Month Apart

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26 years ago, on this day, my life changed forever.

On the way to The Ottawa Civic Hospital, I begged and pleaded with my dad; he would have none of my 3 year-old politicking however.

I was anxious, but also nervous. I had known for months that this day was coming and I had no idea what to expect. Granted, I was 3 and was pretty short on life experiences. Up until this particular point, I had no memories of being in a hospital.

I had my favourite outfit on: a track suit; it was a big day after all. Yellow zip-up jacket, with Kelly green sleeves, and a moose patch on the left breast. The pants were matching green joggers.

My dad parked the car and we made our way to reception. As I mentioned, this day was a long time coming, so everyone was waiting for us. They told us which room to go to, and we started making our way.

My memory is hazy, but I remember walking into the room and seeing my mum there. Despite her exhausted expression, she had a big smile on her face. She told me to come over closer to her; she could tell I was nervous by my fidgeting.

They handed me a small bundle, my dad close by my side to help me keep it balanced. I tried with one final desperate plea to convince him:

“Are you SURE we can’t name her Oscar?!”

The bundle in my arms, was my new baby sister, Caroline. Born 3 years, 1 month (minus a day) after me.

Over the years, there’s probably been more bickering than cooperation. As the older brother, I was quick to try and establish my dominance over my younger sibling. Despite our quarrels, there have been many fun, beautiful, and precious memories, that I will cherish forever.

Some people have lots of siblings, and that’s great; having a full house can be very loving. I only have the one and for me, that’s perfect. There’s a closer bond I have with my sister, that I wouldn’t have gotten with others around. While we’ve certainly cursed each other’s existence at least a few times over the years, I hardly could imagine growing up without one of my best friends.

As has has been the case over the last dozen or so years, I won’t be there to celebrate with her. It gets harder with each passing milestone, to be so far away. Know, my dear sister, that I love you to the moon and back, and that I miss you terribly. I hope you have a wonderful birthday filled with many laughs, and lots of love.

Xoxo

Daisy Chains

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The year is quickly approaching its halfway mark.

I had big ambitions set in motion for 2014. It’s not to say that it’s too late to achieve them. It’s just that things got thrown on their side, leaving a less clear roadmap. There are still many days left on the calendar, most importantly: Summer Days.

I’m guilty of measuring the success of a year, by how much I enjoyed the summer. I think it stems from the expectations the weather builds. In the winter, you’re given a built in excuse to be a hermit. Most people won’t blame you for wanting to curl up indoors, with a nice book or cheesy movie. There are no excuses in the summer. How can you NOT want to go out and explore?

Last summer was, ok. I can’t really speak to any big events, big discoveries, or any exciting adventures. The closest was when Casey visited. He came in the Spring time however, so while it gave 2013 a decidedly sweet taste, it didn’t contribute to an awesome summer. Cue 2014.

Summer 2014 is all about re-connecting.

With nature:
I’ve been guilty of wasting opportunities to convene with the great outdoors. I live in a beautiful city that is surrounded by nature and wonder. School played an early part in this disconnection; excuses are so 2011 though. Hiking, camping, swimming, fishing, are all on the menu for this year. There’s also the promise of finally learning how to bike. (I may no longer have to be the only living boy in Vancouver, who can’t bike!)

With music:
I wouldn’t say I’ve detached from it. What would be more accurate, is that I’ve not immersed myself as wholly in it as in the past. Summer is great for music in Vancouver, and you can bet your boots I’ll be taking full advantage. There’s also Take #3 on a music blog. New blog, new vision, new collaborator. Someone who has the same creative excitement for this project as I do. Check it out if you fancy: Mellon Collie and The Infinite Playlist.

With writing:
Returning to this blog is hopefully the catalyst. I haven’t written consistently since high school. When I was battling the usual teenage angst and confusion, writing helped a lot. It’s soothing, relaxing, and can really help remove the clutter. This summer, even though I have no designs on being a published author, it’s time to re-connect pen to paper.

