Archive for ‘waxing philosophical’

August 22, 2013

On knowing your limits.

by Decemberbaby

“I could never do that.” I hear it all the time. From friends and family commenting on my new spice pantry to random passersby admiring my cargo bike laden with three kids, people seem absolutely positive about what they can’t do. Sure, it’s good to know your limits… but I’ve come to believe that most of us don’t know our limits at all, because most of us don’t push them.

We have a concrete walkway from the street to our front porch. It’s been there for as long as the house has, and it shows. One square in particular was all cracked and uneven because of the massive tree roots that grew directly under it. It was a serious tripping hazard, and it needed to be fixed.

Our recent foray into living frugally led me to wonder how hard it could possibly be to break up about 6 square feet of concrete and pour some cement into the resulting hole. Seemed like it would be worth $200 to do it myself rather than hiring someone to do it. And so off to Home Depot I went in search of a rental jackhammer. I was thinking of something smallish, like this:

small jackhammer

Instead, what I got was this:

concrete breaker

The thing was so large it needed a wheeled stand for transport. I couldn’t even lift the thing. I got it home, installed the humungous drill bit (bruising my palm in the process,) and dragged it over to where I needed it. I pressed the button and pushed down on the handles. The bit skittered across the concrete and lodged itself in the lawn. I tried starting on an existing crack. It was better right up until the bit got stuck and I couldn’t pull the breaker out. The neighbours were stopping to watch. One came forward and offered to play with R while I solved my problem. In the end, the handyman who was working next door came out and helped me sledgehammer away some concrete so I could remove the breaker bit and start all over again.

After an hour and a half of inept fumbling, and with childcare provided by Sesame Street, I had finally, finally broken up the concrete into pieces the size of half a cinder block each. My arms were shaking as I dragged the tool back to the car and heaved it into the trunk. My hands were too weak to remove the bit, so I coiled up the power cord and hoped that I hadn’t caused any permanent damage to the machine. Or, you know, myself. We took the breaker back to Home Depot and then the kids and I celebrated my triumph over the concrete with frozen lemonade and cookies.

On a side note, I used a sledgehammer at various points along the way, and afterwards a contractor who was working a few houses down complimented me on my sledge technique. That just about made my day.

So now there’s a pile of rubble where a concrete slab used to be, and as soon as I can lift my arms again Mr. December and I will clear it out so I can pour the new concrete.

While I was wrestling with the stuck machine, the neighbours came over and started talking about all the former neighbours who tried to remove a concrete walkway by themselves. Apparently none of them succeeded, and the implication, of course, was that I would fail as well. My mother’s response when she heard about my adventure was, “why didn’t you hire someone? You shouldn’t do that kind of thing yourself!” But why not? Because most people don’t? Because I’m not a hugely muscular male? Because everyone imagined I couldn’t?

I could. I did. And I never would have known had I not tried. It’s reminiscent of how I thought I’d never be able to bike the kids all the way to school and all the way home without being red in the face and wishing my legs would just fall off already, and now I can comfortably bike 20 kilometres in a day and wish I had somewhere else to cycle off to. There’s no mystique to using a jackhammer or cycling a cargo bike or building a pantry inside a wall – the trick is to go and do it.

I don’t know what my limit is. I can bike 200 pounds of bike and kids (plus myself,) I can demolish a sidewalk, I can sew a quilt. I haven’t yet failed completely in anything I’ve tried. Practicality may win out in the end, and I may never truly know my limit, but I know that I haven’t hit it yet.

As the Jewish New Year approaches I’ve been more introspective than usual, and I wonder where my spiritual limits are. I feel like I’ve gotten spiritually lazy and started saying “I could never do that” rather than trying and then deciding whether I want to “do that.” It behooves me to be as brave spiritually as I’ve been physically, and start trying.

Which of your limits would you like to push?

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June 12, 2013

Afraid of the iPhone…

by Decemberbaby

I have a dumbphone. I use it to phone people. That’s all. The technological high point of my cellphone use was when I enabled bluetooth and linked it to our minivan’s computer. I don’t text, I don’t browse, I don’t even keep people’s numbers programmed into my phone. Dumb, right?

