Monday, January 25, 2010

True Beauty

I remember the first night Donna walked into our house. Gilly and I were young, and we were so excited because Uncle Dave's new girlfriend was coming over for the first time. My mom was cleaning, and making hors d'oeuvres for the occasion, and my dad was walking around the house singing "Donna" by Richie Valens.

"I had a girl, and Donna was her name, 
Since she left me, I've never been the same, 
Ohhhhhh Donnaaaaa, Ohhhhh Donnnnaaaaaa...."

When I heard the door open, I walked up the stairs and peeked over the railing, and saw a very familiar sight. A tall, blonde woman stood in our porch, beside a very happy looking Uncle Dave. It was almost as if I was seeing a replica of my own parents, and in the years to come, I heard my mom and Donna's laughter ringing through the house almost on a daily basis, as they laughed the same laugh, right from the bottom of their bellies.

Having moved up north from southern Ontario when she married my dad, I think my mom found it hard to live so far away from her family and friends. In Donna, she found a forever friend - someone who shared her personality, her sense of humour, her love of food, her take on life.  


The day my mom died was the worst day of my sister and my life, but through it all, Donna and Uncle Dave were there, hugging us, rubbing our backs, telling us everything was going to be ok. Looking back now, I don't even remember seeing Donna cry at the time. She was so strong for Gilly and I, after having lost her best friend and kindered spirit.

In the almost 12 years since my mom's passing, Donna has become a pseudo-mom to Gilly and I. In highschool, when my dad wasn't sure about a school dance, an outfit, or a hairstyle, he would call Donna for womanly advice. Coming home from University, Donna and Dave's house was always a "must-visit", before heading back to the city, and now that we are adults, we have grown as close as girlfriends, chatting about everything during our walks around the lake. I'd like to think that in a way, Gilly and I have replaced a little bit of what Donna lost when she lost my mom.

When I started writing this blog, Donna would write me messages telling me how much she loved reading my stories. She sent me a picture of herself and asked me if I could figure out how to put it on her profile, so people could see it when she commented on my posts.

"I thought this would fit with your website, as I am among the birches at the lake," she wrote in an email.

I wanted to do her one better than a tiny profile picture at the bottom of my page, so I thought I'd devote an entire write-up to my second mama, my soul sister, my friend Donna.

She is, after all, a true beauty in the birches.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

An early winter hike

We live in Canada, and apparently that means that summer is winter and winter is just plain strange. We had two weeks of summer weather in September, and now a sudden warm January thaw has turned everything into a messy, gooey, runny sludge.

Last weekend, we had true winter for a couple of days, when the sun was shining, the air was cold and crisp, and the sky was a bright blue. We took advantage of the weather and went for a snowshoe in the woods.

I should have had a terrible time, seeing as my snowshoes kept falling off, and I spent a good portion of the hike like this:

Or like this:

Yes, my first snowshoeing experience of the year should have left me swearing, sweating, and vowing never to strap those suckers on again.

Tramping through the snow though, on a Saturday afternoon, as the laughter of my girlfriends echoed off the trees as I stumbled through the forest on feet that didn't fit, surrounded by THIS:

....what can you do but breathe in, laugh along, and embrace the wonderful sensation of snow in your underpants.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Betty Crocker, eat your heart out

Some people say that life begins at retirement. Retirees boast about how wonderful it is to be free of "the man", and working stiffs begin their retirement countdowns far in advance, receiving "years of service remaining" statements decades before their retirement date. I remember my roomate, one day, opening a piece of mail and exclaiming that she had 32 more years left to work.  After eight hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year (I'll make allowances for 2 weeks vacation) and thirty-some odd years of going to the same place, seeing the same people, I imagine what you do becomes a part of who you are. I wonder if maybe all of the hype about retirement is just a little over-rated; if giving up your working life is harder than it looks.

I've been thinking about this the past couple of days, because the man I've been working for is retiring very soon. In fact, yesterday was set to be his last day in the office - an office he built over a span of 30 years. It's not like he went into work every day to work for someone, to go through the motions. It was his office, his patients, and it defined who he was, in a very significant way.

When I first started working for Dr. X*, I was intimidated by him - he had such a big presence. Over time, as I became more comfortable there, I began to see what a dedicated provider he was. He wanted to show me everything about the field I was working in, which was so foreign to me. The first procedure I ever saw (which I now refer to as my "initiation") was a gory, bloody, stomach-turning surgery (I'm sure the girls from work will roll their eyes and say I am being quite dramatic here). Although I came very, very close to passing out, I appreciated my new boss's eagerness to teach me, to help me better understand the world in which now I was spending ten hours every day, to help me fit in.

Dr. X's wife has been retired for about ten years - so I don't really think anyone was that surprised when he announced last summer that he was "slowing down". The transition seemed to happen so fast though, and before any of us knew it, he was treating his last patient. During the morning meeting he thanked his staff for their dedication and support over the years. Later that morning, he came out to the reception area to say goodbye to patients as they left. They all thanked him and wished him well. Most of them hugged him. Some even got teary eyed. I began to think then, about how it would feel to leave such an influential and positive work life behind.

As Dr. X and I sat together and he explained some software stuff, I wondered how he was feeling.
"Are you sad today?" I asked. He seemed to think about it for a few seconds.
"No, not really," he answered, turning back to the computer.

I didn't press on, but thought he must have been feeling something, and just not wanting to get into it with a staff member he's known less than a year. Maybe he was stifling his feelings. Or maybe, just maybe, he isn't that sad to be starting a new life, turning a new page, spending time with his family, lingering over a newspaper and coffee on a random Tuesday morning. Maybe this retirement thing isn't so over-rated after all.

