Friday, January 28, 2011

Leaving 55

It is the day before my birthday. I will no longer be 55 years old ever again. I feel the age, I have to say. I feel my age.

I feel it as I climb to the peak of Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona. I get tired faster and I move up those rocks way slower. I know it because I am only comfortable with short 2 kilometer runs nowadays, and I choose not to run every day.

I feel it as Paul and I paddle our canoe on the quiet lakes of Kilarney, Ontario, or carry that same canoe for a kilometer portage.

I feel my age as I talk to each of my adult children and marvel at the uniqueness of each one. They are, every one of them, accomplished, generous, and productive human beings. We have created a family of siblings who love each other (and us) and we all make it possible to enjoy time together. Our numbers continue to grow. That must mean I’m getting older.

I feel my age when I crave hugs from my grandchildren and anticipate with joy the times we get to be together. I recognize the love I have for them is unlike any love I have. I want more!

I feel older when I recognize that I have achieved a professional reputation that allows me to choose my work schedule and location. I am eager to give my time and expertise in areas of the world that will benefit from what I have learned and I travel to exciting places to share the things I (at least think) I know. It takes me longer to overcome jet lag.

I feel it is I think about my loving friends all over the world and imagine the bountifulness of my relationships with each of them. Some of these friend I have had since childhood. It takes a long time to become this rich!

I feel it when I look at my honey and best friend, Paul. We have been together for so long. I love him even more than I did when we met. We have been through so much together. The years have given us time to learn how to be together. Only with years of experience can that happen!

I feel it when I lead the way on motorcycles down the village roads of Hampi, India, stopping to have bitter coffee with the local sadu and picking up local farmers on the back of my cycle to hasten their way home. Or unfolding from a headstand during a 3 hour yoga practise underneath the tree house in Fort Cochin, Kerala.

I get tired faster than I used to as we meander our way through the markets of Jerusalem or Istanbul or Rishikesh or Fez. And the purchases we make seem to be heavier than they were years before. But they still make their way to our home. I have so many fantastic experiences to remember.

I feel it as I look over the grandiose pit of the Grand Canyon and my eyes tear at the absolute beauty of the land. There is nothing more dynamic, more profound, more meaningful to me. I never used to find that so powerful.

I feel it after a full day in the garden on Gabriola, after listening to the Grateful Dead station on Sirius and digging deep into the soil to prepare for our garden. I feel it each night as I crawl in to my tent. My knees just don’t make easy for me anymore.

It isn’t as easy for me to water ski anymore and snowboarding is out of the question. I still scuba dive, and horse back ride, and zip line in Costa Rica and kayak in the Pacific Coast of British Columbia. I can walk for miles and climbing Grouse Mountain is still a given as long as the weather is right and I’m wearing proper shoes.

I do feel my age as our road trip through the United States wears heavily on my lower back and I struggle to make my way out of the car each time we stop for gas or a simple pee break. My body just isn’t as generous as it used to be.

Tomorrow I will begin being 56! I can hardly wait for what lies ahead. Happy Birthday me!

Almost There

Waking up in Bakersfield, California to the sound of trucks starting outside our window. It is a perfect truck stop city with several fast food restaurants, car repair shops, and truck inspections. There is not much to notice other than the magnificent mountains surrounding the town.

Outside I hear the truckers, “I figure if we leave at 8:00 we’ll get to Sedona about 10:30 tonight.” I hear one say.

“Yep”, I think, "That sounds about right."

Yesterday’s ride was long. We left the Grand Canyon about noon with a hope that we make it a part of our route for our back to Canada. Our friends Chrysta and Tommy came to meet us the night before so we could experience the wonders of the Grand Canyon together. After a short hike in the morning they made their way back to Prescott, Arizona and we moved on westward.

We are expected in San Francisco tonight. The daughter of an old girlfriend of mine from New York is celebrating becoming Bat Mitzvah this weekend. It is my joy to be representing all the girlfriends at the celebration. Orith made a beautiful necklace and earrings from precious stones to which all the girlfriends contributed (There are 8 of us). Paul and I picked it up at the start of our trip in New York. It has travelled across the country with us ever since. From our group of long time girlfriends, we feel proud to still be together, sharing our love even as it overflows to our children. Paul and I are thrilled to be the ones to attend the party, represent these women and their partners, and give Natalie the gift.

Yesterday I spoke to our daughter Julia. “Wow” she said, “It’s hard to imagine that you drove right across the country!”