About a year back I bought myself an iPod touch, to see if I could use it to get more organized. Now I’ve been using it for alarms, reminders, “to do” lists and my calendar, and I like it.

So maybe I should get an iPhone, right? That’s what I’m thinking… but I’m scared.

Of what, you ask? Well, aren’t you the nosy one.

I’m scared of lifestyle inflation.

One minute I’m paying a total of $25 a month for voice calls and using an iPod touch with no data plan – its access to the internet is only through WiFi – and the next I’ll have an expensive iPhone, I’ll be paying $45 a month for a data plan, and suddenly I won’t be able to imagine life without it. I won’t survive a day out without checking email and facebook. I won’t have a conversation without looking up some trivial point of interest. And I won’t want to.

This is my nightmare.

Right now I’m very happy not being connected all the time. Sure, maybe once every 5 days I think, “hmmm, this day would work so much more smoothly if I had a smartphone right now,” but I get over it pretty quickly. Many days I leave the house without my dumbphone and, though mildly annoying, it’s not a disaster. So… why mess with a good thing?

The major upside (aside from mobile internet capability) is that I’d only have to remember one device instead of two. It seems that one is the most I can keep track of consistently, and I use my telephone so infrequently that it gets forgotten most often. Then again, if I use it so infrequently then why do I need an expensive iPhone? Why not just carry the iPod around all the time like I already do?

And so it swirls round in my head. I’ve already wasted way too much time debating this, so I’m turning it over to you, the internets. Please comment and tell me what you think. I need to hear from voices outside my head for a change.

February 5, 2013

It’s an honour just to be nominated… the Liebster award

by Decemberbaby

I recently received a message from my bloggy friend Rivki over at Life in the Married Lane that she had nominated me for a Liebster award. I’ve never heard of these awards before, but it’s an honour to be chosen. Here are the rules:

1) Tell 11 things about yourself.
2) Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated you.
3) Post 11 questions for those who will be nominated by you.
4) Nominate 11 bloggers.
5) Get in contact with those bloggers to inform them that you nominated them

It’s easier than thinking up a totally original post, so here goes…

11 Things about me:

1. I once ran a half-triathlon. I was 19 years old and reeling from a recent diagnosis of fibromyalgia. I set my own training schedule, trained for three months, and came in second in my age class… out of two athletes. I am immensely proud and still have the plaque and the photos to prove it.

2. I knew that I would marry Mr. December within moments of seeing him. Not meeting him, seeing him. And it wasn’t a conscious, “wow, he’s so gorgeous I wanna marry him.” It was more of an intuitive flash: my brain said to me, “I’m gonna marry that guy,” and I said to my brain, “What? That’s crazy! You don’t know him! You don’t even know if he’s Jewish!” Needless to say, my intuition was correct. I was 15 years old.

3. My children did not come easily to me. I was infertile. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and completely changed my perspective on life. Truly. I’ve been depressed, bitter, emotionally unstable, jealous, and every other ugly emotion you can think of. Infertility is brutal. One of my biggest fears is that infertile people may see me with my three children under the age of 5 and feel jealous and resentful. Our past struggles aren’t out there for all to see. I sometimes wish I could dress my kids in t-shirts that say “IUI Baby”, “IVF Baby”, and “We thought we were infertile. Surprise!”

4. I’m very comfortable with the elderly. I used to work in a nursing home. Dementia doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I’m happy to sit and converse with elderly people for hours. I wouldn’t normally mention this, but it’s been brought to my attention that many people are extremely uncomfortable in those situations.

5. I once spent a month in a wheelchair. It was crunch time in second-year university and my fibromyalgia was flaring up and making it difficult to get through the day. Staying home sick wasn’t an option, so I used a wheelchair to help me conserve energy so that I could keep up with my schedule. It was definitely an education. To this day, that was the only time anyone at Tim Hortons has asked me if I’d like my muffin heated up.

6. I like sex. I hear jokes and anecdotes about wives not being interested in sex and I’m completely unable to relate. This is verging on TMI, so I’ll leave it at that.

