I don’t have a life, but I imitate one on Facebook.

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Cooking is a passion of mine. I love the interplay of colours and smells as you build a dish from hot oil or melted butter into a meal, adding meat, vegetables and spices along the way. I love the feeling of having created a really good sauce, or a bowl-of-love soup. I relish pulling a hearty casserole out of the oven or serving up steaming ladles of chunky chilli on a cold day. Seeing smiles on the faces of my family (and guests, when we have them), hearing the noises of appreciation and contentment as they eat what I’ve made – that’s soul food for me. A few weeks ago, I discovered a website called Yummly. It is a vast collection of recipes, meticulously organized. These recipes have been contributed by people who love cooking, and have featured these recipes in their blog. Practiced, perfected recipes, vetted by people who know cooking. Why is this worth pointing out?

Because Facebook.

My newsfeed is filled with recipes. Usually, it’s a sped-up video detailing the steps of a recipe, and it will be introduced with lines like “you’ll never microwave popcorn again” and “she takes eggs, milk and sugar and you won’t believe what she makes” and “the only good-tasting gluten-free bread I’ve ever had”. About 95% of the time, these videos are posted by people who’ve never tried the recipe. They’ve taken some stranger’s word for it, and posted it because it looks legit – and tasty. Sharing recipes used to be a thing of honour – a tried-and-true, everyone-loves-it thing cooks wanted to share with their family and friends. These timeline posts are nothing like that. They are basically part of a poster’s stream of consciousness – a “wow, check it out” shared with everyone from their mother to their mail carrier to the college roommate they havn’t seen in seventeen years.

And this is not limited to recipes …. There are housekeeping remedies (“never buy shoe polish again”, “return your shower head to a factory-fresh shine”, “wash your dishes with nothing but baking soda and lemon juice”). There are step-by-step instructions for creating elaborate hairstyles and 3D nail art. There are beauty hacks (“wash your hair with these four common household items and never deal with dandruff again”, soothe cracked heels by soaking your feet in vinegar and essential oils”, “12 delicious face masks made with nothing but fruit, honey and oats”). Make-up tips and tricks. Dance moves. Exercises guaranteed to address everything you’ve never liked about yourself. Fun shoe-lacing techniques. Ideas for upcycling old clothes and furniture. Fashioning the perfect spice drawer or underwear organization system using PVC pipe. Plant pots made from old hats, boots, sink basins, toilet bowls. Then there are the craft suggestions – if you have young children, you’ve probably perused the internet for fun, seasonal, age-appropriate crafts for your littles. Well, look no further. Your Facebook timeline contains everything from assembling puppets from toilet paper rolls and fabric scraps to making paint out of flour, oil, food colouring and …. oh, I don’t know, inner peace, ambition and pixie dust? Amazing vacation destinations, posted by someone who thinks it would be awesome to go there someday.

All this would be awesome if it weren’t for the fact that most of it is wishful thinking. The videos are almost always accompanied by lines like “this looks amazing”, “OMG, I’ve got to try this” and “someone do this and tell me if it works”. These things are basically a low-budget, minimal-effort bucket list, a someday-maybe-if-I-feel-like-it brainstorm. The posters have never cooked these dishes, crafted these hairdos and nail jobs, cleaned their hardwood floors with their dog’s ear wax, gotten rid of their crow’s feet using corn syrup and cream of tartar, eliminated their belly fat eating only bananas and jalapeños, or hung out in the same room with PVC pipe. They’re presenting a carefully curated image to which they aspire, and they are unlikely to ever do even a fraction of the great ideas they’re passing on. The online world (particularly the social media world of Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest) not only allows this – it encourages it.

And I’m tired of it. What a waste of time, brains, dreams. We’re like caged tigers pacing in front of a wall painted with a jungle scene. Strangely content, though there’s a restless awareness that it’s only a shadow of what we could have – what we’re meant to have. When are we going to stop creating holograms of the life we want, and start working on the real thing? Or is that just too much for us now?

 

 

 

I wonder what’s in that enclosure ….

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When you rack up time together the way Ryan and I have, you amass an impressive collection of jokes only the two of you understand. They might have made you laugh so hard you couldn’t breathe once upon a time, and they’re still good for a snicker or two if you don’t haul them out too often and wear them out entirely. These jokes are often presented in shorthand, because you both know what they mean and the unabridged version is no longer necessary. One of those jokes is “hey, Beth, what’s in that enclosure”. This is funny only if you were a fly on the wall (or buzzing around the feces-infused hide of an exotic animal) at the Denver Zoo in 2009. Ryan, Fiona, Bridget and I had a great day there, as part of our road trip to Colorado and back. At one point, however, I found myself staring at a distant enclosure and wondering what was in there. It was this:

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In my defence, the elephant had covered itself with grass, and was the same colour as the stump in front of it. However, it is still one of the funniest moments in the history of our relationship – when Ryan said “um, Beth, it’s an elephant“. Then, there’s the day I looked across the street and spied an admittedly strange-looking person peering out the big front window of our neighbour’s house. I asked “what’s with that guy staring at our house”. Fiona said, with one of her truly impressive eye rolls, “Mom, that’s the neighbour’s dog“.

My cruddy vision has been the butt of many a joke among family and friends over the years, but the elephant incident was quite possibly the best – and worst – one. I’ve worn glasses since I was not much older than Fiona. And I hate them. I hate looking for them. I hate how they fog up in the winter and stick to the bridge of your nose in the summer. I hate having to be careful putting them on and taking them off because I’ll smear the lenses and have to clean them again. Being more than a little scatterbrained, I hate being dependent on something so expensive. I have left them at people’s houses, in classrooms, in public washrooms. I once sent my glasses down the garbage chute in my apartment building because I had gotten a new purse, and I tossed the old one out before checking the little side pocket where I normally kept them. I hate the way I look when I’m wearing them, so I only wore them when absolutely necessary. This meant that, most of the time, the world was a blur to me. The advent of laser vision correction technology presented a juicy possibility, but the price was out of my range for many years. Until this year, when my insurance company announced that they would start covering a portion of the procedure …. That caught my attention, and soon I found myself in a LasikMD office, having my eyeballs eyed for candidature. I was, apparently, a textbook case, and I happily booked my surgery.

I threw out an informal poll on Facebook: what’s it like? My gorgeous, crazy-in-the-best-way cousin, Danae, compared it to alien abduction. This, I was to learn, was apt. For anyone else who’s considering this procedure, here’s the skinny:

I thought I would be held down by something, but no – it was all on me to keep my body and head still. This is very difficult when someone is messing with your eyes – every instinct is concentrated on getting up, flinging people off you like a cartoon character, and running away. The only things standing between me and that outcome were two stress balls, which I may have broken before the procedure was over – that, and the knowledge that if I moved I might be rendered eyeless.

I was to stare at a red pinpoint of light during the entire process. There were eye drops to deaden the pain. Then, they taped one eye shut, and one eye open. They wedged what felt like a metal ring between my eyelids and my eyeball. I made the mistake of looking it up later. It wasn’t a metal ring, it was four freakin’ metal hooks to pry my eyelids open. Some things cannot be unseen blah blah blah, and I’m glad I didn’t see them before the surgery. Some kind of tugging motion, a suction cup pulling my eye forward. Then, a scalpel came toward my eye, made contact, and sliced back a flap of cornea. At that moment, the red light fragmented. Suddenly, it looked like a stained-glass window, or a still-shot of fireworks. Enter the laser. Yes, it really did sound like rice crispies snap-crackle-popping, and it really did smell like burnt hair. I gritted my teeth and reminded myself that I already knew it would be like this and I just had to hold out a little longer. Then, the doctor was smoothing the flap back over my eye, and the light became a pinpoint again. All trappings were removed and the whole room became a wall of coloured water. At that point, I remembered that there was another eye to do …. Lather, rinse, repeat. This time, knowing what was going to happen, my brain had me fairly convinced that I could feel it. I pushed through what I knew was a psychological trick, and soon I was walking out of the room to a recovery area that was at the back of the waiting room.

I was supposed to keep my eyes closed, but – as anyone who knows me knows – I’m not very good at doing what I’m told. So I slipped my eyes open for a moment. Things were fuzzy around the edges, but I focused on a TV screen across the room. I could see everything on it! It was a show about the mating dances of tropical birds, and I could see every leaf and swirling tree trunk pattern. I could see, in striking detail, the colourful plumage nodding and waving as the birds danced. I could see their claws clutching branches. I smiled and closed my eyes again. It’s been nearly 48 hours since my surgery, and I keep doing that – looking at things just for the pleasure of seeing them clearly, and smiling. I can see the tiny twigs on trees – I can see individual green needles. I can read signs. Street lights used to be soft yellow blobs – now they’re sharply outlined glowing rectangles. A city bus passed our house, and I clearly saw the advertisements on the side and the people inside it. I used to have to wait til a bus was practically roaring past me to know what number and line it was. I could talk about this all day, and I’ve already bored Ryan, Fiona and Bridget stiff about it. It’s like my eyes are a new toy …. Recovery’s been fairly easy, and nearly painless. The hardest thing about it has been limiting my reading time, which I got around by asking my lovely daughters to read to me. Now I know all about “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”. That shit’s actually pretty funny.

I always make new year’s resolutions, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes, they focus on the inside – on my heart and mind. Other times, they’re superficial. Floss every day, drop ten pounds, do things when they present themselves rather than perpetuating the procrastinate-panic cycle that has plagued me all my life. Today, though, I’m feeling content with what I have and what I am. I will never be as skinny, sober or wealthy as I think I ought to be, but I have really good eyes after just fifteen minutes in an operating room. For the 874,290th time, we are living in an age of miracles, and science is amazeballs.

2015 in review …. Happy new year!

Another year of blogging has gone by …. WordPress put together a report for me, and I’m sharing it with you. Your time, attention and comments are such a great encouragement to me – you keep me writing. All the best to you and your loved ones in 2016, and I’ll be back with more blabbering when the holidays are over! (That’s either a promise or a threat, depending on what you think of said blabbering. But you keep coming back ….)

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,800 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 47 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

You can’t buy what I want for Christmas.

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Every November, as soon as Remembrance Day has ended, I start getting ready for Christmas. People tease me about Christmassing too early, but it works out well in the end. By mid-December, with decorations up, cards posted, gifts purchased and baking baked, I can sit on my duff with a cup of peppermint tea and an unbearably smug smirk because I am ready for Christmas and all the people who made fun of me back in November are not. In fact, in recent years, I’ve extended my gloating to a trip to the mall to eat lunch in the food court and watch people lose their marbles in a last-minute dash for presents. I did that just last Saturday, along with my family.

Located next to the food court is Justice (this is probably not random). Everything in Justice is covered in glitter and smells like cotton candy, which means that Fiona and Bridget love the place. The three female members of our crew wandered into the store to check it out, while Ryan wisely stayed at least twenty-five feet away and immersed himself in his phone. There was a Christmas tree at the entrance to the store, and stacks of post-its in six different colours. Customers were encouraged to write their first name and a Christmas wish on the post-it, and stick it on the tree. Most of the post-its were predictable: iPods, puppies, ponies, cool clothes and accessories (presumably from Justice). There were also wishes that couldn’t be granted using money. A happy Christmas. No more cruelty to animals. World peace. One clever little wag had written a wish for “JUSTICE for girls everywhere”. Out of the forest of pastel slips of paper, one caught my eye and squeezed my heart: a girl named Makayla wishing for a friend. A friend. Not a whole lot of them, just one.

Facebook is a fount of …. well, everything everybody is thinking at any given time, whether it’s fit for sharing or not. Some posts are solid, some posts are more like solid waste. One that I’ve seen a couple of times recently, though, resonates with me:

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What do I want for Christmas? I have been grateful for (nearly) every present I’ve ever received. I do remember a pair of mustard-coloured cords and a matching sweater that I might have worn once before “losing” them …. Even when the item hasn’t particularly tickled my fancy, I’ve appreciated the thought. I’ve no doubt what I unwrap this year will also be lovely. But, really, what I want for Christmas isn’t available in stores. (And, no, Canadian Tire, it’s not available online, either. If I hear one more stupid list of all the many varieties of the many things you can order from Canadian Tire I might just hit them up for one of seventeen different lighters and set the radio on fire.)

I want peace – in my mind, in my home, and on earth. I want hope. I want desperate people to look up and believe – and I want something for them to believe in. I want time. Time to sit and ponder. Time to organize my clutter, both literal and figurative. Time to have a conversation without glancing at the clock every few minutes. Breathe in, breathe out – soak in. I want health, both in body and mind. I want gratitude to replace comparisons and anxiety. I want kindness for others, and for myself. I want forgiveness. I want to let things go. Just let them go, and not look back. I want to be a refuge for the people I love. I want no judgement. Only love today, and every day. I want more hugs.

And I want a friend for Makayla. May this be the year ….

The thing is, most of these things start with me. I can’t control what everyone else does (even though sometimes I wish I could because I know what is best for everyone) – but I can fix myself and my reactions and my priorities. Do I want them badly enough to break them down, make a to-do list, and work towards them? As life races forward, spins me around, and slips away from my outstretched hands, I feel less and less tolerant of anything less. Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

A dozen reasons to read Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” ….

