Monday, March 21, 2016


Yesterday we said goodbye to our loyal and loved pet Rufous.  It was hard, and complicated, and sad, and terrible.  
Last week, in preparation, Raven wrote this short story.  It deserves to be shared.   


My usual daily routine is this: Sleep, eat, sleep, wander around, sleep, find someone to pet me, sleep some more. Maybe eat a few extra times. Depends on the day. Basically I don’t do much. I haven’t had to do anything different since they brought me to their Big Box when I was a newborn. I was living in the Outside before. That was a bad time… but now I don’t have to think about it.
The one that found me smelled like Clean. Just Clean. The Big Box smelled like the Lady did. There was also a Little One, who smelled different, and kept rubbing my fur. It felt nice, and my throat started to… make this weird vibrating noise. They liked that so I kept doing it. I liked living in this Big Box. One day there was another Little One that came. I already knew there was a Man; he smelled like the dumpsters I used to eat out of. But the Little One was evil. She would make this awful noise, and pull my tail and ears and hurt me. Whenever someone hurt me I hissed, or scratched. That made me feel better.
 I liked to jump on the big fluffy thing (there are so many of them, in almost every room. it’s great!) and lay down there.
The little ones got bigger, and nicer too. I learned that when they wanted to pet me or feed me they would say Roofaas or something. Roofis? Rooface? Sometimes they call me Poofiss. Or Poufous (they laugh whenever they call me that. I don’t think it’s funny). I eventually started looking over whenever they said anything. I still do that now and it seems to work.
My favorite was always the first Little One; she filled my food bowl with those tasty brown things. If I followed her around, she would pet me.
But now she’s gone. She put most of her things in boxes and took them away. She left me and now only comes home for a few days at a time, and not often. I miss her a lot. She smells like my mom, but also different. Her smell is gone from the house now. Some days I can’t remember what she smells like.
The other Little One, the one that used to pull my tail and ears, is the one that fills my bowl now.
I’ve started to call the Lady my mom, because she’s the closest I’ve had to one. She acts the way I imagine a mom would; she pets me the way I like, she takes care of me, she gives me food (sometimes if I follow her a lot she gives me more). The only thing she doesn’t let me do is enter the forbidden Little Box, where she goes during the Dark. She only ever moves the wall to go inside, then closes it behind her. I’ve only been there a few times. There is this big fluffy thing in the middle that sometimes I would jump on and sometimes I would crawl under. There isn’t anything else interesting in the Box. Every time my mom finds me in there she carries me out (that hurts my belly) and doesn’t pet me for a little while.
Sometimes the Man makes this noise with his big paws and makes me get off the big soft fluffy thing.
The Man is scary sometimes.
Living in the Big Box is different now. It’s been 17 person years, so I’m 84 now. I feel different. I don’t like those bumpy floors. They take me higher and lower in the Big Box. It’s hard to go up; it hurts my legs. Sometimes I think they forget to put food in my bowl. There’s that brown stuff, but it doesn’t smell good anymore, so I don’t eat it. Sometimes I try to jump on the fluffy thing I know I’m not allowed to sleep on, and my mom doesn’t tell me to get down. Even the Man doesn’t scare me with his paws.
Sometimes I think there’s a new fluffy thing in the Big Box, but then it’s just the Man on top of the soft thing. He is bigger now, so I lay on him. The Man is warm.
Now all I do is sleep on the fluffy things for the whole day. Sometimes I eat, but I’m not hungry. Sometimes I hurt all over and I don’t know why. Sometimes I can’t breathe properly.
The Little One likes to look at me. She comes really close to my face and stays there. I pretend I don’t see her. All of them – my mom, the Little Ones, the Man – like to use these strange things when I’m sleeping. They call them “caaamraas” and use them to “taayk peekturs”, I think. I know if I look right at them, they will suck my soul, so I make sure to look away. They always put them right in front of my face. I can see myself in it, but I don’t move.
