Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The wandering I.

When proposing a book on nomadism, British travel writer, Bruce Chatwin set out to answer the question, 'Why do men wander?'.

And I'm not talking philandering.

Restlessness is my nature. It is the carry-on cross I bear. Never am I more content than when I have an adventure on the horizon – 'adventure' loosely defined. A domestic airline ticket. A weekend in Chicago. A schlep to Machu Picchu. Sardinia. Bhutan. Vietnam. Any ol' oyster bar. Kilimanjaro.

Like Bruce Chatwin, it isn't so much the destination, as the thrill of movement.

I suffer from motion wellness. No barf bag required.

My restlessness is genetic. My dad loved nothing more than pouring Sambuca in his coffee and hitting the road. Destination: who cares. Fitting then, when out-of-the-blue my stepmom called to see if the Little Bastard would be interested in my father's old 1994 Jeep.

My immediate reaction was, "To hell with him. I want it."

My stepmother inherited everything when my Dad clutched his scotch-soaked banker's heart and hit the pavement at the age of 64. Paul Schultz died a few months shy of his retirement – ironically – a life sentence to a man with no patience for things like golf, gardening, or grandchildren.

After a reading of the will that left us shell shocked and empty handed, my trophy-shelf stepmom claimed our father knew she would, "Always look after you children."

Her exact words.

But as it turned out, nothing was farther from the truth. She put in heated driveways while this single mom struggled to heat our happy little house.

So, this wasn't just a vehicle. It was my legacy.

Off I went on an adventure to reclaim what was rightfully ours – clocking 4796 kilometres in 5 days. I could have easily flown up, or had the Jeep shipped to the Little Bastard's hockey team in Quebec – but where's the fun in that? I renewed my CAA membership, tossed the dogs in the truck, and hit the road.

I'd like to say this was a road trip worthy of a sequel to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ... but I am too fearful of an LSD/ menopause mix for that. I do have to agree with Hunter S. Thompson when he said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, "Wow! What a Ride!”

This trip put the whirl in whirlwind. The hardest part was making nice with my stepmom before finally being handed the gauntlet – the keys to my father's beloved Jeep.

In 1994, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited was the cat's meow. Puffy leather seats. Cruise control. Full time 4-wheel drive. Gold striping. Drink holders. And bordering on shag, carpet.

Today, the V-8 engine screams environmentally-unfriendly gas guzzler. Imagine my horror when I climbed in, My Dad's Jeep interior sang like a motel bedspread, and the carpet was wall-to-wall Rothman's. My stepmom's alcoholic brother had been using the pristine Jeep as his personal ashtray.

Flashback to our driveway every Saturday morning. My Dad had a chamois in one hand, and a rum and coke in the other. Wax on. Wax off. He would have been horrified at the state of things.

But I couldn't have been happier.

I set out before dawn, tears streaming down my face – the spirit of my dad riding shotgun. He was the plastic Jesus on my dash – cracking cold ones with the seat belt, flicking caution and cigarette butts to the wind. The last time I had been in this Jeep, my Dad and I were cruising along St. Margaret's Bay,  Nova Scotia. A disgruntled New Yorker, and, as it turned out, in possession of an extremely worn out heart – I recalled him marvelling at how beautiful my chosen province was.

It was the last time I ever saw him. And, perhaps the first time I ever saw him.

I had trepidations about this next leg of the Jeep's journey. Delivering a sadly neglected 18-year old Jeep on winter road conditions that would keep even my Dad's restless spirit at bay. The Jeep had bald tires. A suspicious muffler. Loosey-goosey steering. Rust on rust. And a warranty whose ship sailed decades ago.

Thankfully, my "Fuck it, let's go!" kicked in. I could get towed if the Jeep sputtered and died somewhere between Cornhole, Ontario and Riviere du Loup. I liked Quebec beer and cheap hotel rooms.

But there would be no sputtering. I shoved a trashy James Patterson audio book in the CD player – and 7 uneventful hours and 120 bucks in gas later, I was in snowy Sherbooke, Quebec – temporary home of my my Dad's only grandchild.

Mission accomplished.

Needless to say, just shy of his 17th birthday, the Little Bastard was thrilled to have his first car – a roundabout gift from the grandfather he never really knew. I'd like to say the Jeep was passed down with love – but as we would soon find out – it was an act of selfishness. We got it the hell out of my stepmother's heated driveway before the Jeep followed its owner – dying on the pavement a few short weeks later

With mixed emotions, I handed my boy the keys to the Jeep, and he handed me back the keys to my truck.

"You know," I said, with a heavy heart, "You could keep the Tacoma, and I can take the Jeep home."

"No way!" he said, face aglow from the dashboard's digital readout. "I love it!"

"I love it too." I said to myself, standing outside the Jeep, head tilted back, looking at the heavens. My tears catching wandering snowflakes.

Or ashes. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Life is a bowl of cherry.

"Here, sweetheart." I'd say, handing the sweaty Little Bastard the bottle of Nyquil. "Take a couple of swigs."

He was always compliant, but more so when he was sick.

"Now go back to sleep." I'd whisper, plodding back to bed, counting how many hours of shut-eye I'd get 'til his meds wore off.

So, I had to laugh when I saw the IWK's new commercial for Poison Awareness Week. Two bored-as-shit mothers, driving home the message that a kitchen spoon is not an ideal tool for measuring children's medicine.

Who used a spoon?

The chances of getting cough syrup – or that banana flavoured crap – from the bottle, into the snot-encrusted mouth of a wheezy toddler was hard enough at 2 am. The oral syringe the pharmacist gave you is long gone – so why then risk pouring elixir that cost more than a bottle of Drambuie, onto a wobbly spoon, in the pitch dark – splashing it down the front of their pyjamas, so they wake up all sticky, covered with red dye, dog hair, and pillow feathers?

My system was better: A half swig was a teaspoon. A double-fisted swig with no spillage – was a tablespoon.

In the morning, the Little Bastard would rush in – pupils still a bit dilated – but rested. We'd both be breathing easier after a good night's sleep.

The IWK's Child Safety Link for Morons website has several tips that make me wonder how the Little Bastard survived childhood at all. In preparation for Poison Awareness Week (March 20 to 26) here's what I learned:

1. Be as accurate as possible when giving your children medication.

I think this means to make sure they are your children, and not the neighbour's kid. Because if they truly meant for you to read the instructions, they would make it larger than 2pt type. (And how would two-fingers of scotch translate into milliliters?) Rule of thumb is to double it. Kids are designed to throw up for a reason.

2. Be sure to record when, and how much medicine a child has been given each time, so as to prevent double-dosing.

Because you have nothing better to do than keep a fucking diary. Generally, when the kid starts to whine and demand food – or stops looking all glassy eyed – it's time to top him up.

