Monday, May 9, 2016

The grieving girl's guide to life: the girl plans a wedding

The little app on my phone tells me we have 12 days to go, which seems impossible. The big decisions, some exciting (food) some boring (polyester tablecloths) have already been made and we're now looking down the barrel of something that's actually happening and somehow involves doilies. 

If we're being honest, 2016 hasn't been that crazy yet. We've been busy but there have been no wedding planning related tears, no days when I've felt incapable. When we got engaged last year I was still having a fair amount of "bad days" every month so I front-ended as much of the work as possible, using my good days to make progress wherever I could. By the end of the year we had our caterer, our venue, my dress, bridesmaids dresses, music provider, and photographer. I'm really glad we did it that way because I won't lie- there have been days since where I've just lain there, listlessly wondering if we shouldn't have organized something simpler, an elegant walk into traffic, perhaps.

I can admit we are not "wedding people". I have had no dreams of bridal dresses and fancy meals and first dances, not even when I was little, not even when I've been in love. So when it came time to make decisions, there was no master scrapbook Pinterest board I could instantly turn to, Originally, we'd assumed we'd have an incredibly simple affair- just some close friends and family, a delicious meal at a beloved restaurant and a city hall ceremony. But then TB wanted to invite family from out west and I kind of frowned at the idea of inviting folks to come all this way for a quick "I do" and a lunch. This wedding is, after all, a bit of a goodbye party, a one and only chance to get many of our favourite people in one place. The least we could do is give them a free drink or 8.

And so it ballooned - oh, let's say "blossomed" it sounds so much nicer- piece by piece into this party for 80, a fully catered event with DJs and flowers and a photobooth and burlap and mason jars and I don't even care if those last two jumped the shark in 2013, i fucking love the work we've put into our decor. All told, it's way past what I thought we'd spend but still manageable and, against all odds, even with the spectre of grief demanding its invite to the festivities, I am so excited.

I'm excited to share the dozen of things we've worked on - the ceremony we're writing ourselves, the photos we've printed, the outfits we've picked plus a bunch of other stupid little things that make us laugh- and watch people's reactions. I'm excited to watch people who have no shared connection but us talking and laughing together. I'm so damn excited for the barbecue meal. And, cheesy as it is, I'm excited to stand up in front of those I hold dear and say "with all the uncertainty that lies ahead, We still choose us."

Now, let's hope the remaining etsy orders come in...

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The rich coast

Im sitting here in a twin bed, in my "llamame" shirt (it has a llama on the phone. It's a spanish pun) thinking on the last few weeks. That twin bed, and me, are both currently situated in Costa Rica, where I've been on immersion Spanish training since the end of February. It's been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life and I'm still trying to process it all.

3 weeks away can be a long time, It's especially long when you're planning a wedding. It's even longer when your dog has seven seizures in 24 hours the day after you leave. Lily's health has been up and down lately. She had her first seizure in September, then nothing until January, then 3 in 3 days, then we put her on medication and she was fine. Until the night before I left. The next day, when I called home, TB sounded exhausted, worn down by the worrying, the valium administering, the cleaning, and the comforting that comes with Lily's seizures. And I felt awful for leaving him to handle it alone. The low point came when she had a seizure while we were on skype together. Well, actually, the low point came a few days later, when I was in a lovely B&B on the coast of Uvita, sobbing my eyes out because I was miserable in the most beautiful place on Earth.

But I gamely posted photos of sunsets on Instagram and smiled at my colleague and swam in the pool, all the while feeling an utter failure for feeling homesick (let this be a lesson: you might envy the woman posting travel shots from exotic locales, but know there's a distinct possibility she was choosing that filter through a veil of tears). Before I left, my therapist asked me why I was going. I'm a homebody, always have been, and travel on my own or with strangers/ near strangers has never been my favourite way to see the world. I told her a story of a play I was in, where the director asked me late in the rehearsal process to do a scene topless. I thought about it for a day or so, going back and forth, and eventually said no. the scene had me in a lacy bustier instead. After one performance, a fellow theatre student came up and asked me why I hadn't done the scene topless. I muttered some reason or other (I had to run at the end of the play and doing it without a bra would have been uncomfortable, the director introduced the concept late in the rehearsal process,etc.) and she relented but the doubt was placed in my mind. Looking back, I have some feelings of regret looking back in that performancd because I did feel like I could have done it and it might have made the moment more powerful. I don't like that feeling much.

