about being alone

there was a small space between my childhood bed and the window.  i remember sitting in that sheltered place playing.  alone.  no one could see me from the doorway.  the bed skirt went all the way to the floor.  i must have spent hours there imagining.  sometimes i played barbies.  sometimes i sulked.  i attempted journal entries.  i stared up and out the window at the large maple tree that formed my view.  i read books for hours on the small couch near the kitchen.  the couch was behind a half wall and i felt insulated.  as soon as i could drive i went for walks in the forest.  alone.  i was happy to.  no one forced to me be alone.  i had sweet friends to play with.  but i always returned to solo adventures.

i am alone right now.  i have been mostly alone since monday evening.  it is wednesday now.  the girls return in a few hours.

i know alone as a small space between sharing myself with my children and my boyfriend and my students and my customers.  i do not know alone for weeks or years or decades.  i do not know how that might be.  what i do know is that this small space between, this time with me, is awesome.  i am not sure what i like most about it.  but i do enjoy the “quiet”.  (which is funny because i tend to talk a lot!)  i enjoy “small things”.  the simplicity of taking out the garbage in the early early morning.  cutting my small lawn at dusk.  filling the bird feeder to overflowing.  it is a freedom.  and sometimes a peace.  to choose when and where and how.  it is like swimming naked in soft lake water.

sometimes my friends are jealous.  they want to be alone too.  or they think they do.  and i understand.   (or i think i do!)  perhaps not everyone needs to be divorced to find this kind of time.  and maybe i shouldn’t tell them that this time comes with a flip side.  maybe i shouldn’t joke that it is my perk.  but that is what i think.  i was given something bitter and something sweet.  and all these years later it still feels that way.  bitter and sweet like dandelion and raspberry.  maybe one is not more medicinal than the other.

when i am alone now i like to vacuum.  and take photographs of flowers.  i like picking salad from my backyard and eating it with pesto.  i like sitting in the sun.  i prefer to stay home, read a book, and get up early.

i love people.  i love strangers.  my family.  my boyfriend.  my friends.  i love my ex-husband.  and his parents.  we are all interesting and quirky.  we are confusing.  beautiful and utterly devastating.  we are everything.  i love people watching.  i love sitting close.  i like eavesdropping.  and sharing stories with shop keepers.

but it is clear to me now that i am restored by solitude.  i am brought back to existence.  this is why i have been longing to rest in that space between my bed and the window.  and even if i close my eyes i will enjoy the view of the linden tree flowering.

because everything changes and solitude transforms into familial wildness; and i continue to dance in all the ways a mother dances.



a birthing day

i love birthdays.  i love presents.  and flowers.  and cake.

i love photographs.  and sometimes i don’t even mind the things they leave out.

ten years ago today i gave birth to a beautiful baby.  a beautiful being.  she arrived in the midst of a wild april storm.  wind.  hail.  snow.  rain.  i can still hear the hard rain pelleting the hospital window.  it was a difficult labour.  my fear of birthing accidentally in the toilet was not warranted!  she did not come fast.  her shoulders were caught on my pelvic bones.  the room became the storm.  and i the middle.  her head out.  shoulders caught.  immense  panic.  everything slowed and quickened simultaneously.  i can almost hear them yelling at me to push.  i can almost feel the nurse (was she standing on my bed?) pushing down on my belly.  i can see mark, in shock, standing by my bedside.  i did not hear her bones break.  i did not feel the cold of the forceps.  but i saw.  i saw the looks on their faces.

but she was perfect.  perfect.  with a bruise near her eye where the metal must have clamped.  she was gorgeous.  i could have looked at her all night long.  maybe i did.  i listened to the howling of the wind against the hospital wall and learned to nurse on my side.  i was in love.  nothing else mattered.

my body carries the story of her arrival.  i think my belly (even a decade later) is still a little shaken; a little unsure.  i think the little extra skin, the little extra fat is a blanket of protection.  and it has yet to be convinced that it is safe to go away.  i have bits that are rarely seen, bits that have gone slack.  there are even some small parts that have almost fully surrendered.  and lines.  lines that do not seem to connect.  but if you followed them they would tell you everything.  even things that i do not yet know.

ten years is a wild time to mother.  i want to say that this is a beautiful thing.  and an ugly thing.  i am both beautiful and ugly.  i have seen all that in me.  and in them.  i have seen it too in their father.  the sweetness and the cruelty.  the love and the hatred.   the impatience.  the fatigue.  and the sweetness again.  the loving.  the growing.  and growing.  and growing.

