1256 kilometers later...
This one is to a gorgeous 11-year old girl whose personality and joie de vivre will make the whole world love her. I've known her since she was 6 years old and have watched the adorable, angelic looking little girl grow up into a pre-teen already comfortable with who she is, and witty enough to make a room full of adults burst out laughing. Recently, she discovered photography and has proved to be very good at it. As a special gift to each family, she gave us photo albums with pictures she'd taken of us this summer. Pretty fabulous gift, huh?!
You make the adults around you forget sometimes that you're only 11 years old. I hope you know just how brilliant you are and that you will always stay true to yourself (even when it's hard to do that). The very first time I met you, I remember saying to Jeremy that I loved your spirit. It didn't take long after that to just love you.
Jeremy and I hope you had a very happy birthday and we miss you guys already!
See you soon :)
On to Christmas!
Last year was so bittersweet that the only way our Christmas this year could have been spoiled was if a blizzard arrived and stopped us from traveling.
We left a day early, stopping in Dunnville at Jeremy's grandparents' place. After a couple of hours in the car we were very happy to drop our bags in the guest bedroom and settle down with rum and cokes before dinner. The plan was for J's mom to join us for supper, then a few games of cards - a quiet night before the annual Christmas Eve party in Port Colborne.
After dinner, we decided to play "Screw Your Neighbour"; a fun but occasionally inflammatory (heehee) card game loosely based on euchre rules (without partners, but still using trump cards and trying to win tricks) where somebody always gets screwed over (hence the name).
For those of you who don't know my family (or Jeremy's) - we're all fairly competitive people, but my dad and J's mom, Laurie, are definitely the most competitive of all of us. Last summer, my dad challenged Laurie to a game of bocce, before which he spent an hour practicing before she got there. People probably heard them playing in the next town.
here's the picture of the result (I'll let you decide who won):
I honestly don't know who is more keen to win between the two of them - my dad refuses to play one of our favourite games because he lost so badly a couple of times. And while playing cards on Sunday night, my mother-in-law-to-be managed to make the word "fuck" last for about 16 syllables after losing a particularly stressful hand. Not sure if she'll ever play that game again, but if she does, I'm sure we'll be treated to another symphony of swear words and trash talk that would have had me running from the room if I didn't know how sweet and kind she actually is.
I woke up early in the morning, keeping my eyes closed as I remembered how it felt last year to awake in our teeny flat so far away from home. London at Christmas was a study in contrasts: decorations everywhere but no snow, people spending money everywhere, then side-stepping around the homeless while carrying their colourful bags. Discovering that the tree at Whitely's (a shopping center near our place) was used in one of the opening scenes of "Love, Actually" (one of my all-time favourite movies) and hearing an unearthly choir during midnight Mass at St Paul's Cathedral while missing my family and friends so much I kept getting teary-eyed.
We decided to walk part of the way back from St. Paul's that night, since we only had 20 pounds and the Tube was closed at 12:30. I won't ever understand how a huge city like that could shut down its main transportation system before the crowds leave midnight mass on Christmas Eve. There were literally thousands of people trying to leave at once, all of battling for a cab or trying to find a bus home. We walked past the crowds and down the quiet streets of London, where a few stragglers and tourists were also making their way home. Not sure how far we walked that night, but I was starting to get nervous as the streets became more deserted. When we saw a cab coming up the road, it seemed a lot safer to jump in and take our chances with the roads closer to home. When we explained to the cabbie that we only had 20 pound and needed to just get as far as that money would take us, he grinned, turned off his meter and said "I'm not putting such a pretty lady out in the streets at this time of night on Christmas Eve! Just give me the 20 and I'll take you home."
His kindness guaranteed our safe return home and walking in the door at 3am instead of 5am. I don't know if other cabbies would have done that, and yes, he got to pocket our fare, but that kind driver did us a huge favour that night. He also helped a very homesick me to feel better about the city we'd chosen to live in.
The calls to and from Canada were bittersweet and ended with me crying after each one ended. I swore to Jeremy that never again would we miss out on the traditions we'd come to love, and promised to be home for Christmas from then on.
On Christmas Eve, J's family all gather at Aunt Kim's in Port Colborne for dinner and drinks. The food is always incredible, Don Cherry's Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em plays on the television, there is lots of great conversation and at the end of the night, when everything has settled down again, a few of us take a bottle or two of champagne and sit in the hot tub on the back deck. My first year with them, it was freezing cold outside, I got to pop the champagne, and we all leaned back and grinned up at the stars as the water bubbled around us. Definitely one of my favourite Christmas traditions - we sit in the cold winter air, talking and joking around, settling into that blissful feeling that happens when you have nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the world around you.