It sure is!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Canyon Mother

I'm waiting for the sun. A new day is beginning at the great hole of the Grand Canyon. It is 6:58 a.m. I'm wide awake eager to experience the spectacular sun rise.
As I approach the rim of the Canyon, I am surprised to see a Chasidic man with his tzitzit visible through his jacket. He is holding a siddur. He shuckles and chants, facing east towards Jerusalem. With the expanse of the Grand Canyon before him, he is immersed in prayer.
The depths of the Grand Canyon are mind-boggling. The sun light melts her way into all the cracks 5,000 feet below. She slowly covers the gigantic energetic cavity. The sculpted rock structures can only be the work of God, or, what Chrysta calls 'the Mother'. I am in awe of the natural presence around me and so aware of the perfection of the art display. Each view....every turn I make, is breath taking!
As I walk around the rim of the Canyon there are moments when I actually can't breath. Occasionally, the viewpoint podiums suspend above the vastness of the Mother Earth. Below me is a hole so large, so multilayered that I fear I might be completely absorbed into it's abyss. No one would ever find me. I could be lost forever!
Diaramas of coloured sand layer the scene. Occasionally, structures of similar colour cluster strategically together. They are cousins, formed over billions of years. Their colour is similar, but the substance has changed. I feel the agelessness of the pit. I sense the activity it emits. I am humbled by it's power. I think I have never been anywhere like this before!
As I leave the rim, I hear the melodic sounds of a drone from around the bend. I walk slowly over to the sound and crane my neck just a little. A man, dressed in western clothes is prostrated on his prayer mat. A Muslim carrying out his afternoon prayer.
I am sure now. We are in God's land.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Back To Nature

I welcome the inspiration for meditation. This morning, on our way to Prescott from Santa Fe’ New Mexico, we detour through a National Monument, Tent Rocks, Kasha-Katuwe.

We’ve been going continuously for the past few weeks; usually stopping in big cities that inspire fast paced busy life styles. Today is a time to stop!

Walking on the trail, we encounter nary a soul. By the end of the walk we begin to hear voices. But recognize no sign of human life until we reach the parking lot to find other cars waiting for their passengers to return. Then I know we are not alone.

The hills reverberate with silence. The air, crisp and clean and fresh is a reminder to breath deeply and intentionally and fill my soul with energy. I remind myself to breath. I remind myself to connect with God’s world again. I remind myself of the miracle of our geological universe.

I consider the notion of God as artist, strategically directing the placement of each formation. Crazy looking cone shaped tent rocks, sculpted from volcanic eruptions, hide timid caves within the rocks. Layers of grey, pink and white rock along the cliff face, accentuate the intensity of God’s colours and the beauty that blesses my space.

I sit for many minutes, my eyes closed; my ears open to the silence, finding the peaceful offering. I understand what is meant by unity. I am, again, connected to the world.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Friends

Being in Tennessee has been a bit of culture shock for me. People in the southwest really do speak funny. The southern drawl is extreme. “How ya doon, Y’awl?” Where y’awl from?” are common phrases. Sometimes the accents are so exaggerated, I think they might be kidding me. “Yo wanna he som music?” “Godda be caful out there in the street.”

Our travels are always enhanced with the chance to meet new people. We welcome opportunities to spend time with others. We seek out old friends as we travel and remain open to meet new ones. Differences are noticeable and irrelevant when you love the ones you meet.

In Nashville we connected with an old friend of Paul’s whom he hadn’t seen since high school. Alan is in the music business. His company, The Bigger Picture Group, finds and promotes ‘up and coming’ musicians. They produce The Zac Brown Band, one of my favourites. We made plans to get together.

Our first meeting was for brunch. We met at a funky little restaurant…one of those decadent ‘all you can eat’ places. In my attempts to avoid wheat and dairy, I filled up with meat and salad. Though Tennessee is known for its’ ‘barbeque’ I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to the amounts of meat offered.

Friends of Alan and Kathy joined us for brunch, and afterwards we all went to Lisa and Peter’s for afternoon drinks. We had a chance to get to know them there. I had an even better chance the next day. Jana invited me to her ranch to ride horses. Paul was busy for the day and I thought that would be such a fantastic way to spend the day. We rode and talked and laughed and shared our stories. We got to know each other quickly, and deeply. We talked, money, food, philosophy, and God!

Jana, in her gentle southern drawl says “Heaven is rat heya in my backyad! Life is a big pahty if y’all allow it. People make heyl for themsalves. But heyl ain’t snakes and worms. That’s what some people thank. Rally though, it’s what you make for yaself.”

“Yes”, I think. Thank you Jana. An important reminder!

