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A steel fist in a velvet glove

9 Oct

mom-quote

The fall is always a nostalgic time of year for me – schools get into swing, the leaves turn color and Thanksgiving weekend rolls around.  Contrary to popular opinion I am not a lover of Thanksgiving dinner. So much work and so many dishes for a meal that (for me) is underwhelming.   Mom and Dads’ kitchen is not particularly large and Mom (how do I put this) is rather, ummm, bossy when she is in there.  Mom is not a chef with papers, but boy she can handle herself in the kitchen just as well as Jamie Oliver, Rachel Ray or Mario Batali. This weekend it is just me home so we decided to keep it simple and not prepare a meal fit for a small country.  Over the years Mom has produced more food, for more people than Michelin produces tires.  On the topic of Mom and since it is Thanksgiving I will tell you about her.

My mother is an extremely capable, selfless and productive human being.  Last night we were invited over to friends of our family for dinner.  During our after dinner conversation Kathy (our hostess) said ‘Emilie, can you tell me if you’ve ever seen your mother just do nothing for a day?’ Honestly, unless she was down and out with some kind of an ailment I couldn’t remember ever seeing her just be lazy.  Mom was a nurse doing shift work until I was in grade 9 and after that moved to management where she worked Monday to Friday. It would be nothing for her to make us a gourmet breakfast, send us off to school with lunches all made from scratch (I often traded her homemade cookies for a can of caramel pudding or a Flaky- you always want what you don’t have), wash the walls, clean out a flowerbed and head off to a 12 hour shift at the hospital.  About 10 years ago Mom had to have her thyroid taken out.  The doctors said she had a very hyper thyroid (in overdrive), so finally we had an answer as to why this woman never seemed to run out of energy. After her surgery it took quite sometime to get her TSH levels regulated and so she felt tired and might fall asleep in the chair.  Very unusual.  My father (who could be described as being as laid back as a Saint Bernard) said he loved that Mom was exhibiting laziness as it made him feel human.  Fast forward to now, it seems that her natural determination has made up for her biological changes.  What this woman achieves in a week should be analyzed by productivity experts as I think she could teach them a few things.  One year Dad said he was going to get her a miners lamp for a gift so that she could continue working after dark.

I love how perspective allows you to see things more clearly.  At my age my mother had 4 children.  In fact, I am shocked that I was even conceived as mom had awful pregnancies with terrible morning sickness and many other complications.  Thankfully they went for a 4th and got me.  A few years ago on mothers day I took my Mom and Grandma out for lunch.  Mom said ‘thank you’ when we were done and I said ‘thanks for giving birth to me’.  To which she said ‘it was quite the strenuous affair, you were posterior’.  My 90 year old grandmother piped up and said ‘that is nothing you came out feet first Janice.’

On top of that a full-time job, a husband, a house, a massive property with gardens galore, and animals, she somehow managed to cook, pickle and jam it all, visit family, maintain friendships, keep a clean house, plan/host most any event happening in our lives, cart us around to our sports/after school bits, and keep my 3 gong show brothers in line. We always had friends over which meant she was cooking for more than 6 on a regular basis. She starts thinking about Christmas at least 11 months in advance – making quilts for each us or dolls for the grand kids.  Honestly, when I compare my days to hers it makes me feel a wee bit self absorbed… as I get my nails done and sip a latte.   I talk to Mom daily on the phone.  Sometimes it is 5 minutes and sometimes it is an hour. General gab about the day, what is happening at home, what we cooked for dinner and what is on deck for the next day.  Nowadays we are more friends than Mother/Daughter.

When I was a kid I didn’t look at my mother as leader – I looked at her as my mom.  As an adult I now see she has all of the attributes of a great leader – loyalty, patience, generousity, responsibility, determination, trustworthiness, supportive and selflessness.  When you have a great leader you are bound to be more successful in life.   On the outside she comes across as a total softie, but in reality she is a steel fist in a velvet glove.  Donald Trump should get an injection of her modesty.  In the words of Mother Teresa ‘if you want to change the world go home and love your family.’  Thanks for doing that Mom.

 

 

The best time to have friends is before you need them

5 Jul

 

E and S

Tomorrow I am hosting a baby shower for my very best friend and so it got me thinking about friendship.  I’ve done a lot of reading about friendships over the years and what I’ve learned is extremely interesting.  Women who have close friends:

  • Live longer
  • Are happier
  • Have less stress
  • Cope better when traumatic events occur and have better outcomes as a result
  • Have better self confidence and self worth
  • If in a relationship have stronger relationships with their partner

Well, if all of this is true I should be setting a record in The Guinness Book of World Records for living the longest, happiest, carefree life because I have lots of really wonderful friendships. My mother has always been a terrific ‘stay-in-toucher’ and so I learned that from her. Friendships are extremely important to me.  In fact managing all of my friendships can be a cause of stress… hoping that doesn’t counteract the benefits of them!

Sarah (the mentioned pregnant best friend).  How do I even begin?  We are second cousins and so we’ve known each other our entire lives. We started grade primary together and the love affair we have with each other began somewhere along the way at HM MacDonald Elementary School.  How do I describe Sarah?  She is hilarious yet serious, she is wild yet disciplined, she is easygoing yet structured, she is loyal, kind, quirky, complex and she is beautiful yet extremely modest.  Over the years we’ve spent thousands of hours together and hundreds of hours on the phone.  In fact, one time we were having such a solid conversation (but Sarah needed to get ready to go somewhere) that she didn’t want to cut it off.  Instead she took the phone into the shower with her.  Suddenly she sounded like she was in a tunnel and the phone died.  The conversation was done and so was her phone.  Something else about Sarah is that she is extremely honest.  She went into Telus and when they asked what happened to the phone… she told them exactly what I just told you.  The guy at the phone store just burst out laughing, commended her for being honest, but he couldn’t replace the phone for free for being so.  There have been times when our conversations were so long that her cell phone was going to die so she switched to her landline, beeped into the conversation, hung up the original call, then my phone would be on the verge of dying so I would switch to my landline and beep into the conversation.  When we spend the night together we can talk and talk and talk.  In fact, Sarah has been known to say to me ‘Emilie, alright if I stop responding to you when you’re talking, it just means I am asleep, but feel free to keep talking.’  The single-handed biggest theme of our friendship is laughter.  We are 36 years old now and we still roar at the most foolish bits.   We were allowed to stay at each others houses on school nights, we’ve lived together and even worked together as adults.  Sarah got married about 6 years ago – poor Bobby and what he has been exposed to over the years.

When I was a kid my most favorite movie ever was Anne of Green Gables.  My mother had taped the television version of it for me and I would watch it over and over again (until my brothers taped over it in 2 minute increments of a hockey game).  Anne and Diana had a special friendship.  Anne called Diana her ‘Kindred Spirit’ her ‘Bosom Friend’.  Beaches is another favorite movie of mine.  I have probably watched it about 29 times and I still crrryyyyyyyyy every time I watch it.   C.C. Bloom and Hilary Whitney.  When I watch it I always envision me as C.C. and Sarah as Hilary.  The problem is Hilary dies.  I love the line where Hilary says she is forgetting things and C.C. says ‘Listen, I know everything there is to know about you and my memory is long.  Very long.’ Another great friendship I admire is Oprah and Gayle.  They too have been friends for over 30 years.  After working together for a week there was a snowstorm and Oprah couldn’t get home.  Gayle told her she could stay with her.  Oprah said ‘but I don’t have any clean underwear with me’ to which Gayle responded ‘don’t worry you can borrow a pair of mine’.  Oprah said she knew Gayle would be her long time friend in that moment.  Sarah and I have shared everything (other than a man) over the years – money, underwear, secrets, clothing, a bed and so much more.

