Last Day

Today was my last day at a job I’ve had for over seven years.  I had that  job before Nolan could talk, while I lived in Calgary, long before I met Corey, when the Jeep was clean and free from jam stains and splattered lattes on the ceiling.  I worked that job in my yoga pants with puffy eyes and determined focus, intent on building my career as steadfastly  as I was building a new life for my baby boy in a city of glass on the West Coast.

The job took me on day trips to LA and four day jaunts to New York City, it showed me American cities I’d only seen before in the movies: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago.  It introduced me to some of the most whip-smart women I’ve ever met, and it demanded hell and high water from me.  I was happy to give my everything, though, because in return it gave me flexibility.  It gave me the opportunity to breastfeed my baby while I held calls with clients and typed with one finger, and to shamelessly bring a hospital grade pump to a working Conference weekend.  It afforded me the opportunity to take an eight week maternity leave in a country where most women take a handful of weeks.

But of course the one constant in life is change, and I am at a crossroads in so many ways in my life.  I have a smoldering passion that will die if I don’t address it, I have a deep urge to create solutions that mean something, signs are clanging in a million different florescent ways that I have come to a fork in the road and I can’t just stand here panting.  I have to veer sharp right, and then off the path, and go tumbling into the trees, aiming for something above satisfaction and hovering around delight.

I’m going hard after delight.

Weekly Paleo Favourite: 7-Ingredient (Vegan AND Paleo) Ridiculous Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies

Weekly Paleo Favourite: 7-Ingredient (Vegan AND Paleo) Ridiculous Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies

The thing about Paleo right now is that it’s kinda like the Fat Free thing was back in its heydey — everyone is madly scrambling to amble on the bandwagon. A scan through Pinterest reveals things like “salted caramel paleo cheesecake bites” and all kinds of exotic variations of desserts and gourmet appetizers. This diet that is supposed to be all about simplicity seems to be anything but, these days.

I’m all for Paleo Cheesecake. Hell, I want to try it myself. But I know that Paleo “cheesecake” will only be marginally better for me than the full fledged cream version and therefore should be reserved for only pretty special occasions if I want to retain any leanness at all.

Anyway: that was a long winded way of saying: try these cookies. They are amazing, and 100% better for you than regular butter-and-flour-laden chocolate chip cookies. That said, they are still chocolate chip cookies and are not meant as a replacement for broccoli.

If you want to be uber-strict paleo, use unsweetened pure dark chocolate. But these are better if you use milk chocolate chips – which aren’t at all paleo.

Ingredients:

5 cups almond flour (finely ground)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
3/4 cup agave nectar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup pure chocolate chips (unsweetened dark or milk, your call.

1) Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.
2) Mix wet ingredients in medium bowl.
3) Make a well in dry ingredients, add wet and stir.
4) On a parchment lined baking sheet, bake at 350 for about 8 minutes, or until edges are golden.**

Makes about 2 dozen small cookies. These freeze well too!
** eat at least a few while they’re hot.

One Year Ago, Today

When I reignited my blog, I promised myself that I’d write something down every day.  But I’ve realized that many days, my head is too full and I don’t have the resources to untap anything of interest.  On those days, I’m going to start putting down a “One Year Ago/Now” photo gallery so that at the very least, I’ve captured some snippet of time visually, even if the words aren’t quite there.

 

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What an amazing, astonishing difference 365 days can make.  In so many more ways than one.

What Makes It Worth It

Through the uneven plastic slats in the window, pallid rays of light spill on to the floor, on to her arm. Blue veins, ridged and painful, create mountain tracks on thirsty skin.   It’s stretched thin over birdlike arm bone: wallpaper thin, peppered with brown spots.

Her remaining teeth are sore, the fake ones feel like plastic chiclets in her mouth, foreign.  The food is always cold, boiled eggs.  There are cutbacks on hot food:  groceries are too expensive now.

There is a picture on the desk, beside her bed,  next to the hospital sheets: her family.  Three children and 8 grandchildren, countless great grandchildren but she remembers every birthday, and sends cards and a twenty and sometimes she’ll get a thank you note back.   She keeps every picture, rehearses every conversation over in her head.  Each one of those lives is interwoven inexorably with hers. The TV is on with no sound, her hands, blue and dotted, are sitting on her lap. The nurse, making her rounds, silently drops off some tepid coffee.  Life breathes outside, beats, continues. Legacy.