So, why did I go to Costa Rica? Because I felt I had a better chance of avoiding regret if I went than if I didnt. 

And I think I made the right choice. I've swum in the carribean, hiked 4 km in the rain, had a cliff side pool all to myself, seen a poisonous frog up close, been on a highway so high the clouds were below us, heard a howler monkey, all while trying to master this language in a country that demands it. But that first weekend, as I choked back tears that I dried with mosquito netting, was definitely not a highlight. In the end, I decided to make a compromise: I'm coming back tomorrow instead of Saturday and taking the financial penalty to do so. I'm trying really hard not to view this as a failure. I won't get to go to San jose to buy souvenirs with the other students, but I don't really need more stuff, to be honest. I just feel like I took the easy road out, even if the minute I made the decision I started enjoying the visit so much more.

I know I'm unnecessarily hard on myself when it comes to things like this. 3 weeks away from my family and friends, in a country where I have to speak spanish all day to get by, living with a family in an unfamiliar house was a concept that made me anxious. Add to this the idea that this is my first work trip where I haven't been able to call my mom and tell her about my day, my fears, my anxiety, and have her tell me I'm fine, I'll be all right and she can't wait to see me. And yes, in case you wondered, everything seems to come back to that eventually.

But I've been determined to say yes to things I wouldn't normally (see 4km rain hike), put myself in situations I usually avoid, and the payout has been really great. I've really had an excellent time here and I'm grateful and amazed the opportunity came my way at all.

Now it's time to take my sunburnt, bug-bitten (84 at my highest count!) body back home to a tall skinny boy, a woozy pug and the place im happy to call home. 

Thanks for everything, Costa Rica. It's been a trip.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

2015: The Wig That Was

I debated whether to do the year end survey this year. It was too late, it was too boring a year, etc. etc. But this year's review ended up feeling more important than usual, if only because I've talked so little about this year, in person or online. Taking stock of one of the quietest years of my life makes sense to me, especially as I begin to embark on one of the loudest.

2015 Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?

Saw a psychologist, submitted and had a report published in Parliament, went to a bridal show.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I did, but halfheartedly as I honestly didn't know how this year was going to go. They were:
  • Read 12 books
  • Visit 12 new restaurants
  • Make 12 new dishes
  • Try to become at least a shadow of who I once was
The reading resolution didn't fall apart so much as it never got started at all. Something no one tells you about grieving is that it really robs you of your ability to concentrate. I was desperate to lose myself in a story or a movie, but I was so sleepy, so fitful, that I could never stay with anything. I read exactly one book, the Offbeat Bride book, and it was cute, but more a book of anecdotes rather than a useful "how-to". I liked it, though, and it helped sort of give me a snapshot of what I could expect from the Wedding Industrial Complex. I do want to try reading again, and I feel like I'm in a better place now. I think I'll aim for 6 rather than 12 next year, just to encourage myself. 

The "new restaurants" resolution is never a challenge and even in this slow and plodding year I crushed it. I'll probably make a separate entry on them, because we really had some stellar meals this year.

The other side of this of course is that I cooked almost nothing this year. I relied a lot on ready made meals and local take-in, and my waistline paid for it.

And finally... I'd like to think I'm still me. It took me a long time to look in the mirror again, to sing to myself as I put on my makeup, to wake up and feel like the world was my fucking oyster because it was Saturday. But I do those things now. I make jokes easily, I saute kale, I buy cute clothes, I am something approaching myself. Sometimes. Sometimes I just sit and stare and wonder what it would feel like to be carried away by the wind or, on bad days, the front of a Chevy.

My buddy Sarah told me something that helped: you're not missing anything, you just carry something extra now. I'm trying to think that way when I feel detached from who I was before. Sarah is super smart and makes a lot of sense.

