Waste not, want more

No variations on a theme.

The Spark of Passion Smells like Death

As a glamour-puss in training, I was using my vacation day to vacuum my home and contemplate life when a series of thoughts about recent writing, shelved writing, teenage writing, books that fascinate me, what I want to do with my blog, my future, and my life culminated in a realization: I am dedicatedly fascinated by death. In particular, how people process the deaths of loved ones, stars, arch enemies, and world villains.

My teen writing was filled with death, but I thought that was an age-related affliction. In those days, I just loved to read fictional tales of teens with cancer or kids who lost parents. Later Stephen King gripped me for a good couple of years before I turned my eye to more literary sources.  My new favourites became books where well-developed characters deal with a death or the dark aspects of their relationship with someone now dead.

On the other hand, adding to the list of things I’ve always attributed to “being Portuguese”, I grew up in a home where death was perhaps the most normal of conversations, perfectly child appropriate and fun for the whole family. There was talk of who died, why they died, the extent to which that person’s death was a tristiza (sad event) or a desgraça (tragedy) or não foi uma surpresa (not a surprise). Likewise, talking about somebody’s illness, diminishing health, or imminent demise was never seen as disrespectful or downright offensive. Like taboo-free gossip. But there’s an up side. I adapted well to the notion that my parents would die, my friends would die, and that I would probably die, too, maybe even sooner than one would assume. AND, I can talk pretty comfortably about death.

Finally, I have never had a particularly dramatic response to a death – one that lasted a culturally appropriate amount of time and is followed by normalcy. For me, initial shock has been followed only by moments of missing someone, or noting their absence. These moments rise and fall as everything else in our life does. My lack of reaction has, in some ways, been of some concern to me. Is my otherwise sensitive heart cold to death? Do I see death as good? Do I just not care enough about those that have died? Sure, there’s no normal grief, but there is healthy grief.

And now my mind is awash with ways I can attack death or show death some love. It’s a marketer’s dream!


August 2, 2012 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Death, Portuguese-ness?, Self-reflection, Writing | , , | 6 Comments

Sigh-ns of Life

I did not think it was going to take me two weeks to revisit the world of writing here. I had initial envisaged a 3-part tribute to  my dad whose birthday would have been this last week. One of the intended posts – a publishing of something I’d written in the midst of processing the news of my dad’s illness and the throes of being 16, a heady combination. I’d decided against that post anyway because though I can forgive myself my perspective and attitudy writings at that time, that doesn’t mean I feel it would be appropriate to share them. Too many people in my family would not appreciate that if they knew and I think I’m okay with that.

My two other mid-thought posts have not manifested either though and for only practical reasons like working much too long hours, being away, and being sick. Thankfully, despite all this and today’s exhaustion, I’m in good spirits and hope to re-emerge into the world in short order. In case I don’t however, because I’m dying to communicate but incapable of sitting here much longer, I decided to provide random poetry that happens to be typed up on my computer. It’s random in that I’m just going to pick something that I find in short order. Lucky you!


A cast-off piece of maltreated gold has no idea of its continual worth and influence

People have tried to change it, fix it, break it, but it stubbornly, successfully stood strong


If, in despair, it buried itself within the rocks of once boiling lava…


It would be difficult for those who still looked on it amorously –despite the wrinkles of a grinding life-

To forgive escape


Gold’s brilliance endures many eruptions.


* Portuguese for the respectful form of “you” – I know there’s a term but it’s not coming

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Mr. Lonely, Portuguese-ness?, Wild Animals, Writing | 5 Comments

Strategic Plotting

I’m fairly convinced that I’m bad at chess and war games for the same reason that I’m bad at plot development. I cannot think ahead in that way, considering different contingencies, adjusting my plans in advance. I’m bad at debates for the same reason, unless it’s a topic in which I am confident – like the best route to ride to school. Some people, like people who are wicked at puzzles and the like, can slap down a strategy like a $2 mortgage payment. Me, it’s like trying to fork over a lung while still breathing. Because of this ineptitude, I need your help to prevent anybody whispering checkmate in my unsuspecting ear.

At issue for me today is a different kind of plotting, thankfully not my garden or my grave (which reminds me, I wrote my epitaph when I was 13: Rose’s toes over there and her nose this way goes). I mentioned in my last post that I intend to work in some time over the holidays to interview my mom and aunt for a writing project. My priority would be to talk to my aunt and get as much of that done as possible – she has seniority since she’s 81.

My aunt, Tia I’ll call her since that’s what I call her, is awesome and energetic and some sort of biological enigma. She’s also got great stories that weave into other stories and include unnecessary details about temperature, carpet colour, time of day, sale price. I feel relatively well equipped to handle her meanderings. She deals well with interruption. I think questions and other prompts will help. What I’m not so sure about is getting her to sign onto the project in the first place.

