Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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2018: The Beautiful Awful

People posted their top nine moments of 2018 all over Instagram. My moments of the year are likely different than a lot of others. They are what I think of as the beautiful awful. When my mother died 321 days ago, on March 3 (yes I know how many days it has been), my life changed forever. I knew that 2018 would be the year that I would lose her and I knew that I would feel profound sadness, but I also did not realize that in that grief, there would also be moments of beauty.

My mother was an exceptional person, not just OK, not just a wonderful mother, but exceptional. She suffered with a smile on her face and even though she was in pain, in her final days she was surrounded by so much love and so much genuine affection, she had the death that she deserved. In the weeks leading up to what we knew was imminent, I saw quiet moments with her sister just holding her hand. I had my cousin, her son, come by to see her, putting a smile on her face. I remember her singing Happy Birthday to him – those are the last words that I remember her saying. I remember calling him one day, in tears, but getting his long time girlfriend instead, and she told me that what I was feeling was normal; she had lost her mother a few years before and reassured me that it was OK to feel this wave of grief. I remember my cousins in Florida asking me if we needed them there and when I said yes, they packed up everything and came and they acted like it was no big deal. I remember their daughter coming over and keeping my mother’s spirits up, knowing how bad it was. I remember my other cousins coming, surrounding my mother with love. I remember them comforting me and my sisters. There were always at least a dozen people around all day, everyday. I remember them forcing me to go out, go for a walk to get some air. I remember my friends offering to come, even though my mother was so terribly sick.

I remember the palliative doctor and nurse being so kind, and telling us how to ease her into death, not just by pain relief, but by just continuing to talk to her, even if she wasn’t conscious. The nurse hugged us and told us that she could feel the love in the room. I remember her care givers treating her so gently, and with so much love. The last night of her life, I remember we were all with her. One, by one, everyone got ready for bed. I was going to be up for a long time, and I was sleeping in bed with her at night to give her injections. When it was just me, and her caregiver (my sister literally left the room), I was holding her hand and she slipped away so quietly and so peacefully that there was even something beautiful in that moment.

There was beauty at her funeral. When she was buried, it was warm and sunny for a winter day. At the exact moment, when her casket was being lowered, it got warmer, and just a little brighter. I thought I imagined it, but when I looked at my sister and said, “Did you feel that, it just got warmer?”, she was looking at me, saying the same thing. We had so many people looking out for us the week of her shiva (the Jewish week of mourning and visitations) and in the weeks after, that it took awhile for reality to set in. I remember the first night of her shiva, my friend, who is my cousin, wanted to do something, anything, and he and his wonderful partner made all of the beds (including one on the floor and one on a chaise lounge). When I started to cry, they understood it was because it had been almost a year and a half since I had seen my mother’s bed made – she had been in it for so long. Even throughout the year, long after her death, her friends, and our family, continue to look out for us, and to remind us how much she is still loved, even if she is no longer here.

I will also remember how people have rallied around my sister while she continues to go through chemo. Our friends and family always call to check up on us. Our cousin always picks us up after her appointment and her doctor and nurses so clearly want the best for her that it warms my heart to go to her appointments. When I broke my ankle, our cousins and her friend were there to take my place at chemo. My sister continues to do as our mother did and not let this be all about her disease. She makes the most of her good days and takes it easier on the rougher ones, but she so rarely complains.

When I broke my ankle and needed surgery in the late summer, it was just one more thing in a year crowded with challenges. Even though the situation sucked, there were still moments that I will never forget. My friend staying in the ER with me, even though I tried to send her home numerous times. She was even there when they re-set my bone. There was my guardian angel of the ankles, showing up the day of my surgery and name dropping so that the doctors knew that I was not just an ordinary patient. He not only kept my sister company, but checked on me daily, reminding me that it is a marathon, not a sprint to get better. There was my dear friend who waited with my sister too and got me home. He took me out in my wheelchair a few times (and laughed at me each time). I had more than 50 visitors in the 6 weeks that I was laid up, from my food-delivering cousins to my close friends who baby sat me reminded me of their own injuries and those of their family when I was getting impatient keeping me entertained to my sweet (but feisty) British friend who has also been my life mentors and to everyone in between. I had one pity moment, but remembering my mother’s strength got me through that.