3.  Did anyone close to you give birth?

Another few acquaintances from University and old workplaces, TB's cousin- you know, my Facebook timeline basically gave birth. Welcome to your 30s.

4.  Did anyone close to you die?

No,  thank whatever you wish. My mom's good friend died in April and my grandfather's brother died in December, but I wasn't very close to either of them and didn't attend either funeral. Though the thought of my mom having to lose another friend gutted me. The thought that she wasn't around to be gutted in the first place broke me again.

5.  What countries did you visit?

The idea of moving forward, physically or mentally seemed absolutely impossible when the year began. In the end, I only visited one place, but I visited there three times. I went where my heart beats: Montreal. TB bought me tickets to Postmodern Jukebox as a pick-me-up in May and we actually had a really fun time. It went so well, in fact, that I went back in July to see some comedy shows with my sister and it was a fantastic trip. Then we all went back in October for more comedy and good food and shopping and laughing at stupid things and being dorks. They were all pretty great, honestly.

6.  What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

A dog that didn't have occasional seizures. Clothes that fit better. A good night's sleep. Access to a Target. Good god I miss Target Canada.

7.  What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

June 30th: when my favourite guy asked if I wanted to hang out forever.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

In mid-January, I went back to work and that day felt so heavy, so impossible that I couldn't think how I'd ever get to 5:30, never mind how I'd continue to get up, day after day for the next 20 years. But I did it, and then I did it again, and I still keep doing it, and that's really good.

9.  What was your biggest failure?

So the other side of that achievement is that my bar has been reset really, really low. I used to be kind of late for work. Now I'm really late. Like.. 30-45 minutes late. And I take off at least one day a month to just breathe. And that feels like a failure to me. And it makes my already crippling impostor syndrome go into overdrive ("I don't deserve a job"/"I'm letting every one down"/"anyone could do this job better than me"). But I'm working on beating myself up less. And on getting more sleep, which I hope leads to less late mornings.

10.  Did you suffer illness or injury?

I was really violently ill this Fall with some really gross stomach bug that I kindly shared with Owen. What really boiled my potatoes was that it made me break a 7-year no-vomit streak. Emetophobia is a cruel master.

11.  What was the best thing you bought?

Gosh, that's a hard one. The motto "treat yo self" became a battle cry as my sister and I justified every purchase with a "you deserve it!" I probably have already forgotten a thousand things that I pronounced "necessary" minutes before buying them.

However, I bought the most amazing pair of boots this year, whose existence in my closet makes me happy. Paired with this new sweatshirt it's the closest thing I've got to a uniform.

12.  Whose behavior merited celebration?

My trio of sisters from various misters really took care of me this year. Jax,C, and Sarah kept me laughing, let me cry, kept me present and lifted me up. My sister made me feel less alone and TB tried his very best to roll with my punches and still decided to hitch his wagon to this falling star. My dad really did try hard to be a better man, and even though that still weirds me out like crazy some days, I appreciate the drive behind it. My fu

13.  Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Cleaning out a familial home doesn't bring out the best in anyone, I'm just going to leave that as-is.

Also, the niqab hail-mary attempt to incite xenophobia to win the election. And most men on the internet.

14.  Where did most of your money go?

Wedding stuff, Clothing, eating out, and taxis. There are worse problems to have, I know. My decadent lifestyle is simply too much.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Seeing John Mulaney live. Celebrating my birthday with Jax for the first time in yonks. Getting to see some of my favourite folks at our big shindig. The return of Wet Hot American Summer and Mr. Show!

16.  What song(s) will always remind you of 2015?

Uptown Funk - Bruno Mars
Shut Up And Dance - Walk the Moon

17.  Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. Happier or sadder?
ii. Thinner or fatter?
iii. Richer or poorer?

Happier, but it would be hard not to be.
Fatter. Probably the fattest I've ever been? Soak it in.
About the same, probably. Actually.. wedding stuff... poorer. Definitely poorer.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Reading, staying in touch, cooking.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

It would be easy to say "crying" but actually, the crying I did felt terrible in the moment and satisfying afterwards so screw that. Up with crying!

