Take advantage of your brain’s secret superpower

permissionAs children, we sought it outside of ourselves, challenged its boundaries, and submitted our viable worlds to be ordered according to its precedent. What is it? Permission. But we’re not little kids any more. In Blank Canvas Living’s exploration of learning to live with the brain, not for the brain, personalizing our permissions is one of our most powerful cognitive conceptual tools.

What is permission? Let’s think about the brain. Biologically – without getting too technical here – permission can be loosely defined as the activation of neural pathways through the release of neurotransmitters in response to a stimulus. OK, now that that’s out of the way…

Permissions build our physical, emotional, moral, and social realities. We learn the boundaries and expectations of our viable worlds through external permissions (verbal, non-verbal) which are internally translated into supporting circuitry. This is a lifelong process, but most concentrated during childhood, before the brain starts pruning back unnecessary conceptual flexibilities. Example: A mother patiently teaches her child that dogs are brown and grass is green while cozying up together over a colouring book. A darling scene, sure, but equally grotesque in its neurological ramifications – the loss of our virginity of perception. Shedding a little tear here… sniffle.

So how is permission a superpower? This is going to blow your mind… ZOOM POW SPLAT! A paralysed woman in a wheelchair in British Colombia scores highest on a national happiness survey. Everyday she wakes up with a brain flooded with neurotransmitters that colour her reality full of hope and possibility. Why? She has permission (remember the biology!). An Oxford philosophy honours student hangs herself after a bad breakup. Why? Her depression gave her neurological permission to live, and ultimately die, in a threatening and hopeless world. When used as a cognitive conceptual tool, permission can offer a glimpse into different realities. And once that door is open, you can step inside.

How to play with your permissions to personalize your viable world:

1- Evaluate your current permissions. This might surprise you. Example: You take a drink after work to relax. Yes, your brain is asking for an external, because that’s where it’s learned the Pavlov progression starts, but did you know you get a dopamine surge even before ingestion? Your brain is, essentially, already giving you full permission to enter a relaxed system state and live in a warm, fuzzy, blameless world. It’s only the mechanism (the glamour) for getting there that’s in question.

2- What world would best suit your genetic self? What permissions would that world give to someone living in it? What permissions would that person give themselves? What permissions would be damaging? Examples: Permission to be accountable to others in order to live in a world where others are accountable to us. Permission to indulge in loving, gentle self-talk in order to live in a world where we have value and safety.

3- Once you define a permission you’d like to adopt for yourself, you’ve got to ask the big question: what is the precedent for this permission? Are there people out there right now living with this permission? Are they successfully achieving their personal goals? Are they mentally healthy and happy? How do their viable worlds differ from my own? Example: Since the paralysed woman in the wheelchair has full permission to be happy, why the hell should your loaded inbox give you permission to be miserable? Seriously, think about it.

So before you light your next cigarette, accept that this is only the mechanism (the current glamour), and that your brain is already giving you permission to leave your desk and take 7 minutes of pure indulgent escape. F*ck the cigarette! Own those 7 minutes of bliss within your own body. Take a breath – clean, pure. Be fully, apologetically, your own permission.

How to start merging your efficiencies with your indulgences

naked dancingI dressed up to flash the window washer this morning. Just another day at the office. Life is short – don’t make it short on fun! Just go for it! Play with your food, your clothes, and, in between snooze alarms… your wonderful self!

fast and easy summer salad recipes 3

“Sure,” you say, “but I have to do such n’ such, then yada yada, then…” Bet you’ve got a mile long list of efficiencies that ‘need’ to taken care of before you can drift off into your indulgences and escape to your Secret Garden. Bullshit!

