For the boy who made me a mother

You know those journals that ask you questions or give you writing prompts to tell your life story? I love them.

I got my mom one over twenty years ago and I think she filled out some of it. Then almost 13 years ago, I got a book that we were both supposed to fill out - it was a mother-daughter combo. It wasn't overly long, but it was a Christmas present for her in 2004 when she had just finished over 6 months of copious time spent in the hospital. After I gave it to her, she told me to take it back home and fill out my part first. So, I did. 

That trip was the last time I ever saw her. She died a year and a half later and the still-blank pages of that book make me sad.

Lately, Brandon has been asking me lots of questions about my childhood, so this Mother's Day, I thought I'd answer these as a gift to him. That, and I'll keep working through this book so he doesn't have to stare at blank pages when he's older.

What are your favorite memories of times you spent with your grandparents?

I never knew my grandfather on my dad's side; he died when I was only 8 months old.  And though I was 10 when my grandfather on my mom's side died, I really didn't know him well. He was a very nice man, but for various reasons, I hadn't spent a lot of time with him. However, I spent lots of time with both my grandmothers - they both even lived with my family (at different times). 

My grandmother on my mom's side is responsible for introducing me to Anne of Green Gables. She shared the movies with me and, when I saw they were based on books, I found and devoured them. That series is one of my all-time I-can-read-them-a-thousand-times-and-never-get-bored favorites. And, given that L.M. Montgomery is such a beloved Canadian author, it's interesting that I latched onto her books long before I ever even had a reason to think about moving to Canada.

My grandmother on my dad's side was a storyteller. My younger brother and I used to beg her to tell one particular story about her childhood over and over because it was so funny. And, since you are loving Captain Underpants so much these days, Brandon, you'll like this story, too.

My great-grandfather (my grandma's father) owned a drugstore in south Florida. One day when my grandma was about three or four, my great-grandmother (my grandma's mother) made Grandma a new pair of underwear and she loved them. She was so proud of them, in fact, that she went to her father's drugstore to tell him about it. When she got there, her father was in a meeting with a group of businessmen. But that didn't stop her. She yelled out to her father, "Daddy, daddy! Look at my new panties!" And she lifted up her dress to show him. In front of everyone.

What was your grade school like? What do you remember about your favorite teacher?

My memories of grade school are fading fast these days, but I would say that grade school was mostly uneventful. I attended two different elementary schools because we moved from a small town in central Florida to Tallahassee when I was eight, just before I started third grade. Up until that time, I attended the school where my mom was the special education teacher. Being in the same school as my mom was fine. I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes so the threat of teachers talking to my mom wasn't a big deal since I didn't get in trouble anyway. 

When we moved to Tallahassee, someone decided I should be tested for the gifted program and my mom agreed. I got tested and was put in the program, which meant going to "special" classes that most of my classmates didn't attend. This kept up until I graduated high school.

I have mixed feelings about being in the gifted program. I got a lot out of it, but it had some downsides too. That's a story for another day, though.

Who was your best friend? And what did the two of you like to do?

When I lived in central Florida, I had a best friend, but we lost touch when I moved. From 8 to 13 I didn't really have a best friend. Then Angie moved to town and started attending my school. We became friendly in 8th grade and got really close in ninth grade. We were tight all through high school and a bit of college - distance was hard to overcome back then. We go years now without talking, but she's one of a handful of people that time spent apart doesn't impact our ability to pick right up where we left off.

Angie and I liked to watch sappy movies and write sappy stories. There may be notebooks still in existence that we'd never give up because the memories are important. But we wouldn't want anyone else's eyes on those things.

Angie also happens to be one of the kindest, most amazing women I've ever known. I hope you choose your friends wisely and find good people who try to be as kind as you are, Brandon.

What did you do as a kid that got you into trouble at home or school?

When I was in third grade, I experimented with swearing for the first time. My first big, bad words were "shut up." Those two words seem pretty tame, but we didn't use them in my family. They were as forbidden as any curse word you could name. But one day at daycare, a little boy just would not leave me alone. I was really upset by whatever he was doing.

