Road food

When we're really doing a road trip, as in travelling by car, road food tends to be more like a quick stop at Subway or Quiznos. Better than Mickey D's or Burger Barf, yes? And since we did drive between Philadelphia and New Hampshire and back, we had some food adventures like the truck stop in northeastern Connecticut and a lovely indulgence at Pizzeria Uno in Framingham, Massachusetts, as well as a great breakfast across the street from our motel. But overall, we did some pretty serious nomming on this trip.

Taste of Italy

We had some excellent food in Philadelphia, including a wicked truffle pizza, the best canoli ever, and some classic Italian red gravy dishes from a family-owned restaurant (I went for eggplant parmigiana, which I enjoyed greatly). But the most amazing food was actually at a 50th birthday party for the music editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who is a friend of our friends. The music editor's partner is an amazing cook. She made more dishes than I can remember, all fantastic. Her French sister-in-law was in charge of dessert, and it just so happened that that woman's mother owns a chocolate factory in France. Dessert was mind-boggling—chocolate birthday cake, cupcakes, and mousse, as well as a raspberry mousse cake and more sweet things scattered around. I was pretty restrained until dessert. It was also a wonderful social event at a lovely house just outside the city, with guests ranging from kids (having a great time lighting sparklers) to elders.

The Sunday before we left, before that red sauce dinner, we stopped for a cheesesteak "appetizer"—one cheesesteak shared among our friend and ourselves. It's Philly. I had to have a genuine Philly cheesesteak, complete with "wiz" (yes, Cheese Wiz).

New York love

New York gets lots of points, as might be expected. The first night we were there, we ate at a fantastic place in Nolita called Balaboosta, which is Yiddish for someone who is the perfect housewife, host, and cook. The theme was Mediterranean, with emphasis on North Africa and the Middle East. We were usually pretty good about not overeating, but not that night. We blame the Aunt and Uncle! They were going wild on the small plates: burrata, crispy cauliflower (similar to what Nuba serves and, dare I say, even better), two orders of shrimp in crispy phyllo (which brought to mind Chef Chris's "shrimp in a grass skirt"), Israeli Street Fair (chicken and merguez in pita), Dr. Dave's Grilled Pizza. I think we might have ordered more dishes, but I lost track. This was accompanied by two different Spanish whites, both excellent with the food. Our waitress was originally from Burlington, Washington, so we had a nice conversation with her. She was also very knowledgeable about the food and about wine pairings.

The second day, we took the Uncle and Aunt to Red Rooster Harlem, which is owned by Chef Marcus Samuelson. I had made the reservation for noon, but we had to bump that a bit due to excessive shopping at Lord & Taylor (guilty). No problem, they said. When we arrived at our new reservation time, however, they did not have a table ready for us. I figure that was really our fault. It gave us a chance to get out of the sirocco-like conditions outside (upper 30s C with a stiff breeze), sit at the round bar, ogle the cute bartender, and sip expensive but tasty cocktails. I had one called The Savoy that consisted of wodka [sic], lemon, muddled grapes, and agave. Yum! Eventually we were seated in the small, busy dining room. Service was excellent. And it turned out that we had decided to try Red Rooster Harlem during New York Restaurant Week! There was a prix fixe menu for US$24.70 that contained some very tasty options. I went with a delicious if slightly sweet corn chowder with crawfish bits, an excellent signature salmon (smoked but also grilled), and a peach something-or-other for dessert. The Uncle also ordered starters of corn bread, which I loved, and mac & cheese, which I could have eaten two plates of. Thankfully, we were sharing that!

I hate to say this about one of the restaurants of one of the best chefs in the world, but while I was very impressed all around, it didn't turn me on the way Balaboosta had. Or the way Chef Chris's food did. It was right up there with the best food I've eaten, but I didn't quite see the originality of other chefs. Still, I would go back to sample more of the menu.

It was interesting that Red Rooster Harlem is right next door to Sylvia's, a famous soul food restaurant. We might try that next time! And it was even more curious when I got home and read the obituaries from the weekend just after we were in New York and saw that Sylvia herself had died.

