Monday, July 25, 2016

Moving on... An open letter to the new owners of our former home

I sat at this island on my wedding day as one of my best friends did my make up. 

Then I walked up those stairs to my bedroom, where my Mom helped me into the wedding dress that she wore - and that my grandmother sewed - 35 years earlier when she married my Dad. 

Then we walked out that front door as our neighbour stood by giddily to tell me that I was a beautiful bride, and to wish me luck on my wedding day. 

This house - and this neighborhood - have been at the centre of my life for the past 12 years. And if walls could talk, they would tell you stories. 

They would tell you that this very house saved our relationship. Before finding it, my husband and I were living in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment - MY apartment that he moved into. We were driving each other crazy. I'm not sure we would have lasted very much longer without divine intervention in the form of real estate. 

They would tell you that it is a bad idea to build a deck together. That day, we fought and fought and fought and fought and then fought some more. I was so mad that I didn't talk to my husband for the entire length of the deck building process. But 12 years later, that deck is still standing. And so are we. (It is also a great place to catch a few rays with a friend).

The walls would tell you that there ain't no party like a kitchen party. Countless gatherings have been had in this kitchen, at this island. 11 New Years Day Levees, Friday night tapas parties, casual potlucks, formal family dinners, birthday parties, and even the occasional dance party. Always we congregate in the kitchen. It's a good thing we tore down the hideous wall that was there before. 

These walls would tell you about how we grew our family. How we adopted one outrageously neurotic dog named Fergus, who barks at and herds all the neighborhood kids. And one fiercely independent and bossy cat, Sadie, who spends her days plotting how to catch every squirrel that dares to run through her yard. Within these walls, these two rescues became the very best of friends, and found their "forever homes".

These walls would tell you how much we love this neighborhood. How it has everything we need. Coffee shops, restaurants (you must, must, must try DiVino Wine Studio, and tell them we sent you), access to the Ottawa River, the canal and the Arboretum for running and snowshoeing, a yoga studio to recuperate from running. And it's only the shortest of walks to the neighboring 'hood of Hintonburg, where I get my nails done (look for Forbes Beauty Company on Fairmont) and where I get the best almond milk latte in town (Ministry of Coffee on Wellington). In the other direction, Parliament Hill is only a 25 minute walk. But on Canada Day, you don't even need to walk that far to have a perfect view of the fireworks. Just walk up to Lebreton Flats. It's one of the best views in town. 

Most of all, these walls would tell you about love. Because they were filled to brimming with love. This is where Hubby and I truly started our life adventure together. Every trip we've ever taken has been planned from a spot on the couch in front of that fireplace. Every life decision - from whether or not to take a new job to when to get a dog to when to get married - has been debated in this space. We have laughed here. We have cried here. We have fought and made up here. We made a life for ourselves here. It is where we truly became life partners. 

These walls provided the perfect setting for a pair of eager young professionals starting out in life. Leaving them behind is not easy. We love this house. It is a part of us forever. 

And now, we hope, that it will forever be a part of you. That you will love this house as much as we did. That you will put your stamp on it and make it your very own. That you will grow together here as partners. And that these walls will continue to have good stories to tell. 

Congratulations, and we wish you all the best. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

What's in a name?

On June 12, I told this story on a new podcast called One New Message. One New Message is inspired by those calls that we have all made because we had something really important to say to someone, but for some reason, we couldn't say it. It's a great show, and you should definitely check it out. Especially episode 105, which you can find by clicking here.

If you are more inclined to read than to listen, here you go...


It seems weird leaving you this message... I mean, we've never even met.

How could we have. You passed away 28 days before I was born.

Did you know that your son, my father, was planning to name me Dawn? I'm sure you did. Dad was always so close to you. How is it even possible that he wouldn't have shared absolutely everything with you, his mother, about his soon-to-be first born child. All his fears. All his hopes and dreams. And all the various names they went through before they settled on Dawn if I was a girl, and I'm honestly not even sure what if I was a boy.

But then you passed away in early November, 1976, after a long battle with cancer, before you had the chance to meet, or hold, your fifth grandchild. And when you passed away, an incredible sadness must have descended upon my father, who loved you so very much. How difficult it must have been for him to think about the happiness that a baby would bring to his life when he had to deal with the crushing sadness of losing you, his mother and closest confidant.

He tells me that he prayed very hard that I, sex unknown, would be a girl. So that he could give me your name. So that your soul that had just departed this earth could somehow breathe life into my own soul just as it was about to enter. So that he would have a daily reminder of you each and every time that he called out to me.