The last year left me a little bit more fragile than I have been before. Author Mary Gordon once wrote, “A fatherless girl thinks all things are possible and nothing is safe”. In my case, I would say, it’s a motherless girl. I still believe that all things are possible, but I no longer have the safety net of my biggest fan, harshest critic, comic relief and advice giver. This New Year, I decided to stop looking back at my old resolutions and try to figure out what my new ones would be. I’m going to be a little kinder to myself this year and just do as my wise mother suggested and live my life. Luckily, I have the beauty of memories of my little Mummy and her words of wisdom still with me whenever I need them.

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Shake it ‘Til You Make It

belly-dance

Our Troupe

A long time ago, in a hair colour far, far away, I began what is likely one of my life’s great passions – belly dance.  I started this hobby, like everything in my life…by accident.  My friend and I wanted to take Latin Dance and I called around, and ended up on the phone with my beloved dance teacher Samia.  She explained that all Latin dances come from Belly Dance and I should come and check out a beginner class.  My friend agreed and off we went.

I didn’t love it right away.  I had an instructor that was a little bit of a snooze for me, but we got to watch the advanced classes.  These ladies were amazing and turned me into a little wannabe.  One day, we were told that we were going to be in a recital, and I thought FAT CHANCE, NO WAY JOSE, NOT HAPPENING, so yup, you guessed, it, I got suckered into buying my first skirt and belt and practiced my little heart out.  As we practiced, Samia came into the room, with her French/Lebanese accent, and her watchful eye, she made me soooo nervous.  She always had a couple of corrections, then did a quick sweep around the room, and then left as quickly as she came in.  I was hooked, and hoped that one day, I’d learn from this master and literally, right after the recital, I joined her Wednesday class.

Samia was an amazing teacher.  When she taught us new choreography, she would dance a section for us, and when you watched her, it was magic.  Something swept over her  – it was like she was performing on a stage in some distant land, not in our little dance studio.    She was tough, don’t get me wrong, but once you got to know her, she became your dance mother.  She wanted to know about your life, and she learned so much about you.  There were no secrets with her, she just knew us so well, that it was impossible to not spill your guts.

Once you started performing, she would select a dance name for you.  I wondered what exotic name awaited me, as my fellow students walked away with  monikers like Najwa (meaning secret conversation), Aisha (alive) or some other names that implied strength.  I walked in and Samia smiled at me, and told me that my name would be Shams.  Ugh, I thought in my inside voice, it’s doesn’t end in a cute sounding vowel.  When I asked her what it meant, she told me, it means “The Sun”.  She then humiliated me, unintentionally, by telling me that it was because my cheeks are so cute when I smile, it charmed her so much that it reminded her of the sun.  Yup, tough girl, that’s me.  Eventually, it grew on me.

One day, Samia asked me to join her troupe as a performer.  The goal was to create shows, not recitals and that we would all pitch in with the hope of earning money just for doing what we all loved to do.  It was fun, but a lot of hard work practicing 3 days a week.  There was nothing better though, than performing with the troupe and seeing what choreography Samia would dream up.  Everything was amazing, until one day, our beloved teacher told us all some devastating news – she had to retire because of issues with her feet.  It’s hard to explain what it was like to hear that news.  She was a safety net for all of us, and we all fell apart that day.  I tried to stick with the school that she had built, but after less than a year, I gave up.  It just wasn’t the same.  I tried other places, but some people are irreplaceable, so after ten years, I put my costumes away and moved on.  Then, life happened and I got completely distracted by other things.

