Rose Thorns in Waiting and Celebrating

Thursday Night Sushi on the Beach Ritual

Thursday Night Sushi on the Beach Ritual

June’s “Maggie’s Week in Pursuit of Boredom” is a success, particularly when I think of it as a “week of pursuing what brings me peace”. Not surprisingly, I never do achieve boredom, but I do stick to the #1 item on my daily “just being list” and give myself a lot of permission to do what I feel like doing that day. Other than the few appointments related to my tooth crowning and breast cancer management, for me “just being” during this week primarily revolves around reading (a most fascinating and empowering book, called “The Biology of Belief”, and to offset the technical parlance but nonetheless still be enlightened, “The Princess and the Goblin”), writing emails (almost as frequently as reading), and meditating (a whole of five times in one week) on par with visiting with friends and family (in person and virtually), followed by general writing and buying food. Out of interest, I keep track of the number and variety of activities that I spend my time on—a most insightful exercise—and find myself engaging in about 20 different types of activities, a total of 75 times. The one more rare for me activity that I manage to enjoy—and on the first day of the week, no less—is to see the “Maleficent” movie at the theatre. I also begin a new Thursday night relaxation ritual of Inspire Health online-lead meditation followed by take-out sushi (in my own container and with my own chopsticks) enjoyed at the beach. At the end of the week, I find it refreshing to be ok with not getting everything—even from the enjoyable list—done, and to be ok with what is. I realise that a lifetime of developing and practicing stressful habits will not be undone in one week!

The Writer Donning Protective Yet Stylish Radiation Treatment Garments: RT Scarf, RT Dress, RT Desigual Dress

The Writer Donning Protective Yet Stylish Radiation Treatment Garments: RT Scarf, RT Dress, RT Desigual Dress

Generally, since the surgery, with my reduced expectations for my energy levels and with the assistance of the few post-operative osteopathic sessions, I am feeling well. My nausea is mostly gone, helped by my healthy appetite and light Pilates and cycling exercises. The waiting around for the elusive scheduling of the radiation treatments makes me a bit antsy, although in time I learn to appreciate the time I have without these daily trips over the bridge and up the hill to the BC Cancer Agency. For the time-being, they are weekly, to various measuring, fitting, planning and tweaking appointments. I am grateful that I am afforded such care, with 3-D CAD (computer aided design) models of my body and the radiation beams, and that I am given—and naturally, take—the opportunities to give my input to these designs. I very much feel like an engineering project! I take the extra time to conduct various preparations for nutrition (including fermented foods), skin care products (containing just few pronounceable ingredients), and protective yet stylish garments. I also develop a new sleep-more-and-earlier strategy, which involves a spreadsheet log (until my new habits set in), and I find a new and familiar from my childhood spot for daytime napping: under a tree, in my own apartment no less!

The Writer Napping Under Her Ficus Tree, and Her View from Below

The Writer Napping Under Her Ficus Tree, and Her View from Below

Shortly after my surgical time of need, a number of my caring assistants and moral supporters experience their own accidental physical calamities. I desperately want to be there for them, to return the help that they offered me, and which, by wanting to maintain my independence, I struggled to accept in the first place. Some don’t need me because they have others in their lives to meet their needs, and others would not let me, thinking me too fragile so shortly after my surgery. My frustration at not being able to help gives me an opportunity to realise that it is easier for me to receive assistance from others when I know that, even if I cannot pay it back, I can always pay it forward to someone else who needs or wants my assistance.

The Writer with Visiting Friend at VanDusen Garden

The Writer with Visiting Friend at VanDusen Garden

And this realisation further helps me to be grateful, if not always entirely gracious, in receiving continued well-wishes and gifts (including some knick-knacks, which I have no affinity for and am, thus, least gracious about). I happily connect with friends and family over email, phone, Skype, and in-person during visits with out of town friends, spending some afternoons at the VanDusen Garden and on the sunny outdoor patio at the Vancouver Art Gallery Café.

The Writer with Friends at the Vancouver Art Gallery Cafe Patio

The Writer with Friends at the Vancouver Art Gallery Cafe Patio

I also spend a lovely weekend perched up at a cabin on Pender Island with my relatives, being treated to some delicious meals and spectacular views of nature.

The Writer Perched Up on Pender Island

The Writer Perched Up on Pender Island

Basil Plant, Glass Art, and Personally Made Recipe Book Gifts

Basil Plant, Glass Art, and Personally Made Recipe Book Gifts

In the mail, I receive more loving cards; a delicious-sounding personally made recipe book (to be tried, with the results documented in the Special Dish for the Week thread); a dozen home-baked dark chocolate, walnut, banana bread muffins; another Desigual dress, most fitting as a summer radiation dress (as it covers the sun-sensitive areas); a nearly complete collection of Julia Cameron books to augment my “Artist’s Way” book; a cheque with financial support offering; and a birthday card extending the celebrations to six months of birthday! I am also personally hand-delivered some tasty and nutritious treats, including saskatoon berry pies (saskatoon berries being even higher in antioxidants than blueberries); a jar of homemade raspberry jam; and a live basil plant, carefully planted in a bamboo pot.