And so my name is not Dawn. It is Jeannine. It is your name.

I have to tell you that I hated my name growing up. No one can pronounce it. How could you even stand always being called Janine? Like the nerdy, shrill-voiced secretary on Ghostbusters? Which of course, you never saw. But still, you must know the irritation that comes with constantly having to correct the pronunciation and the spelling of your own name.

And then there was the fact that it was an old-person's name. At least I thought it was when I was a tween trying to find myself, wondering why I didn't have a young, hip name like Lianne, which was so de rigeur at the time.

But mostly, it was the pressure of having your name. Of hearing all the stories about your kind heart and your never-ending generosity. How you constantly sacrificed for your family. How you guided all eight of your children to know right from wrong, to become good, strong people like you. Aunts, uncles, my grandfather, Dad - they all told me how lucky I was to have your name, and what big shoes I had to fill. Shoes I never asked for or wanted. Shoes I wasn't sure could ever possibly fit me, since you were such a giant in everyone's minds and hearts.

And so I hated my name. And secretly wished that I was someone else.

Until sometime around my 12th or 13th year.

I had long since given up saying the nightly prayers that my parents made us recite before bed. But on this night, as I was feeling a particularly deep pang of teenage angst, I knelt alongside my bed, bowed my head, and recited a prayer. Not to God, but to my guardian angel, a prayer taught to me by my Mom when I was just a little girl: "Angel of God, my guardian dear. To whom God's love entrusts me here. Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide."

And it struck me that I did not have some randomly-chosen-by-God angel fluttering around heaven on wings charged by God to take care of me and watch over me.

No. I had you.

And so began our life-long relationship. From that moment on, when there was no one here on earth who would understand what I was feeling or what I was going through, I had you. When Dad and I fought, and I howled at him that he did not understand me, I had you. When I was excited about a special event in my life or a success that I had, I had you. When I made mistakes, when I cried, when I laughed, when I celebrated, I had you. I talked to you about it all. You saw it all from wherever it is that you are. And I felt you beside me at every step.

So no. We've never met. But you are one of the most important people in my life. And my name is one of the greatest gifts ever given to me. Through it, you and I share something that has allowed us to cement a spiritual bond, although it was impossible to form a physical one. You have helped me through my darkest times. I have felt you smile upon me through my greatest achievements. Dawn may be a perfectly lovely name. After all, it was given to my younger sister. But were it mine, it would not have brought me close to you. I would not feel your love and guidance ever present in my life. And I would not be who I am today.

So I guess I just really wanted to say... I love you.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Nashville - more than just a hit show on ABC

pulled my groin in Nashville. 

It happened on our first night. I can't tell you exactly how. And I can't pinpoint the exact moment. But I'm pretty sure that my brand new cowboy boots, a shot (or 6) of a nasty "whiskey liqueur" called Fireball that tastes like flammable cinnamon hearts, and trying to keep up on the dance floor at a bar actually named the Honky Tonk Central with a group of 20-somethings, all combined to have something to do with the injury. 

I should know better than to try to keep up with millennials. Especially when it involves new shoes. Doubly especially when it involves shots of whiskey. It led to a sluggish, gatorade-filled next day, a solemn vow to never touch Fireball again, and hobbling around Nashville on a bum groin for the next 4 days. 

Oh, but it was worth it. Because I had a great time. Nashville is definitely the kind of place to go and let your hair down. It's a party town - bachelorette capital of the United States of America, according to one of the servers we met at one of the many fine live music establishments. You don't have to look hard to find fun. It just kind of finds you. 

Here are highlights of some of that fun:

If you have ever wanted to buy a pair of cowboy boots, Nashville is the place to go. Every three doors on the strip is a boot shop, and at least one of them offers up the ridiculous deal of buying one pair and getting two more free. Now there is a small part of me that has always wanted a pair of cowboy boots, but just couldn't imagine when and where I would ever wear something like that back here in sleepy old Ottawa. Luckily for me, I found a gorgeous pair of cowboy booties, and I know I can pull these off with any number of outfits. So I am now the proud owner of a certified pair of cowboy boots. Even if they are ankle height!

As for the strip, it is not just a place to buy cowboy boots. It is also a place to go and get your fill of live music. Up and down either side of Broadway, for about 4 or 5 blocks, there are close to 20 bars to wander in and out of. All of them open up at 10am. All of them have live music starting at 11am. All of them close at 3am. And all of them have lots and lots of whiskey. 

