Tag Archives: Moving

As Told by Cookbooks

I’m not sleeping very well, and I can guess why. International moves are not easy at the best of times, and a pandemic is a far cry from the best of times!

It’s an adventure, they say. A story to tell your grandchildren! I have all sorts of cynical responses to that. It certainly is an adventure, but so far not quite the one I had hoped it would be.

But life is like that, isn’t it? And that’s why life is a journey. If we could sit over a cup of coffee and write the whole thing before even starting, there really wouldn’t be much point.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, which I find fulfilling, relaxing, and a productive way of maintaining a sense of control over my world. Along with this, I’ve also been leafing through my cookbooks and rereading my notes. My mum taught me to annotate my recipes and so I have. My first attempt at making something and how it went, changes to ingredients or methods, any special occasions or memories.

But what really makes me laugh, what makes me wish I could give my younger self a hug, are all the mentions of who was with me when I first tried different recipes. How many times did that person appear in the cookbook? And then what happened to them? My attempted love stories through cooking. And it makes me laugh because I remember purposely not writing in someone’s name because I didn’t think they’d be around that long (I was wrong) and I remember proudly doing just the opposite because I thought I’d found something meaningful (also wrong).

My oldest cookbooks are eleven years old and it’s wonderful to reflect upon myself through them. The notes remind me how far I’ve come as a cook and how long it has been since I first made a recipe or got to know a particular person. Not only have my tastes, culinary skills, and cuisine interests changed significantly, but I have changed, too. I have to smile at the thought of what might be recorded in cookbooks to come.

Perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic because I’ve made the choice to conclude this chapter and I know what I’m leaving behind. I am not nearly as confident about what I am going toward. But that’s why they call it an adventure. And my future cookbooks will doubtless reflect the ride.

Rochester Public Market, Rochester, New York – June 2019

Shifting Ground

My mind is in a weird place, somewhere between finishing my time in Singapore and moving again, though with little knowledge of what will come in the month between jobs. I’m looking forward to what’s coming next, but the thought of what may or may not happen first keeps me up at night.

There’s so much I wanted to do and whether any of that is possible remains to be seen under the Covid regulations of four different countries. And it doesn’t help that every time I try to talk about it, I end up fighting back tears. There is no good solution to a problem that shifts every time I look at it.

It’s interesting to hear my students, who have been in school, clubs, and recently also the cafeteria since school resumed in August, say, “There was Covid last year so we couldn’t do X.” This was further highlighted as I read National Honor Society applications earlier today. “Because of Covid, X was cancelled. Because of Covid, we did X virtually instead.”

Life has stopped and yet goes on. Life is ruined and yet this is living.

Spending this pandemic in Singapore is fascinating and I am going to carry the lessons I have learned from here for a long time. We are very, very lucky to be able to live relatively normally but with masks. That being said, being a foreigner in Singapore has meant that we could not leave because we would not be allowed to reenter.* This has been an enormous hurdle and one that has led many of my colleagues to resign when they otherwise would not. Additionally, we have all learned that something we loved and miss about living here, the privilege of travelling frequently, was indeed a privilege. The way we used to live was not normal and it’s good to relearn this.

And so I find myself in an interesting place. I am preparing to move countries at a time when the status of international borders is tenuous. And this reminds me that my pretty blue passport is what allowed the borders to be so porous in the first place. I am again between worlds and there’s life everywhere I look.

A friend from yet a different country asked recently, “Is it normal for people from your country to be so far from home?”

No, it’s not normal.

No, it doesn’t get easier.

And what’s home? People, not places. I’ve written about this before, but mostly I’ve constructed it. Home has to be fluid for my heart to make any sense at all.

So we arrive at now. Now I’m questioning the life I’m pursuing because the premise on which it is based has changed. And this means that it will change again. And likely again. There are many more “what ifs” now, at least in my awareness though they were probably always there, and I’m grateful to have a moment to reflect on the axioms we grow up with – “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” – and that sort of thing.

But life hasn’t handed me lemons. Life is this day and the next day and the day after that. And life, as we remember every time we forget, is ours to be part of every day and never ours to control.

To live is to learn and to learn is to make choices, choices that we never thought we’d have to make. And the thing is, we never thought. This is an opportunity to do just that.

The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now. – Henry David Thoreau, Walden


*This was the case over the summer holidays and has now changed. Instead of being denied reentry, there’s a mandatory $2,000 per person 14-day hotel stay upon return, which renders travelling impossible for me and my colleagues.

Kranji Marshes, Singapore – December 2020

On Breathing

Inhale.

The point of yoga is to let the breath move the body. The idea is to move the body in whatever way feels right as long as the body is guided by the breath. You can remain with what is comfortable and easy. You can find the space between discomfort and pain. You can reach into that space as far as your breath will let you, and then you can breathe more deeply and reach farther. Find the space.

Exhale.

The latter is what I try to do when I practice yoga, which I have been doing with some regularity for over seven years. It’s very important to understand that yoga is always a practice. Much of life is always a practice. When I learned this about compassion, living became easier and slowly began to make more sense. It became easier to accept and forgive, both others and myself.

Inhale.

The lack of an expert, model, or end goal makes yoga not only a practice of watching myself breathe, but also a reminder that we live our lives mostly in beginnings and middles. There is so much that is new to explore, so many paths to wander down. There are some ends, but those ends create beginnings.

Exhale.

We live in spaces where we’re trying as hard as we can do the best that we can. In Alain de Botton’s words, we’re all fragile. I’ve quoted him many times before but it never hurts to revist his words:

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways – and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings.

Inhale.

I’ve spent the last month at home in Rochester with my family and I’m getting ready to leave. Truthfully, though, I’m never ready to leave. But the time comes.

Exhale.

And I leave.

Inhale.

I’ve cried in more airports than I can remember and on more airplanes. I’ve gone through security without looking back and I’ve jumped up and down trying to catch one more glimpse. I’ve looked back to see others waving and I’ve looked back to see others walking away. I’ve watched people try to smile through tears; I’ve tried to do the same. I’ve found myself unable to cry when others do, which almost never happens in daily life, and I’ve collapsed just when I thought I had it all together.

Exhale.

I’ve since learned that there’s no such thing as having it all together.

Inhale.

I was lucky this summer to spend time in Toronto and Montreal with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and one of my cousins. We don’t see each other very often and time is on my mind. It’s stunning what changes in a year.

Exhale.

This summer has been a very happy time and breathing has been easy. Last week’s yoga class was the best one I’ve had in a long time because the breath moved the body. The breath guided the body. I felt and I also observed.

Inhale.

It’s not always so easy to breathe slowly and deliberately in the fast-paced, complex, often confusing world that we have created. But it’s so important to also create the space that allows for easy breathing.

Exhale.

Nearly a year ago I realized that I was looking for quiet. It’s amazing how much better life has been since I started learning balance and equanimity.

Inhale.

So while I will cry in an airport later this week, and maybe also on a plane, I will try to find that space between discomfort and pain. I will spend some time there between discomfort at returning to reality, which can be jarring, and pain at leaving my family. It’s okay to recognize both and choose to engage with neither.

Exhale.

And then when I’m ready, when I’m able to breathe more deeply, I can reach farther and play with the space around me. There’s much to discover and much to love and it’s open to me as long as I remain open to it.

Inhale.

And I will practice remembering to breathe.

Exhale.