A friend paints me a picture to complement an affirmation:

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.” (Walt Whitman)

Another friend risks my still sensitive reaction by dedicating her affirmation “To Maggie, My always in motion friend”:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (Albert Einstein)

Gifts of Painted and Quoted Affirmations, Books, Home-Baking and Homemade Jam, Cards, and Stylish Dress

Gifts of Painted and Quoted Affirmations, Books, Home-Baking and Homemade Jam, Cards, and Stylish Dress

I am very moved that a friend is inspired by the “bird trusting in her own wings” affirmation that I shared, and makes it into a ceramic tile for hanging on the wall. Knowing that I am not one for knick-knacks, she shows it to me during a visit, declaring that it is destined to another loved one. With tear on the verge of spilling from my eye, I ask her if I may have it instead, so that I may hang it on my wall and be reminded daily of its message to “believe in myself”, and to be reminded of the inspiration that I brought to my friend—a friend whom I encouraged in her decision to take up pottery once again, which she enjoys creating so much.

Ceramic Version of Trust Your Own Wings – Believe in Yourself, and Its Display Location in the Writer's Kitchen

Ceramic Version of Trust Your Own Wings – Believe in Yourself, and Its Display Location in the Writer’s Kitchen

The Writer and Her Breast Cancer Mentor Celebrating 5 Year Post-Surgery Anniversary

The Writer and Her Breast Cancer Mentor Celebrating 5 Year Post-Surgery Anniversary

Last week, July 14th marked my 5 year anniversary of my (first) breast cancer surgery. In the cancer world, this means something. According to the breast cancer medical establishment, and held onto by some with the breast cancer diagnosis, 5 years of “survival” typically indicates that the risks of dying from this condition are lower from that point onward; that you are no longer of much statistical interest to be followed, and you can say goodbye to your Cancer Agency doctors and regular check-up visits for good. Other statistics are slightly less optimistic, indicating that individuals diagnosed with breast cancers labelled as hormone receptor positive can have recurrences sometime after the 5 year mark. For me, with a second diagnosis in the six months before the 5 year mark, the occasion is a bit anti-climactic, though nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable and worth celebrating—because I am still alive, and life these days is better for me. To celebrate, my breast cancer mentor and long-time friend invites me to join her “cancer survivors” team’s “Boat to Nowhere” Saturday morning dragonboat paddle, and on the actual anniversary date, she joins me for an organically, locally and seasonally sourced dinner at the Exile Bistro in my West End neighbourhood.

This weekend, I consider my answer to the question that I am asked at a social event not particularly conducive for the potentially heavy news of my breast cancer: do I have any plans for the summer? I reflect on whether to focus in my reply on “treatments and recovery from illness”, or on “taking it easy and celebrating life”. I think the next time I am asked this question, I shall focus on the latter, and in the meantime, I have decided to make each day of the next 6 weeks a celebration of something that makes that day special.

Today, I celebrate the Eve of Radiotherapy Start Day, with tomorrow (Monday) marking the beginning of the six-week-long daily slow bike rides to my radiation sessions. Later in the week, I plan to celebrate a Call with a Waterloo Friend Day, and a Visit with an Injured Friend Day, followed by a Farmers Market Day and a Pilates Class Day. In August, I celebrate my 30 years in Canada on the 10th and my 17 years in Vancouver on the 26th. I welcome ideas and participants for “Maggie’s 40 Days of Celebrating Life”.

Another Rose Thorn Set Free

In my somewhat mad rush to get as much prepared and crossed off my to-do list before my surgery (to help deal with A Few More Thorns on My Roses), so that I could just relax and recoup afterwards, I end up adding a broken tooth to that list while eating a shrimp and veggie wrap for lunch on Sunday. Go figure! Luckily, my dentist is able to assess my tooth on Tuesday morning, and recommends a crown to save the rest of the already heavily patched-up tooth, the timing of which will depend on how I am feeling after the surgery. It’s almost as though my body is trying to ensure – just a little more – that I focus on *it* for a while. It is a little ridiculous, really.

La Brasserie Onion Tart, Steak Tartare & Rose Ritual

La Brasserie Onion Tart, Steak Tartare & Rose Ritual

Later on Tuesday, I do my onion tart, steak tartare and rosé pre-surgery ritual at La Brasserie with my good friend Diana after our Pilates class. We are seated at my regular room-corner table after being met by 4 grinning faces of waiters and cooks. “Just how often *do you* come here?” asks my friend. Apparently often enough! – but for all kinds of celebratory events!

Try and Don't Worry Mantra

Try and Don’t Worry Mantra

Not being even close to finishing all the pre-surgery tasks on my to-do list, I do manage to let the rest go and to get an early night in. I keep repeating to myself a new mantra from my new tanktop: “Do the best you can, and don’t worry”.

The next morning, I am greeted by several additional well-wishing email greetings when I rise at 5:30 am. Although it’s tough to get going so early, I am very grateful not to be made to suffer too long with an empty stomach – there would be plenty of time for that later! With surgery at 8:30 am, I am met by bright-eyed and stylish Diana at 6:10 am, with her bike on her car’s bike rack, so that we can bike-in the 30-min ride on this lovely sunny and crisp Vancouver morning, to be at the Mount Saint Joseph Hospital for 7:00 am. Rolo, Diana’s dachshund dog, is left at my apartment to greet us later on.

I awaken from surgery at 9:30 am, feeling fantastic at first, like from a really good deep sleep. Then my body and brain begin to catch up to the mild trauma they’ve just been through – and I don’t just mean being stripped into funny blue clothing, having my piercings taped up, and answering the same set of questions about four times! Apparently pronouncing my own full Polish name correctly is impressive, but not sufficient enough to assure the hospital staff that I am who I say I am, and that they will indeed perform the correct surgical procedure on my body. Deep down, I am grateful for the precautions.

