Making new Christmas Magic from the Old.

When I was a little girl, bright eyed and possibly more hyper-active as well as touch more naive than I am now, Christmas Eve and Christmas day was always spent at my grandmothers.

My grandmother lived in a farmhouse that was at least more than a century old. Two stories tall, it was a proper square of a house. It had a pitch roof and it did not have plastic siding anywhere on it. It was covered in wooden shingles painted bright white. It weathered Nova Scotia’s winters as stoically as it waited through the yellow warmth of its summer. Though for whatever reason my childhood memories think the old home stole all that summer warmth and kept it during the bleak white of December and onward– I remember the inside lit golden–and my grandfather’s habit of keeping the furnace and wood fire burning so hot it could melt a face during the day helped, too.

The house was built so that the focus of the main floor wasn’t actually the living room or the 10 windowed front sun porch that let in all of that fantastic light in the summer (and alternatively, was so poorly insulated let in all that cold air during the winter).  It was the kitchen itself. The front door brought you into the porch, the place where your boots, shoes and coats could set while you visited. Immediately to the left of  that door was another and that lead  into the kitchen. While it is very true that all year ’round the kitchen was the place where everyone would gather and greet, play cards and eat food, laugh and gather ’round for one of my grandmother’s amazing meals–the sun porch and its drafty windows was where the tree and the majority of my grandmother’s Christmas decorations would go up.

I can sit here and conjure the scent of the porch easily. It was a strange mix at the holiday season of pine tree, mildew (because in the summer and spring thaw the roof would leak a little bit, making brown splotches on the white tiles as they dried). In the winter with the cold and windows shut, you could smell the old dampness a little better. A heavy wooden door with a pane of glass chest-level to an adult separated it from the living room. During winter it was kept shut tight and often a little sewn stuffed draft catcher lazed about on the floor to try and keep some of the chill from wandering into the rest of the house downstairs. A few days before Christmas however, my grandfather would open the door wide up–shiver and say, Brrrr, s’cold in here, don a shirt, a vest, a sweater and trudge on out to crank the little electric heater. A long faded yellow register that whenever it was turned on added more to the scents of pine, the ethereal crispness of winter cold– it was the smell of long unused heater. The best way to describe it is warmed up metal and too-hot baking dust. It faded an hour or two after the porch finally warmed up.  I was always cautioned as well as everyone else not to touch or have anything touch the heater however, lest it melt.

The tree was always real. Probably not the most environmentally conscious thing ever but we lived in a place where everywhere you looked were trees. One pine a year when hundreds of saplings grew didn’t seem as horrible then. We had to empty the gutters in the fall because of that tree, but it was worth it. One year we installed a new one with a gutter installation Dallas company, which helped that problem afterwards.

Every year my grandfather (usually mildly tipsy to latter years, bunk drunk on watered down vodka–always hysterical when it came to his latter choices) would arm himself with a sharp axe. Miraculously he didn’t remove something important from himself with (like, you know. His head. Or an arm or a leg) and head out back to the line of tightly growing trees in our backyard.

When I was younger, usually my grandfather was relatively well at hiding how three-sheets-to-the-wind he was and still able to make some surprisingly good tree choices. He’d spend hours out in the cold bundled up as much as possible to pick the perfect tree. He always thought his choices were fantastic–and honestly I never understood why my grandmother would always roll her eyes and sigh Oh Cecil, whenever he brought the tree back. Because they were magnificent things to me, these Grandfather-picked trees. They were fat and huge with sprawling pine branches thick with the deepest green. The moment he dragged that tree inside god, Cecil! You are getting needles everywhe–it won’t fit through the do–Yes it will–no it won’t!–it will gawd damn it, jeeeezus christ, git outta my way–I just swept in the kitchen floor–Mooove I said!–and it hit the warm air, it made the entire house smell like it: pungent and knife-like and everything about the smell of a pine tree just hollars Christmas! and Winter! and Snow!

I always thought it was somewhat special, that smell of pine tree. It meant warm and clean and safe and sometimes, when I was very little and always sick with some sort of cold or yuck settled deep in my lungs–made me breathe easier. This perfect tree was always placed in the spot of honor to the far right corner. They would always loom tremendously tall to me. I suspect it was made even more so especially because I was not very tall at all when I was little. My grandmother would decorate it with things my mother and her sister made when they were girls, with things she made for the tree when she was younger and with things from her family and my grandfather’s family when they were little. Eventually it was even decorated with the horrific, often squished and semi-crumpled red and green construction paper chains, popcorn garland and other sloppily glittered monstrosities I would make in school.

She’d spend hours winding fat garlands of gold and silver tinsel over old fashioned mini-lights of green, red, yellow, and blue (with murmured concerns of fire hazards and never leaving them on all night until Christmas eve proper. For Santa. Of course). She watered it daily with a mix of plain old well water from the tap and aspirin to keep it healthy looking and shedding less pine needle if possible. Even in the later years when my grandfather brought home increasingly horrible looking trees…Scraggly things with great holes of missing branches and little to no pine needles left on them, she could always use her magic to transform it. Even the years she could no longer reach well enough to decorate it properly, her magic simply transferred to my mother, my aunt and myself as we helped.