I have no idea what it would feel like to leave a job you've loved for 30 years, people who seem like family, and an office that feels like a second home, but whatever Dr. X may have been feeling on his last day, I thought maybe cupcakes would help.

Good luck and congratulations. Enjoy.

* Name has been changed to protect identity. Definitely wouldn't want to be dooced. (Look it up).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My life resolutions

I didn't make any New Year's resolutions this year. The year seemed to switch without me even thinking of any, and suddenly it's two days into 2010 and the moment's come and gone. Maybe that means I'm pretty freakin' happy right now.

A new year seems to be a time for reflection though, so instead of resolutions for the year (which, let's be honest, never work - I mean, the giant exercise ball is deflated under my bed, and my copy of "Self Matters" by Dr. Phil is probably on a table for 10 cents at the local discount book store. He even looked judgmental on the cover!), I thought I would revisit my list of life resolutions, my "Things To Do". I wrote this list about two years ago, and looking at it tonight, it surprises me how little has actually changed.

Here it is. My Bucket List:

* Climb the Eiffel Tower with someone I love * Skinny dip in the dark * Lie under a tree on a summer day and read a novel for a minimum of 2 hours  * Swim with a dolphin * Find out more about who I am by researching my ancestry * Go back to New York City. Take my sister with me. Climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty. Think very hard about what it means. * Make love on the kitchen floor. * Visit Ireland and have a pint in a pub. Hit on the cute Irish bartender. * Fall into "desperate, deep, head-over-heels, can't-live-without-each other" love  * Kiss someone I don't know * Take a ride in a hot air balloon * Grow a garden - DON'T LET IT DIE!  * Sleep under the stars * Go to Africa and look into the eyes of an elephant * Teach someone illiterate to read * Ask for a raise * Make love outdoors * Write the novel that's been spinning around in my head * Have an article published in a national publication * Take my Grandma Weber to a Leafs game * Learn how to portage and canoe a Northern river * Whale-watch on the West coast * Learn how not to sweat the small stuff * Drink café-au-lait in a Parisian café * Do yoga in an ashram in India * Wake up to watch the sun rise * Create my own website 

I realize that there are a lot more things on this list that are un-crossed rather than crossed off, but isn't that the way it should be? My goals are high ("look into the eyes of an elephant" - what is that all about?), but I'm very optimistic. After all, I have a very generous deadline.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A good year

As we close the door on 2009, and welcome 2010 (Twenty-ten? Two thousand-ten?), I, like any other nostalgic (and a tad bit dramatic) writer, have found myself reflecting on the past 12 months. At first, I couldn't really think of anything noteworthy that has happened to me in the past year, but after sorting through my (online) photo albums, I realize 2009 was pretty eventful. Allow me to re-cap:

1. Took a leap and moved in with Franny, my best friend from high school (who took a pretty big leap herself and bought a house). Through renovations, barbecues, boys, movie nights, and various other crisises relating to twenty-something women, we have grown closer (if that's possible!). Living with friends isn't always easy, but Franny has made my home more comforting, warm, and full of laughter than I could have ever imagined.

2. Took a job that, initially, was meant to be temporary while I waited for the newspaper business to pick up. Found responsibility, health benefits and most importantly a group of people who feel as close to family as I've ever experienced in the workplace. I've learned that the feeling I can tell my boss about bad dates and family drama is something that's pretty uncommon - something I think I'll hold on to for awhile.

3. Welcomed a new neice into the world, when my girlfriend Angela gave birth to a beautiful baby named Reesah. My god-daughter Mikenah got a sister out of the deal, and I got a brand new baby head to smell, and tiny hands and feet and fingernails to be awed by.

4. Got dressed up and watched as some good friends stood up, linked hands, and told the world how much they love each other. Came THIS close to catching one of the bouquets. Danced my ass off. Drank champagne and ate copious amounts of wedding cake as my eyes filled with tears over the look on both groom's faces as their ladies waltzed down the aisle.

5. Had my first Christmas in my Pop's new house at the lake, which he built from the ground up after knocking down the old cottage. Looked around and marveled at the cathedral ceilings, pine beams, and awesome paint job that every single friend and family member had a hand in. Filled the wood stove with wood and watched the fire while sipping Irish coffee and watching snow fall outside the (newly installed) french doors.

6. Saw my sister Gilly off to the UK for the adventure of a lifetime. Cried most of the way home from the airport like a proud mother dropping her child off at college. Welcomed her back with open arms (mainly because she came bearing British tea and chocolate - but not a hint of an accent!).

7. Felt my knees go weak with fear when I answered a phone call at work letting me know my Dad had suffered a massive heart attack and had to be revived using a defibrulator. Felt my knees go weak with relief when I walked into his hospital room to find him reading an old Beaver magazine and joking around about the hospital food. Felt like the luckiest kid in the world when I walked out of the hospital with my Pop by my side. Didn't even roll my eyes when he complained about my driving.

8. Was overwhelmingly heartbroken last night at the sight of an older man sitting alone at the bar on New Year's Eve. Felt overwhelmingly lucky to be surrounded by some of my best girlfriends. Wanted to wish the old man a Happy New Year, but got lost in the music when the band played Message in a Bottle by the Police. Hugged my friends as tight as possible when the clock struck twelve and a new year began.

And, just in case the above doesn't give you a good enough idea of why my year was so great, here's a video of my 2009.

2009 in photos from Kate McLaren on Vimeo.

Happy New Year. Auld Lang Syne.

Song is "Auld Lang Syne" by Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis