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.

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?

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.

A Good Year

It’s been a busy year here at the Pence household.

Like most people, I’m busy celebrating with the better half and quite definitely “nicely relaxed.” this year, I am “nicely relaxed” (ie obliterated… so please excuse the typos) on a steady stream of Mooing Irish Pepsis (Bailey’s, coke and milk) and rum and cokes, but made with this awesome Black Cherry rum. It’s very rare that me and the other half of 2phatgeeks.com actually get a chance to drink up and enjoy. We’re either too poor or too occupied or I’m too tied up with work.

But tonight? No way… Tonight we celebrate one hell of a year, as far as I’m concerned. Tonight we’re gonna tie one on because I can afford it (sort of), because we’ve earned it and because, for once, we don’t have any major crises hanging over my gradually increasing forehead. So let me tell you what we both accomplished this year.

  1. We were finally, legally, without a doubt and without legal issue completely married. We’ve been together seven years this year and we finally made it through, what for us, was a major international hurdle. It was also something I’ve wanted to do since we met and it is more than an major relief, it’s like I’ve finally managed to finish off a major life’s work. It would not have been possible without the continual support of my family, her family and… most importantly, her.
  2. Hell, not only that, we made it through reams of international (though largely US) red tape. Sure, it put us in debt beyond my wildest imagination and involved an enormous amount of stress, but as of this October, we officially made it through the first and most difficult portion of her naturalization. I’d like to throw out a special and very heartfelt thank you to our lawyer, Fernando Palacios. This kindly grandfatherly figure made a significant portion of our dreams come true and we’ll always be indebted. If anyone on the east coast of Florida needs an Immigration lawyer, find this guy… he’s the best.
  3. The credit union I work out announced it’s intention to merge, and absorb, one of the largest credit unions in south Florida. This was a huge deal and resulted in the next item, in addition to essentially securing the future for my family.
  4. I received a promotion to Assistant Manager. I’ve been a Senior Call Center Associate, basically the person you get when you ask for a manager or a supervisor, for over two years. It’s the longest I’ve ever been in a position. I figured, like most folks, that I’d be in this position another year or so. Thanks to the merger, the support of my managers and no small amount of hard work, I managed to claw my way up sooner than expected officially as of this November. This was an awesome surprise and the opportunity I’d been waiting for. It’s a lot more work, but I do find myself loving it. It, along with the above, has lead to the next item…
  5. Finally some relief from having to rely on credit to make our way through every plan and holiday. As 2010 begins, 4 out of 7 credit cards are shut down and in payoff and we’ve still managed to have nearly enough money set aside to pay for the entire awesome Disney Vacation we have planned. It may not seem like such a big deal to some folks, but moving away from Credit and moving into paying for things directly is a huge deal for me. As much as I might miss having the cards to fall back on for extra little surprised for the better half, it’s just awesome knowing that I’m paying these things off and closing them… eventually.
  6. While all of this craziness was going on, we both participated in NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. While many of you are very familiar with this it’s honestly the first I’d heard of it. I’ve never considered myself much of a writer. With all of the focus I’ve had lately on work, I used to play saxophone regularly, in several jazz bands and ensembles, but I haven’t had any actually creative outlet in a long time. So this year, when Mel mentioned this novel writing thing, I figured, “What the hell. I’ve got nothing else to do.” To my immense surprise I actually finished… and finished early. It feels like I won a fucking marathon and I certainly count it in my highlights of a year already filled with goodness.
  7. My better half opened and made some real, no-foolin’, people money on the intarwebz! Her Etsy shop took off more than even I expected, and I had high hopes, and she continues to show me just how talented she really is each and every day.
  8. Last but most certainly not least, every member of my family made it through the year still alive and still kicking; mom, dad, grandma, sister, mother and father in law (hang in there guys!) and my brother-in-law not to mention my non-human family: cats, bird, hamsters and all! Sure, some of my family are kicking a lot less strongly than before, but they’re still out there and they make it all worth doing, no matter what a pain in the ass it is.

