Haggis, Anyone?

Scotland_HaggisThe first time I heard the name “Robbie Burns”, I was eight years old, and my parents were signing me up for piano lessons at a local music school.

I guess it came up when the head of the school – testing my aptitude – was chatting with my folks, and they mentioned when I was born.

“Oh!” he said. “Do you know who else shares your birthday? Robbie Burns!”

As a little black girl growing up in the 1980s, the only Burns I’d heard of was George. I can only imagine what facial expression I wore as this man told me about this guy I was clearly supposed to recognize.

Through the years, I came to learn bits and pieces about the man whose birthday I happened to share, and the little nerd in me found it interesting.

So to simply say Robert Burns is A Big Deal for people of Scottish descent, is a wee bit of an understatement.

In several days’ time, dinners (all over Canada and abroad) will be held in honour of the Scottish bard, filled with music and poetry. There will be scotch, even whiskey tastings. But it won’t be a Rabbie Burns night without one signature dish served:

Haggis.

Yep, that most Scottish of dishes, consisting of lamb or sheep parts, oats, and spices, mixed together in a type of pudding (not the dessert kind), and encased in a sheep’s stomach.

(There are even vegetarian and vegan versions out there, for a different spin. And these lovely folks are hosting a vegan Robbie Burns Day here in Toronto – they’re just about sold out!)

For people like me who’ve never had haggis (the meat-filled version, at least), that doesn’t sound — or look — all that appetizing.

But yesterday, I came across this article by writer Andrea Chiu, in defence of the dish.

She makes a valid point:

“We will pay high prices to taste rich and creamy foie gras, but wrap some lamb liver and hearts with a sheep’s stomach and diners of all ages are finding ways to politely decline the dish.”

I mean, if I can try a camel burger or freshly-caught-and-prepared conch salad (with comically terrible results, in the case of the latter), surely I should give haggis a try?

It’s probably too late this time ’round, but maybe I can give haggis a go at a later date, or perhaps on one of my future birthdays.

It’s the least I could do for Robbie.

 

D’s 2016 Travel Shortlist

As the new year unfolds and I sock a little money away in my bank account, my mind swims with thoughts of travel.

I want to be a little more ambitious with this year’s destinations. But given the direction the Canadian dollar seems to be sliding, I’m not sure how successful I’ll be.

(Eh. I’ve always had lousy timing.)

Maybe a series of fortunate events will lead me to a one-time gift from one of those Powerball winners? Ehhhh?  **shrugs**

Anyway … here are some places I’ve thought about visiting this year:

Sri Lanka. Very high on my list. I’ve never been to Asia, but a conversation with a friend who went there 7 or 8 years ago left me interested in finding out more. And why not? It would be a good place to start. I’d be aiming to go in the fall.

Cuba. I was last there in 2005. A friend and I stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Veradero in mid-July. (Never do that. Unless you really don’t mind feeling like rotisserie chicken.) It was nice getting away for a week. But when we booked a day-trip to Havana through our resort, the results were, well … mediocre. I felt a bit short-changed. I like to move around a country if I’m going to visit. Winter’s finally arrived, but it’d be nice to take a break in, say, March — maybe book a tour and go for 8 or 9 days — and see the sites before big changes sweep the island.*

Colombia. There’s been an uptick in travel here in the past few years. And I have this secret attraction to Fernando Botero‘s artwork and sculptures. Plus, I have a friend who lived there for a good year and a half. I always told myself I wouldn’t go to South America without properly learning some Spanish beforehand. But I’m willing to make an exception.

Washington, D.C. It’s not that far. I’ve never seen the White House in person (but know where its limestone came from), and the number of museums in one place is a nerd’s dream come true.

New Orleans. Other than visiting family in Florida, I’ve never really been to the South. Of the people I know who’ve been to NOLA, I can’t recall anyone saying they left disappointed. And it just seems like a really interesting place to visit, historically and culturally.

Louisville, Kentucky. Okay, this one’s a bit random. I first read about it a few years ago on a list of “underrated places to visit”. A couple of my friends took a road trip down to Louisville and they had a good time. Also: bourbon.

New York. Like Cuba, I’ve been here before. I never seem to get enough of it. There’s no such thing as “not enough to do” here, so it always seems like there’s unfinished business. If I went this year, it would be for these reasons: Hamilton (c’mon, wealthy Powerball benefactor) or Eclipsed, and a meal at Red Rooster Harlem. I’M NOT PLAYING.

Montreal. The last time I set foot in this city, I was 26, my friend Dave lived and worked there, and the Jazz Festival was in full swing. Montreal in the summer is magic. But honestly, I don’t need it to be summer for me to visit, and see some of the sites I missed last time. Added incentive: If you recall my family research  (no? start here), my mysterious, elusive great-aunt lived and worked here. It’d be neat to physically see some of the streets (and maybe some of the houses), perhaps do a day or two of sleuthing, in the flesh.

Vancouver. Straight up, I’ve never been to the West Coast or seen the Rockies. This would tick off both boxes.

Manitoulin Island or Pelee Island. One requires you to take a ferry called the Chi-Cheemaun to get to it. The other boasts the southernmost point in Canada. Both are beautiful, and are right here in Ontario. Visiting either location would be lovely.

There’s NO WAY I intend to knock all of these off my list. But if I manage to do at least two, even with a low loonie, I’ll be pleased.

*A recent check of some tour companies tell me this is probably not possible.

**Reminder: I’m part of a one-month writing challenge, as are my friends Renée and Kath – just click on their names to check out their excellent work!**

“Why Are You So Weird?”

Several years ago (maybe five or six), I was at a downtown bar, where a work colleague (who produces music in his off-hours) was spinning vinyl and had invited a whole scad of us to come check him out.

The place was packed, and I remember flitting around, saying hi to friends, and dancing in the tiny designated dance space in this narrow establishment.

At one point, I remember spotting a work colleague who was slightly older than me – who, I suppose, I admired and respected – and went over to say hello.

I think it’d been one of those weeks where I’d been working all day, then making myself go out in the evenings … and I think it had started to take its toll, because I think he asked me how I was doing, and instead of answering with fully formed, enunciated words, stuttering babble tumbled out instead.

(Most of the time, my brain moves faster and far more eloquently than my tongue and lips do. It’s something I’ve learned to work with.)

I caught myself, and I remember stopping, closing my eyes, and beginning again – this time, in actual English.

His response?

“Why are you so weird?”

The rest of it, I really don’t remember. Just that.

Looking back on it, I can now say he was being a dick to me. Straight up.

And for what reason? Because I stuttered?

Over time, the word “weird” (in the context of human interaction) has come to be a source of irritation for me. And it’s got me thinking:

What defines “not weird”, exactly?

Who on earth gets to set the benchmark for what constitutes “normal”?

We live at a time when, thanks to social media, we can find whole communities of people with whom we share interests, opinions, insecurities, fears and so on, without having to travel very far from the comforts of our homes.

At the same time, the way we interact and communicate with each other as human beings has changed, even gotten more difficult. Just saying hi or smiling at a stranger in some places elicits a reaction which might be reserved for a dog walking around on its hind legs speaking Czech.

This type of environment might make it challenging for introverts, socially-awkward types and other labelled “misfits” to engage with people or find real-life flocks to join, if they do venture outside.

What about folks who might be dealing with mental health issues? Some of the funniest, unique, most interesting people I know, or have met, or encountered online, struggle with things such as anxiety or depression – and some of them speak about that struggle.

What about people who march to the beat of their own drummer, who just see and do things differently? Or who are just really excitable about things or life in general?

None of these aspects of people’s lives or personalities make them weird. It makes them multi-dimensional human beings. And I think all these folks deserve a modicum of understanding and open-mindedness, as opposed being held at arm’s-length because they’re rhomboid-shaped pegs that don’t fit into the round-shaped holes that are the “standard” for social behaviour.

Why should they have to fit?

The example I mentioned at the beginning sticks with me still. A little bit of it has to do with the way I was made to feel. Mostly, I was annoyed at myself for letting that question slide past me without an appropriate answer.

Because if I had the chance for a do-over, and I was once again asked, “Why are you so weird?”

My answer should have been:

“Define ‘normal’.”

**Hey kids! If you have time, head on over to my friend Renée’s blog and check out why she enjoys a good steak dinner every so often.**

 

 

 

 

The Thing With Thirty-Nine

When I was about to turn 30, I remember having this moment one day where I was thinking about it — I’m turning THIRTY! — and just freaked out, for what seemed like an hour.

It wasn’t any sort of surprise. I knew it was coming, ready or not. And yet, it was like I only realized just then that I was leaving my 20s. Forever.

I thought about the things that I had done, and the things I hadn’t. And I just felt … anxious.

And just as quickly as that panicked feeling washed over me … it subsided. And I was fine. Thirty came and went. No tears, no melancholy or feelings of regret. I stared it in the face, smiled, and carried on.

And now, here I am again.

