Life begins (anew) at 40

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Transforming your life is a scary thing. I’ve done it a couple of times now, and it never gets any easier. I’ve picked up and moved far away several times—twice to different continents—always by myself, always with nothing more than a basic plan and a need for change.

I’m about to undergo a new transformation, but a very different one from the ones I’ve tried in the past. I’m not going anywhere, I’m not doing it by myself, and I have a pretty elaborate plan, but it’s still riskier in some ways than any change I’ve sought before: I’m going to stop working.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say I’m going to stop trading my time, skills, and labour for financial remuneration in a formal and socially-sanctioned way. I’m still going to WORK. It’s just going to look different.

seedlingsHere’s the thing: I’ve never been a big fan of the Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 grind. Or any 40-hour-a-week grind. Some people may think this sounds childish, like I’m trying to shirk responsibilities, but I think it’s a pretty essential issue. The day we are born, our days are numbered. Our time is limited. Yet what we do with that time is largely determined for us (up to age 65 anyway) by this system that requires us to work to earn money to live. Without getting into Marxist theory or anything, we work because we buy stuff. Some stuff we need, some we don’t. At every turn, we are encouraged to buy more and more things; we’re told that we need ALL THE THINGS. It’s a lie.

I turned 40 a few months ago, and I’m becoming increasingly aware that what I NEED is food, shelter, clothing, and love. (And maybe my iPhone.)

Seriously though, that’s about it. The rest is noise. Wait, there is one other thing I need: Meaningful Work. I have no desire to sit around watching reality TV all day, eating garbage. I want to work. But work that excites me, that inspires me, that challenges me. Work that I can do when I’m ready to do it, not when the Man wants it done. (That’s right. I used “the Man.” I told you: I’m 40.)

And lastly, I want work that does not interfere with my ability to enjoy life and the people in it. Work that does not leave me exhausted at the end of the day, so that I’m too tired to make a meal for my husband, or help him with work around the house, or play with my dog.

And so I’m leaving my job next month, and for now I am not going to look for anything else in the way of steady employment. It’s a bit terrifying. Of all the big changes I’ve made in my life—moving thousands of kilometers away from family and friends, sometimes to places I didn’t speak the language—I don’t think I’ve ever felt so unsure about how things would turn out. But here’s the thing: Everything we do contains an element of risk. The question is, what type of risks are we taking?

I kinda stole that last bit from this article from HuffPo, where the author quotes from Machiavelli (Machiavelli!!) and it’s actually really inspiring. The gist of it is, we all make mistakes in life, so “make mistakes of ambition, not mistakes of sloth.”

I am fully aware that my husband and I are incredibly lucky to be in the position to be able to live on a single income. The cost of living, especially food and fuel, keeps climbing, and wages are not generally keeping pace. But we’ve also made significant sacrifices to get here. This has been part of our plan for years. A dozen times a day or more, we have the opportunity to buy all kinds of things. Each time, I weigh the cost. Nothing seems to really appeal as much as having the freedom to do what I want with my time.

So what am I going to do with my time? Friends, I’ve got lots of plans. The big one, I mean the really BIG ONE… I don’t think I want to say. I mean, I’m excited and I want to tell people, but I don’t want the pressure of saying it and then having people asking me about it all the time. Because I don’t know for sure that it’s going to happen. But what I really want to do is write a book.

There, I said it. But please don’t ask me every time you see me how it’s coming along or how many pages I’ve written. And please don’t ask me what it’s about; I’m keeping that to myself for now. (To be honest, I have a couple of books floating around in my head, I think. It’s a question of getting them out and into a format other people can enjoy. Or suffer from. Whatever.)

I also want to read books. All the books I’ve been putting off reading for the last 25 years or so. A Fine Balance, Anna Karenina, Ulysses, Animal Farm, all the Jane Austen and Michael Palin books I haven’t read yet (no connection between those authors), the rest of the Song of Fire and Ice series. And TONS more.

I also want to spend quality time with my husband and our furry kids, and grow lots of veggies in our garden this summer. I want to blog more, and knit more, and get better at speaking Spanish. I want to cook and bake and meditate. But mostly, I want to figure out who am I when I’m not working. I think it’s going to be quite an adventure.