It was one hell of a year, for sure. After what is sure to be a couple of frenetic months, 2010 will start off with me and my better half finally taking a long discussed and dreamed of vacation at Disney World. Instead of running through two parks in a single day, we’ll have four full days to enjoy it all. For those of you that don’t fully appreciate what this means, let me just say that I will have more fun watching her at Disney than I will actually being there myself. 2010 is already looking up.

To all of you that I’ve argued with, dealt with on the phone, annoyed, pissed off, amused or in any way touched your life, thanks for being a part of making this awesome year even more awesome. I wish each and every one of you as good a year as we’ve had and hope nothing but the very best for all of you and your families.

Happy New Year, Internets… I love you guys.

I didn’t remember his name.

Outside of the Baptist Church I went to every Sunday as a little girl was a great stone obelisk. It sat, massively tall to my stunted height just to the right of the U shaped dirt drive way. Or at least, it would had you been driving toward it up the road from where we lived. It was a dark gray granite that hovered near black with a large, flat rectangular base. In the middle sat the long piercing spire that pointed toward heaven. Within the obelisk’s many faces if my memory serves me right, were the carved names of men who died in war.

I never payed attention to the names. I never read them and I don’t remember them now. We, as children, never understood specifically what it stood for. Most often after Church had been let out we’d roll out of the old creaky side wooden door as the church bells rang and played on it. We’d chase each other and play tag with it or sit on it and mutter childish things. We always played on the old granite monument everyday except for one day.

On that day there were always many old men within the Church. Some of them I did not have the names for, they only came for that one day and some times, there were years where faces where missing. They wore dark navy suits with their hats to the side. Some times their suits were decorated with many things; gold or brass and sometimes silvery discs. Right beside their glittering medals, each and everyone would wear a blood-red poppy pinned to their lapels. I later learned the blue was that of the Legion.

These men, stooped or straight, shaking or steady filled our century and a half years old church from middle pew to front, making the rest of us shuffle in behind them. We gave them the front rows. They came before service carrying flags holstered in their hips and bearing wreathes, their lined faces were solemn in a manner that I do not think I understood then; and I will never understand now. Some of these men were so frail and bent, yet when they carried their flags down the aisle they seemed younger versions of themselves.

When service finally started, they sat stone still and did not cough, they did not fidget out of boredom during the sermon and some of them stared forward and did not see what they were staring at. Most of these men wore masks that were truly stoic. Others half-way through the sermon or nearing the end of it would break down and without a sound, weep quietly into their hands.

Half way through the sermons there was always childrens church. A time when when the paster would send the younger children off, I assume, so that he could preach without confusing them–or preach without little girls yawning out of boredom in their faces. So the preacher half way through the sermon as usual, called for childrens church. I was still too young to be considered old enough to sit through an entire sermon, so my Grandmother sent me off with a quiet word and all of the children lined up in unusually hushed lines to go downstairs in the kitchen. There was something about these men, these quiet men that filled our pews on this day that made us behave.

Down in the Church basement is where we went, in a kitchen where the center was eaten by a giant table that could hold twelve or twenty fidgety brats easily. That day, our teacher spoke softly on men, soldiers, sacrifice and duty. Most of us did not understand. Some of the children listened, some of them decided to play with more interesting things. I must admit that, as a child with an imagination I was taken in with the teacher’s story without fully grasping what it all meant.

At the end of her story she spread craft supplies across the table and asked us to remember the Veterans that day in our way, to be thankful and to try and capture that. There was string and macaroni, crayons, scissors, glue, construction paper, pencils and pencil crayons. Several children grabbed colorful bits and bobs while I chose a single pencil and began drawing.

