The prodigal blogger

Alright.

Here we go again.

I couldn’t let an entire year pass by again before writing another post, but to be honest for the last not-quite-a-year I’ve been at a loss for words.  There are days where I feel like I have no words to describe what’s going on in my life, let alone to disect it and attempt to distill some kind of significant human experience from it.

My husband and I created an entirely new human being together — a person we are privileged to both cultivate and observe as he blossoms before our very eyes.  Trust me, some days I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.  Yes, this baby was planned (and longed for) and yes, we were not trying to Jedi mind-trick ourselves into believing it would be easy.  Yet even knowing that it was going to be hard and brace ourselves for it wasn’t quite enough to truly prepare for what happens when you become a parent for the first time.  It’s almost like you need to actually be majorly sleep-deprived for the true reality of the situation to really sink in.

Actually, “sink in” is too gentle a term for what it does to you.  It actually feels more like being hit across the face with a shovel.

Repeatedly.

I am no longer a single young twenty-something trying to figure things out.  I am now a married almost-thirty trying to figure things out (usually while my baby executes a new plan to distract me from figuring things out).  One nut I’ve been trying to crack throughout the first year of marriage and then into pregnancy and motherhood is a way to blog about “discovering the world and finding the significant human experience” without encroaching first upon the privacy of my husband and then that of our child.

After all, being a wife and a mother may not be my only roles as a woman of this world, but they’re inarguably intrinsic to my identity now and massively influence my individual self.  And how does one keep one’s private life off the Internet when one’s blog is all about how the small events of one’s daily life become catalysts to the bigger changes that lead one to one’s purpose?

Tricksy precious.

But I think I’ve figured out how to do it.  In addition to being excited to try out this plan I’ve concocted, I also really miss writing and have come to realize how much deeper I was able to root myself in things that matter when I wrote about them.

So.

Here we go again.

 

 

 

 

The Rainy Road To Dublin

It’s been a week since I arrived home from two weeks abroad, and I’ve yet to write about the last leg of the journey:  Dublin.  Mea culpa. Being thrown back into normal life seems to have thrown me off-kilter slightly, but hopefully a week later I can still properly convey all those wonderful experiences packed into my last days in Ireland.

We only took one full day in Dublin, since we felt the hustle and bustle of a city under construction and 1916-centric tourism might be a bit too far from the relaxing finish we wanted to our two-week holiday (especially after Donegal and Galway).  Arriving on Monday afternoon from Galway after a rainy ride on the bus (and, indeed, a rainy week thus far in Ireland, which in September should be expected by anyone vaguely familiar with the Emerald Isle), Camille and I checked into our last Airbnb in Drumcondra, north of Dublin centre, before heading out on foot to Saint Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street.

Following four days of hearty full Irish breakfasts and pub grub on the West Coast, I dove with gusto into the Chinese vegetable stir-fry with tofu and shrimps alongside veggie noodles on our first night in Dublin.  Next morning, we parted ways in the city centre after breakfast at Murray’s on O’Connell Street, and I trotted off to the hallowed wooden doors of Trinity College to meet up with another old, dear friend and his wife.

Gary and Jenn welcomed me with open arms to Dublin, and we went on a grand adventure that lasted the entire day.  Starting with a visit to the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity so I could pay homage to the biggest research project of my undergraduate degree, we spent the day talking, laughing, and enjoying fantastic company, food, and beer.

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The barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, flanked with countless shelves groaning under the hallowed weight of old books of all shapes and sizes.

 

Though we did stop in at the fabled Foggy Dew, I didn’t actually touch a single drop of Guinness (*gasp*) whilst in Ireland — and that’s because I kept up in Ireland the trend I’d started in Sweden of drinking beers that aren’t readily available in Canada.  I did stick to darker beers though, from amber and brown ales to stouts and porters, and I don’t feel like I really missed out on a “proper” Guinness.  Guinness is everywhere in Montreal and my favourite pub serves the best pint of it in the city, so why try comparing when there are so many good ones to try that I won’t get at home?

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Kepler the stuffed German Shepherd poses with a pint of Buried At Sea, a complex and chocolaty stout from Galway Brewery. (@kep.the.shep on Instagram)

 

The final pint on this whirlwind tour of Irish beers was taken at The Black Sheep (61 Capel Street, Dublin Northside), rather late in the evening after a leisurely stroll up and down the Liffey. By the time we hugged goodnight and bid each other farewell at my Airbnb, I’d had a tour of Dublin City that most tourists don’t get.  It’s the kind where old friends who are practically family take you off the beaten paths of shopping districts and group tours visiting every historical site so that you can see their city.  Sure, you discover and experience new things together (excellent coffee in a boutique café or Mongolian food in the middle of the Temple Bar district, for example, or even a national treasure in Trinity College they haven’t gotten around to seeing yet) but for the most part you’ll circumvent the tourist traps and see a version of the city you won’t get on a bus tour.

But the best part of any trip that involves meeting up with lifelong friends is that not only do you arrive with a strong bond already there, you also leave with that bond reinforced to the point of it being a true bridge — a bridge that can be crossed in both directions, and a bridge that leads to a home on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  I left such a bridge between Montreal and Sweden, and now one between Montreal and Ireland joins it.

How truly wonderful it is to know that for me there’ll always be a road to Dublin that brings me over the Atlantic and the Liffey, right back to Gary and Jenn’s door.