Don’t go thinking I’m about to go manipulating a senior into some sketchy exposé about how much she pays for garbage pick up. I don’t plan on getting her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. I don’t think Tia would be against this idea at all in principle. In fact, I think she’d be interested and pleased, and also recognize that it gives me an opportunity to learn more about my dad, her brother, too. But she’s a bit funny. She’s anxious by nature and this hasn’t improved in recent years. Further, it’ll be the Christmas season and she’s likely to be in Tia mode, with family arriving unannounced for a week or whisking her away or expecting to be fed or building her a new wall unit. Also, my mom suspects that if I give her any notice, she’s likely to obsessively stress and get herself into quite a tizzy. On the other hand, without notice, it seems a little presumptuous to show up at her house with a sleeping bag and the modern day equivalent of a tape recorder, make a pot of tea and say, “OK, Tia. I’m writing a book about your life. Now, you were born March of 1930, right?”

You may be wondering why I don’t just go with the flow and see how she reacts. I’d love to be all, “Universe, show me the way” about this. But my panic is as follows: at the risk of being dramatic, it’s hard to foresee a time in the next few years where I will be able to dedicate another week to this sort of thing. Tia lives 9 hours away, so occasional mini-sessions are not really an option. The phone I think would be a little bit atrocious, under the circumstances. I don’t want to take it for granted that Tia will be around for another gazillion years.

My mom, being the devious little monkey that she is, is tasked with telling Tia I’m planning to interview my mom and seeing how she reacts. I’m eagerly awaiting the report. In the meantime, I’m still trying to strategize, which is a little like paddling a kayak with one arm.

So I’m asking you dear savvy and sensitive readers, how do I approach this? And, seriously what is the modern equivalent to a tape recorder? I actually need to know.

November 16, 2011 Posted by | Cycling, Portuguese-ness?, Writing | , , , | 13 Comments

I Prefer My “Maiden” Name and You Can Too (or Not).

I cannot express how excited I am. I am ridiculous.The wheels are in motion for me to return to the surname I enjoyed for more than a quarter century. And no. I have no confessions of relationship drama or emotional turmoil, which makes this much more fun. So why is this coming to a head now?

I’m quasi close to graduation and even closer to actually getting my degree (not online, you’ll be saddened to know). In a field where people actually do hang their piece of paper on the wall, I’d like to awkwardly change my name back only once. Now seems like a good time. But the other, maybe more important reason, is that some 4+ years ago there was an agreement between me and hypothetical people. “Good. So we’ll go with the name change. But you can change your name in five years, if you want.” I sent an ashamed email to a friend I knew would sympathize/scold me and thereafter, for practical purposes, owned the name change whole heartedly.

I had completely new documents and a corresponding new personality (I kid) within a month. I’ve been uncomfortable about this deal ever since. Not in a dramatic, “what have I done” sort of way. In more of a genuinely confused, send my mom a card with the wrong last name on it kind of way. Seriously. Cause if my name’s different, then my mom’s must be too, right? The point being, I have not embraced (or understood) with whole heart this new me.

This of course, is indicative of the negotiations and starting positions. I never thought I was going to change my name. Hypothetical people never thought they would have a partner who didn’t. What were a lover of tradition and a lover of her name and its meaning to do? As I understand it, some level of standoff is not uncommon. A friend I know characterizes it this way: her otherwise progressive and awesome partner turns into a neanderthal about 10 seconds into a discussion of why a woman needn’t change her name. Thankfully, I haven’t witnessed any cave-burning or club weilding.

It hasn’t escaped me that my name is my father’s. I get that that raises its own issues about patriarchy. But that doesn’t change that I feel more connected to his (my) last name than any other. I was also named in the traditional Portuguese manner, which means that my mom’s name also made the cut: Rose [Mother’s hard to pronounce maiden name] [Father’s Surname]. While my mom’s team doesn’t get listed in the phone book, it is still in there, which I’ve always liked.

Just to be clear, I’m not invested in how other people deal with this issue. In an ideal world, I suppose, I would prefer that there was at least a conversation, that people didn’t just assume that in the straight marriage scene every woman should and would change her name. There are those who keep, those who take, those who long to take because they hate that freaking name, those who keep and then take, those with different work and personal names, hyphenators, combinators and those who challenge marriage as a patriarchal institution and reject the whole deal. In classic liberal wishy-washy fashion – I dig. Name yourself as you will.