When I was finished, I had this gods-awful child’s scrawl of what I thought Flanders fields might look like with a soldier’s helmet and gun resting against a cross. It wasn’t very impressive or colorful but I did the best I could with what I had. The teacher was busy with several of the other spawns, so I folded it up and put it away in into the pocket of the light purple frilled dress–like I held a grand secret. When the teacher asked us all to show what we’d done, and I had nothing to show, I shrugged and whispered some sort of excuse. I spent the rest of Children’s Church ignoring her disappointed looks and waiting for the teacher to give us the signal that Church was out and we could run and play again.

It came when we heard the shuffling of many, many feet above us, the first notes of the organ and the quiet murmur of voices finally speaking. We all rushed to the door like long-legged, freshly shorn sheep to spill out into the cold November air, taking in deep breaths and about to start running toward the obelisk to play –

And then we remembered, it was November 11th. We played everyday there, except for today.

The old men once gathered in Legion blue inside now marched in perfect formation down steps aged far greater than they. These old men with eyes misted in memories, memories I do not think I would ever, ever wish for–came in precise time, their shoes speckless and shined, tapped an age old rhythm that seemed to be ingrained on them; they marched without thinking. It was in their blood, in their memories. With swinging arms, straight backs (even those who couldn’t really straighten bent backs stood a little higher anyway) they reached the obelisk and they about-faced with surprising accuracy.

I remember at that moment thinking their flags all looked so very sad with no wind to carry them. That even the flags were still and drooped under the weight of something everyone else felt and I could not quite pinpoint. I remember that the Pastor came out to stand near it and say a few quiet words, several of the men stepped forward to lay wreathes upon the base of granite memory, and several men began to actually sob.

I don’t know why I had crept toward them while they stood in formation and found myself weaving myself through a sea of uniforms and blue–row upon row upon row of proud lined faces. Had my grandmother caught me, she would have pulled me away, but she wasn’t there and I was searching for something. I finally stopped beside a man who stared unseeing at the granite memorial. He seemed very far away and very sad, so I took the drawing out of my pocket and slipped it into his empty hand. I remember that his palms felt like old paper to new paper, that they were very big compared to mine and that I didn’t mind any of it so much. I squeezed his hand and left him the drawing, to which he unfolded and glanced down at me.

It was the most sorrow filled smile I think I will ever remember. He said, “Thank you,” very softly as the Pastor was still talking and then asked me my name. Shyly, I ducked my head, gave him my name and went running off. Like children are wont to do, within hours I had forgotten what I had done and went home with hunger gnawing in my belly. I was looking forward to dinner.

Later that night, my Grandmother got a call from him. He said that he had to call several people to find out whose little girl I was. He called when I wasn’t at my grandmothers, just to let her know that he was touched. He said that the image was something that struck close to home and that my scrawling, messy sprawl of a “Thank you for my freedom,” taking up half the page was the sweetest thing. That it was the reason why he did what he did, and that most children wouldn’t have even understood such things.

He called my Grandmother to thank me every November 11th.

Fate, timing, life—I was never there to catch the call but always there to hear my grandmother tell me the story. He said the same thing every November 11th he called until…he stopped calling. He’d passed away.

I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember exactly what he looked like. I remember the day and the reasons and an unfeeling piece of rock that was some how meant to be good enough to stand as a reminder of the lives lost to protect mine. I don’t remember this man who remembered me. And that upsets me more than I can ever say. That this man could not forget me and that he killed other men for the future of a little girl he never knew—that he did things and saw things and will never forget these things; all for a generation of little girls and boys who will probably forget.

So today, on November 11th, it doesn’t matter if war is right or wrong right now. It doesn’t matter about sides or politics. Right now, all matters to me is that this man had believed in something so much he was willing to put his life, his sanity on the line for people he’d never met…And that he wouldn’t forget me or what I did.

And I can’t even remotely recall who he was.

How is that fair? How is that right?

I suspect there are millions of names I don’t know or remember, millions of names that we have forgotten in between the bills, the grocery lists, the kids and the dog.