 My mom pets me more now. I wonder why. I feel so sleepy. Sometimes I sleep all day and am still sleepy. I am still so sleepy…
Sometimes my mom puts me in this cage. I don't like it. She takes me to the Outside. I know one day she will bring me back to the Outside and leave me. I don't want to leave. I cry and beg but she lifts the cage and puts me in the big moving thing. She takes me to see other Ladies and Men that smell different. I don't like it. 
Today I wake up in pain. I can't breathe and so I stretch out on the fluffy thing and pant. My head hangs off the edge. If I stretch out more, I can breathe better. 
My mom pet me for a little but then left. At least, I think it was my mom. I can't smell anything very well. When she came back, she put me in the cage. It's the Dark now. I want to make noise and tell them I'm not happy but I can't breathe. So I sit without moving (there's no space to move even if I wanted to) and we go to that strange place with the other Men and Ladies. 
We get to the new place and I can't smell it. 
Why can't I smell it?
The new Man is nice. He pets me. 
We are in a Little Box and there's no fluffy thing; only a flat thing high in the air. I walk around the Box, suspicious. I don't know what is going to happen. Is my mom going to leave me here? I don't want to stay here. The Man lifts me onto the flat thing. It's too high to jump down by myself. I am scared. 
The Man takes me to another room. There is a big machine. I lie on a table and hear little clicking noises. Then He brings me back to my Mom. 
I hear them talking and know it's about me. I hear "harrt" and "failyur" and "floooid" but don't know what it means. 
My mom looks worried and scared like me. I try to tell her it's OK and she pets me. 
I feel something sharp in my back. It hurts, but only a little. When it's gone, the Man and my mom pet me a lot. It still feels like something is in my back. It feels funny. 
I feel better now! I can breathe again and want to run around and play and make noise and cuddle and be petted and do everything! I could run up and down and around on the bumpy floors all day.
Sometimes the Little Ones or my mom would play with me. They had these fun things that I would chase around. Sometimes if I chewed them enough, they died, but then came back to life. I don't know how or why. They moved so fast I almost couldn’t see them. I wonder if they are still in the Big Box somewhere.
They don't play with me anymore because I'm usually too tired to play. But now I have lots of energy! It's like I'm young again! 
I don’t feel so young anymore. It’s been a month since we went to that strange place. In the morning and before the Dark my mom or the Man make me swallow this little white thing. I don't know what it is, but I always feel better after they give it to me. At least, I did. 
Now I feel awful during the day and in the middle of the night. Those things don’t work anymore. I still feel like I can't breathe right. Sometimes I'm too tired to jump on the fluffy things, so I sit on the floor in front of them. When I lay down, it hurts; when I stand up I cough, which also hurts.
I drink more water now; I get two bowls instead of one. The little brown things aren’t as tasty anymore. I wonder why.
 Everyone pets me more than before – ever since I started feeling different. This is sometimes good, sometimes bad. The Little One lays in front of me, my mom lets me lay on her lap for longer, and the Man comes looking for me more often. Because of this, I am woken up more frequently. Sometimes that scares me. I’ll be in the middle of sleeping when all of a sudden I’ll feel something on my back. I’m always afraid it’s another one of those sharp things. Then I realize it’s someone petting me. I can go back to sleep after that.
Now my daily routine is this: Sleep, drink water, sleep some more, have one of those white things, lay on the fluffy things, eat, lay some more, try to breathe, sleep, drink water, sleep, another white thing, sleep, sleep, sleep…
I have lived a long, full life. It may not have been too full or too interesting, but I’ve had my fair share of adventures in the Outside and in the Big Box. I’ve seen Little Ones turn in to Big Ones, smelled lots of smells, wandered in all sorts of places. How much more could a cat need?
They always feed me.
I like it when they pet me.
I feel safe when they cuddle me.
I feel loved when they scratch my ears and kiss my nose.
I am happy.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Viral emotion, and why my generation sucks.