I am taken to an intensive care recovery room for an hour, where I begin to feel increasingly more nauseous – and ask the nurse to call Diana so she can bring me my anti-nausea ginger root supplements when she returns for me with her car later on. After being offered a few medications, each subsequent one to deal with the side effects of the preceding one, I share with my nurses some of my natural remedies – such as the ginger root for my nausea, and magnesium for possible constipation – and they indicate gratefulness for being enlightened thus. At the end of the day, though, I do take a few regular ibuprofens when the freezing begins to dethaw, so that I can nap and sleep relieved from pain. Though my pain tolerance is rather high, I find it does tire me out after a while.

The Writer, Nauseous but Smiling

The Writer, Nauseous but Smiling

For the final hour at the hospital, I am rolled out to a courtained cubicle space to sit up and slowly begin dressing and standing up. The first bout of puke-reflex hits when I shift from horizontal to vertical – a pattern that seems to repeat in either direction throughout the day – but I manage to get whatever little I have in my stomach to stay down, at least until waking up from my post-lunch nap later on. Shortly after being brought in to this final staging area, Diana arrives – with my ginger root and her cell phone, so I can attend to my nausea while she gives word to my caringly and eagerly awaiting sister and mother, that I am indeed still ALIVE!

Before being discharged, I get my written instructions about the staged timing of the wound dressing coming off: the pressure padding comes off in a day (so I can shower!); the clear film dressing gets to be peeled off in 7 days (ensuring that the wound stays dry till then); and the steri-strips (that help to keep the scar thin) can be changed a week after that; while the stitches dissolve on their own after several weeks. At home, I am prepared with neem leaf and aloe gel (to help the cut heal better by keeping it moist); an onion extract gel (to help break down the scars and encourage healthy skin and to help the scars become less visible); and Arnica Montana (granules for dissolution under the tongue) and Traumeel (topical cream) homeopathics (to keep the bleeding and bruising down). And I am to see my surgeon for a check-up in 3 weeks, to ensure that the scar and the cut muscles are healing nicely. All this fuss for one little lump on the upper left side of my left breast!

The Writer, On the Way Home

The Writer, On the Way Home

On our way to the car, I am greeted outside by the ever-cheerful Rolo, the dachshund. We snap some photos along the way. Diana heroically straps my bike to her car’s bike rack. And we’re off home, stopping just once so I can get a breath of fresh air and *not* (accidentally) mess up her car. Once at home, I don my magical plush turtle slippers and we have some of the Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce that I pre-prepared for our lunch – my portion being but a tiny fraction of my unsatiated appetite, but I don’t want to risk it *all* going down the toilet right away. I lie down for a 3-hour nap, going through the puke-reflexes on the way down and up, but manage to recover without kissing the toilet bowl, yet.

Feet Up in Plush Turtle Slippers

Feet Up in Plush Turtle Slippers

Still feeling nauseous some minutes after being up again, Diana bravely and patiently undergoes the taking of my detailed instructions for how to make me some carrot-apple-cucumber-ginger juice, and produces a delicious nectar, which I sip in hopes of settling my hunger headache and queasy stomach. But alas, half a glass later, what’s left of my tiny lunch will not stay down, taking the juice up with it. It is nearly 5:00 pm at this point, so I think I’ve managed quite well. Where food fails me in quenching my post-anaesthetic sickness, my decision to go with my exercise strategy seems to do the trick. Still feeling pretty horrible, we set out for a walk to the end of my block. Feeling increasingly revived, we continue the procession of eager Rolo, quick-step Diana, and turtle-paced me, from block to block to block, turning to do a loop on the other side of the street a whole three-and-a-half blocks later.

Back at home, after resting a little, I crave the veggie lasagne Diana brought us for dinner. Again not wanting to risk losing her efforts, I slowly chew a tiny portion, and remarkably the colour and vitality begins to return to my face, Diana observes. Once again, I am impressed that my body knows that some exercise is good for it, and that despite not really feeling up to it, I listen and am duly rewarded.
We chat for a bit, mostly about food and recipes on my website as well as on Inspire Health’s, and about my possible options of moving for a bit to France after the summer’s intense treatments (including this surgery, and shortly, radiation) are completed, and I have recovered my energies a bit. I am making no decisions about anything post-radiation at the moment, and am keeping myself open to a variety of possibilities.

Different Creatures in Paris

Different Creatures in Paris

When Diana retires to her own abode and awaiting teenagers, I scan appreciatively through a few more well-wishing email greetings and open a well-wishing card that arrives from a good out-of-town friend. I smile at the content, and grin at the front picture – an image of different creatures hopping around and riding a basketed bicycle along the river Seine in the heart of Paris, with a bird confidently trusting her own wings and soaring through the wide-open skies. Umm-hmmm, thank you, universe, for sending me another little message. How did my friend in Kamloops, in the interior of BC, happen across such a fitting card, I wonder, as I fall asleep once more in my beloved Vancouver – feeling grateful for all the love and being happy wanting what I have – knowing that, if I don’t like it, I can always leave.

P.S. Writing down all this feels great, as I have not been writing my stories in a while.