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The Liffey at sunset, viewed from the Ha’penny Bridge…a beautiful end to a fantastic and full, rich day in the company of wonderful friends. 

The Food of Love

Most of my defining moments happened around the family dinner table, mainly because my parents raised my siblings and me on a steady diet of hearty home-cooked meals eaten as a single family unit every night of the week.  The family dinner table was where I learned life skills like the art of conversation, proper mealtime etiquette, and how to appreciate every morsel of food put in front of me — especially when I did not like it.  It was also where I learned how to value the time and effort of others, and how to give back to them in kind.

The dinner table of my childhood still stands in my mother’s home today and is a stately piece carved from narra wood, the national tree of the Philippines, that my parents shipped over from the Philippines to Canada when we emigrated in 1992.  I find it rather poignant and highly suitable that a Filipino family gathered daily around a table made from our homeland’s national tree, especially considering that everyone who’s taken a seat around it has helped build and strengthen the bridge between the old world and the new.

No matter where they started, family discussions always ended around the dinner table.  Get-togethers with friends and extended family also inevitably ended there, particularly during the summer months when the conversations of day-long barbecues outlasted the last encore of crickets.  Holidays never really saw us leaving it, except of course to clear away empty serving dishes and dirty plates only to return with more food and clean flatware. We ate around it as a family in both immediate and extended forms, adding not one but two leaves on countless occasions to accommodate more guests.  As a baby my nephew crawled on it in between mealtimes, we older folks standing on all sides to keep him from zooming off its polished top; as a toddler, he crawled and then ran under it before whacking his head one day on the edge.  Our dogs sat beneath it as we ate, often indulging in morsels that fell (or were surreptitiously held) under it.  We presented new friends and partners to one another around it, the “others” sizing “us” up against the yardsticks which we ourselves had measured our own progress as sociable human beings.  ((And, when not in use for its original function, my mother used it to sew clothes and curtains and sheets while we put together school projects.))

Nowadays, eating out is a slightly more frequent occurrence than it used to be during my youth and I don’t get many chances to join my mother and BigSis (and now, her boyfriend) around any table, but the family dinner is still integral to our relationship.  More recently than my BigSis, I too have started bringing my own new boyfriend along to dinner, and seeing his face around our table along with the faces of those who know me and love me best warms my heart immensely.

Last week we all went out to Junior, a Filipino restaurant on Rue Notre-Dame .  It was a grand occasion, mostly because MiddleSis and Nephew are in town as well.  As a kid I grew up desperately wanting to eat the North American fare that my classmates and neighbour-kids always tucked into instead of the dishes of islands I couldn’t even remember, but these days my more matured palate can’t get enough of the flavours and textures packed into Filipino food. I love the crisp saltiness of lechon kawali mixing with the tangy sweetness of Mang Tomas sauce; the heat and crunch of a sizzling sisig tempered only slightly by mayo and white rice; the limey zing of a fried bangus served whole, minus the needle-sharp bones of course.  Even the alarmingly sweetness and chewiness of sticky suman dipped into matamis na bao or the cold crunch of shaved ice mixed with ice cream, evaporated milk, sweet beans, young coconut flesh, fruit jellies, and jackfruit – in other words, halo-halo – seem to hit the spot on my cravings so much more accurately than North American desserts these days.

What  I loved most about this latest outing to Junior was that my new boyfriend – an Xth generation Quebecois from Sherbrooke whose Irish, French, and German roots stretch back a few centuries – is a good eater who thoroughly enjoyed the best of my homeland’s cuisine.  Of course it helps immensely that Junior is hands-down the best Filipino food you can get in the city, but even the greatest  and tastiest dishes can be lost on an unappreciative palate. I’ve witnessed it before with past boyfriends:  the polite smile with a barely-discernible trace of apprehension or even dismay at what’s on the Filipino table; the thinly-veiled suspicion of any meat that isn’t instantly recognizable as beef, pork, chicken, or fish; the staunch refusal to even try one mouthful of something new.  That is definitely not the case with this one, which in my book makes him a true keeper.

My family is somewhat leery of picky eaters, and not without good reason. Clearly, since I’ve just spent a few hundred words on the subject, our family dinner is a sacred and precious ritual, and those we invite to partake in food, drink, and company are not only invited to witness them but are indeed being welcomed into our family’s most intimate and telling moments.

But for me, having grown up with one foot in Canada and one occasionally still on the boat back to the Philippines, it means the world to have a non-Filipino partner with whom I can share my cultural roots on every level – especially when it comes to the weird food I have grown to love and re-adopt as “my own.”

The story of my family was written around that narra table; the story of the Philippines, by Spain’s use of the islands as a gateway to the New World.  In both cases food played a huge role in the shaping of such narratives, the exploration and development of which appeal to me as both an amateur writer and as an enthusiastic food-lover.  I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky and rather blessed to have grown up at a table that always had homemade meals upon it, especially from a cuisine that like the table itself was brought over from the home islands to the True North, Strong and Free more than twenty years ago.  And I certainly can’t help but feel extremely proud to share that table now, in all its laden groaning glory, with a person who will add his own words – his own chapter of the story – to that warm and loving narrative.

Shakespeare called music the food of love, but in this family the food of love is the food itself as well as the company we keep when we partake of it around our narra table.

