Discovering The World of Selfies

It has been months now since my last post.  When we returned from Sicily, I hit the ground running and I haven’t slowed down since.  But that hasn’t stopped me from taking pictures.  I have been playing with the camera on my cell.  It is surprising how good the pictures from an iPhone 4s can be.  And in doing this, I have discovered the world of selfies.  

Selfies are the pictures that people love to hate, yet almost everybody takes them.  I found an article recently that claimed the following:

“For a generation that is overwhelmingly narcissistic, we are pretty ignorant to what we’re really saying with our ”selfies.” Worse yet, we’re not even paying much attention to how selfies are damaging our relationships.

No really, they are.”

“This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves,” says Dr. David Houghton.

 

I would like to suggest that there other reasons for taking selfies than narcissism.  I believe that selfies can be a celebration.

For years I hated having my picture taken.  From my late 20s I started gaining weight.  The heavier I got the more my desire to have my picture taken diminished.  In this picture, I weighed about 273 lbs.  If you look closely in my face, you can see the discomfort that lies just below the surface.  At that weight, there was not a moment that I wasn’t aware of my obesity and how I appeared (or thought I appeared) to other people.

 

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Over the past few years, I have worked hard and lost just over 100 lbs.  But, I didn’t just work on the weight – in fact, the weight was almost incidental.  Instead, I focused my efforts on the issues behind the weight gain… so many issues that had created an eating addiction in me.  Slowly, the cravings to eat passed, my self esteem and self worth rose and, pound by pound the weight began to drop.  

Today, I enjoy having my picture taken and taking my own picture.  This is not vanity, this is gratitude for the new me – in a person who is happy and who is finding joy in her ability to me more active.

 

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For the first time in my life I own hiking boots; I own them and I use them.  My husband, Nick, and I, are planning to walk the Camino Portuges once we retire. We are walking now, and working out at the gym so that when we hit 58 and 60 we will be ready to backpack 350 kilometres from Porto, Portugal to Santiago di Campostella in Spain.

 

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I had always wanted to wear a little black dress.  For most of my adult life there was nothing “little” in my wardrobe.

 

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I recently travelled to London and Paris with a group of teenagers.  We walked 12 kilometres a day and I matched those kids, step for step.  I could not have done this even one year ago – maybe not even 6 months ago.  These selfies mark the wonderful time I had travelling with my students.

 

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So, I have invested some time and joy in selfies – and they will continue to document the life I have happily embraced!

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Cathedral Moments

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I can’t believe I haven’t posted in a month!  My apologies to everyone who follows my blog.  Nick and I have just returned from Sicily where we had terrible internet access.  Now that I am back on our Canadian WiFi, I really appreciate just how fast it is.

Anyhow…

While we were in Sicily we were fortunate enough to be offered a friend’s apartment in Ortigia for a few days.  (Thank you Linda!)  Ortigia is a very small island immediately off of Siracuse.  (see the map at the bottom of the post).  It is a lovely island.  Linda and her husband Bruno told us that Ortigia is the place where many of the celebs park their yachts – Steven Spielburg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise, Steve Martin – and of course many anonymous millionaires and some billionaires.  We looked and looked and saw no celebs but did see some pretty amazing yachts from the Grand Cayman Islands and a few other places.

 

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This is an island made for photographers.  One of my favourite places there to take pictures was the duomo or cathedral.  The photo at the top was one of the pillars at the entrance to the cathedral.  It was so tall that it seemed made for taking the shot looking up.  Here are a few more shots of the cathedral.

 

Ortigia was a wonderful place to visit – baroque architecture everywhere.  However, the parking on the island is crazy and the tourists (including us) are everywhere.  I don’t think I would want to live there but I am very glad we had the opportunity to see it!

 

 

 

Just One Of Those Days

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This post is dedicated to my husband, Nick.  He is the best man who has ever been in my life.  Nick, happy anniversary.

I think most of us have one.  A day that seems to attract special occurrences – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always memorable.  July 31st, over the past few years, has become one of those days for me.  Let me explain.

I’m a teacher.  Part of being a teacher is having 2 months holiday in the summers.  Until 3 years ago, July 31st meant I was halfway through my summer vacation.  On July 31st, I was never ready to be on the back-stretch of my holidays.  July 31st also meant I still had 6 weeks left to get by on my savings for the summer.  I (and every other teacher) has heard a comment like,”Gee, it must be nice getting 2 months holiday in the summer every year.” or “Wow, what a cushy job – you only have to work 10 months a year.  Must be nice.”  (Oh dear, enough with the comments, I feel a rant coming on!).  What most people don’t realize is that teachers are not paid in the summer, so that cushy summer holiday often comes with stress over money by the time August rolls around.  So for me, this is what July 31st was all about for years.