And I am so sorry I forgot– we’ve forgotten.

All I can leave for the men who died for me, is a sprawling, messy Thank you.

Up, Up, and Fan-freakin’-tastic

For me, it is one of those little joys in life to go and see a movie with my better half. I’ve always been a huge film fan, and I love sharing a movie day, even if it’s an “ehhh” movie (I’m looking at you Ghost Rider), with the other Phat Geek. With Mel so recently back from a really long six weeks away, we decided to go out and spend a couple days catching movies this week.

Monday we went and saw Star Trek. This is good solid geek fare and just as much a part of her welcome back as the dinner that followed. You can check out my review here, but suffice it to say she liked it and I enjoyed seeing it a second time.

Today, though, we went and saw Up. One word: beautiful.

It was an absolutely perfect example of the reasons I enjoy movies and why I especially love sharing them with her. How Pixar consistently manages to put out films of this quality is beyond me. To follow up Wall-E, which was arguably the best animated film I’ve ever seen, with a film that in some very important ways surpasses it illustrates the sort of phenomenal product they’re putting out. With predictably nuanced charm, Pixar has managed to create a film that appeals to audiences on two basic levels.

For the kiddies we had the basic story about an old man and a little boy saving the day from a dastardly villain. The animation is bright and colorful and up to the normal high standards we’re used to in Pixar films. The main characters each have a very distinct look and feel though we can see a bit of the humans from Wall-E in the little boy. The film is presented in a narrower field of format than the usual cinematic fare though you hardly notice it. I have a feeling this has more to do with the fact we saw the 3D version of the film than anything else.

It has been a long time since I saw a 3D film. I just can’t get over the fact that I have to put crap on my head to see a film in the theater. I’d been hearing good things about the more recent usage of 3D and decided to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised. The 3D was convincing but there was a welcome lack of purposeful gags playing on the 3D gimmick. There were no ping pong balls bounced at the screen, there were no water guns. The 3D added to the film more by bringing you into it and working with the surround sound effects. All in all I was pleased. Will I go see other 3D films? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely an improvement!

3D or not, though, the first level of the film is perfect for the little kids and loaded with tons of good humor, too. The damn bird had me laughing out loud as did the scene of the kid getting dragged across the window. I absolutely loved the talking dog thing and it was a great solution to the whole “Why can the people understand the dogs?” issue that occasionally pops up in these animated films. This film would have been a good enjoyable romp on just this level.

But on the second, deeper level this films goes from enjoyable to just plain wonderful.

Underneath the bright colors and funny gags, there is a nuanced and touching story about an old man dealing with the loss of his best friend and wife and of a boy dealing with a father largely missing from his life. In a very general sense the overwhelming message of this movie is that the only way to deal with hardship is to rise above them and become a better person. However, the story that Up tells is a very real and touching and expresses even more tenderness than Wall-E’s beautifully crafted story. I’m not ashamed to say that, on more than one occasion, I teared up during this film. If you can watch this movie with a dry eye, you’re dead inside.

I watched Wall-E about a week-and-a-half ago. I remarked to myself on how perfect the film was. The animation was fantastic, the story both amusing and touching and the message topical and well told.  In the animation department, I still have to give the nod to Wall-E. It is in the message that Up takes the title.

The messages in Wall-E were simple and universal: Life and the Earth are to be protected and Love overcomes all boundaries. These are messages that resonate with people of all ages. Even the youngest child can understand the love between Wall-E and Eve. The love shared by Carl and Elie is no more difficult to understand but the sense of loss and incompleteness expressed by the little old man are far more complex and personal. In the same way the abandonment issues experienced by the little boy, Russell, will not be as easily appreciated by the younger audience. Carl’s and Russell’s stories are both very adult in their themes and both exceptionally well done. The end of the film gave the sort of wonderful warm feeling that everyone needs now and again.