 I do wish I'd spent less here and there. And it would be great to get some of my crippling fears under control.

20.  How did you spend Christmas?

Christmas was good. Christmas Eve was 20 degrees so everyone was on patios and leaving their coats at home. So so strange. Went to school in the morning then to my folks' place that night with Lily. We ate too much food, left a letter for Santa (couldn't manage it last year), wrapped a few gifts and headed to bed. Christmas Day the family friend who usually comes by came by, then my uncle and cousin came by for dinner. My family hit it out of the park on presents this year, just really, really well done. There were a couple of annoying family moments but ultimately, it was really nice. Solid Christmas, that.

21.  How did you spend New Years?

Lowkey. We had considered going to a friend's house but there had been a huge snowstorm a few days prior and we decided against it. Just me and TB, ordered sushi and walked around the neighbourhood. Listened to our neighbours countdown and kissed by the streetlamp. Aww *puke*

22.  Did you fall in love in 2015?

Further in, yeah :)

23.  How many one night stands?

I could use a new night stand actually. <---- Never changing this answer.

24.  What were your favorite TV programs?

So much good tv. Got back into Mad Men for the last season, loved Bojack Horseman, Portlandia, Better Call Saul,

25.  Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Nah. My shit list is pretty short. Okay, maybe Martin Shkreli. But he doesn't deserve even my disdain.

26.  What was the best book you read?

We've talked about this.

27.  What was your greatest musical discovery?

Didn't listen to any music at all for most of the year, tbh. Mostly Songza playlists (RIP)

28.  What did you want and get?

A lot of wedding plans front-ended, a level 1 in Spanish on my first test, a carpool to school.

29.  What did you want and not get?

A vacation on a beach somewhere, a budget I can follow.

30.  What was your favorite film of this year?

I actually quite liked Mad Max: Fury Road. And seeing a movie in VIP cinemas has changed me forever.

31.  What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

We threw a little party here at the house. Barbecued, entertained 3 dogs at once, had some stellar chats. Broke up at 10:00 to go watch the fireworks, then Jax, my sister and Owen and I played Cards Against Humanity. And then I was 33.

32.  What would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Regular access to a computer during the day (ugh. I'm dying being away from my internet addiction during class time), a wedding planner, having more friends nearby.

33.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

January/February were basically a write-off, but I pulled it together just in time for it all to fall apart again in September when I traded in blazers for oversized sweaters and rolled up hipster jeans. I'ma call this year "Business Grunge"

34.  What kept you sane?

Legitimately my therapist. I don't know what I would have done without her. Having friends who'd been where I was and come through the worst of it while remaining awesome helped me see it was possible.

35.  Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Jon Hamm still looks fantastic and I have to admit, our new PM is what the Spanish call 'muy guapo' And of course, for the 15th year in a row: Paul Rudd.

36.  What political issue stirred you the most?

I felt really really feminist this year. Whether it's because i started feeling more comfortable stating my feelings on subjects close to my heart or what, but I felt like I was always debating feminism with people this year. The Canadian election and the American election both held my attention for sure. It was a fascinating year for politics, actually.

37.  Who did you miss?

My mom and my grandparents until the end of days.

Various colleagues I used to pal around with in jobs of yore. It's a bit lonely at school, to be honest.

38.  Who was the best new person you met?

One of my fellow students is this awesome, foodie chick with a dry sense of humour and attitude for days. i really like her, but she's pregnant so I won't see her much in 2016, as she'll leave school soon. Un Bummer grande, as they say.

39.  Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

Two, seemingly opposed statements are my takeaways from 2015.

Some things in life cannot be fixed, they can only be carried


Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.

You know when you read something really true and you have to go back and read it again, even if it's only a line, even if it's only a few words? That's me with that first quote. It's so fucking spot on. I know I'll never get past my grief, never get over it, never be the me I was before. But I am getting to a place where I like the me that carries that grief; I am starting to love the complicated story that weaves its way through me, even if it breaks my heart in certain chapters. I know, in my brain, in my most logical centre, that I cannot fix what's happened. My heart allows me a few moments of wallowing every few days - "just think of how easy your life would be right now if she was here" - and I even give myself a few minutes to just dreamily think of how perfect it would all be with her here. But I cannot change the past, I cannot fix what is. I can only carry it with me, and give it its proper weight.