3. Child-resistant packaging does not mean “child proof”.

True. Which is why I always had to get my child to open it.

4. Take care not to refer to medicine as “candy.”

Children are gullible, but not totally stupid... although, it does taste like candy. Are they implying you should add to the sick child's misery, instead of sugar coating things a bit? And if your kid is so stunned that he really can't tell the difference between cough syrup and a gummy worm, I think you have more to worry about than poison control – like for instance – coming up with the tuition for Bridgeway Academy.

Oh and here's my favourite:

5. When visitors come to your home, keep their purses, bags and coats out of your child's reach.

I don't know about you, but when visitors come to our house, they are called 'friends' and they take their poisons out of their purses, bags, and coats – and place them within reach. Then, they ask the child to "scoot into the kitchen and grab the corkscrew with the pointy bits, and run back quickly, so mommy doesn't have to get up".

6. Keep emergency numbers, such as the IWK Regional Poison Centre number, near the phone.

Near the phone? Do they mean the cordless phone that hasn't been seen in days? Or the rotary dial phone mounted on the wall next to the 1972 calendar. And, aren't we supposed to call 911? Or do we call for a pizza and hope the doughy crust soaks up some of the over pour?

It really is good to know our Capital Health marketing dollars are going to such good use – considering the average wait at the IWK Children's Hospital is about two days. Unless of course, your kid has a corkscrew lodged in his eye – in which case, you jump the queue.

I have such fond parenting memories. Like the time I ran over the Little Bastard's foot when I dropped him off at the Grammar School. I didn't even know what had happened, until I picked him up later in the day. Seems the cough medicine I'd been double fisting all night contained codeine, and maybe I shouldn't have been operating heavy machinery after all.

But it tasted like cherries.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Warmiwañusca or bust.

What the fuck was I thinking?

I could be lying by the pool in a Tuscan tennis villa. Instead, I was gasping for breath in supermodel-thin air, already too knackered to walk around the donkey shit splattered on the trail. The Inca Trail.

"I'll give you $100 bucks U.S. for a ride!" I pleaded to a Peruvian cowgirl leading a pair of capable looking horses. She just flashed me a "stupid gringo" grin and kept going. As one would.

I had only been walking for a couple of hours, but it felt like days. Right off the bat, I had no intention of keeping pace with my traveling companions – a smorgasbord of fit British, Australian and Irish twenty somethings who left me in the dust shortly after our inspirational gathering at the first of many Incan pit stops for worship and reflection. With them, and with my blessing, went my reluctant 15-year old, who said he would never forgive me for making him come on this journey. Making matters worse, our guide kindly pointed out a Black Widow spider, and I just passed two clusters of retreating trekkies – wisely turning back, having surrendered any hope of crossing this pilgrimage to Hell off of their bucket lists.

I was screwed.

The Inca Trail is not so much a trail, as a trial. A series of irregular, steep, masochistic steps designed to crush the soul. No wonder the Spanish were so pissed off – their knees were killing them – and they likely had the shits from so much corn and quinoa. And, no wonder this celebrated schlep to Machu Picchu is considered a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You'd have to be nuts to do it again.

Nevertheless, after a few warm-up jaunts to various ruins, there I was, alone on Day One – heralded as the "easy" day – my mind already wandering down the dusty path to Day Two, when we would climb 4200 metres to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman's Pass.

As it turned out, the first day's climb was hot, slow, steady and doable – but later that evening, all cozy in our tent, under a blanket of stars – a mild panic attack set in. What would happen if I was the dead woman on Dead Woman's Pass? I'm already oxygen deprived and I'm lying down! If I croak, how will the Little Bastard get home? Who will look after him? Will I clutch my heart and shit my pants – finally succumbing to 49 years of treating my body like crap? And what will they do with my body? Fling me off a cliff? Again, what the fuck was I thinking?

"I can't do this." I whispered in the dark, tears streaming down my face.

"Mom," responded the sleepy Little Bastard, miles away from his own personal comfort zone. "If anybody can do this, you can."

There are words that roll around in your head as we plow through the donkey shit on the path of life. Words like: Can't. Never. Won't. Fat. Unloved. Old. RRSP's. Should have. Wrinkles. Don't. Guilt. Ugly. And, regret.

Tuscan tennis villas are for pussies. 

For the next few thousand toenail-lifting footsteps, up and down the Andes, under a brilliant blue sky, came words like: Wow. Awesome. Yes, I'd love some coca tea. Sunny. Beautiful. Keep going. Amazing. I can do this. Birthdays are good. Orchid. Believe. Slow and steady. Alive. You're doing this. Butterfly. And, I'd kill for a solid stool and a toilet seat, but this hole in the ground will do.

After a 6 am start, on the afternoon of Day Two, and about 45 painstaking minutes from the top of Dead Woman's Pass, I was sucking wind with a bunch of fun, like-minded, out-of-shape women from around the globe, when our lovely guide Victor said, "My lady... Cynthia... I believe Jack is waiting at the top."

"No way," I said, puffing, with my hands on my knees. My kid was happily resting at the campsite – shoes off, fed, and playing cards by now.

Doubts aside, I looked up to see the lanky silhouette of a 6' 4" teenager, motioning like an impatient 3rd base umpire waving in a blind, geriatric base runner.

He was waiting.

When I finally reached the top of Dead Woman's Pass, I succumbed to a different kind of heart attack. I fell into my kid's arms – sobbing – my heart bursting with love and self-worth and happiness. I have never felt so tired, and so alive. He patted my back and said, "Mom, don't make a scene. Let's go, I'm starving". We took a few pictures, then I released him, and slowly inched my rubbery legs down the whorish steps that led to our next campsite. My soul was skipping, even if my body wasn't.

Tomorrow was another day. The longest day. And the day after that, we would wake at 4am to catch the sunrise on Machu Picchu. The earliest day. But today, was the hardest day. The highest day. The day that made you ask yourself over and over, "What the fuck was I thinking?".

The best day.

Dead Woman's Pass, my ass.

Nadine at Maritime Travel will book you on a Gap Adventures tour to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, with or without the grueling hike. She also gives a pretty good Tuscany. Call her at 902.429.7883. Oh, click on the JIM logo to support Elaine Shortt's pilgramage to Hell.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Break that bottle of bubbly Hernando and no Canadian Tire money for you.

"Define camping." I asked as nicely as I am able. "Is it camping camping – like sleeping on the ground camping – or is it Oprah and Gayle style camping, with lipstick and jammies and mattresses and stuff?"

Dead silence.

"Hello?" I said.

"It's camping." Replied, the not so adventurous sounding girl at the adventure travel company. "Tents on the ground camping."