Once you accept the simple truth that your brain will only let you do what you want to do and that there is no ‘have to’, you win back your freedom to play – anytime, anywhere. Our brains trick us into compartmentalization and hypervigilance. And, by natural extension, our culture promotes this fallacy. Our extended systems (community, culture) tend to reflect and exaggerate our internal functioning. Example: primal fear of starving has linked itself, full force, to the fear of not answering your boss’s email fast enough - connected in your brain to getting fired and not being able to afford food. But what might feel logical, even temptingly  intuitive, can trap you in unrealistically stressful beliefs and encourage extreme compensations like addiction, cheating, and obesity.

Why don't we tie it all together?Western culture’s ever widening gap between perceived efficiencies and indulgences has become crippling to our mental, physical, and spiritual health. But we don’t have to be slaves to outwardly imposed glamours. Let’s tie our wants and needs closer together! (in this case with a darling little bow) Trust your senses, not your preconceptions. Take your system boundary back down to the surface of your skin. What does commuting ‘feel’ like? Be honest. Probably just like sitting on the couch watching your fave program. Relax into it, why the hell not? We have choice. Don’t let so many millennia of evolution go to waste! We each have a prefrontal cortex that’s just begging to be allowed to reprogram our Viable Worlds.

Turn off CNN’s perma-coverage of flight 370 for a second. We are blessed to live in a glorious age of concealer and condoms, grocery stores and glasses. Big spoiler alert… You’re gonna die. So what? Really, so what. Depending on where you place your system boundary, this small detail can be of either infinite importance or infinite unimportance. Re-quantize your relationship with time (details in upcoming posts). I know, I know, the concept takes neuroplasticity and self-acceptance to their very limits, but if I can learn to do it anyone can! Slowly, after concentrated practice in attention control, every breath you take (in… out…) becomes a lifetime lived in full. Why not make each the most honest, complete life you possibly can?

shower sexTake inspiration from Japanese ryokans: “As my food is being prepared for me, I’m being prepared for my food.” – Anthony Bourdain. Use this sort of priming and splash yourself with cold water before stepping into the best shower of your life. Story your dishes… why not? Turn your salads into personalized sensory symphonies by following the example of Naples pizza makers: “Almost a poetry to it.” – Heston Blumenthal (because apparently I get all my wisdom from TV chefs lol). Shitty morning? Accept your emotion with unrelenting compassion and work it through your body with a snooze alarm interpretive dance that embraces the unabashed horror and agony of the moment. Just go for it!

Exercise in Engagement: Roll up a sleeve. Bury your nose in the warm, soft – possibly furry – inside of your elbow. Take a long deep breath of your scent. This is a new intimacy. This small area of skin is all your own. Give it a little lick. Its smell, taste, and texture are the physical manifestation of every decision you, your parents, your parents’ parents ever made. This is time. This is life. This is you. Love this moment and be transformed into your own, delightfully portable, indulgence.

Is your ‘Secret Garden’ secretly killing you?

fat woman eatingSo many of us live double lives. I don’t just mean having a young filly or a well hung, obedient boy toy shacked up across town. I’m talking about your Secret Garden. You know, the private place you escape to when the world gets too loud and needy or we reach a Tetris tipping point. We all have our own version of ‘Me Time’, but often what begins as a safe sanctuary slowly de-evolves into a dangerous, even lethal, prison. One day you look up and the walls of your Secret Garden are too high to climb and you’re trapped as a slave to your glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls.

Feeling all high and mighty watching a Youtube obesity documentary while picking at a plate of asparagus on my lunch break, I was suddenly blindsided by an embarrassing parallel. The woman on screen had bustled her kids off to school, tidied up, put in a load of laundry, and then – efficiencies done – took a plastic grocery bag full of chocolate bars out of a hidden cupboard and proceeded to devour the entire gluttonous mess in a highly ritualized performance.

“This is ME-TIME,” she declared to the camera, almost as a threat. Woe-betide the fool who would dare try and rob her of this one true, loyal pleasure!

“Oh shit,” I said to myself, “do I really do the same freakin’ thing?!”