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Movie weekends

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For the last year or so, my husband and I have been having these regular movie weekends with another couple. We’re all movie fanatics, but with markedly different tastes, so it’s a chance for us all to get exposed to movies we might not see otherwise. We bring snacks, pop popcorn, watch movies late into the night, then get up in the morning and watch more. It’s a great weekend, spent with great friends.

popcornThe rules (yes, there are rules, but easy ones) are simple — each of the four of us has to pick a movie that at least one other person in the group hasn’t seen. (More than one is even better.) For our first weekend, this was our only restriction, and we ended up with a perfect mix of genres: quirky independent, Hollywood blockbuster, classic black and white, and sci-fi.

Since that first weekend, we’ve added a theme each time: remakes, “weird” movies, WTF movies. The latter theme meant movie titles that elicited a WTF! from one of us when someone admitted to never seeing it. For example, if someone (like my husband) told you they’d never seen The Godfather, your response would be… WTF!! My WTF was the original Alien. We had a weekend of John Malkovich movies (THAT was awesome) and a weekend of comedies.

This past weekend, our theme was movies based on a true story — a great theme, leaving us open to all kinds of films. I chose Peter Jackson’s early film (and Kate Winslet’s first feature film) Heavenly Creatures (1994). I don’t think it was a popular choice in the group. Too much teenage-girl screaming. But I still think it’s a brilliant  bit of filmmaking. I first saw this film when it came out, and was mesmerized by the relationship between the two girls,  how their damaged psyches immediately connect, and how they draw each other into this spiral of obsession.

Heavenly Creatures

Heavenly Creatures

This blog provides a very interesting psychoanalytic reading of Heavenly Creatures, though I don’t think I would agree with the horror label she puts on it. This one could have easily fit our “weird” movie theme, too. The fantasy world the girls imagine for themselves is very strange, and the treatment in the film allows you to really get into their heads. It was amazing to see this film again after 20 years. It holds up well.

The other pics this past weekend were Chariots of Fire (1981), Bobby (2006), and Roswell, a made-for-TV movie from 1994, staring Kyle MacLachlan. Until recently, I only knew Kyle MacLachlan from Sex and the City, and I never much cared for his character on that show. I thought Dr. Trey MacDougal was a real milquetoast. Then I started watching Twin Peaks on Netflix, and I found a whole new respect for the man. (As an aside, I should know better than to dislike an actor because of the character he plays, but when you’ve only seen someone in one role, it’s hard to avoid.) I also became a crazy Twin Peaks fan — what a brilliant piece of bizarre comedic melodrama! — but that’s another post.

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Roswell was a decent movie. They approached the story of the famed alien spaceship crash in the New Mexico desert from the point of view of one of the intelligence officers working at the military base at the time, who became a scapegoat for the event when the government decided to deny everything. The part that struck me was towards the end, when Martin Sheen’s character (who has been stalking MacLachlan’s character throughout, but never speaks until the end) goes on a tirade about how aliens have been coming to earth for centuries, and how they’ve been involved in major human events, and have manipulated human DNA… and then I wondered if we were watching some propaganda from the Scientologists.

I remember (if only vaguely) when Chariots of Fire won the Best Picture Oscar. That chariots1theme song was all you heard everywhere you went, but I was young at the time so I had no idea what the film was actually about. I found out this weekend that it’s based on the story of the UK’s track and field team at the 1932 Olympics. It was enjoyable enough, but was a bit bland for my taste. I guess that’s what “serious” movies were in the 80s. A bunch of upper-middle class straight white guys struggling to be the best in their events. Wait – there was one Jewish character. I kept hoping they would introduce a gay storyline; I swear the one athlete had a crush on his buddy. Sadly, no such story developed. And I had that music stuck in my head for days afterwards.

Bobby was not at all what I expected. I had the impression it was your standard biopic — a look at the life of an icon, beginning with childhood and ending with their last few hours. Instead, it was one of those movies with an ensemble cast that takes a number of different storylines with different characters and slowly threads them all together. Like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, but the characters in Bobby are less screwed up. I had hoped to learn more about Robert Kennedy, both as a person and as a politician. Instead you get clips of some of his famous speeches, either on TV or the radio, as the characters go about their business at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Still, it’s an entertaining film. The best parts are probably between Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte, two retired hotel workers who now hang out in the lobby playing chess.