September 29, 2011 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Doing it the hard way, Hypotheticals, Portuguese-ness? | , , | 11 Comments

Bytes and Pieces

I’m aware that this isn’t a hip topic however I almost had a wordpress fit today and if I don’t mention it it will feel very dishonest. Why does nobody else have these problems? Fit mentioned. It’s never a good sign when I have to apologize at the beginning of a post.

I’m awfully discombobulated. I went out on Thursday, which happens beyond never. There were three of us. There was kitty visiting, dinner out, a few gin and tonics, then back to someone’s house for a snack, more drinks, and sitting out on the porch with blankets on (it’s Victoria after all) for another few hours. We took taxis everywhere. I got home at 2:30. I couldn’t figure out if I was 18 again or 51. I had a really great time.

I’m almost done my third and final co-op term. It’s been a crazy experience filled with really great people, lots of learning, and even more self doubt. All of this means I’m tired.

Me and anonymous people head to the states for two weeks of excessive national park and butt in the car time. Probably some sweating too. This induces some guilt because we should probably go home and spend that time, or some of it, with family. Some of us don’t understand about guilt. I am not some of us.

Back to heading south: Who needs air conditioning? Which reminds me, we had actually forgotten how fun it is to have music in the car. We’d been running on radio only for about two years. 10 hour trips to the interior were the worst. Otherwise, things didn’t seem that bad. There’s radio a lot of the way, etc. Though I have low tolerance for non-CBC radio. Big problems like that. But, a la 1994, we went and bought a stereo for our car. It wasn’t expensive, but it’s still probably worth almost as much as our car. Next battle? Actually organizing our music to listen to it in our car. Old computer (5 years) with old operating system (same) with old version of itunes (since the last time it let us download the update) will not talk to new ipod. In steps computer number 2 which is newer (2.5 years), has a completely functioning version of itunes, and very little of our music. This is not hard, or a real person’s problem, but it’s tripping up stereo enjoyment something fierce.

What’s my point?

I find this whole situation reaffirming my buy little and deal with it approach. Buying one thing leads me to feel like I need something else that I didn’t feel like I needed five minutes ago. Like that shirt I buy ’cause I love it and then realize everything I own looks hideous with it, in part, because I don’t have many clothes (though my closet’s still full- how does that happen?). They’re tricky those capitalists. I waver between wanting to live in the comfortable equivalent to a burlap sack and going chic.

Oh and is there any merit in skipping the compost middle man and putting vegetable cuttings, for example, straight into your dirt when you plant something? I’m not sure who’s supposed to answer that.

Farmer’s market food is giving me great pleasure. Fava beans, summer squash and cherry tomatoes. Dinner is calling my name.

July 30, 2011 Posted by | Consumption, Doing it the hard way, Portuguese-ness? | 2 Comments

Words (and other things resembling words) that warm my cockles: 3

(As a lover of words, phrases, lyrics, plays on words and so on, and someone seeking ways to better celebrate the little things, I’ve decided to develop a series dedicated especially to these linguistic trinkets.)


pronounced pee-POHK-a

This word is wrapped in fairy dust for me, which may sound a little goofy  since “pipoca” is the Portuguese word for the very non-mystical treat, popcorn.

The second time (but the first time I remember) that I went to Portugal I was nine. Spending time on the island my mom is from, Terceira, was positively earth-shattering. Though admittedly, I struggled with food and proper decorum, other aspects of the trip were fascinating. Meeting my grandmother, the only grandparent I have memories of, and aunt, as well as a ton of family I had never heard of, was overwhelming. It was one of those times as a child where I was struck by the extent of my parents’ lives before me. The feeling was repeated when we went to the island my dad is from, Flores. I’d always had a sense that my parents came from another world and had two cultures and ways of knowing, but being there was powerful.

The Jardim, courtesy of azores.com

Anyway, my mom was from the “big city” on Terceira; Angra do Heroismo has a beautiful and famous public garden, known as the Jardim (or the garden, strangely enough). Entranced, walking through the gardens of this historic city, I can’t remember what happened first. Either I smelled the popcorn or I heard the pipoqueira yelling out “pi-poc-a”. I suspect it was the latter, because I remember asking what the word meant. In retrospect this seems a little strange because we spoke Portuguese at home, but I guess pipoca is one word that didn’t manage the trip over, like the word juice (sum) or knife (faca – guess why that one didn’t make the trip).

Everything about this word became happiness. Not only did it sound like popping corn, and make me smile as I said it, my parents were happy that I was excited by a new word, they were happy to be there and probably also happy that I was excited about some kind of food. To top off the moment’s magic, we actually bought popcorn, which was a real treat since my parents were never really the spontaneous street food type.

