Happy Birthday

Today is my husband’s birthday.

(I would like to say it’s also our niece, Betsy’s birthday.  She’s celebrating with her husband, children and mother this evening and I know they’ll have a wonderful time.  Happiest Day Betsy!!  But this is another story…)

This is not one of the “big” birthdays, ending in a zero or a five but it’s still significant.  It’s his birthday! and that, to me, means a little celebration and a little contemplation.

The celebrating comes this evening when we go out for dinner at a restaurant we’re both keen to try… a little red meat, a little seafood, a little wine, it’s going to be nice.  And it’s going to be romantic.  ’cause he’s still a very romantic man.

He’s also a very dependable man.  He does what he says he’s going to do and he does it to the best of his ability.  He’s accomplished around the house; he’s a very good musician and music teacher; he loves to ski and play golf and fish for trout; he loves The Grey Cat and me in pretty equal measure; and every day, at least once a day, he makes me laugh and that is priceless.

He’s a wonderful son and a very good brother, a fun uncle, a great friend, and the best kind of partner in crime for me.  (Almost) all the things I am not, he is.  (Almost) all the things I wish I knew or understood, he does.  Goodness knows he has his quirks and more than a few things that he does or says that drive me nuts… but I have more than my share of peculiarities which make him just as crazy so we’re probably even on that.

What makes me know that he is very special is that we married on faith.  We didn’t date, really, before we were married.  In the five years we knew each other before we married, we spent 16 days together… including the day (night) of our wedding rehearsal.  The day part, I should say, was for me a mess (although not nearly as much so as the day of our evening wedding; now that was a mess!!)  We married knowing each other through letters and stories exchanged and stolen time spent alone amongst my younger brothers and his recovery from an airplane crash.  He surprised me, surprised me very very much, when he asked me to marry him but he had faith we could make it work.  I believed him. I said yes.

So celebrating the moments and days in our lives which should be celebrated — his birthday and mine, our anniversary, Family Day, getting good news about work projects, and so on — all of those things are even sweeter because I’m celebrating with him

Tomorrow, he celebrates with friends and a couple of my brothers, his brother, with the annual poker game, pool tournament and pork fest.  Tonight, it’s just us.  Marking another milestone, grateful for our time together, growing older together, looking forward to saying, many more times:

 

chocolate_cakeLove you Bunky…

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Happy Birthday, AndyPandy!

Today is my sister’s birthday.

She is my younger sister by 22 months and after being an only child for 22 months, having a sibling took a little getting used to. Having her first, however, made becoming used to the next four that much easier.  Our mother always used to say that she had her two girls first to help her with the four boys that followed.  Certainly in my memory — and with the except of Andy because I was just 22 months old! — I always seemed to be taking care of babies and toddlers as a child, but to be sure I should ask Andy.  Our father and brothers always tease her that she remembers things that happen before I was born.

This has been a crappy spring for Andy.  That’s her story to tell and if she chooses to do so, I’ll let her take that on in a different place, at a different time, but I bring it up only as a preface to saying how much I admire her.  Life seems to knock her down a lot, maybe not always to the ground, but sometimes to her knees, occasionally leaving winded, definitely leaving her emotionally bruised.  And yet she keeps getting up and making changes and moving forward, finding a way to a new path, a different way to make her entire life better.

My sister and I are different from each other in many ways and I know I would not have made all the same choices she did over the years.  For one thing, she left home at 16 and  frankly I wasn’t that thrilled about going when I got married (which had everything to do with geography and nothing to do with my husband).  For another, she’s a mother to three and motherhood was never in my wheelhouse.  I adore my nieces and nephews to bits & pieces and mind terribly that geography is still an issue for me as we don’t see each other often, but mothering… not so much.

Andy’s a brilliant mother.  She has a way of relating to her kids that’s remarkable because she doesn’t make a fuss about it, she just does it.  There was one moment in her early years of motherhood; Ashley was 3, Arick was still an infant.  My phone rang and I said “Hello?”  On the other end, no ‘hello’ in return, no identifying name, simply my sister’s voice, perhaps sounding a little close to panic.  “I just said a “Joy”.  I swore I never would and I just did.”  And she hung up the phone.  Joy was our mother, very strict in making us follow her rules, very fond of the phrase “because I told you so, that’s why!!”  It took me a while to stop laughing.