Again with the reblogging – this is the last one, I promise! I’m sharing this post from last Christmas because I’ve started my annual reading of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, and the beauty of the book is touching my heart again.

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Every year, during the glittery days approaching December 25, I devote several evenings to lying on the couch next to the Christmas tree and reading Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. I have done this since I was a teenager. Back then, when I had very few responsibilities and endless energy, I would read it all in one night – Christmas Eve night, in fact, staying up sometimes til four a.m. to finish it. Can’t really do that now that I’m one of the makers of Christmas for two little girls – but I still take the time to stroll through that lovely old book. It’s part of my Christmas celebration. I’ve always disliked commercials that urge people to “buy a gift for yourself this Christmas” – alot of us spend all year doing that – but I did buy myself a gift two Christmases ago. I bought a beautiful red hard-cover edition, complete…

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Music to Christmas by!

As I said in my last post, writer’s block is a monkey on my back these days …. so I’m sharing some of last year’s Christmas thoughts. This time, it’s music – and these are still my favourites, so it’s still relevant. Ryan reminded me, after I posted this the first time, that I had forgotten a song I love – one that definitely deserves to be on my list of music to Christmas by. I’m sharing that one right now (before I forget again, because I’m Beth and I’d do that): “Bells Are Ringing” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Another song that makes me cry, and my heart swell with a quiet Christmas joy.

 

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As I’ve already said, I love Christmas music. I love dear old carols and modern favourites. I love it instrumental. I love it a capella. I love it warbled in the shower, hollered by kids,  and belted out by revellers. I love it spoken like poetry. All the same, some Christmas music has lost its lustre. Brenda Lee can stop rockin’ around all trees of any kind, forever. Nobody ever needs to cover “Last Christmas” again; Wham! did it right the first time. We don’t need any more mechanical phone-ins of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” either, complete with icky banter between the two singers at the end (although the old clip I just linked to has its charms). And Bob Geldof really needs to consider some alternative treatment to Band-Aids. The 1984 original is simply unbeatable. That moment when Bono wails “tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you”…

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I wish it would look alot more like Christmas.

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Readers, forgive me, for I have sinned – it’s been nearly three weeks since my last post. It’s Christmas. I love Christmas – love it, love it, love it. So why don’t I do what I always do when I get excited about something – blabber relentlessly about it until people either succumb or go away? As usual, the reasons for my writer’s block are not entirely clear. I’ve been ridiculously busy lately. To the point of bloodshed. I’m usually busy anyway – in fact, I’m not sure there’s been any point over the past ten years (coincidentally, the amount of time for which I’ve been a parent) that I could say I wasn’t busy. Add the whirlwind of decorating, baking, buying, posting, hosting and partying that Christmas brings with it, and I’ve got a great excuse for not writing. However, last year, I wrote pages about Christmas – during Christmas. So having lots going on can’t be the only answer.

I think it’s more likely that many of my reasons for e-silence are all in my head. My mind is even busier than my body. I’ve been feeling dragged down and snowed under by what’s going on. (Thank you, Marvin Gaye, for that smooth groove ….)  Bullying that persists until children feel they have no choice but to put an end to themselves. Horrific cases of abuse surfacing, presented in all the lurid detail the press is so good at applying. Mass shootings. Natural disasters. Russia running roughshod over eastern Ukraine. Terrorism curling its tendrils into every country. Evil people finding each other and forging allegiances. ISIL destroying human lives and ancient cities and everyone’s faith in humanity. The crush of Syrian refugees risking everything for freedom, and meeting rejection instead of open arms – and little Alan Kurdi facedown in the sand on a Turkish beach. Hatred flowing from keyboards onto the internet and screaming at me. Grey-sky days and buckets of rain on the lifeless ground where there’s usually a blanket of white by now. Donald Trump, for the love of orange faux fur. Come to think of it, maybe 4 Non Blondes are a better choice for all this than Marvin Gaye.

I’m usually a fairly optimistic person, and I’ve been preparing for Christmas – and treasuring the preparations – like I do every year. But I feel like every time I try to write there’s s0me fresh hell to contemplate, thanks to our troubled world and the inescapable hisses and shrieks of social media – and a lump in my throat. On the other hand, as I said earlier, I wrote oodles of Christmas content last year. And it’s all still true this year – and maybe worth sharing again. So I’m going to add another sin to my writer’s rap sheet: reusing content. I’m going to re-post what I said last Christmas, and maybe I’ll cheer myself up rereading it.

Here’s the first Christmassy post I created last year, on December 1:

“Have a holly, jolly Christmas! No, really, you can …. here’s how.”