Thursday, February 1, 2018

Life Lessons With the 5-Second Rule

I dropped half of my toasted English muffin on the floor of the kitchen at work.

And then I ate it.

It was only there for five seconds.

It hadn’t yet been slathered with the inch-thick glob of peanut butter I usually apply, so surely nothing would stick to it. I dusted it off just in case, glanced over my shoulder to make sure no one was around, then slathered on the peanut butter and chowed down like it was nobody’s business.

And I didn’t die.

The muffin was barely on the ground five seconds before I snatched it up. For a brief second I wondered if the ‘open’ side of the muffin – the side one would typically spread something delicious – being face down on the floor would be worse than if it had been the ‘wrong’ side, or the outside of the muffin. But the ‘side’ of the food touching the ground truly wouldn’t matter.

The food that had been on the floor that hadn’t been washed since God knows when.

And I didn’t care.

And again, I didn’t die.

And as I ate my now likely plague-riddled muffin, I thought about ‘five seconds’ and all that can happen in that seemingly short amount of time - aside from food being near-infected by dirty kitchen infestations.

The five second rule – when it comes to food, that is – has long been argued, proven/disproven/proven, de-bunked, tested/re-tested, agreed/disagreed and gagged over. Scientists and doctors and myth-busters alike have long queried the probability of bacteria clinging to food in a short amount of time. Many refuse to eat ANYTHING that has fallen on the floor, yet many scream FIVE SECOND RULE at the top of their lungs when something delicious like a brownie hits the floor – as if screaming it will scare the germs away and ward-off disgusted looks from others in the room. But I contradict myself - I often think twice about WHAT the food item is before pleading the rule of 5 seconds before devouring. If it’s a glomb of oatmeal I’m not going to lick it off the floor. If it’s a piece of $20 steak? Well you can bet your barbeque sauce I’ll be snatching that tasty little morsel off the floor faster than the cat can come charging over!

My peanut buttery, plague-riddled muffin nearly gone, and my body still intact and no worse for wear, I further contemplated those infamous and highly controversial ‘five seconds’ so many equate to food and germs. A lot of GOOD things can happen in 5 seconds. Yes, a lot of BAD things can happen as well, but in the spirit of speaking and acting positive this new year where I’m sure science will, once again, take a turn and discover a new reason not to eat food off the floor, here’s a list of GOOD things we can do in five seconds – to make this world a better place – if only for a second:

1. Smile. Yep. Just smile. Try it. You won’t break a sweat. You have time – just do it.
2. Say ‘Good morning’ (and fake it if you must). Two words. That’s it.
3. Say ‘Good morning’ AND smile – that’s a double whammy there, but it’s worth it.
4. Say ‘I love you’ and mean it.
5. Hug someone. SQUEEZE them. Squish the snot right out of them.
6. Think a happy thought – but then if you’re like me where one thought leads to the next, then the next, then next, then the next, then the next, then the next, then the next, and then suddenly a whole hour has gone by and you have done nothing but stare out a window and think and then for the life of you you can’t figure how you got to thinking about why the worm you saw that morning on your walk was so big – what DID that guy eat for breakfast? – and you can’t remember what your original happy thought was and then……*deep breath*….you’re exhausted. Just a QUICK happy thought then. One that will only take five seconds.
7. Wipe the crumbs off the counter into the sink. You don’t even have to use a cloth. Just a quick swipe and they’re GONE! (*this is a hint to my family, but it’s a good reminder for all)
8. Stop and admire a tree. Yep – just a tree. Any tree. Walking somewhere with your head down and feeling in a funk? Look up for five seconds and admire that tree standing there waiting for you to admire. It’ll be thankful you paid attention to it for once, and doing so will give you pause out of your funk. Go on – try it. Give BACK to that tree.
9. See some litter? You know what to do….
10. And last but not least – blow your nose (but privately). It’s healthy and socially needed – nobody likes someone who always sniffs.

Yes, these have gone from the obvious to the absurd, but every little bit counts, I say. But in this world where we are neurotic germaphobes - gloves for this, sprays for that, antibacterial gels strong enough to near-peel the skin off our hands - eating a few germs off the floor will likely do us a world of good (build up our immunity), do the WORLD a load of good by not wasting food, and those POSITIVE five seconds will remind us there truly IS so much good we CAN do – for ourselves AND each other.

Remember to make the most of every second, and doing great things always happens in little increments – either eating something off the floor laden with germs before five seconds is over, or doing something little like smiling at someone to make their day – it’s what you DO with your time is what matters. Make every second count.

So drop that steak, brush it off, pop it in your mouth and smile at that tree. You won’t get sick and you’ll be happier for it - and full!

(Disclaimer - I'm no scientist and have no medical or scientific knowledge or background to support or argue the hygenic/non-hygenic merits of eating food off the floor. It's not for everyone, and to each their own and all that. So like I tell my kids - 'if something doesn't feel right, don't do it!')