**

Mom!,” says Nolan, suddenly, urgently, a propos of nothing ” What happens when I die?  I won’t ever see you again?”  Tears sprout behind his eyelashes and I tell him that when he dies it will be like the time before he was born, a time he doesn’t remember, but one that must have been nice because he cried so hard when he came into this world.  He’d been reluctant to leave that place where he was. It had been safe there.

***

There’s Syria, and people gassing children, and cancerous tumours that erupt out of what should have been a mosquito bite.  There’s discord in the economy and uncertainty about the future, and every year someone predicts that this is the end.  Nostradumus said.  There are too many people, dictators with bombs, salmon swimming in the ocean with Fukushima radiation coursing through their bodies.   There’s fear: pulsating always against the fragile shell we keep wrapped around ourselves to mask the fear:  laughter, routine, coffee in the morning.  We’re getting old, all of us, and there’s nothing to look forward to but boiled eggs, relegation to a quiet room.

***

Our friends have a newborn baby and I hold her in my arms and there it is in her eyes: that inexplicable newborn wisdom, that ability to stare into your soul and see all the jadedness in there: the decency buried below.  My own baby runs sideways in my line of vision, toddler belly protruding, arms outstretched.  My older son helps him get the ball into the basket and claps his hands, and my eyeballs slap against wet.

The baby stares at me in that indescribable fleeting newborn way and I look at her, and I tell her she is beautiful.  I hand her to my husband and he cradles her and she is so tiny in his arms.

I stare at him staring at her.

That morning on the dyke in 1988 when the rain pounded and my Dad rode behind me on a wobbly 10 speed as I raced toward a dream.

That weekend in 1997 when my brother was drafted to the Canucks, all blond thick hair and giant arms and gratitude for the bright light of the future.

The morning a boy first told me he loved me.

That summer night in Bangkok with the gum and the tiny girl with the dirty dress and glow-watt smile.  Her hug.

Watching one of my best friends quit her job to save the whales; realizing the magnitude of difference of a single person to alter the course of the earth.

Nolan, tiny arms, first seconds, that engulfing, indescribable love.

In the filthy Jeep, when I’d given up hope,  Corey with his sleeveless shirt and green eyes, leaning toward me.

Our wedding on a silent winter beach, perfect.

Jude, unexpected, the completion of him being born.

Shared stories, courage, banding together.

Life’s snippets of hope and joy crush the uncertainty and scariness of Old Age, World War III, unemployment, illness.   I think, anyway, perhaps because I’m sitting naively in the best portion of my life.

This is what makes it worth it.  I don’t understand why.

***

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Weekly Paleo Favourite: Unbelievable Pad Thai

I traveled to Thailand about 8 years ago with my brother and his girlfriend and fell in love with the landscape, the culture, and the food.  In a land of spectacular vistas and amazing people — the highlight was still the food.  I had some pad thai out of a dilapidated sidewalk cart in Bangkok and it was probably the most delicious thing I’ve ever ingested in my entire life.

My love of Thai food has persisted, though on a Paleo diet, I haven’t been able to eat as much: rice and noodles are fairly pervasive throughout Thai cuisine.  But I started experimenting a few years ago when I was trying to come up with some creative Paleo recipes for a food blog, and years later, I think it’s close to perfect.

This dish is kind of a pain in the ass to make.  It has a ton of ingredients and your kitchen will be covered in cutting boards, pots, and cilantro remnants.  But oh, man, will it be worth this.  I’ve served this a few times when we’ve had people over for dinner, and it always gets rave reviews.

Caveat: this is not a 100% Paleo dish, as there is salt in the fish sauce, soy in the soy sauce, and the brown sugar is obviously not permitted on a strict paleo diet. But it’s pretty damned close, which is what I aim for in my diet, and overall a very healthy meal.  You could cut the sugar out if you want to be really badass, but the sweet/salty/sour/spicy combo is what makes this dish so damned mint.

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Ingredients:

2 medium sized spaghetti squash

2 medium to large chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (sub tofu for this and the shrimp if you want to go veg)

15 prawns, de-shelled

1 tsp. corn starch

1 tbsp. low sodium soy sauce

3/4 tbsp. tamarind paste (dissolved in 1/4 cup steaming water)  You can find tamarind paste at any Asian grocery store, or probably in the Asian section of your regular grocery store too.