That evening, after our afternoon at the Met, Sweetie and I were headed to a play in a West Village theatre while the Aunt and Uncle went home. Having had such a late lunch, we weren't hungry enough for a real dinner. But a slice of New York pizza was just the ticket. We got that at Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street, a tiny place with lots of recommendations from famous people on the walls. I do love New York pizza, which has a thin, crispy crust, but not quite as thin as the current rage, Neapolitan. Sweetie and I did a bit of people watching whilst sitting at the front window savouring our slices. A few blocks away, near the theatre, there was another joint that also claimed to have the best pizza in town, completely with competing celebrity recommentations. If I'd been hungry, I would have done a comparison.

Expect the unexpected

The New Hampshire seacoast is not the land of adventurous cuisine. It's a great place for seafood—broiled, fried, baked, steamed. On our coast, the seafood treat is crab. In New England, it's lobster. For me, the lobster roll we had for lunch with my mom did the job, but Sweetie went for a bit more—a salad with lobster at my mom's birthday lunch, and lobster cakes when we were out with my sister and brother-in-law. I wasn't done with seafood myself. I enjoyed a haddock sandwich at the birthday lunch. You don't get haddock on the west coast either.

We figured we knew pretty much what was available on the seacoast, even in Portsmouth, which is a somewhat more sophisticated small city (and a great downtown for walking around). So when we decided we would try Bai Cha, a Thai restaurant in downtown Hampton, we kept our expectations in check. Hampton is famous for its beach, not its cuisine. But man, were we pleasantly surprised! We ordered a salad with shrimp, the name of which I forget. It's a typical cold Thai dish. This version was full of flavour! Several flavours, really, in a really nice balance—lemongrass, galangal, lime, and just enough chili. The grilled shrimp were wonderfully fresh. And then came the Wild Boar Basil. That's a dish we used to have at only one restaurant many years ago. It consists of pork, basil, and green peppercorns in a thin curry. This version was outstanding! The pork was very flavourful. The curry, again, was very well balanced, with more heat than the salad. And the real surprise were the green peppercorns, which were still attached to the stem in the middle of the dish. So that meant they flavoured the dish mildly, and then you could scrape off however many peppercorns you wanted to give the dish some added floral heat. I have no idea how well that restaurant is doing, but I certainly hope it's managing to thrive. I want it to be there next time I visit! Heck, I want someone here, on the Asian west coast, to make Wild Boar Basil like that!

The morning we headed back to Philadelphia, my mom took us out to her favourite breakfast place, the Copper Lantern, "the home of home cooking." Great breakfast fare enhanced by the fact that all the bread and muffins were baked on site. It was a wonderful way to end that part of the trip. Sometimes you just want good, tasty food! Served by nice people, of course.


Impossible Conversations

One more fashion post before we move on to the food portion of our program.

Among all the things I get in my fashion RSS feed, I had seen something about an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I watched a clip of Judi Davis playing the late designer Elsa Schiaparelli and designer Miuccia Prada playing herself. They were sitting at a table across from each other having a conversation about their approaches to fashion design.

I had forgotten about the "Impossible Conversations" exhibit until the Aunt mentioned it (she and the Uncle are members of the Met and so keep up with exhibits). At that point, wild horses could not have kept me away. So on that Tuesday afternoon after a late lunch, we went to the Met and straight to the fashion exhibit.

It was wonderful! There were items from both Schiaparelli and Prada in a kind of compare and contrast setup. One exhibit features Schiap's hats and jackets up against Prada's skirts and shoes. In the video, Schiap explains that she lived in a café society, and what people saw of women was from the waist up, whereas Prada focused on the waist down. Other parts of the exhibit compare the approach of both designers to similar pieces. There was both the video conversations and explanation cards. It was fascinating!

The comments from Miuccia Prada seemed to have a theme: that her designs are misunderstood and misinterpreted. Critics and other people think she is saying one thing, she thinks she is saying something else. Now, it's possible for anyone to be misinterpreted. But when it happens over and over again, when those who observe see one thing and the designer claims it's another thing, perhaps it might occur to her that she is conveying something other than what she intends or claims to intend. I had a sneaking suspicion that at least sometimes she was simply being perverse.

Even the Uncle enjoyed the exhibit. Curiously, he liked Prada's designs better, while Sweetie and I tended to prefer Schiaparelli's. Some of her dresses and gowns were just exquisite! It was funny that our favourite dress from Prada was one that she herself hated.