I’m realizing I should never try to write about four or more movies in a single post. The result is too scattered, and too long. My apologies, dear reader. Our next movie weekend is going to have the WTF theme again, if we can find four movies that fit. It turns out my husband hasn’t seen Beverly Hills Cop. I like where this is headed.

Travelling with food restrictions

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Basically, travelling with food restrictions sucks. At least that’s how I’m feeling about it today in Montreal. It’s probably an unfair conclusion – I’m sure some restaurants in Montreal have heard of gluten-intolerance and celiac disease. I just haven’t found any yet.

I remember being about 17 or 18 and travelling in the southern US with my parents. I was a vegetarian (no gluten problems yet) and I remember that every restaurant where we stopped, I had salad and fries. Salad and fries. Salad. And fries. For 10 days. I think when we were in larger cities I was able to order pasta, but even that was a stretch, because pasta sauce has meat in it. What do you mean, you want spaghetti with sauce with no meat in it? How is that even edible? (The expressions on the servers faces said.)

Nowadays, I’m both vegetarian (by choice) and gluten-free (by necessity). Throw in a pretty severe intolerance to MSG, and my options for eating out become extremely limited. And while people’s awareness of vegetarianism has grown exponentially in the last 20 years, awareness of gluten-intolerance seems to still be a new phenomenon in some places.

For some reason, I get less angry about this at home. Maybe it’s because if I can’t eat in one restaurant, I always have my go-to places to fall back on, or I can just go home and whip something up. This weekend, I’m working a conference at the Montreal Congress Centre, near Old Montreal. In the touristy area, I’ve found restaurants serving lots of meat and pasta (for lots of money). I’m reduced to my old standbys from 20 years ago: salad and fries. No protein in sight, except when I pay $30 for breakfast at my swanky hotel, because breakfast at all the moderately priced places includes gluten: eggs on bagels, eggs on toast, eggs in a wrap. What’s a glutard to do?

Last night, I didn’t finish work until 7, so I wanted to find something to eat fast. In desperation, I ended up at the local Couche Tard, and ate various processed foods out of plastic packages. My favourite. At least it was inexpensive.

Today, I blew my per diems on breakfast and lunch, so I will likely resort to going to Couche Tard again. I haven’t been able to locate a grocery store within walking distance. Don’t people cook their own food around here? Maybe there are no residential areas in this part of town.

So, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my wonderful home, with my fridge and cupboards full of wonderful food that doesn’t make me sick. In the meantime, I have one more day in Montreal. Maybe I’ll stumble onto something yet.

 

 

Adventures in film studies

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I love movies. I mean I really. Love. Movies. Especially good ones. Especially really good ones from the 30s and 40s, with wisecracking dames and fedora-sporting guys. I’ve never studied film formally, but with movies I really love, I always make a point of watching it several times, watching it with the commentary, and watching any bonus features that tell me about how the film was made or what attracted the director and actors to the material.

i_love_the_moviesEarlier this year I started hearing about MOOCs – massive open online courses – being offered by universities from around the world. These courses can be taken through a few different platforms, but I started with Coursera, since it was the one I was hearing the most about. I started poking around their course list and found this: The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Colour. Music to my ears!

Then I looked at the syllabus: starting with two silent films, moving to sound films (including one by producer Val Lewton – one of my favourite film makers!), then progressing to colour (including the classic Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, and the much more recent Punch Drunk Love with Adam Sandler). This was the class for me.

We’re now in week 4, and it’s gotten to the point where I check multiple times on Mondays to see if the new lectures are up. The video lectures have been really informative and the movies have been a joy to watch. We learned about the language of silent film, how nowadays we tend to think of them as missing something, when in fact they should be considered as a unique art form, with their own language for storytelling. We learned to watch silent films and consider what would be lost if they had sound.

Then we looked at some early sound films, and how they were limited in their storytelling because of the limitations of the technology at the time (no such thing as sound mixing or boom microphones yet). Personally, sound is not something I generally pay a lot of attention to in a film, but there are incredible ways to use sound to tell the story, to create tension or dissonance, or to influence how the audience feels.

This week we will be watching our first colour films. Unfortunately I can’t find  the first one anywhere: The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936). If anyone happens to have a copy they’re willing to lend me, I’d be eternally grateful.

Through this class, I’ve discovered new directors whose work I’d love to delve into more deeply, like Josef von Sternberg, and I’ve developed an appreciation for the Marx Brothers. (We watched Monkey Business in week 2. They’re not my favourite comedians, but I have a new appreciation for their work and how they took advantage of this new technology – sound – in their movies.)