Moonlight and memories

I wrote briefly the other day about what was on my mind leading up to Father’s Day 2016, and here I am again…tapping out another post on my phone, curled up on the bed of my childhood in the guest bedroom at my mother’s house as I reflect upon this evening. And yes, my dad is on my mind again, because without the example of his love for knowledge and for the pursuit thereof I probably wouldn’t be the such a dork.

Being a dork as a kid and as a teenager was tough, but as an adult it’s not so bad – especially when you find other people who share your interests to either the same or greater level. Now, I hop in and out of many different geekdoms but one thing that surprises people is that I’m really into outer space…and not just in a Star Wars kind of way.

Years and years ago, my favourite second brother got a simple telescope for his birthday. We used to aim it at the night sky outside my window in childish attempts to see it in greater detail. The Moon was obviously the easiest target, and even at its limited capacity the little telescope we had could bring out a few of the major details. I loved that telescope, because I already loved looking up at the night sky above our rural childhood home and seeing the Moon and stars in all their glowing glory…and that telescope brought at least the former a little bit closer.

Fast forward to just a few months ago, when I walked with a colleague from Job2 from the workplace to the bus stop and discovered a kindred spirit in astronomy – though clearly, he wins the dork competition here because he has his own telescope and recently made an astrolabe from scratch. And fast forward a little more to today, when a relatively clear night , his telescope, and his generosity with his time and knowledge allowed me to see the night sky in a whole new way with my own eyes.


I saw the Moon tonight in a waxing gibbous, its terminator line a jagged edge of greyscale craters against a black, black sky. I saw star clusters that we city folks can’t see with our naked eyes for all the light pollution our homes emit. I saw Jupiter and its four Galilean Moons. I saw Saturn with its rings accompanied by Titan just outside the bright circle of moonlight.

And in my mind’s eye I saw my father in a memory. He’s standing in the back doorway of my childhood home in his bathrobe and pyjamas, calling out from the back steps to a pair of tents pitched in the far corner of the lawn where five hyper children – my two brothers, two of my cousins, and I – have literally been howling at the stars and Moon. It’s now just after four in the morning and a rousing cacophony of these five voices singing different songs under this late-summer sky. He’s telling us to be quiet, and to try and go back to sleep; he doesn’t want to be dealing with disgruntled neighbours.

A few hours later, I’m the first to leave the tents and go inside to sit with my father at the breakfast table. He doesn’t scold me for the noise; instead he asks me, “What did you see?”

I saw the summer constellations and satellites zipping through them. I saw a shooting star and I saw the sky turn around Polaris. I saw just how small I was in the grander scheme of things and I saw just how much there was yet to learn and discover.

And at that breakfast table, I saw my father: calm, quiet, and attentive, slicing fruit for me as I told him about all these things I saw in the sky. I saw him beginning to stoop with the early onset of age brought on by illness, I saw the early tremors in his hands, and I saw the love in his eyes when he finally passed me a small plate with my helping of bananas, apples, and oranges.

He knew what to be angry about – and being woken at four in the morning by children shouting and singing at the dark grey sky was not one of those things. No, in this case my father’s wisdom held his temper in check, for he knew that there had to be some bigger reason behind our energy and excitement.

Yeah, maybe it was the fact that we kids were allowed to camp out in the backyard and that our cousins had been left behind on our whim to sleep over. Yeah, maybe it was the fact that my favourite first brother had brought out a book called Mysteries of the Unexplained and scared us all with accounts of the paranormal and supernatural. Yeah, maybe it was the sugar from the marshmallows and chocolate and graham crackers we’d stuffed into our faces.

But maybe, just maybe…maybe we were all just enchanted by the night sky. I know I was. That night and all its astronomical wonder has stayed with me all these years. And tonight, for the first time in a long, long time, I was utterly delighted and totally captivated by the heaven we can see on a clear, warm summer’s night.

Cookies for a Cause

Father’s Day is coming up this Sunday over on my side of the world and, as has been the case since 2012, it’s another occasion in the year for me to remember my father and reflect upon his legacy.

This year, though, there’s the added element of my favourite first brother now also being a father – so of course the question of my father’s legacy and what we, his children, inherited from him is rather in the forefront of my mind. These are the thoughts and ideals and pieces of wisdom we’re supposed to pass on to our children, after all.  And while I don’t have children of my own I am an aunt (twice over now) and that, perish the thought, means at some point in the future my niece will be following in her older cousin’s footsteps and asking me questions.

I’m very close to my nephew, and maybe that’s why when I consider what my father left behind I immediately look over at my sister and brother-in-law, and then at this twelve-year-old boy. This kid came into our lives twelve years ago on our dad’s forty-ninth birthday and though his memories of his beloved “Grampy” are of a child, it’s up to him to give his younger cousin (hopefully that’ll be plural someday) the grandchild’s view of the man who raised their adults, filling in the gaps of the grown-ups’ memories with his own.

And although his time with Grampy – to us older folk, Poppie – was short indeed, my dad’s legacy of faith, hope, and love was passed down to this kid through my sister and her husband. I’ve always been aware of this because I’ve witnessed my nephew’s big heart in action before, but this week just how much of that heart is like Poppie’s hit me in full force.

My nephew has decided to take a stab at summer entrepreneurship, but he’s foregoing the lemonade stand in favour of chocolate chip cookies sold to raise funds not for more NERF Guns but rather for Parkinson’s research. I think chocolate chip cookies are a suitable choice, as my father loved sweets and would never say no to anything we’d make for him.