Then three years ago, everything changed.  Three years ago my (then) boyfriend and I decided that it was time for us to make a trip to the country of his parent’s birth – Italy.  It was a wonderful, magical journey that took us from Trapani on the far west coast of Sicily, across the island and all the way up the boot to Milan.  We finished off with four days in Paris.  On our third morning there, we got an email that Nick’s father had died.  That was July 31st.  While it wasn’t really a shock, he had been declining for some time, it was still a very difficult day.  It was taken up with phone calls to Ottawa, frantic emails back and forth to our travel agent, all trying to make sure that Nick could be in Ottawa in time for the funeral.  When it was done and we knew that he could be there, Nick asked me if he could have some time alone.  My stoic Nick.  I took Miyuki and we went off to spend a few hours in Paris.

What a roller coaster of a day.  I left the hotel heartsick for my husband.  It doesn’t matter if you know that Death is on the doorstep, he still brings pain and anguish.  But I wasn’t out wandering alone – my daughter and her crazy sense of humour was with me.  We decided to go to the Moulin Rouge.  I talked about this in an earlier post so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  That evening was, however, one of the best 1/2 days my daughter and I have spent together.  She is a wonderful girl and fills my heart every-time I am with her.

Fast forward one year.  July 31st two years ago.  Picture a white gazebo, hung with burgundy and white ribbons.  Through the ribbons, as they flutter in the breeze, you can see the sun glinting off a pristine lake.  In front of the gazebo stand two people, oblivious to everyone seated around them.  That was Nick and I on our wedding day.  We had chosen that day purposefully as a way of celebrating not just our life together, but also as a way of remembering people passed – Nick’s father and mother, and my father specifically.  It was the best of weddings; beautiful, meaningful, but most of all fun.  That day Nick and I pledged our loyalty and love to each other – to the persons we were meant to be with.  We had already been together almost 6 years, and, while I won’t say everyday had been perfect, we had been perfectly content that we were with the right person.  Since then, our lives have grown in so many ways.

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Fast forward another year.  July 31st last year.  Nick and I celebrated our anniversary with a phone call from our realtor, Joe.  The offer we had made on our house in Sicily had been accepted.  We were going to have our house in Italy!

Fast forward to this year.  Today is July 31st.  We have been in Cianciana for almost a month.  Everyday, when I walk to the bakery or the fruit and veggie store or the butcher, I am stopped by this neighbour or that, just wanting to chat or to say hello or to tell me “Il fa caldo!” (it is hot!) to which I reply “Si’, troppo caldo!” (yes, too hot!).  Last night, Nick and I went to our neighbours’ house in the country.  We sat outside on their patio, under a thick canopy of grape vines, surrounded on three sides by olive, almond and fig trees.  We ate pasta and chicken and potatoes, and they poured Nick glass after glass of their homemade red wine made from their own grapes.  We finished the end of the day sipping strong espresso coffee.  So, today Nick and I are celebrating our anniversary volunteering with the local community group that is hosting the annual harvest festa, or festival.  There will be stacks and stacks of food.  It starts after sundown and goes until 3 or 4 in the morning.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our second year as a married couple than to do so with our new community around us.

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Up

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These are a few pictures that I have shared before but fit together so well with this theme.  It’s so true that we rarely take time to look up but when we do it can be magical.  Ten things I have seen by looking up:

  1. Clouds racing across the sky.
  2. An eagle being chased by a blackbird.
  3. Clouds morphing from one thing into another.
  4. Glimpses into other people’s lives.
  5. The beauty of days past.
  6. The creativity of someone now long dead.
  7. Unintended glimpses up someone’s skirt (I was at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower trying to take a picture – completely unintentional).
  8. Crazy geometrical shapes.
  9. The arms of trees reaching out  to each other.
  10. And very occasionally, because you really have to be in the right space, the hand of God.

And here are a few new shots of “up”.

