Book’s Beginnings

July 9th  (prologue)

July 9th, for me, is a memorable date. It was the day I was married, in a fairytale wedding, at a castle in Scotland. It’s a date that has either lifted my spirits or fell hard upon me, depending on the year; the time of my life. I was married for eleven years and have now been separated for seven. The last few years I’ve been in the clear; have managed to maintain benign thoughts as July 9th comes and goes. I’ve done the work, I’m good. That is, until today. July 9th now screams for attention — a wounded day that cares little about love or pain, or what it’s asking of me. July 9th is making sure that I will never again be able to treat it as just another day.

Pink liquid is being pushed into my veins. It’s not how I pictured it – like in the movies where you sit for hours hooked up to an IV, reading books and magazines or chatting to your neighbour. I brought my computer along, thinking I’d have two uninterrupted hours to do some work. Instead, nurse Jackie (her real name) sits prepped before me. She’s working the first syringe with two more on deck. We’re playing a game of deception. The plastic tubes look like they’re full of Kool Aid but it’s medicine that’s being pumped into me that will kill the cancerous cells inside of me. It will also kill healthy ones. I don’t feel sick but from this day on, for the next several months, this ‘medicine’ will turn me into someone who looks sick — bald, skinny, powerless. As it saves my life, it will also zap the life force out of me and with that knowledge, I’ll struggle to define who I am in all of this. I don’t know if I’m ready for this level of acceptance. Again. Why again? No this isn’t a cancer that’s returned, not literally. Just another challenge that’s come at me, out of the blue. I’m trying to remember the feeling of doors opening. I must go back four years to the last time I tried to remember who I am and what’s important to me. Then, it was brought on by an event that shocked me out of complacency. I thought I got it – I thought I was on the road to some smooth sailing. I guess not.

 

Annie Griffiths  (March 13, 2012)

I’m sitting on a balcony seat at the Jack Singer Concert Hall feeling giddy. Finally, I’m in the same building as one of the reputed photojournalists I’ve been reaching out to over the last several months.

A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel is the name of Griffith’s sold out talk. It’s also the title of her book, the one I just bought in the theatre foyer. She has spent three decades working as a photojournalist and she did it, amazingly, while raising two children. She’s done exactly what I had once envisioned myself doing about twenty years ago. I thought I’d be the one, baby on back, camera in hand documenting cultures around the world. Instead, when the time came, my camera bag was put down; replaced, for all practical purposes, with a diaper bag.

Griffiths opened her talk by showing a photo of her first assignment as a student of photography, describing it as “the day I became a photographer;” explaining she was “in heaven” as she took the image of a tree bathed in light. In her book she writes, “It was the first of a lifetime of days when time stood still and I became far less important than what I saw in the camera’s viewfinder.”

I felt a pang listening to Griffiths. I have few regrets but in that darkened theatre in Calgary, in the very city where my photographic dreams began; as her experiences were unveiled, I was reminded of motivations long forgotten. Griffiths’ words during her talk wondrously echoed the themes I expected to be addressing in a book about women photojournalists. She spoke of the tool the camera can be for communicating the resiliency of women in the world saying by doing so, “we can change the world”. She spoke of human connections and a certain “intimacy” that arises with strangers by virtue of having a camera in hand.

At one point Griffiths talked about an assignment she had in Nebraska on a family ranch. Staying as a guest, she was awakened one morning by the light, a sunrise so beautiful and luminous she grabbed her camera and tore out the door to get the shot. After hooting and hollering over the incredible image she had captured, Griffiths then noticed a line of cowboys also taking in a first in a lifetime scene – that of a National Geographic photographer shooting in nothing but her underpants. Her message, and one she also communicated to a crowd of Calgary school children yesterday afternoon: “Find something in your life that excites you so much, you run out of the house, forgetting to put on your pants.”

There are more women on my list with whom I hope to meet. I couldn’t have chosen a harder ‘breed’ than the photojournalist to try to pin down, in time and location. There were other things to consider.  I was telling these women that I was researching a book on women photojournalists. It wasn’t a lie. I intend to write that book. I’m just not yet sure of the concept or even what it is I’m trying to illicit from them. Is it bad, I wonder, to admit that this is a personal quest that’s as much about me reclaiming my sense of self as it is about them and the work they do? Must these be inseparable?

