All the Bells Rang Out, There Were Tears of Joy and Laughter

In the face of so much uncertainty, I know this is true; I never want the holidays to feel like this again. This has always been an important time of the year to me, and I want to honor it without so much confusion and sadness for all of the rest of my days. Perhaps that’s naive, but this is how I feel today.

Initially, I thought I would forgo the extended family Christmas Day feast, a tradition I’ve observed since birth, every single year of my life. I’ve been so emotional lately, and putting on a brave face seemed totally impossible. I was also worried that I would be facing judgment, which is difficult on a good day.

As the days leading up to Christmas unfolded however, my reality shifted once again, and I found myself yearning for something as familiar as the sight of my own face in the mirror.

I felt great calm wash over me as I arrived at my parents’ house, my house for my entire life. Right after walking through their door, I knew I had made the right decision. As the day would unfold, I knew I was where I should be, but I also knew that four important people were missing. I felt their absence as profoundly as I felt the waistband of my jeans constricting around my turkey-filled belly.

It was a beautiful day in my aunt’s beautiful home. My family were generally warm and unobtrusive. I was so happy to play and snuggle and dance with my cousins’ beautiful children. We went through a spell where there were no little ones for several years, but now my generation is pro-creating and there is tinkling laughter and the exuberant energy of little monkeys all over again. I still hope that one day my own little ones will be part of that music.

Yesterday I learned that members of my family are actively reading this blog. I also learned that reading this blog seems to create some confusion for some of them. For those of you who are confused about who I am writing to, or for, or about I would like you to just ask me. Please send me a note. Please don’t speculate and create further confusion and possibly hurt feelings. This made for a really awkward moment on an already difficult day for me yesterday.

I have great love, respect, and admiration for my collective family. They have survived a lot of pain and loss. Despite this, we continue to come together. For me, that impulse comes from honoring the idea that there are some constant, deeply rooted things that tie us to the earth, and add meaning and purpose to our lives. Family is one of them.

Watching everyone spontaneously rock out to Boney M after dinner, with percussion instruments in hand or babies in arms reminded me of where I come from. Life is deeply painful, incredibly confusing, and exquisitely beautiful all at the same time. I come from people who deeply understand this.

The people who make us can’t fully know us, the people who know us can’t really make us. Our hearts belong only to ourselves and are our beautiful worlds to govern.

This heart of mine needs family. Deep, true, real family that I can belong with and belong to. This is at the top of my New Year’s wish list, and will shape the woman I am in 2011.

I hope that your Christmas Day was warm, and that your Boxing Day will suitably be devoted to eating too much, drinking too much beer, and watching the Canada/Russia game. This is what will keep me rooted to the world today.

People shouted ‘Let everyone know, there is hope for all to find peace.’

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The Most Wonderful Time

The only good thing about November is that it is immediately followed by December, which I think perhaps is one of my favourite months of the year.

I love the winter, and the snow, and the cold. It affords such quiet, introspective time, and finding interesting ways to keep your world filled with warmth and light always results in such lovely domestic moments with friends and family.

We hosted a beautiful party on Saturday night, and my favourite cook completely outdid himself. The night before was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had shopping at an LCBO (there is only ONE wine expert in Barrie) or shopping for groceries. I credit my gorgeous shopping buddy for this. The party was a success. I was so proud. We were so organized. The house looked beautiful.

My first wish for the New Year is to organize this place together so it looks like this without having to hide stacks of boxes behind closed doors.

After such a fine, fine weekend, I’ve decided to see how long I can carry these feelings into the week ahead. The holidays should be an interesting experience in sharing and experiencing family dynamics. For the most part, I trust it will be pleasant, but I’ll admit to feeling nervous.

It’s funny how the expectations heaped on people at this time of year have really come to affect me. I’m in-between jobs, so Christmas shopping didn’t happen, and I’m feeling really strange about this. Next year, I’m giving everyone home-made gifts, and will be super organized about this. I love gift-giving. It’s a natural Leo trait, and it makes me so happy.