A shot of the strip at night, just as the bars are starting to fill up.
The afternoon band at Robert's Western World - you have to love a band with a stand-up bass AND a fiddle.
Shots of "medicine". Or Fireball Whiskey. Very liberally poured. 
Now most of the bars on the strip definitely cater to the country music lover. But you can find other genres.  B.B. King has a blues house just off the strip, where we heard some pretty tight blues. And the Acme Feed and Seed, one of the newer bars on the strip, caters to the alt-indie crowd. On our first night, we walked into a battle of the bands for a spot at Bonnaroo Music Festival, one of the biggest alternative/indie rock festivals in the world, where we ended up listening to this incredibly entertaining indie-heavy-metal duo who knocked over a gong at the end of their set, while Hubby screamed out "Yeahhhhhh!" at the top of his lungs! 

Neither the drummer's man bun nor the gong would survive this heavy metal set!
Maybe you don't like to get your fill of music in the local bars. And that's okay too. Because Nashville is the home of the Grand 'Ole Opry, the radio-show-turned-television-variety-show that took country music out of the shadows of the Ozarks and pushed it into the national limelight. Growing up, the Grand 'Ole Opry - and it's spin off comedy show, Hee Haw - were often on our television set. So I had to take it in and see what it is all about. Even if you aren't a country music lover, it is still worth it to take in a show. Hubby can't stand country, but thoroughly enjoyed the Opry. There's a lot of magic to it: its history, the fact that the show is still produced primarily for radio, how much it means to the singers who perform on the stage, and the wide range of talent that performs week after week. It's a pretty special place, and I'm really glad that we got to take it in. Even if I hardly recognized any of the performers. 

Hubby and I before the show. There are lots of rhinestones in Nashville. I don't own any. So I wore sequins instead. 

Performers abound at the Opry. From "mountain music" bands...

... to solo artists who do heartbreakingly sad country music songs.
If you need a break from live music but still want to soak up some music history, there are a couple of really fun museums to check out in Nashville. The first is the Johnny Cash museum. And who doesn't love the Man in Black? It is totally worth a visit to go behind the scenes and see an in depth glimpse into Cash's life and his extensive body of work. Plus, you can get your picture taken with Johnny Cash through the magic of green screen technology. Seriously. How cool is that! The price of admission is a little steep at 22$ per person (which translates into what, 45$ CDN these days?), but it it was totally worth it just to see the extensive exhibit retracing the history of the famous Sun Studios, where the biggest names like Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison were all discovered and recorded their hit albums. 

A wall of Johnny Cash album covers. My father would die.

How bad ass are we?
Nashville is also home to the Country Music Hall of Fame, another great museum, even if you don't love country music. Did you know that in the 60s, a lot of non-country music stars - like Bob Dylon and Jimi Hendrix - came to Nashville to record albums? I didn't know that either until I visited the Hall of Fame. 

The Hall of Fame. It's shaped like a piano. 

Me and Jimi Hendrix

This one is for Dad. Me and Roy Orbison

A wall of gold and platinum
I've already mentioned the copious amounts of liberally poured whiskey to be had in Nashville. Of course, the most famous of Tennessee Whiskeys is Jack Daniels, made from the cave springs of Lynchburg, Tennessee. We decided to take a little trip through the bible belt to check out the distillery, which lies smack dab in the middle of a dry county. The only reason that they are allowed to continue to make whiskey in these parts is because Mr. Jack Daniels himself agreed to pay the government copious amounts of taxes back during the prohibition years so that he would not be shut down. Which was a smart move given how big his name has grown. The distillery tour is definitely worthwhile. I don't consider myself a connoisseur of whiskey - or even that big of a fan - but it was still really neat to see the production site and to learn a little bit about what sets Tennessee whiskey apart from bourbon (in case you are wondering, both come from corn, but Tennessee whiskey is filtered through charcoal, which is why it is no longer considered a bourbon). 

Outside the distillery

The location of the distillery was chosen for this cave spring. 

Every single drop in every single bottle of Jack Daniels comes from this water source. 
And finally, Nashville is just a really pretty city. It's not a bustling metropolis like New York or Chicago. It's much smaller and more quaint. There are only a couple of towers that make up the downtown skyline. It sits along the Cumberland River, which has a nasty tendency to flood and cause all sorts of damage. In 2010, the Opry sat under water and suffered significant damage. Concerts had to be moved to other locations around town. 

The river figures prominently in literature, and in the history of the city. 

So prominently that river navigation is recognized as an inherent right in the Tennessee Constitution.

The Nashville skyline along the banks of the Cumberland River.