On October 22nd, I joined the entire country in following the story about Nathan Cirillo.  The unarmed soldier from my hometown was shot dead while guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.  There has been enough speculation about the motives of the killer in both mainstream and social media.  Depending on the source, the shooter was either an ISIS sympathizer and terrorist or a homeless crack addict with mental health issues.

But that's not exactly what I want to talk about.

This is a terrible tragedy.  My heart goes out to the young man's family and friends, who must be devastated.

Watching all of the coverage unfold online, both via legitimate news sources and social media, I began to feel very uncomfortable. 

I want you to just contrast these images for a second:

Image 1
Image 2

Actually, if you look through all the images in this article from the Ottawa Citizen you may slowly begin to see what I'm talking about.

They begin with the heartbroken emotions of a grieving mother, stoic faces of comrades and friends, sombre respect from silver-haired citizens watching the procession.

Look now at the images of the crowds lining the streets, jostling for the best camera angle on the overpasses, holding signs with hashtags.

Wait, what?  Hashtags?  As the funeral procession goes by?  The hearse even?  Is this so that the family can go home and search #Hero on Twitter at the end of the night?  And find what? Self-promoting pseudo grief messages in 140 characters or less?

I can't help but try to understand what this feels like to those who are legitimately grieving the sudden loss of a man that they personally knew and loved.

Imagine enduring the most heart-wrenching grief of your life.  Imagine your child dying, or (if you don't have a child) your spouse, your parent, your best friend.  Take a moment to really feel what that would be like for you. 

Imagine now, that this death is co-opted by the nation in such a way that the country is not mourning for your loss, but for *their* loss.

Never mind that most of these people have never met your loved one.  That none of them know how their eyes crinkled when they smiled, how they couldn't stand cooked mushrooms or that they were terrified of spiders.  Never mind that up until the day before, none of these people even knew that your loved one existed.

You are stuck sharing your personal tragedy with mobs of people who are acting an awful lot like ambulance chasers and paparazzi.

The words "Nathan Cirillo" no longer refer to a person, but to a production.  They are "trending" online.  Attached to pouty-faced selfies on Facebook from strangers who are proclaiming themselves to be "heartbroken".  Used to promote sports events that are marking his death with some sort of ceremonial moment, before continuing on with the game as usual.  It strikes me as barely a step away from selling bobble-heads at the concession stands.

I wonder how many people have stopped to ask themselves if any of this is comforting to his family.  Because if it isn't, we haven't exactly allowed space for them to tell us to knock it off.  To tell us that our frenzied need to feel a part of the story has pushed aside their deep and personal loss.  That their voices are completely lost in the madness.

I suppose that the only blessing about this viral swell of public emotion is that it recedes and is redirected as quickly as it arrives.  By October 26th it had a new target, Jian Ghomeshi.

And thank goodness for that.  Because now, at last, Nathan Cirillo's family can grieve in peace.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Flashback - Part 1

This has been bubbling up in me for the last couple of weeks.  It needed to come out.

I needed to come out.

This post is long, and unfinished.  I just ran out of steam.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk at work and got a Facebook message from someone I hadn't spoken to in several years. 

"Have you seen this?" and a link to a newspaper article.  About my eldest daughter's father.  Who had escaped from a federal penitentiary.

Well, escaped is kind of a sensationalized word.  He was in a minimum security prison, so he mostly just walked away.

But I should back up.

I met him, my very first love, when I was 14.  He was 21.  Over the next couple of years he was in and out of my life, but I couldn't get enough of him.  He was gentle and caring, wrote poetry and wore Simple shoes.  He was also the most at-risk person I had met in my sheltered but troubled upbringing.  

He had an intriguing story of petty crime, broken relationships and soft drugs.  I had a sad story of parents who were too wrapped up in their own wounds to tend to any of mine.

We actually met in church.  He came through the door and the adults around me started to whisper.  After introducing myself and sitting with him for the service, I was pulled aside by the youth leaders and warned that I should stay away from him.  That he was bad news.  I was confused because I thought church-goers were supposed to be accepting of everyone.

Oh, to be 14 again.