7. My guilty pleasure? Ready Pride and Prejudice Fanfiction. I don’t know why I love it so much, but I never get tired of the “what ifs?” inspired by Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. It’s like reading trashy novels, I suppose. Also, some of it is surprisingly (and enjoyably) smutty (see item #6.)

8. I’m not happy unless I’m creating something. I actually kind of dread vacations, because I don’t know what I’d do after the first few days without my sewing machine and power tools. Honestly, just how many novels can one person read?

9. I had some seriously low self-esteem. I had practically no friends in elementary school. I was frequently the only kid in my class not invited to bar mitzvahs (really, what kind of parent allows their child to invite the whole class minus one?). I was teased about my clothes, my hobbies (apparently classical opera-style singing isn’t cool,) the way I spoke (my mother was from a British colony. We didn’t braid my hair, we plaited it.) It wasn’t until I got to high school that I realized the problem wasn’t me – it was the culture at my old school. Suddenly my skills and talents (and quirks) were valued, I had friends, and my whole self-image changed.

10. I kind of wish I had the discipline and dedication to be frum. I love Judaism, its traditions, its community, and I wish I could really be fully part of a frum community… but I can’t. I’m just not there. I’m still coming to terms with that realization. Good thing my frum friends still love me regardless.

11. I have no regrets. I’m one of those annoying people who feels that everything that’s happened has made me into the person I am, so no regrets. Not one. Well, maybe one: I shouldn’t have eaten that chocolate bar today. But aside from that, no regrets.

Now, Rivki has asked a bunch of questions that I’m supposed to answer. Let’s see how many I can get through before my eyes start to close:

  1. If you could outsource any domestic chore or duty, which one would you choose?

Definitely laundry. I’d rather scrub the bathroom than fold laundry. It used to be grocery shopping, but now I’m all organized and in a groove, so I don’t mind it so much.

What mitzvah, or spiritual practice, do you connect with the most?

Oh, boy. I’d have to say it’s a toss-up between Mikvah and the Passover Seder. Mikvah because it was personally very relevant right after my miscarriage and through the years of infertility treatments – it felt very much like a fresh start, physically and emotionally and spiritually. And the Passover seder? I love the wisdom inherent in it: our culture and religion are passed on through the things we tell our children. I love the ritualization of that retelling.

What’s your favourite holiday?

Passover, hands down.

Where’s the most beautiful place you’ve visited?

You’re going to make me choose? Okay, fine. We went on a hike in the Golan heights to a river called the “Jilaboon” (Nahal Giv’on, in Hebrew) and it ended in a deep valley, covered over by oleander trees in bloom, and a waterfall cascading into a deep pool. We went swimming there. It was gorgeous.

What song would you listen to for a burst of energy?

Walking on Sunshine. How can you not want to get up and get moving when you hear that song?

What do you consider comfort food?

Chocolate. Preferably Cadbury’s pretzels & peanut butter chocolate bar. Yum. Also on the comfort food list are hummus and pita, and chicken soup.

Prior to marriage, did you have a “list” of qualities you wanted in a spouse? If so, how close was your list to reality?

I’m sure I had a list running in my mind. I wanted a man with a beautiful voice, who would sing to me. I wanted someone who loved being outdoors. Someone who knew that chivalry wasn’t dead – who would open doors for me, etc. I wanted someone gregarious and optimistic. And who did I marry? I call him “Tall, Dark, and Broody.” He doesn’t really sing. He’s practically a vampire – feels no drive whatsoever to go outside. I trained him in the art of chivalry. Gregarious and optimistic? Hmmm… he’s a charismatic skeptic. He’s my perfect other half, and I’m crazy in love with him.

If you could play any instrument, which one would it be?

I do play an instrument. No, I play five or six: voice (yes, it’s an instrument,) piano, guitar, viola, flute, drums. If I could choose another to learn magically? I wouldn’t… I’d just choose to become very, very good at guitar.

You won a free trip to anywhere you like. Where would you go?

Israel.

Okay, now it’s my turn to ask the questions! Here goes…

1. What’s your passion in life?

2. Given the option, what time would be the “perfect” wake-up time for you?

3. What’s your favourite mode of transportation?

4. What do you think of The Simpsons?

5. If you were a food, what kind of food would you be?

6. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Did it pay off?

