I am cooking in my lover’s kitchen.

The kitchen flows, everything at my fingertips. Set up by someone who felt pots, burner dials, heat, spices, knives extensions of her body.  The way I relate to my road bike, gear changes flowing out of the impulses in my calf muscles.  Cutting boards exactly where they should be, little bowls of salt and sugar ready for finger-pinches of the perfect amounts, well-used cookbooks stacked full in one cupboard.  Another cupboard crammed with the esoteric spices of Indian, Chinese, African cooking.  Tiny mysterious bottles hand-filled.  A slightly worn, heavy mortar and pestle in easy arm’s reach to crush little seeds I don’t recognize.  A broad five burner range, powerful jets ready for precise calibration of heat.

Two cats curl around my feet, looking at the familiar cupboard for their food.  The male one yowls, his squeaky voice already familiar to me.  “We keep the spoons for scooping catfood here,” says my lover, pointing to a little jar on the windowsill.  “We try not to get them confused with the people spoons.”

The “we” is immediately, simultaneously, jarring and expected.  “We.”  The kitchen was set up by my lover’s wife, who died.  She was the one who placed each of these jars on the shelves, chose the wooden spoons, thumbed through the cookbooks, produced lavish, creative spreads that guests raved about.  I’ve seen a picture of her, glass of wine in hand, reflected in the mirrored backsplash wildly sprayed by a frenzy of cooking. She was beaming.

This is her kitchen, her life woven with my lover’s, more than a simple half of the “we.” “We like to keep this side of the upper dishwasher rack for big spoons and that sort of thing, the small utensils on this side.”  Knives placed side by side for years, carving out a life that only is at all because it’s sculpted in tandem.

I am a competent but not inspired cook. I am too short for this kitchen, have to look up at almost everything. Looked yesterday fruitlessly for dried parsley to add to the cobbled-together ratatouille I was concocting.  “We usually grow that in the garden, I guess,” says my lover.

Yesterday, I added salt to the tomatoes and zucchini on the stove, and realized too late I’d dipped into the little sugar dish instead. The salt one has flowers, the sugar does not.  Exasperated, I tried to compensate, looked for vinegar.  Found white wine, balsamic, red wine, malt in the special, ingenious pullout cupboard for tall bottles.  The sugared and vinegared ratatouille turned out piquant. “It improves it, honestly,” he said.

Tonight, I’m making lamb chops.  “I’d really like some lamb,” my lover had said, lightly.  His arms just a little restless, empty.  I’ve never made lamb chops before, but stopped at the supermarket after our day of birding and walking.  Lamb is not really a Canadian staple. Googled a recipe, realized too late there was no lemon in this kitchen five miles from town, have substituted lime.  A leap of faith.

I pull out the heavy mortar and pestle.  I’ve never used one before, but it just seems right.  I crush garlic and fresh rosemary together, make a little paste with the lime and thick strong olive oil.  Brush them thickly on the chops.  Investigate the oven that seems tiny to my Canadian eyes, have to go online again to convert the Celsius settings to my Fahrenheit brain. Flick the professional grade burners into life, fuss to find the right settings.

My lover snaps garden peas while I trim asparagus, start to boil potatoes.  “Are you going to peel those?” he asks, his slightly forlorn tone implying he hopes I will.  I remove them from the already hot water, scrape their sides, toss them back in, poking them warily for the perfect point, take them out to cool while I chop garlic.

How does this warming drawer work? How can there be three different types of baking paper? What’s the difference between mint jelly and mint sauce? Where the hell are the serving dishes? 

Potatoes in the oven, I sit for a moment with my lover at the dining table, sipping a glass of wine he’s poured.  We bite into radishes he’s just pulled from the garden, dip them in the little dish of salt.  Fresh white bread and butter.  He looks happy, restlessness relaxed as he fits into a flow he knows.

The meal is perfect.  The potatoes are crisp and savoury, the lamb infused with the traditional — rosemary, garlic — and the unexpected — lime. The peas and asparagus are tender enough for my English lover.  The female cat winds around my chair, watching me.

There is crafting in this kitchen, food as artistry, food as connection.  Shaped by someone else’s creative reach. Infused, larded, with the decisions a couple reaches wordlessly in day to day movement against and around each other.