Of course, just like most of us, but my Secret Garden involved getting drunk and stoned watching old online episodes of Antiques Roadshow on a tiny netbook in my kichen while sitting on one of those horribly uncomfortable 1970s plywood stacking chairs. Grim. But how had this happened? I was in love, full of potential, with all joints as yet in working order. How had this sad, rather tragic scene become my be-all-end-all?

Genetics and circumstances dictate our unique set of personal glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls. These behaviours and externals are what we feel make our lives worth living. Some lucky bastards are coded to respond to running and quinoa, while others get off on fries or affairs. Stress, biochemistry, and trauma can make the brain more vulnerable to adopting extreme, often dangerous, glamours (eg: cutting and drugs) because these behaviours provide an immediate and seductively efficient neurotransmitter reaction. Tolerance develops over time and before you know it you’re either 500 pounds or base jumping!

Just like yours, my Secret Garden had been planted with all innocence – just like the one in Burnett’s classic children’s novel (a personal fave!). I made my own clothes and acted out heroic stories in the backyard – happy as a clam! Then life happened and somehow I ended up on that stupid hard-ass chair!

Be honest. What does your Secret Garden grow? Because whatever you think you want, whatever you think your dreams and goals may be… here’s the truth: your unconscious, primative mind is, at this very moment, concentrating all its energy and effort on the simple goal of getting you into that garden and keeping you there.

But we’re not children anymore. Once we acknowledge our current glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls, and accept them with unrelenting compassion, we can begin to pre-train new ones and eventually switch over more permanently. Click here to read about how the relationship between your efficiencies and indulgences can help reveal (and even begin training!) new personal glamours.

How to tackle life’s Tetris tipping points

kitchen before and afterWhat’s a Tetris tipping point? You’re in the zone, everything’s stacking up perfectly – eating healthy, bills paid, emails answered, legs shaved (and/or face and/or whatever else)… When suddenly, life hurls one of those stupid wonky 4 square zig-zags at you and you try to fit it in, but everything’s happening too fast and now there’s a gap. Still, you’re sure you can recover, but the 4 square vertical you were counting on never comes, and no matter how fast you try to anticipate and react, you can’t keep up. All you can do is watch helplessly as chaos closes in and… GAME OVER.

tetrisAs we move up the levels of life in age, career, and responsibility, new stressors come at us faster and faster – just like in Tetris. Sure, you can practice and plan, but inevitably, if you’re human (and if you’re not, well, I’m sure you have other issues) you’ll face that GAME OVER screen again and again. Your perfect plan will go straight out the window because life, just like love, is unpredictable and overwhelming. And we wouldn’t want it any other way!

So, how do we tackle life’s Tetris tipping points? With unrelenting compassion. I suck at housework, always have, and probably always will. I have other skills and talents that can be quite useful around the home (just ask my husband), but dirty dishes will always be my nemesis. I’ll stay on top of things for days (occasionally even weeks) at a time, but then, for any number of reasons, the stack gets past a certain height and I just can’t deal and it just keeps piling up and… GAME OVER.

I’ve laid prostrate on the kitchen floor weeping at my ineptitude. I’ve rocked out to hard-core blues in bra and panties. I’ve dressed up like an Eastern European slave girl. I’ve turned the task into an archeological dig and you can be sure I always try to pawn those dishes off on dear ol’ hubby. And yes, in times of utter desperation, I’ve even resorted to buying paper plates and plastic cutlery. I’ve also, as you can see by these links, apparently blogged about doing the dishes more often than actually doing them!

But something changed the day I accepted the beautifully human truth that I, Cymbria, am a woman utterly overwhelmed by doing the dishes. And that that’s OK. With unrelenting compassion, I released my guilt and shame – so often the source of our procrastination. It was a simple act, but one with profound and wonderful consequences.