Friendships (unlike marriages) have no set of rules or expectations attached to them. They are generally purely for enjoyment and enrichment. The one rule for any form of relationship is that it takes work – pick up the phone, type a text, make a plan and get together.  The hardest laughs I’ve ever had have been with friends and I have a lot of people who would be willing to share their underwear with me.  In the words of Oprah ‘what I know for sure is’ that your work will come and go, money will come and go, men will come and go and when they do it is your friends (and family) who will be there.

In September a whole new chapter is going to be written – Sarah is having a baby.  The plan is for me to go in with them to have the baby.  There are some pretty specific logistics which have to work in our favor for this to work (I live a 2 hour flight away), but here’s to hoping.  I am sure we will cry and then laugh about her pooping on the table or something like that.

 

Are you there God? It’s Me, Emilie. Part 2

5 Mar

As yesterdays post explained I have been reading through old journals of mine and getting a large kick out of the stuff I wrote.  Here is another favorite.

Background:

My mother is a retired nurse and for much of my childhood she worked shift work.  This meant that she worked some weekends.  Due to her schedule Dad was left to man the ship.  One time my little niece Cora was having a tender moment with my brother when she said ‘Daddy, I love you.’  He was flattered and said ‘Oh Cora, I love you too.’  A moment later she said ‘But I definitely love Mommy more.’  You know Mom’s just do things right when you are a kid!  She made cinnamon toast, tuna delights and she was way better at rubbing your back when you were barfing.  So this entry from my journal came on a weekend when Mom was working, I was apparently bored out of my skull and I wanted something to do.  It makes me realize how crazy different life is for kids now.  

Entry

Saturday May 23rd, 1991 (I was 11)

Mom is working days this weekend.  Chris and Stephen are working at Jimmy’s and David is away at a tournament. Dad was planting the garden most of the day and the dog was with him. (insert – in most of my entries I started off with saying what everyone else in my house was doing).

I got up this morning at 8:15.  The boys left a bunch of dishes (of course) on the table so I cleaned those up.  After that I watched TV for a little bit and went outside to see what Dad was doing.  He was planting potatoes. I didn’t want to do that so I only stayed there for a little bit.  I asked Dad if I could walk over to Grandma’s and he said I could.  (insert – Grandma’s house is a MILE away.  She had cable and Fudgeo’s; we didn’t have either of those things because they didn’t bring the cable lines out past her house and Mom baked everything from scratch).  I walked to Grandma’s and saw some people picking bottles in the ditch along the way.  Grandma asked me to do her hair when I got there and I also put the vibrating massager on her back.  I don’t like doing either but Grandma would tell me I am lazy if I didn’t do it.  One of the workers from Newfoundland came to the house looking for some money.  Grandma told him he already got his pay and said that he should think about what he does with his money because a pay is meant to last a week.  Dad picked me up.  We went to church in Maryvale at 7.  I was really hoping Sarah was going to be in church but she was at her Aunt Lynn’s in Guysborough (darn).  One of the Gerrior kids cried the entire mass.  Mom was home when we got back.  There is a hockey game on (boo) and of course Dad is watching it.  Now I am in bed.

End of entry

Are You There God? It’s Me, Emilie

4 Mar

I did some organizing about a month ago and found some of my old journals from when I was between the ages of 10 and 13. I’ve been home sick for 3 days so I have some extra time on my hands; I’ve been reading my entries and dying laughing.  As an adult I am not one for flowery emotions and drama – I am pretty practical and nonchalant.  It seems I was that way as a kid too. One of my favorite books growing up was ‘Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret’: a book that details the thoughts and emotions of a 6th grade girl.  Boys, bras, periods, family disputes and everyday emotions. I wasn’t so much like Margaret as I didn’t really ‘journal’ so much,  I more ‘documented’ the daily going ons in our house.