Another view of the skyline

The River basin is a great place to go for a run!
Nashville is also the state capital. And a beautiful state capital it is. Although one has to climb a few stairs to get there...

Up we go to the State Capital

The State Capital

I had to take a rest before climbing the rest of the stairs. Because I pulled my groin, remember...

The war memorial

The war memorial

The war memorial plaza and its view of the Capitol Building. 
So that's Nashville for you. Live music, bachelorette parties, museums, history, good looking architecture, cowboy boots, and whiskey. A pretty fantastic way to spend a long weekend.

So I've booked a couple of appointments with my physiotherapist to start rehabbing my groin. Cause I have every intention of going back to Nashville. And I want to be ready for it!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"We said we'd walk together..."

It's true that Valentine's Day is NOT my favourite holiday. Hubby and I don't exchange gifts. We don't go out for dinner anywhere. There are no grand, romantic gifts of flowers at the office.

But that doesn't mean that we are not romantic in our own little way. He is the king of bringing home "just because" gifts, like a piece of jewelry from one of my favourite local boutiques. And I once hand wrote him a journal of my memories from our entire first year together. So yeah, we've been known to make people groan at our sappiness.

Which is why when CBC Ottawa Morning had a little give away for the couple who shared the best story about "their song", I just had to flex my romantic muscles and tell ours. I mean, the prize was a good one - cooking lessons for two at the Cordon Bleu School. But I also just knew that we could win this, because the story of our song is just that good!

And so, on Thursday morning, I dropped Hubby off at work, pulled over into a visitor's parking spot somewhere on Tunney's Pasture (what a bureaucratic image this is), called the CBC Ottawa Morning voicemail box, and told a little story. The next day, I listened nervously to find out if we were the winners. And just before 8 o'clock, there was Robyn Bresnahan, announcing the winning clip. And then I heard MY voice, telling Ottawa about our song. Hubby seemed genuinely touched that I had submitted the story in the first place. We both got a little misty eyed at our memories as we did a little happy dance in our kitchen to celebrate winning such a great prize.

Ottawa is a small town, and tonnes of messages on Twitter and Facebook and email started streaming into Hubby and I, including from people who had heard about the contest but missed hearing us on the radio. Unfortunately, there is no link to share with you. But I can use this blog to tell you the story of our love song. With a little more embellishment since I don't have to squeeze it all into one minute. And with some pictures. Cause everyone likes pictures.

So here goes...

When my husband and I got married a few years ago, I knew that I wanted to surprise him by singing a song to him during the ceremony. And since my love of the Boss is legendary, it is probably not a shock to anyone that I chose a Bruce Springsteen song, in this case, "Should I Fall Behind."

I have always loved this song. It is about sticking together regardless of the obstacles that life might throw your way, and drawing on one another's strengths to pull you through. But now, on the eve of my wedding, this song took on a whole new meaning. It was the perfect message for kicking off our lives together as husband and wife.

And so on our wedding day, to Hubby's great surprise (and everyone else's too), I stepped forward to sing to my soon-to-be-husband. Who, it must be said, got just a little bit teary-eyed.

A few shots of me and Hubby as I surprised him with a song on our wedding day.
But when this song was really solidified as our own was not until 10 months later, when we went on a late honeymoon to Peru. For most of my adult life, I have wanted to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and in May of 2010, we joined a group of Canadian and British tourists to do just that. 

The Inca Trail is a 4-day, 43 km hike at elevations significantly higher than those to which I am used. To put it into perspective, Ottawa sits at a lowly 70m above sea-level. Cusco, the beginning of the Inca Trail, sits at 3,400m. Machu Picchu itself is slightly lower at 2,400m. But during the hike, you climb to the highest point of 4,200m, known as Dead Woman's Pass. This is a long, windy, up-and-down kind of trek, and even though it does not require technical skills or specialized training to complete it, all who undertake it are warned of the possibility of altitude sickness. The locals implore you to chew coca leaves and drink coca tea to ward off its symptoms, but the real trick is to go slow and steady to give yourself time to adjust to the thinness of air at these heights.

But I am not your everyday Jane. I am a former bodybuilder. I am a runner. I have a resting heart rate of 60 bpm. I am one of the fittest people that I know. And I am also one of the most competitive. And although I have had a low-grade headache since landing in Cusco, I have armed myself with pocketfuls of coca leaves, a couple of litres of water, and am ready to hit the trail. Day 1 is a piece of cake. So on Day 2, as we begin to climb the infamous Dead Woman's Pass, I make up my mind that I will be first of our group to the top.