Cooking in this kitchen, my own artistry is flicked into life, the marinade on the lamb more lush, the potatoes both sharper and more tender.  I create with more grace than ever before. My lover eats, happy and grateful,  familiarity and novelty spun into balance.


People of the marsh

Last weekend, it clicked for Finch that my mother’s family name means “of the marsh” in French. We were birding at Point Pelee, haunting the spring migration, and he noticed furry movement.

“Eastern cottontail,” he said.

“Bunny!” I said. “I could eat that!”

“You always say that,” he marveled. “It’s your DNA, isn’t it? You come from a long line of foragers — those marsh people. And every time you see a new creature, you automatically assess whether it could be food.”

It’s true. I see a bunny, and I instantly say “I could eat that.” I’ve said it about fish, all manner of small furry creatures, pheasant, grouse, gulls, blackbirds, geese. (I draw the line at ducks, it seems, since the bufflehead seems to be my spirit animal). I even muse out loud about how many warblers it might take to make a meal — on little skewers of course.

It’s not like I would actually sneak out into the swamp and whack a muskrat on the head with a shovel, as my ex’s Mimi (southern franco-ontarian for “grandma”) did on more than one occasion. (Once in full view of the family during a Sunday dinner). God knows I couldn’t skin a rabbit, and I doubt if I could actually even bait a fish hook. But there is part of me that wonders, “could I eat that?” I suppose the unshaped part is “if I had to.”

Prothonotary warbler reflected in one of the very marshes my ancestors may have haunted for varmints. A bird I probably wouldn’t eat. Too bony and crunchy.


I’ve moved (again), and I’ve been running “hither and tither” as Danny says, and I haven’t stopped for even five minutes to make meaning of any of it. Africa, a massive move, holidays, intense relationship, more travel, more travel, more work than I can possibly accommodate.

It’s overwhelming, and spending time in SB last week at the celebration of bp’s life/work just coalesced for me that I’m running about with no core thread. This new office space — “field poppy” coloured, perched high above the city, desk with an expansive view — it does ground me. I feel like I can tap things out, order my space, order my thoughts. For the first time in … forever. Clearly demarked zones for sleeping/eating/working (I think they call those ROOMS, cate) make it more possible to really work when I’m in here. So that’s a start.

LB and I were lamenting the post-doc aimlessness the other day. And I have been trying to understand my still flimsy sense that my three most important voices nudge against each other, but I can’t make them talk to each other yet. The CMM work — the communication theory around making better social worlds; my Uganda work; my work-work in hospitals and communities. I haven’t yet found a way to really make coherence here. So I give myself the challenge of this blog as a place to start.

CMM. “Coordinated Management of Meaning.” When we talk about CMM, the first thing that flings forward is the theoretical language — an impenetrable framework of analytical tools, metaphysical notions of what makes us human, the superstructure of how to understand what we are doing when we interact. And, at heart, what it means to me? That when we understand interaction as constantly creating something, we have choices in every interaction to change what we are doing. That we can recognize what feels like “instinct” as choice, understand the impulses that lead us to choose one thing or another — and therefore, make better choices, create more of what gives life. In everyday life and in the global sense.

For me, the theory behind CMM is ludicrously freeing. By understanding what guides our sense of “the kind of person I am” or “the kind of group I am part of,” we can choose to change what that is. By changing the way we interact, we can change our selves, our relationships, our cultural stories, our worlds.

I’ve been trying to figure out the connection between CMM as a theory and Nikibasika, my Africa project. I’ve written a bit about how I *use* certain CMM techniques to shift where I get stuck on this project — but I’ve never stopped to really figure out the relationship between doing the project at all and CMM-land. I don’t know that there was any “causal” relationship — but I do think that somewhere, stepping into the lifelong commitment to the project came out of the liberation of CMM — the notion that better worlds are possible, intractable conflicts are movable, that what feels stuck now doesn’t have to stay stuck. And, I see that stepping into such a bold commitment reinforces and enhances one of my generative/desirable stories of self — that I’m the kind of person who’ll do something other people think is outlandish, that I’ve transformed my Catholic sense of social justice into a humanistic, equally binding kind of morality, that I’m the kind of person who sticks to what I start. And along the way, I discovered that the work enables me to be the Auntie, the loving maternal one, the brave and independent explorer. Even when my graceless self shrieks itself to the surface in extreme stress, the overarching context is me-as-Auntie, me as competent explorer.