7. If you didn’t have to work for a living, how would you spend your days?

8. What’s your favourite charity?

9. If you had two hours a day all to yourself with absolutely no other obligatons, how would you spend them?

10. What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

11. Why do you blog?

And now for the nominees…

Jennifer from Adventures in Mama-land
Lisaleh from Modern Balabusta
Miri from Here we are together
Andy from Fly, little words, fly!
Sheryl from Little Snowflakes
Gideon from Exploring Souls and Cities
Elizabeth from Project Progeny
The ever-skilled at Lego, and apparently kind of anonymous, Bible Belt Balabusta
Cheryl from Wunch Break
Lisa from Helical Smile

And… that’s it. I know it’s only 10, but you’ll forgive me. Right? Right? If I’ve forgotten you, by any chance, please consider yourself nominated.

And now, off to inform my nominees. Can’t wait to see their answers!

… 1506 words later, I must conclude that it would have been easier to come up with my own post idea!

January 24, 2013

We want for nothing

by Decemberbaby

For a complicated variety of reasons, my sewing room is overflowing with fabric. It’s not exactly clutter, but there’s just too much of it. In the spirit of drastically reducing clutter, and having adopted the old rhyme “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” I decided to sew a few pairs of pants that N desperately needed. He’s a tall, skinny boy – any pants that are long enough in the leg have to be cinched in all the way in the waist, and the resulting ballooning looks kind of silly – so I figured making his pants also carried the advantage of giving him pants that fit nicely for a change.

It was while sewing his third pair of pants that I started thinking that I should have just ordered a few pairs from Old Navy online. I reminded myself that in order to avoid shipping charges I’d have to order at least $50 worth of merchandise, most of it stuff we don’t actually need. What N needed was three pairs of pants, and now he has them. The temptation to buy a little more, or to buy something cute on impulse, is completely absent when I make my children clothing. It just takes too long to make something if we don’t have a need for it.

It occurred to me the other day that I haven’t spent time in a mall in a very long time. I don’t like malls these days: I always leave with a severe case of what I call the “wanties”: I want some new pretty t-shirts, I want new throw cushions for the couch, I want that awesome floor lamp, I want another travel mug, some costume jewellery, a more coordinated wardrobe. None of these things are things I need. None of these things are things I wanted before I went to the mall. It’s just impossible to spend time in a place dedicated to consumption and to novelty without succumbing to the shopping bug.

Grocery stores offer similar pitfalls, though not on such a grand scale. I was just saying yesterday at a Weight Watchers meeting that planning my meals and shopping only once a week reduces the number of times I have to be tempted by food that I want but don’t need (and, arguably, shouldn’t have.) Last time I went shopping I handed over a bag of pecans, a bag of Craisins, and a chocolate bar to the cashier. “I changed my mind,” I told her, “I don’t really need this stuff.” I saved myself thousands of calories (yes, thousands. No joke.) I saved myself about $15. I also saved myself from a bit more kitchen clutter. I don’t know if I’d have the strength of will to do it three times a week, though. Stores have a way of convincing us that we need things.

When K was younger she liked to tell me that she needed things: “Mummy, I need a balloon. Mummy, I need a twirly dress. Mummy, I need chocolate!” I made a point of telling her – each and every time – that there was a difference between “need” and “want.” She doesn’t confuse the two very much anymore, but I don’t know that we can say the same for most adults in our society.

Most of us have what we need: shelter, some functional clothing, food, heat, family, friends. I’d hazard a guess that we also have most of what we want: stylish clothing, gourmet food, tastefully appointed homes, cars, iPods. We should be able to say that we want for nothing. But don’t we keep on wanting and wanting?