That leave the most important one for last:

People.

I don’t mean it in the literal sense of re-connecting old relationships. People come and go in your life, and while it’s hard to cope with at times, it’s just a part of being human. Re-connecting with people this summer means re-learning to make connections. This last year I’ve been a bit more reclusive; I’ve been far more closed-off to others. There are a number of reasons why, and it’s left my soul hungry for close human bonds. It can be very difficult to become transparent with others; I’m not usually one to show vulnerabilities. The thing is, when you are constantly surrounded with such amazing, loving, beautiful people, it becomes really difficult to keep your guard up. Why should I in any case? When you’re blessed enough to have great people in your life, you should only want to let them in.

One by one, I’ll find myself back in love with the things and people that fill my heart. One link at a time, until there’s a perfect crown of chains fit for a prince.

2014 is all about re-connecting.

It’s all about…

Grand things.

-DFP-

Fresh

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I’m sleeping on clean sheets tonight.

That is, if I manage to find sleep.

I haven’t blogged in a considerable amount of time. There are varying reasons, lack of topics being at the forefront. I had this vision of what I wanted to do with this blog when I started it. Simply, that there would be no vision, no structure, no purpose other than being an outlet to write. Posting would come when the mood struck. I felt at first that it was going well. Then it would tail off. I’d come back to the blogosphere, only to recently dive completely off the radar. I’ve been more forward and open emotionally than not, though I’ve managed to sneak the odd aloof post in. The problem is, I’m a critical thinker.

Critical in the sense that, I’m critical of the things I think about. Critical of the things I think I want to post about. There have been all kinds of things running through my brain, yet none of them seem to want to come out.

My heart’s been empty.
Sinking deep into despair, disbelief, impossibly lost and sad.

My heart’s been full.
Right to the brim. With love, happiness, laughter, delirious in the joy of that those around me have a knack of causing.

Because of those highs and lows, I’ve stayed away from the keyboard. Perhaps worried that I was too emotionally charged, or drained, to share anything…significant or otherwise. The spark to talk to the online world is back. For how long I don’t know.

Clean sheets, clean slate.

I can’t make any promises.

-DFP-

February 12th 2014 – Pay It Forward

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It seems that since I started this blog, family has been a major topic in my posts. Unfortunately, death has been a big reason and part of that.

There will be many people laid to rest throughout the world today. For various reasons and causes, it’s a fate that awaits us all. As far as I know, I didn’t know any of these people. There are countless voices and stories that I’ll never hear because of this. I’d like to focus on one very special person I never met though.

She’s special to me in a lot of ways, some of which I hardly know yet. While it’s regrettable that we will never be able to share a conversation, that feeling is mute in comparison to the loss her family has been feeling. People such as her form the bedrock for multiple relationships. They teach so much about the idea of unconditional love, of respect, and nurturing, without ever thinking about it. It’s what they do. These lessons are used everyday, and are eventually handed down through generations. It’s not hard to trace back why a person is the way they are.

One of the people shaped by her lessons, is very near and dear to me. I think it’s really easy to get wrapped up in a person, whether their it be their faults, or their strengths. It’s easier still, to forget those that have molded those people. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the happiness I do today, without her. I will eternally be thankful to her, for helping shape the person I know today.

I may not have had the privilege of meeting her, I will however hear stories. I will listen to reminiscing, be told many great details about her, and enjoy countless delicious recipes; lovingly handed down so that her spirit is never too far away. I wish I could be more eloquent, poetic, and perhaps a bit more thoughtful with these words. Perhaps it’s a task I should have reserved to my own internal musings. I think it’s really important to recognize when your world has lost a great person though.

Even if they were a complete stranger.

-DFP-

Because There Were Viva Puffs

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Man have I neglected this thing…so brace yourself, this is a LONG one.

