comes to what we want to believe and how we wish to believe his story.

For those who haven’t read it: take from it what you will. Sure, you can read it like you would most books: as a grownup. Read it because of the facts you can confirm, because of how the story lines up with Saint-Exupery’s life, because it sounds like an allegory to war and peace or even because it sounds like the very interesting hallucinations of an old war veteran stranded in the middle of the desert.

But I also suggest reading it like a child, read it simply for what it tells you. Forget the numbers for a second and listen to the words from a man who befriended a little prince. Listen to what he eventually realizes as truly important. The world is very big, full of very many grown-ups, doing very many important things.

But maybe sometimes we need to make our world smaller. Small enough that you could move your chair just a few feet so you could see forty-four sunsets in one day. Small enough that you could let your eyes be blind, and look with your heart. Small enough that one flower could mean more to you than the thousand others in the world. Small enough that you can hear the stars laughing.

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I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a scene that stood out to me this time around when I re-read the book (It didn’t before, which is odd). It is near the end when the Little Prince is about to leave. (If you haven’t read it yet, skip this part until you have!)

It is the words of a dying friend, and it is heartbreaking and intimate, but it also gives hope and comfort:

“People have stars, but they aren’t the same. For travelers, the stars are guides. For other people, they’re nothing but tiny lights. And for still others, for scholars, they’re problems… But all those stars are silent stars. You, though, you’ll have stars like nobody else… When you look up at the sky at night, since I’ll be living on one of them, since I’ll be laughing on one of them, for you it’ll be as if all the stars are laughing. You’ll have stars that can laugh!… And when you’re consoled (everyone eventually is consoled), you’ll be glad you’ve known me. You’ll always be my friend. You’ll feel like laughing with me. And you’ll open your window sometimes just for the fun of it… And it’ll be as if I had given you, instead of stars, a lot of tiny bells that know how to laugh.”

 

-JOYismom

*this is somewhat quote-heavy, lines in italics are all from “The Little Prince” (version translated from French by Richard Howard) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

*This will hopefully be the first of many book reviews. Let’s call it “Dinner & a Review”! (see what I did there?) :o)

B is for “Be Better”

bet·ter

Adjective, more desirable, satisfactory, or effective;
more appropriate, advantageous, or well advised
Adverb, more excellently or effectively;
more suitably, appropriately, or usefully

Leave this world a little better than you found it.”
-Robert Baden-Powell 1941, Founder of the Scout Movement

Whenever possible, I usually try to look at life in a positive light. However, there are times when it is difficult to do so and it feels as if there is undoubtedly so much suffering in this world with so much of it beyond our control. One glance at the news and social media, and we are inundated with & exposed to so much negativity. Whatever the issue or subject may be, there is just so many people who are hurting and hurting each other. Unfortunately, the war we wage for health & wellness today is not only physical, there is much of the pain that remains unseen and undetected, sometimes for years or decades. This is not necessarily a post on mental illness, although that is certainly one way it manifests. This is for any of us who see the effects of all this suffering and wish there was a way to change the world, it can also be a reminder when we forget that there are people around us that are hurting. I don’t know about you, but it makes my heart hurt and it makes me wish there was something tangible and valid for me to do.* I believe that if we take stock and look within, there IS something we can all do.

We can be better. Better to ourselves. Better to each other.

These words from Michael Jackson’s song “Man in the Mirror” comes to mind:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

If we want the world to change, it seems there is no better (pun intended) place to start than within ourselves. There is something to be said about being better to the natural world and our planet, which could be addressed at a later time. But what is most prevalent in my mind, especially lately, is about being better to each other. Most of us only have influence that reaches no further than our immediate family, circle of friends, and local community — if we all try even a few simple things, perhaps that is enough.

Be present – sometimes words are not needed, you just need to be there and be available

My husband and I have this thing that we do: whenever one of us has a bad day or if we have a fight or if we just need some love, we walk up to each other, take off our glasses (this is usually “the signal”), we embrace …and we just hug …for a few minutes. No words are necessary, and there’s no time limit. It lasts for however long it takes both of us to feel connected and grounded. It doesn’t solve anything, it doesn’t give me more energy to tackle the rest of the day, it doesn’t cut my to-do list in half, it doesn’t get rid of the migraine I’d been enduring all day, it doesn’t do anything but make me feel better.

Don’t underestimate the difference your presence can make. Literally being present –not distracted, not multitasking, not half-listening– but 100% present can help make the connection and ground someone who needs it most. It doesn’t solve their problems, it doesn’t make the pain and scars go away, it doesn’t erase their past, it doesn’t vanquish their demons, but it just might make them feel better. Feel loved. Feel less alone. Feel stronger!

