Category Archives: Life

Don’t Weigh Me Down

A few years ago I wrote about my oxen. Those beautiful beasts that plod ever onward, driving me forward into the frontier of my life.

There’s my damn oxen again, still not giving a damn that I want to keep moving forward. Not pictured: all the stuff inside that wagon that’s tiring out the poor dears.

My tenacity isn’t this relentless steam engine, sloughing off problems like a cowcatcher through the thickest snow. It’s more like an ox-wagon trudging slowly into unknown territory. Sometimes those damned oxen are lazy and won’t be made to go faster by whip or insult. Sometimes they damn near stop altogether. But eventually they get going again. Eventually they pick up the pace. Eventually things get back into a groove. – International Women’s Day 2016

In the nearly two years since I wrote those words, I have tenaciously moved forward. I have written a business plan, improved my income, bought a car, and moved into my own apartment again, among the myriad of smaller, tinier little gains that I can’t even put into words. In that time I’ve also shed a lot of possessions. Books, furniture, appliances, clothing, and countless pairs of shoes. Items still pop into my head randomly from time to time – where the hell did that thing go? Didn’t I pack that away? What ever became of …

What I’ve come to realize is that all of that was just extra weight, slowing my oxen down. No wonder we get stuck in the mud so often – we’re too heavy! So yes, this is the year of simpler living because I finally recognize that some of this stuff that I’ve been dragging through the mud with me is unnecessarily weighing me down. I’ve been holding onto it, letting it take up too much of my much-needed space – space that can be better filled with new ideas, dreams, memories, and hey, yeah, maybe some souvenirs along the way. I’m a sucker for a nice keychain.

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Rules for My Yearlong Shopping Ban

Clara_Peeters_-_Still_Life_with_Cheeses,_Almonds_and_Pretzels

Based on Cait Flanders’ shopping ban, I’ve decided that I’m going to commit to a yearlong shopping ban in 2018. The reason I want to do this is because I have some pretty big goals in 2018.

2018: The Year of Simpler Living

  1. Pay down my debt
  2. Complete a yearlong shopping ban.
  3. Improve my income by 25%.
  4. Track my income and expenses for the year.
  5. Experience all the fun and FREE things one can do in Hamilton.

I’m going to base most of my shopping ban rules on Cait’s rules because they’re pretty simple and – I’m hoping – easy to follow.

What I’m allowed to shop for:

  1. Basic groceries (cutting down on the fancy cheeses!)
  2. Personal hygeine products (shampoo, conditioner, tampons, etc.)
  3. Any minimal makeup I regularly use (only after the previous makeup has been used up)
  4. Cleaning products
  5. Supplies for gifts (I love to knit and crochet, so guess what you’re all getting for your birthdays and Christmas in 2018?)
  6. Clothing that needs replacing.
  7. Business expenses (but nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary.)

What I’m not allowed to shop for:

  1. Concert tickets (This one’s going to be hard, but there are a ton of free shows in Hamilton. We’re a music city!)
  2. No fancy cheeses!
  3. Extraneous makeup, personal products, clothing, or shoes (nail polishes, lipsticks, lotions, etc. I got plenty of clothes AND lotions!)
  4. Books, magazines, notebooks, cards (This year I’m going to shop my bookshelf, then donate the books. I also have enough notebooks to last me the year and then some. I can also make my own cards because I have cardstock that can easily be turned into cards.)
  5. Household decor (My new place is already filled to the brim with stuff that I need to find new homes for anyway.)
  6. Electronics and appliances (again – no room for them! And I’ve found that I’m actually getting by just fine without them anyway.)

I’m also going to do my best to use services like Bunz Trading Zone Hamilton and Buds Tradiing Zone Hamilton on Facebook to trade for things. That way I can find new homes for my possessions, creating more space, and I will be able to save some money as well.

Featured Image: Clara Peeters – Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1685 (Wikipedia)

2018 Goals: The Year of Simpler Living

Recently while having a coffee at the Mulberry Coffeehouse with my sister, Holdlifestill Photography, I was worrying over the fact that I won’t be able to afford my life.

Can anyone relate?

I’ve just moved out on my own again after living with my mother for the last two years (yay!). While I love my little bachelorette, I’m concerned that running my own business, with its ups and downs, can lead to some stressful times trying to pay all my bills.

Holdlifestill suggested that I look up Cait Flander’s yearlong shopping ban for inspiration. Holy moly, the woman’s a powerhouse saver!