When I started this, it was a forum to remove some clutter from my head. I also wanted to start writing again, even if it was mostly just train of thought, or anecdotes. I used to fill notebooks weekly in high school, and then it all kind of fizzled away. Maybe that’s just part of being young and naive. You have this false sense of pride in things you do because, at that age, you are so sure you’re adult, and mature, and right. Everything you create must be golden. The editor inside your head, he or she hasn’t been born yet. It’s a feeling I hope to rekindle some day.

Then, life suddenly got busy, so this got neglected.

Between taking an online course, tap classes, work, and trying to fit a social life in between, the clutter that’s usually in my head hasn’t formed. There hasn’t been time. Oh, and I finally started to write something again…

k asked me a few weeks back to write her a bedtime story. Of course, rather than let myself go unfiltered and come up with something on the spot, I delayed. Unlike some other writing projects however, (Hello Fairytale Rum-Runners novel and Short Stories about Superheroes in Mundane Jobs!), there’s been some pen to paper. Ok, so I’m not very deep or far into it. Heck, I didn’t even do a flow chart or any character in the rounds (Oh please no one tell Ms. Riddell!!). The point is, pen was put to paper. It’s helped calm my thoughts at night.

k also mentioned the other day that it’s probably about time I blogged on here. Considering I’ve paid more attention to our joint music blog…she’s probably right. I had intended to post something last night. Things got a bit out of sorts though, and the last 30 hours or so have been a bit of a blur. I’m not ready to bore with details…there’s a fair chance I never will be. I will however make use of this sleeplessness to at least write out my intended post from last night.

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I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know what or who extends past our mortal plain. I suppose for lack of a better term (because we are so obsessed with labels) most would call me an agnostic. I’m not a big fan of that term, primarily because it’s so rife with skepticism. Whatever tenants of my spirituality I do hold, are not ones that I struggle with or spend time weighing their validity. I think people have become so focused on boxing a person’s spirituality inside a preset religion (or concrete system of beliefs), and it really detracts from meaningful conversations on the topic.

I’m kind of getting side-tracked though. To start, that preamble should serve as a bit of disclaimer. This post relates to something that extend outside of the “rational” or “scientific” plane. If that’s not something you can handle without being critical, rude, or condescending…this post may not be for you.

ANYWAY…

Thursday was a long day. Since business has been slow at work (oh the joys of tourism dependant retail), I’ve been working on our inventory. We’re just a small shop, so the task seems pretty straightforward. The problem stems from the fact that in the owner’s 30 years of business, no one has bothered to do any inventory management. Last year, it took me 3 months to consolidate 30 years worth of inventory: repetitive SKUs, dead stock, improperly inputted stock, non-existent stock, while also accounting for everything that was ACTUALLY in the store. A year later, I find myself still trying to fight this awful demon.

After yet another full day of going through boxes upon boxes of junk that has been collected over the years, I was ready to go home. I was sore, hungry, and exhausted. My roommate Tara had her parents over for dinner. She made a lovely shrimp/crab sun dried tomato-pesto linguine, and when I got home she had put a plate aside for me. As I was sitting down to eat, Tara told me they were heading out and she was really sorry for the mess in the kitchen. Hey, your parents come over, a whirlwind of awesome cooking for them is going to leave a mess, right? She said: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it when I get back”.

There are 6 of us in the house for those who are not familiar with my living situation. Paul and Tara are basically the landlords, there’s myself, Rachel, Lyndsay, and Jessie. Lyndsay is one of Tara’s friends, and is also a member of P&T’s church, as is Rachel. Jessie is a home-stay student from China that they are hosting while she goes to school. We are an interesting, diverse, neat group to say the least. Everyone is usually pretty good at helping out when it comes to cleaning up…but hey, we all have our off days ;).