He ended up on the list of people I used to find my own reflection.   When he was around, I felt like I was worth something.  He tapped into the part of me that needed to care for someone else, and I came to believe he was trying to shield my innocence.

The thing is, he knew better.  He knew exactly what he was doing.

If you were to have been on the outside, you would have seen a calculated pattern of grooming.  I see it now, through my mother-of-a-teenaged-girl eyes.  But back then, it all felt so powerful and real.  Here was someone who finally understood me.  Who made me feel safe.  Who made me feel loved.

Except when he didn't.

Because there were also times that he seemed disgusted by me.  When he wouldn't talk to me.  Or he'd tell me I was pathetic.  There were times when he would talk about his most recent sexual conquests and how he knew that I could never be "as good as she was".  He'd give me the cold shoulder and I wouldn't know why.

These times only served to magnify my need for affection, attention, anything that he would give me to fill me up.

Others worried.  They saw me disappearing and tried to care the best they could.  Teenagers are not known for their tact, and I felt judged and abandoned.  It reinforced my belief that he was the only one who could keep me tied to this world.  I was 15, had since left home and was flopping in an apartment with him and 2 other men. 

We ran away together.  The plan was to head to California, at least in my mind.  We hitchhiked for 2 days before he decided to turn back.  Spent the night in a hotel room in separate beds, which I think put a damper on his motive for the trip.

Weeks later, he told me of a plan to go out west with a friend.  There was nothing worth staying in town for, he told me.  I pleaded for him to stay.  I'd do anything, I said.

And I did.

Fast forward a couple of months and I, predictably, am pregnant.  He, predictably, wants nothing to do with the situation.  I'm told that I need to move out of the apartment.  I packed a knapsack and caught a ride to the city, blending in with the rest of the streetfolk for a while. 

The first night I was terrified.  I slept in an alley, inside a shed that was used as a dumpster.

It got easier.  I made acquaintance with a group of people who flopped in various places around the core.  We ate doughnuts out of big plastic garbage bags, fished out of Tim Horton's dumpsters at the end of the night.  We waited around for the Salvation Army soup truck, whose staff soon came to learn that I was a vegetarian and would have a couple of cheese-only sandwiches just for me. 

I know that sometimes, those that offered us places to stay did so in exchange for a certain kind of payment.  And I know that other girls paid for me because I was new and pregnant. 

He followed me to the city a few weeks later.  He ran with a slightly different crowd, though there was overlap.  One day, I was walking with a new boyfriend in the mall.  We saw him and the new boyfriend called him out.  Ended up punching him in the face.  He went down quickly, didn't even make a fist. I remember feeling gutted, my loyalties still lied with him.

I found a spot in a residence for pregnant and parenting teens.  I would spend the week there, going to school and planning for my baby.  Then I would sign myself out for the weekends and spend them on the street, feeling like it was home.  I didn't really see him much anymore, he had a new girlfriend and I did what I could to avoid seeing them together.  I found an apartment and moved in just a week before my daughter was born.

Of course he came back.  I told him that he was either in or out.  There would be regular visits, or none at all.  I was so happy to be a mom, and also protective of my daughter.  Our daughter.  He broke up with his girlfriend, and had nowhere to stay.  Of course I offered.  Of course.

Of course.

We played house, secretly, for about a month.  Secretly, because I was ashamed that my feelings were allowing me to return to something that I knew was a sham.  But I also felt like damaged goods.  Who would ever want to be with a 16 year old mom?  With a belly full of stretch marks?  I'd take what I could get.

One night, I asked him to leave because I was having a girlfriend stay over.  She didn't know he was around, and definitely would not have approved.  He returned the following night, with some money and a ring.  He found it, he told me.  We rented a movie and bought some snacks with the money, I thought it was nice that he was treating me to some luxuries.

Next day, he said he had to go out.  He came back, all whites of the eyes, pale and shaking.  Told me he needed money, that he had to leave town.  Said he'd done something bad the night he was away, and it was in the news. 

"What did you do, kill someone?" I joked.

