Among the many different ways I make one living, I also bake. I have a burgeoning cupcake business on the side and work part time making cookies in a local bakery.
Baking is cathartic, therapeutic and a good way to erase the brain of all negative and worrisome thoughts. Not only that, it helps me write. The way it works is, if I’m stuck on a lead to a story, or how to organize and structure my info in it, or just can’t quite get past the research phase into the writing one, I bake. I think it just gives my brain something organized yet still creative to work on so that when I approach the page again it’s clear and fresh.
It helps just now that I’ve begun using my mom’s old mixer, the one I learned to bake with as a child. But that’s a whole other post, coming soon.
Yes, he’s named after the character in Tempest. He’s 8 years old and for the last 6 months or so he’s been quite sick with diabetes. But he’s doing much better now. It’s been a bit of a trial for us, and very expensive. One day I’ll write about my frustrating experiences at the vet, but today my neighbour told me she saw Caliban playing tag with another cat outside and it just made me so happy to know that he’s feeling well enough to romp around with his pals again.
Another neighbour took this photo when he was at the height of his illness, so he looks a bit thin, but still gorgeous. And in case you’re wondering, his markings and temperament indicate he might be part Bengal. He’s pretty feisty, even when he’s feeling low.
For a long time it’s been my intention to write about my time spent living in Vancouver (2000-2006) but for one reason or another I never have. Since Vancouver is my unrequited love, it might have been a bit painful for awhile. But in honour of my visit there later this month, and as a primer for it, I offer these small memory vignettes.
Take That Toronto
In my freelancing writing quest in Vancouver, one magazine that I pursued had a “Take That Toronto” column. My idea was to write a short piece on how perfect everyone’s hair looked and how immaculate their shoes were. The editor wrote back telling me “Vancouverites don’t need to be told we have great style, we know we do.” Well, she told me!
But if you’ve ever lived in Toronto, with its humidity, over-treated, hard water, and snow and salt then you can appreciate what I meant.
I never understood the term “manageable hair” until lived in the land of soft water. It was softer, shinier and for the first time I could use “product” in it without worrying about buildup. In Toronto my hair was always BIG.
(to be honest my BIG hair sensitivity began in elementary school where I used to get called “mop-head” but we don’t need to go there today)
That it could, or ever would be any different is one of those happy discoveries that, while not life-changing by any stretch, certainly goes a long way to making your aging self feel better.
The shoe thing is just a matter of getting longer life out of a pair of shoes or boots due to little or no snow or salt. That means you’re more inclined to spend more on them, hence the well heeled feet of Vancouverites. (you could say the same about their cars actually).
Moving to Vancouver coincided with the first time since I was a teen that I grew my hair long, so having it so easy to take care of was a delight. In fact, I didn’t go for a haircut until about two years in. You can read about that harrowing experience in a piece I wrote called Of Human Blondage .
When I finally did get a salon haircut it was for a makeover show on CityLine. My former work colleagues from Toronto came to Breakfast Television, where I worked and couldn’t believe what they saw. Not only was my hair way long, but I wasn’t wearing the usual impeccable outfits and full makeup they were used to seeing me don as a junior exec at Chum in Toronto. They swiftly sent me to The Lounge Hair Studio on Richards, deaf to my protests of enjoying my new found “naturalness.”
That’s where Martin Hillier let loose my curls – yes, curls, which I didn’t even know I owned – and showed me how to enhance them with product! Product, I might add, that washes out just fine!
Now that changed my life. Let’s just say, men really like curly hair.
So as I sit here with a lump of build up at the back of my head, after years of detox shampoos, extra long rinses in the shower and narrowly escaping my own threat to just cut it out and off, I am really looking forward to 5 days of great hair in Vancouver later this week! And even though I cannot afford to get my hair cut and styled for the wedding I’m attending, I do know that no matter what, my hair will feel soft and look shiny clean! No buildup!
I bake up a storm every Christmas – well, not just this time of the year, but now more than ever. In order to meet the demands of holiday parties – which is largely my own desire to share my treats – I’ve been baking in between working on journalism articles. It’s the perfect compliment to writing; when my brain tires of looking for the ideal way to shape a story, out comes the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and vanilla.
But there’s something else going on when I’m wielding the hand-mixer. It’s a comfort thing.
Baking conjures memories of how my sister and I, out of sheer boredom on a Saturday night (and also because my parents didn’t allow many store-bought sweets) would bake up some cookies, or a cake – often inventing recipes. Sometimes to disastrous results, but other times surprisingly yummy!
Recently we got together to do some power baking; cookies and cupcakes for my birthday party, and for a family brunch; one savoury (Gatto Napolitano) – a brand new recipe for us, and one sweet (my mom’s famous chocolate cake that has become my sister’s specialty). She commented that we work well in the kitchen and it occurred to me later that whenever we bake we’re unwittingly reliving those Saturday nights when we were craving sugar and trying to kick the ennui.
