Saturday, November 15, 2008

On the Moon

So if I should visit the moon
Well, I'll dance on a moonbeam and then
I will make a wish on a star
And I'll wish I was home once again
Though I'd like to look down at the earth from above
I would miss all the places and people I love
So although I may go I'll be coming home soon
'Cause I don't want to live on the moon
No, I don't want to live on the moon
- Ernie, Sesame Street

July 28th, 2007

I woke up feeling like butterflies were having a race around my stomach.

One more day.

I looked around the room, remembering the night I moved in: Crying again. It was amazing that every move since getting off the plane was accompanied with tears. That night though, I felt more alone than I ever have. I felt cut-off from the world. Or at least the one I knew.

Somewhere on the other side of the ocean, the people I loved were at work, having dinner with family, shopping, playing with their children, watching TV, and doing all of the things they do every day. Somewhere on the other side of the ocean was Jeremy, who I would not see for 4 months. I couldn't even think about it then.

Whenever I talked to people in Canada, it felt like they were on the other side of a tunnel - I could imagine their faces and homes and picture places they would talk about, but it was all with the sense of being very far away.

My landlady was friendly and kind, but we weren't really friends and she and her son liked spending time "just the two of them". After a life full of people to talk to, I found myself in a bubble. People all around me, on buses and trains, in the shops and even at work - all inter-twined with their relationships and connections. For the first time, I had no connections other than the very new friendships with co-workers and a girl who lived in the same building in Bayswater.

I looked around the room full of piles of clothes and the rest of my possessions, sniffing as I realized it would be home for the next few months.

Well, not "home" really.

It was time to finish packing. Lots to do before the day ended. I looked at the piles of clothes and souvenirs and sighed at the thought of how much extra money this was going to cost. Flying back home after being away for a year meant much heavier bags than normal. Which of course, meant more money spent.

While I was packing a mug I'd gotten at the Les Miserables performance, it suddenly hit me that I was going HOME.

No more countdowns or phone calls saying "I miss you". No more hearing babies laughing or crying in the background and wondering how big they'd gotten or if they'd remember me at all. No more holidays filled with "un-traditional traditions" designed to make the distance from family matter less.

The last day flew by. My clothes for the flight were laid out, suitcases packed, taxi arrangements made, alarms were set. Next on my list was saying good-bye to Kelly and her family. She lived near the school we'd both worked at and had become my closest friend in England. Since she didn't have access to the Internet, I had a feeling we wouldn't keep in touch easily. We had a last glass of Pinot Grigio out in her garden, talking about what things would be like at the school next year, and our recent trip to Newquay, in Cornwall. I wanted to ask her why she was so afraid of the dark, but I didn't want to spoil our last afternoon. While we sat in the sun and talked, she chain-smoked and mused about what to make for dinner. (I remember thinking that I'd never again have a glass of Pino Grigio without thinking of her. And I haven't. Her story is for another day though.)

Walking away from her house in Walthamstow, I wiped the tears out of my eyes and stared at the homes around me. Wanting to remember every detail of the world I had temporarily become a part of. A world that respected me just because I was a Teacher, full of people who had barely finished high school and honestly believed I was brilliant just because of my profession. A world of graffiti on crumbling brick walls, fenced in schools, vandalized bus stops, and teenagers playing loud tinny-sounding music from their mobile phones. It was so different here. Houses close together, with tiny lawns if they had any at all. Everything was very close together. Even the fence of our school was right up against the teeny back gardens of the houses on the next road.

When I close my eyes I can remember it perfectly.

I rode the bus for the last time into Hackney, committing to memory the roundabout and pond, the bridge over the river I'd never learned the name of and the little old pub that sat on its banks. One thing I knew I'd miss about London was riding at the top of the buses. The views were always better from higher up. I walked past the off-license where I'd picked up a large bottle of rum on my first night in Hackney, past the fabulous kabob house (hands down the best shish kabobs and shwarmas EVER) and onto the street where I'd lived for 3 months.