If you haven’t seen this film, you need to. If you have… maybe see it again, and be thankful you’re not on the team at Pixar that’s just been told “Ok… that was great. How can we improve on this for our next film?”

Good Bye, and Thank you Sir.

David Eddings, July 7, 1931–June 2, 2009

David Eddings, July 7, 1931–June 2, 2009

I was in high school when I stumbled over the single object which would change everything for me.

When I was in high school, I wasn’t interested in Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. I didn’t know what they were. I didn’t like elves, I didn’t day dream about pretty men wearing 100 pounds of shiny steel armor and still managing to look good. I didn’t imagine what the scales of a dragon looked like sparkling in the sun. I was just another over weight out-of-place fat girl who couldn’t find anywhere to fit in.

One afternoon while in the Library and bored out of my mind, I meandered through the rows of books looking for something to do that wasn’t actual home work. I didn’t find a single book that marginally interested me and I stopped by the Librarian’s little section near the door. I remember leaning on the make shift counter, which consisted of several very short shelves turned about so they appeared solid to the rest of the room, while the Librarian could use the shelves for storage and what not on her end.

It was in mid pithy conversation that I looked behind her to the tiny, teeny, itty bitty collection of books behind her. The shelf itself must have been no longer than two feet and perhaps no taller than six. In the middle, spreading across three of the central shelves were books I had never noticed they were there; I had been walking past them in the Library for two years at the very least.

This was our library’s Science Fiction and Fantasy section.

I asked if I could look at them and the Librarian, a middle aged woman with hair so curly it formed a helmet on her head, stepped graciously aside and allowed me behind the counter to look.

pawnofprophecybookcoverI wish I could say that the heavens opened up, a chorus of elves strumming lutes and something magical happened when I randomly plucked a book from those shelves–because it seems now such an event deserves such accolades. No, instead, all I had in my hand was just a dog eared worn paper back in the middle of a hick-town tiny library. The cover pictured a woman with dark black hair protectively holding the shoulders of a young, sandy haired boy. The woman had a single streak of gray within her hair and was facing opposite a menacing dark figure on a horse.  Behind them, a faded yellow map of some sort served as backdrop. It was a pretty unassuming book cover now that I think about nearly fifteen years later.

The book was called: Pawn of Prophecy, and it was written by David Eddings. That book changed me. I had no idea at that moment when I picked it up and idly read the blurb on the back that this book would change everything for me.

It was the single book and perusal of everything else he wrote which started on my long journey of imagination. David Eddings was my gateway drug to my sweet crack habit of Sci-fi and Fantasy I have now. Without David’s book I would never have bothered with books at all. I’d never have the voracious appetite which allows me to finish one of George R. R. Martin’s books in a single night, I would have never sat in my bedroom at sixteen and filled three binders filled with painstakingly bic-pen written pages of loose leaf with asinine teenage angst fantasy writing.

I wouldn’t have ever realized the magic that was awaiting me.

On June 2nd, 2009, David Eddings passed away. The man responsible for my geekery today has left this world to perhaps, settle down in Aunt Pol’s cottage with her twins and sneaking an ale or two with Belgarath behind her back.

I always wanted to thank him for that book.

Thank you, sir, for opening these doors to me. Thank you, sir, for carrying me through the awkward awful times of high school.

Thank you for the dreams.

My Skies

Florida holds the skies of my heart.  In winter time, those sparse few weeks where the oppressive heat does not come down upon your head like a bucket of luke-warm scuzzy bathwater once used on your cat—the cool night heavens are alight with painters frenzy. Bright slash-ribbons of 1920’s red lipstick curl lazily in whisps through the pansy-purple clouds that dot the horizon.
 
sunsetathomeIn summer, the Florida sunsets turn into a pure riot of gold before a fireplace; red from winter is still there, but the skies are tainted golden with dying sun. The clouds are much more responsive and seem to blush baby-belly pink as if knowing what sweet whispers the moon has been saying to the sun to bend her ear down into the night. I could stand in my back yard and wish for it to be sunset forever.