At the end of the ride Jana and I go back to her house for a drink. Jim is there and proudly shows me around. Lining the walls of the foyer are large sized portraits displaying several of his family members from generations back. “That would be my ol’ great great uncle Roy.” Says Jim as he gently touches my elbow to guide me to the next room.

The dark oak wood walls provide protection from the outside elements and also represent the homeowners. An original Louis Vitton chest sits on the wooden floor and Jim and Kathy proudly identify an early signature of the designer. “This heya box must be worth a small fortune.” Says Jim. “We never even realized.”

Carefully folded handmade quilts are stacked in a glass encased cabinet displaying the handicraft of Kathy’s grandmother. The house is warm and alive with home made jams and canned pickles that come right from their annual gardens.

The windows lead seamlessly to the outside. I notice the peacefulness. The field we have just been riding through is now familiar. I picture me and my horse and my new friend riding side by side. We are just chillin, riding our horses and spending our day together. I feel lucky to be here.

We are different, no doubt. And we have become new friends quickly, because, actually we seek the same. Accents aside, different approaches to daily living, and diverse political ideas mean so little when we get right down to the things in our lives that really matter. What a welcome to new friendships in my life!

“Life sho is good, padna!”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cindy and Jean

I believe in win-win situations! To help take care of our house during crazy travels each year Paul and I have house sitters in Toronto. This is our third experience doing this, and so far, we’ve had fabulous guests. There have been no issues. In fact, for the most part, we have really liked the people who have inhabited our home while we are away.

This year we started to get a little nervous when, by the end of November we had no bites of interest. Leaving on January 7th, we decided to ‘soup up’ our advertising strategy and place additional ads in on-line sites.

With 24 hours, we had a call.

“I’m interested in your house offer. My name is Cindy Boudreau and my adopted grand daughter is scheduled for surgery at Sick Kids Hospital on January 17. How close is your house to the hospital?

We never got a chance to meet Cindy and her husband Jean. Nor did we even speak with their adopted daughter, Leslie, the mother of 3 children all under 3 ½ years old. We never laid our eyes on little Ria, one of the twins, born with a rare disease called Aperts Syndrome that leaves the baby with malformed bone structure in her head and various body deformities. We never felt the need to meet them. We just knew that they were right for our house and that they are good people.

Ria’s condition will require that she undergo a multitude of surgical procedures over the years. Several of them have already occurred. Up until now, all have been carried out in their New Brunswick home base. This, a more complicated procedure requires the expertise of paediatric doctors at Sick Kid’s Hospital in Toronto.

Cindy and Jean have adopted Ria and her twin Laura. Their older sister, Lana is just 3 years old. The mother used to have the support of their father, but he took off when he heard that she was pregnant with twins just 4 months after their first child was born.

I believe that Cindy and Jean are God sent. They have had several adopted children in their lives. Cindy is a nurse and is often the first to meet those brand newly born babies who need extra care and love and attention. And Cindy wants to help.

She ventures to Africa every year for a month with an entire group of medical practitioners all of whom travel on their own expense to medically support a community of children in Tanzania.

Jean and Cindy sponsor many children and families throughout the world through organizations such as World Vision, Unicef and Unesco.

“I fell in love with Ria the minute I saw her. I knew she had to be mine.” Says Cindy. Jean acquiesces and from that moment on, Ria was accepted into their care.

The cabinets of our bedroom are full of syringes and tubes and cotton balls and vials of medication for Ria’s care, all carried and administered by Cindy and Jean for Ria’s sake. The room provides space for the ventilators, breathing machines and vaporizers that help Ria survive. Our house has become a health care space.

I am comforted to know that Cindy and Jean are in our house. Our walls absorb the holiness of their presence and I feel gifted to have them in our home.

I think about Ria today as she undergoes her surgery. And, I send out good vibes to her for a strong and healthy recuperation and growth. God bless…..all of them.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Driving on the Blue Ridge Highway surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains I am overcome with a strong sense of nostalgia. I used to drive these roads often when I was younger. First with my parents to visit my older brother Alan when he was a student at Roanoke College. I especially remember driving up for his graduation and spending the weekend together in celebration.

Next, my next brother, Michael decided to go to Roanoke too. He and I used to drive back and forth often. I like to tell my own children how Michael and I would get out of the car at toll booths to collect all the quarters that people left behind when they missed the cage that should have collected their fare. It was a successful trip when we collected more quarters than what we had to pay out.

We spent a lot of time following music wherever we could find it and happening upon adventure whenever we could make it. There were many weekends spent in the mountains being crazy and young and wild.