I went on.

"So, okay, I'm thinking I'd like to do the drive-thru version of Machu Picchu. In and out like a cheap whore." Of course, I didn't say that last bit, as there was already a distinct failure to communicate between myself and the 'wouldn't know adventure if it kicked her in the ass' girl at the adventure company.

Dead silence.

"You can't drive through Machu Picchu, ma'am." Was the eventual response from the lifeless creature on the other end of the line.

"I understand that, I wasn't being literal." I said, losing patience. "What I meant was, I didn't have a whole lot of time to stop and smell the Peruvian roses. I want to be there, on top – 50 – and feeling like I've accomplished something. Then I want to catch the first burro out of there."

Dead silence.

It was around then, that I hung up and called Nadine at Maritime Travel.

It's not that I've always had a lifelong burning desire to climb Machu Picchu. It's just that it's there, and it would be nice to wake up on top of something other than a poodle and a pile of drool, icing, and night sweats after drinking too much at a party my neighbours felt obligated to throw in my honour.

I want an adventure – and besides – dragging the Little Bastard along will give him something to remember me by after I stroke out, or get gunned down by someone I pissed off for the very last time.

Control freak that I am, I already knew the dates, places, times, temperatures, history, culture, economy, geography, and every flight coming and going from Lima to Havenot. And, while my travel agent is qualified and eager to research and sort through all the details – I just needed Maritime Travel to deal with the insolent lack of adventure girl at the adventure travel company. (And find me a luxurious last night in Lima.) Besides, I don't trust that random travel companies aren't going to up and blow town, shortly after they have my deposit. Booking with good ol' trustworthy Maritime Travel means I don't have to deal with sweating the small stuff – stuff that could easily escalate into big stuff, if left holding the carry-on bag in some Peruvian shit hole.

"And about the sherpas." I asked, just after my camping concerns and before my drive thru queries. "Will even the tiniest, most underage, toothless, uneducated, malnourished and impoverished of luggage porters be strong enough to carry my Concha y Toro?"

Dead silence.

"Hello?" I asked.

"Did you say, Concha y Toro?" the unadventurous girl asked.

"Yes. It's wine. A liquid made from grapes." I told her. "I'm going to be 50."

Dead silence.

"And thirsty as shit."

Dead silence.

And so begins my attempt to climb Machu Picchu, dragging a reluctant 15-year old and a fat ass. Stay tuned. Plan your own adventure at Maritime Travel's Vacation Superstore this coming weekend at WTCC.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Off the coast of Happy, heading toward Bliss.

Once again, RRSP season came – and went – securing my bed in the government assisted nursing home.

And I don't care.

I am currently between the Croatian islands of Vis and some other island I cannot spell, nor afford. It is just past 9 am, and I think it is Wednesday.

But again, I don't care.

It is hard to explain the happiness one feels surrounded by this much beauty, fun people who were merely strangers a few days ago, and a happy kid – no longer a reluctant traveler after a few days of cycling and living on a luxury yacht.

Take for instance this morning. After a few tippy yoga moves on the upper deck – breakfast was a United Nations of fresh yogurt, plum jam, kiwis, tomatoes, cheese, strawberries, crusty bread and liverwurst – with a little Nesquik cereal the Little Bastard found in the local market. Broken English, German, Aussie laughter, some great 'Monty Python meets Rumpole' British humour, with a cup of coffee or two to wash it all down. Islands drifting by. The occasional porpoise. Sunshine.


Yesterday we cycled on the island of Vis, only recently opened to tourists after several years of military occupation. Tito (smart fella) hid from Hitler on Vis. I hid from reality, although the first 10 kms were a test – an uphill battle after a morning of heaving seas and stomachs – and there was a bitchy head wind messing with my mind. I wanted to turn back to the boat, and have Robert pour me a glass of wine. What the fuck was I doing out here? My knees were sore. My ass was sore. I felt old.

Then I thought of my friend battling cancer back home. She would love to be here – and we'd be laughing, and pushing each other up the hill. Her laughter rang in my head. That amazing, throaty, mischievous laugh. And, so, with that laugh in my heart, I kept pedaling.

Like Dori, the annoying fish played by Ellen Degeneres in Finding Nemo, I just kept swimmin'... all the way to the top, where the island did a big "Ta da!" – opening up the curtains to a 5 km ride downhill into a sleepy seaside fishing village, and a pistachio gelato. Or maybe lemon. Or maybe blueberry.

Standing up on the pedals like a drunk 5-year old, I succumbed to gravity, letting it pull me toward the sea. Ignoring the brakes, and leaning into the first corner – my bicycle bell suddenly started ringing itself. Brrrrrring! Another corner. Brrriiiiiiiiiiiiing! All the way down to the village – past churches, and vineyards, and yawning cats – my bell was laughing at me. With me. For me.

For her.

At the bottom, the Little Bastard was already tucking in to 3 scoops of chocolate gelato, and he was smiling. Or maybe he was laughing.

It didn't matter.

The boat is pulling in to our island of the day. 50 kms ahead with a 9 km climb before lunch. A late lunch hopefully.

Before the nursing home, there is Tuscan Tennis. And a Bhutan trek. Maybe a well-earned stomach bug or two in India. Skipping along the Great Wall. A safari? Prague. And tomorrow.

Just keep swimmin' and the bells will ring themselves.

Monday, March 23, 2015

This ain't the Rosedale library. Anymore.

Goddammit. I'm so mad my bowels are in a knot, or maybe it's the wassabe peas I had for dinner – nevermind – truth is, I am more sad than mad.

I just lost an old friend.

News yesterday of the grim reaper locking the doors of my all-time favourite bookstore made me want to puke. This Ain't the Rosedale Library was more than just a place to buy books. It was the boyfriend who opened the door, and guided you though a room with his hand on the small of your back – and not just because he was hoping to get laid.

This Ain't the Rosedale Library, when I knew it, was located deep in the "fruit belt" as they called that particular section of Church Street in Toronto. I stumbled in there one day because I loved the name, and I loved reading.

Love at first sight is the only way to explain my experience with this small, independent bookshop. The less-than-librarian-looking staff gleefully recommended one book, which started a domino effect of reading one can't-put-down book after another. I became a regular. I even had a "This Ain't the Rosedale Library" t-shirt. I recall walking in and commenting, "I just read this and loved it" and the owner, Charlie would say something like, "If you loved that, this one will blow your mind." They were always right. It was there I fell in love with travel writing, short stories, Raymond Carver, Dervla Murphy, Barbara Trapido and a myriad of broken spines that kept me going long after my lights flickered on and off, and on again.