I may not have seen the link at the time, but the overarching narrative does fit — I began to believe in the possibilities of shifting the intractable, I began to understand CMM as providing a frame to do that, I began to believe in the genuine possibility of “better worlds,” was drawn to a place on the planet that embodies the need for shifts in the intractable. The umbrella narrative is sound, to me — and, I need to work on my turn-by-turn ability to keep that story paramount. Sometimes, like today, when I ran into conflict with my umbrella charity over reporting etc, already tired from traveling and too many time pressures, my story of “totally put upon and left holding the ball” also swims strongly to the fore. Unpicking that piece by piece, trying to find ways to be more graceful in the moments of pressure.

Writing in this quiet peaceful room, with the luminous city outside and below, a start.

Heading off to Africa

for the third time… first time that I have gut rot BEFORE I go. Oof. Ate a bad egg-related thing at starbucks yesterday and have been writhing since. Not the best way to set off, but it does quell the nervous anxiety.

My blog for the trip is here:

I know when I arrive, it will all feel familiar again. I just hope I feel better. Owie. 😦


I was listening to a story today on NPR about the various rust belt cities that are trying to reclaim or consolidate abandoned land – the Mayor of Detroit trying to get people to move out of neighbourhoods where they are inverse pioneers, a sole resident clinging to her home amid 25 empty houses; someone in Cleveland growing wine grapes on the site of the 1968 riots; residential neighbourhoods now overgrown with weeds, trees, coyotes and deer.

My ears were pricked up because of the adventure I went on a couple of weekends ago, to prowl around a couple of abandoned buildings in Buffalo. I’d heard a little bit about this urban exploration lark, but I found this Toronto Exploration Society by serendipity. Mostly I wanted to find some folks who were taking pictures; the rest unfolded.

The first thing we did was go to the Buffalo Central Terminal, an abandoned railway station. For various reasons, I don’t have any photos of the whole – I’m not good yet at grand scale, and it was raining and overcast in any case. But what struck me about both this location and the second one we went to — an abandoned TB hospital about 50 miles south of Buffalo — was the immensity. Both weren’t just buildings, but multiple buildings, vast space, completely empty and overgrown.

I took a few shots in the Terminal I quite liked, but mostly I was just having a little thrill playing with exposure, getting all excited about the sheer guts of slogging up broken stairs and wading through ankle deep papers and other debris just… left.

The building we spent the most time in at the train station was an office block, and there was one room just filled with ephemera at its absolute utmost. Scheduling, pay stubs, social club raffles, drivers’ reports, insurance papers.

Only that room that really had “stuff” in it, other furniture and residue clearly hauled away, the occasional piece too big and useless to be called into service as anything else.

I wandered off from the group to take some shots of the empty tracks, populated only with the occasional feral dog, ignored in the shadow of the occasional train that still passed about 200 m away. Autumn leaves reclaiming.

My wanderings, plus the noise of the train, made me miss the fact that the group moved on to a much grander building – the actual terminal – and I only got in a few shots. I didn’t have time to really adjust to or feel the space, being too irritated with myself for being the New Kid who stupidly lost the group in my weird little reverie. But I wanted to go back.

The thing about the Central Terminal that really struck me – particularly vis a vis the other stories of shrinking cities – is that it was never fully used. It was always a case of eyes too big for the urban landscape, unfulfilled optimism. The TB hospital was different — again, vast and overbuilt, but it served a real purpose for 50 years. But when it was left behind, it too seemed to have been left mid-meal. (I posted a picture a few posts back).

That was the astonishing thing about both of these places — people just walked away from their desks, their offices, dwindling numbers, no one tasked with corralling the stuff once critical enough to have been carefully filed, the basics for serving meals. In the hospital kitchen, I saw egg cartons, a huge whisk, dishes that had passed through the washing conveyor and just… left.

A few posts back, I mentioned the new piece of art I bought about a month ago. The day after my Buffalo adventure, I had the chance to meet the artist, Julia Grady, an amazing, warm, depth-filled woman. I sort of burbled at her because I had to run off and get my hair cut, but I managed to mention what I’d been doing. We had a subsequent email exchange where she told me something of her own story about Buffalo (hers to tell, not mine), but she did say something that really struck me about the “futile hope” of the city, and how hard it is for dreamers to absorb a place like Buffalo. I have the same sense about places like Buffalo, like Detroit — the puffed out grandeur that never came to much makes me uneasy, and yet, the tiny details that once mattered, the coffee spoons that measure out life, make me feel simultaneously, paradoxically bleak and grounded. Much of what we do really doesn’t matter in the long run, but it matters now, today. Those trays fed people, and then, they mattered.

