On the road to "home"

Although Ottawa has become my home and I can’t imagine living anywhere else, I also still think of the US/Florida/Tallahassee as my home. Yesterday I ventured across the border for the first time in over 5 years. There’s a combination of reasons for this delay - the most embarrassing is that I let all my travel documents expire. (Don’t do that, okay?)

So, we left Ottawa yesterday morning - not nearly as early as I’d hoped, but such is life! Brandon fell asleep on our way to the border and was snoring softly as I waited in line to see the border guard. We passed through without any issues, though Brandon did wake up because the car had stopped moving. And, despite staying up very late the night before, that was the last he slept in the car all day.

A couple of hours later, we both got hungry and when I saw a Cracker Barrel sign, I couldn’t resist! 

Also, they had a violin, and Brandon has been asking for one for weeks! (Score!) Unfortunately, it requires batteries and the cover is screwed on. I didn’t pack batteries or a screwdriver for this trip. (Fail!)

After getting through the lovely rush-hour traffic in Harrisburg, PA, Brandon said his tummy was grumpy. Combine, windy roads, rain and dark and his first epic road trip and it’s understandable. We ended up stopped 3 hours shy of our goal.

That means we won’t get to Tallahassee until Sunday, but it’s all good. I’m enjoying the time with Brandon. He’s a good co-pilot.

A little side note: we’re also really enjoying driving in the Ford C-Max that Ford Ottawa gave me to use for this trip. It doesn’t look very large, but it’s nice and roomy. There isn’t as much cargo space as I would like and I had to ditch one of the suitcases I’d planned to bring along, but packing light isn’t a bad thing! 

I’m going to talk about it some more later, especially since I’m honestly considering it as a second vehicle now that I’ve driven it. (Of course, I’m not sure when we’ll finally get around to getting a second vehicle!) I’ve tried out the Ford Edge, the new Focus and now the C-Max and the C-Max is my favourite so far. 

Best part? Filling it up isn’t nearly as painful as when I fill up my other car. And we won’t get into the difference in what we’re paying in Canada compared to the US. It’s bad, you guys.

Saturday night me-time rituals

When I was younger and still living at home, Saturday nights were a time I got to spend with my mom - just the two of us most of the time. We stayed up really late a lot of the time. When I moved out of the house, I lost those times with Mom, but I continued the tradition of unwinding on Saturday nights. I read, I watched TV, I just did whatever I wanted for as long as I wanted to do it.

I remember one particular Saturday night when I was living alone: I started reading Kiss the Girls by James Patterson. BIG mistake. That book is all about a guy who targets women who live alone. I can only assume that I hadn’t seen the movie before I read the book, which is my preference. Or maybe I had seen the movie and because it’s so watered down (it really is), I didn’t think it would scare the bejeezus out of me late on a Saturday night.

I laid in bed, fully awake and heart racing during every one of those scenes where you just know that the bogeyman is going to jump out at you, until 5:00am when I finally read the last word on the last page. I had to know that the bad guy was really gone and not in my side yard waiting for me to turn out my light.

Another Saturday night ritual was born when Walmart opened a 24-hour superstore in Tallahassee. I might have gotten into the habit of going grocery shopping at 1:00am. It’s actually a really nice place to be that time of night!

After Matt and I got married, I got away from my Saturday night at-home/retail rituals until Matt took a job at Blockbuster to make a little extra money. During that time, my new ritual tended to be sitting in front of the television for hours watching movies that we got to rent for free, thanks to his employment. Ten a week, thank you very much. Thankfully, that period of him working two jobs didn’t last long. It got to be pretty lonely. 

Brandon’s birth and my return to work led to yet another shift. The alternating sleep-in days. Matt was bound and determined to sleep-in on Saturdays. I think he needs to gird himself to survive the weekend and I can understand why. Keeping a child entertained gets a little harder the older he gets. I sort of wanted the Saturday sleep-in, but over time I’ve realized that I have my Saturday nights back! Matt goes to bed at a decent hour so he can get up early to take care of Brandon and I can stay up or go to bed at will.

Tonight, I realized that I have never really gotten over the fear of that bogeyman. I had to go down to the basement after Matt went to sleep and going through our house (alarm on) and seeing all the shadows and occasional light from the street lights filtering in through the windows made me feel so exposed and vulnerable. As they always do. 

Just writing that last paragraph made my stomach flip again about another ten times. I am such a wuss.

But I wouldn’t change my Saturday night rituals for anything. When else am I supposed to read/blog/explore (the Internet)? :)

When do you get regular alone time? How do you spend it?