This Aint't the Rosedale Library knew me. They got me. They liked me at a time when I didn't even like myself.

I started this blog at a time when I didn't even like myself. Business was dead bloody slow and many of my long-established clients were unable to advertise the way they used to – the way they needed to in order to keep their cash registers ringing. I naively set out to somehow help independent businesses by tying in their existence with my miserable life.

Along the way, together we won a few – and lost a few. Havenot lost one of its lovely, independent bookstores when Frog's Hollow went tits up. And Buckley's Music store died. Sadly, the list is growing. Competing with amazons like Amazon and big box stores is like pissing in the wind. At some point your spirit breaks and you succumb.

Holy crap, this is beginning to bore even me, so all I can say is: shop locally if you have a choice. Atlantic News. Sweet Janes. Woozles. Thornbloom. Jost. Blossom Shops. Juliens. The Teazer. Maritime Travel. Pete's Frootique. What would our streetscapes look like without Mills, Sock-it-to-Ya, The Armview, The Ardmore, or The Trail Shop? Go stand in front of Walmart and see how warm and fucking fuzzy you feel.

Having said that, I confess to wading into Chapters on occasion. They usually have what I want.

But they never, ever, have what I need.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Namaste, asshole.

"Mom, I don't think yoga is supposed to sound like that."

The resounding grunts emanating from the floor just outside his bedroom door, had awakened The Little Bastard, and he was messin' with my chakras.

"Fuck you," I muttered under my Ujjayi breath.

Like most people dealing with post-holiday remorse, I dove into January determined to change things up. I'd start by shutting my pie hole, then drastically reduce my bacchanal tendencies, followed by ramping up the physical activities beyond the usual hefting a blue bag full of empties to the curb every Monday morning.

I got busy – optimistically looking into potential outlets for pent-up poisons, such as: adult hockey, aqua fit, Pilates, spinning, Zumba (whatever that is), lane swimming, badminton, ladies doubles, gym memberships, and squash – all the while knowing that the moment I slapped my cash down on the counter and committed to something – I wouldn't go.

Thus forming the foundation of my first mantra: Know thyself.

Adhering to a schedule was another obstacle on the road to redemption. I already adhere to The Little Bastard's schedule, which leaves very little in the way of time, or money, for me to adhere to anything aside from living dangerously close to the poverty line.

Know thy self pity.

Then I saw the light. Yoga is like herpes in Havenot! In this city full of Buddhists and wannabe Buddhists – you can't swing a cat without hitting a yoga studio, or knocking someone's yoga mat out of their Lululemon backpack. Surely there would be an affordable "Yoga for Cynics" class nearby. Ommmm, this was it! But in the midst of that short-lived optimism, I had a flashback to an Ashtanga class full of hairy armpits, yellow toenails, inner peace, heavy breathing, and dirty looks that had me in fits of uncontrollable laughter, running for the door – never to namaste again.

Go fuck thyself, if thy can't laugh at thyself.

I had all but given up, when shortly after New Year's – with The Little Bastard happily off playing hockey in Quebec – I dashed to the store and bought a yoga DVD and the cheapest yoga mat I could find. With the house quiet and free from teenage ridicule – I began my path to enlightenment by pouring a big glass of wine, curling up on the sofa and watching the entire DVD. I sat and sipped through the 30-minute AM session, followed by the 30-minute PM session – my rationale being – how would I know what I was supposed to be doing, while I was supposed to be doing it.

Educate thyself.

The next morning – before coffee, and before opening the blinds – I rolled out my new yoga mat and hit "Play". My first deep yoga breath had me thinking I should have sprung for a higher quality yoga mat, since mine was off-gassing toxins faster than I was. I also had to contend with two dogs, who – unaccustomed to seeing me upside down on the floor – thought this was play time. I also self actualized the serious need for a pedicure – and with third eye open – spotted a sock and a ten dollar bill under the sofa.

And so, I followed along with the perky yogi, pose after pose, grunting and flailing about, focusing on breathing (when I was in fact, holding my breath), clearing the mind of all thoughts other than income tax bills, belly fat, a near-empty furnace tank, and is that a lump?, and never being able to retire, and I'd love a cinnamon bun – all the while taking extra caution not to flatten my poodle when I went – with a graceless thud – from plank to cobra.

At one point during the 30-minute AM session, the DVD yoga chick paused, hands in prayer, and asked for awareness – instructing us to focus on our intention for the day. She encouraged me to seek clarity. Guidance. Ease. Integrity. Forgiveness. And gratitude.

I just wanted to get through the day without killing someone.

When it ended with a soothing "Namaste", I was sweating like a pig, covered in dog hair and saliva, and painfully aware of body parts that should never be visable, especially hanging upside down. I was also oddly rejuvenated and proud of myself for the ability to bend and touch the floor even with a case of Cabernet Sauvignon and a few tubs of Imperial cheddar sloshing around in my abdominal region. I also perfected the 'softening of the face' and 'Savasana' (the frigid housewife pose) right off the bat.

Love, or least try to tolerate thyself.

Next Sunday, January 29th at 10am, grab your yoga mat (and your cheque book) and attend Hearts Opened for Honduras, a 1-hour yoga class that will help send the lovely and talented Meggie Reardon to Honduras for a little do-gooding with Global Brigades. Meggie is young and full of hopes and dreams that will, in all likelihood, get dashed – but before they do – let's get her to Honduras, where she will teach children without food or water to do the downward facing dog, or build mud huts or something.

Hearts Opened for Honduras will be held at Cornwallis Jr. High School, named in honour of the English colonel credited with founding Halifax, who subsequently authorized a bounty on the scalps of local Mi'kmaq men, women and children. After a bit of a hullabaloo by some First Nation folks – the school will officially be renamed after Clifford Olson, or some other notable Canadian, in due time, but not before next Sunday. But don't let that stop you.

Inner peace has always outfoxed me, but I'm 'at one' with that. My resolution for this Chinese New Year's Eve, is simply to recognize that I am, and will always be, a tempestuous Ox. According to the Chinese Zodiac, Oxen are antisocial, stubborn workaholics who rarely allow themselves time to relax. And, despite a genetic predisposition for being "big boned", Oxen (when kept away from mirrors or unflattering photographs) are quite happy in their own skin – and oddly compatible with Snakes or Roosters – both petite and easily flattened, when one sweaty palm slips on a cheap yoga mat, in the wee hours before dawn.

Which brings me back to 'know thyself'.

Watch Meggie's Honduras yoga benefit message on You Tube by clicking here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The tines that bind.

One year ago today, my child left the Maritimes for Quebec, armed with hopes, dreams, and a newly-mended hip that had sidelined him for most of his rookie hockey season.