Andy was the ultimate soccer mom — to the point where she wound up managing a professional soccer team for a while!  She made school play costumes and supervised homework and was pretty strict about rules and curfews, and tried to make the punishment tough enough to never warrant trying the ‘crime’ again but not so hard as to be unfair.  She’s not a helicopter mom, but she does talk with her now grown-up kids all the time, continuing to be a mom in all ways.

I know her kids are happy and content their lives because they tell me so, not in words but in the way they relate to each other and to their extended family, and especially to their mother.  Like Andy’s original nuclear family, she and her children laugh a lot and nothing expresses love and joy and peace within a life more than easy laughter.

So it’s my sister’s birthday… and you’re wondering why I’ve got a picture of Ashley‘s birthday lo, these many years ago.  Well, first, it’s because it’s a cute picture, it involves a birthday, and I think it shows my sister doing her best work.  Not the cake in the pan – being a great mom.  (Also, I have more than 5,000 loose photos still to be sorted out and put in albums and I can’t find the one of her and all her kids that I really wanted to use!  but let’s not tell her that.)

Andy & Ashley

Happy Birthday sister.  I love you, I am so proud of you, and I hope that you can blow out ALL THOSE CANDLES so that every wish you have really does come true!

Mashed Potatoes and Cranberries….

I am bi-country.

I feel some days as if I’m living in both at the same time, especially when I’m writing.  The short stories are set in small town Ontario so in my head, I’m there.  I talk Canadian, I write Canadian, I eat Canadian when I’m working.  But when it comes time to close up the computer, I’m back here.  

And this week, thinking about Thanksgiving.  My second Thanksgiving of 2012. We’ll be spending the afternoon & evening with my in-laws, of course.  Family is why we’re here.  Family can make you crazy, family can make you happy, family can both at the same time, and I fully expect that that’s what’s going to happen tomorrow, a little happy crazy to go with the turkey. Which, when you think about it, isn’t such a very bad thing.  I believe we all need to be stretched a little in our lives – we need to have our comfortable positions challenged just a little so we can look at things from someone else’s point of view.  I have family members – on both sides of the border – who hold strong religious beliefs and I have others – again, on both sides of the border – who do not.  I am a ‘not’ but having the discussions, reasoned and unheated discussions, about faith can be interesting.  Do not bring up Leviticus, however, or you will get a lecture on mixed fibres and eating bacon.

There are family members who are ardent capitalists and some who are more likely to be ‘Green’ or ‘Progressive’ in their political and economic views.  There are family members who disdain books (which makes me cry) and others who celebrate sports as if there was no other past-time (which could also make me cry).  Families are challenging and rewarding at the same time… happy crazy things.  And in my particular case, there are family members who know EVERYTHING there is to know about the one country, and other family members who know NOTHING about the other country, which can make for some interesting conversation in and of itself!

But for all that, I am grateful to have family on both sides of the border.  Even when they disagree with you, they’re there for you. They’ll pick you, dust you off, and there give you a good sound chewing out if they think you deserve it.  And I’m also grateful for that, for the honesty I hope family will always provide.

And with the thankfulness for family, I want to say that I am thankful for friends, those of long-standing, those who are new, and for at least three who are both, in a funny sort of way.  I am also thankful for those whom I have never met but who read this blog & follow me on Twitter, and generally lighten and enlighten my day.   I am thankful for our “children” – Julie Danbolt Ajer (who is no longer with us, but whom we remember almost every day with much love), Bryan Worosz (who just got his first full-time teaching job!!) and Durita a Brugv (my darling girl whom I miss so much).  I am thankful – a word I did not believe I would ever use in this regard – for having and losing two jobs in theatre that I each thought would last for a long time; I learned a lot from bitter experience and while my heart may still hurt over both, my mind is sharper now, I think, because of them.  

I am thankful for the blessing and reward of books and reading, for having received an excellent education (despite wishing I had more!), for the right to debate political beliefs and the courage to not do so when it might hurt others feelings.  I am thankful for great scotch, good coffee, Twizzlers, homemade popovers with strawberry jam, Mozart, Diana Krall, Adele, almost all Warner Bros movies from the 30s and 40s, Harper Lee (I think really, most especially for her), and Norman Jewison. And although I rarely get to drink it, I am also very thankful for Veuve Cliquot champagne.  

I am thankful for the heart full of memories of beloved family gone and dear friends not in our current lives, and I am deeply grateful for the family who still warm my heart – on both sides of the border.

Tomorrow, I gorge on mashed potatoes and cranberries – the best part of Thanksgiving dinner to me.  I love the buttery shmooshiness of good mashed potatoes that just sort of slip around in your mouth and then slide down your throat, and I love the semi-sweet bite and tang of fresh cranberries that have been cooked with a soupcon of sugar, a dash of Cointreau and a few shavings of orange rind.  Completely opposite to each other and yet finding peace and equality on the dinner plate, kinda symbolic of my bi-country life.

If 22nd November is your Thanksgiving, too, enjoy your day. Be safe, have fun, and bet on the Jets.

Gobble, gobble to you all.

 

The Summer Of My… well, discontent might not be the best word…

As thousands of school children across North America are doing or have just done, let me tell you about my summer, as it started the night we were burgled.

Having our home invaded, some very personally precious things taken, was a blow.  Nothing physical was permanently damaged, other than a screen which needed to be replaced, and I know that there are many, many people who have suffered greater losses than the jewellry left to them by their parents or grandparents but still…

The loss left me feeling bereft, anchorless, a feeling I am sure exacerbated a little by the fact that I sort of am. Anchorless, I mean.

Being here was our mutual decision but I gave voice to the idea first.  Jeff had been thinking it for a long, long time but I said the magic words out loud first.  And I do not regret them.  Being here, being close to his parents is the best thing we could be doing.  And I really love this city.  For all my friends and family who remember the news stories coming out of Buffalo tv stations and who still think Tonawanda is burning… it’s not.  If I’m going to live in this country, and I’m not going to be in NYC, then I would most like to be in Buffalo.

And yet… and yet.  This is my work, this sitting at a desk and writing, thinking, editing, parsing, agonizing, starting over, wondering what the hell EVER made me think that being a fiction writer was something any sane person would choose to do.  So I am beset by insecurity that what I really want is something that is out of my grasp.  And I’m doing it alone.  Making friends has been a very slow thing and, although perhaps I shouldn’t be, I am surprised by how much I miss that easy camaraderie of someone to talk with, someone with whom I might share the occasional snarky remark (!), someone with whom to share the endless cups of coffee or summer glasses of iced tea.  These are the things one finds missing when there is no regular job to go.

I am joining a writer’s group next week, when they get back into session after a summer break, and I’m sure that will lead to new friends.  And I continue to delight in hearing from friends around the world, especially those who read this blog and offer kind words and support.  And I have a great in-law family here who appreciate me as  part of the family.  It’s not like I’m wandering the streets, talking to myself.

Yet.

After having been burgled, after having dealt with the nearly-endless amount of paperwork from the insurance company, we started to talk seriously about moving.  Not because we particularly felt unsafe in our tiny, lovely apartment but because we realized we were paying a lot for rent AND for storage AND for extra insurance so perhaps we should find a larger, cheaper place and, in a sense, re-fresh our fresh start.

This may just be what I saw while searching for a place, but I was very surprised to discover that houses and apartments listed for rent were available NOW or at the most in 2 weeks.  Landlords weren’t looking for tenants for a couple of months or even next month but NOW.  Still, when you find the place you really want, at a price you really want, in a location you really want, NOW is a good thing.  So we worked out a deal (and paid entirely too much for a security deposit for Scarlet, who is worth it until she does something that makes us crazy and then we shout, “Hey, $400 cat! Cut it out!”) and slowly moved in.

Things came from our storage unit (thanks again Michael & Tall Jeffrey & Greg & Robin & Cai & Adam & Ryan), followed a couple of weeks later with the second half of the move.  That break was planned and thank goodness it was, because I was too sick to do very much at all for about a month.  And that’s another reason for the summer of my… well, maybe not quite discontent.