A Few More Thorns on My Roses

After spending a lovely Christmas in Vancouver with some good friends, playing an old childhood game of pickup sticks on Christmas Eve after Wigilia dinner…then flying off to the South of France for an exotic New Year’s and writing retreat in Nice with a fellow writer and traveller from my Waterloo University days…and finally wrapping up the chilly and damp January in Mexico’s brilliantly warm Barra de Navidad near Manzanillo on a group writing retreat with fellow writers and new friends from the Canadian West Coast –

Pickup Sticks 2013 Christmas Eve / Barra de Navidad, Mexico & Nice, France 2014 Writing Retreats

Pickup Sticks 2013 Christmas Eve / Barra de Navidad, Mexico & Nice, France 2014 Writing Retreats

– back in Vancouver, awaiting me, was a most memorable Valentine’s date: one with my plastic surgeon and his visiting fellow from the Netherlands at the UBC hospital day-surgery ward. It was time for the little lump on the inner edge of my left breast – which we had been monitoring with ultrasounds and physical palpations for some months – to come out and get a more thorough examination under the microscope. While we were at it, I suggested that we also reveal the true nature of a more recent addition: a little neighbouring lump just above it. Two weeks later, at the start of my 41st birthday month (which this year turned into seven weeks of birthday!) the verdict was in: both lumps indeed contained an overabundance of my misguided cells, necessitating another round of medical-speak, calling it a “local cancer recurrence”.

A Few More Thorns on My Roses 2014

A Few More Thorns on My Roses 2014

Although the possibility of this outcome was not a complete surprise, the confirmation that a couple more thorns have sprouted on my roses does sink my spirits a notch. This time, the news causes a few tears to shed while skimming through the sneak preview of the results report as I mount my bicycle and head over to my surgeon so that we can discuss this finding in more detail. Feeling mainly disappointed, in that moment I feel once again betrayed by my body: I can’t trust it to move how I want it to or to remain still when I don’t intend to move, because of what they call dystonia; and I can’t trust it to keep my immune system in balance with my malignant cells when I make changes in my life to prevent this from recurring. Those are my initial thoughts of anger and fear; ones which quickly give way, though, to curiosity about what my body is trying to tell me this time. What have I not heard the first time? What more am I ready to hear now? I am more willing to listen this time! I know now that my past experiences are my clues to my future ones.

While my first thoughts had me flying off to France (le pays d’amour) for an extended stay – in order to do something now that I think I would like to do sometime but that realistically I don’t think I would do without having death nipping at my butt – I have since reconsidered for the time-being my plans for finding contentment there, and am staying put in Canada on the West Coast, where I plan to undertake a few treatments and to take the time to nurture myself, while working on finishing my book. A recent visit with good friends in nearby Victoria re-confirmed my current decision. Upon returning, I reflected on having good friends in all sorts of places and on the quote that I saw on my bike ride through a pretty cemetery in Victoria: “Smile, you live in paradise” – and I smiled, and looked about me, and thought to myself: yes, this is a beautiful part of the world.

Cycling and Writing in Paradise in Victoria

Cycling and Writing in Paradise in Victoria

This time last year, I was busily and excitedly starting out on my 3-month Book Writing Tour 2013, landing on June 11 in Paris to begin the European leg of my tour. This year, on that same date (June 11, 2014), I am heading into my next surgery at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital to remove another assembly of overzealous cancer cells. Shortly after, towards the end of June, I will celebrate my 3-year anniversary of working for the Federal Government at Natural Resources Canada, before my latest Term comes to an end. As I wrap up my work there – heartened by exemplary commendation letters and feedback of appreciation – I investigate my financial options, plan my conventional and complementary treatments, and prepare to make space in my brain and in my days to figure out how to transition my life to something that won’t keep trying to express through recurring cancer diagnoses – allowing wherever my book writing may lead to, to reveal itself.

Maggie's Bistro for Work Colleagues at Natural Resources Canada

Maggie’s Bistro for Work Colleagues at Natural Resources Canada

Now that I have broken “the news” to my parents, I share the details of my current circumstance more widely: to invite some renewed concerted good thoughts, well-wishes, and goodwill towards me; to lighten the burden of this knowledge on those already in-the-know (including myself); and to offer my insights on life’s silver linings.

Smiling Gargoyle's Wisdom on Happiness

Smiling Gargoyle’s Wisdom on Happiness

I would be delighted to receive some favourite affirmations to help me embrace my life, misguided cancer cells and all, so that they don’t feel the need to fight me. Some financial and culinary support is always helpful in these circumstances. Always appreciated is the knowledge that the writing I share makes a difference to the lives of others. And any source and sense of humour will be accepted with due consideration, because, as has been said before by someone unknown: “Don’t take life too seriously; no one gets out alive.”

And so, to my list of longer-standing affirmations:

  • Trust Your Own Wings - Believe in Yourself

    Trust Your Own Wings – Believe in Yourself

    “Happiness is NOT having what you want;
    it IS wanting what you have.”
    (Unknown)

  • “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie.” (Shakespeare)

I now add a few more:

  • “A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not in the branch, but in her own wings.” (Unknown)
  • “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Shakespeare)
  • “No judgement; no problem.” (Maggie)

Wishing you well / Pozdrawiam / Je vous souhaite bien !
Maggie / Malgosia
– living life alive – Maggie’s Way

P.S. I reserve the right to change my mind, any time, about any thing 🙂

Six Weeks of Birthday and Chance Encounters

My six weeks of birthday celebrations (turned into seven!) are nearing their end, but hopefully the serendipitous chance encounters I am also experiencing lately are not. And I am having lot of fun with both. These and other life, job and health goings-on are more or less connected with my book writing endeavour—and they certainly keep me sufficiently busy to not be also writing about them more regularly in my story posts. Some I now recount in this post, and others will perhaps be shared in future posts or will form more content for my book.