In sum, the word pipoca gives me a smile. It’s fun to say, especially for English speakers, and reminds me of a happy and a rare moment of being caught up in magic.

June 20, 2010 Posted by | Consumption, Portuguese-ness?, Words that warm | 1 Comment

Yet another list of things: Portuguese

I don’t actually know much about being Portuguese. I’ve been to Portugal three times, once at 18 months when my note-taking skills weren’t quite as strong. My parents are/were Portuguese and their small social circle in my hometown was too. Any Portuguese-Canadian that I’ve known at all well comes from one tiny, and relatively poor, island, with the exception of a few people on my mom’s side. I recognize I haven’t taken the best sample. This is part of the reason that I struggle in identifying with my Portuguese self. On one hand, I strongly do, on the other hand, I feel like a big poser. All that aside, I thought it would be interesting to consider what I know of as Portuguese-ness. In no way do I think that this is what Portuguese-ness actually is, not that you could ever explain that anyway. There should probably be a lot to say about church, but I can’t quite wrap my head around that.

  • sandwiches are actually called “sandweeshas”
  • self-sacrifice is the highest form of enlightenment, no matter what anybody tells you about balance and healthy lifestyles, especially for women
  • yelling is not yelling, it’s “just talking”
  • tomatoes grow in backyards only, otherwise you get them from jars in the wine room
  • women should wear cork sandals in the house – always
  • be surrounded by water but don’t learn how to swim, unless you’re a man
  • men can have emotions, lots of ’em
  • eating fish is good, eating bacalau (salt cod) is better, eating bacalhau often is best
  • normal people have back problems, big ones. I attribute this to lifting cows on the above mentioned island though I’m told that this is not quite accurate.
  • grandparents don’t smile in pictures. Advertisements that show otherwise are seriously misleading.
  • having your 8-year-old cut up meat and stuff sausage is important, having them eat it raw is ok too
  • when people come to visit, drive at least 800km a day in a caravan of cars stopping quickly for pictures and sandweeshas
  • the growing, making and taking of food is an experience worth savouring

Até logo!

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Hypotheticals, Portuguese-ness? | 1 Comment

Peanut Butter Soup = Good

I’ve been charged with  harbouring too much rage about my childhood. I’ve been told that, like the 5440 song, I blame my parents and my “memory’s lost to pride” (even that relentless guitar sort of does feel like my teenage me). I’ve heard the phrase “get over it” more than once.

But what does that have to do with the price of eggs?

Food and I have had a somewhat strained relationship. First there was that whole “eww, breastmilk again!” phase. Followed by a phase of total eating abandon; I was most known at around 18 months for saying “Opa”, meaning “sopa”, the Portuguese word for soup. And I had a lot of it. Like many other kids, or so I gather, this phase was followed by a picky as all get out phase. I remember hating meat, steak especially, and chewing wads of it for what felt like hours as it got dry and no less broken down in my mouth. This was especially problematic on trips to visit family, where my failure to eat was a constant source of stress, confusion and charges of “spoiled”. At 9, I think I survived in Portugal on bread and water. They ate butter instead of the margarine I was used to, the seafood was eaten still wriggling, the milk was whole and I could see the cow it came from, even the juice tasted weird. I still get embarrassed now thinking about my unappreciative behaviour. There is small comfort in the possibility that as a child I was particularly sensitive to tastes, textures and smells.

I was better through the teen years though I don’t remember enjoying the majority of food made at home, a classic meat and potatoes type of setting, often with beans or boiled vegetables though with fresh garden salad (lettuce and tomatoes. every. day.). And, what I have come to believe is a Portuguese affliction, little flavour beyond olive oil. [Olive oil is lovely especially now that it doesn’t flavour my cod or get used on my various bruises]. Others will deny this about Portuguese cuisine but I ask them to prove it. Please. Moving out and living in residence in first year did not improve my love of food much  since the same day-in day-out cafeteria options always seem limiting and I got myself into weird habits like having spinach, carrots, and mushrooms every day.

Since developing a more accepting palate, discovering spices and working at cooking for myself and choosing what I like to eat, I’ve learned that I LOVE food. It’s exciting I have to admit. I still don’t prefer saucy beans, dry meat, or fish that’s not candied or barbecued in fantasticness but mealtime is a much more enjoyable experience and one that I look forward to, at least when I make the time to cook what I want. Do I blame my parents? Maybe some. Though I think I’m lucky to appreciate food so much now. But more than anything, I think it’s a good reminder of the many joys of adulthood.

And on that note: the peanut butter soup was delicious.

This post was brought to you by procrastination.

May 7, 2010 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Portuguese-ness? | 3 Comments