And I have an excuse for my usual laxity with a camera—no photographs allowed! They wanted you to buy stuff from the gift shop, of course.

I did not buy anything directly about the exhibit. But Sweetie found a fantastic book. It's called 50 Fashion Designers You Should Know by Simone Werle, translated from German and published by Prestel (ISBN 978-3791344133). It was published in 2010 and runs from Jeanne Lanvin to Stella McCartney. Each illustrated chapter (ordered by birth date) includes a mini-biography and the reason or reasons why the designer was chosen for the collection. Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada are included, of course, as is Coco Chanel, Emilio Pucci, Mary Quant, Calvin Klein, Jil Sander, Tom Ford, and many more. I devoured the book on the plane on the way home and no doubt will soon start over again from the beginning. I have so much to learn in the field of fashion design, and this book is a wonderful primer.



I am a proponent of (and probably obnoxious about sometimes) what is informally called eco-fashion. The words "conscious," "responsible," and "sustainable" are associated with this movement. It's about using fabrics that come from renewable material and can be recycled or repurposed when they wear out. It's about fair trade, making sure that everyone along the production line of a product is paid a fair wage. It's about buying fewer, higher quality garments rather than masses of throwaway items.

For quite a while now, I have been very label-conscious. I always look at the origin of something I buy, apparel no less than any other product. It's one reason I do a lot of shopping at Plum, specifically for clothes in their Simone and Tobias lines. I look for those tags that say "Designed and Made in Canada." When I was in New Orleans, I found a dress I absolutely loved, and loved even more because it was made in San Francisco (I didn't find anything "made in New Orleans"). When I buy something imported, I'm picky about the source. I'd like to know that it comes from a country that is at least moving toward a more just society.

I fall down on some things, I know, notably shoes. If there are shoes made in Canada, I haven't found them. I remember when New Balance runners were made in the United States, but those days are long gone. Being a bit of a shoe slut, it's rare for me to invest in a pair made somewhere such as Italy. They just cost too much. So shoes are my guilty pleasure in more ways than one.

The origin label is one reason I shop in small boutiques and tend not to buy designer labels. The most expensive clothing is still almost always made in a low-wage country. Curious, no? Someone is making a huge profit, but it's not the garment workers themselves. Any designer can manufacture overseas, but I have a better chance of finding domestic or fair trade production from a small label.

I realized something while I was browsing through boutiques in Nolita and later at Lord & Taylor. I've been putting too much emphasis on the origin label. I should be paying more attention to the fabric label. I'm realizing there are many garments made out of a fabric that I would rather not buy.

To wit, polyester.

Polyester these days isn't the stiff, horrible substance of 1970s leisure suits. In look and feel, it's pretty much indistinguishable from a fabric such as rayon. It breathes. It's durable and easy to care for. You can wash it. When it dries, it has few if any wrinkles.

But even though it's a better fabric than the polyester of yore, it's still derived from petroleum. That is hardly sustainable. And when it wears out, there is almost nothing that can be done with it except put it in a landfill. And once there, it will probably be around for archaeologists to find hundreds of years from now. It's fortunate while it's being used that it's so durable. But fashion waits for no one. It might still be wearable when it's thrown away.

I don't know why it hadn't struck me this way before. Going through racks at Lord & Taylor, racks of expensive designer dresses, I was dismayed to see how much polyester was used. It took some doing to find (actually, for Sweetie to find) one dress in cotton jersey and one in rayon. I have also looked back at some of my favourite Plum dresses. Simone dresses are typically 92 percent poly and 8 percent spandex. Cue the groans (from me).

Finding clothes made of sustainable material is even more difficult than finding clothes made by workers who are paid a living wage. Even something like organic cotton might not be the best choice. Cotton is a very water-intensive crop. Growing it uses up huge amounts of arable land. As someone wrote, the world can produce only so much cotton. And conventional cotton uses huge amounts of pesticides. Rayon is a good choice, even though some rayon garments have to be dry cleaned. It's a man-made material, but it's made of cellulose from wood waste. Bamboo and hemp are becoming more widely available (and not just in hippie clothes, thankfully).

One reason I am finding myself at Nicole Bridger more often is that I can be certain of two things: the garments are made with sustainable material, and they are designed and made either in Canada or under a fair trade agreement. Nicole used to use birch modal, a kind of rayon. I have noticed that modal, which feels wonderful, is not very durable, so I was not surprised to learn that she had shifted to Tencel® (lyocell), another kind of rayon.