There is nothing glamorous or exciting about illness, except in the movies when Ali McGraw is dying in Ryan O’Neal’s arms, but having an intestinal tract illness is even less so.  On the plus side, I lost a notable amount of weight.  On the negative side, I had no energy for about six weeks.  On the plus side… Nope, that’s it for positives.  On the negative side, it’s very isolating being so ill you cannot leave your home but not suffering from an illness you actually want to discuss with anyone outside the medial profession. Or with your sister who, lucky girl, heard more about my bathroom habits than anyone actually should have to endure.  Jeffrey, bless him, was happy to be Mr Ginger Ale when I needed him to and really, that’s all anyone could ask.

So I spent my summer being burgled, recovering from same, being ill, recovering from same, moving, recovering from same.  See? It’s not really discontent but it’s not really… Hopeful. That’s the word I want.  I want my life to be hopeful.  I want to see a challenge and believe that I can meet and maybe beat it, but definitely not let it get me down.  I want to take a blank piece of paper and fill it with images of places and people you want to know more about.  I want to turn around a stinky little illness and make my life healthier. I want hope back.

As wistful as it still makes me feel, I know I’m not going to see my grandmothers’ jewellry again.  I have lost my mother’s wedding rings and my father’s signet ring, and all the lovely pieces Jeffrey has given me over the years (except for my engagement and anniversary rings) including my wedding ring. And perhaps I should be rejoicing that I’m unlikely to work again in a cubicle somewhere, making friends in that easy to meet, easy to leave way of some (although certainly not all) work friendships.  And I am not moving again; I say that as if I believe it because I have hope.

This is the autumn of my hope and expectations.  This is the autumn of re-freshing my fresh start.

 

“The Way” To Warm Your Heart & Mind

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday.  Or it would have been, had she not died 16 years ago.  16 years!  My mind boggles at the idea… and I’ve asked my siblings if they feel the same way, if they can imagine Joy as a cranky old lady.  It makes me smile, actually, to think of  her as a kind of life-size version of ‘Maxine’ of Hallmark Cards fame, with lots and lots of martinis and seafood dishes standing by for sustenance.

I bring this up because I want to share a movie with you called “The Way”.  It’s written & directed by Emilio Estevez specifically for his father, Martin Sheen.  Full disclosure:  I adore Martin Sheen in what might be a somewhat obsessive fashion.  Not that I’m a danger to him, but I would need to wear a bib while around his physical presence because of the drooling, caused by a severe inability to form full sentences.  Also: my husband had lunch with Martin Sheen while he was part of the making of “The Final Countdown” aboard the USS Nimitz.  Mano a mano… and there was no drool involved.

You don’t need a(nother) review of “The Way” – you just need to know why you should see it.  I’ve already explained the first reason (see: Martin Sheen).  The second reason is that it’s wonderful, and all without a CGI gimmick or whiz bang in sight or sound.  It’s warm and comforting and thoughtful and demanding.  It’s about fathers and sons (although it could be just as easily about mothers and daughters in many ways), and finding your way to a real relationship with family and friends.

The journey in this instance is a long one, a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (a trek an Anglican priest friend of mine took several years ago, which he called a body killer and a soul reviver!).  It could have been any journey – a canoe trip through northern Ontario, a series of glider trips down the east coast of North America, biking through the Ardennes – but the symbolism of this particular journey being taken by a man who, in real life, has had his own fights with faith, is deeply moving.

You absolutely do not have to be a person of faith or religion to appreciate “The Way”.  I am not.  To the despair of my husband sometimes, I’m sure, I am much more skeptical than I am spiritual, but that in no way diminished the value or effect of what I saw. To me, the more important part of this movie was about the human relationships – the father & son who were so far apart and yet somehow, after death, managed to become closer, you just know it.  And it’s about the friends collected along the way who also affect his life.  And isn’t that true for all of us?  Don’t our friends change our lives somehow?  Their trajectory intersects with ours and so often make us go off in a different direction than we thought we were headed.  Often to the good but still… quite remarkable and yet, not often remarked upon.