The drive today is different. I somehow notice the mountains more vividly, and I appreciate the beauty around me. I am aware of the colourlessness of Winter and breathe deeply when the sun shines through the space in the clouds, brightening the path ahead, even if just a few minutes.

As I drive, Paul and I listen to Jefferson Airplane. I turn our ipod up louder.

Things sure have changed in 35 years and I become a bit sad. There is a bitter sweetness. Sometimes, lately I feel old. My body hurts chronically and I’m not always as able to physically do the things I used to do. Maybe it’s temporary. My knees have stiffened. Perhaps I will be in full repair soon. Perhaps not. When I meet with old friends our conversation often turns to arthritis pains and loose unwanted skin.

My hair is grey and I know it makes me look older than I need to. But I am older. What’s the point of looking younger if I’m not! And yet I wish I did. Go figure….

I miss the excitement I used to feel when I buy things. Though I never was a big shopper, I felt excitement when I bought new things. Art purchases for our house to make it more comfortable. New clothes that would remind me of places I’ve been. Special gifts for friends and family to let them know I was thinking about them. All these things used to be fun. I find myself shedding my possessions now instead of accumulating things.

I’m also noticing how much I don’t know. Working with university students and being with so many young people reminds me about how quickly our world is changing. There is so much I don’t know in this world. I want to know I have enough time to keep learning and applying my newly gained knowledge.

So these are some of the things Paul and I talked about in the car today. And here is what happened for me….

I feel incredibly blessed. I am getting older. Our children are grown up, self sufficient and happy…each one of them. We have never had the kind of freedom we have now. I have the gift of Paul who wants to go on these adventures with me and, together, we somehow make it possible. We can do anything we want!

“Look at what we’re doing right now!” Paul says to me. “Look at how crazy we are! This is fantastic!”

“You’re right” I agree. And the tears fall. They are tears of honey. And the car rolls. I feel happy. The speed limit is 70 miles an hour. The snow lays heavily on the mountains around me. My love sits beside me and shares regular smiles as a simple ‘check-in’ gesture. Grace Slick continues to sing and Paul and I sing along, together, as we carry on. God blessed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Interconnected Somehow

I am often in awe about the interconnectedness of our lives. Last week’s workshop with teachers and teacher candidates was exciting because it was my first time working with students from Niagara University. It was a big surprise to discover that their campus is right downtown and not very far from where I live.

My daughter Jacquie, an undergraduate student at Guelph University finally decided to give in to mom and take my workshop for the 3 days. It was such a joy to have her there and to share with her what I do. The last time we did anything like that was when I brought her to George Brown College for “Bring Your Child to Work Day” a mere 7 years ago.

The group was such an eager and enthusiastic group. We had fun together and learned a great deal. I was reminded, pleasantly, how much I learn from teaching.

During the first day of training, one of the students asks, “Are you Jonathan Block-Verk’s mother? “Yes” I answered. “How did you know that?”

“I recognized you. He and I went to Junior High School together. That was 25 years ago!”

And yet another student, hearing that I live part time on Gabriola informs me, “I know someone on Gabriola….a yoga teacher named Maalaa Maalaa and I are really close friends!

Life is like that. When I open up to opportunities, connections happen more readily. The more connections we make, the more we can make. I love ending my sessions with Robert Fulghum’s words “When you go out into the world, remember to hold hands and stick together.” Holding hands makes the ride just a little bit more joyous!

Monday, January 10, 2011

There's a New York State in My Mind

It was an early April morning of last year as I began to ready myself for the day of work. I had already had my coffee, read a couple of sections of last weekend’s newspaper, and opened my computer for the first time for the day. I checked my email as I do every day, and, as my oldest son suggests, checked in for my daily Face book update. It is unusual for me to have a message on Face book, since it is not my main source of communication, so when I saw that I had a message it was a bit surprising to me.

The sender was Louise Watnik Mattingly. “Are you the Amy Block from Rego Park?” it said.

As I reread the name on the message I could feel the warmth flow through my body. It was a familiar name for me. Louise Watnik was an old school friend of mine from early elementary years while living in New York.

I responded, “Yes. That’s me! Are you Louise Watnik who lived on Queens Blvd next to the Jewish Community Centre?”

The initial contact brought on by that first message lead to a quick barrage of communication. Within 24 hours of my response to Louise, I began to receive messages from many of my old childhood friends.