Be positive – if you do say something, choose kindness and shine your light

I love the song “Everybody’s got a story” by Amanda Marshall.* It reminds me not to make assumptions about people (which is hard to not do sometimes). That often times what we see is only what people want us to see, only a part of their bigger story. We have no idea what inner demons somebody could be fighting, unless we dig deeper than the image they choose to reveal, dig past the superficial. We all have walls that we put up to protect ourselves, don’t we? And they only come down for people we trust and love. We cannot get past these walls by force, we have to show kindness and understanding, we have to show we are worthy of trust.

We are surrounded by so much negativity, sometimes it’s easy to just fire back, instead of preventing it from spreading. Modern technology is an incredible thing! It can also be a terrible thing. Social media is a monster in itself — its relative anonymity and intangibility can make us brave and brazen, so we post things and say things we may never say or do in person. The danger to this is that we can easily forget there is a person on the receiving end. Conversely, even the simplest authentic kind words can shine a light in somebody’s dark day.

I wanted to send a shout-out to Jo Garfein, Co-Founder/Executive Director of Cancer Gets Lost. CGL channels fandom toward the greater good, raising money for cancer support charities through online & live auctions which features rare and autographed pop culture memorabilia. Jo has adopted the catchphrase #ChooseKindness, encouraging those she encounters to choose kindness when faced with negativity or bullying in their communities and online, whether it be sending messages of positivity and inspiration, or supporting and spreading the word for charities they support. Her twitter feed is a clear indication of the positivity and kindness she implores us to share with each other.

What we do or say affects other people, even if only in a minute way. Contrary to the saying, sticks and stones can break my bones, but words? …well, they can hurt too! We need to consider whether our words will be curses that chip away at someone’s resolve or affirmations that build them up.

Be patient – give the benefit of a doubt and give another chance

When we were younger, it was easy to be kind and good because we looked at the world with innocent eyes. As we get older, it is not so easy because we know people are not always kind or good, sometimes they can be quite the opposite. In our quest to be better, we may be tempted to think that others might take advantage of our newfound kindness, some will refuse us outright, still some others may tell us it is not even worth trying.

So what can WE do? We can still try to be better. We can be polite. We can be forgiving. We can extend a helping hand. We can say “hello” or “good morning”. We can ask “how are you?” or “can I help you?”. We can give the benefit of a doubt. We can be understanding. We can reach out. We can respond. We can be available. We can be spontaneous. We can spend time. We can spend money. We can visit. We can invite. We can make a phone call. We can send a birthday card. We can be positive and spread positivity.

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I know from experience how a cloud of darkness can feel like a ton of bricks, and what a difference a little bit of light in our lives can make. We need to remember: for our fire to shine a bright light in the world, there must first be a spark. That spark can be the little things we do, and our perseverance to continue doing these things will fan the flame to shine brighter.

-JOYismom

 

* This is by no means a paper on mental illness (or any illness for that matter); neither does it include opinions of medical professionals (I’ve avoided that on purpose); neither is this an extensive guide. Take it simply as my personal observations and personal goals in approaching this aspect in my particular circle of influence. I know there is more we can do and there are other avenues to affect change, but this is really about how we treat each other. When it comes to mental illness, I hope that this at least brings the discourse at a more positive light (as in “how can I help you?” instead of “what’s wrong with you?”), helps in erasing the stigma, and helps us help each other. The Bell Mental Health initiative supports an extensive range of programs to enhance mental health in every aspect of Canadian life, check it out at Bell Let’s Talk.

*Here is an interesting article I found while browsing the quote by Robert Baden-Powell (although he is not directly referenced): “On Leaving the World Better Than How I Found It” by Chris Castiglione, which also has some great take-aways

***Some of the lyrics of Amanda Marshall’s “Everybody’s got a story”
So you can see my bra, underneath my shirt,
Watch the wind, underneath my skirt,
But that ain’t the picture it’s just a part,
Everybody’s got a story that could break your heart.

See my eyes, don’t see what I see.
Touch my tongue, don’t know what tastes good to me.
It’s the human condition that keeps up apart,
Everybody’s got a story that could break your heart.

Now who can read the mind of the red-headed girl next door,
Or the taxi driver who just dropped you off,
Or the, or the classmate that you ignore.

Don’t assume everything on the surface is what you see,
‘Cause that classmate just lost her mother,
And that taxi driver’s got a Ph-d.