Now when I face the scourge, I do it with humour, literally and figuratively. I crank up the comedy station on the radio, wear a scullery maid head scarf to get into character, and take my time. I still loath the task, but it no longer lurks as a constant ugly nag – threatening my self-worth – in the back of my mind. When I’m doing the dishes I’m doing the dishes, when I’m not, they’re simply not part of my Viable World.

If you’re facing a Tetris tipping point today, step back and take a breath. Maybe something happened and you couldn’t keep up… and that’s OK. You’ve been here before; you’ve failed, and you’ve survived. You might have to go back a few levels, but that’ll just give you more practice for the next round. You’re still you – and you’re still marvelously human.

Note: I let it slip in a cross-country conversation with my mother that I was posting a pic of my most recent kitchen nightmare. She was horrified. “Oh, you can’t do that!” she said. “You know how people label.” Well, dear readers, label away. All I can say is… my kingdom for a dishwasher!!   

The horrifying truth about happiness

smiley face cartoonEver been wrong? I don’t mean “oops” wrong, but completely, horribly, soul scorchingly WRONG? If logic loops and paradoxes are sure signs of a stale paradigm, what happens when our current model for the understanding and pursuit of happiness stumbles headlong into both? Well, dear readers, as you’ll discover below, the answer is anything but pretty…

smiley face When you read any recent scientific article/paper/post about happiness, a common link shines through. Whether describing hedonistic (drugs, alcohol, the ingestion or wearing of whipped cream) or eudonic (volunteering, goal meeting, exercising talents) rewards, there’s always the same sentence squeezed in somewhere: “… causes certain chemicals to be released in the brain.” AHA! Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together. The conclusion is obvious: happiness is a function of neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, etc.). So logically, everything we do, from pouring ourselves a glass of wine after work, gunning for that promotion, taking SSRIs for depression, getting a pineal gland buzz from meditation, to tying ourselves up in faux-fur, is done in dedicated service to that one magical organ – the brain – and its darling little chemical messengers.

Why do people ‘get off’ on different things? Depending on our genetics and environment, we learn to respond to (and thereby pursue) a unique set of glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls. Innate personal activation energy thresholds and social/cultural vulnerabilities help determine whether we end up junkies, or well-coiffed queens of the PTA. Simple enough… or so it seemed until I, young, naive, and as intellectually masochistic as Newton probing behind his own eyeball, decided to test this theory on myself.

Logic loop: If happiness is a modulation of our neurotransmitter levels, and the brain is wired for efficiency, why are all these idiots jogging when they can be…

Within a surprisingly short amount of time I found myself too fat for anything but my Viking man’s track pants, lying spread-eagle with a bad back on a candy wrapper covered carpet, watching reality TV reruns while doped up on a nauseating (not to mention dangerous!) cocktail of alcohol, muscle relaxants, Gravol, painkillers, and – just for good measure – marijuana. Happy? Not so much. Solution? I figured all I had to do was switch my primary goal to longevity, rather than happiness, and train myself on a compatible new set of glamours and insatiables. Since I was already living in a Viable World without heroin (I had to draw the line somewhere!), couldn’t I just exclude my problem glamours from my viable world?

Paradox 1: If food is one of my insatiables, and there can be no viable world without food, how do I escape the efficiency logic loop that led directly to the track pants?

Paradox 2: In a world where there are people who fear public speaking more than death, how can a prefrontal cortex goal of longevity overcome eons of limbic evolution and enforce the pursuit of less than maximum-by-the-moment happiness?

What’s the horrifying truth about happiness? It’s that so many of us have gotten it all WRONG! Solution? Full mind/body/spirit paradigm change. F*ck neurotransmitters! Let’s explore how to live with the brain, not for the brain! Curious? Let me introduce you to systems theory’s naughty little kid sister: Pragmatic System State Theory.