Late in August, over dinner, someone who knew that I used to dance asked very briefly why I didn’t do it anymore and my answer was lame.  I don’t even remember what it was, but I started thinking and thinking and thinking some more about it.  Within a few days, I was Googling belly dance schools all over Toronto trying to figure out which could be “the one”.  I had my first class tonight, deciding on a beginner course since it’s been so long.  It was GREAT.  The second song the instructor played was one of my old solos, so I knew that this was the right place.  It wasn’t easy at first, but once I started moving again, it just felt right.  It may not be the same as it was, but that’s OK, it doesn’t need to be.

 

 

 


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London Belongs to Me – The Author

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I’ve wanted to interview Jacquelyn Middleton for my blog for awhile.  Originally, it was as part of my “inspiring” people series – I was inspired by her successful move from broadcast production and programming into award winning magazine writer.  Anyone that can make such a scary change inspires me.  Things got busy and often, it’s hard to find the time to interview people, but when she announced “London Belongs to Me” was coming out, that was a whole other cool factor and I had to reach out to find out more.  It gave me the opportunity to catch up with Jackie (JM), which was great, and find out more about her book and her writing process.

Q: How did you start writing?

JM: I started contributing to the Slice website (where she formerly worked).  I always wanted to do more writing and freelance writing seemed to be a good fit.

Q: But why the complete career change?

JM: I got laid off in 2008 from a job I loved in broadcast, but was writing for a website.  This gave me a portfolio of work that I had done.  There were family issues that I needed to be around for and free-lance writing provided me with the flexibility that I needed.

Q: So you always wanted to write?

JM: YES!  My Mum would tell me that I needed to write a book, but that was scary because I thought what if I can’t do it?  What if I don’t have the goods to deliver the thing that I most want to do?  I was inspired by Stephen Beresford (he is an English actor and writer for stage and TV).  He wrote Pride, my favourite movie for many reasons.  Pride was at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and I wanted to talk to him, but he was chatting with someone else so I didn’t get to tell him how much he inspired me at that moment.  As a freelance magazine writer, though, I got to interview him!  In magazines, if you have a great idea, you can make it happen.  I pitched an idea to Script Lab after he was nominated for a BAFTA for Pride.  I interviewed him in London (twice including last September).  He was wonderful – he delivered in the interview, was funny, and I just adored him.  He inspired me because nothing he ever wrote for TV ever went through, but he wrote a play and the National Theatre picked it up.  Remember, this was his first play and it was picked up by the biggest theatre in the world.  Then, Pride was picked up and he just made it happen.  He didn’t sit around and procrastinate.  Seeing him do this was a huge inspiration.  After the first interview with him, I knew that I needed to write a book.  I needed to try, even if it didn’t get published.  The book is a tribute to my Mum.

Q: How autobiographical is “London Belongs to Me”?  How close is the heroine, Alex Sinclair to you?

JM: Alex isn’t very similar to me at all.  I never moved to London, but I got to live vicariously through Alex.  I didn’t have a tumultuous relationship with my Mum.  My own Mum was my everything.  I had to visualize Alex’s relationship by removing my mother from my life and imagining what Alex went through.  Alex’s love of London is similar to my own and her drive to pursue the career that she wants is very much like me.   There are traits of Alex that I share and people who know me will pick up on them. Parts of me are in every character of the book.  It’s fun writing a book.  There are little tributes to people that only you or a select few would pick up on.

Q: Do you tell people that you know who the various characters are based on?

JM: No, I’ve stopped.  I can’t tell people in case they are wrong because that is how they are reading the story.  It’s personal and you should be able to read the story with who you pick or think the characters are.  I like it when people guess though.

Q: The book has a lot of fan girl moments.  What are your ultimate fan girl moments?

JM:  Meeting Simon LeBon from Duran Duran (Jill here – did I mention that Jackie has great taste in bands?) for the first time.  He never disappoints.  I have so many though!  Just a note, Jackie goes to Fan Expos and has met a lot of really cool people including one of my celebrity loves, Benedict Cumberbatch!

Q:  What books inspired you to write “London Belongs to Me”?