Across this weird ramble, I claim and create new versions of myself. The person willing to participate in a not-quite-cutting of a fence to get into the TB grounds, learning, finally, in mid-age that rules can be thought through and got around if they really don’t seem to matter.The same person who marched confidently 12 miles up a closed mountain road (and back again) with M last spring so he could photograph a sooty grouse. And finding the slimmest sense of myself as some kind of artist, someone who can see and make meaningful images. I donated a couple of my images from Austin to a fundraiser for my friend Kat, and someone *paid money* for them — a “bidding war,” even. Finding new languages, new ways to tell stories.


I met someone very important last year when he warmed my frozen bony hands when we got soaked trekking gorillas in a Ugandan jungle. “I never offered to do that before for anyone,” he admitted.


This morning I was working in the hospital I was born in — more or less, several incarnations later — and heard a lovely story of patient-centred care. A man had been in the hospital for 45 days and he needed his fingernails trimmed. A woman — not a nurse or personal care worker, just someone who heard him — stepped in, cut his fingernails, washed his hair, massaged his scalp, got her daughter to trim his hair. “I feel human again for the first time in forever,” he said.


At my grandmother’s bedside as she was dying, my grandfather clasped her hand, said “we’ve held hands all over the world, I’m not letting go now.”


My sister and I both have Raynaud’s syndrome, that circulatory issue where our hands get disproportionately cold, won’t warm. Cross-country skiing, I’m nearly in tears with the ache. She teaches me to warm them by swinging my arms around in huge circles.

As I’ve learned to use my camera, I’ve learned about where my hands are steady, where they shimmer more than I knew. Hands away from the shutter, tripod in place, a click of the remote release, I make longer exposures, let in more light.

Comfort food

This is my sunday evening dinner, my go-to comfort food. Whatever veggies I have kicking around + salmon from the freezer + garlic roasted in olive oil for 10 minutes under the broiler tossed over linguine. Sublime.

The wine is my cheap and cheerful South African standby, less than $10 at the LCBO. The same wine I paid $25 US for at the lodge in Bwindi last December, after spitting out the 3 week old boxed wine and shelling out for a fresh bottle, having a little wine tasting with the three men who were completely at my service when I was the only guest. A dark foggy night there, like here, global links and complexities writ casually in the two prices.

I had a very full weekend, strewn with magical moments, one thrum of annoying human being to remind me that it is, after all, messy life.

Took B out for dinner for her birthday on Friday night, had good too loud food, gratitude for our continuing links, the ability to look each other so steadily in the eye. Realized suddenly that we became partners 20 years ago tomorrow. A certain uneasy awareness of the passage of time, writing of unexpected lives.

Yesterday was a crazy adventure, a trek with an urban exploration group that involved taking photos in an abandoned railway terminal in Buffalo and actually breaking into a long-empty TB sanitarium at a mystery location. We didn’t actually use wire cutters, but we did untwist the wire that had been used to repair the fence after someone *else* had used wire cutters. Squeezing through the chainlink, then through broken glass in a door. Loved the whole experience, especially the way I’m slowly picking up skill in a trickle. I started out wanting to take candid pictures in africa, encountered a man who taught me a few things about my camera and about love, and suddenly found myself in a sprawling, derelict TB hospital shooting a heap of plastic food trays tumbled off an unmoored washing station.

I’ll do a separate post just on the shoot. But the writing myself as someone with an art as I learn to do this — learning that a lens can see more than my eye, discovering and paying attention to that — it’s magical.

The people were also fabulous, with the exception of the one aforementioned pill I almost abandoned on the QEW at 11 pm. The sour that brings out the sweet.

All tied together with a quick swooping meeting of the artist who made my beautiful new piece (see previous post) and then running off to a haircut with my beloved Jess.

Then, dinner and an attempt to pull my head back into the workshop I have to do on Tuesday that isn’t nearly as done as it should be. I like this having a weekend thing.