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Pineapple Express to Polar Express: Getting in the Spirit of Things

And just like that – Christmas is here.

People say it every year that ‘Christmas just snuck up’ on us – as if we didn’t know it was coming for the last 364 days of the year. One minute it’s summer, then it’s back to school, then Thanksgiving, Halloween and Remembrance Day (in that order if you’re in Canada), then WHAM! It’s deck the halls, untangle the lights, and start panicking!

And this year, for me, it simply DID sneak up on me – and I think the weather played a big part in what feels like Christmas’ sudden appearance. Because it truly feels – as cliché as it is – that just yesterday was summer. I spent the summer on the archery range, and even up until the middle of October I was out there with just a t-shirt and shorts. I was still swimming in the lake at the end of September, the trees with their changing leaves reflecting on the waters’ surface. Aside from one FREAK snowstorm one Thursday night merely a few weeks ago, we truly haven’t had much of a winter – yet. They say it’s coming and will hit us hard when it does, but until then we will enjoy all the rain and above normal temperatures we have been getting. A Pineapple Express weather system courtesy of Hawaii has been soaking our Christmas wrapping paper along my beloved west coast – or should I say ‘wet’ coast. There have been clouds, clouds and more clouds, bringing rain, rain, and more rain. But what is specific to this Pineapple Express is the temperature - warm, warm, and more warm - with temperatures being up around 15 degrees Celsius (59 for those in Fahrenheit). Yes, the buckets of rain we have been getting make playing outside a tad challenging, however not totally impossible, and the warm breeze that comes through when the rain DOES decide to take a break is rather....alarming. I hope Santa brings his bathing suit.

But Hawaii we are not, and Christmas is coming no matter what the weather. Today (as I write this) the sun is shining for a mere few hours before the rain hits again. No frost, no runny noses, no brisk mornings and chilly fireplace-needing nights. Yet, Christmas is supposed to be a feeling – a season – a way of being of spreading goodwill to all men, no matter what day or time of year it is and no matter what the weather is ‘supposed’ to be. I think it feels like it ‘snuck’ up on us in part because our weather had been so nice for so long that we haven’t had ‘winter’ yet to put us in the mood. But even if we WERE in Hawaii, where when it rains it pours but is gone faster than you can grab your surf board, Christmas would still come and all the lights and baubles would still twinkle and sparkle. Just like here, but hotter.
Most stores were politically correct in waiting until after Remembrance Day to allow ‘Christmas’ to explode all over their aisles and shelves, and I’m so very, very thankful they have finally started waiting until an appropriate time (it didn’t always used to be like that). But I don’t blame ‘lack of decorations’ on my lack of Christmas enthusiasm. I think it’s because I have been in a blur these last few months, changes and transitions making me pensive and reflective and therefore sabotaging my creative spirit. So it’s only been recently when I’ve run into a store and the silver, gold, holy and ivy have smacked me in the face that have I sort of ‘come to’ and realized how much time has passed while I was grey.

I needed my bells jingled.

I needed a little sparkle.

And despite the rain and dark clouds in the sky and in my head, Christmas decorations are still going up on every street corner while strings of lights are just about all untangled.

So where I had been in a foggy cloud of pensive self-reflection, I now realize that the Hawaiian Christmas we are seemingly having, along with the materialistic glitz and glam that has thrown-up in the stores and on the streets, is maybe just what the doctor ordered. Maybe seasons, celebrations and annual events are needed to stop and think and assess all that we have, no matter the weather, no matter the tradition, no matter the ebb and flow of the polar express of change. Maybe, after all, it wasn’t the lack of traditional Christmasy winter weather that didn’t get me in the mood, but maybe it was ME that prevented me from getting into the spirit of it all. It’s been a weird year, personally and globally, and despite all the great things I have done this year, despite the most important being that my family is safe and healthy, I let clouds get in the way of seeing the sparkle that is there year round. I think I let the rain we have so recently been deluged with water-down my already non-Christmas cheer.

But I also realize that Christmas suddenly appearing all over the place actually put me in my place; it woke me up enough to get me out of my pensive cloud. Sure the clouds have ACTUALLY been around for a while – all those pineapples whamming up against the windows and whatnot – but who says I have to keep MY head in the clouds? Who says I have stay in the grey? Yes, things change – transition is always upon us no matter what – but we have to keep going. We have to keep watching for the bright and shiny around every corner, no matter what time of year and no matter the weather. Deep down I know things could be so much worse. Perspective bops me on the head every so often, and right now I guess I needed that candy cane to whack me over the head. Heck, I'm lucky I even get to HAVE 'Christmas' with all it's festivities, glam and glitz, and indulgences. A season is what you make of it - excitement, joy and love are there for the taking no matter one's beliefs.

I have to keep looking up, and not down at the puddles. Puddles DO eventually go away, and before we know it Christmas will be gone, a new year will be here, and spring will be making an appearance. It’s time to get out of my funk, get creative and get DOING, and get in the Christmas spirit - because time keeps flying by. And I intend on enjoying every moment of the Pineapple Express while I wait for the Polar Express that always comes our way no matter what, no matter the weather.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Here's to October the 13th, My Chiropractor and Whatever Else is Out There....

It’s Friday the 13th, the most ominous day for the superstitious!

And to make matters worse it’s in October, the most frightfully haunted superstitious month of the year!

And of course, as always, the day and its ‘meaning’ is on my mind. What will happen today? Should I be afraid? Many pessimists and realists will say, ‘It’s just a date. We are the masters of our own destiny. You are just ‘looking’ for things to happen.’ I believe anything is possible – I also believe in the possibility OF things – so for me, anything and everything is possible. And can happen. And is real.

True or not, stuff happens, not just on this day, but on any day. And of course, it’s an ominous kind of day out there, the grey clouds overhead reflective of what may or may not happen. A sign, perhaps?

A few weeks ago after my chiropractic treatment, the doctor and I were looking at the calendar and planning when would be my next regularly-scheduled three-week visit. He flipped the calendar pages – it was still September at that time – and the quiet, soft-spoken man that he is looked up me with a hint of a smirk and said, “Three weeks from today will bring you in on Friday, October 13th. Are you sure you want to do that?”

I swear I saw devil-like horns coming out of his head.

I gulped and made the appointment. He wrote down my time on a card and then handed it to me with that same demure, devil-like smirk. He’s a quiet one, but man oh man, it was then that I realized gotta watch him.

(Note: I have been seeing him for a year and I very much like him, his bedside manner, and the results I have had from his care.)

So today as I anticipate my chiropractor visit with the joke of it being on Friday the 13th, I contemplate: is anything truly cracked up to be what we think it is? Many folks don’t agree with, or are afraid of, chiropractors. And despite their skepticism some folks have tried that practice of medicine, but without no success. Then there are the folks who don’t ‘buy in to’ the omen-filled Friday the 13th. Those same folks don’t believe that things happen for a reason, citing that our destinies are solely within our control.

‘What works for one might not work for the other.’

I believe in the practice of chiropractic medicine – it works for me. I believe in the spookiness of Friday the 13th, and this one being in October is a double-whammy. The practice of chiropractic medicine has been around since the late 1800’s, and October the 13th has been considered a most unlucky day since what seems like forever – depending on who you ask, of course.

So is it a matter of IF we believe in something hard enough then - in our minds at least – it’s true? Is anything really real? They say our minds are more powerful than what we really realise – so powerful that we can out think reality and what is true? But who’s to know WHAT is true? And who has the final say in the matter? Is anything we experience really REAL, or just an over thought figments of our imagination; if we believe it to be real, then it is real.

Wow, Friday the 13th is making me very philosophical! But I’m no philosopher and have never had a philosophy class. I’m just a girl who thinks a lot and feels a need to write about her thoughts, whether they make sense, are contradictory of each other, or erratic.

Some people that had previously sworn off ‘this or that’ were made a ‘believer’ simply through experiencing it themselves. Then there are those who believed in ‘this or that’ and automatically became NON-believers when something didn’t go their way. Did that mean they still actually believe in it, even if it means believing against its’ possibility?

Again, the heavy thoughts today….

I go to the chiropractor because I believe in the practice. I keep my wits about me as I venture outside on this Friday, October 13th. I know what I believe, and I’m content.

So today as I wish I was still curled up in bed, and the rain comes down, and the clouds stay grey, and I anticipate my much-need chiropractor visit, and I throw salt over my shoulder and avoid black cats like the plague, and wish those same clouds would clear tonight so I could wish on a falling star because one WILL appear right when I want it to if I believe hard enough, I also know….

…given that I can write about any of this tells me I’m upright, alive, thinking, being, hurting, healing, fearing, believing, contradicting and existing, and that I’m pretty lucky I get to experience all that, and more. And that’s a fact.

Believe it or not.

Authors note:

The often-considered controversial practice of chiropractic medicine has been around since 1890.

The history of the unlucky belief of Friday the 13th is also controversial in its origin

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cleaning Out the Closet

It fit me like a glove and I felt good wearing it.

Made of red cotton eyelet fabric – lacy and feminine but not too revealing, if you know what I mean – and with a hint of ruffle on the cuff of the sleeves, my favourite blouse was girly, but not too girly. Sure it needed ironing after being washed, but the cotton was sturdy so I didn’t have to worry about any snags.

But after a few years – it lasted THAT long – my favourite blouse had finally had enough. The unrepairable wear-and-tear practically screamed at me that the time had come; it had worn-out its’ welcome and the time had come to hang it up for good.

But good-byes aren’t my thing and I have a hard time letting go – of anything.

It was my favourite blouse and I knew I’d never find another like it. I wonder if in some weird neurotic recess of my brain was hope that if I just hung it up in my closet and left it alone that it would repair itself. I mean, why else would I hang on to something that couldn’t be fixed, right?