5 Tips for staying human at the office

office phoneDenying or suppressing our humanity while at work can lead to tragic consequences… depression, anxiety, illicit stairwell trysts, office shootings, or the time my boss found me sitting on ‘the new guy’s’ desk after a drunken Christmas luncheon, performing an erotic reading of an article I’d found in a seismic geophysics magazine on the evolution of the scientific method – oh gawd the horror, the shame! Don’t let this happen to you! We are at our best and brightest when we stay connected to our passions and personalities. The following five tips are simple survival strategies to help you keep hold of your sanity and soul at your own office day job:

1) As counterintuitive as it feels, as hard as it is to say… go on, admit it, you WANT to be sitting there. If you don’t believe me, click here for compelling neurological proof.

2) Personalize, personalize, personalize! You don’t have to go as far as my art installation office phone pictured in the photo above. emoticon phone stickersEven I have to admit it might be getting a wee bit over-accessorized; I messed up twice the last time I had to dial our Xerox technician’s number on my emoticon keypad. A couple of your favourite pictures, inspirational quotes/posters (although these can all too quickly slide into the ironic), or comic strips can add some mood enhancing personal colour and flair.

3) Practice mindfulness brain games to help you reengage with your tasks and surroundings in novel ways. Try focusing on the experience of one sense at a time or imagine that you’re exploring a museum exhibit showcasing long-outdated 21st century office supplies. Trust me – it can really open things up. Just don’t advertise your little field trip, especially if you’re the only employee already risking your professionalism (let alone dignity) by dialing with customized emoticons.

4) Oxygenate! If at all possible, incorporate plants into your office environment. Spider plants are surprisingly easy to sustain and provide the optional bonus of an interactive tactile relationship. Refuel the rest of your body with a living lunch. I don’t mean go hunting for something (or someone) skulking around on the third floor, but get creative with your limited office kitchen supplies and make yourself something worth waking up for.

5) Keep your fantasies out of the office! Breaking news – you are a sexual being. Acknowledge this honest truth and move on. And obviously, do not, under any circumstances, engage in drunken desk hopping this holiday season! Keep your daydreams focused on your future, your weekend, or if things get really bleak, pretend you’re embroiled in a multi-billion dollar international corporate espionage conspiracy while filing your next report. Regressive? Perhaps. Nerdy? Decidedly. But desperate times call for decidedly desperate measures.

funny stickerMost importantly, stay conscious (always a good place to start) and on guard for subliminal, and not so subliminal (like that stupid Chubb door sticker I have to try to ignore every morning!), social and environmental cues that threaten to compromise your value as a precious, uniquely wonderful human being. And if you manage to get out alive this Friday, have a fabulous, unabashedly human weekend!

What do you do to stay human at your 9 to 5 job?

Recovering from shameful acts of self-promotion

louis vuitton logoWe’re used to having other people’s names stitched into our underwear and going to punk rock concerts sponsored by banks, but how do you build a blog brand? Sure, Gucci can get away with bedazzling its logo on dog collars, and no one would bat an eye if Louis Vuitton came out with a line of luxury baked goods, but publicizing a personal blog without overt awkwardness or coming across as, heaven forbid, (just typing the word hurts) narcissistic, is almost impossible.

It helps to get creative. Some of my, if not classy then at least less dignity destroying, strategies have included blog advertising shoes and a promotional bookmark flip book. These two DIY methods tend to catch people off guard, which, not coincidentally, is key to both advertising and horror movies. But for someone whose fear of networking can best be described as pure liquid terror, I am completely in the dark (possibly hiding under a table somewhere) about the social etiquette of self-promotion, especially when it comes to blogs. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I’ve actually handed out said bookmarks at funerals (oh for shame!) and even in airport public washrooms. I know, I know, totally inappropriate. All I can say is that like so many stupid-in-hindsight impulses, it always seemed like such a good idea at the time.