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And the unintentional photo in Paris…

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Beauty, Sorrow and Strangeness at English Bay

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English Bay is a beautiful part of Vancouver.  Anyone who has walked along its shore in the spring or summer sun can attest to that.  For me, English Bay holds lovely memories, but some strange and disturbing ones as well.  I will start with the saddest one.  My aunt and uncle owned a home in Kitsilano which is directly across from the English Bay beach.  When I was little, we would go to their house often and that always meant a walk with one of my cousins to the beach.  I would stick my toes in the water and kick and splash in the direction of English Bay.  I would wonder if it was possible to swim from one side to the other.  Those are good memories.  Sadly, my cousin John, named for my dad, got caught up in the drug scene.  It was the 60s and drugs were ubiquitous. One evening we got a phone call that John had been found dead of an overdose on the beach looking over to English Bay.  It was a long time before we went down to that beach again – years in fact.  And for some reason that I still don’t understand and my dad never explained, we stopped going to my aunt and uncle’s house.

But not all my memories of English Bay are bad ones.  The one and only time I was in a parade was along English Bay.  I was a member of a synchronized swimming team and we were asked to join the parade.  We all sat in our team swim suits in the back of a truck and waved to the people lining the street.  One time, I was invited to join a group of people in a million dollar condo that faced out towards the water.  We spent a very pleasant evening watching the Symphony of Fire – a fireworks competition that the city of Vancouver held every year.

Sometimes strange things would occur too.  Back in 1984, I was getting ready to head off to work in Japan for at least one year (I didn’t know then that it would extend to three).  I was scared to be dropping everything and moving to a country I had never seen before.  I was sad leaving family and friends behind.  And I was overwhelmed trying to pack up my life in the space of 2 weeks before I had to climb on a plane.  My very best friend in the world, Leslie, took me down to English Bay one afternoon, to go for a walk.  As we walked along the shore, I told her how I was feeling – it all came pouring out.  At the end of it, I had a wave of sadness wash over me because Leslie and I had not gone a week without doing something together – hanging out, going for a drive, visiting her family or mine, since we were 19 – four years before.  We were both sad that we wouldn’t see each other for at least a year.  As we walked in silence, I saw something lying on the beach in front of us.  We walked over to it and peered down.  It was a full set of dentures.  For some reason that just struck us as hilariously funny and we both laughed until we couldn’t breath and tears were running down our cheeks.  That broke the mood for both of us, and I was able to shake off the blues and to see the adventure that lay in front of me.

Something I also find strange is the Inukshuk that the city placed there just before the 2010 Olympics.  An Inukshuk is an Inuit sign post.  As far as I know, the Inuit people were never indigenous to Vancouver.  Perhaps the city was tired of totem poles.  I hope not – they are beautiful and indigenous.

I still visit English Bay when I go to Vancouver.  It is still lovely and sometimes still strange…when Nick and I were there a few weeks ago we spotted a sailboat washed up onto the shore.  It had been lovely weather for days – no storms or wind.  Yet there it was.  I took the time to snap a photo, but never knew the story.

Gentrification on Commercial Drive

I grew up in Vancouver.  It was a great city to grow up in – as safe as any city could be, beautiful scenery, lots of interesting nooks and crannies to explore – Chinatown, Steveston (where the Japanese kept their fishing boats), Broadway (the Greek neighbourhood), Kitsilano (where the ‘hippies’ hung out), but my favourite was Commercial Drive – the Italian neighbourhood.

When I was an elementary school student, my parents would drive the 30 minutes that would take us from the North Shore to 1st and Renfrew where the Economart store stood and where my parents bought all our non-perishables.  This was on the edge of the Italian neighbourhood, only blocks from Commercial Drive.  If I didn’t whine or moan about how long the shopping was taking, my parents would wind up the shopping trip by going to Commercial Drive for ice cream.  Today, I know that what we were getting was actually gelato, but to my very Anglo-Irish parents who at that time didn’t even know what spaghetti was, gelato was ice cream.  Pretty damn amazing ice cream, but ice cream nonetheless.  While we were walking up and down the Drive, I would listen to the old Italian men arguing outside the coffee bars and to the Italian women chatting while choosing vegetables at the markets out on the street.  I had no idea what they were saying, I just knew that it was loud and exciting, far more exciting than my WASPy family.

Three weeks ago, when Nick and I were visiting Vancouver, we went down to Commercial Drive one morning to have espresso and a brioche for breakfast.  We went into the coffee bar Roma and surrounded ourselves with FIFA posters, the aroma of good Italian coffee, and the sounds of the elderly Italian men as they shouted at the soccer players they were watching on the large screen tv. It was like being back on Commercial Drive in the 1960s or being in Italy.  But when we left the coffee bar and walked along the Drive, what I saw around me were examples of the gentrification of the neighbourhood.  This is a hot button topic in Vancouver these days, particularly in the Downtown Eastside – one of the roughest neighbourhoods in North America but still one with a community.