There was something about the time I worked as a photojournalist that sticks with me; never quite leaves me alone. It arrives in flashes, the way a vivid dream haunts a day causing emotions to rush as meaning makes an escape. Pursuit of an explanation has, until now, felt futile because it doesn’t ‘fit’ into the composition of my days. I’m meeting these women hoping they can do the impossible — hold me in a dream so I won’t ever again forget what makes me feel alive.

 

Zurich, Switzerland. 1999-2009. Position: Hausfrau

I lose myself in the average day. In a world that presents no apparent threat, I’m dysfunctional. Mind numbing tasks cause me to forget myself, leave body parts strewn throughout the house. Chores then become an act of survival, my female form eventually taking shape as the day progresses. Once I find my legs, I managed to walk throughout the house collecting things. Toys introduce an ear; girl’s pants, a nose; newspapers unveil a breast. Just in time for my husband, as he walks through the door at the end of the day, I find my fingernails, eyelashes and lips. I come to him, slightly rising to my toes and brush my lips with his – careful not to let them loosen and fall to the floor. I had clumsily made order of things but the puzzle was never right. Pieces were always, always missing.

SUV’s pull up to the school; kids pile out and hours later they all pile in again. What happens in between?  What happens in between the drop off and pick up, while my husband walks through a parallel universe, gone to work by the time I  awaken. I’d moved to Switzerland but inhabited yet another foreign territory, that of a hausfrau and of motherhood and I was unsure of my footing.

I recall the early days, wondering if this would be the day someone asks me where I am from. If so, I’d explain that I’m from Canada and when the kind mother replied saying how beautiful it is there, I’d agree. From one beautiful country to another I’d travelled, or so it seemed… if you don’t count the journey in between.

Perhaps she’d ask about my husband. Wonder if he’s Canadian or Swiss. But I’d be getting carried away, letting my imagination run wild at this point. The Swiss don’t pry; aren’t prone to small talk either. But, I’ll forge ahead, imagination usurping culture.  I’d tell the woman that I met him in South Africa. Surely here, the conversation would fall silent and I’d ache for continuity. Is it so hard, I’d wonder, to say such simple words?  If the ever so kind mother would just find it in her heart to say, “Oh, isn’t that interesting,” my feet would fill the shoes around them, trust the ground beneath the soles and I would, just like that, be standing right there in the world again.

What happens in between? In between the story I hold inside and me asking you what bank it is that your husband works for.  Inhaling deeply, I feel like my 8 year – old rushing in the door at the end of the day head filled with a tangle of thoughts. With distracted mind, I capture her words as they fly in the air; hang them on a line, like laundry needing to be dried and sorted —put in its proper place. But, I couldn’t expect that from a stranger – such hard work for my words. I’d choose the easy way out – blame language or culture for our awkward moment and our words would become so very practical.

With cold toes and a shiver settling in, I’d say good-bye to my daughter outside the school, and as I catch another mother’s eye, I’d smile. Maybe she’d be the one who surprises; opens a porthole for this incongruent being; pulling me ever so gently through. Yes, she’d be the one to ask: “What is it you did in such a place?” Allowing for that space where the language of my past can be interpreted. Encouraged, this breathless child would speak, relying ever so much on her to understand what the hell I was talking about.

I was a photographer for a year on a newspaper during the country’s first democratic elections.

“Did you see anything awful?”

Socks fly out of my mouth.

“It’s a pretty dangerous place, isn’t it?”

Underwear and bras catapult from my teeth

“Were you at all frightened?”

Shirts and blouses swirl in their glory above my head; a tornado of laundry threatens to lift me off the ground.

The school bell rings with each article stopping mid-flight; hanging suspended in the crisp fall air. She walks away, a child tugging at her sleeve and all comes tumbling down.  I gather it up, the costume that covers my life, grateful, for a time, that it keeps me safe and warm.

 

Please visit my author’s Facebook page and ‘like’ if you like! Thank-you for reading.

Closer to Om: Raw Bircher Muesli

So I started out a little “flat footed”. If you read my last post I explained an intention to tackle the recipes of my wildly creative and health conscious sister. (Mystee @OmCooking)

The first recipe of choice was her, raw bircher muesli. Truth be told, I was bamboozled by her comment: “This raw breakfast cereal goes together in minutes before bed and is ready to eat when you rise in the morning!” Bingo! I was familiar with this traditional Swiss breakfast and I could get it over with in “minutes!”