Thankfully, with no TV and no trips to the mall, I manage to keep my list of wants to a bare minimum, and I have no trouble saying “no” to myself if necessary. The kids are fine too: their wants aren’t many, and so we’ve avoided accumulating a lot of stuff. I wouldn’t say that we want for nothing, but we definitely don’t want for very much. I can say that we need for nothing. And if we did need something, there’s a very good chance I’d make it myself. It’s the best way I know to make sure that we have as much as we need, but no more. And besides, I want to make room for some pretty new fabrics…

January 17, 2013

“I want to hear one off your heart.”

by Decemberbaby

When I was a little girl, we had a nighttime ritual: after teeth were brushed and pyjamas donned, my brothers and I would pile into my parents’ bed and listen as they read us poetry. Not children’s poetry like Alligator Pie or A Child’s Garden of Verses, but classic poems: Byron’s Destruction of Senaccherib, Rudyard Kipling’s If, Ogden Nash’s Custard the Dragon (okay, that one was probably for children.) The poems all came from a book called The Golden Treasury of Poetry, which is now out of print, and which my brothers and I have all (at some point) tried to take home with us. None of us succeeded. Mum guards her poetry book zealously, by which I mean that it’s up there in the top three Things Nobody Else but Mum is Allowed to Touch EVER! along with her sewing scissors and her stapler.Untermeyer poetry

Fast forward to last year. At the school book sale there was a representative from a smallish publishing company, selling beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully curated anthologies of stories, legends, and poems. I took one look at the Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and knew that I had to have it. Boy, were the children disappointed when they learned that the book was mine – and that it was, in fact, The Book Nobody Else but Eema (mum) is Allowed to Touch EVER!

Owl and the PussycatI love reading poetry. It’s the rhymes, the rhythm, the economy of words, and the breadth of language that excite me. I read The Highwayman for the first time a few months ago and was clutching the book, knuckles white, until the girl sacrificed herself for her love. Something told the Wild Geese evokes in me that strange hollow feeling that comes at the end of summer when you just know that winter is on its way.  I just love poetry.

Do other people love poems as much as I do? Do any of you expose your children to good, classic poetry? I took it for granted that poetry would be part of a family’s reading repertoire, but then I read a comment thread on some forum in which parents had been asked for good things to read a kindergartener, and people mentioned all manner of serialized, licensed books that use the exact same vocabulary as we do in our day-to-day lives. For heaven’s sake, people, where’s the magic? How will our children’s minds and vocabularies and imaginations stretch if we keep limiting them to the same basic stories in the same basic words?

Despite my childhood exposure, my children came to poetry in a bit of an organic, roundabout way. We were waiting  somewhere – don’t ask me where – without books or toys, and I offered to tell my children a “rhyming story.” I recited Custard the Dragon and Jabberwocky to their rapt attention and when begged for an encore, I had to wind down with In Flanders Fields and Invictus. Eventually I had to stop reciting. I had reached the limits of my memorized repertoire. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” I told a disappointed K, “those are all the poems I know off by heart.”

We’ve been reading poetry together on a daily basis for a few weeks now. K and I have been working together on memorizing Tartary and Tyger Tyger. She can recite the first verse of each of those ones, and we’ve taken to using them to practice her speech therapy sounds. N can complete every line of The Owl and the Pussycat if I give him the first word or two. I can’t express how full my heart feels when I hear them reciting poetry. I love the sounds of the words as they trip off a toddler’s tongue. I hope that years down the road they will, at oddly appropriate times, be struck with the memory of a few lines of verse that we read long ago, and that the lines will bring them comfort, inspiration, and wonder.

In the meantime, poetry time in our home is synonymous with quiet, snuggly, family time. We don’t always use the book. After all, there’s something undeniably sweet about K saying, “Mummy, I want to hear a poem off your heart.” Absolutely, little girl. For you and your siblings, I always speak – and sing, and recite – off my heart.

November 27, 2012

Addiction

by Decemberbaby

Hi. I’m Sara, and I’m a cycle-a-holic.

I didn’t think it had come this far, but here I am. My knee hurts badly; I know that I shouldn’t bike tomorrow morning, and that makes me feel bereft. I don’t bike every single morning but I don’t take kindly to knowing that it’s off limits for now. The cravings are beginning. Driving the car is, at best, a necessary evil. There’s no joy in it; it just gets me from A to B and back. But cycling… aside from the obvious fitness benefits, it does wonders for my seasonal depression. Also my soul, my wallet, and my general sense of well-being.