I remember shaking which means there were probably tears. I finally screamed at him to shut up. And he actually did. But I was terrified. I was sure the teacher was going to tell my mom what I'd said. She didn't, but I did. After hearing what happened, my mom wasn't even mad. She just talked to me about how I could handle the situation a bit differently if it happened again.

Sometime after that - the same year - a girl in my class did something (I don't remember what) that I felt warranted a scathing note from me. In this note, I decided to use every single real curse word I'd learned. Anyone reading that note could see it was my first time using them.

I don't remember what I wrote, but I remember my teacher talking to me about it and she knew I hadn't ever cussed before. I didn't get into major trouble because (once again) there was understanding that I had been provoked. 

However, I did learn very early that writing things down isn't a good idea. I don't know if the teacher told my parents about this, but now my dad will definitely know about it along with a couple of other people who still read my blog.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

For a really brief time, Christa McAuliffe inspired me to want to be an astronaut. And Whitney Houston made me want to be a singer. In truth, I didn't really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do until I was in high school. Up until then, I didn't really think about long-term plans. In high school, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Fortunately, I figured out before I went down that path that it wasn't the right career for me.

Outside of the family, what was the very first job you had that you got paid for?

Because I wanted to be a lawyer, my dad helped me get an unpaid internship at a law office as part of a program I was in at school. When school ended, the firm hired me part-time for the summer.

How did you meet Dad? How did he ask you to marry him?

I met your dad online and I've written about it before. As for the proposal, that's kind of a funny story. I was living in Florida until the week of Thanksgiving in 2000. I received my permanent resident visa from the Canadian consulate about three weeks before and I immediately gave notice at work.

Matt and I had planned for him to drive down in a minivan, we'd pack all my stuff into it, and head back to Ottawa. I still had to work two more days at the beginning of that week and I was filling all my free time with saying goodbye to family and friends - and packing, since I didn't get that finished before Matt arrived. 

On my last day at my job, Matt spent the morning running around to every building on the campus to grab empty boxes from the kitchens where the photocopiers were. After he'd collected as many boxes as he could, he came back to my desk to see if I would just leave already.

Of course, I hate leaving anything undone, so I said I couldn't and kept pushing through. Matt was frustrated - rightfully so - that he couldn't seem to get me alone and I was 100% oblivious to his frustration. At one point while I was working, he got down on one knee and asked right there in my cubicle. As he was about to ask, one of my co-workers was walking by and stopped to talk to me, but she saw what was going on and quickly detoured.

After that, Matt finally got my full attention. He asked. I said yes. Then I went around the office showing my ring to all my friends.

I think about that proposal and it's kinda perfect. It was such a stress-filled time and I love that Matt decided not to wait a second longer. He just pushed forward and did it. Because there's no perfect time and place, nor does there need to be.

What is the hardest thing that you ever had to do in your life?

Definitely moving to Canada. I knew I was leaving behind my family and my mom was living with chronic illness. I was going where I would be way too far away to ever help. I was going way too far away for us to be part of each other's day-to-day lives. I don't regret coming to Canada and my mom and family 100% supported my move, but that didn't make it any less difficult.

What is the greatest compliment that you have ever received?

When I auditioned to attend Florida State University's School of Music, I did so with four hurried weeks of vocal coaching on the two songs that I was singing in my audition. I had sung in choir at church all my life, but I'd never been in choir at school or had any real vocal training. My 18-year-old self had the audacity to believe that I was good enough without training. When I got in, no one was more surprised than I was. After my audition was over, it finally hit me that it was an extremely long shot. But I got in. Then I got an A from the faculty in my first jury. That was an amazing moment.

What is one thing you still want to do that you've never done?