So it sat there in my closet, its finery longingly gazed at every so often, holding court among all the dispensable clothes I could so fickly let go of at the drop of a hat.

Fast forward four years – yes, that’s how long it had been – and we were yet again at that time where summer changes to fall seemingly overnight. Running around downtown for work wearing light and airy little skirts with my little white KEDS runners and my legs bare just wouldn’t do any more. It was time to pack away summer to the far reaches of the closet and switch over to fall and winter attire.
And as I rearranged, sorted, and put too big/small/outdated clothes in a bag for charity, my favourite red blouse silently hung waiting for me to make a move. With hope and nostalgia coursing through my veins I tried it on – it still fit! – and then I analysed the fabric for any remote chance of repair.

Finality and truth washed over me and my shoulders slumped in acknowledgement: The time had come, to say good-bye. It was time to let go.
So with a heavy heart I by-passed the charity bag and my favourite blouse went right into the garbage. It would be insulting to send it to charity – the blouse was that far gone – and if I was sewing like I did many years ago, I’d be savvy and re-purpose any salvageable fabric. But it was done. There was no going back. I had to move forward and let go and let the past be the past and let the memories of wearing that favourite blouse carry me forward and know I had definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it and, and, and…..

But as I finished sorting my fall and winter clothes I realised one thing: I had been managing just fine all these years without my favourite blouse in regular circulation. Maybe I didn’t really miss it, but I just missed the idea of it. Other garments had come and gone and still made me feel good wearing them, and I was never forced to go to work naked (just like those ‘showing up at work naked’ nightmares we sometimes get?)

My life didn’t change without that red blouse (and I never showed up at work naked, either!). My sense of self-worth and being didn’t come to a grinding halt without it, either. Leaving it in the closet taking up space didn’t change anything. I had other clothes I could wear and there were bigger, far more important issues that needed my attention.

And despite hanging on to it for all those years, I had been forced move on and forced to accept change – without even thinking about it. Just as September usually speeds along and the mornings get cooler and cooler, we naturally throw on a little sweater or jacket and go on about our days. We go with the flow, are no worse for wear in assimilating into fall, and still chug along despite summer being over. Summer lovers despise us autumn lovers – those of us who rejoice at the first sign of cooler days and crunchy leaves on the ground. But seasons come and go whether we like it or not, and we have no choice BUT to get used to the new season at hand. Things – objects – can’t stay forever, and in the end they are only that – THINGS. Adjusting and making accommodations is all part of life.

The bag of clothes went off to charity and my favorite blouse went in the garbage - as well as a few thread-bare socks and unmentionables that had been taking up space in my drawers. A lot had happened over those four years of the blouse taking up space in my closet, and when I look back now, I realize I really truly didn’t miss it – and it really didn’t matter in the great scheme of things.

My thinner closet and drawers made me feel a whole lot lighter, freer, and not as bogged down. Stuff is just STUFF, and that red blouse was a reminder to just let stuff go and keep that closet of in our minds as clutter-free as we can. I held on to the blouse hoping it would miraculously change, but of course it never did – things often doing miraculously change on their own, and we still get on with our lives inspite of it all. I DID carry on without that blouse and it’s only purpose all these years was to take up space in my closet that could have been use for other important things (I also store books in my closet!).

So while everyone mumbled and moaned about the end of summer and the inevitable arrival of fall and all the ‘bad’ weather it brings (which is a matter of opinion – I LOVE the rain), I skipped through the fall leaves at the promise of a new start – a fresh start. And what made the skip that much skippier was the realization that letting go was the best thing I could have done for myself, and I ended up with a cleaner closet, at that!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Who I Am

Who am I?

It’s an age-old question – and is there ever truly a correct, definitive answer? We ‘think’ we know who we are at various stages of our lives, but do we ever truly KNOW? The question of ‘who am I?’ is all very philosophical and a philosopher I am not, so for my own purposes – and for the purposes of this writing – I will be exploring ‘who I am’ in the sense of my nationality and ethnicity, from a very SIMPLE point of view.

And I know I will likely be blurring nationality with ethnicity, but I’m a simple girl trying to figure out who her simple self is, so work with me here....

Take, for instance, the concept of ‘we are what we eat,’ but in a cultural sense. What we eat can often define who we are and where we come from. And apparently as a Canadian, and a West Coast girl at that, there are certain foods I’m supposed to like or eat on a regular basis - just because of where I live. But what if I don’t like those things? Does that mean I’m not Canadian? Does that mean I’m not truly a West Coast girl? So then, therefore, who am I?

Historically speaking, and to make it all sound so much more glamorous than it really is (for the sake of entertainment), I was born on an island – Lulu Island aka Richmond to be exact – surrounded by ocean and river waters. Confusing, but true. Years later I moved to another island - Vancouver Island, to Victoria to be exact – only to be, yet again, surrounded by ocean waters. So being surrounded by ocean water means that seafood is BIG in these parts, with salmon and crab on many menus.