So what I’m saying is, pick up a copy of “The Way”, make up a plate of cookies and a nice pot of coffee, maybe pour a little Grand Marnier (or if you have access to Emilio’s wine, open up a bottle of that), and sit down with a friend or two and watch a movie that will make you want to hug your friends and kiss your family, and wish for one more day that you had your mother, or your father, or both….

And if you do still have them… for goodness’ sake, call them and say “I love you”.  And maybe talk about a road trip….

 

 

Part 5: Loving Others’ Children

My friend Doug, who has a blog called Valley Road Rambler, wrote very recently about love, specifically about the nature of being and growing in love.  I thought it was an excellent meditation, but one which pointed out something I have believed for a long time: we don’t have enough words to express the sentiment “love”.

We use the same word when we describe our romantic feelings of being in love with another person, or loving our family members, or our friends, or a beautiful day or a favourite food.  The same word but not the same feeling… not really.  At least, I hope the love I feel for a good sweet melon in August is quite different from the love I feel watching my nieces and nephews play, which in turn is different from the two different sorts of love I feel when watching Jeffrey fix my grandfather’s lamp and then watching him walk across the house naked, on his way to the bath.

I have written elsewhere about another kind of love I learned about a couple of years ago – the love of a child when you’re responsible for her.  Like the love that rather overwhelmed me when Durita came into our lives as an exchange student.  She live with us for a little more than five months, and filled our house with laughter and chaos and delight and shoes, and I really haven’t been the same since.  She’s her mother’s child, but sometimes I think she’s also just a little bit mine, and I love that feeling.

We don’t have children by birth, but we have always been surrounded by children, in our families and in our work.  So many of them have pieces of our hearts, but I love them all separately and differently.  Durita, of course, is top of mind, but so are our other two children – another exchange student, Julie, who would tell her family in Norway that I was more than the older sister she had always wished she had.  And Bryan, a hockey goalie who lived with us for pretty much two seasons – so different having a boy than girls!  but a wonderful difference that I love and cherish, as I do him.

As for other family ties… there are 13 nieces and nephews on my side (plus a step-niece I think is pretty terrific) and 5 nieces and nephews on Jeff’s side, plus six great-nieces & nephews.  They range in age now from 6 to 27, certainly not all children any more.  It is, I’m afraid, a huge age gap, one which might keep them all from getting to know each other.  And certainly I don’t know all 24 of them as well as I wish I did – time, geography, family circumstances being what they are – but the love I feel for them is very strong, based not just on family ties but on who they are for themselves.

So many of the kids with whom I have worked stand out in my mind now too.  They enriched my life with their humour, their quick wit, their work ethic, their inability to tidy up a bedroom if their lives depended on it.  Of all the things that changed for me when SFT changed their mind about me, the one I miss the most is the chance to work with kids who love theatre as much as I do.  It’s something I hope I can find again soon – that opportunity to engage and enlarge the imagination of a child.

It’s a huge responsibility, that one of teaching.  You hope you’re hitting a nerve with the kids, giving them new ideas, offering new directions, but you can’t be sure, not right away, maybe not for months or years.  What you do know is that as a teacher, as an aunt, as a host parent you have given away some parts of your heart you’re never getting back.  You’ve love and have loved, and that has enriched your world in ways which you might not have suspected, but for which you can be forever grateful.

Chauvin, The Myth

It’s a Joy day today… brisk winds, lots of sunshine, moderately warm temperatures… Definitely a Joy kind of day.

One which my mother would have spent with every window at the cottage wide open, with a baseball game on the television (or radio, if she must) and endless mugs of coffee & cigarettes.  Until it was vodka salad time, and then she’d switch from coffee to martinis.

I have been thinking about both my parents a lot over the past few weeks – not for any real reason other than, as I noted in my last blog, I am further away from my siblings and my uncle & aunt now than I’ve felt in a long while.  Geographically, I’m actually a little closer than I was a month ago, but geography isn’t everything when you’re looking at separations.  It’s this whole living in a different culture thing… which really, I must get over soon.

And it’s not like I haven’t done this before which I have, and in the South.  In the very South, where there are endless days of heat & humidity and bugs the size of your fist and men driving pick-up trucks with one hand because the other is holding a Bud. At least this time, there’s the internet!  Newspapers and television networks on line.  Skype phone calls.  Instant messaging and letters.  Of course, one has to have internet at home to be able to enjoy all these things, and one will have internet at home very, very, very soon.  But even so.  Even so.