Before his plane would land, a twist of fate resulted in his first brush with evil – and my re-entry into a world I'd managed to escape – although not unscathed. My son was heading way too close to my "home".

Twist and climb and draw the blinds – but you cannot out-fox your past.

This year – one that saw me hit rock bottom with maternal worry, also found me on top of the world – Kilimanjaro – brushing away fears, and untimely tears for a man who'd lost his beautiful life two days before I'd set out for Tanzania.

Losing the most positively influential person in my child's life, sucked the life out of me. And now, that child – whom I'd raised strategically out of harm's way – was surrounded by my past. He'd be playing hockey, a one-beer joy ride from my ol' stompin' ground, and my family.

The control freak had to let go of the wheel.

This would be a year of forgiveness through clenched teeth, now that my only child was geographically closer to my mother. This Google map hiccup – while great for my son's hockey – exposed me once again to the disrespect and negativity bestowed upon me by my family – in particular, my only sibling – a brother who has belittled me for as long as I can remember.

And so it began. Like a dull can opener slowly shredding through tough skin, I stuck little pieces of toilet paper on a fresh wounds. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I overheard a telephone conversation between my child and his Uncle – my brother. I didn't need ears to understand what was being said. I've heard it all before. Poisonous arrows slung from a very dark, unhappy place where my brother has been hiding his entire life – stepping out of his moldy, money-obsessed closet, long enough to knock me me down. His aim was true – straight through my child – toward me.

The lack of respect and hatred were a familiar tune. Never mind that against all odds, I've raised a happy, confident, kind human being. My unplanned parenting style was to take everything I'd learned from my own childhood, and do the complete opposite. It was lonely at times, but it worked.

Yesterday, I had to sit my son down and explain to my son why we have lived our lives separately from my family. Why I had placed a protective bubble around him. Why our lives had real Christmas trees. Breakfast. Respect. Hugs. Security. Adventures we couldn't afford. Freakishly early bedtimes. Conversations. Rules, boundaries, discipline, love, and laughter. Giving, without expecting something in return. Fights and forgiveness. And no need for closed doors.

Describing my childhood to my son was painful, and although I hate the word: cathartic. It made me realize how much it must piss off my family that the shining star – the only grandchild – sprang from the loins of an asshole like me. The crazy sister. The financial disaster. The wild child. The dropout. The fuck up.

Imagine that.

On a recent trip home to see my mother – who'd been facing blood pressure spikes of 228 – she pulled out her jewelry box and proceeded to walk me through the history of our family jewels.

"I just need you to know where things come from, in case I conk," My mother explained.

Grandma Schultz's wedding diamond resurfaced – lodged in a shockingly modern setting – something I wouldn't wear even if my hands were graceful and manicured, instead of ravaged by stress. Earrings. Watches. Aunt Pearl's gold link bracelet, purported to be "worth something".

"Thank you." I said, with a sick feeling, suddenly realizing my mother doesn't even know who I am, and I really didn't want her to die. "But these things don't belong to me."

I don't belong to them, I thought.

"Oh well." She said, closing the wooden box. "You'd probably pawn everything anyway."

And there it was.

The elephant in the room winked at me – a reminder that I already had enough family heirlooms, thank you – like the feeling of worthlessness somebody left me in their will. Besides, I knew my mother's house and all of her earthly possessions would be reduced to column in a bank statement before I even knew she was gone.

Like the time I found out about my mom's first heart attack on Facebook, from my cousin Janis.

With familial lines of communication shaky at best – this past June 1, my brother told me I "wasn't worth a long distance call". Not exactly a Hallmark happy birthday moment.

He also keeps my grandmother's sterling silver flatware hidden away in its original box. I have nothing of hers, well, except for her ass and her barbed-wire sense of humour. Fully aware of my commitment to flying solo, my brother has repeatedly promised to give me her silver as a wedding gift.

He hates me that much.

But, my mismatched assortment of forks and knives work just fine, and yesterday it dawned on me why it is said that, 'you can't go home again'. Maybe it's because you've never really loved yourself enough to leave.

Today, though, there's a refreshing snap of change in the air. My beautiful boy is around for few more weeks before heading back to Ontario. He likes it there, but says "this" is home.

This. This love. Whatever this is that I have built for us. This is my home too. I take it with me wherever I go. Hopefully he will too.

Today, I'm going to buy some clear nail polish and put a layer between myself and whatever's been eating away at me this past year.

A nice, shiny coat of "Let it go." 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Foul balls.

Several August moons ago, I stormed up to the registration tent at the Nova Scotia Open and tried to remove myself from the tennis tournament.

“What’s the problem?” asked the official.

“My partner is an asshole.” I replied.

“What category are you in?” he asked.

“Parent and Child,” I said.

My child — an otherwise, mild-mannered lad — hates to lose. In what is intended to be a “fun” event at the annual tournament, my refusal to smash the ball at our five-year-old opponent had my doubles partner frothing at the mouth.

Never mind that the adult opponent spared no pace when directing shots at my kid. I just wasn't going there.

Directly after our match, Justin McDonough — son of Alexa, and poster boy for sportsmanship — pulled my little McEnroe aside, and explained why I had done the right thing.

“Winning is not as important as being a decent human being.” he said.

Hearing those words from Justin was the difference between me wrapping my racket around my kid’s neck, or buying him an ice-cream cone.

Later on — in the same Parent and Child category — I watched a father push his own son down and out of the way, so he could smash a winning forehand at the child on the other side of the net.

Evidently, the win-at-all-costs mentality is omnipresent. From the hockey coach who tripped a 13-year-old in a post-game handshake - to the infamous Tour de France - to questionable line calls in junior tennis.  

A recent survey for the British Cricket Foundation found that two-thirds of U.K. children feel under pressure to cheat.

At the inaugural parent meeting in Atom AAA, the coach announced that fair and equal play was his modus operandi — that is, until playoffs, tournaments (or against Sackville) — then he’d be shortening the bench. Any parent who wasn’t OK with that could “find another team.”

Nobody budged. Perhaps parental bragging rights to AAA was more important than pulling splinters out of a child’s butt.

Which explains the fat man yelling, “Pull the goalie!” at the Joe Lamontagne minor hockey tournament in Cole Harbour. The goalie was a little girl who could barely reach the top of the net to grab her water bottle. Sure, the score was lopsided — but this was Atom House League, not the NHL — and she was doing her best.

The fat man eventually stormed out, sparing me the effort of kicking him in the 5-hole. I later discovered that his son was the backup goalie. 

Thus confirming my belief that the misbehaving adult waving the ‘win-at-all costs’ flag, likely carries a suitcase full of squashed dreams.

Heck, no one is more resentful than myself, with parents who ignored my desire to be the next Chris Evert — resulting in me swapping my racket for a bong, at 14.