But I guess I’m a disappointment to all Canadians, West Coast folks, and especially my family because I don’t like salmon or any kind of fish, crab or any other kind of shellfish. However - just to contradict myself - I like tuna from a can, shrimp that comes frozen in a bag, de-veined and de-everything-ed, crab or lobster that has been de-shelled for me and looks nothing like it's original form, and fish and chips that are made for me, and all preferably in a restaurant. But not salmon in any form.

When I tell people I don’t like salmon, they are simply AGHAST – especially people I meet from across Canada or overseas (I live in a tourist town, so I meet lots of folks). They are shocked to know I have always lived here yet don’t indulge in any of the local fresh seafood, and even more shocked to know I don’t go fishing.

I know it’s all very contradictory. I WISH I could be one of those people who goes down to the boat docks and buys fresh seafood right off the boats like everyone else. And I know people come from MILES to experience what I have right in my own backyard.

So does all this mean I’m not a West Coast girl? It’s ONLY seafood after all.

But then am I still Canadian?

So I have to really wonder about my Canadian-self because I don’t like poutine and I have never had a Beaver Tail. I hate smoked meats, and don’t get me near at tortiere (a meat pie made with all kinds of ‘meats').

Buy maybe there is hope for me yet, as I love Tim Horton’s, Nanaimo Bars, Butter Tarts (I didn’t know butter tarts are ‘Canadian’), potatoes, and Labatt’s Blue beer. Finding this list of ‘Canadian’ foods sent me on a further tailspin, but at the same time gave me hope. (click here)

I was born and raised in this country, still live here, so I truly do know I’m Canadian. My birth certificate tells me so and my driver’s licence, however horrible the picture, tells me so, as well. But am I really who I think I am?

And does hating all these culturally specific foods make me a fraud? Am I not who I think I am?

I have to talk to my parents on that one, I guess…..

Aside from my birth certificate telling me I’m from British Columbia, Canada, I DO know I have strong Irish roots on both sides of my parents (don’t many of us?), so maybe that plays a part in my hating all these different kind of Pacific Ocean grown seafoods. I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of girl, or more to the point, potatoes in any format. I love stews, tea, butter and bread. I’m no expert in Irish foods, but when I read this list of Irish-typical foods, my stomach growled and my heart longed….until I noticed their affinity for salmon and shellfish. (click here)

Despite the landing papers from my great, great grandfather showing him arriving to Massachusetts, USA from Galway, Ireland, I still wondered…

Right about this time during my self-identity crisis, my sister took a DNA test through – you send in a sample of saliva, and your DNA ‘will be analyzed at more than 700,000 genetic markers then with in 6-8 weeks, you get an email with your online results.’

To think that these days our ethnic and geographic origins are basically at our fingertips with a few spits of gob! Who knew spitting would actually be useful versus disgusting (at least we aren’t doing it on sidewalks). We can finally answer the age old question - Who Am I?

So with technology making our ancestry and heritage questions more easily answered, maybe we can all be a bit more sane and settled with ‘who we are.’ (Except for the cases of discovering information about ourselves and ancestors that can be shocking and life-altering, but that’s another blog post in itself.)

So given she’s my sister and we ARE related (AS FAR AS WE KNOW), we all watched her live performance of ‘extracting’, sealing and mailing her precious spit, then waited in anticipation to find out who we are – and more importantly, WHO I AM.
But of course with the Pony Express having imperfections as we all humanly do, the spit got lost in the mail. All that waiting only to have her spit lost and leaving us wondering if someone is going to clone her (hey, that would make for a good story….)

So again, my conflicted inner self had to wait and wonder about who I am for a while longer....

So again with another kit in hand, my sister extracted her spit and again we waited with baited breath - our own spit intact. I secretly wondered if some sordid family history would be revealed – it would make for good daytime TV drama, if nothing else.

And the day finally arrived....

The results: a high percentage of Irish decent with a good percentage of....Scandinavian? THAT was a surprise! Now I know that each sister would have a slightly different test result, otherwise we'd be twins, but it's safe to say that I 'THINK' we are all pretty much the same. Although we didn't expect the Scandinavian influence (wanna go Viking anyone?), the results were pretty much as expected.

But the Irish AND Scandinavian mix still has me a bit perplexed, however. They are all big seafood lovers, why aren't I?

And is one little DNA test or one little fish really gonna tell me WHO I am?

Not only does it go to show you aren’t always what you eat – and for that matter, you can‘t be judged on what you do and don't eat - but at the end of the day spit, blood, landing papers, and epicurean tendencies cannot truly define who you are. Yes, we all have a genetic, cultural root basis, and just like the tides in the oceans separating me from my lands of heritage are always changing, who we are is always changing. I know I'm Canadian. I know I'm of strong Irish decent. I know I hate seafood, except for all my caveats and contradictions. Maybe I WILL like seafood one day. And heck - for all I know maybe I will move and become a citizen of Vanuatu (Google it) one day. Who knows?