i think my heart is growing bigger.  i think it is.  and then sometimes it grows small again.  retracts into an old way.  sometimes i am full of patience.  i am calm and even while the children fight.  i hear what they are saying.  i see them.  and then sometimes i am short and harsh and demanding.  sometimes i am a dictator demanding peace.  sometimes i can watch it all and laugh.  i am a woman living in a house with two young children.  i have done this for almost five years now.  sometimes it is easy.  and sometimes it is hard.  maybe it’s just life.  easy and hard.  beautiful and ugly.  sweet and spicy.

every year, for their birthday, i make a photo album.  i print my favourite photos from the year.  i place one or two images on a page, no words, in a simple black book.  i find photos from every season.  i made one just last week for ivy.  it is awesome.  snow pictures.  cottage pictures.  beautiful smiles.  playful kittens.  laughing eyes.  marshmallows and sunsets.  there are no photos of crying or ranting or unkindness.  i have only showed the pleasant side.  and i realized, maybe a month ago, when the girls, and matthew, and i were looking at many years worth of photographs that we look really happy.  you might not be able to pinpoint when my husband left me.  you wouldn’t know what birthday party was the most heart wrenching.

i guess birthdays remind me of it all.  the true deepness of this life.  the fury and rage.  the lightness and joy.  the confusion.  this birth day i  am thinking about how my days are a blend.  how the years are a mixture.  how my life is all of it.  so full.  so rich.  so clean and dirty.

i surely carry, deep in my skin, deep in my bones, the stretch marks of my ancestors.  i am thinking of my great grandmothers tonight.  ukrainian.  metis.  french canadian.  scottish? i am trying to picture them holding my grandmothers and my grandfathers.  nursing them.  did they have bare feet in the garden?  how did they speak to their children?  did they enjoy sex?  what was their deepest fear?  why were they angry?  what did they hide? i imagine their secrets flow in my blood.  and move too in my children.  a melange of it all.


a love letter to my father

“In American psychotherapy, the first question many practitioners ask their new clients is essentially, “What did your parents do to you to mess you up so badly?” One of my Japanese friends tells me that in his country, a therapist is more likely to ask, “What did your parents do for you? How did they nurture and support you?”

Without dismissing the possibility that your mom and dad did inflict damage on you, I’ll ask you to concentrate on the Japanese-style inquiry for now. What are the best things that happened to you when you were growing up? What did your family and community give you that you’ve never fully appreciated?” Rob Brezney’s Free Will Astrology.

this is a love letter to my father.

ezra's 5 birthday and bee pollen and stones 071i told my daughters recently that when i was a little girl (maybe five years old) i thought i was going to grow up and marry you.  i  remember this so vividly.  i can feel it:  the overwhelming love.  i believed that this is how my life was suppose to go: you was going to be my husband.  i was concerned about mom.  i worried she would be too sad.  but i loved you so much.  and perhaps that is how i understood that you would be mine forever.  when i was five it wasn’t a metaphor.  i really believed that you would be my husband.  the girls and i giggle at my understanding of growing up.  and i laugh because i was so astute!  and they laugh because i was so silly!  and both are true!

this is a love letter to you father.

you has always taken care of me the best way you knew how.  you are a provider extraordinaire.  you are a very hard worker.  you began working in your father’s insurance business in your early twenties.  yesterday you turned 68 and you are still working (and running) that business.  you are dedicated and diligent.  you are a people person.  i remember walking around the mall with you, i was still young enough that i held your hand, and watching as you said hi to what seemed like everyone.  you are warm and friendly.  and i think you are a great boss.  you have had many of the same employees for over 20 years.  i greatly admire your skill with money.  it is something i have yet to really figure out.  you continue to help me, even though i am an adult, with generous gifts that bring great ease to my life.

this is a love letter to my papa.

you are funny.  you laugh long and loud.  you love to joke and tease.  this was not always easy for me.  when i was little i would sometimes run to my room and cry.  i would hide my face in a pillow until mom came to find me.  i didn’t think it was funny that you hid my dessert.  and perhaps you didn’t know what to do with such a sensitive child!   i appreciate your sense of humor now.  and the lightness that you bring to life is a gift.  my girls think your sense of humour is hilarious.  they don’t mind when you offer them a beer or a hotdog (which they do not drink or eat!).  they just laugh!

you are fierce.  you can yell. (sometimes because you are scared or worried.)  you can explode.  you can swear.  and fume.  i don’t know for sure, but it seems that you can really let shit go.  express it and move on.  and not hold on to it.  it doesn’t seem as if you hold too many grudges.  and this is awesome.