I’ve already had this tingly feeling (don’t worry – it’s not contagious!) that 2018’s going to be a good year. Yeah, we can talk about how the whole world is a garbage fire, but I can’t really look at that, you know? You can’t save the world if you can’t save yourself first. I’ve been told that by several people and I honestly, truly, and overwhelmingly believe it.

And besides that, I’ve had some success in helping myself this year. After two years of living at home with my mom recovering from a major episode of depression and the implosion of a pretty bad relationship, things are already starting to look up for me. This past summer I purchased a car, affectionately named Joni. I still have monthly payments on her, but I’m working towards paying that off each month. And this new home is a cherry on top.

But nothing that’s worth doing comes easy, right?

These are all great things, but they are not without their stresses. I have to be really careful with my money so that I can pay down my debts and live a good life in my new home.

My goals for 2018: The Year of Simpler Living

  1. Pay down my debt
  2. Complete a yearlong shopping ban.
  3. Improve my income by 25%.
  4. Track my income and expenses for the year.
  5. Experience all the fun and FREE things one can do in Hamilton.

Recently Hamilton Small Fries added me to their list of Hamilton blogs, under “lifestyle blogger”. I’m so pleased to be a part of this group of fearless writers based in our Ambitious City, but it got me thinking – what kind of a lifestyle blogger do I want to be? Mostly I’ve been writing through my mental health issues, but I also want to write about fun things. A yearlong shopping ban is also going to mean curbing some of my favourite things – mainly eating out and going to concerts. Bummer. BUT that doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun. In fact, given that I’m on a constrained budget, I should be doing as much as I can to have fun while experiencing all of the amazing free events that exist in Hamilton, so on top of all those big and important goals for 2018, I want to include having some fun as well AND showcasing that through the blog.

How about you? Have you set any goals for 2018 yet?

Photo Credit: CDC photo

Me, too

“For so long, women have been confessing to crimes men have committed and being punished accordingly.” – Laurie Penny, The Unforgiving Minute

This #metoo business has been heavy. So very heavy. Carrying the weight for so long, one has to wonder if you feel it any more. I can tell you that I do, in my face, my back, my arms, my thighs, my toes. I carry it in every fibre of my being because it’s imprinted on me indelibly.

Yes, me, too. I’ve documented in the past a long-term relationship that was built on emotional manipulation. I could also tell you about the first long-term boyfriend who wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. He called it bisexuality, but when it came right down to it, he just wanted to have sex with someone else. I let it happen because I reasoned – at nineteen years old – well, I can’t give him everything. I left after the infidelity, though, three weeks after we had moved in together.

But what actually weighs on me the most? Is it those emotionally scarring long-term partnerships that preyed on my open heart and desire for love?

No, it was something more insidious. It happened when I was seventeen years old.

My parents worked for a synagogue in Hamilton, one of only three in the city. My father was the building maintenance worker, and my mother cleaned and cooked. Her cooking became so well-known that a beautiful catering business grew from that seed. I spent nearly every Saturday in the kitchen, running tuna salad, bagels, and gefilte fish into the ballroom.

I loved being the little churchmouse in the synagogue. No one paid attention to me, except one day.

One day the Cantor said more than hello.

He actually talked to me. He asked me questions. He asked me to sing for him and I sang an aria from Phanton of the Opera, the first soundtrack I ever commited to heart, and I nailed the high note. He was impressed and with that, as he said goodbye, he gave me my first kiss in the ballroom.

I already had a crush on him, so it was easy for a man eleven years older to read the signs, wearing his nice suits and driving his fancy cars. The first I could remember was an Acura, the second an Inifiniti. He gave me his phone number and I called him a couple times late at night, but I didn’t really know what to say to him, whispering into the phone so as not to wake my parents. Finally he invited me over one evening. I walked the three blocks over to the other side of Queen and Aberdeen. The first kiss in that private space was intoxicating. Just like I had imagined it and then some. He pushed me up against the washing machine, ratcheting our desire up in a way I had never experienced before. I fumbled with my hands, not knowing quite what to do, but finding purchase on his clothing, holding tight, not brave enough to try the buttons just yet. Eventually we made it to his bed, he turned on the television but turned down the volume, and we spent another hour making out. His fingers found other spaces to explore, but still I was too new at all this, too unaware, too reliant on someone who didn’t want to show me the map. When I got home later, I marvelled in front of the mirror at my bruised lips and went to bed that night with fantasies of a beach wedding, the smell of his cologne still in my hair.