I have to confess that last night I hit a whole new low on the appropriateness scale. I was riding Calgary’s C-Train when another one of those “good ideas” popped into my head. The temperature had also hit a new low last night, and the two glass panels of the door I was standing beside were covered with a thick layer of frost. Someone had scrapped a jagged window with finger marks that looked like they’d been trying to claw their way out. Which, being a public transit regular, I can totally understand. I drew a small happy face in the top corner of the closest panel with a gloved finger. But that wasn’t enough. My gateway doodle led to a panel wide artistic portrait of a woman’s face, quite impressively executed, considering the medium – if I do say so myself. I spent the next few stops appreciating the poetic irony of being bundled beyond recognition while looking at a reflection that was the mirror image of my summer self.

But, of course, that wasn’t enough. Here was a rare opportunity for a DIY blog billboard! I scratched BLANKCANVASLIVING.COM into the second panel in an inverted U shape, leaving the space in the middle open – because every advertisement needs a visual. And what better blog brand ambassador than our darling mascot (see side panel) Mitch-the-insatiable-itch! Here’s where things went horribly wrong. By this point my finger was blunted with snow and I had to rush because we were almost at my stop. Finishing my ‘artistry’, I hurried out the opposite door – already beeping with urgency – and took a quick look back to survey my handiwork.

Oh Gawd! I’d just drawn – with wiggly distorted lines – what could best be described as a horned stick figure with a set of disproportionately huge male genitalia dangling under its belly!!! I had to watch it leering at me from under my calling card as it set off down the tracks – in full view of all the passengers! Nothing like lewd graffiti on public transit to really take your blog brand to the next level… sigh.

The morning I walked to work on Mars

pink mars skyIt was one of those mornings… a five snooze alarm, sleep vs shower trade-off morning, when you dream you’ve woken up and left for work then wake up and have to do it all over again. It was one of those mornings when your bed is your entire world and any universe beyond is dark, cold, alien, and empty, and the warm comfort of your sheets weights your body with the gravity of a thousand suns. You know, one of those mornings.

I waited until the last possible second before getting up, savouring each ‘tick’ with the knowledge that these were the last precious moments of self before the blind suffering of routine would rip me out of my bliss and cast me, shivering and whimpering, out into the unholy frozen city. Ok, so maybe I’m getting a bit carried away, and of course I’m grateful for all my blessings and, quite frankly, even to have a job to wake up for. But our humanity is pretty raw at 6:30 in the morning, and the gloss of rational thinking is rarely available before lunch (if at all).

Trudging along the bikepath, I was still locked in hostility – towards the weather, towards all the bikers who ‘dinged’ at me, towards the little patches of ice that seemed just as hostile towards me, and, unforgivably, towards a woman I love who is suffering so much more than myself. I’ve been trying so hard to find solutions to her problems, to guide her towards relief, but she keeps slipping deeper.

No, I told myself, right there on the path. I’ve do so much, all I can. I just need this one moment to be my own. No job, no worries, no obsessing. Let me ‘just be’ in the story of this landscape. I focused all my energy into my senses: the sharp cold smell of the Bow river, the crunch of the snow under my sneakers… I lifted my eyes up from the pavement and gasped in unabashed awe.

Calgary’s downtown skyline was on fire with a rapturous sunrise, all glowing hot pinks and soft peaches, fading high overhead into a delicate lavender border. Absolutely gorgeous, and huge! We’re ‘big sky’ country here in Alberta and this morning the colours reached far beyond their usual semi-circular modesty. This was an entirely new atmosphere, an entirely new backdrop to the city. And then it hit me. I was walking to work on Mars!

I angled the brim of my baseball cap to block out any earthly, pedestrian blue. My world was Mars and I played the story through in my mind. Only a thin yellow line separated me from the joggers and bikers on my home planet, journeying into an opposite sky. I was alone in this magical new vision. I changed the snow to dust and the buildings to alien constructions. It wasn’t hard. In the last quarter century Calgary has transformed into a hulking, though glittering, vision of past futures. But I felt a sudden gut pang of sadness. This Mars was so beautiful, yet all would be lost to time. Whatever its past may have held, our shared Mars has been blown back to red dust. But I would always have my Mars, even when the sky came back to Earth, and even when later I’d check Wikipedia and find out the dull truth about the real Martian sky.