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you are a dedicated husband.  you have loved my mom the best way you know how.  i am proud of how the two of you have navigated your life.  i have always willed for you to stay together.  even when you fought.  i realized that fighting and misunderstanding is a part of life.  and it does not need to be a end to a relationship.  i am thrilled that you have journeyed together in so many different waters.  you take care of her and provide for her in the same ways that you do for me.  and this is a blessing.  i imagine that it must be hard to mom’s husband sometimes.  i don’t know what it is like for you to have watched her all these years suffer such headaches.  i have never heard you once complain.  i watch as you try to buffer her world, to create a space where there is more ease and less stress for her.  i watch as you love my mother and i am filled with awe.

this is a love letter to my father.

you are incredible during crisis.  and sometimes i forget that.  and so i call mom first.  but you were the calm one when i called about car accident, or when i was pregnant at 23 and then had a miscarriage.  you came to my piece about  sexual violence.  and you came running when my husband left me.

you are a private man.  i wonder how you might feel at this public love letter.  i hope you don’t mind.  my eyes are filled with tears.  i am filled with so much emotion.

i want you to know that i see you as a generous, ethical, dedicated man.  i see you as a powerful, funny, strong man.  i want you to know that i respect you.  i think that i have learned many beautiful things from you.   i am a strong fiery woman.  i am creative.  i am deeply caring.  i am a strong supporter of community.  i support local businesses, especially small ones.  i love people, especially old people.  i am funny!  and sometimes i say the most outrageous things!  i can speak french!  so much of you has nurtured me!  deep gratitude papa!

i still love you with the intensity of a five year old girl!  but it’s o.k. if we don’t get married! 😉

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my best friend was a cat

george died last week.

DSC_0460she died like she lived: freely and patiently.  i was close by, crying.  i sat on the floor beside her, my hand on her back as she exhaled her last breath.  i watched, a little stunned, as her body went stiff, then stilled.  we were in the basement.  i was shocked at the sound of her last breath.  shocked at the movement of her legs…which seemed to force this air out…or was a bi-product of the leaving.  this dying was something between beauty and ugly.  something so raw.  something i don’t understand.  the girls were upstairs.  ezra kept calling me.  “when are you coming up?”  i called back crying.  “george is dying now.  just wait please.”  george’s dying was short.  ezra didn’t have to wait long for me.  i returned to them all puffy and red.  sniffling back snot.  wiping my eyes and my nose with my sweater sleeve.

we buried her with cedar and sage and tobacco.  and a stone with my heart on it.  i placed her in white cloth with blue flowers.  and covered her with dirt.  she is underground now.

i miss her.  i notice her absence especially when i return home.  she is not here wanting out.  or wanting in.  she isn’t sleeping on my bed or curled up on the heater grate.  she doesn’t want cheese.  nor is she here to sit on my friends.  nor purr when petted.  she doesn’t join the girls and i in bed at storytime.  climbing all over us with and for love.  my experience is that she is gone.  i remember her.  but i don’t feel her presence.

i don’t really know what dead is.  other than dead.

sometimes i think i catch a glimpse of her.  a darkness out of the corner of my eye.  i suppose i was almost always aware of her.  i watched for her on the back deck.  i would let her in or out whenever she wanted.  it didn’t bother me.  i loved that she was free to come and go.  the habit of opening doors for her has not died.  and part of me is still waiting for her.  my eyes searching for her movement.  ivy suggested this morning that it might be her spirit i am seeing.  i like that idea.  ezra wanted to know what spirit is.  and the best i had to offer was “the part of us that does not die when we die.”  she simply nodded.  maybe because she knows that i don’t really know.

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george taught me many things.  i am pretty sure she accepted me exactly as i am.  she was fine and content with life.  she was loving and ruthless.  she rubbed her face against my children’s hands.  and killed chipmunks.  it didn’t matter if i ignored her or loved her up.  she was the same.  she just was.

i have never met anyone quite like her.  human or otherwise.  i realize that she was my best friend.  she lived with me for almost 17 years.  she watched me grow.  she offered unwavering existence.  she just was.  her way of being in the universe was exquisite.  i aspire to her chilled-out-ness.  i aspire to a calm quiet acceptance of me.  and the occasional outburst of ruthlessness (but not with chipmunks!).