2 tbsp. fish sauce (I use a bit more, but this one’s according to taste)

1-3 tsp. sambel olek (I always use 3 heaping teaspoons!)

3 tbsp. brown sugar

3 cups fresh bean sprouts

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3 green onions (sliced)

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

1/3 cup crushed or roughly chopped cashews (I stuck mine in the coffee grinder and pulsed for perfectly crumbled cashews)

1/4 cup no or low sodium organic chicken or veg stock

1 or 2 red chilis, sliced

handful of wedges of fresh lime

2 eggs

virgin olive oil for stir frying

***

Steps

1. Poke your spaghetti squash with multiple fork holes and stick them in the oven at 350 for 45 minutes or the microwave on high for about 10-14 minutes, depending on size of squash.  The squash tastes slightly better out of the oven but is hella more convenient nuked – which is the way I almost always do it because who has an hour to roast stuff in the oven?

1. Mix cornstarch and soy sauce in a shallow baking dish.  Add chicken breasts and shrimp (or tofu) and marinate for 15 minutes or more.

2. Put large pot on medium heat, add olive oil, smashed garlic clove and hot pepper if desired.

3. Add chicken and shrimp to pot and cook until cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Cut chicken into small bite sized pieces.

4. Make your pad thai sauce: mix dissolved tamarind paste with sambel olek, brown sugar, and fish sauce, and whisk till all ingredients are mixed nicely.  Sample spoon.  Delicious?  Add more fish sauce if you’d like.

5. While your chicken and shrimp (or tofu) are cooking, chop your cilantro and onion, slice your lime into wedges, and grind up your cashews.  Put them all in little individual bowls.  Or just leave them lying around on your cutting board, prompting your husband to grimace in dismay at the overall state of the kitchen (he’ll forgive you once he tastes this.)

6. Add 1/4 cup chicken stock to the chicken/shrimp/tofu pot.

7. Remove spaghetti squash from microwave. Cut open, remove seeds, and then remove strands of spaghetti squash.  I use a potholder to hold the squash down while I dig out the flesh.  Spaghetti squash is a bit of a pain bit it makes a surprisingly awesome noodle substitute in this dish.

8. Add spaghetti squash to pot.  Crack open both eggs, and add to mixture as well.  Stir with wooden spoon.

9. Add in all 3 cups of bean sprouts.

10. Add in your pad thai sauce (the brown sugar/sambel olek/fish sauce/tamarind mix)

Taste test.  Add more fish sauce or spice if needed, but I bet you it’s not.

Ladle into bowls.  Top with green onion, cilantro, and cashews.  Squeeze lime over top of the whole shebang.  Seriously, you won’t believe how good this is.

 

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That Place You Can Go Where Nothing Else Exists

The Jesus is Lord Church is blue, and white, and I am almost positive it is supposed to be welcoming and cheery and I’m not sure it’s not because I’m reluctant or because there’s a pervasive smell of mold from underneath the carpet in the foyer.

I am 14, in a new city, and I am all giant freeze-dried bangs and blue eyeliner in a land of baggy jeans and universal Keds.  The girls at my new high school have already decided I’m vermin, and so I reluctantly accompany my Mom to Church because the misguided law of grade 10 dictates that in Church you will find either shockingly misbehaved rebel kids or long skirted quiet girls who do not care that they have been labeled vermin.  They may or may not be nice to you, depending on their level of tolerance for your unsaved soul, but the chance of a friend in a frigid city is worth the risk.  And I think my Mom thinks I need friends.

I don’t remember anyone being particularly nice.  I remember hands in the air, and shaking and sobbing by about half the mass attendees.  I remember odd syllables strung together in a hysterical kind of chant.  I learned later that this was called “speaking in tongues” and it both intrigued and terrified me.

That’s a cult,” says my McDonald’s coworker when I tell him about what I saw,”All those people, blindly following, doing and saying weird things and trying to make everyone else do the same.  It’s a scary cult and you should never go back.” He adds salt to the fry trays with great authority and I believe him.

That  Church was my one and only experience with anything remotely cult-ish, until recent years, when I’ve heard kind-of-joking-kind-of-serious comments about my preferred exercise method.  The people who work out in the same fashion I do employ strange language (WODS! AMRAPS!) , yell at each other indiscriminately while sweating, and frequently hang out together voluntarily on weekends.  There are some parallels to the tongue-speaking shaking people at the mildew Church, for sure.

