“As Long As We Have We”

We stood on the side walk, feet slipping in our boots for the Sobeys bags that wrapped our feet in an extra layer of warmth and warded off any potential leaks. “Girls, stamp your feet,” she told us. “You won’t be so cold if you move around.” We were impatient standing in the cold dark waiting for the parade to start. “Girls, stay back,” she warned through her teeth as the transports with their brilliant lights passed by. The cadet bands paused in front of us waiting for the procession to keep moving. “Ok girls, let’s go,” she commanded as we rushed to the car to beat the traffic. She has always referred to us this way, “girls”, irrevocably inseparable in her mind. While we are two individuals, we are merely two halves of a whole.10368381_10156396809085790_138307728434610021_n

At home the plywood Santa my father cut out and my mother painted was spotlighted climbing our chimney. Inside the Santa and Mrs. Claus ornament with a sprig of mistletoe hung at the top of the entry way door frame. The living room ceiling had paper streamers twisted in celebratory perfection from each corner to the centre where a paper fold out ornament hung. Most years, our Christmas trees were adventures in our backyard, our choices often disappointing once the snow had melted off of them.

 

16870_370405785789_5631306_nChristmas Eve was snuggling into bed with my sister. Even when our belief faded, we listened to the hurried footsteps in the living room trying to perfect everything. My sister would wake up in the middle of the night, shake me, put her face in mine, and sing until I agreed to “sneak” out to get our stockings. At three in the morning we’d unwrap them, eat the chocolate, fall into a sugar coma and wake again at five am when my mother’s excitement got to her and we’d hear her put on the kettle.

 

Christmas was never over the top for us. It couldn’t be. Our parents would have given us everything our little hearts desired had it been possible. My mother is prepared to buy my kids anything they remotely show interest in if I allow her. She still has the same pained look on her face that I remember as a child when I wanted something and she knew she couldn’t buy it. A look that believes they are missing out on something. What she doesn’t know is that in the grand scheme of it all, there are only two Christmas presents that I distinctly remember receiving as a child, that’s it.397642_10151081931260790_1439705125_n

The rest is memories of my grandfather’s overheated house on Christmas Eve and our blended families. Six am trips to my grandmother’s house on Christmas morning to watch her open gifts she had already guessed the content of. It is the over consumption of shortbread cookies with a dollop of frosting and quartered maraschino cherries on top, and sweet Christmas lights  that adorned trees and houses and lit up the dark December days. It is whispering and giggling with my sister, the magic our imaginations made.

It was never a lot and my God, it was oh so much.

Dessie’s Place

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

I’m still working through Oprah’s original book club list from 1996. Oprah is a second mother to two generations of North Americans, the gen Xers and the people who won’t admit they’re Millenials. It brings me such joy to see that O sticker on a novel at the library. Saves me from thinking too much. I’ve just successfully made my way through East of Eden, Oprah’s 49th selection. Out of the solid 40 hours I dedicated to this book, the most insightful and precise sentiment that pulled at me was the look inside Dessie’s place.

“It was a sanctuary where women could be themselves- smelly, wanton, mystic, conceited, truthful, and interested. The whalebone corsets came off at Dessie’s, the sacred corsets that molded and warped woman- flesh into goddess-flesh. At Dessie’s they were women who went to the toilet and overate and scratched and farted. And from this freedom came laughter, roars of laughter.”

I have been known to hoarse out what is called the ‘bark laugh’. A laugh so unexpected that my throat can’t quite take whatever hilarious thing was just said and it barks out a sound that can only be matched by your worst winter cough. The bark laugh has only been known to exit when I’m in a place like Dessie’s.

When I’m surrounded by women who have strict come as you are, leggings-only rules in their homes. Where you’re praised for skipping a shower that day. Where you share in the glory of finally being free to rub your eyes and mush your mascara onto your cheeks. Where you compare leg hair growth and length of times between shavings. The one who has gone the longest reigns supreme. Where you can ask if your weird body part is weird and be told that yes, in fact, it is. So you can accept it and stop obsessing. Where you can consult on that thing your body has been doing lately and be advised to either A) seek medical attention or B) carry on as usual because that thing is relatively normal, I think.