This is the disease that affected Poppie’s life for the better part of fourteen years, creating the conditions in which the entire family’s strength of faith, hope, and love was constantly tested. This is the disease that robbed Poppie of his motor functions and slowed down his ability to speak, but in turn gave him more time to sit still, ponder the wisdom he could give to his children, spouse, and friends, and learn to use his daily struggle greater purpose of teaching compassion, understanding, and fortitude to others, as well as to teach those around him the value of every human life.

It’s a disease that doesn’t get much attention compared to cancer or diabetes, but affects life for all involved in profound ways just the same. It’s a disease whose slow but steady progress in research has now, four years after my father’s passing, only just started producing better, more focused, and more grounded forms of treatment and management for those diagnosed.  There is still a long way to go before Parkinson’s is conquered and those physicians charged with treating it are able to give their patients a course of treatment that truly does give them back a normal standard of living, but without big hearts willing to do small things like baking cookies or selling flowers or running miles to raise funds, I don’t think even my father’s difficult journey would have been anywhere half as manageable as it would have been.

If you are in the greater Cincinnati area and would like to part with a few dollars for some amazing cookies for a worthy cause, please send an email to the address listed below. I don’t know yet if my nephew will be taking out-of-region orders, which has been suggested by many family friends on social media, but in the meantime if you would like to find out more about Parkinson’s and even donate, I invite you to check out the links below.

 


 

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research – “Dedicated to ensuring the development of a cure for Parkinson’s Disease within this decade”

Parkinson Canada – “Support and Hope to Canadians with Parkinson’s Disease”

National Parkinson Foundation and Understanding Parkinson’s

 

The female roots of my family tree

This morning, I woke up at my mom’s house. She and I spent an evening out together yesterday — dinner, coffee, a short lecture about the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and then the BNC’s ballet performance of Don Quixote at Place-des-Arts. It was our way of celebrating Mother’s Day (which is actually today here in Canada). With the memories of the previous evening’s performance running through my head, the first thing I experienced this morning as I reflected was a sense of pride.

We’re not Cuban or any other kind of Latin American by any means, but we share the same Iberian passion, heart, and exuberance that the dancers of the BNC displayed last night, and that honestly all Hispanic people display on a daily basis. But seeing it on stage in all the sumptuous finery of classical ballet was a pivotal moment for me, I think. From the music featuring tambourines and castanets and the distinct rhythms of Spanish dances right up to the sheer joy and love of life expressed in the movements of the dancers, Don Quixote put me in touch with a side of my heritage that I’ve never really felt connected to before.

My Spanish heritage is something I don’t often consider — I have always been first and foremost a Canadian, even before I became a citizen, and of course Filipino culture reigned supreme at home — but lately it’s been creeping to the foreground of my thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot more about my identity, which is probably why I’ve finally started poking into the Spanish and Spanish-influenced chapters of my family history. And, as it turns out, much of what links me to these roots comes from the women of my family.

Although the hot Iberian blood runs on both sides, I know more about my mother’s side of the family than my father’s. The primary factor playing into this imbalance of knowledge is that my mother’s family were all in Canada when I was growing up, including my maternal grandmother who was full to bursting of family history. By marriage she was a Gomez but by birth she was a Garcia, a direct descendant of the Mercado-Alonso union that would become known as the Rizal family, and so the family history is extremely well documented and archived. They were blessed with an abundance of daughters but only two sons, though they’re more well-known of course for the legacy of José Rizal than they are for anything their daughters did.

But that doesn’t mean any of them, or any of the ladies to follow, led boring and insignificant lives. Thanks to my maternal grandmother, whom we referred to as “Lola” in our family, my earliest recollections include stories of the great-grand-women of the family: women whose most formative and defining moments were in harrowing experiences such as world wars and civil uproar; women who, for their time, experienced the privileges of education, personal wealth, and careers — things that we today believe are normal components of the everyday life of a modern woman, but back then were considered to be firmly in the domain of menfolk; women who, in short, have created for my sisters and me an unbroken legacy of strength, grit, and resilience tempered by love, kindness, and faith.

Sometimes it’s hard to live up to that kind of family history. Here I am at twenty-six and I feel like I’m in a pretty good place in my life; at any rate, I’m more comfortable with myself and more loving and accepting of who I am now than I ever have been. But although I’ve been down the foundations of my adult life for the last few years when I compare myself to the women of my family tree when they were my age, I always feel like I’m found left for wanting in their presence. But then I remember that you can’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty — and the fact of the matter is, my world is very different from the worlds of these ladies, so of course it makes sense that my story is being written at a markedly different pace.

I often wonder (and honestly, worry) if I’ll ever be able to be as strong, poised, gracious, confident, and beautiful as the women of my family before me. Even when I compare myself to my sisters I find myself in a brief panic over the thought that I’ll never be anything remotely like them.

There’s a quote that I’ve seen everywhere on social media today and I’ve been pondering on it while I’ve been preparing to write this, and by putting those thoughts alongside my insecurities in the face of my feminine legacy, I’ve realized something important: it doesn’t matter if my experiences at age twenty-six aren’t quite as earth-shattering and life-changing as those of the women before me, or that I’m nowhere near as well-established in my life and my career as they were at this age.