But as my family, who are only merely separated by geographic location and nothing else, all watched my sister spit in a tube via the wonderful thing called the internet, I realized: no DNA test is going to change us. We are who we are NOW.

And just as importantly, I know who I am NOW, I love where I live NOW, and I love what what I do NOW. And I know I will always love and adore my family near and far for all time, no matter who they are.

Because at the end of the day that's all that really matters, and that's all I need to know, and my family is more important to me than worrying about the never-answered question of who I am.

Now off for some fish and chips....

Friday, July 14, 2017

Be Bold and Barbeque

On the July 1st long weekend when everyone was out celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, we were home having a barbeque funeral...
…not a ‘funeral barbeque.’

Yes, we were having a funeral for our barbeque – and in turn had a barbeque to celebrate the barbeque funeral.

Confused? Grab a cold beer, sit back in your lawn chair, and try to follow along…..

Many years ago our dear friends handed-down their older super-SUPERsonic barbeque to us; stainless steel all over, multiple grills, burners on the side, the lid so massive you need two hands to lift it. We were overwhelmed by its extravagance yet we knew we had hit the big time owning something so elaborate! This thing could cook anything, DO anything, BE anything and I suspect if I knew the right magic words it could transform into half barbeque/robot/spaceship.

It was a very generous gift and we DID use it but we eventually realized it was a bit….daunting. The thing weighed more than me – even during my extra-chocolate days. It took up a better part of our small patio and was somewhat overkill for us simple folk. We aren’t big time barbeque-ers, but we DO like your run-of-the-mill burgers, hot dogs, and chicken. It was a bit finicky to start, as so we were warned by our kind friends, but because it was more of a chore to start/use/clean because of its finicky ways and size, we didn’t use it as much as we should. In turn fun things like backyard barbequing (despite it being in the front yard) were all but non-existent and I hadn’t made potato salad or swatted flies off food for eons. I was itching to do something summery.

And with the cover on the fancy barbeque was just a big black in-the-way monstrosity. I felt burdened and weighed down by this ‘thing’ we weren’t even using. We just kept walking by it day after day, year after year, ignoring it, pretending it wasn’t there yet acting like we ‘should’ keep it, all while feeling…..closed in.

Added to that - I was terrified of it.

It wasn’t just the size that intimidated me but the scary combination of gas, sparks, flames and smoke that kept me near my indoor stove top. Sure I might be able to flip a few patties on it, no problem, but start it up with a spark and some gas? Forget it.

At least we knew I’d never grow up to be an arsonist.

So the fancy barbeque I never used sat right outside our kitchen window and not only was the perfect perch for neighborhood tomcats to taunt my indoor kitty, but the cover was a perfect place for the same tomcats to ‘mark their spot.’


Maybe it was the celebration in the air what with Canada turning 150 years old, but we suddenly found our long-dormant barbeque-bug itching to get barbequing. So we half-heartedly pulled off the gross barbeque cover and after wading through all the mold, too many bugs to count, bits of fur from creatures I dared not guess, and trails from slugs who had travelled from afar found under the lid, we couldn’t get the great beast started. No amount of tinkering or fiddling was gonna get it going; it was old, dead, gross, and falling apart (exactly how I feel on those extra-chocolate days).

We will be forever grateful to our friends who gave us the barbeque but sentimentality aside, we just didn’t have the wherewithal to try to get it fixed. And to be honest, its passing was a relief. Not only did the barbeque’s death mean we would gain much-needed space on our patio, but it meant we could get something smaller yet big enough to make just burgers or hot dogs – never mind simple enough for me to start without worrying about blowing up the island on which we live.

So the older, heavier version was upgraded – or downgraded depending on how you look at it - hence the barbeque funeral.

We got a simpler, much smaller, single grill, one switch, light-lid barbeque that weighs less than me. I can turn it on without too much fuss and stress (I still get nervous), we can make run-of-the-mill burgers or hot dogs, and we have room on the patio to jump out of the way in case I set the food on fire.

We feel free, liberated, lighter, and decluttered. The new barbeque has inspired us to have more dinners outside (plus the cat is a lot happier), therefore fostering more family get-togethers with my boys. You’d think we never had barbequed before!

But I realize now that getting rid of the old barbeque and getting a new one really meant so much more than just a few greasy burgers….

The last year or so has been one of many changes, so getting rid of the barbeque was just one more final ‘letting go’ of what had been weighing us down and holding us back - from doing fun things like backyardin’!

And ‘letting go’ also means letting go of fear. I had previously deemed this year the year of doing what scares me – to do what I fear most.

Getting a simple-start barbeque was, I realized, on the menu. Yes, we needed something smaller so as not to feel cluttered, but being bold and barbequing without fear, stress, drama or injury was freeing in itself (and I’m not the only one out there who is afraid of barbequing, as I have come to learn). Sure gas, sparks and flames are still involved but with this barbeque they are on a MUCH smaller and manageable scale – plus I have lots of room to jump out of the way if things go awry.