Thursday, I was quite content to have one of those “off days” and take Tara at her earlier word. I devoured my dinner, and decided I was just going to go crash with some Netflix. I felt a bit guilty though, and thought that I should at least put away the dishwasher. That way it would expedite the cleaning process for when P&T got home. We keep some of our Tupperware in the pantry. When I went to put it away, I noticed something I hadn’t seen in years…

When I was a kid, my Grandma was always sure to spoil us with treats. She almost always had a full tub of some sort of gummy treat. Most times when I would go over with my mum and sister for after dinner tea, we would eat the whole thing. Cookies were also a staple. Two in particular: Chips Ahoy! Chewy, which were my Uncle Raymond’s favourite. I thought he was the coolest growing up. He did tae-kwon-do, had a Turbografx video game system, and he had sweet hair and a million types of mousse just like Uncle Jesse on Full House. I usually headed straight for those. The other ones she usually had were Viva Puffs. You know, the ones with the marshmallow on top of a cookie, enrobed in chocolate with a fruit jelly? I was never too crazy about them, but Grandma always had them…so they were nostalgic.

…Viva Puffs. I honestly don’t think I had seen them in 12+ years. I’ve lived in this place for over a year, and I don’t recall anyone every buying them. Tara does all the grocery shopping (mostly stateside) as it’s easier for the household, rather than have 5-6 of us all buying different things.If you’ve read further back to older posts, you’ll know that my Grandma passed away in early December. I was immediately thrown through a loop. I had both a deep sense of sadness, but also a sense of closure. This all goes back to my preface. I don’t pretend to know what happens after a person passes. I’d like to think that our loved ones stay with us in some sort of way, watching over us, keeping us safe. This felt like a reminder, to know my Grandma is still with me.

So after indulging in one, I felt compelled to repay the favour. Sure, there’s no way Tara could have known about this when she bought them. I just felt such an overwhelming sense of love, regardless of the initial intention…or even lack thereof. No matter who you are, what you believe in, returning that feeling in kind is what everyone should concentrate on more often.

After finishing unloading the dishwasher, I loaded it up again. I ran another cycle, then washed all the other dishes. I cleaned the counters and stove, and wiped the dinner table. Finally, I took out the garbage, the recycling, and the compost, despite being completely wiped and grumpy…

…all because there were Viva Puffs.

-DFP-

Accomplished

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How do you measure them?

For some, it needs to be grandiose: getting their PhD., finishing a marathon, writing a novel. For others, what seem like simple tasks can give the same type of gratification: asking that cute girl out finally, saving up enough money for a trip, getting out of bed in the morning.

I tend to relate more to that second group of people. Which, if you talk to my family, or people who knew me in my youth (middle school), might surprise you. The world was my oyster so to speak when I when I was young. I could read by the age of two, I was conjugating verbs in Grade One (I went to a French language school), and I could spell better than anyone in my class by Grade Two. I was offered advance course-work in lieu of skipping a grade (which I didn’t want to do). I was added to an experimental integrated 4-5-6 class to test new teaching methods. Everything was gravy.

Somewhere along the line, academic accomplishments didn’t elicit the same type of response for me. I became complacent. My grades suffered, and here I am a 28 year old retail manager with no sheepskin to laud as an accomplishment of my educated mind. I’m not writing this to lament the “what-ifs” though…

I left home when I was 18 on really bad terms.

Really bad terms.

Like any strong-headed, testosterone-influenced, barely-adult male, I thought it was now my way, and MY highway. One of my dad’s favourite sayings growing up in regard to his rules was: “Like it, or lump it”. I’m not 100% sure to this day what “lump it” means. What I do know is that I would take many emotional lumps over the years after leaving. Perhaps I should have learned to “like it”. I thought I was ready to face the world; I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bridges can be mended over time though. Slowly, my parents and I have reached peaceful terms. I enjoy visiting them. I enjoy spending time with them. While I don’t get to go back as much as I would like (Thank you travel options in Canada), I cherish the times we do have.

My dad narrowly avoided a heart-attack about 7 years ago. Mum forced him to go to the hospital when he wasn’t feeling well after curling, and it ended up in an angioplasty. I had been home exactly once since I had moved to this point. Once in 3 years. I quickly packed my bags and caught the next manageable flight back to see if I could help.