There’s a whole horde of people who say that CrossFit is super annoying and from an objective viewpoint, I get it.  But from a personal, highly biased lens, CrossFit has richly enhanced my adult life in ways I would have never thought possible.

I’ve written about it in various places on the Internet, and I believe it still: my body in my late thirties is better than it’s ever been, and that’s all because of CrossFit.  I have motivation to stick to a healthy diet because I’m firmly addicted to the strength I feel when my body is well oiled.  I like the notion that I’m getting better and faster as I get older, that I’m not relegated to a sagging butt and orthopedic shoes just because I’m not 24 anymore. And the intensity and fierceness of a hard CrossFit workout is the only thing in the Universe that can entirely  remove the stress of the fact that things are pretty unknown and stressful in my life right now.  If I weren’t  Crossfitting, I’m pretty sure I’d be dependent on other methods of relaxation, and they almost certainly wouldn’t be adding muscle to my body and clarity to my brain. Crossfit helps me understand what I am capable of, and provides the motivation to go after goals that seem impossible.  The radiating benefits extend way beyond exercise into my relationships, career, aspirations and life path.

This weekend, there was a team CrossFit competition in West Vancouver.  I entered Corey and I four weeks ago, before my little house of cards caved in on itself, and though I considered cancelling, I’m so glad I didn’t.

At the team competition there  was a diminutive girl in red shorts, hucking 170 pounds over her head.  There was a Daughter and Dad team who hugged during transition to a rower, capturing hearts with their heart. There was the familiar hum of encouragement, and a drive to test the boundaries of bodily capability.  There were people cheering as other people conquered goals they’d never reached before.

And yes –  I understand that this whole Crossfit competition thing is basically about how furiously and heavily you can exercise.  You are reaching and gasping and striving to be a better exerciser.  And that, on paper, seems ridiculous.

But paper can’t convey the emotion of a goal achieved in front of others.  It can’t capture the value of that moment of absolute peace, when you are deep within yourself and cannot conceptualize anything else but that moment of time.  It doesn’t take into account the power of your body being temporarily in control over the sometimes destructive and worrying forces of your mind.  It doesn’t relay the importance of a community of people who truly wish one another greater power and higher limits.

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There is also something soothing about Corey standing beside me.  He never says much, just quietly encourages me.  He’s never disappointed when I fail, and more thrilled when I am when I reach a milestone.

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(I’ve always wondered about Nolan’s curious tongue-sticking-out-while concentrating habit and Oh.  Now I get it.)

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(Photos by Sharon Thielmann, who we call Mama T. She frequently cooks for the team, and brought Corey and I delicious homemade food when we were sick with pneumonia, and I was pregnant with Jude.  If this is cultish behavior, I’ll take it any day.)

The Silver Thread Beneath Your Feet

Corey would rocket to the moon tomorrow if he could.  If he could purchase a budget pass on a sketchy-as-hell orbit rocket with a dubious safety record and the potential for a once in a lifetime thrill, he’d be all over it, scoping out rad space suits with zero hesitation.

He thrives on newness, challenge, the thrill of impossibility morphing into reality.

“Let’s move to Zimbabwe, we can work from anywhere.”

“Write your book, dammit, we can live in a box while you do it.”

“Let’s do it now and figure it out later.”

“Mediocrity is for the boring.”

It’s part of the reason I love him so much, the exact precise reason why he terrifies me.  I’ve never possessed that abandon, and prefer almost always to walk the known, familiar yellow dotted line than to veer over to the candy stripes and moon rock.  I have always believed that I’ll get ahead in life via dogged hard work and relentless loyalty, not because I’ve taken a whim flight to the moon to pocket never touched rocks.  I’ve never been OK with the idea of living in a box, and slightly elevated mediocrity is not the worst thing in the world, right?

But this last week, something snapped, and my neat little neat house of false stability teetered, collapsed, and started pouring blood all over everything. It’s a long story, and one that’s not ready to be told just yet.  But I was shocked, and shaken, and later in the day, when Jude ran by in his laser kitten onesie,  brandishing a stinky doggie, giant belly leading his way, I started crying, because god, these kids.  My boys.  My years of chugging and plodding and choosing the dotted yellow line of the familiar highway — that was for the boys.  Wasn’t it?

“The sooner you cut the crap and stop lying to yourself about what you love, the happier we’ll all be,” said Corey.

My ears welled up.

“You’re an artist. Write your goddamned book.”

He didn’t mention the box.