This morning starts with a meeting to put the finishing touches on plans for a Valentine’s Weekend blow out with the troupe. Then I come home to assist with child-care duties. I need to think up an activity that will amuse a three-year-old. Tonight will be quiet, with some baking, and a movie or two.

Looking at my life now, I think a lot about traditions and the little familiar rituals that surround these holidays. The cherished elements of my own childhood Christmas feel so far away now, but perhaps there is a way to re-visit them and re-invent them to fit within my new reality? It seems I am re-inventing everything to fit into my new reality, and I think perhaps this is the greatest thing I have ever done for myself.

As I break down everything that I was accustomed to, and everything I thought I knew, I realize I still have so much to learn, and that I’m surrounded by loving people who can only help me grow.

What are your favourite holiday traditions? Mine include:

The Charlie Brown Christmas Special
Baking
Making decorations
Christmas parties with my friends
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
White Christmas
A Christmas Story
It’s A Wonderful Life (Kleenex required, ALWAYS)
Tourtiere (French Canadian meat pie)
Bertha’s butter tarts
Opening Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve
My mother’s Christmas morning spread
Lazily watching new movies or listening to new music on Christmas day
The smell of my dad’s soap/cologne/aftershave as the house is filled with people getting ready for:
The big family Christmas Day party
Singing with my aunties
My cousins playing old Acadian folk music
Playing with my Grandmaman’s creche (My grandfather built the stable)
Drinking nog with my dad and listening to Bing Crosby
Wrapping presents
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (my mom used to read this to us every year on Christmas Eve.)

Tell me yours!

Uncle Phillippe The Booze Maker

I hate forwarded emails. I usually delete them without even reading them, so when my uncle Don sent me a message with this subject header it sat untouched in my in box for four days.

Last night, while cleaning up my inbox, I noticed it again and something compelled me to open it. There was no message in the body of the email, just a Word document with this article attached.

article

I’m not sure how legible this is, or if you can read French, but here’s the gist:

My mother’s uncle Philippe was a bootlegger  from about 1940 to 1945.  The article above highlights just one of the times he was arrested and charged $100.00 out of a possible fine of up to $2,000.00 at the time. (We are a charming people, what can I say?)  The photo illustrates the set up he built himself (crafty too), which enabled him to make about 5 gallons of booze daily.

RCMP officer Gary Roy took notes and eventually took the equipment away (and later only resurfaced from his basement for his wife’s prize-winning pot roast on Sunday evenings. the children used to slide food down to him using an elaborate rigging system that involved the former kitty door and a chute constructed with cardboard tubing).

At the time of his arrest Uncle Philippe explained that because he had a big family he did this to put bread on the table. My mother’s family consisted of eleven kids. I wonder if his was bigger?

My grandfather told his sons that he and their Uncle Jonny would help Uncle Philippe with his home-made distillery, and would take the fruits of their labour across the border to the States using the same trails that are part of the family’s sugar bush and maple syrup farm. My mother’s cousin Denis Brault makes the maple syrup pictured below.

sirop

My grandfather was very proud of the fact that he could help Uncle Philippe, and received a small share of the profits for his efforts.  Later on, (presumably after the above article was printed) Uncle Philippe built much improved equipment and went underground and continued to make booze. Literally. He had to crawl into a homemade tunnel to work his new equipment and this ended my grandfather’s distilling career because he was just a little too fat to fit in the tunnel (imagine the Winnie the Pooh-like scenario that led to this discovery.)

My uncle advises us to be proud that our forefathers were crooks to put food on the table.

I secretly dream that somewhere on the family property, nestled in the woods along those trails that led to America was a pine structure with an old piano, a bar, enough seating for about 40 people, and a handful of sexy (if not slightly snaggle-toothed) women referred to as Les Belles Soeurs who kept the joint jumping. The place would have a crooked sign over the door, hand painted on a piece of tin that read: Cabane à Sucre, or Sugar Shack.

Insert your own Sugar Bush jokes here.