I was not the first. I was the 3rd, hot on the heels of another couple in our group (but I am okay with being behind them because they have more experience than me, having just done Everest base camp a few months earlier). Hubby was 4th, just one step behind me. The view was spectacular. We stared out along that pass, proud of ourselves for our accomplishment and in awe of the view at 4,200m above sea level.

A little tired, but mostly ecstatic to be at the top of Dead Woman's Pass, 4,200m above sea level.
And then we started our descent. My low-grade headache turned into a pounding drum in my head. Despite sweating from a day of hard labouring, I started to feel cold. My heart started to rise up into my throat. And by the time we made it to camp half an hour later, I could barely stand upright. The head guide brought me straight to our tent and ordered me to lie down. He went for the first aid kit and started administering some kind of traditional remedy. To this day, I have no idea what it was. But I know that it did not work. Because within an hour, I was violently ill.

Altitude sickness.

There was nothing to do for me but to rest. And so I curled up in a ball inside of my sleeping bag - with a bucket strategically placed right outside the flap of my tent - and I tried my best to sleep. Nausea and the headache prevented me from getting more than an hour or so, and I'm sure I kept the whole camp awake with me that night as I paid the price for climbing Dead Woman's Pass too quickly.

The next morning, I skipped breakfast to stay in bed a little longer. The head guide came to me with a bowl of quinoa porridge and implored me to eat. "We have a 17km hike ahead of us today. You will need your energy." I could not muster any more than 4 or 5 bites. But I knew that there was only one way off of this trail, and that was to make it all the way to Machu Picchu. So I crawled out of the tent, stiffened my resolve, and concentrated on simply putting one foot in front of the other until we arrived at the next camp.

We spent that day above the clouds, exploring Inca ruins along the trail. The views were so gorgeous and so inspiring, that I somehow found the strength to keep moving forward, despite being able to hold down no more than a half of a bun and a few sips of soup at lunch time.

A day in the clouds, exploring Inca ruins on the Inca Trail.
And then, with about 3 or 4 km left to go until we reached the camp, I began to run out of steam, as nausea overtook me yet again. One by one, the members of our group passed me by, even the slowest of the slow pokes from the previous day's ascent to Dead Woman's Pass. By the time the last person had passed us, I was practically crawling along, willing myself not to throw up. I looked up at Hubby and said, "You go ahead without me. Go and catch up to the group. The guides will take care of me and make sure I get back to camp. I'll be okay."

Hubby told me not to be ridiculous, that he would stay with me until we got into camp together, and that it didn't matter to him how long it took. We argued back and forth for a few minutes, and then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Jay, what song did you sing to me on our wedding day?"

And there it was. The first line of "Should I Fall Behind" loud and clear in my mind.

"We said we'd walk together, baby come what may..."

And I just...


to cry.

Hubby put his arms around me, as I cried not-so-softly into his shoulder. I felt ashamed of myself for being so stupid as to climb up 4,200m so quickly. I was upset at myself for ruining our honeymoon. I was still so damn sick that I could barely stand up straight were it not for him holding onto me. But mostly, I cried because I knew in that moment that we were absolutely meant to be together. That our song was more than just a song. It was a vow for how the two of us would spend the rest of our lives together. In moments of weakness, one of us would be the other's strength.

After a few minutes like that, I noticed the guide kind of awkwardly waiting for us to get going. So I gently pushed Hubby away, and teasingly called him a jerk for making me cry. Then he took my hand and we slowly walked the final few kilometres into camp.

I woke up the next morning feeling well enough to finally eat something. And while not my normally energetic self, I was able to keep up with our group for the final push into Machu Picchu itself. Which was incredible. So incredible that it made being sick for most of the hike entirely worth it.

Finally standing at Machu Picchu.
But mostly incredible because I did it with Hubby. Who never once let me fall behind.

Happy Valentine's Day. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

On zebra print and other signs of aging

Last night, I sent the following message to three of my best friends:

"I am sitting in a hotel room. In Bethesda, Maryland. Drinking chamomile tea. And wearing a... wait for it... zebra print negligee. And I'm by myself... This, ladies, is me staring 40 right in the face..."

Before you get too worried that this is going to be an R-rated post, what with me talking about negligees and all, I want you to stop and think about what I just said. A zebra print negligee. Who in the world finds a zebra print negligee remotely attractive? Except maybe a zebra... So no, dear reader. I promise you I am not taking you down a torrid, sultry path. Because there is no zebra in this story.