Below is one of the entries from my journal.  To give you a better understanding here a few additional details:

I grew up on a hobby farm.  We had a few horses, a few cows, pigs and some chickens.  We only had female cows.  If Dad wanted one of the heifers to get pregnant he would need to call Joe Van De Valk and ask him to come over when she was in heat. Joe Van De Valk is not a bull from a local farm, he is an Artificial Inseminator. Joe was somewhat deaf so he spoke in a not typical manner (which was great as I love to do impersonations of people and I can do a humdinger impersonation of Joe).  Once we got older we had a great nickname for him ‘The County Cow F*&cker’

Saturday, October 5th, 1991 (I was 11)

“Joe Van de Valk came over today. I woke Dad up because he was taking a nap when I saw his van pull in the driveway.  Dad and I went up to the barn.  When we got there Joe pulled out a catalogue with pictures of bulls in it.  He said ‘Jesus Christ Leonel I got some real nice stuff today.  That fella there (pointing at a picture of a bull from Ontario) he has some beauty calves.  Throws big ones.’  (insert – just like a modern day sperm bank Dad would choose the sperm from the most suitable bull).  Joe then put on a glove that went up to his arm pit.  After that he pulled a long rod from what looked like a bucket with dry ice in it.  He then took his arm with the rod in his hand and put it up the cows bum.  Ginger bawled.  After some poking and prodding he took his arm out.  The glove was full of hot steamy manure.  After Joe left Dad and I went into town and picked David up at basketball. When we got back it was lunchtime and Dad made us cream peas on toast (like he always does when Mom is working).’

End of entry.

Like Joel Plaskett…

18 Feb

multitasking_mom

Like Joel Plaskett… there is a reason why I love this town.  Today is a Tuesday in the middle of February – other than being my mothers birthday it is quite a nondescript kind of day. It ended up being a beautiful day.  I said to someone “Wow, what a gorgeous day.” To which they responded “yeah but another storm is coming tomorrow”.  Alright, that isn’t one of my favorite bits of living here – people sometimes love to talk about the negative and wonder “who the hell does that guy think he is?” when someone is doing something different or is doing particularly well.  But all in all – what a place!

I woke up this morning at 5:30 am (begrudgingly) for bootcamp.  From 6-7 I did some ridiculous exercises which required me to be inverted, swinging, squatting and reverse planking.   But, as I worked my way through the class I was surrounded by my awesome co-worker-outers.  My laugher caused my form to suffer at certain times. At 7:04 am I was back home greeted by the queen of the house – MIllie.  Off we went to Point Pleasant Park for a 45 minute walk.  Along the way we met a few chatty people.  Back home I had coffee, ate breakfast, read the newspaper and then got ready for work.  We left home at 8:48. I got a coffee along the way and was still at my office at 8:59.  I had meetings all morning.  Over lunch I went to the post office, picked up 2 packages, grabbed some sushi and made it back to the office in 1 hour. I worked the rest of the afternoon.  At 5 I took a taxi home as Millie (who normally comes to work with me) was waiting there.  Today I sent her out with her dog posse where she goes berserk with a pack of 20 dogs off leash outside of the city – she was completely zonked.  Ahhh, no guilt. I took her out for a pee, chatted with my friend Kelly on the phone and then took a taxi back downtown to meet Maurice at 6 for some beers and bites at a new pub. I ran into a stellar guy from home.  Chatted with him, showed him my new rubber boots and then Maurice arrived.  We had delicious food, great conversation with 2 different people, paid up and we were back home by 8 pm greeted again by the Queen of the House.  I am now sitting in my living room writing a blog while kind of looking at the really bad pants the Norwegian curlers are wearing.  I hope to be in bed by 10.

Recently our mayor (who doesn’t smoke crack, make racial slurs, or have a gut that causes his buttons to pull) started a campaign called ‘Define Halifax’.  They were looking for the unique bits that residents love about Halifax.  At first they were bombarded with negative comments to which Mayor Savage responded with a pretty witty series of social media videos calling out the ding dongs who could only come up with foul bits about the city they choose to live in.  Things really changed after that.  Now, the campaign has taken on a whole new flare.  Balance, community, neighbors, great food, ocean, farmers market, The Oval, amazing beer, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, saying hello, students, The Mooseheads, airport, waterfront, Point Pleasant Park, shops, no traffic, short commute, small-big, Pete’s Frutique, the people, sailing, fresh air… the list goes on.

I am not saying that Halifax is “the best place to live”, but I have a pretty great life here.  I get to see my family and friends at least a few times a week, I work with amazing people (well I have one coworker and she is amazing), cook great dinners after coming home from work, spend time outside, volunteer and still have time to watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Bachelor every now and again.  We are a society based on technological connections, huge debts, more work than play and  high stress levels.  I am doing my best to keep myself out of the vortex and living in Halifax helps me do that.

It was a great day.  It is 9:45 – if I want to be in bed by 10 I better hit send on this.

The truth is…

22 Jan

Image

Seeing as I am Canadian I sometimes feel pressed to say that I like winter.  In truth: I hate it.  It makes me feel like less of a Canadian but I can’t hide it anymore.  As I type this post I am sitting in sunny Hawaii soaking in vitamin D and feeling fabulous.  I just received an email from my mother saying that a foot of snow is expected this evening and that today the local plough shed burnt down along with 3 ploughs.  Isn’t that bad timing?  I clearly remember being a kid and on the days that it was storming we would wait by the radio to hear if school had been cancelled or at the very minimum that our bus was going to be late.  This is the time in my life when my hatred for winter began…

I grew up in a community called Maryvale (the department of highways moved the sign once and for 2 years we lived in North Grant)  and where my parents house is we call it Hell’s Gates (original I know).  There is a weird combination of a small mountain, a 200 acre open field across the road and some kind of wind tunnel.  From November until March our entire life was controlled by the weather.  I remember waking up and thinking the bloody Apocalypse happened – our windows would be covered in snow, the car was buried in snow and wind howled like crazy.  Whatever plans I had that morning were at the very least delayed or even cancelled.  We would need to wait for someone to come and clear our driveway out and that could take hours.  After a few storms snowbanks would pile up higher than the roofline of our house.  So after waiting 2 hours, pulling on snow attire, warming the car up, and clearing the car off we would attempt to get out of the driveway (this was a whole other challenge).  My Mom would throw her aside her conservative ways – she would turn into Mario Andretti in an attempt to get out.  The end of the driveway was usually a total whiteout in both directions.  Someone would have to get out of the car and stand in a place where they wouldn’t get hit in order to see if any cars were coming.  The wind would be blowing so strong that this already hateful event was made worse. So, Mom would hammer the gas down, we would fishtail out of the driveway and spin down the road.  We would think Old Man Winter had lost his mind, however, when we got a mile over the road all would be relatively peaceful.  I can’t tell you how many people went off the road in the front of our house – we always had knocks at the door from forlorn travelers stuck in the ditch.  There was a few years when the military actually came in with some sort of a machine that blew the snow so high/far I think it ended up at the North Pole. The Department of Highways for many years put a snow fence across the road in an attempt to block some of the blowing snow. Waiting for the school bus was a brutal cruelty – it would get so windy and wild that my brothers (probably begrudgingly) had to hold my hands so that I wouldn’t blow away into the great white abyss.  Seeing that big orange school bus pull up was the most amazing feeling. We got so much snow at our house that we would jump off the roof of the house into drifts.  I think David lost his boots on one plunge and they weren’t recovered until the spring.  When we were kids we had so much fun outside – playing in the snow, jumping off the house, cross country skiing, but that was when I didn’t know what day of the week it was, I didn’t have to run errands, I didn’t cook my own food, I didn’t have to clean, I didn’t have to work – i didn’t have anything to do other than play. Now, all winter brings me is shoveling, a dog full of snowballs and cold hands and feet. 

Fashion is a big part of winter that is a challenge for me as well – salt stains make my blood boil, when I put on a pair of pantyhose/tights I nearly have an allergic reaction, my head is too big for most fashionable hats and I detest how pasty my poor legs become due to not seeing sunlight for 5 months.

The good bits of being a Canadian exceed my strong feelings about winter and thus I have not given up my citizenship, but I think we need to add another province to Canada (one that is sunny all year round) – let’s trade in our worst province for Turks and Caicos.  I would volunteer to be the first resident. 

Good Things Are Happening!

19 Nov

Once upon a time I had a boss named Wayne (no idea if he reads this or not) and he always said “Good things are happening”!  He was extraordinarily positive, had boundless energy and forced us to do push up competitions in our office.  He was a pretty rare guy.  I read the paper daily and most days I feel much worse when I finish it than when I started.  Recently I wrote a letter to the editor daring them to report on “the good things happening” in our province.  On that particular day the best part of the read was the obituaries; at least they told stories of love and the positive things people did with their lives.  Why do we need to hear about losers like Rob Ford, Kim Kardashian and Mike Duffey over and over again?

In an effort to focus on the positive I want to share with you a story which recently has impacted me.  I volunteer as a Doula. What is a Doula you say?  Directly translated it means I am a servant to a labored woman!  Basically I act as a support person to pregnant women who are in need of extra support.  The program I volunteer through aims to support: low income families, single mothers and new comers to Canada.  After returning from Africa in October I felt very impacted by my stay in Tanzania.   Shortly after returning I received our monthly list of mothers needing support.  On the list was a woman from Rwanda looking for support during the birth of her first baby.  I immediately contacted our coordinator and said I would be most interested in helping her.  We got all the paperwork done and shortly after I met “Sweet Marie” who has full of baby (due in only a few weeks) and her kind husband Tele.  Over the course of the next few weeks I learned so much about them; their journey coming to Canada, their culture, the distinct differences between life in Canada and Rwanda, and of course their excitement for the birth of their baby. They have no family living here.  It made me reflect on what it would be like for myself (or most anyone I know) to have their first baby – there would be showers, visitors, food offered and lots of general support.  All they really have is each other.  When visiting them I realized they were in need of many items for their baby.  I decided to post on Facebook  a request for anyone having baby items to spare to pass them over to me so that I could give them to this growing family.  What happened next amazed me.  I received (and still am receiving) so many items that I filled my car from top to bottom – Millie (my dog) had to sit on top of 3 boxes of diapers when I delivered the first load to them tonight.  When I showed up at their door Marie’s mouth literally dropped as if she saw a ghost and she started to cry.  I felt like Oprah when she would give viewers some crazy gift.  This wasn’t anything crazy it was basic baby stuff, but to her it was as if I showed up with a million dollar cheque.  

Last Monday the baby arrived after 4 (yes 4) days of labor.  I was able to support them throughout this as it was very much out of Tele’s comfort zone (men do not attend births in their country and he felt very nervous to be alone during the process).  Little baby Lina made her way into the world and my goodness is she ever beautiful. After losing 4 nights sleep and spending a week in the hospital due to a few minor complications I was concerned about her going home to be alone all day while her husband goes to work. A friend informed me of an amazing program at the IWK called EPS (Extra Parental Support) so I called and had them set up a visit from a volunteer once a week for 3 hours.  Basically this volunteer will do anything Marie wants – care for the baby if she wants to take a nap, do laundry, visit, etc.  Yesterday they came for the first time and she told me it was wonderful. 

The purpose of this post is to hopefully inspire you to “make good things happen”. Honestly, it is way easier to make good thing happen than to make shitty things happen.  We are so connected now that the click of a computer key gives you access to thousands of eyes.  My father says that Facebook is “the most blatant display of insecurity he has ever seen” – for the most part I agree with him, but when used right it can “make good things happen”.  

Through this process I have been: educated on another culture, made 3 new friends, further appreciate the amazing health care we have in Canada and made some “good things happen” with the help of many others.