But eventually, you just have to let it go.

I played a “friendly” game of 21 recently. The mercury was pushing 35C and we had the tennis courts to ourselves. With 21 (and heat stroke) within reach, I asked the cute young pro to fetch us a couple of cold Smirnoff Ices.

My opponent — an otherwise intelligent woman (despite ridiculous porno moans with every stroke) — suddenly conceded, and began muttering insults.

Dumbstruck, I wasn’t sure if she hated life, hated vodka, or simply hated losing to someone who didn’t treat an osteoporosis-preventing game of 21 like a Wimbledon final.

What’s worse is, she made me hate the game — momentarily — and I felt like the little goalie trying to shut out the fat man.

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” 

If famed basketball coach John Wooden’s words ring true, then I am a foul-mouthed competitor, with a thirst for fun at all costs.

And at this stage of the game, I’m good with that.

Originally published by the Chronicle Herald.

The power of pink.

Cars spill out onto aptly named Vimy Avenue. Many a war has been fought here, and as we wander through the familiar door, I sense the fight against mould and memory is a losing battle. 

I choke up on so many levels.

I was six when this ol’ barn in Halifax was christened Centennial Arena, and this is where it all began. “It” being my life as a hockey mom. My launch into a foreign society that would become family — albeit dysfunctional — with a cousin or two you would happily run over in the rink parking lot.

In 1967, hockey was the only religion in our Chicago home. My dad dragged us to Blackhawks games, silencing us with cotton candy that I would throw up, faithfully, on the way home. Little girls didn’t play hockey in my world. I wonder what my life would have been like if they had.

Tonight though, we are spectators. My boy is beside me, wishing he wasn’t, and we have come to cheer on the Halifax Hawks midget double-A team — for no other reason than love and support — a little something I picked up along with rink-fry ass.

Tonight, things look like any other hockey game — except for the ponytails, and the provincial championship on the line.

From what I understand, the Halifax girls have their hands full with this corn-fed Annapolis Valley team. And, as fate would have it, this game had a history before it began. Two weeks ago, in double overtime, with a score of 0-0, the power went out.

The hockey community is notoriously quick to point fingers (just ask James Reimer). Crappy officiating. The goalie. The coach. The list is endless. But Nova Scotia Power?

Hockey rules dictated that the entire game had to be replayed. In the ensuing weeks, Halifax used their blackout momentum to upset the Valley in the league championship. But could they keep the sparks flying?

There’s a familiar face behind the Halifax bench. From my perch, I see a tiny patch of bald in what was a full head of hair when he began coaching my child a decade ago. Graham Burgess is a legend in this community. He is the encouraging word to the defenceman who turned over the puck. He is unwavering post-game praise.

While other coaches lead with the grace of Mayor Rob Ford, Burgess guides his troops with civility. Tonight, eyeing my son in the bleachers, Burgess’s smile induces my second wave of nostalgia.

Afterward, I asked Burgess how coaching girls is different. “Girls comprehend a system quicker,” he said. “And their egos aren’t as big.” He believes that “you can push girls, but you have to keep it positive.”

“This is a good thing for any coach to do — with girls and boys." He believes. "We’re managing positive thoughts and feelings to enable your athletes to perform better.”

I now understand why the jump from bantam to major midget was so hard for some boys. It wasn’t the step up in speed and strength. It was the leap from Coach Burgess.

The first documented women’s hockey game was in 1892, but enthusiasm has been skyrocketing since 1998. Last year, 87,230 girls enrolled in hockey across Canada — thanks, in part, to role models such as Hayley Wickenheiser.

I used to love watching Halifax’s Jillian Saulnier outskate the boys, until her career took a successful NCAA turn. Once, while stacking wood at a neighbour’s, Jillian was the first to put down her road-hockey stick and pitch in, working long after the boys quit.

It is that kind of feisty spirit that brings me to the rink.

Tonight, I'm cheering on a kid who “stands out,” according to Burgess, because she’s a “fierce competitor who plays as hard as she possibly can every shift.”

Sophie Kinley also has a smile that could light up a darkened arena.

As fate would have it, Sophie’s efforts weren’t enough to help stave off the vengeful Valley team. Or the ensuing tears.

For a few, tonight would be their last hockey game. The lucky ones will play varsity. Others may coach, referee or join a “wine” league. Some will simply “hang ’em up.”

What these players will never hang up are the life skills and memories gained from hockey. Teamwork. Respect. And a few stories to tell their granddaughters.

Burgess says the “power outage” game was one he will “cherish forever.” A game that exemplified “determination, emotional control and amazing sacrifice.”

Bitter, and lacking those fine qualities, I chirp, silently, “Screw you, Nova Scotia Power.” 

There’s enough sparkle in these players to illuminate the world.

Originally published in the Chronicle Herald. Cindy Schultz is a natural-born cynic who owns her own advertising and branding agency. Her son plays in the OHL.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

And by Centennial, you mean built in 1967?

“I want to play hockey.” My son said. Repeatedly.

“No you don’t.” I replied.

To say I was a reluctant hockey mom is like saying Sidney Crosby is a guy who plays hockey. When my son was born, my doctor friend said, “Bad hockey birthday.” I had no idea what that meant – nor did I care. But much like “good penalty”, “rink fries” and “50/50 duty” I was destined to find out. 

We were free spirits, my kid and me. Unbridled by schedules or fatherly influence, we traveled spontaneously, and spent winter weekends on the ski slopes. I grew up skiing – hockey was something people did because they couldn’t afford to ski. That stupid statement sounds even more ridiculous now, as I sit on a nest egg feathered with broken hockey sticks – their individual cost could feed a family of 4 for a week.

But the “I want to play hockey” whining eventually wore me down, so I figured a stiff pair of Canadian Tire skates and a few bounces off an unforgiving surface would put an end to this hockey shit once and for all. We chose a cloudy November day and laced up at the now demolished Dal rink. My kid hit the ice, and made Bambi look like Mario fucking Lemieux. I gave him 5 minutes before we’d be sipping hot chocolate, crossing “Play hockey” off his little bucket list.

No such luck. Even with kids half his height and age buzzing past him, my gangly six-year old barely stopped to lick the snot off his nose. I could tell by the glazed expression under his Hannibal Lecter cage, that I was screwed.

Enter Craig Moore, brother of Moosehead’s broadcaster John. Craig and I had worked together, and I was hoping to garner some sympathy from the bleachers. Instead, I got support. Craig said we had long missed Timbit registration, but he could likely get my kid on a team. I suddenly felt sick, and slid silently, sheepishly through the Tim Horton’s drive thru on the way home.