I will always be so very grateful to our friends for giving us their very extravagant barbeque, and our desire for something a little simpler is not a reflection of our seemingly lack of appreciation - au contraire! It was just time to get back to barbequing, and on a smaller scale!

So in the coming weekends as I crank the gas and flick the switch to spark a flame, I’ll throw on a few patties, blink the smoke out of my eyes, enjoy my family, and be proud of my newfound skills – and be bold and barbeque!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Interview With an Illustrator

Joanna is like a crow. She sees something shiny and she instantly wants it – or more like draws it.
And it’s not diamonds or emeralds that sends her her heart aflutter. Things made of metal weighing up to 3,000 lbs and sporting a diamond-like finish are what grabs her attention and has her swooping back around for a better look - or picture. As an illustrator for most of her life, Joanna Szasz Vandervlugt has found her niche in drawing anything with wheels – cars, motorcycles, bicycles, the list goes on - things women are not typically known for drawing. No matter the shape, size, age and import, with a wave of her pencil, marker, and brush, Joanna can bring out the sparkle in any mode of transportation.

And not only does she do commissioned portraits of people and vehicles from clients around the world, but her work has been made into greeting cards which not only does she sell for charity, but are featured in stores around the country.

Lisa: Thank you so much for joining me here, Joanna! Tell us a bit about yourself…When did you start illustrating? What got you started? Did you go to school – take classes have a degree? How many years doing cars and motorcycles?

I drew as a child and in my teens I created charcoal portraits. As soon as I went to college, I stopped. I blame my Economics class. I then met my husband, got married, and had children. Twenty years later I tried drawing again, but I was disappointed at my result. I figured I had lost “the eye.” I crumpled up my sketch and never talked about it. Ten years later (at age 48), I started drawing again at the encouragement of my best friend. I remember how pleased she was when I told her I bought a bigger sketch book. After about 6 to 8 months, the drawing skills came back, and so did “the eye”. I’ve been drawing and illustrating for 3 years now, attending a handful of art workshops, but I’m basically self-taught.

Lisa: Did you start with pencil then go on to paint and marker? Was there a progression? What did start with and what do you use now? What is your favorite medium?

Joanna: As a teenager I used charcoal pencils. I did an illustration of Colin Farrell a couple years back with charcoal pencils….it’s not that easy. I started creating illustrations with watercolour pencils. Then one day I saw the fashion illustrations of Hayden Williams (a British Illustrator) and his illustrations blew my mind. To create art with such vibrant markers, I had to get some and soon six markers grew into 72.

Lisa: Did you always draw cars? Always people? Was there a subject matter you mainly illustrated in the early days and If different than vehicles, how did you evolve into doing cars and motorcycles?

Joanna: Given I started drawing in the ‘80s during the Supermodel era; I’ve always loved drawing people. I’ve drawn Linda Evangelista, Christie Brinkley, Andi MacDowell. My mother wouldn’t let me have a boyfriend, so I survived puberty by drawing the members of Queen over and over and over again.  I would draw using People magazine photos or record album covers. That’s how I taught myself. My mother was amazed and I think relieved that I could spend 6-hours on a summer’s day, drawing. She knew I wouldn’t stop drawing until I got it right.
I started drawing cars because a very good friend, Lisa Verhagen, asked me if I would illustrate her husband’s Sprint car. I said sure. One car illustration led to another car illustration.

Lisa: What’s your favorite to illustrate?

Joanna: I love illustrating people, especially their clothes and if they’re involved in movement. The motorcycle illustration of the girl, those jeans took me 2 hours to colour. I loved it. My favorite illustrations involve people, motorcycle and cars. One day I hope to have an illustration involving all three.
Lisa: Do you have a favorite car? Old or new? Classic or modern?

Joanna: It depends on the car. The classic cars are full of curves and character and there’s usually a story behind how the owner obtained that car. I like hearing about the back story of a particular vehicle. Yet the European sports cars, such as Porsche and McLaren, wow! But besides cars, motorcycles are really cool to illustrate, lots of bends with pipes and air valves. I have learned that tires, be it car or motorcycle, are not round. Tires are oval.

Lisa: How do you feel as you are creating? How do you feel when a project is finished?

Joanna: I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do. I get so into the process. You and your fellow writers will totally get this, it’s like I’m not in this physical space. My husband once called me from work and he thought I had been napping. I explained I had been drawing. His next question was if I had lunch. No. then I better eat something. When I’m really close to finishing, I won’t stop. When I’m done, I’m happy. Sometimes if there’s a quick turnaround time to get that illustration to the client, then I’m also a little sad that I’m letting that picture go so soon. I’m also excited to give that picture to the client and see his/her reaction. I feel like I’m giving that person a gift. That’s a pretty special feeling.

Lisa: Do you ever get ‘stuck’? If so, how do you deal with it? How do you work through it? What do you do to get out of it? How do you get ‘unstuck’?