Roses were blooming in the gardens again. Spring and summer were beautiful in London - even in poor areas like this. Every yard in our neighbourhood, no matter the size, had flowers and trees. Usually roses. My landlady had white roses in her back garden, along with lavender and several other flowers I couldn't name.

At this time tomorrow, I'll be on the plane.

Shaking off the fear that is the constant companion of thoughts of flight, I turned back around to get dinner from the kabob house one last time.

The guys behind the counter knew me fairly well - I'd been a regular in their shop for 3 months now, often chatting with them while waiting for my order. When they found out I was going back to Canada, they started talking about Canadians and how great we are. They called us smart and kind and both said they would love to see our country because it must be beautiful.

"It is", I said with a smile.

In 24 hours I'll be on the other side of the ocean. It's amazing to think that. Imagine that right now I'm in England and tomorrow I'll be in Canada. Amazing when it's so far away.

Nothing felt completely real anymore. It was almost like I was just going through the motions, but was already gone.

One more goodbye to go.

Walking into the house with my takeaway in hand, I realized nobody was there. When I got to the room upstairs, I pulled upon my laptop, opened the window beside my desk, and chatted with Jeremy while eating and watching TV reruns on a website I'd discovered when we first got here. I loved that window. It had a huge frame that was exactly the same height as the desk chair, meaning a person could sit in the chair with the window open, and rest their feet or legs on the sill while typing on the computer (or watching TV). It was my favourite thing about the house in Hackney.

I tried to think about London as the Amazing Adventure we'd set out to have. But all I could think about was how much I missed home. After a year of being 'foreign', I wondered if people in Canada would see me differently. And how long it would be before I felt settled again.

Naomi arrived home a little while after I'd finished dinner. We'd made plans for tea in her back garden after dark. She had all sorts of cool little candles and a silver teapot that was meant to brew loose teas. That evening she had decided to make Moroccan tea. Using fresh mint right from her garden, she brewed a tea that was unlike anything I'd had before or since.

And while we sat there, talking and sipping tea from tiny little cups beside saucers of biscuits she'd picked up from a shop in the Market, I finally relaxed. The long day was over, as was the wait. Tomorrow morning I would wake up, shower, get dressed, and catch a minicab to Gatwick Airport.

I'd leave England very differently than how we'd arrived. When we landed, we had no clue what the hell we were doing. We caught trains and managed with the help of strangers to get our five giant bags on and off trains, up and down huge flights of stairs, all the while trying to absorb the fact that everybody was speaking with a British accent all of a sudden.

"You know what's interesting? When I was a kid, we used to have saunas on our lake in the summertime and I'd always look up at the stars to find the Big Dipper. Since then, no matter where I've been, I've always tried to find it. For some reason seeing it up there makes me feel connected with home. But I haven't seen it once since we moved here."

"Really?! Um. It's right there."

And there it was. Stars shining more brightly as the sky darkened, a shape I'd been seeing for years. Not once had I noticed it from the garden or anywhere else in England. "Oh wow - there it is. And now I'm going home".

Naomi was understanding enough to let me sit there in silence.

When we packed up the tea set and gathered the candles, I followed her back into the house. But not without turning to look one last time.

The next morning was a blur. I remember bits and pieces of the morning, riding in the minicab past fields of black & white cows, waiting in a long time at the airport, chatting with fellow passengers on the plane.

When the pilot announced we were flying over Newfoundland, I looked down through the clouds. There is was.

I feel like I've been living inside of a movie. Or on another planet. It's all been so far away and I've missed it so much. I got to see Paris. I got to live in an amazing city for almost a full year. Some amazing memories were made. It's funny that it's already starting to feel far away.

It was like flying from one life into another.