The sobering “call” came a few Friday nights later. I was knee deep in a bottle of wine, relaxing by the fire, when my world hit the boards. Someone named Coach McAdam said my son was to be at Centennial, in full gear, at 6:30 the following morning. Oh, and if he didn’t have a neck guard, he wouldn’t be allowed on the ice.

A neck guard? What the hell is a neck guard? Where is Centennial? 6:30?  

To say my son grew up without a father is a lie. He grew up with a dozen fathers and I didn’t have to sleep with one of them (which is a good thing considering one dare not shave their legs in February for fear of freezing to death in the Devonshire Arena). Donny. Graham. Steve. Kevin. I was about to discover that the roster of good men who volunteer their time, is endless. I was about to discover that this hockey journey would make my son a better man.

I was also about to discover that the roster of hockey parents is a socioeconomically diverse, and largely, jolly group – sprinkled with a few overzealous fanatics who think their kid is one growth spurt away from going to “the show”. Never mind that something like 0.1% of minor hockey players ever do. While sports bring out the best in children, it also tends to bring out the asshole in parents.

For instance, I watched in horror one tryout, as a ‘goalie dad’ openly high-fived his child every time the competition let a puck slide by. (And let’s talk about tryouts. Two months of heart-breaking agony, resulting in a team that could have been chosen by 5 moms over a box of wine.)

I was once pulled into a hotel room and instructed by a dad, to tell my kid, “When he starts to suck, to skate over to the bench and let his kid play.”

One “passionate” hockey mother claims her son was unjustly blacklisted, after it took the police to break up a fight – a mid-game Donnybrook between her and the referee.

And, it took a moment for the words, “We’re going to get a shut out every other game” to sink in. Did that son-of-a-bitch goalie dad, just insult my 8 year-old child… to his face?

Oh ya, did I mention that my little defenseman decided that having pucks shot at his face, padded by lost hope of ever having retirement savings would be fun? To quote our patriotic peacock, Don Cherry, “The most difficult position in hockey, is being the goalie’s mother.”

Welcome to my world. Throw on some coffee-stained sweatpants, empty your wallet, and sit by me.

The edited, censored version of this appears in the Chronicle Herald: April 20th.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A face more than a mother could love.

This has been a tough week to be an irreverent hockey mom.

Let’s face it. This has been a tough week to be a parent.

I don’t even have the heart to fight with my editor on whether “peckerhead” is an acceptable word, or if it will be watered down to “jerk” or “poopoo head” when I’m not looking.

And this week, I’m finding it hard to care.

With my own child away at a QMJHL camp, I’ve been one sip over the limit-away from jumping in the car and driving to Quebec, several times – just so I could give my smelly beanpole a hug.   

Ask any mother who has said goodbye to a kid this summer. To camp. To Canada Games. University. Europe. The little bastards you’ve been dying to get rid of, turn and walk toward their dream, leaving you blubbering in the airport parking lot.

Or in my case, drowning my sorrows with a Chickenburger dipped in gravy.

Then, Monday morning brought every mother’s worst fucking nightmare – and “the face” was everywhere.

The serious hockey photo face.

Jordan Boyd’s face.

“Why don’t you smile?” I’ve asked my kid year after year, when the annual hockey photo appears. "You've just made your dream team, yet you look like my passport photo."

“You’re not supposed to smile.” He replied.

“Who the hell says?” I asked, blondely. 

“I dunno.” He said, mouth full of a post-game sub.

As the hockey community and beyond now know, 16-year old Jordan Boyd died suddenly – doing exactly what I’d like to be doing when I die.

Fulfilling a dream.

Climbing Kilimanjaro. Necking with Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. Cradling a great-grandchild.

So, what – if anything – can we gain from such a heart-wrenching loss?

Mandated heart screening for athletes? The NHL screens only its top 100 draft picks. I can’t see it happening across lower levels.

But I think I know what can be learned from Jordan Boyd.

This otherwise unknown, yet talented young hockey prospect is now a nationwide hero.

#JB17 is trending on helmets and Twitter feeds, and “the face” is front-page news for all of the wrong reasons.

Jordan is celebrated as a ‘gentle boy’. A best friend. A fine, fine young man.

Had Jordan cracked the roster of the Acadie Bathurst Titan, he would have also been a "rookie". With that accomplishment comes the inevitable bumps on the road from minor hockey – to the business of major junior hockey.

Suddenly a public figure and 'fair game' – strangers lurking in rink corners may have called Jordan a ‘pylon’. Soft. Afraid to go into the corners. They of course, know jack shit.

Cyber bullies hiding behind web handles like  “Banjoboy” or “Habs4ever” would sit in stained tighty whities, chirping with like-minded underachievers on one of the many “fan” websites deemed as hockey forums.

Despite never seeing the child play, these knuckle draggers may have labeled Jordan ‘a disappointment’. A waste of a draft pick. Or, worse.

And when Acadie Bathurst rolled into Halifax, die-hard Moosehead fans might have yelled, “pussy!” if Jordan backed down from a fight to avoid a stupid penalty – never stopping to think that beneath the helmet was a ‘gentle boy’. Someone’s pride and joy.

If there’s anything we should take from this soul-numbing tragedy it’s this:

Young hockey players are children – not commodities – and not targets for your own failed hopes and dreams.

Every kid – elite athlete or otherwise – deserves the outpouring of love and respect that the entire country is feeling for Jordan Boyd.

If there’s anything we can take from this week, maybe it’s the next time you’re at a hockey game – instead of hollering,  “Hey, peckerhead, you afraid to fight?” ­– say nothing.

Or yell something like, “You’re awesome, gentle boy”.

I bet his mom – sitting two rows down – would really appreciate that.

A slightly oatmealed version of this appears in the Chronicle Herald.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

And another thing.

My kid wasn’t strapped in to a safety certified high chair. He was just sitting on the floor eating a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich.

A guest at our home asked me what he was eating.

“He’s not supposed to have peanut butter!” she shrieked, “And honey is toxic to babies!”

Thank Christ she wasn't around the week before, when the Little Bastard had a mouthful of kibble.

My point is this, and it applies to hockey as well as life: Stop.

Stop hovering and maneuvering and worrying. It doesn’t change the outcome.

Here’s a little advice.

Nothing you say will make your child feel better after a crappy game or performance. Just shut up and head to the nearest Dairy Queen. The coach has already said what your kid needs to hear. A double-stuff Blizzard will take it from there.

If your doctor says your kid needs a puffer, ask yourself how you ever survived driving in the backseat of your parent’s station wagon while they puffed merrily with the windows rolled up. Today, when the coach yells for a puffer – half the parents run frantically to the dressing room.