I would spend hours lying under that tree the night before Christmas. My mum, my Aunt and her current boyfriend(s), my father, my grandfather would often gather in the kitchen to have tea, hot chocolate and coffee. The smell of that and the cookies my Nan had been baking would fill the air, mixing with the pine and the porch. The lights in the porch would be off, but every window in it–all ten of them–would have the orange yellow of a plug in candle glowing brightly. The tree would twinkle its semi-rainbow of color down to me through its branches, hitting the garland and sparkled ornaments,  becoming something otherworldly.  It  bewitched me into imagining for hours. Grand stories of fantastical beings living in world-sized trees bedecked in gold and silver. Or I would let my eyes, as I said when I was little ‘go soft’ (unfocused) until the tree above me became a kaleidoscope of bright dots, like the dust and glitter from a fairies wing. I listened to my mother and my aunt giggle in the background like sisters might when they are young, my father grump and snarl reluctantly about Christmas and how much he hated it–as he ate my Nan’s cookies, drank her coffee, made loud jokes and eventually ended up laughing too with my grandmother joining in. Alternatively my grandmother would sigh dramatically at her husband and children too. I heard my grandfather humming happily Silver Bells, because inside he was just a big little boy who adored Christmas more than he would ever let on…And I would touch each ornament I could reach as if they were the most amazing thing I had ever seen. It didn’t matter that I saw them every year. That they hung on the tree once a month every holiday season without fail for the decades I spent Christmas there–on Christmas eve they were new again. They were enchanting little creatures that sucked in all the different lights and sent them all out to bounce across every reflective surface on the tree, much like giggling children scatter on a school yard.

All around the tree a small river of presents gleaming heavily with stick-on giant bows and ribbons my grandmother curled with her secret-scissor technique fired my imagination. I wondered what gifts lay within, what secrets they held, what delight I would find in the morning.  Pointedly when I was younger, none of the gifts were signed by Santa. Those were added later when little blond headed terrors were sleeping in bed.

Christmas day dawned bright and exciting. Everyone would gather in the porch, finding themselves a seat and blearily creak their eyes open after a hurried breakfast (because I was up at six am with wake up wake up wake up lets go Santa’s been here the gifts are ready let’s go let’s go come on can I open them now is it time can I now now hey now gifts? Christmas ! CHRISTMAS YAY!) for whatever reason, glue themselves to their coffee cups and begin discussing who got to go first. When I was younger they always wanted me to open mine first.

When I was small I mistakenly thought that Christmas was all about Christmas day. About the gifts. About waiting all year for that majestic morning I could tear into green and red, blue and white shiny paper to reveal whatever material thing I had been given that year.

I was so young and so foolish to make it all about the gifts.

It was always about the magic of family, of my grandmother’s tree. Of my grandfather’s drunken tree-picking and Nan’s cookies. Of my mother and my aunt giggling their fool heads off like little girls again while my father made wildly inappropriate jokes my grandmother laughed at. It was about me lying under the tree while listening to my grandfather hum Silver bells and smelling peppermint , pine and the coffee my parents drank. It was about love, family, childhood and dreaming. But it was never about the gifts.

Now I am thirty two and I have grown up enough to understand that these Christmases, these family moments are gone forever.  These memories are the things while I, my grandmother, my Aunt and my mother also must cherish dearly because they cannot happen ever again. My grandfather has passed, my grandmother in a wheelchair and barely able to move on her own in a home. My mother and my father are far away in Calgary, celebrating a worrisome Christmas due to their health and financially, my father-in-law and mother-in-law, my husband’s sister and her boyfriend and I and Shawn will be having a sparse Christmas also–so these flickers of the past, these slide-shows I hold in my mind are all that remains of those christmases.

This is the first year however I have ever had my own place to have my own Christmas in and while I don’t have a lot of people (anyone yet) coming to my home to celebrate this holiday with me, I am determined to make more memories. More slide-shows to look back on.

I have put up my tree and hope my grandmother would approve. I am thirty-two years old, and every few days I still get down on the floor and scoot till my head is under the tree. I laid on my back and looked up into the branches. My tree  isn’t a real tree, but, the garland is silver and gold and red. The ornaments have all been given to me by my grandmother-in-law (who insists I call her Grandma) who either handmade all of them, or they have all been given to her–and I often touch the ones within reach fondly. They all carry a memory for her, and hopefully, will carry Christmas memories for me, too. I hear distantly the sounds from my childhood holidays and now I hear the things from my new family. The jingle of bells on my cats, Shawn playing games or laughing, my birds tweeting and singing. Someday it will be my husband’s family and hopefully you laughing and drinking coffee in my kitchen too. I remember my father-in-laws comments, my mother-in-laws good nature, my husband Shawn’s loud laughter and good-natured jabs at family. I remember the taste of homemade eggnog I made for them last year and hope to make for them this year.

I will never have the Christmas with my family I used to when I was a child. This realization and understanding I think, is also just part of the inevitable: growing up and growing old. It is sad and yet something which I think needs to happen–so that we can make new memories. So that we can make new holiday snap-shots in our hearts.

I’ve learned now not to take Christmas for granted–not to take any holiday with my family for granted. Even if  I don’t feel very much in the holiday spirit, if I am tired, if I’ve been arguing or had an argument with someone–I don’t let that stand in my way, because I don’t know when I’ll have the chance to make these memories again. I don’t let the consumerism or the advertisements; the grumpy faces in stores, the rude ladies elbowing me out of the way for that last chance sale ruin this for me.  Because I haven’t forgotten something very important that they have: it was never about the presents of the money. It was, and always will be, about family.

Now I have the chance at making a new set of memories each year until I too, am too old to lift my arms to reach the tree.