What is the story behind the six weeks of birthday, I have been asked a few times? Usually, I “just” celebrate birthday month, but the idea behind both is to make the birthday target big enough so that my birthday wishes are never early and never belated, and by making my birthday celebrations virtually impossible to miss, everyone can just feel good about my birthday!

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

This year, my birthday celebrations begin mid-February with a potluck Mexican dinner prepared with a couple of friends, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, from which I had just returned.

We feast on spicy tomato and avocado guacamole and sweet corn and black bean salad as appetiser. For the main course, we enjoy corn tortillas filled with deeply green spinach and cilantro rice, sweet peppers stir fry, grated cheese and sour cream (Americanised Mexican food variation). Dessert turns out to be extra-rum flambé bananas. It truly is a feast for all senses!

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

For another birthday celebration, a friend treats me like a queen, allowing me to assume my position in a strategically placed arm chair—which feels more like a throne—while she prepares for me a Thai curry dinner and showers me with the most thoughtful gifts of two kinds of dark chocolate, red French wine, handmade porcelain clay dish, and a hand crafted Pisces-themed birthday card. Not being one for accepting or giving material presents, I delight at my friend’s thoughtfulness on this occasion. During the evening we also enjoy a brisk walk down to the Fraser River to whet our appetites.

On my actual birthday day, I invite a friend and prepare a French Charcuterie Board dish, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, from which I had returned earlier in the year.

On another evening, two friends join me for an adventurous experience of dining in complete darkness at the Dark Table restaurant. The experience is designed to emulate performing all but one activity without the sense of vision, allowing a new perception of reality, where the senses of touch, taste, hearing and smell are intensified. I experience a temporary sensation of vertigo when I sit down, before I regain my sense of balance through the sense of touch by feeling my way to what is vertical (the wall beside me) and what is horizontal (the table in front of me). I also find that it is my sense of hearing rather than taste that is the most intensified. I complete my experience of walking in other people’s shoes by taking a trip to the washroom, where I need to be lead by a visually impaired waiter, much more skilled at finding their way without seeing with their eyes than me—and I redouble my gratefulness for my sight when I reach the toilets, which are fortunately, for me, fully lit. No meal pictures from this experience as they would have been rather dull without an infrared feature on my camera.

A steady supply of wine and tea with various friends nearby, as well as wishes and gift packages from friends abroad, see me through to the end of March.

Why would anyone ever stop celebrating their birthday just because they don’t like the number attributed to a particular year’s festivities?!

I continue my education on the book production process and industry by attending a self-publishing fair, once again organised at the Vancouver Public Library. There, I meet and listen to an apparently successful self-published author, Martin Crosbie, who very generously shares his discoveries of strategies to dramatically increase his books’ sales on Amazon. It is a little too early in the process for me to apply any of his findings, although it is encouraging to know that Amazon is not such a book selling mystery after all.

The Writer's Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The Writer’s Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

I also partake in an in-town, 1-day Writing Retreat, organized as part of the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group. I am grateful for the chance and for giving myself permission to dedicate this day to writing, which I rather enjoy, but sometimes—with a lot of other life going on—I find it a challenge to get to. I have a chance to network with other writers, sharing writing craft and industry tips over refreshment breaks and a healthful, delicious, seasonal, mainly local and organic lunch at Tractor Foods restaurant.

Keeping up my French ameliorations is one of the many activities competing for my time, attention, and sense of enjoyment—I really do enjoy learning and using this fabulous and romantic language. One evening, I go with a friend—with a similar passion for French—to see the movie entitled “Gare du Nord”. This movie is naturally quite artistic (i.e., a little confusing), and incredibly well done. It tells a story of the people, the ghosts, and the people who feel or are made to feel like ghosts, whose lives intersect at this Parisian jewel of a cross-roads that is Gare du Nord. On another evening, I head to a Vancouver French Meetup event for some conversational practice after work, only to find myself crashing a retirement party for a Federal Government colleague and serendipitously connecting with a Francophone acquaintance, with whom I parler en français for a good 45 minutes.

The Writer's Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

The Writer’s Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

My serendipitous encounters also take me on a search for the Celestine Prophecy book—which fortuitously is about apparent coincidences, their meanings, and possible ways of living life if one chooses to follow the path that these reveal.

This, in turn, leads me to finding my amazing, past yoga teacher, and to partaking in the Ocean Breath yoga retreat, which she leads the following month on Bowen Island near Vancouver. This turns out to be precisely the relaxing, meditative, peaceful, and insightful weekend getaway that I crave at the point that it takes place. I stay in this amazing little Garden Cottage that reminds me that “Everyday is a Gift”.

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

Between some relaxing and some invigorating yoga sessions; fantastic and healthy meals with inspiring conversations; nature walks that include a visit with Opa—the 1000 year old cedar—a walk around a secluded lake through a forest, and a walking meditation at a rock labyrinth: I spend time at my little cottage writing through my thoughts and working on my book, as I am kept company by a pretty pewter ferry and a friendly pewter humming bird in the windows.