Here’s why:

When I’m cycling, I’m close to the ground and there’s nothing between me and the world around me. I sing out “good morning” whenever we pass a pedestrian. We stop to examine the fire hydrants that haven’t been installed yet. We greet the same construction workers and crossing guards every time. Cycling gives me this sense of being part of the city instead of separated from it in a metal-and-glass bubble.

Nature is right beside me all along the road. I see the trees in various stages of autumnal undress, the places where there are more weeds than grass, the wetness of the road after a night of rain. The air feels clean in the morning, especially on the residential streets that make up most of my ride. I can see the sky – not a piece of it through a windshield, but the whole expanse – and I often marvel that even on cloudy days there is usually a clear patch of blue peeking through somewhere.

Throughout my ride, I have many opportunities to make it easier or harder for myself. I can relax and ride slowly if I feel like it, or I can push myself to the limit and set a new time record. I can lean into the turns more, challenging my skill and balance. I’m up against my own limits, and I often astonish myself.

I can chat with my children, point out landmarks, and ruffle their hair at stop signs. I get to watch them wiggle in time to the music from my iPod. When I greet pedestrians with a smile the children and I get to watch wizened old faces and jaded young faces break into a tentative smile or a grin and a surprised laugh. Even the grumpy-looking old man with the tiny dog (practically a fixture in our parking lot at drop-off and pick-up times) looks handsome when he smiles at us.

Even at my fastest, my speed probably tops out at 18 km/h. Fast enough to get where we’re going, and slow enough to not feel harried and rushed. Traffic means very little to me, gliding along residential streets and through pathways where cars can’t travel.

It’s possible to drive a car on autopilot. We’ve all done it, I’m sure, getting somewhere and realizing we have no particular memory about the journey. I’ve never been able to bike on autopilot. Cycling makes me feel connected – to nature, to the city, to the people, to myself and my limits. To God.

To paraphrase the milk commercials of my youth, cycling does a body good… but it does a soul great.

 

October 20, 2012

Prude.

by Decemberbaby

I just need to take a moment to bask in your love and approval. I might lose it with this post. Then again, maybe not.

You see, I’m kind of a prude. Sure, I’ll put my hand up at a Weight Watchers meeting and casually mention that sex counts as an activity, even if it’s not listed in the program guide. And I’m not in the least bit inhibited when it comes to, uh, marital intimacy. And I’ve slept with every guy I ever dated (it’s true! Does the fact that I only ever dated one guy change how that statement sounds?)

But you know, most of those things happen behind closed doors. And with the exception of the first one, my sexual exploits (sexploits?) are known only to me and Mr. December. Which is as it should be, as far as I’m concerned. There’s a time and a place for everything.

So I hope you’ll all understand when I state, here and now, that it bothers me exceedingly when women attend synagogue in skirts that don’t even make it halfway to their knees. Or in tops that show a lot of cleavage. It just screams “inappropriate!” to me. Even worse, it smacks of disrespect – even if none is intended.

I find it strange that some women get all defensive and bristly when I say this, as if it’s their God-given right to wear whatever they want whenever they want. As if someone is imposing some medieval dress code on them. As if we’re passing judgment.

Okay, I’m passing judgment.

But why do women defend their right to wear too-tight and too-revealing clothing into a synagogue when they would travel to India and gladly take off their shoes in any given temple, or respectfully don long pants instead of shorts when visiting the great cathedrals of Europe? What gives?

I’m not an adherent to the standards of tznius (modesty) in dress that orthodox women follow. But you know what? We come to synagogue, many of us, to talk to God. Or to be part of a holy community. It’s hard for me to feel holy, or focus on God, when my eyes are constantly drawn to a woman’s cleavage – and I’m a heterosexual woman. Seriously, it’s that distracting.

Is this about ego? Is it about being blind to the effect of one’s clothing on other people? And is it so hard to remember that how we dress for synagogue (or anything) is an expression not only of ourselves, but also of our respect (or lack thereof) for the sanctity and importance of the occasion?