I have that second quote on my living room wall. I probably look at it every day, but rarely ever think about it anymore. But really, it is so apt. There is no escaping heartache. There is no charmed life. There is no perfect love. All there is, is what we have, what we make, what we carry, and how we act.

But there is so much good out there, that, if you allow yourself to think about even part of it, it seems a shame to leave it all behind.

Most days.

40.  Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me"

-The Mountain Goats "This Year"

2015 was so quiet, a flat prairie of a year between two mountains. I am grateful for the time it gave me. And I can only hope I'll survive what's next.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Grieving Girl's Guide to Life

About 5 years ago, the guy I was replacing at work had a hell of a year. He had fallen in love the year before with a co-worker in his language classes and had just proposed to her. Shortly after the ring was on her finger, she became pregnant. They sold their condos, bought a big house in the country, bought a car, had a wedding, had a kid, then found out they were going to have to move to India in a few months.

"You know," I remarked, "you can space out this adulting thing. You don't have to do it all at once."

"I know," he chuckled, “But sometimes all the adulting just happens at the same time."


To catch up:

When my mom died last December it was one of those things where when people ask “was it unexpected? Was it sudden?” my only answer was “kind of? But also not?” Basically, what I could say was “Five days in the hospital and she was gone”.

And that's that. It was, and continues to be, the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, but life kept going, almost immediately. Two weeks after she died, I found out I got a job in the U.S. and would have to move in 2016. Two weeks after that, my maternal grandfather died. Two months after that, I found out that getting a visa for TB to work in the U.S. would be superfun! (note: it would actually be the opposite of superfun) and it would be  much easier if we just got married. But he insisted that he wanted to ask me, so I agreed. And on June 30th, under a sky full of stars, TB proposed to me with a story worthy of any Simpsons fan (more on that in a later entry)

Since that moment I've been running. In order to keep my upcoming job I have to become fluent in Spanish before next summer, which, when you're starting with a half-level above "dos cervezas, por favor" is a challenge, to say the least. The second half of 2015 has been full of getting my grandfather’s house ready to sell, planning a wedding, and conjugating verbs like it's my job (it is).

In 2016, language gods willing, I'll pack up my house, rent it to someone who won't destroy it,  find and rent a house in the U.S, and start a new job, all while grieving the two best people I ever knew.
I have no idea how I’m going to do it all, or if it’s even possible.

But adulting doesn’t wait until you’re ready – it just happens and expects you to catch up.

Thanks for running with me.

*Adapted from an earlier post on Offbeat Bride's forum before they closed in November 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

One year.

This blog has remained so quiet, not because I've had nothing to say, but rather because I've had too much. Every time I looked at an open page the weight of the white felt like a burden, so I quietly closed the window and moved on. But I wanted to mark today because, of course I do. I won't try to sum up how things have been, but suffice it to say, 2016 has the potential to be the weirdest year of my life to date. But we're not there yet; we're still here. It's difficult to capture this year which has been, simultaneously, disquieting and quiet. Quiet is good, though. Quiet is welcome here.

If you'd asked me a year ago where I thought I'd be now the answer is where I currently am; in bed. It was hard to foresee a time when I would be able to push the covers off myself, put on clothes and head out into the world. But about a month later, I did. And then two weeks after that, I did it every day for a week. Then I just kept going, because you basically are left with two choices in this life: wither or tumble. So I tumbled back to work, through deadlines and meetings, through birthdays and wine in cheap paper cups, through lunch dates and portfolio changes and everything else that was thrown at me. And yes, sometimes it felt hollow and hard, but other times it felt normal and fine, and good, and sometimes even great. And the world unfolded as it does, leaving me more afraid and worried than I've ever been, but also so surrounded by love.