Make that three things I can be certain of when I shop at Nicole Bridger: the designs will be gorgeous. And given the quality and beauty of the clothes, her prices are reasonable. But they're not fast fashion prices. You get what you pay for. And if you're paying hardly anything for a garment, it's pretty much impossible that the person who made it is being paid anything like a living wage.

I'm not going to go super-virtuous all at once. It's a process over time. But I will look more carefully for fabric labels that say things like
  • organic cotton (still far better than conventional).
  • silk (not for some vegans, but I'm not a vegan).
  • linen (a natural fabric making a big comeback).
  • bamboo (both sustainable and naturally anti-bacterial!).
  • hemp (used in blends).
  • various rayons (including modal and Tencel®).
And I might be less fussy about the origin label, even though ideally I want both sustainable fabric and fair trade.

Locally, I continue to favour Nicole Bridger because she really does everything right and also makes beautiful clothes. But there are other designers and shops that are also conscious and sustainable. Blue Sky Clothing exclusively sells sustainable, fair trade products. Body Politic sells clothes from a number of eco-fashion designers. Many shops in Vancouver have at least some eco-fashion. Judging by what I saw in the northeastern US, we really are at the forefront of this movement. There are also online stores. I have a tunic and a dress, both of which I love, made from beechwood modal by Autumn Teneyl Designs of Colorado.

Nothing is simple, of course. I'm mentioned the problems even with organic cotton. And there are issues having to do with dyeing some of the rayons. I take small steps. I try to keep learning so I can take better steps. And I don't beat myself up for having some polyester items in my closet. I just hope that when I give them away and they reach Value Village, they don't just get tossed away!


Shop, drop, shop, drop

Vacation was for fun, not working, but I am pretty much in constant fashion-observation mode. It makes me happy to be that way, and I think it's useful. I want always to be learning. I watch for good street fashion. I do my share of shopping as well, of course, but sometimes that's more about browsing and observing than buying, unless I find something I really want.

My favourite places to shop in Vancouver are boutiques of local designers or that sell apparel and accessories from local designers. I think people who have not yet "made it big" or who have chosen to remain regional are doing some of the most innovative work around. And if there are designs that you can get only here or in some other city and not elsewhere, all the better.

It took a bit of explaining to our friends in Philadelphia before they understood what I was looking for. No, not vintage, although we went to some really interesting vintage stores. No, not consignment, although some of those were really interesting as well. I did find evidence of local design, but nothing that really grabbed me. It would probably take more research to find out exactly where to locate those kinds of stores.

We had only limited shopping time in New York City. Sweetie's cousin recommended that we check out Nolita, "North of Little Italy." Nolita is a hip, happening place just below East Houston, bounded by Lafayette Street on the west, Kenmare on the south, and the Bowery on the east. It's full of boutiques and restaurants. Sweetie, Aunt, Uncle, and I spent several hours last Monday afternoon going from shop to shop.

There is a wonderful shop called Bag on Mulberry that sells Italian leather bags, and they were having a sale. Sweetie bought a really cute small cross-body bag with an angled zipper at the top. I really should have bought the lovely small messenger bag I saw. Or maybe the one Sweetie bought in a different colour. They had so many colours!

We went to several other stores along Mulberry, Mott, and Elizabeth. I saw some things I liked, but the few times something really grabbed me (like a gorgeous digital print dress at Emmett McCarthy EMc2 on Elizabeth from I can't remember which designer), it was not available in my size. The boutiques of Nolita skew young, which is really not surprising. That doesn't mean nothing is for me, but it tends to narrow the selection.

Many stores were having summer sales, but some were already into autumn. Rag and Bone had some interesting pieces for autumn, as did Rebecca Taylor. Curiously, we really weren't impressed with F/W 2012 from Tory Burch. Lilith was an interesting shop with lovely fabrics and a well laid-out design, grouped by colour rather than style, and they were still selling summer wear. Shoe on Mulberry smelled great, and it was great to see leather goods being manufactured right in the city, but I did not find the designs very interesting. It was amusing to see a John Fluevog store, and I know Aritzia's new flagship store is not far away in Soho.