A promise kept

Have you ever had a year that is so momentous that you feel like you can relive it every single time you hear it mentioned? That year for me was 2000. It was a huge year. (And I don’t mean because of the 2000 election, in which Tallahassee had a starring role, whether it wanted it or not!)

In January, something devastating and hurtful happened just before I moved from my cute little studio apartment into my (recently deceased) great aunt’s house to live while it was in probate.

In February and March, I spent all my spare time distracting myself by setting up house and trying not to be lonely. I lived on the other side of town from my parents in a super cute house surrounded by a neighborhood that was slightly run down and perhaps not the most law-abiding at times.

In April I turned a corner. I began to regain my balance only to begin the process at work of going through a re-org. Uncertainty was everywhere, including in me. I didn’t know what I was doing there other than marking time.

In May I flew to Canada - and this is where things get interesting - and promised Matt that I would move to Canada by the American Thanksgiving. (For anyone who isn’t in the know, that effectively gave me an extra six weeks.)

In June I dragged my brother to St. Petersburg, FL to go to a Canadian consulate-approved doctor to have the medical exam required for my Permanent Resident Visa. 

In July I found out that my great aunt’s house was done with probate. Since the rent on it was out of my budget I had to move again. (That’d be move #2.) And I also turned 23.

In August I moved into the apartment that I’d found in July. It turns out that my dear friend was moving back to town and needed a place, so she moved in with me. Perfect - someone to take over the lease when I left by November.

September came and so did Matt. He spent a week hanging out with me and my family, seeing the sights in Tallahassee and this is the one visit we had together that I can barely remember. The highlight was Starvin’ Marvin and his stinky bum and flakey skin playing with Emo and Colonel Mustard, but that’s another story for another day.

October was a really big month. When it started, I lined up a second job for myself as a seasonal worker at Barnes and Noble, hoping with each passing day that my Visa would arrive soon. All the paperwork had been sent in plenty of time for me to get it by the end of October and I was getting nervous.

Midway through the month, my roommate and I noticed that Colonel Mustard wasn’t eating so I took him to the vet. Diagnosis: most likely FIP. I said my goodbyes to the best cat ever the next day. I only had him a year and a half, but he’d been with me through a LOT.

Within about a week or week and a half, I was at the second job one night, bored and counting the seconds until I could leave, when I got a call. It was my mom. She never called me at work but she wanted to let me know there was something from the Canadian Consulate (or whoever it was that sent my Visa; I can’t remember now). And I just gave away what was in the package.

And here’s the relief part: I was movin’ to Canada! I was going to keep the promise I’d made. 

I already had my resignation letter written. All I had to do was change the date, print, sign and give it to my supervisor, who was expecting it.

About a week after I gave my three-week notice I left work early, wrapping up by scheduling a meeting with my supervisor and someone from the big boss’ office. Later that night, a coworker called me at home to give me a heads up that my supervisor - someone I truly liked - had been let go. The next Monday morning, he called me at my desk to say his goodbyes - he was a great man to work for.

By then, November had come, I had two weeks left to work and I no longer had a supervisor. You’d think I would have switched off, but I didn’t. I had the final awards ceremony that I was going to manage and that was important to me. I had some big send-offs from the people I had worked with for 3.5 years. When Matt rolled into town in late November, sporting a champagne-colored minivan, I hadn’t even packed a box. (Gasp!) I was in total denial that I was leaving.

Matt spent the days I had left at work walking around the (huge) complex and going into every building to collect boxes. We didn’t have a single moment alone since he’d driven into town. So, when he got tired of waiting, he went for it right where we were - my cubicle - and with a co-worker walking by chit-chatting with me. When she saw him down on one knee (before I did), she quickly scurried away. He asked and I said yes.

It was Monday, November 20th, I was engaged and I was definitely moving to Canada. It was a done deal. We quickly packed everything we could into the van over the next two days. Said as many goodbyes as we could and celebrated an early Thanksgiving with my parents and brother.

The day before Thanksgiving, amidst political turmoil, Matt and I drove away from my parents’ house on our way north, just as I’d promised.

That was when the real relief began.


Mama's Losin' It

This post was based on the prompt “A moment you felt truly relieved” from Mama Kat’s writing workshop. 

What’s your moment of relief?

Southern Comfort: 10 things I miss about "home"

Home for me is no longer Tallahassee, Florida and it hasn't been for quite a long time, though it took a while for me to really feel at home in Ottawa after I moved here. Even so, I still refer to Tally as "home" - after all, that is where I spent the majority of my first 23 years of life. In November, I celebrate my tenth anniversary of living in the Great White North and after all this time there are still a lot of things I miss from my hometown apart from the family and friends still there. In no particular order:

Sonny's BBQ - Many BBQ connoisseurs would say that Sonny's isn't "real" BBQ. That's fine with me; I'm not as picky as the BBQ connoisseurs (Paul!). The thing is, it's really good! It's not all that healthy - most "southern" food isn't. Everyone who goes to Sonny's knows which sauce they prefer. For me, it's original (now called mild). I love the sauce so much that I've thought about ordering it to be shipped up here. They charge way too much, so I have to settle for buying a few jars when I'm in town.