I sure would like to start blogging again

Trouble is, things are pretty hectic, and I don’t see them slowing down soon.

The last few months in a nutshell:
•Crazy busy time at work
•Turned down for a promotion, which was difficult
•Preparing for a trip to Peru this fall
•Suffering the worst allergies of my life; considering getting rid of our cat due to said allergies
•Potential litigation issues: stressful
•Taking an online film studies class and loving it
•Knitting lots of baby stuff for my nephews, who are both expecting their first children this year
•Lost five pounds; trying to get in shape; started taking Pilates classes again
•Have started experimenting with raw food recipes; it’s delicious!
•Making awesome plans for the next year or two

Yep, it’s a busy time. I hope to at least do some blogging about my ongoing film class, if nothing else. Thanks for sticking around!

On Sullivan’s Travels

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I finally saw Sullivan’s Travels for the first time last month. I had heard great things, and it’s on AFI’s Top 100 Film list, but I can’t say it became an instant favourite.

Preston Sturges is often described as a genius, and there were remarkable elements to this film. For one, I’ve never heard a stronger argument for the value of comedy versus more “serious” films. The insights into the nature of poverty are remarkable. The butler’s speech to Sullivan before he heads out on his experiment is possibly my favourite in the film. And I give full credit to Sturges for being one of the first writers in Hollywood to make the successful transition to directing.

But there were also elements of the film that struck me as odd, or just downright silly. The ridiculous pursuit of Sullivan by the entourage in the bus, as they speed through the countryside. The pool scene where everyone, inevitably, falls in. These gags may have been fresh and hilarious in 1941, but they seem tired to me.

When Sullivan is hit over the head as he hands out money to the homeless, and wakes up in court, I thought it was a dream sequence. It’s not until they haul him off to the swamp jail that I realized it wasn’t a dream.

My last gripe about the film: how on earth can you devote so much screen time and lines to a character who is only ever called “The Girl”? Especially when she gives such a strong performance as Veronica Lake does. Incidentally, this was my first VL film, and I have to say I really like her. That husky voice, that wavy hair, and that attitude. Wonderful.

I’m curious to see more of Preston Sturges’ work, but I’d say I’m more enamoured of Veronica Lake.

This is a cat

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This is a cat.

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She looks harmless enough. Pretty cute, actually. But in the one months she’s lived with us, she’s managed to take up quite a bit of our time. Between getting her to use the litterbox, making sure she gets along with her canine sister, and helping adjust to her new home, there’s been time for little else. But we love her.

Her name is Wolverine and she’s six months old today. She’s a polydactyl cat, and when we picked her up I exclaimed “She’s a mutant!” My husband, a fan of superheroes, immediately decided to call her Wolverine. I’ve regretted my outburst ever since. (I call her Wooly for short.)

I’m basically using the cat as an excuse for not blogging in more than a month. There’s more to it than that – work, travel for work, a nasty cold – but it’s more fun to blame the cat. Plus I get to post that adorable photo. And this one:

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Deep freeze

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It seems like much of Canada is plunged into a deep freeze this week, which is by no means unusual for this time of year. We always like to complain about it though, which is also normal.

One of the best antidotes for the mid-winter deep freeze is some hot, hearty food. So what did I make this week? Chili, of course. I don’t have a set recipe for chili; I like to change the recipe a bit each time I make it, but I have a few hard and fast rules:

  1. No sugar! There are people who like to add sugar to their chili or tomato-based sauces to cut the acidity. To me, it also cuts the taste, makes it bland and dull, and just generally ruins it.
  2. Three beans! Yes, the standard kidney beans are in there (though I limit them because they’re one of the legumes my husband has a hard time digesting), but I always add black beans and chick peas for variety of size and texture. Also, I just don’t really like the texture of kidney beans – too pasty. This lets me cut back without losing the protein content or the crunchy texture.
  3. My secret ingredient… Forget sugar. I add mustard. Yep. Just one or two tablespoons of regular prepared mustard. I like the kick.

So those are my chili rules. I always make vegetarian chili – sometimes I add crumbled tofu to replace the meat, sometimes lentils, sometimes I just let the beans do the work. Of course diced peppers and mushrooms are in there, chili powder, cumin, coriander. This last batch I made with the last of the frozen tomatoes from our summer garden. Not a single canned ingredient in there. (Did I mention I buy dried beans and soak them and cook them? The canned stuff is nasty.)