I could have gone through Nolita boutiques in even more detail, but for that I would have to have been by myself. As it was, Sweetie and the Aunt were doing really well, and the Uncle seemed to find ways to amuse himself, all too often walking back to where the car was parked in Little Italy.

The place I actually bought two dresses was at Lord & Taylor in Scarsdale, where we went Tuesday morning. They were having a really good summer sale. I like boutique shopping better than department store shopping, but the experience wasn't bad. Sweetie was my stylist that day. She found an adorable flower print from BCBGenerations with a flirty split in the back between the top and the skirt, and a lovely cotton tie-dye dress from Hard Tail, which mostly makes yoga wear but also has some other casual wear.

Since we stayed in Framingham, Massachusetts the next night, of course I had to visit my favourite candy, er, discount shoe store, DSW. But I was quite restrained. I bought only a pair of neutral pumps (which I needed, really!), a small cross-body bag from Nine West to replace one I'd mistakenly left behind in a hotel, and a pair of patterned tights. I almost fell for the Charles by Charles David Avenger Booties. I'm totally down with the five-inch heel and half-inch platform (I did a lot of test walking), and the stretch fabric was really cute, but the slick sole would have made them completely impractical in wet Vancouver.

I wish I hadn't already maxed out my suitcase by the time we spent an evening in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Portsmouth has a lot of great little shops, and I saw evidence of local design, although probably more in jewellery than clothing. Still, it would have been fun.

I was watching for street style everywhere I went, of course, especially in New York. And I found it. It's really not hard to find things that are more interesting than in Vancouver, sad to say. Even in the middle of a 37-degree heatwave, some New Yorkers at least have style. I saw a lot of a trend I thought would not be evident until autumn, especially with it being so hot—open-toed booties, usually flat. I'm afraid I wasn't in street style picture taking mode.

But I was definitely in learning mode. And I realized something that I hadn't been paying enough attention to before. That's for the next post.


Northeast passage

The Friends and Family Tour of summer 2012 came to a successful conclusion. No, not a Lisa's Hotcakes tour, I'm afraid. This was Sweetie and me visiting people in the northeast United States. It wasn't like relaxing on a beach in Hawaii for a week, but it was a good trip.

I'm going to spare you the detailed travelogue. It was the kind of trip where you fly east, stay at a friend's house for a few nights, drive a bit, stay with relatives, drive some more, spend one night in a cheap but decent motel, drive some more, spend a couple nights with different relatives, and finally drive all the way back to the beginning in one stupidly long day to stay for a couple more nights with the original very patient friends. And then you fly back west and are jet-lagged for a few days.

Instead of the travelogue, I'm going to break out of the linear chronological mode I fall into too often and deal with the trip by topic: fashion, food, family, one or two others. For now, since I'm jet-lagged (and was so tired last night that every time I tried to write a blog entry I soon ground to a halt), I will post only a few "lessons learned."

The first is to grab that free map that the rental car company has in the airport shuttle. Or some kind of paper map. Or if you insist on paying the big bucks, rent a GPS. Sure, you lived in that area 18 years ago, but shit changes. And you were never in Philadelphia before and didn't know New Jersey very well except the part near New York. Do not rely on the iPhone GPS app. You will not know whether you are supposed to be on state route 117 or the Saw Mill Parkway, since they are right next to each other, until 117 veers off and you soon realize, oh, we're supposed to be on the parkway. And you will not figure out where I-95 disappeared to as you head south on the New Jersey Turnpike. And you will definitely not know that Exit 4, which says "Philadelphia" below the main destination, is really the only good exit to Philadelphia if you're coming from the north, even though it's yet another state route.

It's no good complaining that there's no nice, direct connection between Philly and the Turnpike, like maybe an interstate or something. And it's no good complaining that I-95, the main route from Maine to Florida which has been completed for something like 50 years, is inexplicably discontinuous in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Maybe PA and NJ don't get along or something.

(Very little is actually inexplicable anymore, thanks to Wikipedia and some serious highway geeks. If you Google "Interstate 95 in New Jersey," there are even more geeky details.)