Death thought about it. “CATS”, he said eventually, “CATS ARE NICE.”

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?

Raven.

What can I tell you about our cat, Raven?

I think first, to understand why I am wasting your time telling you about a cat—about a creature that licks its own pewp and fur and spends time sleeping with its head upside down and often spooked by its own shadow–you must understand a little bit about how Shawn and I view them. How we view a creature that is, compared to humans, generally the dumbest thing, ever.  I have to explain that we’re those kinds of people. Shawn and I? We’re pet people.

We stand around in pet stores and make high pitched squeaky voices for the kitties and birds. We annoy you by going d’awwwwww at all the doggies people bring into pet friendly stores. We pick up our cats, no matter how many times they hit a jugular when we do and we shove our faces in their warm bellies and snorgle-huff away.

We love our animals.

They are our children.

So when I tell you about Raven, you’ll probably get bored. Your eyes might glaze up and you might skim through this going too long, didn’t read. You might skip to the end. You might skip this entirely. That’s okay. If you don’t snorgle kitty bellies, then you won’t understand how Raven’s presence in our lives—like any of our cats—touched every single aspect of our house. No, we don’t just mean the fur and the pooping, puking and or fur. Did we mention fur? No—it’s more than that.

When I tell you about Raven? I’m trying to tell you about love, unconditionally. About a cat that never cared if my hair looked good, if my clothes were stained, how fat I was. About a cat that was fat and round and could purr loud enough in one end of a house and be heard in the other end. I’m trying to point out that time when she got a plastic bag stuck around her head inadvertently, and in order to tell us that she did indeed, have a plastic bag over her head? She bolted to where Shawn and I were sleeping, claws out, all seventeen feet of them (well it felt like it to us) and ran around us in a circle. The fastest I had ever seen that cat move in my life. And all we could do is roll around the bed and laugh so hard at her there were tears.

She shook off the plastic bag a second after running around by the way. Then she went for a nap.

When I try and tell you about Raven, I want to tell you about the fact she wasn’t originally Shawn’s cat.  She was tossed at Shawn by a woman who couldn’t give a shit about what happened to the cat, and who was probably responsible for the fact that it took two years for Shawn to coax her out from behind things.

I want you to know that he coaxed her out from hiding behind things by playing her Jazz and enticing her with chicken.

I want to tell you about her fur, too. It was this glorious, thick coat of black on the surface. You could sink your hand into her coat forever. It had a second layer, like down. It was light charcoal gray and you could only see it when we had to trim knots off her because when she was young, she was too fat to lick herself and when she got old, too old to bother.

I want you to understand how a pair of green eyes that light up when you called her name, her pert ears, her bright eyes when you said, “Raven!” And she knew her name. She knew it. She knew the difference between “Raven!” and “Food!” and when you said her name it didn’t matter how sick she felt. Her head would come up and she’d look at you with alert eyes. She’d wait to see what you wanted.

And this last year, when she was her sickest; when you said, “Raven,” her head would wobble blearily up. But her eyes would open, her ears would stand right up and she’d look right at you.  And if you said it again, she’d stretch her paws out as if she were trying to reach you. And if you waited, patiently, she would lurch to her unsteady feet. She would wobble side to side in her old age and diabetic numbness and slowly, slowly, make her way to us.

I want to tell you that even then, she would purr and purr and purr and purr if you pet her.  That you could still hear that purring from one end of our apartment and back.

Now that I have told you, I want you to understand that she’s gone.

For the past few days we’d been trying to get her to eat. She’d eat a teaspoon at most; lick the juices from her cat food. Mostly she just laid by the water bowl and drank. When she had to use the litter box she’d limp her way to it and then come back to the water bowl.

Around 3 am on September 11th, I took her blood sugars. They were 68. They should be higher than 100. I gave her a dose of karo sugar and waited two hours to take them again. She was bone-thin. She was following us around the house, begging for food and not eating. She was sick. She was not happy anymore.

I want you to understand that we have lost something so vast. Something for us, that is unimaginable. A child that could not speak or run or plays like the ones without fur, but a child we loved nonetheless.

If you understand that, then you know why today I had to tell you about my cat, Raven. And why today I have lost another piece of myself, quietly, into a memory of warm, black fur and deep rumbling that remains in the house of my heart—purring I can hear from one end of it to the other.

Good bye, little lights.
Raven Pence
January 1998 – September 11th, 2010

With great bread there must also come–great nomability.

It’s dangerous knowing how to make great homemade bread.

At first, it doesn’t seem like it. You fail a few times and chew stoically on your fifty pound loaf that should have come out light and fluffy because damn it, you MADE this and you’re gonna EAT it and pretend to ENJOY it because it took you HOURS to make it. You think back on everything everyone has told you about bread, with their sneering Bread Overlord smug smiles and advice such as: oh, you’ll know when it’s right. You’ll FEEEEEEEEELLLLL it. Then they secretly bro-fist one another behind your back while you blink stupidly trying to understand the great mysteries.

But then one day it happens. Covered in flour, slipping in it across the kitchen you’ve got the dough in your hands and you feel it. The dough, my young padiwan, is right. Not too sticky, not too hard, not to omgwtfbbq did you just chip the counter? It looks right, smells right, feels right. It’s ready. And so are you.

Ready to become the all-knowing bread making evil genius.

This is what has happened to Shawn.