I know that there are many supporters of gentrification, that neighbourhoods, like everything, change over time, that gentrification can infuse a poor neighbourhood with much needed funds.  But, there are so many reasons that I find gentrification distasteful.  The displacement of the original residents who can no longer afford to live in their own neighbourhood is the key issue in the Downtown Eastside.  Differing needs of the older residents and the newer residents creates conflict, and the smaller condos also increase density.  But on Commercial Drive, the change brought about by gentrification that disturbs me most is the loss of the character and culture of the neighbourhood.  So many of the little shops that catered to the Italian immigrants have been taken over by shops selling designer clothing or trendy antiques.

Yes, there are still some Italian restaurants, but there are many others that have been replaced by Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Cuban, Japanese, Salvadorean, and Ethiopean restaurants.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I have nothing against Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Cuban, Japanese, Salvadorean or Ethiopean restaurants, people or culture.  I simply miss the wonderful feel of the Italian neighbourhood that Commercial Drive used to be.  <Sigh>.  I guess I am just stuck in the past.

Baring It All

Baring It All

Normally, I don’t do nude or even semi-nude photography. In fact, I didn’t even take this one.

Back in the summer of 2005, my daughter and I flew to London to visit my very dear friend Andrea. Andrea shared a flat directly on the Thames across from the Millennium Dome. While we were there it was someone’s birthday…forgotten now exactly whose it was. The party took place on what they called the front garden and what I called the “slightly larger than a shower-sized bit of lawn”. There was a barbeque with big hunks of meat and a cooler stuffed full of beer, wine and other such drinks. We were having a wonderful time, the weather was warm, the neighbours were forgiving, the view was lovely. After a good deal of merry-making, I handed my camera to my daughter while I ran up the stairs and into the bathroom. When I came down, there were a lot of sniggers and giggles that I attributed to the growing pile of empties next to the cooler.

Now, at that point in my life I didn’t own a laptop. This meant that I didn’t think to check what was on my camera until we got home and I downloaded the lot onto my desktop.

Yes, there were numerous pale, English, bare bum shots on my camera.

Moral to the story. Don’t ever, ever give your camera to your 12-year-old to hold while you are in the bathroom…

 

P.S.  Yes, everyone in the picture or not in the picture who bared their bums was over 18.  And yes, the next day, while they were all hung over we did have a friendly chat about what was appropriate to show a 12-year-old.  And of course, my daughter, the 12-year-old, woke them up with great glee for this chat by playing Eminem at top volume on the stereo.  Heehee.

Adam

 

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Five years ago, my husband, who works with students with special needs, was assigned to work with a 10-year-old boy by the name of Adam. It was a year later that Adam first really came onto my radar.  Nick came home one day with a grin on his face.  Apparently Adam had started giving Nick relationship advice.  “You should bring her flowers, cook her dinner!  I bet she likes chocolates.  You should take her chocolates!”  “Hmmm, I like this kid!” I told Nick.  A couple of months later he started to encourage Nick to propose to me.  Propose and then to invite him to the wedding.  When Nick did propose and we began to discuss the wedding plans, we both agreed that the only person who could be Nick’s best man would be Adam and his twin brother, Blake would be a groomsman.  Adam and Blake looked wonderful in their new suits and both fulfilled their roles beautifully.

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Adam is one of the sweetest kids that Nick has ever worked with – kind, funny, generous.  As an elementary student and then later as a middle school student he raised money for the homeless shelter in our small town, for the elders of the Cowichan Nation, and for the SPCA.  He always has a smile and joke for everyone around and this makes what might have been the most obvious thing about Adam the least noticeable – his wheelchair.

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Like most special needs kids, very little has been easy for Adam – his legs won’t straighten and won’t easily hold his weight but over the years that my husband has worked with him, he has watched Adam struggle to stand and walk and now he can actually walk a short way with his walker.  School hasn’t always been easy for him but he has found his niche there – he wrote and acted in a short film and has a role in his school’s theatre production this year.  He has lots of friends and the girls love his lopsided grin.  In spite of his struggles, he never seems to lose his amazing positive attitude.  I think that a lot of this comes from a large and very supportive family.  His grandma, Darlene, has stood behind him and fought for him and his brother their whole lives.  In fact, everyone in their family has stood behind these two terrific young men and it shows.