But in that glowing pink moment of my own, I thought of the woman I love, and a new idea. Overwhelmed by the crushing enormity of making a change, she holds the first small step in her hand, but tells me she always puts it down because she thinks “it doesn’t matter.” As I stood delighting in my Mars, I realized I had crossed epic time and space by giving myself the simple permission to enjoy the moment as purely, unapologetically ‘me’ – because “I matter.” If I’ve brought back anything from my Mars, it isn’t a sample of gas or rock, it’s the gift of knowing that even when you feel like “it doesn’t matter,” you still do.

Funerals, peas, and a red lipstick kiss goodbye

red lipstick kissWhen my grandfather’s heart stopped this past spring, he used his one last moment of decision to kiss my grandmother goodbye. In a church full of black, she wore her favourite deep red skirt suit to his funeral. She curled her hair, coordinated her makeup, and stood tall and graceful in a scene of unimaginable bravery. Theirs was one of the true great love stories, sustained over half a century by affection, faith, courage, and generosity. There would be space and time for grief, but my grandmother chose that day to celebrate the life and love of her extraordinary man.

What came as a shock to us all, especially to my strong, beautiful grandmother, was that there would be only five short months of space and time before she too would pass – the very day before what would have been their 60th wedding anniversary. Neither would have to spend an anniversary alone. My own extraordinary man and I celebrated our 10th anniversary this August. I’ll always be grateful to my grandparents for offering their unconditional love and support when we got married just 5 short months after meeting.

I wouldn’t tell anyone what I was planning for my part of my grandmother’s eulogy, only that I was bringing a prop. I knew was already taking a risk with my leopard print leggings, but since she’d once showed me a snakeskin print tunic/pants outfit from the back of her closet, I figured I was in good company. When it was my turn to speak, I took a step to one side of the pulpit and up at the front of the church, in full view of friends, family, two Reverends, and the entire congregation, I carefully applied a good thick gloss of bright red lipstick.

Appropriate? Sure! We all laughed, and then of course, I completely fell apart describing how my grandmother always used glamour, not as a mask, but as a celebration of the way she saw the world – and her family – full of promise and wonder, and worthy of the very best she could bring to the table.

Peas and mushrooms recipeIn a literal sense, what a table! Using the delicious and ingenious strategy of cooking healthy dishes (like their famous peas and mushrooms) they teamed up to keep their love story alive and well far past its genetic due date – telomeres be darned! This Thanksgiving weekend was the family’s first without our dear Matriarch and Patriarch. While the gift of the Quebec cottage they built with their own hands will stay with the family (thank heavens!), their Ontrio home, with all its comforting smells, sounds, collections, and textures, is being dismantled for sale. And individual objects, once separated from their context, begin to lose their meaning.

I am a woman who lives through her senses (through rarely common-sense), and this Thanksgiving I gave thanks to my grandparents the best way I knew how. I made their magical peas and mushrooms (my version above). My kitchen was filled with the smells and tastes of tradition. I added some sauteed onions for some next generation flair, and melted in enough butter to have horrified my grandmother. But time stopped for those few hours, and the unfathomable concept of loss was made tangible. Grief took a physical form, as it had with my lipstick, but in doing so became a celebration.

This morning, my man slept through 5 snooze alarms and by 6:30am I was ranting at him for risking being massively late for a 7:30am dentist appointment. Seeing his pensive face (because who likes going to the dentist anyway), I caught myself. To lighten the mood, I threw a sock at his head from the 3 day old pile of unfolded laundry on our bed. He whipped it back and it got me right in the neck! But when the mock battle subsided, I lifted my face to his, closed my eyes, and waited for our sacred ritual – because you never know how much time you have. Gone was the warrior with impeccable aim, here was a husband, giving his wife a kiss goodbye.