He couldn't say it.  But the look.  I knew.  He was terrified and I told him to turn himself in.  But he wanted to run.  

Will write Part 2 another day. 

Friday, November 09, 2012

Thanksgiving -- The Vegan and Gluten-Free way.

Food Table.  Though there was no fruit on the actual table so the sign's a bit misleading.

I wanted to fill you in about our Thanksgiving meal, but things have been crazy around here the past month.  But it's almost American Thanksgiving, so this post shouldn't seem completely out of place in the blogosphere.

Oh what a Thanksgiving I planned!

This holiday is my oldest daughter's favourite holiday of the year.  She loves the smells, the colours, the flavours and the coziness of it all.  She is quite the traditionalist at heart, and really treasures the rituals of the day.

Next year, she will be on a school trip to Europe over the Thanksgiving weekend.  From what I understand the timing of this made things slightly cheaper, but she won't be here to celebrate with us on that weekend.

This year was to be the year that counted for two. 

It's also the first year where I've had so many food restrictions, and I really wanted to make it good.  I researched and researched to find gluten-free and dairy-free versions of our favourite foods.  I spent the entire day before the actual meal pre-cooking.  This meant things like baking the gluten-free bread and making the vegetable stock.  I made a couple dishes the night before, as we were having a lunch so I wouldn't have as much time the day of to prepare everything.

I was quite excited to find some great recipes online.  What a world we live in, a world where we can type in some very specific words into a search bar, click a button and literally have hundreds or thousands of answers appear on the screen before us.  I wanted to share some of these with you (and also leave them in a place I could easily locate them next year!).

I totally stole the recipes for "Celery Root and Squash Gratin with Walnut-Thyme Streusel" and "Tempeh Marbella" from here.  Both were SO delicious!

This was the gratin prior to cooking.  Basically it involved layering slices of celery root (or celeriac) and squash in a baking dish, and coating it with a very rich and delicious "cream" sauce.
 Next it is topped with the walnut and bread crumb topping and baked.
This is maybe not the best shot, but it sure was delicious!  Leftovers were great too, but I don't think it would freeze well (I didn't try, it's just a guess).   

The tempeh was so easy to make.  Since nobody seems to know what tempeh is, here's what it looks like at the store:
Tempeh is a fermented soy product, and comes in this block.  I get it from Goodness Me! and it's about $5 for the package.  I sliced it into little rectangles, then sliced each rectangle in half horizontally.  They were marinaded overnight, and then baked in the oven until nicely browned.  Yummy.
I made mashed potatoes, stuffing (both gluten-free and non gluten-free), roasted broccoli, and curried squash soup.  Our guests brought a delicious spinach & pomegranate salad.  We had turkey (yes I cooked it!) and gravy.  It was quite the spread.
Of course there was dessert.  I had to make a pumpkin pie, although I was very worried about making a gluten-free pie crust.  To be honest, I never really mastered the art of making a regular old pie crust, so the gluten-free thing was really daunting.  The solution?  A nut-meal crust.  Honestly, this was the most AMAZING pie I have ever made (if I was feeling braggy, I might even say that I have tasted).  I found the recipe here and holy cow, this lady does her research!  It turned out great, just look at it!
 Mmm.  Now I want pumpkin pie.

Back behind the pie you can see my bowl of Tofu Chocolate Mousse.  I also made a rhubarb crumble with the last of the garden rhubarb for the year.

We had a nice enjoyable time, with a mix of family and friends.  Despite having 6 of our guests not be able to attend at the last minute due to illness (all of whom were dearly missed!), I think I managed to create a Thanksgiving that my daughter will remember fondly. 

Friday, October 05, 2012

So a Vegetarian Walks Into a Butcher Shop...

Well, not a butcher shop exactly, more of a butcher counter.

Carrying a turkey.

A turkey that was tentatively poked by me in an attempt to gauge it for...what, freshness?

Like I know the difference between a fresh and a stale turkey.  You'd call it stale, right?  Like bread?