JM: Charlotte’s Web (She really has great taste in books, that’s my fave too!), 84 Charring Cross Road (true story and gorgeous movie), The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and My Love Affair with England (Jackie read it in 1993 before she went to England for the first time) all inspired me.

I’ll reveal more of the process behind writing a book in my next entry.  Remember that London can belong to you too if you order it!  Get London Belongs to Me on October 14th when it goes on sale.  You can also pre-order it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Waterstones, Foyles, Indigo, and Chapters!

Jackie – thank you for being so patient with all of my questions!

 

 


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No Approval Required

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Some years ago, I’m not going to say how many to protect the innocent and not so innocent, I started my career in media.  Citytv was unique – everyone thought it was the number one station in Toronto – it was legendary.  It was the little station that could, and the coolest one around.  We were number 3, but if you are going to be number 3, be the best number 3 you can be.  I was beyond excited and on my first day, my then boss gave me a whispered warning – don’t ruin my relationship with the Cityline producer, and whatever you do, don’t get on her bad side.  Quivering on the inside, I was taken around to be introduced to a bunch of people whose names escaped me for awhile, then I was introduced to Chrissie Rejman.

Diminutive, with a British accent, and a slightly bored expression, at least when speaking with this newbie, she said hello, as she looked me up and down, then said her still famous line, “Well, of course you’ve seen Cityline.”  Of course, I responded, a little to eagerly, and went on to say how much I loved Fashion Friday and Mega Makeover Madness!  I was rewarded with a small nod.  Back in those days when streaming services didn’t exist and VHS meant something other than VERY HOMELY SUCKER, we taped our favourite shows and this show was one that made the cut.  If you aren’t familiar with Cityline, it is an interactive lifestyle show with themed days and as it’s producer always said, it’s advice your best girlfriend would give you.  Chrissie was the producer from it’s inception in 1984 until June 30th, 2016.

After many months, and a HUGE project, Chrissie started taking a liking to me, I think she realized that I cared about her show and was willing to work hard.  She even gave me an end credit a few times, I never told her how thrilled I was by that.  Many of you fast forward the credits, but knowing the work that goes into production, I always try to read them.  As time went on, my admiration for Chrissie grew and I started to not only see her as a producer that I had to be able to work with, but a dear friend and mentor.  We started having after work chats at least once a week.  These calls started as I often needed to get approvals for story ideas for clients, but then became our time to vent, and laugh and sometimes even cry.

To know Chrissie is to understand that there was a going to be a certain rhythm to the approval process.  First came the no, with a mild insult.  Often it was “vile”, “ridiculous”, a disgusted sigh or even “Jill, how can you ask me to do this?”.   I’d say “OK Chrissie, I get it”, we’d have a little laugh, then say goodbye.  Then, I’d count down 5, 4, 3, 2…ring (I’d smile to myself as I picked up the phone)!  “Jill, I can’t do that dreadful integration, but here is what I can do…” – 90% of the time, it was always more than I’d ever ask for, and a better idea.

Outside of coming up with good sales integrations, I learned a lot of valuable life lessons from my friend:

  • Remain ageless – it really is just a number
  • Stay passionate about what you love
  • Care about everything that has your name on it
  • There are a million ideas out there, you just have to look for them
  • If someone is applying for a job with you and they tell you that they are a people person, say “Really, I don’t” to see how they react.  I haven’t tried this one, but it’s a brilliant line
  • Keep your friends close and don’t worry about your enemies
  • Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, even if it’s a fight you aren’t going to win
  • Pick someone that you are inspired by to be your mentor – I did, and she never let me down.  I didn’t realize how much of a mentor Chrissie was to me until I found out she was leaving, then I thought back to all of the life lessons that I acquired over time just by listening to her, and realized how inspired I am by this woman
  • The older you get, the bigger the bigger the jewelry you should wear.  If you want to try wearing big jewelry, own it.  Chrissie is 5 feet (ok a little less than that) and tiny, and she pulls it off