And there is, of course, always her. I remember realizing one day that she wasn't the first thought I had when I woke up in the morning and a small part of me was relieved. But every day, she's there. Just under the daily routine, waiting. I haven't figured out what to do with her yet. But for now, we can share the same space in silence, like sitting next to her on a church pew or park bench.

I wanted to share the words I wrote a year or so ago for her funeral. It would be easy to say these were the hardest words I ever had to write, but that would be a lie. They were the hardest words I ever had to read aloud, but writing them came quickly, all at once in a late night cascade. I withered while they tumbled.

I still have no idea what I'm doing and Im still scared every single day of my life. But I've made it one year. It's possible. And that's enough for today.


Friends, family, well wishers, in the interest of honesty, I would like to begin with a confession: I didn’t finish this speech until hours before we all gathered here. This is not unusual – since I was 8 years old and had to complete a report on the rather vague topic of “Canada”, I have never started a paper, project or presentation more than 2 days before it was due. I’ve had book reports where I haven’t even taken the book out of the library until the weekend before. And throughout my school years, primary through to University, I could always count on my night owl mother, rolling her eyes, exasperatedly sighing “Oh ______” and then rolling up her sleeves, sitting down at our electric typewriter, then our monochrome computer, then our PC and using her rapid-fire typing skills to commit to paper whatever drivel I’d managed to coax out of my beleaguered brain at 1 in the morning. I only tell you this rather embarrassing fact about myself, because it’s a really good example of what kind of mom my mom was. She would admonish you, encourage you to do better next time, and then sit down and bail you out. Every time. Not because she wanted to protect you, but because she knew you better than you knew yourself. And she knew you were trying. And she loved you.

My mother had more love in her than should have been possible for a mere mortal. So many of you have mentioned her kindness, her smile, the way she never had a bad word to say about anyone. And yes, yes that’s how she was in public, but let me tell you, in private? She was exactly the same. She was kinder than anyone I’ve ever known. Almost infuriatingly so. You could rant and rave about something or someone to her and she’d nod and listen and agree with you, but even then, you could tell just by the look in her eyes that she thought you could do better. And begrudgingly, you’d try to, without even realizing she’d tricked you into being a better person.

It was a joy to know my mother. She made friends easily, and couldn’t have chosen a better part-time job than Avon representative. Customers became companions within a few campaigns, and every time she thought of giving the business up, she always came back to it, because it gave her a chance to chat and laugh with the people she’d grown so close to. And also because she got her mascara for 40% off.

My mother’s tastes were not easily defined. She was as at home at the Chateau Laurier for Afternoon Tea as she was at Miller’s Oven in Manotick, enjoying a piece of blueberry shortcake. She loved classical music and world travel, but also enjoyed bargain-hunting in Syracuse and, inexplicably, the Big Bang Theory. She was game for just about anything, and we always shrieked in delight when she’d deign to do something silly, like take a goofy Christmas card photo, or make a face for the camera, because she always left the monkey business up to the three of us. But sometimes she would cave, giving us a little glimpse of the goofball she could be, if the scenery wasn’t always being chewed by her hammy family.

She was the first person I wanted to tell something to because she always had the perfect reaction. She was overjoyed, bursting at the seams with pride when it was good, and aghast at the world we live in when it was bad.

Music was one of my mother’s great loves. A talent that she and my father shared, and which has bypassed my and my sister’s generation entirely. And yet she bore our failings with good humour, of course, telling us our ear-piercing, godawful version of A-Ha’s Take On Me, was not the worst thing she’d ever heard, which is a lie. She introduced us to her love of musicals early in life, and loved to plunk away at her keyboard whenever new music came in for her choirs. I actually think my sister and I may be her choir’s longest-standing audience members, always there for a Christmas concert or a Family and Friends event, though we fully accept we are not their target audience.

My mom always enjoyed a good glass of wine. Or a bad glass of wine. Just wine, really. She was great at a party, always the mingler. My sister and I loved going to events with her because she always got the really good gossip from people without even trying. And, even better, she was willing to share the best stuff. I have inherited many things from my mother – my eyes, my empathy, my inability to watch sappy Tim Hortons commercials without crying– but her ability to drink consistently throughout an evening and still carry on in-depth conversations with all those around her is not one of them. I’m sorry mom, I know this continues to be one of my great failings.