(Cleaning up the mess was another story altogether – some of our best fights were while doing dishes. For starters, we disputed who was washing, who was drying. You get the picture!)
These days we have the internet to help us along, and it was Google we consulted when, after decorating our cupcakes with pretty little silver balls, we wondered if they were even edible. The so-called dragees (pronounced dra-jeys) are indeed edible since, apparently a human somehow consumes silver regularly and nowhere near the amount that would be considered toxic. I’d tell you that in exact milligrams but I’m not sure I finished the article: a) we were laughing too hard at the thought that it didn’t occur to us that we might be poisoning people with our food art, and b) being the alarmist that I am, I shut the computer down – no surprise to my sister, mind you! She well knows my quirky food worries. I seem to remember that the tiny decorative candies used to contain traces of mercury and so are still banned from some parts of the US. Not here in Canada though. Good thing!
Both our baking escapades were successful which bodes well for a future business we’re dreaming up that has to do with spongy little cakes with creamy frosting and loads of dragees!
Though I’ve been baking since childhood, I still consider myself an amateur and that’s where You Tube comes in handy. I watched a good two hours of decorating techniques the other night. It seems everyone and their sister has a video on how to create the perfect cupcake swirl. Which led to yet another purchase at The Mercantile today for cake decorating supplies, this time a piping kit with oversized nozzles. Without the videos I would never have known that’s what I need to make the quintessential ice cream cone cupcake swirl!
Gotta go now though, I have Christmas baking to do. Oh ya… and that story I need to finish in between frosting my cookies and sprinkling them with – yet another handy video tip – coloured sugar!
“This beautiful, cleverly executed story gets to the very heart of the complexity of the first and most basic masculine bond, and how even through disappointment, abandonment, anger, confusion and pain, a son can still love, honour and protect his father.” – The Globe and Mail
This is the final paragraph in my Globe & Mail review of Vancouver writer, JJ Lee’s new memoir about his father.
The link to the whole review is below, but that paragraph is all you need to know to pick up the book, without ruining the surprise inside: fine, emotionally evocative and brutally truthful writing about one of the most important topics in a man’s life. There’s also a fascinating history of the men’s suit inside the pages of this book.
I’m working on a father-son anthology called Lonely Boy, stories written by men about the loss or absence of their fathers. It’ll be published in 2013. It’s an incredibly important, yet untapped topic. Sometimes I think men don’t get enough of our compassion anymore and I guess this project is my little contribution to righting that.
And, if you missed it, watch the hilarious SNL skit.
The popular romantic / erotic trilogy, 50 Shades of Grey, occupies the top three spots on best seller lists. After reading the first installment, it’s hard to understand why. I get that the material is titillating, but, as a writer who appreciates and is inspired by great writing, I’m a little disappointed. Still, you can’t argue with success, especially since the trilogy began as Twilight fan fiction, then developed its own storyline and characters and was self-published before being picked up by Vintage and became a runaway success.
Oh, there will be sequels, and yes, there will be a film! Any guesses on who will portray Anastasia and Christian?
For twelve years I blogged, with a great deal of success, under the URL herkind.com. I named the blog after a poem by my favourite poet Anne Sexton. I just really relate to her creative journey (not the suicide part, thank goodness) but the discovering her talent around age 40 part.
Now for purely practical reasons, I’ve decided to change my website to my own name; easier to find, no misunderstandings. It makes sense.
The day I began this process I worked on figuring out the new interface into the evening. Then, when I lay down my head to sleep I began feeling slightly anxious about the whole thing.
Herkind.com had about 3,000 hits per month, not bad for an ordinary blog. Readers – whether regular folks like me or the editors and other professionals I try to impress – got used to my style, my emotional truths and my willingness to talk openly about difficult topics like loneliness, regret, grief, longing, and the like. (which isn’t to say I don’t sometimes write about fun things too, I hasten to add) I hope people can still find me and won’t give up when they type in the old site.
By far the biggest reason for the anxiety, however, is that I began this blog on my first ever personally owned computer, in my first apartment in Vancouver, where I experienced a few years of extremely important personal growth. I moved there after giving up a successful career, in mid-career, just before my 40th birthday, and began my journey as a writer and independent person – that is, independent of past obligations and constraints. It was an incredibly joyful, sometimes difficult and always worthwhile time in my life that marked a stark and necessary departure…. and arrival.
Try as I might to hang on to memories of those times, they are slowly fading through the mists of time. I worry about that. And it makes me sad. Though I hold on to the lessons, which of course is the most important part of it all.
I think I’ve found a way to feel okay about this website retirement though. Posts titled The Vault will bring the best of herkind.com into this blog, not for a rehash , but to remember and commemorate all the hard work. And also to introduce new readers to those parts of me.
Not to mention, no writer ever wants to let go of past good writing!
I’ll be slowly migrating some of all that, and the links to my writing work over here so bear with me as I’m a work in progress for the time being.