Simply beautiful. White azaleas have always reminded me of how a dusting of snow looks sitting on bushes.Azalea bushes - In Ottawa, many people line their yards with cedar hedges, which is nice. But, in my humble opinion, they simply don't hold a candle to the yards in Tallahassee that are lined with Azaleas. Every March/April as springtime brings everything back to life, these bushes bloom in brilliant shades of pink, white and magenta - all over town (white is my personal favorite). When I'm in Tallahassee, springtime is my favorite season. 

Springtime Tallahassee - Since spring is my favorite season in Florida, I love the Springtime Tallahassee festival. My family went to the parade together every year. During marching band season, I was on the Flag Corps - good times!My older brother was in marching band, so we would watch for him and enjoy the floats and other parade features. When I was in high school, I got to march in the parade too and I loved it. Once we finished the parade route, we'd rush to see the rest of the parade and then check out what was going on in the downtown market that was set up.

Andrew's - My first restaurant job was in 1996/1997 working at Andrew's North - a restaurant that the owner opened during extensive renovations to the downtown location. Working at Andrew's North, I developed a taste for good food. Seriously, I ate at that place all the time. I try to go back at least once every time I'm in Tallahassee to get a Haight Ashbury - my favorite sandwich ever, which (last time I was there a few years ago) was still being served at Andrew's Bar & Grille. 

All things FSU - I attended Florida State University, as did both my parents and my Grandma C went there in the days when it was Florida State College for Women (FSCW). Our family are all fans of the football and baseball teams, so I suppose it's a family tradition. Go Seminoles!

Grits - Many people in the north have never had grits, a few have and like them, a few have and don't like them. If you've never seen them, think about Cream of Wheat, but larger grains because it's made from ground up corn, instead of wheat. You also don't sweeten them - they're usually a salted side dish. Mostly, grits are a breakfast staple, served with bacon, eggs and toast. But cheese grits are a favorite when we have fish fries. Fried catfish with cole slaw, cheese grits and hush puppies is a winning combination! One of these days I'll actually remember to bring a box back across the border with me.

Good ol' Southern hospitality - What I think of first when people talk about Southern hospitality is food. Southerners have food at just about every event - minor, major and everything in between. When you're invited to someone's house, the automatic response is typically, "what can I bring?" This is Old Bainbridge Road, one of 9 canopy roads designated as such by the County Commission. Source: Tallahassee Daily PhotoThe big joke at church was that it wasn't a real church function unless food was served. We had donuts Sunday mornings, dinner Sunday evenings, Wednesday night church supper and many potlucks at varying times. Food is central to the culture of Southerners and their hospitality, so it's been an adjustment for me to invite people over to my house and NOT put out food because it isn't generally expected here during non-mealtimes. (Actually, I still do it most of the time anyway. I can't help it.)

Canopy Roads - They're beautiful and a great source of pride in Florida's capital city. I haven't noticed any in and around the areas of Ottawa that I frequent - yet. I used to drive to work every day on canopy roads. It was a great way to start the day and a great way to end it. I even liked driving them at night, even though some sections can be spooky, as pointed out by this Tallahassee blogger/photographer.

St. George Island in the Gulf of Mexico.The Beach - I'm about as pale a person as you can find, so I don't attempt to tan and I don't swim in the ocean after an unfortunate incident with a jellyfish 18 years ago (I got stung pretty bad). But I LOVE sitting on the beach. If you're an early riser, you can walk to the beach and sit in perfect peace with turquoise water and white sand all around - and practically no people. One of our favorite beaches to visit was St. George Island, just two hours away.

Independence Day/Fourth of July - The happenin' place to be in Tallahassee (at least if you wanted to see the legal fireworks) was Tom Brown Park. There were musical acts, entertainment for kids and sometimes we'd sneak to the old drive-in theatre stage area to play. (We weren't supposed to be near there most years because of its proximity to the fireworks setup.) We ate hot dogs, cotton candy, listened to renditions of "God Bless the USA". When the Star Spangled Banner was sung, the entire crowd would stand with their hands on their hearts, united in support for a country we loved.

Hopefully, as the years go by, I'll get the chance to share each of these things with my son so that he'll come to know this piece of his roots and maybe even feel at "home" there. 