Dad was doing mostly ok, but he was very lethargic. We didn’t really do much outside of having dinners at home. There was a night that my parents had planned to go see a concert. It was called “Guitar Women”, and featured several notable local blues guitarists: Sue Foley, Roxanne Potvin, Ellen McIlwaine, and Rachelle van Zanten. I had no plans that particular night, so Mum ended up taking me to dinner.

You have to understand, things were still really frosty by this point. When I say “bad terms”, I mean, I left a letter in the mailbox and jumped on a plane. I had never really been either a “momma’s boy” or “daddy’s boy”. I guess I spent as much time between the two enjoying my childhood. Dad was all about the sports and music, Mum took me to museums, galleries, and handled the crafts and art. I couldn’t remember the last time my Mum and I just “hung out”. It was nice though. She took me to dinner near the theatre where the concert was. We talked about a whole assortment of things: relationships, work, the family, and even politics. My Mum is a lot more well-read than I think a lot of people give her credit for. She reads a lot and tries to stay on top of what is going on in the world. After the show, we were both smiling and laughing.

I really can’t over-emphasize the importance of that last part.

Laughing and smiling.

This is something I had felt would never be restored to our relationship as mother-son. There’d been so much damage done by my leaving, and lack of communication over the years, the visit to that point had felt like an obligation. This was the catalyst for repairing things between my parents.

Which brings me back to accomplishments. Sometimes you feel like perhaps you haven’t accomplished as much as you would have liked or were “supposed to”. I think it’s really important to step outside of what is considered a “societal achievement”, and look for the little things to be proud of in life.

I think we’re all guilty of taking for granted how powerful such small accomplishments are. Our parents spend so much time and effort fussing over us, making sure we’re safe, happy, and secure. We often forget to think of the importance of showing them how much we value them in our lives. Restoring a happy, healthy, and loving relationship with my parents, regardless of how often we get to see each other, is a really big feather in my cap.

Maybe I don’t have a fancy diploma, a rad sports-car, and have never been all over Europe.

Maybe I don’t need to have all those things to feel like I have a full life.

I miss you Mum
DFP

All We Are Is Memories

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Grandma’s funeral is today.

Due to many factors including time, distance, and money, I won’t be able to attend the service.

I’ve spent a great deal of the last week trying to put into words how much she meant to me. When Grandpa passed away, my Uncle and I performed a eulogy each. It was the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. To memorialize a loved one in a few words, in front of your own family, it’s not an easy task. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to come up with the right words for Grandma. Since I’m not able to attend the funeral, I wrote a letter to be put in with her ashes at the mausoleum. I had designs to share it on here, but I’ve decided to keep it private for the time being.

My sister pointed out something that I had never really thought about:

We were lucky enough to grow up at our Grandma and Grandpa’s table.

Family holidays were always spent there. Birthdays, Easters, Thanksgivings, Christmas. Every Saturday, the whole family visited. After groceries, we’d all head over and make sandwiches. Then, my cousins, sister, and I would all play, while my parents, aunts, and uncles chatted the afternoon away. Their house was the most convenient for everyone to get to. Not to mention it was also big enough. We could have gone elsewhere, the occasional birthday was held at our house, or an aunt and uncle’s. There was just something that made perfect sense about their home.

I realized thinking about this, that I may have taken it for granted growing up. So many people come from smaller or fractured families. Others never even had the chance to know their grandparents. A lot of the memories I have of my family just seemed so natural and routine, that I never stopped to think about how lucky I truly was to grow up around a full, loving family. Even in her passing, Grandma is teaching me something new about love. This was one trait that shone so brightly about her. Everything I’ve learned about love, forgiveness, and devotion, started with her. She probably didn’t know what a good teacher she was, she was just going about her day the way she thought was right.