Where you can confess all those deep down secrets that bring you shame and knot up your stomach. The things that pop up in your memory every now and again that make your neck shrink into your shoulders. Like that thing you did that made you eat a 2 litre of ice cream straight from the tub. After you’ve had enough of torturing yourself with your own humiliation, you finally summon the courage to share it. And that 2 litres-worth-of-ice-cream-shame brings shrieks of laughter from open mouths that melts your shame away and turns it into a good story.

My parents raised me to have unwavering confidence. My friends raise me to have unconditional humility.  Without so many words, the conclusions reached from these women about whatever it is your self-consciousness is worried about is that you shouldn’t take yourself quite so seriously. They dose out spoonfuls of sugar with the medicine life sometimes prescribes but they also make you gurgle warm water and salt. The bitter taste that you needed to snap you back into place. It’ll do you good, dry out your wounds.

Yes, this is about the extent of what goes down at Dessie’s Place. Freedom that brings laughter, roars of laughter.

 

– Jodi

My House is Not a Store Front (or 5 Things Christmas is Really About)

I wanted a marshmallow world. As a kid I watched the American movies that always featured some variation of the white colonial and its black shutters. It was decorated to perfection. The stores were magical and had everything a kid could possibly want. When I grew up, I was convinced that I too could create this wonder and magic. I have fallen short every year.

My DIY’s either fail miserably (bucket o’ tree trimmings on my front porch – because as a kid who grew up in the country, I refuse to give Loblaws $50 for the same thing) or take more time than I am willing to dedicate (stringing popcorn takes fooorever). I am always disappointed, annoyed and angry that everything is not just so or as I imagined it to be possible.

And then this year, I finally realized that my house is not a store front, I do not live on a movie set, and my self- imposed expectations were never the point. For anyone wondering, I am ok with the fact that it took me almost twenty years of adulthood to reach this ever so obvious conclusion. Listed below are the five things that, for me, are where the wonder and magic actually live:

Worms

Each year our small community held a Christmas Bazaar in the hall at the back of the church parking lot. Most of the wares for sale were handmade items and reasonably priced for a nine-year-old. One year my sister and I managed to get our hands on a few coins, keeping in mind coins never went misplaced in our house so this in and of itself was already magical. We chose to buy some ornaments for our Mom. One was a little worm made of googly eyes and small blue pom-poms. Each year that little worm sat on a branch of our tree. Pulling out the variety of ornaments from musty boxes was my favourite part. Most, if not all of them, had a story. That worm is a gift we continue talk about. It was carefully thought out by children, fit within their budget and was insanely special despite its weirdness.

Glittery Décor that makes a kid say “ooh!”

We never seasonally decorated our home. My mother’s aunts would have guffawed themselves silly if they saw some of the content that exists on mommy and décor blogs. “God already does a fairly decent job, and I have enough to do” they’d have stated incredulously. So Christmas was big. Damp, torn and worn boxes were pulled out from under the basement stairs. Paper ornaments were taped, tacked and secured to the ceilings and walls. My mom painted the picture window in the living room, backwards, so it looked correct from the outside. MOM PAINTED THE WINDOW! This was special.

100-year-old beds

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Jodi and Vanessa sharing a bed and living to tell the tale

My daughter sleeps in a bed that belonged to her great-grandfather. It is painted a brilliant, bright yellow and is heavy as all hell. Most nights she shares this bed with her sister so they each have someone to snuggle in the middle of the night. Each Christmas Eve my sister and I would share one of our twin beds. We’d laugh and giggle, sleep in spurts and spats, and try to listen for Santa. When we got too big, we still slept in the same room. I was twenty-seven and newly engaged the last time I did this. They are the memories of Christmas I treasure the most and miss with a physical heart ache each year. This is where the magic of Christmas truly exists. Our girls are creating this for themselves in a hundred-year-old bed.

An Overheated House and Fancy Perfume

Christmas Eve was spent in my grandfather’s over heated house with a very large blended family. Boyfriends were ushered in and out to pass an unspoken test. It was not for the faint of heart. Every year there was grace before anyone could even think about putting a mash potato to their lips or on the cheek of the person sitting across the table. The grace, delivered by my grandfather, always centered on gratitude.

