Thursday, December 27, 2007

1256 kilometers later...

First off, I need to send out a very special HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
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 gr
ow 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 y
ears 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):

Can you feel the love?

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.

Christmas Eve

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!

Monday, December 17, 2007

In which an anniversary goes unannounced, snow falls, and somebody's Christmas spirit is found

Warning: this just might be my longest blog post ever. I've got lots to say and several unwritten posts to make up for...

On December 7th, my blog became two years old.

I originally started writing here as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family while working through teacher's college in Windsor, and a way to try and improve my writing. With visions of insightful, funny, and original posts to entertain the masses, I plodded forward with stories of my nephews (then newborn), experiences with teaching and university, and eventually my struggles to decide where to go after graduation.

Then London happened.

The city I'd never really wanted to see suddenly became the chosen destination for my Big Break. It's ironic that we never even looked into Paris or Rome or any other city in Europe, because England was not even on my Top 5 Countries to Visit list.

But off we went on our adventure, me utterly terrified, but excited to have a REAL teaching job - not just being stuck volunteering and working through minimum wage jobs to claw my way onto the supply list for some school board (which is exactly what I'm doing now of course). I had very high hopes and despite the (sometimes overwhelming) fear was willing to take a chance.

Last year could easily be defined as a flop for me, professionally-speaking, since I haven't exactly reaped the benefits of 9 months of very hard work at a full-time classroom teacher. I barely made enough money to support Jeremy and I, he had to move back to Canada 4 and a half months before I did, and we're now in so much debt that we'll be in our 40's still paying it off. The closest I'm getting to teaching is working for wonderful Mad Science, and enjoying the brief hour-long sessions with my classes on a weekly basis. It's a fantastic job, but walking through the corridors of the schools with my kits each week, I hear the teachers calling their kids to order, doing attendance, or following their other routines and it hits me like a punch to the stomach: this job might be fun, but when am I going to be back in a classroom again?

On a personal note, returning here to London, Ontario has also been hard. My friends all became more entrenched in their own lives, working, caring for their children, etc., and it's felt very strange coming back into some friendships after they've gotten used to me not being there. I make the bulk of the phone calls, and sometimes it seems like if I don't call some of them, we'll just stop talking altogether. It's one of the life's realities that I hate the most - that drifting apart from people who used to be such a big part of your life. Coming back to a city that we left two years ago has only magnified the fact that some of those old friendships are better left in the past.

On my Blog-versary, I sat down to write a post about all of the things that had happened since I started writing here, and instead of feeling proud and nostalgic, I started feeling regret and even a little bit of resentment towards all of the things that have gone wrong (very unlike me). I realized that while things haven't exactly been going badly (despite being fired from my job awhile back), I couldn't remember that last time I'd felt really happy for an extended period of time. That was when I started feeling even more depressed.

Then, I heard a loud BANG! and a plaintive "meeooooooooowwwwwwwwwwww" coming from the other side of the living room. Our cat had apparently fallen asleep in a box balanced on top of another box, which had tipped over and landed on its side when he shifted in his sleep. Without thinking, I grabbed for my camera just in time for him to see me, jump up and run over (meowing pitifully all the way) to me for some attention. Stifling a laugh, I tried to take his picture, but he wouldn't hold still for me. Finally I settled down with him on my lap, purring happily (and probably hoping nothing would tip over if he passed out again) while I deleted the blurry pictures.

And noticed that I had taken over 8,000 of them since I got my camera two years ago.

Like this one of my cat sleeping on Jeremy's lap - demonstrating the fact that he can pass out in any position, including with his face planted on the couch and ass up in the air - and yes, he's dead asleep here.

I'm no math whiz, but quickly my mind started calculating the fact that 8,000 times in two years I saw something beautiful enough or interesting enough that I wanted to capture it in a picture. Since my camera often stays at home, those 8,000 pictures probably represent about a third (maybe even less) of the the times that I wished I had my camera. So that means that about 12,000 times a year. This happy little bit of math means that about 32.8 times a DAY something happened that was picture-worthy.

Despite the fact that I often take 20 pictures of the same thing - this math is still somewhat logical, because I also delete a LOT of pictures too.

Thanks to my sweet little cat, I started focusing on the positive and spent hours looking at pictures from Paris, London, and all over Ontario - with smiles and tears and the realization that things were not as bad as they seemed.

I'm not saying that things have suddenly become perfect and I'm not feeling blue anymore. But that sadness and frustration was put very much in perspective.

Pick up a pebble from the ground and hold it up to your eye
As tiny as it is, the pebble will block your view of the world around you
When you put it back down on the ground, you can see it for what it is:
a tiny bump in eternity
- anonymous

Okay, so maybe this isn't a picture of a pebble, but the penny seems more appropriate at this time
since money has recently become the bane of my existence (and I just happened to have this picture
handy from when I first got this camera)

Reality intruded after a few days of peace and knocked me over the head - in the form of 35cm of snow. Having been born and raised in Northern Ontario, I hate the idea of a Christmas that isn't white, so at first I was thrilled to curl up with a good book (or three) and watch the flakes pile higher and higher in the street outside.