If another parent criticizes your child during a game, do not confront them. Walk away. Show them you are a better person. Go out to the parking lot and look at the stars. Then slash the tires on their fucking minivan.

Be there. I don’t know how many times people said to me “Can’t someone else take him?” Yes, someone else could take him – but is anything you have to do more important than being in the stands when your kid looks up? In 2008, I missed the Quebec International Peewee tournament because I thought I couldn’t afford to go. I regret that. Find a way.

If your kid says he wants to play summer hockey – take a deep breath, and be thankful he doesn’t want to build a bomb in the basement. You can golf when you retire.

Never, ever, cut up your kid’s favourite hockey t-shirts and make them into a quilt. Bad idea.

Keep score. The no-score policy rampant in youth soccer is another attempt to raise children who are ill prepared for the real world. Life isn’t fair. Equal work doesn’t always mean equal pay. Sports teach kids how to win with grace – and more important – how to lose with grace. It’s hard to do that without a scoreboard. And you can bet your ass, every child and every parent is keeping score anyway.

Oh, and if your kid does one of those knuckle dragging celebrations in front of the other team’s bench, they will soon be saying things like “for the boys” and wearing a flat-brimmed hat to grandma’s house for dinner. Beat that shit out of them early.

And finally, know when to push and when to not to push. My kid stopped eating corn when he was five – shortly after I forced him to try creamed corn. Gagging ensued. And he hasn’t eaten a vegetable since.

In his book the “The Gold Mine Effect”, athletic advisor Rasmus Ankersen says, “The parents who criticize the idea of pushing children hard […] are often the same parents who go to wine tasting on Tuesday and yoga class on Thursday while their children are engaged in other activities.”  

Be there. Push. Love.

That’s my advice to have with your weekend coffee. Do with it as you will. 

All I know is, my kid survived. He is a kind, happy, 6’7” young man who has a peanut butter sandwich before every workout.

I must have done something right.

This appeared in the Chronicle Herald, minus a few "naughty" words.

Monday, December 3, 2012

No matter how you slice it, life beats the crap out of the alternative.

The first thing I did after the doctor called, was cry. No, wait... that was the second thing. The first thing I did after the doctor called, was solemnly swear that I would consume nothing but icing and carbohydrates and liquor until I could barely squeeze through the gates of Hell. Then I cried.

There was nothing funny about last week.

Grace and courage are two words you won't be reading in my obituary. Mine would go more like this: Cantankerous to the end, blah, blah, blah, pain-in-the-ass drama queen. Her final words were, "Fuck you, Revenue Canada."

Of course I wrote, and rewrote this scenario over and over in my head this past week after a routine mammogram detected something "suspicious". "Probably nothing" said my doctor, which were the last words I heard before the world started spinning and I fell off.

I'd always imagined myself more of a heart attack person.

Funny thing, life. The night before I got "the call",  I was tucking in to kir royales and steak frites at the Victory Arms. Over dinner, we chatted about the usual girlfriendy crap – and I mentioned  being at such a happy place in my life, and how I was planning another adventure.

Irony is a cruel bitch.

For a week, I wept and worried mostly about one thing: I did not want my child to be sad. Ever. I did not want my child to suffer in life (any more than the poor bastard already has) because of me – because of my ill-timed departure. At least before I had a chance to despise his future bride, or refuse to babysit his horrible offspring.

I also didn't want anyone to be overjoyed at my demise, which was a very distinct possibility as well.

For a week, the world was reduced to appreciating simple pleasures – like waking up. Poached eggs on toast with salt and cold butter. Hanging laundry on the line. Raking leaves. Texts from my kid. Chatting with neighbours. Hot baths. My new sheets. Sleeping with my dog's nose pressed against my cheek.

Climbing Kilimanjaro and tennis camp in Florida suddenly took a backseat to watching my apple tree blossom in the spring.

For a week, I relished over pleasures I had denied myself – like bread. Julien's Good Hearth, and sourdough from the Ginerbread Haus. I drank coffee with cream, instead of the low fat milk that makes it a bitter, gray concoction instead of something you jump out of bed for. And for a week I languished over cake. Duflett's lemon coconut from Pete's Frootique. New York style cupcakes from Sweet Janes. Carrot with cream cheese icing from the Italian Market. Waiting for a birthday seemed suddenly, ridiculous.

Thursday loomed and I could think of little else. I have watched friends die, and live graciously with cancer, and after glimpsing the overwhelming fear and sadness they must have kept tucked away for private moments – sparing others their pain – I now love and respect their stoic beauty even more.

I wore my fear like a fur coat in August, and it began to fester in my abdomen, as my stress often does. By 3am on the morning of my follow up mammogram/ultrasound I was sweating and doubled over on the kitchen floor. I was scared shitless, in pain, very angry – and determined that nothing was going to cause me to miss my 8:20am appointment.

I'd rather die first.

A roomful of women on a pinot grigio drip, is a room full of laughter and common denominators. A roomful of women in johnny shirts is also a supportive club – a club I had no intention of joining. The scent-free air was heavy with eau de fear, and I removed myself from the claustrophobic, nervous chit chat – to agonize in the hallway until my name was called. I didn't want this cross section of beautiful, brave women to assume my obvious struggle with pain had anything to do with what they were going through.

And I had no intention of going gently into the good night.

After what seemed like a lifetime, I had 5 "slammograms" on my right boob... and I didn't care. Lop 'em both off! Whatever was festering in my belly was going to kill me anyway. I left the Dickson Mammogram Department and went straight to Emergency where I basked in the warmth of Nova Scotia's healthcare system until my stress-induced bowel spasm subsided, and I was able to make my way home; humbled, beaten, and very sad.

Happy endings are a funny thing. Exactly one week from the first call, came the second call. "How are you doing?" my lovely doctor began.

"You tell me." I said.

Ten minutes later I was walking in Point Pleasant Park with my dogs, just like I do every day. The icy cold wind on my face felt fabulous. And I hadn't noticed how truly navy blue the water is at dusk. I will climb Kilimanjaro godammit! I had been given a hall pass – for now – but it was hard to be 100% happy, knowing millions of other women aren't so lucky.

So tell me, why does a woman with a needle sticking out of her breast have to wait in a crowded room until she is transported, by male ambulance attendants, to another building, to have her surgery performed? With the gazillions of dollars raised by the pink ribbon campaign, can we not, locally, do something about the fluorescent corner pen of the hospital where women are stored like cattle to await their fate!? I have no issue with the quality of medical care, but the Leave Your Dignity at the Door Lounge needs a fucking makeover.

This will be the best Christmas, ever. And with any luck, next Christmas will be the best Christmas, ever. And the one after that. And the one after that.

I'm even looking forward to fruitcake.