GAZE UPON MY CRUSTY BEAUTY, MORTALS

GAZE UPON MY CRUSTY BEAUTY, MORTALS

I watched his transformation this month as we finally moved out into our own place. It started with his sudden fixation on understanding how to make biscuits. Fantastic biscuits, the kind as wide as your palm and as thick as a fist. Golden yellow and flaky, you could pull them apart with your hands. And once he set himself to it–he did it. From there, he wanted to figure out how to make bread. Good Italian bread.

Last night, my friends, he made two of the most crooked, oddly shapped most DELICIOUS loaves of Italian bread I have ever tasted. To celebrate I ran into the kitchen when he was finished and chopped up some tomatoes, basil, garlic, splashed them with balsamic vinegar, dash of olive oil and salt and pepper to slather across that bread. And I did. Like I was doing something naughty and I liked it.

But knowing how to make bread becomes a dangerous business my friends. Soon, he will unlock homemade hamburger and hot dog buns, sub buns, rolls and sweet breads. What next? Croissants? My god--the humanity! Eventually our house will have no need to by the strange, tasteless oblong discs from the grocery store and then what?

It’s dangerous my friends, that’s what.

If you’ll excuse me, I have to prevent some unlucky soul from being endangered by Shawn’s bread by j–OUM NOM NOM NOM NOM.

Cucumbers: instruments of childhood memories.

Mid July in Nova Scotia. My grandmother’s century and a bit more home, painted white wooden siding freshly cleaned by rain from the day before. It might reach 85 at it’s hottest in summer there. Years later while I am old and cantankerous, living in Florida I’ll mock myself for thinking it was hot. For now, for us in that moment and time it was pretty warm.

My grandmother’s kitchen was the focal point for her entire house. Sure, you stepped into a front porch so you could take your coat or your shoes (in this case, usually sandals, flip flops, or just wipe your bare feet) off there. The front porch later held her deep freezer and a tiny wooden stove for winter–but nobody spent any time there.  It was too small and that’s not the function of a porch.

The first room people came to at my Grandmother’s house was the kitchen. People didn’t often bother going any further. She had her rocking chair set up on the far wall from the door, facing the larger, brightly lit window that let her watch the front door and her walkway to it. To the left was a small table and two or three chairs for company to seat themselves by that window. To the right was a long cabinet that reached all the way through the kitchen and dining room, broken only by the oven who seemed like a silent indicator of the line between where kitchen ended and dining room began. Her fridge was at the furthest wall, bright yellow as her oven.

The dining room had a window that mirrored the one in the kitchen that looked out over the door and walkway. These were perfectly set up for the lazy sort of breezes July carried. The morning and the night time were the best times–the coolest, sweetest breeze carrying either the morning’s or evening’s fresh cut grass, alfalfa and flowers would wiggle its way through the screens and billow flower bedecked curtains.

My grandmother’s kitchen was the soul of her house. People didn’t come and sit in the living room when they visited. They didn’t often settle in her other porch–her sun porch–to relax and talk, play card games or gossip. They came and they settled like little chirping birds in her kitchen and she would make the meals that would remain with me for the rest of my life. Hodge-podge, fresh baby carrots, peas, potatoes and beans from her own garden, roasts and chickens and the best gravy you’ve ever tasted and who cares if it was fattening or how many calories or how much salt was in it or if it was organic or not? It was summer time and you’d been out all day in the sun doing whatever or at work and even though the day was hot there was nothing like Grandma’s dinner.

Everyone walked away with their bellies full, grinning lazily with the after effects of eating just a bit too much but nobody really said anything or minded–they ate too much, too.

But there’s are two specific dishes my grandmother made that will forever be hers in my head. It’ll always make me remember and picture summer’s in her kitchen.

It’s the simplest thing on the planet to make, and the recipe (if you could call it that) can be adapted, changed, fiddled with and spiced up how anyone saw fit.

She’d take a one or two cucumbers grown from her very own garden and wash them. She peeled them, but that I suspect was a personal choice and then begin to slice them moderately even and thin. Then she’d slice a sweet or yellow onion very thinly, just enough to flavor the cucumber. When she was finished, she’d take the cucumber slices, onions, sprinkle them with salt and place them in a wide bowl and put a saucer or small plate on top of them. On the plate covering the cucumbers and onions she’d put the heaviest cans or jars she had and let that sit for about an hour.

When the hour had passed, she’d drain the water from the cucumbers into the sink and give them a quick rinse to remove the salt. This was the base for her side-dish. From there, she might pour heavy cream, salt and pepper and call it done. Or she’d mix white vinegar with sugar in a bowl. There was never any measurement, she’d just say, “Well, until it tastes right.” Then she’d put the cucumbers in either the cream or vinegar mix and let them sit from morning to evening in the fridge. Supper time came around and she’d put the big bowl of cucumbers on the table.

If the bowl lasted past dinner it was always a miracle.

I had almost forgotten about this side-dish. For the longest time, there were no reminders of home in my kitchen.  When I visited my mother and father in Alberta a while back, my mother made this dish four or five times when I was there–both the creamed and vinegar version. Watching her make it was like watching my childhood unfold again; she is her mothers daughter in the way her hands hold the knife to cut the cucumbers. In her, “Well, let me just taste it to see if it’s right,” for checking if she put the correct amount of sugar to vinegar in or not.  The cucumbers might have been store-bought but they came out as perfect as any memory I have of my grandmother’s version.