I might not have danced on moonbeams, but I swam in the English Channel, collected shells on the Atlantic coast and wandered over fields near King Arthur's castle. I'd seen the Crown Jewels, walked through the Tower Of London, and spent afternoons in the sun in Hyde Park. I'd watched vendors on Portobello Road shout out prices while old ladies peddled bundles of flowers. I'd wandered past dozens of flower shops along the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. I'd seen places so beautiful that the only thing I could do was stare. Circling towards Pearson Airport in Toronto, I didn't think of those things.

Only one thought kept repeating: I'm home.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Meet Darwin

The newest addition to our household is a two and a half month old ball of fuzzy orange sweetness.

After 6 months of cat-sitting for Hunter, the Big Orange Kitty (some of you may recall it was supposed to be for 3 weeks), we bundled him into a cat carrier and amid yowls of irritation drove him back to his owner. The poor cat had no idea what was going on and basically yelled the whole time he was in the carrier. Luckily he remembered his sister right away and probably settled into his new place much more easily than when he moved in with us.

UPDATE: The morning after I wrote this, we heard from Dylan that he and his girlfriend were treated to the same craziness that accompanied Hunter's move-in with us. Screaming, loud growls, yowling and hissing all night long...

We laughed about the reaction Chase was going to have when we left with a Big Orange Kitty and returned with a Small Orange Kitty. Yet another orange kitty who made it very clear that he did NOT want to be friends.

The two of them are still trying to figure each other out.

Chase is definitely having an easier time with the Small Orange Kitty. Most likely because this one isn't screaming in his face or growling madly. He does hiss a lot and arches his little back to make himself an even bigger ball of fluff, but Chase just seems amused. He hisses right back but it's almost to say "meh, I'm bigger, so bring it on little man!"

Despite the hissing, Darwin already follows Chase around the apartment and really wants his attention. They've gone nose-to-nose a couple of times without any hissing, but it'll probably be awhile before they become friends.

Right now it's easy taking care of this little guy because he sleeps a lot. When he's awake, he runs around everywhere, attacks my plants, tries to eat food that's not for him, and plays with things he's not supposed to (like the power cable for my laptop).

Can't wait to see what happens when he tries catnip for the first time...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


After all of my rants (both verbal and written) and opinions, I'm speechless. I don't think I've caught up with the magnitude of what happened tonight.

Ann Curry from msnbc said "it's a new day".

I think she's right.

Monday, November 03, 2008

History in the Making

I'm very jealous of all of you Americans out there tonight.


You get to make history tomorrow.

Today, I read on that regardless who wins the Presidential election tomorrow, history will be made. Either a huge upset by John McCain, the likes of which have never really been seen, or the first Black President. Obviously, I have my opinion, which is that Barack Obama should be the winner. I've made no secret of this, and even here in Canada have had some pretty heated conversations about an election that we have absolutely nothing to do with.

Yet we're all captivated.

And we all have an opinion: "Obama isn't trustworthy." "He's a liar". "He's not experienced enough". "He hangs out with some pretty scary people." (It's amazing to hear people I know say things like that.) The other side is saying "Obama is amazing." "I haven't seen a leader like him since Kennedy." "He's intelligent and has what they need to really change things for the better."

Most people only know what they see on TV or read online, right? Since political TV ads force their way across the border into Canuck living rooms from St. John to Victoria while we watch NBC or other stations, we have all seen more than our share of commercials praising or bashing the Presidential candidate(s).

And we all agree that what happens in the USA will have a significant impact on Canada.

Regardless of what it means here, I can only imagine what the millions of Americans are feeling as they approach this Election Day. The pride you see on people's faces as they vote is foreign to me. Here, we vote as a duty. I don't know anybody who is excited to vote. Not one person acted like it was much of a big deal at all. Most of us said it was choosing a lesser evil.

And then you watch a rally with 20,000 people cheering and smiling and singing as one man stands with a microphone, talking about the future he wants for his country. You hear the journalists' comments about the intensity and furor surrounding his campaign. You see people inspired enough to send $5 or $10 a couple of times a month in support of a politician because they know every dollar will count and they want their voices heard.