Umbrellas keep raining on my head

I grew up in Florida. Think hurricanes, occasional tornadoes spinning out of the hurricanes, and torrential downpours that will flood a street in minutes. Then, of course, there are the things that follow the aforementioned acts of nature - like further acts of nature, trees falling, loose items scattered all over creation.

It's actually a sight to behold. The calm before a storm is filled with ominous peace. It's as if the world is holding its collective breath in anticipation. Then come the winds. Then slow, fat drops of rain start to fall and that's all the warning that's given. More often than not, those fat raindrops are followed immediately by a torrent of rain that can leave you soaked to the skin in seconds flat.

Growing up, once a storm started, we'd often watch through the windows - especially if there was lightning. It was like this amazing light show - one of a kind, one showing only. I loved watching the storms. It's one of the things I remember doing with my mom; she taught us how to appreciate the awesome power of a storm.

As a kid, it was exhilarating. Whenever there was a storm without lightning, my parents would let us go outside and run through the rain (which makes your hair really soft!). We didn't have air conditioning for a lot of years, so those summer storms were a welcome relief from the heat and humidity that reigns supreme in Florida. 

As a teenager, I was constantly frustrated that my mile-high teased, shaped and hair-sprayed into submission hair would be flattened in less time than it took to say, "Hurry, get inside!" (Have you ever gotten hair-sprayed hair wet? No, NINETIES hair-sprayed hair. It was a horror show. What on earth made us think that big, poofy bangs looked good?)

After reaching the age of majority (18), I went with a friend to Jacksonville to spend the weekend. We spent some time with a couple little girls who were either friends of her family or family members - I can't recall for sure. We drove with the girls from Jacksonville to the outlet malls in St. Augustine. It was a nice, hot summer day and we knew a storm was coming. We went, did our shopping and then decided to head back to Jax. The older of the two girls had a problem - she always felt like she needed to pee, even when she didn't. That's a feeling that can produce a lot of anxiety, especially in a child that age (around 6 or 7). We tried to sing songs, tell stories, read books - anything to get her mind off her full-feeling-but-actually-empty bladder.

Then it happened. We got hit with a torrential downpour. Four-lane highway, 70 miles per hour and we couldn't see 5 feet in front of us. The rain slammed down on the car so hard that we had to practically yell over the sound of it. And we had a child in the backseat who thought she needed to pee. In the middle of one of the worst rainstorms I've ever been in. She had to pee. Rain. Pee. Rain. Pee. Get it? Good. You ever try keeping a 6-year-old's mind off of peeing when she's surrounded by falling water!? Stressful! (Don't worry; we pulled over along with every single other person on that highway until the rain slowed.)

August 1998, Tallahasee, Florida - One of Matt's first "real" rainstorms. (History lesson: How much was gas in 1998? Boy, were those the days!)Imagine my surprise, upon moving to Canada, when people called drizzle "rain". Seriously, the barely more than mist that we call drizzle in Florida is rain up here. Thunderstorms are not terribly common, nor are they terribly dramatic when they happen. In ten years, I can basically count on one hand the number of storms that came close to what I experienced growing up in the Sunshine State. I remember my husband's first trip to Tallahassee in August 1998. He witnessed his first torrential downpour and took pictures AND video. He wanted to document the rain for his family to see because they had never seen anything like it. He got lucky - we had a torrential downpour AND the sun was shining the entire time, through the thunder, rain and lightning.

Today it "rained" in Ottawa. There was drizzle that fell in between drops you could dodge if you walk at a good pace. I work downtown, which is a small area jam packed with a whole lot of people. And every time it "rains", roughly 85-90% of that large number of people stuffed like sardines into the core carry umbrellas to to stay dry. I find it amusing to realize that Ottawans turn into big 'ole wimps as soon as a little water starts dripping out of the sky. I was nearly plowed down by a woman who had her umbrella foisted in front of her like a shield. She couldn't see where she was going or anyone who might be coming at her. I was hit in the head by people who seem to have no spacial awareness when they have an umbrella in their hand. I had to jump and strain to see around the sea of umbrellas at my bus stop so I wouldn't miss my bus - all while getting barely damp from the "rain". I'll say it again - and I have no malicious intent - Ottawans are wimps! ;) I'm smiling as I say it, because I know most Floridians would just as soon go running home rather than live through our January or February weather!

As I was sitting here writing this, the rain picked up quite a bit. We were actually having an honest-to-goodness rain storm for about 10 minutes. A nice one, too. The kind where there's an occasional bolt of "soft" lightning, the lowest rumble of thunder in the distance, but mostly it's just a steady beat of rain - relaxing and calming. The perfect storm to come before bed. I think I'll sleep well tonight.