What truly matters is that the iron-clad strength of their souls that allowed them stand upright in their convictions and the passion that burned in their hearts to fuel their lives was passed on to me, along with many examples of what one may accomplish if one looks life straight in the the eye and never backs down. It doesn’t matter how I do it myself, just that I harness that strength and passion in my own bones and heart, and live life to the fullest as they did…in the best way I know how. That is how I might live up this legacy and embrace this heritage of mine.

And so:

“Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.” 

The Classics FamJam

Here in Montreal, I’m typically the youngest in any of the groups I’ve run with ever since arriving in 2008. Coming from another province, my high school diploma was sufficient to gain admission to university; however, here in Quebec there’s this college system called CEGEP that means Quebecois students in university are usually in their early twenties by the time they get to university. And so, at age 18 I found myself invariably the youngest person in the lecture hall by at least two years and often, more.

The Department of Classics, Modern Languages, and Linguistics at Concordia University is, as you can imagine, pretty small. (The fact that the university merged three distinct fields of study into one department should be painfully indicative of this.) By the end of my first week at Concordia I was already pretty familiar with many of the faces five different lecture halls, but it would take about a year for me to really work up the courage to talk to most of them outside of class, if at all.

Eventually though, I was able to squeeze out of my shell just long enough to make a few friends in my program – but then most of them left Montreal to go pursue other things in other countries. From graduate and post-graduate studies in the United Kingdom to perpetually backpacking around the world, they all had something else to do somewhere else in the world.

I’m pretty lucky, though, because the post-graduation “something else” of three of these friends involved staying in Quebec (in the case of two) and coming back to Quebec after graduate studies in England (in the case of one). Ever since Marianne came back from York and successfully managed to get Amanda and Mario downtown for our first reunion pub night, the four of us have kept up the sporadic but deeply meaningful habit. Pardon the pun, but it’s a bit of a hangover from our days in Classics: not only were there pub nights with the former members of our crew, there were also pub study sessions in between classes. Some of the best second- and third-year Latin translations we ever did came directly out of the campus bar.

I will be 26 later this year, but Marianne, Amanda, and Mario are all hitting 30. But the funny part is, I don’t really feel the four-year age gap – nor have I ever with them. In fact, during Amanda’s birthday party this past Saturday I told Marianne, “I know I’m four years younger than y’all, but I still feel old too. Maybe it’s because I feel close enough to you guys to forget most of the time that there is an age gap to begin with, but you guys have also never made me feel like I was too young and too uncool to be a part of this.”

Not all of my friends from Concordia left the city once their Bachelors’ degrees were done, but of the ones in Classics who did stay it’s not just physical proximity that keeps us close to one another. There are common threads made up of shared interests, ideas, and perspectives; they weave in and out of one another and between each of us. One week before gathering to celebrate Amanda’s birthday, we were around Amanda and Mario’s dining room table discussing Star Wars over wine. It was just one discussion in stream of continuous chatter that lasted over multiple bottles of wine, and we continued long enough after the last one to sober up and dry out to get home safely. I crashed at Marianne’s that night, and the next morning she sent me on my way back downtown after making sure I was suitably caffeinated and fed for the trip from Laval back into Montreal.

The important part of all this is that the whole reason why we were at Amanda and Mario’s house instead of at the pub was because we were all a bit too skint to afford a night out, but they had plenty of wine to keep us well-sated. Though the plan changed a little last-minute, there was no question: Marianne and I would trek out to have dinner at home with them on a Friday night. This evolution in our age-old tradition of hitting up the pub reminded me that no matter what you do, if you’re doing it with people you love it doesn’t matter when or where things happen. It just matters that they happen in the first place when you’re together, because that’s what keeps you together in the end. Whenever I look around our table, whether it’s at the pub or in someone’s house it feels like home — like family.

At age 18 during my first week in Montreal, if you had told me I would have found an amazing group of friends who would soon become family to me after I had uprooted myself all the way across Canada to start over, I would have said you were crazy.  I came to Montreal via several burned bridges and with a deeply scarred and wounded heart, and I skulked around campus that first week like a scared lost puppy.  I had no idea that my childhood love for mythology and archaeology would lead me to far more than a degree in Classics, but as it turned out I graduated from that program with three amazing people I’m proud to include in my extended family.

It was really only at Amanda’s party that we officially dubbed our quartet as The Classics FamJam, but in retrospect there was never anything else this particular friendship could have ever turned into besides a family. It’s a weird, quirky, geeky, artsy-fartsy family whose motto is In Vino Veritas, but it works and is full of warm fuzzies and unquestioning support, and that’s what matters above all. We’ve known each other for more than five years now but this past Saturday night was the first time we took a group photo – our first “family portrait,” if you will. But it’s clear from how we all look, bunched up together with our arms around each other, that we’ve built something that’s going to last a whole lifetime.

FamJam

19 March 2016 – Amanda, Marianne, Mario, and Angela at Luce for Amanda’s Big Three-Oh

“Just for a second a glimpse of my father I see…”

Last week I dragged my electric guitar out of my mom’s storage locker and made a Saturday evening of playing scales and riffs that I used to spend hours as a teenager perfecting until I could do them in my sleep. Though I was primarily a bass player and a singer, when my favourite second brother abandoned music for other pursuits I inherited his axe and decided to shred my way through a few hours every day until I could sing and play a decent repertoire of heavy metal. I was really into Iron Maiden and a lot of other bands that rode along in the wake of the NWOBHM, but as I’ve mentioned before I was deeply steeped in the sounds of everything coming out of Scandinavia too – especially Finland, and especially Children of Bodom. Between the respective online forums for Iron Maiden and Children of Bodom I made many friends around the world, a handful of whom are still dear friends today.