Ever since I learned about Holland from my neighbor when I was a kid (he was from Holland), I've always wanted to go and see all the things in person that he shared with me in pictures and stories. When I finally get around to making that trip, I'm sure you and your dad will be with me. :)

Brandon, I hope you've enjoyed reading a little more about me this Mother's Day. You're the best kid a mom could ask for and I love you so much.


This list of questions came from here and I have to give a hat tip and thanks to my bloggy friend/fellow Spin Sucks Crazies buddy, Paula, for sharing it with me.

There's quite a bit of grey to think about with Black Friday

This week, I’ve been frustrated with some comments about Black Friday. For many, the idea of Black Friday is wrong. I understand where they’re coming from, but the reality is that as long as consumers show up, the hype isn’t going to die down. 

Black Friday used to be more commonly known as “the day after Thanksgiving”. For as long as I can remember, that day has marked the official kick off to Christmas shopping. I have personally gone shopping on the day after Thanksgiving to take advantage of the sales as I completed my shopping lists for Christmas.

I once worked 14 hours on the day after Thanksgiving. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day. The atmosphere was happy, energetic, excited. People were gearing up for my personal favorite holiday of the year - Christmas. Working that day was actually fun. I was even interviewed for the local news.

Though the term “Black Friday” has been around for decades, it became a marketing ploy only in the last decade.

As with most things, the press has taken isolated yet extreme incidents and created an impression of rampant violence fueled by the greed of American consumers. 

I’m not a fan of what Black Friday has become. I think many of the “deals” are suspect and it saddens me to see shoppers worked into a frenzy to spend money in order to save a few dollars. If I lived in the US, I would no longer participate in any way with what it has become. I also won’t participate in the burgeoning Black Friday sales that have made their way into Canada. (And, for the record, we avoid Boxing Day as well.)

There’s been a lot of disturbing criticism of Black Friday that hits home to me, because it comes across as judgmental, uses generalizations or makes accusations of hypocrisy. 

The judgmental criticism is usually centered around the idea that Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family. And I totally agree. The Black Friday sales that are creeping into Thanksgiving Day (Black Thursday) - ugh. I just hope people boycott those retailers. However, the day after Thanksgiving sales really aren’t any different than Boxing Day in Canada. And though there haven’t been the same reports of the kinds of crazed shoppers that have happened in the US, it doesn’t mean that can’t or won’t happen here. 

I’ve seen a lot of generalizations that lump all Americans into various unflattering categories (both implied and explicit) - selfish, materialistic, greedy, etc. Sometimes generalizations can be used to make a point and recognizing that they are generalizations can soften the impact. But there are a lot of people in the US who are really good people. Some of them choose not to participate in Black Friday. Others do participate. The vast majority of the shopping that goes on happens with long waits, but customers remain civilized. Unfortunately, that’s boring, so it doesn’t make the news or internet memes. 

Finally there’s the hypocrisy claims. Suddenly it’s bad to be thankful Thursday and then go out and buy things Friday. I could probably come up with a list of dozens of reasons that people might be out shopping that don’t have anything to do with acquiring more posessions. One happens to be the original purpose of Black Friday - Christmas shopping (presumably for others). And so what if I go out and buy something new for myself? Does doing so the day after Thanksgiving make me somehow less thankful?

Instead of questioning the motivations of those who are going out on Black Friday to shop, perhaps it’s more productive to think about the reasons we’ve gotten to the point of frenzied shopping in the first place.

  1. We have had years of downturn in the economy, workers who can’t find jobs, etc. 
  2. There is more pressure than ever before to keep up with all the latest and greatest stuff - affordable or not.
  3. People want to save money wherever they can to live up to a certain standard.
  4. Some people think they will feel better if they go shopping (retail therapy).

I’m not so naive that I think everyone is out there due to misfortune or for altruistic reasons. However, I know that not everyone is out there for the negative reasons that are being thrown about on social media lately. 

There are over 300 million imperfect humans in the US. There are over 30 million imperfect humans in Canada. Both countries have their pros and cons. Both countries have awesome people and not-so-awesome people. Neither country is better than the other. 