Other things about my Grandma:

  • She was sloppy (a family trait). Typically a visit to Grandma involved her changing her blouse at least twice.
  • She was genuinely interested in your day. Even if you had had the most mundane, boring, uneventful day. She wanted to hear about it.
  • She never had a shortage of Coke (diet and regular). I was thought this was strange growing up in a French household with Coke, when Pepsi is the dominant Francophone drink of choice.
  • She always left her front door unlocked. That way family and friends could come and go as they pleased. Her door was always opened. This changed later in life when a stranger walked in (with a bicycle). He had meant no harm, just had found the wrong house.
  • She loved ketchup chips. In fact, she loved ketchup period. She would often make ketchup sandwiches.

These are just a few things. I have so many memories. As I’ve been going over them in my head, trying to find the right words to write about her, one stands out. It involves Grandpa too.

Grandma wasn’t necessarily the healthiest eater. The aforementioned ketchup sandwiches might be a dead giveaway. It’s not like she couldn’t cook. She was adept in the kitchen, Grandpa as well. I think as they got older, they just didn’t feel the effort was worth it for just the two of them. They took care of my Great-Grandmother who lived next store, and it obviously took a long-term toll on them. In high school I would make it a point to visit as often as possible. This is where I got my first experiences cooking meals by myself. I had to eat, and I was more than happy to cook for Grandma and Grandpa. After all, it had to be better than the ketchup sandwiches!

They always bought simple foods. Chicken, hot dogs, sandwich meats, french fries. There were no culinary masterpieces being cooked. Just simple meat and potatoes, homie food. It helped re-enforce the sense of home, comfort, and warmth that was created in their house. Every once in awhile, Grandma would ask me if she could pick something up that I liked. I usually declined, unless it was a different spin on something she was going to buy anyhow. About the fanciest things ever got, was the rare time once in awhile Grandpa would order a pizza. That changed one day.

I went over on a Monday after school. It was late spring so it was just starting to warm up. I hadn’t seen them all weekend as I had had plans. When I walked in the door, Grandma was happier than usual to see me.

“I got something for you at the store.”

She scurried off to the kitchen and pulled something out of the pantry cupboard: an Old El Paso Taco kit. I’m not sure if I had ever mentioned tacos to Grandma. It certainly wasn’t something that would be in the realm of normal groceries for her. Either way, she had grabbed a box thinking of me.

“Will you make this tonight? We’ve never had tacos before.”

I had my doubts at first about how well it would go over. It wasn’t exactly the flavour profile I would imagine Grandma liking. She liked her food fairly plain. As for Grandpa, he’d started his radiation treatments, and keeping food down was a problem for him. Nonetheless, as I browned and seasoned the meat, Grandma chopped up tomatoes and lettuce for toppings. Then we grated some cheese. I warmed the shells in the oven, and then explained to them how tacos worked. It’s funny in retrospect, “explaining how tacos worked”. It was just the three of us, but there was an overwhelming sense of family in me at the time. Just the nature of the “build-it yourself” meal. It brought me back to family feasts where everyone would build their own custom plates from the pot-luck in front of us.

I love tacos. All kinds. Even as I’ve grown out of the taco kits of my youth into more flavourful options, I’ll never turn one down. I’ve been known to have a whole kit to myself. I half expected this to happen again. Grandma wasn’t a big eater, and with Grandpa being sick, I figured there would be plenty leftover. By the time I was done my first plate though, they were both halfway through their seconds. It was fun to watch them enjoy something so foreign to them as much as they were. Grandma would later say that it was the first thing Grandpa had enjoyed in almost a week.

My memories of Grandma and Grandpa are simple. They don’t involve wild stories, grandiose vacations, or comedic tales of senility. Just simple things. Like how Grandma would always use her socks to wipe up spills. How Grandpa would hover over me every time I was cooking, reminding me that I was “going to burn it”. Or how they would bicker back and forth over such silly things, and you could tell by the tone in their voices that they really loved each other.

And tacos.

Tacos and how even though we weren’t a family of money, I feel like the richest person alive because of the love I was afforded growing up.

I love you Grandma and Grandpa. I’m glad you are both together again. I’ll be looking forward to a frosty mug of Coke, and a game of Rummy 500 when we meet again.

xo
DFP

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