When I came home to Shawn one of the first things I did that week when we went grocery shopping was to grab some cucumbers and vinegar. Now, personally, I like to play around with it. I used red wine vinegar and red onions. I put a liberal sprinkle of dried dill into the mix. But it’s the same to me because at the core it’s like…tasting a memory. It’s sweet, a little tart, nostalgic.

It’s odd what our brains choose to associate with a memory. And I want to know–what foods trigger a happy memory for you?

Arguments in the key of 2GP

“I don’t understand how you do this. ”

“Do what?”

“This! This kitchen thing you do.  There were EIGHT THOUSAND bowls in the sink and seventeen knives. What do you need EIGHT THOUSAND bowls for!”

“Really? Really. Eight thousand? Whatever, Mister Flour ALL OVER the sink and the counter and some on the walls and ooooon the flooooors and socks by his desk and glasses on the desk and never cleans the surface of the–”

“That has nothing to do with the fact–”

“–cabinets or the cabinet doors or the fingerprints on the refrigerator or sweep and mop the floors or vacuum or do the wash or–”

“…that you can’t seem to cook one single meal without–”

“–make the bed or put the toilet seat down or–”

“…using EVERY DISH IN THE HOUSE FOR ONE MEAL!”

“EIGHT THOUSAND BOWLS, SHAWN, REALLY. I MEAN REALLY? EIGHT THOUSAND?”  I partner this statement by standing in my kitchen and becoming a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.

“YES. AND SEVENTEEN KNIVES AS WELL, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU’D MAKE TO NEED THAT MANY KNIVES!”

“WE DON’T EVEN OWN EIGHT THOUSAND BOWLS. THAT’S A LIE. YOUR FACE IS FULL OF LIES RIGHT THERE! BESIDES, WAS THE MEAL BAD?”

“I DON’T…well, of course not. Nothing you’ve cooked in years has ever been bad.”

Smugly, “Then you’ve nothing to complain about.”

EIGHT THOUSAND BOWLS!”

Three hours and episodes of Supernatural later, I leaned over and quite assertively stated that we do not own eight thousand bowls, thus, starting the entire argument all over again. Which neither of us were very heated about and both of us ended up laughing at one another profusely.

I may be the oddest woman on the earth, but its these small things that let me know I’m also the luckiest.
(To be alive.  AND loved. That too. Yes.)

From Cadet to Commander in one day.

I’m usually not a fan of pet stores. They are dangerously heart-breaking places for me.  I have to purposefully avoid the pet stores in places like malls that usually sell puppies or kittens not from shelters.  Unless the cages they are in take up most of the store, they’re too cramped, too small, to horrific for me to deal with. Standing there and watching little pups and kittens laying with dull eyes in a space just marginally wide enough for them to lay down and sit up? Not my idea of a good time, thank you. No.

There are a few pet stores that I will make an exception to the rule.  They tend to deal more in pet supplies and grooming than the actual trade of animals themselves. They might have hamsters, rats, lizards or snakes. But kittens and puppies? They’ll only be in from the shelter’s on Sunday or Wednesdays, they’ll say–and I smile because at least they’re trying. Far better than the pet stores I’ve had nightmares about described above.

And then I met a store called Incredible pets.

We had a wary relationship at first.

I’d heard some pretty horrific stories about some places that sold exotic birds, lizards, snakes, rodents and other unusual pets outside of the standard. When I first approached the stores old location, its worn green plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex fully battered by the Florida heat; I narrowed my eyes at its doors in my best Clint Eastwood impression. (Which is AWESOME by the way because I am AWESOME and stop staring at me like that it’s true!) I approached it with Shawn and passed through darkened doors to the surprisingly barely air-conditioned store.

My opinion has softened, some what. But I think it had more to do with the fact there are birds, Degus, skunks, sugar gliders, flying squirrels, hedge hogs, hamsters, snakes, fish, rabbits and any other assortment of OH MY GOD CUTE everywhere.

While I might not be a fan of some of their business practices, I can see that they genuinely try to care. They’re educated–all you have to do is ask them a question about the animals they have in store and they answer with that genuine sort of note that speaks of having at least, owned an animal or two. There’s no five seconds of blank looks while they dig through their brains for the memorized script they were told to tell customers. The people that work there work hard. The store has birds there that aren’t for sale because they’ve been adopted. People brought in parrots they didn’t want, the store took them and gave them a forever-home.

Though I have to admit my opinion of them finally turned completely on the day I walked by a cage of cockatiels. They were all listed as $25 each. The price is what caught me at first. I’d never seen a cockatiel in a pet store priced for so little so in all honesty I did a double-take and then stopped to seek if there were deformities. Surely, for $25 there was a catch, right? They’d have part of their beak missing or maybe mangled feet or perhaps they were bald and or prone to plucking.

I saw a cage full of beautiful little babies, feathers in tact, eyes bright and beady, tail feathers clean and with crests half up in semi-excuse me big fat featherless bird wtf r u doin’ outside our cage? When I called Shawn over, even he was amazed and couldn’t figure out why they’d end up so cheap. When we asked about them, we were told they were so inexpensive because they were breeder birds.

Breeder birds, as you can imagine, are for…well…breeding. Trying to research what, exactly their lifestyles usually are and how they are treated comes back varied. Some birds used for breeding are spoiled feather heads. They have roomy cages and are well taken care of by people who understand the bird. Others…not-so-much. They get thrown in a cage in hopes they breed, lay eggs, and make more cockatiels for profit.