In my opinion, it is foolish to think that Canada is immune to these kinds of incidents, especially as they’ve already happened here before. So, perhaps it’s time to stop being critical and start speaking with your feet by walking away from Black Friday. That’s the only way retailers are ever going to tone it down.

Oh, Canada! A newbie "guide" from a veteran immigrant (Part 1)

A wee disclaimer to start: This is all in good fun. I promise. (Well, most of it. If I decide to be serious, I think it will be obvious.) There will definitely be some poking fun at Canadianness. :) I will refer to Canadians throughout in a way that alternately amuses and annoys me in the media and other conversations when its done with regard to Americans. Yanno, as if “the Americans” all act, feel and think the same way? Also, I’ve converted my thinking, so temperature readings are all in Celcius, but I’ll be nice and translate…er, convert for you Fahrenheiters since I have a diverse audience.

*****

Later this year, I’ll be able to say I’ve been in Canada for 12 years. I think I can now safely write a guide for those entering Canada based on the things I’ve learned.

1) Canadians have an even bigger thing for gravy than southerners. It’s true! They even serve it in a cup and dip their bread in it. They love drowning everything from fries to sandwiches in it. I remember the first (and last) time I ordered a “hot sandwich”. I expected chicken between two pieces of bread of some kind, all of which would be warmer than body temperature. What I got was exactly that, but it was also drowned in gravy. (<——Click the link if you want to see examples.) I think I even ate one or two bites in my attempt to avoid being rude. I would suggest to the Canadians serving this that ” hot gravy sandwich” is a more accurately descriptive name.

I avoid poutine like the plague. Poutine - for those who are uninitiated - is fries drowned in gravy and topped with cheese or cheese curds. There are other variations, but this is the traditional way it’s served up. I like ketchup with my fries. Not gravy. Not vinegar.

2) Speaking of ketchup, Canadians also have a thing for ketchup chips. I suspect the gravy and vinegar thing started because they ran out of ketchup when someone got this crazy idea of putting it on chips. I can help with this! Stop production of the ketchup chips and save it for your fries. Poutine problem solved! It cracks me up that the girl in this video describes the ketchup chips as being “covered with red stuff”, because that’s honestly the most accurate description.

3) Canadians love to talk about weather. Some complain. Some observe. Some make jokes. Some complain about the complainers. It’s as much a national pasttime as hockey. The triggers are predictable for Ottawa - I cannot speak for other areas, though.

From January to December, it goes something like this: Major snowfalls/deep freezes, then the weather gets a bit milder, so we hover in the -5 (23F) to 5 (41F) zone which brings freezing rain and lots of falls and car accidents as we slip slide through our days.

As soon as we hit double digits (50F) on the plus side of zero (32F), you start to see the fewer boots, heavy coats, mittens, toques (winter hats - who knew that was a metric/imperial thing!? Also, it’s not pronounced tokes. It’s toohks.). The bonus is that people start to show up to work and other obligations on time now that they don’t have to spend 15 minutes bundling up.

It’s inevitable that some (women in particular) will get tired of waiting for it to be 20 (68F) and will don their cute sandals for work at about 15 (59F). Most of them also have space heaters under their desk so their toes don’t freeze off.

August July and August are HOTtawa months. Yes, even for the Florida girl.

The heat takes so long to come that you’d think it would give us an easier transition, but no. The first snow since I’ve been in Canada almost always happens on or around Halloween. When it happens, you can hear the collective groan that covers all the cheers from the two people who get excited about snow.

I still say it’s a miracle anyone settled here and stayed. Although perhaps they were trapped in by the snow all those hundreds of years ago.

4) Canadians really want Stanley to come home. Alas, for yet another year, he’s not going to make it.