Recently I found myself wondering how on earth I managed to get away with being a young teenager with such a flourishing online life in the early 2000s, especially with my father being the kind of man who definitely always wanted to know the crowd his children were currently running with, regardless of how totally uncool it made him (and us) look. True, my ancient but reliable old laptop was stuck in his home office because we didn’t really have WiFi back then – but still! I’ll probably never know what possessed my father to let his youngest child (his little girl, no less) go down the rabbit hole of music that on the surface seemed to be made and performed in one Circle of Hell or another.  I certainly don’t know what went through his mind when I started calling teenage boys (and a few young men) I knew off the forums and who came from Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and Bulgaria my “best friends,” and I certainly don’t even want to know what he was thinking when I said a boy from the Netherlands that I had also been chatting with wanted to come to Vancouver and meet me. (That would be my first boyfriend, and he actually came two summers in a row before the relationship crashed and burned — right before my senior year. Yeah, I got away with a lot more than I realized…)

My dad and I were always close, and the “father and daughter” dates we had when I was a little kid evolved as I grew up and as his disabilities progressed. First there were long walks during spring and summer evenings around the neighbourhood, and then as he gradually lost his mobility we sat together on the front stoop or in his office while I read out loud to him. And those afternoons and evenings always had time in them for talking, and my dad was my best and wisest confidant. So maybe he saw in my eyes and heard in my voice the trust I had and judgement of character I made on these friends, and maybe not pulling out my blue Ethernet cord and sending me to an all-girls private school was his way of telling me he trusted me. And at that time in my life I think that degree of control over my friends and over the music I listened to was exactly what I needed to lock into some sense of stability during an emotionally and mentally tumultuous time.

In my last year of high school there were a lot of horrid rows shaking the walls of our home in the Valley, starting off with one in particular that was the direct result of me announcing that I had no intention of going to university and instead wanted to move overseas with my bass and my guitar and my voice and live the life of a twenty-first century heavy metal bohemian. After I was exiled to my room, I did the only thing my teenaged self knew she could do to release all the anger and frustration: I plugged in my Rhoads, cranked my stereo and my amp, and power-chorded my way through a mix-CD of Iron Maiden, Iced Earth, Metallica, Helloween, Children of Bodom, and Nightwish.

After a while my father came in to talk to me and of course I stopped playing to yell at him. Sitting on my bed and clutching my Rhoads, I ugly-cried while I tried to explain that I didn’t want to be boxed in, I didn’t want to do what was conventional, and I didn’t want to waste time when there were so many things to see and do in the world. As my yells died down to sniffles and as I fought to keep snot from dripping onto a set of brand-new strings, my dad said nothing; he remained silent for a long, long time. I broke the silence at some point with a defiant demand: “What was the point in me getting this far through life if all I’m going to do after high school is put myself into a bigger place with no friends? All my best friends are out there, Papa. What’s wrong with me wanting to go be with my best friends?”

I won’t ever forget what he said to me afterwards.  It was an explanation as to why it was important for me to get a good education without taking time off between this school and the next, why I had to set myself up for the real world and not be a broke and starving musician clinging to the hopes of making it big, and why getting a degree and entering a professional job as an adult would set me up for more opportunities anywhere in the world than going to Europe as a teenager with a guitar on my back and a dream in my heart would ever give me.

“You are my daughter and I love you, which is why I’m not allowing you to run away to Europe.  I like knowing that how I’ve raised you has made you aware of a bigger world, but you have a lot more learning and growing up to do before you can appreciate that world,” he said.

But the one thing that made me listen and the one thing that made me trust in my father was the fact that he came over to me after this lecture, put his shaking hand on my shoulder, and said, “If you won’t listen to me, listen to those lyrics you love and sing so well. Your time will come. I promise you — your time will come.”

And so, I went to university and earned a double-major in two of the most useless fields imaginable at just an undergraduate level.  But earning that degree got me a second job, and working to put myself through that degree in the first place has taught me many valuable lessons that I’ll never forget and put me into friendships that have enriched my life beyond all measure.  In that one moment during my adolescence my father knew exactly what to say to make me believe in his wisdom for just a little longer and trust in him, and I will never forget that.

When my dad passed away exactly four years ago, the European guys who, during adolescence, I had dubbed my best friends were among the first to know what had happened, and they were among my strongest supporters who rallied around me with kind words, reassurances, and blood-brotherly love. They are now men with degrees and jobs and lives and I am now a young woman with the same, but music still kept us together even though those long-discussed plans of making an overseas journey had yet to become reality. My father’s acquiescence to my choice of music and my way of making friends allowed me to keep these people in my life — and in my opinion that makes them a part of my father’s legacy.

It’s a legacy of trust and faith, of seeing the good in all things and in all people; of wisdom and understanding, of knowing when to fight for control and when to let something beloved run wild; of willpower and strength and courage, of being fearless in the face of the unknown.

And my father was right, even nearly a decade ago: my time has come.

When the heat of late summer is blown away by the cooler, refreshing breath of early autumn, I will set my heels down on ground across the sea and kick up its dust with all the surefooted strides of the confident and strong woman that the tempestuous and petulant girl has become.