The garment in question. Or shall I say, the
questionable garment...
Really though, this garment is patently ridiculous. So ridiculous that I'm really not even sure why I have it. Let alone why I packed it for a 2-day business trip to the suburbs of D.C. I mean, normally, I wear a Bruce Springsteen concert tee and shorts to bed. Plus, I don't even like overt instances of animal print! Come to think of it, I honestly can't even tell you how this little ditty came into my wardrobe in the first place. Did Hubby have a momentary lapse in taste and buy it for me? Or worse, did I have a momentary lapse in taste and buy it for myself?

How it came to be lounge wear in my personal collection aside, there I was, at a Marriott hotel in Bethesda, MD, at 11:54 pm, having just come back from dinner with friends in a kitschy American eatery owned by none other than Ted Turner in Crystal City, VA (from one interstate D.C. suburb to another), sipping on a chamomile tea, climbing into bed with my Kobo, wearing a silly looking zebra-print negligee, with nary a zebra in site. And I just had to tell my best girl friends about the ridiculousness of it all. Mostly because I knew that it would make them laugh. But also because I had one of those self psycho-analysis moments where I see my life - and the decisions I make about it - in perfect clarity.

This zebra thing has nothing to do with fashion (clearly). And everything to do with me turning 40...

That's right. I turn 40 this year. In precisely 10 months, in fact. Gulp.

Now those who know me well know that I have been very vocally and vehemently fighting this milestone birthday for over a decade now. Since my actual 29th birthday, Hubby has been inviting friends to celebrate my 29th birthday. Every. single. year. And they all joyfully play along, clogging my Facebook page every year with "Happy 29th!" messages and little winky faces.

Everything was right on track for me to celebrate yet another 29th birthday in November 2015 - the 11th, to be precise. Hubby and I were in Winnipeg for the Grey Cup. My Ottawa Redblacks were playing in the big game. The Ottawa Citizen got wind that I had traveled to see my team play. So they sent a reporter out to track me down and interview me. He must have read this post about how growing up, I thought my parents were throwing me a big birthday party each year when in fact, they were just throwing a Grey Cup watch party. Because he asked me all about it. It became the centerpiece for his story about my love of football. And it was a great article. Except for one thing...

He stated in his article that I was turning 40...

This article came out a few days before my actual birthday. And friends who saw it posted it over and over and over again on social media. Which means that everyone and their dog saw it. So on my actual birthday, instead of saying "Happy 29th, J, wink-wink", I got "Welcome to your 40s!!!" messages. All. Day. Long. When I walked into the office the day after my birthday, my assistant had a cake waiting for me, lovingly in the shape of a football, with "HAPPY 40TH" scrawled across the top. And she got me a Happy 40th birthday card, signed by a whole bunch of my team.

All of this was ONE WHOLE YEAR EARLIER than my actual 40th birthday!

No, no, no, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO, NO!!!!! I am still supposed to have one more year of being 29!!!! It's a mathematical fact!!!! Everybody knows that you get 11 29th birthdays before you turn 40!!!! Not 10!!!! 11!!!! Oh cruel world, what ever have I done to deserve this!!!!

Believe me when I say that I shouted from the rooftops that it was not, in fact, my 40th birthday. Although I'm not proud to admit this, I even considered asking the Citizen for a retraction. Because I was not yet ready to face - one whole year earlier than anticipated - that my 30s were truly and rather quickly coming to an end. I knew that I had two choices before me. I could either continue to rage against the tick-tock of time, or I could just accept that I am, indeed, a woman on the cusp of her 40s.

A small dose of introspection made me realize that I could no longer fight this stark reality. My body, after all, has been giving me signals for a couple of years now of the impending doom that is my 40s. Somewhere around a year and a half ago, my metabolism gave me the middle finger, demanding that if I wanted to keep my 29-inch waist, I could no longer eat ice cream and chocolate every other day. Despite weekly yoga sessions, my knees practically graze my ear lobes whenever I sit cross-legged. And in the past six months, going up and down stairs hurts so much that I told my real estate agent (we are in the midst of house hunting) that our next home must be a bungalow. My body is clearly trying to tell me to give up the fallacy of the repeated 29th birthday.

So if my body is ready to accept the dawn of a 5th decade on earth, why can't my mind? What is so difficult to accept about being forty, anyway? It is, after all, just a number. It does not take away or give me additional success. It does not take away or give me any more love. It is simply a repeat of the day I was born.