For months I saw Acuras everywhere and thought of him.

But it was a year later, in the Infiniti, where he wanted to take my virginity. I said no. I wanted a bed. I wanted a little bit of romance, thank you very much.

So he took me back to the new Cantor’s place, in the middle of the day, a low-rise apartment building on Herkimer near a pharmacy. Every time I pass it now I know it as the place. The apartment was bachelor-filthy. A large screen television and an XBOX dominated the living room where the new Cantor was sprawled out on a foldout couch, still sleeping off whatever happened the night before. I was told to keep quiet as he ushered me into the bedroom.

Quick. Perfunctory. With little fanfare. He slapped his belly afterwards as he pulled his shirt back on and lamented, “too many Coronas.”

He leaned in to kiss me one more time as I lay on the bed, shocked and dismayed at what just happened.

“Now you can tell all your friends that you slept with Benny,” he said. I did, and I didn’t.

He took me to the Maple Leaf Pancake House afterwards. I still don’t eat blueberry pancakes to this day. As I looked up over the plate I asked him naively, “Are we boyfriend and girlfriend now?”

He didn’t really answer the question, but he did drive me home. He went back to Toronto and he never spoke to me again.

I guess he won the bet.

Why did I drudge this up? It’s so irrelevant. No! It’s not. Because it’s coloured each relationship I’ve had since that time. Did he know what he would do when he made that bet? What was he thinking?

My fourteen year old nephew invited us all to see his school production of The Wizard of Oz last week. As I followed the cast down the yellow brick road, my mind turned to the age of the actors. The same age I was when an adult man decided that he needed to win a bet and take my virginity. In that moment, I was sickened and I still weep for the young girl that I was. Perhaps too naive and too enamoured with the idea of romance to realize what was happening. But I learned quickly enough and as I hear more and more #metoo stories that echo, mirror, and build on what I and countless other women have experienced at the hands of men who misuse their power, I have to wonder: are we ready to be good to each other again? I’d like that. It starts with sitting in the grief, seeing it from the other side, acknowledging it, and ultimately, hopefully, letting it go.

Here it is: I let it go.

Time

Time heals. Time takes forever. Time requires patience, a virtue I’ve only just begun to build a relationship with, so maybe that requires time, too.

Not too long ago I remembered that the Wayback Machine has archives of all sorts. It’s recorded Internet time since, well… a long time ago. You know, relatively speaking. The Internet isn’t that old, after all.

So I went back in time to see what kind of a person I was five, ten years ago. Turns out I was an impatient person. But not the kind of impatient person who would do something. No, I just mostly complained. And then glossed over some of the biggest moments in my life. Like meeting my first boyfriend… Or breaking up with him. Or moving into my first apartment solo (shortly after the breaking up part.) Or adopting an orange tabby cat and subsequently naming him Trotsky because I studied a lot of twentieth century European history and wanted to give him a name with Historical Importance. Is it a coincidence he lives in exile now?

How about learning to sing? That’s been documented here a few times. I think I’d categorize those moments as the beginning of my relationship with patience. Although when Patience and I first met, it was a rocky relationship. I couldn’t wait to do things; Patience liked to check me a lot.

Most of the things I wrote back then are now of such little importance now. Most are meaningless in my life. Why didn’t I mention any of the Big Things? Why were they only hinted at?

Am I doing the same with this blog post? Perhaps.

I’ve only written a few things this year. Most of them are pretty meaningless.

I’ve never mentioned that I took a course in early Spring called the Neighbourhood Leadership Institute. The NLI is a leadership and skillbuilding program with three different streams, resident, professional, and youth. Because you needed a partner to participate, I contacted the NLI and was connected with a wonderful partner. Through the NLI you incubate a community project. My partner Sheila’s idea is a self-directed learning group called Partners in Learning Hamilton.

PIL is a weekly meetup group, mainly meant for senior citizens who’d like to socialize through meaningful conversation. We held our first pilot session in July, and we’re working on putting together the first five week session around the theme of Wellness, starting in late-September.

The idea of Partners in Learning Hamilton came from the original Partners in Learning group, of which Sheila was a member, in Grand Bend, ON.