I am my father’s daughter, after all.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #10: Three Valentines

One of my favourite pop culture depictions of Valentine’s Day comes from Frasier.  But in the real world, Valentine’s Day can be a pretty tough deal for a lot of people – arguably a tougher one for those of us who are single, but I’d say it’s just as rough for people in couples depending on what kind of relationship they have and/or how each half of it views the (most useless) holiday itself.

I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day, whether or not I happen to be in a relationship when it rolls around.  In fact, in each of my past long-term relationships, I’ve only actually spent one – count ’em, one – Valentine’s Day with the other half.  All the others were spent miles apart from Whichever Guy I Was In A Long-Distance Relationship With At The Time. 

Add that to the fact that I’m already snarky and jaded to begin with, and you’ll see why I’m not a fan of the day…and probably also be confused as to why the three things making me happy this week are three Valentines.

So I might as well start explaining myself.  Enjoy!

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Valentine’s Day this year kicked off for me a day early, as I went to see Deadpool with one of my best friends. Yes, he’s really “just a friend,” but the reason why he’s one of my Valentines is because he’s pretty much always there for me when I need him, no questions asked, and he’s one of the few people in my life with whom I can spend most of a two-hour road trip in silence without it being awkward or weird…even when I serenade a Timbit with some cheesy 80s hair ballad.

You see, love takes on all kinds of forms and friendship is a form in which we find it in abundance, and he’s one of the truest and dearest friends I’ve ever had.   We understand each other perfectly in our mixture of Franglais and Meme-Speak. It’s a unique language we’ve constructed over five years of friendship to the point where, whenever we meet in the crowded lobby of the downtown cinema, I have to text him and say, “I’m here. Where exactly are you, because I can’t wander through this place shouting [your totally embarrassing nickname that I gave you and use so often I sometimes have to stop and make sure I still know your real name].”

If that’s not a reason to make one of your best friends your Valentine, I don’t know what is.

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Like many Filipinos who grew up during World War II, my grandfather has always had a great affection for Hershey’s, especially Kisses, and Spam. I think it’s because that’s what the Americans had with them when they liberated occupied territories. Regardless of the reason for his love of the stuff, I know that the reason why I think of my grandfather whenever I eat a couple of Kisses is because for as far back as I can remember he’s always had a bowl of them on hand.

I love my grandfather and I miss him dearly. He moved in with us after my grandmother passed away, and he came to Montreal with my parents to help my mother care for my father. While he was here, though, he didn’t just support my parents: he really supported me through some very difficult moments in my early twenties. It was really hard for me to say good-bye when, after my father passed away, my grandfather had to move back to the West Coast for his own health.

However, thanks to technology and the fact that he’s the most technologically literate senior I know, I’m able to keep in touch with him. We text on iMessage or message chat on Skype almost daily, and at least once a week we use FaceTime to say hello and share a coffee.

Even if all I can say is one or two lines on any given day, I always make sure I tell my grandfather that I love him. He’s getting on in years and despite his apparent longevity I know I won’t have him forever, and I never want to say a last goodbye to any of my loved ones without having said, “I love you” one last time when they could hear it.

On Valentine’s Day this year, I found a handful of Hershey’s Kisses in the cupboard and decided to treat myself. And of course, they reminded me of my grandfather, so I hopped onto Skype and quickly tapped out a message: “Happy Valentine’s Day! I had some Kisses and thought of you, so does this make you my Funny Valentine? I love you!”

His response was, “Happy Valentine’s Day to you too, sweetheart. Thank you for thinking of me. I would love to be your Funny Valentine. You have made my day.”

Yeah, here’s a tissue for you too.

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I wished another man a Happy Valentine’s Day after making plans with my grandfather to FaceTime sometime this week – this time, a longtime friend of literally half my life and one of a small handful of people who know exactly what I looked like as a teenager (and probably has photographic evidence of it that exists nowhere else now). He lives pretty far away and he always has, but that’s never really stopped us from being able to close the gaps with what we’ve got in common.

He never forgets my birthday and always sends me lovely messages during all the important holidays, and when I wished him a Happy Valentine’s Day this year he shared a fun fact with me about February 14 in his country: over there, that day is also the feast day of Saint Trifon Zarezan, the patron saint of all things to do with wine.

“You’ve just made this day so much better for single people,” I said. “I knew there were reasons why I still like you.”

“I thought it was because of my blue eyes.”

“…they’re brown.”

“Just checking to see if you knew.”

“Don’t be a troll.”

“…and you have lovely eyes…they are awesome, especially with that smile.”

“What’s gotten into you?”

“Nothing.  Just wanted to tell you that.  You are a pretty girl and you should hear it more often.”

Now, I can be very self-deprecating and I can’t take a compliment about my looks if my life depended on it. I had a very long “ugly duckling” phase and while all the lovely women in my life are pretty good at reminding me that I’m not ugly, I’m not one of those girls that gets complemented a lot by guys about my looks – my ability to drink half an Irish rugby team under the table, yes, or the fact that I’ve got a great personality, but never my looks.