My mother instilled in us a deep love of family. She loved hers with all her heart and I can’t count how many of my friends became “Honourary ” with a wave of her hand. Her brother Ron was a treasure to her, her closest friend and constant confidante. They were two peas in a pod, more alike than any non-twin siblings have any right to be. She started a craft business with her sister, Deb. She never let us leave a trip to the ‘States without making sure that there was scores of cheap pipe tobacco for her father in the glove box. She loved my sister fiercely, and it was a delight to watch them work together, whether it was perfecting a parallel park, or mastering a particularly tricky cross-stitch pattern. She used to play non-competitive combined-score Scrabble with her mother for hours at our dining room table, and I like to think they have now taken up the habit again.

I’m 32 years old, and I have never missed a birthday, a mother’s day, a Christmas, a Thanksgiving, or an Easter. Because family was love, family was everything. And we did so much loving in the 64 years we had her. But it still feels like we could have done so much more.

And should you need to know further proof of her love, recall that she was with my dear father for 38 years. I love my father completely, but sometimes 38 minutes can feel like I’ve run a marathon. But she still listened to him, and even though she rolled her eyes and sighed more often than you might think humanly possible, she loved him, whether they were travelling through Europe or just sitting in front of the fireplace on a wintery night.

I feel like I could sit here for hours, sharing memories, telling you about a Christmas Eve spent eating oranges and coffee cake in an aging hotel room, about the way weeding her garden felt like church to her, about an unfinished Christmas stocking, about morning puppet shows, about how she’d once wanted to teach music to children in Northern communities, about how the only things as good as her hugs were her strawberry pies. But frankly, there are sandwiches to be eaten, and wine to be drunk, and if I told you everything to love about her, we’d be here for another 64 years.

In times like these, it’s normal to feel helpless, to feel like you want to do something to ease the heartache, to make this terrible journey that we must all make, just a little easier. It’s become almost a cliché - “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” And already so many of you have gone ahead and done so much. We deeply appreciate every meal cooked, every kindness extended, every trip made to be with us. But what more can we do, you ask. Well, okay, since you asked so nicely, I’ll tell you. If you knew her,tell us about her. Tell us about the stories she’d tell when she was with you. Tell us about how she was when she was younger. Tell us what she loved, and what made her laugh, so we can add to the long list of memories we’re cloaking ourselves in like a blanket. And most of all, tell us the things that she wouldn’t tell us herself, because I bet she was hiding some really righteous gossip.

Talk about her, think about her, laugh about her. Because I have to believe a love like hers doesn’t just disappear. It has to go on, in all of us. It’s too powerful not to.

Monday, July 27, 2015


I've got this thing for the number 15. It seems like big things, bad and good, happen for me on the 15th. I broke up with my long-term boyfriend on a 15th (of February. I'm a jerk), I moved into my first apartment on a 15th, passed the test that gave me my current job on a 15th and my anniversary with TB is on the 15th. I remember thinking to myself last year that 2015 was going to be insane. It just had to be. Superstition was on my side. I mean, 2014 had been an effing rollercoaster ride. More travel in one year than I’d done in my whole life, landing a job I wanted, cool responsibilities at work, and, of course, more loss than I could fathom.

Imagine my surprise, then, that 2015 has been one long flatline of mostly even-keeled quiet. No travel outside the country, no big changes on the job front, just a lot of keeping my head above water and trying to go through the motions of everyday normal. Whoo!!
I had wondered if I should even do anything for my birthday – having a birthday on a holiday always leaves the question of a party up in the air – but once I heard my best pal Jax was in town for the first time in probably 7 years I knew I had to do something.

Sparkler fights: fun and inadvisable
Two years ago my birthday was, by far, the best party I’d ever thrown. 30-40 people showed up, there was chaos and trays of drinks set on fire and our brand new dog was scared shitless (just kidding, she’s never shitless) by the revelers and their propensity toward picking her up like a baby.