Second, do not drive from southern New Hampshire to Philadelphia on a single weekend day. Sure, you used to do Boston to Virginia in a day, but you were 30 years younger then. You will get stuck in traffic in at least one place, and you will be exhausted and cranky by the time you hit the City of Brotherly (not Sisterly, I guess) Love. And you will then drink three beer with dinner, which you pretty much never do anymore, and when you get home pass out in your dress and never get around to taking off your makeup (and yet somehow wake up the next day without a headache). Instead, maybe you should politely ask relatives in Connecticut if they will put you up, or put up with you, or something like that, for the night.

Trouble is, it's a long drive for one day, but short to split into two. Maybe the solution is to use New York City as the halfway point, even though it's more than halfway, and then spend some time in Manhattan, which you didn't get enough of before (more to come on that).

Finally, when you need coffee, which you do a couple times a day, do not expect to find a Starbucks. Yes, there are Starbucks in the northeast, but they are few and far between, not every few blocks like they are here. Don't get all Left Coast chauvinist. You don't even like Starbucks! Give in to the ubiquitous Dunkin Donuts. The coffee is fine. And when you're in Philadelphia, take advantage of the many cool independent coffee shops, like the one in which you had a discussion with the woman running the place about how drinking hot coffee on a hot day actually cools you off. She made damn fine coffee too. Now that's almost like home!


What better time

Last Saturday, Sweetie, our drummer, our drummer's boyfriend, and I attended an event that was just a wee bit different. It was presented by a Vancouver band called the Odds. They called it "Good Weird Story" (their third album was called Good Weird Feeling), and it was basically the story of their band, presented as a concert with storytelling and a video backdrop. It was very engaging!

This was really the New Odds. The Odds broke up in the late 1990s, although many of them played together on various projects after that. Three-quarters of them reformed in 2008 with a new guitarist and released an album called Cheerleader. They're now officially the New Odds because they and the other quarter are having a little dispute about the old name.

The Odds released their first album in 1991, 21 years ago. Band leader Craig Northey turned a mere 50 years old this year. And I thought, wow, in 21 years I'll be ancient, maybe in a home, maybe ill, maybe dead.

When we started Lisa's Hotcakes, we agreed that we would take it seriously but basically do it for fun. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. We realized we had a really good sound together. It was amazingly coherent right from the start. We added new material, and it fit right in. And the material was good. My songs, Sweetie's songs, a song by our drummer. They're all different, but somehow they make a whole.

And we love making this whole. We love playing live. Sometimes we even love practising!

The youngest of us is, well, not a kid. We all have jobs. We all have lives. We really should be doing this only for fun. But we know we have something good, maybe even better than that. That guarantees nothing, but it makes us feel that we need to give it a better chance than we might have thought of doing only a few months ago.

We won't have any 20-year reunion. If we have a time, it's now. That's why I feel a certain sense of urgency about this project.

We need to go into the studio sooner rather than later. We would love to do so with a producer, but that might not be possible. We will do the best we can anyway, and I know we'll get good results. Recording studios and I are no strangers. The technology has changed drastically, but playing is playing, at least if that's the way you want to approach it, and we do. We're a rock band. If someone had an analogue two-inch reel-to-reel machine, I'd embrace it. Perfection is not rock. Perfection is boring.

We need a multi-pronged promotional attack, basically. There's no avoiding it. You can ignore marketing and hope for the best, or you can embrace it and make it work for you. We need not just audio, but video, and more internet presence, and probably stuff I don't even know about yet because I come from a far away land a long time ago. If you Google Lisa's Hotcakes, you'll find videos and blog entries near the top of the list. We want to take that sucker over.

I have to stay balanced, of course. We're still not putting our lives on the line to "make it." But fortunately, there are many routes available to us in this new modern music world. I want to find the best way or ways for us. And if enough people decide we're as good as we think we are, all the better.
It has to start somewhere / It has to start sometime
What better place than here / What better time than now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
("Guerilla Radio," Rage Against the Machine)

Turn that shit up!



A musician friend of ours, a lovely woman with a gorgeous, sultry singing voice, had a baby in April. Very few of our friends and acquaintances are reproducing, so this baby was a big deal in our musical circle. We had bought a baby gift when we were in New Orleans in March, figuring we would be able to deliver it before very long.

For various and sundry reasons, not the least of which is that a new mom's schedule is pretty crazy, it took three months. But last week, we finally got together over coffee: me, Sweetie, our friend, and her now three-month-old boy.