Sunday morning brought a major winter storm warning that we would most certainly get a hell of a lot of snow in a 24 hour period. People were told to stay off the roads and travel everywhere became a nightmare. Flights canceled, roads closed, and travelers booking motel rooms to get out of the storm. Just for fun I brushed off my car with our broom in the morning to see just how much would fall through the day (the answer: a LOT). When I pushed open the door to laugh at how much had accumulated, the phone rang and ruined my joy at having snow to play in and a white Christmas.

"Hi Melinda? I'm just calling to let you know that we are not responsible for snow removal and so you and the others in the house will have to work out something to get yourselves dug out", said my landlady in a no-nonsense tone.

Putting aside how incredibly UNCOOL it is to spring news like that on a person who's just been through a major blizzard - the issue of snow removal had never been brought up before and our landlady and her husband had bragged about their upkeep of the yard through the summer - so we had just assumed that snow removal was part of the package. Unfortunately there was nothing in the lease about this, and the Ontario Landlord-Tenant Act doesn't deal with this issue either. The only thing that supports us is the statement that landlords are required by law to ensure safe entry and exit of the building.

I tuned out the sound of her voice telling me about how Oakville got even more snow than London and how tired they were from shoveling. As if I give a damn about them taking care of the driveway at the house they own while they make a $10,000 profit from us living here. They refused to consider paying somebody and she didn't respond to my offer of Jeremy and I shoveling to save everybody the trouble of sorting out who would shovel where and when with our fellow tenants.

Around 6pm the snow stopped and the sounds of snowblowers and plows filled the winter air. People took walks through the neighborhood and commiserated about how much shoveling sucks and how long it would be before the City plowed our roads. Armed with shovels, the girl who lives downstairs and myself went out to start shoveling (Jeremy would be taking the second shift). After 5 minutes, we realized the job was much bigger than we'd thought, and she started muttering something about just paying for a damn plow to dig us out. While explaining that Jeremy and I couldn't afford it, we heard another snowblower start up nearby.

Figuring that nothing was gained by keeping quiet - I shouted out that we were looking for some help and "how much would it be worth to bring the snowblower over here for a bit?" The Snowblower Guy (who we later found is called Jason) said he'd finish his driveway and come around the block. When he got to our place, we were already exhausted and cheered as he pushed his way down the street. It took him less than 20 minutes to clear our entire driveway AND parking lot. When he was finished, we tried to pay him, but he wouldn't take any money.

I love that about people - whenever weather or something major strikes, you can always count on some helpful strangers. We marched inside, pulled off the winter gear and poured ourselves a drink while I measured out ingredients for chocolate chip cookies. 30 minutes (and one more drink) later, I had a batch of cookies piled onto a Christmas plate with a card for our helpful neighbour. We talked about putting money into a card for him, but decided not to, since he'd already insisted that it was no problem at all to help out.

This time of year there are angels all over the place... Jason wasn't just the nice guy who helped save me from pulling all of the muscles in my back - his kindness reminded me yet again that there are a lot of good things in the world, and that most people will take the time to help somebody who needs it.

Then there was the nice lady who held the door open for me while I struggled to push a shopping cart full of Mad Science equipment onto the elavator today. And the guy who let me in front of his car on the way to work this morning. And the boss who is giving me extra hours this week because she knows I'm strapped for cash. And the best friend who listened to me talk about my frustration about life in general - and offered her usual support and words of wisdom.

"You know Mel, it's bad right now, but you're right on the edge of getting to where you want to be. Just think - every day you go through this is one day closer to where you want to be."

Not sure how she got to be so wise at such a young age...

In a week, I'll be at home with my mom and dad, sipping a Spanish coffee (I hope) and enjoying every nuance of being home for Christmas: the smell of a turkey dinner, the taste of my mom's cookies, the sound of my parents bickering in their Old-Married-Couple way, the sight of my lake covered in snow.

Last year I cried on Christmas Day. There have been a lot of tears since, and I'm sure there are more to come, because hey - that's Life. It's not easy for anybody, and we sometimes have to fight to keep positive (for some, just to keep going).

The great thing about Life though? Tears wash away, and things lost (like one's Christmas spirit) can be found again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pay it Forward

I had another post planned for today, but something else came up...

This time of year, I wish I had more money - not for gifts or cute outfits to wear at parties, but so I can give back some of the kindness that people have shown me through the year. Usually this comes in the form of donating food or cash to various charities, but this year my bank account is hovering in it's overdraft, making financial donations just not possible.

So, to do my part this year, I'm encouraging everybody who is able to think about all of the people out there who are in need this Christmas and to try and do their part to help make the world a happier place.

If you don't know a charity to donate to, please visit Suldog's blog for an inspiring story about a woman who lost both of her legs and is now fundraising for prosthetic ones - she and many others like her would benefit so much from our help.

If you're in a situation similar to mine and can't afford to send money, maybe consider posting something on your own blog about a worthy charity, or tell the story of a person you know of who needs some help during this holiday season. I really believe that we can make a difference...