When I stopped by the cage one lone little bird seemed relatively curious when the rest leaned away. After a bit of sweet-talking, he hopped from his perch, climbed the wall and settled atop his water bottle. Once in position he lowered his neck and proceeded to mash the top of his head against the bars. He left it there until I, witless featherless bird I am finally clued in that I should scratch his majesty’s head because isn’t that what my purpose in life was?

Seems so. We brought him home that day and put him in his own cage, quarantining him for a few days away from our other cockatiel, Nugget, ensuring that if either of them had any nasty bugs that the other hadn’t yet encountered–they’d be out of their system before the two met. Then, the two cages were slid together. Nugget? Nugget adored Commander Tweeps (whom we just call Tweeps because he’s off duty currently) and sang so much and so long at Tweeps, we thought he might explode.

And because Tweeps spoke and sang with us, exhibiting the same behaviors as a little boy, we moved the two of them together.  They fight occasionally but with beaks open, lots of hissing and wings open–they don’t bite each other–they do the warning-dive-I-might-bite. They did it more when they first met and now they might do it once every two or three days. Nugget just wants to sing to Tweeps, impress him and maybe  lure him into his boudoir filled with rose scented candles and Barry White music. Tweeps doesn’t yet understand the meaning of all the slow-bass music. He eyes Nugget like he’s that special friend of yours that says the weirdest things at the most odd times but you still hang around with them ’cause you know…They’re still good people.

He’s still a little skittish about fingers. He knows the step-up command now, but tends to nip once and then step up. He’s not crazy about a lot of things and is still afraid of his own shadow. But he’s ours now. He’s home and officially part of the U.S.S. Phaterprise.

Our Away Team of HURRR DURRR is complete.

And in the Dorkness, bind them.

The year was 2007. I was still fresh-faced from the disappointment I held in my little nerdy heart for a few other MMORPG’s that Will Not Be Named here Again.

I was tired of being lied to. I understood gaming companies had to really sell it to get the subscribers, and thus the cash, to pay things off, I really did. Look, Mr. programmer who spent hours making fighting chick’s rack perfect and realistically bounce has gotta eat too, right?

But selling it and then paying roughly $50 for a copy of the game, plus the monthly subscription–just to play for two weeks and be disappointed? It was weighing on me, man. It was getting tough. I didn’t realize it then but I was becoming an MMORPG skeptic. I still played MMO’s, don’t get me wrong. I still signed up for beta and to this day? I still play them. But I eye them far more warily than I used to and it’s rare that I write about them. By the time I get around to writing about them I find I am usually already disenchanted.

But I’m ahead of myself–let’s go back to 2007. What happened then?

Elven starting area.

Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar was released. A massively multi-player online role playing game set in the universe of J.R.R. Tolkien, riding on the back of a huge wave the movies had set to motion. It was a good move by Turbine, actually. Here was a beloved setting many adults and children were familiar with, rife with all the markings of a great backdrop for a game. Earlier that year I got the chance to beta test the game and I did.

For a week I played, I really enjoyed myself. There were glitches of course and several things were not even yet implemented this early in the game (those would come later on) but I found myself liking what I’d seen so far. I didn’t have the same parts and video card in my computer then, that I do now, and couldn’t run the game full blast. It was still pretty.

Then the game was released and that was the end of beta. I asked my husband if I could play, who had also beta tested the game as a hobbit burglar. Unfortunately, he did not enjoy the game as I did. On top of that, we were in a financially crappy time–he couldn’t see a point in purchasing a game he did not enjoy and I couldn’t see me pushing him to spend money we needed for other things–like food, bills and so on.

So the game was set aside. I heard about it through good blogging friends of mine, Eve and Lillith. Art, posts about–all these things reminded me of the game and I never truly forgot about it. Life simply wasn’t going to let me play it when I wanted to. Several other games came out and one thing distracted me from it and another and another. One year went by, then two, then three.  I’d almost put Lord of the Rings Online aside entirely until–

I got a little e-mail that informed me this year, Lord of the Rings Online was going free and that you could sign up for the beta…

So I did.

Now…I’m doing a bad thing by telling you I got into the beta. Yeah, I know. I’m pretty rebellious. Last week? I totally ate three peanut butter cookies while baking them. Just sayin’. So,  technically, even though I am no longer playing the free-to-play beta, I am under the NDA not to discuss it. Let me just say I am aware I am breaking the sacrosanct of NDA and am fully ready to accept my punishment.  (Dear Turbine, please send a reasonable Aragorn look-alike to dole out my punishment. Please.)

But I have to tell you this because it was the free-to-play beta that convinced me to to finally purchase a subscription to the game. And to make the deal sweeter the monthly sub is a might cheaper than most MMORPG’s out there if you buy a package payment plan. AKA: Purchase 3 months for $ 24.

I do not regret my decision one bit, despite the fact it’ll go free to play this fall. And I plan on continuing to support LotRO even after it goes F2P.

Why?

Because the game has not degraded over the years but has improved, significantly. There is player housing, horses, fishing, hobbies. Many, many, many more quests than I ever remember there being. There are two new

A beautiful day for a walk in the Shire.

extremely fun classes and the community (which reminds me so much of the Star Wars: Galaxies peoples when the game was in its golden years)is a fantastic, amazingly patient, helpful, well spoken bunch of fellow gamers. It truly outshines any MMORPG community I’ve been in for a long while.