It’s not just my parents I’ve been thinking of, nor my brothers & sister and their families, nor Uncle Bruce & Aunt Patricia, but also places I love and  people I’m not sure I’m going to see again and familiar signs & language.  Spanish!  Dear Mr McPherson, I barely remember how to count to 10 in Spanish – I should have paid more attention.  But then I remember that there are people here I love and things here I enjoy and when going out to dinner for two, with a bottle of wine, two apps, two entrees, tax & tip come to $64 and it’s really good, I should enjoy the experience, right?  Which I will. I do.

But even so.  Even so.

Did you know the original meaning of chauvinism was not about misogyny but excessive patriotism?  Notwithstanding that Nicolas Chauvin may not have been a real person, the ideal of chauvinism, that my country is worth defending, always & honourably, is one that has real meaning for those of us who have had claims made on our hearts by country.  I feel that way in some ways about the Faeroe Islands (because of my darling girl, Durita) and Norway (because of our dear, late, Julie) and in many, many ways about Australia (where, in a sense, I grew up, even though I only lived there for a year).

I think I am chauvinistic about these countries because they are, in many ways, not known well – and in the case of the Faeroe Islands, probably not known at all!  My love for the people I know there makes me want to love their countries, to teach others about the beauty and strength that formed those I love.

But I have not developed those same chauvinistic feelings about this country, and I think about that a lot.  I’m sitting here in this gloriously Joy windy day and I have her voice in one ear complaining about Americans – meaning isolationist foreign policy and lack of understanding of anything that isn’t American and terrible tourists – and I have Jeff’s voice in the other ear complaining about being sinned against without sinning just because of where he was born – and I wonder if both of those voices is why I am in a Switzerland state of mind.

On a completely different note, watch for the newest Love Affair story!! Coming soon to your favourite blog. Thanks for all the support & encouragement.

Joy In the Light & Life

It wasn’t on our watch, and it wasn’t in the building, but we lost our first resident on Saturday.

We didn’t know her well; since we arrived, she’d been unwell with what her husband described as an infection in her arm that just wouldn’t heal.  As it turns out, what was wrong was leukeamia.  And two weeks after the diagnosis, she died in hospital, surrounded by family and secure in her faith.

It’s not for me to say whether or not I believe that she saw Jesus as she was dying, as she told her family, or that where she was headed was a beautiful place.  What I do know is that statement made her dying easier for her, and has made her death easier to accept for her very religious family.  I am glad for their comfort, their joy in the knowledge they believe they have found.

What I do know from this experience is that death is both ordinary and unique.  It comes to all of us, we can’t escape it however much we might try.  It’s tritely true:  we are born, we live, we die.  What comes between those two points, the way we live is what I believe makes the life worthwhile.   What makes the death we all face unique is how we face it, both for ourselves and for those we leave behind.  And if seeing Jesus and a beautiful heaven and with your last breath sharing that information with your family is how you face death… good for you.

One death lead me to think about others, especially as I read emails shared amongst my siblings about the (nearly) last of dealing with my father’s estate, which came up at the same time as our resident died.  I thought about Ross and about Joy, and about my grandparents, all missing from my life but not from my heart.  I remembered the phone calls relaying the news in each instance, the rising sadness and almost overwhelming loss that each call meant.  I remember the love that swamped our family, the laughter that we shared and the tears we sometimes tried to hide, and given this family, the food and the booze that we consumed!

I have decided something that is either deeply profound or horribly banal – or maybe it’s both.  In any case, what I’ve come to understand is that the joy of life is what I want to remember.  I want to remember, and be remembered for, laughter and silliness, and my clumsiness, and my exquisite shrimp risotto and my lousy coffee and my willingness to share my opinion about every thing with every one.  I want people to know that even when I am completely pissed off at life, even when I am at my lowest as I was the day the theatre let me go, even when I am my most frustrated because I cannot find a job in the cultural sector, I am still filled with joy because I will find a reason to laugh, I will find a reason to be silly, I will share a bottle of wine with friends and make another brilliant risotto, and I will find work that I never expected to do but is surprisingly rewarding.