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the joy of going away: my first raw food yoga retreat in barbados.

maybe i could begin in the middle.  with the bats.  because they find me wherever i go.  imagine yourself lying by the ocean at sun set.  it is still very warm.  and you are doing yoga.  i am teaching you.  we are stretching our legs as the sky turns a deep pink and the bats begin to fly overhead.

i turned to sue and asked “are those bats?”  she wasn’t sure.  sue has been my student for almost fifteen years.  and she has been in class with bats before.  she has even, over the years, helped to usher the bats outside.  this time, however, we were outside.  and the bats were dancing above us.   i am wildly scared of bats when they are inside; but i am not so frightened when they are out in the open and free.  besides, the colour of the sky and the sound of the ocean was a great pacifier!i rarely teach or practice yoga outside.  i am almost always in a building:  in the church downtown, at my friend’s studio, or at my house.  teaching outside was so different.  i worried that it would be too distracting, both for myself and my students.  but i hadn’t sought out another option.  so outside it was.  i tried to balance receiving the outside world with moving in to ourselves.  we practiced early in the morning or just before sunset.  we explored the grass by the ocean side, the beach, and paul’s side yard.  all were magnificent.  i often begin my classes with a centering i learned from hart lazer.  receiving what is without pushing away or without holding on.  not an easy practice!  i begin with receiving sound.  outside was the perfect location for this practice.  we allowed our ears to open and receive the sound of ocean waves, of roosters cocking, of dogs barking, and of kids playing.  we opened to the possibility of receiving ourselves fully:  our thoughts, our feelings, our bodies, our breath.  we placed our mats over crab holes, felt the softness of sand beneath our mats, and bowed to the blue of the ocean as we folded deeply into ourselves.

 i saw many things while teaching.  i glimpsed a green monkey, saw the quick movements of a hummingbird, and watched dogs copulating.  i saw a man get naked by his car, watched my students straining in the warrior poses,  and was blessed with sunsets.  the background rich and true to life.

before leaving i was worried about driving on the other side of the road.  i definitely brought that fear with me.  i held the wheel tightly and drove cautiously around the narrow curving roads.  right and left turns became muddled.  rights were to be lefts and lefts were to be rights.  even the indicator was on the other side of the steering wheel.  and (in error) i continuously set the wipers to movement.  it was a testament to how deeply patterned i am.  i am grateful that i could laugh (and received being laughed at)!  i comforted myself with the belief that this switch-a-roo was good for my brain.  the first couple of days i hit the sidewalk a few times.  that was incredibly humbling.  my friend paul, sitting in the front passenger seat, would belt out the word “sidewalk” in his lovely deep bajan voice.  and my friends would laugh heartily from the back of the car.  i could not believe that i was so close to the sidewalk.  but i was!!!!  the wheel rims knocking against the curb was proof!  i was mostly concerned with oncoming traffic.  i wanted to hug the curb.  over the course of the week i learned to find balance (between this side and that) and i gained much confidence in my daily bajan driving adventures.

olivia and sue enjoyed a week of my raw food wares.  we ate incredible local fruits and vegetables. and lots of coconuts!!!!  i think for them (maybe especially for olivia) eating raw food all day was like driving on the other side of the road.  it was unlike their regular at home life.  i think they enjoyed it though for they sat me down and gathered recipes into their journals.  a few times over the course of our week i gave them a “break” from raw and took them to experience some local food:  roti, yam coo coo, cassava, and fish cutters.  there was even one rum punch in there.  all for the sake of balance!

our trip was full of explorations.  of trying new things.  we surfed!  we hiked.  we swam in the salty salty water until our lips puckered and our fingers wizened like children who have stayed in a bath too long.  our skin turned red from so much sun (even before 9:30 in the morning).  we swam with colourful fish and sea turtles.  we took naps.  found shade.  read books.

for me the most beautiful part of this trip was people.  the strangers.  the new friends.  the old friends.  after supper we would tell our stories.  we talked of our children.  and of loss.  we told of our husbands.  we listened to one another.  and opened our hearts.  we laughed and cried at the wildness of this life.  and of our serendipitous coming together.  it was a great gift to spend such time with such incredible people.

and i will do it all over again next year.  and because life is so ever changing.  it will be different.  unique.  and maybe you will come and join me!