Chrissie – I’ll never quite get the right words to tell you how much you mean to me.  You have been my comfort and my constant at work.  You’ve made me laugh harder and cry harder than I ever thought possible.  You are going to do great things – I don’t doubt that.  You are vital, strong and brilliant.  I love being your friend and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

 


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Why I’ll Never Be an Axe Murderer…

Axe Murderer

Hitting the board for the first time…

I’ll never be an Axe Murderer.  Lizzie Borden, I’m just not.  I’m a lover, not a fighter for one thing and for another, my aim just plain isn’t good enough (and blood and guts are a little bit of a gross out for me).  As part of my 2015 plan to try things that I’ve never tried before (very much Oz approved), I agreed to go with a bunch of women to Axe Throwing.  Well, it was a great evening BUT, I certainly wasn’t a natural.  As you can see from the position of my axe (I feel so macho saying that) – it did hit the board, but I only got a hole in one, bullseye or whatever you want to call the middle part of the board two times that night.  Some people were just naturals at this slightly aggressive activity – I’m not saying that makes them psychotic, but there first step is admitting that you have a problem…right?

The day of the throwing of the axes made me have to face a very mild fear – or maybe just slight discomfort…fear works better because one of my last blogs was about an episode of Dr. Oz about dealing with life’s little scary moments…Everyone that I knew bailed on the evening, except for the organizer.  There were going to be another 14 or 15 people that I had never met before.  Even scarier, it was pouring torrential sheets of rain (I hate damp clothes).  For a very fleeting moment, I considered cancelling, however, good manners and the fact that I like a challenge spurred me on.  Of course I got to the restaurant before the organizer/one friend that I knew, so I plunked myself down, and chatted, remembering that I spend half of my working day meeting or talking to people that I’ve never met before.  It was a great group of very welcoming people – once again, our Zombie Room Escape planning hostess had nailed another evening.  It was so nice to not have to tell people about what was going on in my life and so nice to not have anyone complaining about this or that.  Just a lot of fun, a lot of axes thrown and some even hit their target.

Trying new things or meeting new people can be stressful at the best of times, but being able to say that I did something that I’ve never tried before, and didn’t let the fear of unknown people or activity stop me from just showing up was the best part.  If you ever have a chance to go throw some axes around – do it!  If I can come home with every limb attached, so can you!


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Happy Birthday Barb!

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Yes Blimi, that’s your jacket!

I grew up with 3 older sisters, two, by birth and one by proximity.  I met Barb when I was about 3 years old.  Her parents were my parents closest friends in Sydney, Nova Scotia where we both grew up.  Not being a true Cape Bretoner, unlike my good friend, I didn’t have any family in the Steel City, and Barb and her family, became that.  Even our beloved grandmothers knew each other and had tea together every time they were in town for a visit.  My first memory of Barb is a day that my big sisters took us to see Blackie and Brownie – the friendly, neighbourhood dogs.  That started Barb’s love of animals – especially her gentle giant of a German Shepherd – Kyla.  Ok – maybe just a giant – that dog’s bite was worse than her bark – sorry Babs, but Rascal was the best!  I digress, but even though that was the first time I met Barb – we ended up spending a lot of time together over the years.  From Mrs. Simson’s plays at Hebrew School to Susan Ross’s Dancing School (best show I’ve ever seen in CB), we both got to wear some flashy costumes.

Barb was the one who prepared me for the departure of my sisters when they had to leave me to go to school.  She understood what it was like to be the abandoned, youngest child.  With my sister’s being one year apart, and each being six and five years older, I just got used to one being gone when the next one left.  It was pretty devastating for this baby of the family, but Barb was still going to be there for two years.  She was the one who drove me to school and home again, because my mother just wasn’t a morning person.  She was the one who introduced me to two songs (they were the only songs I heard in her car) – “I’m Your Man” (Wham!) and “How Will I Know” (Whitney Houston).  Sometimes, we did get to hear “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” but it sounds almost identical to “How Will I Know”.  She drove me to GA’s Dairy to get magazines, and she generally just helped me get through a couple of tough years.  Eventually, Barb had to move too, but that didn’t mean that would be the last that I would see of her.  I still got to see Barb during the holidays, but it was a couple of tough years for me without my other sister.