Opa - The 1000 Year Old Cedar

Opa – The 1000 Year Old Cedar

I experience a new for me sensation while hovering my left hand over a round of white crystals—the air between the underside of my hand and the crystals feels cold, but only with my left hand. On the other hand, the air feels the same temperature below and above my hand when I try this with my right hand. I am not sure what, if anything, this tries to tell me.

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

My healing energies are invigorated by a resident energy healer and a couple of sociable sessions in a wood burning sauna. Having recently read another kindred spirit’s mantra about “When cloudy pool of water settles, it becomes clear”, I make it my intention for the retreat weekend. Though clarity does not fully crystallise just then, my time and encounters at Xenia make space for my spirit to breathe and calm my mind and body.

Back at home in Vancouver, I continue to inspire my senses with Special Dishes for the Week that include Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa and Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant.

What a delicious six weeks of birthday this has been!

Storytelling Poems, Songs and Plays – with Poem

The Writer's 2013 NaNoWriMo Workspace

The Writer’s 2013 NaNoWriMo Workspace

November turns out to be popular for pseudonyming. It goes by Movember, and more related to my book writing efforts, also by NaNoWriMo. The National Novel Writing Month is an international event that encourages and supports writers and would-be-writers to buckle down and …well… write! It adds a social dimension to the solitary activity, by holding write-in sessions at coffee shops, pubs and other creative-inducing venues. I don’t officially sign up to the 50,000-word novel in a month commitment, but I do check out a write-in—partly because it happens to be at the Storm Crow Tavern—a medieval-themed pub in East Vancouver that I have been meaning to drop by. The decor of board games, swards, goblets, and yes, crows, is a feast for the creative senses, as are the menu items—I feast on the chickpea fries and gulp down the mead. The other dozen writers are super friendly and welcoming, and I observe in amazement how they create in an atmosphere slightly too rowdy for me. I plan to return to the Tavern, just perhaps not at peak gathering hour.

Storm Crow Tavern Write-in

Storm Crow Tavern Write-in

The novel, however, is but one means of storytelling. In the last few weeks, I contemplate three others—the poem, the song, and the theatrical play—for telling my own story and for the stories told by others.

I have found throughout my years that when I want to boil something that I need to say down to its essence, I write it as a poem. I turn to this technique for some parts of my story, for which the narrative form would perhaps be simultaneously too confining and too revealing. On another day, inspired by my good friend’s work and our related exchanges, I likewise capture my existential contemplation breakthroughs in a poem, entitled ““Simply Because”. And I marvel at my own accomplishment: how often does one contemplate the meaning of life and come up with an answer?!

One foggy day,
the meaning of life
emerged:
contentment.

The purpose of existence
crystallised:
to live,
simply because we can.

Everything else
is an evolutionary bonus.

Taking my contemplations down a few notches, I ruminate on the story being told by those who wrote it as a song and chose it as the National Anthem for my current home country, Canada. More specifically, I consider the exclusivity of two words, “our sons”, in reference intended to invoke Canadian patriotism among its nationals. What about those nationals who are not “sons”? Since recently becoming aware of this as an issue from a national CBC radio program, I reflect on what story these words in the Anthem—as well as the reactions of some people to efforts to make these words more gender-inclusive—tell us about our history, our present, and our future. I am confounded by the resistance and the apathy, alike. Yet history, which I learn in the process, reveals that those lyrics in this song were changed 100 years ago, in 1913, from referring more inclusively, back then, to “us”. It appears that we regressed as a nation of purported equals. Sadly, the story being told by this song is quite telling. More than pondering, I think I do my part by expressing to my politicians my support for restoring the original gender-inclusive wording in this story. Words are very powerful among our kind.

And it is a powerful quote about “always having the power, but just having to learn it for yourself”—which resonates with my own story—that entices me to attend the “Wizard of Oz” musical. Having missed this wise tale during my childhood in the Eastern Block, I only discover its creative genius first in 2010, through the London musical, “Wicked”, then through the 2013 film, “Oz the Great and Powerful”. My childhood memories are better reflected in the moving theatrical performance from Montreal, “Moi, dans les ruines rouges du siècle” (“Me, in the red ruins of the century”), which I see en français avec surtitres anglais au Théâtre la Seizième. This real life tale of Sasha Samar growing up in the 1970s and 80s in the Communist Ukraine jogs my memories of certain small and seemingly insignificant details in my own story, which I promptly capture in my story ideas spreadsheet upon my return home. I also find this performance so affective and clever, because it is written and played out by the very man whose life it tells. Though it is really a story of an ordinary man doing relatively ordinary things while he lives out his life in a setting very familiar to me, nonetheless it captivates me, and encourages me to believe that these stories are worth telling. There is another common theme that weaves through the stories of Oz, Sasha, and my own, and it can be summarized with a quote from “Wicked”: “…where I’m from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it—”history”…” This I, likewise, contemplated earlier, while writing in London during my Book Writing Tour 2013: what really happened?

I augment these various forms of storytelling, which constitute my inspiring Artist Dates, with the practical matters of learning the book production process and industry by attending a panel presentation of professional self-publishers organised at the Vancouver Public Library. I try not to get too discouraged by hearing that in getting a book published and in the hands of readers, writing the book is the easy part—at the moment, I simply cannot imagine it getting any more difficult, but perhaps the speaker was not referring to the writing of memoirs! On the other hand, I find that reading about the book publishing process on the internet is well enhanced by the physicality of local self-publishing entrepreneurs sharing their practical experience in-person. Once again I am heartened by my fortune to be already working with a committed and supportive Developmental Editor.