The next morning my mother, sister and I would rush to my grandmother’s house at six am. Every damn year she received a gift box set of perfume from my step-grandfather. My grandmother was allergic to perfume. We rushed so we could watch her open said box of perfume. Her annoyance made us gleeful. She would then make a terrible cup of tea, we would eat shortbread, talk and laugh, help her get things ready for dinner later that day and our Mom would enjoy her newly acquired perfume.

Boney M and Kenny & Dolly

Dolly_KennyI overheard a conversation between my daughters the other night and they reminded me of why we mark this day on our calendar. In my fretting, list making frenzy, I had buried this information under the glitter. We are being asked to celebrate love and kindness. Our planet was once populated by a man full of love who delivered some pretty important messages for humanity. He delivered faith. When Boney M sings of Mary’s Boy Child, sing it out loud, clap, be joyful. When Dolly and Kenny sing about Santa, they are singing about faith in kindness.

Celebrate, clap, be joyful.

-Vanessa

Part One: On Learning to Be

I’ve recently discovered that the unfortunate precursor to self-actualization is self-exploration. What a chore. You have to do “the work” before you get “there”, they say (insert eye roll emoji). So in my very new age quest for self-actualization, I’ve been getting to know myself (insert my Dad’s eye roll emoji). Here, I present Part One in the series On Learning to Be.

In my day job, I’m very interested in predicting personalities and finding tools that will allow me to understand how people work, interact and handle everyday situations. I’ve recently done some of these personality indicators for myself and as it turns out the damn things are eerily accurate. Keep reading

Biscuits

I grew up in a matriarchy. The women of my world doled out both punishment and reward. They were strong, brave and, in my eyes confident. They knew all and they were always right. They did it all, they organized life. If you got in the way, you were shuffled away with a swipe of their butt. Their female voices a constant nattering buzz around my head.

They baked cookies, squares, jellyrolls and bread; the cornerstone of any social gathering. I know how to kneed bread from watching my grandmother throw the entirety of her thin, frail frame into the heels of her hands. So many conversations happened over the ingredients of these baked goods. Yet, none of them taught me how to make biscuits.

sink

Biscuits are finicky things to make. Keep reading

Tale As Old As Time

Her chin tucked in. Her little mouth curved upside down. Tears fell down her freckled cheeks. She watched Cogsworth and Lumière and Mrs. Potts turn lifeless. Her throat let out a mournful cry when Chip searched for his Mama then stiffened into porcelain, his anchor smashing on the ground. While, yes, this is a tale as old as time, there are still so many lessons to be learned from this story, even beyond preschool.

As a child this fairy tale provides all of the enchantment required to turn an imagination loose. Keep reading

The Tiger and The Mother Bear

Shannon Potter
Mama Bear – Shannon Potter

Many moons ago a tiger found herself in thick forested hills that were not home. She never could recall how she had gotten there; she only remembered running away and when she stopped, this is where she stayed. She did not love her new home, and she did not hate it either, she existed. Keep reading

The Kitchen Table

**Originally published May 2011**

My father has always worked early mornings. He and my mother would rise together at five thirty and I would listen to the pattern of their morning from my room. Kettle turned on, bathroom, cigarette lit, coffee mugs pulled from the cupboard, milk poured, and tea ready, and then they sat quietly at the kitchen table for the first few sips. Their quiet morning chatter a comforting murmur underneath my blankets, an indication that all was right and I could go back to sleep. Keep reading

People Like Easter

She said her name is Easter, like the Easter Bunny.

Like every good Canadian, I pulled into the Tim Horton’s drive thru on a Wednesday morning for my coffee. There in the middle of the drive thru lane, stood an elderly lady hunched over, looking up and down the road carrying what looked like a heavy bag with bus tags on it. I waited for a bit seeing if she would carry on, unable to drive around her while there was a line up forming behind me. She would shuffle a couple of slow paces then stop and look around then shuffle a few more, still blocking the way. I jumped out, Ma’am are you okay? Is there anything I can help you with? I asked. Well I’m heading to the bus station, she said but I don’t know which way to go. I pointed her in the right direction, helped her over the curb and on her way, she went. Keep reading