When I moved to Toronto, Barb once again took me under her wing.  She spent a lot of time with me at school and became a fixture in my residence.  She gave me the tough advice that no one ever really wants to hear, but you need to listen to.  She moved me in and out of residence 5 times.  She was the one who checked in on me my first summer living on my own.  She was the one who walked the long halls of Yorkdale from Roots where she worked, to Wishful Thinking where I worked, to make sure that I was doing my job.

Eventually everyone grows up, and sometimes, things change, but Barb and I were tied together because of the deep friendship between her Mom and Dad, and my own Mother.  They all eventually moved here, and once again, the holidays were spent together.  I had the privilege of holding Barb’s twins when they were born.  I loved them from the first time I held them – they were as light as Tom Brady’s footballs.  I’ve watched them grow from adorable, funny little girls to gorgeous,  funny young ladies.  They are still, like my own little nieces even though they too are ready to move on to university.  As time has moved on, Barb and I have drifted here and there, but somehow, like family, we always manage to find our way back to the comfort that you have when you know someone almost as well as you know yourself.  In fact, I think that we are better friends because of it.  I trust Barb to keep my confidence, and I know that she feels the same way.  You can’t put a price on a friendship like that.

We have each had some difficult times over the last few years, but have been there for each other.  It’s brought me so much comfort.   It’s knowing that there is someone in the world who knows your whole history.  It’s knowing that no matter what happens, you’ll always have an extra older sister, but knowing that I may be able to step in and be the same help to Barb that she was to me.  It’s knowing that someone can keep a secret and never hold a grudge.  It’s laughing at the stupid in-jokes that we find so hilarious and that no one else would get (Second Noah).  It’s the interesting way that Barb has of reading and observing people, pointing out things that I would never even notice.  It’s knowing that wherever life may take us, we’ll never be far from each other’s thoughts.

Dr. Oz would approve of this message of gratitude – today, I’m grateful for you, Barb – Happy Birthday to You.  I wish you a lifetime of health and happiness.  I leave you with this reminder – no matter how old I am, you will always be older than me : )

Gratefully yours and with much love,

Jillsy xoxo


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Happy Birthday AK (AKA Frousin)

Aaron Blog

Who doesn’t love AK?

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The Glacier we hiked to in Norway!

You may remember some references to AK/Frousin throughout my blog.  He is my brother from another very nice mother (and father).  AK – two of my very favourite words in the English language are “YOU’RE RIGHT” (does a contraction count as more than two words?).  In honour of your very special birthday, I thought I’d share a few things that you were right about: 1. As you breathe you need – or should I credit this to Auntie Tessie? 2. Killing people’s dreams can be very funny – in fact, they are some of my favourite stories of yours. 3. Sea days are the best days…ever 4. Pizza Libretto isn’t bad, but it isn’t the best in Toronto 5. Sting is amazing in concert 6. Concerts are amazing in general 7. You should be able to sit in the Maple Leaf Lounge if you buy a Rouge plane ticket – maybe I shouldn’t bring up painful memories 8. Some people can be very annoying (especially at tea time) 9. Starbucks can be a beacon of hope when you are lost and afraid in a foreign country 10. Having a pedicure is a G-d given right! 11. So is wearing cashmere – scratch that – you can’t wear it and that is one of life’s little tragedies 12. You should always, always take your glasses off before getting your picture taken 13. Marrying your cousins should be illegal even if others think “It’s allowed” 14. You should always have another cookie 15. Angela Lansbury is a living legend Today, if you haven’t guessed, I am so grateful to my frousin, the birthday boy.  It’s so great having you as not just a likeable family member, but a true friend as well.  You are the best of both worlds and I am so happy to have you as one of my closest friends.