traveling this way

much of the time, i admit, i think i know.  i think i know what my day will be like.  i know the schedule.  the getting up and making lunches.  the making green juice.  the kids going to school.  me teaching yoga.  and it often goes like that.  i think because the routine often proceeds as planned i forget that i don’t know.  i forget something big might happen.  or something small.  it surprises me how life is so wildly unpredictable and seemingly simultaneously constant.  life to me is at once magnificent, mysterious, gorgeous; awkward, painful and horribly ugly.

i’m thinking about all this knowing and not knowing because saturday i’m leaving on an airplane.  and because for the past few days everyone around here has been talking about the storm sandy.  today i’ve been roughing out a schedule for our trip.  you see i’m taking a few people with me.  two people to be exact.  and they will have me as their personal raw food chef, tour guide, and yoga teacher for the week.  for months now i have been planning.  gathering recipes.  imagining adventures.  and today i began to pencil in our days.  a paper for each day.  home days where we stay closer to our beach apartments and adventure days where we explore the island of barbados.  i’m happy to write out our days like this with possible menu options and possible outings.  but it started to feel silly.  because i have no clue what is actually going to happen.  and then i wondered if i don’t know what we are going to do why should i dedicate this time  planning?  i think this is why i’m so nervous.  i can feel the high vibration in my arms and chest as i type.  i feel very alive.  very aware.  but not calm.

i imagine this is how i will feel driving the rental car on the “other” side of the road.  i will feel very aware.  today while driving i tried to imagine myself on the other side of the road.  i  figuratively put myself in the lane of oncoming traffic.  i didn’t like the feeling!

this feeling: this nervousness, this excitement, reminds me of writing tests.  or delivering babies!  all this preparation gets packed up.  i close the books.  stack all the papers with scribbled notes.  and i go.  i pack a bag and go.  dive into not knowing.

this must feel like a test (like old high school or university exams) because of all the expectation i have put on myself.  because i am bringing others with me and i feel the need to perform, to please.  and i want them to have a good time.  but maybe i can’t control that.  maybe people offering retreats don’t normally say that kind of thing.  or even admit to having “only” two participants!  maybe that isn’t the best sales pitch!  but i believe this to be true.  and honest.  i can plan and hope and dream.  and then i must let it all that go.  maybe i will let experience be the driver.  and see how that feels.  i’m guessing it might feel like driving on the other side of the road:  awkward and exhilarating.

next week three lovely woman will travel together for the first time.  and when i return i will let you know (my version) or what happened.

a warm cup

i have been making tea every day now.  and this is unusual.  tea, in the last number of years, has been reserved as an offering.  for friends when they visit.  but rarely just for me.

i think it is something in the colour of the trees right now that has pulled me back to tea.  pulled me to boiling mushrooms and cedar greens and sumac.  something about the shift in the air.  something about the longer nights creeping in.  something in the cedar and the chaga and reishi.  something of the mint and the sage.  maybe something of beautiful cup!

the warm cup in my palm feels good.  the taste of cedar divine.

and somehow the tea has pulled me back into the forest.  to bathe.  that is what be called it.  forest bathing.  and i am now enamoured. and freshly bathed.

i spent the morning walking through the forest, by the river, thru a meadow.  smelling.  touching.  tasting.  asking questions.  listening.  walking and sitting.  sitting and walking.  a joy.  an honour.  a blessing.  i am definitely ignorant to much of what the forest has to say.  but i am excited to keep listening.

thrilled also to get my hands dirty in these, perhaps, last warm days of fall.  thrilled to gather herbs.  to harvest the roots of the dandelion. to find the last ripe tomatoes.  to munch on sour sorrel and spicy mustard.

it was just that kind of day.  most of it spent outside.  mostly barefoot.  many dirty fingers.  solitary in my garden.  content to create space for next years plantings.

joyfully taking photos of cosmos and sunflowers.

and as i write this (myself so full of joy) i am thinking of some friends, some struggling with deep grief, maybe you, to whom i would like to offer a forest bath and a cup of tea in my garden.  maybe this is for all of us really.  this need for deep earth connection.  this remembering. may you create time to be in the forest.  i believe it is for rest.  and may we learn the art of surrender and renewal.  in some of my greatest times of grief i have made my way to the forest.  i sit against trees.  i often find cedar.  and i pray.  sometimes i sleep.  and i ask the forest to teach me how to let go.  i know that if i sit there i will learn.

may you find your way to the wisdom of the forest.  maybe some cedar or reishi will bring you there.  or maybe a cup of tea.

love chantalle