This is what I will see on my death bed – I hope – the joy that is now and always will be my life.

 

 

Crazy Is As Crazy Does… Loudly

All families are crazy.  This can be good, this can be bad.  This can be happy, this can be sad.  This can be loud, this can be whispered.  But let’s be honest, all families are crazy.

Mine included.  Some days, I think mine especially.

I watch my friends and siblings who still have young children and I am amazed at how busy they are, the constant running, the activities, the school work, the obligations to other family and other friends and wonder how they hell they do it!  And then I watch my friends who are coping with aging parents, the slowing bodies and disengaging minds, the  fear and anxiety, and the pressure, and wonder how the hell they do it!  My own little whirlwind of activity and anxiety seems nothing in comparison although, as I have pointed out before, given the essentially selfish nature of most of us, my anxiety and activity will always trump yours!  Well… for the moment any way.

The reason for bringing this up are a few bitter moments I watched over dinner last night.  As it’s not exactly my story to tell, I won’t provide details but can make a few observations.  First, we all seek allies.  I saw that happen last night, one person confiding in another seeking the approbation needed or the confirmation desired.  The fact that we need to unload our troubles means we look for sympathetic shoulders on which to weep, even when what we should rather have is someone to slap us across the face and say “wake up! you’re actually fighting about something quite different here than you think you are!”

It is so hard for us to recognize when we have chosen the wrong path, or at least, are staying on a path was a good one for awhile, but has now become the wrong one for us.  I saw that last night too, but I think maybe I was the only one who did.  And it’s also hard for us to not get the support and kudos we think we should for doing a job that’s hard to explain to others, demanding of our time and even of our souls, and for which we sometimes feel that our successes and accomplishments are, if not denigrated, certainly ignored by the very people we need to hear say “good job!  I’m so proud of you!”  I also saw a little of that last night, although I might not have been the only one to catch that feeling.

What did the poet say – home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.  Substitute ‘family’ for the word ‘home’, and you know what we want family to be.  This perfect place of love and welcome, where we all think alike, and behave alike, and share values and goals and dreams that match each other to a ‘t’. Ha!  Maybe in Jim & Margaret Anderson’s perfect “Father Knows Best” world but not in mine… or yours… or yours over there in back corner pretending to be interested in something other than the fight that’s going on.

We are born into family, and they are ours for better or worse, and we always want them to love us and accept us. We make family out of friends, and because we have chosen them they may provide us with more validation but may also come to the dinner table with less honesty.  We marry into family, and they are ours until death us do part, and we make comparisons between the family by blood and by marriage and who does the stupider things, but we want our significant other’s significant family to also care about us as they care about the s.o.

Family is crazy, and messy, and demanding, and rewarding, and loving, and pitfall-y, and ugly, and imperfection seeking absolution.  We need it, until we don’t.   And then we miss it, and we ask to be let in again, and we wonder how could we live without family, and how do we cope with these crazies, and so the cycle goes.

Until it’s somebody else’s turn to host the next family dinner….

Christmas, Family, Road Trips & Leftovers

This is one of a few entries I wrote, and was unable to post, for the past couple of weeks.  Please accept my apologies for bringing you so much delight all at one time!!

At this point, the beets are going out.  It’s been a week.  Even if they are still fine to eat, I don’t want them.  So 2 roasted & sliced beets are bound for glory, er, the composting barrel.

And that’s all that’s left from Christmas, except for a box of thin mint chocolates that mysteriously never made their way to the table… hee, hee, hee… and a couple of bottles of wine that were brought by guests & not drunk.  Tree’s down, Christmas cards – both received & left over – are packed away, holiday CDs put back on the rack with the indy music we’re afraid to listen to, and life moves on toward 2011 with all the grace of an overstuffed middle-aged writer who forgets how much work there is getting ready for the bloody season from year to year so keeps celebrating it.

(Christmas must be my equivalent of popping out babies every year!  Hee!)