Homemade jerk sauce

Homemade jerk sauce

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of my chili this week, but I did get a shot of what I prepared for our weekend dinner: jerk sauce. We’re having a friend over for supper Saturday night, and we’re making her our famous homemade jerk chicken (while I use the jerk sauce to marinate strips of tofu).

The recipe comes from Kathy Smart’s cookbook Live the Smart Way (see the My Cookbooks page for more info). It’s such an odd mix of ingredients, and if you taste it alone, the sauce is very powerful and not all that good. But as a marinade … wow. You won’t regret it. And it’s completely gluten- and dairy-free.

And lastly, my one last method to beat the Canadian winter: a cuddle with my baby girl, Marnie. (She looks sad here because it’s too cold to go our for our regular walks.)

Marnie looking mournful in the kitchen.

Marnie looking mournful in the kitchen.

Happy belated birthday to Food, Yarn and Film

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Blog's first birthdayThis blog turned one on Dec. 11, 2012. Unfortunately, as usually happens in the weeks before the holidays, I had no time to mark the occasion. (How on earth I managed to start this blog two weeks before xmas is still beyond me.)

In the one year and one month this blog has been around, I’ve managed to neglect the Yarn portion of the blog rather shamefully:

  • Food: 11 posts
  • Yarn: 5 posts
  • Film: 12 posts
  • General: 11 posts

I’ve been trying to figure out why I blog more on general subjects than I do about knitting. It may be because I don’t have much to say about knitting. I just do it. A lot, in fact, especially lately. Ever since some of my kind colleagues bought some of my knitting off me, and encouraged me to sell more broadly, I’ve been trying to knit up a small stock of items to sell. I just posted my first few items yesterday. Have a look.

So while I may not have been neglecting the topic of knitting on this blog (something I’ll try to rectify this year), I certainly don’t neglect my needles. As of now, Yarn posts: 6.

As an aside, I’d just like to add how annoyed I am by the ads that now pop up when I access my blog. They’re even in the dashboard, for Pete’s sake. Thanks a lot, WordPress.

Ringing in the New Year with Spartacus

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The holidays have been over for a while now, but I’ve been having a hard time getting back into the swing of things. Getting up early, putting on office clothes, brushing my hair. These have been challenging for me after about 10 days of holidays: sleeping in, wearing my pajamas for days, throwing my hair in a ponytail, watching movies for hours on end while I knit. Now THAT is living.

So difficult has been my re-entry to the world of work that I actually started trying to calculate how much knitting I would have to sell in order to earn my current salary. Suffice it to say that I couldn’t knit that much even if I didn’t sleep for a year. So back to work I got, knowing that in another week or two I will have adjusted and forgotten about the bliss that is the holidays.

The good news is that I did see some great movies over the holidays, and did a remarkable amount of knitting. I actually saw Spartacus (1960) for the first time on New Year’s Eve. I’ve always been fascinated by Stanley Kubrick’s work (I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan, but definitely interested in his films), and I AM a fan of some of the big epics from this time period: The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben-Hur (1959).

1960_SpartacusWhat I wasn’t expecting was the non-religious tone of the film, at least in comparison to the two aforementioned films. I’m so used to Heston ranting about The Lord Thy God, etc. It was an unexpected relief not to have to listen to it. I felt the director (and writer Dalton Trumbo) went out of their way to avoid those religious overtones, other than the voice-over in the opening sequence. Far from being disappointing, this actually made me more curious about the making of the film. What I learned (from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt) was that the film came about in part because Kirk Douglas lost the role of Ben-Hur to Charlton Heston. He was interested in doing an epic that depicted one man’s fight against the Roman empire. Well, he sure got one. I wonder if he had any influence on the lack of religious content, and if so, if he would have enjoyed making Ben-Hur after all.

I can’t say I enjoyed Spartacus as much as I enjoy the Ten Commandments. Jean Simmons can’t hold a candle to Anne Baxter. But it was worth watching nonetheless. Apparently Kubrick wasn’t happy with the film, and disassociated himself from it after its release. Too bad he didn’t live long enough to disassociate himself from Eyes Wide Shut. Now there’s a cinematic crime.