“Oh my God! Orith Ben-Dor is contacting me. Orith my across the street buddy with whom I spent many experimental episodes and hung out with in Central Park” or “Jill Abramson! This is amazing…. Jill Abramson was one of my two buddies with whom I followed the Grateful Dead and persued my way to higher thinking!”

My husband Paul quietly smirked and rolled his eyes as the onslaught of communication began and people from my past began to drop in to my life. He had never really seen me like this. He had never heard me speak about my childhood. Childhood for me was so far away, generally a painful subject, and up until recently, insignificant and irrelevant in the context of my present life. I never realized the impact of those early relationships. I never noticed their absence and I never realized the importance the relationships held for myself, or, for that matter, to my friends. I never knew how much they missed me. I had never thought of myself as that noticeable.

Lori Ratner, I thought. She was the one who showed me the way to the tracks of the Long Island Island where we would secretly smoke our Marlboro cigarettes. And Serena who lived on the second floor of the apartment building where I lived on the fifth! Each face or name held a memory. Each person was a part of my past.

“I found her! I found her! I found Amy!!!” “Do you mean our Amy?” read the messages result from my connections. “Yes! Our Amy” She lives in Canada! She’s coming to New York to meet us all!”

That first reunion was fraught with turning pages from photo albums, reading through my letters written on aerogram stationary from Israel to my friends here, reviewing class newsletters with samples of our own poetry and prose from grade 6 and checking out yearbooks of familiar (and unfamiliar) faces. That initial reunion was as exciting as seeing my first Broadway musical.

Since then, we have gathered several times. We’ve spent whole weekends in Orith’s house at the Hamptons, cooking, drinking, talking and just hanging out together. We’ve met in the city for theatre and dinner. Or we’ve grabbed a quick drink and bite to eat as I pass through the New York area.

Each time is memorable! And I share a powerful connection with these women. Nine of us in all, and except for myself in Toronto, and Gerry in San Francisco, all still live in the New York area. We just like being together, and share a “whole lotta love”. Perhaps it’s something primal; a revisit to my childhood, and reminder of the naivety of our behaviours and a flash back to the impulsiveness of how we were then. Larry says there is nothing like those ‘firsts’ shared with friends. Secrets of our ‘first’ romance, perhaps the ‘first’ experiment with substances. Maybe it’s the reliance on one another through adolescent traumas that occur naturally. Or maybe the emotional bonds that grow as we share the unexpected, like the death of a parent or separation or divorce. They know me like no other knows me! It’s even a bit primal.

Last night’s potluck at Orith and Larry’s penthouse in New Jersey apartment was fantastic! We all, (including the men) loved being together high above the Hudson River overlooking the New York and New Jersey skylines. Food was plentiful and delicious. The energy was easy and joyful. We shared much talking and laughing and hugging and kissing. What a joy to blend my worlds together!

Our gatherings happen only occasionally, and each time, they are filled with a unique energy. I’ve tried to understand it. And usually I just give in to it.

I know I am deeply blessed. We have a “A whole lotta love” together! Thank you girlfriends!!!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On The Road Again....

Our approach into the city is at dusk. I am reminded of the unique sight that New York offers. I don’t call it beautiful. It is more awesome than beautiful, evoking a sense of cheerlessness and austerity as the clouds hang densely waiting for the snow to fall. The trees bordering the Hutchinson River Parkway no longer have their colours. The leaves have gone and the baroness on the trees seems to reflect the loneliness that the busy, crowded city of New York offers.

This is our first stop on our two-month road trip, an adventure inspired by our commitment to avoid Canadian Winters. This year our destination is a far off exotic land…the United States. We have often talked about taking a ‘road trip’ through the United States. With our grand daughter, Stella turning 7 the end of January, and my birthday happening around the same time, we decided to make that time our eventual arrival in Los Angeles.

Beginning in New York for a family Bat Mitzvah, we begin our travels with family, friends, and a taste of the craziness of New York.

I’m happy to be on the road again, travelling into areas that are unfamiliar, exciting and sometimes scary. Undoubtedly, travelling through the U.S. is very different from travelling in India! First of all, I’ve never felt so nervous about a trip before. I’m worried about being robbed, about bedbugs in hotels, and about being disgusted with cold, stormy weather conditions. And, at the same time, I’m feeling that this road trip is a pursuit towards something bigger. I’m close to home, investigating areas that I’ve heard about all my life and never visited. I’m excited about recognizing the cultural diversity that exists in the U.S. just by moving from state to state. And, I’m looking forward to meeting up with close friends along our route and eventually some of our children in California.

We’ll be staying with friends, Couchsurfing and the occasional hotel along the way. Another adventure begins…..