The NLI was a unique experience. I met a lot of people from different parts of the city. I got to explore areas of Hamilton I’d never been to before, including the McQuesten Urban Farm, and Honouring the Circle, the Native Women’s Centre tucked away on the Mountain Brow.

Honouring the Circle Native Women's Centre

Honouring the Circle Native Women’s Centre

Prior to the NLI, I participated in the Women’s March here in Hamilton. The night before the march, a few of us gathered together at a friend’s place and we made signs and masks. The next day we gathered in front of City Hall to stand together and chant, sing, and be together. According to French sociologist Émile Durkheim when humans gather in a crowd, it creates a “collective effervescence,” a “glowy, giddy feeling where your sense of self slackens, yielding to a connection with your fellow, synchronized humans.”

womens-march-cat-masks

Women’s March protestors or the world’s best girl group?

cynthia-wearing-kitty-mask-on-womens-march-2017

Cynthia looking pensive in the crowd. Photo: John Rennison/The Hamilton Spectator

You can see the effervescence on my face here:

olga-and-naomi-at-womens-march-2017

You can see the effervescence on both mine and N’s face here!

Or how about the fact that I got a new car this year? Haven’t mentioned that at all, have I?

blue-the-wonder-focus

Her name is Joni. Because Joni Mitchell wrote “Blue,” one of my favourite songs.

I’m reading Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime right now. It’s the first time I’m reading a memoir written by a contemporary. I have to keep reminding myself that his stories of life in South Africa happened the same time I was growing up here in Canada. Our realities are a stark difference. In one story he recounts how his life changed after his friend Andrew gifts him a CD writer. At this point, he’s already running a flourishing bootleg CD business, but when Andrew gives him a CD writer, his whole life changes because he has the means to go further and he recognizes that without it, his life could have been stuck much like a lot of his friends who remain in South Africa.

He’s better able to explain it but essentially it amounts to this: that old adage that you can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for one day, but if you teach a man to fish he’ll eat for the rest of his life is all well and good. But how about giving the man a fishing rod, too? That’s the essential difference for some people, especially South African blacks. So many of them already know how to fish, but they haven’t got a fishing rod. It took a friend to give Trevor his first “fishing rod”.

All this to say, I would not have this car without the assistance of a friend. And maybe it’s too soon to tell what this car can do for me, other than haul my butt from my office to the home (for now.) Actually I think it’s definitely too soon to tell what this car can do for me, but I know that it will help me in my life. Maybe it’s my fishing rod?

It’s hard, you know. Hard to tell what you’re looking at when it comes to time. Because so often we’ve got our noses pressed so hard to the glass that everything just looks blurry. All you’re seeing are shades of colours rather than anything fully formed. And maybe that’s why I’ve written so little about what now look like bigger things in my life now that they’ve come and gone. Even so, as the years continue to stretch out and I get a clearer idea of the picture my life is turning into, they could just be minor blips in the bigger picture.

But at least I’m noting them down. And maybe the Wayback Machine will one day spit out this blog post to remind me that these things happened and I’ll be grateful for the reminder.

Happy International Women’s Day 2017

Year after year International Women’s Day transforms just a little more, honing itself into a careful diamond that shines brighter as more women wake up.

We’ve had some incredible moments as women in the year.

Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau stood up and declared himself a feminist.

Air India organized its first all-women’s flight crew. Their inaugural flight circumnavigated the globe.

Female artists showed us that we can be in the same space together and hold hands, not throw elbows.

Credit: Billboard.com Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage

The world stopped for one day and declared itself female.

Credit: Wikicommons Photo by Mark Dixon

It’s a heady time. I’m constantly full of emotions I can’t always explain. But these are good things. We all need these moments. I am so proud of all of us.

Keep going, ladies. We’re all in this together now.

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Reminders in life

This sign hangs above my desk in my office. It pretty much covers all of life, be it business, love, relationships with other human beings, your spirituality, and even your health.

This sign hangs above my desk and when I am stressed or feeling down I look up and there it is.

A photo posted by Olga Kwak (@piratecakes) on Aug 12, 2016 at 7:50am PDT

 

It reads:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste and, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of years, gravefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

— Found in old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore; Dated 1692

There are many moments in my life when I could use this advice. Even today, as I sit here pining over this, that, and the other, I am reminded that whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. So I must be gentle with myself.

Do you ever find yourself in that mood where you feel stuck because of one thing or another isn’t going right or isn’t moving fast enough? Maybe this poster will help you as well. Feel free to share it.