Say what you will about spending millions in TV advertising or whatever else. There is a reason that Barack Obama has built such a strong base of support. There is a reason he's earned so much money. There is a reason he can fill football arenas with cheering people.

A few days after the Democratic convention ended, I found a video on Obama's YouTube site showing things that happened behind the scenes. What struck me most about the video was a scene of Obama watching his wife give her speech in front of thousands of people. He was sitting in somebody's living room, spellbound and staring. As she spoke, she mentioned that he was the same man she'd fallen in love with all of those years ago - a poignant moment made even more so when the camera focused in on his hands. Suddenly this politician became just a guy to me - turning his wedding ring around and around as he watched his wife on TV - far away. It looked like all he wanted to do was be with her.

Later in the video, Michelle Obama is sitting in the screaming audience, looking around in a daze as people chant her husband's name. Awestruck, she mouths "whoa" before looking at him up on the stage.

It's hard to put yourself in their places. To try and understand what it would feel like to watch the guy you married inspire millions of people to vote him as their leader. To be the dad who takes his kids out for Halloween, but can't be alone with them because there are cameras following his every move.

There have been a few flashes of the Normal Guy that lives in John McCain too, albeit few and far between... When he took the microphone away from a woman at one of his rallies to correct her statement about Obama being "an Arab", then going on to call him a 'good, humble man' and further saying he would be a good President - you could see the person under the rhetoric. The third time I saw that clip (it was on the news a lot) I noticed McCain's eyes - he almost looked afraid of what was happening.

The problem is, when you spend time and money spreading messages like "palling around with terrorists" or "dangerously unprepared" about somebody, eventually a group of people are going to repeat those messages. Yes, you might win their votes, but you've also created a Frankenstein. People who hate Obama really hate him. They're scared and furious. This is somebody's fault, and sadly the blame lies mainly with McCain and his campaign. Launching negative TV ads and "robo-calls" is such a natural part of politics that most people just roll their eyes and change the channel. This is because usually it's some kind of policy attack, like "my opponent will raise your taxes!" or "he'll cut military spending!" You do not usually hear things like "terrorist". After that can of worms was opened, Mr. McCain and his running mate had a choice: tell people the same thing McCain said to that lady - that Obama is a good guy too, but he has policies and plans that we don't like or agree with, or let them yell and get more and more pissed off.

Anybody following this election knows which direction they went.

The other say, Sen. Obama provided the best example of dealing with a raucous crowd. Upon mentioning his opponent's name, everybody started loudly booing. Instead of smiling and inciting them to more noisy booing / cheering, Obama raised his arm and said "You don't have to boo, just VOTE."

And here we have the classy way of dealing with things.

I didn't want to care this much about this election, but if the results end in anything other than a landslide for Obama, I will genuinely be concerned about the people who live south of us. Again, he is NOT perfect and he won't be a perfect leader. But his knowledge, skills, compassion, intensity, and pure class hold him waaay above his opponent. Everybody knows McCain's campaign has been condoning lies and smears about Obama. Not his politics either. His PERSON. How any intelligent person can watch such a thing and not only swallow this ridiculous rhetoric, but agree with it is beyond me. Yes, we are all entitled to our own opinions, but this time, it seems like Obama is the obvious choice.

You might have a young President who will make mistakes from time to time, as he has inherited a country with lots of potholes and problems, but I don't think anybody can disagree with the fact that Barack Obama wants what is best for his country and that he'll work with anybody necessary to change things for the better. And no, I don't mean terrorists. John McCain might also want what is best, but I honestly believe he has gone down a very wrong and dangerous path to get there. He has hurt people instead of helped them, and scared people instead of inspired them. He might be a war hero, but his actions this past year have been anything but heroic.

And so, on the eve of Election Day, I wish I could vote. Since I can't, I pray that every person who is able, gets out to do so tomorrow.

Good luck.