Having been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, this annual pilgrimage into the meat section of the grocery store feels extremely foreign.  I pawn off the turkey cooking when I can, but when I'm hosting the dinner I feel compelled to, you know, cook the main dish.

That's not really accurate, actually.  I like to think that dinner guests at our Thanksgiving don't feel that the turkey needs to be in the spotlight.  We have a table loaded with goodness, from curried squash soup to mashed potatoes, to stuffing.  Not to mention roasted veggies, gravies, salad, spiced cider and mulled wine.

We once hosted my in-laws for a dinner.  These are the folks who - despite having full knowledge of my being a vegetarian - can't seem to come up with any reasonable menu item to serve me at any given gathering.  My mother-in-law used to put a container of hummus on the buffet table, let me know that it was there, and then call it a night.  So I'd have mashed potatoes, hummus and a bun for dinner.  Now I just bring my own, despite their protests.

And that was before my going gluten and dairy free.  Now we don't even get invited. Ha.

But I digress.  We hosted them for Thanksgiving one year and they were shocked that the turkey was the only thing on the table containing meat.  I'm a dang good cook when I want to be.

Still, when I'm hosting a mixed crowd of meat and non-meat eaters, I like to be fair.  Especially during such a traditionally meat-centered celebration.  I've done it without the turkey, but feel a little like I'm not doing anything different than the hummus bit.

Back to the grocery store.  I'm choosing a turkey.  Mostly by size, because I count on not having too much left over.  I've learned that I prefer to cook a turkey that has already been cut up.  It not only cooks faster, it also allows me to not waste  reserve the stuffing to be cooked meat-free in a casserole dish.

I take it to the butcher counter.  And I swear, the conversation goes EXACTLY like this every year.

Me: Um, excuse me?  Could you please cut this turkey up for me?
Meat cutter man: Sure, how would you like it cut?
Me: Um, smaller?
Meat cutter man: Sigh.

This year, he took my turkey back to the saw (seriously people, did you know that they use power saws back there?  That freaks me out!) and then started shouting questions at me.

Meat cutter man:  How small do you want the breast?
Me: Uh, I don't know.
Meat cutter man: (holds up a hunk of turkey) Like this?
Me: Sure?
Meat cutter man: Sigh.

After several of these exchanges, he finally gestures me back into the cutting area.

This may be a good time to tell you that my paternal grandfather immigrated here to Canada and opened a butcher shop in our downtown.  I have distinct memories of being no older than 5-6 years old, and being shut up in the meat fridge by my father who thought it was hilarious to leave his little girl all alone in the dark with hanging dead cows and pigs.  It may have only been a few seconds that I was locked in, but it certainly felt longer.  It was maybe a little bit traumatizing.

So the meat cutter man calls me back into the meat cutting place.  All I can see are the hanging dead cows and pigs in the fridge behind him.  He looks exasperated, and maybe a little disappointed.  I feel obligated to explain away my ignorance, and I apologize and tell him that I'm a vegetarian.  But I also feel like maybe that's insulting to him, given his chosen career. So then I ramble on to say something like "not that there's anything wrong with meat, and my grandpa was a butcher so I come from a long line of meat eaters, it's just that I stopped eating meat so long ago and now I probably wouldn't digest it anyway, but I do want to try and make a turkey for Thanksgiving for my guests to eat and I like to cook it after it's already been cut up so it cooks faster and..."

Then I had to take a breath.

He took that opportunity to cut in.  And laugh at me.

And then pull Every. Single. Piece. of turkey out of the bag and explain to me what it was.

He put the pieces in a giant bag, handed it to me and wished me luck.  I turned around and saw that a small crowd had gathered in the meantime, and were watching me get schooled on turkey.

Meat cutter man turns to the crowd and yells out "she's a vegetarian!  What can I say?", then looks at me and asks "so, I gotta know.  What are you going to eat on Thanksgiving?  Please don't tell me it's tofu."

"It's not tofu" I say.  Which is sort of true.

Then I got the hell out of there.

I'll let you know how the meal turns out.