Last week, Nick and I went to watch Adam in his first wheelchair rugby practice.  Adam was younger than the other players by a good ten years.  When they began to arrive, I could see that Adam was nervous – probably a bit by the idea of playing such a rough sport but I think more by the age of the other players.  I have to give them credit however.  The coach and the players gave Adam encouragement and instruction and lots of opportunities to play.  I watch the game progress and was at first quite intimidated by the aggressiveness of the sport but then I was so impressed by the enthusiasm that Adam showed as he played that I stopped cringing at every wheelchair crack-up.  The lessons he has learned in life to push himself and to move forward became very evident on the gym floor.  He quickly learned to manipulate an unfamiliar sports wheelchair.  He raced up and down the floor until he was covered in sweat.  He reached for every ball that was thrown in his direction.  And when the practice was over, he was greeted with a chorus of “Good game, dude!” from the other members of the team.

 

Adam may only be 15 years old, but he has learned lessons already that some people never learn.  He impresses the hell out of me.

Remembering Meekay

 

Today I read a post by Shay at asizCreatives called By the “Grace” of Cat.  Head over to her blog…she is truly inspiring!  She wrote about the healing that her cat has given her and it got me thinking about my sweet kitty Meekay.  Sadly, Meekay died last May at the age of 19.  She had been with us for 17 years – my daughter never remembered a time without her.  She was a cat that was happy with whatever we gave her.  She was happy to be cuddled, happy to sit with us, pleased with whichever food we brought home from the store.  There were only two times that I saw her unhappy:

1. When we took her to the vet. She would meow like it was the end of the world, and

2. When we left her with a house sitter one summer.  She was so angry at us that she crapped all over our bedroom.

Over the years, my life, like everyone’s, went up and down and I always found that sitting and cuddling Meekay made me feel better, happier, calmer.  Last May, Meekay stopped eating.  She got thinner and thinner but she didn’t seem to be unhappy or comfortable.  I kept saying to my husband, “I think I should take her to the vet.” and he would answer “Oh, she’s fine.  She’ll start eating again.”  I think he didn’t want to admit that she might really be sick.  A few days later my daughter came home from a year away at school and together we took Meekay to see the vet.  She meowed loudly and plaintively just like she always did.  We carried her into the exam room and held her while we waited for the vet.  When the vet arrived she made a great fuss over our cat and then examined her.  She looked at us with a serious face and told us that Meekay had a mass in her stomach and because Meekay was at a pretty advanced age for a cat, she didn’t recommend surgery.  She said that although she didn’t seem to be in pain now, it wouldn’t be long before the pain set in.  She gave my daughter and I a few minutes to decide what to do.  There wasn’t much to discuss.  As much as we loved Meekay, or rather because we loved her, we decided that we would give her a death with dignity and without pain.  My daughter and I cried as we pet her while she fell asleep.  A couple of weeks later, we got her ashes from the vet and we spread them under a tree – a tree that she would sit in the window and watch as the birds would fly in and out of the branches.  I know that the uninitiated to the joys of pet ownership sometimes mock those of us who dote on our animals, but they have not yet learned the sweetness of holding your loving pet in your lap.  I’m glad that I had that experience for the 17 years Meekay was with us.  I still miss her and expect her to come running up when I walk through the door.  So, today, I am sharing with you the sweet face of my little Meekay.

Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

This is my favourite photograph of my Mom. It was the last time I saw her happy. It was April of last year and it was her 91st birthday. My mother has dementia and as I have watched her descend into confusion and paranoia and anger, it has forced me to examine my own life, emotions and motivations. Her dementia has taught me a few things:

1. No resentment is worth hanging on to.
2. Life actually is pretty good, if I choose to see the good bits.
3. What I used to view as people doing things “to me” was incorrect. People do things, even cruel or unkind things, out of their own motivations, history or pain. I have very little to do with it – I just happen to be in the way.
4. Just because I feel something uncomfortable, I don’t need to act on it. Guilt, anger, sorrow are just feelings that will pass.
5. I don’t need to act on other people’s expectations of me.

It is not easy to be a care-giver of someone with dementia and it has not been easy for me. While I would never wish this disease on anyone, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned. I wish my mother had learned these lessons before she was hit with Alzheimers. I believe it would have made her final journey now, a little easier for her.