I can download the high-res version and play this game with everything cranked max. Lighting, shadows, Anisotropic hiked up, water, water reflections–you name it, I’ve got it turned all the way up. It’s gone from pretty to pretty-damn-gorgeous.

Right now, at this very second on the Lord of the Rings forums and in the game chat channels–there are countless debates about how the game will go down hill once it goes free. There are people saying the community will slide down hill. That paying members will stop paying and that the game will never be the same.

I’m here, breaking the NDA of free-to-play Beta, understanding I might have it taken from me (that’s okay though) to let you know it was because of the F2P that I decided to purchase a sub. It was because of the community that I wanted to support this game and hope to continue doing so. I wanted to remind fellow subscribers that, not all bad things will come out of the F2P.

And to let you guys know, seriously? If you played the first year and quit–if you’ve never played but always wanted to–do it. Go check out the free trial. Go sign up for the F2P beta right now.

I never go back to old games. That’s just how I work. Once the magic is gone I simply can’t. It’s done. Ask anyone I’ve met and follow my posts about the MMORPG’s I’ve played, and you’ll notice that once I’m done that’s just it.

Here I am, three years later, and I’m back to Lord of the Rings Online and loving it to pieces. That in itself, should be incentive enough for you just try it.

And hey, if you do?  Send a hello to Bluecup Bumbleroot, Landroval server, let me know what you think of it and if you need any help.

For this, you will have to poop diamonds & gold nuggets.

I am a fat woman.

I have rolls, people. I have saggy, huge rolls and giant breasts that are registered in fifty one states as concealed weapons and they’ve got a law now where I can’t run anymore because the last time…Well. I just don’t want to talk about the last time. The images are still too fresh.

I am a fat woman who now has daily access to a pool and her old bathing suit, a one piece with little in the way of holdin’ the girls back? Is tired. So very, very tired.

It doesn’t hold my flap-jack stomach back. My boobs wearily sag toward my feet. My butt looks like re-animated cottage cheese. So I decided to start checking out what’s available for me, swim suit wise. Given that I pretty much hit the pool every single day, I thought maybe I could afford to squeeze in an extra bathing suit. I mean, just how much could they be? Really?

I started yelling within two minutes of a Google search.

That cute little empire waisted black number with the fantastic hide-the-cottage cheese skirt for one hundred bucks?. Are you fucking kidding? That had to be a joke, right?

Nope. I went to all the brands I knew and trusted, starting with Layne Bryant. Ridiculously expensive. I then checked out Catherines. Same. Then off I went to all sorts of other sites and eventually found Fashion Bug. Surprisingly I found a fantastic little black number with a stripe of bright pink. It was perfect. and one-piece with a little skirt and extra tit-slinging support for thirty-seven dollars. JACKPOT, right? I bookmarked it and set it aside for when I thought we’d actually have the $37 for it. (It’s not a MUST HAVE after all, I still have my stretchy blue shame-rag I can hide under a shirt.)

So today I go and check on it, because I like to stare at it longingly and then pet it. Maybe call it Hilda–when I noticed that it doesn’t come in my size anymore.

CUE RAGE.

You can’t tell me swimwear for fat chicks costs to much more because we need more fabric. These are probably made in some horrific sweat-shop somewhere for 9 cents an hour, so don’t go cramming your $150 for a piece of stretchy fabric meant to be worn in the water that covers my hoo-ha and boobies, leaving everything else pretty much on display.

$150 nets me almost three weeks of food, or an entire bill paid off, or 1/3rd of my rent or an amazing haul of clothing from Good Will/Walmart.

For $150 in a swimsuit I expect it to make me miraculously non-fat, my tits look like they were when I was 22 and an ass to DIE FOR.

Seriously, all I want is a one-piece with a little chesticle support so that people don’t mistake my mammary jiggle as an auctioneer’s call and a bit of a skirt to hide my curdled butt FOR a reasonable amount of money. Reasonable.

$150 is not a reasonable price for a swimsuit unless you poop diamonds and gold nuggets!

Happy 1st Anniversay you marvelous geek.

Today marks the first year of being officially married to Bariguy, my other half here at 2phatgeeks.  We’ve been together for years, so long that everyone who knew us simply assumed we were already married. So it was a shock that early last year I revealed that not only were we not married; but that I had to return to Canada to get my paperwork in order for us to get married.

Luckily, everything turned out alright. And here we are, 1 year later and official in paper work.

To be honest and cheesy, though, we were already official in my heart–years ago.

I’m a lucky woman. I have a husband who not only understands my Star Wars quotes, but joins in with his own favorites. Who understands when I reference an internet meme and who not only gets my jokes? But laughs at them.

In celebration of our 1st year anniversary let me share with you some of our most embarrassing and geeky moments!

I love you, Shawn!

A collection of our most embarrassing and/or geeky quotes from all times in our marriage at this link! Click it to read them on my personal journal!

My hero wears tighty whities and TALKS VERY LOUDLY.

I write a lot about my mother.

Probably not a whole crazy-much-bunch that some might, but I write a lot more about her than I do my father and some (HI DAD!) might think it’s a bit unfair. Do I hate my father? Do I have some sort of horrible scarring trauma about him and the varying reincarnations of his mustache and beard that send me into shrieking nightmares every night?

No, not exactly.