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine Dish

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine Dish

On the culinary side of cooking up my life’s adventures, three of my tried and true dishes make their encore presentation one weekend. This version of the Zucchini and Chickpea Tagine features black beans (in place of the chickpeas) and matching fun sprinkling of black sesame seeds. Not much can improve the Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup, so I just follow the recipe shared with me by my friend in Hamburg during my Book Writing Tour 2013. And once again, craving the seasonal fungi, I prepare another Mushroom Risotto with the Asian assortment of wilder looking mushrooms. And for this week’s Special Dish for the Week, I whip up a Split Green Pea Mini Bouillabaisse of my own invention. I wonder how capturing the essence of such culinary delights might read like in a poem…

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine

Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto

 

Reconnecting with The Craft

Reflecting on a thought from an earlier story post—that “life tends to be a little full when you’re trying to live it and write about it”—I give myself permission to occasionally lapse a little on my current goal to post bi-weekly stories, which I established upon my return to my day-job from my Book Writing Tour 2013. Easing off the pedals is a strategy I am learning to implement in order, among other things, to keep from imploding on myself under the vastness of life-engaging possibilities.

Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

One of these occasions is the birthday weekend getaway for a friend, together with a few of her girlfriends, which we spend in the relaxing, if rainy, Roberts Creek on BC’s Sunshine Coast. We spend our days together savouring an abundance of very delicious dishes made with ingredients obtained during a damp but enjoyable walk to the village and a likewise damp but fruitful mushroom picking expedition.

The Writer at Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

The Writer at Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

Most fortunate for me, many of our companions come from the publishing industry, and some, too, are writers; thus, we enjoy many a chat while relishing the beachfront hot tub, warming fireplace, and elaborate candelabra. The sun does make a welcome appearance at the very opportune moment when I step down onto the beach to snap a few photos whilst the rain lets up. Sunday morning, before we depart, I get adventurous and make mulled wine out of the left over red wine, orange juice, honey, and some cinnamon that I find among the kitchen supplies—the Glühwein is a hit! And the Roberts Creek retreat inspires two consecutive Special Dishes for the Week: Quinoa and Chickpea Salad and Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Soup.

The following weekend, I spend feeding my soul at the Vancouver Art and Book Fair with a performance of a short story, entitled “I Fell in Love with Black”, from which I soak up the wisdom of the “Sky Cathedral” sculpture: “I only speak to those who listen.” The Art and Book Fair is held in the old Courthouse Chambers within the Annex of the Vancouver Art Gallery—itself a treat for me to see for the first time, and to momentarily feel transported back in time to another age. I learn from another presentation about a personalized yet affordable publishing-on-demand option that I may look a little more into when I get closer to that stage in my book process.

Vancouver Art and Book Fair 2013 at the Vancouver Art Gallery Annex

Vancouver Art and Book Fair 2013 at the Vancouver Art Gallery Annex

With two weeks passing since I braved, with mixed results, going dancing—and with publically tested affirmations of a less wiggly body this weekend—I decide to get back onto the dancing horse once more. Much to my relief, the evening proves relatively uneventful for my ever-vigilant self, and I find that I even enjoy myself, the music, and all the people who appear to be in a good and non-judgmental mood that evening. The one person, who distinctly misinterprets my facial expression, readily receives with a genuine smile my brief explanation that it was not intentional on my part; I feel relieved to have been able to get my voice to work; and we both get back to enjoying ourselves, perhaps a little more accepting.

Mid-week, I take myself on another Artist Date—this one, a play: “Assassinating Thomson” at the Firehall Arts Centre. I revel in appreciation for how this lone performer weaves his own story with the mystery surrounding the death of a famous Canadian painter from a century before. I leave this clever performance reflecting on several meaningful for me quotes, including: “Maybe you get to the point when you no longer grieve what you’ve lost, and you celebrate what remains” and “The story changes with the telling and with the teller”.

Turkey Livers and Multicoloured Veggie Dish

Turkey Livers and Multicoloured Veggie Dish

In my culinary adventures, one night, as an accompaniment to a colourful plate of orange carrots, green peas, yellow potatoes, and red tomatoes, I try out the iron-rich turkey livers that I previously acquired at a downtown farmers market outing. Prepared similarly to fried-up chicken livers, with sautéed onions, salt and pepper, and a dash of red wine, the turkey livers prove likewise tasty, though more gamey and not as tender. I may try them again, as a paté! On another night, I harvest more greens from my herb garden, grate a carrot, hard-boil an egg, make up some lentils, slice up an avocado, toss in some baby plum tomatoes, and sprinkle these with olive oil, balsamic vinegar glaze, and black sesame seeds, for a deliciously balanced—in flavour, colour and nutrition—super salad. Naturally, I enjoy both meals with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon each!

The Writer's Herb Garden Super Salad

The Writer’s Herb Garden Super Salad

Cette semaine, mes études françaises ont aussi recommencé pour les dix prochaines semaines, so that my French homework will once again compete for my limited book-writing time—but there is method in my madness!

While seeking balance between engaging in life and easing off, I plod away at my recent log jam of thoughts, and feel that I am reaching a possible resolution on one significant part.