Only this time, the number that’s zapping me with anxiety is 39.

My birthday is a little less than two weeks away, and I feel as if I’ve got this big, important paper, this test, to write, and I’ve procrastinated so much, that I’m running out of time to prepare.

I mean, it’s nuts.

I’m an adult who takes care of herself (mostly), pays her bills, and works professional in a stable job in a field that is becoming increasingly unstable. I have my health. I’ve the type of privilege that allows me to do things that I do sometimes take for granted. I have a living parent whom I love very much, and more friends than a woman could ask for.

I’ve even been trying to get myself used to the inevitable, saying, “I’m 39”, if something age-related comes up.

And yet.

A few days ago, I stumbled onto this New York Times article about single men in their 30s and 40s – bachelors, both gay and straight – who expressed their regret or yearning for companionship (marriage, even) and families.

(If you’re suddenly irked and didn’t even click on the link above, click here for some readers’ responses.)

Following that, I found myself listening to a CBC Radio documentary  about the generation of women – my generation – who are 39, or turning 39. I suggest that you listen to it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

To me, the takeaway seemed to be that there’s this sizeable cohort of women who, like me, are single, childless and a little mystified that we were apparently sold this dream of Having It All (careers, marriages and children) and we find ourselves panicked that the bill of goods and the actual end product don’t match.

One of the women interviewed, a publicist, said the one thing that (on its face), I think I’m currently identifying with. From the day she turned 39 until the day she turned 40, she said felt this ball of panic that she couldn’t get rid of; it felt as if she “couldn’t shake this feeling of time … it just keeps marching on …”

Of course, she’s alluding this societal idea that by the time women are of a certain age, they’re supposed to have hit those marriage/motherhood milestones. But I think that’s where I differ.

Trying to imagine one’s life — getting married, having kids, and so on — is, I think, a very human response. And for a relatively large number of people, that’s really important to them.

Just not every single person.

Did I think I’d be married by now? Sure. Or at least in a long-term relationship. Do I occasionally get emotional about it? Sure. But you can’t always get what you want.

Kids? Well … that was never as clear. But as I get older, and more of my friends are having children, the prospect of being responsible for another human being seems daunting (and for that moment, I relish my single status).

Are there pros and cons to singledom and married life with kids? Sure! But there are pros and cons to everything in life! It just depends on what’s important to an individual.

What about men and women for whom marriage is not an imperative in their life? Or thirty- and forty-somethings who don’t have that so-called yearning to bear and raise children? I know some. They regret nothing.

What about people who — married, single or otherwise — like their lives just as they are? Who, as time marches on, are marching in lockstep, and cherishing the lives they’re leading?

Taking marriage and kids out of the equation for a moment: I thought that by now, I’d be more sure of myself, period. That I’d know what I want out of life, and make decisions minus all the fear, insecurity and second guessing.

What I’d like is to shake off this … obsessive worry, and not spend the next year paralyzed by panic over some perceived human milestone that I didn’t hit.

And, above all, when 40 arrives and the door opens, I don’t want to shuffle through, trembling and shielding my eyes from the bright, shining lights.

I want to stand up straight, hold my head high and — with a smirk and a dash of swagger in my step — pass through the entrance.

 

Let’s Go(al) #4: Try New Things.

I recently went to the bookstore and – on a whim – bought Shonda Rhimes’ book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person.

I hope to start reading it soon, but — according to the description on the inside flap — it’s Shonda’s account of what happens when she (an introvert) takes something her sister says to heart and spends a year saying “yes” to things she would normally say “no” to.

It’s getting me thinking.

Perhaps I should use this year to try different things, things I would normally say “no” to.

Compared to Shonda Rhimes, I’d probably describe myself as more of an extrovert. I do say “yes” to some things. And no, I certainly don’t think I need to read a book by a top Hollywood TV producer to just learn to say “yes” to things. It’s not a new concept; people the world over have — at some point — tried this exercise, with varied (and sometimes surprising) results.

Regarding the book, I’m a fan of Rhimes’ work, so I’m genuinely curious to see how things worked out for her.

But personally, as (relatively) good as my life is, I admit it’s getting a wee bit staid. Every once in a while, I need to shake things up, give myself a jolt, keep it interesting.

What kinds of things? Hmm. Good question. Perhaps it’s as simple as doing something that I haven’t done in a while.

For example: On Monday evening, I signed myself up for a 30-day pass to a yoga studio. I’ve done yoga before, but usually, it’s a one-time event. I want to see if I can do it on a regular basis, to help with some minor back issues I’ve had (which isn’t helped by long periods of sitting at work). If I stick with it, all the better. If it doesn’t, at least I’ve tried.