Thanks & be back tomorrow with my 2 year Blog-aversary post.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Happy Birthday to the only other person in the world who's seen When Harry Met Sally as many times as me

Laura and I have been friends since grade 9 - part of that gang of kids that I told you about who used to get together and play instruments, take road trips (sometimes called "band trips"), watch movies over and over again, and thought we were badass, but really weren't.

Today is Laura's 28th birthday. Being the hard worker she is, it's entirely possible that she's spending the day studying for another exam. She works full-time AND is studying to get her MBA with her hubby, Jay. I really hope the two of them are taking the evening off tonight!

(Laura is one of those people who works extremely hard but always knows how to have a good time (and not in the "for a good time, call ______ " kind of way). )

Laura & I in grade 10, hamming it up before attending our first Semi-formal dance

As I mentioned, we've traveled all over the place together. In grade 10, we were part of a small group of students who were chosen to be members of both the junior and senior concert bands at our high school. This meant a trip to Philadelphia with the junior concert band at the end of April, then another trip with the senior concert band to Calgary for Musicfest Canada (an amazing trip and competition that I've mentioned in previous posts). While we were in Calgary, we met up with an old family friend of hers and managed to cram ourselves into the Tiniest Picture Booth Ever to capture the moment:

As we've grown up (or grown bigger anyway), we've been through hookups, breakups, graduations, weddings, houses being bought, and babies being born. It's so great to be able to share experiences like that with somebody I've known since I was 13 years old.

Laura with Kim & Steve's little darling, Gordie. (Just before he realized that
Mommy wasn't holding him and started bawling)


I can't help but remember all of the great birthdays we've spent together over the years, and hope we'll go back to East Side Marios again sometime to eat that ridiculously decadent chocolate cake and have them embarass you with their singing.

We've been through a lot in the past 15 years (can you believe it's been THAT LONG?!),and I'm so glad that we're still friends after all of the ups and downs... I will never watch When Harry Met Sally without thinking of you, or hear anything by Moxy Fruvous or the BareNaked Ladies without remembering all of the times we sang their songs at the top of our lungs (in crazy places like Philly's town square). We survived high school drama, a very nasty watermelon bomb, several years of university, and living in different cities.

I'm so glad you're going to be one of my bridesmaids because it means we'll get to hang out more often. It truly wouldn't be right getting married without you being a part of things...

I hope you have a truly fabulous birthday (that doesn't involve studying anything other than a huge glass of wine!)

Love ya lots,

(A picture of Laura & her hubby on their honeymoon that I stole from her Facebook album. I
had no choice, since the last time we got together we drank a lot of champagne and the pictures are
all fuzzy for some reason.)


Monday, December 03, 2007

Happy 2nd Birthday!

two years ago today I shoved aside the textbook I was studying from and opened my email. There was a message waiting for me that changed my life...

Excerpt from last year's post:
I checked my email and sat in shock as I read your daddy's story about your birth. I still get tears in my eyes when I think about how scary that must have been for all of you... Nothing made me more miserable than not being ab
le to get in the car and drive to London after all of that happened. It made me dislike Exam Time even more... I did finally meet you though - and for the first time in my life was speechless as I looked at you and thought about how all of the history between us had lead right to this point: Meeting the son of two of my oldest and dearest friends for the very first time. A little boy whom I would love like a nephew, even though we're not related by blood. You were so tiny and quiet, but you opened your eyes to see who was holding you and in that moment I knew that my friendship with your parents was always going to be different. Because you are now a part of it too...

It's hard to believe that two years has passed already!

Gordie, you grew from being an adorable tiny baby into an adorable, active little boy with a big smile and lots of energy. Everytime I see you, you've got something new to say or show me - but one of my favourite things that you do is watch you play hockey. Every time you hit the ball against the cupboards and yell "GOAL!", it's impossible not to smile at you much fun you're having.

After missing two birthdays in a row, it was wonderful to be there and witness the look of awe in your eyes when we crowded around the table to sing Happy Birthday to you. Your mommy worked very hard on the delicious truck cake and I think your parents deserve a big thank you for throwing such a great party!

Selfishly, the best part of your party for me was when I walked in the door, you looked up and said "Hi Mininda!"

The fact that both you and your buddy Addis not only know who I am, but actually seem to LIKE who I am is nothing short of amazing.

You've got a lot of exciting things coming up this year - you'll probably start reading simple books, and will learn so much it'll astound all of the grownups who are around you. You'll get taller and be able to say hundreds of new words, and take dozens of other steps towards growing up. (For some great writing and videos chronicling the Life of Gord so far, visit his daddy's blog.)

You are a big reason why I love "Oh the Places You Will Go" by Dr. Suess. Right now you've got all of the potential in the world. You can literally be anything you set your mind to, and are so lucky to have two fantastic people to be your parents (and friends) along the way.

I promise to always be there if you need me. (And to get you cool (and educational) presents on your birthdays.)


Lots of love,

Auntie Mininda

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why Pink will always be better than Britney