Vancouver Writing Retreat Weekend 2013-09

The Writer at the Top of the World on Lynn Peak

The Writer at the Top of the World on Lynn Peak

After the quite intense return to my paid day-job, while attempting to also work at my writing craft, I settle into a slightly calmer week-day routine. On the Labour Day weekend, I reward my mind and body with a venture out to the top of the world. On a sunny Saturday morning, after a quick visit to the downtown farmers market, my friend, her doggie and I hike up the local Lynn Peak (elevation gain 750m) for a picnic lunch and spectacular view of Vancouver. Being seriously out of hiking practice, and having popped a muscle relaxant to help me breathe, I am amazed at the relatively painless 2-hour hike up—the hike down of the same duration tells of the steepness and the ruggedness of the trail. We are all pooped in the evening, and when our bodies snap out of the shock we have imposed on them, they scream at us in protest for a couple of days. The change in perspective is so worth it! That weekend I make another Thai-themed Special Dish for the Week: Thai Ginger Tofu with Oyster Mushrooms and Swiss Chard.

The following week, I make plans to write on a few evenings. These plans get promptly derailed by my choosing to do an above-average job at my paid day-job, staying late to do so—and by the knowledge that I have dedicated the following weekend entirely to working on my book. Besides, I am a little stuck in my story, which is demanding of me some deep soul-searching and self-analysis—not exactly conducive to tackling when most of the brain-power for the day has been used up on figuring out how to help keep Canadians safer from natural disasters (which is what I do in my paid day-job at NRCan). So, I turn to my thriving herb garden, instead, for some comfort and sustenance. My first home-grown greens of arugula, basil and cilantro accompany my shrimp-asparagus-spinach quiche creation.

Comforting Herb Garden Greens with Shrimp-Asparagus-Spinach Quiche

Comforting Herb Garden Greens with Shrimp-Asparagus-Spinach Quiche

After a bi-weekly Skype check-in with my Developmental Editor to brainstorm how I might approach the impending weekend Writing Retreat, I prepare in advance my France-inspired Special Dish for the Week for the following week’s lunches: Ratatouille Provençale, as well as food to take to the retreat—and I don’t manage to go either dancing or to bed early. It has been a while for these latter two activities. Life tends to be a little full when you’re trying to live it and write about it.

The Writer at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The Writer at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The 2-day Writing Retreat, organized as part of the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group, is within a 10-minute bike ride over the bridge that joyously has a separated bike lane. As a warm-up to the Writing Retreat, I participate in a Yoga and Writing Workshop—both activities employing the principles of free-flow: in yoga, movement and breath flow freely; in writing, thoughts that are often self-critical flow freely onto paper or the keyboard (akin to the Daily Morning Pages). This Workshop interweaves both elements within its 2-hours.

Throughout the Retreat, I try hard to resolve the block I am stuck on in my story, but am careful not to push too hard, as I already learned that lesson. The images I conjure up for myself are that of me, facing a log jam of thoughts, and spinning a spider web of analysis to try to get myself to move forward in my story. I do a lot of free-writing during the weekend-long Writing Retreat, and resolve to try a different, more physical approach to this predicament—perhaps I need to print out a few dozen pages and go at them with coloured crayons, stickies, and scissors, and see what happens. Trying this approach would really stretch me in a new direction, but after being in this state of stuckedness for over a month, I just may need to get down on my knees and get my hands to help my brain find a way out.

The Writer's Weekend Writing Retreat Office

The Writer’s Weekend Writing Retreat Office

The Writing Retreat proves productive in several other ways too. Having set aside nearly 24 hours to just work on my book, I give myself permission to reorganize some spreadsheet lists, catch up on some reading of a helpful self-publishing blog, and add to my potential storyline ideas list. Much of the weekend I spend feeling nearly defeated by the task of trying to tell my own story in a cohesive, written form, and am gratefully heartened by the feedback I receive from several retreat co-participants. My brief descriptions of “what my book is about” draw my fellow writers in, as they exclaim “I really want to read your book!” Externally validated, my wilting internal motivation is revived. Though it cannot take forever, the memoir process will not be rushed…and I feel more ok with that as I emerge from the Writing Retreat.

I am also finding that writing need not be the solitary occupation that it is sometimes presented as. With about 10-20 of us in the large open space at any given point during the Retreat, though we do not speak with each other while we write, it feels that we are connecting on some level; the energy is almost palpable. Likewise, collaboration between writers can occur in the same room, or across countries and continents. In the past weeks, I have the good fortune to mentor from Vancouver my writer-friend in Ontario on setting up a website similar to mine, which she plans to use to recount her tales from her upcoming EuroTour. Earlier, when putting together my website during my Euro-Canadian Book Writing Tour 2013, I was learning the ropes from another Ontarian writer-friend who had been building her website ahead of me for sharing her literary projects. My good fortune in this writing collaborative of course also includes my US-based Developmental Editor and writer colleague—to name but a few global writer connections I have amassed thus far. Once I open up these website updates of my writing process more publically to the cyber-world, I hope to hyper-link with them.

Luscious Super Salads with the Writer's Herb Garden Greens

Luscious Super Salads with the Writer’s Herb Garden Greens

Naturally, I round out my weeks with more delicious, nutritious—and otherwise luscious—dishes. I have several super salads with the greens from my herb garden, observing in amazement the abundance of such a small growing area.