Bra-burning feminists can torch me all they want but given that I can probably count on one hand the times outside of a relationship where I’ve been complimented on my looks, I’m not above admitting that it more or less makes my entire week when a guy tells me he thinks I’m pretty and ought to be told so more often…especially if he happens to be somebody who knows exactly what I looked like in raccoon eyeliner, oversized band shirts, studs and piercings, and a permanent sulk.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #8:  My Mom, Bestie Time (again), and Music (for real this time)

My Mom: Sunday is the only day of the week where I can actually chill out for more than five seconds at a time, and I spend a lot of it with my mother and sister. I also stay over at their place on Sunday nights, because it makes the task of getting to the gym for a 6AM on Monday morning much easier to accomplish.

At 5:20 this morning when I went to say good morning to my mom before getting ready to leave, my mother got out of bed and made me a smoothie to take on the go – banana, mango, and yogurt, to be exact, with just enough milk to thin it out and make it easy to drink from a mason jar on the metro.

While carrying around our ridiculously fat cat (no, really – he’s about 18lbs) and watching me scurry about getting my stuff together, Mom reminded me to take an umbrella because it’s going to rain today, to walk carefully because it might be icy outside, to bring back the mason jar I borrowed for my smoothie, and to call once in a while during the week.

Like any adult offspring, I just smiled and nodded and said, “Of course,” to every reminder. But even though I think I’m old enough now not to need reminding about things like this (well, except for the one about the mason jar, as I’m a kleptomaniac when it comes to food storage containers), I don’t mind when Mom does it. That’s just her way of saying she loves me, after all.

Bestie Time (again): Any time with good friends is time well spent, but time spent with my best friends is priceless and wonderful to me. Being one of those ridiculously busy people, choosing to spend some of my few free hours with friends is one of the ways I say how much I love them – but I realize too that the fact that they accommodate my strange and unpredictable schedule to be able to spend time with me is their way of saying they love me, too.

One of my best friends came over for dinner on Saturday night with a fantastic bottle of red (Apothic 2013). After a long week at work for the both of us and a particularly rough one for me in terms of physical health, it was a welcome kind of socializing: low-key, one-on-one, and at home. I was actually pretty bummed about missing the anniversary dinner of another friend of mine, but being able to have company on Saturday night nonetheless really re-energized this burned-out introvert.

It’s hard to believe we’ve already known each other for six years and, like the small handful of people I do consider my closest friends now, I really can’t imagine my life without him. It’s not just because he’s fantastic company and knows how to pick a really good bottle of wine, or that he’s a gym person too who’s working on his own transformation. He’s one of the funniest, most socially intelligent, caring, and supportive people I’m lucky enough to know and even luckier to call my friend.

Music (for real this time): After my last breakup in early 2015, I didn’t torture myself by lying on the couch eating ice cream out of the bucket while sob-singing along to all of “our” songs. In fact, the music on my phone underwent one of the biggest purges of its history so that all I had left on it were songs that were upbeat, empowering, and carried no connection whatsoever to the relationship that had just ended. This handful of songs carried me through 2015’s changes and transformations; they were there for every step I took on the treadmill, every plate I added to the bar, every drop of sweat I shed, and every ounce I lost last year (and also every muffin, piece of cake, chocolate bar, and Tootsie Roll I begrudgingly passed up).

My workout playlist was literally the only music I listened to for all of 2015. A couple of weeks ago, I received a one-year subscription to Apple Music as something of a late present, and I decided to dive back into my lost love of music. (This came up in last week’s edition of “In Pursuit of Happiness,” actually, when I shared with you the exchange I had with one of my good friends about Poison and, mainly, Bon Jovi.)

Having very quickly overdosed on downloading all the music I truly love, I found I didn’t want to hear just the old familiar sounds of the music I’ve always rocked out to. I wanted to dive into something new and discover more artists whose songs and sounds would maybe help shape and define this newest version of myself that I’ve been working on.

Thank goodness then, then for two things. The first is the NPR Music app, whose alternative rock stations introduced me to the likes of Screaming Females, The Frights, The New Basement Tapes, Cage the Elephant, Beach House, and The New Tarot. But something equally fun as discovering new music on your own is having good friends recommend things to you – which is why the second thing is that there are the judgey-ass music nerds in my life, and in particular two of them.

You’ve already met one (in last week’s Happiness post) and the other is a guy I work with at Job2 (he’s in a band with another person we work with). What they both have in common, besides the privilege-chore of knowing me, is an uncanny ability to recommend artists that are consistently good. Even though there’s almost no overlap in what they recommend to me whenever I bother them for music that they haven’t posted on Facebook and even though they’ve never actually met, I think it would be really interesting and entertaining to put them in the same room and listen to them discuss music together.

The former is arguably more judgmental than the latter but both are equally knowledgeable about what’s going on in the underground and who you should be listening to from down there. My current favourites from them are Automelodi, Antigone, and Three Trapped Tigers, and I have a long list scribbled onto a Post-It somewhere in my agenda of more that I should apparently give a chance. And I’m looking forward to doing exactly that this week.

By the way, if you don’t have any judgey-ass music nerds in your life, I highly recommend you go befriend at least one. Listening to their sighs and observing their eye-rolls at your music, sitting through their rants about the mainstream, and enduring the litanies in which they wax poetic about artists nobody knows about is well worth your effort for all the goodness they’ll bring to your musical life. Trust me, I know things.

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So until next week, tell your parents or parental figures you love them, have a cup of coffee with your best friend, and tune into some artists you’ve never heard before – because that’s what I did this week and I wouldn’t be sharing it if it hadn’t succeeded in bringing some happiness to my life!