Sometimes a mother is reluctant to let others hold her baby. But as soon as our friend walked into the coffee shop, she asked me if I would. Methinks she needed a break! And I was happy to be the baby holder. Sweetie is not big on infants. Her favourite age for kid interaction is about nine or 10. But I love babies! The little guy and I got along quite well. He has had a lot of family and friends around him since he was born, so he didn't have a problem with me even though I was yet another stranger.

I'm pretty good at this stuff for an old broad who never had kids. He's too young to sit up on his own, so I supported his head as he sat on my knee. I'm big on talking to babies, and mostly not in baby talk either. I had a great time keeping the baby happy whilst simultaneously engaging in an adult conversation with his mom and Sweetie. We took a break so his mom could change him. I'm afraid my lack of experience would have been obvious there. But I was totally enjoying being foster granny.

I felt a little tug at my heart when it was time for him and his mom to go home. Later, when I was doing my nightly gratitude ritual, I expressed thanks for the encounter. It was not easy. Sometimes, I get rather emotional during my ritual. Hanging with the little guy was a really good thing, but it was also a very emotional experience. I cried and cried. For me, being with a baby is always bittersweet.

Sweetie and I made our choice not to have children a long time ago when we first got serious about our relationship. And really, it was the right choice for us. Neither of us had the best childhood. We were busy with lots of other things in our lives, such as playing music. We did not want to be selfish, neglectful parents, too busy with our own thing to do a proper job of rearing our children. We both took a long time to grow up. (I'm not worried about my friend and her baby. She and her husband are ready for this.)

Especially within the last few years, however, I've felt the consequences of this choice. It's a bitch that when I final feel mature enough to take responsibility for another life, it's too late. I don't regret our choice. I really don't think I would have been a good parent at the time. I love that I got to do all the things I did in music and theatre. But it hits me sometimes. I will never have children or grandchildren.

Where the heck does this late emotional surge come from? Is it genetic? Hormonal? Societal? I suppose it's the usual combination of all of the above and more. It's nothing I can't deal with. But it's weird to be going through it.

Maybe I'll get to do some babysitting. If I do, I'll probably have to learn that diaper changing thing. Nothing like a little poo to take the romance out of having a child! But I think I'm always going to have a baby-shaped place in my heart, ready for whenever a tiny human being comes along.


Instant replay

PTSD is a potentially debilitating anxiety disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience such as an interpersonal event like physical or sexual assault, exposure to disaster or accidents, combat or witnessing a traumatic event. There are three main clusters of symptoms: firstly, those related to re‐experiencing the event; secondly, those related to avoidance and arousal; and thirdly, the distress and impairment caused by the first two symptom clusters.
("Combined pharmacotherapy and psychological therapies for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)," PubMed Health, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0014403/)

I know people who have been through serious trauma and suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am an empathic person, but unless you've experienced PTSD, you can't really know what someone who suffers from it is going through.

Without trivializing full-blown PTSD, I now have just a little more of a clue as to what it must be like.

The injury I inflicted upon my right ring finger is minor. I sliced off a little patch of skin, deep enough that it bled like a stuck pig. I was treated quickly in hospital. I'm now on a regimen of Band-Aids®, Polysporin®, acetaminophen, and keeping the wound clean. It still hurts, of course, and for some reason I keep whacking it, but I am even managing to type with that finger (a little flatter than I normally would). So really, this was no big trauma.

And yet the event is haunting me. I can be reasonably certain that I will never do anything that stupid again, but in my mind, it's happening over and over. It makes my skin crawl. My body shakes, my breathing speeds up, and I have to make an effort to take deep breaths to calm down. The thought of it happening scares me. I try not to think about it, try not to let that movie reel replay, but my brain and body are not yet ready to let go of it.

This is probably made worse by the fact that I have aichmophobia (fear of sharp objects). For the most part, I have overcome that fear. I use knives all the time while cooking. Power tools scare me more, but I still manage to use some.  At some point I will even use the mandonline again, with proper precautions, of course. But for now, the fear is extra strong.

I will get better with time. It's our nature to heal. People endure much worse traumas than I did. But I now have at least a tiny bit more insight into what they go through. So the only thing I would say is that if you have PTSD, don't just live with it. If your mind and body aren't healing themselves, get help.