Joanna: I get stuck. Sometimes when I’m really wondering how to colour something, I’ll colour that object last. Windshields are always tricky, the least favorite part of the vehicle I like to colour. I actually have a process when starting to colour a picture. I always start with the black areas. The drawing process is long and I feel a little uneasy when I first put down the colour, that’s why I start with plain black to build my confidence before I move on to the trickier colours. I will also get my husband’s input. I’ll never forget my first car illustration, it was the Sprint car, and the drawing looked great, the spouse being a car guy, looked at it and said, “It’s too small. The client’s husband races this car. The car needs to be bigger.” You can imagine the look I gave him, but he was right. My husband is my biggest fan yet also my biggest critic. It’s perfect. There have been 3 commissions which I have started drawing over again. It’s got to look right, and I won’t hand it over unless I think I’ve got it.

Lisa: What inspires you? WHO inspires you?

Joanna: The everyday people who take the risk to do something different. My daughters inspire me, both of them are pursuing different careers. The Bear Mountain shuttle guy, who is touring Canada with his band. The risk takers who are pursuing their dreams. With risk there is success and disappointment, but by not pursuing my dream, I’ll have a greater disappointment in myself than if I had tried and been rejected. Keep trying. Three years ago I never thought I would be communicating with a Professional Brazilian Motorcycle Driver or have a lady in Germany buy one of my art cards.
My icons are David Downton, a British Fashion Illustrator who has been commissioned to illustrate the Obamas, and he has illustrated Fashion icons, and the late William Davies, a Canadian illustrator. William Davies used reference photos, and learning that made me realize its okay using a reference photo. I’m very hard on myself when it comes to art.

Lisa: What are you dreams or goals for your creative self? Where would you like your career to go?
I’m shooting big. I want to be known internationally as “that female car and motorcycle illustrator.” Go big or go home, right? I want to ship art to Brazil or Germany or London, to communicate with clients overseas about their car illustration.
I would also love to spend 6 months in London, Paris or Venice creating art. Start the morning by walking to a local bistro, get my coffee and head back to where I’m staying and start creating my next illustration.

Lisa: What do you fantasize about doing in your creative career? Commission a drawing for Mario Andretti? If there is one car or motorcycle you would love to draw, which would it be?

Joanna: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sitting in his father’s, Mercedes-Benz 300SL, and for race car drivers, I would like to illustrate James Hinchcliffe standing beside his race car.

Lisa: Is there a famous person who you dream about illustrating?

Joanna: (smile) Yes. Benedict Cumberbatch.

Lisa: What advice would you give someone who is struggling with their progression? Struggling with a piece they are working on? On the verge of giving up?

Joanna: Never give up. Scribble. Doodle. Try a different medium. If an artist is struggling with a piece, ask why that piece is so difficult? Maybe it’s the subject matter. Maybe that artist loves to illustrate gardens and has found herself/himself illustrating a house. After each piece I complete, I take a 24 to 48 hour break. I’ve tried jumping right into the next art piece and it never works. There’s always some sort of mistake made when I do that. Remember why you’re creating. Numero uno, I create for myself. I also need to get something out of that commissioned illustration.

Lisa: Do you have any pets? If so, do they inspire you? Get in the way? Become models for your illustrations?

Joanna: I have my miniature schnauzer Ozzy. That dog is good for my soul. I know I’ve been drawing/colouring too long, when he comes up to me, stands on his back paws, and paws my leg with his right paw. That always makes me feel guilty.

Lisa: I understand you do commissions and that some of your work has been printed as greeting cards? Where are they sold?

Joanna: My Etsy store is JoannasArtandCards and I just sold my first greeting card to a lady in Germany. Yes, my car illustrations are made into art cards and available on my Etsy site. However, when it comes to portraits, those I do not sell to the public. I consider portraits very personal and should not be mass produced. If an individual would like a car illustrated or a portrait done, I just need to be emailed a reference photo at joanna.vandervlugt(at)
I’ve sold art cards locally and a large supply was purchased by the Metropolitan Pit Stop in North Hollywood, California. Over $300 was raised with the sale of the Puppy Love cards and the proceeds from those card sales went to Broken Promises Rescue, a local volunteer organization that rescues all animals, dogs, cats, horses, etc. In terms of my 11 x 14 illustrated portraits, I’ve sold many locally and just recently to a professional motorcycle racer in Francisco Beltrao, Brazil.

Lisa: Is there anything else you would like to share about your work?

Joanna: I’m on Instagram as Jvandervlugt_illustrations and Facebook as Joanna Szasz Vandervlugt. I’m very selective in friend requests on FB, so if you’re interested in following me on FB, maybe just drop a line that you’re a fan of my work after reading this article.

Thank you for joining me, Joanna! I hope everyone enjoyed getting the behind-scenes-peek into the life and work of such a talented illustrator. Be sure to check out Joanna on line!