5) Getting back to weather, Canadians have a fear of rain. I recently watched half a dozen people get off the bus, open their umbrellas, walk ten feet to get under cover and close them. As soon as it starts to fall in the least little amount, from drop to drizzle, they break out the umbrellas. Having lived through torrential downpours and hurricanes in Florida for 23 years of my life, I am thoroughly amused by the perceived need for umbrellas here. After all, one can practically dodge the drops and stay dry through 95% of the rain that falls here. I can only conclude that there’s an irrational fear of rain. 

6) Canadians say “eh” a lot. Usually it’s a statement/question kind of thing: You know Canadian bacon isn’t really bacon, eh? Sometimes it’s like the period at the end of a sentence: I could probably write a whole post on the use of eh, eh. 

7) Canadians take a lot of pride in who they are and what they do. Not having grown up in Canada, I can’t relate to a lot of the “inside jokes” that my friends and Matt’s family sometimes refer to. Particularly the ones in French. I often find myself smiling and nodding. For those who think that Canada is “just” an extension of the United States, you couldn’t be more wrong. Canada is unique. It has a culture that is charming and engaging. You won’t ever truly understand this unless you come and stay awhile. Canadians are kind, thoughtful and concerned people who want the world to be a better place for everyone. 

I was only going to write one post, but there is just too much to share. This needs to be a series of indeterminate length for now.

What do you think new residents of Canada need to know?

Yearning for May 3rd - an American's view

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I am not the most up-to-date, knowledgeable person when it comes to politics - in Canada or the U.S. Many of my reasons for not following it closely are detailed in what you’re about to read. Beyond that, I simply don’t have an interest beyond knowing who stands for what and voting for the one I agree with. (Or disagree with the least, which is actually more common.) As a non-citizen in Canada, I am not permitted to vote, which affects my interest level as well. I may over-simplify some of the issues to keep this brief, but just know that I am aware that it’s more complex than I’m stating in certain cases. Chalk up errors to my status of still learning how all of this works in Canada.

On Friday afternoon, Canada’s parliament voted 156 to 145 in favour of a non-confidence motion against the Conservative (minority) government that has been in power for the last five years. This vote has triggered Canada’s fourth federal election in the last 7 years at a cost of roughly $300 million per election. 

Rumours have been going around for weeks about an election coming. But this week you couldn’t miss the glee people had about the government falling to this non-confidence vote. Many Canadians on twitter, which is often where I see news, were expressing their personal opinions about the government and their happiness that an election is going to happen.

While I can understand not wanting an elected official(s) in power that you don’t agree with or you feel has lied, I’m floored at the personal attacks and the joy over having our tax dollars spent once again on an election - the outcome of which is in no way certain! I’m not going to get into all the ins and outs and commentary on who will/won’t win and the various possibilities, but unless there is a huge movement to change a lot of people’s minds, we could very well end up yet another ineffective minority government and even more divisiveness.

Ironically, many people are commenting that they’re dissatisfied with how little Prime Minister Harper’s government has done. That’s all well and good to say, but minority governments are often powerless to do anything because the numbers simply aren’t in their favour. If I remember correctly - and I may not - this would be the 5th election since I moved to Canada just over 10 years ago. That’s an average of one every two years. So I ask, how is any party - minority or majority - supposed to accomplish anything when they rarely agree on how things should be done?

Coming from a primarily two-party system in the U.S., the overwhelming selection of parties to choose from in Canada is just one more thing that baffles me about politics here. Which party do you support? Is it the Liberals? Conservative? Independent? New Democratic Party? Bloc Quebecois - which is mostly from Quebec Ridings? These are just the more widely recognized parties, i.e., they actually hold seats. This vast selection is precisely why we have a minority government in the first place. Here’s an overview of the House of Commons, which shows the number of seats held by each party. It’s easy to see why there is such division and it makes my head ache to think of yet another election that is most definitely not going to make the general public happy.

Politics in the U.S. gets ugly, but the frequency of elections in Canada makes me miss fixed terms that are legislated in the U.S. At least there you have a timeline to work with and it’s possible to accomplish something without the constant threat of an election call hanging over your head at the first wrong move.

Sigh.

Is it May 3rd yet? My head hurts.