I’m so tired of the fear
That weighs us down with wrong assumptions
A broken heart’s a natural function

So dig deep,
Deeper than the image that you see,
Lift up, feel, and let your true self breathe,
Show the world the beauty underneath

 

A is for Adventure!

ad·ven·ture

Noun, an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity;
a daring and exciting activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my 5-year old son, it’s that children love adventure! Children love to learn new things, to do something different that they’ve never done before, to discover something they never knew about before. If they don’t have it on hand or around them, then they make it up from their imagination as they go along. If you spend even ten minutes with children, you will see this adventurous spirit at work and it’s a lot of FUN! I’d like to think we all inherently have that spirit in us when we were younger, but as we grow older that spirit starts to take a backseat to make room for the busy-ness of life.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”
-Hellen Keller

I’m not sure about you, but when I think of adventure, I almost automatically think it requires travel. When someone tells you they just had an adventure, doesn’t it just seem like being on the other side of the world is a given?

My sister recently came back from a trip to Peru. She visited Machu Picchu and climbed Rainbow Mountain. Wow! Right? How I wish I could do something like that! An adventure like this takes a LOT of research, planning, and a fair bit of courage. If funds and babysitting were of no consequence, I would travel all the time. But most of us are in the urban lifestyle (albeit somewhat begrudgingly), working eight hours a day, five days a week so vacationing away are usually limited to a week or two a year. And lets face it, a seven or fourteen day trip does not an adventurer make. Neither can we all climb mountains year round (If you can and do, that’s awesome). However, there is still a chance to build an adventurous spirit within the confines of the daily grind. It’s just a matter of finding it for the other three-hundred and fifty-eight days of the year.

“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure”
-William Feather

If you ask my son what adventure is, he would probably tell you: it’s taking the toll highway (dubbed “new way”) instead of the regular highway, sleeping over at a friend’s house for the first time, going to summer camp even though it’s in the exact same room he’s been in for JK all year, trying a new type of cookie (last week was strawberry creme, this week it’s blueberry with flax), or going anywhere in the car with daddy (he ducks at bridges and raises his arms down hills).

What is adventure for YOU? What excites you? What experience feels daring & remarkable to you?

Taking the example of a child, perhaps doing something new or different may take the same adventurous spirit as climbing a mountain. Choosing to do the things that would make you think twice, the kind of stuff that challenges you and changes you, has the potential to transform you and make you grow as a person. It could be as simple as going to that restaurant you always pass by on your way to work but have never tried. Or picking a movie or book you already know (read: assume) you won’t like. Perhaps it’s as profound as talking to & befriending a person with a point of view or lifestyle that you don’t understand and seek to understand them. Or as exhilarating as going zip lining because you’re terrified of heights!

Imagine cultivating this adventurous spirit year round? So that when you’re faced with a mountain, you can choose to dive down head first and say to yourself, “Dude, I GOT THIS!”

-JOYismom

 

Just for a spot of fun, here’s my “daring adventure” last summer (AAHH!!)… and YES, I was and still am afraid of heights.

This is the zipline tour with Ziptrek Ecotours in Mont Tremblant, Quebec

Here is my goofball of a husband whooping down the mountain, meanwhile I am just holding on for dear life…

BUT I still did it, and I’m so glad I did. It’s one of our fondest memories from that trip.

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Joy is…

JOYisLIFE_logoWhat better way to kick off a new chapter in life than by doing one thing new, like start a new blog.

In 2013, as a new mom, I created a blog as a way to share my enthusiasm and bewilderment for the journey of motherhood, of seeing this new life from the very beginning and looking forward to the many years to come. It was a way to share the many different things we discover as new mothers, the ups & the downs, all the firsts, the late nights, the seemingly never-ending pile of diapers and laundry, the doubts and insecurities, the weirdest things we end up searching on Google or posting on social media, hearing mama for the first time, and so on… all the things which, altogether, really made being a mom a joy!

Being a new mom of twins and now a family of five(!), I felt the pull to write about something more, and yet something still attuned to my namesake. Something that would apply not only to motherhood, but could also encompass how we view & deal with the different aspects of life, regardless if we have kids or not.

My previous page the “Joyismom” blog (joyismom.wordpress.com) focused on motherhood and the joys to be found in it. This new blog broadens that spectrum and explores that, not only motherhood, but life can truly be a joy.

Joy that may not always have to do with the expression on your face, but may sometimes have to do with the expression in your heart.

I’m sure this is not easy, especially during hard times or busy times, but I have faith that it will be well worth the effort. The adventure of a lifetime!

-JOYismom