And so somewhere during the past 2 months, and I can't pinpoint precisely when, I decided to start listening to that steady tick-tock of time. I've stopped eating chocolate every day, and accepted that from here on in, maintaining my waist line will take more discipline. I've come to terms with the fact that I could do yoga 7 days a week from now until the end of time but that it won't undo decades of abuse on my body. And I seriously am looking at bungalow after bungalow after bungalow for our next house.

And, I'm wearing animal print negligees to bed. Not because I find them particularly attractive. But because, at a certain point in a woman's life, it is just okay to wear animal print. It's like a rite of passage, a welcome to that age where you don't have to give a shit anymore about what people think of you because you've walked a path in life that includes success, sorrow, joy, contempt, and every other gamut of emotion. You have earned those (zebra) stripes. Or leopard spots, if you prefer. And you don't have to apologize for any of it.

And so there it is. This ridiculous looking zebra-print negligee - and it is ridiculous looking - is actually my emancipation from a life of denying the progress of time. It is a symbol of the hard-fought battle that has been my life up until this point. It is a mark of all the successes and defeats that I have had. It is...

Oh, who the hell am I kidding. It is a ridiculously ugly zebra-print negligee and I really don't know why I own it, or why I packed it instead of one of the other more me-like sleepwear outfits I own. But I did. And I'm wearing it. And I am quite sure that I would have never worn it in my late 20s or early 30s.

But I'm not in my late 20s or early 30s anymore. I'm knocking on the door of 40. And it's probably time that I start being proud of that.

So bring on the damn animal print.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Over half of my life...

I was 3 months shy of my 18th birthday when I left the sleepy prairie town of Killarney, Manitoba to come to the University of Ottawa. I stuffed everything that I owned - which at the time consisted of clothing, my c.d. collection (made up mostly of REM, the Tragically Hip and Pearl Jam), and 17 volumes of my adolescent diary - into the back seat of an already-crammed 1980-something Ford Mustang. Already crammed because my friend Harley, the owner of said mustang, was coming with me to Ottawa to attend Carleton University (where the K stands for Kwality, as we UofO'ers like to say).

The night before we left, a tornado ripped through Harley's family's farm, knocking down trees and whipping bails of hay around like ping-pong balls. But that little mustang survived unscathed, and we pulled out of town on the eve of September long weekend, 1994 with not a c.d. or diary out of place. Perhaps this was an early sign that Ottawa was my destiny. Even though I didn't know it then.

Frankly, I didn't know much then. I was, after all, only 17 years old. I was a small-town girl. I had a high-school sweetheart. The school from which I had just graduated had 700 students from kindergarten to grade 12. The town's population hovered around 2,000 people - 1,996 of whom were white-Anglo Saxon protestant (the Chinese restaurant was owned by a Vietnamese family). There was nothing by way of cultural diversity. There was nothing remotely metropolitan. There was nothing to prepare me for a move halfway across the country to a campus that I would share with 40,000 or so other students from every corner of the world.

I was scared shitless.

Those first few weeks were difficult. I missed my boyfriend. I missed my high school friends. I missed my parents. I missed my dog. I even missed my pain-in-the-ass siblings. I missed looking up at night and seeing a million stars. I missed wide-open spaces and big prairie skies. I missed the sound of silence. I missed dry heat and dryer cold. I felt like a complete stranger everywhere that I went. I kept getting lost on campus because I couldn't (and still can't) read maps. I was no longer one of the smartest kids in any of my classes. Everything was just so different. I was just so different. And I felt alone.

But that loneliness didn't last. Ever the extrovert, it didn't take long for me to start reaching out to the people around me. In the process, I met some wonderful people who introduced me to new cultures, taught me how to play euchre, got me into a lot of trouble, and nursed me through heartaches. Block by block, I explored the city of Ottawa and discovered its many treasures: the locks of the Rideau Canal, Parliament Hill, green spaces like Strathcona Park, the nightlife of the Byward Market, unique neighbourhoods, the hiking trails in nearby Gatineau Park. I voted in my first election. I became an adult. I got my first real job as soon as I graduated, and rented my first apartment all to myself, becoming an independent, contributing member of society. Eventually, I joined the public service. Not long after that, I met Hubby. We bought our first house together in Little Italy. I went back to school at St. Paul University for a Masters degree. Hubby and I got married. We adopted our pets. I chose the REDBLACKS over the Blue Bombers.

I don't remember the exact moment that I decided to make my life here in Ottawa. (Although I suspect that meeting Hubby tipped the scales heavily in that favour). But at some point I just knew that this is where I was meant to stay. I still miss the dry cold and the stars and the wheat fields and the skyline of the Prairies. I still miss my family fiercely. But I can't imagine a life that would take me away from this city. The place where I truly discovered myself.