But, there was a hitch. One, that as I headed off to the local organic market, I hadn’t yet decided how to address. Was I going to go the regular Kendall in the kitchen, “speed and convenience is of the essence”, route, or “Mystee mode”? My first stop at the Big Carrot, here in Toronto, was at the bulk bins for oats and pumpkin seeds. It was when I turned the corner; heading straight for the cartons of Almond Breeze, when a truly organic wave of guilt rushed over me.

In Mystee’s recipe, in parenthesis next to 1 ½ cups of Almond milk it read: “(from previous recipe)”. I had my reasons for this challenge, to up my culinary game; to face the lingo of milk bags and soy lecithin granules and push ahead. That “previous recipe” was telling me the almonds I needed to buy, should I decide to actually press my own almond milk, had to soak for 12 hours. This meant I’d be throwing this “quick and easy” recipe together in the wee hours of the morning if we were going to have it for Sunday brunch.

Fresh almond milk

My fresh almond milk!

Text to Mystee: “ Do almonds really have to soak so long for the milk?”

Mystee:  “at least 8 hours”.

I’d be home with my groceries by four. Mixing muesli at midnight was something I could manage, even if it did sound like a really bad Swiss folk song.

The nut soak was only one of my challenges. My daughter’s drool over the mere thought
of bircher muesli from Confiserie Sprüngli in Zurich. Sliding this under their noses for a Sunday brunch wasn’t going to be an easy feat. There was also the realization at 11pm (well after supermarket closing hours) that I had not one banana left in the house. Thanks to the ubiquitous Starbucks and their banana basket at the till, I was (queue alphorn) blenders a blazing by 11:30. (what’s a half hour anyway?)

Bircher muesli classique at Confiserie Sprüngli, Zurich.

Bircher muesli classique at Confiserie Sprüngli, Zurich.

Aware of my nighttime shenanigans, my daughters awoke this morning eager to taste.

“It’s so good! A lot like Sprungli” says my youngest, Jemima. (keep in mind they haven’t been back to Switzerland in a year and a half) “…but the fresh berries make it different.”

Just as I’m thinking I’ll stir in slivered almonds next time (if there is a next time) instead of pumpkin seeds, my eldest, Sadie, calls up to me as I tap away at my computer:

“Mom, can I have this for breakfast tomorrow before school?”

Now that’s what I’m talking about…

Thanks big sis!

Bircher Muesli a la Om Cooking.

Bircher Muesli a la Om Cooking but made by me!

Recipe for Raw Bircher Muesli

This raw breakfast cereal goes together in minutes before bed and is ready to eat when you rise in the morning! The combinations of fruit and nuts are limitless.

1 cup gluten free rolled oats ( oats only contain gluten because they are tossed in flour to prevent them from sticking. Gluten free oats are readily available at most natural food stores)

11/2 cups almond milk (from previous recipe)

1/4 cup chia seeds

1 large ripe banana mashed

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/3 cup raw sunflower, pumpkin seeds, or almonds

fresh berries if in season or grated organic apple or chopped organic pear

a splash of maple syrup if you like it a little sweeter

Before bed combine oats, almond milk, chia seeds, mashed banana, and raw seeds or nuts in a tupperware container. Stir to combine and then place in the fridge.

Upon rising, stir in desired berries or fruit and sweeten if desired!

Enjoy!

Recipe fresh squeezed nut milk

My (read Mystee’s) favourite nuts for making nut milk are raw almonds and hazelnuts. You will need a good blender and a nut milk bag which you can purchase for around $5 at your natural foods store.

Soy lecithin comes in granules and a liquid form. The granules are much easier to work with and more cost effective!

This basic recipe can be enjoyed by the glass, in a smoothie recipe that follows, or in the muesli recipe that comes a little later!

1 cup raw almonds or hazelnuts

4 cups water

1 pitted soft date

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. soy lecithin ( to emulsify)

Soak the nuts in 2 cups of water for 12 hours. Drain and rinse well with fresh water.

In a blender combine the soaked nuts with 2 of the 4 cups of water to start and the rest of the ingredients. Blend on high for up to 2 minutes until the mixture is homogenous. Add the remaining 2 cups of water and blend again for 30 seconds.

Place your nut milk bag over a large bowl. Pour the nut milk mixture into the bag. Gather the bag around the opening with your hands and squeeze gently until all of the liquid has been extracted into the bowl beneath. There is very little nutrition left in the pulp but you can save it to mix into oatmeal or even to feed to the dogs! If you have a dehydrator there are lots of options once the pulp is dehydrated and ground into flour.

Pour the milk into a pitcher and store in the fridge for about 4 days.