This year’s fete was a lot smaller- a more manageable 15-20 people- and a lot less work. We decided to have a barbecue, get some beer and then let off some fireworks and sparklers in the backyard.

Proof. (pun cheerfully intended)
Confession: TB barbecued, bought the beer and then let off fireworks. I put on a tshirt and made jello shots.

It was actually pretty great. I had two friends from miles away come out, at one point there were three dogs in my house – two pugs and a boston terrier – so you know I was into that, and everyone seemed to have fun. We let off the fireworks in our (very close to power lines, very urban) backyard and didn’t know we had an audience until tiny voices began chanting “We want fireworks! We want fireworks!” and we realized there was a trio of pint-sized piros watching from our neighbour’s balcony. So, you know, at least they weren’t going to rat us out to Bylaw.
Pepper pug is as much fun as she looks

People went their separate ways around 9:30 or so (my birthday fell on a Wednesday this year so the bureaucrats turned into pumpkins) and then we headed down to watch the professionals do their explody colour magic. We ended the night with Jax, TB, my sister and I playing “Cards Against Humanity” where I found a brand new favourite card!

And yeah, I missed her. I missed her when my dad’s name was the only one written on my card, and when her alto voice didn’t match his bass singing me happy birthday over the phone. I missed her wearing her traditional red and white outfit (complete with socks) and I missed the ease with which she’d pick out a great birthday gift (my dad, on the other hand kept wringing his hands until he panicked and bought some random chez lounge. My sister set him straight and I got an awesome zero gravity chair for the backyard instead.) This will be the first year of my life without her and the first birthday of mine she’s ever missed. But, like mother’s day and easter before it, my birthday was still good. Different, and maybe more reflective, but still good.

I remember a moment, when we were outside and the fireworks were blasting and we were shrieking and drinking and laughing and I just thought “I am happy.” It seems impossible that I’d get to that point again, and it was fleeting, but it was there. It is possible. Happy Birthday to me. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Take me to Church

"Being in my garden feels like church to me."

It's something she used to say, somehow making it sound both off-handed and reverent. As a child, I never really understood what she meant. Summer was full of so many wonderful things: swimming pools, garage sales, bike riding, popsicles - what was so great about standing in your own backyard, fingernails full of dirt,  sweat pouring down your forehead, back aching as you tugged at a stubborn weed?

I think I get it now.

Swiss chards and mustard greens - grow little hipsters, grow!

When we bought our house in September 2012 it already had a cute little planter box, mostly left unloved as the previous owners had been gone since April. There were some bushes spilling over from the neighbours' side, a stubborn pine tree hanging over the fence that did no one any good, and a largely empty stone-wall-bordered garden that ran the length of the fence. Lots of potential, but not a lot actively going on.

An awkward view of part of the fence-length garden
Since then, I've been given bleeding hearts and strawberry geraniums and rhubarb from my mom and dad, taken some incredibly hearty chives from my grandfather's garden, bought a lilac bush and a mock orange and a blackberry bush, and potted some lungswart and irises.  Last year we placed a pallet beside the planter box and I keep adding to the collection of pots we have on it so far, filling them with black earth and whatever looks the showiest at the garden centres. Our vegetable garden seems happy and fruitful (little edible garden pun there for you) and this year looks like it might be its best year yet.

Chives, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, greens, peas, and squash all doing their thing.
There's something deeply satisfying about a hobby that takes something small, gives it attention and watches it bloom. I feel like I'm responsible for creating a little joy, for making the world nicer, even if only in the smallest of ways. It's the same sense of pride I take when I look at Lily, no longer the terrified shaking lump we first met, but now a sweet, funny, sassy neighbourhood watchdog, loving, goofy and, okay, occasionally pretty skittish, but so totally ours. Our garden isn't perfect or pretty or pinterest worthy, but we made something out of nothing and that's never not remarkable to me. Every day I carefully part leaves, run my fingers over new growth, inhale the scent of mint mingling with chives and lilacs and think how astounding it is that all this can come from taking the tiniest thing and giving it love and attention.

I'm not religious, but I think I understand what my mother was talking about. Faith as small as a mustard seed is all you need to make big things possible.