Twenty-one years ago, on the eve of September long weekend, a girl climbed into the passenger seat of a crammed 1980-something Mustang to drive halfway across the country. Little did she know that this Mustang was taking her home.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

All grown up

Dear M,

I remember the first day that I met you. You were 3 weeks old. You had these really long, skinny legs and long, skinny arms. Your hair was so blond that you looked bald. You either slept or cried. Frankly, you weren't that much to look at.

But my god, did I ever fall in love with you. From the very first moment that your mother laid you in my arms, I knew that I would love you fiercely.

I loved you when you made me watch Teletubbies a thousand times, and then made me dance around the living room while you sang, "Tubbies, auntie! Tubbies!"

I loved you when we had our very first sleepover, and you told me that we had to sleep in your mom and dad's bed because "Your butt is too big for my bed, auntie."

I loved you when you were so excited to be a flower girl in your parent's wedding.

I loved you when you yelled at me for cutting off my hair.

I loved you when your little brother came into this world, and I watched as you enthusiastically embraced the role of big sister.

I loved you when, before you met Hubby for the first time, you asked if he was as tall as your dad, and when I said, "No," you asked if he was a midget. Because everybody shorter than your 6'3" father was tiny in your daddy's-little-girl eyes.

I loved you as I watched you goaltend in hockey, goalkeep in soccer, and tear it up on the basketball court. (That was me squealing when you got Female Athlete of the Year at your graduation, by the way.)

I loved you so much when you stood beside me as one of my bridesmaid's on my wedding day, when I got to see for the first time what you would look like when you became a woman. You took my breath away.

And now, you are a woman. Eighteen years old, graduated from high school, and about to embark on the adventure that is university. Over the past 18 years I have watched you grow from a kind, generous, intelligent, curious, and strong girl to a kind, generous, intelligent, curious and strong woman. When did it happen?

In the blink of an eye. A very teary eye...

M, being an aunt - being your aunt - has been one of the best roles that I have had in this life. And not just because I got to give you back to your parents when you were screaming for a diaper change. Or when you were throwing a tantrum. Or when you and your brother were fighting. But because there is a truly special relationship that develops between a niece and an aunt, especially from this point forward. I am no longer just another adult looking over your shoulder. I hope to be your friend, your confidant, someone that you can just have a drink with and talk about life. This is what I now have with my aunties. And it is a special bond unlike any other.

And so, from one friend to another, let me leave you with a few tips as you begin to write the next chapter in your life:

- Wear sunscreen on your face and your hands every day. Even in the winter. You don't think about it now because you are young and beautiful. But I promise you that when you are knocking on 40s door, and counting the spots on the back of your hands and the wrinkles around your eyes, you are going to wish like hell that you had bathed in SPF every single day.

- President's Choice white cheddar macaroni and cheese kicks Kraft Dinner's ass every time.

- It's okay if you skip a class every now and then. Just don't skip so many that you end up with an "incomplete" on your transcript, which will dog you for the rest of your undergrad.

- Make new friends. In university, you will meet people from so many diverse and unique backgrounds. They will enrich your life in ways that you never knew were possible.

- Keep old friends. They remind you of who you are and where you come from.

- Sometimes, after your heart has been broken or you bombed an assignment, you just need a really good cry.

- Create a playlist of breakup songs. Because when you break up with someone, I promise you that you will want nothing more than to listen to breakup songs on repeat. Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me got me through more than one broken heart.

- Surround yourself with people who make you laugh until your cheeks hurt and until you have tears streaming down your cheeks.

- If you ever use a friend's I.D. to get into a bar (in a province where you aren't of legal drinking age), make sure that said friend doesn't work at said bar... THAT will get you into a lot of trouble.

- Form and voice your own opinions. Engage in debate. Exchange ideas. Defend your point of view. Be passionate about all of the things that you believe in. Even if you're wrong.

- Learn new things outside of the classroom. Like how to play euchre and pool.

- Learn to like beer, because it is always the cheapest drink in the campus bar. And at the liquor store. Which will start to matter when money runs low. It's an acquired taste, but you will learn to love it if you practice enough.

- Find balance. Take a study break to grab a drink with a friend, or to go for a run, or to read a silly novel.

- All-nighters are always better with coffee, snacks, and a good friend to share your procrastination pain.

- Love fiercely, even if it hurts. There truly is no other way to love.

I love you to all the way to Ottawa and back.

Auntie Jay.