Christmas morning is cups of strong coffee (necessary after 5 hours of sleep), presents being opened, lots of hugs and laughter, pictures taken, then a huge breakfast before Jeremy and I load up the car and drive to the lake. Usually he passes out halfway to Sudbury, so I get to sing along with Christmas music while driving up highway 400 - after leaving Barrie, there are very few radio stations, and most of them play nonstop Christmas music. This year, he stayed awake, so I got company as well as my carols. Traffic was great and we got to my parent's place in record time.
Then we get Part Two of our Christmas "morning": more presents and hugs, and gift wrap everywhere, this time with the scent of roast turkey in the air (instead of bacon and homefries). As much as I miss getting up Christmas morning at my parent's house, it's pretty great to do that twice in a day.
There are tons of new Christmas memories to add to my list: adding another member to the Hot Tub Gang on Christmas Eve, the fantastic drive up to Sudbury, walking on the frozen lake with my mom, getting to visit with my brother for more than 5 minutes, watching my dad lose at cards and NOT swear at anybody (always time for a miracle folks!), and spending time with an old friend. The food was fantastic, the drinks seemed to be perfectly mixed, hockey was on the TV a LOT, and I got to spend time with people I love.
I can't help but wonder what our Christmases will be like in five years - if we'll have any children
at that point and if our traditions will change once again. For right now, we're just enjoying our 1256 km trips because even if the distance was ten times that far it would still be worth it.
And finally, my favourite post-Christmas tradition:
As much as I love my Avs, this time of year is all about Team Canada and the World Junior Hockey Tournament. Seeing the best young players from around the world battle each other for a couple of weeks to find out which country is the best - while eating leftover turkey dinners and desserts. I usually get to see the first couple of games with my dad, which is always the best part, since he and I have bonded over hockey games for a very long time... Some of my favourite memories are watching the Sudbury Wolves play at "the Barn" and analyzing the games on the drive back to Capreol. Now many of the kids we cheered for (and often against) are playing in the NHL and making pretty big names for themselves.
The spirit of this tournament is captured perfectly on TV when the crowds in arenas all over the world each year are panned, showing a (ranging in size depending on which country) sea of red jerseys and maple leafs. There is always a contingent of Canadian fans in the cold, foreign arenas, usually surrounded by annoyed fans from other countries - all of whom wish Canada would just go away already. Three years in a ROW we've won the gold medal at this tournament, and the new group of boys representing our great nation are mainly 17-year old kids who were lucky enough to play together in the Super Series against Russia (where we beat them 7-0-1). They have mighty big shoes to fill, and an entire nation of hockey lovers to make proud.
I was proud of them before they started playing, simply because they battled already just to be able to wear our maple leaf on their jerseys.
Now, I'm even more proud.
This team only has 2 players returning from last year's tournament. The rest of them are new to the intensity and passion that rules the World Juniors every year, and will likely be surprised at the exposure they will receive just by participating. The few who will shine during this tournament will be always be remembered for the heart-stopping moments when they scored game-winning goals, made perfect passes, or saved flying pucks destined to end up in the net. The TSN commentators will spend hours examining and praising their skills, and highlight reels of their accomplishments will be added to videos of past WJC glories.
One of my favourite World Junior memories is from watching Dion Phaneuf shut down Alexander Ovechkin (a kid who is now amazing even the most skeptical hockey fans with moves like this), making him lose his temper and eventually leave a pivotal game, claiming a shoulder injury (he was back the next game against the USA).
The group of boys playing in Prague this year might not win the gold medal (or maybe they will...), but they have already started the tournament with 2 consecutive shut-outs and extending Team Canada's winning streak to 20 games.
At then end of today's win against Slovakia, our national anthem was played as the cameras moved across the faces of our team. Some were standing there grinning, others sung along, a few looked slightly dazed and tired. At the end of the line stood two kids who have already become big stories in this tournament: Stefan Legein and John Tavares, arms around one another, singing "O Canada" with beaming smiles as they proudly looked up at our flag.
I don't care what else they do this year as long as Team Canada continues to represent our great nation like that.
What is your favourite off-ice memory from the World Juniors?
Gord Miller: There are so many great off-ice moments, many of them spent in far-flung places with Bob McKenzie and Pierre McGuire, but one of my favourites is from the 2005 tournament in North Dakota.
Thousands of Canadian fans from Manitoba and Saskatchewan drove down for the games, but one night the highway was closed due to a snowstorm, meaning the fans could not return home. Local officials opened the domed football stadium, and nearly 5,000 fans spent the night there.
The officials later reported two things: that the Canadians pitched in and cleaned up the next morning, leaving the stadium in immaculate condition, and that they sold more beer that night than they sold in an entire season of North Dakota football.
I'm not sure which of those two things makes me prouder.(I'm not sure either)
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year's and a wonderful holiday to you all!!!
I hope you all are enjoying the holiday season!