Oh, here’s another: My friend Renée found a set of writing challenges people can try to improve their writing, or get into the exercise of writing regularly.

She asked if I wanted to try blogging once every day this year.

You’ve all seen what my writing habits are like. But I’ve said yes. Truthfully I don’t know if I can do it, but I’ll give it a try (and I hope you’ll come and visit me here if I do do this).

But there are other things that I should open myself up to trying.

Maybe I’ll try another con like I did that one time in 2012 (scroll down that post to skim).

Perhaps it’s volunteering.

Or semi-spontaneously travelling somewhere for a weekend. (I’m not a spontaneous traveller.)

Or maybe it’s finding myself in the middle of salsa dancing …

These are purely examples, not real things I’m aiming to do. But who really knows?

At least once this year, I have to push myself just a little bit outside my comfort zone, say yes, and travel down a rabbit hole that isn’t virtual and doesn’t lead me to YouTube.

Whether the result is glorious or disastrous, it would be a life experience. (And those things also make for great stories, no?)

What about you?

Is there anything you’re trying or wanted to try, but never got around to it? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Let’s Go(al) #3: Get Outta Here.

If you know me personally – or have visited my blog – you’ll know that I enjoy travelling. Especially if it’s off the North American continent.

Last year, I did a couple of short trips state-side and to Jamaica (respectively) — primarily to visit members of my extended family that I hadn’t seen in months or years.

It was nice. It was great to take a week or two off, and just get away from things.

But as much as I liked and appreciated seeing my family, there was something missing …

The sense of discovery. The act of going by myself to a place where I don’t know a soul. The feeling of being a bit uncomfortable or unsure of what to expect. The exercise of figuring out where I am, and where I’m going, without getting lost. Or even the ability of letting myself get lost and finding my way out of it.

It’s been more than two years since I’ve flown more than a few hours to get somewhere … and the itch is intense.

Add to that the fact that I’m part of an online group of black travellers, whose jet-setting ways put me to utter shame and leave me speechless.

If I what I have is simply a travel bug, then they have a full-blown travel syndrome.

They’re expert packers! They jump on glitch fares like cats on mice!  I’m simultaneously envious and in awe when I read their anecdotes and look at photos of their travels.

So, it’s time.

My goal this year is to:

Go on one big trip. Right now, it’s a toss-up between Sri Lanka, Ethiopia or Colombia, later in the year.

Go on at least one short-hop trip. Maybe I’ll go back to New York. Or perhaps I’ll stop in Montreal or another Canadian city that I’ve never been to. Or maybe I’ll finally get down to Washington. Or New Orleans! The possibilities are endless. (What’s not endless, however, is my bank account.)

Leave room for a surprise trip. I’m mulling one over as I type this. It all depends on the timing and the bank balance in my savings account. And that’s all I’m saying for now.

Your turn.

Have any travel plans? Is there a destination you’re considering this year? Are you looking to knock a city or country off your bucket list? Or are you just going with the flow and playing it by ear? Maybe we can inspire each other. Leave me a comment below!

 

Let’s Go(al) #2: Make More Things

So as I mentioned in a previous post, my friends and I started our own podcast in the fall.

(By the way, you can listen to our latest episode right here!)

It was mainly born out of a yearning to be more creative, and to have ownership over something that I helped create.

It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been fun meeting up with my friends once every couple of weeks to record our thoughts, peeves, discussions of issues, and my friend Kath’s movie reviews.

I’ve also really enjoyed the process of editing our episodes, so they sound a bit slicker. (That’s despite the number of hours it takes to edit those episodes. I’m hoping that I get faster with time.)

This year, I’d like to do even more creating of things … and sending those out into the world to share with others.

Perhaps that will consist of the writing I was supposed to do more of last year (but didn’t quite achieve).

Maybe I’ll finally, FINALLY carve out some time to learn how to play my friend’s ukelele. (I might need to try a one-on-one approach to kickstart that, rather than trying to concentrate on teaching myself on YouTube.)

Or maybe I’ll try making my own baked goods for a change, instead of just buying and eating them.

Whatever I end up doing, I hope that the end result can be to continue doing something I enjoy and appreciate when I’m not working.

And who knows? Perhaps my creative pursuits can help me out in other areas of my life.

What about you? Are there any creative hobbies/pursuits you might consider taking up in 2016? Any reasons as to what has prevented you from doing so before? Let me know in the comments!