This year, Jeff & I invited my whole family to come for Christmas – but one brother & his family and my only sister & her family could not come at all, and not all twigs on the various branches could make it either.  That left us with only Greg, and David & Firmina & Jake & Luke, and Michael & James & Tall Jeffrey (to distinguish my 6 foot, one inch nephew from my 5 foot, 10 inch husband, now known as Shorter Jeffrey), not nearly the numbers we often have.  So to make up for it, I invited our new friends, Sally & Michael, to round up the numbers to an even dozen crowded around the dining room table, and we had a blast!

I have never told so many stories, listened to so many stories, heard so much laughter, as we enjoyed that evening.  Dear Sally & Michael, putting up with my crazy family.  Although I don’t think they minded too much – they seemed to get a lot of enjoyment from discussing bees and fainting goats as is humanly possible.  I am, however, never going to be able to think about milking & Sally again without laughing just a little.

When you’re an orphan – as the six of us are – it doesn’t matter that you’re middle-aged and have children of your own.  You’re still an orphan.  And the family holiday is dimmed just a little because the continuity of your family starts with you. It’s a little scary to think that we, the six of us, are the adults now, because I remember very clearly when we were not!  It’s been 19 Christmases without Joy and 7 Christmases without Ross, and they are always and forever missed, but I think the love of celebration and food & drink and family that they gave us is a guest at the table and a gift under the tree every Christmas, so they are still, in many ways, celebrating with us.

But when you’re married, you don’t have just one family any more.  You have two.  For better or for worse, there are the in-laws to consider, and very happily, fortunately, for me, the in-laws are fabulous.

In some ways, I still feel like I have a mum & dad because (Shorter) Jeffrey’s parents are still with us at 89 years of age.  Oh, they’re a little slower in moving, they don’t fit as much into their days as they used to, and one sometimes has to repeat things a few times to be heard and/or remembered, but they are a source of love and joy that is truly treasured by their three children, their five grandchildren, and their 8 great grandchildren.  And by at least this one daughter-in-law, although I’m pretty sure the other daughter-in-law and the son-in-law also appreciate them very much.

Jeff took a fast trip to see them before Christmas, and we went down together after Christmas for two days.  Had a lovely, quiet visit – which means Jeff and I do a little shopping (why does anyone pay full price for Christmas cards when they go on sale right after the holidays at half-price?  I’m all geared up for Christmas 2011!  Please be sure I have your mailing address if you want a card and Holiday News from me next year.) and catch a movie and visit other family members, which this visit was just my sister-in-law, Karen Miranda.

Karen & Jeff with Team Canada autographed jersey

I have to say something here about sisters-in-law:  I like mine.  All of mine, including the one I don’t really have any more because her marriage with my brother ended.  But Karen did something that I regret I did not do for the women my brothers married – she wrote me a note when Jeff & I got engaged to welcome me into the family, and to welcome me as a sister in particular.  It was the kindest, sweetest thing and I’m not even sure I told her how much it meant to me, never mind paying it forward.  Maybe for their birthdays this year, I should do this for them.

Oh, and for Stephen too, my no-longer-quite-new-brother-in-law.

By the way, on the movie front, THE KING’S SPEECH may just be the most perfect movie ever… after TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD.  I did not believe my love for Colin Firth could grow any bigger but it has.  And I don’t mean this in just a lustful, longing way… although Colin, you are numbers 1, 4, & 5 on my ‘Freebie Five’ list.  I’m just sayin’… but because he gets better & better & better as an actor with every single outing.  I don’t think that one can actually say that about Gregory Peck, whom I worship & adore in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and several other movies, because I believe he just played variations of his own, good, strong self.  But Colin… sigh.

Anyway, family has all gone home, Michael & Sally have probably recovered and are back to their bees & goats & dogs (and I hope she’s found her seed catalogue because I am counting on great melons and other goodies again this year), and the house is undecorated.  That leaves just the beets to throw out and that last piece of the Yule Log I cleverly hid behind the beets (well, not so cleverly – it just happened) to enjoy and we can move forward into an exciting new year.

Oh please, not too exciting, or at least, excitement of the happy kind.  I’m done with excitement that breaks my heart.

I hope you all had, if not a joyful Christmas season, then at least a peaceful one.  And may we all know contentment in 2011.