And yet, Alberta skies hold their own charm.

Here, you can be cramped in the city where buildings and their lights crowd out the stars, or shoved into little communities with their carbon cut out homes that leave six feet of space between one or the other and drive—and all it takes is twenty minutes give or take before you’re in the middle of no where.

Yellow wheat fields that go on forever and ever to the right and left of black, cracks-fixed-up-with-tar-viens highway  pavement. Stalks of alphalpha from last year awaiting tilling and replanting; elk, jersey cows, Arabians, clydesdale, horses and donkeys idly chewing behind picket fences that go as far as the never ending highway itself. Green patches of spring-renewal that sit oddly out in the stark gold of old wheat.
 
And then there is the sky. It meets every gentle slope and endless flat. It starts off the clearest blue when you stare directly up and fades to the pastel bright when it tricks the eye into thinking it is licking the tops of wheat far out on horizon. The clouds are not the thin painter’s fan brush stokes as they are some times in Florida. They are always thick, happy little Bob Ross clouds with dark gray, flat bottoms and cotton ball fluffy white tops and dot the blue like pearls in a sea of evening-gown silk.  It stretches and curves above you, making you think as if you were truly trapped in a snowglobe of endless brightness.

Further out, passing all of this are the tips of the Rockies thrusting proudly over the dulled down hills of grain. Dark at the base with charcoal gray, the stark tips of blue-white make me think of stately crowns in crystal.
 
Don’t get me wrong…I love Florida, it holds my heart. I will be coming home to it and embracing it’s stuffy overwhelmingly wet-hotness soon, chasing lizards in my backyard with gusto.

But Alberta holds my childhood. It is painted in hard lessons learned, sadness, and the lofty white crown of hope for tomorrow.

Pic Dump #1!

I decided to clean out the images on my phone memory card last night, in a desperate attempt to give me something to do. I’ve always loved stumbling across pic dumps and a couple of these gave me a chuckle, so I figured I should follow kindergarten rules and share! You’ll have to forgive the quality of some of these, my camera phone is just one step above a daguerreotype.

Breakfast Time?

Breakfast Time?

Well, you didn’t think we weren’t going to have at least one picture of an animal, did you? Flora’s morning kitchen shenanigans now include table top supervision.

The Mileage of the Devil!

The Mileage of the Devil!

It’s time for the Oil Change from HELL!!

Shindler's Lift

Schindler's Lift

Alright, I find this hysterical, but I’m not sure who else will. This is my elevator at work, made by the Schindler company. Schindler’s Lift! HA HA HA HA HA!

Hi, Grandma!

Hi, Grandma!

This is my Grandmother. As you might be able to guess, she would probably kill me if she saw this picture. I snapped this one while helping her out one day. She’s waving at Melissa in Canada.

Living in Florida is so hard!

Living in Florida is so hard!

I took this pretty much just to brag. I took this about a two-and-a-half weeks ago. This is a shot from the table where I usually eat lunch when I get a chance to go outside. Obviously it’s looking back into the parking lot, but it;s under a great open concert shell like covering and those aren’t just random woods back there, that’s a nature preserve here. We have Owl, Dear, Hawk, Sandhill Cranes and pretty much every small bird in the area. When I took this it was about 78 degrees (25.5 C for you metric folks), dry (for Florida) and with a nice breeze. Yeah, it might suck in the summer, but it is freakin’ awesome the rest of the year!

A Delicate Princess!

A Delicate Princess!

This awesome pic is also my current Cell phone wallpaper. This is what happens when you leave your phone unattended at your desk while you’re working on your wife’s computer. Love you, baby!

THIS is Customer Service

THIS is Customer Service

And last but not least: yours fatly. The next time you feel the need to unload your frustration on some poor, unsuspecting Customer Service Rep, remember this.