You see, when I was a little girl, I was a Daddy’s girl. My mother and I did not get a long, at all. I was a horrid, mean, spiteful, awful, stupid child (which explains a lot to you, or it should–now that I am grown) and I knew my mother loved me and I knew I loved my mother. But we couldn’t occupy the same space for more than an hour before we were at one another throats and that’s bad. Because. Well. You know. She had to raise me for at least two decades off and on.

My father and I…? Though I still had unbelievably stupid and childish brain-dumbs, were nearly inseparable.  I tottered around behind him when I was a little girl becoming a secondary tiny chubby shadow.  My father? He could do no wrong, ever. He was my hero. As a little girl he was endlessly tall and glittering polished in his military uniform that he wore every day. I could look up and up and up and up and there seemed to be no end to him.  He blocked out the sun on days it would beat cheerily down and blind me.   He protected me from the monsters under my bed and reminded me there was no such thing as the boogie man and would you PLEASE stop asking me for water, you JUST used the bathroom–Melissa, for the love of Christ, please go to bed. Daddy needs to get up in the morning!

He had the Dad Arm down to an art form. When the brakes went on it didn’t matter if I was in a car seat with fifty two straps and six belts with complicated code-dependent locks. The Dad Arm from the driver’s seat would whip out immediately strangling me with love and care.

My father was--is–loud. And it’s not because now his hearing is going and sometimes he forgets to turn his hearing aids up and TALKS VERY CLEARLY SO HE CAN HEAR WHAT HE IS SAYING TO YOU. You could hear him from outside the house when his hearing was fine–you can still listen to him speak well before getting into the house.

He is loud and boisterous. Animated. He tells you stories and can do so for hours. When he does he doesn’t just use his arms or hands. He’ll stand up out of the chair, couch, bench, wherever he is and wave his arms, stomping around.  His eyes will glitter with barely held in mirth and he’ll twist his whole body into every word he says, legs and arms out to mimic the current plot.  As well as being loud, he has the most colorful fucking language I’ve ever heard.

He taught me–not willingly or knowingly–how to cuss out shit so creatively that sometimes I even marvel at my own (picture me making the finger quotes here) “colorful”  speech rolling out of my face. He picked this up I think from a few places. 1.) He was a boy at one time and boys have a sort of fascination with creative cursing. I like to think that was part of the reason, anyway. And 2.) he was part of the Canadian Military for nearly three decades. (Or maybe longer. Less. It’s hard to tell time when you’re five and remember it again when you are 30.)

And so I was drawn to my father more so than my mother, through no fault of hers and plenty of mine.  I believed that he could do no wrong. He could, single-handedly pick me up and put me on his shoulders. So why couldn’t he single handedly pick the world up and move it? That’s the logic behind little girls and their fathers; through their eyes there is nothing they cannot do.

Then I grew up.

I don’t need to go into the mess that was being a teenager and young adult. I did things I wasn’t proud of. I lost the starry-eyed wonder of youth and gave a harty fuck you world! to everything and everyone, thinking I knew best.

My father was just my father. A man who couldn’t possibly understand what it was like being a teen-aged/young adult girl. A man who made mistakes and who couldn’t know what I was going through. Because he certainly was never a teen.  No, my father came sprung from the loins of his mother full-grown.  He could not possibly understand anything. Why listen to his advice about all this stuff I was going through he’d already gone through?

And my father stood in my shadow.

He stood in the wake of all the dreams he had for me, all these dreams for his little girl that he worked so hard to build. All these dreams that he got up early in the morning for, put on  a perfectly pressed uniform and put his broken feet into polished, non-supportive military issued black boots.  All these dreams he comforted himself with every day he saluted some bastard who screamed at the lower ranks, because if some higher-up screwed up it was always some poor fucking bastard down the rank line that had to stand there and SIR YES SIR, SORRY SIR and like it. Because it paid the bills. It put food on the table. It bought furniture for a house which your wife dreamed of having.

Dreams that he built which I painstakingly, purposefully tore down in my childish, immature hands.

I think it’s some where in this time that my mother got sicker and sicker. I’d run away from all the problems I’d caused all by myself and my father’s eyes didn’t glitter with mirth so much. He didn’t laugh as much. He grew a line between his eyebrows that appears now every time he looks at a medical bill, or listens to the doctors talk about my mother–or whenever he looks at me and thinks I’m not paying attention. Because he sees all of the things I could have been and wasn’t.

I made the same mistakes he did. And he stood in my shadow and loved me anyway.

I don’t write about my father very often because I am afraid.

I am afraid that anything I write wouldn’t do the man justice.  He has gone to places in this world under his military service that I will never know or understand. He has done things and said things, been forced to work in filth–coated in car grease and ducking his head under the gaze of all important assholes who think that because a man worked once in a uniform he should be used to being barked at. I am afraid that I would disappoint him again.

And there’s nothing more in this universe that would crush me to pieces now–knowing that I’d disappoint him all again–because the truth is, even though my mother and I have made up and grown up and I’ve fessed up to being the most awful child on the planet…

My father is still my hero.

He will always be my hero.

I will always be a little girl standing in his shadow when  I am near him.

I will always love him–yes, dad, even when you embarrass me at the mall with ohmuhgawd, friends to see–even when you wander the house in your tighty-whities with your hair stuck up all over the place groggily asking me if I made any coffee. Even when I talk to you via the internet and video conference and you lean over to TALK TO ME VERY LOUDLY. I WILL STILL LOVE YOU.

He is endlessly tall and forever strong in my eyes, and I am so proud and grateful for having him as my father.

I love you, Dad.