I don’t have any answers. Just questions that come up time and time again… so I’m turning to you, my readers. What do you think? And if you think that there should be standards, who gets to decide?

 

May 29, 2012

Patina

by Decemberbaby

I have wooden countertops in my kitchen, and I love them. I can take a dish straight from the oven and put it on the unprotected counter. I can chop veggies on our counters. They’re even fabulous for kneading bread.

I do all these things on my bare countertops, and certain people get nervous. I hear comments like, “Shouldn’t you put a trivet under that?” “Use a cutting board! You’ll leave knife marks all over the counters!” and, of course, “won’t water ruin it?”

The answer to these comments depends, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, on what your definition of the word “ruin” is. Might the hot pans, sharp knives, and water mark the counters? Definitely. Do I care? No. Won’t the counters look ugly? In my opinion, no. They’ll just develop a lovely patina.

In other people’s opinions, though, the wood isn’t beautiful if it’s not pristine. I wonder whether these are the same people who spend hours every week using lotions, creams, makeup, and cosmetic “procedures” to look young and “perfect.”

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not one of those people. I probably never will be. I only use moisturizer when my skin is dry. My hair is frizzy and I don’t generally use a “product” to correct that. I wear makeup so rarely that if I followed industry guidelines to replacing makeup, each item would become single-use (and prohibitively expensive.) I wear sunscreen when I’m likely to burn, but not just to leave the house and run errands. All these failures on my part will probably guarantee that in thirty years I’ll have wrinkles and freckles in record numbers. Know what? I don’t care.

My favourite guitar (yes, I have several) has a nasty crack in it, courtesy of a careless passerby at St. Jacobs farmer’s market, where I used to busk on weekends. It hasn’t affected the sound (not badly, at least,) and to me it’s a reminder that my guitar and I have gone places. Numerous small scratches offer a testament to the times my kids have tried to strum the guitar – admittedly, with materials not suitable for use as picks. The finish is uneven, too: the wood is darker and shinier at the bottom left side of the body, where my strumming arm rests, and at the top end of the neck, where my left hand glides up and down to form the chords. My guitar has a beautiful patina.

Our living room has hardwood floors. They look pretty good, considering that they date back to 1946, but there are quite a few shallow scratches, some gouges, and some spots where the stain is starting to look patchy. The scratches are from the kids moving furniture around (mostly their table and chairs,) the gouge is from the time we sold the refrigerator that came from the house (we were doing much of the renovation work ourselves,) and we just happen to rub certain parts of the floor more often than others (hence the uneven finish.) Our floors squeak, too. Every time I take a step, a floorboard says, “yup, lots of people like to walk on me. I’m part of a well-trodden path to the door, and have been for over sixty years!” Our floors have developed a patina.

When I think about it, my stuff never stays looking new for long. I spend more time using my things than thinking about how to keep them looking new, and that extends to my body. My hands are scarred from being bitten by autistic campers, cutting myself while installing new gutters, slicing my knuckle while deboning a chicken, and burning myself on my first attempt to fry schnitzel. If I hadn’t done any of those things I suppose my hands wouldn’t be scarred; on the other hand (no pun intended,) I wouldn’t have had any of those experiences. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a person to trade in life experience – and the satisfaction of a job well done – for perfect skin.

The word “patina” only ever gets used in reference to materials or objects, but I think it can describe people rather well. People with patina have been places, done things, had adventures, and have the scars to prove it. People without patina may look very pretty, but I can only imagine that the constant preventative measures and maintenance required to keep looking that way take time away from actually living, just as polishing and displaying the guitar would take time away from actually playing it, and keeping the floors scratch-free would mean stopping the kids from playing in there. People with patina have this glow, this energy that tells you they’ve spent their time purposefully.

Just as I can sand and oil my countertops, I can clean myself up nicely when the need arises, and the combination of the makeup and the patina is what really makes me shine. I can only hope that my patina, just like the patina of my counters and guitar and home, deepens and becomes more interesting over time.

There are so many analogies here that I could go on writing all day. And now it occurs to me that you really can sum up my life’s philosophy in one word: Patina. Experience makes beauty.